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By midlandsmovies, Aug 29 2018 07:32PM

Review - Movie Catch Up Blog 2018 - Part 3




The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) Dir. Johannes Roberts

I hadn’t seen The Strangers (2008) until this year and for me it certainly wasn’t worth the wait as we get a pretty bog-standard home-invasion thriller starring Liv Tyler. However, the few thrills that film had going for it are completely absent here in this belated sequel set ten years later where a family are terrorised at a mobile home park by masked assailants. I’m sick of the child mask killer trope it has to be said and some of the character decisions are embarrassing to say the least. I know it’s not high art but come on. If it’s supposed to be a homage/satire of slasher then it’s 20 years too late anway (see Scream and its wicked take-down of the genre) whilst any attempt to create new franchise-defining villains with Dollface and her cohorts was heavy-handed and bland. The kills are uninspiring, motivations non-existent and only Christina Hendricks seems to be aware of the trash she’s in. Half way through I was ‘praying’ for a better movie. 4/10




Truth or Dare (2018) Dir. Jeff Wadlow

Blumhouse's Truth or Dare? I guess once you have a reputation with a couple of horror successes you can slap your name in front of any old trash like Tarantino does at his worst and expect the brand recognition to get bums on seats alone. And away with the quality, as quality this is not. Horror is one of those specific genres where you have to sift through many more films to find the gems – it could be argued those gems are all the more special – but this Final Destination-esque teen scary movie sits firmly in the bargain bin. A group of adolescents realise they will die if they fail to share a truth or complete a dare and they attempt to do their best to beat the real-life deadly game which originated with a supernatural curse from Mexico. A convoluted set of exposition-heavy rules confuses what could have been a freaky slasher and the actors are sadly given clichéd characters which they are unable to do much with. And from the “acclaimed” director of the awful Kick Ass 2 and the Kevin James starring True Memoirs of an International Assassin I’m not sure why I was surprised to find out the real truth. And what is that truth? It’s utter rubbish. 4/10




10 x 10 (2018) Dir. Suzi Ewing

Making quite a name for himself in roles as a terroriser of women, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) stars as Lewis in this new dark chiller involving kidnap and obsession. More like Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners than the Coens’ Fargo, the kidnapping occurs in an everyday US strip-mall car park as Cathy (Calvary’s Kelly Reilly) heads to her vehicle unaware of the evil about to befall her. An unobtrusive hand-held filming style captures the brutality of the attack before Cathy is smothered, tied and placed in the trunk of Lewis’ car. The beats of the soundtrack merge perfectly with our own imagined beats of pounding fists in futile attempts to escape. She is soon whisked off to Lewis’ home where he has constructed a 10 x 10 padded cell with 4-feet thick concrete walls and a recording system. Diving straight in, the film wastes no time in getting to its set-up and without much information we are, like Cathy, oblivious as to the reasons as to why we are here. And how to possibly escape.


The film is slow and meticulous – Evan’s methodical food-making hinting at an obsessive darkness – but there are flashes of action in Cathy’s escape attempts with bottle smashing and gun shots. The film twists and turns and darker secrets come to light but the script and cinematography are mediocre despite the two fine leads. Melodramatic with lacklustre interest 10 x 10 is simply too leaden to be anything more than a footnote on the stars’ résumés 5.5/10



The Devil’s Doorway (2018) Dir. Aislinn Clarke

With one of the best concepts for a horror in many a year, I was excited to see Aislinn’s Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway which tells the story of two priests who investigate supernatural events at an Irish home for “fallen women”. Whilst the double-act set up is certainly Exorcist-inspired, the unfortunate character traits meant I couldn’t help but be reminded of classic UK sitcom Father Ted. Father Thomas Riley (a frankly brilliant Lalor Roddy) is the old jaded priest with a crisis of faith whilst Father John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn) is a naïve and inexperienced younger believer. (Ted and Dougal respectively). Set in 1960 and using a handheld 16mm camera style, the sense of time and place was superb and Helena Bereen as Mother Superior is as terrifying and intimidating as you could have wanted. Maybe I’m being too harsh but something just wasn’t working despite these excellent elements. From the clichéd door knocks and paranormal child voices to your average jump scare and foreboding corridors, the film failed to leap into more interesting territory despite its high ecclesiastical aspirations. Which was a big shame. Certainly a filmmaker with some aptitude, I have faith we’ll be seeing more from Clarke but this isn’t quite the film it could or wanted to be. 6/10




Journey’s End (2018) Dir. Saul Dibb

A new adaptation of the play by R. C. Sherriff is the 5th time the World War I drama has moved from stage to screen following Journey's End (1930), The Other Side, Aces High and a 1988 BBC TV film. With a fantastic cast what we get is Asa Butterfield’s young Second Lieutenant Raleigh posted to the front-line where his hopeful fighter soon realises the ravages of war can take its toll even on the most experienced of Captains. The gifted Sam Claflin as Stanhope is the Captain in question whose vicious drunken words and tough exterior cover a more sympathetic and broken man conflicted with torment and the horrors of fighting.


Playing out in the muddy dugout over four days of 1918, the cast is fleshed out with gifted turns from heavyweights Tom Sturridge, Toby Jones, Stephen Graham and Paul Bettany. Bettany channels the stiff-upper-lip of a traditional British soldier but also gives his character empathy and pathos as the inevitability of an over-the-top raid to capture a German soldier dawns on him and his men. Grand and distinguished, the film is an admirable adaptation although I was yearning for some more scenes outside the trenches given the cinematic medium. Understandably, the confines of the trenches play their own entrapped character (akin to Kubrick’s Paths of Glory) and the film enlightens the audience on the multifaceted aspects of war and how the horrific pressures can affect different individuals. Journey’s End is therefore a dignified, if slightly by-the-numbers, tale of struggling tactics and temperaments in the trenches. 6.5/10


Michael Sales







By midlandsmovies, Jun 28 2018 01:47PM



Entebbe (2018) Dir. José Padilha


Entebbe is an historical thriller from José Padilha recounting the story of the 1976 hostage rescue by Israeli forces named Operation Thunderbolt. When Air France Flight 139 is hijacked en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, the plane is refuelled, and passengers and crew held hostage at part of Entebbe airport in Uganda whilst a ransom of $5 million and the release of 53 pro-Palestinian militants is demanded.


Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike as Brigitte Kuhlmann and Rush’ Daniel Brühl as Wilfried Böse play two German terrorists who take control of the plane but once landed, their high-risk endeavour is super ceded by a Palestinian group working with dictator Idi Amin to ensure their demands are secured.


As families are split into Israeli and non-Israeli groups, we cut to Lior Ashkenazi as Yitzhak Rabin and Eddie Marsan as Shimon Peres who antagonise each other to show the complex machinations of the Jewish government as they seek to find a resolution. However, the film’s politics are delivered in a heavy-handed way with its “if we don’t talk, there will never be peace” message so in your face that the dialogue explicitly repeats it twice in the last 20 minutes. What audience would want subtext, eh?


This heavy-handed approach is further muddled by extensive footage of the Batsheva Dance Company performing a modern routine to the traditional Jewish song Echad Mi Yodea. Although there is an obvious crossover in the stories, this abstract interpretation is so strangely edited into the movie at different narrative points, any parallel topics it tries to infer are lost as the flow of the film disappears.


The poor stop-start nature of the film is improved by the strong performances of Pike and Brühl who go through a range of emotions as their loyalties and commitment to the cause is tested. As diplomatic efforts fail, an inevitable counter operation by IDF commandos led Angel Bonanni as Yonatan Netanyahu is approved, and the finale is a so-so edited, but much needed, shoot-out at the airport.


Its closest relative is Spielberg’s 2005 Munich but without that director’s flair, background and more complex structure, Entebbe is a fine political thriller but is almost all surface and no depth. A fine way to while away a few hours of your time but you’ll get none of the complexities of the politics at play.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Sep 22 2016 10:56AM

Midlands Movies Film Catch Up Blog 2016 Part 2


Continuing on from this blog here, we're reviewing some of the films that have come and gone over summer and now are ready for a UK home release soon.


X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) Dir. Bryan Singer

I thoroughly enjoy the X-Men series and after a few missteps (the godawful ‘Wolverine: Origins’ film) the series returns again after the fantastic ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past’. Unfortunately this proves to be a bit of a dud despite all the good ingredients included. ‘Days of Future Past’ used the young/old versions of the characters to bridge past inconsistencies but the re-introducing of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Angel felt like going over old ground. The plot involving Oscar Isaac’s super-mutant Apocalypse is convoluted and an over-abundance of CGI leads to a clichéd city-destruction climax seen many times before. The X-Men films have always been one of the best to balance the serious and the fun aspects of superhero mythology. Singer’s focus on acceptance, difference and internal and external conflicts kept it aloft the glossy and superficial Marvel Universe in most instances. However, here the silly visuals take centre stage much to the film’s detriment. A fan-service Wolverine cameo is unwelcome and the standout moment was once again Quicksilver’s slow motion action sequence set to Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics - but even this sequence harked back to what went before. Neither a crushing disappointment nor a well-executed summer blockbuster, Singer’s Apocalypse has mostly ditched the subtleties of the past and delivered a day of repeated motifs with little originality or aesthetic flair. An underwhelming piece of ‘X-meh’. 6/10


Warcraft: The Beginning (2016) Dir. Duncan Jones

What was he thinking? After his interesting debut ‘Moon’ followed by the Quantum Leap-alike Source Code, director Duncan Jones was carving out a cool career as the master of interesting sci-fi stories told with a focus on twisty narrative and character. But in his decision to embark on video game adaptation Warcraft, I feel he’s made a huge blunder for a once focused filmmaker whose themes were mysterious and multi-layered. Sadly, there’s no such depth here in a video game adaptation so faithful it looks like a video game. The entirely constructed CGI world with Shrek-like Orcs and green-screen humans has all the depth of a Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. Whether it was studio demands, an overwhelming budget or a need to stick to gamers’ expectations, Jones’ individual flair is rarely seen in this duffer. This (essentially) animated film may provide a few thrills for fans of the game but for everyone else it is more John Carter than Lord of the Rings and anyone but the youngest of viewers will feel ostracised by its nerdy references to the game itself. A sad flop from the once promising director, I hope Jones returns to some original source material and avoids any follow up the studio may have plans for. Let’s hope the new excuse for unnecessary sequels – “the original did well in China” – fails to come true here, as I am already hoping for the end to Warcraft: The Beginning. 4/10


Money Monster (2016) Dir. Jodie Foster

George Clooney returns as a shallow TV stockmarket analyst whose bravado and confidence is taken to task when an angry man, who has lost money on a recent stock crash, takes the broadcaster hostage. Julia Roberts makes this an Ocean’s Eleven reunion as the producer of the show who decides to continue airing the programme despite the host’s life in the balance. Clooney is his likeable self in the main – despite his character having huge arrogance issues – and local Midlands actor Jack O'Connell is superb as the angry young loser trying to find out where his money is and why his life went wrong. The story attempts, not always successfully, to parallel one company’s perils with the lack of real-life responsibility taken by big banks and government but like Clooney’s stock recommendations – they are generally superficial and short-sighted. The conspiracy plot involving African workers' unions spins off into James Bond territory although I enjoyed the tension created by Foster at the station itself. Ultimately forgettable, Money Monster raises a few stakes and will keep most audiences mildly invested for a few hours. It’s only the actors’ likeability which overcomes the wealth of convoluted and fusty plot ideas. 6/10


De Palma (2016) Dir. Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow

As one of the New Generation of Hollywood filmmakers from the 70s along with Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola, De Palma’s involvement in movie history is almost second to none. Often decried as a Hitchcock impersonator, this documentary reveals a much more grounded, interesting and commercial director than many would know about The documentary may be simple, even to a fault for some, as the directors merely place De Palma in front of a fireplace and record his thoughts as he ‘reviews’ his oeuvre, splicing his stories with clips from the films themselves. Over his 40 year career, De Palma talks about his films with fondness and nostalgia but never once shies from his failures, missteps and even laughs at some of his decisions and commercial flops. Addressing his life’s work with emotion and humanity, film fans in particular will lap up the stories as he recants tales from his films. These include horror classic Carrie (the auditions for which were done jointly with Lucas for Star Wars), the underappreciated Blow Out, the violence of Scarface and the box office draws that are The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. From Carrie’s jumpy final scene, via De Niro’s Al Capone, to Tom Cruise’s CIA break-in, De Palma’s legacy as a filmmaker has been assured with a genre-hopping career with unforgettable cinematic images. De Palma is a fantastic documentary although non-fans may not be engaged enough by the very simple stylistic approach. But for those wanting to get an insightful and, more importantly, honest review of someone’s life, De Palma lets the director do all of the talking. And that is a huge benefit when you’re as engaging and amiable as he is. 8/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Mar 27 2015 11:24AM

Kidnapping Freddy Heineken (2015) Dir. Daniel Alfredson


This UK-Dutch venture dramatises the 1983 kidnapping and ransom of brewing billionaire Alfred “Freddy” Heineken and the friction it causes amongst the hostage takers as the stakes are raised.


Jim Sturgess stars as Cor van Hout whose newly pregnant wife, bankrupt business and low prospects push him towards the classic “one last big score” in order for him and his friends to be set for life. His idea to kidnap Freddy Heineken (a HUGELY underused Anthony Hopkins) is shared with his closest friends and they begin to take steps – buying handcuffs, building sound-proof rooms and stealing getaway cars – to put their criminal plan in action.


Support comes from Sam Worthington as Willem Holleeder who, despite his inherent likeability, well, for me anyway, is wasted as a background brooder. He, along with the rest of the idiotic crew, don’t appear to have any other motivation other than to get rich quick – and to also stick it to the bank manager who (probably quite rightly) turned them down for a loan at the start of the movie.


Although, the action is solidly handled – a few action car chases and fights are admirably presented as the group instigated their plan – the whole thing is saddled with average-ness. The script is ok. The performances are ok. The story is ok. But ok isn’t good enough when you have Oscar winners and established stars of this calibre.


Hopkins won an Academy Award on for a man locked up against his will yet here he isn’t given enough to do, other than be smarmy to his captors. One scene where he gets under the skin of Sturgess ends before it even gets started. In my mind, it’s these missed opportunities to develop the one-dimensional characters that make the film so disappointing.


As well that, for me the cinematography was truly abysmal. At the end of the film I could not remember a single standout shot or unique vision. Sometimes slightly handheld, other times the director used an establishing shot here and a cross-cut conversation there, but the film feels like it’s from a first-time filmmaker rather than someone with a few movies under their belt. Alfredson is best known for directing (the sub-par sequels) of The Girl Who Played with Fire/Kicked the Hornets' Nest. However, his younger brother Tomas Alfredson was the director of beautiful-looking Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Sorry, Daniel but you need to look to your sibling for some pointers.


It’s by no means the worst of the year, and those with a curiosity in hostage/historical films may find particular interest in some aspects of the story. However, overall the film hijacked my fascination with the case after about 20 minutes as well as snatching any goodwill I had towards the established actors who wouldn’t raise much of a ransom given the material they are working with.


A less than capturing 5.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Oct 22 2013 11:05AM

Midlands Movies Top 10 Hostage Films

With the release this week of Captain Phillips, the new thriller from director Paul Greengrass starring Tom Hanks as sailor Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in 2009, we’re looking at the top hostage films of all time. From real-life situations to over-the-top action blockbusters the hostage sub-genre is filled with films about peril, stress, heroism and sacrifice so let’s take a look at some of my favourite examples below. Please note, I’m not including a “one-person” hostage (that’s a kidnap or abduction movie) so no place for Fargo, Silence of the Lambs or Misery I’m afraid.


10. Funny Games (2007) Dir. Michael Haneke

I have only seen the 2007 US-made version which itself is a shot-for-shot remake of Haneke’s 1997 Austrian film. Filmed in Long Island, this English language version stars Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as a couple with a child who are taken hostage by two disturbed male teens who physically and psychologically torture their captives in their own home. Haneke’s cleverness (or annoyance) is how the two troubled teens break the fourth wall - addressing the audience by talking to the camera and even “rewinding” incidents to have them played out again in a better way for the protagonists. Dark and devious, the film asks the audience to question their own motives as viewer and voyeur.


9. Air Force One (1997) Dir. Wolfgang Petersen

Written by Andrew W. Marlowe this film shows a bunch of Russian terrorists led by a suitable OTT performance by Gary Oldman (does he do any other?) as they hijack the US President’s plane Air Force One. Harrison Ford stars as the President himself and rather than sit back and relax he’s basically Indiana Jones/Han Solo with wings as he punches, slaps and kicks the terrorists’ butt across the cargo hold. A box office success at the time even Bill Clinton praised the movie however its biggest weakness is the final plane crash ending which showed CGI had a long way to go! America! Fuck yeah!


8. Panic Room (2002) Dir. David Fincher

Another home-invasion film, this time from the pen of writer David Koepp as Jodie Foster and a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart (who I thought was a boy on the first few watches!) star as mother and daughter who buy a new home in New York City. Literally on their first night there they are burgled by 3 criminals played by Forest Whitaker (heart of gold) Jared Leto (30 Seconds To Mental Breakdown) and Dwight Yoakam (off the fucking chain!). Using CGI and impossible virtual camera rigs to fly the audience through the home we go through the handle of a jug as well as air vents and light fittings and Nicole Kidman, who dropped out owing to injury, appears as a voice cameo as Foster’s ex-husband’s new missus. This underrated film showcases Fincher’s frantic film and editing talents.


7. Hostage (2005) Dir. Florent Emilio Siri

This mid-2000s thriller stars Bruce Willis as a former SWAT hostage negotiator who after a bungled mission that left him emotionally scarred finds himself embroiled in another situation as two sibling teens and their accomplice take a family hostage after a failed robbery. With a mafia sub-plot, the film hits a number of hostage clichés (Stockholm syndrome, escape attempt and bungling authorities) and cranks them up to eleven in this Hollywood blockbuster. More stupid than serious, the film has Willis on auto-pilot but the plot twists and dark characterisations are enough to entertain on a Saturday night.


6. Inside Man (2006) Dir. Spike Lee

A great bank hostage drama set in New York City, Spike casts Denzel Washington as the smooth-talking Detective negotiator who comes across a multi-layered heist as he plays out a cat and mouse game between himself and criminal mastermind Clive Owen. Foster appears for the second time on the list as a power broker trying to calm (and then fix) the delicate situation and a good set of support from Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor showcase the clever and original screenplay. Grossing around $184 million, the film is a walk in the park for most of the actors but is a fun ride from the first gun shots to the final denouement.


5. The Negotiator (1998) Dir. F. Gary Gray

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey this Chicago-set drama twists the tables by pitting TWO negotiators against each other in a battle of skill, wits, intelligence and procedure in a tightly written script. For me, a movie with brilliant character names from Jackson’s Danny Roman who gets framed for the murder of his partner “Nate” Roenick who has to take a group of hostages, including Internal Affairs investigator Niebaum (a great J.T. Walsh), to prove his innocence. Support comes in the form of brilliant con man Rudy Timmons (Paul Giamatti) as one of the captured before the FBI send in the beautifully named Chris Sabian (an always awesome Kevin Spacey) who plays another top negotiator who Jackson thinks he can trust. The word-play is always crucial to a hostage drama and the back-and-forth between the wordsmiths Jackson and Spacey doesn’t get any better right here.


4. The Rock (1996) Michael Bay

Taking place on Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay Area producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer avoid any subtlety in this action vehicle where a group of rogue US Marines led by Ed Harris take over the ex-prison and threaten to set off missiles containing deadly VX gas on the American population unless their demands are met. Nicolas Cage plays FBI agent Stanley Goodspeed who is tasked to diffuse the bombs after being sent to “the Rock” with a group of Navy Seals and the only man ever to escape from the prison (Sean Connery, 007 who else?) Mainly an excuse for shootouts, explosions, fist fights and special effects, the film dispenses with negotiation and focuses on the fights but does so with fun and banter between Connery and Cage. Harris would again go up against Cage again in National Treasure 2 so their Bruckheimer feud hadn’t quite finished here! :-)


3. Argo (2012) Dir. Ben Affleck

This Oscar-winning historical thriller film tells the story of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. The brilliance of the crazy scheme to get the hostages out (a fake Hollywood film is created in the vein of a low-budget Star Wars in order to get the team into Iran) is all the more fantastic to know that this actually happened and was redacted for many years by the FBI themselves. Affleck continues his resurgence as actor and director with a strong performance ably assisted by excellent support actors Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Winning Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Picture at the Oscars, the film has a number of historical inaccuracies but the inventive script and fluid direction keeps the audience on their toes throughout. (Ar) Go see it!


2. Speed (1994) Dir. Jan de Bont

Keanu Reeves left behind his West-coast surfer/stoner shtick as he bulked up to play Jack Traven, the LAPD cop who has to stop a bus from exploding after Dennis Hopper’s crazy-ass terrorist plants a bomb on it which will detonate if the vehicle dips below 50mph. One of Tarantino’s favourite films and it’s easy to see why as the high-concept (albeit ludicrous) idea is played out around the streets of LA with good support from Sandra Bullock as Annie, a hostage turned participant after the bus driver gets shot and Jeff Daniels as Harry Temple, who has his own grudge after crossing paths with Hopper previously. The action sequences are spectacular, the set-up flawless and the execution of the F/X and script outstanding in one of the highlights of not just the hostage genre but of action films as a whole.


1. Die Hard (1988) Dir. John McTiernan

Not much of a surprise is this action adventure in the high rise building that is the Nakatomi Plaza as Bruce Willis’ John McClane kicks off a 20 year franchise with the first and the best hostage movie of them all. The film is memorable not only for Willis’ iconic take on the NYPD cop out of his depth over Christmas but actually allows great characterisation of the criminals themselves who are organised by the devious Hans Gruber (a career-defining Alan Rickman) to give their backstory some weight as they break into the building’s vaults whilst keeping the police at bay. Originally offered to Frank Sinatra (look it up!) and then Schwarzenegger, the film gave Willis the chance to bring his smarmy/charming Moonlight persona to the big screen and proved to critics and viewers that he had what it took to be a massive action movie star. With diminishing returns for the sequels, the first Die Hard is a template for action, script, characters and witty dialogue and remains one of the defining films of the 80s.


Midlands Movies Mike

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