icons-03 icons-02 icons-01 MM Logo

blog

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

By midlandsmovies, Jan 20 2018 09:57AM



Coco (2018) Dir. Lee Unkrich


Mariachi music and sumptuous Hispanic design abound in Pixar’s latest story about a young boy with dreams of becoming a famous musician. Based around the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, the film follows 12-year old Miguel who enters a talent contest despite his family having banned music.


Miguel subsequently becomes cursed after stealing a guitar connected to a long lost family member and can then only be seen by the dead but no longer the living. With his body slowing turning to a skeleton, Miguel must receive a blessing from a (dead) family member in order to return to the real world before sunrise in order to aovid being stuck there for eternity.


Having been transported to the land of the dead, the aspiring musician seeks the help of Héctor, a skeleton who once played guitar, who in returns asks Miguel to take his photo back to the living world before his daughter forgets him and he disappears completely.


The film’s, somewhat convoluted, narrative hits all the regular beats – family, escaping into other worlds, life lessons and cute animals – so isn’t exactly groundbreaking in that department. That said, Pixar do this so well that I warmed to the film despite these minor criticisms.


The animation, although sadly getting closer to uncanny valley at times especially on the elderly Coco (Miguel’s great-grandmother), is in fact still utterly fantastic. As a guitarist myself I was frankly astonished at Miguel's guitar playing shots. Cartoons often use vague movements to create chord shapes giving their complexity but Pixar have produced another marvel here. From Sully’s wintery fur in Monster’s Inc. to Wall*E’s realism, Pixar have prided themselves on their technical expertise and the real strings, fingering and strumming is a fantastic addition to their repertoire.


Another standout design was the brilliant Pepita which is an imposing Alebrije – a brightly coloured mythical creature based on Mexican folk art. Acting as a spiritual guide, I can see this jaguar-eagle-ram beast becoming next Christmas’ must-have stocking filler with its cute face but terrifying wings!


The other worldly design is a celebration with its use of well-known iconography without (too) many stereotypes, although there’ll no doubt be a number of Twitter “hot takes” on its appropriation but Coco is a world away from any offensiveness with its warm celebration of folklore.


The day-glow colours maintain the visual spectacle but shouldn’t overshadow the fine sound design which is a key aspect too. Not just the reverb of the acoustic guitars but audiences will enjoy the clacking of skeleton bones, dog barks and animal screams alongside the smooth Hispanic accents. A great voice cast of Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael García Bernal as Héctor, Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto and Ana Ofelia Murguía as Mamá "Coco" Rivera are the main standouts and each one brings a unique “spirit” to their parts.


If there was one criticism it would be the narrative itself. Bordering on confusing it portrays various religious rites of passages, superstitions and customs that are slightly under-explained for the uninitiated. If it’s not a blessing or a curse, it’s a complex family tradition and with the huge number of characters the story bones felt unconnected. Although it may not be suitable for the youngest of viewers, the film never loses sight of its important themes however, and it delivers far more often than not.


As someone who lost my mother in 2017 and my musician dad just over a year ago, the film’s conclusion had me in tears with its fantastic song “Remember Me”. Its story crescendo of being remembered, family ties and getting older hit home in a personal way reminding me of the emotional ‘Father and Son’ sequence in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.


Not without its flaws, I cannot honestly say it is a Pixar ‘classic’, the film does however take enough successful chances. A celebration of traditional cultures, amazing production design and a story that combines family with music, Coco will no doubt leave audiences feeling it in their fingers all the way down to their bones.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Jan 18 2018 04:41PM

Midlands Feature - The Movie Succession to the Throne


Having recently started watching the historical television drama The Tudors (yes, I know it’s not a movie but stick with me on this) I thoroughly enjoyed its mash-up of sex, murder, beheadings and political and religious themes. The fascinating mix of war, melodrama and a splattering of camp, the high production values make this a series well worth catching if you’re interested in Henry VIII and British royal history in general.


But it got me thinking. As a fan of Cate Blanchett, a viewer could easily do a watch of her brilliant turn as Henry’s daughter Elizabeth in both Elizabeth (1998) and its follow up The Golden Age (2007) as a kind of quasi-sequel. The films continue the political machinations from the time and show another reign of an infamous monarch.


So coming back to the Midlands, with its swathes of picturesque countryside and regal-like manors and houses, the region even has connections to movies covering monarchs. Haddon Hall in Bakewell was used as Hatfield House in Elizabeth. Henry’s story is also covered in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) by Justin Chadwick, which starred Scarlett Johansson & Natalie Portman as Mary Boleyn and sister Anne Boleyn. Parts of this film were also shot in the region at Dovedale in Castleton and Haddon Hall, as well as at North Lees Hall. Finally, Belvoir Castle in Leicester is home to the Duke of Rutland & seen in Young Victoria (2009).


But if you could follow one dramatisation of a monarch’s reign with another, could you do them all? By that I mean can we follow the entire line of succession using movies (and a few TV shows)? Well, my self-imposed challenge was accepted and the results are below. There have been 66 monarchs of England and Britain spread over a period of 1500 years. Many of the productions are about succession so there’s a lot of overlap between multiple films, but I gave myself just one 'get out' by starting the list AFTER the Saxon Kings. So we begin the list at the infamous date of 1066.


That said, for the Saxon period you can do worse than checking out the 1969 epic Alfred the Great and we begin our full lineage after the death of Harold II and the beginning of the Norman period.




NORMAN KINGS

WILLIAM I (The Conqueror) 1066- 1087 Guillaume, la jeunesse du conquérant (2015)

WILLIAM II (Rufus) 1087- 1100 Blood Royal: William the Conqueror (1990 TV adaptation)

HENRY I 1100-1135 The Pillars of the Earth (2010 miniseries)

STEPHEN 1135-1154 Cadfael (1994)




PLANTAGENET KINGS

HENRY II 1154-1189 The Lion in Winter (1968)

RICHARD I (The Lionheart) 1189 – 1199 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

JOHN 1199 -1216 Ironclad (2011)

HENRY III 1216 -1272 Becket (1964)

EDWARD I 1272 – 1307 Braveheart (1995)

EDWARD II 1307 – deposed 1327 Edward II (1991)

EDWARD III 1327 – 1377 The Dark Avenger (1955)

RICHARD II 1377 – deposed 1399 Richard II (2012)




HOUSE OF LANCASTER

HENRY IV 1399 – 1413 Chimes at Midnight (1965)

HENRY V 1413 – 1422 Henry V (1944) & Henry V (1989) - both classic adaptations

HENRY VI 1422 – deposed 1461 Beginning of the Wars of the Roses Tower of London (1939)


HOUSE OF YORK

EDWARD IV 1461- 1483 The White Queen (2013 TV)

EDWARD V 1483 – 1483 Richard III (2008)

RICHARD III 1483 – 1485 End of the Wars of the Roses Richard III (1995)




THE TUDORS

HENRY VII 1485 – 1509 Looking For Richard (1996)

HENRY VIII 1509 – 1547 Carry on Henry (1971) & The Tudors (2007)

EDWARD VI 1547 – 1553 Well, Edward VI is the basis for the Prince & the Pauper and so the best version of that is clearly Trading Places (1983). For a more traditional take check Tudor Rose (1936)

LADY JANE (9 Days Queen) Lady Jane (1986)

MARY I (Bloody Mary) 1553 – 1558 The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)




ELIZABETH I 1558-1603

There are so many films and prodcutions featuring The Virgin Queen but for some of the best check out Elizabeth (1998) and its sequel The Golden Age (2007), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Anonymous (2011).




THE STUARTS

JAMES I and VI of Scotland 1603 -1625 Gunpowder, Treason & Plot (2004 TV)

CHARLES 1 1625 – 1649 English Civil War The Devil's Whore (2008 TV)




THE COMMONWEALTH - declared May 19th 1649

OLIVER CROMWELL, Lord Protector 1653 – 1658 Cromwell (1970)

RICHARD CROMWELL, Lord Protector 1658 – 1659 To Kill A King (2003)




THE RESTORATION

CHARLES II 1660 – 1685 Restoration

JAMES II and VII of Scotland 1685 – 1688 England My England (1995)

WILLIAM III 1689 – 1702 The League of Gentlemen Apocalypse (2005)

MARY II 1689 – 1694 Orlando (1992)

ANNE 1702 – 1714 The First Churchills (1969 TV)




THE HANOVARIANS

GEORGE I 1714 -1727 The Iron Glove (1954)

GEORGE II 1727 – 1760 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

GEORGE III 1760 – 1820 The Madness of King George (1994)

GEORGE IV 1820 – 1830 Beau Brummell (1954)

WILLIAM IV 1830 – 1837 The Young Victoria (2009)

VICTORIA 1837 – 1901 Mrs. Brown (1997)




HOUSE OF SAXE-COBURG AND GOTHA

EDWARD VII 1901 – 1910 Victoria and Abdul (2017)




HOUSE OF WINDSOR Name changed in 1917

GEORGE V 1910 – 1936 W.E. (2011)

EDWARD VIII June 1936 – abdicated December 1936 Chariots of Fire (1981)

GEORGE VI 1936 – 1952 The King's Speech (2010)

ELIZABETH II 1952 – The Queen (2006)



And there we are! With a few close calls the monarchs from 1066 to the modern day each appear in a different film or production. Which is a cinematic universe I'd give props to anyone trying from start to finish!


A special mention as well to British actress Jeannette Charles who once had difficulty obtaining Equity membership due to her resemblance to the Queen. However, she subsequently played the role in numerous films including Secrets of a Superstud (1976), Queen Kong (1976), The Rutles' movie All You Need Is Cash (1978), National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985), The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)


*raises goblet* So, ladies and gentlemen, let's toast all of the talent, both local, national and international, who put their heart and soul into bringing history to the big screen for our pleasure!


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 14 2018 06:49PM



Midlands Movies Mike finds out more about the Bottle Smoke 2018 Film Festival due to take place later this year.


Celebrating filmmakers from all budgets the upcoming Bottle Smoke Film Festival will be featuring two days of movie industry talks as well as a short film award ceremony.


Located in Staffordshire, the first day will end with a feature film with a follow up Q&A and day two ends with the award ceremony which will feature prizes for best cinematography, best director and best overall film.


Taking place on the weekend of 8th and 9th September the headline film will be Kaleidoscope Man from director Simon Cox and submissions to the film competition costs just £10.


The judges for Bottle Smoke 2018 include Peter Rudge who has more than 25 years experience in the film industry and was co-founder of Grand Independent – a film production and distribution company based in Staffordshire.


Another is Ray Johnson MBE, professor of film heritage and documentary at Staffordshire University. He is a Director of the Staffordshire Film Archive, the Mitchell Arts Centre Trust and the Media Archive for Central England as well as an independent film-maker, actor, and writer.





The final judge is Simon Cox who has worked in the UK TV and film industry for over 20 years for the BBC, Channel Four and Five as well as directing a feature film of his own.


Also of note is the festival’s charitable partner, Grand Order of Water Rats, who will receive 15% of the event’s profits. The organisation has helped with donations and supplied equipment to Guy's Hospital, Roy Castle's Cause for Hope, International Spinal Research, Macmillan Cancer Fund and Moorfields Eye Hospital amongst others.


For those interested, the event will be hosted at the prestigious Stoke Film Theatre and tickets can be bought via Eventbrite by clicking here


For submission application forms and much more information please visit the official website at: http://kemper5.wixsite.com/cm-productions/bottle-smoke






By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2018 09:14AM

To celebrate a new year we asked our Twitter followers to retweet a competition tweet for a chance to win one copy of Carrie Fisher's book Shockaholic which details her acting past during the Star Wars years.


On 13th January we picked out one winner at random from all entrants and that winner is....


Twitter user @MadameNottm


CONGRATULATIONS!


Please get in touch to claim your prize and a big thank you from Midlands Movies to everyone who entered.


Stay in touch for more movie related competitions in the future!


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2018 09:13AM



Darkest Hour (2018) Dir. Joe Wright


There are problems at the heart of Darkest Hour, a film about how Winston Churchill navigated his first days as prime minister in 1940, much as there were with man himself. Namely, how to weave a suspenseful tale out of a story where the ending is known; and also how to make a human character from a man that has become a legend. Joe Wright’s film mostly tackles these problems well but it loses its way at the worst possible moment.


The strength of the film is that it never loses sight of the fact that Churchill, and here in particular his political rivals, are flawed people bumping up against each other in close confines — often the miniscule cabinet war room — in a struggle where the stakes could not be higher. This is more political thriller than biopic.


Hitler’s military is sweeping all before it in western Europe, the entire British army is encircled at Dunkirk and Calais, meanwhile, in closer quarters Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, his foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, his parliamentary party and even the king are opposed to his premiership. He only has the job, the film tells us, because he is the only senior Tory who the opposition will accept as a leader.


Hanging over him is the military disaster at Gallipoli in the First World War, and a reputation for an intense self-regard — indeed, an acknowledgement from family and colleagues that he has always prioritised his personal political ambition.


So now that Churchill has his chance — or as he puts it at the start of the film, his rivals have their chance of revenge by putting him in the hot seat — how can he cling on to power among with so little support, and with Chamberlain and Halifax scheming to have this delusional warmonger removed from power altogether.


That this film was made at all, and the review is being written in English, perhaps gives the clearest indication of why Halifax and Chamberlain are the villains of the piece, but one of the film’s triumphs is to have these characters seem as reasonable in their aims as Churchill is steadfast in his.


The film swoops in and pulls away from the tight knit circle around Churchill to show the consequences of all that fighting in the war room and bitter-sweet family moments. In fact, it does this quite literally on a number of occasions as overhead camera shots launch skywards to dwarf either Churchill, a French boy, a stranded English brigadier each during pivotal moments in the story.


But this film is a political thriller at heart, and taught and compelling one at that. And it is the drama at close quarters that captivates the most.


The pressure mounting on Churchill, superbly portrayed by Gary Oldman, increasingly alone as his rivals pressure him to consider a negotiated peace with Hitler, is thrilling. As is his wrestling with an awful decision about how best to save the British Expeditionary Force in France.


Malbrough man


But it is at Churchill’s own darkest hour, as he wrestles with what appears to be a bout of self doubt and his “black dog” of depression, that the film takes a nosedive. The only difference is the film’s own darkest hour seems born of hubris rather than lack of confidence.


From out of nowhere, King George V, previously a wet individual mulling over whether or not to bugger off to Canada and hoping his mate Halifax wins the prime ministership, appears from nowhere to give our hero a pep talk. It isn’t clear why but apparently he discovers his inner kingliness while standing about on the balcony one night at Buckingham Palace. Winnie and Georgie bond, and we can only be thankful the scene with a chest bump and a high five.


And so the toe curling begins in earnest.


A film this may be and it is right that it should not be a slave to historic detail. We are watching characters in a story, not real people. But what happens next is so out of character and so blatantly false that the tension falls slack immediately, like a sprinter pulling up with a dodgy hamstring. Unlike our protagonist, it never recovers and can only limp on.


Earlier in the film, when accepting the premiership from the king, Churchill tells a companion he has never taken a bus. But following the royal heart to heart, he leaves his chauffered car and takes the tube one stop between St. James’s Park and Westminster where he is to address parliament.


It is hard to know what the most unrealistic aspect of this scene is. That Churchill strikes up a conversation with a carriage full of Londoners? Or that it takes an inordinate amount of time for this train to travel a few hundred yards? Or is it that this aristocrat, direct descendent of the Dukes of Malbrough, born in Blenheim Palace in the age of empire is on the District Line at all? And that’s before we tackle into the excruciating dialogue.


Whichever it is, the overall effect is to rip the drama out of the film, all of the tension, and any sense of jeopardy. From here on in the whole thing becomes a victory parade, albeit done, as I said, with a limp. It does the story a disservice. Secure he may have been as leader having seen off Halifax, and with Chamberlain in terminal ill health, but he was still leader of a country all but on its knees in the face of overwhelming odds.


Darkest Hour is for the most part gripping and pacey, but just when it needed to step up a notch it pulls up short, only offering a lame attempt at a fist pump of an ending rather than what in real life must have been a far more intriguing story.


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal,” the film quotes Churchill as saying at the end. Both ideas apply to this film. The disappointing final furlong does not ruin the rest of it.


“… it is the courage to continue that counts,” ends that quotation. Whether audiences have the courage to persist with this film once it loses its way is a matter they will have to decide for themselves.


6/10


Ralph Sinclair



By midlandsmovies, Jan 12 2018 12:28PM



Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2018) Dir. Martin McDonagh


Is highlighting retribution as important as getting it yourself? Well, deep themes and jet-black comedy abound in this new low-key rural American drama from the British/Irish writer-director of In Bruges Martin McDonagh. Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a put-upon mother who has lost a daughter in a violent rape and murder and, after the investigation stalls, rents three blood-red billboards on the outskirts of town. Not since Fargo has McDormand commanded a screen so fully but her foul-mouthed and impulsive renegade couldn’t be further from Marge Gunderson – although both have an intensity to see justice served.


With the billboards asking why local Sheriff Chief Willoughby (a fantastic supporting turn from Woody Harrelson) hasn’t made any arrests, not even his terminal illness breaks Mildred’s resolve to move her case forward. In addition, Sam Rockwell as Officer Jason Dixon – an actor that against all popular opinion I’ve never particularly warmed to – gives the performance of a lifetime as a drunk, racist policeman trying to maintain some sort of order. Gaining her plenty of attention in the process, Mildred is a driving force in the narrative as she seeks retribution for the depraved death of her daughter whilst she continues to deal with flashes of extreme violence from her ex-husband (John Hawkes as Charlie Hayes) whose own response to the crisis is to date a 19-year old.


The humour comes from both McDormand’s quick and vulgar responses but also through more subtle and loving comedy in her relationship with her son (Lucas Hedges as Robbie Hayes). Extremely protective of him but also reflecting her own sass, the lighter dramatic moments are relief from the themes of passion and unthinking revenge which permeate the film.


[SPOILERS] When Sheriff Willoughby takes his own life owing to cancer, he communicates from beyond the grave in a very personal suicide letter both to his family and to Mildred about her case. In a film where characters seem stereotypical in their introductions, the nuanced screenplay and interesting threads and dramatic turns see characters developing across arcs that audiences will respond to. Sam Rockwell’s hot-headed and inexperienced police officer – who lives with his mum and was held back a year at police academy – takes his temper out on the locals before finding his own enlightenment through forgiveness and correcting mistakes of the past.


As Mildred goes to war with the whole town, her billboards create chaos but stir up strong emotions about redemption. Can we hold onto revenge or is there an inherent destructive force in our search for what’s right? When she attempts to stop her billboards burning – an arson attack sees Mildred battle huge flames with a tiny extinguisher – her small one-woman passions are at odds with the larger forces at work. Yet in both cases, despite the emotional drain, this does not stop her efforts and if anything stokes her fires further.


And it’s McDormand’s complete commitment to the role in every aspect – the tough-talking, the tear-jerking and the solemn reflecting – that centre the film and gives it a star attraction. Her struggles ensure the plot moves briskly and whilst the film’s conclusion feels like an audience can finally take a breather, the reality is simply a temporary calm rather than a newly established equilibrium.


Showing complex struggles from start to finish (including the police, ex-husband, strangers and even the dentist) “Three Billboards” fans the flames of passions and is a brilliant advertisement for the continued talent of McDonagh’s own dark interests. Delivered impeccably by a fantastic cast, the film provides no clear answers but continues the ideas set down within In Bruges. Like that movie, the idea that carrying the pain of past misdemeanours can not only be a detriment to others but mostly to one’s own soul.


9/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jan 11 2018 07:09PM



Birmingham horror festival scares up international movie showcase


A macabre menu of dark delights from around the world will be served up on 28 January, when the Birmingham Horror Group hosts its second annual 'Mini-Movie Marathon'.


The event, in aid of the charity Diabetes UK, is being held at the Victoria pub on John Bright Street and has already attracted spinechilling submissions from film-makers as far afield as India, Brazil, Australia and the Russian Federation -- plus a "fear few" from the West Midlands!


"The horror genre embraces everything from psychological thrillers and bizarre monsters to supernatural terror and twisted comedy," said festival organiser Steve Green, "and we plan to reflect that full range in those films we'll be screening."


The event launches at 6pm and tickets are £3.00, bookable online via Eventbrite by clicking here.


Further details of the event are available via the group's website www.birmingham-horror.co.uk



By midlandsmovies, Jan 11 2018 12:02PM



The Disaster Artist (2017) Dir. James Franco


As an inexperienced filmmaker, actor, writer and director with over-reaching talent and delusions of grandeur in their attempts to be a master of all trades, James Franco is easily the perfect person to play fellow “visionary” Tommy Wiseau.


If you don’t already know, Tommy Wiseau is the writer/director/actor whose 2003 film The Room is regularly considered one of the worst films of all time. Based upon the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, the film is partly an Ed Wood misunderstood portrait of genius and part poking fun at the notorious flop with Tommy’s eccentricity taking centre stage.


For anyone who has seen The Room, the horrid acting, paper-thin sets, nonsensical plotting and endlessly quotable lines are part of its charm which soon saw it become a Rocky Horror Picture Show of sorts for a new generation. Midnight shows saw the film evolve into another interactive cult classic as crowds repeated its lines and brought in props to interact with during screenings.


Focusing on Tommy (James Franco) via a story framed from the viewpoint of the book’s author and fellow actor Greg Sistero (Dave Franco), the film is a slight look at the two’s fractured and strange relationship in their goal to become successful actors. James Franco tackles Wiseau’s oddball with enough ticks and hair-shaking as Tommy himself without being a pure impression yet strangely even Franco’s facial features have a genuinely uncanny resemblance to Wiseau.


Set in 1998’s San Francisco, Sestero meets Wiseau in acting classes and whilst the conventional teachers and students pour scorn on Wiseau’s peculiar take on the texts, a friendship is born and the two head to LA to pursue their acting dreams. As their efforts prove fruitless, Tommy decides to write and film his own screenplay and Greg reluctantly agrees to star.


From the outset the long script combined with a lack of business nous sees the dim duo buy the wrong equipment, build unneeded sets and audition (then sack) countless actors and crew. For “fans” of The Room (I admit I’ve seen it twice but both times with commentary - from Jaboody Dubs and Red Letter Media) the recreations of the locations, actors and scenes are spot on but if a film was made about Rocky Horror, you may simply wonder why you’re not watching the more fun original.


The Disaster Artist has flashes of genius but the story of the film’s making is simply on screen in the original. This film doesn’t enlighten you to the secrets of The Room as the bad decisions made and the sincerity of the film is already portrayed in The Room itself with its sheer god awfulness.


That said, the scenes are a suitable mix of multiple takes as Tommy forgets his lines as well as ridiculous overacting. And Seth Rogan as the director stares in awe at the garbage that’s playing out in front of him. Yet Rogen gets more laughs as a low-budget director in his similar role in “Zack & Miri”. As Wiseau’s “vision” slowly comes together the toils take their toll on the two friend’s bond and they stumble over the finish line before arranging a premier in Hollywood.


The reception and subsequent reassessment of the film is pure dramatic ‘retcon-ing’ with Tommy stating he intended to make people laugh, which I am sure is not the case in the slightest. But that’s part of Wiseau’s charm. Always looking for an angle to break into the “big time” he finally gets a real-life movie to do justice to his efforts and to also, hopefully, encourage more folk to watch his dreadful original.


In the end, James Franco is admittedly great as Wiseau but overall this film is “safe” to the point of humdrum as there’s neither a great in depth analysis of Tommy himself (his background is still unknown today) or a specific directorial style. Franco has stated The Disaster Artist was "a combination of Boogie Nights and The Master” which is pure Wiseau – overblown, hugely ambitious, an outlandish claim and utterly utterly not true.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike



RSS Feed twitter