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By midlandsmovies, Oct 15 2019 11:32AM



Midlands Review - Shame My Name


Directed by A R Ugas


2019


AR Ugas’ short film Shame My Name is a first part in a series called “Chronicles" and is about a young man and his Albanian girlfriend. It centres on him meeting her father and trying to make a good first impression. The girlfriend initially resists and grows weary of her boyfriend’s repeated requests for him to meet her dad; and we all know how nerve wrecking it is to introduce your partner to your parents.


The opening scene is shot near a window inside a flat. I assume the use of natural light was beneficial for the camera crew, but it read a bit like a student-made short and too basic. Watching it a second time, I could see the girlfriend was standing near the window to keep an eye out for her dad and appears quite bothered that the boyfriend is still hanging around before her dad is due. Their relationship to her father is still secretive even after them being together for a good few years and the boyfriend felt it was time to make himself known to her family.


The atmosphere seemed a little flat, even subtle body language movements such as the girlfriend biting her nails could show a jittery tone without anyone saying a thing. The writing 100% drove the story and that was it. Something visual was needed and I would have enjoyed seeing more of the flat and the potential for different settings. The bedroom is a perfect environment for an intimate and caring scene between two people who love each other. Or maybe show a playful moment in the kitchen with some light-hearted banter. Any interaction with their surroundings is ten times more interesting than a 2D conversation facing each other near a window.


As mentioned before, the script was heavy with detail and in the first five minutes you find out the dad works for a security camera company, he’s Albanian, the couple have been dating for a while and on the surface, and everything seems to be pretty stable.


Before even watching the short, I was expecting a bigger influence of Albanian culture to be present. The title alone is nicely curious as it plays with identity, and considering AR Ugas’s rich life experiences and ability to speak four languages fluently, I was surprised to see a lack of culture identity that the father seems so obsessed with.


The second half focuses on the dad and the boyfriend with their initial meeting set out like an intimidating job interview, with the father asking standard questions like “tell me about yourself". Corey Thompson who plays Michael the boyfriend does an excellent job of performing as an awkward, but sort-of-confident guy as he takes the questions in his stride.


Again, everything is playing out somewhat predictably, so much so that you don’t realise Michael is being lured into a false sense of security. The mood suddenly switches, the camera turns to wide angle for that uneasy feel and it really is a deer in the headlights kind of moment for Michael and us. The immediate transformation to a darker tone is unpredictably wonderful and the story became much more compelling.


Tensions rise and the music is as unsettling as the scene, it is all very intriguing as to what’s going to happen next. What impressed me the most was Thompson’s ability to go from meek and mild boyfriend to knight in shining armour in a matter of seconds. His character went as far as sacrificing himself for the prosperity of his girlfriend and even defending her family’s honour and name. This was a huge jump to switch so quickly and swiftly that it really did take me by surprise, mainly because nothing in the first half of the short indicated that the boyfriend was so loyal and devoted.


There were clues to the dad’s hidden security camera background and a touch upon his Albanian culture, but nothing about Michael being an understanding and courageous man. As far as the audience knew, he was just a young lad trying to make a good impression with his girlfriend’s dad with a slight culture clash.


All of the actors did a great job and I got pulled into the scenes a lot more during the dramatic parts of the short. It was fascinating to see how both Corey Thompson and James Bryhan who plays the father could so easily switch their personalities.


I’m looking forward to seeing more short stories as part of Chronicles as I’m curious to see what links them all. Considering AR Ugas’s own background and interest in many cultures and languages, I’d love to see a bigger impact and influence of this through his films.


Sammy S

Twitter: @IsoElegant



By midlandsmovies, Oct 14 2019 07:51AM



The Irishman (2019) Dir. Martin Scorsese


Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, this epic flick from gangster maestro Martin Scorsese stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci as Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa and Russell Bufalino and tells of Sheeran’s rise in Bufalino’s crime family alongside his support to Union head honcho Hoffa.


The plot begins slow as a Scorsese staple voiceover and a rest-home based elderly Sheeran recounts his life over many decades. Sheeran is shown in flashback participating in the horrors of World War 2 alongside his rise as “muscle” for Jimmy Hoffa, the President of an American labour union. The honest goals of decent wages and workers’ rights are undermined with its links to organised crime which leads to Hoffa heading to prison for bribery and fraud.


The acting trio heavyweights not only bring their phenomenal talent to three well-defined roles, the film plays on their combined cinematic history and their previous performances. De Niro as the gangster on the rise dealing in dodgy goods in trucks echoes his Goodfellas scams (a meat truck specifically so) whilst Pacino is constantly about to burst with his legendary rants. Pesci however is far more subdued – perhaps his years in retirement have mellowed the actor – but he holds his own by playing against type as the stoic but scary mob boss whose softly-spoken delivery of dialogue hides his real, and deadly, intentions.


As Sheeran gains respect within the union (Scorsese has him blowing up a fleet of Taxis – nice!) he gets slowly drawn into a murky world of scumbags. It’s also the little details the director adds such as Sheeran explaining about beer-soaked hotdogs, which is similar to the garlic slicing in Goodfellas, and importantly inserts small aspects that make the world breathe.


Scorsese regular Harvey Keitel also makes a cameo appearance but it’s Liverpool-actor Stephen Graham who steals the show in some feisty (and funny scenes) with Al Pacino. Graham plays Anthony Provenzano who is allowed to bankroll his activities using Union Funds but has fiery conflicts with the notorious punctual Hoffa by showing up late (and in shorts) to important meetings. Pacino and Graham have some terrific dramatic back-and-forths before their characters end up in federal prison where their sentences overlap and further fighting occurs.


Another actor of note is an understated Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s daughter Peggy who disowns her father owing to his involvement in serious crime. An earlier scene in a bowling alley with the young Peggy and a restrained Pesci creates a tension that also delivers a satisfying pay-off later.


There’s no avoiding the extended runtime and, for me, there were few iconic and easily-identifiable memorable moments but the overall structure is fulfilling. It’s an intentionally slower paced movie with Scorsese and the actors reflecting on their respective film gravitas. And the use of flashback and narrative recollection represents a reassessment of a life of violence (and violent films) and family (the casts’ relationship to each other).


Speaking of age, the director’s use of de-aging CGI is very impressive with ILM subtly capturing the youthful looks of the main cast. This works especially well on De Niro who at times looks no different to when he played his last role for Scorsese as Casino boss Sam Rothstein 24 years beforehand.


A loving goodbye, age has mellowed them all and the film’s measured pace and phenomenal length, which in all honesty could have been trimmed quite significantly, will either put you off or draw you in. For me, it mostly brought me into a satisfying world of sleaze, bribery and immorality but be wary, the runtime is a hindrance at points as it expands scene times to the limit, and sometimes beyond their dramatic breaking point.


However, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is first-rate nonetheless. The movie is an extraordinary drama of historical importance and covers contemporary themes of authoritarian corruption and violence, but it is also a more than pleasurable and honest love letter to the group’s past creative endeavours together.


★★★★



Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 10 2019 09:50AM



The Day Shall Come (2019) Dir. Chris Morris


As a huge fan of Chris Morris’ previous work, it’s great to see the director back after his successes of The Day Today, Brass Eye and the controversial suicide bomber film Four Lions.


Here Marchánt Davis plays Moses Al Shabaz who is an unstable preacher in a Miami commune who is investigated by a corrupt FBI. They are shown to undertake morally dubious undercover work in their attempts to convict potential terrorists.


Anna Kendrick is Kendra Glack, an operative whose conscience is tested by the bureaucratic game-playing of the FBI and police procedures she is forced to adhere to. And before long, the FBI is actively “encouraging” the group to take risks that they would not do otherwise.


Although this film is certainly a new project, the obvious surface parallels with Four Lions – a bungling religious group, the incompetent authorities – mean The Day Shall Come feels very familiar and it’s sad to say but Four Lions works better in almost every respect.


With its razor-sharp focus and balance of politics, drama and farce, Four Lions’ satirical targets are so precise that it’s a shame this film’s criticism of American security spirally wildly within the narrative. Also, Four Lions’ Riz Ahmed was essentially the “straight” guy to the foolish antics of his friends and this film was aching for a similar central character (either from Moses’ group or the FEDs) to ground the whole thing.


Sadly there isn’t and there’s nothing stopping it from sometimes twisting off into nonsense – especially in the third act. With this scattershot approach, the themes are not as insightfully critiqued as they need to be.


And from nuclear weapons to bank loans, The Day Shall Come wants to target every hot topic in the current climate and therefore loses further focus. The cast are ok but praise should be singled out for Marchánt Davis’ likeable and funny portrayal of the naïve Moses, but even his best efforts couldn’t keep the narrative on course.


With a concluding coda that is inevitable (and again, similarily ‘borrowed’ from his own Four Lions), it has to be said the movie is a rather large disappointment from someone I expected so much more from.


★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Oct 8 2019 11:05AM



Midlands Spotlight – STAY INSIDE 2: VINCENT’S REVENGE


A new action drama film is due for release in 2019 from local filmmaker Joshua Griffiths. We find out about this exciting new flick from the West Midlands.


Joshua Griffiths is an actor and teacher and began his film production company JJR Films around 5 years ago in the Midlands region.


Ever since, the company have created films of different lengths and genres and was set up to give him and his cast and crew friends a chance to showcase their talents including acting, writing and producing their own films.


Wolverhampton-based Joshua is taking on the roles of actor, writer and director himself for the film and the young movie-maker has already starred in the Midlands-made World War 1 short The Long Way Home. (Click here for Midlands Movies link)


Influenced by horror and action, Joshua’s latest film is a sequel which picks up the story of best friends Jason and Dean whose friendship was tested when someone from their past, Vincent, once paid them a visit.


After an incident saw Vincent disappear from their lives the two tried to hide from their past but this new film asks whether Vincent could be back for revenge. The film also stars Jordan Shaw and Ryan Corry.



Previous JJR Films have also included horror/thrillers “Tetanus” and “Escape” whilst the original “Stay Inside” was an action feature from a few years back.


And as well as appearing in The Long Way Home, Joshua has acted as an extra in music videos and Yesterday – the recent Danny Boyle/Richard Curtis Beatles-inspired film.


With the film due for completion soon and a host of festivals ready to be submitted to via Film Freeway, check out Stay Inside 2 Vincents Revenge when it is released soon.


Follow Josh and the future of this project on his social media links below


Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoshJoshieg98

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshuagriffiths21




By midlandsmovies, Oct 6 2019 05:59PM



Her Smell (2019) Dir. Alex Ross Perry


Told over 5 separate sequences interspersed with old video footage, new music drama Her Smell stars Elisabeth Moss as Becky Something, a troubled and self-destructive singer on a downward trajectory.


Backstage after a gig, her intense mood swings are not helped by her reliance on a shaman before her self-appointed God-like behaviour angers her ex-partner (played by Dan Stevens) who arrives with their child which culminates in Becky spiralling down into a substance induced blackout.


Months later at a recording studio, the band’s manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz) is frustrated at their lack of progress whilst Becky intimidates his label’s new signing Akergirls. With her unlikable demeanour and jealous aggression, Becky pushes her band’s drummer (Gayle Rankin) and bassist (Agyness Deyn) to quit before we soon jump forward to find Becky supporting the now more famous Akergirls at one of their own shows.


Elisabeth Moss is absolutely brilliant as the dysfunctional front woman whose star rises and falls (mostly falls) in a cacophony of self-obsession. A danger to both herself and others, Moss manages to keep a wholly unlikeable character just on the right side of sympathy.


However, her behaviour gets more extreme as she violently attacks her old band mate and verbally assaults her mother. The film brilliantly teases out the exposition and by the mid-way point there are hints of an abusive relationship by an absent father.


“There are no bad days”, says her bandmate, inferring they’re all terrible at this point as her burgeoning ego leads to further erratic behaviour. She calls out for the Goddess as she tries to channel the other-worldly into a creative endeavour that goes beyond the surface of mass-consumed pop culture but becomes a cliche herself.


But as Becky’s behaviour reaches a crescendo of rotten on and off-stage antics, the film eventually slows down in a very poignant chamber piece scene with Becky and her daughter. A beautiful and delicate piano cover of Heaven by Bryan Adams calms both Becky and the viewer as we see her finally coming to terms with her past actions.


Like my enjoyment of Lords of Chaos, I tend to gravitate towards the darker aspects of a touring rock band rather than the glossy pop stylings the like of which was covered in Vox Lux. Her Smell goes beyond the traditional take of rock misadventures but luckily the over-the-top characters don’t fall into the trap of the bro-dude stylings The Dirt, where the perm-coiffed hedonists of Mötley Crüe somewhat glamorised these nasty behaviours.


The songs in the film are actually the weakest part with the sub-Avril Lavigne American 3-chord pop-punk being musically and lyrically awful. But such a small part doesn’t take away from the successes of both the protagonist and the supporting cast.


A reunion leads the film towards a more upbeat conclusion and Moss’ terrific central performance allows us to be drawn into her shocking exploits without condoning what she is doing to those around her. As she poisons herself one event at a time, the interesting dynamics are slowly teased out and revealed as the narrative progresses.


Whilst the film doesn’t wholly take this type of rock 'n' roll redemption story in a brand new direction, from the excellent performances to the grotesque but engaging breakdowns, Her Smell is an intense and satisfying tour down a boulevard of broken dreams.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 4 2019 10:25AM



The Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies are hosting an upcoming film and discussion event series called The Talkies.


The Talkies first event is a discussion around Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and is running in collaboration with various academic research projects throughout the University.


The movie stars Lena Headey (Game of Thrones), Douglas Booth (The Dirt) and Matt Smith (Dr Who) and the University will be showing during the Halloween season.


It’s a free screening followed by a discussion panel with Zombie expert Ed Thurlow (organiser of the world's longest running zombie festival), and leading academics in the Austen World, Dr. Gillian Dow (University of Southampton), and Dr. Julian North (University of Leicester).


They will set-the-scene for engaging discussion revolving around society's most thought-provoking issues. This event is hosted by key researcher in Culture and Victorianism, Emma Probett. The initiative is to bring together a diverse audience with a film screening and discussion with a panel of academics and special guests.


Pride and Prejudice and Zombies tells the story of a zombie outbreak which has stirred Austen's classic tale into a contemporary narrative of martial arts, zombie killers and a blood-soaked battlefield of the undead.


This action-packed plot throws Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) into a modern realisation of seemingly unkillable social anxieties surrounding class, contagion and migration.


The Leicester Institute for Advanced Studies (LIAS) is an interdisciplinary centre of excellence.


Dedicated to creating a collaborative and inspiring environment, it brings together researchers from across all disciplines to deliver ambitious, transformative, and impactful research.


And for those attending there will be a selection of Halloween-themed refreshments provided and takes place at The University of Leicester Main Campus, Attenborough Tower, Attenborough Theatre, Leicester, LE1 7RD on Tuesday 29th October 2019.


The full timings are:


15:45 Doors open, refreshments offered

16:00 Welcome special guest panellists

16:30-18:20 Screening

18:20-19:00 Panel discussion and audience Q&A



Register here for FREE



By midlandsmovies, Oct 3 2019 01:42PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 4


Now deep into the second half of the year, there's more films being released in cinemas, on video-on-demand and home format than we can keep up with but we have three new reviews of some of the latest releases out there. In this review catch-up post we take a look at SKIN, MA & CHILD'S PLAY.




Skin (2019) Dir. Guy Nattiv


Jamie Bell plays real-life ex-white supremacist Bryon "Pitbull" Widner in this new dark drama asking whether a racist can be reformed. At various white-power gatherings, Bell acts as father figure to new recruits but begins to doubt his own convictions when he meets Danielle Macdonald as Julie Price and becomes an actual surrogate dad to her two children. Based on an amazing true story, Bell’s Neo-Nazi is covered in tattoos, including significant ones to his face and so the drama is punctuated with gruesome flash-forwards of tattoo removal scenes as his past is literally burnt away. The film has dashes of Imperium and American History X as it tries to get under the surface of the ugly face of American fascism.


Starting with eerily prescient scenes from 2009, the film mellows slightly in the middle before Bell makes a desperate call to a man who is trying to help people leave behind their Neo-Nazi past. As Bell denounces his previous life, he erases his tribal ink along with it. Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’) delivers a warm turn as the empathetic wife, whilst Bell is great as the former skinhead. With a multifaceted performance, he looks for something (or someone) to blame but then takes control of his own life to make it better. With a timely subject matter, Skin delves into themes we’ve seen before but this almost unbelievably true life story gives hope to a better world by erasing, and learning from, one’s past mistakes. ★★★★



Ma (2019) Dir. Tate Taylor


Director Tate Taylor made 2011’s The Help which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture before his adaptation of The Girl on the Train earnt more than $122 million worldwide but what he is doing with Ma is anyone’s guess. Billed as a psychological horror, the film neither provides any depth to the psychological part and little in the way of horror either. In fact, 45 minutes in and all we have is a group of terribly broad and clichéd teenagers partying at a house owned by “Ma” (Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington) who has lured the group to her basement as a place to consume alcohol under the relative ‘safety’ of her adult supervision. However, a humiliating incident from Ma’s past has built up a psychopathic resentment and her initial concern and protectiveness for the teens’ well-being slowly descends into ludicrous revenge sub-plots. Octavia Spencer, who was so excellent in Hidden Figures, does her best to hold the film’s under-developed aspects together but she cannot overcome the film’s rather large flaws. Unlike suggested in the trailer, the horror is sparse and the first terrible thing Ma does is at 1 hour 10 minutes into the film. Given the credits rolled at 1 hour 32 minutes, it really is a missed opportunity for what looks, on paper, to be an interesting set-up. The sewing of a teen’s mouth shut hints upon the gore and nastiness a film like this really should have had more of, but Ma ends up being a pretty terrible and boring film with a solid idea spoiled by its sub-par execution. ★★



Child's Play (2019) Dir. Lars Klevberg


80s video-nasty Child’s Play gets a technological upgrade in this reboot about a killer doll on a murderous rampage. Unlike earlier films in the franchise, the conceit here is rather than a killer’s soul being magically transferred to a toy doll, the recently released “Buddi” is a misfiring high-tech toy that interacts with other products from the Kaslan Corporation who make it. After a suicidal employee at a Vietnamese toy factory decides to disable the safety protocols of one of the dolls on the assembly line, the corrupt product ends up in 13-year old Andy’s hands. Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a shy youngster who lives with his single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and names his doll “Chucky" (oh-oh). Before long, the doll has murdered the family’s cat and decapitated his mum’s boyfriend after hearing Andy bad-mouth both of them. The film wisely takes broad aim at consumerist culture but the comedy-horror works well in the style of 80s fare like Gremlins as the characters never nod-and-wink to the audience. This makes the dark comedy all the more funny. From table saws, blood spurts and a horrifying scalping, the required gore is present and the film’s young child actors are pleasantly relatable. Some 80s clichés work themselves in too – the investigator, the adults who don’t believe their kids, a finale in a department store – and these help solidify the tone in which the film aims for. Mark Hamill does great with his Joker-infused tones as the voice of Chucky also. Much better than it has any right to be, Child’s Play digital modernisation respects the origins of that first film and whilst it won’t win any high-brow awards, for this sort of thing it’s surprisingly entertaining. ★★★



Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Oct 2 2019 12:30PM



Dark Phoenix (2019) Dir. Simon Kinberg


Oh, X-Men! * sigh * The inconsistent and frustrating franchise continues with its focus on making either cracking or crappy blockbusters and with the recent purchase of X-owners 20th Century Fox by Disney (Marvel) this is no doubt the last we’ll see of this incarnation. And what a poor effort to say goodbye with.


In his feature directorial debut, the inexperienced Kinberg attempts to deliver a new adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's "The Dark Phoenix Saga". As the writer of X-Men: The Last Stand, Kinberg has already had one shot at this story so he’s given it a more faithful spin, right?


Well, the story opens with a flashback (like Last Stand) and young Jean Grey’s powers are a source of frustration for her parents before we find that Professor X puts her in protective state to supress her abilities (like Last Stand).


After an accident in space sees her powers get stronger, an older Jean has a fight in suburbia with the X-gang soon arriving on the street to try and stop her (like Last Stand). And it’s not too long before the whole sequence finishes with the death of a major character passing away (like Last Stand). Get it yet? In fact it’s so familiar territory that it’s just short of a remake.


And although it’s essentially the same material, I wonder why it in fact is so much worse. But the performances are phoned it, the drama is underwhelming to the point of non-existence and Jessica Chastain’s pasty white non-villain Vuk is the blandest since Malekith the Dark Elf in Thor: The Dark World.


The underwhelming fiery ending with people turning to dust (like Last Stand) leads the film to sit comfortably alongside the first two Wolverine flicks as the most unmemorable in this universe. A few exciting scenes (Quicksilver and Nightcrawler’s powers during the shuttle accident being the best by far) were sadly not enough to keep my interest.


Gone are James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s morally ambiguous arcs, Jennifer Lawrence’s internal conflicts and Evan Peters’ quirky quips as Quicksilver. And sadly Sophie Turner is no Famke Janssen either. Any attempts to inject the dull A-to-B story with deeper themes and meanings fall flat at every turn too.


So what a sad way to go out really. With our fantastic responses to Logan and Days of Future Past, the X-Men world appeared to be rejuvenated but with this and Apocalypse (review), the miserable fact is that this is a terribly wretched way to end a series I've enjoyed immensely over the years.


★★


Michael Sales


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