icons-02 icons-01 MM Logo FILM FREEWAY LOGO

blog

Movie news, reviews, features and more thoughts coming soon...

By midlandsmovies, Dec 13 2018 03:28PM



Venom (2018) Dir. Ruben Fleischer


Upgrade (2018) Dir. Leigh Whannell


A two-for-one double review for films that have a two-for-one protagonist as we see Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy-lookalike Logan Marshall-Green both appearing in high-concept action films where they are fused with powers they end up speaking with.


First up, Venom sees Tom Hardy’s roving reporter Eddie Brock get ‘infected’ by an alien symbiote to create a powerful anti-hero who, violently, is trying to do the right thing against Riz Ahmed’s evil scientist. Broad strokes are the name of the game here as we get the superhero origin story with evil genius, concerned ex-girlfriend and transformation scenes so by-the-numbers the plot could have been designed on an abacus. Michelle Williams plays Brock’s girlfriend in a wasted role and the film is astonishing in how it can take three of the best actors working today and give them literally nothing to work with at all.


A selection of so-so action sequences are dotted throughout and the film improves immensely when Venom finally appears as a foul-mouthed monster that argues with his host Brock. But sadly this is far too late in the film and the CGI Venom design is only about 5% better than its 2007 iteration in Spider-Man 3. And, in all honesty, had me wishing I was watching that film at times instead. Sadly the director Fleischer has never been able to recreate that rush of fun and horror from his first film Zombieland, the tone of which is solely needed here in his latest film.


So moving on, earlier this year we also had another action body horror in the form of Upgrade. Logan Marshall-Green, who funnily enough is already in the MCU Spidey-verse with a brief appearance in Spider-Man: Home-Coming, stars as Grey Trace (which sounds a bit like Topher Grace who was Venom in Raimi's three-quel) who after being paralysed in a brutal attack – which also sees his girlfriend killed – is implanted with a bionic chip. This AI called STEM is designed by Elon Musk, no wait, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) and is surgically inserted into Trace’s body which allows him to regain control of his limbs.


STEM then “speaks” into his mind directly and the two (?) go on a revenge spree to serve justice to those who attacked him. The AI quickly learns vicious fighting techniques and before long, the duo are picking off the assailants. The film however takes its ridiculous premise far too serious at times. In the hands of a sci-fi auteur like Paul Verhoeven Upgrade could have mixed the balance better by giving the whole film a satirical bite. As it is, the fight scenes are fun but sparse and the dramatic sequences dull and bland. With the film spiralling into a confusing high-tech plot, the narrative “discoveries” can be seen from a mile away and frankly any time when the film begins its exploration into society/tech-fears it lost momentum.


So, with Venom’s (frankly unbelievable) $852.7 million box office takings and Upgrade’s innovative but flawed genre goals, somewhere between the two films a good movie may have emerged from the Hardy/Marshall-Green soup. If I was forced to pick I slightly preferred the originality of Upgrade’s idea but with that worldwide gross, I know which flick we’ll be seeing more of in the inevitable sequel which is a shame.


Venom 6/10


Upgrade 6.5/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2018 03:34PM



Midlands Review - Reversal


Directed by Sheikh Shahnawaz


2018. Catharsis Films


The Midlands most prolific filmmaker™ Sheikh has released yet another short drama before Christmas in which he features his regular contributing actor Nisaro Karim in a brief tale of mystery.


Beginning in stark close-up, the film starts with Karim’s hooded character staring into space but we quickly cut to a shot of his abdomen and discover that he is in fact injured. How and why the audience may ask?


Zooming further out we see that another suited man (played by Angus Villiers-Stuart) is leaning over his body in a pedestrian underpass. His hands are soaked in his attempts to stop the flow of blood.


He slowly backs away from the body. Is he in shock? Does he think his help is futile?


Well, actually... [spoiler warning] his slow steps backwards reveal that the film is in fact shot in reverse. Suddenly a bloodied knife rises from the ground into his hands and its shown to the audience that this may not be the seemingly good Samaritan we first thought.


His heavy breathing cuts to Karim’s victim suddenly rising from the floor to set up a standoff between the two. And then we see another switch again, reversing roles and constantly toying with viewer expectations.


The film plays with time in a Nolan-esque way (a definite nod to Memento for sure) and with great soundtrack music by Savfk, there are also audio hints of reversed instruments evoking a feel of Zimmer’s Inception score.


A clever short, the film has lots to think about in its brief runtime and has a feel of another local movie called FEIHT (Midlands Movies Awards Best Short winner 2017) which uses a similar sleight of hand narrative and time twisting structure to play with audience perceptions.


Another winning formula of acting, music and technical editing, check out Reversal for an impactful short that delivers a lot in its brief (backwards) runtime.


Michael Sales


For more info on Sheikh and his film projects please check out the links and watch the full short below:


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cinesheikh

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cinesheikh




By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2018 12:00PM



Stronger (2018) Dir. David Gordon Green


David Gordon Green has a varied CV with misfiring comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness sitting with more dramatic fare like 2013’s Joe with Nicholas Cage. My recommendation is to avoid comedy, Sir, for your more serious takes a far better.


Like Joe, we get a great central performance, this time from Jake Gyllenhall. Here he plays Jeff Bauman who in real life lost both his legs during the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon. Unlike Patriot Day, a film which I hugely enjoyed (see review here), the film avoids the police investigation into the perpetrators and focuses on one of the victims maimed on that fateful day.


Adjusting to his new life, Gyllenhaal gives an unbelievably good performance as man plagued by demons and alcoholism but injects enough vulnerability that the audience sympathise with him given the difficulties he faces. Surprisingly there’s a fair amount of comedy had here too. Bauman is shown to make light of his injury at times and there is a dark sub-plot of exploitation of the media which fleshed out the background to his journey.


The film also doesn’t scrimp on the awfulness of the injuries – with blood, limbs and body parts strewn in the bombing recreation flashbacks - and a scene where Bauman has his bandages removed for the first time may be one of the hardest things to watch in 2018.


Dealing with the subject sensitively, yet exploring the trauma and frustrations of the aftermath, Stronger has a fine support cast with Tatiana Maslany as Jeff's girlfriend and Miranda Richardson as Jeff's mother. Carlos Sanz as Carlos Arredondo – the man who saved Jeff at the scene gives a brief but powerful turn as well.


Although Stronger isn’t a game changer, it provides a fascinating insight into the rehabilitation process and shows an audience how difficult it is to deal with both physical and mental scars – all grounded by Gyllenhaal’s mesmerising central role.


7/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 09:21PM



Midlands Review – Starman


Directed by Stuart Connock Wheeldon


2018


MontsegurFilms / NineLadiesFilm


Starman is the new short from Midlands production company NineLadiesFilm and was directed by Stuart Wheeldon. Wheeldon also co-wrote the film with Nick John Whittle and the team have come up with a mysterious story about a homeless man in the woods whose origins may not quite be what those around him expect.


Shot on location in Wirksworth in Derbyshire the filmmakers open the story well with fantastically filmed aerial drone shots giving us a great sense of this remote location. The slow hovering camera reflects a UFO of sorts which is mighty handy when the story unfolds later.


We dissolve to a mysterious man (Nigel Barber as Mark) who seems at peace in his own world and is currently confined to a solitary tent in the woods. Looking up to the sky we soon cut to him attempting to “make contact” with unknown people through an old radio.


Living off the land we get the feeling this individual is at one with their surroundings but his idyllic camp is at odds with local couple Peter and Lisa. Whilst Peter (Elliott Rennie) believes he could be a dangerous ex-con, his partner Lisa (Mia Mills) is more sympathetic to his plight.


Nigel Barber is great as the lonesome man, Mark, portraying him with a blankness that hints upon an “alienated” individual. Mia Mills’ subtle kindness is also used to good effect with her caring personality and friendly demeanour acting as our guide.


However, these good performances are unfortunately undermined with some less-than-adequate sound mixing. Whilst the slightly strange music and staccato strings echo the weirdness of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score – it is placed in such random places that there is often no link between the sound, the score and what’s being shown going on screen.


And although maybe it is an intentional choice to give the project an ‘other-worldly’ vibe, it simply feels like the film hasn’t quite finished its work in the sound department – certainly with regards to syncing it all up. Alongside this, several scenes at night muffle the words of our protagonists when a ‘chirping crickets’ background hum overpowers the dialogue almost to the point of being unlistenable.


Later on Lisa asks “where was home before?” and the film does an admirable job of never explicitly playing its hand as to the man’s origin. I also enjoyed the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to the filmmaker’s previous flick “In Limbo”. The film also earns points for its unique location. Other than the woods and the couple’s home, the film is mostly located a Wirksworth’s StarDisc – a suitably celestial stone sculpture showing constellations.


In the end though, despite positive performances from the cast, they are infuriatingly let down by the short’s sloppy technical issues and frustrating sound design. So whilst the location gives hints to a wonderful map of the stars, Starman is a slightly confused piece overall that could do with another run through in the studio.


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:29PM



The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Dir. The Coen Brothers


A 6-part anthology film that quickly ended up on Netflix, the award-winning Coen brothers are not immune to the modern day perils of the straight-to-streaming phenomena. However, like Alex Garland’s Annihilation, cinematic quality is there from the outset and this easily could have been more widely released in cinemas.


And given its quality it is a huge shame it wasn't.


The multiple, and magnificent, stories themselves are framed within the pages of a book and contain a range of tonally different shorts all set in the Wild West. The Coens’ dark humour and splashes of violence are well and present and the stories include a cocky outlaw played brilliantly by Tim Blake Nelson who sings (and floats) his way to heaven (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), James Franco’s bank-robber hanging by a noose (Near Algodones) and Liam Neeson’s impresario riding through towns with his actor Harrison who has no arms and legs (Meal Ticket).


The eclectic situations continue with Tom Waits’s grizzled prospector searching for riches in the wilderness (All Gold Canyon), a wagon train being attacked by natives (The Gal Who Got Rattled) and finally five people in a stagecoach that refuses to stop as it carries a dead body (The Mortal Remains).


With something for everyone, the yarns each have their own unique style and death and misery appear in all the tales. But the Coens haven’t scrimped on the comedy from annoying dogs, witty songs and characters trapped within their situations to humorous effect.


My personal favourite was The Gal Who Got Rattled with an excellent Zoe Kazan as innocent Alice Longabaugh and Bill Heck as the kindly and gruff Billy Knapp. That story could happily have been part of a longer film and the mixture of deadly attacks and sharp conversation was a highlight.


That said, each story has its own charms and for someone not keen on anthology flicks (see my Ghost Stories review here) the Coens have managed to weave 6 amazing stories into a cohesive and thematic whole.


Where Hail Caesar tackled Roman epics (and musical numbers) amongst its Hollywood setting, the Coens' influences here come from the American love of frontier films - another classic genre linking their modern takes within established cinematic history.


Not diverging greatly from their usual style, the death-obsessed duo deliver another historical romp with a great cast and amazing outdoor locations.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:07PM



BlacKkKlansman (2018) Dir. Spike Lee


With a tight screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is adapted from the 2014 book of the same name by Ron Stallworth – a real-life detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s.


The plot sees African-American Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) join the Colorado police force only to be faced with racism from his own colleagues at every turn. After rising through the ranks through sheer determination, Stallworth attempts to join the KKK by answering an advertisement via phone. Setting up a meeting with clan elders, Stallworth then enlists the help of Adam Driver’s Detective (and Jewish) Flip Zimmerman who acts as Stallworth at the rendezvous.


As the KKK plan violent attacks, the two policemen work in tandem to take the group down whilst all the while hiding their intentions (and each other’s personas) from the members. Stallworth goes on to connect with the KKK Grand Wizard (a sleazy and naïve Topher Grace as David Duke) whilst he also dates Laura Harrier’s Patrice Dumas – a black student passionate about civil rights issues – which complicates things further as he witholds his police background from her.


A fantastic drama that expertly balances the ludicrous situation with the injustices of racism, Lee links the story to both horrors of the past - Harry Belafonte recounts the lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916 – as well as the film’s future – the movie ends with the disturbing footage of the 2017 Charlottesville protests and President Trump.


However, unlike The Post, which tries similarly to tie in past politics with modern concerns, the film’s metaphors are less heavy-handed and all the more powerful because of it. Stating its concerns as matter-of-fact and contextualising the historical significance of those events is Lee’s trump card.


Despite having to dramatise more than its fair share of the book, the film is entertaining away from its politics to keep audience’s engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of undercover officers and their methods to avoid detection.


Powerful and political, the film succeeds owing to the amazing delivery from all its cast but it’s the commanding performances of Washington, Driver and Harrier who make this a formidable criticism on the continued structural racism plaguing the USA.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:04PM



The Night Comes for Us (2018) Dir. Timo Tjahjanto


It would be easy to compare this film to 2011’s The Raid given the two main actors Joe Taslim as and Iko Uwais are major players in both films, yet it’s that film I cannot reference here with its similar mix of Indonesian gangs and corrupt cops fighting for honour and power using the most violent means possible.


And violent it is! Extremely.


When Ito (Taslim) saves a young girl and goes rogue from lethal Triad enforcers the Six Seas, he is immediately hunted down by the gang and thus begins a film that is almost entirely action-orientated throughout. Iko Uwaisis as Arian is called up to kill the traitor and Taslim returns to an old friend’s apartment for refuge.


It’s at this apartment where the best scenes occur. Forced into a tight situation, the character set up is fleshed out before the martial arts kick in and flesh of another kind is strewn around the room. Fantastic brawling action is brilliantly filmed with the character development helping us care about each person’s fate. Arms are blown off, necks are broken and if you don’t like stabbings or gunshots then don’t even think about watching this film. Oceans of blood are spilled and the bone-crunching punches and killings soon leave bodies piling up.


If there was one thing missing, it is that the film quickly ditches its character motivations for more endless fights. As well as they are filmed, the movie needed some space to give the audience the chance to take a breath. It also plays its best hands far too early. The aforementioned early apartment fight is followed by a great battle in a police van but soon repetition kicks in and, like The Raid, once you get down to one-on-one fights, the film all but loses its momentum.


That said, action and martial arts fans will lap up the phenomenal fight choreography and Zack Lee as "White Boy" Bobby is a minor character who steals any scene he is in. Stylish and frenetically chaotic, The Night Comes for Us is not for the queasy but its wild action and furious violence results in an intense experience that you won’t forget in a hurry.


The fight comes to you!


8/10


Mike Sales





By midlandsmovies, Dec 7 2018 12:36PM



Three Identical Strangers (2018) Dir. Tim Wardle


[Spoilers – please be aware this review reveals the film's main story]


This excellent new 96-minute documentary comes from Tim Wardle who re-discovers one of the more bizarre stories from the early 80s and re-positions it as a far more complex and dark tale than initially thought.


An outstanding opening tells the story of a young man, Robert Shaffran, who heads to college only to be mistaken by random strangers as their friend Edward Galland. After establishing that Robert isn’t Edward – who dropped out of the same college the previous year – fellow student Michael Domnitz encourages Robert to contact Edward and they drive cross-country to go meet him the very same day.


Amazingly, the tale unfolds to reveal that the two mistaken men are in fact twins, separated at birth through adoption yet who grew up in the same area.


The documentary uses talking head interviews to explain their incredibly wild story in simple terms which makes the tale all the more fascinating when the coincidences occur. And what coincidences!


As only a short time later – with the brothers’ story and photos making national newspapers – they are contacted by another man, David Kellman, who questions why he is looking at a picture of two of himself.


And so, the three men come to realise that far from twins, they are in fact a set of triplets who were raised in different households by loving families, unaware of each others existence.


Splicing in footage from the time across interviews, panel shows and question and answer TV appearances, the trio come across as likeable, fun and eerily similar siblings who make the most of their new found fame and fortune.


However, in a search for some answers to their adoptive pasts the families uncover a sinister reason for their separation involving a science experiment by psychiatrists Viola W. Bernard and Peter B. Neubauer. Without care or diligence, the two set a terrible scheme in motion to try and answer the age-old question of what has the most influence in our lives – nature or nuture?


The “scientific” study is given ominous context and with the full results sealed in a locked vault at Harvard University the brothers struggle to come to terms with their predicament. Grappling with their world, and their inner demons, one of them eventually commits suicide and the painful reality of their topsy-turvy lives is underscored in this honest yet fascinating documentary.


As with many of the best documentaries, it is the story itself that is the real enticement for audiences but the filmmaker’s change of tact to delve into the murky past and shady machinations is to its benefit and depth, with the film contrasting the happy reunion with the fatal outcomes.


Chilling, thrilling and fulfilling the documentary serves up a triple whammy of satisfying characteristics and combined with the revealing and candid interviews with the put-upon and exploited participants, it ends up being one of the best documentaries of 2018.


8.5/10


Mike Sales



RSS Feed twitter