icons-02 icons-01 MM Logo FILM FREEWAY LOGO

blog

Movie news, reviews, features and more thoughts coming soon...

By midlandsmovies, Jan 17 2019 05:09PM



Colette (2019) Dir. Wash Westmoreland


This biographical drama comes from Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland and is based upon the life of French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature she is also famous for her 1944 novella Gigi which was the basis for the film of the same name.


Colette covers the early part of her life with Keira Knightley returning from an acting break as the lead woman whose first writings were published under the pen name of “Willy” – a nickname for her husband Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West). She writes a series of stories revolving around “Claudine”, a fictionalised version of her own life which is filled with avant-garde parties and lesbian liaisons.


However, much like in the film Big Eyes (Tim Burton), Colette soon demands her name be revealed as the real author of the stories which her husband resists and which subsequently causes riffs between them. The film is told in a linear fashion and for a film about writing, sadly has too few literary trappings and most reminded me of the standard fare of Merchant Ivory period dramas – but with added liberal and progressive flourishes.


Knightley is solid and Dominic West plays the uptight, sleazy type of macho husband that he often excels in – but is one actor I have never thought has much of a range and he does little to correct that here in Colette.


As Colette’s will becomes more determined, the film delves into notions of masculinity and femininity and whilst swanning into boisterous parties one night in extravagant dresses, she partakes in serious muscular exercise the following day. The cinematography is fascinating as it captures beautiful French scenery as well as bawdy get-togethers exploring both public and private spaces.


The film however concludes with her departure from literature into her mime and stage career displaying her fight for female independence at a time where female respectability was considered paramount and she moves from exercising her mind to the physicality of her body.


Therefore Colette is certainly progressive and honourable – telling a little-known tale of creative and wanton passions – but if I’m honest I found little “life” in the film. Also, there was a very palpable chemistry vacuum between the two leads, yet the excellent support from Eleanor Tomlinson, Aiysha Hart and Fiona Shaw helps ease these gaps.


A melodrama of women’s independence, I would recommend Colette for those interested in the film’s central historical subject matter but for many others, the film – as respectful as it is – dips into blandness, both technically and narratively.


★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2018 12:00PM



Stronger (2018) Dir. David Gordon Green


David Gordon Green has a varied CV with misfiring comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness sitting with more dramatic fare like 2013’s Joe with Nicholas Cage. My recommendation is to avoid comedy, Sir, for your more serious takes a far better.


Like Joe, we get a great central performance, this time from Jake Gyllenhall. Here he plays Jeff Bauman who in real life lost both his legs during the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon. Unlike Patriot Day, a film which I hugely enjoyed (see review here), the film avoids the police investigation into the perpetrators and focuses on one of the victims maimed on that fateful day.


Adjusting to his new life, Gyllenhaal gives an unbelievably good performance as man plagued by demons and alcoholism but injects enough vulnerability that the audience sympathise with him given the difficulties he faces. Surprisingly there’s a fair amount of comedy had here too. Bauman is shown to make light of his injury at times and there is a dark sub-plot of exploitation of the media which fleshed out the background to his journey.


The film also doesn’t scrimp on the awfulness of the injuries – with blood, limbs and body parts strewn in the bombing recreation flashbacks - and a scene where Bauman has his bandages removed for the first time may be one of the hardest things to watch in 2018.


Dealing with the subject sensitively, yet exploring the trauma and frustrations of the aftermath, Stronger has a fine support cast with Tatiana Maslany as Jeff's girlfriend and Miranda Richardson as Jeff's mother. Carlos Sanz as Carlos Arredondo – the man who saved Jeff at the scene gives a brief but powerful turn as well.


Although Stronger isn’t a game changer, it provides a fascinating insight into the rehabilitation process and shows an audience how difficult it is to deal with both physical and mental scars – all grounded by Gyllenhaal’s mesmerising central role.


7/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 23 2018 12:57PM



Chappaquiddick (film) Dir. John Curran


This film highlights an historical incident from 1969 when US Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car into Poucha Pond killing a girl called Mary Jo Kopechne and then focuses on the subsequent media fallout.


The main facts from the case make for dark inspection as Kennedy drives from a beach party and crashes into water before returning to the house where he asks 2 friends to assist. But after failing to rescue her they advise him to go to the police that night. But for some reason he doesn’t. He goes back to his hotel and back to bed. A man in shock or an act of political protection? Well, the film definitely portrays the latter.


So let’s be honest here, the film doesn’t make the Senator look in any way sympathetic. The car is subsequently found by members of the public and Kennedy returns to his family’s estate to instigate some serious media damage control.


Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy is fantastic and the film’s supporting cast is solid throughout. At the film’s conclusion we are told Ted continued in the U.S. Senate for 40 years – highlighting how that even when causing a death, nothing can really stop your career when you come from American royalty like the Kennedys.


Ed Helms, looking strangely like the manager from The Incredibles and Clancy Brown are the best of the rest whilst Bruce Dern is as cantankerous as ever as Kennedy senior. Kate Mara is strong but given the story, she is"offed" early in the movie - although her sympathetic portrayal makes Kennedy's actions all the more unfathomable.


The film is a solid biopic and if anything made me feel slightly disgusted by the actions on screen but doesn’t truly hold as much weight as it should other than Clarke’s captivating central performance.


The Kennedy family and their powerful friends have unsurprisingly called the film a “fabrication” but the film rightly sticks to its guns in order to remind us all of the political machinations of a country slowly falling away from its morals in a way that maintains the sleazy status quo. A passable political potboiler.


6/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Oct 25 2018 02:43PM



Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Dir. Bryan Singer


Let’s get the Queen song puns out of the way from the start. Is Bohemian Rhapsody “guaranteed to blow your mind”? Well, it’s a glossy, Queen-approved biopic that had some tremendous moments but unfortunately the sum is less than its parts as we follow the glam-infused rock-opera band from their early beginnings to their Live Aid performance of 1985.


We open backstage at that world-broadcast concert but are soon thrust back in time to 1970 where flamboyant singer Farrokh Bulsara (soon to be Freddie Mercury) meets up with Gwilym Lee as Brian May and Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor after their band ‘Smile’ loses their frontman.


Mercury is encapsulated, and then some, by a beyond-terrific performance from Rami Malek and although the film covers various aspects of the band’s career, Malek is thrust centre stage and like Freddie, all eyes are on him throughout the duration.


After securing bassist John Deacon the film stops off at varying points of the group’s milestones as we get to see the greatest hits of Mercury's life from his Zanzibar roots, Bombay originating parents, his meeting and engagement to lifelong companion Mary Austin, the band on tour and the subsequent falling outs.


Fun and harmless it is but sometimes borders on the bland with shot choices that were less than cinematic. This lack of consistency may have come from the removal of the film’s original director Bryan Singer. The irony of behind-the-scenes (or backstage if you will) creative differences isn’t lost on this reviewer.


Also losing a singer are Queen. The film sees Freddie’s ego get the better of him as his wild lifestyle lead him to a drug and sex-fuelled hedonism which culminates in him pursuing solo project without his band mates. Or his “family” as they are repeatedly referred to.


As a 12A film, the movie doesn’t go into Mercury’s debauched depths (Movie Marker’s Darryl Griffiths sums up the issue brilliantly here) and although it’s not a warts and all exploration, the film doesn’t shy from his sexuality and his subsequent discovery that he contracted AIDS.


The film therefore feels like its trying to cover far too much ground (around 15 years) and doesn’t give adequate space for all its plot and character ambitions. The wayward frontman scenes combine nicely with the studio sequences however. The repetition of Roger Taylor’s falsetto delivery of “Galileo” is a great nod to the band’s recording methods as seen on BBC2s’ “Making Of” documentary where hundreds of takes were attempted to achieve Freddie’s legendary perfectionism.


It gave the impression at times that the film (produced and approved by May and Taylor) was also attempting to force their contributions in which made it feel a bit "try-hard". The whole band were brilliant of course and each member essential but it was definitely the Freddie show that made the best cinema here.


And although a cameo from Mike Myers was a nice nod to the song’s influence, like far too much of the script, he delivers lines from Anthony McCarten's screenplay that are simply too on the nose. "We get it. It’s Wayne’s World! You don’t need to say it!"


One of the most talked-about, and lauded, scenes is the recreation of the band’s Live Aid show at Wembley Stadium. A fantastic realisation of the day, it is somewhat spoiled by a Return of the King (or should that be Queen) style ending that felt like it went on for days. Rami struts the stage in a way that is less than just a good impression and more of a total embodiment but after 15 minutes the film easily could have wrapped itself up after the first track.


As a huge fan of the band I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody but it's all a bit like Queen themselves – slightly indulgent, sometimes overlong and contains an unhealthy obsession with its own importance BUUUUUT you can't take your eyes off that man at the front. And Rami Malek is without doubt stunning as Freddie Mercury.


A shed-load of hits from Queen’s back catalogue are obviously interspersed throughout and the most moving moment was Malek’s delivery as he reveals his AIDS diagnosis to his weeping band mates. A heart-breaking and jolting sequence in a film that had been mostly surface throughout.


But I couldn’t dislike the film for its broad strokes. It aimed high and unfortunately fell a little flat yet I enjoyed much of the film’s approach, its likeable depictions of the band (and their hangers-on) as well as the shooting star of the show that is Rami Malek.


Broken into three parts – the film shows Freddie’s killing of his past persona growing up, then the campy frolics and hedonism of operatic orgies and a final head-banging ending with pulsating riffs and joyous rock – if only there was a Queen song that encapsulated all this.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2018 08:28AM


First Man (2018) Dir. Damien Chazelle


For a man who is probably one of the most famous who ever lived, Neil Armstrong was sure a modest guy. Shunning the spotlight after his infamous trip to the moon and back, the human who took one small step decided to take a step back from the limelight after his legendary voyage. And it is that low-key confidence that director Damien Chazelle (of La La Land and Whiplash fame) tries to tap into in his new film First Man.


We are thrown into the cockpit in Chazelle’s opening scene as Armstrong’s pilot comes unstuck during a test flight of an experimental X-15 rocket which he struggles to gain control of during a re-entry. Chazelle’s tone throughout combines two recurring themes – the cool-as-a-cucumber Armstrong and the technical feats of NASA during the 60s. The opening is a claustrophobic and exciting action sequence where buzzing alarms, broken throttles and life-threatening science all go hand in hand.


After successfully getting back to earth, although Armstrong is not entirely seen as successful, the film begins to expose how Armstrong however was viewed as extremelt dependable in times of crisis. Ryan Gosling’s slightly one-trick “moody wanderer” shtick (see also Blade Runner 2049 and Only God Forgives) works here to show Armstrong as a contemplative and serious man whose one goal is the success of any challenge placed in front of him.


Attempting to get more emotion from him is Armstrong’s wife played by an excellent Claire Foy. After the loss of their young daughter, Armstrong adds a metaphorical distance in their relationship. Burying his emotions deep, the film follows Armstrong in times of solace – again, reiterating his lonesome and contemplative nature. Foy brings depth to what could be a “caring wife” cliché – giving her some real toughness which was also seen in Unsane and no doubt in the future Dragon Tattoo spin off.


As their family stresses adds to Neil’s woes, Chazelle uses the “space” between words to explore the difficulties they are both facing. As the Apollo missions gain pace, more and more fellow Astronauts are killed during tests and flights which constantly plays on the couple’s fragile minds.


Whilst Chazelle uses the quiet moments to say so much the film really has two sound modes: Bombastic noise with a symphonic score (excellently composed by Justin Hurwitz) but in contrast stark silence. The audience is reminded of the omission of sound in space but space is both the empty void between the stars AND the gap between husband and wife.


Chazelle’s involvement in such “sound films” like Grand Piano, La La Land and Whiplash has given him huge dexterity in using sound as another character – one that comes to the forefront when it is there and also when it isn’t. Alongside this, the acting of the support cast is great and the whole film is shot very naturally, and at times with an improvisational style especially with the child actors.Filmed on both very grainy and authentic 16mm and 35mm film stock., further authenticity is added the inclusion of real footage from the era in 3:4 ratio which alongside the subtle but well used wardrobe, further adds to its time period credentials.


As the film edges closes to the infamous Apollo 11 launch, the constant presence of death – loss of young child, loss of colleagues, loss of friends – continues to permeate throughout. In many ways, as this occurs, Armstrong experiences an increased loss of emotion. With Chazelle’s almost point-of-view shots from the astronaut’s positions in their spacecraft, their confined position is an apt coffin itself.


The film returns to his daughter’s death as Armstrong avoids people at a colleague's funeral and he tracks his daughter’s illness in a log book and is as meticulous about his work as his family – sometimes to both their detriment.


As we enter the final third, Chazelle’s great film even raises the stakes despite us all knowing the expected outcome. The noise of creaking metal and shots of shaking rivets show how these men are simply in a controlled but very dangerous explosion. The risk to life is very real and the long pauses throughout the movie create a tension that sticks during its moon landing ending – spectacularly filmed in IMAX sequences. And as the eagle lands on the surface, one of the most well-known parts of our shared history is given new life and we rediscovers its importance – to us all and to this one humble man.


First Man therefore is a fantastic voyage of both a mythical yet somewhat conventional man. Ever the reluctant hero and considering he completed one of the most, if not the most, infamous achievements in human history, his commitment to science, family and getting the job done comes across in Chazelle’s portrayal. A uniquely earnest and simple man, Armstrong may have sought a low profile later in life, but I hope First Man reignites interest in this hugely exciting period.


And Chazelle has no need to bow down to the audience to ensure everything is a projection of their experience. This is Neil’s experience. And First Man is a first-rate biography mixing an amazing directorial confidence in cinematic techniques to explore what drives us all to unimaginable personal and public feats of endeavour.


9/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Sep 2 2018 02:11PM



American Animals (2018) Dir. Bart Layton


Covering the story of a real-life robbery committed by four students, American Animals opens with their preparation for the eventful heist before flashbacking to how they came to this dangerous predicament in the first place.


Combining tones to great effect, the recreated drama of 2004 of American Animals is interspersed with interview content from the actual people – who narrate specific parts of the incident – giving it a documentary feel. The film sees Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk) as Spencer Reinhard, a misunderstood (and bored) art student coerced into a shady scheme by his wayward childhood pal Warren Lipka, played by X-Men’s Quicksilver Evan Peters.


Peters’ best friend could be an over-the-top caricature, that is until we see the interview with the real life Lipka – weirdly reminiscent of Samurai Cop’s Matt Hannon – who demonstrates his true wild side with his comedy T-Rex tattoo and quirky demeanour. The two adolescents hatch (or accidentally fall into depending on who you believe) a plan to steal a valuable edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America from their University library and make money by selling them on the black market.


Like 2018’s “I, Tonya”, the film mixes media as we explore alternative viewpoints of the same story. Recollections of background events differ from person to person and at times, the real participants replace the actors by being edited into the dramatic part of the movie itself.


Alongside this, the film comments on crime movies itself. It often changes its style, referencing famous celluloid heists. It switches its colour palette and one scene is even a clear pastiche of Steven Soderbergh’s glossy Ocean Eleven – with its slick one-take camera moves and Vegas Elvis soundtrack. Away from the stylistic techniques, there are also great performances from the two leads rounded out with the inclusion of Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk who fill spots on the heist team’s roster.


And before long we return to the cine-literate influences as the group are given names from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Heck, there’s even a very specific nod to The Dark Knight’s Joker introduction shot. But all these geeky references are not at the expense of an interesting narrative. Whilst the customary plans are being mapped out and surveillance undertaken, the dialogue moves from the planning to questions about America’s past. Information about the USA being the fattest nation on earth is discussed and the appearance of a burning supermarket trolley explore the West’s commercialism and propensity for destruction.


However, the movie’s focus on evolutionary paintings and nature contrasts with this modern discourse. The film attempts to link both the past and the present and the developments we undergo as we come of age. And the filmmaker deftly proposes this can be applied to the stories we tell. By this, the narrative itself evolves and as the unreliable narrators continue, the film even stops and rewinds like Haneke’s Funny Games. The heist disguises change the youngsters into old men but we clearly see them failing to grow up and take responsibility for their decisions.

As the story continues, the actual heist confounds expectations and takes a tonal shift into darker territory. Natural instincts like worry, sweating and vomiting are edited against grotesque violence. And the boys truly find out that life is not like the movies.


With the real-life protagonists expressing deep remorse for their actions – whilst still disagreeing on many of the details of the incidents years later – the ending of the film wraps up the various strands and is far more complex than a regular Hollywood heist.


The film opens with a title-card stating “This Is Not a True Story” – before the word “not” fades out – showing its obsessions with diverging stories from days gone by. But the boys finally go through one more stage of evolution as they survive their ordeal despite not being the fittest of the pack. And like the characters, the film itself grows up and delivers a beautiful, fun and at times deadly serious look at the theft of maturity.


9/10


Mike Sales



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


RSS Feed twitter