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By midlandsmovies, Apr 30 2020 09:52AM

The Platform (2020) Dir. Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia

From being trapped in an abusive household (The Invisible Man), to stuck in suburbia (Vivarium) to the rigid trappings of social hierarchy (Parasite) and the frustrating confined space seen in The Lighthouse, 2020 films seem to have predicted some of the real world angst caused by the current Coronavirus situation.

And with this year of lockdown films, new Spanish sci-fi The Platform arrives which tells the story of a man awakening in a ‘vertical’ prison with scarce access to food. Sound familiar?

In this construction, a table filled with gluttonous food gradually descends through the rooms, with the inmates randomly switching floors placing them at different points during their stay. And with those at the top taking first pickings, this leaves just scraps to those in cells at the bottom of the shaft.

Iván Massagué plays a dishevelled man called Goreng who arrives in his bare concrete abode with an older gent called Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) who explains the routine of this mysterious jail. As food comes down to their level, they get a predetermined time to eat what they can (or whatever is left over) before it makes it way further down to others.

A unique set up, the bare cells allow an audience to focus on the themes the film raises as well as the interesting and nuanced performances by the actors and their often feisty interactions with each other.

One day a bloodied woman arrives on the table who heads downwards looking for a child that may or may not exist. Whilst at the same time Goreng is held hostage by his cell mate who plans to eat his flesh as they end up on a low floor with barely any food to eat.

As they can converse with prisoners directly above and below them, Goreng pleads with others to ration more food out for those below as the inmates turn to desperate measures to survive.

From flesh eating and violent outbursts to bloody confrontations, The Platform may make your stomach churn at times. But that is not to say its gratuitous. Dealing as it does with poverty, wealth and societal structures, the shocking imagery serves to highlight the film’s deeper meanings.

Descending lower and lower into the depths of the prison, Goreng plans to send a symbolic message to those above in “control” and the film staunchly sticks to its sombre message of exploitation and ill treatment.

The brutalist but simple architecture of the set is somewhat reminiscent of a time long gone but its subject matter is so relevant today that its exploration of haves and have-nots feels suitably important.

However, The Platform provides this message in an extremely entertaining way. As although difficult to watch at times, this high-concept film provides engrossing dark drama, excellent acting throughout and fantastic production design. And these cinematic qualities are all tremendous as a cohesive whole, thus encouraging audiences to contemplate its ideas that unravel through its engaging narrative.

★★★★ ½

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2019 04:51PM

The Front Runner (2019) Dir. Jason Reitman

Depicting the rise of Gary Hart, an American Democratic senator and 1988 presidential candidate, and to be honest for this 1980s born UK film reviewer a complete nobody to me, The Front Runner is a new political drama from Jason Reitman. Although not a shoe in, Hart hits the campaign trail hard and asks journalists “to follow him around”. Bad mistake. After publishing photos of Hart having an extra-marital liaison with journalist Donna Rice, he takes a stand against the press by arguing his private life is none of their business. In a world not just before the internet but even before the 24-hour TV news cycle, Hart’s request seems silly and naïve by today’s standards. Hugh Jackman plays the senator as a strong-willed but foolish man and the film positions itself as a commentary about an historical turning point in the coverage of the private lives of public figures. However, it doesn’t do this successfully despite Jackman’s compelling efforts as the bemused senator. There is however good support from the always excellent JK Simmons (as Hart’s campaign manager), Vera Farmiga as his put-upon wife and Sara Paxton playing his mistress. Whilst I was one of only a few that thought Spielberg’s The Post was overrated, the cinematic flourishes and clever script of that film show up the flaws in this one. Consequently then, The Front Runner ends up being all surface with little depth, telling a sordid tale in a Wikipedia-style fashion, ticking bland boxes as it goes. ★★★

The Dirt (2019) Directed by Jeff Tremaine

From the director of 4 Jackass-related movies, comes along a new musical biopic in the footsteps of Bohemian Rhapsody about 1980s glam-haired shock rockers Mötley Crüe. Based on the book The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Neil Strauss – which I read whilst being on tour with my own heavy rock band – the story begins in 1980 when Frank Carlton Feranna Jr leaves his abusive home and changes his name to Nikki Six. It isn’t long before he is hooking up with drummer Tommy Lee (he of later Pamela Anderson fame), guitarist Mick Mars and vocalist Vince Neil. After well-received gigs in LA, the band are signed to a 5-album deal and their crazy rock antics get more and more extreme. From touring with Ozzy Osbourne (who ‘snorts’ ants and drinks urine) they go through a slew of wild parties, model girlfriends, overdoses and a car crash which ultimately results in a conviction of manslaughter for Vince. After the set backs the band go on to hit the top of the charts, sell platinum albums and go on a successful world tour. Douglas Booth (from Loving Vincent) as Nikki is the best of the bunch whilst the others give admirable facsimiles of the rest of the band. Unremarkable throughout, and as someone who liked Bohemian Rhapsody but acknowledged its pretty nondescript-recounting of the band’s life, this film goes further into mediocre TV-production wishy-washiness. With little cinematic flair, this is definitely a film for the fans in the main, as it never gets under the make-up and tasteless clichés of the band, something the book – written from each band member’s viewpoint – actually did pretty successfully. Dr. Feel“bland” ★★★

Triple Frontier (2019) Directed by J. C. Chandor

A Netflix original film featuring A-List superstars Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac and featuring a solid support cast of Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Adria Arjona and Pedro Pascal, Triple Frontier tackles a band of ex-soldiers who reunite for one big heist to rip off a Colombian drug baron. As Isaac tries to convince the team to get back together for one last big score (ensuring they’ll never have to work again obvs) the film’s first 25 mins moves at a pace but with little character development and a whole host of semi-retired-older-guys-getting-back-in-the-saddle clichés. After easily defeating the bland crime lord, who barely features to be fair, the guys load up their over-stuffed bags with cash. But their escape helicopter crashes as it is over the maximum weight owing to the greedy guts the guys have been. Director J. C. Chandor’s previous movie A Most Violent Year, also starring Oscar Isaac, was slow and measured – sometimes to a fault – but Triple Frontier is knuckleheaded and speedy – again, to a fault. The beginning had strong Predator-vibes – covert operation in the jungle - and to be honest I was hoping the film would go into sci-fi or horror territory to avoid the clichés it was delivering. The whole second half however shows the crew trying to get to a rendezvous point which had echoes of The Way Back (Peter Weir’s 2010 survival film) and the boredom sets in as the group slowly trudge back through different wildernesses. In the end, despite its big-name stars, the film disappoints on a triple front by being flat, flavourless and ultimately forgettable. ★★

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Oct 17 2018 01:19PM

Apostle (2018) Dir. Gareth Evans

This period horror is another “straight-to-Netflix” film from a well-known cinematic director and whilst that term is often thrown around as an insult of sorts, it’s films like Apostle which prove that rule to be seriously flawed.

Written and directed by The Raid 1 & 2 creator Gareth Evans, the film moves away from his international martial arts flicks to a pastoral production with very British sensibilities and influences

Set at the turn of the 20th Century, the film stars Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey, Beauty & the Beast, The Guest) as Thomas Richardson who travels to a Welsh island to find his sister who has been kidnapped by a cult. Sneaking onto a boat by swapping his ticket with a very unfortunate fellow he arrives with nothing but his clothes and begins an undercover search for his sibling.

The islanders are led by Prophet Malcolm Howe (Michael Sheen), who claims his followers are free but is also currently aiming to quell frustration as the crops of the land fail to grow.

Thomas follows the working routine by day but at night uncovers mysterious goings on involving secret passageways and a clandestine couple in love but Sheen and his fellow “soldiers” suspect their group has been infiltrated. And so they begin a counter search for the conspirator in their midst.

Gareth Evans ditches the urban interiors he is known for and films his new movie in many lush tones. The rolling green clifftops hint at a prosperity that soon fades to the dusty browns and yellows as the reality of death – both the crops and islanders themselves – begins to take hold.

Sheen as a somewhat false antagonist delivers a perfectly unhinged performance of man undone by his own hubris. And Stevens gives a solid turn as the every-man character needed for an audience to discover the truths behind the story’s mysteries along with him.

Whilst avoiding the action of his earlier films, Evans doesn’t scrimp from the visceral visuals however. Bone-crunching sacrifices and bloody stabbings hint at the director’s roots but with his more naturalistic approach, the gore has much more effect coming as it does in intermittent flashes rather than extended battle sequences.

The film’s biggest influence is very much The Wicker Man (the original) although there were times – with their ‘worship’ of the female/feminine and man with what-looked-like-a-bee-hive on his head – where echoes of Nic Cage’s atrocious remake popped into my brain. But aside from these visual similarities, the films couldn’t be further from each other.

An eclectic score with spooky percussion and the scraping screech of a violin string amongst other eerie drones was more than a fine accompaniment to the dark ideas of the movie. And as the narrative twists and turns Evans introduces some mild supernatural elements in the third act to keep things interesting.

With dismembering, torture and a “grinding” rack, Apostle mixes its exploitation roots with far more heady themes of community, Christianity and corrupt power. But Evans has balanced these sometimes disparate influences so well that they gel together without any fuss.

A support cast of Mark Lewis Jones, Paul Higgins, Lucy Boynton and Bill Milner round out roles that at first seem supportive but are then key to unlocking the narrative later on in the tale, and the whole ensemble delivers gripping drama throughout.

As mentioned at the start, Apostle was released in the UK on Netflix. And like Brigsby Bear, I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore and this year’s fantastic sci-fi Annihilation, Apostle is somewhat done a disservice with just a streaming release. Cinematic in style, production and themes, the movie is a dark and disturbing parable that is anchored by great performances. The actors, and Evans, help raise Apostle by infusing the movie with flavour, believability and a thematic depth rarely seen in your standard cult genre movie. A divine statement on spirituality and the supernatural.


Mike Sales

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