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By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2018 12:00PM



Stronger (2018) Dir. David Gordon Green


David Gordon Green has a varied CV with misfiring comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness sitting with more dramatic fare like 2013’s Joe with Nicholas Cage. My recommendation is to avoid comedy, Sir, for your more serious takes a far better.


Like Joe, we get a great central performance, this time from Jake Gyllenhall. Here he plays Jeff Bauman who in real life lost both his legs during the terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon. Unlike Patriot Day, a film which I hugely enjoyed (see review here), the film avoids the police investigation into the perpetrators and focuses on one of the victims maimed on that fateful day.


Adjusting to his new life, Gyllenhaal gives an unbelievably good performance as man plagued by demons and alcoholism but injects enough vulnerability that the audience sympathise with him given the difficulties he faces. Surprisingly there’s a fair amount of comedy had here too. Bauman is shown to make light of his injury at times and there is a dark sub-plot of exploitation of the media which fleshed out the background to his journey.


The film also doesn’t scrimp on the awfulness of the injuries – with blood, limbs and body parts strewn in the bombing recreation flashbacks - and a scene where Bauman has his bandages removed for the first time may be one of the hardest things to watch in 2018.


Dealing with the subject sensitively, yet exploring the trauma and frustrations of the aftermath, Stronger has a fine support cast with Tatiana Maslany as Jeff's girlfriend and Miranda Richardson as Jeff's mother. Carlos Sanz as Carlos Arredondo – the man who saved Jeff at the scene gives a brief but powerful turn as well.


Although Stronger isn’t a game changer, it provides a fascinating insight into the rehabilitation process and shows an audience how difficult it is to deal with both physical and mental scars – all grounded by Gyllenhaal’s mesmerising central role.


7/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 2 2017 09:31AM



Okja (2017) Dir. Bong Joon-ho


After the fantastic Snowpiercer – a train-based sci-fi dystopia that got bogged-down in UK release legal limbo but was our 3rd favourite film of 2014 – the South Korean director returns with an excellent tale of animals and social responsibility.


Bringing along Tilda Swinton from Snowpiecer and adding Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins and Jake Gyllenhaal, the real star(s) of the show are child actress Ahn Seo-hyun and her oversized gene-spliced pig-walrus pet Okja.


Swinton plays Lucy Mirando whose shady corporation are conducting a ‘superpig’ breeding competition around the world and, after many years, select a winner. This happens to be Okja who is based far away in the countryside with Seo-hyun’s Mija. And from frolicking around woods and streams, Bong pulls at the heart-strings from the outset. The two have a chemistry that carries beyond the screen, which is quite the feat given the animal’s CGI rendering, but warm personality shines from both the loveable pet and its protective owner.


The corporation attempts to take Okja to be crowned in New York City but are intercepted by the Animal Liberation Front (led by Dano) who aim to expose the abuse the company inflicts on animals. With truck chase action and a thrilling sequence with Okja causing public destruction in a brief escape, Bong adds excitement and intensity to the film’s moral conflicts. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a mad scientist called Wilcox and steals the show with a pantomime performance as he tests, breeds and tortures poor Okja in horrific scenes made all the more harrowing by his disturbed control freak.


The film questions the meat industry by shining a light on shady practices and slaughter-house gruesomeness and my only gripe that – and as a meat-eater I take full responsibility for my choice – he wears his position so visible on the film’s sleeve that it becomes slightly ‘preachy’ towards its conclusion.


That said, even this old carnivore was made to think about the responsibilities and moral justifications about an industry that prioritises mass culling over individual animal rights. And I think many others will feel that too in a fantastic drama about ethics and culpability. And if you don’t fall for and root for the adorable Okja then you may already be dead inside.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jun 21 2017 10:32AM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 2


Each year we miss a film or two in the huge round of releases per week. Here is our second blog of the year where we catch up with some of the good (and bad) films from 2017 that are already out to watch. Enjoy!


John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Dir. Chad Stahelski


This sequel to 2014’s intense action thriller has Keanu Reeves returning as the gun-dancing assassin who is now out of retirement to unleash more shooting mayhem. The film delves further into Wick’s back-story which was hinted upon in the original and in many ways it is actually a prequel as well as sequel with so much focus on Wick’s previous life. The narrative shows us more of his past and good support from Ian McShane gives the whole thing more depth and expands the world we are in. Keanu is also at the top of his game – slightly wooden as always but like Neo and Ted, the one-dimensionality of the performance lets the audience project themselves into the character.


The story of Wick owing a blood oath debt is merely window dressing for more pirouetting action which again is suitably violent and bloody. A strong support cast including Common and Reeves’ Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne flesh proceedings out but it is the fighting – amongst the splendour and seediness of Rome and New York locations – that bursts off the screen in its glorious brutality and beauty. Fans of action will lap up the intense scenes of bloody violence and its editing is pitched perfectly in the sweet spot of frantic yet understandable. With a third film set-up it may be too far to say it’s the Godfather Part 2 of action films but I feel it may be better than the first film. It combines the obligatory hard-hitting combat with an expansion on the mysteries of the assassin network and penetrates greater themes of trust, honour and revenge. 8/10



Life (2017) Dir. Daniel Espinosa

In short, Life is essentially an Alien rip off as a space crew find a small extra-terrestrial life-form which they are unable to quarantine which subsequently grows into a larger monster that stalks the astro-occupants. The good points include a realistic set up on the ISS with some Gravity-inspired long shots in the station’s cramped compartments as well as an interestingly designed life-form that starts off its existence looking like a sentient “star fish”. The clichés soon start to overpower these positives as the ‘trained experts’ of the crew (inevitably) break quarantine rules and the carnage begins. [SPOILER] A few interesting deaths including one of the main stars couldn’t save the film as it descends into b-movie territory. As the strange creature becomes a Prometheus-esque squid the film loses its premise to become schlock horror and not even a downbeat ending could salvage this sci-fi wreckage. An internet rumour suggested it could have been a Venom origin story (one of Spider-Man’s arch enemies) yet sadly that fan-theory is far more interesting than the film delivered. 6/10


I Am Not Your Negro (2017) Dir. Raoul Peck

Based on the unfinished manuscript Remember This House by James Baldwin and narrated brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson this new documentary focuses on American racism and the portrayal of black lives in recent media. Historically important and hugely socially relevant right now, the film uses Baldwin’s powerful words to highlight the roles played by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. It’s sad then that I found it, despite its worthy themes and intriguing structure, a little stale and not even Jackson’s masterful voiceover kept me from thinking it was treading water when it could have been providing more powerful insights. As a huge fan of documentaries (my recommendations so far this year would be the superior Oklahoma, Mommy Dead and Dearest and Beware the Slenderman) I was disappointed with the film as the important and weighty ideas weren’t given justice in its one-trick design. Hugely recommended for those interested in the specific subject matter, less so for those not familiar with the work, the film sometimes feels exactly what I feared it could be – a man reading from a book. Disappointing. 6/10



The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017) Dir. Oz Perkins

Appearing on a few Top 10 lists of great horror films of 2017 (so far) is this fright film from Oz “Son of Anthony, Psycho” Perkins and stars Kiernan Shipka (Kat) and Lucy Boynton (Rose) as two pupils at a strict Catholic school. The highly composed shots give a huge undercurrent of tension and unease with slow and deliberate sequences portraying the slight narrative as the two girls fail to be collected by their parents once term-time has ended. Rose is possibly pregnant and Kat often appears to mentally ‘tune out’ which is ironic given that the ‘buzzing’ tones of the amelodic experimental music often sounds like an orchestra tuning up. But this adds to the peculiar atmosphereand together with the snowy weather and cold demeanour of the religious teachers, helps deliver an unsettling feeling. And unsettling it is.


As Kat continues to exhibit strange behaviour around Rose, another story is introduced with a girl called Joan who may have escaped an institution and is picked up in a car by James Remar (The Warriors) who plays an ambiguous father-figure. These flashbacks, multi-perspective sequences and possible parallel tales disorientate the viewer but some may find it confusing and the timelines are certainly not clear cut. It takes a while but eventually a few shocks come in the form of Exorcist-influenced body convulsions, vomiting and swearing and the film’s few disturbing images are all the more effective with a slow build up and in their briefness.


Unfortunately there’s a few Scream-ché (a cliché the film Scream deconstructs like investigating scary noises and “I’ll be right back”) and the ambiguous construction could frustrate some but satisfy others. For me, The Blackcoat’s Daughter had far more going for it than the negatives, whilst I got annoyed at points about the lack of clarity to tie up the individual story strands, the mystery was intriguing, the triumvirate of actresses and their performances were superb and the first-time director provided images of intense terror that, like the malevolent force portrayed, linger deep within you post-viewing. 7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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