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By midlandsmovies, Oct 12 2018 01:13PM



The Hurricane Heist (2018) Rob Cohen


From the director of such “classics” as XXX (2002), Stealth (2005) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) comes this inane action romp where a bunch of criminals plan a bank heist around the impending arrival of a Force 5 hurricane.


There’s so little to recommend in a film with such a ludicrous premise as this and with a CinemaScore of “B-“, that’s far too generous for a movie which I think sits near the top, if not actually at the top, of my list of the worst film experiences of 2018.


A no-brainer in all senses of the word, the film is unsurprisingly a no-entertainment zone too. As although the silly concept is ripe for fun action set pieces, it goes through the motions with a set of stock characters and atrocious dialogue.


A vague attempt at some family drama alongside some double-crossing is terribly handled and the main character’s name “Breeze” is such a stupid analogy that it had me groaning as soon as I heard it.


Some would argue that certain sections have a knowing irony about them, but the joke was certainly lost on me as one risible scene led to another. So, batten down the hatches and ensure you are safely hidden away until this monstrous disaster has passed you by.


You have been warned.


3/10


Mike Sales




By midlandsmovies, Oct 12 2018 01:10PM

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) Dir. Peyton Reed


What I was most surprised with in this new instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was that the film was directed by Peyton Reed. By that I mean as the helmer of the first film, Reed replaced Edgar Wright but in some ways his quick editing style aped Wright’s chaotic cutting.


However, whether Reed has tried to infuse his own design from the beginning to give the film some weight – away from the soap opera scale of the earlier film – the movie loses a lot of charm along the way.


In this sequel, Ant-Man Scott Lang (a likeable Paul Rudd) is under house arrest after the events of Civil War but decides to join Hope van Dyne (a feisty Evangeline Lilly) and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to try and recover her mother and his wife Janet from the sub-atomic Quantum Realm. But in their quest they cross Hannah John-Kamen as Ava Starr, a molecular shifting ‘Ghost’ aiming to use their technology to stabilise her body.


The size changing aspect in Ant-Man and the Wasp is pushed to the forefront here. Their laboratory is the major McGuffin that changes hands over and over again when shrunk to the size of a briefcase – and car chases are a fantastic mix of smash-ups as vehicles are shrunk to Micro Machine size. The villain however is a bit of a non-starter and continues Marvel’s interestingly designed but rather dull and forgettable antagonists (see Ronan the Accuser too).


Unfortunately, other than a handful of solid action scenes – Evangeline Lilly’s The Wasp is given a much meatier role and has the best scraps in the movie – the dialogue scenes are filmed in an incredibly flat style with even a hint of sepia-colour grading which really fails to help find the amusing tone of the first. Again, Reed takes his film in his own direction but one that sadly doesn’t really work.


Certainly not “bad” in the traditional sense, I have to admit I was expecting some more “fun” in its delivery so when the trio of Lang, Van Dyne and Pym attempt to retrieve Janet (played with class by the always-dependable Michelle Pfeiffer) I began to think that Ant-Man and The Wasp were secondary characters. The film seemed to hint upon a much more interesting plot focusing on Douglas and Pfeiffer’s story. These legends were never going to be the stars of Marvel’s kid-friendly Hollywood blockbuster but their performances give the film heart, gravitas and wit.


Laurence Fishburne moves from DC to Marvel to show up as another antagonist of sorts – again, as part of Hank’s tumultuous history and not Scott’s – and their dynamic and opposing moralities about developing technology were another highlight. Rudd and Lily’s chemistry is solid and I’ve always been an advocate for a bit more ‘love’ in the Marvel Universe. So their platonic AND romantic relationship adds a feisty layer that also gives their crises some heft when danger approaches.


The visual effects are of course top notch. I’d go so far to say that the Michael Douglas de-aging in the first Ant-Man may be one of the best CGI creations of all time. And although high-quality effects are quite standard for Marvel at this point – Black Panther's rubbery characters aside – the size shifting aspects ensure there’s a little bit more creativity when things get dicey for our heroes.


Away from that action though, I could label the film easily forgettable and, at times, certainly a little bland. With there being talk of a film set within Hank’s past, that was the film that this film left me wanting to see. And so this tale felt like a set up to that far more complex story. Therefore it sadly ends up sitting in the trivial middle ground of the MCU alongside Dr. Strange and Thor: The Dark World.


In the end the movie goes for mammoth but throwaway thrills over small-scale drama with a tone that moves away from its predecessor to become another plain entry into the Marvel cannon.


6.5/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 5 2018 10:23AM



Hereditary (2018) Dir. Ari Aster


In his first film, director Ari Aster tackles sinister themes and mixes a slow-pace build up with horror frights in a mish-mash of tones in new film Hereditary. Opening with a zoom into a dollhouse, we are immediately pushed into a world controlled by bigger hands as Annie Graham (Toni Collette) mourns the death of her mother before sharing her family’s tragic history with a grief support group.


Her daughter Charlie (a disturbed Milly Shapiro) is a distant tongue-clucking junior who after joining her brother Peter (Alex Wolff) at a house party is decapitated in a car accident. In a haunting scene of shock, Peter heads straight to bed leaving his mother to uncover the horrid truth the next day. Splitting the family’s cohesion and plagued by visions, Annie is approached by Joan, a member of the support group, who promises Annie answers to the mysteries in her life.


It is here where the film will win you over or not. The intrigue, drama and deliberate pace take a turn and we enter – for want of a better comparison – “Sinister” territory. The previous tone is ditched in favour of some nonsense Ouija shenanigans and shifting glasses on tables akin to Elsie Partridge’s seance in Only Fools and Horses.


Some will see the change as a ramp up of the first half’s conundrums whilst I can imagine many feeling cheated about the bait and switch as we get the more standard genre tropes of spooky visions, nightmares made real and flaming bodies.


Collette gives an absolute star turn though as the wickedly wild woman of the story but shows restraint in more conflicted scenes to balance the hectic finale. Unlike her motherly turn in The Sixth Sense (1999), it is now her turn to see ghosts and visions.


Gabriel Byrne as her husband is sadly a little wasted, and as the realisation the film revolves around an ancient entity seeking a modern (and male) host, the final few scenes did illicit a few gaffaws – akin to my experience of The VVitch. However, despite some of its tonal inconsistencies I enjoyed the film far more than both aforementioned The VVitch and the similarly lauded The Babadook. Both of whom failed to engage me with their apparently “unsettling” but, to me, utter flat delivery.


The film’s themes of inescapable family failings are dissected throughout with a number of strange cult symbols and recurring images (heads are forever rolling in both ways) that are littered through the movie's narrative. And they hint upon and foreshadow the horrors soon to be arriving. Towards its conclusion, Collette’s Annie stalks rooms like a bird of prey – hiding in corners awaiting a chance to strike – and Aster delivers a string of scary sequences which are effective and genuinely unnerving.


Not without its flaws – and for me, certainly nowhere near the praise being thrown at it – Hereditary is a strong showing from a debut director which warrants multiple viewings to fully appreciate its complex domestic themes and doorway into the private (doll)house of a cursed family.


7.5/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Sep 23 2018 05:40PM



Fahrenheit 451 (2018) Dir. Ramin Bahrani


Based on the classic Ray Bradbury dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 stars Michael Shannon as officious Fire Captain John Beatty who “protects” society with his clan of authoritarian book-burners.


Michael B. Jordan is idealistic Ministry recruit Guy Montag whose growing doubts question whether destroying art is really for the benefit of its citizens. In a new twist, the book’s ‘Phoenix from the Flames’ allegory is brought to scientific life as bird DNA is actually encoded with the words of elusive texts to preserve them forever.


Sofia Boutella as Clarisse McClellan, Khandi Alexander as Toni Morrison and Lilly Singh as Raven round out a fine cast – and as fine as these heavyweights are, it’s with a sad heart that none of the actors can raise this by-the-numbers (or should that be ‘letters’) adaptation.


Going through the motions with fine sci-fi ideas that fail to truly engage, Fahrenheit 451 could be held as a timely reminder of the growing power of government on art, words (and today’s journalism) and the media.


But rather than a full exploration, we get the York Notes version of a complex novel, water-downed into a brief summary with added 21st Century special effects and a few contemporary anxieties.


5/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Sep 23 2018 05:39PM



Bad Samaritan (2018) Dir. Dean Devlin


With a unique if exploitation-esque story, Bad Samaritan’s script by Brandon Boyce tells an interesting tale of valets who use the cars left in their trust to burgle the houses of their unwitting victims whilst they dine.


Robert Sheehan stars as one of the criminals Sean Falco, who on one particular job to steal from David Tennant’s Cale Erendreich stumbles across a woman being held captive at his home. As the title suggests, the devious deeds of Sean are outweighed by his disgust at the kidnap and torture he’s uncovered.


However, after going to the authorities it turns out their investigations turn up nothing and Cale becomes aware that Sean has discovered his chamber and subsequently hatches plans to ruin his life. But despite scenes of dark horror, the film really is a silly affair overall. Tennant’s over-the-top performance is pure pantomime and much like the similar Don’t Breathe, a fantastic premise is utterly wasted.


This film needed much more of a subtle hand to deliver its admittedly interesting concept with themes of guilt, responsibility and invasions of personal space. As a Get Out style satire it could have worked but it’s purely shlock nonsense here.


The situations spiral further out of control and as the scenes become increasingly ludicrous so does Tennant’s performance who appears to have realised what pap he has got into about halfway through filming.


Stupid, yet at a push somewhat fun, the cheap tricks on display may provide some entertainment for those with less demanding sensibilities but in reality this is TV-movie-of-the-week at best.


At best.


5.5/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Sep 2 2018 02:11PM



American Animals (2018) Dir. Bart Layton


Covering the story of a real-life robbery committed by four students, American Animals opens with their preparation for the eventful heist before flashbacking to how they came to this dangerous predicament in the first place.


Combing tones to great effect, the recreated drama of 2004 of American Animals is interspersed with interview content from the actual people – who narrate specific parts of the incident – giving it a documentary feel. The film sees Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Dunkirk) as Spencer Reinhard, a misunderstood (and bored) art student coerced into a shady scheme by his wayward childhood pal Warren Lipka, played by X-Men’s Quicksilver Evan Peters.


Peters’ best friend could be an over-the-top caricature, that is until we see the interview with the real life Lipka – weirdly reminiscent of Samurai Cop’s Matt Hannon – who demonstrates his true wild side with his comedy T-Rex tattoo and quirky demeanour. The two adolescents hatch (or accidentally fall into depending on who you believe) a plan to steal a valuable edition of John James Audubon's The Birds of America from their University library and make money by selling them on the black market.


Like 2018’s “I, Tonya”, the film mixes media as we explore alternative viewpoints of the same story. Recollections of background events differ from person to person and at times, the real participants replace the actors by being edited into the dramatic part of the movie itself.


Alongside this, the film comments on crime movies itself. It often changes its style, referencing famous celluloid heists. It switches its colour palette and one scene is even a clear pastiche of Steven Soderbergh’s glossy Ocean Eleven – with its slick one-take camera moves and Vegas Elvis soundtrack. Away from the stylistic techniques, there are also great performances from the two leads rounded out with the inclusion of Blake Jenner as Chas Allen and Jared Abrahamson as Eric Borsuk who fill spots on the heist team’s roster.


And before long we return to the cine-literate influences as the group are given names from Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Heck, there’s even a very specific nod to The Dark Knight’s Joker introduction shot. But all these geeky references are not at the expense of an interesting narrative. Whilst the customary plans are being mapped out and surveillance undertaken, the dialogue moves from the planning to questions about America’s past. Information about the USA being the fattest nation on earth is discussed and the appearance of a burning supermarket trolley explore the West’s commercialism and propensity for destruction.


However, the movie’s focus on evolutionary paintings and nature contrasts with this modern discourse. However, it attempts to link both the past and the present and the developments we undergo as we come of age. And the filmmaker deftly proposes this can be applied to the stories we tell. By this, the narrative itself evolves and as the unreliable narrators continue, the film even stops and rewinds like Haneke’s Funny Games. The heist disguises change the youngsters into old men but we clearly see them failing to grow up and take responsibility for their decisions.

As the story continues, the actual heist confounds expectations and takes a tonal shift into darker territory. Natural instincts like worry, sweating and vomiting are edited against grotesque violence. And the boys truly find out that life is not like the movies.


With the real-life protagonists expressing deep remorse for their actions – whilst still disagreeing on many of the details of the incidents years later – the ending of the film wraps up the various strands and is far more complex than a regular Hollywood heist.


The film opens with a title-card stating “This Is Not a True Story” – before the word “not” fades out – showing its obsessions with diverging stories from days gone by. But the boys finally go through one more stage of evolution as they survive their ordeal despite not being the fittest of the pack. And like the characters, the film itself grows up and delivers a beautiful, fun and at times deadly serious look at the theft of maturity.


9/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Aug 29 2018 07:32PM

Review - Movie Catch Up Blog 2018 - Part 3




The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018) Dir. Johannes Roberts

I hadn’t seen The Strangers (2008) until this year and for me it certainly wasn’t worth the wait as we get a pretty bog-standard home-invasion thriller starring Liv Tyler. However, the few thrills that film had going for it are completely absent here in this belated sequel set ten years later where a family are terrorised at a mobile home park by masked assailants. I’m sick of the child mask killer trope it has to be said and some of the character decisions are embarrassing to say the least. I know it’s not high art but come on. If it’s supposed to be a homage/satire of slasher then it’s 20 years too late anway (see Scream and its wicked take-down of the genre) whilst any attempt to create new franchise-defining villains with Dollface and her cohorts was heavy-handed and bland. The kills are uninspiring, motivations non-existent and only Christina Hendricks seems to be aware of the trash she’s in. Half way through I was ‘praying’ for a better movie. 4/10




Truth or Dare (2018) Dir. Jeff Wadlow

Blumhouse's Truth or Dare? I guess once you have a reputation with a couple of horror successes you can slap your name in front of any old trash like Tarantino does at his worst and expect the brand recognition to get bums on seats alone. And away with the quality, as quality this is not. Horror is one of those specific genres where you have to sift through many more films to find the gems – it could be argued those gems are all the more special – but this Final Destination-esque teen scary movie sits firmly in the bargain bin. A group of adolescents realise they will die if they fail to share a truth or complete a dare and they attempt to do their best to beat the real-life deadly game which originated with a supernatural curse from Mexico. A convoluted set of exposition-heavy rules confuses what could have been a freaky slasher and the actors are sadly given clichéd characters which they are unable to do much with. And from the “acclaimed” director of the awful Kick Ass 2 and the Kevin James starring True Memoirs of an International Assassin I’m not sure why I was surprised to find out the real truth. And what is that truth? It’s utter rubbish. 4/10




10 x 10 (2018) Dir. Suzi Ewing

Making quite a name for himself in roles as a terroriser of women, Luke Evans (The Girl on the Train) stars as Lewis in this new dark chiller involving kidnap and obsession. More like Denis Villenueve’s Prisoners than the Coens’ Fargo, the kidnapping occurs in an everyday US strip-mall car park as Cathy (Calvary’s Kelly Reilly) heads to her vehicle unaware of the evil about to befall her. An unobtrusive hand-held filming style captures the brutality of the attack before Cathy is smothered, tied and placed in the trunk of Lewis’ car. The beats of the soundtrack merge perfectly with our own imagined beats of pounding fists in futile attempts to escape. She is soon whisked off to Lewis’ home where he has constructed a 10 x 10 padded cell with 4-feet thick concrete walls and a recording system. Diving straight in, the film wastes no time in getting to its set-up and without much information we are, like Cathy, oblivious as to the reasons as to why we are here. And how to possibly escape.


The film is slow and meticulous – Evan’s methodical food-making hinting at an obsessive darkness – but there are flashes of action in Cathy’s escape attempts with bottle smashing and gun shots. The film twists and turns and darker secrets come to light but the script and cinematography are mediocre despite the two fine leads. Melodramatic with lacklustre interest 10 x 10 is simply too leaden to be anything more than a footnote on the stars’ résumés 5.5/10



The Devil’s Doorway (2018) Dir. Aislinn Clarke

With one of the best concepts for a horror in many a year, I was excited to see Aislinn’s Clarke’s The Devil’s Doorway which tells the story of two priests who investigate supernatural events at an Irish home for “fallen women”. Whilst the double-act set up is certainly Exorcist-inspired, the unfortunate character traits meant I couldn’t help but be reminded of classic UK sitcom Father Ted. Father Thomas Riley (a frankly brilliant Lalor Roddy) is the old jaded priest with a crisis of faith whilst Father John Thornton (Ciaran Flynn) is a naïve and inexperienced younger believer. (Ted and Dougal respectively). Set in 1960 and using a handheld 16mm camera style, the sense of time and place was superb and Helena Bereen as Mother Superior is as terrifying and intimidating as you could have wanted. Maybe I’m being too harsh but something just wasn’t working despite these excellent elements. From the clichéd door knocks and paranormal child voices to your average jump scare and foreboding corridors, the film failed to leap into more interesting territory despite its high ecclesiastical aspirations. Which was a big shame. Certainly a filmmaker with some aptitude, I have faith we’ll be seeing more from Clarke but this isn’t quite the film it could or wanted to be. 6/10




Journey’s End (2018) Dir. Saul Dibb

A new adaptation of the play by R. C. Sherriff is the 5th time the World War I drama has moved from stage to screen following Journey's End (1930), The Other Side, Aces High and a 1988 BBC TV film. With a fantastic cast what we get is Asa Butterfield’s young Second Lieutenant Raleigh posted to the front-line where his hopeful fighter soon realises the ravages of war can take its toll even on the most experienced of Captains. The gifted Sam Claflin as Stanhope is the Captain in question whose vicious drunken words and tough exterior cover a more sympathetic and broken man conflicted with torment and the horrors of fighting.


Playing out in the muddy dugout over four days of 1918, the cast is fleshed out with gifted turns from heavyweights Tom Sturridge, Toby Jones, Stephen Graham and Paul Bettany. Bettany channels the stiff-upper-lip of a traditional British soldier but also gives his character empathy and pathos as the inevitability of an over-the-top raid to capture a German soldier dawns on him and his men. Grand and distinguished, the film is an admirable adaptation although I was yearning for some more scenes outside the trenches given the cinematic medium. Understandably, the confines of the trenches play their own entrapped character (akin to Kubrick’s Paths of Glory) and the film enlightens the audience on the multifaceted aspects of war and how the horrific pressures can affect different individuals. Journey’s End is therefore a dignified, if slightly by-the-numbers, tale of struggling tactics and temperaments in the trenches. 6.5/10


Michael Sales







By midlandsmovies, Aug 26 2018 07:36AM



Revenge (2018) Dir. Coralie Fargeat


A rape-revenge action horror, Revenge is certainly not for the faint at heart. Director Coralie Fargeat has created a visceral show of bloody violence and dreamy imaginations as a young girl escapes into the wilderness to hide and stalk her tormentors.


Married man Richard (Kevin Janssens) flies out his secret lover Jen (Matilda Lutz) to a remote house in the desert for a saucy weekend together but are interrupted by the arrival of his hunting pals Stain (Vincent Colombe) and Dimitri (Guillaume Bouchède). After a night of partying, Stan rapes Jen in a vile act whilst Dimitri stands by. When Richard returns, the situation spirals out of hand and with a promise of paying her off and returning her home, he pushes her from a cliff where she is impaled on a tree.


Leaving her for dead, the film uses incredibly strong imagery throughout. As Jen pulls herself off the tree, her battered, bruised and bloodied body twists and contorts. Audiences will be fixated in the hope she survives but at the same time will struggle to watch as they turn away from the stark and graphic images on screen. And the film never lets up.


Jen’s thoughts turn to survival and with little dialogue Lutz does well with her role bringing depth to what is truly a b-movie concept. She is also both stalked and the stalker. Jen needs to simultaneously avoid the men yet needs the cars and guns they possess to escape from the harsh desert, which acts as its own villain in her survival plans. When her wounds begin to take hold a hallucinatory drug allows her to cauterize the wound but plays havoc with her version of reality.


After acquiring a gun and when Stan’s SUV runs out of petrol, Jen becomes sniper and in an exchange of shooting, the film’s most stomach-turning scene is “merely” a shard of glass through a bare foot. Removing it slowly, the sequence is simply shot and all the more revolting because of it. See similar French drama/realism in the fantastic Martyrs and Raw, both comparative nasty gallic pieces.


The film does play out much as you expect so doesn’t push many boundaries with its action-drama-violence. And although it’s been claimed it’s some sort of feminist revision, it’s no Love Witch for sure. I’d argue that whilst there are sprinkling of those themes throughout, they are a smokescreen for the usual revenge flick clichés and tropes.


But that’s no bad thing. The nasty violence should bring in the splatter fans, whilst the more discerning can enjoy a depth of character and ideas rarely seen in this brand of furious filmmaking. With intense scenes, Revenge is a non-mainstream cinematic coup that explores slightly deeper themes than your average personal payback piece to provide exploitation pleasures and explosive sequences.


8/10


Mike Sales



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