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By midlandsmovies, Nov 4 2017 05:25PM



War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) Dir. Matt Reeves


In this electrifying conclusion to Reeves’ ‘Apes’ reboot/prequel trilogy, the sci-fi action focuses even further on the drama between the simians led by Caesar and the remaining humans left on earth. Andy Serkis once again returns to play Caesar in a performance that, if not least equals Serkis’ turn as Gollum, comes pretty darn close and maintains his status as the premier motion capture actor working right now.


We pick up a few years later where a rogue paramilitary group (Alpha-Omega) led by Woody Harrelson’s intense Colonel, fight with the ape clan and after Caesar orders the release of some captured soldiers as a peace-offering, its unsurprising it falls on deaf human ears. Returning at night, the Colonel kills Caesar’s wife and eldest child and thus begins a journey of revenge by the elder chimp which conflicts with his call for pacifism shown in the previous movies.


Service apes called "donkeys", which previously followed Koba, are in the hands of Harrelson’s group – further complicating the dynamic – and it is this depth that sets the film far from many of the 2017 summer blockbusters. As Caesar and his advisor Maurice (an orangutan played brilliantly by Karin Konoval), and friends Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) and Rocket (Terry Notary) head to the military base, they pick up a mute human girl as well as another chimp named “Bad Ape”, rendered beautifully in a nuanced performance of humour and heart by Steve Zahn.


The ape clan are captured and imprisoned into forced labour to build a wall to stop an approaching army who plan to halt the madness of the Kurtz-like Colonel as Harrelson resorts to killing humans as it is revealed the Simian Flu virus has mutated. Reeves’ masterful control of simple camera set-ups allows the drama to be played out and it is this character building that ensures an audience can empathise with the CGI creations. And what CGI! I would go as far to say this film has some of the best, if not the best, animation of animals ever seen and the close-up shots are phenomenal as we capture every breath, curl of the lip and angered brow on the apes’ faces.


Reeves’ handling of the CGI is perfect and his themes of torture, slavery and eventually sympathy and regret, are all fantastically well-delivered. Personally, I thought it better than its predecessor and with an ending that had me wanting to know more of the clan’s journey in this world, the movie wraps up with a sense of sadness yet hope.


From monkey clowning to tearful tragedy, Reeves’ focus on emotion over spectacle ensures that when the action does arrive you care about those involved – even computer-generated ones. Is it time for the Oscars to reconsider that Best Performance Capture category? On the basis of this dazzling display, I surely hope so.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Nov 2 2017 09:31AM



Okja (2017) Dir. Bong Joon-ho


After the fantastic Snowpiercer – a train-based sci-fi dystopia that got bogged-down in UK release legal limbo but was our 3rd favourite film of 2014 – the South Korean director returns with an excellent tale of animals and social responsibility.


Bringing along Tilda Swinton from Snowpiecer and adding Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins and Jake Gyllenhaal, the real star(s) of the show are child actress Ahn Seo-hyun and her oversized gene-spliced pig-walrus pet Okja.


Swinton plays Lucy Mirando whose shady corporation are conducting a ‘superpig’ breeding competition around the world and, after many years, select a winner. This happens to be Okja who is based far away in the countryside with Seo-hyun’s Mija. And from frolicking around woods and streams, Bong pulls at the heart-strings from the outset. The two have a chemistry that carries beyond the screen, which is quite the feat given the animal’s CGI rendering, but warm personality shines from both the loveable pet and its protective owner.


The corporation attempts to take Okja to be crowned in New York City but are intercepted by the Animal Liberation Front (led by Dano) who aim to expose the abuse the company inflicts on animals. With truck chase action and a thrilling sequence with Okja causing public destruction in a brief escape, Bong adds excitement and intensity to the film’s moral conflicts. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a mad scientist called Wilcox and steals the show with a pantomime performance as he tests, breeds and tortures poor Okja in horrific scenes made all the more harrowing by his disturbed control freak.


The film questions the meat industry by shining a light on shady practices and slaughter-house gruesomeness and my only gripe that – and as a meat-eater I take full responsibility for my choice – he wears his position so visible on the film’s sleeve that it becomes slightly ‘preachy’ towards its conclusion.


That said, even this old carnivore was made to think about the responsibilities and moral justifications about an industry that prioritises mass culling over individual animal rights. And I think many others will feel that too in a fantastic drama about ethics and culpability. And if you don’t fall for and root for the adorable Okja then you may already be dead inside.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Oct 10 2017 09:26AM



Loving Vincent (2017) Dir. Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman


My own love for Vincent stemmed from a project on The Netherlands in primary school all the way to imitating his artwork (and others in the post-impressionist movement) for my A-Levels so I was excited to hear about the development of this unique film.


If you have yet to hear, Loving Vincent is a hybrid animation/real-life film in a similar vein to Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Like those films drawings were placed on top of acted out and pre-recorded scenes – its inherent strange rotoscoping perfect for the latter’s Philip K. Dick source material. Here however each frame of the film (around 65,000 of them) is an oil painting. 100 plus artists used Van Gogh-style painting techniques to capture the feel and style of his varied body of work.


The film’s story is a mystery concerning the investigations of Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), a distant friend of the Van Gogh’s whose father, Chris O'Dowd as Postman Roulin, sets him on a trail to deliver one of Van Gogh’s last letters. Arriving in the village of Auvers-sur-Oise, he speaks to a number of people who interacted with the infamous painter who each describe their relationship with the artist during the last few weeks of his life.


The film flashes back from the colourful brushstrokes of his later portraits and rural landscapes to a more realistic black and white palette during the recollections of past events which is a brilliant nod to his developing styles from one stage of his life to another.


From an introduction at The Night Café (1888) and Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin (1841–1903) the film deliberately introduces locations and characters as exact replicas of their painted canvases, before moving to the drama of the scene itself. For Van Gogh lovers it’s very much a case of Spot-the-Painting but doesn’t detract from the artistry or drama for those less familiar.


The drama itself is mostly subtle and understated as the delivery of the letter turns into a noir detective narrative as Roulin begins to uncover some ambiguities regarding Vincent’s alleged suicide. With the few outbursts done in a swirling application of paint it was a delight to see both intimate conversations and volatile fist fights animated in oils. The music by Clint Mansell echoes some of his previous work and the string quartet ratchets up tension when needed and like the visuals, mixes a nice balance of intensity and gentleness across scenes.



Robert Gulaczyk as Vincent van Gogh is really a fleeting player in the story as other characters describe his past, but he does a lot with his body and face rather than a string of dialogue scenes. This keeps the emphasis on his enigmatic legacy and how he was a quiet, yet completely ‘visual’ personality.


Great support comes in the form of Jerome Flynn as Dr. Gachet, Saoirse Ronan as his daughter Marguerite Gachet, Helen McCrory as the feisty Louise Chevalier and John Sessions as Père Tanguy – each one bringing depth and nuance to their roles and further fleshing out this historic world.


It’s great to see the detective story secure a strong driving narrative to what could be seen as simply a gimmick, however the visuals really are the big-top draw here. Unlike anything I’ve seen before, when the drama slows, the cinema felt like your favourite museum with the audience simply ruminating on the almost-static images. Yet when they moved, the glory of the brushwork and talented painters who recreated Van Gogh’s style is clear to see – and a joy to behold.


It’s all too easy to allude to this as a masterpiece but a masterpiece it is nonetheless. In the end, Loving Vincent provides a portrait of a conflicting and unknowable sequence of past events that maintains the celebrated artist’s place in the art world. The story, music, acting and, of course, the unique painted design combine perfectly to create a dazzling canvas to be studied over, and most of all enjoyed, like Vincent’s best works already are.


10/10


Midlands Movies Mike




By midlandsmovies, Oct 6 2017 02:43PM



Dave Made A Maze (2017) Dir. Bill Waterson


I quickly came to the conclusion with only 20 minutes gone that Dave Made a Maze was the “most hipster film I’ve ever seen” which may (or may not) fill you with dread regarding this new high-concept comedy film. The story shows how after a weekend left alone Dave (Nick Thune) builds a cardboard fort/maze in his living room and when his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) returns, she invites some friends around to help him escape after he gets “lost”.


Strangely, once they’re inside, the maze is in fact a huge fantasy interior with paper-based monsters and the explorers attempt a rescue yet are surprised at each corner they turn. A wacky and zany “Paperchase” of a movie, there are nods to Indiana Jones and The Goonies (booby traps) whilst origami cranes and tissue paper ‘blood’ continue its surreal elements. However, the film’s humour swung from low brow dick punches to self congratulatory smugness – neither which pushed my buttons.


An early musical sequence inside a keyboard room made me think that the film would in fact make a good 3-4 minute music video – which is why the trailer is great – but it’s an awfully long slog for a confused metaphor about creativity, struggling with life and feeling “lost”.


Back to the story, a film-making crew also attempts to document the journey which reflects the artificial nature of the expedition as they invade personal moments and create their own narrative journey. Whether you feel it could be a metaphor for filmmaking itself – its home-made nature, the dead-ends faced when trying to finish a goal and so forth – the film takes away any ambiguity by simply telling that to you. Via an interview, the film is far too on the nose with a cardboard structure used for both its location and its story.


However, one of the few genuine laughs came as the gang were turned into paper-mache marionettes and the film finally pokes fun at itself with the sarcastic dialogue exclaiming “This was only a matter of time”. But despite that and a chat about beards it’s still mostly blissfully unaware of its hipster clichés, confirmed with the inclusion of suitably quirky animations bookending the film.


A few positives include the unique mix of absurd and ludicrous situations with a tremendous design aesthetic. Optical illusions combine with gorgeous cardboard creations whilst the allusions to ancient tales – historical mazes, mythology and a Minotaur – added some much needed depth. At times it also harks to Tarsem Singh’s The Cell (2000) where we physically explore “the mind” and come across random and strange subconscious personified.


In the hands of a Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze, the wacky idea of Dave Made a Maze could have worked but there’s little humanity in this film and it’s less the mind-maze of Eternal Sunshine than it is The Crystal Maze in terms of quality and execution.


6/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 6 2017 02:35PM



Amityville: The Awakening (2017) Dir. Franck Khalfoun


Filmed in 2014 let me give you the real reason why this movie took so long to come out in this comprehensive cliché list:


✓Teenage goth

✓Young blonde girl

✓New house

✓Sick sibling

✓Single Mum

✓Alarms

✓Dog barking

✓Windows open

✓Shadows

✓Creaky staircase

✓Crucifix

✓Medical professional

✓Lightning

✓Jump scare

✓Bloody bed sheets

✓Waking from nightmare

✓Pigs head

✓Teenage angst

✓Power cut

✓Flashlights

✓Basement

✓Urban legend

✓Shotgun

✓Hallucinations

✓Insect swarm

✓Possession

✓Bible passage

✓Lakeside pier

✓ "This house is evil"

✓Crawling albino

✓Unstable mother

✓Bones cracking

✓More dreams

✓Violin screeches

✓Yadda yadda yadda


All the ingredients for one of the worst films of the year which has all the charm of a passing fart and includes the un-ironic dialogue "remakes totally blow". The one thing we can agree on.


2/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 5 2017 11:22PM



Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Dir. Denis Villeneuve


Let’s cut to the chase but I’ve never been a huge fan of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir original – even going so far to include it in my top 10 overrated films of all time back in 2012 – so I approached this film with some trepidation. I come at all films with an open mind however, and with such highlights as Sicario, Prisoners and the lauded Arrival in his catalogue of successes, director Denis Villeneuve certainly has the sci-fi and visual chops to take on the belated sequel.


Ryan Gosling (K) is now the LAPD blade runner who hunts down older artificial humans known as “replicants”. He soon stumbles upon the discovery of a skeleton which appears to be that of a replicant woman who died during childbirth, a situation until then thought impossible. Linking the bones to the missing Deckard, K is ordered to destroy the evidence by his superior Joshi (a superb Robin Wright) but soon a set of clues leads him to question his own “implanted” memories and his reality.


Blade Runner 2049 takes the themes of the first – humanity, memory, one’s purpose in life – and adds the dazzling cinematography of 13-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins who not only recreates the look of the original rain-soaked streets, but expands the digital noir influences ten-fold. Shadows lurk everywhere as Villeneuve and Deakins work together to create phenomenal shots, with some of the best of them composed simply in pure silhouette, keeping the characters (and us) ominously in the dark.


Ana de Armas provides great support as K’s artificial partner Joi – a hologram who ironically infuses Gosling’s character with the only emotional attachment and is a great addition to the Blade Runner mythos. Yet, the lack of emotional connection between the audience and the film is one of its sad flaws. To me the original had a sense of detachment but it is practically nihilistic in tone here – the future is death – to humans, to children, to androids and even to holograms.


In spite of that, Harrison Ford gives a great performance when he eventually returns as Detective Rick Deckard but don’t expect to see him in the first 2 hours. However, Sylvia Hoeks as Luv provides a feisty antagonist, much more so than Jared Leto whose Tyrell replacement Niander Wallace is underused and missing from half the movie.


An amazing first hour which sets up the tone, the vision and the look of the world works brilliantly alongside an amazing synthesiser score from Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch which is fantastic and truly groundbreaking. This beginning also provides us with a set of interesting characters (at first) and Gosling even throws in a joke – confirming a balance of components that works so well.


But like a malfunctioning android, the film begins to fall apart at times and although its style never falters once, it often fails to cover the cold tone and the incredibly slow pacing. At its best, its perfect visionary sci-fi yet at its worst it harks to Only God Forgives with repeatedly boring shots of a moody Ryan Gosling moping around a neon city at night in a drama-vacuum. The film makes sluggish progress and its script’s heavy-handed links to creation and A.I. are a result of further hackneyed garbage from Michael Green, the scribe of the awful Alien: Covenant.


In many ways it’s the perfect sequel – if you enjoyed the original I guarantee you’ll find the expansion and nods to it more than satisfying and for those who feel the original had flaws then this film clones them to a fault. Blade Runner 2049 therefore ends up being a truly technical tour-de-force but as cold as a glacier and moves about as fast.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Sep 28 2017 09:00AM

The Devil’s Candy (2017) Dir. Sean Byrne


Dark horror The Devil’s Candy tells the story of troubled artist Jesse (played Ethan Embry) who moves to a remote country house with his wife Astrid (Shiri Appleby) and daughter Zooey (Kiara Glasco).


As with all these things, once they unpack Jesse begins to hear voices whilst he frantically paints Francis Bacon-esque demonic pictures that have an eerie premonition-like reality to them. As well as haunting sounds, an awkward loner called Ray arrives at the house insisting he used to live there but is aggressively refused entry by the father.


As a second painting begins to form, the horrific scared faces of burning children are lost on Jesse who uses the mental anguish to return to an art world that shunned him. The film uses broad brush strokes from the genre but adds some metal-music infused excitement to the usual round of killings and disturbed slaughter.


A red Flying-V guitar, which plays a part in the story’s development, resonates with weighty devil-like rock and the constant Black Sabbath-style power-chord strumming is deafening and traumatizing in its repetition. As a fan of that genre of music it was refreshing to see this traditional family entrenched in some good heavy metal – especially as it wasn’t Rob Zombie for a change.


The colour red is prevalent throughout – an obvious trope that plays like some kind of alternative American Beauty – which symbolises future bloodshed, but the film is well shot and the actors believable in their off-kilter family roles.


The film could have done without an even more blatant slide into religious ‘Jesus’ imagery towards a flaming finale but the thrills and intense pleasures come from a genre film well executed with a ‘killer’ soundtrack.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Sep 28 2017 08:58AM



The Beguiled (2017) Dir. Sofia Coppola


Based on the novel of the same name, Sofia Coppola was only the second female to win the Best Director Award at Cannes for this film set at a girl’s school in the Deep South during the American Civil War. With only teacher Edwina Morror (Nicole Kidman) and five students left at the school house, they find and take in Colin Farrell’s injured corporal soldier where the the ladies tend to him in a locked room.


Copolla fills her plantation location with lots of moody silences but these later turn to screams as the repressed women deal with the soldier’s attentions. Cleaning Farrell’s wounds in a scene of sexual/religious tension, the film plays with ideas of femininity and sexuality and its natural light gives the movie authenticity but this results in it being under-lit at times. As a chamber piece, it uses the technical staging of Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon by using windows and candles to provide the only in-house lighting, but again, sometimes to a confusingly dark fault.


Critic Tim Robey surmised Barry Lyndon by saying audiences and reviewers railed “against the perceived coldness of Kubrick's style, the film's self-conscious artistry and slow pace” and I’d argue the exact same accusations can be leveled here.


The mesmerising framing shows Copolla's fine artistry and the cast deliver the melodramatic lines with grace but everyone’s done far better historical/literary work elsewhere. Also, the snail’s pacing hindered my own engagement despite Dunst and Farrell’s explosive scenes – which are great but few and far between.


With more drama and conflict, the film does improve in its second half and can be seen as a complimentary (or development) venture to Copolla’s own The Virgin Suicides (1999). The themes and female cast (especially Dunst’s repeat appearance) echo the director’s previous literary foray into a woman-filled and prison-like house.


Measured and controlled, the lack of narrative thrust and extremely long set-up, despite its short runtime of 93 minutes, sadly makes The Beguiled a rather ponderous affair. This is ultimately frustrating given its many positive performances and interesting representations of control, seduction and temptation. Charming but deceiving.


6/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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