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By midlandsmovies, Jul 12 2017 05:55PM



SOCKS AND ROBBERS


“Darned criminals, stitched up good and proper!”


Midlands Movies uncovers one of the region’s most surreal premises as we take a look at upcoming comedy 'Socks and Robbers'.


‘Socks and Robbers’ is a short dark comic heist film coming in from Nottingham which follows a gang of daring, sock headed robbers who hold up a bank.


However, what the robbers don’t know is that one of them is an undercover cop. Directed by the award winning director David Lilley who says the film boasts “more twists than pages”, ‘Socks and Robbers’ is described as a rollercoaster of a story that will keep audiences guessing to the very end.


With a planned release for 2017, this Midlands film spans multiple genres and is part-gangster, part-horror but all comedy and will be released via Loonatik and Drinks productions. This group of filmmakers make a variety of short films and although they say they “don’t make money”, they add that “often people watch our films and say nice things”.


Along with David Lilley, Stephen Gray forms the creative core of Loonatik & Drinks and the duo have been working together for over 15 years, first on music and then film projects. Initial collaborations were loosely planned and informal but over the past couple of years they have worked even closer together with both being fans of the cult B-movie genre and classic horror fiction.


BIFA Nominated in 2006 and winner of a Cofilmic Audience Award in 2011, the Nottingham friends have taken their style for this film from genre classics such as ‘Fargo’, ‘Reservoir Dogs’, ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘The Mighty Boosh’.


The film will be produced by Jenn Day and the whole production can be followed on the official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/socksandrobbers/about/?ref=page_internal


Also check out theLoonatik and Drinks page for info on previous projects, watch previous shorts and more: http://www.loonatikanddrinks.com


And you can view David Lilley's director showreel below on VIMEO:




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

By midlandsmovies, Feb 19 2017 09:35PM



After covering 2015 film The Taxi Midlands Movies hitches another ride to talk to Worcestershire based filmmakers TestaRossa Productions about their latest project.


The Taxi’s writer-director Fernando Maffei is now deep in production on Artichoke, a brand new English/Italian crime film shot in Worcester. The story concerns a Mafia hitman who is sent to England to do a job for an old boss but who ends up having his loyalties violently tested.


Fernando and his Midlands-based crew have now wrapped on their first feature and are currently in post-production where the Kidderminster-based filmmaker has again worked with producer Lawrence Donello from Worcester. Aside from The Taxi, the duo have worked on several short films including Who’s There and Homeland all of which were shot in the region.


A thoroughly Midlands cast is led by Jetinder Summan (Holby City, Doctors) as well as emerging talent Greg Hobbs (Doctors, Who's There) Sophie Canare (Who's There, Homeland) Francesco Tribuzio (Age of Kill, The Taxi) and Worcester's own Hollywood connection Vincenzo Nicoli (Alien 3, The Dark Knight) .


Using a micro-budget and a mostly local crew, the team did not limit themselves to the region alone and went as far to enlist the help of notable Director of Photography Lisa Muzzulini who spends her time between UK, NY and Berlin.


And finally, make-up artist Charlotte Pingriff (PrettyScary Youtube channel) has created a host of aesthetic designs including bleeding statues, bruised faces and also assisting with the special effects for the film whilst Lawrence and Fernando hope the feature will generate further opportunities for local film technicians.


“We would like artists to get to work in the industry by making high end features locally which will pave the way for them to work on bigger budgeted features such as those shot recently in Midlands including Spielberg's Ready Player One and Michael Keaton's American Assassin currently filming in Birmingham”.


And with talk of a film studio being built by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Taboo) the opportunities can only increase, with the producers of Artichoke also believing strongly in promoting the region as a film friendly destination.


“We had an amazing crew who were pushed to their limits on such a tight schedule but they delivered”.


Once fully completed, Artichoke hopes to be selected into film festivals worldwide as well as ultimately securing distribution. And following that, Lawrence and Fernando even have their next film lined up (LUCIO) AND their next feature (BARGAIN) which has been the culmination of several years work.


To find out more about Artichoke please follow on their official Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/artichokefilm

By midlandsmovies, Feb 16 2017 06:30PM



Essex Heist (2017)

Dir. Steve Lawson

Creativ Studio


From a self-confessed filmmaker who hasn’t seen a modern British gangster film as well as filming this movie entirely in the Midlands region, Leicester director Steve Lawson is a brave man taking on new flick Essex Heist. However, he does a pretty spot on job of recreating the wide-boy bravado of a host of ‘mockney’ gang flicks even without the previous experience of the genre.


We follow Jez of Prestige Motors who works for gang boss Terry Slade with cheeky mechanics Clive and Daveyboy as they do dodgy deals on motors. Hearing a story from Andy (“who came down from Nottingham”), he knows that his boss is on his way through town (down from Nottingham as well of course, ha ha) with cash that is just asking to be stolen.


With Snatch-esque scratched out freeze frames and a few flashes of skin, Essex Boys is aiming at a very specific demographic and mostly hits the right notes if you’re a fan of geezers and girls.


A long opening conversation against a grey brick wall is not the most engaging way to open your film but sets up all the characters yet it’s hilariously obvious, as someone born in Essex myself, that most of the actors haven’t even set foot in the county. Their accents ranging from the North to Northern and as far down as the Midlands.


The film does liven up with the heist itself – in many ways the film could have (or should have) started at this point – and with quick pans and handheld camera the audience will feel more engaged with the visual style used here. When the obligatory heist goes obligatory awry, the film sets up a possible double-cross as the gang try to find where the money has gone after the large sum is replaced by blank pieces of paper.


Some post-heist warehouse torture and gun stand-offs echo similar scenes in Reservoir Dogs as the gang start to accuse each other and fall apart as they fight over the whereabouts of the missing cash. A few fun fist fights are littered throughout and the director throws in a large amount of blood and splatter too.


Sadly, this film didn’t entirely warm to me owing to the unconvincing characters, who are forced to deliver long lines of dialogue to explain plot rather than the script showing it to us, whilst the inclusion of stock music rather than a hip soundtrack is a bit of a misstep.


As a piece of local filmmaking though it is admirable again to see a local director spreading their wings into new territories; here Lawson is building upon chase drama Survival Instinct and creature feature KillerSaurus. He’s aware of the genre – cheeky (then violent) mechanics, lots of swearing, machismo, voiceovers and gang loyalty are all here is spades and help sell the illusion.


As the film twists to its conclusion, the obvious low-budget nature of the film either becomes part of its charm or a limitation that brings the film down but this will depend on your pre-disposition to silly b-movie thrills. This lack of depth will allow genre fans to enjoy Essex Heist's superficial action-drama about angry young men scrapping but may frustrate others with its lack of bona fide charisma.


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 26 2016 09:10AM

A splurge of talent comes to Leicester in gangster film musical Bugsy Malone


Released in the summer of 1976, Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone is a musical gangster film set in New York in the 1920s with a cast of only child actors and this new Curve Community Production brings that Jazz age vibe to the Leicester theatre stage.


Directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, the show takes the music of songwriter Paul Williams and tells the story of washed up boxing promoter Bugsy Malone as he flirts with aspiring singer Blousey Brown amidst a backdrop of a city-wide gang rivalry between Fat Sam and newcomer Dandy Dan and his hoods.


The original 70’s film was Parker's feature-length directorial debut and introduced actor Scott Baio (later of Happy Days fame) as well as a 13-year old Jodie Foster as Tallulah. At the time of filming, all of the cast were under 17 years old.


For this local production, director Nick Winston has brought along his unique choreography previously used in other film-related shows such as Legally Blonde and Grease to design a fantastic piece which showcases Leicester’s brightest young talent. Taking on everything from “Fat Sam's Grand Slam" speakeasy showtune to upbeat "So You Wanna Be a Boxer?" the adolescent actors encapsulated the music and prohibition vibe in all its glory.


In a whirl of gangsters and guns - for the uninitiated, the splurge guns fire kid-friendly whipped cream – the community cast and orchestra undersold their talents as an ‘amateur’ company and delivered the goods in all the important areas. The modern Smooth Criminal-influenced speakeasy dance number complimented the Charleston bopping as showgirls danced on tables whilst the acting of Alfie Bright (Dandy Dan) and Joel Fossard-Jones as the hero Bugsy Malone were particular standouts.


The acting was top notch across the board though as Arlo Mulligan-Vassel (Fizzy) delivered a brilliant solo rendition of “Tomorrow Never Comes” early in the show whilst Harvey Thorpe encapsulated a superb sleazy (Fat) Sam and Amica Kuroda (Lena) almost stole the show as a diminutive but strong loudmouth singer at an audition.


Special note should go to the stage design. A series of elevated train lines (Chicago’s infamous ‘L’ track) alongside a huge skyscraper-like video board allowed the audience to be whisked away to different parts of the city – even at times becoming a visual printing press for the narrative’s news style. As well as these impressive visual designs, the display was a practical prop too with some ‘screens’ opening up as windows and doors adding physicality to the stage as well. At times the smoky silhouettes of the dark city streets were straight from a film noir further enhancing the play’s dazzling cinematic quality.


This show’s success mirrors the film’s achievements where it gained award nominations including Best Motion Picture, Best Score and Best Song at the Golden Globes and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song Score. Alan Parker received the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, and a nomination for Best Direction too.


Back to the stage though, Bugsy Malone is a phenomenal success – it being one of my favourite musicals may have made me slightly biased – but the costumes, music and especially the delivery of song and dance numbers by the whole cast made this a magical and marvellous “Malone” night to remember. Check it out while you still can.


Midlands Movies Mike


Bugsy Malone can be caught at The Curve from Friday 19th August — Sunday 28th August



By midlandsmovies, Apr 10 2016 09:13PM

New writer Guy Russell took a trip to Derby's QUAD Cinema for their season of Hong Kong crime films and took a look at a film Tarantino described as "the best film of the year" - 2005's Election. Read his thoughts on this Asian crime classic below...


Election (2005) Dir. Johnnie To


This thrilling Hong Kong crime picture from infamous director Johnnie To commands your attention from the first minute and never let’s go. “Election” pits two gang leaders against each other, each vying for the top position within their Triad organisation. When Lok (Simon Yam) comes out successful, his unorthodox rival Big D (Tony Ka Fai Leung) refuses to accept the defeat threatening Lok and others with an inevitable street war.


Many critics argue that To is Hong Kong’s answer to Scorsese, a compliment that is hard to shrug off seeing as both filmmakers have spent a large part of their career directing stylish gangland epics.

2005’s Election is no different.


Staples of gangster films are on exhibition here, honour, brotherhood and loyalty. The violence however sets To’s “Election” apart from the others, rarely do guns come into the fore in this film instead rivals are placed in wooden crates and purposefully fired from the top of a mountain.


Substituting gore and bloodshed for traditional and simple torture techniques “Election” focuses on shocking its audience with the history and the motives of these characters rather than with shock treatment. Also in a scene to rival To’s American counterpart Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” famous ‘who’s funny’ scene, a gang member is jokingly told to eat a porcelain spoon along with his meal which he does in a strikingly confident manner.


Shot in a stylistic and vibrant manner by Cheng Siu-Keung, the cinematography succeeds in showing how beautiful China and Hong Kong are. The freedom of the countryside contrasts against the seemingly growing decay of the streets that are filled with garish karaoke bars and strip clubs.

As I said earlier, the violence displayed in the film makes the viewer aware of how different the film is, the story and its themes are served the same way.


What’s interesting is that the film spends a large amount of time with the many captains within the triad discussing who is to become the next chairman of the organisation. The inner workings of the Triads will fascinate those who also find other infamous gangs interesting.


It’s refreshing to see a Film or TV show dedicate itself to showing the hierarchy and politics of these morally absent characters. Not since David Chases ‘The Sopranos’ have I seen such a project show so much interest in exploring the world of its subject matter. Standout performance of this film belongs to the unstable and ambitious Big D played by Tony Ka Fai Leung, his performance is anchored by the quiet and focused Lok (Simon Yam). Leung plays Big D like a hyperactive child, his goals become more unachievable as his temper grows.


The only disappointing aspect of the film is it ends up feeling like a set up for a more explosive sequel, the war that is constantly being threatened throughout the film never comes to fruition which could frustrate a viewer expecting a violent gangland thriller.


It was a joy watching this film recently as part of Derby QUAD’s Hong Kong Crime Season, especially as it was screened in the glorious 35mm. There is plenty on offer here to quench the thirst of any film fan and if you’re like me and missed this in 2005 I would highly recommend this gem of a film.


8/10


Guy Russell


QUAD is Derby’s centre for art and film, on the Market Place in Derby city centre. QUAD is a gallery, cinema, café bar and workshop that anyone can use. QUAD is a partnership between Derby City Council and Arts Council England.

By midlandsmovies, Mar 23 2016 07:57PM

A brand new season of crime films from Hong Kong screens at QUAD, Derby in April which looks at the influence of Hong Kong film-makers in one of cinema’s most enduring genres.


Curated by HOME in Manchester, the season is a mix of new and classic films: Police Story, Election, That Demon Within, Wild City, As Tears Go By. CRIME: Hong Kong Style screens in QUAD from the 1st to the 3rd of April.


Hong Kong Superstar Jackie Chan wrote and directed Police Story as a vehicle to showcase his wide variety of skills in front of and behind the camera. The result is a classic and hugely influential blend of martial arts, crime and comedy which remains perhaps one of the best examples of Hong Kong action cinema. Police Story (15) screens in QUAD on Friday 1st April at 8:45pm.


Johnnie To is one of Hong Kong’s most important contemporary film-makers and Election is one of his greatest works. Starring Hong Kong acting heavyweights Simon Yam and Tony Leung, Election focuses on the selection of a new triad leader and explores a string of issues from generational conflict to tradition and loyalty. It is also a pointed reflection on the politics of post-1977 (independent) Hong Kong. Election (18) screens on Saturday 2nd April at 6:15pm.


That Demon Within is a taut and ultimately unsettling psychological thriller. Quiet and distant cop Dave (Daniel Wu) is increasingly haunted by the violent images of a criminal gang who use traditional demon masks when committing their crimes. Truth, reality and imagination begin to blur in this stylish film, which is a taut and ultimately unsettling psychological thriller. That Demon Within (Advised 18) screens on Saturday 2nd April at 8:45pm.


Ringo Lam, the director of one of the most influential Hong Kong crime films, City On Fire (1987), returns to the crime genre with Wild City, an exciting and stylish neo-noir. Starring Louis Koo and Shawn Yue, this classic cat and mouse tale shows a former cop and his wayward brother who quickly get out of their depth when they take on a ruthless gang of Taiwanese gangsters. Wild City (Advised 15) screens on Sunday 3rd April at 6:00pm


As Tears Go By is a classic gangster film about loyalty, ambition and respect. It centres on Wah, a tough criminal specialising in debt collecting for the mob, who has to continually look out for his best friend Fly. When Ngor arrives in Hong Kong her presence makes Wah question his life. As Tears Go By (18) screens on Sunday 3rd April at 8:30pm


CRIME: Hong Kong Style film screenings have English subtitles and will be introduced by Peter Munford and is presented by HOME Cinema in Manchester with the support of the BFI, awarding funds from The National Lottery. Ticket prices are; £8.20, £7.80 concessions, a Weekend Pass which covers entrance for all five screenings is available, priced £25.


More information is available online:

http://www.derbyquad.co.uk/film/crime-hong-kong-style-weekend-pass


QUAD is Derby’s centre for art and film, on the Market Place in Derby city centre. QUAD is a gallery, cinema, café bar and workshop that anyone can use. QUAD is a partnership between Derby City Council and Arts Council England.

By midlandsmovies, Nov 15 2015 07:09PM

Aside from the Midlands area, when I go on vacation I love to visit local attractions and nothing gives me more pleasure than going to see places that are featured in famous movies. With my previous holiday blogs covering Madrid, Italy and California I was very excited to be heading back to the good ol’ USA for a trip to New York, Chicago and the surrounding area.


For all the movie photos from the USA please click here


I landed at JFK airport tired but excited on October 29th (the day after our Shaun of the Dead screening) and, still drained from that late night, I put my lack of energy to one side to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Big Apple. This was my third visit in as many years so I had seen some of the most famous destinations before, but I always get a flush of excitement when I see some of the icons of this big city. On my first full day there I walked around Manhattan for over 6 hours catching all kinds of sights and with the November weather being unusually mild, I even managed to spend some time in my t-shirt as the sun beat down.


I was staying with my good friend at an apartment on Wall Street which immediately linked to my favourite film of 2014, The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo Di Caprio, whilst later as I was walking around I even spotted a Steve Madden shop – the real–life shoe company that DiCaprio’s fraudulent banker floats on the stock exchange. Speaking of which, just 200 yards up the road was the real life stock exchange which Bane (Tom Hardy) terrorises in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Nolan’s Batman franchise was a running theme of the trip as the second half would be spent in The Windy City, Chicago, where much more of those movies were filmed. Rises also contains shots of “Gotham’s” bridges collapsing which have been clearly influenced by the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges of New York city as Bane and his gang attempt to cut the citizens off from the rest of the world.


On my walkabout I also came across the fire station from Ghostbusters (1984) as well the Museum of the Native American which was the location of the painting of Vigo for that film’s sequel. After an accident in the building which resulted in me cutting my head, it seemed that the museum still has some bad vibes. Has anyone checked for a river of slime underneath again?



Up at the other end of the island, Central Park was where the Tavern on the Green was situated (67 Central Park West) which was used when Louis Tully (a demon-dog avoiding Rick Moranis) cried for help in Ghostbusters. Just across from that is Dana’s (Sigourney Weaver) apartment building – referred to as “spook central” – where the final battle against Mr. Stay Puft occurs. Still at Central Park is the bridge the protagonists hide under from Cloverfield (2008) whilst nearer Grand Central Terminal is the Chrysler building, both of which appear in the film as well.


Further downtown is the iconic Flat Iron Building (used as the Daily Bugle’s headquarters in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy) whilst the second film also includes the fantastic action sequence where Spider-Man battles Doctor Octopus on an elevated train. In fact, NYC does not have an elevated train track passing through its skyscrapers so the filmmakers used digital footage of Chicago’s “L” train to get the shots they needed.


After my brief stay in the city that never sleeps, I headed east to meet friends nearer Chicago. Quieter and with a more relaxed atmosphere, my friends lived in Aurora which you may know as the home-town of Wayne and Garth from American comedy Wayne’s World (1992) and its sequel. The city of lights provides the backdrop for their rock antics although much of both films were actually shot in and around Los Angeles – which Myers alludes to again in a fourth wall joke from Austin Powers.


From Aurora, I took a trip up to Woodstock, Illinois - Del Preston: “It rained all morning, and then it cleared up in the afternoon. And that's it... I almost remembered something else, but it's gone”. Actually not the location of the infamous 60s musical love festival but this Woodstock was the small town used in Groundhog Day (1993).


The town’s central square double’s as Gobbler’s Knob which hosts the groundhog ceremony before Bill Murray’s grouchy weather man begins to repeat the same day over and over. As his depression sets in, Murray’s worn out character attempts to commit suicide – one death is from the town’s clock tower – but continues to wake up unharmed back in his hotel bedroom each morning.


The bandstand in the square hosts the main festivities but is also the backdrop for the first snowfall dance between Murray and Andie MacDowell. As we walked around the picturesque town we saw the infamous corner where Murray steps in a puddle trying to avoid Ned Ryerson – who has a burger named after him in a local bar (Bing!) – as well as the cinema where he takes a date dressed up as Clint Eastwood.


Woodstock also played host to the film Trains, Planes & Automobiles (1987) where Steve Martin and John Candy are stopped for speeding in a burned-out car and then the pair are picked up by a truck outside the old courthouse (now the Old Courthouse Arts Center) as well as its more famous doubling as the town of ‘Punxsutawney’.


This lovely town proved to be a calm highlight of my trip between two big cities but it wasn’t too long before I was in my room at the Red Roof Inn in downtown Chicago. The city has been on my ‘must-go’ list for an age and I was thrilled to finally be in this cinematic city. As mentioned before the city’s bridges and industrial ambience was perfect for its stand-in as Gotham. From ‘the narrows’ in Batman Begins (2005) to the Tumbler heading under Lower Wacker Drive (the underground road system), the city’s pier also was the location of the Joker’s hostage heist on the two tourist boats.



Moving to The Dark Knight (2008), me and my friends had drinks and food at the iconic Berghoff Bar which is an historical 100-year old watering hole. This was the location of the scene where Jim Gordon and his team arrest Maroni whilst the nearby Chicago Theatre was used when Harvey attempts to see ballet with Rachel, but is unable to do so after Bruce Wayne takes the entire company on a sunny cruise. Lastly, the unfinished (at the time) Trump Tower was where the final battle took place twixt Batman and the Joker at the film’s climax.


Their earlier bust-up in the street with the BatPod and a big-rig truck occurs at South LaSalle Street with the Chicago Board of Trade Building in the background (which was also the HQ of ‘Wayne Enterprises’ in Batman Begins).




That street is also famous for its appearance in The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma) whose fictionalised version of Elliott Ness’s struggles with Al Capone utilised a wide range of Chicago locales. Recreating the Prohibition Era, the movie mostly drops historical accuracy for cops and robbers entertainment. The police HQ is the Rookery Building on South La Salle whilst Costner’s Ness first meets Sean Connery’s “Irish” beat-cop Malone on the pedestrian deck of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The Federal Reserve is also on the same street whist mid-town’s Cultural Center is where De Niro’s Capone pleads his innocence to the media.





The film’s most famous sequence is at the end where a shoot out at the city’s Union Station paid homage to Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and is also used at the climax of Man of Steel (2013) for the showdown between Superman and General Zod.




Another film which hugely uses Chicago’s many distinct locations is the 80s High School classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). The John Hughes teen comedy has the title character skipping school for an educational and fun day out in the Windy City with his girlfriend Sloane and his put-upon pal Cameron.


The film has many unique local settings including when the friends pass the Flamingo, a huge red structure created by noted American artist Alexander Calder. This 53-foot tall stabile is located in the Federal Plaza in front of the Kluczynski Federal Building and is not far from the Art Institute of Chicago which hosts the city’s impressive art collection. In the film, the trio are fascinated by some legendary pieces including the Portrait of Balzac by Auguste Rodin, Picasso paintings, Marc Chagall’s America Windows and (most famously) A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – an 1884 pointillism work by Georges Seurat.


The film also includes trips to Wrigley Field (home of the city’s Cubs baseball team) and Ferris crashing the annual Von Steuben Day Parade on a float for a musical sequence. The last place I visited from this film was up at the Sears Tower's skydeck (now the Willis Tower) which gives unparalleled 360 degree views of the city from the 103rd floor. Don’t go up if you have vertigo but if you’re feeling brave then take a seat in one of the all-glass boxes which allow visitors to look through the glass floor to the street 1,353 feet (412 m) below!


The final picture in the Art Institute that I recognised was Francis Bacon’s “Figure with Meat” which was the painting Jack Nicholson’s Joker asked Bob the Goon not to destroy in the museum scene in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Another Batman link!


Outside the Institute is Millennium Park which holds Cloud Gate – a public sculpture by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. It is locally nicknamed The Bean because of its shape and weighs 110 short tons and is used in the film The Break Up (2006) but most will have seen the silver/metallic structure in Duncan’s Jones’ Source Code (2011).



So what else do we have? Well, the gritty streets of the city can be viewed in The Fugitive (1993) as Harrison Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble goes on the run after being accused of murdering his wife. Ford rides (and fights) on the “L” train whilst he also visits City Hall which doubles as a prison in his second encounter between himself and Tommy Lee Jones’ U.S. Marshall.


There were sadly many other movie locations that I didn’t get to experience in my tight schedule. From The Blues Brothers, High Fidelity, Adventures in Babysitting, While You Were Sleeping and Public Enemies Chicago’s grimy streets have been used from genres involving gangsters and superheroes to comedy and drama and will no doubt continue to provide the backdrop for independent and Hollywood films for many years to come. If you get the chance to visit any of these locations then both tourists and die-hard movie fans will absolutely be overjoyed and thrilled by the amazing places (both old and new) that these awesome sites serve up.


Midlands Movies Mike

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