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By midlandsmovies, Nov 21 2017 05:52PM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 5


As we steam full ahead towards 2018, here are a few reviews of films we’ve seen during the past year in the fifth catch-up blog of 2017.




The Discovery (2017) Dir. Charlie McDowell

Released through Netflix this drama has a fantastic cast of Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, Robert Redford and Jesse Plemons and we begin with scientist Thomas Harbor (Redford) who has proved the existence of life after death. With the world population plummeting as the public commit suicide to experience this other world the film has a very interesting premise yet sadly little else. As Redford’s weird sect at a mansion attempt to record what these dead folk are seeing in their afterlife, the boring drama spoils its ideas in scenes of unbelievable dullness and a slow moving pace. It’s great to see Netflix as the spearhead of well-budgeted independent films that tackle subjects that no longer seem to get cinema releases but this has to be noted as a well-meaning failure. An investigation into the strange images captured lead to the film’s most interesting themes and a final reveal about what they are viewing is disappointing and unfulfilling with no light at the end of a very dark and depressing drama tunnel. 4/10




Catfight (2017) Dir. Onur Tukel

Directed and written by Turkish-American Onur Tukel, Catfight is a dark comedy drama starring Sandra Oh and Anne Heche as two women who begin a feud that ends up lasting decades. Wealthy socialite Oh embarrasses her old friend Heche who is a struggling artist at a party and thus starts a violent drunken fist fight. The action is brutal, yet contains over-the-top comedy punch sounds straight from Indiana Jones and ends with Oh falling into a coma and waking years later. After finding her son died in military service and broke owing to medical bills, the previously rich Oh deals with a role-reversal as Heche’s artist has become a narcissistic and successful artist. Great support comes from the little-seen Alicia Silverstone as Heche’s put-upon and broody girlfriend and a second vengeful fight ensues before Heche herself falls into a coma and also loses her money in the same circumstances. This is a film with hints of Trading Places but has a surreal story to tackle more serious themes of war (both in relationships and a background narrative about military intervention) and loss – of memories, possessions and family. An interesting if slight film, Catfight has two fantastic female leads and sticks to a strange and unique concept yet also has the guts to follow through with a ‘Being John Malkovich’ heightened reality. A punch-drunk oddity. 5.5/10



Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) Dir. Luc Besson

Based on the comic series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and budgeted at an enormous €197 million, Besson returns to his eye-gouging visual sci-fi aesthetic first seen in the 1997 film The Fifth Element. In the 28th century, the movie follows Major Valerian (a rogue-ish Dane DeHaan) and his partner Sergeant Laureline (a feisty Cara Delevingne) who investigate a mysterious anomaly at the centre of Alpha which is an enormous space station populated by aliens from across the universe.


The film is great at portraying other-worldly environments and mystical beings in colourful CGI and whilst it’s clearly a green-screen mess, it’s such a glorious and inventive mess that most of the artifice is forgiven. An extra-dimensional bazaar called Big Market is an ingenious use of different worlds and Besson actually gives his audience credit for working out how this strange parallel phenomenon works. The film is filled with exciting action scenes which are perfunctory but again, and most importantly, fun. And whilst it’s no Star Wars, it certainly creates an understandable world that feels lived in and inhabited by wildly designed creatures. A commercial failure, the film is far from awful in comparison to similar recent science fiction universes such as the dull Jupiter Ascending. Away from the Pratt and Lawrence of Passengers from earlier this year, some critics didn’t like the strange and cold dynamic between DeHaan and Delevingne but I thought their quirkiness and less-than-Hollywood take on the characters was far more interesting.


Delivering the same fun yet inconsequential science fiction as his previous foray into the future, Besson has no way created anything close to a masterpiece but if you leave your brain at the door, the movie gives audiences thousands of better ideas than other summer hits like the trashy Transformers. 7/10




Casting JonBenet (2017) Dir. Kitty Green

This unique documentary about the death of child pageant superstar JonBenét Ramsey covers the theories and evidence surrounding the mysterious tragedy that caught the attention of an entire nation in 1996. Taking a very distinct approach, rather than the usual vox pops and archive footage, Kitty Green employs a more visceral technique where she runs a casting process for a fictional film. Amateur actors from the Colorado area where the death occurred are interviewed and assessed in their attempts to gain a part as one of the real people involved in the case. As they run through dialogue and dramatic recreations, this in itself is illuminating but the interspersed interviews allow these part-time actors to revel in their own theories surrounding the tragedy. Whilst they are auditioning for the roles of John and Patsy Ramsey, Burke Ramsey, John Mark Karr and various Boulder police officials that are “up for grabs”, they speculate on the motivations and emotions of the case. Being from the community, they give their insights from a local perspective as they impart their raw feelings and uncensored thoughts. Although I’d prefer a little more context to the case – the uninitiated are given a bare minimum of objective context – the film is intentionally provocative and emotional, reflecting the upsetting sentiments that echoed throughout the USA at the time. Upsetting yet extremely fascinating, Casting JonBenet takes a risk away from a traditional documentary format to deliver a fascinating portrait that is successful in all the ways I found I Am Not Your Negro wasn’t. 7/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Sep 10 2017 08:27PM



The Limehouse Golem (2017) Dir. Juan Carlos Medina


Bill Nighy stars as an 1880s Inspector named John Kildaire who inherits an East London multiple murder case in this period chiller adapted from Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’. In a parallel story, a court case ensues as a fantastic Olivia Cooke (as put upon wife Elizabeth Cree) is accused of poisoning her husband and thus begins a mystery of two entwining cases.


Framed with multiple flashbacks, the initial set up is superbly done as characters arrive in the middle of their own circumstances throwing us straight into the plot. The lighting of the film is of particular high quality and worthy of mention on its own. The dark blacks, stark lighting, cold eerie streets and warm theatrical interiors echo David Fincher’s Se7en. And it’s not the only Se7en comparison to be made. Early on we get an old Inspector teamed with a young policeman (Daniel Mays) who then head directly to a library and find a book turned into a killer’s hand-written diary using an inky ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing style. But not a bad film to be influenced by that's for sure.


The horror it doesn’t show leaves the audience in a delightfully edgy position as the murders are mostly left to the imagination and the grotty streets contrast the bawdy theatre scenes nicely. The film’s reliance on flashbacks started well – encapsulating the old filmmaking adage “show-don’t-tell” – but they turn from fleshing out the story to becoming the story. Whilst the two narratives eventually joined up, the intriguing opening detective story makes way for the background of Elizabeth Cree who moves from street urchin to stage star. Unfortunately I was ready and involved in the first part and the film took me down a dark alley as it moved from a mystery to a dramatic fictional biopic of Cree.


That said, the film does use theatre and the notion of “acting” brilliantly. The behind-the-curtain chaos shows the passions and frustrations of artists whilst the stage allows the creation of alternative personas. The great make-up of the film extends from the camp comedy of the boards to the grisly murders in the alleys. Also, multiple layers and repeated sequences translate the novel well by showing each suspect committing crimes as they are recounted – allowing us to “imagine” the different scenarios along with the detective.


On a personal note, the songs and performances within the theatre could have been cut down as full-length musical renditions slowed the immediacy of the “catch-the-killer” set up. Also, and I concede this is in the novel, the mix of real life people (e.g. Karl Marx) in fictional dramas has always felt slightly anachronistic to me. This flight of fantasy was a leap too far out of the film’s world – and into our own.

Its closest relative is the similar fact/fiction mash-up From Hell (2001) and in many ways there is one great film if you combined the two. From Hell’s central narrative thread is stronger but the themes and performances were far superior in this film. With an ending I saw coming for days – from simply one very specific shot I may add – it didn’t ruin the film but the joy only came from seeing how it played out instead of a final plot “surprise”.


Despite my reservations however, there is a lot to recommend in The Limehouse Golem. The technical side is sublime and the actors are having fun with their performances in the film and subsequently their characters’ performances within the film as well. Mixing the gruesome reality of life with the gruesome fictionality of art, the so-so murder mystery plot is kept from the gallows by great actors in superbly dressed and lit locations which show the nasty side of the streets and the stage.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jun 25 2017 05:30PM



Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017) Erin Lee Carr


What would you do to maintain control of your child? Well, this new documentary explores that and other dark themes in the true life story of the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. Stabbed to death, the accused is her own daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who for years has been confined to a wheelchair and has a host of debilitating ailments including cancer, gastric issues and developmental problems.


The film begins with real-life footage from a police interview room – similar to Beware the Slenderman – and again, coming from the UK, these scenes alone are shocking in their candour. Being questioned by a forthright officer is a young girl with short hair who is told her mother is dead. And it is here we first get a glimpse into the strangeness of this case.


Carr infuses her film with some immediate facts but allows the mystery surrounding these to be unveiled slowly. First up, we hear reactions from friends who are shocked to find the girl accused of homicide. Secondly is the more surprising revelation (to them) that the girl they’ve known for years is not paralysed and can actually walk.


Diagnosing a serious case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (a condition where a carer induces health problems in those they are looking after) a doctor recalls his diagnosis of the mother who it is revealed kept her (very healthy) daughter in a state of constant medication. As multiple surgical visits and even invasive operations occur, we empathise with Gypsy's situation as we begin to comprehend the disturbing proof uncovered.


As the film continues, Carr explores the deep dark secrets of a mother and child relationship that was fused by a dominating parent who goes too far in order to preserve her power. As Dee Dee lies to the authorities and to doctors, the film’s personal connection actually arrives in the form of Gypsy Rose’s estranged father and step-mum who are shown aghast at the horrors unfolding in front of them. As a lawyer explains the medical records he’s got access to, they recoil in visible shock at the 100+ visits the fraudulent mother took her healthy daughter to in order to sustain her sham.


With another feature length documentary (Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop, 2015) under her belt, Carr can not only create an arresting narrative in her work, but chooses her subjects carefully for stories to leave an audience astonished. Here, we are never truly sure who to believe as even the sympathy gained for the alleged perpetrator is questioned with the inclusion of an eccentric and dangerous boyfriend met on the internet. In addition, the film presents a scheming mother talented in the art of deception and begins to ask whether her daughter has perhaps inherited this horrifying gift.


The documentary concludes in a standard fashion as it reaches its end but it is the juxtaposition of interesting witnesses, side tales and the natural twists and turns of a barely believable and surreal story that kept my interest up. Tackling the lofty subject matter of neglect and child abuse alongside the mystery of a murder case, Mommy Dead and Dearest is terrifying yet very honest in its portrayal of the depths of dishonesty.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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