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By midlandsmovies, Jan 3 2018 09:13AM

Midlands Movies Writers Top Films of 2017


There's been so many good films out in 2017 that it was difficult for me (Midlands Movies Mike) to choose just 20 for a list of my favourite films of the last 12 months.


Well, we've also got some of our writers' favourite films who had an equally difficult choice to make.


First up is Robb Sheppard who said "it was tough" but amazingly got it down to just 5 excellent films


Robb's Top Films 2017


5. Thor: Ragnarok

4. Get Out

3. Personal Shopper

2. Logan

1. Blade Runner 2049





Check out and follow Robb's further film updates at https://twitter.com/RedBezzle


Up next is Kira Comerford who had honourable mentions to Gerald’s Game, To The Bone and Hidden Figures but slimmed down her choices to the 10 fantastic movies below.


Kira's Top Films 2017


10. Moonlight

9. Jackie

8. Mother!

7. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

6. Wonder Woman

5. Manchester By The Sea

4. The Disaster Artist

3. It

2. Baby Driver

1. Dunkirk




Follow Kira at https://twitter.com/FilmAndTV101


Finally , Guy Russell chooses his best from 2017....


9. The Greatest Showman

I can’t remember the last time I saw a musical so feel-good in the cinemas. Hugh Jackman was born to sing, act and dance. A true story if a little manipulated, The Greatest Showman tells the story of P.T Barnum, a hopeless visionary whose dream to entertain and create gave birth to what we now know as the circus. A brilliant and catchy soundtrack, along with the old Hollywood sets, costumes makes this my guilty pleasure of 2017.


8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

The Guardians return in the craziest series within the Marvel universe. Whilst I’m not the biggest superhero fan, there is something unique about these two films that gets me to revisit them again and again. This time The Guardians help their leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) uncover the truth behind his biological father. Just like the first entry, James Gunn writes and directs a crazy and witty blockbuster that sets itself apart from the other Marvel entries.


7. Hacksaw Ridge

Another war film but this time from director Mel Gibson who tells the story of soldier Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) a conscientious objector who served during WW2 in Japan. Refusing to kill the opposition he faces adversity from his peers and fellow soldiers, even more so when the troop find themselves in midst of war whilst on Hacksaw Ridge. A visceral war film by Gibson however he focuses on faith, courage and patriotism like many of his other films. This one will stand the test of time.


6. It

A band of mistreated kids group together when the mysterious Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) begins hunting the towns children. Not having seen the original 80s miniseries I went into this film with fresh eyes, not knowing what to expect, I came out with a firm belief that the horror genre is alive and well thanks to director Andy Muschietti who blends comedy with the macabre excellently. If you like Stranger Things or Stand by Me then this film is a must.


5. Dunkirk

Not my favourite Christopher Nolan film by a long shot, however Dunkirk is still an impressive bit of filmmaking. A dramatic account of the evacuation of Dunkirk during WW2, Nolan concentrates on three aspects of the evacuation, land, sea and air. Expertly giving equal time to each service, showing exactly how frantic and grave the situation was. Dunkirk doesn’t spend time on character development or background into the war, aspects I wasn’t a fan of when first viewed however I think a second viewing will prepare me better.


4. War for the Planet of the Apes

You could be forgiven for thinking this instalment of the Apes franchise was a WW2 film. Gun wielding maniacs on horses. However this is the third and supposedly final instalment of the Apes trilogy directed by Matt Reeves. This film honours the films before it as well as rounding up the trilogy in a satisfying manner. Another knock out performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar, the leader who leads a team of apes to retrieve his son from The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).


3. Get Out

Directed by comedy maestro Jordan Peele, his first feature film Get Out impressed critics and audiences alike. Chris is invited by his girlfriend Rose to spend the weekend at her parents’ house, introducing him to them for the first time. Embarrassingly the family make Chris’s skin colour an issue albeit a well-meaning though ludicrous issue. Peele’s debut spoke volumes to the masses in the midst of a vocal topic in America. Race. This is a popular movie that mattered.


2. Manchester by the Sea

An apartment handyman (Casey Affleck) becomes the legal guardian of his nephew when his brother passes away suddenly. I have never seen grief depicted in such an unflinching way before on film, director and writer Kenneth Lonergan handles the subject matter with a gentle hand allowing the audience to connect with the characters instead of just pitying them.


1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Loved by critics, hated by (a lot) of fans. I was one of the few fans of the Star Wars saga who was glued to their seat for the entirety of the films run time. Excellent action sequences, a complex villain, brilliant score and fantastic vision by Rian Johnson make Last Jedi the best cinema experience of 2017.



By midlandsmovies, Dec 30 2017 10:12AM

The Hot List - Midlands Films to Look Out For in 2018


With 2017 nearly at an end Midlands Movies spotlights a number of local projects due for completion in 2018 which have us excited for the region’s filmmaking as we head into the new year. Please check out each of these individual films using the links provided as we highlight 7 of the most anticipated films coming up from the region in the following 12 months.




Songbird by Sophie Black

Described as a ‘modern fantasy for music lovers’ this new film from talented Nottingham director Sophie Black is an exciting new short starring musician Janet Devlin. Songbird comes from multi-award-winning screenwriter Tommy Draper (Stop/Eject, Wasteland) and tells the story of a shy open-mic-night singer called Jennifer, who has her voice stolen by a an ancient creature called The Collector. Also a film for music fans the short is set in the world of the underground music scene and features brand new songs by Janet Devlin herself. As a group of experienced, passionate, award-winning and slightly eccentric filmmakers based in the East Midlands, Songbird will be coming next year with high expectations from filmmakers who have consistently delivered. Catch their latest news at https://twitter.com/sophieblackfilm



The Return of the Ring by Abdulrahman Ugas

This unique take on the world of Tolkien is set right here in the Midlands as new fan-film ‘The Return of the Ring’ is a movie based on Peter Jackson’s critically acclaimed film trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings’. In a unique twist on the genre, the story has moved its fantasy world to modern day Britain where it will follow a resilient Elf who finds out the Ring has returned and sets out to re-claim its ownership. With the film planned to be released in early 2018, Abdulrahman hopes his exciting new project can bring the tales of Tolkien back to their roots in the West Midlands. Follow here for updates https://twitter.com/AbdulrahmanUgas




Patient Zero by Pathogen Films

After meeting up at a Business networking event, the 4 members of Stratford-upon-Avon’s Pathogen films have combined their talents to begin producing their own film web series. Their forthcoming set of zombie shorts follow a group of survivors who become involved in a deadly game of betrayal in an attempt to stop a maniacal group bent on turning what's left of humanity into mindless mutations. With their first film Patient Zero: Dead at the Gates premiering in Autumn 2017, the crew are now deep into production on the follow up titled “Semper Protegens”. Follow their updates and future crowd-funding campaigns at https://twitter.com/Pathogen_Films





UK Superhero by Rotunda Films

Rotunda Films is an experienced and creative film and video production company who have over fifteen years experience in production and who are now tackling an original superhero series in the region. The Birmingham filmmakers feel the UK deserves its own superheroes as they launch a new project to create a series of films featuring a unique range of characters. With a new selection of local superheroes in their own shared universe, they are starting this ambitious project with their film Mystic Highway, where they will be creating the first characters in this exciting new world. Follow the production here: https://twitter.com/rotundafilms




Brumville by Grant Murphy

Described as a film full of local people and local locations, Birmingham’s Grant Murphy hopes to utilise the West Midlands and Back Country’s pool of talent for his upcoming film Brumville. With filming recently concluded, Grant is not only writer director and producer on the film but will be playing the lead role of Connor as well. With a passion to give local actors more opportunities, the film will show just how bad it can be when friends are mixed up in drugs. The shooting of Brumville began in March 2017 after self-funding and crowd-funding campaigns and you can keep informed of their progress and release plans at https://twitter.com/brumville




The Law of Noir by Duaine Roberts

The Law of Noir started production in September and we cannot wait to see what's in store for this upcoming law-drama story. After the success of Graycon (review here) which saw Duaine Roberts branching out into sci-fi, the Birmingham filmmaker is getting back to basics with his this new drama short. Telling the story of a young law intern who is tasked with defending a client accused of human trafficking, the filmmaker is another trailblazer who is passionate in promoting Birmingham’s acting and production talent. Follow updates at https://twitter.com/CarmaFilmUK




Dead Quiet by Alex Withers

This forthcoming horror drama is another survival film where the last person on earth struggles to stay alive and attempts to hold onto his humanity. Produced in Nottingham the film is written by Dan McGrath who will explore the “importance of the sounds we create and experience as humans in order to connect with each other and the world around us”. Director Alex Withers and a team of talented filmmakers are bringing this unique world to the life on the big screen and wrapped production in August of 2017. Both a “disturbing horror and a bittersweet drama” follow the film here to get updates on its impending release https://www.facebook.com/DeadQuietFilm


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Dec 19 2017 08:54AM

Top 5 Christmas Movies


Midlands Movies writer Guy Russell gets in the Christmas spirit by choosing his personal top 5 festive films that bring a warm feeling to his winter heart.


Well, it's that time of year again. The season of festivities, goodwill and a large amount of Christmas films showing in either the cinema or through the television at home. From childhood classics to black comedy capers here are my Top Five Christmas films.




1) Home Alone (1990)


An obvious choice but rightly so. Premiering in 1990, over the past 27 years Home Alone has cemented itself as a holiday classic. Starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McAllister, a 10-year-old boy whose parents have accidentally left him home alone in the madness of making a plane to Paris for the festive season. Burglars Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern respectively) are working the McAllister’s street not knowing Kevin is left behind. What ensues is a hilarious, chaotic fight to claim the house.


With a brilliant score by John Williams, family-friendly direction by Chris Columbus and original screenplay by John Hughes, not only is Home Alone a Christmas favourite but a favourite all year around.


Honourable Mention: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). Whilst repetitive and overlong, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York recreates some of the same magic the first had one has, adding the festive New York atmosphere into the mix as well as the hilarious addition of Tim Curry as a snobby hotel concierge.



2) The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)


One of the greatest and most heavily adapted stories of all time, A Christmas Carol is brought to life in a unique way in The Muppets Christmas Carol. A live-action musical starring an on-form Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge whilst the supporting cast feature Kermit, Mrs Piggy and the rest of The Muppets. As a comedy film with modern songs and puppets it would have surprised many when this film revealed itself to be one of the most faithful re-enactments of Charles Dickens story. Michael Caine brings the film to life as Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve night, they visit the past, present and future in the hope he can see the error of his ways and redeem himself.


The cold, bleak, Victorian London setting is realised fantastically and compliments the film further as a Christmas classic.


Honourable Mention: Scrooge (1951). Another adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a lot more straightforward than The Muppets take on the subject matter. Alastair Sim portrays the titular character here brilliantly however when first released the film didn’t take off, only finding an audience many years later.



3) Die Hard (1988)


Recently voted “Britain’s favourite Christmas film” by the British public, this action adventure film from John McTiernan splits fans down the middle as to whether or not it can be classed as a “true” Christmas film.


The odds are stacked against off-duty police officer John McClane as he is trapped in a L.A. skyscraper during a Christmas Eve party while terrorists storm the building led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Released during July 1988, it became a smash hit summer blockbuster. With its sunny Los Angeles setting it’s easy to see why some people disregard Die Hard as a Christmas film however the merry soundtrack and seasonal references are peppered throughout bolstering the argument this is one of the greatest Christmas films of all time.


Honourable Mention: Die Hard 2 (1990) Suffering from the same problem Home Alone 2 had, this sequel was accused of being too repetitive when first released as John McClane fights more terrorists on Christmas Eve, this time at an airport. It has become a firm favourite since then too, myself finding it greatly entertaining. It even has snow this time around!



4) The Family Stone (2005)


One film that doesn’t pop up on these lifts very often is The Family Stone, a comedy-drama film that follows the Stone family as they gather at their parent’s home, amongst them is Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) who introduces his family to his new fiancée Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) during the holidays. However, she receives a hostile reception and invites her own sister to stay causing further complications.


The Family Stone is a Christmas film that doesn’t get much air time come the festive season and it’s a shame. A moderate box-office and critical hit, it’s funny enough and has some real dramatic clout. It has a real slice of life feel to the film as there are awkward dinners, family rifts and arguments over spouses whilst balancing the comedy well.


If you’re after a snowy, Christmas setting with a fun premise then I would definitely recommend The Family Stone.


Honourable mention: Christmas Vacation (1989). Everyone’s favourite screwball family The Griswold’s return as they plan a big family Christmas involving both Clark and Ellen’s parents. Similar to The Family Stone in the sense that the family rarely get on for longer than ten minutes however in traditional John Hughes fashion the film doesn’t pass by without a happy, festive finale.



5) Bad Santa (2003)


Produced by the Coen Brothers and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Bad Santa was always going to be close to the knuckle and it does not disappoint. Alcoholic safe cracker Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and fellow thief Marcus (Tony Cox) hit a mall every year at Christmas whilst posing as the stores Santa and his little helper, complications arise however when Willie befriends a troubled boy.


One of the crudest but funniest Christmas films of all time, Bad Santa will have some opposition for its less than gleeful outlook on the season however its use of advent calendars and store Santa’s more than make up for it.


If you’re a fan of the comedic talents of John Ritter, Bernie Mac and Billy Bob Thornton then check Bad Santa out! Just avoid the 2016 sequel.


Honourable mention: The Night Before (2015). Booze, Drugs and Debauchery come together to produce a Christmas three friends will never forget. The Night Before stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anthony Mackie as childhood friends who get together every Christmas Eve to support Ethan (Levitt) who lost his family at Christmas. They decide to end their tradition but not without going out with a bang. The Night Before is a welcome addition to the adult Christmas genre providing enough laughs for the viewer to remember why they’re having such a good time.


Guy Russell

https://twitter.com/BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, Dec 17 2017 05:23PM

Midlands Movies Favourite Films of 2017





20. What Happened to Monday Dir. Tommy Wirkola

What we said: “The film’s chases, fire-fights, explosions and shoot-outs will satisfy fans of action yet it is so well constructed, with decent narrative and character development, that these have an emotional weight as an audience sides with the siblings’ plight. A career high for the director and with Rapace returning on a high from an earlier cinematic stinker, the film sits alongside Snowpiercer and Predestination as a fantastic under-valued science fiction story”.

Click here for full review





19. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

What we said: “With one of the best casts of the year, the film will find its fans in those willing to go to the darkest and most gruesome places and uses an antiquated literary device to help provide its metaphorical narrative. It feels that it exists beyond its ancient allegory and with perfect performances, the movie will hopefully gain interest for its artistry alone but in fact leaves an audience with so much more to contemplate”.

Click here for full review




18. Logan Dir. James Mangold

What we said: [Robb Sheppard REVIEW] “All the ingredients are there: Logan’s relationship with Patrick Stewart’s infirm Xavier is touching and shows a tenderness previously unseen, whilst his role reversed turn as a father figure to a young girl sees him move closer to the feeling of family that he’s been so afraid of. This is the finest X-Men outing yet and a near-perfect presentation of a jaded, aging, flawed hero”.

Click here for full review




17. Jackie Dir. Pablo Larraín

What we said: “With a constant shift from public to private, and back again, director Pablo Larraín films many of the scenes in a Kubrick-esque one-point-perspective which both signifies institutional structures but maintains the focus on the lead performance as the world spins around her. Jackie is a rare insight into the private world of a very public figure”.

Click here for full review




16. Mommy Dead and Dearest Dir. Erin Lee Carr

What we said: “The juxtaposition of interesting witnesses, side tales and the natural twists and turns of a barely believable story keeps the interest up. Tackling the lofty subject matter of neglect and child abuse alongside the mystery of a murder case, Mommy Dead and Dearest is terrifying yet very honest in its portrayal of the depths of dishonesty”.

Click here for full review




15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Dir. James Gunn

What we said: “GOTG Vol. 2 is an exceptional feat. The film could be the best-looking Marvel film to date with its eye-popping colour palette and with outstanding costumes, make-up and special effects scenes will satisfy the action fans. However, for me it showed that if you care about your leads then these are hugely heightened and the film’s best asset is Gunn himself in delivering the whole package of a blockbuster franchise and is the Guardian of his own gorgeous galaxy”.

Click here for full review




14. Christine Dir. Antonio Campos

What we said: “Hall does superb work with a complex character that could have easily been exploitative. It avoids focusing on the terrible incident that made her “famous” and attempts to explain what could have caused such a tragedy. Christine’s career-minded female juggling the demands of work, love and womanhood exposes the mental strain of life yet handles all of these difficult themes with compassion and without judgement”.

Click here for full review




13. Baby Driver Dir. Edgar Wright

What we said: [Kira Comerford REVIEW] “Baby Driver proved to be a highly entertaining ride. There are some huge chase scenes to be found throughout...where I sat forward in my chair, mouth wide open, holding my breath with my eyes glued to the screen”.

Click here for full review




12. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore Dir. Macon Blair

What we said: “One of the biggest and best surprises of the year so far, a superb central performance shows how one frustrated nobody can go almost full-on “John Wick” in the face of an apathetic society. Funny and fascinating, this indie gem uses the reluctant hero trope to perfection as an awkward misfit becomes involved in crimes just by circumstance and bad luck. Yet, there’s no bad luck in the execution by the filmmaker who delivers a knock-out punch of hilarity and humanity”.

Click here for full review




11. The LEGO Batman Movie Dir. Chris McKay

What we said: “The references are nicely woven into the fabric of the film and the jokes hit the mark far more times than they miss. A cool comic comedy, I’d recommend this to anyone who loves Batman and his history over the years and whilst younger kids may not get all the history, the film is enough of a fun family romp to be enjoyed by any audience looking for lots of laughs”.

Click here for full review




10. Brigsby Bear Dir. Dave McCary

What we said: “The low budget nature of their endeavours clearly reflect the filmmakers’ own passions and every positive ounce of that is on screen. Good-natured without being drippy, Brigsby Bear invokes the best parts of child-like innocence and exalts the benefits of simplicity in order to find the basic joys in an ever confusing world. Brilliant”.

Click here for full review



9. Get Out Dir. Jordan Peele

What we said: “A suitable sense of dread is created, not with any jump cuts (although there are a couple) but with an interesting narrative, story development and unsettling atmosphere, Who would have thought such basics would really appeal to cinema fans? Eh, Hollywood? Peele keeps it simple and the film is all the better for it and all the characters are played well be a cast of diverse actors who held hold the whole film together, without ever falling into horror-cliché territory”.

Click here for full review




8. Hacksaw Ridge Dir. Mel Gibson

What we said: “A fully rounded cast deliver a great screenplay and although Garfield as Doss takes centre stage, it really is an ensemble film with everyone delivering their role to perfection no matter how big or small. Catch this as soon as possible and tinsel town’s biggest outcast has once again come in from the cold to deliver a passion project that favours hope over horror on the big screen”.

Click here for full review




7. Free Fire Dir. Ben Wheatley

What we said: “Wheatley has created a sharp action thrill fest...and with a fantastic cast it aims to be more than a throwaway list of killings. Although it’s a little rough and ready round the edges, the film uses this to its advantages making Free Fire a comical accomplishment that will engage fans of Wheatley’s work but will widen his appeal with something more commercially accessible”.

Click here for full review




6. Miss Sloane Dir. John Madden

What we said: “Having already been won over by Chastain’s central performance and the tight script, the film concludes with somewhat of a twist ending I didn’t see coming. But all of the narrative – and almost all of the scenes throughout – squarely rests at the door of Chastain...It’s an intense single piece of acting that without which the movie would simply fall apart. Miss Sloane ends as a well-made and brilliantly paced character study that covers both personal and political themes”.

Click here for full review




5. The Love Witch Dir. Anna Biller

What we said: “Enchanting and engaging, The Love Witch sees Biller creating a multifaceted masterpiece that, whilst on the surface tells the story of a technicolour temptress, is a far more magical experience mixing low-budget tropes with high-brow awareness”.

Click here for full review




4. Raw Dir. Julia Ducournau

What we said: “Raw infects the audience with an orgy of limbs whilst Justine’s withdrawal is depicted in a painfully straight forward filming style. Raw takes the flesh-eating concept and attempts to normalise its presentation. The film becomes a biting metaphor for growing up and its effects on the body and succeeds on many levels and after it had finished I found an obsession with its images and themes and longed for another taste of its delicious pleasures”.

Click here for full review




3. Dunkirk Dir. Christopher Nolan

What we said: [Kira Comerford REVIEW] “....Overall, Dunkirk is a knock-out. It’s a grown-up film that can be enjoyed by the younger generations, and works to give a three-dimensional view of how events played out during this amazing operation that took place in WWII. It combines terrific performances with a score that ratchets tension perfectly, and visuals that place you right at the heart of the action”.

Click here for full review




2. The Last Jedi Dir. Rian Johnson

What we said: “With an expansion of its themes and both the classic and new characters finding their place The Last Jedi will hopefully satisfy super Star Wars nerds and general film audiences too. With such great filmmaking from Johnson, it’s a huge task to tackle the lore and the fan expectations of the infamous space opera, but the director more than comes through. Yet the main thing is the film is a lot of fun. Lots of unadulterated fun. And like the best cinema has to offer The Last Jedi leaves you both with a smile on your face and a lump in your throat”.

Click here for full review




1. Loving Vincent by Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman

What we said: “It’s all too easy to allude to this as a masterpiece but a masterpiece it is nonetheless. In the end, Loving Vincent provides a portrait of a conflicting and unknowable sequence of past events that maintains the celebrated artist’s place in the art world. The story, music, acting and, of course, the unique painted design combine perfectly to create a dazzling canvas to be studied over, and most of all enjoyed, like Vincent’s best works already are”.

Click here for full review


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 17 2017 04:35PM



Brigsby Bear (2017) Dir. Dave McCary


Whatever your bug bears – Trump, Brexit, you name it – 2017 has already had its fair share of cynicism and with endless hostility in real life and on the internet, it’s easy to become pessimistic and bitter with the things around us. Which is why Brigsby Bear’s humanity is like a soothing tonic after wading through this year’s miseries!


Kyle Mooney plays James Pope, a man obsessed with a children’s show called Brigsby Bear which is akin to Barney the Dinosaur or Seasame Street. This one imaginative TV series is his sole focus before he is taken by the police from his bunker-like “home”. He is subsequently informed by the authorities that he was snatched as a baby, Ted and April Mitchum are not actually his real parents and that the Brigsby show was in fact creation by his ‘false-father’ Ted (a great support role from Mark Hamill).


As he is returned to live with his birth mum and dad, as well as his sister Aubrey, the awkward man-boy James struggles to integrate back into regular society. With a lifetime of obsession over the fictional Brigsby still bearing down on him, he fails to mix with the young partying adults around him but Mooney adds a great sympathy to what could be a cringe worthy character.


However, a newly formed friendship with Aubrey’s friend Spencer leads to a plan to complete the unfinished series using props from Detective Vogel (Greg Kinnear) who confiscated them during the arrest.


The film is full of life, passion and creativity and you can’t help but warm to James’ pure ambitions. Striving to overcome his social embarrassment, we root for the tongue-tied and self-conscious James as his untainted view on the world and love for the simpler things pull together those around him.


Some may find the film too saccharine or sentimental to truly achieve lofty cinematic heights but it is the simplicity of the tale, the characters and James’ aspiration that are its winning traits. As the fictional film they’re making spirals out of control, the low budget nature of their endeavours clearly reflect the filmmakers’ own passions and every positive ounce of that is on screen.


Good-natured without being drippy, Brigsby Bear invokes the best parts of child-like innocence and exalts the benefits of simplicity in order to find the simple joys in an ever confusing world. Brilliant.


8.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Dec 15 2017 08:59AM



The Last Jedi (2017) Dir. Rian Johnson


WARNING: Contains spoilers


After the soft-reboot that was The Force Awakens and the misstep, for me, of the dull prequel Rogue One, with The Last Jedi comes Disney’s third foray into the galaxy far, far away with director Rian Johnson (Looper) stepping into the director’s chair.


We pick up where Force Awakens left us. Luke has banished himself on an island after failing to train Ben Solo, now Kylo Ren who is again played with evil ‘emo’ glee by Adam Driver. A courageous Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on a mission from the Resistance being tasked with coaxing the powerful Jedi back into action against the dastardly First Order. The internet was buzzing over what his (or her) first words would be. Two years in the making and every possible theory pored over and Johnson builds up tension with lingering shots on the two protagonists. And what are they? Well, essentially none. Cool-hand Luke slowly accepts his lightsaber in his robotic palm and then...simply chucks it over his shoulder and walks away.


And this favouring of the unexpected over the predictable is its winning formula and a metaphor for Johnson’s whole film. The moments an audience give assumed importance to are given little significance whilst the smaller details are given prominence throughout. Heck, Johnson provides an entire 10 minute battle sequence even before we return to the island and pick up the story JJ Abrams left us with.


Narrative wise, the film sticks to a basic plot where the resistance have been decimated to a few ships then go on the run tracked by huge star destroyers (now with a super-sized dreadnaught class version). Supreme Leader Snoke, another amazing Andy Serkis creation with pitch-perfect CGI, tasks Domnhall Gleeson’s pantomime Hux and Kylo Ren to continue their search for Rey in a bid to get her to turn to the dark side. The light-hearted family feel is there from the opening, the loveable rogue Poe Dameron, filling Harrison Ford’s shoes (AND clothes at times) delivers an overtly comedic exchange over a radio – again echoing Han in A New Hope. Despite its slightly awkward tone which made me fear “I have a bad feeling about this" it luckily settled down and Johnson balanced the light and dark with vigour.


As the resistance plans to infiltrate the First Order to stop their tracking device, John Boyega’s fantastic Finn gets a chance to shine as he joins feisty newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose on a trip to Canto Bight and its wealthy casino patrons. Gambling on alien-horse races sees Johnson add a throwaway but thrilling CGI chase sequence which along with the city’s building design had the worrying look of the much maligned prequel trilogy. However, for me it felt as though it brought back the links between all trilogies which Johnson had fun in delivering. There’s also seeds sown of a wider universe with farm orphan slaves (“it’s like poetry, it rhymes”) being drawn into the events, perhaps helping to establish Johnson’s recently announced stand-alone trilogy. We’ll have to wait and see.


Rogue One’s fan-service appeared tokenistic but R2-D2’s playback of Star Wars’ original “you’re our only hope” message and a hugely surprising cameo from Yoda as a Force ghost were more than welcome. Context is everything and both served the story and I loved the fact the ghosts had returned for the first time since 1983’s Return of the Jedi.


However, at every turn the film swept me off my feet and pulled out something unexpected in each new scene. Expanding the myths of the force we see new powers including a resurrection and transcendence. Mark Hamill as Luke and the late Carrie Fisher as his sister Leia are both mesmerising in career defining performances and their coming together showed that amongst the battles, fights and comedy, the film’s tender emotional beats are what really draw you in.


Away from the nods, we get new creatures – the loveable puffin-like Porgs avoiding Jar Jar Binks levels of annoyance in the main – as well as new characters. Benicio Del Toro’s stuttering code-breaker and Laura Dern’s focused Vice Admiral are welcome additions with the latter’s sacrifice by flying a ship at lightspeed into another craft is one of the film’s visual highlights. With bombastic sounds being replaced with an eerie silence, the image is lingering and powerful. Alongside that, Snoke’s blood red throne room and a Kylo-Luke showdown showed the film’s cinematic ambitions were far more than space banter and franchise references.


In the end, this is epic blockbuster cinema at its very best. It would have been easy to follow the established pattern but the film sets up a precedent that anyone could be expendable which kept tension high. It also highlights how The Force Awakens, a film I hugely enjoyed, really didn’t tackle many new things yet this one twisted my expectations from the start.


With an expansion of its themes and both the classic and new characters finding their place The Last Jedi will hopefully satisfy super Star Wars nerds and general film audiences too. With such great filmmaking from Johnson, it’s a huge task to tackle the lore and the fan expectations of the infamous space opera, but the director more than comes through. Yet the main thing is the film is a lot of fun. Lots of unadulterated fun. And like the best cinema has to offer The Last Jedi leaves you both with a smile on your face and a lump in your throat.


10/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2017 04:09PM



The Exchange (2017) Dir. Richard Miller


Directed by Richard Miller and Grant Archer, The Exchange is a mysterious three-minute short film made as part of the MyRodeReel Challenge, an online filmmaking challenge where the film’s running time must not exceed three minutes.


The Exchange starts off with the introduction of two men. One rings the doorbell as the other answers the door. Both of these men appear to be flamboyant, outgoing, friendly. As they accompany each other into the hallway we see the windows and panes are covered with old newspaper, the owner cranes his neck around the door to see no neighbours have seen his guest arrive as he triple locks the door behind him.


Regardless of the uneasy atmosphere, the film is surprisingly darkly comic at times. An eerie score by Stephen Theofanous compliments the perfectly timed direction by Miller and Archer. The actors Richard Shields and Robert Laird bounce off of each other fantastically and juggle comedy with fear really well, with one playing a confident well-spoken middle class Englishman whilst the other displays a more quiet, homely persona, forcing the audience to think what could possibly connect these two and what do they have to exchange.


I enjoy short films where the conclusion completely takes you by surprise, as so many short films are made, the successful ones are those with finales you don’t forget. This is fortunately the case with The Exchange, another successful project by Richard Miller who continues to impress with every new entry.


Having seen his previous directorial work in Ballpoint Hero and Life Flashes it’s no surprise why he is one of the finest filmmakers currently working in the Midlands.


I highly recommend The Exchange, a fantastic way to spend three minutes and a brilliant finalist for the 2017 MyRodeReel Challenge.


Guy Russell

https://twitter.com/budguyer


By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2017 04:03PM



When Voices Unite (2017) Dir. Lewis Coates


Written and directed by Lewis Coates, When Voices Unite is an uneasy study on the powers of the internet and social media as we follow a protestor film a live video feed whilst investigating a suspicious building.


The film opens with our protagonist Jess (Lara Goodson) in her car preparing herself to enter a dilapidated building she believes is active and carrying unknown secrets the public need to know. She is talking to her followers via a live video feed, updating them of the current situation and explaining why she sees this exercise as a worthy cause.


“Global monitoring” and “Government access to our lives online” are the reasons behind Jess’s interest in exposing confidential government secrets. And it is this current issue that not only interests me but scores of others as we continually live in a growing online world. It’s exciting to see a local short film like When Voices Unite focus on important themes such as these, even more so because Coates isn’t heavy handed in his approach and makes sure the story of Jess reaching the building remains at the forefront.


When watching this short I was reminded of a similar independent film, The Blair Witch Project, as both films have a strong, tough and passionate female at the core of them. Here though, the Jess and Heather characters are risking their lives to get the perfect shot for their documentaries.


As the lone character Jess, Lara Goodson who portrays her, carries the film in great stride, never putting a foot wrong. She is accompanied only by a chat log seen at the bottom of the screen, the viewers of her feed giving her support and direction. An interesting effect by Coates to have the viewer one step ahead of the films protagonist as they can see all around her, knowing what’s coming before Jess does.


Supported using public money from Arts Council England, this is a good example of what should be funded. Lewis Coates has made a thrilling, topical short film with something important to say.


Guy Russell

https://twitter.com/budguyer



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