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By midlandsmovies, Apr 14 2017 10:07AM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog - Part 1


Passengers (2017) Dir. Morten Tyldum

This new science fiction film not only tackles space but focuses on questionable moral decisions as a star ship heads to a new planet before a malfunction sees Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wake from hypersleep 90 years too early. Despite his efforts, the isolated engineer is unable to fix his pod and with his only company being Michael Sheen’s android bartender, he decides to wake up another passenger for company.


Claiming her pod malfunctioned too, he revives Jennifer Lawrence’s Aurora who accepts her inevitable fate eventually as well. The film’s interesting premise then turns to rom-com territory as they work together and go on dates even though he’s the instigator of her inevitable death sentence. A Best Production Design nomination at the Oscars is more than deserved as the mix of Apple-esque design along with a great swimming pool sequence keeps the deep space visuals suitably awe-inspiring.


[Spoiler]. Eventually the film returns to its darker roots as Aurora finds out the truth and their relationship becomes as doomed as the failing ship yet it’s too little too late. Having to work together to save both their lives they eventually fall back in love. And here’s where the problem lies. Indiana Jones-alike Pratt has forced a death sentence on another human yet the film feels the need to have a soppy wrap up that sees our heartthrob heroes fall back in love. It’s honourable to see an original script getting the green light in Hollywood whilst getting 2 of the biggest stars on the planet (natch) doesn’t hurt your chances. However, with complex themes and multiple thought-provoking ideas ditched in favour of blockbuster action and an amorous narrative, I found myself wishing for something a bit deeper than the glossy end product. A fine but frustrating trip. 6/10


Death Race 2050 (2017) Dir. G. J. Echternkamp

A satiric sequel to the 1975 original, Roger Corman’s Death Race 2050 attempts to recreate the black humour of the former but using his name alone is enough for most film-fans to know where this feature will be heading. The level of quality audiences can expect is obvious from such a combination and it is clear what will be delivered. And deliver on that level it certainly does. The first 20 minutes or so a TV presenter introduces each driver and their background which is reminiscent of wrestling characters and, if you didn’t already know, these contestants are awarded points for killing people with their racing vehicles. Tagging on a political angle that the cars are in fact a kind of population control, this idea is almost entirely ditched for awfully filmed and constructed “action” sequences and terrible green-screen car conversations.


The dialogue is abysmal and embarrassingly delivered but I suspect all these choices are completely intentional. Films such as this and the Sharknado series sadly miss the point of hilarious bad films – which are all the more funny when being earnest. These deliberate and ironic attempts to create an appalling film miss that point entirely. If I had to choose one highlight it would be Burt Grinstead’s Jed Perfectus, an antagonist so over the top that I couldn’t help but warm to his shallowness and campiness straight from depths of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.


As an aside, the Wikipedia entry for the plot runs to 650 words but boils down to ‘cars killing people for entertainment’. If that sort of thing done on a zero budget with sub-pantomime performances is your thing then you’ll probably enjoy Death Race 2050. For the rest of us it’s simply a case of judging how much alcohol and how many friends needed at your home in an attempt to even get through this movie. Deathly boring 4/10


The Void (2017) Dir. Steven Kostanski & Jeremy Gillespie

With a background in producing low-budget, 80s-style horror-comedies, the directors ditch (some) of the more comedic elements from their previous outings to bring us The Void. This tale of terror follows a group of disparate characters holed up in a hospital after being surrounded by a KKK-alike clan of hooded menaces. The characters are a mix of criminals, vigilantes, cops, hospital workers and patients. These differences allow for a neat mix of conflicted drama as their separate personal journeys end up being tied together in their shared predicament.


With a focus on real-life special effects, the filmmakers wear their influences very much on their sleeve (obviously John Carpenter for a number of reasons) but their reliance on animatronic gore rather than CGI should be highly commended. This choice is not just for the retro-fans but modern audiences will hopefully get behind the real-life monsters rather than cartoony digital effects. Tentacles and facial disfigurements maintain the level of grotesqueness but as the film spiralled towards a more fantastical element, I began to lose interest. The acting is so-so and the story becomes too convoluted when I thought it could do with a dose of From Dusk Til Dawn straightforwardness.


Definitely aiming at the b-movie Carpenter crowd, the film should be praised for its originality as a new idea despite its HEAVY influences from the past. It’s also good to see its non-reliance on an existing franchise or named property. That said though, with so much harking back to the past, I felt the film’s ideas had been done better elsewhere and the conclusion’s mystical finale was a step-too far into the void for me. The Void ultimately becomes an honourable attempt that sadly fails to live up to the predecessors it borrows from. 5/10


Live by Night (2017) Dir. Ben Affleck

Based on the 2012 book by Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), writer/director Ben Affleck tackles bootlegging in Florida as Irish gangster Joe Coughlin who walks a tightrope between warring factions in the 1930s. Coughlin throws himself in at the deep end as he falls in love with Emma (Sienna Miller) who is the mistress of a Boston gang boss played by a nasty Robert Glenister. When he is blackmailed by the mafia about their liaison, he ends up committing a bank heist before Miller sets him up for a beating. After a spell in prison and with few options left he joins the mafia’s bootlegging business in Tampa which is still fighting the Boston faction over turf. Keeping up?


Well, the movie actually does a good job of setting this up but in half an hour, things move very swiftly. In fact, sometimes this is far too swiftly as characters enact a series of narrative set pieces rather than developing naturally. As Affleck settles into Florida, we settle into the movie and I found the film hit solid ground once it simplified the story as he brings gambling and booze to the south. Crossing paths with the KKK, his problems never end and a rather strange side plot of redemption involving a Sheriff’s daughter (a suitably brilliant turn from Elle Fanning) barely affects the story in any meaningful way.


The film’s final shoot out is exciting and after 2 hours I was surprised to find how much I was on Affleck’s side after all his silly decision making. If anything, the audience may just want something positive to happen to his down-at-luck doofy dunce. More Gangster Squad than Goodfellas, Live by Night is a fine Friday night distraction but is ultimately unmemorable in most departments. It captures the sleaze and some morbid inevitability of the gangster genre and there are some gruesome sequences which may keep the more macabre fan in their seat. Overall though, with this, The Accountant and his so-far disappointing Batman-related movies, I couldn’t help but yearn for the simplicity and unfussiness of Affleck’s masterful Oscar-winning Argo. 6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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