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By midlandsmovies, Jul 15 2018 06:29PM



Gringo (2018) Dir. Nash Edgerton


After businessman Harold Soyinka (David Oyelowo) phones his head office bosses (Joel Edgerton as the obnoxious Richard and Charlize Theron as the unpleasant but seductive Elaine) to explain he has been kidnapped, Gringo kicks off an international farce of blue-collar crime, gangsters and hostage taking in this film from debut director Nash Edgerton.


With Harold’s lack of money, a wife seeking love elsewhere and his boss’ secret plans to let him go owing to a very shady company merger, he takes it upon himself to use a meeting in Mexico to collect a ransom on himself. When a drug cartel gets involved, the tables are spun and as Harold gets unwittingly involved in a case of mistaken identity, a mercenary played by a theatrical Sharlto Copley (doing what he does best) is dispatched to clear up the mess.


The film’s criss-crossing narrative is at first its triumph but then sadly its downfall however. What starts as a fun farce of down-at-luck mockery and silly, but passable, characters soon descends into a complicated commotion where misunderstanding is replaced with daft coincidences and broad caricatures.


I could however watch Theron’s callous and ruthless Elaine until the end of time with her dry wit and appalling yet hilarious behaviour. But the one-note idea of a put-upon office worker getting his own back on his bosses becomes increasingly muddled with so-so dialogue, too few belly laughs and a story that spirals into slapstick mayhem.


With a better script, some cinematic flair and subtler approach I could see the outline of the plot making a very good Coen brothers film (The Big Lebowski/Hail Caesar aren’t a million miles away anyways) but Gringo has more in common with a very average 1980s comedy flick.


Kudos goes to everyone giving it their all but aside from one or two clever jokes and Edgerton and Theron wallowing in their impressive ‘horrible bosses’ roles, the film is run-of-the-mill entertainment at best.


6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 10 2018 01:57PM



Tomb Raider (2018) Dir. Roar Uthaug


Pardon my absolute exasperation but it’s simply another day and here we are again with another franchise reboot as pixel legend Lara Croft gets another outing with this new film based upon the 2013 version of the adventure video game.


What we have here is Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander as the English explorer who inherits her father’s estate along with secret clues to an unsolved mystery, which he was researching before his unfortunate disappearance. Despite her father’s pleas warning her to destroy the evidence, she ignores his from-beyond-the grave video and plans to find the tomb of Himiko, the mythical Queen of Yamatai.


After packing her bags, blagging a spot on a boat and ending up stranded on an island she runs afoul of a shady expedition led by Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) who aims to weaponize Himiko's ancient power. If all of this sounds ludicrous that’s because it is. Not even the talented Vikander could get me to say this was a worthwhile watch as she embarks on a perilous, yet somehow extremely tedious, journey across the globe.


The film starts strong with Vikander proving her muscle with a kick boxing match before she is involved in an exciting bike hunt on the streets of London. There is also another thrilling chase across boats in Hong Kong and it says a lot about the film that well filmed bicycle and foot chase scenes surpass any of the overblown computer-generated showcases later on. We get a Peter Jackson King Kong/Skull Island inspired boat journey and, speaking of skulls, as soon as they land we get the obligatory CGI jungle and waterfall shots similarly seen in the awful Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.


A river rapid ride that looks as real as the barrel sequence in the Hobbit continues the nonsense and if I have to mention bad CGI in one more film I’m going to scream. It’s now the biggest downfall of so many blockbuster films I’m more surprised when I don’t have to mention it.


The film would have done better to stick with a compact National Treasure style rush across the globe whereas they went down the huge set piece route which ended being a huge detriment.


Containing a hackneyed plot for a Hackney bike courier, the film dies at the 25-minute mark when Croft arrives at the island. Maybe suitable for kids I’d recommend Harrison Ford and Nic Cage’s explorer romps over this disappointing and unnecessary cash-in of a tired brand.


5/10


Midlands Movies Mike




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, Jun 25 2018 10:09AM



Red Sparrow (2018) Dir. Francis Lawrence


Based upon Jason Matthews’ book on his experiences in the CIA, Red Sparrow features Jennifer Lawrence fresh from her risky role in Aronofsky’s “mother!” tackling another part that pushes the actress’ boundaries further.


She plays ballerina Dominika Egorova – Lawrence prepped for the dance scenes but it looked somewhat CGI to me – who after a serious injury is recruited by her Uncle Ivan to work for Russian intelligence. She is sent to train as a “sparrow” – an agent that is assigned to use seduction to ensnare targets. In parallel, CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) tries to re-connect with a Russian mole he’s been working with and their two operatives' lives are soon entwined as they come face-to-face.


Both end up admitting to each other their appointed roles with their respective employers and it’s here that the film becomes a convoluted dance between the two sides. This sadly results in a somewhat confusing narrative though, which is a shame.


In the UK, the BBFC removed some violence which lowered its audience age-rating, but this now pushes the film into extreme “15” territory. Although Lawrence was aware of the film’s nudity, a female-led action thriller this really isn’t - despite the trailer-house sales pitch.


For example, during her spy training, Lawrence is coerced to strip and seduce in humiliating sexual ways which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Charlotte Rampling as "Matron", the Headmistress of the school, verges on a callousness and cruelty not seen since Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And Matthias Schoenaert, Mary-Louise Parker Jeremy Irons and Ciarán Hinds flesh out the surveillance support cast with similarly shady roles.


However, the sleazy spectacle does give the film more grit than your average thriller and is all the better for it. We already have the over-the-top violence of John Wick and Atomic Blonde so this more sordid story which goes to darker places than those two helps sets it apart.


A smart and clever script ensures the sleazy sequences never get too off-putting and Lawrence, as always, is a mesmerising screen presence – from the naïve agent at the film’s start to the brutal assassin we witness later. That said, the violence may be too extreme for some and the film runs out of steam towards the end as scenes of torture may push the limits of those even with the strongest of stomachs.


Secrets are swapped and a collaboration of swift action/chase moments keep the momentum moving forward. If I may be so crude, it certainly isn’t hard to see why Jennifer Lawrence is cast as a faultless, and flawless, seducer of agents. Sensual yet dangerous, Lawrence’s physical attributes are played to the full yet she gives more depth to a role that could have been simply “Bond-girl” territory.


An intriguing espionage adaptation, Red Sparrow has some harrowing scenes alongside the usual spy tropes of double-crossing agents, security snooping and enemy infiltration. It is also an exploitation flick at heart, and although the movie doesn’t have the gloss of the violent assassin films of the past few years, its nasty pleasures are cleverly calculated and provide some ugly Cold War-style thrills.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Jun 25 2018 10:06AM



Game Night (2018) Dir. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein


Game Night is a refreshing American comedy film which stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as couple Max and Annie who after meeting during a bar trivia night, get married and run regular game nights at home with their suburban friends.


When Max’s more successful brother Brooks (Super 8 and King Kong’s Kyle Chandler) shows up unexpectedly one evening, he invites his sibling and his fellow players to join in an elaborate murder mystery evening.


However, unknowingly to the participants, Brooks’ dodgy past catches up with him and the evening turns into an actual kidnapping as Brooks is taken by the real criminals he has crossed. Game Night has a simple set up but what is refreshing is the lack of improvisation sequences. I am personally sick to death of the Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen's “stumbling” and “shouting” style and on-the-spot quips. That particular shtick can only be edited and shot one way but the directors clearly have a well-written script to work from. This also leads them to more bold directorial choices.


The movie looks like a film (rather than the flat TV-style of a lot of American comedies) and has more in common with Edgar Wright’s frenetic approach than, say, Judd Apatow. Again, the use of scripted dialogue allows for many more clever jokes, set-ups and pay-offs.


The film’s support cast is equally appealing with Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury all playing interesting roles as the couple's friends whilst Jesse Plemons’ police officer is a fantastic performance of a quizzical and creepy next door neighbour.


As the various teams split up and follow fake clues to identify the real location of the kidnapping, the film is actually not too dissimilar to Keanu (2016) where suburbanites get caught up with criminals for one crazy night. Like that film, the script helps allow more film-making creativity as we later get strangely artistic tilt shift shots and an impressive one-take Faberge egg throwing sequence – which gets tossed around a mansion like the pig-skin of a Super Bowl.


But it’s not all trivial filmmaking pursuits, the jokes fly thick and fast with inventive sequences such as McAdams trying to remove a bullet from her husband’s arm as she follows medical instructions from a militia website on her phone. A dog toy in his mouth and some gruesome effects meant the movie began winning me over with its black comedy charms.


Coming in with very low expectations it has to be said, Game Night may have garnered a few extra points for its surprising movie-making skill but I was pleasantly surprised by actors I previously don’t much care for. And the car chases, fights and witty dialogue had the feel of classic 80s comedies like Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon. A compendium of clever scenes and sequences therefore sees Game Night as a fun and entertaining ride that has winning elements throughout.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jun 24 2018 03:51PM

Movie Catch Up Blog 2018 - Part 1


As with every year, we're playing a bit of a game with the amount of films on release in the UK. Below is some of the films that came out over 2018 that we've now caught after passing us by on their main release:




The Titan (2018) Dir. Lennart Ruff


Released via Netflix in the UK, Sam Worthington (Avatar) becomes another human-alien hybrid as he plays Rick Janssen – a pilot who joins an experimental programme to settle the human race on Saturn’s moon Titan. As he is pushed past extreme conditions he’s soon swimming underwater for 40 minutes but there are evil plans afoot as some of the volunteers begin to exhibit strange behaviour and body convulsing horrors.


His wife Abigail (Taylor Schilling) starts to fear for her husband’s increasing strange development as he loses his hair and skin as his body evolves. Part Frankenstein, part Splice and a whole dose of The Island of Dr. Moreau quality (i.e. none) the film’s slow pace leads it down to the inevitable test results – it’s simply deathly boring. And Tom Wilkinson as a shady government professor brings little to this film experiment. With a slow build up, the admittedly interesting concept is neither explored fully as a scientific drama nor silly enough for its probably more suitable b-movie thrills. An unsatisfying ordeal of titanic proportions. 4/10




Verónica (2018) Dir. Paco Plaza


Based on the “true” 1991 story where Estefanía Gutiérrez Lázaro died mysteriously after using a Ouija board, Verónica is a new film from REC 1 and 2 writer/director Paco Plaza. A side-comment on REC is that it is one of my favourite horror films of all time. I know hand-held horror is not to everyone’s taste but what it does is fantastically creepy and the sequel is one of the best horror follow-ups of all time in my book. So, with some lofty expectations it was disappointing to see Verónica being far too tame across the board.


15 year-old Verónica looks after her younger siblings Lucia, Irene and Antoñito but during a solar eclipse at their school, she sneaks away from the playground to a basement to try out a Ouija board. In one of the best scenes of the movie the director elicits a genuine foreboding atmosphere out of a scene we’ve seen hundreds of time before in cinema. As expected, supernatural occurrences happen around Verónica including ghostly apparitions and poltergeists as well as strange noises, bite marks and so on. And it’s these expected sequences that really harm Verónica as it fails to build upon its early good work.


A blind nun from the school called “Sister Death” is a tremendous character however. Her chain-smoking appearance is creepy and if this was a Blumhouse production, she’d get her own spin off. Alas, aside from the nun and although Sandra Escacena as Verónica is fantastic, the film heads towards inevitable conclusions and although it’s better than most Hollywood horrors, it fails to bring anything truly exciting or new to the genre. 6.5/10



Cargo (2018) Dir. Ben Howling and Yoland Ramke

This Australian post-apocalyptic thriller film is based on an original short from the directors and stars The Office’s Martin Freeman as a father trying to protect his child in a world overtaken by a zombie-like virus.


Andy (Freeman) lives with his wife (Susie Porter as Kay) and his one-year-old daughter Rosie on a houseboat in rural Australia. But as food rations run out, they visit an abandoned boat and something deadly bites Kay. They continue forward despite knowing that in just 48 hours Kay will inevitably fall victim to her infected wound. After a road accident knocks out Andy he awakes to find Kay transformed. Despite his anguish, Kay is put out of her misery by a forlorn Freeman – but not before he too is bitten and realises he needs to get his baby to a safe-haven.


With glorious vistas and aerial footage of the desolated Australian outback, the real locations are thoroughly well filmed and although the movie tackles dark themes it avoids the blood and guts of most zombie flicks. Replacing them is a more subtle and nuanced look at family, sacrifice and survival in a world filled with little compassion.


Andy’s inevitable, and time-limited, decline gives Cargo a sense of impending purpose and he crosses paths with Thoomi (Simone Landers), an adolescent girl who keeps her infected father as a sad contaminated pet. Their interactions provide the audience with thoughtful issues whilst highlighting the harsh realities facing those of different ages, backgrounds and cultures and how each adapts to the same threat. Not wanting to lose loved ones and Andy’s certain outcome plays on their minds and Cargo delves into these issues as they journey on.


The introspective dialogue is delivered well by Freeman and the support cast, whilst Anthony Hayes as Vic Carter shows an opposing view where selfishness reigns as Vic uses humans, specifically the indigenous Aborigines, imprisoned in cages as bait to attract and kill zombies.


A satisfying ending and hugely empathetic performance from Martin Freeman means Cargo is a great addition to the sometimes overstuffed (and of sometimes questionable quality) zombie genre which is hugely to its credit. Looking at issues of race and colonialism, Cargo will probably not deliver the requisite horrors for a jump-scare zombie film fan. But for those who tend to avoid this sort of film like the plague, at 105 minutes Cargo doesn’t overstay its welcome as a satisfying domestic drama rather than a fright flick. 7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Jun 5 2018 08:30PM



SOLO (2018) Dir. Ron Howard


With a troubled production you have to ask is it all Happy Days at Disney as it releases yet another new Star Wars movie? As Ron Howard stepped on board the galactic train after original directors Lord and Miller were ditched, many wondered if we would be getting a Suicide Squad/Fantastic Four chop job. Well, from first glance Howard has done stellar work in bringing a film back from the brink of collapse where the cohesive whole shows no sign of the multiple hands at work.


Solo is another Star Wars “Story” film – originally called Anthology films, Disney has done a great job in convincing everyone that this is expanded universe territory – but make no mistake that this is pure prequel fare. With huge reservations after the dull and misjudged Rogue One (another SW film with production woes), I had very low expectations for a narrative filling in a back story that I had no interest in.


That said, Howard (with sci-fi and fantasy skills honed with Apollo 13 and Willow) does a pretty solid job at the helm as we are introduced to Han, who is part of a gang of youths under the protection of slimey space worm Lady Proxima. But he soon wants to leave his home planet for a new freedom with his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). However, whilst Han escapes to join the Empire’s war, Qi’ra is captured and returned home. Moving forward in time we catch up with Han as he tries to escape the violent war by selling his skills as a pilot to Woody Harrelson’s gang of outlaws. They intend to grab some McGuffin power sources to fulfil a contract to Paul Bettany’s facially scarred baddie Dryden Vos.


The film actually keeps things simple in the main and is all the better for it as we follow a likeable and active protagonist (unlike the charisma-free Jyn Erso) who takes his life decisions into his own hands. Alden Ehrenreich is very alluring as a young and cocky Solo – some hints of Harrison Ford’s legendary charisma are present – but mostly avoids a direct impression of the actor as he blags his way through risky plans and double-dealing hunters. If anything, in seedy caverns and bars, he at times will remind audiences of Indiana Jones rather than Han. Which is no bad thing.


The subtler nods to the franchise and the muddy-brown battle scenes feel a far better attempt at a Star Wars “war” film than Rogue One and I thoroughly enjoyed the real location work given my constant struggle with dodgy CGI. The light-hearted banter was fun, the characters were broad but understandable and although not hilarious, the dialogue avoided the under-cutting Marvel quips to make the characters well, actually, likeable.


But it’s not all good right? Well, yes there are some problems. It’s ultimately not needed as an entry into Star Wars lore, that much is true. Also, the Starship Troopers-style Empire recruitment video was a mess alongside (in the same scene no less) a reveal about the origin of Han’s surname so heavy handed it will draw groans.


Emilia Clarke returns later in the film and is passable after some worrisome performances (her stilted Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys still grates) but Donald Glover certainly delivers as a young Lando. His space gambler is a mixture of sleaze and, strangely, sexuality that has him build more than a just a friendship with sarcastic freedom-fighting robot L3-37. It was also great to see Ron throw some romance back into the galaxy after the amicable friendships of the last 3 movies with a bit of frisson between Han and Qi’ra. And he also gives cameos both to his brother Clint and his Willow (and Star Wars) star Warwick Davis.


On a technical level, a slightly strange vignette-sepia colour palette with backlighting that sometimes drowned out the foreground characters was an enjoyable aesthetic but I predict some may think it doesn’t ‘sit’ well in the SW universe. The small sets were intimate yet underwhelming but they did remind me of the matinee style of the original films and this more compact story was a nice change from planet-destroying space battles.


As Han inevitably meets Chewie in a fun, if again unnecessary, prison break scene, the film ticks off its obligatory story beats whilst some surprises arrive in a lack of a Jabba appearance and a rather shocking Lucas-prequel reference. And after a rollicking rollercoaster heist on snowy mountainside (especially fun in 3-D it has to be said), the film heads towards a more interesting final third act with plenty of double-crossing character beats.


Solo is not perfect and as a prequel (yes, it is!) it just cannot compare to the forward-thinking joys of The Last Jedi but it is far more fun than Rogue One’s deathly hellscape of non-characters and forced fan service. Howard has done more than an admirable job with a production that was deep in trouble and his classic filmmaking style gives Solo some intimacy and old-fashioned movie making gloss. It won’t set the world alight – and I’m dreading the inevitable internet backlash – but ignore the haters as this is a fun, if a little undistinguished, family blockbuster.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jun 3 2018 05:04PM



Den of Thieves (2018) Dir. Christian Gudegast


Opening on an explosive action sequence where a gang of robbers strangely steal an empty armoured truck, Den of Thieves is a new crime thriller where heists and corrupt cops abound. On one side we have career criminal Ray Merrimen (Pablo Schreiber) whose identity is unknown by the Detective investigating him, Nick "Big Nick" O'Brien (played with sleazy glee by a rotund Gerard Butler).


To gain more information on the crew and their plans Big Nick kidnaps and interrogates the gang’s getaway driver and local bartender Donnie (O'Shea Jackson Jr). Toying with him at a local hotel Big Nick only learns part of the plan and once Donnie returns to the gang, he is roughed up to see what he has blabbed about. But he ultimately convinces them he’s passed over no information.


As the gang are planning to infiltrate the Federal Reserve to steal $30 million in bank notes, Donnie gains access as a food delivery man whilst Big Nick’s investigations are derailed by his own secret sexual liaisons which sees his family relationship break down. As the film rushes headlong into the heist, it flips from the gang to the police with Donnie stuck in the middle of both groups’ misadventures.


Butler as Big Nick is a terribly violent and threatening oaf whilst Jackson Jnr is brilliant as the bartender caught on both sides of the conflict. Jackson Jnr is certainly carving out a great eclectic career from playing his own father in Straight Outta Compton to a Batman-loving geek in Ingrid Goes West. And now with this, the actor is surely a star in the making with his likeable but edgy persona.


The film rattles along but tension is raised during the latter sequences as hostages are threatened at a bank and Donnie is hidden in a cash trolley to be snuck into the counting rooms of the Reserve itself. With shoot-outs and smatterings of verbal back-and-forths, Den of Thieves breaks no new ground in the heist genre but has enough in its swag bag to provide a few hours of distracting no-frill thrills.


Clearly influenced by Michael Mann’s Heat, the film is not even close in the quality stakes to that film BUT the movie is no doubt an entertaining actioner as it barrels around the good, the bad and the ugly side of Los Angeles.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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