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By midlandsmovies, Aug 27 2019 06:00PM



Stairs (2019)


Directed by Tom Paton


Mosley Productions


The very prolific Midlands-originating director Tom Paton who has tackled 5 features in as many years returns with new movie Stairs, an action flick with lashings of fights, drama and a dark splash of the supernatural.


Opening in Eastern Europe, a group of crack commando special mercenaries are privately hired on a mission to gather intel and kill anyone who stands in their way.


After completing their task, one woman survives but Commander Will Stanton (a bearded X-Factor winner Shayne Ward) demands one of his crew (Samantha Schnitzler as Kia Clarke) leave no one alive. In cold blood she reluctantly follows his orders. Also along for the ride is Toby Osmond (Game of Thrones), Sophie Austin (Call The Midwife), Alana Wallace (Black Site) and Bentley Kalu (Wonder Woman).


From the outset and despite the low budget, the film’s design looks suitably authentic – real automatic weapons, whole fleets of jeeps and military equipment give the army set-up a realistic tone. What isn’t so realistic sadly is an overly-saturated blue filter over the sequence to represent “dawn”. A day-time shoot would have been fine and the only change in the first 15 minutes is the addition of a green filter for a point-of-view scope of a rifle shot.


Once that goes however, we have a much better-looking film (although it returns in the form of a lot of red) and once back at their headquarters, the group head up some stairs for a debrief even though Kia is haunted by the atrocity of her actions in the field.


Yet as they ascend, the team find themselves stuck in the stairwell with no comms or support but is this a drill, an emergency or something altogether much more sinister? With a bit of a nod to Dredd and The Raid where an armed group are trapped in one building location, the claustrophobia gets to the audience but also to the characters who start pontificating on their lack of progress.


With a few monologues (bit of a genre cliché but expected nonetheless) giving some exposition – perhaps a bit too much at times – the strange environment turns even weirder as they begin hallucinating a bloodied woman amid ghostly noises and whispers. A spooky piano-played child lullaby adds a supernatural feel to the proceedings and eventually one unfortunate member falls to their death.


Much to my surprise however, when the unit finally find an exit on these endless Escher-like steps, the film takes an astonishing left turn. Stepping through the door, they find themselves transported back in time to the field from the opening scene. Well I wasn’t expecting that!


A kind of Groundhog Day/Back to the Future 2 situation occurs and now the team are forced to repeat endless loops (or video game levels) of violence to resolve their predicament – learning more each time they rerun. This “circle” of hell is hinted upon in the dialogue with allusions to purgatory, faith and guilt as the characters are trapped in their personal prisons.


These aren’t fully explored sadly, as the film decides to stick to its guns (literally in fact) and follows the rigid action beats of the genre. And it also reminded me at times (in a good way) of Edge of Tomorrow and 2018’s Overlord which mixed a similar military group dealing with an inexplicable other-worldly entity.


Without spoiling any ending, the film continues with more action scenes and a satisfying amount of gory and bloody wounds to boot. As an aside, unfortunately the film uses CGI muzzle flashes which does a sad disservice to the genuine stunts and accomplishments elsewhere.


But as the film clambers to its conclusion, Stairs provides the right amount of bangs and bust-ups. And it sits alongside Outlawed as a local British film bravely attempting to take on the bigger budget actioners of Hollywood. Whilst there are certainly a few minor flaws – many simply to do with a low budget (plus my colour filter pet peeve) - the film has a very unique idea which makes it far more interesting than the usual “Expendables” style flick. So in the end, Stairs sticks with what it knows best and is well worth a climb for any fans of supernatural-infused action.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2019 04:51PM



The Front Runner (2019) Dir. Jason Reitman

Depicting the rise of Gary Hart, an American Democratic senator and 1988 presidential candidate, and to be honest for this 1980s born UK film reviewer a complete nobody to me, The Front Runner is a new political drama from Jason Reitman. Although not a shoe in, Hart hits the campaign trail hard and asks journalists “to follow him around”. Bad mistake. After publishing photos of Hart having an extra-marital liaison with journalist Donna Rice, he takes a stand against the press by arguing his private life is none of their business. In a world not just before the internet but even before the 24-hour TV news cycle, Hart’s request seems silly and naïve by today’s standards. Hugh Jackman plays the senator as a strong-willed but foolish man and the film positions itself as a commentary about an historical turning point in the coverage of the private lives of public figures. However, it doesn’t do this successfully despite Jackman’s compelling efforts as the bemused senator. There is however good support from the always excellent JK Simmons (as Hart’s campaign manager), Vera Farmiga as his put-upon wife and Sara Paxton playing his mistress. Whilst I was one of only a few that thought Spielberg’s The Post was overrated, the cinematic flourishes and clever script of that film show up the flaws in this one. Consequently then, The Front Runner ends up being all surface with little depth, telling a sordid tale in a Wikipedia-style fashion, ticking bland boxes as it goes. ★★★



The Dirt (2019) Directed by Jeff Tremaine

From the director of 4 Jackass-related movies, comes along a new musical biopic in the footsteps of Bohemian Rhapsody about 1980s glam-haired shock rockers Mötley Crüe. Based on the book The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Neil Strauss – which I read whilst being on tour with my own heavy rock band – the story begins in 1980 when Frank Carlton Feranna Jr leaves his abusive home and changes his name to Nikki Six. It isn’t long before he is hooking up with drummer Tommy Lee (he of later Pamela Anderson fame), guitarist Mick Mars and vocalist Vince Neil. After well-received gigs in LA, the band are signed to a 5-album deal and their crazy rock antics get more and more extreme. From touring with Ozzy Osbourne (who ‘snorts’ ants and drinks urine) they go through a slew of wild parties, model girlfriends, overdoses and a car crash which ultimately results in a conviction of manslaughter for Vince. After the set backs the band go on to hit the top of the charts, sell platinum albums and go on a successful world tour. Douglas Booth (from Loving Vincent) as Nikki is the best of the bunch whilst the others give admirable facsimiles of the rest of the band. Unremarkable throughout, and as someone who liked Bohemian Rhapsody but acknowledged its pretty nondescript-recounting of the band’s life, this film goes further into mediocre TV-production wishy-washiness. With little cinematic flair, this is definitely a film for the fans in the main, as it never gets under the make-up and tasteless clichés of the band, something the book – written from each band member’s viewpoint – actually did pretty successfully. Dr. Feel“bland” ★★★



Triple Frontier (2019) Directed by J. C. Chandor

A Netflix original film featuring A-List superstars Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac and featuring a solid support cast of Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Adria Arjona and Pedro Pascal, Triple Frontier tackles a band of ex-soldiers who reunite for one big heist to rip off a Colombian drug baron. As Isaac tries to convince the team to get back together for one last big score (ensuring they’ll never have to work again obvs) the film’s first 25 mins moves at a pace but with little character development and a whole host of semi-retired-older-guys-getting-back-in-the-saddle clichés. After easily defeating the bland crime lord, who barely features to be fair, the guys load up their over-stuffed bags with cash. But their escape helicopter crashes as it is over the maximum weight owing to the greedy guts the guys have been. Director J. C. Chandor’s previous movie A Most Violent Year, also starring Oscar Isaac, was slow and measured – sometimes to a fault – but Triple Frontier is knuckleheaded and speedy – again, to a fault. The beginning had strong Predator-vibes – covert operation in the jungle - and to be honest I was hoping the film would go into sci-fi or horror territory to avoid the clichés it was delivering. The whole second half however shows the crew trying to get to a rendezvous point which had echoes of The Way Back (Peter Weir’s 2010 survival film) and the boredom sets in as the group slowly trudge back through different wildernesses. In the end, despite its big-name stars, the film disappoints on a triple front by being flat, flavourless and ultimately forgettable. ★★


Michael Sales


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