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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


twitter.com/RedBezzle

By midlandsmovies, Aug 6 2017 07:15PM



Who Put Bella in the Wych-Elm: The Untold Secrets


Pre-release Screening, 4th August 2017, Stourbridge Town Hall


The question of who put Bella in the Wych-Elm has both baffled and captivated the public since 1943, when the body of an unidentified female was found in the innards of a tree in Hagley Woods in the West Midlands.


Director and paranormal investigator Jayne Harris set about trying to solve this long-standing mystery and uncovered some shocking revelations along the way. Stourbridge Town Hall sold out early with four hundred people wanting to be the first to see the film that documents her findings.


A director’s introduction detailed the evolution of the project, from YouTube clip to documentary feature before the audience was introduced to the case. Harris opened the introduction with claims that she isn’t a filmmaker. This is an assertion which needs to be reassessed.


The sheer wealth of material that has been excavated and created is staggering: Soaring aerial expositional shots of Hagley and its surrounding areas situate the audience slap-bang in the middle of the crime scene; ‘misplaced’ post-mortem documents were dug up and acted recreations were used effectively, never once evoking that unintentional ‘Horrible Histories’ feel that hampers some documentaries. Seamlessly put together, exhaustively researched and passionately presented, this wouldn’t look out of place under the Documentaries tab on Netflix.


Talking heads interviews with case experts and witchcraft aficionados translate as authoritative and impartial and are all the more engrossing for it. However, the medium’s insight does ask a lot of the audience, leaving this pragmatist somewhat sceptical and wishing the film was five minutes shorter.


However, depending on your inclination this and the eyewitness accounts of ghostly figures in the area will either send you running for the Wychbury hills…or running for the hills.


Although a few audio issues with the venue detracted from the presentation, it was inspiring to hear so many audience members discussing their thoughts and theories in the lobby after the film. This is clearly a case which captures the imagination and to see it in such an environment (a stone’s throw or two from the crime scene) separates this from your run-of-the-mill multiplex experience.


That the story invites such engagement is unsurprising; it’s delightfully dark and rich for exploration. Who was Bella? A prostitute, a traveller, a German intelligence agent? What about the actual killer? Was it ritualistic witchcraft, a local cover up or even Mi5 influenced? You’ll have to see it to find out for yourself.


Bella will haunt Stourbridge Town Hall again at a further screening on the 31st of October. Links to tickets will soon be available here


The DVD of Who Put Bella in the Wych-Elm is available to order here with bonus features which include copies of the original police files/photographs and an interview with Director & Producer Jayne Harris.


Robb Sheppard

https://twitter.com/RedBezzle

By midlandsmovies, Aug 4 2017 07:49AM



Midlands Movies speaks to local legend Thomas Hodge aka The Dude Designs who for years has been respected as one of the best alternative poster designers out there but who now has taken his first steps into making his very own film.


Thomas Hodge is the poster artist behind Hobo with A Shotgun (2011) The Innkeepers (2011) The Heat (2013) WolfCop (2014) and many more, as well as the author of VHS: Video Cover Art (2015). This book is the first of its kind to comprehensively bring together the artwork on UK VHS covers from the '80s to the '90s.


But now Tom is now proud to present his first stint in the director's chair with 'Teddy Bears Picnic', a proof-of-concept short film selected to premiere at this year's Fright Fest in London.


Written, produced, directed and financed by Tom himself, the film stars US actress Abby Miller (Justified, Aquarius & The Sinner TV series) and Laurence R Harvey (Human Centipede 2+3, ABCs of Death 2 & The Editor) yet was shot entirely in the Midlands at Welford in Northampton.


“I'm VERY excited to announce my first film project at long last!” says Tom who has kept the project behind guarded doors during its production. He adds, “It’s great the film is also showing at Fright Fest in London on the 28th August and with a world-wide online release to follow I hope it’s possible to develop it into a feature”.



The film revolves around a mother and daughter playing games in the forest but unbeknownst to them there is somebody watching their every move. Filmed entirely on location in the rural woodlands of the English Northampton countryside, Tom describes the short as "a year-long trip in terms of production but seven years of work in total”.


“I've been hands-on throughout, donning many new creative hats to produce, direct, art-direct and edit for the first time. I spent months making props, building creepy woodlands and creating original costumes."


Tom says how he was inspired by the 1907 melody of the same name, “Teddy Bears Picnic re-envisions the childhood song as a nightmarish fable that twists the concept of childhood innocence. I particularly loved the creativity of high concept horror in the '70s and '80s – from the films of Charles Band to the pulp horror novels of Guy N. Smith. So I wanted to take classic character-driven horror and develop it to suit contemporary tastes, with a strongly stylised visual approach”.


Tom also had the invaluable input of an “amazing director of photography" James Fox and the help and support from co-producer Natalie Dorn who also sacrificed a year for production. A musical score by Sophie Galpin (Pins-band) and sound design by Todd Freeman (Cell Count & Love Sick) add to the small cast and crew alongside co-writer Russell Norris.


With a set of teaser trailers being released online over the next month, you can get updates on the film at Tom’s YouTube channel - click here


And check out Tom’s poster art at https://www.thedudedesigns.com




By midlandsmovies, Aug 3 2017 08:58PM

Hounds of Love (2017) Dir. Ben Young


Australian model Emma Booth is unrecognisable as Evelyn White, the warped partner of a serial killer who preys on young girls in this debut feature from director Ben Young. Her husband is John (a creepy Stephen Curry) and together they troll the neighbourhood looking for unsuspecting girls to kidnap, torture and eventually kill. After a successful stalk and kill spree, their next target is the impressionable Ashleigh Cummings (as Vicki).


Jumping from her window at night to head to a party, Vicki is tempted by the lure of a lift and marijuana before being tricked into entering the couple’s home then drugged and chained to a bed. This dark and disturbing film treats its characters with respect allowing the actors to brilliantly portray twisted, psychopathic tendencies whilst showing a vulnerability and doubt that arise during quieter moments.


The house is surprisingly normal yet Vicki witnesses the twisted relationship from her confines and realises these doubts may be her one means of escape.


Jealousy and resentment play their parts and the director continuously crosses the mundane with bouts of shocking terror which never allows an audience to get truly comfy. There are (small) echoes of The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009) as we see kidnappers distrusting one another but the terrifying drama and sadistic suffering is more akin to Haneke’s Funny Games (1997).


Booth portrays a conflicted persecutor so well there are signs of sympathy but her torment is cut with brutal cruelty that reminds us of the extremely harrowing circumstances she has placed this young woman in.


Cumming as Vicki suffers at the hands of her aggressors but knows that it will be her mind not her muscles that will assist her and the actress gives a first-rate performance as the abused but assured victim. A quality yet somewhat controversial debut, Ben Young has crafted a creepy suburban scare story which has the uncanny ability to make audiences both panic and ponder over its disturbing content. A scary soap opera about the neighbours next door.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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