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By midlandsmovies, Oct 3 2019 01:42PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 4

Now deep into the second half of the year, there's more films being released in cinemas, on video-on-demand and home format than we can keep up with but we have three new reviews of some of the latest releases out there. In this review catch-up post we take a look at SKIN, MA & CHILD'S PLAY.

Skin (2019) Dir. Guy Nattiv

Jamie Bell plays real-life ex-white supremacist Bryon "Pitbull" Widner in this new dark drama asking whether a racist can be reformed. At various white-power gatherings, Bell acts as father figure to new recruits but begins to doubt his own convictions when he meets Danielle Macdonald as Julie Price and becomes an actual surrogate dad to her two children. Based on an amazing true story, Bell’s Neo-Nazi is covered in tattoos, including significant ones to his face and so the drama is punctuated with gruesome flash-forwards of tattoo removal scenes as his past is literally burnt away. The film has dashes of Imperium and American History X as it tries to get under the surface of the ugly face of American fascism.

Starting with eerily prescient scenes from 2009, the film mellows slightly in the middle before Bell makes a desperate call to a man who is trying to help people leave behind their Neo-Nazi past. As Bell denounces his previous life, he erases his tribal ink along with it. Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’) delivers a warm turn as the empathetic wife, whilst Bell is great as the former skinhead. With a multifaceted performance, he looks for something (or someone) to blame but then takes control of his own life to make it better. With a timely subject matter, Skin delves into themes we’ve seen before but this almost unbelievably true life story gives hope to a better world by erasing, and learning from, one’s past mistakes. ★★★★

Ma (2019) Dir. Tate Taylor

Director Tate Taylor made 2011’s The Help which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture before his adaptation of The Girl on the Train earnt more than $122 million worldwide but what he is doing with Ma is anyone’s guess. Billed as a psychological horror, the film neither provides any depth to the psychological part and little in the way of horror either. In fact, 45 minutes in and all we have is a group of terribly broad and clichéd teenagers partying at a house owned by “Ma” (Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington) who has lured the group to her basement as a place to consume alcohol under the relative ‘safety’ of her adult supervision. However, a humiliating incident from Ma’s past has built up a psychopathic resentment and her initial concern and protectiveness for the teens’ well-being slowly descends into ludicrous revenge sub-plots. Octavia Spencer, who was so excellent in Hidden Figures, does her best to hold the film’s under-developed aspects together but she cannot overcome the film’s rather large flaws. Unlike suggested in the trailer, the horror is sparse and the first terrible thing Ma does is at 1 hour 10 minutes into the film. Given the credits rolled at 1 hour 32 minutes, it really is a missed opportunity for what looks, on paper, to be an interesting set-up. The sewing of a teen’s mouth shut hints upon the gore and nastiness a film like this really should have had more of, but Ma ends up being a pretty terrible and boring film with a solid idea spoiled by its sub-par execution. ★★

Child's Play (2019) Dir. Lars Klevberg

80s video-nasty Child’s Play gets a technological upgrade in this reboot about a killer doll on a murderous rampage. Unlike earlier films in the franchise, the conceit here is rather than a killer’s soul being magically transferred to a toy doll, the recently released “Buddi” is a misfiring high-tech toy that interacts with other products from the Kaslan Corporation who make it. After a suicidal employee at a Vietnamese toy factory decides to disable the safety protocols of one of the dolls on the assembly line, the corrupt product ends up in 13-year old Andy’s hands. Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a shy youngster who lives with his single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and names his doll “Chucky" (oh-oh). Before long, the doll has murdered the family’s cat and decapitated his mum’s boyfriend after hearing Andy bad-mouth both of them. The film wisely takes broad aim at consumerist culture but the comedy-horror works well in the style of 80s fare like Gremlins as the characters never nod-and-wink to the audience. This makes the dark comedy all the more funny. From table saws, blood spurts and a horrifying scalping, the required gore is present and the film’s young child actors are pleasantly relatable. Some 80s clichés work themselves in too – the investigator, the adults who don’t believe their kids, a finale in a department store – and these help solidify the tone in which the film aims for. Mark Hamill does great with his Joker-infused tones as the voice of Chucky also. Much better than it has any right to be, Child’s Play digital modernisation respects the origins of that first film and whilst it won’t win any high-brow awards, for this sort of thing it’s surprisingly entertaining. ★★★

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jun 6 2016 08:32PM

Race (2016) Dir. Stephen Hopkins

The story of black athlete Jesse Owens and his struggles against racism, family and eventually the entire world at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is the focus of this new film from Stephen Hopkins who also made the biographical The Life & Death of Peter Sellers.

Stephan James gives a winning turn as Jesse Owens, a talented young athlete from a poor background who makes it to Ohio State University where he is mentored by trainer Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Sudeikis is probably one of the most slap-able men in movies but is surprisingly good here with perhaps his best performance – especially in a dramatic role - I've ever seen him give.

The period dress, costumes and locations are excellent but a slight overuse of CGI to recreate 1930s streets, buildings and skylines, as well as some “fake” crowds, are stylised akin to Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Why they bother with this rather than an augmented shot is beyond me but The Panic Room-lite location titles were a better touch.

As Owens fights institutionalised racism at his college (and the public at large), the American Olympic Committee discuss the politics of boycotting the Summer Games.

Jeremy Irons as (future International Olympic President) Avery Brundage plays the sceptical American who receives assurances of Nazi pledges of non-discrimination whilst clashing with William Hurt as Jeremiah Mahoney who supports a boycott. After visiting Europe, Irons’ character soon sees the duplicity of his German hosts (notably Goebbels) and the USA eventually agree to take part.

The segregation and racism is an abhorrent echo to the cruel realism of the past and Owen faces tough choices with his family and his fame. Side stories on German’s film propagandist "Leni" Riefenstah and Owens’ friendship with Carl Ludwig "Luz" Long flesh out the narrative with added historical events.

After Luz helped Owens qualify for the long jump (by moving his mark) and then congratulating him (in front of Hitler no less) Owens once said, “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment”. A phenomenal part of history.

From the back of a bus to a national (and international) icon, Owens begins to understand what his controversial participation in the games means to different communities but with fellow athlete Eulace Peacock’s support, he decides to go and “stick it up Hitler’s ass”.

I write this on the weekend of Muhammad Ali’s passing – another iconic athlete whose career was equally mired in topics of race – and the issues the film raises seem eerily prescient and brought a tear to my eye being with its emphasis on a story of hope. Owens’ legacy is far longer than the races he ran but his journey in fighting for what was right and ultimately changing others' attitudes is an important one captured here in a fine film.

With Creed, Concussion, The Program and now this, 2016 has provided a wealth of sports films for fans and Race is a movie that makes you want to read more on a subject which is a rare commodity. Breaking track and field records alongside breaking barriers in America, I recommend you take a chance with this winning film as, despite its shortcomings, is one worth investing your soul in.


Midlands Movies Mike

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