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By midlandsmovies, Dec 19 2019 06:20PM



Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Dir. JJ Abrams


Retcon or narrative development? Do you want story risks and surprises or a reprise of the best of SW? Well, The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams returns with a bit of both to helm a sequel to both his first film of the new trilogy plus also Rian Johnson’s controversial (but far superior) second instalment.


Does JJ manage to bridge the gap or jump the shark? In fact, it’s mostly a success – a bit disorderly throughout but filled with a great (force) spirit of adventure with only a few missteps along the way.


The film begins by wasting no time with the narrative and rather than a slow reveal, it’s shown within the first 5 minutes that the Emperor is resurrected. On a secret planet called Exegol he now hopes to create a new Galactic Empire with an armada of Star Destroyers using Kylo as a pawn to rule the galaxy.


Rey still trains as a Jedi and in order to confront Emperor Palpatine, she rejoins the resistance efforts and with Poe, Finn, Chewbacca, BB-8, and C-3PO attempts to search for Sith artefacts that will lead them to the big bad.


The film throws action constantly at the screen, sometimes at the detriment of characters' development and boy are there a lot of them. The group cross with Lando Calrissian (a rather effective cameo from old-timer Billy Dee Williams) but there’s also a host of alien and humans welcomed to the fold, some more interesting than others. Keri Russell is underused as a space criminal yet new droid-mechanic Babu Frik could easily have been annoying but is mostly a fun addition.


As they continue their travels, Rey’s parentage is revealed during a Force-bond fight (projections can now interact with each other – and so much more later) and Abrams simply cannot resist curtailing to some fan’s need for Rey’s lineage being somehow tied into the saga.


It’s the need for a do-over that are the worst parts of this final episode of the nine-part "Skywalker saga". Adapting unused Carrie Fisher footage is hugely impactful though and her story has an amazing emotional resonance. And whilst C3PO is very funny, his goodbye to his “friends” as his memory is wiped hits the heart strings hard and references the audiences’ own goodbye to familiar faces.


Therefore, whilst Johnson’s film was about throwing away the past, JJ’s film is definitely more about goodbyes but there is a lack of finality at times and the death “fake-outs” are an overused trope that undermine the film’s weighty ambitions.


The resurrection of previous threads and the nods to the two previous sagas were somewhat expected but again, more than satisfying in the main. Rey and Kylo’s overblown lightsabre battle on a water-logged Death Star is the aquatic equivalent of the fiery battle between Obi-Wan and Annakin on the volcanic lava trails of Mustafar. And huge chunks of Return of the Jedi (visually and musically) are echoed on a visit to the rubble of the Death Star.


Other standouts include Richard E Grant who is so fantastic as a First Order general that I almost wished for him to have been in this trilogy from the start. But the focus on Kylo and Rey has always been the best part of this series and wisely, the film works best when focused on them. From heated battles and horrific visions to quieter more tender moments, the trilogy has consistently been watchable anytime stars Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are on screen. Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe are window dressing at times but them taking a back-seat to let the conflicting couple slice and dice wasn’t unwelcome at all.


A bit overstuffed with characters – old, current and new ones get mere minutes at times – The Rise of Skywalker ends with an appropriate space battle alongside a darker duel of differing fates for Kylo, Rey and the Emperor. It’s not the stunning success surprise that was The Last Jedi nor the easy re-tread of a New Hope that was The Force Awakens yet it works as a glorious and worthy, albeit messy, send-off to the saga.


We’ll no doubt get all the YouTube hate reactions, ‘10 things wrong with’ and “fan” criticism over on Reddit in the coming days but with so many people to please, JJ has stuck safely to familiar beats. And although too familiar at times, The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting tribute to this trilogy and may just bring a bit of hope, and certainly a tear to your eye, knowing we’ve finally left this galaxy far, far behind.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2019 08:58PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 8


The last catch up review blog of the year covers a whole host of the good, bad and the ugly flicks we've finally caught up with in 2019. Check out our thoughts on:


• Spider-Man: Far From Home (Jon Watts)

• Ready or Not (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett)

• Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria)

• Pet Sematary (Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer)

• Long Shot (Jonathan Levine)

• Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (André Øvredal)

• Dolemite is My Name (Craig Brewer)

• The Highwaymen (John Lee Hancock)

• The Laundromat (Steven Soderbergh)

• Eli (Ciarán Foy)

• Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher)

• One Cut of the Dead (Shin'ichirô Ueda)




Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) Dir. Jon Watts

With anticipated sequels comes much disappointment as the excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming gets a lacklustre Marvel follow up as Spidey and school chums travel Europe fighting new foe Mysterio. The often ace Jake Gyllenhaal cannot bring life to a villain who has nasty vibes of Iron Man 3’s The Mandarin as a duplicitous “faker” of fear. Far From brilliant, it’s entertaining enough but the abundant and plastic CGI undermines the admittedly solid performances from its young cast. ★★★ ½




Ready or Not (2019) Dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Samara Weaving (and spitting image of Margot Robbie) is excellent as a bride who is forced to play a violent game of hide and seek with her upper class in-laws on her wedding night if she is to join her new family. A quirky idea with some satisfyingly bloody set-pieces throughout a mansion, the b-movie thrills are given a leg-up by the cast who provide sleazy delights from the beginning of the game. A large smattering of gore and a thrilling ending makes this one of the most enjoyable guilty pleasures of the year. ★★★★




Hustlers (2019) Dir. Lorene Scafaria

Catch this film for Jennifer Lopez’s fantastic performance as mature exotic dancer Ramona Vega who assists newcomer Destiny (Constance Wu) in the ways of dance before pulling together a crew who scam wealthy businessmen. Solid to the point of blandness my initial reaction was that artistically it’s one of the most overrated drama flicks since the incredibly flavourless Spotlight. Plenty to enjoy along the ride however with a splash of added social commentary but like the drugged Wall Street guys in the movie there’s very little to remember here. ★★★ ½




Pet Sematary (2019) Dir. Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

With Stephen King adaptations being all the rage again, we get a second take on the story of a haunted burial ground that brings animals, and later children, back to life with haunting consequences. The dry (and always unmemorable) Jason Clarke takes us through a tedious set of ironically lifeless sequences with little tension or horror to be found throughout its duration. It’s not something I’ve said before but put simply – go read the book. ★★



Long Shot (2019) Dir. Jonathan Levine

Man, I really like Charlize Theron. And Seth Rogen is more than likeable in most films too (despite his lack of range). Here, he again plays a schlubby guy who rekindles a relationship with school sweetheart Theron, who is now running as a US Presidential candidate. Straight to the point, but I simply didn’t laugh enough for what is billed as a comedy as each actor plays to their regular stereotype and I just couldn’t get my head around what Theron’s character saw in Rogen (kind of important in a film that’s about love crossing divides). Definitely not the hilarious triumph some critics have labelled it as, it’s an ultimately inconsequential and tiresome lark which tries to mix politics, class, love and ambitions to a hugely varying degree of success. ★★★




Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) Dir. André Øvredal

An inconsistent adaptation, this film has a 15-rating but its mix of tame frights and young protagonists smooths off a much-needed edge as a group of friends tackle a cursed book which writes its own terrifying tales they end up living through. Aiming for the tone of IT or Stranger Things but delivering more of a Goosebumps or Lemony Snicket vibe, a couple of the early stories worked well and although the framing device lends itself to a Creepshow anthology structure, the quality fluctuates too much to be totally satisfying. ★★★




Dolemite is My Name (2019) Dir. Craig Brewer

The last good Eddie Murphy film? Dreamgirls (13 years ago)? Bowfinger (20 years ago)? Well, as a fan of his early 80s hits (Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, Coming to America) it’s gratifying to know he’s way back in form in this real life tale of Rudy Ray Moore – a hero of 70s comedy and Blaxploitation films. Murphy is joined by a talented support cast including Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key and Wesley Snipes, and has a terrific script to work with along with space to improvise. It’s reminiscent of The Disaster Artist where a similar low budget filmmaker creates a passion project with erratic results, but to some accidental success. The film therefore reminds us of how superb Murphy can be with the right material. ★★★ ½




The Highwaymen (2019) Dir. John Lee Hancock

Netflix pulling together two fantastic actors (Woody Harrelson & Kevin Costner) with the director of the stupendous Saving Mr. Banks in a period crime drama focusing on two of America’s most infamous outlaws must be a recipe for success, right? Well, sadly it’s a definite no. Mind-numbing detail, a lack of chemistry between any of the cast and a drama vacuum only serve to remind you of far better films on the same subject. The two leads take their investigating rangers on a wild chase to nowhere in a tedious drama. ★★




The Laundromat (2019) Dir. Steven Soderbergh

What the hell even is this film? With a cast featuring Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman and more, you’d think that alone would deliver a certain level of quality but oh how wrong you will be. With echoes of The Big Short with its focus (and explanations) of money laundering, the style, tone, comedy and drama are hilarious undisciplined as this massive misfire tries to scattergun pot-shots at the morally corrupt players involved in the Panama Papers. With three stories that simply don’t work together as a whole, it’s like Soderbergh attempted to complete a puzzle using pieces from different sets and what a holy mess he’s ended up with. And the final result is an even bigger let-down because of the talent involved. ★★




Eli (2019) Dir. Ciarán Foy

Eli has a rather interesting beginning as we are introduced to a young boy with a rare disease that causes severe allergic reactions to the outdoors. He arrives with his parents to a secluded medical facility (clearly not a good idea) and after some suspect “treatments” begins to see strange things which are chalked up as hallucinations by Lili Taylor’s creepy doctor. The major problem with the film for me was the squandering of a really fascinating idea despite the inclusion of a couple of well-executed ghostly and sacrificial set-pieces. Yet it fails through its technical flaws and poor script which just doesn’t bring alive the premise it sets up of [BIG SPOILER WARNING] a boy not knowing he is in fact a child of the Antichrist. A really wasted opportunity in my opinion. ★★




Rocketman (2019) Dir. Dexter Fletcher

Pack your bags and join a fast-paced musical biopic featuring the classic songs of Elton John in a star-filled romp through campy history and heartfelt melodrama drama. Director Dexter Fletcher (fresh from helping to “finish off” Bohemian Rhapsody) takes a different angle in this flick though, delivering a more conventional musical. For me, it’s not my favourite genre so although I love Elton John’s genius back catalogue of hits, the film was more like Moonwalker with a collection of music videos punctuated by a simple retelling of some of Elton’s important life moments. Taron Egerton (John himself) and Jamie Bell (lyricist Bernia Taupin) are both excellent but I’d rather listen to a Greatest Hits than re-watch this slightly formulaic, but well-intentioned, flamboyant diversion. ★★★ ½




One Cut of the Dead (2019) Dir. Shin'ichirô Ueda

Made on just $25,000 with a cast of unknowns, this surprising Japanese “horror” is an underground bloodbath success which takes familiar zombie tropes and its relationship to the editing and construction of smaller fright flicks. We begin when a group of actors are filming their zombie film at a water plant before a real zombie attacks takes place as the director and camera operator carry on filming. At the halfway point the credits roll (!) and the film backtracks to show a different version of what you have just witnessed. Clever and knowing with plenty of comedy, One Cut of the Dead is as much about low budget zombie filmmaking as it is a low budget zombie film. Takayuki Hamatsu as the director takes centre stage but a fantastic, and funny, support cast play their “roles” spectacularly. A genuine indie gem, the film is in love with other rom-zom-coms but its true romance is with the filmmaking process itself. ★★★★



Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2019 09:52PM

Midlands Movies Worst 10 Films of 2019





10) Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Dir. Robert Rodriguez

What we said: “There’s so much CGI that the human characters inserted in the film feel almost unneeded and a distraction in themselves. But it's Alita's facial construction, whose eyes and face are computer-generated beyond all recognition which actually turned me off from the screen regularly. Sadly, as the Alita android is found amongst a big pile of junk and hastily put together, the film mirrors this in its themes, tone and dull execution”.

Click here for full review



9) Godzilla: King of the Monsters

What we said: “Fans said they wanted more Godzilla in their Godzilla film, but unfortunately this was added at the expense of everything else. With an offensive colour palette making every shot look like cloudy vomit, it seems that at the end of the day if you make a film that looks terrible then people are going to assume it is one. It’s like walking into work wearing clown shoes. That CGI artist team talk in full – “whatever you do guys and gals, don’t put in more than 70% effort”. A monster mess”.




8) Killers Anonymous (2019) Dir. Martin Owen

What we said: “It could have worked as a more serious chamber piece but in the end it sticks to a bland unsatisfying middle-ground. How Oscar-winner Gary Oldman got involved in this is anyone's guess. In the end, what could have worked as a one-off ITV drama is not cinematic enough for the ideas it has. And sadly, this more than tiresome movie tries to be a big screen blockbuster but is much more of a lacklustre little screen disappointment”.

Click here for full review




7) The Curse of La Llorona (2019) Dir. Michael Chaves

What we said: “It’s another dull entry into The Conjuring universe and is based on Mexican folklore where a supernatural entity attempts to steal children from their families. Mixing silly superstitions with godawful jump scares, the film’s filled to the brim with obvious 'quiet-then-loud' sequences and is the kind of PG-13 horror that is over-done and has been seen dozens of times before. Set your expectation level to “underwhelmed” and then still prepare yourself for a bit of a knock”.

Click here for full review




6) Domino (2019) Dir. Brian De Palma

What we said: “At just 89 minutes this crime thriller feels twice as long and stars Game of Throners Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten who are investigating the death of a Danish police officer. I don’t want to give away any spoilers about Domino but literally nothing happens. Combined with a troubled production and a star or two dropping out, this ramshackle made-for-TV level movie is lacklustre and dull. It seems the director’s strategy of not caring at all about his utterly useless movie hasn’t paid the handsome dividends he might have hoped for”.

Click here for full review




5) Triple Threat

What we said: “Wasting the talents of the excellent Iko Uwais (The Raid), Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) and Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi) for starters, the film is an incomprehensible and extremely boring set of action beats seen a billion times before. Choppy editing, absent characterisation and story and really naff fight sequences, this would be an embarrassment without the action legends present. With their involvement, the film is a far far worse crime".





4) Replicas (2019) Dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff

What we said: “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. A $30 million dollar failure, this 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. 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”.

Click here for full review




3) Under the Silver Lake (2019) Dir. David Robert Mitchell

What we said: “The plot, if you can decipher it, involves Andrew Garfield investigating the sudden disappearance of his neighbour Riley Keough, but during his escapades uncovers a large and complicated conspiracy. Although it’s never really boring, it’s always awful. The only reason I watched right to the end of the credits was because I was hoping to get a fucking apology. I didn't”.

Click here for full review




2) Angel Has Fallen (2019) Dir. Ric Roman Waugh

What we said: “A frankly out-of-shape Gerard Butler returns in this third instalment in the Fallen film series following Olympus Has Fallen (the number 10 entry of our worst films of 2013) and London Has Fallen (the number ONE entry in our worst films of 2016) again playing secret service agent Mike Banning. What we have then is an unexciting, monotonous and dreary “action” film whose 2-hour runtime feels like 2 weeks. Fans may find something in this that I didn’t get out of it, but for general audiences, the franchise should fall into retirement as soon as possible”.

Click here for full review




1) Backtrace (2018) Dir. Brian A. Miller

What we said: “How does Stallone even get involved in films this bad? Sure, Nic Cage has made a ton of straight-to-VOD pish but at least they look like films. So, a January film already laying claim to the worst of 2019? Well, one positive is that maybe Stallone can better himself by improving on his third place position for Escape Plan 2 on our least favourite films of 2018 list and claim the top spot this year instead. Good luck. But, with 12 months to go, this film is so bad that Stallone is in with a VERY good chance of being the best of the worst”. Editor - And he was!

Click here for full review



Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 3 2019 05:59PM



Review - Midsommar


Midsommar is the second feature film from up and coming horror maven Ari Aster. Midsommar revolves around Dani (Florence Pugh) a young women traumatised by a family tragedy that turns her difficult student life upside down.


Dani invites herself on a trip to Sweden to take part in the Midsommar celebrations alongside her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his budding student friends. The pleasant trip turns from a pleasant, healing experience and into a dark, dread-soaked visceral ordeal.


This film had lots to live up to considering the honorary success of Hereditary in 2017. And Ari has not disappointed.


Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor both are fantastic in their roles backed by an equally noble ensemble. The characters all had their parts to play in this movie, all of them bringing heaps of value to the plot, and all of the people involved created a light but dark spectacle. The costumes of the Midsommar goers are beautiful, and everything from the synchronicity of movements, to these characters micro expressions provided a thoroughly immersive experience that hits hard.


The plot really does have some dark themes to it, exploring tragedy and grief to the heart-breaking descent of a relationship. Midsommar has it all. The camera work is beyond belief, each frame could be a photograph if rendered correctly, and A24 really did give Aster the budget and support he needed to create one of my favourite movies of 2019.


Don’t get me wrong this isn’t for the faint hearted, the effects in Midsommar are gnarly, realistic and justifiable, but also horrific. The common debate among critics of this movie is, is it a cult movie? Or a breakup movie? Well, you decide.


But this film truly did give me a strong sense of wellness, I somehow fell under the spell of the psychedelic potency of this piece and loved all the themes it is predicated upon.


But if I had to summarise this to you. Watch it. See it, and join the festivities.


★★★★ ½


Ben Warrington

Twitter @ben_warro



By midlandsmovies, Nov 20 2019 03:46PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 7


This month we check out new releases YESTERDAY (from Danny Boyle), THE KING (from David Michôd), HAIL SATAN? (from Penny Lane) and BOOKSMART (from Olivia Wilde).


Scroll down to read the reviews:





Yesterday (2019) Dir. Danny Boyle


Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik in this musical fantasy where a guitar-playing shelf-stacker becomes the only person in the world to remember that The Beatles existed after he survives a bike-crash during a global blackout. The screenplay by Richard Curtis is suitably nimble and light-hearted and after discovering his predicament, Jack decides to take credit for the infamous songs of the Fab-Four’s back catalogue. The more than likeable Lily James plays Jack’s friend and possible love interest Ellie, and she helps him cut a demo of their greatest hits. With audiences going wild for the classic tracks, Jack’s career rushes to worldwide stardom with Ed Sheeran appearing as himself and a ruthless Kate McKinnon as Hollywood music manager Debra Hammer. Probably biased (and certainly a film for fans) my love for The Beatles definitely helped my enjoyment, as the film plays with the song titles, famous stories, the background of the band's music and we even get to visit their hometown of Liverpool. The support cast are also good, especially Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal as Jack’s parents who barely listen as he plays “his" new song "Let It Be" in the family front room. With over half of the budget reportedly going on the rights to The Beatles’ songs, every penny has been well spent with the tracks, and a score incorporating their various melodies, bringing joy and sadness in equal measure. With fun and jokey performances, heartfelt (and maybe schmaltzy at times) storytelling as well as the obligatory but still legendary music, everything comes together in this captivating comedy.


★★★★



The King (2019) Dir. David Michôd


Back at University I did a course called Shakespeare on Screen and ever since I have been somewhat obsessed by how the Bard’s work has been adapted for movies. And so hopes were high for medieval drama The King which is inspired by Henry IV: Part 1, Henry IV: Part 2 and Henry V. With gorgeous cinematography by Adam Arkapaw, this Netflix period piece had all the fascinating elements of a deep dive into royal politics and war. However, despite a great start whereby the playboy Henry, Prince of Wales (Timothée Chalamet) reluctantly but successfully succeeds his war-mongering father, the film quickly veers into mind-numbingly dull drama and tediousness. The support is great, Joel Edgerton as Falstaff brings a lot of charm, Robert Pattinson as The Dauphin of France is a sleazy delight and Sean Harris is solid as the duplicitous William Gascoigne. However, the carbuncle-growing pace and lacklustre dialogue slows down every dramatic development of the plot to a complete standstill. As Henry eventually succumbs to the war merchants who desire the King to show his strength, the film STILL doesn’t draw your attention - wasting as it does every possibly interesting plot point. Stick with Olivier and Branagh for the definitive Henry V takes and avoid this wearisome run-though of Willy’s work.


★★



Hail Satan? (2019) Dir. Penny Lane


A documentary about The Satanic Temple seems ripe for a warts-and-all exposé on the demonic practices of its debauched members but prepare yourself to be very surprised with new film Hail Satan?. The film opens with the background to the temple’s inception and the subsequent negative media coverage. From the 70s, the “satanic panic” labelled members outcasts at best – and murderers and abusers at worst. However, the film’s politics are much more centred on its tolerance and fight for religious freedoms. After a Ten Commandments monument is set up on State grounds in Arkansas, the group, led by Lucien Greaves (not his real name, and also his “real” name is not his real name), take steps to advocate the separation of church and state. This is done in the main by suggesting their statue of Baphomet (a goat-headed, angel-winged demon) should also be placed on the grounds to maintain impartiality. And more revealing, the film shows that far from the religious extremists that is suggested by its name, the group are dripping in self-conscious irony, media-awareness and tolerance of alternative lifestyles. Although the film shows some internal rifts within the temple's leadership, from after school clubs to the cleaning of beaches, the diverse members in fact commit themselves to well-thought out political and eco causes. At 95 minutes, Hail Satan? doesn’t overstay its welcome and disputes the spurious claims heaped upon the temple whilst exposing the hypocrisy of certain elements of far-right Christianity.


★★★★



Booksmart (2019) Dir. Olivia Wilde

What a year it’s been for Olivia Wilde who starred in the fantastic A Vigilante earlier in 2019 (our review) and now in her directorial debut has delivered a more than pleasurable film about the anxieties of growing up. Beanie Feldstein is amusing as the studious Molly whilst her best friend is Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). After overhearing some gossip in the school bathroom, Molly comes to the conclusion they haven’t had enough fun before they go off to college. Convincing Amy they should attend a party the night before graduation, the two head off on an evening of adventure. With a sensitive, yet hilarious, journey into teen angst, sexuality, popularity and school chaos, Booksmart balances some coarseness with an emotional heft that is incredibly satisfying. At times, the film hits the beats of the similarly structured Superbad (2007) with the protagonists criss-crossing the city in search of a party whilst getting caught up with the cops, strangers and illicit substances. However, the two leads are simply wonderful and some off-the-wall sequences on a boat, at a murder mystery party and as toy dolls are a giddy joy. A poignant and affecting conclusion and some believable drama throughout, the balance of laughs and moving scenes were affecting and even the support cast bring real entertainment to their (sometimes exaggerated) roles. An impressive film, Feldstein and Dever bring real empathy and believability to their characters - whilst being hilarious at the same time - and Booksmart comes highly recommended as a fun night out for all.


★★★★½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 16 2019 09:38AM



Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019) Dir. Midge Costin


Making Waves opens with Apocalypse Now sound designer Walter Murch explaining how deep sound is to humans - from the womb to the almost unnoticed and emotional effect it has on us in cinema.


And so begins new documentary Making Waves. And Murch is just one of an amazing array of interviews in this new exploration and within the first minute we have comments from legendary Star Wars sound guru Ben Burtt, directors Chris Nolan, Ryan Coogler, David Lynch, George Lucas and Ang Lee and musician Barbara Streisand. Wow. A list doesn’t get much more impressive than that!


Rightly so, the film’s focus is on the importance of sound in our enjoyment of cinema. The film covers the importance of the “Circle of Talent” to create the modern team-orientated experience audiences expect today. With so many people in the mix, the experts in their field enable impressive sequences like the D-Day landings of Saving Private Ryan to be created.


From the intimacy of an emotional score to studio mixing, the film covers the technical background to music-making – which is conveyed in an easy digestible way for the viewer. It also covers the history of sound when early films were projected with a live orchestra (or even live sound effects) as well dialogue from people behind a screen.


The documentary is fascinating and informative especially to someone with a music background like myself. But it also explains the journey of cinematic sound bringing general audiences along the way too. However, its biggest flaw is the familiar ground covered in another recent documentary Score: A Film Music Documentary from 2016 (our full review here).


Both have comparable talking heads, technical info and the history of sound (slightly more specific on musical score in the 2016 film) but they are VERY similar. And therefore this isn’t a unique illumination on the subject, more of a confirmation of some of the information seen from a different viewpoint. But the explanations are great if you don't know your foley from your sound effects and we also see how the variety of these important aspects are put together in the final mixing stage.


Score and sound design are definitely two different disciplines though - one being part of the other. So if you prefer one area then choose the documentary for you. However, both films together are a fascinating insight into the often overlooked (and hugely important) world of the magic of music and sound in movies.


★★★½


Michael Sales


Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is out on DVD on Monday 25th November 2019

By midlandsmovies, Nov 15 2019 01:51PM



Joker (2019) Dir. Todd Phillips


With DCEU failing to set the world alight with its more than questionable quality issues, Warner Brothers have decided to recast Batman’s infamous nemesis the Joker with Joaquin Phoenix as the Clown Prince of Crime.


Set in 1981, the film ditches any connection to the DC shared universe with Warners adopting a one-and-done attitude as an antidote to Marvel’s ‘shared world’ behemoth. Phoenix is Arthur Fleck, a mentally unstable loner who lives with his mother and is employed by a party clown agency. Director Phillips has given him an unusual but unique backstory which now makes his maniacal laugh a medical condition. As Arthur’s life falls apart – he loses his job, his psychiatrist is forced to stop her help and his stand-up “career” fails – his trajectory is reflected in Gotham’s own crime-ridden downward spiral.


The film does have a few flaws. Phoenix’s portrayal is undoubtedly fantastic but the story does take a while to get going. 30 minutes in and cine-aware audiences would already know the typical beats of the downtrodden loser narrative. And the delusional sub-plots involving the under-used Zazie Beetz are quite obvious.


Also, with Robert De Niro as a talk-show host and a range of themes including isolation and mental illness, the film nods to both Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I say nods but although there is some great cinematography from Lawrence Sher, the film is, at times, a blatant re-shaping of Marty’s back catalogue.


In many ways, without the brief references to Gotham and Wayne Enterprises the film itself could have been an independent film without any of the superhero connections. It explores the mental fragility of a very dark extreme individual whilst barely mentioning its comic book origins.


There has been controversy over the film – as per usual these days. Once upon a time, moral busybodies were defining features of the right but it could be argued that films are being overly attacked when they portray less than savoury ideals. “Because it’s so much fun, Jan”, Quentin Tarantino once said on a TV news cast as he was asked why he fills his films with so much violence. Well, much like Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street (and many of Scorsese’s protagonists in fact), here is an abhorrent central character whose downtrodden life is still no excuse for the horrid actions he subsequently commits.


And on a personal note, I don’t (and never have) bought into the “glorifying violence” or could “inspire others” critical analysis myself. From the Hays Code to Mary Whitehouse via the 80s video nasty censors to The Matrix, cinema has always been accused of being a corrupting influence. But audiences are clever enough to see there are characters, even central ones, that shouldn’t be sympathised with. Much like Travis Bickle funnily enough. A disgusting protagonist whose ideals and actions do not align with your own is something I like to give audiences credit for in their ability to distinguish from real life.


And so, throwing in many modern political issues as it does along with a complexity not seen in many graphic novel-inspired films, Joker is definitely not perfect but if you fancy something with a little more depth – think Nolan’s trilogy and then some – then the flick has enough thoughtful ambiguity and an amazing central performance to make it more than worthwhile.


★★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 9 2019 08:14AM



Review - The Dead Don't Die (2019) Dir. Jim Jarmusch


This American horror “comedy” film is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and follows a small town's police force combating a freak zombie invasion.


Bill Murray plays Chief Cliff Robertson with Adam Driver as his partner Officer Ronald "Ronnie" Peterson and with the sun not setting and the rising of the dead owing to fracking, they tackle an invasion of zombies in their town.


Like zombie-auteur George A. Romero, Jarmusch attempts to insert some social commentary – zombies are obsessed with hipster coffees and search for wi-fi on mobile phones – but these themes come across heavy-handed and half-hearted.


The admittedly great cast can do nothing with a lack of dramatic tension and hollow story and although I am a self-confessed zombie-film sceptic, I’d be surprised if many audiences enjoy this achingly slow-paced slog. It has the same lack of narrative as his vampire flick Only Lovers Left live (our review). It’s disappointing really as the trailer hints at a more fun film and it needed a shot of Coens-style lightness of touch and witty dialogue.


And sadly it all comes back to that shuffling pace which isn’t helped by Jarmusch strangely inserting a range of meta moments. This includes the characters themselves referring to the film’s theme song and script, as well as Adam Driver owning a Star Wars keyring.


Slower and less coordinated than a zombie’s walk, The Dead Don’t Die aims to be a modern take on the zombie genre and maybe fans will get something out of Jarmusch’s eclectic style. However, for me, the film disappoints and drags its rotting carcass to a mind-numbing and pretentious end.


★★ ½


Michael Sales



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