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By midlandsmovies, Dec 7 2018 12:36PM



Three Identical Strangers (2018) Dir. Tim Wardle


[Spoilers – please be aware this review reveals the film's main story]


This excellent new 96-minute documentary comes from Tim Wardle who re-discovers one of the more bizarre stories from the early 80s and re-positions it as a far more complex and dark tale than initially thought.


An outstanding opening tells the story of a young man, Robert Shaffran, who heads to college only to be mistaken by random strangers as their friend Edward Galland. After establishing that Robert isn’t Edward – who dropped out of the same college the previous year – fellow student Michael Domnitz encourages Robert to contact Edward and they drive cross-country to go meet him the very same day.


Amazingly, the tale unfolds to reveal that the two mistaken men are in fact twins, separated at birth through adoption yet who grew up in the same area.


The documentary uses talking head interviews to explain their incredibly wild story in simple terms which makes the tale all the more fascinating when the coincidences occur. And what coincidences!


As only a short time later – with the brothers’ story and photos making national newspapers – they are contacted by another man, David Kellman, who questions why he is looking at a picture of two of himself.


And so, the three men come to realise that far from twins, they are in fact a set of triplets who were raised in different households by loving families, unaware of each others existence.


Splicing in footage from the time across interviews, panel shows and question and answer TV appearances, the trio come across as likeable, fun and eerily similar siblings who make the most of their new found fame and fortune.


However, in a search for some answers to their adoptive pasts the families uncover a sinister reason for their separation involving a science experiment by psychiatrists Viola W. Bernard and Peter B. Neubauer. Without care or diligence, the two set a terrible scheme in motion to try and answer the age-old question of what has the most influence in our lives – nature or nuture?


The “scientific” study is given ominous context and with the full results sealed in a locked vault at Harvard University the brothers struggle to come to terms with their predicament. Grappling with their world, and their inner demons, one of them eventually commits suicide and the painful reality of their topsy-turvy lives is underscored in this honest yet fascinating documentary.


As with many of the best documentaries, it is the story itself that is the real enticement for audiences but the filmmaker’s change of tact to delve into the murky past and shady machinations is to its benefit and depth, with the film contrasting the happy reunion with the fatal outcomes.


Chilling, thrilling and fulfilling the documentary serves up a triple whammy of satisfying characteristics and combined with the revealing and candid interviews with the put-upon and exploited participants, it ends up being one of the best documentaries of 2018.


8.5/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 1 2018 06:20PM



Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) Dir. Christopher McQuarrie


Tom Cruise running and running and running. And sometimes falling. Fallout is the 6th entry in the MI franchise that is becoming more Bond-like with each instalment and like Bond, sees no signs of stopping with its huge box office takings.


Maintaining consistency from previous movie Rogue Nation – star, director and support cast members all returning alongside a continuing narrative – the film sees Cruise and his cohorts tackle another world-ending evil plan with gadgets, vehicles and some implausible action.


One problem with the series is that since Cruise goes “rogue” in almost every film that I’m surprised his character Ethan Hunt is still employed. In this film we have another inconsequential story involving nuclear bombs that is hugely secondary to the stunts and frantic story pace.


Henry Cavill is a new and positive addition showing the likeable acting chops sorely missing from his dour Superman and sneaky Sean Harris returns as Solomon Lane who helps bridge this film with the last.


The film doesn’t quite balance its realistic elements with frankly ludicrous Olympus Has Fallen-style silliness where a stunning real-life helicopter chase sits in the same film as obviously-rendered CGI cars on the streets of Paris. Also making a reappearance are those horrid latex masks that have always stuck in my craw. Clichés abound – a double-agent, a spy called “White Widow”, a new world order villainous plan – and the middle of the film slightly bores with its constant slew of mistaken identities and compromised missions.


But to be fair, it is still a lot of fun. One of the best sequences is a race across London rooftops mixing stunts, laughs and solid action and contains the infamous Cruise ankle-breaking jump between buildings that halted production for weeks.


However, there were just too many little flaws to make this a truly great actioner. A parachute jump had me rolling my eyes when the leads talk about the need to avoid being hit by lightning only to be zapped a second later like a Warner Bros cartoon. But a brutal and brilliant bone-crunching fight in a nightclub bathroom had me wincing in joy – and again reminded me of Bond in Casino Royale’s opening. Speaking of openings though, the film again undermines its own positives by seemingly showing the whole film you’re about to watch in a sequence so unbelievably misjudged I almost fainted.


One part which seemed to have no flaws though was the excellent score from Lorne Balfe. Zimmer-esque at times, Balfe has found some great uses of the classic TV show’s theme mixing emotional subtlety with bombastic blasts when needed.


Easily in the top MI films so far, is the film the Nolan-classic some critics are lauding it? Not even close in this reviewer’s eyes. That said, it’s one of the better summer blockbusters and, dare I say, Cruise’s franchise behemoth is certainly catching up with Bond especially with that franchise currently languishing in development hell.


Better than Rouge Nation (a film I didn’t massively gel with) but for me not quite having the spectacular sequences of Ghost Protocol, it’s probably the best looking film amongst all six and despite some recent missteps (I’m looking at you, The Mummy) the film cements Cruise as the superstar to watch out for each summer season.


7.5/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 23 2018 01:08PM



Calibre (2018) Dir. Matt Palmer


In the last 2 years Netflix has been the home of interesting independent film that allows the platform to champion smaller films and lesser known filmmakers and has, please see my best of the year lists from 2016 & 2017, created many more satisfying movies in the process.


During the same period, a number of Midlands filmmakers have seen their productions gain bigger budgets and with access to more resources and developing talents, Calibre is a film that bridges these two exciting areas – especially with a focus such as ours.


Here, Nottingham’s Wellington Films have created a thriller set in Scotland where two friends embark on a hunting excursion in the Highlands. Marcus (Martin McCann) is a confident businessman who invites childhood friend Vaughn (Jack Lowden) to a shoot in the woods and after entering a small village plagued by economic woes, settle down in a bar before their hunt the next morning. That evening they meet two girls and Marcus leaves the pub with one despite receiving a warning from a local.


The next morning and with heavy hangovers the duo head to the woods and Vaughn, shooting for the first time, accidentally kills a young boy in a fluke shot. The boy’s father appears and raises his gun but Marcus shoots him dead before convincing Vaughn no one will believe it was an accident. They bury the bodies at night and then do their best to exit town.


The film sets up its simple premise with thoughtful and engaging character work, small details are symbolically presented throughout and the location is equally the great outdoors and the oppressive indoors. This sense of inescapability – both physically and from the terrible past act – is the film’s driving force. A knife in the tyres from the brother of one of the girls they were warned away from means the two lads’ car becomes incapacitated. And this in surmounting pressure of the town becomes more and more unbearable with the audience unable to escape their own feelings of unpreventable pressure.


Unable to fix their vehicle quickly and with the local taxi driver drunk, the locals set out in search of the missing boy after their suspicions become aroused. And as the reality starts to hit home, the film heads into dark territory as the secrets become a scary reality for everyone involved.


Both leads hold the film together – Jack Lowden is excellent as the wide-eyed hunt virgin whose expression of innocence slowly turns to physical sickness – whilst Martin McCann’s performance is a fantastic mixture of loud-mouth cockiness and sinister self-assurance.


The direction captures the Scottish area well and each location is brilliantly filmed and perfectly establishes the setting and scene. From cosy but awkward local pubs to dirty farm buildings, they sit well alongside photography of forests which show beauty, but also horror, as they hide mysteries (and bodies) within the confines of stifling trees.


A great support cast play a host of residents, none of which you can be entirely sure are kindly residents or lethal locals, but it’s this guessing game that maintains Calibre’s invigorating narrative. With a hint of Kill List, a dashing of Wicker Man and splash of In Bruges, Calibre’s thematic influences are varied but it carves out its own unique position as a tremendously tight and tense thriller.


7.5/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Nov 23 2018 12:57PM



Chappaquiddick (film) Dir. John Curran


This film highlights an historical incident from 1969 when US Senator Ted Kennedy drove his car into Poucha Pond killing a girl called Mary Jo Kopechne and then focuses on the subsequent media fallout.


The main facts from the case make for dark inspection as Kennedy drives from a beach party and crashes into water before returning to the house where he asks 2 friends to assist. But after failing to rescue her they advise him to go to the police that night. But for some reason he doesn’t. He goes back to his hotel and back to bed. A man in shock or an act of political protection? Well, the film definitely portrays the latter.


So let’s be honest here, the film doesn’t make the Senator look in any way sympathetic. The car is subsequently found by members of the public and Kennedy returns to his family’s estate to instigate some serious media damage control.


Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy is fantastic and the film’s supporting cast is solid throughout. At the film’s conclusion we are told Ted continued in the U.S. Senate for 40 years – highlighting how that even when causing a death, nothing can really stop your career when you come from American royalty like the Kennedys.


Ed Helms, looking strangely like the manager from The Incredibles and Clancy Brown are the best of the rest whilst Bruce Dern is as cantankerous as ever as Kennedy senior. Kate Mara is strong but given the story, she is"offed" early in the movie - although her sympathetic portrayal makes Kennedy's actions all the more unfathomable.


The film is a solid biopic and if anything made me feel slightly disgusted by the actions on screen but doesn’t truly hold as much weight as it should other than Clarke’s captivating central performance.


The Kennedy family and their powerful friends have unsurprisingly called the film a “fabrication” but the film rightly sticks to its guns in order to remind us all of the political machinations of a country slowly falling away from its morals in a way that maintains the sleazy status quo. A passable political potboiler.


6/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 11 2018 09:54AM



Robin Hood The Rebellion (2018) Dir. Nicholas Winter


Back in 1991 two Robin Hood films were released with Kevin Costner’s infamous Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves going head-to-head in an archery competition with the lower budget Robin Hood starring Patrick Bergin. Now in 2018 we have a similar experience with the Hollywood blockbuster Robin Hood and this low budget UK film.


Here, the background of the merry men coming together is jettisoned, as a coda at the start gives us a few lines to set up the story – which to be fair, would be well-known by the majority an audience familiar with the often-told legend. We are then thrust into a fight scene showing the current brutality of the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men against the band of outlaws hiding in the forest. Some good drone shots and authentic location work set up the period well, alongside solid costume design. At least here we don’t get the blockbuster “reinvention” which (at the time of writing and only the trailer out) looks on initial viewing like a CGI mess.


In summary, the story has Maid Marian (Marie Everett) being kidnapped by the Sheriff (James Oliver Wheatley) forcing Robin (Ben Freeman) to rescue her. Sadly the solid beginning and competent shadowy and fire-lit cinematography is undone by some rather bland story-telling. The stirring music is almost constant throughout, which gives the film no light or shade. About 25 minutes in we get our first shot of a stone castle but this is the first major location change. It comes far too late and a forest is only so interesting to look at and the woods give the movie the unfortunate tone of a fan-film. Again, same music. Same locations. Same action.


The film reminded me of the worst excesses of Zak Snyder – it looks the business but slow-motion is used when not needed and every line of “lofty”, but too expository, dialogue is delivered with so much emphasis it comes across as pantomime-like. When these “trailer” lines (“we MUST fight”) are so commonplace, development is difficult as no-one has regular conversations that enlighten their character.


It could do with a huge dollop of light-heartedness too (the best Hood tales for me have an abundance of camp fun) and the film reminds me of the rather dour Ridley Scott version from a few years back. And a much-needed OTT cameo from Prince of Thieves-starring Brian Blessed is too little too late.


Sadly then, although the filmmaker has done well with a low-budget, the story just isn’t there to maintain the required interest and the dialogue instils little empathy with the characters. Especially with Robin himself seemingly quite murderous in this version. So despite some great location work and cinematography, those two fantastic elements alone cannot overcome the film’s flaws so it’s difficult to recommend despite its honourably good intentions.


5/10


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Nov 4 2018 07:46PM

Review - Movie Catch Up Blog 2018 - Part 4




Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) J. A. Bayona

The fifth film in the dino-giant Jurassic franchise, and boy does it feel like it. In the world of the soft reboot, what we get here is a re-tread of Spielberg’s disappointing sequel where a group of military personnel return to the infested island. As they try to retrieve precious DNA remnants, the animal's eco-system is disrupted by the impending eruption of a volcano which puts the remaining dinosaurs at risk of a second extinction. Why this is a problem remains a mystery as they can surely clone them all again? That was the first film’s point. Chris Pratt moves further from his great Guardians performance and slides into “Blando Hero-man” alongside Bryce Dallas Howard’s retconned footwear-obsessed power female. The film also takes a sharp 180 degree turn at the halfway point and we are soon in a Scooby-Doo esque haunted mansion where – and this is actually the story – a group of rich billionaires are buying and selling dinos in an underground laboratory. WTF? Reminding me of the human trafficking auction in Taken, the film flies off the rails with only a few hints of the skill Bayona showed in his earlier films The Orphanage and A Monster Calls. Boring and dull, Fallen Kingdom is somewhat unbelievably the 12th highest grossing film of all time which means there will most certainly be another - but count me out of this dead-as-a-dodo theme park attraction. 5.5/10




The Meg (2018) Dir. Jon Turteltaub

More monstrous-sized nonsense in this actioner starring everyone’s favourite knees-up-muvva-brown geezer Jason Statham. Back in 2015 for my review of Wild Card I said, and I quote, Statham “often plays the same ex-cop/gangster/trained assassin/cage fighter/thief with violent skills who attempts to go straight, but is pulled in by circumstances beyond his control”. And unsurprisingly here, he is a retired and disgraced diver whose skills are needed when he returns to investigate an ocean anomaly, despite his suspect past and *cough* his attempts to leave his aquatic life behind. As quick as you like he’s back in the saddle, or should that be scuba, and thus begins a sub-Deep Blue Sea monster movie with awful CGI and atrocious acting. Films that hope to be ironic b-movies tend not to work unless you go “full pastiche”. So, The Meg’s hammy performances and plastic special effects are not ironically bad, they’re just bad. Director Turteltaub helmed the fun guilty pleasure National Treasure movies yet this is neither family fun nor satisfying grindhouse splatter-fest. The Meg sadly handles its efforts in both genres terribly badly. Some may find a bit of Saturday night excitement in its glossy shark sequences but for me the film was simply mega disappointing. 4/10




Tag (2018) Dir. Jeff Tomsic

During the end credits of Tag there is real-life camcorder footage of the men who inspired this new American comedy from Jeff Tomsic and it’s indicative of the film’s quality that those few minutes are far more interesting than the preceding 2 hours. Based on the real-life story of a group of grown adults who play a game of “tag” (“it” in the UK) for one month of the year, Ed Helms plays Hoagie who stalks his friends Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress and Isla Fisher. He then convinces the old gang to play one final game before ‘retirement’ by tagging their elusive friend Jeremy Renner who has never been tagged despite years of attempts. With Renner on the verge of marriage, the group try to tag him during his wedding planning but his 'Bourne' skills sees Renner using Hawkeye-style reflexes to avoid their juvenile attacks. A few fine jokes and some rip-roaring editing still cannot overcome the fact that, for me, a documentary on the actual participants – who still play to this very day – is where the true entertainment would lie. With Blockers and Game Night both tackling the “adults playing at kids games” theme as well, Tag sadly doesn’t have anything close to the fun found in those. And with its TV-style filming, a strangely maudlin ending and its one-trick-pony idea Tag is definitely not “it”. 4.5/10




The First Purge (2018) Dir. Gerard McMurray

How did The Purge start? Well, this is the film to answer the question that no one was really asking but as with the other films in the series, this 4th franchise instalment tackles some deeper issues than your regular b-movie thriller. In the mid-21st Century, we are told via news footage that the fascist New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) are launching an experiment on Staten Island where citizens can commit crime consequence-free for 12 hours. The film follows local drug gangs, a criminal called Skeletor and young anti-purge activists throughout the night as they fight off the expected (and unexpected) participants of The Purge. With a mainly black cast, the film also discusses issues of community, poverty, substance abuse and even has Ku Klux Klan members and black-faced mercenaries. Not just a throwaway action-flick for sure.


In my review of The Purge: Election Year I explained how the “anthology” nature of The Purge series has allowed it to explore more interesting themes than similar low-budget fare, whilst also allowing young up and coming talent to take centre stage amongst its cast. And good turns from Y'lan Noel as Dmitri, Lex Scott Davis as Nya, Joivan Wade as Isaiah, Mugga as Dolores and Christian Robinson as Capital A mean everyone delivers more than fine performances throughout. With “weighty” films like Black Panther, The Post and Black Klansman all tackling lofty themes, it’s great that The Purge gives them all a run for their money with its social commentary alongside b-movie bloodshed. With the authorities trying to stir up hatred with militias, The First Purge (and the others in the series) has used its silly premise to turn a mirror on to the problems currently facing America. And through inventive costume design, handheld camera and a pumping soundtrack, uses its non-mainstream genre to explore the far darker, but no less important, aspects of politics and policymakers. 6.5/10


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 25 2018 02:43PM



Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) Dir. Bryan Singer


Let’s get the Queen song puns out of the way from the start. Is Bohemian Rhapsody “guaranteed to blow your mind”? Well, it’s a glossy, Queen-approved biopic that had some tremendous moments but unfortunately the sum is less than its parts as we follow the glam-infused rock-opera band from their early beginnings to their Live Aid performance of 1985.


We open backstage at that world-broadcast concert but are soon thrust back in time to 1970 where flamboyant singer Farrokh Bulsara (soon to be Freddie Mercury) meets up with Gwilym Lee as Brian May and Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor after their band ‘Smile’ loses their frontman.


Mercury is encapsulated, and then some, by a beyond-terrific performance from Rami Malek and although the film covers various aspects of the band’s career, Malek is thrust centre stage and like Freddie, all eyes are on him throughout the duration.


After securing bassist John Deacon the film stops off at varying points of the group’s milestones as we get to see the greatest hits of Mercury's life from his Zanzibar roots, Bombay originating parents, his meeting and engagement to lifelong companion Mary Austin, the band on tour and the subsequent falling outs.


Fun and harmless it is but sometimes borders on the bland with shot choices that were less than cinematic. This lack of consistency may have come from the removal of the film’s original director Bryan Singer. The irony of behind-the-scenes (or backstage if you will) creative differences isn’t lost on this reviewer.


Also losing a singer are Queen. The film sees Freddie’s ego get the better of him as his wild lifestyle lead him to a drug and sex-fuelled hedonism which culminates in him pursuing solo project without his band mates. Or his “family” as they are repeatedly referred to.


As a 12A film, the movie doesn’t go into Mercury’s debauched depths (Movie Marker’s Darryl Griffiths sums up the issue brilliantly here) and although it’s not a warts and all exploration, the film doesn’t shy from his sexuality and his subsequent discovery that he contracted AIDS.


The film therefore feels like its trying to cover far too much ground (around 15 years) and doesn’t give adequate space for all its plot and character ambitions. The wayward frontman scenes combine nicely with the studio sequences however. The repetition of Roger Taylor’s falsetto delivery of “Galileo” is a great nod to the band’s recording methods as seen on BBC2s’ “Making Of” documentary where hundreds of takes were attempted to achieve Freddie’s legendary perfectionism.


It gave the impression at times that the film (produced and approved by May and Taylor) was also attempting to force their contributions in which made it feel a bit "try-hard". The whole band were brilliant of course and each member essential but it was definitely the Freddie show that made the best cinema here.


And although a cameo from Mike Myers was a nice nod to the song’s influence, like far too much of the script, he delivers lines from Anthony McCarten's screenplay that are simply too on the nose. "We get it. It’s Wayne’s World! You don’t need to say it!"


One of the most talked-about, and lauded, scenes is the recreation of the band’s Live Aid show at Wembley Stadium. A fantastic realisation of the day, it is somewhat spoiled by a Return of the King (or should that be Queen) style ending that felt like it went on for days. Rami struts the stage in a way that is less than just a good impression and more of a total embodiment but after 15 minutes the film easily could have wrapped itself up after the first track.


As a huge fan of the band I enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody but it's all a bit like Queen themselves – slightly indulgent, sometimes overlong and contains an unhealthy obsession with its own importance BUUUUUT you can't take your eyes off that man at the front. And Rami Malek is without doubt stunning as Freddie Mercury.


A shed-load of hits from Queen’s back catalogue are obviously interspersed throughout and the most moving moment was Malek’s delivery as he reveals his AIDS diagnosis to his weeping band mates. A heart-breaking and jolting sequence in a film that had been mostly surface throughout.


But I couldn’t dislike the film for its broad strokes. It aimed high and unfortunately fell a little flat yet I enjoyed much of the film’s approach, its likeable depictions of the band (and their hangers-on) as well as the shooting star of the show that is Rami Malek.


Broken into three parts – the film shows Freddie’s killing of his past persona growing up, then the campy frolics and hedonism of operatic orgies and a final head-banging ending with pulsating riffs and joyous rock – if only there was a Queen song that encapsulated all this.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 24 2018 12:52PM



Incredibles 2 (2018) Dir. Brad Bird


The Incredibles is one of my favourite films from Pixar with its balance of warm family feels, amazing retro-style animation and a fantastic cast of characters – one of which, the diminutive designer Edna Mole, is voiced hilariously by the film’s director Brad Bird and returns here for its sequel.


That film demonstrated all the best bits of Pixar and their films with an universal appeal to children and adults alike. However, when it was announced there would be a sequel I had many reservations. Some of which began a Twitter disagreement where I argued that more of a good thing is, well, not always a good thing.


Picking up directly from the first, the Parr family of superheroes are tackling The Underminer (who appeared briefly at the end of the previous movie) but the collateral damage from their city-destroying encounter results in the authorities outlawing superheroes. A bit Watchmen here.


And like Watchmen, the film, at times, is incredibly dark. Although there are fun sequences throughout, the lighting has become even more extreme - bordering on seizure inducing - so be wary before taking your super young ‘uns to the cinema!


The story unfurls as Winston Deavor, the owner of a telecommunications business, suggests a publicity stunt to regain public trust in superheroes with support from his sister Evelyn.


The film flips the first’s conceit as Helen (Holly Hunter as the “stretchy” Elastigirl) is the one chosen to represent their cause and track down new villain Screenslaver. Whilst Mr. Incredible himself – the burly Bob played by Craig T. Nelson – reluctantly becomes a stay at home dad. In a posh new technological advanced house, he helps/hinders his children with their dating-life (Violet), homework (Dash) and uncontrollable superpowers (Jack Jack).


The film’s male/female role-reversal is a good twist on the original’s traditional family dynamic and Elastigirl’s rubber body provides the film’s most exciting action sequences. Whether she’s stopping a runaway train, bouncing through corridors or creating a parachute with her body, Pixar sure know how to do inventive and kinetic action fun like no other.


However something just didn’t quite hit the mark in all this. The opening goes for action over character build-up, then we enter a character development section that verges on the dull. The conversations surrounding family roles are honourably progressive but slow down the narrative to such a pace that the film was aching for some lighthearted comedy skits for the kids. And to be honest, myself too! Many will feel that this is its best selling point but we’re talking an animated sequel here – not Empire Strikes Back. Also, hiding the main villain’s identity aims to create mystery but the anonymous antagonist is a gaping hole usually filled by Pixar’s excellent design team who created Sid, Lotso Bear, Stinky Pete et al.


A welcome reappearance of Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone and more than highly competent voice performances from the cast are wonderful call-backs to the more rounded original. And whilst Pixar movies are always a quality affair – the animation perhaps bordering slightly too close to reality here – in their attempts to add depth they’ve lost a tiny bit of heart along the way. Simply credible.


7/10


Mike Sales



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