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By midlandsmovies, Aug 8 2018 02:02PM



Dear Josephine


Written, Directed & Produced by Duaine Carma Roberts.


CARMA FILM MOTION PICTURES


“The most sensational woman, anybody had ever saw, or ever will” - Ernest Hemingway


Described as a visual poem that recounts the life of 20th century icon, civil rights advocate and superstar, Josephine Baker, this new 4-minute short comes from West Midlands filmmaker Duaine Carma Roberts and his Carma Film production company.


Starring Zellia John as Josephine Baker, the film is part poetry reading and part theatrical drama against a plain backdrop to summarise the background of this legendary woman.


For those unfamiliar with Baker, she was an American-born entertainer and activist whose career began as a celebrated performer headlining the Folies Bergère in Paris. Dubbed the "Black Pearl", the "Bronze Venus", and the "Creole Goddess" she renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French national after her marriage to a French industrialist. And she was the first person of colour to become a worldwide entertainer and to star in a major motion picture.


Taking a stance by refusing to perform for segregated American audiences, she was offered unofficial leadership in the civil rights movement following Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. Although Baker declined the offer, she was later awarded the Croix de guerre by the French military owing to her aiding the French Resistance during World War II.



Josephine Baker at the March on Washington 1963
Josephine Baker at the March on Washington 1963

Roberts’ film mainly uses close ups to quickly convey the subtle emotions and hardships Baker faced during her life and a suitably laid back jazz score harks to the 1930s along with time-specific costumes.


Some black and white footage of the real Baker is used sparingly throughout to give us a glimpse into the legend, whilst Zellia John throws in some flapper dancing to set the period before changing into all black for her later civil rights engagements.


With no dialogue or sound effects, the film echoes the silent stylings of Marcel Marceau, the legendary French mime artist. Like Baker, he also performed at the Folies Bergère and was also in the French Resistance as well.


But this isn’t about Marcel despite the nods to his brand of performance art.


Roberts instead places images of beauty and harshness in opposition to one another. The drama sometimes literally translates the overdubbed poetry, whilst at other times, it simply evokes a tone or mood from the era. A final montage of the real-life Baker starring in Hollywood movies again reiterates her trailblazing cinematic legacy and an image of Baker in her World War II uniform shows a determination to fight for justice, both inside and outside of the system.


An interesting take that sets it aside from the usual style of local films, Roberts shows that a different cinematic approach on subject matter close to his heart can have a strong effect. Along with his sci-fi film Graycon, the director proves he can move between genres and film structures with ease.


With dreamy images of an historical icon some may not know much about, the simplicity of the words and images together makes the story come alive and allows the importance of Baker’s memory to speak for itself.


Mike Sales


Watch the full film below on Vimeo:







By midlandsmovies, Jun 10 2018 08:51AM

12 Underrated films that may have passed you by since 2010


Despite your huge collection of DVDs, BluRays, boxsets, collector’s editions and streaming services, have you ever found yourself staring into space struggling to find a film to watch? With so many options available at just a touch of a button, the choice can be overwhelming. However, we’re going to provide a friendly list for your viewing pleasure as we showcase a dozen great films from the last few years that may have slipped under your radar.


Whether it be quirky documentaries, underground sci-fi or a splash of comedy, we have something for you. Take a read of the list below of our highly recommended, but often little-seen, movies – especially if you’re in the mood for something different to the usual multiplex blockbusters or critics’ darlings. And hit us up on Twitter @midlandsmovies with some of your own suggestions!




Coherence (2014) Dir. James Ward Byrkit

Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit this is an 89 minute thrilling sci-fi mystery set at a suburban USA dinner party that pulls at the audience’s emotions and brainstems equally. The film sets up a dinner meal and after discussion of a passing comet, the electricity goes off and the group explore their neighbourhood which leads to a mysterious occurance.. To say too much would be to spoil the surprise but with a similar tone to the low budget film Primer (2004) as well as the confusing and twisting narrative of Triangle (2009) the handheld realism leads to a brilliantly constructed film that demands a second viewing in order to fully appreciate the looping plot.



Stoker (2013) Dir. Park Chan-wook

A tense psychological thriller from the director who gave us OldBoy, Stoker again covers dark family secrets and was written surprisingly by Wentworth Miller of Prison Break. Avoiding any happy ever after clichés, the film has sinister fairy tale imagery from wooded copses, creepy spiders and phallic rocks to heighten the Hitchcockian themes of betrayal, deception and revenge. A trio of Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, bring strangely winning performances in a social drama with a mythic quality. A far-fetched but fascinating fable.




Tim’s Vermeer (2014) Dir. Teller

Directed by stage magician Teller, this documentary gives us a portrait of Tim Jenison, a man who spends 5 years testing his theory which proposes how Renaissance Dutchman Johannes Vermeer possibly used optical instruments to help create such realistic paintings. A friend of Teller’s magician partner Penn Jillette, Tim comes across as a barmy garage-style bonkers scientist who has worked with computer graphics but has no formal artistic training. In his quest to be authentic, Tim also learns to use traditional methods to render not just the painting he admires but the entire room. The doc constructs a brilliant study of one man’s drive and his crazy courage to complete his personal canvas.




Frank (2014) Dir. Lenny Abrahamson

Based on the idiosyncratic UK comedic stylings of Frank Sidebottom, this movie is a fictionalised account of an eccentric musician trying to find his calling in life. The musical journey is seen through the eyes of Jon (a brilliantly naive Domhnall Gleeson) who leaves his humdrum life to work on an album of bizarre instrumentations and unusual compositions. The lead singer Frank (Michael Fassbender) persistently wears an over-sized homemade head and the film follows the erratic interactions and odd relationships between band members. Fassbender delivers a virtuoso performance as the comical yet infectious front man trying to connect with world he’s closed himself off to in a screwball study of creativity and mental hindrances.




White Bird in a Blizzard (2015) Dir. Gregg Araki

Set in a well-designed 80s of big hair, big phones and bigger boom boxes, the film follows the disappearance of unhappy mother Eve Connor (Eva Green) with flashbacks punctuating the modern day narrative strands to show her daughter Kat (Shailene Woodley) as she explains her drunken mother’s loveless marriage. The film may seem like Gone Girl-lite but its mysterious take on small-town life has echoes of American Beauty with its voiceovers, repressed fathers and dinner table silences. The comparisons continue with a sexless marriage and blossoming sexualised teenagers. The movie bounces easily between cold relationships to seduction secrets to create a winning formula of nosey next-door neighbours and night time naughtiness.




Snowpiercer (2014) Dir. Bong Joon-ho

All aboard for this South Korean/USA action film which tells the story of Curtis, a rebel on a fascist train that encircles the globe now that mankind has caused an accidental ice age. The snow train is a prison with the poor and destitute forced to live in squalor at the tail end whilst the rich live like royalty near the locomotive’s front. Curtis (a bearded Chris Evans) teams up with Edgar (Jamie Bell) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer) to overthrow the guards and with Tilda Swinton as a norther- accented minister with a nasty sadistic side, the movie is an original take on a tested formula. Joon-ho delivers the appropriate amount of fist fights and combines this with his artistic Eastern outlook with some inventive Hollywood-style smack downs. Although the premise is absurd, the audience will be pulled along for the wintery ride enjoying the emotional tracks the director lays out for us.




Joe (2014) Dir. David Gordon Green

After a glut of awful b-movie films, Nic Cage gets to tackle headier material by playing a violent loner in the Deep South where he stars as father figure to Tye Sheridan. We get a sizzling slice of Southern life played out amongst rural blue collar workers who turn to violence whilst trying to maintain their dysfunctional family dynamics. Alongside Cage’s muted dramatic chops and the rusty trucks, the two play out a tragic and cruel drama. The director elicits a cornucopia of emotions as we witness passionate kindred bonding and drunken falling. Cage is perfectly suited to the grizzled everyman and shows why he is still a watchable performer given the right material.




Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) Dir. Mark Hartley

Following Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who in the 1980s bought low-budget scripts to make even lower budget films, this documentary explores the ups and downs of the schlock movie business. Remembered for low budget action “classics” such as the Death Wish franchise as well as Delta Force, the film actually exposes some of the creative risks (but with little money) the cousins took as they tried to reflect, and sometimes create, the trends and fashions of the day. They made entertaining, amusing yet ultimately quite dreadful films but despite the low-low budgets, their productions focus on a sense of fun and the film provides a comedic look on how not to run a studio.




Love & Mercy (2015) Dir. Bill Pohlad

This biographical drama follows the life of Brian Wilson during the height of the Beach Boys’ fame in the 60s and his turbulent later years in the 80s where a confused Wilson deals with controlling advisors. The swinging section has a brilliant Paul Dano focusing on his song-writing whilst in the 80s, Cusack plays a more vulnerable Wilson who gets around with his new wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) and Paul Giamatti’s creepy psychotherapist. The Beach Boys’ music punctuates the film as Dano discovers his genius pop-hits and Cusack’s understatement is the flipside of Wilson’s fractured subconscious. Experimental in narrative, the film focuses on the brilliant brain of Brian through 2 different actors in a perfect portrayal of the mastermind musician.




Grand Piano (2014) Dir. Eugenio Mira

In the vein of Buried and Phone Booth Grand Piano is a taught ‘one-location’ thriller where a returning pianist protégé Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is threatened with murder during his comeback concert. An assassin promises to shoot him if he gets just one note wrong in his performance and the tension rises as a sniper’s laser sight passes over his sheet music. The pianist comes to terms that both he and his wife in the audience are at the hands of this man as he desperately tries to figure a way out using coded messages to escape with his life. A fast rhythm ratchets up the stakes using creative editing, along with a fantastic score coming from Frodo’s fingers himself. Any low-budget limitations are set aside as Grand Piano plays to its strengths like a fine composer.




As Above So Below (2014) Dir. John Erick Dowdle

Academic Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) delves into the catacombs under Paris in a found footage horror as she and her cohorts look for the philosopher’s stone, a powerful but possibly cursed historical relic. The jumps, scares and the Descent-style claustrophobia come across in every frame with the cast filming in the real caves and stone corridors under the City of Light. With a shadowy sense of foreboding around every corridor twist and turn, the concept is as old as the hills but the ancient caves contain enough no-frills shocks for a Saturday night scare-fest.




Life Itself (2014) Dir. Steve James

From the director of the Oscar nominated documentary Hoop Dreams comes this film based upon legendary film critic Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name. From his humble beginnings as a film critic through to the co-writing of the cult film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the film covers the major points of his life using interviews and archive footage as well as excerpts from his infamous show with Gene Siskel. A powerful but humorous writer, Ebert not only scored a Pulitzer for his work, he also helped elevate film criticism and established himself as the foremost authority on the subject. The doc later moves to Ebert’s hard fought struggle with illness but show how great his outlook was, not just through his career around the movies, but as a mantra for life itself.


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jan 22 2018 01:24PM



Molly’s Game (2018) Dir. Aaron Sorkin


After her hugely entertaining and brilliant performance in last year’s underrated Miss Sloane (review here), Jessica Chastain returns as another feisty boss focused on a career that again contains many questionable practices. Based upon the real-life story of Molly Bloom who ran celebrity-attended back-room poker games, the film is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut and he brings with him the snappy dialogue he is renowned for.


The film itself is framed around a series of flashbacks (like Miss Sloane) and an ongoing court case (like Miss Sloane) where her closest confidante is a strong-willed Brit playing an American (like Miss Sloane). In this instance it’s Idris Elba who stars as Charlie Jaffey, Molly's lawyer who although reluctant at first, attempts to acquit her of charges stemming from her time organising the underground poker meetings.


Comprising of Hollywood high rollers, businessmen and later various mobsters, her hotel gambling evenings originate from Molly’s drive during her younger days as an Olympic ski prodigy which push her towards success and a lucrative, if suspect, income.


A patriarchal Kevin Costner plays Larry Bloom, Molly's dad, and provides a beat-for-beat father figure as per his stint as Pa Kent in Man of Steel but Michael Cera as Player X has much more fun in his role. Poking fun at himself again (after This Is the End) his composite character is allegedly a mix of Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck amongst others. With a Hollywood income, and ego, he dares Molly to expand her business and provides a small but important role in the middle of the film as an arrogant antagonist once Molly double downs on her decisions to maintain control of what she has created.


Molly’s determination though has her creating new opportunities in New York and as we see her business develop, fail then re-emerge, her steely grit is played to perfection by Chastain. The actress throws in a smattering of trashy exuberance into the mix with low-cut tops and heavy make-up showing how out of her depth she is amongst the real life hoi polloi.


The fast back-and-forth dialogue from Sorkin is shown mostly in her interactions with Elba whose composed lawyer meets his match with Chastain’s ballsy businesswoman. Barbs are thrown both ways and Sorkin regular ups the ante with the two trading insults and information as Elba attempts to break through Chastain’s facade to uncover the truth. Chastain however keeps her cards close to her chest, not wanting, or unable, to clarify her position to avoid incriminating herself and even protecting, at times, her precious clients who trusted her.


The film’s narrative and subsequent editing serve to explain the complex story and glossary of gambling terms but the general cinematography of this biography/thriller is solid if underwhelming. However, dealing an audience both entertainment and raising some interesting questions of loyalty and opportunity, Molly’s Game bets its hand on Sorkin’s writing and two glorious performances from Chastain and Elba. An excellent, but somewhat forgettable, support cast fills the rest of the pack yet despite a few minor misgivings, the film delivers a jackpot payout for fans of the actors and director.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Jan 18 2018 04:41PM

Midlands Feature - The Movie Succession to the Throne


Having recently started watching the historical television drama The Tudors (yes, I know it’s not a movie but stick with me on this) I thoroughly enjoyed its mash-up of sex, murder, beheadings and political and religious themes. The fascinating mix of war, melodrama and a splattering of camp, the high production values make this a series well worth catching if you’re interested in Henry VIII and British royal history in general.


But it got me thinking. As a fan of Cate Blanchett, a viewer could easily do a watch of her brilliant turn as Henry’s daughter Elizabeth in both Elizabeth (1998) and its follow up The Golden Age (2007) as a kind of quasi-sequel. The films continue the political machinations from the time and show another reign of an infamous monarch.


So coming back to the Midlands, with its swathes of picturesque countryside and regal-like manors and houses, the region even has connections to movies covering monarchs. Haddon Hall in Bakewell was used as Hatfield House in Elizabeth. Henry’s story is also covered in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) by Justin Chadwick, which starred Scarlett Johansson & Natalie Portman as Mary Boleyn and sister Anne Boleyn. Parts of this film were also shot in the region at Dovedale in Castleton and Haddon Hall, as well as at North Lees Hall. Finally, Belvoir Castle in Leicester is home to the Duke of Rutland & seen in Young Victoria (2009).


But if you could follow one dramatisation of a monarch’s reign with another, could you do them all? By that I mean can we follow the entire line of succession using movies (and a few TV shows)? Well, my self-imposed challenge was accepted and the results are below. There have been 66 monarchs of England and Britain spread over a period of 1500 years. Many of the productions are about succession so there’s a lot of overlap between multiple films, but I gave myself just one 'get out' by starting the list AFTER the Saxon Kings. So we begin the list at the infamous date of 1066.


That said, for the Saxon period you can do worse than checking out the 1969 epic Alfred the Great and we begin our full lineage after the death of Harold II and the beginning of the Norman period.




NORMAN KINGS

WILLIAM I (The Conqueror) 1066- 1087 Guillaume, la jeunesse du conquérant (2015)

WILLIAM II (Rufus) 1087- 1100 Blood Royal: William the Conqueror (1990 TV adaptation)

HENRY I 1100-1135 The Pillars of the Earth (2010 miniseries)

STEPHEN 1135-1154 Cadfael (1994)




PLANTAGENET KINGS

HENRY II 1154-1189 The Lion in Winter (1968)

RICHARD I (The Lionheart) 1189 – 1199 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

JOHN 1199 -1216 Ironclad (2011)

HENRY III 1216 -1272 Becket (1964)

EDWARD I 1272 – 1307 Braveheart (1995)

EDWARD II 1307 – deposed 1327 Edward II (1991)

EDWARD III 1327 – 1377 The Dark Avenger (1955)

RICHARD II 1377 – deposed 1399 Richard II (2012)




HOUSE OF LANCASTER

HENRY IV 1399 – 1413 Chimes at Midnight (1965)

HENRY V 1413 – 1422 Henry V (1944) & Henry V (1989) - both classic adaptations

HENRY VI 1422 – deposed 1461 Beginning of the Wars of the Roses Tower of London (1939)


HOUSE OF YORK

EDWARD IV 1461- 1483 The White Queen (2013 TV)

EDWARD V 1483 – 1483 Richard III (2008)

RICHARD III 1483 – 1485 End of the Wars of the Roses Richard III (1995)




THE TUDORS

HENRY VII 1485 – 1509 Looking For Richard (1996)

HENRY VIII 1509 – 1547 Carry on Henry (1971) & The Tudors (2007)

EDWARD VI 1547 – 1553 Well, Edward VI is the basis for the Prince & the Pauper and so the best version of that is clearly Trading Places (1983). For a more traditional take check Tudor Rose (1936)

LADY JANE (9 Days Queen) Lady Jane (1986)

MARY I (Bloody Mary) 1553 – 1558 The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)




ELIZABETH I 1558-1603

There are so many films and prodcutions featuring The Virgin Queen but for some of the best check out Elizabeth (1998) and its sequel The Golden Age (2007), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Anonymous (2011).




THE STUARTS

JAMES I and VI of Scotland 1603 -1625 Gunpowder, Treason & Plot (2004 TV)

CHARLES 1 1625 – 1649 English Civil War The Devil's Whore (2008 TV)




THE COMMONWEALTH - declared May 19th 1649

OLIVER CROMWELL, Lord Protector 1653 – 1658 Cromwell (1970)

RICHARD CROMWELL, Lord Protector 1658 – 1659 To Kill A King (2003)




THE RESTORATION

CHARLES II 1660 – 1685 Restoration

JAMES II and VII of Scotland 1685 – 1688 England My England (1995)

WILLIAM III 1689 – 1702 The League of Gentlemen Apocalypse (2005)

MARY II 1689 – 1694 Orlando (1992)

ANNE 1702 – 1714 The First Churchills (1969 TV)




THE HANOVARIANS

GEORGE I 1714 -1727 The Iron Glove (1954)

GEORGE II 1727 – 1760 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

GEORGE III 1760 – 1820 The Madness of King George (1994)

GEORGE IV 1820 – 1830 Beau Brummell (1954)

WILLIAM IV 1830 – 1837 The Young Victoria (2009)

VICTORIA 1837 – 1901 Mrs. Brown (1997)




HOUSE OF SAXE-COBURG AND GOTHA

EDWARD VII 1901 – 1910 Victoria and Abdul (2017)




HOUSE OF WINDSOR Name changed in 1917

GEORGE V 1910 – 1936 W.E. (2011)

EDWARD VIII June 1936 – abdicated December 1936 Chariots of Fire (1981)

GEORGE VI 1936 – 1952 The King's Speech (2010)

ELIZABETH II 1952 – The Queen (2006)



And there we are! With a few close calls the monarchs from 1066 to the modern day each appear in a different film or production. Which is a cinematic universe I'd give props to anyone trying from start to finish!


A special mention as well to British actress Jeannette Charles who once had difficulty obtaining Equity membership due to her resemblance to the Queen. However, she subsequently played the role in numerous films including Secrets of a Superstud (1976), Queen Kong (1976), The Rutles' movie All You Need Is Cash (1978), National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985), The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)


*raises goblet* So, ladies and gentlemen, let's toast all of the talent, both local, national and international, who put their heart and soul into bringing history to the big screen for our pleasure!


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2018 09:13AM



Darkest Hour (2018) Dir. Joe Wright


There are problems at the heart of Darkest Hour, a film about how Winston Churchill navigated his first days as prime minister in 1940, much as there were with man himself. Namely, how to weave a suspenseful tale out of a story where the ending is known; and also how to make a human character from a man that has become a legend. Joe Wright’s film mostly tackles these problems well but it loses its way at the worst possible moment.


The strength of the film is that it never loses sight of the fact that Churchill, and here in particular his political rivals, are flawed people bumping up against each other in close confines — often the miniscule cabinet war room — in a struggle where the stakes could not be higher. This is more political thriller than biopic.


Hitler’s military is sweeping all before it in western Europe, the entire British army is encircled at Dunkirk and Calais, meanwhile, in closer quarters Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, his foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, his parliamentary party and even the king are opposed to his premiership. He only has the job, the film tells us, because he is the only senior Tory who the opposition will accept as a leader.


Hanging over him is the military disaster at Gallipoli in the First World War, and a reputation for an intense self-regard — indeed, an acknowledgement from family and colleagues that he has always prioritised his personal political ambition.


So now that Churchill has his chance — or as he puts it at the start of the film, his rivals have their chance of revenge by putting him in the hot seat — how can he cling on to power among with so little support, and with Chamberlain and Halifax scheming to have this delusional warmonger removed from power altogether.


That this film was made at all, and the review is being written in English, perhaps gives the clearest indication of why Halifax and Chamberlain are the villains of the piece, but one of the film’s triumphs is to have these characters seem as reasonable in their aims as Churchill is steadfast in his.


The film swoops in and pulls away from the tight knit circle around Churchill to show the consequences of all that fighting in the war room and bitter-sweet family moments. In fact, it does this quite literally on a number of occasions as overhead camera shots launch skywards to dwarf either Churchill, a French boy, a stranded English brigadier each during pivotal moments in the story.


But this film is a political thriller at heart, and taught and compelling one at that. And it is the drama at close quarters that captivates the most.


The pressure mounting on Churchill, superbly portrayed by Gary Oldman, increasingly alone as his rivals pressure him to consider a negotiated peace with Hitler, is thrilling. As is his wrestling with an awful decision about how best to save the British Expeditionary Force in France.


Malbrough man


But it is at Churchill’s own darkest hour, as he wrestles with what appears to be a bout of self doubt and his “black dog” of depression, that the film takes a nosedive. The only difference is the film’s own darkest hour seems born of hubris rather than lack of confidence.


From out of nowhere, King George V, previously a wet individual mulling over whether or not to bugger off to Canada and hoping his mate Halifax wins the prime ministership, appears from nowhere to give our hero a pep talk. It isn’t clear why but apparently he discovers his inner kingliness while standing about on the balcony one night at Buckingham Palace. Winnie and Georgie bond, and we can only be thankful the scene with a chest bump and a high five.


And so the toe curling begins in earnest.


A film this may be and it is right that it should not be a slave to historic detail. We are watching characters in a story, not real people. But what happens next is so out of character and so blatantly false that the tension falls slack immediately, like a sprinter pulling up with a dodgy hamstring. Unlike our protagonist, it never recovers and can only limp on.


Earlier in the film, when accepting the premiership from the king, Churchill tells a companion he has never taken a bus. But following the royal heart to heart, he leaves his chauffered car and takes the tube one stop between St. James’s Park and Westminster where he is to address parliament.


It is hard to know what the most unrealistic aspect of this scene is. That Churchill strikes up a conversation with a carriage full of Londoners? Or that it takes an inordinate amount of time for this train to travel a few hundred yards? Or is it that this aristocrat, direct descendent of the Dukes of Malbrough, born in Blenheim Palace in the age of empire is on the District Line at all? And that’s before we tackle into the excruciating dialogue.


Whichever it is, the overall effect is to rip the drama out of the film, all of the tension, and any sense of jeopardy. From here on in the whole thing becomes a victory parade, albeit done, as I said, with a limp. It does the story a disservice. Secure he may have been as leader having seen off Halifax, and with Chamberlain in terminal ill health, but he was still leader of a country all but on its knees in the face of overwhelming odds.


Darkest Hour is for the most part gripping and pacey, but just when it needed to step up a notch it pulls up short, only offering a lame attempt at a fist pump of an ending rather than what in real life must have been a far more intriguing story.


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal,” the film quotes Churchill as saying at the end. Both ideas apply to this film. The disappointing final furlong does not ruin the rest of it.


“… it is the courage to continue that counts,” ends that quotation. Whether audiences have the courage to persist with this film once it loses its way is a matter they will have to decide for themselves.


6/10


Ralph Sinclair



By midlandsmovies, Jan 11 2018 12:02PM



The Disaster Artist (2017) Dir. James Franco


As an inexperienced filmmaker, actor, writer and director with over-reaching talent and delusions of grandeur in an attempt to be a master of all trades, James Franco sure does fit perfectly in playing fellow “visionary” Tommy Wiseau.


If you don’t already know, Tommy Wiseau is the writer/director/actor whose 2003 film The Room is regularly considered one of the worst films of all time. Based upon the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made, this adaptation is partly an Ed Wood portrait of a misunderstood genius and partly poking fun at the notorious flop with Tommy’s eccentricity taking centre stage.


For anyone who has seen The Room, the horrid acting, paper-thin sets, nonsensical plotting and endlessly quotable lines are all recognised part of its charm which saw it become a Rocky Horror Picture Show for a new generation. Midnight shows saw the film evolve into another interactive cult classic as crowds repeated its lines and brought in props to interact with during screenings.


Focusing on Tommy (James Franco) via a story framed from the viewpoint of the book’s author and fellow actor Greg Sistero (Dave Franco), the film is a slight look at the two’s fractured and strange relationship in their goal to become successful actors. James Franco tackles Wiseau’s oddball with enough ticks and hair-shaking as Tommy himself without being a pure impression yet strangely even Franco’s facial features have a genuinely uncanny resemblance to Wiseau.


Set in 1998’s San Francisco, Sestero meets Wiseau in acting classes and whilst the conventional teachers and students pour scorn on Wiseau’s peculiar take on the texts, a friendship is born and the two head to LA to pursue their acting dreams. As their efforts prove fruitless, Tommy decides to write and film his own screenplay and Greg reluctantly agrees to star.


From the outset the long script combined with a lack of business nous sees the dim duo buy the wrong equipment, build unneeded sets and audition (then sack) countless actors and crew. For “fans” of The Room (I admit I’ve seen it twice but both times with commentary - from Jaboody Dubs and Red Letter Media) the recreations of the locations, actors and scenes are spot on but if a film was made about Rocky Horror, you may simply wonder why you’re not watching the more fun original.


The Disaster Artist has flashes of genius but the story of the film’s making is simply on screen in the original. This film doesn’t enlighten you to the secrets of The Room as the bad decisions made and the sincerity of the film is already portrayed in The Room itself with its sheer god awfulness.


That said, the scenes are a suitable mix of multiple takes as Tommy forgets his lines as well as ridiculous overacting. And Seth Rogan as the director stares in awe at the garbage that’s playing out in front of him. Yet Rogen gets more laughs as a low-budget director in his similar role in “Zack & Miri”. As Wiseau’s “vision” slowly comes together the toils take their toll on the two friend’s bond and they stumble over the finish line before arranging a premier in Hollywood.


The reception and subsequent reassessment of the film is pure dramatic ‘retcon-ing’ with Tommy stating he intended to make people laugh all along, which I am sure is not the case in the slightest. But that’s part of Wiseau’s charm. Always looking for an angle to break into the “big time” he finally gets a real-life movie to do justice to his efforts and to also, hopefully, encourage more folk to watch his dreadful original.


In the end, James Franco is admittedly great as Wiseau but overall this film is “safe” to the point of humdrum as there’s neither a great in depth analysis of Tommy himself (his background is still unknown today) or a specific directorial style. Franco has stated The Disaster Artist was "a combination of Boogie Nights and The Master” which is pure Wiseau – overblown, hugely ambitious, outlandish and utterly not true.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Oct 10 2017 09:26AM



Loving Vincent (2017) Dir. Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman


My own love for Vincent stemmed from a project on The Netherlands in primary school all the way to imitating his artwork (and others in the post-impressionist movement) for my A-Levels so I was excited to hear about the development of this unique film.


If you have yet to hear, Loving Vincent is a hybrid animation/real-life film in a similar vein to Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Like those films drawings were placed on top of acted out and pre-recorded scenes – its inherent strange rotoscoping perfect for the latter’s Philip K. Dick source material. Here however each frame of the film (around 65,000 of them) is an oil painting. 100 plus artists used Van Gogh-style painting techniques to capture the feel and style of his varied body of work.


The film’s story is a mystery concerning the investigations of Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a distant friend of the Van Gogh’s whose father, Chris O'Dowd as Postman Roulin, sets him on a trail to deliver one of Van Gogh’s last letters. Arriving in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, he speaks to a number of people who interacted with the infamous painter who each describe their relationship with the artist during the last few weeks of his life.


The film flashes back from the colourful brushstrokes of his later portraits and rural landscapes to a more realistic black and white palette during the recollections of past events which is a brilliant nod to his developing styles from one stage of his life to another.


From an introduction at The Night Café (1888) and Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin (1841–1903) the film deliberately introduces locations and characters as exact replicas of their painted canvases, before moving to the drama of the scene itself. For Van Gogh lovers it’s very much a case of Spot-the-Painting but doesn’t detract from the artistry or drama for those less familiar.


The drama itself is mostly subtle and understated as the delivery of the letter turns into a noir detective narrative as Roulin begins to uncover some ambiguities regarding Vincent’s alleged suicide. With the few outbursts done in a swirling application of paint it was a delight to see both intimate conversations and volatile fist fights animated in oils. The music by Clint Mansell echoes some of his previous work and the string quartet ratchets up tension when needed and like the visuals, mixes a nice balance of intensity and gentleness across scenes.



Robert Gulaczyk as Vincent van Gogh is really a fleeting player in the story as other characters describe his past, but he does a lot with his body and face rather than a string of dialogue scenes. This keeps the emphasis on his enigmatic legacy and how he was a quiet, yet completely ‘visual’ personality.


Great support comes in the form of Jerome Flynn as Dr. Gachet, Saoirse Ronan as his daughter Marguerite Gachet, Helen McCrory as the feisty Louise Chevalier and John Sessions as Père Tanguy – each one bringing depth and nuance to their roles and further fleshing out this historic world.


It’s great to see the detective story secure a strong driving narrative to what could be seen as simply a gimmick, however the visuals really are the big-top draw here. Unlike anything I’ve seen before, when the drama slows, the cinema felt like your favourite museum with the audience simply ruminating on the almost-static images. Yet when they moved, the glory of the brushwork and talented painters who recreated Van Gogh’s style is clear to see – and a joy to behold.


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.


10/10


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

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