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By midlandsmovies, Jul 17 2017 03:58PM

Kong: Skull Island (2017) Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts

It was merely a few years in passing when Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla came out, piggybacking on the monster-movie resurgence created with the release of Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Godzilla took the large creature idea that was prevalent in both movies but it overlooked the spectacular story and went for the lowest common denominator by pushing the CGI to the forefront. In the process of being an effects-driven vehicle it lost all the heart and wonder of the dinosaur delight.

The comparison for me is that this new movie is the descendant of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, and heck even Pacific Rim, and we get a Groundhog Day-style repeat of that situation. Kong: Skull Island ditches the emotive spectacle and ingenious special f/x for a series of repetitive seen-it-before sequences using digital CGI in place of any real-life “weight”.

This movie therefore uses themes we’ve seen before – group heads to a mysterious (Skull) Island but this time it’s a gang of explorers supported by a military platoon fresh from the Vietnam War. And boy do we know the time period! Audiences will quickly become sick of the music. As a lover of guitar music and 70’s tunes I adore Bowie, Creedence and The Doors but my god it is relentless. Suicide Squad relentless! It seems every 2 seconds there’s the first few bars or chorus of another retro hit – yes, I get it, it’s the 70s and yes, it’s like Apocalypse Now, and yes, it’s the soundtrack to the Vietnam war but boy is it dull and very repetitious.

Also, harking back to the period is an obvious, almost parody, nod to the Vietnam war as a whole. One of the military personnel mentions that “This place is hell” – a simple re-phrasing that war is hell – and the rest of the dialogue is equally banal. It does not help they are delivered by characters who are stock ciphers straight from a screenplay 101 course. John C Reilly appears as a comedy Captain Birdseye - a ridiculous OTT cartoon character – out of place against the political parallels.

A wasted cast sees Brie Larson as a photographer whilst Tom Hiddleston plays an Indiana Jones-type and they are both shadowed by Samuel L Jackson’s experienced war veteran. You’d do much better by catching Brie in Free Fire, Tom as Loki in Thor and Samuel L Jackson in anyone of the 300 films he no doubt has coming out this year.

Any positives? Well, I did actually enjoy the creature design. The spider attack was suitably creepy, the giant water buffalo were interesting and the wood insect was a sticky strange beast. It has aspects of Avatar and I wish they added a bit of that film’s exploration of the island. Spend a bit of time on what this place is – allowing it to breathe and get a sense of what is at risk.

But it all comes back to the visual – at the expense of everything. And the problem with the visuals is that, what I see through my eyes anyway, is that the digital effects are terrible. To me it looks worse than Jackson’s Kong film from a decade ago. ‘Graphics’ is the easiest way to describe its look which has all the reality of a Playstation 4 game.

I found it embarrassing amateurish and I am surprised to see many positive reviews for what I thought could have been solely a CGI movie. The colour grading reminded me of the same problem I saw in Jurassic World as the world simply doesn’t look ‘real’. Even in shots that show mainly just the cast themselves, I got the impression the screen was digitally flat. I just want to be inside a film and not looking at a computer game.

It has this artificial nature yet I don’t just mean special effects. It’s a product of the Hollywood machine and a film, like Emmerich’s Godzilla, that uses CGI in the worst ways possible. The filmmakers still believe that CGI is inherently awe-inspiring in itself. It never was. And it certainly isn’t here. A monster-sized mess.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, May 18 2017 08:37PM

Colossal (2017) Dir. Nacho Vigalondo

A (very) original concept for a film, Colossal stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as childhood friends who reconnect when Hathaway’s ‘Gloria’ returns to her small hometown only for much larger events to take place halfway across the world. Her arrival is spawned when Dan Stevens’ Tim breaks off their city relationship owing to her boozy going-nowhere lifestyle and once back, she runs into Sudeikis’ Oscar who gives her a job at a local bar. Offering support in her time of need, the job however doesn’t help with the current woes she is suffering from.

And from here it gets much weirder. After Gloria enters a local playground she soon discovers that at the very same time, a giant Godzilla-like monster materialises in South Korea (Asia, where else?) and we learn that it’s a manifestation of herself. The ginormous lizard even acts out the same sad movements including her bad dancing and head scratching.

But here’s the rub. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie but anyone expecting the crazy laugh out loud style antics they are attempting to sell in the trailer will be very disappointed or at least confused. I don’t think I laughed once which doesn’t mean there weren’t a few light-hearted comedic moments just that there were no jokes as such.

The few amusing situations we do get very quickly turn to a much more morose tone as I began to pity Gloria quite early on. Hathaway is a likeable actress, although a bit too clean cut for me, but she gives a more ‘Girl on the Train’-style performance here as her own demons are pushed to the forefront. I’ve never warmed to Sudeikis at all but I did enjoy him in Race (2016) and here he stretches his range further by starting out as a helpful pal trying to get Hathaway back on her feet before switching to a much crueller character later on. And he too materialises in the Far East but this time his brutality is symbolised as a giant armour-plated robot.

Clearly an allegory for domestic violence – both mentally and physically – the film shows how that can manifest itself as a giant issue to be tackled head on. The huge subject matter literally becomes a huge monster. A bit on the nose? Maybe. But it’s done very well indeed by the director as the movie develops into fiery fist fights – ones that are fantastical in Korea yet explosively violent in the small town.

I would say the tone is most similar to Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which delivered surreal storytelling and images around what was essentially a love story. Here, a ‘sobering’ return to childhood (and adult) issues is the driving force, with the strangeness and uniqueness coming from the role of the metaphorical monsters.

A very original premise is to be praised in this monstrous franchise era, and the well thought-out topic is something I felt was an interesting subject to hang the film on. I do still feel the trailer does it a disservice however. It’s a much more serious film with serious themes rather than the Pacific Rim/Rom-com product it’s been advertised as. If you ignore that though, you’ll find a very rewarding film which delves into the mammoth repercussions of intense emotions by showing the fierce fighting between fantasy and the factual.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Mar 6 2017 03:26PM

XX (2017) Dir. Roxanne Benjamin, Sofia Carrillo, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent & Jovanka Vuckovic


An 80 minute horror anthology from different female directors, XX takes an established formula (Creepshow, V/H/S) to tell 4 interesting tales about women, made by women but to be enjoyed by all.

A quick synopsis of the 4 shorts starts with The Box (from Jovanka Vuckovic) where a young boy peers into a stranger’s present on a train and then refuses to eat any food. With the family frustrated, he shares the secret with his sister and father who also stop eating. A gory dream of the family feasting on the desperate mother leads to the end when the 3 members die of starvation and the mother searches for the mysterious stranger. What?

The Birthday Party (Roxanne Benjamin) tells a story of another mother trying to hide the fact her husband has died during the craziness of arranging and hosting her daughter’s fancy dress birthday party. She hides the body around their home then places him in a giant panda suit before the inevitable grisly uncovering happens in front of the gang of children at the end which provides the top comedic moment of the films.

Moving into monster territory is Roxanne Benjamin’s Don't Fall where a group of friends’ desert trip is interrupted by an evil spirit they saw depicted in cave paintings. Maiming and killing its way through the friends, this is the most gory of the quadrilogy and perhaps the most fun, by sticking to well-known tropes and throwing in some chases and action.

Finally, Her Only Living Son (from Karyn Kusama) shows a single mum attempting to resolve issues with her misbehaving son who turns out may or may not be Satan’s offspring (!)

Interspersed with stop-motion-animation between each individual short, XX takes some intriguing ideas and new directions and I enjoyed the different tones of each. The first is pure mystery, the second is darkly comedic, the third channels the slasher genre, whilst the last has a classic Devil’s son theme. But the problems? Well, at under 20 minutes each, there is very little oomph to the proceedings, ideas cannot be developed and characters are broad.

Also, given the talent on show, the tales simply aren’t punchy enough. I was frustrated with the first, the second tale was funny but shot like a sitcom, the third was most fun whilst Her Only Living Son was a disappointment. Made by Karyn Kusama who directed one of my favourite films of last year (#2 of my top 10 of 2016 was her movie The Invitation), this stale story of a possibly demonic son was a good premise but delivered far too little.

It’s such a shame overall that I cannot massively recommend this audacious take on horror and the involvement of all-female writers and directors is certainly to be applauded. My passion for Anna Biller’s more interesting take on horror in The Love Witch is something I would recommend much higher. The stories here though? Sadly, as a fan of narrative cinema, they just didn’t shock or feel me with any terror or fear. An admirable attempt but only the most die-hard horror fans need to investigate this frustrating four-some.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 6 2015 07:48PM

Killer Saurus (2015) Dir. Steve Lawson

“Why don’t you run through its legs...?”

This new Leicester creature feature from Creativ Studios is a fun b-movie inspired flick that uses a cloned dinosaur as its central theme in a story of secrets, horror and drama.

In a near future, we begin in a lab where Professor Peterson (Steve Dolton) works with his scientist colleagues to use innovative new bio-print laser technology to genetically recreate an ancient monster. We find out there have already been failed attempts by his favourite worker Kayleigh Ma (Helen Crevel) but sad news comes in the form of a telephone call in which the Professor is informed of the death of a loved one.

The film starts slowly but tension is soon ratcheted up as the project descends into chaos and heads begin to roll (literally). After an accident involving the death of a worker, we pick up 3 months later with Kayleigh and her journalist boyfriend Jed Bailey (Kenton Hall) who encourages her to return to her job in order to get some closure. However, he desperately wants to pick up an exclusive scoop to reinvigorate his career which is littered with a history of vilified conspiracy stories.

Back in the lab, they return to meet with Peterson who explains that the bio-print technology was originally developed to replace his amputated fingers before spiralling out of control. As he regales them with the previous failed attempts, we see he is working for a shady corporation who care even less about the lives they have ruined.

With laughs and silliness played off against melodramatic scenes, the film creates a great atmosphere that mocks and plays loving homage to its low budget influences. Good cinematography drenches the screen in futuristic Minority Report cool blues and blood-drenched reds whilst an intense booming soundtrack creates apprehension and worry at every turn.

Scenes increase their pace which help push the story along quickly and although the props and settings were quite sparse, they were well created and utilised. The interesting lighting choices through smoky camera shots helped overcome many gaps in the budget and the monster f/x were effective in their scope.

With more personal secrets uncovered, the film is a shaky mix of the sombre and the amusing with humorous lines vying for space with sinister scenes but the balance just about holds together and there were half a dozen or so true belly laughs as well delivered dead pan which made them even funnier.

Some lines of dialogue were cribbed from the most memorable monster movies (I spotted Jaws, King Kong and Jurassic Park) yet there’s action too. I find it easy to say that it’s genuinely great to see films come from your hometown and the talent from the Midlands still surprises me as innovative directors release films with ambition that far surpass expectations. KillerSaurus also has an impressive vibe straight from the grindhouse Planet Terror which both combine levels of daftness with disgusting make up to superb effect.

In summary, if Friday night beastly features are your thing then I can highly recommend you catching this noble and enjoyable film which hits colossal horror heights from a tiny budget.

8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 5 2015 12:23PM

Jurassic World (2015) Dir. Colin Trevorrow

A billion dollar, 65 million years in waiting audition tape for Chris Pratt as Indiana Jones...

22 years later and the Isla Nublar monster park is finally open to the public in this 4th film of dino DNA design being exploited only for it to (inevitably) go very wrong. With the theme park attractions now in full swing from Sea World-style shows to interactive gyrospheres, the plot sees two children (hmmm) head to the park to meet a family member (sound familiar?) on a holiday break. Alongside is a Sam Neill-style rough and ready Velociraptor trainer (Chris Pratt) with big reservations about the power now wielded whilst the park’s new owner (Irrfan Khan as Simon Masrani) watches as his newly designed creature – the genetically-modified Indominus rex – strangely doesn’t want to be locked up.

The narrative spins off into the familiar paddock padding as the feisty and uptight business manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) searches for her two nephews as the park breaks down and trades sexy banter with Chris Pratt’s macho man. The film’s best parts are a range of interesting characters that don’t hit the heights on an Ian Malcolm or Dennis Nedry but are better than the one-dimensional and unforgettable folk of JP 2 and 3 and the acting is surprisingly solid for a summer blockbuster. However, the film dismisses any sort of slow build up and within 15 minutes we are watching endless dinosaurs in the park itself. This lack of anticipation and a HUGE reliance on CGI means that the once-awe-inspiring animals are rendered (literally) commonplace and, dare I say it, quite dull.

The first half of the film is therefore quite poor but once the chaotic creatures are out of control the film picks up in the second hour. Excavating a number of familiar ideas with a dashing of new twists, the film’s biggest downfall are the technical aspects. The grading of the film is insane with cartoonish colouring making it look more like a video game than the natural tone of Spielberg’s first hit. In one way it has the awful visual tone of Spielberg’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Funnily enough the film also demonstrates that the grizzled Chris Pratt has nailed his audition for being the next Indiana Jones!

Trevorrow has gone on the record to say the movie’s main creature the Indominous rex is “based on a series of corporate focus groups” but sadly his film is too. One brilliant static shot towards the end showed us raptors running towards the camera in silhouette but other than that, the artistic choices are limited to the usual blockbuster action editing and CGI camera swings. The film’s most tender moment involving the death of some gentle giants demonstrated both an interesting new theme about conservation and animal protection but also showed the benefit of using animatronics over CGI.

By no means a catastrophic failure, the film is more franchise fodder than an amazing work in its own right but by throwing so much at the screen Jurassic World knows that at least some of it will stick. It digs up the bones of the Jurassic Park legacy and adds enough fancy flourishes to impress the summer going movie crowd but never hits the brachiosaurus highs of that first vacation.

7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 8 2015 06:14PM

Monsters: Dark Continent (2015) Dir. Tom Green (1st May)

Gareth Edwards (Godzilla & soon to be Star Wars spin-off director) surprised many with his debut feature Monsters from 2010 with its indie roots and by being mostly filmed with five people using off-the-shelf equipment and a budget under £500k. This film somewhat follows the “Alien” franchise template by following up that head-scratcher of a film with a more action-orientated sequel about gun-toting marines. Lost Continent also moves the action from South America to a new infected zone in the Middle East where the problems are intensified with armed insurgents and the instability of the region playing as much a part of the story as the alien invasion itself.

We begin in the USA where a group of neighbourhood muscle-heads sign up for combat ready to “kick ass” but soon after arriving reveal their bravado is no match for the atrocities they are about to face. The problems with the film at the start are twofold – first there is a severe case of “spot the stiff” – individuals’ deaths are signposted from the outset – and secondly, the group are such an unlikeable bunch of douchebags that when one eventually gets blown in half by a roadside IED you are quite content to say ‘fair enough’.

The first hour’s slow pace also really affected my enjoyment and combined with endless shaky cam and whip pans soon became a bit of a headache. Johnny Harris pops up halfway through and plays the best character as an angry, seen-it-all Sergeant doing whatever it takes to stay alive but Dark Continent is not serious enough to sit with the Hurt Lockers of this world and not silly or fun enough for an action flick. It’s not without a few good aspects however. The impressive creature designs and rendering are a joy and Harris’s leader spins off into Colonel Kurtz territory but the narrative is as sprawling and haphazard as the aliens’ tentacles. Similar to the first, it places the monsters as a secondary part of a human story – which is a great concept but the film doesn’t really do it justice. I felt the first film was like watching a (bad) home movie of a gap year trek and like that movie, this sequel clearly aims to say something profound but what that is I am unsure. Something on the violence of man? The scares of the unknown? The acceptance of “the other”? Who knows.

If one thing is consistent, it is that the two film’s trailers have grossly misrepresented the subsequent movie on offer. Not exactly worse per se – just different. So sadly, if you are expecting something akin to Aliens or Battle: Los Angeles then you are at the wrong movie. For me, Monsters: Dark Continent is again, like its predecessor, stuck in no man’s land (or a quarantined zone) as to what the film’s overall message and tone is meant to be.


Midlands Movies Mike

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