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By midlandsmovies, Nov 20 2019 03:46PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 7

This month we check out new releases YESTERDAY (from Danny Boyle), THE KING (from David Michôd), HAIL SATAN? (from Penny Lane) and BOOKSMART (from Olivia Wilde).

Scroll down to read the reviews:

Yesterday (2019) Dir. Danny Boyle

Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik in this musical fantasy where a guitar-playing shelf-stacker becomes the only person in the world to remember that The Beatles existed after he survives a bike-crash during a global blackout. The screenplay by Richard Curtis is suitably nimble and light-hearted and after discovering his predicament, Jack decides to take credit for the infamous songs of the Fab-Four’s back catalogue. The more than likeable Lily James plays Jack’s friend and possible love interest Ellie, and she helps him cut a demo of their greatest hits. With audiences going wild for the classic tracks, Jack’s career rushes to worldwide stardom with Ed Sheeran appearing as himself and a ruthless Kate McKinnon as Hollywood music manager Debra Hammer. Probably biased (and certainly a film for fans) my love for The Beatles definitely helped my enjoyment, as the film plays with the song titles, famous stories, the background of the band's music and we even get to visit their hometown of Liverpool. The support cast are also good, especially Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal as Jack’s parents who barely listen as he plays “his" new song "Let It Be" in the family front room. With over half of the budget reportedly going on the rights to The Beatles’ songs, every penny has been well spent with the tracks, and a score incorporating their various melodies, bringing joy and sadness in equal measure. With fun and jokey performances, heartfelt (and maybe schmaltzy at times) storytelling as well as the obligatory but still legendary music, everything comes together in this captivating comedy.


The King (2019) Dir. David Michôd

Back at University I did a course called Shakespeare on Screen and ever since I have been somewhat obsessed by how the Bard’s work has been adapted for movies. And so hopes were high for medieval drama The King which is inspired by Henry IV: Part 1, Henry IV: Part 2 and Henry V. With gorgeous cinematography by Adam Arkapaw, this Netflix period piece had all the fascinating elements of a deep dive into royal politics and war. However, despite a great start whereby the playboy Henry, Prince of Wales (Timothée Chalamet) reluctantly but successfully succeeds his war-mongering father, the film quickly veers into mind-numbingly dull drama and tediousness. The support is great, Joel Edgerton as Falstaff brings a lot of charm, Robert Pattinson as The Dauphin of France is a sleazy delight and Sean Harris is solid as the duplicitous William Gascoigne. However, the carbuncle-growing pace and lacklustre dialogue slows down every dramatic development of the plot to a complete standstill. As Henry eventually succumbs to the war merchants who desire the King to show his strength, the film STILL doesn’t draw your attention - wasting as it does every possibly interesting plot point. Stick with Olivier and Branagh for the definitive Henry V takes and avoid this wearisome run-though of Willy’s work.


Hail Satan? (2019) Dir. Penny Lane

A documentary about The Satanic Temple seems ripe for a warts-and-all exposé on the demonic practices of its debauched members but prepare yourself to be very surprised with new film Hail Satan?. The film opens with the background to the temple’s inception and the subsequent negative media coverage. From the 70s, the “satanic panic” labelled members outcasts at best – and murderers and abusers at worst. However, the film’s politics are much more centred on its tolerance and fight for religious freedoms. After a Ten Commandments monument is set up on State grounds in Arkansas, the group, led by Lucien Greaves (not his real name, and also his “real” name is not his real name), take steps to advocate the separation of church and state. This is done in the main by suggesting their statue of Baphomet (a goat-headed, angel-winged demon) should also be placed on the grounds to maintain impartiality. And more revealing, the film shows that far from the religious extremists that is suggested by its name, the group are dripping in self-conscious irony, media-awareness and tolerance of alternative lifestyles. Although the film shows some internal rifts within the temple's leadership, from after school clubs to the cleaning of beaches, the diverse members in fact commit themselves to well-thought out political and eco causes. At 95 minutes, Hail Satan? doesn’t overstay its welcome and disputes the spurious claims heaped upon the temple whilst exposing the hypocrisy of certain elements of far-right Christianity.


Booksmart (2019) Dir. Olivia Wilde

What a year it’s been for Olivia Wilde who starred in the fantastic A Vigilante earlier in 2019 (our review) and now in her directorial debut has delivered a more than pleasurable film about the anxieties of growing up. Beanie Feldstein is amusing as the studious Molly whilst her best friend is Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). After overhearing some gossip in the school bathroom, Molly comes to the conclusion they haven’t had enough fun before they go off to college. Convincing Amy they should attend a party the night before graduation, the two head off on an evening of adventure. With a sensitive, yet hilarious, journey into teen angst, sexuality, popularity and school chaos, Booksmart balances some coarseness with an emotional heft that is incredibly satisfying. At times, the film hits the beats of the similarly structured Superbad (2007) with the protagonists criss-crossing the city in search of a party whilst getting caught up with the cops, strangers and illicit substances. However, the two leads are simply wonderful and some off-the-wall sequences on a boat, at a murder mystery party and as toy dolls are a giddy joy. A poignant and affecting conclusion and some believable drama throughout, the balance of laughs and moving scenes were affecting and even the support cast bring real entertainment to their (sometimes exaggerated) roles. An impressive film, Feldstein and Dever bring real empathy and believability to their characters - whilst being hilarious at the same time - and Booksmart comes highly recommended as a fun night out for all.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Oct 28 2019 09:58AM

Outside the City

Directed by Nick Hamer


Intrepid Media

A tough watch from the beginning, Outside the City starts with a very elderly and frail man in bed who talks about the power, or not, of prayer. As bells begin tolling, we are introduced to the monks of Mount St Bernard Abbey.

The Abbey’s location near the M1 and within spitting distance of the power station is a nice contrast between the modern world and the archaic life lived by these spiritual men. The film mixes old photos, talking head interviews and measured shots of the Abbey itself in its rural Leicestershire location.

With the lack of “new recruits”, the current number of monks have dwindled through the years, sadly by death mostly. A self-described “contemplative monastic community of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance” their life of “radical discipleship” means early rising, endless prayer and their reflection of life.

Ironically, I found out about this information on their very informative website and from mobility scooters to business planning, the monks decide to take the Abbey’s continuation into their own hands by planning for what lies ahead in the 21st century.

Fighting against an ever-changing contemporary world, they decide to secure a better future by changing their farmland from dairy produce to a Trappist beer brewery. Which turns into a great success – even with fantastic YouTube reviews.

A heart-breaking final few days, and subsequent death, of one of the monks is an extremely difficult watch and as you hear stories from these men, you are enlightened to a life so different to your very own.

However, my own personal partisanship on the importance (or otherwise) of religion did hamper my enjoyment of the film somewhat. Seeing each man – we’re all aware of the side-lining of women in these institutions – throw away months and years was partly soul-destroying if I’m being brutally honest.

Recently I watched “Hail Satan?” – a documentary about the Church of Satan who, rather than the name suggests, work within the community and accept a range of other alternative-leaning free-thinking men, women and transgender people. And their involvement in improving, rather than ostracization, of society was far more aligned to my own outlook it must be said.

I certainly don’t think a film in any way has to align to the views of the reviewer – quite the contrary – yet although this film successfully challenged my own beliefs, the interesting and quirky beer-brewery narrative was essentially side-lined for a bit of an eye-rolling sermon about the continuation of their old boys’ club.

However, it is certainly not my place to tell anyone how to live their own life. That’s down to each and everyone’s own “calling” and I support individualism and independent decision-making which these devout monks had in holy spades.

Despite some fundamental differences on the topic, it has to be said that the film is as much about age as it is religion. It also does address some of the conflicts they face with modern views similar to my own, which was a positive acknowledgement of their current struggles.

Outside the City therefore ends as a very respectful look at devoted men and the ever-changing world they, and we, inhabit. It is also a well put-together film contrasting the past, present and future and gives a challenging glimpse into a bygone world which certainly got a strong emotional response from this reviewer. And although maybe not the same feelings will be had, I think its poignant themes and affecting questions will resonate with most audiences too with its thought-provoking comments on religious lifestyles.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 1 2019 10:31AM

Midlands Review - God's Broken Things

Directed & Written By - Joe Facer & Mark Wisdom


Filmed in the village of Morton in Nottinghamshire comes new film God's Broken Things.

Late at night Matthew, a young vicar, tears off his dog collar and turns to the bottle for comfort. He is waiting for a sign, a sign of approval from God. This evening will change everything, and he knows it. It will change the past, the present, and the future. For him and all those he holds close. Does God approve, does he even care?

There seems to be something of a fascination with men of the cloth on-screen of late. Productions of all sizes and scales are taking a look at priests, and more specifically the toll that their duties appear to take on them. God’s Broken Things is a prime example from the Midlands of this very thing. With echoes of BBC’s 2017 series Broken, this short film, written and directed by Joe Facer and Mark Wisdom, who also star in it, centres around a priest who is seemingly the heart and soul of the parish he works in, but who is bit of a flawed character himself.

The first thing that strikes you when watching the film is the way colours are used, almost as if they themselves are one of the film’s storytelling devices. Straightaway, the opening shots are all monochrome, and these switch to full colours when our protagonist experiences a flashback to more fondly remembered times. Combine this with a rather sombre score and you immediately get the feeling that our priest here is a man who is not at peace with himself.

So, with that, we shall get to the man of the hour, Joe Facer, who plays Father Matthew here. The emotional turmoil that he put across in his performance is only heightened by the many other elements of the film, as I previously mentioned. What I think he does very well on his own, however, is show that Matthew is determined to admit to the things he’s done and await whatever consequences may fall upon him.

For me, the entire main body of the project played out like some sort of confession, and Richard, played by Mark Wisdom, could be seen to be acting as a kind of God-like figure with the role he took. To me, there seemed to be a lot of symbolism within the film, and I think it’s one of those watches where the more work you’re willing to put into it, the more you will take away from it.

This is something that can be very well applied to the characters and the performances that have brought them to life here because they are very minimalist; there’s no major acting out by either actor here. Everything they do achieve is through subtlety, which in turn allows the viewer to work more with what it is they see, thus enabling them to view it in whatever way they see fit.

Another thing I liked about the film, which kind of ties into half of what I’ve just said, is that Matthew is presented as a man with a number of flaws. We learn throughout the film that he’s had his share of hardships in life, and that as a result he doesn’t totally believe himself fit to be in his line of work. It’s refreshing because too often we get the kinds of priests who are beyond ignorant to their own morality.

If I’m honest, it becomes boring. But here we get someone who is relatable because of the struggles they’ve experienced. It makes it easier to care about everything he says throughout the story.

God’s Broken Things is a definite watch for anyone who wants to see men of the cloth portrayed in a more human light, but also, if we take a look at the bigger picture, it’s probably a pretty good example of a hero who never necessarily wanted to be a hero. You can just take it for what it is, but I implore you to put as much effort into it as possible because you get more out it that way. Even as I’ve written this, ideas about what certain elements could mean or be interpreted as have kept coming to me, which is exactly the kind of thing I love. A gift that keeps on giving way after you’ve watched it. I must recommend!

Kira Comerford

Twitter @FilmandTv1010

By midlandsmovies, Aug 12 2018 07:50AM

Midlands Review - God’s Lonely Man

Directed by Waheed Iqbal (2018)

God’s Lonely Man is a 25-minute short film written and directed by Waheed Iqbal, starring Faraz Beg and Nina Johnston. It’s about faith, isolation and the internal struggle to choose the right path and resist evil.

Beg plays Noman, a young Muslim man in Birmingham who is isolated and disconnected from his peers. He faces the external pressures of racism and islamophobia while battling his own conscience and second-guessing his decision to be a righteous man given certain actions taken in his past. He’s confronted by The Whisperer, played by Nina Johnston, as she attempts to lead him astray by appealing to his ‘true’ nature. When push comes to shove and it’s time to make a moral decision, will he choose wisely?

I’m not sure what I expected going in, but God’s Lonely Man is certainly slower and more abstract than I was prepared for. There are long scenes of Noman walking alone in the dark, and a few scenes that are a blur of colours and shapes. It’s very dark visually, which may have been a conscious decision on the director’s part but does make it a bit hard to make out what’s happening at times. When the image is clear, though, some of the shots are superb – Noman framed against the window, the deadly closeups of the hammer, the fresh bright blood on the poor assaulted woman’s face as she stands under a streetlamp.

The use of colour is excellent, with the dark red light of desire and violence cropping up again and again. Iqbal knows how to use sound effectively too, accentuating the action on screen well and distorting it occasionally to help the blurry visuals disorient the audience. The music is a bit of a low point, sadly, as it’s often over the top and inappropriately dramatic.

I think more could have been made of the relationship between Noman and his peers (we have one scene where they ridicule him, but the moment is brief despite the scene being long) as it would have been interesting to explore that aspect of his struggle and its effect on his inner turmoil, especially given how the climax goes.

It’s unclear who he’s calling on the phone - symbolically, perhaps he is calling the good man he hopes to find within himself? It’s also a little unclear what actions he took in his past that makes him believe he is a bad man – because of the red light’s usage to symbolise desire in a previous scene, the violent red-lit scene in the shop could be an unfulfilled desire rather than an actual action he took. It would have been nice to have explored his past a little more, but that’s more of a personal preference here!

However, Beg gives a good performance as a conflicted loner, with his emotive expressions being the high point. His delivery is a little flat, but that matches the character as he’s overwhelmed by his choice and the lonely life he’s leading. Johnston is superb as his foil, all smiles and delicious glee as she pours poison in his ear to try and lead him astray. The scenes they share are among the best in the film, as is the climax itself. These are the moments the film shines.

All in all though, God's Lonely Man is a great short on a topic that seems to be rarely discussed, and it’s well worth checking out.

Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend

By midlandsmovies, Jul 19 2018 07:49PM

Mary Magdalene (2018) Dir. Garth Davis

Garth Davis (Lion) directs this new biblical drama about Mary from a small town called Magdala who joins Jesus and his disciples in 33AD from his initial teachings through to the crucifixion and his eventual resurrection.

After defying her family she finds a connection with Jesus’s words but joining his group causes conflict with the male disciples. Mary is played admirably by Rooney Mara (Social Network) whilst Jesus Christ superstar sees Joaquin Phoenix delivering a strange mix of bland universal platitudes to hoodwink people into his way of thinking and, strangely, a Roman age stoner.

The film’s slow pace tries to take some interesting new angles. There are hints upon celebrity culture as Jesus is mobbed by those wanting to be healed as well as the role of an women in Christian history.

Not being a huge fan of religious films owing to my own personal scepticism, the film rather dully goes through the motions delivering Jesus Joaquin’s career highlights - from healing the blind to the crown of thorns with rather ponderous and monotonous inevitability.

As films like these attempt to humanise Jesus with added realism, for me that approach makes his teachings seem more like the hokey nonsense of a rambling huckster. Call it religion, call it cultism, call it simply human nature – we have an inherent natural desire to follow a leader who provides us with answers to a chaotic world. Imposing meaning where there is none. Saying there is a plan and order when it’s simply chaos. And with a white man saviour complex – it is as blatantly “problematic” as anything in media today – here it’s magnified by one that’s changed the course of history.

Back to the film however, it was difficult to break through my own preconceptions on the subject but the cast do an admirable job of fleshing out the characters beyond their Bible quoting. Although the snail’s pace and constant staring into the distance began to further grate, one huge positive was the stunning locations used. Shot in multiple areas in Italy the film contained an array of amazing coastal vistas showing the beauty of the world whilst capturing the simplicity of life from a time long ago.

For me however, my cynical doubts around the subject simply couldn’t be broken through on a narrative, aesthetic or even cinematic level. Granted this would be hard to do with any film but the lack of engagement and dreary recounting of Jesus’s life gave this film no chance. In fact, it’s simply as dull as a Sunday sermon and one that I couldn’t wait to end.


Midlands Movies Mike

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