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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


By midlandsmovies, Jun 21 2017 10:32AM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 2


Each year we miss a film or two in the huge round of releases per week. Here is our second blog of the year where we catch up with some of the good (and bad) films from 2017 that are already out to watch. Enjoy!


John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Dir. Chad Stahelski


This sequel to 2014’s intense action thriller has Keanu Reeves returning as the gun-dancing assassin who is now out of retirement to unleash more shooting mayhem. The film delves further into Wick’s back-story which was hinted upon in the original and in many ways it is actually a prequel as well as sequel with so much focus on Wick’s previous life. The narrative shows us more of his past and good support from Ian McShane gives the whole thing more depth and expands the world we are in. Keanu is also at the top of his game – slightly wooden as always but like Neo and Ted, the one-dimensionality of the performance lets the audience project themselves into the character.


The story of Wick owing a blood oath debt is merely window dressing for more pirouetting action which again is suitably violent and bloody. A strong support cast including Common and Reeves’ Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne flesh proceedings out but it is the fighting – amongst the splendour and seediness of Rome and New York locations – that bursts off the screen in its glorious brutality and beauty. Fans of action will lap up the intense scenes of bloody violence and its editing is pitched perfectly in the sweet spot of frantic yet understandable. With a third film set-up it may be too far to say it’s the Godfather Part 2 of action films but I feel it may be better than the first film. It combines the obligatory hard-hitting combat with an expansion on the mysteries of the assassin network and penetrates greater themes of trust, honour and revenge. 8/10



Life (2017) Dir. Daniel Espinosa

In short, Life is essentially an Alien rip off as a space crew find a small extra-terrestrial life-form which they are unable to quarantine which subsequently grows into a larger monster that stalks the astro-occupants. The good points include a realistic set up on the ISS with some Gravity-inspired long shots in the station’s cramped compartments as well as an interestingly designed life-form that starts off its existence looking like a sentient “star fish”. The clichés soon start to overpower these positives as the ‘trained experts’ of the crew (inevitably) break quarantine rules and the carnage begins. [SPOILER] A few interesting deaths including one of the main stars couldn’t save the film as it descends into b-movie territory. As the strange creature becomes a Prometheus-esque squid the film loses its premise to become schlock horror and not even a downbeat ending could salvage this sci-fi wreckage. An internet rumour suggested it could have been a Venom origin story (one of Spider-Man’s arch enemies) yet sadly that fan-theory is far more interesting than the film delivered. 6/10


I Am Not Your Negro (2017) Dir. Raoul Peck

Based on the unfinished manuscript Remember This House by James Baldwin and narrated brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson this new documentary focuses on American racism and the portrayal of black lives in recent media. Historically important and hugely socially relevant right now, the film uses Baldwin’s powerful words to highlight the roles played by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. It’s sad then that I found it, despite its worthy themes and intriguing structure, a little stale and not even Jackson’s masterful voiceover kept me from thinking it was treading water when it could have been providing more powerful insights. As a huge fan of documentaries (my recommendations so far this year would be the superior Oklahoma, Mommy Dead and Dearest and Beware the Slenderman) I was disappointed with the film as the important and weighty ideas weren’t given justice in its one-trick design. Hugely recommended for those interested in the specific subject matter, less so for those not familiar with the work, the film sometimes feels exactly what I feared it could be – a man reading from a book. Disappointing. 6/10



The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017) Dir. Oz Perkins

Appearing on a few Top 10 lists of great horror films of 2017 (so far) is this fright film from Oz “Son of Anthony, Psycho” Perkins and stars Kiernan Shipka (Kat) and Lucy Boynton (Rose) as two pupils at a strict Catholic school. The highly composed shots give a huge undercurrent of tension and unease with slow and deliberate sequences portraying the slight narrative as the two girls fail to be collected by their parents once term-time has ended. Rose is possibly pregnant and Kat often appears to mentally ‘tune out’ which is ironic given that the ‘buzzing’ tones of the amelodic experimental music often sounds like an orchestra tuning up. But this adds to the peculiar atmosphereand together with the snowy weather and cold demeanour of the religious teachers, helps deliver an unsettling feeling. And unsettling it is.


As Kat continues to exhibit strange behaviour around Rose, another story is introduced with a girl called Joan who may have escaped an institution and is picked up in a car by James Remar (The Warriors) who plays an ambiguous father-figure. These flashbacks, multi-perspective sequences and possible parallel tales disorientate the viewer but some may find it confusing and the timelines are certainly not clear cut. It takes a while but eventually a few shocks come in the form of Exorcist-influenced body convulsions, vomiting and swearing and the film’s few disturbing images are all the more effective with a slow build up and in their briefness.


Unfortunately there’s a few Scream-ché (a cliché the film Scream deconstructs like investigating scary noises and “I’ll be right back”) and the ambiguous construction could frustrate some but satisfy others. For me, The Blackcoat’s Daughter had far more going for it than the negatives, whilst I got annoyed at points about the lack of clarity to tie up the individual story strands, the mystery was intriguing, the triumvirate of actresses and their performances were superb and the first-time director provided images of intense terror that, like the malevolent force portrayed, linger deep within you post-viewing. 7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jun 6 2017 04:26PM


Local filmmaker ready to take you to another world


With the release of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming in the Summer of 2017, interest in the web-slinging superhero is at an all-time high. After a deal that saw Spidey enter the MCU from a property owned by Sony, fans are anticipating a great first adventure during the blockbuster season.


However, the biggest fan might just be right here in the Midlands as Leicester filmmaker Joey Lever is set to launch his own fan-film based around the infamous New Yorker. Now we’re “tingling” with excitement, we swing by to find out more about the ambitious production.


In early 2017, Joey Lever won a Midlands Movies Award for his sound mixing work on his film Paper Plane which began a successful start to a year that looks set to explode for the local filmmaker.


His new superhero fan film is Spider-Man: Another World and it is in fact part of a larger shared universe he has created with fellow fans. Taking an idea from Marvel themselves, Lever has named it "The strand of web, web series" which includes 3 films and one short.


DiGitiLhEaRt & PavillionArts are the studios who have invested in his vision and Joey’s new project has also seen him working with many of the region’s most talented creatives, including Gatling Gun Productions who also hail from Leicestershire.


With the trailer just launched in June (see YouTube video above) Joey Lever says “We are so excited to hear what [fans] think about it as this been such an amazing experience to step back into the shoes of Peter Parker. This time trying to make a fan film that is different and we are so proud of the outcome”.


Also supporting the production is comic book artist Marc Ducrow who has designed the film’s poster.



Updating via the movie's Facebook page, Joey goes on to add, “As a child I was always fascinated by the idea to tell stories in different ways. I spent many years growing up drawing, acting out little sequences I thought up before bedtime. This blossomed into my love of film making. Every film you see of mine will be made with my heart and soul”.

Based in Leicester, Joey is a self-taught freelance filmmaker & cinematographer and has been lucky enough to work internationally on projects in the USA, South America, Australia and Germany


As well as writing and directing Lever himself stars in the action-drama alongside local talent Jak Lionel Beasley, Lauren Baxter, Gill Broderick, Wade James Keeling and Carley Lightfoot.


We'll be keeping a close eye on the film's development as it comes to launch and follow the movie's updates on the official pages below.

https://www.facebook.com/SpiderManLC


http://www.joeylever.com

By midlandsmovies, Apr 14 2017 10:07AM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog - Part 1


Passengers (2017) Dir. Morten Tyldum

This new science fiction film not only tackles space but focuses on questionable moral decisions as a star ship heads to a new planet before a malfunction sees Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wake from hypersleep 90 years too early. Despite his efforts, the isolated engineer is unable to fix his pod and with his only company being Michael Sheen’s android bartender, he decides to wake up another passenger for company.


Claiming her pod malfunctioned too, he revives Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora who accepts her inevitable fate eventually as well. The film’s interesting premise then turns to rom-com territory as they work together and go on dates even though he’s the instigator of her inevitable death sentence. A Best Production Design nomination at the Oscars is more than deserved as the mix of Apple-esque design along with a great swimming pool sequence keeps the deep space visuals suitably awe-inspiring.


[Spoiler]. Eventually the film returns to its darker roots as Aurora finds out the truth and their relationship becomes as doomed as the failing ship yet it’s too little too late. Having to work together to save both their lives they eventually fall back in love. And here’s where the problem lies. Indiana Jones-alike Pratt has forced a death sentence on another human yet the film feels the need to have a soppy wrap up that sees our heartthrob heroes fall back in love. It’s honourable to see an original script getting the green light in Hollywood whilst getting 2 of the biggest stars on the planet (natch) doesn’t hurt your chances. However, with complex themes and multiple thought-provoking ideas ditched in favour of blockbuster action and an amorous narrative, I found myself wishing for something a bit deeper than the glossy end product. A fine but frustrating trip. 6/10


Death Race 2050 (2017) Dir. G. J. Echternkamp

A satiric sequel to the 1975 original, Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 attempts to recreate the black humour of the former but using his name alone is enough for most film-fans to know where this feature will be heading. The level of quality audiences can expect is obvious from such a combination and it is clear what will be delivered. And deliver on that level it certainly does. The first 20 minutes or so a TV presenter introduces each driver and their background which is reminiscent of wrestling characters and, if you didn’t already know, these contestants are awarded points for killing people with their racing vehicles. Tagging on a political angle that the cars are in fact a kind of population control, this idea is almost entirely ditched for awfully filmed and constructed “action” sequences and terrible green-screen car conversations.


The dialogue is abysmal and embarrassingly delivered but I suspect all these choices are completely intentional. Films such as this and the Sharknado series sadly miss the point of hilarious bad films – which are all the more funny when being earnest. These deliberate and ironic attempts to create an appalling film miss that point entirely. If I had to choose one highlight it would be Burt Grinstead’s Jed Perfectus, an antagonist so over the top that I couldn’t help but warm to his shallowness and campiness straight from depths of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.


As an aside, the Wikipedia entry for the plot runs to 650 words but boils down to ‘cars killing people for entertainment’. If that sort of thing done on a zero budget with sub-pantomime performances is your thing then you’ll probably enjoy Death Race 2050. For the rest of us it’s simply a case of judging how much alcohol and how many friends needed at your home in an attempt to even get through this movie. Deathly boring 4/10


The Void (2017) Dir. Steven Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie

With a background in producing low-budget, 80s-style horror-comedies, the directors ditch (some) of the more comedic elements from their previous outings to bring us The Void. This tale of terror follows a group of disparate characters holed up in a hospital after being surrounded by a KKK-alike clan of hooded menaces. The characters are a mix of criminals, vigilantes, cops, hospital workers and patients. These differences allow for a neat mix of conflicted drama as their separate personal journeys end up being tied together in their shared predicament.


With a focus on real-life special effects, the filmmakers wear their influences very much on their sleeve (obviously John Carpenter for a number of reasons) but their reliance on animatronic gore rather than CGI should be highly commended. This choice is not just for the retro-fans but modern audiences will hopefully get behind the real-life monsters rather than cartoony digital effects. Tentacles and facial disfigurements maintain the level of grotesqueness but as the film spiralled towards a more fantastical element, I began to lose interest. The acting is so-so and the story becomes too convoluted when I thought it could do with a dose of From Dusk Til Dawn straightforwardness.


Definitely aiming at the b-movie Carpenter crowd, the film should be praised for its originality as a new idea despite its HEAVY influences from the past. It’s also good to see its non-reliance on an existing franchise or named property. That said though, with so much harking back to the past, I felt the film’s ideas had been done better elsewhere and the conclusion’s mystical finale was a step-too far into the void for me. The Void ultimately becomes an honourable attempt that sadly fails to live up to the predecessors it borrows from. 5/10


Live by Night (2017) Dir. Ben Affleck

Based on the 2012 book by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), writer/director Ben Affleck tackles bootlegging in Florida as Irish gangster Joe Coughlin who walks a tightrope between warring factions in the 1930s. Coughlin throws himself in at the deep end as he falls in love with Emma (Sienna Miller) who is the mistress of a Boston gang boss played by a nasty Robert Glenister. When he is blackmailed by the mafia about their liaison, he ends up committing a bank heist before Miller sets him up for a beating. After a spell in prison and with few options left he joins the mafia’s bootlegging business in Tampa which is still fighting the Boston faction over turf. Keeping up?


Well, the movie actually does a good job of setting this up but in half an hour, things move very swiftly. In fact, sometimes this is far too swiftly as characters enact a series of narrative set pieces rather than developing naturally. As Affleck settles into Florida, we settle into the movie and I found the film hit solid ground once it simplified the story as he brings gambling and booze to the south. Crossing paths with the KKK, his problems never end and a rather strange side plot of redemption involving a Sheriff’s daughter (a suitably brilliant turn from Elle Fanning) barely affects the story in any meaningful way.


The film’s final shoot out is exciting and after 2 hours I was surprised to find how much I was on Affleck’s side after all his silly decision making. If anything, the audience may just want something positive to happen to his down-at-luck doofy dunce. More Gangster Squad than Goodfellas, Live by Night is a fine Friday night distraction but is ultimately unmemorable in most departments. It captures the sleaze and some morbid inevitability of the gangster genre and there are some gruesome sequences which may keep the more macabre fan in their seat. Overall though, with this, The Accountant and his so-far disappointing Batman-related movies, I couldn’t help but yearn for the simplicity and unfussiness of Affleck’s masterful Oscar-winning Argo. 6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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