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By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 02:23PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 6


This month we check out new releases DOMINO (from Brian De Palma) MEN, IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (from F. Gary Gray) & TOY STORY 4 (from Josh Cooley). Scroll down to read the reviews:




Domino (2019) Dir. Brian De Palma


Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Carrie and heck, even Snake Eyes and kickstarting the Mission Impossible franchise, Brian De Palma has a pretty impressive film CV. Well, he did once. In the last 12 years he’s made just 2 (terrible) films and it’s sad to say he’s added another here with boring potboiler thriller Domino.


At just 89 minutes this crime thriller feels twice as long and stars Game of Throners Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten who are investigating the death of a Danish police officer. Stopping them is a dodgy CIA agent (Guy Pearce) and Eriq Ebouaney as a double agent acting on behalf of ISIS. Or is he? Well, who cares is the real question.


I don’t want to give away any spoilers about Domino but literally nothing happens. Combined with a troubled production and a star or two dropping out, this ramshackle made-for-TV level movie is lacklustre and dull. Sleepwalking actors deliver clichéd dialogue which is punctuated with the odd blandly-shot action/fight sequence. Flashes of De Palma’s fascination with Hitchcock sometimes comes through in a Vertigo-style roof chase and an ingenious shot here or there hinting upon the stylistic flourishes the director used in his more successful films from the past.


In the end though, it seems the director’s strategy of not caring at all about his utterly useless movie hasn’t paid the handsome dividends he might have hoped for. ★★





Men in Black: International (2019) Dir. F. Gary Gray


In a franchise of less-than-successful sequels, the Men In Black property gets a sort-of reboot in this new blockbuster flick from F. Gary Gray. Chris Hemsworth stars as the arrogant Agent H who is teamed up with new recruit (and his Thor: Ragnarok co-star) Tessa Thompson as Agent M to investigate more intergalactic shenanigans involving the destruction of Earth.


Emma Thompson returns as Head of MiB operations and the film follows the globe-trotting duo taking pot shots at a wide array of eclectic aliens and each other. However, the sad fact is that there’s little more to it than that. Any franchise that loses Will Smith (hello Independence Day) suffers from a loss of his comedy chops and charm – although it has to be said Hemsworth and Thompson do have chemistry which is one of the film’s highlights. Director F. Gary Gray brings none of the fun from his previous guilty pleasure flicks The Negotiator and Law Abiding Citizen or none of the bite/edginess from his Straight Outta Compton. So it ends up being rather bland.


The creatures are excellently designed though – especially “Pawny”, a tiny and loyal alien with a smart mouth – but the world-destruction/infiltrated agency story is instantly forgettable. That said, I don’t think it deserves the critical mauling I’ve also seen published. It’s miles better than the awful second sequel and for me it’s mostly harmless and relatively likeable blockbuster fare for children with two pleasant leads. Add in a handful of action set pieces and MiB: International provides an entertaining if ultimately unremarkable 2 hours of silly escapism. ★★★




Toy Story 4 (2019) Dir. Josh Cooley


After the perfect ending of Toy Story 3 (which has the honour of making me cry twice), the franchise was so brilliantly finished that no more stories of Woody and Buzz were surely needed given the satisfying send-off these animated characters deservedly got.


However, the toys were metaphorically and actually passed on from those who grew up with them and so Pixar have created a 4th film following the gang and their adventures with Bonnie (spoiler) the girl who is gifted them by Andy at the end of 3. Bonnie and her parents go on a road trip and cutting to the chase, the toys end up getting lost/left at a carnival. The group subsequently pull together and attempt to retrieve “Forky”, a quirky toy created by Bonnie herself from a, well, plastic fork and pipe cleaners. The first 30 minutes are pure this-should-have-gone-straight-to-video fodder and although the Pixar quality sheen and photo-realistic animation is all well and present, there’s not quite enough to justify this entry’s existence.


However, just under half-way through the film really hits its stride with excellent set pieces, a break-in at an antiques store and fantastically hilarious cameos from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peel as Ducky and Bunny. Plus Keanu Reeves as daredevil stunt-biker Duke Kaboom. These new faces slip perfectly into the fold and the film is perhaps the funniest entry to date with some surreal humour added to the usual family-friendly fun. Is it really worth it though? Hmm, ultimately I think not. BUT it does act as a great epilogue and it’s second half is classic Pixar from a voice-cast working at the top of their game. You’ve got away with this Pixar. But please, no more Toy Story. ★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2019 10:06AM



John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) Dir. Chad Stahelski


Keanu Reeves returns once more as the eponymous ‘hero’ John Wick in this third instalment of the hyper-violent neo-noir action series. The movie picks up immediately from the previous sequel where the ex-assassin is in New York escaping from a $14 million hit put upon his head after his unsanctioned killing of a member of the “High Table” – a seedy cabal of hitmen and women. But before you can say “parabellum”, Wick is involved in bloodier fist/knife/gun fights than ever before.


Influenced at times by old gun-slinging westerns – (Wick-y Wick-y Wild Wild West) he uses 6-shooter guns and tomahawks, rides a horse through Manhattan and there is a distinct steel-guitar vibe on the soundtrack. Technical wise, the lighting is beyond fantastic with the gorgeous visuals, neon lights and heavy rain giving the locations a classic cinematic feel in comparison to other genre films.


The culture continues (as first seen around Rome in Chapter 2) with scenes set at theatres, museums, libraries and art galleries setting the somewhat low-brow fight action against more civilised environments.


During a ballet rehearsal, a rare but welcome Anjelica Huston appearance explains “the path to paradise begins in hell”. This is one of a number of religious nods alongside a crucifix necklace, stained glass windows and later on a cross is seared on Wick’s back before a gruesome scene of anatomical sacrifice. And redemption is a big theme too. Wick wants out but is drawn back in – not just by his guilt – but by a sense of obligation to the codes of conduct the High Table group enforce.


Support comes from an excellent duplicitous Ian McShane as the manager of a hotel refuge whilst Laurence Fishburne brings his mouthy gravitas to underground crime lord, the Bowery King. The excellent Halle Berry is sadly wasted in a silly shoot-out sequence in Casablanca. The bland gun action is not helped by some CGI dogs - however, those waiting for some long overdue dog revenge will lap up the hounds’ killing spree.


What doesn’t work? Well, the action – as good as it is – is constant. And relentlessly so. Characterisation is kept to a minimum but expected I suppose and the much-lauded motorcycle chase is a poor facsimile of the superior one in The Villainess.


Also, and I’m not sure if it’s because I watched this recent video breaking down stunt choreography from an expert, Keanu was starting to look his age as the overly-choreographed fights seemed to have a few missed marks. A minor gripe I admit.

Whilst expanding the mythos Wick has also lost some of its initial Taken-style charm. The two films were never realistic per se but in Parabellum, murders in public at Grand Central Station and bus-loads of SWAT push it a little bit too far into fantasy. Heck, it even bordered on WANTED (2009) territory with its clan of shady assassins clinging to their historical rules of engagement.


All that said, Wick does what it sets out to do with no apologies. A few nice nods to The Matrix are a nice inside-joke - Neo, I mean Wick, is asked to make a choice by a monologue-ing mentor in a video-screened room and also asks for “Guns. Lots of guns”. And not to mention that Morpheus is in it of course!


And so, genre fans will lap up the explosions, punches, martial arts, gun-fu and the well-executed stunt work. But Wick goes beyond b-movie staples with a film that not only delivers on its action but is a feast for the more discerning viewer with its eye-wateringly impressive lighting, cinematography and production design.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 30 2019 09:17AM



Replicas (2019) Dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff


What is up with Keanu Reeves career making decisions? For every critical and commercial success he then opts to star in something so awful it beggars belief. As far back as Speed (followed by the woeful Johnny Mnemonic), all the way to The Matrix (followed by the unwatchable The Watcher), Keanu has moved from stone cold classics to utter drivel within months. So with John Wick being followed by the awful Knock Knock (see our review) he now moves from the excellent John Wick: Chapter 2 to new sci-fi film Replicas. And guess what? A $30 million dollar failure, the film sees Reeves as William Foster, a scientist who breaks the law to clone his family members after they perish in a vehicle accident. Sadly the film contains every plot cliché you can imagine and, whether it’s the script (likely) or the direction, Alice Eve as his wife gives a simply atrocious performance. Film fans will notice all the scenes hawked out of previous, and better, sci-fi movies including an I-Robot car crash (and Sonny-looking droid), an obsessed scientist and some Minority Report interfaces. And despite its attempts to tackle deeper issues of loss, humanity and family, the film is mostly reminiscent of the bold boringness of Transcendence. Avoid. ★★




The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019) Dir. Alex Gibney


This new documentary film tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her technology company Theranos, a now defunct business which was claiming to have revolutionised blood testing in the United States. Using just a small amount of blood from a finger prick, the company was testing machines that could return results of certain conditions in minutes. With their stupendous, and world-changing claims, Forbes named Holmes the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America. However, just one year later her value was reassessed at zero dollars. What happened? Well Gibney’s documentary builds upon investigations at the time that uncovered there were significant problems with the company’s medical claims despite the endorsement of some high-flying business leaders. As a fan of Gibney’s past work – Zero Days being one of our top films of 2016 – it’s a shame to see such a lacklustre delivery of what is clearly an interesting subject. Unsure if it wants to be a study of manipulative characters like the delusional Holmes, or a take-down of Silicon Valley’s empty capitalism, the documentary sits in a sort of no man’s land of so-so interviews, archive footage and analysis. With a few tweaks and a tighter edit (it runs at 2 hours) this could have been a fantastic look at a modern-day conspiracy but despite Gibney making the complex subject matter understandable, it’s ultimately a dry recounting of the facts at hand. ★★★



The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2019) Dir. Robert D. Krzykowski


Directed, produced and written by Robert D. Krzykowski, the film’s title has “solo passion project” written all over it in this new adventure drama starring Sam Elliott. The story sees old man Elliott as Calvin Barr who is shacked up in his home reminiscing about his past. On a covert operation to kill Hitler, Barr does the deed but his actions are swept under the carpet by seedy government forces and the public never find out. Later on in the present and after getting in fights around town, two new government agents explain that the world is at risk of destruction owing to a virus caused by, you’ve guessed it, Bigfoot. Aidan Turner plays the young Barr whilst Mark Steger has the enviable IMDB listing as “Bigfoot” himself. All this sounds lots of b-movie fun, right? Well, sadly, categorically no. Despite having the ridiculous title of a grindhouse film, the cinematography and pacing is that of an earnest character study. Sadly this results in an inherent dull-ness and it massively fails to live up to its ludicrous premise. In hindsight that could (and should) have been a semi-serious romp in the vain of another recent historical horror, Overlord – which combined similar genres far more effectively. A wasted opportunity. ★★


Michael Sales


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

By midlandsmovies, Dec 4 2016 09:43PM

The Whole Truth (2016) Dir. Courtney Hunt


I love a good courtroom drama it has to be said. From the OTT theatrics of A Few Good Men to the schlock of Runaway Jury to the tight-as-hell script of the brilliant 12 Angry Men, the movies set amongst the legal profession have an intrinsic drama built in ready for thrills and tension.


Well sadly, in one of the worst things I’ve watched this year, we get Keanu Reeves (who excels in moving from box office hit to stinker with ease) playing attorney Richard Ramsay defending a 17 year old suspected of murdering his dad.


We know Reeves can play a lost-his-way lawyer from his excellent turn in The Devil’s Advocate but here he’s given nothing to work with as this TV movie-of-the-week production fails to raise any interest. Renée Zellwegger (almost unrecognisable; what has happened to her face?) plays the wife and mother with all the panache of a pancake whilst they have dug up Jim Belushi as the scumbag father.


There’s so very little here to get your teeth into with the drama playing out in flat shots, the character construction poor, the dialogue heavy on exposition and the few intriguing plot elements underdeveloped. Just as the film got going with the introduction of a twist most viewers will see coming a mile off, the film quickly ends and I looked around wondering if that was it.


Not without a few merits, the whole truth of The Whole Truth is that it’s guilty of being boring, tedious and dull.


4/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jul 14 2016 11:01PM

Keanu (2016) Dir. Peter Atencio


This new action comedy film involving a gangland rivalry and a ridiculously cute kitten called Keanu is one of the stranger concepts to have been green-lit for 2016. Starring Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key (two US comedians with their own sketch show, who have barely been heard of in the UK) Keanu is a hilarious piece of fluff and has the honour of being one of the first ‘pure’ comedies of the year to genuinely make me laugh. And on many occasions.


The story follows Rell (Peele) who has just been dumped by his girlfriend and finds a cat on his doorstep who he adopts and names Keanu. Rell's cousin Clarence (Key) takes him out to cheer him up but they return to find his house ransacked and the kitten missing. Believing a gang mistook his house for his drug-dealing neighbour, Rell heads to the gang’s hideout with Clarence in tow and here they are mistaken for the violent Allentown boys – a duo with a sadistic reputation. Going along with this case of mistaken identity (they rename themselves "Tectonic" and "Shark Tank") the film spins off into a series of ever-deeper cross-wired scenes as they get further out of their depth.


In their efforts to get Keanu back, most of the film’s comedy stems from the suburban duo’s attempts at being “gangstas” and although it could have been a simple role-reversal set up, the supporting characters of gang leader Cheddar (played well by Method Man) and feisty Hi-C (Tiffany Haddish) throw in added conflict as they argue, fight and clash on the city streets.


The comedy rarely plays it safe – and I don’t mean the gross-out angle of the Frat pack/Apatow crowd – with cleverly written and inventive scenes involving team-building exercises and the music of George Michael. As Keanu flips between owners (re-named ‘Iglesias’ and ‘New Jack’ at points) the film uses its skit-based formula well to get in plenty of jokes on the journey. Some added action, a comical car chase and Keanu’s cuteness all keep the fish-out-of-water concept fresh and if we’re going on solid laughs, this could be the best comedy of the year so far.


Made with a lot of sincerity, and although it takes few narrative risks, the comedy duo take plenty of content risks by avoiding the clichés of modern US comedies and surround themselves with a supporting cast who play their mostly-straight roles well.


My favourite comedies over the last few years have rarely originated from the USA with their focus on “improv” and poor scripts/cinematography (see Edgar Wright for how to give comedy more cinematic “zing”) but this film is filled with affection and I couldn’t but help warm to that.


Like The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad, it seems the best traditional American comedies are the ones with the most heart and Keanu has plenty of that making its silly premise a winner in all the best ways.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 16 2015 09:19AM

Knock-Knock (2015) Dir. Eli Roth


Keanu Reeves stars in this home invasion movie about two young girls who seek help from a man left on his own on father’s day as his family go away on vacation. Directed by Eli Roth, I was hopeful for a tense horror-thriller and with Keanu recently finding his form with the sleazy shoot outs of John Wick, the combination seemed right up my alley but oh how wrong I was.


With the simple set up established, it takes an age for the story to get going. A long drawn-out introduction to Keanu’s family was there, I assume, to elicit sympathy and show his moral credentials but in a film that turned out to be this shallow it ultimately felt like wasted screen time. Once they leave, we don’t see his wife and children again until the end of the film.


The girls arrive in a rainstorm after getting “lost” on the way to a party but all is not what it seems. Keanu’s incredibly naïve (and ultimately thick as pig sh*t) character offers them support but soon his kindly approach leads to an ill-disciplined liaison putting his marriage in jeopardy. Awakening the next day with both girls still in his bed, he realises his predicament and with missed calls from his wife, his panic sets in on how to sort out this mess.


And here the film comes off the rails big time. Roth’s intentions are a Hard Candy-lite attempt to show an older man succumbing to his baser instincts. “We’re only 15” the girls tell Keanu but clearly neither of them look it, act like it and no attempt is made to test the validity of their claims or check their I.D. So although it’s difficult to criticise a film for what it isn’t, the set up shows Keanu to be a relatively intelligent man but he immediately makes a series of brainless decisions. 50 minutes in and I’m screaming at the TV; “why are you doing that?” as the banshees take him hostage in his home and start to destroy his life.


Keanu over and over again tries to bargain with the girls (“I won’t tell”, “what do you want?”) but it’s established in the early stages that the girls won’t yield to any kind of “deal”. Yet he continues with these fruitless attempts. They also spend 3-4 hours digging a hole and his best escape effort is one pointless attempt to use a tablet to make a call. In fact, at least 3 attempts are made by either mobile phone or computer but they all fail. Yet he keeps attempting! Why?? The phone doesn’t work, the bargaining doesn’t work and that’s it. He’s out of ideas.


For almost all of its runtime, the movie focuses solely on these three characters but it’s always a two versus one situation. An early suggestion that one of the girls is having doubts creates an interesting dynamic that is gone 2 minutes later. Interesting plot points and narrative ideas disappear into the void as the ‘us-against-him’ struggle drags on and on without development.


Nearing the conclusion of the film I was practically screaming at the screen.


*SPOILER WARNING IN BELOW PARAGRAPH*


So at the end, they simply plonk him in a hole, tell him they’re not 15, upload their mobile-recorded s*x session to his Facebook page and walk away. The video shows him tied up and his body is now buried in the ground up to his neck. With video footage of the perpetrators and with Keanu’s home senselessly trashed, all his character has to do is explain what happened and I cannot see how the cops wouldn’t believe him. So what was the point of all this?


The film completely crumbles under its mixed messages and nonsensical delivery. The characters are annoying, the film is neither schlocky ridiculousness or realistic allegory and Roth again fails to deliver on an interesting premise with an interesting movie – much like Hostel in my opinion.


It’s not badly made or shot, but demonstrates that a script may look good on paper but when played out by the actors, is simply preposterous in its portrayal of motivation and reason.


It’s not big and it’s not clever. A bit like this joke.


*Knock-Knock* “Who’s there?” “Just a really bad film”.


4/10 Midlands Movies Mike


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