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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


By midlandsmovies, May 28 2018 12:59PM

Deadpool 2 (2018) Dir. David Leitch


After losing the first film’s director (Tim Miller) to the Cameron produced Terminator franchise (good luck with that as lord knows it needs some help), the sequel to 2016’s surprisingly knowingly violent superhero flick was left in the hands of David Leitch. As either director or co-director of both John Wick and Atomic Blonde, Leitch has certainly got the action chops and he brings his kinetic aesthetic to another outing from Ryan Reynold’s ‘merc with a mouth’.


[slight spoiler] In this film, Deadpool blames himself for the death of his partner Vanessa and after a suicide attempt he joins with X-Men’s Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead to help contain a young orphaned mutant Russell/Firefist (Julian Dennison from Hunt for the Wilderpeople). But after a standoff, both Wade and the vengeful youth get taken to a prison where collars are attached to supress their powers.


At the same time, Cable (Josh Brolin) travels through time to prevent disaster (“that’s just lazy writing”) as we discover the Russell of the future uses his powers to kill others – including Cable’s family. After a breakout from prison sees Wade recruit potential new superheroes to his cause – in a sequence that owes more than a nod to 1999’s Mystery Men – he creates a new team called X-Force. This group includes Domino (a fantastic Zazie Beetz whose power is pure ‘luck’) Terry Crews as Bedlam, Lewis Tan as Shatterstar, Bill Skarsgård as Zeitgeist and Rob Delaney as a regular guy called Peter.


Ryan’s ad-libbed dialogue is still present but my gripe with the first film was that the endless snide comments and pop-culture references made it feel particularly smug. This follow up mostly avoids that with a script focusing more on narrative and the inclusion of extra characters takes some of the attention away from Ryan’s endless quips.


A James Bond-style opening with Celine Dion ballad “Ashes” sets up the film with its brand of irreverent humour and its use of varied and inappropriate musical cues. AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is pure Iron Man territory but is a stonker of a tune which attempts to pump up the audience for a parachute jump during X-Force’s heist plans.


As well the action and comedy, Josh Brolin brings the same nuances that he brought to his other Marvel villain this summer and I have to admit I was waiting for a Thanos reference throughout and got the requisite nod before the end. Although he’s not given a great deal, Brolin adds more depth than is written and he’s without a doubt infinitely better than the awful unforgettable turn by Ed Skrein from the first.


Brilliant cameos at the X-Mansion and a hilariously excellent meta-nod to the film’s timeline during the end credits – both in this universe and others – are just two of many standout comedy sequences but with the addition of some emotional heft I enjoyed this ride a lot as it zips along at a pace.


For me, the film wasn’t helmed in by the origin story problem and, although not on the same level of quality, it sits alongside Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 as far better sequels than their origin films. Dark humour, screwball sequences and a great ensemble cast, Deadpool 2 again plays like the naughty child to the MCU’s high-achieving big brother but if you want less schmaltz and more obscenity, this superhero sequel delivers it in huge dirty doses.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, May 27 2018 07:23AM



Winchester (2018) Dir. Michael and Peter Spierig


Oh Spierig brothers, what happened, guys? 2009 saw their breakthrough hit Daybreakers take an interesting angle on the vampire genre where humans are farmed for their blood whilst Willem Defoe and Ethan Hawke discover a possible cure.


After that came the phenomenal sci-fi short-story adaptation Predestination; a film which presented a twisting time-travel narrative with Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook and whose clever premise made it our 4th best film of 2015.


Snook is back in their latest movie along with Helen Mirren as heiress Sarah Winchester. The lady of the house is haunted by spirits in her turn of the century mansion. Also along for the (dull) ride is Jason Clarke as Eric Price, a doctor who is sent to diagnose her mental state of mind by the gun company she lends her name to.


Based on the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, a real location claimed by many to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles to this day, the scares, if you can call them that, begin early. But don’t expect the slow build up needed for these kind of films. Atmosphere? Absolutely nowhere to be seen. Tension? You wish!


Quiet, quiet, quiet then BOOM, a pale looking ghost appears. If that's your thing then fill your boots but for the rest of us that technique is lifeless and predictable.


The endless jump scares and pre-emptive musical stings remove any mood the film was attempting to create and despite some good costume and set design cannot overcome its complete lack of horror in a supposedly horror film.


Unengaging and unsatisfying, the brilliant Helen Mirren sadly fails to bring her gravitas and talent to the one-dimensional character and hackneyed haunted house plot. Lazy, seen-it-all-before jump sequences (oh look, a ghost appears in a moving mirror) and boring corridor explorations make Winchester’s narrative as meandering as the layout of the mansion itself.


Hugely disappointing, the Speirigs previously delivered two exciting genre hits focusing on character, story and interesting themes but with Winchester (and their franchise failure Jigsaw) their career is heading downward in the wrong direction. A lack of true shocks, a boring narrative and scene after scene of dull exposition, not even the talented actors can raise this flop from the dead.


4/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, May 23 2018 06:58PM



Downsizing (2018) Dir. Alexander Payne


This high-concept sci-fi drama seems to live in the same strange world as Ricky Gervais’ The Invention of Lying. By that, it’s set in a normal world yet with one very odd conceit – in this film it’s the ability to shrink people.


Yes, that's right, just like Honey I Shrunk the Kids! Unfortunately, like Gervais’ “clever” attempt, Downsizing’s tone is all over the place and the director appears to be delivering a sermon on poverty issues when the set-up is pure Ben Stiller territory.


The film was a box office bomb and it’s easy to see why. Story-wise, the earth’s resources are becoming increasingly limited and a scientist discovers a way of shrinking humans in order to make the most of what is left. People who go ahead with the procedure end up increasing the value of their money, so one particular couple, Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, decide to take the plunge. However, she drops out at the last minute and we see Damon reflecting on his ‘big’ decision on his own.


Here we get the first mismatch as the film jumps from sequence to sequence in scenes that are a total tonal mismatch. These range from set-ups that play out like Willy Wonka’s Mike TV to a story that unfolds amongst poverty and health issues. Matt Damon (as always) is the likeable everyman whilst Jason Sudeikis (as always) is the self-centred “friend” and before long we find that the gap between rich and poor still exist as Damon visits impoverished slums.


Hong Chau plays a Vietnamese political prisoner who is shrunk against her will and does well with the awkward tone. Yet she is so wasted in the film in many respects. Damon’s unhappy American is far less interesting than Chau’s activist whose background sounds so much more intriguing.


As the film begins to explore themes of environmentalism through gorgeous shots of Norway, the film’s lightweight tone gives way to headier concepts and is all the worse because of it.


An incredibly strange film, almost nothing in Downsizing works together but individual scenes highlight the story that could/should have been told. Neither funny or satirical enough, it takes itself far too seriously and ends up being an honourable curio at best.


5.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, May 23 2018 06:05PM



On Chesil Beach (2018) Dir. Dominic Cooke


Derby Film Festival audiences were treated to a preview of new release On Chesil Beach, a British film written by acclaimed novelist and screenwriter Ian McEwan and our writer Guy Russell takes a look at this new drama.


Set in 1962 Britain, a different nation to what we experience today, newlyweds Edward and Florence are enjoying their honeymoon in Dorset, overlooking Chesil Beach.


McEwan is most popular for writing the novel Atonement which went on to become a successful film in 2007. Here he adapts his own novel for the big screen, having not read this before going into the screening I was happy to discover such great writing.


The dialogue is rich and realistic whilst the characters seem familiar and grounded almost as if you have met these people before. I’m sure we have all met an awkward introvert like Edward (Billy Howle) or a focused academic like Florence (Saoirse Ronan). Both leads are brilliant and each compliment the other whilst they share the screen, and there are also great supporting turns from Anne-Marie Duff as Edward’s unstable mother and Samuel West as Florence’s wealthy, demanding father.


Told throughout a non-linear narrative jumping between various months of 1962, the film chronicles the couple’s timeline from the moment they meet to the moment they depart. We see every feeling and emotion as it enters the relationship, however knowing that the relationship is doomed as societal restrictions hinder both Edward and Florence.


Glimpses of a shift in society echo throughout the film as Florence organises Ban the Bomb rallies whilst her family argue over the Soviet Union at dinner.


Still, the film’s focus and the pivotal scene in which it revisits several times is their honeymoon in the bridal suite. Florence is hesitant and nervous about losing her virginity whilst Edward is awkward but keen, the difference in behaviour leads to a cruel altercation where the truth spills out.


On Chesil Beach is director Dominic Cooke’s debut feature film, I’m excited to see if he directs another adaption or lends his hand to an original screenplay. Helped with McEwan’s screenplay I don’t think I have seen such a courageous yet ambiguous attempt to cover sexual repression. Along with themes of class and the shift from the early 60’s to the infamous swinging 60’s, On Chesil Beach makes for a unique viewing.


8/10


Guy Russell


Twitter @BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, May 5 2018 02:05PM



The Commuter (2018) Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra


Liam Neeson never seemed like a likely action hero when his imposing frame appeared in the rather fantastic but ultimately silly revenge flick Taken. Instead of an excellent one-off, the actor has attempted to recapture that glory on multiple occasions (including 2 Taken sequels) and each one worse than the last. And most with Commuter director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, Non-Stop, Run All Night).


Here, he plays an ex-cop (yes, really) who has now lost his job at a high flying banking corporation which leaves him unemployed and with large debts. Not wanting to explain the circumstances to his family, he meets Vera Farmiga on his regular train ride who tasks him with finding a person in the carriages on the promise of a large amount of cash.


Along with Farmiga, Patrick Wilson appears as an old cop pal and Sam Neill is a high ranking police captain but don’t let these quality actors lull you into a false sense of security. They all barely appear in the film and are given nothing to work with when they do show up.


With both the premise (and Farmiga) borrowed from Source Code (where she also gave a mission to a man to find someone on a train), the film has a solid 25 minutes of fun action in the middle when it picks up pace. However, it is bookended by large swatches of utter drivel with poor dialogue and drama. It also contains some truly horrific CGI, especially the shots from outside the train, whilst the virtual dolly shots are abysmal.


It’s of course absolute shlock but that middle segment is entertaining to a point. It also has a very similar premise to Neeson's other transit flick Non-Stop with the plane replaced by a locomotive here. Although he’s on the phone a lot on this one, at least he’s not texting! Is that better? Yes, but it’s hardly an endorsement.


A selection of random, and dull as dishwater, fisticuff and train jumping plot points culminate in a ludicrous Speed-like finale with a runaway train. And although the action has lost all believability at this point, with the cartoon-level computer generated loco steaming ahead, it was topped by an “I’m Spartacus” sequence that had me howling with laughter.


But alas, that one giant guffaw aside, any positives are small and this high concept but low budget actioner is not one you want to be travelling on for long.


5.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, May 5 2018 09:47AM



The Post (2018) Dir. Steven Spielberg


Is there anything worse than the comment “oh, it’s so the film we need right now”? I think not, and Spielberg doubles down on this statement and runs with it in his ‘analysis’ of the politics of 1970s newspaper journalists and their attempts to expose corruption, in his new flick The Post. In short, what we get is a few Oscar-worthy actors (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks) idly going through their high-quality motions as they discuss the repercussions of the Washington Post publishing Vietnam secrets buried in the Pentagon Papers.


With Spielberg’s track record, you’d expect nothing less than a well-constructed film but I found its constant pandering to topical issues so heavy-handed that the obvious parallels with current concerns about the US administration were undermined by a rather obvious delivery.


Spielberg’s floating camera and long takes are noticeable as we follow the newspaper’s owner (Streep as Katharine Graham) who is shown having her words literally taken from her mouth by male colleagues at board meetings even though the newspaper is in her hands. Spielberg tackles sexual politics as well as governmental politics, as she is shown physically placed behind groups of males and pushed out of the picture. But once they get hold of these confidential papers, she rises to take a stand and prepares to defy the newspaper's lawyers and publish the damning documents.


Early on, the Washington Post are banned from covering the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter' which parallels Trump – who is another grandiose self-obsessed and ugly White House figure much like Nixon himself. A clever highlight for me was showing Nixon from a distance – literally spying on him – like he did on others, and was a great way to foreshadow Watergate along with the constant shady phone-calls throughout.


Alongside this, the actors are often framed in silhouette – with illumination coming from windows (a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel) – whilst Spielberg also uses slow zooms to echo the surveillance style of The Conversation and other political thrillers from the time. A 4-way telephone conversation hints at crossed-wires and the soundtrack has a mix of John Williams echoing his own JFK melodramatic strings with some of his Catch Me If You Can retro style.


Spielberg’s masterful control of the medium is without peer and his close-ups of the intricacies of the printing press were a beautifully staged montage of a technology long-gone. And the endless piles of paper the journalists sift through are here today in an aternative electronic format as seen on Wikileaks. Old fashioned but still powerful.


It’s just that my personal taste is predisposed to be wary of “topical” films like this obvious attempt. And The Post feels very by-the-book. The movie comes along with a well-respected filmmaker choosing the most blatant of tropes – “Hey, Nixon is like Trump! These secret papers are like Wikileaks! Journalists are being oppressed today!” Relevent? Yes. Rather tedious and obvious to all? Sadly I’d argue yes again. And hugely to its detriment.


For me, it is so representative of his two-trick pony current output – political allegories like Bridge of Spies, Lincoln and War Horse and his sub-par CGI heavy flicks like Tintin, BFG and Ready Player One - as films that haven't touched me in the way his past classics have. The Post therefore ends up going through the motions like a well organised print of a newspaper and this rag is ultimately disposable at the end of the day.


6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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