icons-03 icons-02 icons-01 MM Logo

blog

Movie news, reviews, features and more thoughts coming soon...

By midlandsmovies, Apr 13 2018 10:10PM



Black Panther (2018) Dir. Ryan Coogler


Now surpassing Titanic as the third highest-grossing film at the American box office ever, Marvel’s Black Panther has been a cultural and audience phenomenon. It has taught the industry a crucial lesson that superhero films can tackle complicated issues of race, representation and politics and still make huge profits.


The story concerns itself with the continuing tale of Chadwick Boseman’s T'Challa (Black Panther) who inherited the mantle of King of Wakanda after his father died in an attack seen in Marvel’s Civil War. Back in his homeland, Wakanda is an African country mixing traditional imagery of the continent with the possession of futuristic technology, but one they have hidden from the rest of the world. This issue that groups should get involved in the wider community is a running theme that Coogler tackles and permeates throughout. In Wakanda, a number of tribes fight for the right to be King but in America we find Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger making plans to take the crown himself.


Amongst this simple revenge plot, the film tackles family and arms dealing along with female empowerment. Letitia Wright plays Shuri, T’Challa’s sister and designer of Wakandan technology in a great role that echoes Q from the James Bond films. In addition, we have Star Wars’ Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia whilst Danai Gurira as Okoye is the highlight for me by giving a fantastic powerful performance as the head of the female fight-force that protects the Royal family.


So with an amazing cast, important social issues and the Marvel name behind it, the film is a runaway success, right? Well (takes deep breath), not quite.


Sacrilege I hear you say. But as much as I admired Black Panther’s positive messages the film never grasped me with so-so set pieces and on a technical level it reminded me far too much of Avatar in its heavily reliance on CGI. Never once did I feel I was outside the USA – heck not even outside a green screen room – and for a film set in Africa it would have been great to see the production actually film in the beautiful continent.


Like Thor Ragnarok – a film so average I couldn’t find time in my limited schedule to even review it – I ask if the MCU is running out of steam – especially with its lazy CGI and technical elements. I was probably the only one but the film, at times, committed the worse crime of all. I found it drifting into dullness.


Coogler’s previous film Creed (2016) also with Michael B. Jordan was one of my top films of that year along with historical sports drama Race. In addition, Jordan Peele’s Get Out also tackled modern race relations and made our 2017 top 20. But Black Panther’s excellent message was lost in some dull council meetings (echoes of Phantom Menace) and the aforementioned poor CGI.


I feel for actors nowadays when they are announced as the next superhero. Previously, the feeling of putting on the suit during casting must have felt amazing but the character is so poorly rendered in CGI that Boseman’s excellent fighting stunts (seen in brilliant and brutal waterfall fights) are completely absent when the suit goes on. Bouncing around with no realism or weight, the computer generated models meant I couldn’t feel that we were actually “there” which was a flaw. I felt myself sighing as the rubber renderings bounced around like a cartoon.


So where does that leave Black Panther? Marvel have finally returned to the director-driven films they begun with. Branagh brought his experience of Shakespearean family feuds, also seen in Black Panther, whilst Joe Johnston’s Captain America used his previous 1940s comic book work on The Rocketeer. And Coogler does the same here – bringing his own class, a soundtrack which excels and the best group cast of 2018 to deliver his message.


Covering a whole range of ideas on race relations, positive black and female role models and questions about appropriation and inclusion, the director’s stamp is all over Black Panther’s central themes. I just wished it was done with some more entertainment and less CGI as, for me, much is swamped by a lack of believability in its standard revenge story.


But, let’s be fair here, whilst I saw it more as “Bland” Panther, the box office has proven any reservations I have about the film were not felt by the wide majority of the audience. And Black Panther’s position as an important film, and rightly so, is cemented in this colourful trip to Wakanda.


6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Apr 2 2018 08:08PM



I Kill Giants (2018) Dir. Anders Walter


Based upon the graphic novel I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly (writer) and Ken Niimura (artist), I Kill Giants was written in 2008 before A Monster Calls but has unfortunately been released as a movie a year after. This results in the tale having some familiarity but, for me, it didn’t harm the film one little bit given the quality on show.


In this film, a fantastic Madison Wolfe plays disturbed young girl Barbara Thorson who is a dungeons and dragons playing loner who escapes the troubles of her life by retreating into a world of fantasy. Sound familiar? Maybe so, but the film explores a great deal about growing up in an intelligent way through the eyes of children. Passionate for fantasy board games with multi-sided dice, Barbara lives with her disinterested video-game obsessed brother. Together they are both looked after by their put-upon sister Karen, in which Imogen Poots plays the stressed older sibling brilliantly.


Barbara is shown to be intelligent and witty but also boisterous and looks down on her family (and teachers) with scorn. This ensures she is friendless and spends most of her time creating homemade spells and potions out of random finds, which are then used to lure huge monsters. Wolfe is so convincing that from great character introductions at the start, I was unsure whether her creative world was in fact real or not. Her feisty Barbara is only ever seen alone with the monsters and although the question is rapidly cleared up, the film explores childhood creativity and frustrations in a way that patronises neither children nor the adults who have relationships with them.


Warnings and markings are scrawled by Barbara at home, on the beach and at school to protect herself and others from (an imagined?) harm but this brings her to the attention to Zoe Saldana’s school counsellor. Finding it hard to break into Barbara’s world, the sassy youngster equally infuriates and intrigues Saldana as she relentlessly keeps her guard up. Back home, Barbara meets an English girl Sophia (Sydney Wade) who is new to the area and slowly they form a bond. Barbara begins to trust her enough to show her a private sanctuary she has created as well as share details of the different types of giant she is aware of.


Far from a fantasy, the depiction of youngsters sharing secrets, having their own protective space and also passing paper messages between each other were entirely relatable aspects of growing up. Barbara creates her own “medicine” from unique items to stop the monsters she feels are going to attack her loved ones but the film ensures the relationships feel less fantastical and more authentic. And her strong smart exterior is used as protection against real bullies, teachers and the “giant” issues she faces.


The film’s tone had an ‘Amblin’ flavour at times which was no bad thing either. The music and bike-riding definitely had the young charm of The Goonies whilst the chirpy piano score felt more than reminiscent of 1980’s Spielberg and JJ Abrams’ Super 8 (2011). And finding out it was produced by Christopher Columbus was therefore of no surprise either. The CGI forest giants and the ominous presence of a Treebeard-esque shadow monster upstairs in Barbara’s home were well-rendered but, like last year’s Colossal, the little explored “women-against-giant-monsters” sub-genre is again much more than meets the eye.


Without spoiling the film, the giants represent far more than can be imagined and although this is explicitly stated, there always seemed to be a mystery until the final third of the movie. It’s a fantastic look at childhood fun, trauma and life-learning from blood oaths to the frustration of P.E. lessons and all this is done with the right balance of fun and seriousness.


A slightly predictable parable – although it gives far less away than the A Monster Calls trailer – I Kill Giants is a brilliant and inspired coming-of-age comedy drama that sits in the same space as that film. A strong cast of performers are led by Madison Wolfe who is front and centre, and deservedly so, from the start. Dealing with difficult issues and seen from the viewpoint of a bright but troubled young girl, the final twist in the tale tackles much heartbreak within its skilful narrative. But, as we are moved on this poignant journey, I Kill Giants becomes one fictional world you won’t want to escape from.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2018 09:24PM



Sweet Country (2017) Dir. Warwick Thornton


Sweet Country is a film that quite literally starts as it means to go on. The first images of the film have various unknown black and white substances being placed in a melting pot of sorts and over these shots we hear but don’t see two men fighting and racial slurs being hurled until the pot comes to a boil.


Warwick Thornton, the director and cinematographer of the film has a clear vision for Sweet Country, a sweeping Australian epic that takes place shortly after the First World War in the 1920’s. Within that period lies racial disparity, as several characters point out throughout the film, “whitefellas own the land” whilst the Indigenous Australians are nothing more than field hands and cheap labour. This feels more like slavery than Jim Crow, as the Indigenous are kept outside, poorly treated and threatened with death if they flee.


Thornton introduces Harry March (Ewen Leslie) into this framework, an unstable war veteran who has just acquired a cattle station close to town. He approaches a neighbouring station ran by Christian preacher Fred Smith (Sam Neill) to ask for help in establishing his land. An initially hesitant Smith agrees to send his Aboriginal farmer Sam (Hamilton Morris) and his family to help, however this swiftly deteriorates as the increasingly disturbed March ends the short working relationship by raping Sam’s wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber).


With Sam and his family returning to Smith’s homestead, March moves onto another neighbouring station to “borrow” another “blackfella” who like Sam struggles to maintain a working relationship with Harry and runs away. Thinking the runaway has taken refuge in Fred Smith’s station, March’s temper reaches boiling point resulting in brutal violence and Sam fleeing with his wife through the beautiful yet unforgiving outback.


Sweet Country at its core is a simple story. A simple yet shocking depiction of Australia’s jaded past. As a storyteller Thornton excels here, nothing feels forced or self-righteous, the simplistic premise of Sam being a fugitive in the outback does not make the more complex themes less important. If anything the violence, racism and injustice that flows throughout the film has a greater stage because the story is so easy to follow and understand.


Because of this Sweet Country gives off a classic Western feel. And not just because of its sandy exterior. One example being the introduction of Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) of the local police as he forms a small band of men in the search for Sam, including preacher Fred Smith who disagrees with his methods frequently.


The film's strongest attribute is easily Warwick Thornton’s direction. As mentioned before, his decision to not tackle heavy themes with a rough hand is not only admired but successful. Also there is a pattern throughout the two hour running time where several characters’ fates are teased in flash forward shots throughout the film. Not only original but an interesting way to keep the audience guessing as to how the character has ended up at that point. This form of non-linear storytelling is not one I’ve seen before but left me wholly impressed.


Partially funded by Screen Australia, which is the Australian Government's funding body for the Australian Film Industry, Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country accomplishes what it sets out to do, to bring attention to Australia’s past, no matter how brutal.


Most Western civilisations have a shameful past when it comes to racial divide and the racism that is a result of that. There have been many films in recent years from different countries that tell the tragic stories of those difficult periods, Sweet Country can take its place as one of the better films in that regard. This needed to be made for the people of Australia, to educate them of the battles the indigenous Australians faced daily and the scars the Australians bore when returning home from the Western front.


9/10


Guy Russell

Twitter @BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2018 01:41PM

You, Me and Him (2018) Dir. Daisy Aitkens


You, Me and Him is a brand new comedy drama from writer/director Daisy Aitkens and follows the story of lesbian couple Olivia (Lucy Punch from Bad Teacher & Hot Fuzz) and Alex (Faye Marsay from Game of Thrones & Pride) and the trials of their complicated relationship.


They bond over mocking the idiotic hedonism of their recently divorced next-door neighbour John (a bearded David Tennant) but before long, their age-gap leads to the awkward question of pregnancy. Nearing 40, Olivia secretly becomes pregnant via artificial insemination and when Alex finds out, she drowns her sorrows at John’s divorce party and wakes up in his arms. And despite her regrets Alex too becomes pregnant owing to this one-night liaison.


Thus the film sets in motion a clash of situations none particularly planned for. You, Me and Him is set in the Midlands around Stratford-Upon-Avon which gives it a local flavour and with a strong cast of film and TV stars, the movie gets off to a likeable start from the outset. Punch’s Olivia is all hilarious noise and sniffly tears whilst Marsay brings a sensitivity to her more eclectic boho cynic.


Marsay is particularly effective as what could be an annoying hippie stereotype is given much more depth by her compassionate take on the role. Tennant too is having huge fun with his debauched Casanova. His support for a chauvinist “Manimist” help-group later makes way for a sympathetic character who is struggling to deal with expectant-father difficulties.


In support, Sarah Parish as Mrs. Jones throws in an OTT performance which is equal parts prejudice combined with a number of sharp-barbed insults. And Smack the Pony’s Sally Phillips is hilarious as an Australian antenatal class teacher bouncing around on fitness balls.


Although the actors are all top notch, the film slightly lacked a cinematic presence and the performers weren’t flattered by the TV lighting. But this was a minor flaw and disappeared when the well edited jokes were pushed to the forefront.


As the narrative develops, Tennant’s flamboyant father-to-be clashes with Olivia’s emotional (and flatulent) mother-to-be for the attention of Alex whose previous life of drink and drugs is calmed by her newly glowing predicament. The comedy (and the drama) almost solely come from this triumvirate. And their dialogue – some of which seemed brilliantly improvised – is slick, well-written and had the me chuckling throughout.


You, Me and Him therefore aims for comedy in the main. With sight gags, cutaways, slapstick and plenty of body and adult humour all thrown in, it was surprising then to find that the film’s highlight is a tonal swing in the third act. A shift from the previous broad comedy to an incredibly sincere sequence is both thoughtful, honest and exceptionally moving. The pratfalls and hilarity make way for heart-breaking moments that are all the more powerful with the removal of dialogue. The trio of main actors will make you weep as their pain, caring and tender embraces emote from the screen without so much as a word.


But there’s hope amongst all this anguish and director Aitkens more than handles the complex balance of Richard Curtis-style droll laughs mixed with poignant compassion. The film is overall lightweight but takes a meaningful look at the serious issues of LGBT love (not a “large sandwich” as the film jokes) and the multifaceted intricacies of modern relationships. With three wonderful showings from Punch, Marsay and Tennant, the film is an enjoyable romp with plenty of laughs without forgetting the affectionate support needed for mothers, fathers and partners.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Mar 13 2018 09:29PM



Mom and Dad (2018) Dir.Brian Taylor


About two-thirds of the way in to Mom and Dad I thought to myself, “Hey, this is on a level of ridiculousness I haven’t seen in a long time...probably since Crank”. Imagine my surprise that Mom and Dad writer/director Brian Taylor is one half of the directing duo who brought us not only Crank 1 and 2 but Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.


Bringing back Nic Cage from the latter, this film twists the traditional zombie narrative by showing the traditional family as a unit of killers and victims. In this case, static on the radio and television is turning parents into killers of their own kids. The director's visceral visuals pop from the screen from the outset with a strange 70s-style grindhouse intro sequence and the weirdly kinetic stylistic choices continue throughout.


The film begins as a soap opera with the usual family dynamics about school and disapproving parents upset about boyfriend choices and homework. However what begins as a set of mundane routines soon moves into unsettling sequences as the static “infects” parents who attempt to maim and murder their young ones.


Cage mixes his “family man” persona with his legendary “full-on Cage” mode and the fact an audience can tell he is in on the joke makes his OTT performance twisted yet funny. An impressive Selma Blair does more with her mother character who moves subtly from caring guardian to an evil-doer who even attempts to harm a newborn in a hospital.


I’ve mentioned many times I’m not the biggest zombie film fan which is its biggest hurdle it has to overcome. However, there’s slightly more going on here as the parents talk to each other thus giving us their viewpoint – although Cage mostly just shouts uncontrollably. Morbid humour can be found as the parents bond over how best to kill their children and an impressively constructed scene sees Cage and Blair attempt to gas their children (Anne Winters as Carly Ryan & Zackary Arthur as Josh Ryan) out of a locked basement. But their wily offspring have an explosive surprise in a sequence that is thrilling and comical.


The music is clearly an intended choice to connect with a young (and knowing) audience as we get Bill $aber’s I Know that You Pussies Don’t Want It alongside punk band Reagan Youth and a twisted use of Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love.


Mom and Dad gleefully says “this is me, I’m here, and this is what I want to do” and does so with reckless abandon although one’s enjoyment is related to what extent you go along with its ideas and ignore its many structural flaws and lack of depth. From Nic Cage barking like a dog and hollering like a coyote to a fun cameo from Lance Henrikson, the film is ultimately nonsense. And it fails the most when it attempts to go beyond its b-movie roots with a somewhat superficial commentary on parenting, children and the stress of family life.


In the end, not without its chilling charms, whatever message Mom and Dad is trying to say, it gets overshadowed and lost against its style and silly theatrics. Beyond its Friday-night frills, it is a muddled mess that may prove too berserk for most audiences.


6/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Mar 13 2018 09:15AM



Annihilation (2018) Dir. Alex Garland


With a whole load of hoo-ha about this film being solely released on Netflix UK instead of garnering a full cinema release, I decided to stick two fingers up at that ridiculous decision by getting out my projector and sound bar and closing the curtains to create my own cinema experience in my front room.


Although I’ve been a defender of Netflix’s output in the past, and it’s honourable how it allows smaller filmmakers to take chances, the fact is that this is a large production with Oscar-winning stars and it’s a shame to see it’s not getting a cinema release at all in the UK (unlike the rest of the world). That said, here we are in my home cinema and what we get is a sci-fi fiction horror adapted from the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer.


Opening with a meteorite crashing into a lighthouse we are soon introduced to Natalie Portman as Lena, a former soldier and scientist who is recalling her adventure inside an environmental entity called The Shimmer. She explains to a hazmat-wearing Benedict Wong about this ethereal alien mix of colour and DNA-adapted plants and animals. We flashback to her home life with her husband Kane (Ex_Machina’s Oscar Issac) who has gone missing inside the same anomaly but returns heavily scarred by his experience and Lena is asked to enter The Shimmer to find some answers.


The back and forth of timescales – as well as a female scientist who is dealing with a loved-one’s illness uncovering alien mysteries with a bunch of fellow academics – harks to Villeneuve’s Arrival, but Portman brings her own vulnerability that we’ve seen to great effect in Black Swan and last year’s underrated Jackie.


Teaming up with expedition leader Jennifer Jason Leigh, the team is rounded out by paramedic Gina Rodriguez as Anya Thorensen, Tessa Thompson’s physicist and Tuva Novotny as a surveyor and geologist. But it’s Portman’s experience in cell division (the circle motif also reminiscent of Arrival) that seems to offer some explanation as to what is going on.


Garland uses some heavy-handed symbolism as the shimmering landscape is reflected in plastic wrap protecting her and Isaac’s home furniture, whilst later we are shown the glossy transparent vinyl surrounding his quarantined bed. This idea of protection and safe and dangerous zones is present throughout and Garland impressively gives us a colourful floral jungle full of Pandora-esque life – yet one that is full of unexpected tension. Despite the lightness and brightness, we are only given us much information as the explorers so their journey into the unknown is also ours.


As they begin to experience shared memory loss and hallucinations, the feisty females stumble across the remnants of previous failed endeavours. Garland doesn’t shy away from the shocking scenes as camcorder footage reveals gruesome internal body horror the likes of which has not been seen since Prometheus. An intriguing plot slowly discloses more disgusting fleshy revelations and a fantastic scene involving the group turning on itself whilst a creature stalks their tied up bodies created a level of dread only the awful Alien: Covenant could dream of.


Yet, as well as the horrific, Garland provides a beauty contrary to the abominations they come across. As it is discovered that much of the environment is the result of cross-DNA development, vivid images of ice-trees and people-shaped plants dot the landscape and are as intriguing as the obvious terrors lurking in the unknown darkness.


The superbly designed overalls and backpacks and a brilliant female cast that audiences will get behind reminded me of how Ghostbusters got the same investigative para-scientific conceit so wrong. We are with this group of powerful female scientists every step, involving ourselves in their personal, scientific and emotional lives throughout their excursion.


Annihilation then ends up being an engaging piece of excellent sci-fi tropes and characters that have clear motivations and are well acted by the cast. An amazing score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow builds to a crescendo in the film’s final Giger-inspired sequence and although the film has ideas and themes seen elsewhere, Garland adds enough new to the mix to create a successful slice of intelligent story-telling.


I can’t help but feel however that, like the protagonists, our own journey into the unknown world of how Netflix will work in the future is a disordered fusion. The mutated mix of a home release and cinema experience is a conjoined mess that simply doesn’t work right now.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Feb 24 2018 03:11PM



The Death of Stalin (2017) Dir. Armando Iannucci


Banned in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan (jagshemash!) British comedian, director and satirist Armando Iannucci jumps into dangerous territory with this new dark comedy about a dictator’s passing and the chaos that subsequently ensues.


The film’s story highlights the brutal regime and power struggles in USSR during Stalin’s death in 1953. Armando Iannucci has pulled together an eclectic cast including comedy heavyweights like Michael Palin (as Vyacheslav Molotov) but has also wisely placed them alongside dramatic actors such as Steve Buscemi and Jason Isaacs to provide the gravitas to make the comedy spikes even funnier.


Stalin himself is hilariously voiced by Adrian McLoughlin with a Guy Ritchie-style cockney gangster vibe not seen so broad since Ralph Fiennes in In Bruges. Whilst strong English accents failed spectacularly in Valkyrie (I couldn’t get past the posh tones of Branagh, Nighy and Stamp for WW2 Nazis) it works well here as a comedy choice.


It begins with Stalin requesting a copy of a live orchestral performance which needs re-staging as no recording was made, ensuring we are introduced to the despot’s brutal rules from the start. We see the unforgiving nature of the regime as citizens do their best to avoid being on Government “enemy” lists which means a certain death.


After becoming incapacitated via a brain haemorrhage, two factions within the Central Committee appear as they attempt to gain control in the absence of power. Simon Russell Beale as Lavrentiy Beria shuts down Moscow and replaces “enemy” lists with his own, whilst Jeffrey Tambor as Georgy Malenkov undertakes his own ambitions.


Stalin’s daughter Svetlana is played brilliantly by Andrea Riseborough ensuring the “boy’s club” cast has a large dose of understated drollness. The film also screams Britishness in its tone and jokes. Lines like “where’s the big fella?” and “better watch your steps, son” (both delivered hilariously by The Fast Show’s Paul Whitehouse who gets a huge share of the best lines) are in clear contrast to the Soviet era costumes and soundtrack.


One critic of the film is Samuel Goff who states that “Beria was an odious sadist, but, as a friend put it to me, you wouldn’t make a film of the George W. Bush years that had Donald Rumsfeld personally waterboarding Guantanamo detainees”. To me that imaginary parallel is actually the perfect undermining of the awful oppressive structures in politics. It shows how those in positions of power actually do have blood on their hands through the decisions they’ve made even if not directly responsible for the act personally.


Ignore Goff’s sad “this isn’t historically accurate” and “I don’t find it funny” arguments, as the drama and comedy come together – as unrealistic as it needs to – in order to exaggerate and highlight the absurdities inherent in the horrific reality. Although it’s no way in the same league, it’s thematic siblings include the take-downs of suicide bombers in Chris Morris’ “Four Lions” and the religious conflicts in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”.


As the situation spirals out of control, the committee point fingers of treason and attempt to pin blame on each other as their paranoia spirals. The film's light-heartedness breaks into more overt drama as each member’s true intentions and murderous ambitions are revealed but the director still throws in humorous lines even during the darkest scenes.


Whilst approaching a difficult subject matter, the film’s censorship from public view in certain countries ironically reinforce the claims the film is making about authoritarian and tyrannical governments. And like the best satire, the film approaches the appalling events from a position of farce, from lifting Stalin’s body to the verbal bickering via the ludicrous actions during his funeral. And with an excellent ensemble cast of elderly gents, they deliver a thoughtful dark comedy that works more as Dad’s Army than Red Army.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Feb 23 2018 11:31PM



I, Tonya (2018) Dir. Craig Gillespie


The story of real-life figure-skater Tonya Harding and her infamous involvement with a brutal attack on a fellow skater before the 1994 Winter Olympics is the subject matter in this new movie from Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl, Fright Night, The Finest Hours).


Margot Robbie takes on the task of giving some humanity to the vilified Harding and whilst Robbie has been enjoyable in her blockbusting roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street, this film finally showcases her considerable talents as a dramatic actress.


The biography takes a route similar to “Wolf” in so much that we get multiple viewpoints recanting their own versions of events – with many flashbacks not matching with each other – as accusations of abuse from all sides begin to fly. Documentary style “talking head” segments lend realism, but are also at odds with characters themselves talking to the screen at times as they comment on their own reactions within the film.


'Winter Soldier' Sebastian Stan plays Harding's husband Jeff Gillooly, who is accused and accuses others of domestic battery but the standout support is Allison Janney as Harding’s dictatorial mother. From making the young Harding soil herself on the ice in the 1970s to her aggressive behaviour, the redneck relationship between them begins to hurt Harding’s chances. Her “white trash” upbringing is at odds with the wholesome American “family” the championship judges are looking for.


The film recreates the 80s hair, moustaches and double denim fashion from the era complimenting the use of 4:3 ratio home video film stock for the interview segments. There are also impressive recreations of stadium dance sequences to add realism. The film is soundtracked by retro hits which are a little on the nose as tracks like Devil Woman by Cliff Richard and Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits play alongside expected sequences.


The mix of styles mean the multiple viewpoints lead to our characters disagreeing with other people’s version of eventsbut these varied accounts begin to elicit sympathy for Harding’s plight. Unsure who to believe, one person’s loving marriage is another person’s period of spousal abuse, the film eventually introduces “the incident” with a “didn’t happen like this” Harley Quinn baseball attack.


The "incident" sequence begins to play out like Fargo with a husband attempting a nefarious act alongside his wife using a bunch of inept criminals, labelled here as “boobs”. Paul Walter Hauser as Shawn Eckhardt, a bodyguard and friend of Gillooly is one such boob and the real life footage shown during the credits show how accurate his performance of a delusional and clumsy felon is. With a money exchange, shady bar meetings and telephone calls, the Coen Brothers may want to check in with their lawyers as an investigation begins into the attack on Kerrigan.


One thing the film does avoid, and to its advantage, is a “race to the top” narrative. This isn’t RUSH by Ron Howard. It’s not Kerrigan versus Harding and their fight to be the best skater. If anything, it makes an extra special effort to avoid Kerrigan at all.


And with the spotlight firmly on Robbie’s portrayal, she gives depth to a demonised woman where those around her seem far worse than herself and the final act of authorities banning her from doing the one thing she was any good at, and truly loved, is more heartbreaking than any comeuppance.


Whilst also being the first woman to successfully land a triple axel in competition, Harding will sadly now be remembered as a modern villainess yet the film, with Robbie’s tremendous efforts, attempts to give a more nuanced reassessment of one of the most infamous scandals in sport.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



RSS Feed twitter