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By midlandsmovies, Sep 19 2017 07:16AM



IT (2017) Dir. Andrés Muschietti


A group of bullied school kids spend their summer investigating the disappearances of a series of local children.


In October 1988, Ben’s (Jaeden Lieberher) littler brother went missing, and was never found. The following summer, a number of other kids start to go missing, and Ben is not able to ignore It (Bill Skarsgård) . He and his friends (all played by some cracking performers) join together to see what’s been going on, only It has his eyes on them first.


What. A. Film. I am a very happy person right now. It was brilliant! I’m finally able to say that I like horror films when they’re done right, and this thing didn’t put a foot wrong. I would honestly have not problem paying to see the film again this week.


The kids in this film were all brilliant. I loved all the characters, and the way each actor captured their own was really great to see. There was none of that cheesy, over-egged acting that can sometimes happen with younger performers, and that had been one of my main concerns after deciding to see the film. They each really understood the eccentricities and oddities of their roles, for example, Jaeden Lieberher nailed Ben’s stutter, and Finn Wolfhard got Richie’s ballsiness down to a T. I was also a huge fan of Sophia Lillis as Beverly. She fitted right in with the lads and wasn’t afraid to be different, and I really liked that. There was, of course, Bill Skarsgård’s performance as Pennywise too. He was excellent, getting the two elements of his character just right - the childlike side of him was hugely contrasted by the less friendlier moments, and both complimented each other really, really well.


As I said at the start, this is a film that I’d happily pay to see again at the cinema. I think the atmosphere helped me to get into the film, but the other thing that worked well was the fact that I thought that It was actually scary. There’s a lot of shockers that happen - I’ve not read the book and I avoided trailers like the plague so had no idea what to expect. People who’ve been reading my stuff for a while will know I’m a jumper, and this film well and truly got me… many times. As always, it was a mix of the moments Stevie Wonder could see coming and those that were not as expected that had me on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It was very effective at building tension, but also at counteracting it with some massive anticlimaxes that persuaded you to let your guard down for a second.


Alongside the horror though, there was plenty of humour, but not in the way that turned it into a comedy horror (I’d have felt quite let down had that have been the case). It was a style of humour that I can’t put a word to to describe, but I can say that it properly fitted the coming-of-age nature of the story and cast.


Again, it helped to break the tension at points so you got a nice change in pace and it kept the film feeling fresh.


On the whole, I can’t recommend It enough. This is a film that has given be greater confidence in horrors, and has me very excited for a sequel that we better get sooner rather than later. I loved the characters, and thought the overall style of the film was spot on. In fact, I’d even go as far as to say this could be the best film I’ve seen so far this year, which is saying something.


10/10


Kira Comerford

Twitter @FilmAndTV101

By midlandsmovies, Sep 15 2017 02:03PM



Midlands Spotlight - Witchfinder General screening

 

The National Civil War Centre is screening Witchfinder General in the fantastic chilling atmosphere of its authentic Tudor Hall on Halloween night. With a great night promised the night has been arranged by the Palace Theatre and National Civil War Centre on 31st October in truly unique surroundings.


A horror evening awaits at the National Civil War Centre on Halloween night as the Tudor Hall plays host to one of cinema’s most horrifying cult classics, Witchfinder General.


Set during the anarchy and chaos of the Civil War, the 1968 film follows witch hunter Matthew Hopkins (horror icon Vincent Price at his malevolent best) as he conducts a vicious reign of terror in puritan East Anglia. But his persecution of an innocent village priest sets in motion a trail of revenge that escalates to a brutal, bloody denouement.


The sinister old world ambience of the Tudor Hall is the ideal setting for this 17th century fright night. Having stood through the turbulence of the Civil War when Newark was a melting pot of mayhem and violence the building is also said to be haunted by the ghosts of Lady Ossington and ‘the boy in the dorm’ and, during restoration work, a suspected witch bottle was unearthed from its foundations.


This unique and ominous atmosphere paired with the film’s unnerving horror is sure to be the perfect cocktail for a blood-curdling Halloween night. 


The screening begins at 8pm with the bar open from 7pm and will be introduced by Civil War historian and film aficionado Adam Nightingale. Tickets, costing only £5, are limited for this exclusive event so make sure to book early.


You can book online by clicking here or phone for tickets on 01636 655755.


Please note - This film is rated 15 so ID may be required and entry will be refused to any underage guests


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

By midlandsmovies, Sep 10 2017 08:27PM



The Limehouse Golem (2017) Dir. Juan Carlos Medina


Bill Nighy stars as an 1880s Inspector named John Kildaire who inherits an East London multiple murder case in this period chiller adapted from Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’. In a parallel story, a court case ensues as a fantastic Olivia Cooke (as put upon wife Elizabeth Cree) is accused of poisoning her husband and thus begins a mystery of two entwining cases.


Framed with multiple flashbacks, the initial set up is superbly done as characters arrive in the middle of their own circumstances throwing us straight into the plot. The lighting of the film is of particular high quality and worthy of mention on its own. The dark blacks, stark lighting, cold eerie streets and warm theatrical interiors echo David Fincher’s Se7en. And it’s not the only Se7en comparison to be made. Early on we get an old Inspector teamed with a young policeman (Daniel Mays) who then head directly to a library and find a book turned into a killer’s hand-written diary using an inky ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing style. But not a bad film to be influenced by that's for sure.


The horror it doesn’t show leaves the audience in a delightfully edgy position as the murders are mostly left to the imagination and the grotty streets contrast the bawdy theatre scenes nicely. The film’s reliance on flashbacks started well – encapsulating the old filmmaking adage “show-don’t-tell” – but they turn from fleshing out the story to becoming the story. Whilst the two narratives eventually joined up, the intriguing opening detective story makes way for the background of Elizabeth Cree who moves from street urchin to stage star. Unfortunately I was ready and involved in the first part and the film took me down a dark alley as it moved from a mystery to a dramatic fictional biopic of Cree.


That said, the film does use theatre and the notion of “acting” brilliantly. The behind-the-curtain chaos shows the passions and frustrations of artists whilst the stage allows the creation of alternative personas. The great make-up of the film extends from the camp comedy of the boards to the grisly murders in the alleys. Also, multiple layers and repeated sequences translate the novel well by showing each suspect committing crimes as they are recounted – allowing us to “imagine” the different scenarios along with the detective.


On a personal note, the songs and performances within the theatre could have been cut down as full-length musical renditions slowed the immediacy of the “catch-the-killer” set up. Also, and I concede this is in the novel, the mix of real life people (e.g. Karl Marx) in fictional dramas has always felt slightly anachronistic to me. This flight of fantasy was a leap too far out of the film’s world – and into our own.

Its closest relative is the similar fact/fiction mash-up From Hell (2001) and in many ways there is one great film if you combined the two. From Hell’s central narrative thread is stronger but the themes and performances were far superior in this film. With an ending I saw coming for days – from simply one very specific shot I may add – it didn’t ruin the film but the joy only came from seeing how it played out instead of a final plot “surprise”.


Despite my reservations however, there is a lot to recommend in The Limehouse Golem. The technical side is sublime and the actors are having fun with their performances in the film and subsequently their characters’ performances within the film as well. Mixing the gruesome reality of life with the gruesome fictionality of art, the so-so murder mystery plot is kept from the gallows by great actors in superbly dressed and lit locations which show the nasty side of the streets and the stage.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 31 2017 03:44PM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 3




24x36: A Movie about Movie Posters (2017) Dir. Kevin Burke

This documentary concerns the lost (and now maybe regained) art of the illustrated movie poster. With conversations from key artists over the last 40 years, the film shines a nostalgic light to the changes within the industry from the iconic (and painted) nature of the past to the resistance of the homogenised digital ‘Photoshop-ing’ of the present. It also follows the resurgence of the MONDO brand who, in the absence of Hollywood’s calling, filled the gap for creative, limited edition, screen-printed posters which has grown into an underground (but maybe no more) phenomenon. The doc is structured with the usual voice-overs and interviews yet despite its average structure, if you’re a fan of the subject then it does a great deal to explain the industry’s avoidance of creative risks with the increase use of focus groups. Similar to “Drew: The Man Behind the Poster” (2013) – a doc focused on the most famous poster-creator of them all Drew Struzan – the passion of the collectors just pulls it over the line – as was a surprise appearance from Leicester’s own Thomas Hodge whose 80s-flavoured posters are part of the scene’s rebirth. As a fan of alternative poster art (see our blogs here & here) I enjoyed the documentary, but for the passing fan however, it may be a bit too bland in style to grab you like well-designed placard. 6.5/10




Prevenge (2017) Dir. Alice Lowe

A pregnant woman who commits murder owing to voices she believes come from her unborn foetus is the dark narrative from this new British comedy horror. I had high hopes for this film after a spate of fine reviews yet right off the bat, the film is neither shocking nor comedic enough to warrant such regard. The movie’s positives include a terrific turn by writer/director/actor Alice Lowe who brings some depth to the troubled character but it delivered a poor script that thought it was far cleverer than it was. The overall feel was a few “skits” tied together with an over-arching and confusingly delivered narrative. The themes of female passions are surface level at best and an (almost) hand-held filming style meant I couldn’t get beyond the mix of its low budget technical style combined with the self-important themes and 6th Form-level wit. Apparently it was filmed in 2 weeks and boy can you tell. No laughs and no scares make Prevenge a dull girl. 4/10




Opening Night (2017) Dir. Isaac Rentz

A low budget frolic into the world of the musical stage sees Topher Grace playing a backstage producer of a new show that is as haphazard as it is a giant mess. Mixing the front of house musical numbers with the chaotic backstage antics of divas and dead-headed actors, the film is a light-hearted and enthusiastic tribute to the stresses of putting on a professional performance for the first time. Grace brings his inoffensive but warm persona from That 70s Show and a great comedic support cast delivers a stock love-story that, like the show within the film, wins the audience over despite its amateurism. Even though I’ve toured in a rock band myself, I have but a passing interest in film musicals as bursting into song in the middle of a scene has never really connected with me away from the stage. However, Opening Night is itself a meta-musical with the actors at times singing and dancing ‘outside’ of their own show. In many ways it works much more naturally than the artificial construct of most musicals. Like Moulin Rouge, well known pop songs are mixed with a handful of originals (which helps) and overall the movie avoids blandness as it harmlessly pokes fun at the crazy dramas of the theatrical world. 6.5/10




It Comes at Night (2017) Dir. Trey Edward Shults

Another film coming with a raft of praise-worthy reviews, this minimalist horror-drama also sadly fails to live up to expectations with a story about an unknown contagious disease and two families’ attempts at secluding themselves in the forest away from its ravages. One unit is headed by Joel Edgerton delivering an intense rage-filled role we’ve come to expect from him. He tries to ensure the safety of his family with a firm-hand and strict set of rules until he crosses paths with Will (Christopher Abbott) and his wife and child. The two then come together for both company and the sharing of scarce resources. However, the slow build up creates an unsettling distrust and from ‘sleepwalking’ children to barking dogs, the filmmaker aims to increase both the character’s and audience’s paranoia throughout. With dream and nightmare sequences though, the film is very ambiguous in what it is presenting. This at times works owing to the fear of the unknown but unfortunately this ‘open-to-interpretation’ delivery is stretched to a point of confusion. As the water and supplies dwindled, so did my interest and the director delivered some stock Hollywood horrors (a tree rustle here, a locked red door there – ooh spooky) whilst the investigations and infections come to an unsatisfying conclusion. It’s therefore a big shame the film failed to grab me as there are a few glimpses of a more narratively coherent horror in here. Yet It Comes at Night is ultimately a well-filmed and beautifully lit chamber-piece that some viewers will find tense, ambiguous and atmospheric whilst I predict a majority will come away simply bored to death. 5.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 17 2017 09:36PM

The Belko Experiment (2017) Dir. Greg McLean


From the director of Wolf Creek 1 and 2 comes this horror-drama where a group of office workers in South America are pitted against each other in a social experiment fight to the death.


Each worker has a voluntary tracking device in their head (owing to possible kidnappings) yet when their high rise building is suddenly locked down, a mysterious intercom voice instructs them to kill each other or face having their in-head trackers blown up.


A ridiculous premise for sure, I found the characters boring and not even a broad turn from the likable John C. McGinley (Office Space) could help with the repetitive killing spree.


Uninspiring “deaths” and a lack of tension unfortunately didn’t help proceedings and the film was crying out for the genre-bending and satirical style of similar structural kill-fest ‘Cabin in the Woods’. In a world where realism is often missing from modern movies, it was clear that what The Belko Experiment actually needed was a big pinch of hyper-reality or dark comedy to compensate for the ludicrous set-up.


Despite being written by James Gunn, the film contains little of his wit and clever character arcs (as seen in his ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ films) and was ultimately just like a long unfulfilling 9-5 shift at the office.


5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 9 2017 03:15PM



Raw (2017) Dir. Julia Ducournau


What if you had a rash that didn’t stop itching? Well, that’s just one of the inescapable addictions in French-Belgian film Raw that looks at growing up in a world of school, sex, and illness.


We follow Garance Marillier as the wild-eyed and vegetarian Justine who follows in her parents and sister’s footsteps and heads to veterinary school. Here she is immediately thrown into the wild parties and the ritualistic and degrading hazing of new joiners at the college.


The director shows the horrors of hedonism in long tracking shots in nightclubs and the frightening freshers’ week ends in the new recruits covered in blood and guts in a Carrie-esque soaking. The final initiation sees Justine forcing down a raw rabbit kidney despite her veggie instincts.


An irritating body rash soon develops before more primal impulses start to form and the lifelong herbivore begins to enjoy the taste of meat-filled sandwiches. This soon progresses to raw chicken then even her own hair which is regurgitated in a shot of visual repulsion.


Her college life continues and the director gives us stark glimpses of the school with scenes of horses, breeding and animal corpses. From the limbs of a variety of beasts, the crossover between animal and human is an obvious parallel but works well as we see the two combine. Sometimes literally when Justine is shown elbow deep in a bovine’s bottom.


It is here when the director’s realism culminates in a horrific scene as her sister’s finger is accidentally cut off and Justine crosses a taboo line. Much like the cinematic authenticity of French film Martyrs, the slice-of-life direction focusing on drama make the shocks all the more terrifying. The amazing Ella Rumpf plays her sister Alexia and the film begins to suggest a sibling similarity between the relatives.


With an almost non-existent score (mostly a soundtrack of background music and sounds), the simple turn from biological functions – themselves depicted in their simple disgusting glory – to a craving for the forbidden fruit of human flesh is revoltingly good. With bullying and nappy punishments, the film is visually biological with a strong focus on the body. From things going in and coming out of orifices to waxing and washing, the film cuts between these haunting human images to animal autopsies and dissections.


A horse on a treadmill appears symbolic of Justine’s ever growing and onoging hunger for “bodies” and her cravings for the phallic finger leads to an awakening sexuality as she breeds and bleeds with her male mating partner.


I subsequently felt that Raw infects the audience with an orgy of limbs whilst Justine’s withdrawal is depicted in a painfully straight forward filming style. Like the recent US film Maggie, Raw takes the flesh-eating concept and attempts to normalise its presentation. Raw is a much greater triumph though, and far better movie, and becomes a biting, but maybe slightly on the nose, metaphor for growing up and its effects on the body. The film succeeds on many levels and after it had finished I found an obsession with its images and themes and longed for another taste of its delicious pleasures.


9/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 8 2017 09:41AM



Flatpack presents - Dudley Castle After Dark: An American Werewolf in Dudley


John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London brought packs of film fans out to a special screening of the highly influential horror-comedy.


Unlike last year's Bride of Frankenstein screening, the surrounding animals in Dudley Zoological Gardens were ominously quiet throughout. Perhaps with the werewolf in town, they were worried about their place on the food chain. Perhaps not. Although in recompense, there was a baby somewhere screaming with a mixture of terror and tiredness.


The evening opened with Howl, an eerie animated short detailing a true enfant terrible in the shape of a werewolf toddler. This was fittingly followed by the full length video for Michael Jackson's Thriller vanity project. Directed by John Landis after The King of Pop saw An American Werewolf in London, its balance of laughs, scares and nostalgia set the tone perfectly for the main feature.



After a personalised video greeting by the director himself ("On the way home, stay on the road"), we were straight onto the Moors. We join two American tourists as they walk into The Slaughtered Lamb, a pub which the residents of The Wicker Man’s Summerisle would probably regard as “a bit rough.” A swift exit sees them stranded in the back end of beyond, with something creepy closing in...


The film itself sees Rick Baker's 36 year old practical effects still looking surprisingly impressive on the big screen, no doubt holding up better than the many CGI efforts that have followed it. Besides the ground-breaking transformation of David (David Naughton), there's true horror to be found in the lycanthropic mauling and subsequent undead appearances of Jack (Griffin Dunne).


There are also genuine laughs to be had, as Jack’s incarnations become increasingly comical and gruesome throughout. The camaraderie between the male leads is infectious and the humour still stands up in front of a modern audience. Having said that the downbeat ending is still a shock to the system, but how could it all end happily?


After the moon rose and the darkness fell, projected pentagrams and candle flames crept along the castle walls, creating a sinister setting for the leaving audience. Such details, alongside Landis’ intro, thoughtful shorts and an inspired film selection, has seen Flatpack’s ‘Dudley Castle after Dark’ become an unmissable event in the Midlands' movie calendar.


Robb Sheppard


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