icons-02 icons-01 MM Logo FILM FREEWAY LOGO

blog

Movie news, reviews, features and more thoughts coming soon...

By midlandsmovies, May 2 2019 12:00AM



Vox Lux (2019) Dir. Brady Corbet


Opening with a shocking scene of a school shooting that has to be seen to be believed, Brady Corbet’s new film Vox Lux tackles the pop music industry, crime, terrorism and the American dream in a film stuffed to the brim with ideas.


Too stuffed? Well, perhaps. We open in 1999 where sisters Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and Ellie (Stacy Martin) survive the massacre but during the memorial, Celeste showcases a poignant song about the incident which pushes her towards stardom in the USA. And she is soon head-hunted by a music mogul (a terrifically gruff Jude Law) and rises to fame in the industry.


Raffey Cassidy is a great lead and one of her most-famous scenes to date is from her previous outing in The Killing of a Sacred Deer where she delivers a darkly honest performance of Ellie Goulding’s “Burn”. Here she channels a similar tone and is one of many exciting aspects from the film’s first half. The striking school opening combined with the entire film credits at the start provides a violently dynamic beginning before the director throws in some home-video style footage of Raffey and her entourage on tour in Stockholm.


There is a lot of intensity and energy in its opening which is slightly at odds with its Willem Defoe narration and chapter titles (“Genesis”) which feel like a student facsimile of a cliché even Lars Von Trier would think twice about. Act 2 gets worse with the shockingly titled and awful “Re-genesis”. Quite.


However, as the young Celeste moves from tours, studio recording and on to videos the film is interspersed with iconic imagery reflecting media coverage of worldwide events and their effects. First is a terrorist beach atrocity featuring more guns and death as well as images of the World Trade Centre towers and then later the Freedom Tower.


And then the film takes a sharp turn. We jump to the modern day and Celeste is now played by Natalie Portman. Put through the mill of the music industry she now has a history of drink, drugs and more. Portman veers from her subdued and excellent performance in Jackie to a wayward pop-star jaded by the destructive capabilities of fame and money.


Celeste is now older, tiresome and somewhat of a cliché in this second half and unfortunately this is reflected in the film’s delivery too. Gone is the potency of Raffey’s rise to fame and in come some broad swipes at Western values, celebrity culture and the trappings of wealth. And for some unearthly reason – serving only to confuse - Raffey Cassidy is now playing Portman’s daughter. And much like most superhero films, learning the ropes is often a far more interesting story than when the hero is established and the same goes here.


As a musical drama, another problem is simply my personal taste in the music. Original songs by current pop star Sia are incorporated – although the 1999 music video is highly anachronistic with pitch-shifted vocals definitely not from that era – but I didn’t care much for its Bohemian Rhapsody-like 15-minute stage show ending.


In conclusion, and sounding far too much like a football pundit, Vox Lux is the epitome of a film of two halves. Its second half looking at how the music industry corrupts, Portman’s selfish alcoholic and extended concert finale just removed all the momentum the first half so successfully delivers. No doubt those with more than a passing interest in modern pop will also be moved by the musical hits more so than myself. Certainly containing huge amounts of filmmaking dexterity and Raffey Cassidy’s performance certainly should have taken centre stage, Vox Lux ultimately doesn’t so much as burn out as it does fade away.


★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Mar 13 2018 09:15AM



Annihilation (2018) Dir. Alex Garland


With a whole load of hoo-ha about this film being solely released on Netflix UK instead of garnering a full cinema release, I decided to stick two fingers up at that ridiculous decision by getting out my projector and sound bar and closing the curtains to create my own cinema experience in my front room.


Although I’ve been a defender of Netflix’s output in the past, and it’s honourable how it allows smaller filmmakers to take chances, the fact is that this is a large production with Oscar-winning stars and it’s a shame to see it’s not getting a cinema release at all in the UK (unlike the rest of the world). That said, here we are in my home cinema and what we get is a sci-fi fiction horror adapted from the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer.


Opening with a meteorite crashing into a lighthouse we are soon introduced to Natalie Portman as Lena, a former soldier and scientist who is recalling her adventure inside an environmental entity called The Shimmer. She explains to a hazmat-wearing Benedict Wong about this ethereal alien mix of colour and DNA-adapted plants and animals. We flashback to her home life with her husband Kane (Ex_Machina’s Oscar Issac) who has gone missing inside the same anomaly but returns heavily scarred by his experience and Lena is asked to enter The Shimmer to find some answers.


The back and forth of timescales – as well as a female scientist who is dealing with a loved-one’s illness uncovering alien mysteries with a bunch of fellow academics – harks to Villeneuve’s Arrival, but Portman brings her own vulnerability that we’ve seen to great effect in Black Swan and last year’s underrated Jackie.


Teaming up with expedition leader Jennifer Jason Leigh, the team is rounded out by paramedic Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen, Tessa Thompson’s physicist and Tuva Novotny as a surveyor and geologist. But it’s Portman’s experience in cell division (the circle motif also reminiscent of Arrival) that seems to offer some explanation as to what is going on.


Garland uses some heavy-handed symbolism as the shimmering landscape is reflected in plastic wrap protecting her and Isaac’s home furniture, whilst later we are shown the glossy transparent vinyl surrounding his quarantined bed. This idea of protection and safe and dangerous zones is present throughout and Garland impressively gives us a colourful floral jungle full of Pandora-esque life – yet one that is full of unexpected tension. Despite the lightness and brightness, we are only given us much information as the explorers so their journey into the unknown is also ours.


As they begin to experience shared memory loss and hallucinations, the feisty females stumble across the remnants of previous failed endeavours. Garland doesn’t shy away from the shocking scenes as camcorder footage reveals gruesome internal body horror the likes of which has not been seen since Prometheus. An intriguing plot slowly discloses more disgusting fleshy revelations and a fantastic scene involving the group turning on itself whilst a creature stalks their tied up bodies created a level of dread only the awful Alien: Covenant could dream of.


Yet, as well as the horrific, Garland provides a beauty contrary to the abominations they come across. As it is discovered that much of the environment is the result of cross-DNA development, vivid images of ice-trees and people-shaped plants dot the landscape and are as intriguing as the obvious terrors lurking in the unknown darkness.


The superbly designed overalls and backpacks and a brilliant female cast that audiences will get behind reminded me of how Ghostbusters got the same investigative para-scientific conceit so wrong. We are with this group of powerful female scientists every step, involving ourselves in their personal, scientific and emotional lives throughout their excursion.


Annihilation then ends up being an engaging piece of excellent sci-fi tropes and characters that have clear motivations and are well acted by the cast. An amazing score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow builds to a crescendo in the film’s final Giger-inspired sequence and although the film has ideas and themes seen elsewhere, Garland adds enough new to the mix to create a successful slice of intelligent story-telling.


I can’t help but feel however that, like the protagonists, our own journey into the unknown world of how Netflix will work in the future is a disordered fusion. The mutated mix of a home release and cinema experience is a conjoined mess that simply doesn’t work right now.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Jan 30 2017 04:52PM



Jackie (2017) Dir. Pablo Larraín


Covering the immediate 4 days in the aftermath of John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, this new biographical drama stars Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy and the whirlwind of emotions directly affecting her in the wake of this national tragedy.


Clearly doing her homework, Portman does a great impression of the widowed first lady although her ‘breathy’ tones were so over the top I headed to view more footage of the real-life Kennedy who does in fact enunciate in such a way.


With the fashionista look and vocal imitations down, Portman infuses the protagonist with a sense of steely nerve yet troubled nervousness and apprehension when the ‘society’ mask slips.


The film is structured around an interview conducted by Billy Crudup who prods and probes in an attempt to find the real woman behind the public façade as Portman’s assured Jackie attempts to confirm her husband’s place in history whilst only letting her guard down in brief flashes of honesty. Supporting her throughout is Peter Sarsgaard as Robert F. Kennedy and her White House helper Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman but Jackie is resigned to fighting for herself against the machinations and intentions of the Government – who want a smooth transition to maintain US political stability. This occurs at the same time as JFK’s body is moved and autopsied and many scenes show clashes of emotion played against the blunt actions of the authoritarian administration


A couple of unlikely cameos from Richard E. Grant as William Walton and the late John Hurt as Father Richard McSorley are physical manifestations of Jackie’s turmoil and focus the audience on the questions of life, death and meaning in the wake of a tragedy. In this instance, one that is played out in front of a national audience.


With a constant shift from public to private, and back again, director Pablo Larraín films many of the scenes in a Kubrick-esque one-point-perspective which both signifies institutional structures but maintains the focus on the lead performance as the world spins around her.


Culminating in a hard-fought battle for a colossal state funeral, the film shows the lengths in which the Kennedy name was to be protected for the future and were still being struggled for even after JFK’s death.


With a shining central performance from Portman who, along with the obvious tics and mannerisms, delivers a dominant performance of Jackie’s innermost thoughts, the film follows a period of personal interest to me but will hopefully gain traction with others. As an important part of history, and even with my particular bias (JFK is one of my favourite movies of all time), Jackie is a rare insight into the private world of a very public figure.


Mica Levi’s amazing score only serves to highlight the themes of loss, family and bereavement and Jackie feels like a focused project whose plus points are extremely well earned.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike

RSS Feed twitter