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By midlandsmovies, Dec 6 2017 08:42PM



The Dark Tower (2017 film) Dir. Nikolaj Arcel


From the director of the critical hit Royal Affair (Danish: En kongelig affære) comes this adaptation, of sorts, of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Having only passing knowledge (and interest) in King’s opus, the film acts as a ‘continuation’ of the book’s story which sees gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba) on a journey to protect the Dark Tower in a mythical world.


Matthew McConaughey sleepwalks through his performance as the Man in Black antagonist and the film encompasses a number of story threads from the 8-volume series in the hope to set up an ongoing franchise. However, we’ll be lucky to see even a second film in a movie filled with disappointing set pieces and to those unfamiliar with the work, like me, a whole host of fantasy gobbledegook about portals and reality-ending quests.


Much like my experience with Warcraft, the film struggles to explain its themes in a relatively short time (95 agonising minutes) – yet, on the other hand, I can also imagine fans screaming that the film’s length makes the long book far too simplistic at the same time. Therefore, satisfying neither audience it required to develop.


On the positive side, I enjoyed the set-up where a New York boy (Tom Taylor as Jake Chambers) has visions of another reality which subsequently come true, whilst McConaughey seeks a child with unsurpassable power for his evil ends, and their two paths intertwine.


However, I expect this Harry Potter-style discovery of a hidden magical world is hardly the depth the book’s fans needed or wanted. As the film drags towards its conclusion, a series of boring plot points are delivered in what appears to be a screenwriter’s nightmare to make sense of the book’s major scenes and it’s simply not engaging enough to stand on its own two feet.


The Dark Tower ends up being a boring stagnant journey that will struggle to entice new fans and no doubt fails to do justice to a complex novel series.


4/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Dec 1 2017 01:16PM



Atomic Blonde (2017) Dir. David Leitch


This action thriller film stars Charlize Theron as a spy uncovering double agents in Europe during the downfall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


Rather unoriginally, the film begins as a KGB agent steals a sensitive list of active-agents hidden in a wristwatch before cutting to a bruised and hurt Lorraine Broughton (Theron) as she proceeds to explain what happened in Berlin to her handlers. This flashback frames the story as the sarcastic agent recalls the events to the CIA (John Goodman) and her MI6 superior (Toby Jones) and what unfolds is her experience to recover the list and uncover the identity of a double agent within the ranks.


All of this sets up a series of amazingly-filmed action sequences and the comparisons to this year’s John Wick: Chapter 2 are easy to see – no less obvious as director Leitch is also a producer on that film. With Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron showed she could handle punches, kicks and bone crushing fights and we get even more here with her central performance is key to the film’s charm.


Theron’s natural allure helps the audience get behind her mission but it’s the long one-take action scenes that are the film’s selling point. From bashing battles to bullets banging, the film mixes fantastic fight choreography with running, explosions and vehicle chases in a variety of exciting sequences that will keep you entertained, even though the clichéd story line hits familiar plot points.


The Berlin background is a nice change to the usual bland American cityscapes, but it is the 80s soundtrack and extreme lighting that really gives the film a different feel to its contemporaries. Like an action-filled Neon Demon, the colours pop from the screen whilst musical hits (and covers of hits) from Bowie, George Michael, The Clash and more help establish the historical context but also give the movie a soundtrack coolness not seen since the Guardians of the Galaxy films.


Support comes from a slightly bland and broad James McAvoy as an agent who is all, well, James McAvoy-like, whilst Sofia Boutella as Delphine plays an undercover French agent who is also Lorraine's lover. It’s great the film pays no attention to this seemingly edgy choice for a lead character's sexuality in a major release which is not only honourable, but fits well into the film’s narrative perfectly.


But in the end, like John Wick (with which there’s talk of possible a cross-over film), the movie is held together by the central show from Theron herself. She gives this exciting film a much-needed bout of sultriness, strength and poise alongside expertly handling the violent and bloody punch-ups.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Nov 21 2017 05:52PM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 5


As we steam full ahead towards 2018, here are a few reviews of films we’ve seen during the past year in the fifth catch-up blog of 2017.




The Discovery (2017) Dir. Charlie McDowell

Released through Netflix this drama has a fantastic cast of Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, Robert Redford and Jesse Plemons and we begin with scientist Thomas Harbor (Redford) who has proved the existence of life after death. With the world population plummeting as the public commit suicide to experience this other world the film has a very interesting premise yet sadly little else. As Redford’s weird sect at a mansion attempt to record what these dead folk are seeing in their afterlife, the boring drama spoils its ideas in scenes of unbelievable dullness and a slow moving pace. It’s great to see Netflix as the spearhead of well-budgeted independent films that tackle subjects that no longer seem to get cinema releases but this has to be noted as a well-meaning failure. An investigation into the strange images captured lead to the film’s most interesting themes and a final reveal about what they are viewing is disappointing and unfulfilling with no light at the end of a very dark and depressing drama tunnel. 4/10




Catfight (2017) Dir. Onur Tukel

Directed and written by Turkish-American Onur Tukel, Catfight is a dark comedy drama starring Sandra Oh and Anne Heche as two women who begin a feud that ends up lasting decades. Wealthy socialite Oh embarrasses her old friend Heche who is a struggling artist at a party and thus starts a violent drunken fist fight. The action is brutal, yet contains over-the-top comedy punch sounds straight from Indiana Jones and ends with Oh falling into a coma and waking years later. After finding her son died in military service and broke owing to medical bills, the previously rich Oh deals with a role-reversal as Heche’s artist has become a narcissistic and successful artist. Great support comes from the little-seen Alicia Silverstone as Heche’s put-upon and broody girlfriend and a second vengeful fight ensues before Heche herself falls into a coma and also loses her money in the same circumstances. This is a film with hints of Trading Places but has a surreal story to tackle more serious themes of war (both in relationships and a background narrative about military intervention) and loss – of memories, possessions and family. An interesting if slight film, Catfight has two fantastic female leads and sticks to a strange and unique concept yet also has the guts to follow through with a ‘Being John Malkovich’ heightened reality. A punch-drunk oddity. 5.5/10



Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) Dir. Luc Besson

Based on the comic series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and budgeted at an enormous €197 million, Besson returns to his eye-gouging visual sci-fi aesthetic first seen in the 1997 film The Fifth Element. In the 28th century, the movie follows Major Valerian (a rogue-ish Dane DeHaan) and his partner Sergeant Laureline (a feisty Cara Delevingne) who investigate a mysterious anomaly at the centre of Alpha which is an enormous space station populated by aliens from across the universe.


The film is great at portraying other-worldly environments and mystical beings in colourful CGI and whilst it’s clearly a green-screen mess, it’s such a glorious and inventive mess that most of the artifice is forgiven. An extra-dimensional bazaar called Big Market is an ingenious use of different worlds and Besson actually gives his audience credit for working out how this strange parallel phenomenon works. The film is filled with exciting action scenes which are perfunctory but again, and most importantly, fun. And whilst it’s no Star Wars, it certainly creates an understandable world that feels lived in and inhabited by wildly designed creatures. A commercial failure, the film is far from awful in comparison to similar recent science fiction universes such as the dull Jupiter Ascending. Away from the Pratt and Lawrence of Passengers from earlier this year, some critics didn’t like the strange and cold dynamic between DeHaan and Delevingne but I thought their quirkiness and less-than-Hollywood take on the characters was far more interesting.


Delivering the same fun yet inconsequential science fiction as his previous foray into the future, Besson has no way created anything close to a masterpiece but if you leave your brain at the door, the movie gives audiences thousands of better ideas than other summer hits like the trashy Transformers. 7/10




Casting JonBenet (2017) Dir. Kitty Green

This unique documentary about the death of child pageant superstar JonBenét Ramsey covers the theories and evidence surrounding the mysterious tragedy that caught the attention of an entire nation in 1996. Taking a very distinct approach, rather than the usual vox pops and archive footage, Kitty Green employs a more visceral technique where she runs a casting process for a fictional film. Amateur actors from the Colorado area where the death occurred are interviewed and assessed in their attempts to gain a part as one of the real people involved in the case. As they run through dialogue and dramatic recreations, this in itself is illuminating but the interspersed interviews allow these part-time actors to revel in their own theories surrounding the tragedy. Whilst they are auditioning for the roles of John and Patsy Ramsey, Burke Ramsey, John Mark Karr and various Boulder police officials that are “up for grabs”, they speculate on the motivations and emotions of the case. Being from the community, they give their insights from a local perspective as they impart their raw feelings and uncensored thoughts. Although I’d prefer a little more context to the case – the uninitiated are given a bare minimum of objective context – the film is intentionally provocative and emotional, reflecting the upsetting sentiments that echoed throughout the USA at the time. Upsetting yet extremely fascinating, Casting JonBenet takes a risk away from a traditional documentary format to deliver a fascinating portrait that is successful in all the ways I found I Am Not Your Negro wasn’t. 7/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Nov 4 2017 05:25PM



War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) Dir. Matt Reeves


In this electrifying conclusion to Reeves’ ‘Apes’ reboot/prequel trilogy, the sci-fi action focuses even further on the drama between the simians led by Caesar and the remaining humans left on earth. Andy Serkis once again returns to play Caesar in a performance that, if not least equals Serkis’ turn as Gollum, comes pretty darn close and maintains his status as the premier motion capture actor working right now.


We pick up a few years later where a rogue paramilitary group (Alpha-Omega) led by Woody Harrelson’s intense Colonel, fight with the ape clan and after Caesar orders the release of some captured soldiers as a peace-offering, its unsurprising it falls on deaf human ears. Returning at night, the Colonel kills Caesar’s wife and eldest child and thus begins a journey of revenge by the elder chimp which conflicts with his call for pacifism shown in the previous movies.


Service apes called "donkeys", which previously followed Koba, are in the hands of Harrelson’s group – further complicating the dynamic – and it is this depth that sets the film far from many of the 2017 summer blockbusters. As Caesar and his advisor Maurice (an orangutan played brilliantly by Karin Konoval), and friends Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) and Rocket (Terry Notary) head to the military base, they pick up a mute human girl as well as another chimp named “Bad Ape”, rendered beautifully in a nuanced performance of humour and heart by Steve Zahn.


The ape clan are captured and imprisoned into forced labour to build a wall to stop an approaching army who plan to halt the madness of the Kurtz-like Colonel as Harrelson resorts to killing humans as it is revealed the Simian Flu virus has mutated. Reeves’ masterful control of simple camera set-ups allows the drama to be played out and it is this character building that ensures an audience can empathise with the CGI creations. And what CGI! I would go as far to say this film has some of the best, if not the best, animation of animals ever seen and the close-up shots are phenomenal as we capture every breath, curl of the lip and angered brow on the apes’ faces.


Reeves’ handling of the CGI is perfect and his themes of torture, slavery and eventually sympathy and regret, are all fantastically well-delivered. Personally, I thought it better than its predecessor and with an ending that had me wanting to know more of the clan’s journey in this world, the movie wraps up with a sense of sadness yet hope.


From monkey clowning to tearful tragedy, Reeves’ focus on emotion over spectacle ensures that when the action does arrive you care about those involved – even computer-generated ones. Is it time for the Oscars to reconsider that Best Performance Capture category? On the basis of this dazzling display, I surely hope so.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2017 05:43PM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 4




Unlocked (2017) Dir. Michael Apted

After the awful ‘Rupture’ and the fantastic ‘What Happened To Monday’, Noomi Rapace is one of my favourite actresses but boy does she need a decent film (and some consistency) for her to attach her multiple talents to. Sadly, this action thriller falls way short of quality entertainment as Rapace’s ex-CIA interrogator is tricked into getting involved in a suspected terrorist chemical attack in London. The film is not short of talent with support coming from a sleazy Michael Douglas, a phone-in/hammy performance from John Malkovich (which this film needed much more of) and Toni Collette’s MI5 head who has more in common with Annie Lennox with her blonde buzz cut, than James Bond’s M. “Hey, that large nameless goon looks like Orlando Bloom” I screech before realising it is Orlando Bloom yet whose ‘acting’ and accent is so bad I almost stopped watching. Rapace’s thoughtful dark performance in ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' shows she can bring depth to characters, whilst her turn in ‘What Happened to Monday’ shows she can handle the lead in an action flick. So her involvement in two of the worst films of 2017 is much like this film – a huge HUGE disappointment. Avoid this dull, stilted and ponderous thriller like the biological plague. 4/10



Risk (2017) Dir. Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras new documentary is a solid if slightly amateur looking exposé on Wikileak’s founder Julian Assange. What is interesting is how it reveals the inherent conflicts of Assange’s work (and more fascinatingly his character) as the film flips from a behind the scenes look at the machinations of the organisation to the complexities of his impending extradition. The film contrasts the support for making public potential war crimes and surveillance with a critique of Assange and the shady sexual abuse claims. Sadly the brief-ish 91 minutes drags owing to a mix of constant shaky cam (which is less “intentional choice” than simply the only option and bad camerawork) in addition to the constant presence of Assange whose arrogance is unpalatable to say the least. Director Poitras wisely changes tack when she claims Assange sent her a message calling certain scenes a "threat to his freedom", with Assange missing the irony completely with this censorship request. Although his real-life escape to the Peruvian Embassy has a certain excitement to it, the film is unable to construct itself to create a meaningful narrative that’s more engaging. Difficult questions are approached, multi-sides of the story are presented and the work of Wikileaks analysed from various perspectives which is testament to Poitras’ investigations. Yet all the people involved are so inherently unpleasant that the interesting political and moral ramifications of these revelations are lost amongst the obnoxious posturing from insufferable people. 5/10



Hidden Figures (2017) Dir. Theodore Melfi

“If we keep labelling something 'a black film,' or 'a white film'— basically it's modern day segregation. We're all humans. Any human can tell any human’s story”. Theodore Melfi, Director.


Based on the real life 1960s story of African American female mathematicians working at NASA, Hidden Figures is a powerful drama about an important part in not just the history of the USA but for the work which helped build towards that “giant leap for Mankind”. With Soviet space supremacy on the horizon the internal pressure rises and genius mathematician Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is headhunted to assist the lead space team during a time of demeaning segregation.


From resolving issues about heat shields to solving equations about trajectories, Katherine fights objections, prejudices and her own anonymity in the reports she creates and it’s this conflict which gives the film its engaging power. Henson’s stoic performance channels a humble woman attempting to fulfil her role against a tide of narrow-mindedness. And there is also great support from Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan who is being denied a supervisor role and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson who has to go to court to attend a white-only night school to train as an engineer. Kevin Costner plays the director of the Space Task Group and he brings back his 60s ‘JFK’ Jim Garrison with similarly framed glasses and a focus on the injustices of the world, whilst Jim Parsons is simply his ‘Bing Bang Theory’ Sheldon Cooper with an added ignorance.


The trio of put-upon lead women are outstanding and portray a proud magnificence – and some warm light-heartedness in their car journeys together – as they all attempt to become first-rate workers in a world full of social barriers. It reminded me somewhat of Race (our 2016 review here) which I enjoyed immensely but here the narrative momentum replaces a track race with the space race. The film takes some liberties with facts from the era but a 2 hour run time is going to need to use composite characters, conflated timelines and a more simplistic explanation of NASA management structures but the importance of these ladies – both in their small steps and giant leaps – should not be underestimated. Well photographed and with enough cinematic flourishes, Hidden Figures utilises the multiple talents of its terrific cast to portray the efforts and toil that moved the world towards a more “human”-kind. 8/10



Bloodrunners (2017) Dir. Dan Lantz

A 1930s b-movie prohibition flick with Ice-T as a gangster vampire has to be a lot of fun, right? Er, sadly no as this schlock horror fails to love up to its ridiculous description. Clearly low budget, my low expectations were not even fulfilled as we follow a corrupt middle-aged cop trying to make sense of the visitors and owners of a whore house and speakeasy in his town. The film takes a vampire’s life-time to get going as the film promises blood and guns (it’s a vampire gangster flick after all) but it takes nearly 2/3rds of the film to get any real action. The high concept-low budget set up cries out for silly action yet takes itself far too seriously with nods to spousal abuse, class conflict and a soppy story of love between two youngsters from opposite sides. Some cool swing music cannot hide the TV-show style sets, awful stock characters (the “crazy” priest who isn’t believed) and hackneyed writing. Again, the concept isn’t the worse idea in the world and with (a lot of) tinkering, there is an enjoyable thrill-ride in here somewhere but unfortunately Bloodrunners will make your blood run cold with its amateur delivery. Absolutely toothless. 4/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 29 2017 09:00PM



Stratton (2017) Dir. Simon West


With 1997’s Con Air, Simon West has a bona fide action classic under his belt yet it is a shame that his follow up films which include Tomb Raider and Jason Statham vehicles The Mechanic, The Expendables 2 and Wild Card were mostly middling.


The prolific director has two more to come in 2017 – Salty (an action comedy with Antonio Banderas) and fantasy flick War Wolf but is he spreading himself too thin? The evidence in Stratton would sadly suggest so.


This British thriller is based on the books by Duncan Falconer with the lead character John Stratton played by Dominic Cooper as a kind of budget Bond. As part of the SBS (the UK equivalent of Navy Seals) the film opens with a suitably pumping 80s electro soundtrack before a ridiculous over-the-top John Barry-esque string score kicks in.


With a team of operatives spouting nonsense techno-babble about various targets alongside “banter” between agents, the movie begins with an exciting(-ish) extended mission sequence in “Iran”, although the location doesn’t look Middle Eastern in the slightest.


This beginning front-loads the movie with its best feature – some solid action sequences. Gun fights, helicopters, swimming, infiltration, a truck chase and a beach rescue throw the audience in at the deep end but little time is spent on character relationships or motivations. Point of view heads-up-display shots gave the film a video game aesthetic which was an instant personal turn off for me, whilst the MI5 headquarters is so clearly a regular office block it made me laugh.


The film then goes all over the place with a ‘house-boat’ Derek Jacobi reciting drunken limericks before setting up a second half located in Rome which improves things a lot. The scenes have echoes of Spectre but it’s a great city to see and the streets are perfect for a night-time car chase sequence.


Everything seems to be delivered with a bit too upper-class-England inflection which is compounded with some abysmal overacting although I can give this a bit of a pass as the dialogue is so hackneyed. Gemma Chan comes off the best, as a technical operative called Aggy, Cooper is solid if a bit bland and Connie Nielsen (from Gladiator and The Devil’s Advocate) can’t save the obvious exposition monologues she has to deliver whilst meandering through the city.


A boat chase on the Thames and an explosive finale involving a London Routemaster bus continue the good action but it’s more like the TV show Spooks than spectacular. Stratton ends up being an honourable attempt at a Bourne-style special ops thriller but it’s worth noting that just five days before filming began, Henry Cavil (Superman) exited the film over ‘creative differences’.


The action just about saves it from being awful but short of a few dynamic sequences, there’s not a great deal here to recommend and admiration can only go to Cavil for spotting a duffer before it was too late.


5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 29 2017 08:57AM



The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) Dir. Patrick Hughes


The very vocal Ryan “quips and quirks” Reynolds and Samuel “mother*cker” L. Jackson star in this action film, which tells the story of a disgraced bodyguard making amends by bringing a witness to a war crimes trial. Gary Oldman hams it up as the Russian gangster the authorities are attempting to bring to justice and the film mixes an 80s buddy-comedy tone with the old-school explosions of a Die Hard or Con Air.


It’s nowhere near as good as those influences however, as both actors deliver dialogue in their usual fast-paced style but ideally you need a straight man rather than two similar personalities. One huge flaw is the amount of unnecessary and endless swearing though. I’m not offended by it, quite the opposite given my love for Scorsese and Tarantino’s back catalogue, but it seems so lazy here. At times it feels as much as 50% of sentences!


In addition, the jump from the seriousness of the trial and the film's themes of loss are tonally mis-matched and the music is truly awful moving from Mr. Bean comedy jingles to cheesy rock via Goldeneye-era Bond strings. Clamouring out for the nods and winks of The Nice Guys or even The Other Guys, the film does get better as it goes along with two fantastically filmed vehicle chase sequences as they head around the tight streets of Amsterdam. Cars, bikes, boats and trams combine with real-life action stunts to provide a few much-needed thrills in the picturesque city. Sadly the boring antics around the UK countryside and lazy-ass CGI backgrounds of the conversation car sequences are again another disappointment.


It also has echoes of R.I.P.D. which saw Reynolds team up with Jeff Bridges – another award-winning older actor – and although it’s nowhere near as bad as that truly awful film, The Hitman’s Bodyguard similarly cannot use these actors’ great charisma to overcome the poor material. Salma Hayek gives a refreshing and funny turn as Jackson’s incarcerated girlfriend but who is sadly burdened, like the leads, with a huge amount of expletives in place of clever dialogue.


Overall, it’s a peculiar mix with some superb action highs and some very strange expletive-laden lows. The film could have used Gary Oldman’s penchant for over-the-top bad-guy performances as a more traditional baddie and avoided the war crimes aspect of his character. If you’ve got Oldman at least give him some scenery to chew. Shaving 20 minutes off the run-time wouldn’t have gone amiss either but the final impression is that this is a film which despite its interesting parts, gets the balance just wrong enough to turn an entertaining romp into a disappointing slog. If you're still interested then I'd advise you watch with friends and a LOT of beer.


6/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 17 2017 09:36PM

The Belko Experiment (2017) Dir. Greg McLean


From the director of Wolf Creek 1 and 2 comes this horror-drama where a group of office workers in South America are pitted against each other in a social experiment fight to the death.


Each worker has a voluntary tracking device in their head (owing to possible kidnappings) yet when their high rise building is suddenly locked down, a mysterious intercom voice instructs them to kill each other or face having their in-head trackers blown up.


A ridiculous premise for sure, I found the characters boring and not even a broad turn from the likable John C. McGinley (Office Space) could help with the repetitive killing spree.


Uninspiring “deaths” and a lack of tension unfortunately didn’t help proceedings and the film was crying out for the genre-bending and satirical style of similar structural kill-fest ‘Cabin in the Woods’. In a world where realism is often missing from modern movies, it was clear that what The Belko Experiment actually needed was a big pinch of hyper-reality or dark comedy to compensate for the ludicrous set-up.


Despite being written by James Gunn, the film contains little of his wit and clever character arcs (as seen in his ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ films) and was ultimately just like a long unfulfilling 9-5 shift at the office.


5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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