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By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:07PM



BlacKkKlansman (2018) Dir. Spike Lee


With a tight screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is adapted from the 2014 book of the same name by Ron Stallworth – a real-life detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s.


The plot sees African-American Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) join the Colorado police force only to be faced with racism from his own colleagues at every turn. After rising through the ranks through sheer determination, Stallworth attempts to join the KKK by answering an advertisement via phone. Setting up a meeting with clan elders, Stallworth then enlists the help of Adam Driver’s Detective (and Jewish) Flip Zimmerman who acts as Stallworth at the rendezvous.


As the KKK plan violent attacks, the two policemen work in tandem to take the group down whilst all the while hiding their intentions (and each other’s personas) from the members. Stallworth goes on to connect with the KKK Grand Wizard (a sleazy and naïve Topher Grace as David Duke) whilst he also dates Laura Harrier’s Patrice Dumas – a black student passionate about civil rights issues – which complicates things further as he witholds his police background from her.


A fantastic drama that expertly balances the ludicrous situation with the injustices of racism, Lee links the story to both horrors of the past - Harry Belafonte recounts the lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916 – as well as the film’s future – the movie ends with the disturbing footage of the 2017 Charlottesville protests and President Trump.


However, unlike The Post, which tries similarly to tie in past politics with modern concerns, the film’s metaphors are less heavy-handed and all the more powerful because of it. Stating its concerns as matter-of-fact and contextualising the historical significance of those events is Lee’s trump card.


Despite having to dramatise more than its fair share of the book, the film is entertaining away from its politics to keep audience’s engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of undercover officers and their methods to avoid detection.


Powerful and political, the film succeeds owing to the amazing delivery from all its cast but it’s the commanding performances of Washington, Driver and Harrier who make this a formidable criticism on the continued structural racism plaguing the USA.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Nov 23 2018 12:57PM



Chappaquiddick (film) Dir. John Curran


This film highlights an historical incident from 1969 when US Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car into Poucha Pond killing a girl called Mary Jo Kopechne and then focuses on the subsequent media fallout.


The main facts from the case make for dark inspection as Kennedy drives from a beach party and crashes into water before returning to the house where he asks 2 friends to assist. But after failing to rescue her they advise him to go to the police that night. But for some reason he doesn’t. He goes back to his hotel and back to bed. A man in shock or an act of political protection? Well, the film definitely portrays the latter.


So let’s be honest here, the film doesn’t make the Senator look in any way sympathetic. The car is subsequently found by members of the public and Kennedy returns to his family’s estate to instigate some serious media damage control.


Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy is fantastic and the film’s supporting cast is solid throughout. At the film’s conclusion we are told Ted continued in the U.S. Senate for 40 years – highlighting how that even when causing a death, nothing can really stop your career when you come from American royalty like the Kennedys.


Ed Helms, looking strangely like the manager from The Incredibles and Clancy Brown are the best of the rest whilst Bruce Dern is as cantankerous as ever as Kennedy senior. Kate Mara is strong but given the story, she is"offed" early in the movie - although her sympathetic portrayal makes Kennedy's actions all the more unfathomable.


The film is a solid biopic and if anything made me feel slightly disgusted by the actions on screen but doesn’t truly hold as much weight as it should other than Clarke’s captivating central performance.


The Kennedy family and their powerful friends have unsurprisingly called the film a “fabrication” but the film rightly sticks to its guns in order to remind us all of the political machinations of a country slowly falling away from its morals in a way that maintains the sleazy status quo. A passable political potboiler.


6/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 4 2018 07:46PM

Review - Movie Catch Up Blog 2018 - Part 4




Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) J. A. Bayona

The fifth film in the dino-giant Jurassic franchise, and boy does it feel like it. In the world of the soft reboot, what we get here is a re-tread of Spielberg’s disappointing sequel where a group of military personnel return to the infested island. As they try to retrieve precious DNA remnants, the animal's eco-system is disrupted by the impending eruption of a volcano which puts the remaining dinosaurs at risk of a second extinction. Why this is a problem remains a mystery as they can surely clone them all again? That was the first film’s point. Chris Pratt moves further from his great Guardians performance and slides into “Blando Hero-man” alongside Bryce Dallas Howard’s retconned footwear-obsessed power female. The film also takes a sharp 180 degree turn at the halfway point and we are soon in a Scooby-Doo esque haunted mansion where – and this is actually the story – a group of rich billionaires are buying and selling dinos in an underground laboratory. WTF? Reminding me of the human trafficking auction in Taken, the film flies off the rails with only a few hints of the skill Bayona showed in his earlier films The Orphanage and A Monster Calls. Boring and dull, Fallen Kingdom is somewhat unbelievably the 12th highest grossing film of all time which means there will most certainly be another - but count me out of this dead-as-a-dodo theme park attraction. 5.5/10




The Meg (2018) Dir. Jon Turteltaub

More monstrous-sized nonsense in this actioner starring everyone’s favourite knees-up-muvva-brown geezer Jason Statham. Back in 2015 for my review of Wild Card I said, and I quote, Statham “often plays the same ex-cop/gangster/trained assassin/cage fighter/thief with violent skills who attempts to go straight, but is pulled in by circumstances beyond his control”. And unsurprisingly here, he is a retired and disgraced diver whose skills are needed when he returns to investigate an ocean anomaly, despite his suspect past and *cough* his attempts to leave his aquatic life behind. As quick as you like he’s back in the saddle, or should that be scuba, and thus begins a sub-Deep Blue Sea monster movie with awful CGI and atrocious acting. Films that hope to be ironic b-movies tend not to work unless you go “full pastiche”. So, The Meg’s hammy performances and plastic special effects are not ironically bad, they’re just bad. Director Turteltaub helmed the fun guilty pleasure National Treasure movies yet this is neither family fun nor satisfying grindhouse splatter-fest. The Meg sadly handles its efforts in both genres terribly badly. Some may find a bit of Saturday night excitement in its glossy shark sequences but for me the film was simply mega disappointing. 4/10




Tag (2018) Dir. Jeff Tomsic

During the end credits of Tag there is real-life camcorder footage of the men who inspired this new American comedy from Jeff Tomsic and it’s indicative of the film’s quality that those few minutes are far more interesting than the preceding 2 hours. Based on the real-life story of a group of grown adults who play a game of “tag” (“it” in the UK) for one month of the year, Ed Helms plays Hoagie who stalks his friends Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress and Isla Fisher. He then convinces the old gang to play one final game before ‘retirement’ by tagging their elusive friend Jeremy Renner who has never been tagged despite years of attempts. With Renner on the verge of marriage, the group try to tag him during his wedding planning but his 'Bourne' skills sees Renner using Hawkeye-style reflexes to avoid their juvenile attacks. A few fine jokes and some rip-roaring editing still cannot overcome the fact that, for me, a documentary on the actual participants – who still play to this very day – is where the true entertainment would lie. With Blockers and Game Night both tackling the “adults playing at kids games” theme as well, Tag sadly doesn’t have anything close to the fun found in those. And with its TV-style filming, a strangely maudlin ending and its one-trick-pony idea Tag is definitely not “it”. 4.5/10




The First Purge (2018) Dir. Gerard McMurray

How did The Purge start? Well, this is the film to answer the question that no one was really asking but as with the other films in the series, this 4th franchise instalment tackles some deeper issues than your regular b-movie thriller. In the mid-21st Century, we are told via news footage that the fascist New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) are launching an experiment on Staten Island where citizens can commit crime consequence-free for 12 hours. The film follows local drug gangs, a criminal called Skeletor and young anti-purge activists throughout the night as they fight off the expected (and unexpected) participants of The Purge. With a mainly black cast, the film also discusses issues of community, poverty, substance abuse and even has Ku Klux Klan members and black-faced mercenaries. Not just a throwaway action-flick for sure.


In my review of The Purge: Election Year I explained how the “anthology” nature of The Purge series has allowed it to explore more interesting themes than similar low-budget fare, whilst also allowing young up and coming talent to take centre stage amongst its cast. And good turns from Y'lan Noel as Dmitri, Lex Scott Davis as Nya, Joivan Wade as Isaiah, Mugga as Dolores and Christian Robinson as Capital A mean everyone delivers more than fine performances throughout. With “weighty” films like Black Panther, The Post and Black Klansman all tackling lofty themes, it’s great that The Purge gives them all a run for their money with its social commentary alongside b-movie bloodshed. With the authorities trying to stir up hatred with militias, The First Purge (and the others in the series) has used its silly premise to turn a mirror on to the problems currently facing America. And through inventive costume design, handheld camera and a pumping soundtrack, uses its non-mainstream genre to explore the far darker, but no less important, aspects of politics and policymakers. 6.5/10


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Sep 28 2018 02:31PM



Midlands Review – Voice of Belief


Voice of Belief (2018)


Directed by Alastair Railton


Fresh AIR Films and Media


“Good evening. An attack in Central London tonight has claimed the lives of seven”.


And so opens new film Voice of Belief from Grantham born Alastair Railton who directs and writes this new political thriller about freedom, oppression and belief.


Inspired by Charlie Chaplin's speech in the Great Dictator, the film attempts to create a modern take on the subject matter and give it a more relevant and up-to-date context.


The story follows anarchist revolutionary Jason Argyll (Simon Crudgington) who captures negotiator Ellen Turner (played by Astrid Bellamy) before his planned political speech to be broadcast around the globe.


The film sets up its world with Matrix-esque electronic codes alongside images of wealth in the form of wine and dollar bills. Voices in a variety of languages show this is a global issue as we are told of terrorist atrocities against the "1%ers" on the streets in a violent campaign from the “Argyle” movement and its network of followers.

Argyll’s hostage is tied to a chair which is an image ripe for the local film scene right now – see Sheikh Shahnawaz’s Witness and GM Finney’s Thursday – before they engage in a war of words over the group’s global goals.


As they discuss the world’s infection by “corporate elites”, we get an update on Chaplin’s speech including nods to modern technology such as the hacking of government databases, alluding to the recent tactics of groups such as Wikileaks.


The great cinematography from Adam Hudson uses cinematic colour grading and extensive silhouette work which gave the film a sheen of quality. However, the beige warehouse exterior needed some more texture and depth.


The above wouldn’t be as much of an issue but the film has an awful lot of dialogue. And I do mean a lot. Ditching the old adage about showing not telling, almost the entire first half of the film’s 28-minutes is expositional conversation as the two leads discuss their ideologies back and forth.


Unfortunately then, it begins to tie itself up in some cod-philosophical platitudes which dance around vague concepts. “Every society needs leadership”. “I agree”. Maybe it’s my own political leanings but it’s difficult to get on board as many of the themes are far too widely drawn.


The second half feels much more coherent though. The back and forth diatribe and talk of political machinations are ditched for a more intriguing tone featuring gun standoffs, tension building and heightened passions.


As well as this, we get some new visuals in the form of a day-dream and the dialogue shows more variation in what is being talked about.


Here it could be said Railton is figuratively depicting Chaplin’s speech when it references the “Kingdom of God is within man”. Although technically a woman in this case, Ellen Turner imagines the green rolling fields of her own Eden as she contemplates her future.


As the film builds to its crescendo, the balaclava-wearing supporters get their guns at the ready as an attack on their compound is imminent. Argyll starts to deliver his sermon direct to camera in a scene eerily akin to today’s terrorist messages.


And a sermon it is. Here the dialogue came across a little preachy and you could argue that this man sounded like every other hate preacher. With the two extreme viewpoints in opposition throughout – violence for getting what you want or blindly accept the status quo – the film doesn’t exactly sit in the grey area it alludes to.


Simon Crudgington does his best to raise some sympathy with his impassioned delivery and ends his vocal calling with a wry smile suggesting a glimmer of hope.


It has been said that bad men often come along promising easy solutions to complex problems. The lead here does somewhat the same and the film would have benefited from some more self-awareness. “I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier”, someone once said. As so it goes.


Despite all this, I can’t help but recommend the film. With two performers busting under the weight of lofty dialogue the film at least attempts to tackle complex subject matter whilst not always hitting its mark. And although you have to wade through the first half to get to the drama, the film will certainly make audiences think about wider issues. Taking international themes, Railton uses a local cast to create a new adaptation of a cinematic classic that will have you questioning your own beliefs. Which is no bad thing at all.


Mike Sales


Voice of Belief will be showing in Grantham at the Guildhall Arts Centre on Saturday the 13th of October from 2:30pm


Check out the film’s Facebook page to follow the latest updates and screenings

https://www.facebook.com/Voice-of-Belief-1591952617567805/


By midlandsmovies, Jul 29 2018 06:43PM



Sicario 2: Soldado (2018) Dir. Stefano Sollima


As a fan of Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 film Sicario (review here), I described his cross-border drama as a “taut thriller with fantastic performances…with a tight and efficient script and a strong central showing from [Emily] Blunt”. With excellent Roger Deakins’ photography, it has to be said that the film wasn’t screaming out for any kind of sequel but here we are and with the director, Deakins and Blunt all missing, the film has direct-to-Netflix written all over it.


However, with stars Josh Brolin and Benico Del Toro returning alongside a strong support cast including Catherine Keener, Mathew Modine, Elijah Rodriguez and Isabela Moner, the film is far better than anyone could have predicted. More of a spin-off than a true sequel we begin with a suicide bombing caused by Islamic extremists coming across the Mexican border. Brolin’s Matt Grave is tasked by the FBI to start a war between rival drug cartels to try and divert their attention. So he hires Del Toro’s black operative to stage a kidnapping of a warlord’s daughter (Isabela) to pin on their rivals.


Another cross-border vehicle chase is again the central highlight and the first 30 minutes have a mix of story setting and character development. However, the drama is slow, almost stopping at times, and the representation(s) of America’s enemies haven’t been this broad since the Art Malik’s Middle East caricature in True Lies.


Almost Robocop levels of fascism abounds at the start – yet without the satire – but the film’s positives help dilute some of the more problematic cultural themes and more nuanced questions are asked in the third act. Brolin and Del Toro provide amoral masculinity to the proceedings – Blunt is sorely missed as an antidote to this machismo – but their changing allegiances keep the narrative unpredictable and story threads involving.


[Slight spoiler] After its proved the bombings were nothing to do with the Mexico gangs, the FBI plans to erase all ties to their horrid plan. With the young Isabela being the pawn to sacrifice, Del Toro’s change of conscience is a thorn in the authority’s sides and figures he and Isabela themselves need to illegally cross back over the border to the USA.


With scenes of shocking violence and a side story about a boy being drawn into gangs developing into a major plot point towards the film’s end, Sicario 2 more than delivers as a hard-hitting slice of uncompromising cinema.


Without the holy trinity of Villeneuve, Deakins and Blunt – not to mention the tragic loss of the original’s composer Jóhann Jóhannsson – the film had huge sandy shoes it needed to fill. However, whilst a little rough around the edges, a strong script, a cast of dedicated performances and a moody score from Hildur Guðnadóttir, Sicario 2 shoves its problematic politics right in the audience’s face. Simply telling them to deal with it. The ruthless scenes are a stark reminder that audiences should be challenged to get them thinking whilst the film does this alongside some unforgiving excitement and entertainment.


8/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jun 28 2018 01:47PM



Entebbe (2018) Dir. José Padilha


Entebbe is an historical thriller from José Padilha recounting the story of the 1976 hostage rescue by Israeli forces named Operation Thunderbolt. When Air France Flight 139 is hijacked en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, the plane is refuelled, and passengers and crew held hostage at part of Entebbe airport in Uganda whilst a ransom of $5 million and the release of 53 pro-Palestinian militants is demanded.


Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike as Brigitte Kuhlmann and Rush’ Daniel Brühl as Wilfried Böse play two German terrorists who take control of the plane but once landed, their high-risk endeavour is super ceded by a Palestinian group working with dictator Idi Amin to ensure their demands are secured.


As families are split into Israeli and non-Israeli groups, we cut to Lior Ashkenazi as Yitzhak Rabin and Eddie Marsan as Shimon Peres who antagonise each other to show the complex machinations of the Jewish government as they seek to find a resolution. However, the film’s politics are delivered in a heavy-handed way with its “if we don’t talk, there will never be peace” message so in your face that the dialogue explicitly repeats it twice in the last 20 minutes. What audience would want subtext, eh?


This heavy-handed approach is further muddled by extensive footage of the Batsheva Dance Company performing a modern routine to the traditional Jewish song Echad Mi Yodea. Although there is an obvious crossover in the stories, this abstract interpretation is so strangely edited into the movie at different narrative points, any parallel topics it tries to infer are lost as the flow of the film disappears.


The poor stop-start nature of the film is improved by the strong performances of Pike and Brühl who go through a range of emotions as their loyalties and commitment to the cause is tested. As diplomatic efforts fail, an inevitable counter operation by IDF commandos led Angel Bonanni as Yonatan Netanyahu is approved, and the finale is a so-so edited, but much needed, shoot-out at the airport.


Its closest relative is Spielberg’s 2005 Munich but without that director’s flair, background and more complex structure, Entebbe is a fine political thriller but is almost all surface and no depth. A fine way to while away a few hours of your time but you’ll get none of the complexities of the politics at play.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, May 5 2018 09:47AM



The Post (2018) Dir. Steven Spielberg


Is there anything worse than the comment “oh, it’s so the film we need right now”? I think not, and Spielberg doubles down on this statement and runs with it in his ‘analysis’ of the politics of 1970s newspaper journalists and their attempts to expose corruption, in his new flick The Post. In short, what we get is a few Oscar-worthy actors (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks) idly going through their high-quality motions as they discuss the repercussions of the Washington Post publishing Vietnam secrets buried in the Pentagon Papers.


With Spielberg’s track record, you’d expect nothing less than a well-constructed film but I found its constant pandering to topical issues so heavy-handed that the obvious parallels with current concerns about the US administration were undermined by a rather obvious delivery.


Spielberg’s floating camera and long takes are noticeable as we follow the newspaper’s owner (Streep as Katharine Graham) who is shown having her words literally taken from her mouth by male colleagues at board meetings even though the newspaper is in her hands. Spielberg tackles sexual politics as well as governmental politics, as she is shown physically placed behind groups of males and pushed out of the picture. But once they get hold of these confidential papers, she rises to take a stand and prepares to defy the newspaper's lawyers and publish the damning documents.


Early on, the Washington Post are banned from covering the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter' which parallels Trump – who is another grandiose self-obsessed and ugly White House figure much like Nixon himself. A clever highlight for me was showing Nixon from a distance – literally spying on him – like he did on others, and was a great way to foreshadow Watergate along with the constant shady phone-calls throughout.


Alongside this, the actors are often framed in silhouette – with illumination coming from windows (a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel) – whilst Spielberg also uses slow zooms to echo the surveillance style of The Conversation and other political thrillers from the time. A 4-way telephone conversation hints at crossed-wires and the soundtrack has a mix of John Williams echoing his own JFK melodramatic strings with some of his Catch Me If You Can retro style.


Spielberg’s masterful control of the medium is without peer and his close-ups of the intricacies of the printing press were a beautifully staged montage of a technology long-gone. And the endless piles of paper the journalists sift through are here today in an aternative electronic format as seen on Wikileaks. Old fashioned but still powerful.


It’s just that my personal taste is predisposed to be wary of “topical” films like this obvious attempt. And The Post feels very by-the-book. The movie comes along with a well-respected filmmaker choosing the most blatant of tropes – “Hey, Nixon is like Trump! These secret papers are like Wikileaks! Journalists are being oppressed today!” Relevent? Yes. Rather tedious and obvious to all? Sadly I’d argue yes again. And hugely to its detriment.


For me, it is so representative of his two-trick pony current output – political allegories like Bridge of Spies, Lincoln and War Horse and his sub-par CGI heavy flicks like Tintin, BFG and Ready Player One - as films that haven't touched me in the way his past classics have. The Post therefore ends up going through the motions like a well organised print of a newspaper and this rag is ultimately disposable at the end of the day.


6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, May 9 2017 01:48PM



Miss Sloane (2017) Dir. John Madden


Helmed by the very British Shakespeare in Love and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel director, John Madden, Miss Sloane could not be further from the anglo-centric films of the director’s past. Focusing on American political lobbyists as it does, the movie rests squarely on the shoulders of a tour-de-force performance from Jessica Chastain as the title lead.


Chastain is ruthless lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane who is head-hunted by Mark Strong to support new gun law background checks. From media appearances to back-room meetings, Sloane is shown to be a duplicitous player of rumour, conjecture and debate. Using every piece of information at her disposal including campaign secrets, it is to Chastain’s skill that she manages to keep the audience on her side throughout.


However, the film is shown in parallel to a future trial where she is summoned to a committee who submits evidence that accuses her of breaking Senate laws.


Ballsy and brash, Chastain doesn’t play a one-dimensional character as there is an element of vulnerability at play as she seeks love (albeit of the clandestine sexual type) from a male gigolo. A strong supporting cast rounds out the fine acting talent on show and sees Mark Strong as her “boss” – although she never follows a word he says – and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as her media intern Esme Manucharian.


Despite sworn to secrecy, Sloane uses her intern's history to illuminate her arguments on TV and the constant conflict is not only between the rival lobby groups but within her own team who dislike her less-than-trustworthy ways.


Having already been won over by the central performance and the tight script, the film concludes with somewhat of a twist ending I didn’t even see coming. But all of the narrative – and almost all of the scenes throughout – squarely rests at the door of Chastain. Along with Rebecca Hall in Christine, it’s an intense single piece of acting that without which the movie would simply fall apart.


With the only criticisms being a slide towards melodrama in a few scenes and some un-cinematic set design, the film however is a well-made and brilliantly paced character study that covers both personal and political themes of fighting against establised norms.


8.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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