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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.


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.


Midlands Movies Mike

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