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By midlandsmovies, May 26 2019 03:40PM



Vice (2019) Directed by Adam McKay


Christian Bale does his usual shtick by bulking up and becoming unrecognisable as he embodies the girth and the gall of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in 2019’s Vice.


A deserved win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the Oscars, the film nevertheless doesn’t entirely get underneath the surface of a man who pulled the puppet strings within the White House in the early 2000s.


The film flashes back and forth across time where Cheney begins as an intern and rises through the ranks of power alongside eventual long-term colleague, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). With family tensions and political posturing, Cheney suffers from a number of heart attacks as he leapfrogs from position to position as Presidents (Nixon and Ford) are ousted.


With narration, flashbacks, snappy editing and even a faux-ending in the first half of the film, McKay throws a lot of cinematic tricks into his film but they fail to compensate for the disjointed perspectives we see. Power-mad and using George “Dubya” as a proxy president at times, Cheney is hit in the face with random pot-shots from McKay without the movie ever really uncovering much more than most of us would know from the last decade’s media coverage.


Their despicable manoeuvring during the War on Terror sets them up further as the villains and although Bale and the supporting cast are good – the film draws upon broad caricatures rather than any in-depth analysis. Amy Adams as Cheney’s Wife, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell add much needed flavour and I enjoyed the varied film styles but it was often on the edge of falling apart. Scenes jumping forward in time just as drama was developing was its biggest failing.


In conclusion, Vice is very “worthy” and “honourable” and there’s nothing wrong per se, but it’s not much else. Its Wolf of Wall Street self-referential and satirical tone really wasn’t the right angle for me to scrutinise Cheney properly.


All the ingredients are there across the board but its attempts at an all-encompassing biography leave Vice as a slightly insubstantial, maybe even shallow, take on one of politics’ most nasty pieces of work.


★★★ ½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, May 26 2019 03:39PM

Stan & Ollie (2019) Dir. Jon S. Baird


Beginning in 1937, a tremendously long one-take shot pulls us into the Hollywood world of one of comedy’s most iconic duos where Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy move through a studio backlot to a film set during their heyday. However, as Stan is on a different contract to Ollie, a rift is borne which continues to 1953 where the more mature duo embark on a gruelling UK-wide tour as part of a planned comeback.


Composed of Englishman Stan Laurel & American Oliver Hardy, their slapstick comedy was a hit with war-time audiences and they went on to star in over 100 films together. John C. Reilly is covered in prosthetics to play the portly Oliver Hardy, whilst comedian Steve Coogan is a spitting image for the “confused” persona of Stan Laurel. However, despite Stan and Ollie's well-known on-screen traits, the creative partnership begin to struggle with a music hall tour of the UK in the hopes of getting another film made.


Checking-in to rough hotels and playing to a run of empty theatres, Reilly and Coogan give magnetic performances as the two elderly men coming to terms with some of their glamour slipping away. Coogan especially, whose legendary Alan Partridge alter-ego I am a huge fan of, finally (for me) ditches Alan’s mannerisms and this films contains probably Coogan’s best movie screen performance to date.


As the duo begin to fill up more theatres owing to a string of publicity events, their past catches up to them and whilst their wives come to visit from Los Angeles (another fantastic double act from Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda as Ida Kitaeva Laurel), the tension boils over into a public spat.


Filmed right here in the Midlands, some scenes were shot in Dudley as well as The Old Rep theatre in Birmingham and also along the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire. We get old-fashioned and charming set-ups in a loving homage to both the duo and their trade. Baird’s direction is unfussy and straightforward, which allows the actors to shine. But it’s delightfulness of tone does sometimes push the film towards being a tad artless and plain.


As their past feelings of reciprocated betrayal are revealed, the film's amiable drama does moves into a slightly more interesting take on resentment, creativity and mutual respect.


When Ollie has a heart-attack, it marks the beginning of a reconciliation and the pleasantness is re-established. And the film shows great fondness and respect for the two great men and reveals a little about their motivations and inspirations.


However, as humble as it is, the film at times slips into mawkishness and some of the curious simplicity results in some underdeveloped sequences. That said, the movie made me want to watch many more of the duo’s finest celluloid moments and the two leads pull off more than just a great imitation. Although at times a bit wishy-washy, Stan and Ollie is a humble and uncomplicated look at two mesmerising legends in a quaint tribute piece.


★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, May 26 2019 03:37PM



A Private War (2018) Dir. Matthew Heineman

This new biographical drama comes from Matthew Heineman and is his first dramatic movie after his success with 2017’s documentary City of Ghosts about anonymous activists in Syria as it was taken over by ISIS. Staying with similar subject matter, A Private War follows the real and recent war story of American journalist Marie Colvin. Colvin is played brilliantly and with depth by Rosamund Pike, who captures Colvin’s determination to uncover stories in the most dangerous of war zones. Losing an eye in Sri Lanka whilst documenting the country’s civil war, Pike wears an eye-patch but her ability to see, and uncover, a story is not diminished. Her mental stability is diminished however as post-traumatic stress, alcoholism and broken relationships begin to take their toll. Her anguish doesn’t stop her continuing her desire to expose the evils of the world as she crosses the globe.


Jamie Dornan is solid as her photographer Paul Conroy, whom she recruits to document the stories, whilst she consistently antagonises her boss Sean Ryan (a rather sympathetic Tom Hollander as The Sunday Times' foreign editor) in her search for tortuous truths. The film uses a countdown technique as we are shown various war zones from 2001 to the more recent battle of Homs. Some subtly impressive recreations of war zones, realistic shooting locations and the dramatic back-and-forths back in London all add to the realism. But it’s the central performance of a woman torn between the truth and the terror that is the real praiseworthy aspect. Pike gives her best performance since Gone Girl and brings to life the tragic story of Colvin and her demons. An impressive debut feature, Heineman delivers a whole host of remarkable technical aspects and Pike’s exciting central performance makes A Private War a dramatic and satisfying movie covering global conflicts and personal battles. ★★★★





Arctic (2019) Dir. Joe Penna

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Overgård, a stranded man who is trying to stay alive after his plane crashed in the snowy tundra of the arctic wasteland. As he fishes for food to stay alive, he carves out S.O.S in the snow whilst trying to map his bleak and (almost) inhospitable surroundings. Filmed in Iceland, the great cinematography from Tómas Örn Tómasson captures frozen vistas, landscapes and the snow-peaked mountains and it’s this beauty that contrasts with Mikkelsen’s desperation to survive. As a rescue helicopter spots him, it gets caught in a storm and crash lands itself with only a young woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) surviving but severely injured. The wreckage contains a map and Overgård discovers a lodge that is 2-days away so decides to secure the woman to a sledge and head out into the wilderness. Filmed almost entirely without dialogue, Mikkelsen is excellent portraying a man in a precarious and pressured situation but understanding that a clear head and logical thinking is the only way to survive. Fighting the elements and himself, and overcome with emotion at times, “mute” Mads has done a similar non-speaking turn in Valhalla Rising but this is far the superior film. With elements of Alive and The Martian as Mads faces risky dangers, Arctic ends up being a well-crafted 90-minute survival flick that is simple yet emotional, and life-affirming without being overly fussy. ★★★½



Shazam! (2019) Dir. David F. Sandberg

From the director who brought sub-par horrors Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation to the big screen, it’s incredibly surprising – in a good way – to see the fright fan tackle a child-friendly family blockbuster in the much-maligned DC Extended Universe. How this fits in with the tone of Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad is anybody’s guess - heads up, it doesn’t - but that’s a huge bonus for a film with low expectations to fulfil. In short, what we get is a tearaway, Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel) who gets placed in foster care but is given a magical power by a wizard (!) that can transform him into an adult superhero. As the man-version, Zachary Levi does a great job a la Tom Hanks in Big (and to a lesser extent Judge Reinhold in Vice Versa). Mark Strong as the villain simply dusts off his Kick Ass persona and although as bland as they come, has an interesting power that sees the “7 Sins” demons emanating from his body to attack. Some cornball family themes are expectedly delivered but mostly inoffensive, yet as Billy learns to use his super speed and strength – and how to take responsibility for his powers – the film gets by with a lot of heart and plenty of laughs. And for the first time (since Wonder Woman I guess), a DC comic book movie is finally fun, has a great tongue-in-cheek tone and some actually likeable and relatable characters. Shazam is a super success! ★★★ ½



Greta (2019) Dir. Neil Jordan

What happened between 1991-1992 that filmmakers seemed to make every thriller about stalking? Cape Fear (1991), Single White Female (1992), The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), Basic Instinct (1992) and Unlawful Entry (1992) are amongst a host of dramas where obsessed individuals terrorise their victims in a variety of dark and unique ways. And with Greta, we’re thrust back into that world with Neil Jordan’s latest psychological drama. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Frances, a waitress in New York who returns a lost purse to its owner (Isabelle Huppert as Greta Hideg) and becomes close with the lonely piano-playing widow. However, before you can say “bunny boiler”, Huppert’s Greta is calling, texting and eventually stalking Frances and her flat mate. Moving from a nuisance to full-on disturbingly obsessed, Huppert is having a lot of fun as the lurker and she gives gravitas to a pantomime role – similar to SIr Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, itself a 1991 release! It nails the knowing (and at times silly) tone of those 90s thrillers and at 98 minutes it doesn’t stay around too long for audiences to question all its holes, nonsensical narrative strands and ludicrousness. However, for those who are missing the glory days of crime, betrayal and emotional nut-bags – and no, it doesn’t treat psychological disorders with anything close to seriousness – then Greta is a guilty, if slight, return to the clichéd, outrageous, preposterous - but often highly entertaining - suspense genre from 30 years ago. ★★★ ½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, May 20 2019 08:36PM



Destroyer (2019) Dir. Karyn Kusama


As a huge fan of Kusama’s The Invitation, my expectations were high for her new crime thriller Destroyer which stars Nicole Kidman as an undercover cop taking out a gang years after she began working on the case.


Kidman plays Erin Bell in a role that’s as good as any she has delivered in the past. Dishevelled, weary and, what looks like, malnourished at times, the glamorous Kidman we've known from Hollywood is nowhere to be seen as she embodies a hard-nosed detective both physically and mentally.


Her character Bell is brought back to a case from her past by the appearance of a dye-soaked $100 bill from a botched robbery she was involved in whilst undercover with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan). The bill and the death of a man suggests that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) may have returned, so she begins to track down remaining gang members in order to find him.


The film’s narrative jumps from the present investigation back to the past when Erin and Chris were deep undercover. Questioning whether they should in fact become further involved with the crime, Erin and Chris begin a romantic liaison that has serious repercussions later on. Kidman is a tour-de-force here managing to perfectly play her naïve and unknowing cop from the past as well as embodying the rugged and vengeful vigilante version of herself in the present.


Harsh scenes of threats, sexual favours, violence and blackmail all add up to a world of horrid crime and one Erin is trying to protect her wayward daughter from. As each member leads her to the next, she ends up in a firecracker of a scene with lawyer turned money launderer Dennis DeFranco who is played fantastically by a sleazy Bradley Whitford. His spiteful confidence clashes with Bell but he underestimates both her resourcefulness and her lust for revenge.


The whole cast are fantastic but it’s Kidman’s great portrayal of a disparaged and down-and-out cop that has you rooting for her even when she’s aggressively settling scores.


And Kusama’s film manages to mix sadistic and cruel circumstances with intense scenes of emotional vulnerability – Kidman’s absent mother reigns in her most brutal tendencies when dealing with her daughter and her big-headed boyfriend – leading to an outstanding balance of tones and themes.


Narratively, as our protagonist begins to go off the rails, we never once get confused as to her motivations and Kidman says as much with a dismissive gesture and roll of the eyes as she does when delivering verbal take-downs of the city’s villainous crew.


With a tremendous cast throughout and first-rate scenes exploring the consequences of violence, Destroyer is an exceptional thriller from start to finish. But more importantly, it will destroy all preconceptions you had of Kidman as she delivers a superbly astonishing turn in the type of repellent role I’d love to see more of.


★★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, May 15 2019 02:06PM



Loro (2018) Dir: Paolo Sorrentino


Stylish. Decadent. Captivating. Loro, the latest film from Paolo Sorrentino see’s the Italian director reunite with Toni Servillo, with whom he collaborated with on The Consequences of Love and The Great Beauty, in a satirical take of Silvio Berlusconi.


Now to describe Loro as a biopic is perhaps a little misleading as the film itself is a fictional account of what might or might not have happened behind closed doors during this period of his return to politics and the breakdown of his marriage, although Sorrentino covers much more than that in this layered yet somewhat confused societal and political comedy. However the fact that the film was released in two parts in its native land, with the UK receiving a combined version lacking an hours worth of material may perhaps explain this.


The film itself is imbued with symbology, for instance at the very beginning a lamb dies in a villa, no doubt a reference to rival Agnelli, which is balanced out by the more explicit, quite literally in some cases, visual excesses which may or may not work on several levels depending on your knowledge of the characters, Italian politics and culture. This unfortunately, like many other foreign releases that do not cover universal themes, means that Loro suffers from a lack of transferability and that layers of meaning are lost.


To further complicate matters, a significant portion of the first act focuses on Sergio, a small-time and unscrupulous business man who seeks to win favour with old Silvio. However as compelling as this story is, Sorrentino appears to lose interest part way through and poor Sergio is relegated to barely even being a supporting player.


If some storylines are seemingly tossed aside in the UK version thankfully the visuals remain consistent in their beauty and alongside Servillo’s perhaps too-charming performance, there is enough for the rest of us to enjoy.


Sorrentino once again delivers excess and style in a high-brow and artistic manner, some of which is certainly questionable but perhaps apt, and while entertaining for the most part, Loro is one perhaps only for his committed fans, Italophiles or those who want an overly sympathetic story of partying Silvio.


★★½


Midlands Movies Marek

@CinemaEuropa



By midlandsmovies, May 15 2019 07:45AM



Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) Dir: Joe Berlinger


Serial killer Ted Bundy returned to public consciousness with the Netflix series ‘Conversations with a Killer” and this resurgence of interest led to this biopic, based on a book by his former long-term partner Elizabeth Kendall.


As to be expected from the source material the film picks up during the time of Kendall and Bundy meeting and charts their lives from that point on, taking in accusations, courtroom drama and the struggle of fighting for justice.


However it is clear that rookie writer Michael Werwie struggled to adapt the source material, as he fails to grasp or decide what the focal point of this film should be. As a result director Joe Berlinger, on paper a great choice due to his background in true-life productions, struggles to maintain viewer interest over the 110 minute run time, despite managed to create a strong look to the film and benefiting from terrific cast performances.


Due to not knowing what sort of film it wants to be, or even who the underlying story should be with - Kendall or Bundy - Extremely Wicked… fails to fully engage on any level. Not to mention as the events unravel we begin to empathise with the charming and ever hopeful Bundy as he fights against what appears to be one of the great American miscarriages of justice.


Even knowing the reality, it is hard based on the film itself not to start thinking that Bundy is being railroaded by the system into being a patsy for unexplained crimes. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that the crimes themselves are relegated into the background, as is Kendall, for the majority of the film making it easy to separate the handsome, normal man from his heinous and brutal crimes.


Admittedly this is part of the films purpose but one in which it fails to manage in an effective manner. This is no doubt further complicated by Zac Efron’s fantastic performance which is delightful, but one fears that by getting him on board that certain compromises had to be made in order to protect Brand-Efron, and that possibly includes showing as little violence as possible for as long as possible, and that in itself is problematic when dealing with this subject matter.


Featuring big hitters such as the previously mentioned Efron and heavyweight actor John Malkovich, ‘Extremely Wicked…’ was always going to be a competent production but sadly in seeking a wider acceptance, and no doubt a financial return, the film panders to more mainstream tastes than perhaps the subject matter demands while trying to deliver too much content, which ironically results in it delivering very little of substance.


Ultimately Extremely Wicked… is unsure if it wants to be a personal film or simply a factual telling of selected moments and as a result drags and lacks focus.


★★


Marek Turner


@CinemaEuropa



By midlandsmovies, May 9 2019 05:59PM



Kaleidoscope

Directed by Nicole Pott

2019


“Who’s in control now?”


Kaleidoscope is the new 10-minute short from Derbyshire director Nicole Pott showing the preparation of a child’s party by his parents that unwraps a far more sinister side to this suburban family’s life.


We open on a brightly lit day where a child in a dinosaur onesie plays in his room. The camera lightly dances around the boy, Conan, (played by an excellent Harry Tayler) and along with a suitably whimsical piano score brings us into a world of childhood imagination.


As his mum (Cressida Cooper) calls him down to breakfast, he stops playing with his gun and goggles and we see his father (a burley Ian Virgo) arrive with a toweringly big present.


Whilst mother busies herself with phone calls and food preparation, we get scenes of father-son bonding. Conan and his ‘Papa’ pretend to be karate masters before he teaches his son to put on a tie for school and they leave.


Here the film cuts to later in the day with a distinct shift in tone as well. Director Pott subtly moves us from a place of childhood wonder to a darker drama as mother and father begin arguing.


Barbs fly about the father’s drinking habits and Conan moves himself away and retreats into his own world, returning to his steampunk goggles that help him hide from the noisy quarrel downstairs.


However, unbeknownst to the disputing parents, their argument moves into the bedroom he’s hiding in and he witnesses the argument become far more serious.


A verbal assault becomes a physical confrontation between them as their son witnesses the worst of family situations. Musically the audio turns much more melancholic and the film shows some stark realities of domestic violence.


As lonely Conan blows out the candles on his cake, the ending is far darker yet poignant than the frilly beginning. Kaleidoscope therefore leads audiences down surprising yet satisfying narrative paths and the short works tremendously well by contrasting these two extreme elements.


As Conan sees through dark lenses, the film’s kaleidoscopic nature consists of different parts, constantly blurring and fracturing your expectations.


With three strong performances, the actors are very believable during their interactions which move from heart-warming to dark warnings – especially when we get glimpses of a controlling and abusive partner.


Showcasing how domestic violence can be lurking very much beneath the surface of a seemingly fun-loving family, Kaleidoscope exposes a wealth of distorted domestic secrets using a wonderful narrative structure. Skilfully playing with expectations, the short is a great drama showing the unpleasant patterns of cruel perpetrators.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 30 2019 09:17AM



Replicas (2019) Dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff


What is up with Keanu Reeves career making decisions? For every critical and commercial success he then opts to star in something so awful it beggars belief. As far back as Speed (followed by the woeful Johnny Mnemonic), all the way to The Matrix (followed by the unwatchable The Watcher), Keanu has moved from stone cold classics to utter drivel within months. So with John Wick being followed by the awful Knock Knock (see our review) he now moves from the excellent John Wick: Chapter 2 to new sci-fi film Replicas. And guess what? A $30 million dollar failure, the film sees Reeves as William Foster, a scientist who breaks the law to clone his family members after they perish in a vehicle accident. Sadly the film contains every plot cliché you can imagine and, whether it’s the script (likely) or the direction, Alice Eve as his wife gives a simply atrocious performance. Film fans will notice all the scenes hawked out of previous, and better, sci-fi movies including an I-Robot car crash (and Sonny-looking droid), an obsessed scientist and some Minority Report interfaces. And despite its attempts to tackle deeper issues of loss, humanity and family, the film is mostly reminiscent of the bold boringness of Transcendence. Avoid. ★★




The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019) Dir. Alex Gibney


This new documentary film tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her technology company Theranos, a now defunct business which was claiming to have revolutionised blood testing in the United States. Using just a small amount of blood from a finger prick, the company was testing machines that could return results of certain conditions in minutes. With their stupendous, and world-changing claims, Forbes named Holmes the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America. However, just one year later her value was reassessed at zero dollars. What happened? Well Gibney’s documentary builds upon investigations at the time that uncovered there were significant problems with the company’s medical claims despite the endorsement of some high-flying business leaders. As a fan of Gibney’s past work – Zero Days being one of our top films of 2016 – it’s a shame to see such a lacklustre delivery of what is clearly an interesting subject. Unsure if it wants to be a study of manipulative characters like the delusional Holmes, or a take-down of Silicon Valley’s empty capitalism, the documentary sits in a sort of no man’s land of so-so interviews, archive footage and analysis. With a few tweaks and a tighter edit (it runs at 2 hours) this could have been a fantastic look at a modern-day conspiracy but despite Gibney making the complex subject matter understandable, it’s ultimately a dry recounting of the facts at hand. ★★★



The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2019) Dir. Robert D. Krzykowski


Directed, produced and written by Robert D. Krzykowski, the film’s title has “solo passion project” written all over it in this new adventure drama starring Sam Elliott. The story sees old man Elliott as Calvin Barr who is shacked up in his home reminiscing about his past. On a covert operation to kill Hitler, Barr does the deed but his actions are swept under the carpet by seedy government forces and the public never find out. Later on in the present and after getting in fights around town, two new government agents explain that the world is at risk of destruction owing to a virus caused by, you’ve guessed it, Bigfoot. Aidan Turner plays the young Barr whilst Mark Steger has the enviable IMDB listing as “Bigfoot” himself. All this sounds lots of b-movie fun, right? Well, sadly, categorically no. Despite having the ridiculous title of a grindhouse film, the cinematography and pacing is that of an earnest character study. Sadly this results in an inherent dull-ness and it massively fails to live up to its ludicrous premise. In hindsight that could (and should) have been a semi-serious romp in the vain of another recent historical horror, Overlord – which combined similar genres far more effectively. A wasted opportunity. ★★


Michael Sales


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