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By midlandsmovies, Sep 23 2018 05:40PM

Fahrenheit 451 (2018) Dir. Ramin Bahrani

Based on the classic Ray Bradbury dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 stars Michael Shannon as officious Fire Captain John Beatty who “protects” society with his clan of authoritarian book-burners.

Michael B. Jordan is idealistic Ministry recruit Guy Montag whose growing doubts question whether destroying art is really for the benefit of its citizens. In a new twist, the book’s ‘Phoenix from the Flames’ allegory is brought to scientific life as bird DNA is actually encoded with the words of elusive texts to preserve them forever.

Sofia Boutella as Clarisse McClellan, Khandi Alexander as Toni Morrison and Lilly Singh as Raven round out a fine cast – and as fine as these heavyweights are, it’s with a sad heart that none of the actors can raise this by-the-numbers (or should that be ‘letters’) adaptation.

Going through the motions with fine sci-fi ideas that fail to truly engage, Fahrenheit 451 could be held as a timely reminder of the growing power of government on art, words (and today’s journalism) and the media.

But rather than a full exploration, we get the York Notes version of a complex novel, watered-down into a brief summary with added 21st Century special effects and a few contemporary anxieties.


Mike Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 13 2018 03:52PM

The Shape of Water (2018) Dir. Guillermo del Toro

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute janitor at a secret government facility who begins to bond with a strange water-based creature in The Shape of Water – a new fantasy romance from creative force Guillermo del Toro.

Like the much lauded Pan's Labyrinth, Del Toro’s new film crosses the historical with the unbelievable and the director also mixes cold-war fears with a timeless love in a tale like no other. The story begins in 1962 when American Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon adding another fantastic villain to his career) brings a human-like water creature to the facility and cruelly tortures it in an attempt to discover any secrets this animal may have in their battle against the Russians.

Del Toro’s simple camera moves and basic structure give a pureness to the film allowing the subtle layers and themes of isolation, technology and communication to come to the forefront. Like all his films, this simplicity also harks back to his love of fairy tale myths. In this movie he punctuates the screen with colours of green and images of eggs – a symbol as much of creation and fertility as it is the cracked nature of Humpty Dumpty.

Hawkins’ Elisa secretly communicates via sign language which helps her bond with the creature – and whose familiarity to Abe Sapien from del Toro’s Hellboy films does not go unnoticed – and the swamp-man responds to her affections in the face of Shannon’s awful villain.

The great and deep characterisation continues as Elisa is quiet, but not lonely as such, with her being acknowledged at work and having a variety of friends including Richard Jenkins as Giles and Octavia Spencer as her fellow janitor, and sometimes interpreter, Zelda.

The symbolism continues as even her surname (Esposito) has etymological links to being an orphan as well as deriving from the Latin exponere ("to place outside"). It’s even claimed she was found by the river in an obvious parallel. During the blossoming connection we see Elisa masturbating in her bath and the great nuanced screenplay doesn’t shy away from covering themes of masculinity and femininity. Shannon’s excellent turn as the antagonist is pure male villainy yet his physical prowess take a hammering as he loses a phallic finger in an attack from the creature.

As well as sex, there are underlying nods to race and integration that echo the changing nature of society at the time - with the repressive 50s making way for equal-rights, sexual freedom and the burgeoning technology of the 60s. People begin to challenge the fact they are spoken to like second-class citizens whilst Giles loses his advertising design job in the face of photography. More obvious themes come in the form of the space-race and the rivalry between USA and Russia. This is personified by the fantastic Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, a caring scientist whose allegiances are less than clear cut.

With the inclusion of some poetic violence and exciting chase sequences there are arguments that it is unnecessary violent at times but like the best fairy tale stories it has a contrast between light and dark. The expressive dainty and subtle harp music may feel quaint at times but gives the film an ethereal quality and is broken up by loud gunshots and bloody encounters.

We mustn’t forget Doug Jones in all this as the ‘Amphibian Man’ as well. He mimes his way through heavy prosthetics to give the character plenty of feeling and empathy but it’s Sally Hawkins who really is the main draw here. Without verbal language at her disposal, her body movement, eyes and the physicality she gives to the role is key to the film’s winning charm.

Del Toro’s always had a flair for the colourful and enjoys the mix of reality and dream worlds. Yet after a few throwaway gems like Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim, he has hooked all the prize pieces together in this film. A fishy fable like no other, the stupendous Shape of Water is as simple as a child’s story yet at the same time goes to depths only a master filmmaker of del Toro’s skill can reach.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 5 2016 11:50AM

Elvis & Nixon (2016) Dir. Liza Johnson

This film from director Liza Johnson (Return and Hateship, Loveship) is based upon the infamous Elvis and Nixon photo from 1970 (click here) which showed the notorious US President at the time shaking hands with the equally well known music legend in the Oval Office.

The movie states at the beginning that no recording was made of the meeting between two of the most famous people on the planet in the White House so combines fact with a splash of fiction. What is known is the surroundings before and after as Elvis heads from Graceland to L.A. then back to Washington DC in his attempts to become an undercover FBI agent. And yes, there’s plenty of real evidence to support this did indeed actually happen.

What is speculated is presented as a ‘what-if’ scenario based upon the infamous meeting where Tricky Dicky and The King chat back and forth about their respective requirements. The film suggests Nixon wanted to win over the public by associating himself with a popular celebrity whilst Presley has a goal to get an actual Governmental badge to pursue his plans of being a spy.

Strangely, in a week where I’ve re-watched Frost/Nixon, X-Men: DOFP & Watchmen (all who have their own takes on the fallen President), this film contains a stunning impersonation delivered by Kevin Spacey who plays the slimy and sleazy Nixon with panache. And thankfully, my initial reservations about Michael Shannon as Elvis wore off as he becomes more believable as the film goes along, playing him with a kind of arrogant innocence.

Nixon’s skulduggery plays on Elvis’ naivety (and increasing eccentricity) as the singer aspires to become a federal agent and the film gives a solid if underwritten role to Alex Pettyfer as Elvis’ aide, Jerry Schilling.

Pettyfer is part of a small sub-plot about Elvis’ inner circle of “friends” and the cast is rounded out by Johnny Knoxville as another part of the “Memphis Mafia” and Colin Hanks and Evan Peters (Quicksilver in X-Men) who play two of Nixon’s White House lackeys.

The film heightens reality as government security (as well as the general public) are shown to be in awe at Elvis’ presence before being quickly replaced with an inability to comprehend his requests to meet the President and J Edgar Hoover.

The soundtrack is a cool mix of bluesy rock from the period – wisely it avoids any inclusion of Elvis songs – and the quick editing ensures a fast pace as we whip back and forth across the US before slowing down for their private chat at the film’s conclusion.

Both performances are spot-on and I enjoyed the tone of the film as it focused on a very strange engagement from the past. Paranoid Presley is presented as an outlandish loner detached from reality, with Spacey’s Nixon is a parallel characterisation with a huge sense of self-importance. It is their interaction which is the crux of the film and although it takes a little while to get there, it is well worth sticking with given the fantastic efforts by two superb and engaging actors.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 27 2016 12:22PM

Midnight Special (2016) Dir. Jeff Nichols

Written and directed by Mud/Take Shelter helmer Jeff Nichols, Midnight Special returns to a more thoughtful slow-building sci-fi story the likes that haven’t been seen since Close Encounters and ET. The Spielberg parallels from those films are obvious – a dash of the unknown, father and son issues, covert operatives – but the it’s a refreshing change from the apocalyptic/A.I. settings of current movies in the genre.

Revolving around a boy called Alton (a terrific turn from newcomer Jaeden Lieberher), Midnight Special follows his ‘kidnapping’ by his father Roy (an intense as always Michael Shannon) and his friend and accomplice Lucas (Joel Edgerton). The boy is wanted by the authorities as he is believed to have powers beyond the realm of possibility. A Texan religious cult feels Alton is a religious saviour whist shady secret service agents give chase for nefarious ends – a concept that had echoes of The Day the Earth Stood still – but don’t worry folks, it’s nowhere near as bad as that.

As they drive across Middle America, the trio attempt to get to a location where they believe an extraordinary event will occur – we aren’t told exactly what – and the chase continues as the narrative splits between the groups. Adam Driver arrives as a more sympathetic agent whilst eventually Alton’s mother Sarah (a dowdy Kirsten Dunst) sees her son for the first time in two years after being excommunicated from the church.

The film is definitely set a slow pace. Intentionally this creates a deliberate framework to get the film’s many ideas across but it also allows the actors to fully engage with their characters. Shannon is excellent an intense and devoted father, Driver is all gawky awkwardness as a tender official and Dunst and Edgerton are superb with their supporting roles.

Although essentially a drama, the sci-fi element create a sense of wonder and unforeseen spectacle. Although these are few and far between, when they are shown – from beams of light from Alton’s eyes to a disaster at a petrol station – they have all the more power.

To say much more would spoil the experience but as they chase intensifies, violent encounters are edited alongside family-centred drama with believable dialogue and character conflicts before an awe-inspiring enlightenment at the film’s conclusion.

A supernatural thriller with a stunning piano-led soundtrack, Midnight Special takes an unexpected route to well-worn themes. Nichols has created an enigmatic film for those willing to stick with a cryptic cross-country cruise that doesn’t answer all the questions, but when done this well – it doesn’t need to.


Midlands Movies Mike

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