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By midlandsmovies, May 21 2020 10:48AM

The Wretched (2020) Dir. Brett Pierce & Drew T. Pierce

Well it’s easy to call this film absolutely wretched but let’s see how we get there in a new horror from the Pierce brothers. John-Paul Howard plays Ben, a conflicted teenager involved in poorly constructed shenanigans involving a cursed witch who somewhat places people under a spell where they forget members of their own family.

Sadly for starters, American teenage boys are sometimes the biggest douches to watch on screen. You get the loveable nerd-ish type (played by our lead here and made popular by Shia LaBeouf) and the BBQ cooking jocks. Both are present. Both are cliched. And both are mostly ghastly. With shades of both Spielberg and Hitchcock (especially in Devin Burrows’ great score) the film reminds me of the original Fright Night in tone, whilst the ideas have been seen before, and better, in suburban horrors like Disturbia and The Woman. It does however provide some gross out blood and guts, but the dramatic sections feel much like soap opera Home and Away “down at the pier”.

Some arresting imagery and note-worthy visuals help and the good practical effects are definitely one of its saving graces. However, a few interesting ideas about memory never really fully coalesce and although these new directors show quite a bit of promise as filmmakers, I don’t believe this to be their breakout effort. ★★

Ophelia (2020) Dir. Claire McCarthy

I’ve been meaning to write my review of Ophelia for some time now, but the truth is that this reimagining of Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view is sadly a bit unremarkable resulting somewhat in very little to explore. A take on Hamlet by Shakespeare, it opens with a cinematic adaptation of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia painting - an image also replicated in Laurence Olivier’s more faithful take on the Bard’s tale from his 1948 Hamlet film.

Protagonist Daisy Ridley is clearly the best thing about the film delivering a performance with much wider range than her Star Wars Rey character. The beats from the play are all present – murder, succession & deceit - but these are truncated in favour of scenes from Ophelia’s perspective. Prince Hamlet is played well by George MacKay who is having a stunning year with a solid performance here as well as his excellent appearances in 1917 and True History of the Kelly Gang already on his 2020 CV. Moving from historical tragedy to a more straight drama at times, it's an interesting take on the material with the saturated greens of nature, innocence and life slightly ironic given the tragic tale of death. The great cinematography is let down by a turgid script though and it has to be said Clive Owen’s wig is nauseatingly distracting. The sumptuous costumes and the delightful performance from Ridley are not quite enough to drag this beyond the realms of a “valiant effort” with a reimagined twist ending stuck on for good measure. Solid but uninspiring. ★★★

VFW (2020) Dir. Joe Begos

I’d love someone to correct me here, but this retro action flick opens in the antagonist’s lair with the title that it’s “12.30pm”. That’s afternoon, right? He heads outside and it’s the middle of the night. Also, there’s a coda explaining that the town has gone downhill and become a war zone because of drugs. This is immediately repeated in the first conversation between our introductory two characters. It’s that kind of attention to detail that doesn’t bode well for Joe Bego’s new film VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).

It stars a host of grizzled faces including Stephen Lang (Avatar), William Sadler (Die Hard 2), Fred Williamson (From Dusk Til Dawn), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid), David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors) and the ultimate bar-fly George Wendt (from TV’s Cheers). This bunch of geriatrics end up in a John Carpenter-style situation stuck in their local drinkery whilst a gang of drug-crazed heavies tries to get in. And that’s about it. The character actors are in fact great and the conversations between them are actually not half bad but the boring action and sample dialogue “An army of braindead animals is still an army” is inane. Here, it’s more like a film of braindead actors is still a film, I guess (just). A fair bit of gore and violence combined with neon lighting harks to the 80s but it doesn’t do what the best 80s-influenced films do (e.g. It Follows & The Guest) which give their own modern spin on their retro roots. The boring VFW therefore sadly ends by being a bit embarrassing for everyone involved. ★½

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 15 2020 07:09PM

1917 (2020) Dir. Sam Mendes

Two young soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are tasked with delivering a message to the front line so a platoon of fellow soldiers avoid an ambush in Sam Mendes’ new WW1 film 1917. Leaving the trenches and entering enemy territory the pair need to deliver the warning to save 1600 lives, but in the process have to protect their own fragile lives in the war zone of northern France.

Mendes stages his film around a Birdman style “single take” which puts the audience in the action, takes you on a journey and forces the viewer to see through the unblinking eye of a soldier. It opens with apparently endless trenches with the Steadicam shooting reminiscent of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory whilst the eerie musical tones echoing WW2 film Dunkirk help keep everything on a knife edge.

The whole set up is therefore simple but effective as the boys avoid German shells and disused guns whilst dead horses, bodies and wounded recruits litter their experience. Always in danger, we feel it along with them every step of the way and a trip wire scene with a rat is phenomenal in its explosive power.

Both main actors are incredibly relatable as they (and we) bond over personal stories to keep their spirits up. As they venture further from their line, they encounter abandoned buildings as the German’s undertake a tactical retreat. Moments of levity stop 1917 from becoming a moribund hellscape but it doesn’t skimp on the atrocities of The Great War either. Its impressive technical construction sees cameras floating over water, planes crashing and night turning to day seemingly in the same one-take.

The “huge-ness” of their mission is contrasted nicely with more mundane tasks as they work against small problems like a van getting stuck in mud. And the film’s focus on these small moments between soldiers makes a mid-film surprise even more of an emotional trauma for the viewer.

1917 ends up being a fantastic war film taking new risks in a genre that has been covered many times in cinema. The film appears to have the most natural shooting style in the world. But then you stop and think about it and marvel at its complexity, audacity and the one-shot camerawork is as unescapable as the horror of war itself.

★★★★ ½

Michael Sales

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