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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



By midlandsmovies, Oct 30 2019 08:34PM

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Dir. Tim Miller


‘Produced by James Cameron’ screams the marketing but the legendary director’s visionary visuals and interesting ideas are nowhere to be seen in this 6th out outing for Arnie and his sci-fi chums.


Another plodding franchise filler, Dark Fate has killing machine Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) going back in time to terminate Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). But she is protected by fellow time-traveller and enhanced super-soldier Grace (Mackenzie Davis). Along the dreary journey she picks up a mature Linda Hamilton who returns as original hero Sarah Connor. She has doubts but then joins forces with a family-orientated (!?) T-800 and Schwarzenegger appears with his head the size of a ham.


An interesting opening leads to bland action-beats and it’s generally cheap looking (it’s budgeted at a phenomenal $185m but looks half that) with video-game cinematography and new robot overlord “LEGION” is an attempt to steer focus from previous sequels but is just a cheap-ass SKYNET.


I could say it’s another T2 rip-off but we’ve already had two of those so this is essentially a Genisys rehash. I know some of the ideas are staples of the franchise but the film is so boringly familiar, it's a wonder why they've bothered at all.


From a liquid metal Terminator 'creeping' through a windscreen, a big yellow vehicle smashing into cars and a protagonist stepping out from a vehicle pulling up to a side-on halt, Dark Fate fails at any sense of originality. Hasn’t Miller seen Fury Road? Or MI: Fallout? Or The Raid? Or Blade Runner 2049? These should be the influences but it’s more run-of-the-mill action splattered with yawn-inducing CGI and haphazard editing.


With a final smackdown at an industrial factory and a shot of Arnie sliding down a dam, the film is another misstep thinking a Terminator in a superhero pose is “cooler” than Arnie speaking to a police station receptionist. And in many ways, I could have simply copied and pasted my Genisys review as all the same flaws apply here.


Hamilton is the one saving grace yet is hugely underused and its over an hour before she meets with Arnie. And to be brutal, it was at that point I thought this is where the film should have BEGUN. Ditch the previous hour as it’s so forgettable.


I therefore left the Terminator Dark Fate screening with a huge sigh. It’s not comically bad but it’s nowhere near the shot in the arm this franchise needed. And in the end, it’s simply unforgiveable that all the mistakes from the last few sequels have not been rectified in the slightest, but in fact they have been duplicated like this film’s badly designed villain.


★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 02:23PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 6


This month we check out new releases DOMINO (from Brian De Palma) MEN, IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (from F. Gary Gray) & TOY STORY 4 (from Josh Cooley). Scroll down to read the reviews:




Domino (2019) Dir. Brian De Palma


Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Carrie and heck, even Snake Eyes and kickstarting the Mission Impossible franchise, Brian De Palma has a pretty impressive film CV. Well, he did once. In the last 12 years he’s made just 2 (terrible) films and it’s sad to say he’s added another here with boring potboiler thriller Domino.


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. Stopping them is a dodgy CIA agent (Guy Pearce) and Eriq Ebouaney as a double agent acting on behalf of ISIS. Or is he? Well, who cares is the real question.


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. Sleepwalking actors deliver clichéd dialogue which is punctuated with the odd blandly-shot action/fight sequence. Flashes of De Palma’s fascination with Hitchcock sometimes comes through in a Vertigo-style roof chase and an ingenious shot here or there hinting upon the stylistic flourishes the director used in his more successful films from the past.


In the end though, 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. ★★





Men in Black: International (2019) Dir. F. Gary Gray


In a franchise of less-than-successful sequels, the Men In Black property gets a sort-of reboot in this new blockbuster flick from F. Gary Gray. Chris Hemsworth stars as the arrogant Agent H who is teamed up with new recruit (and his Thor: Ragnarok co-star) Tessa Thompson as Agent M to investigate more intergalactic shenanigans involving the destruction of Earth.


Emma Thompson returns as Head of MiB operations and the film follows the globe-trotting duo taking pot shots at a wide array of eclectic aliens and each other. However, the sad fact is that there’s little more to it than that. Any franchise that loses Will Smith (hello Independence Day) suffers from a loss of his comedy chops and charm – although it has to be said Hemsworth and Thompson do have chemistry which is one of the film’s highlights. Director F. Gary Gray brings none of the fun from his previous guilty pleasure flicks The Negotiator and Law Abiding Citizen or none of the bite/edginess from his Straight Outta Compton. So it ends up being rather bland.


The creatures are excellently designed though – especially “Pawny”, a tiny and loyal alien with a smart mouth – but the world-destruction/infiltrated agency story is instantly forgettable. That said, I don’t think it deserves the critical mauling I’ve also seen published. It’s miles better than the awful second sequel and for me it’s mostly harmless and relatively likeable blockbuster fare for children with two pleasant leads. Add in a handful of action set pieces and MiB: International provides an entertaining if ultimately unremarkable 2 hours of silly escapism. ★★★




Toy Story 4 (2019) Dir. Josh Cooley


After the perfect ending of Toy Story 3 (which has the honour of making me cry twice), the franchise was so brilliantly finished that no more stories of Woody and Buzz were surely needed given the satisfying send-off these animated characters deservedly got.


However, the toys were metaphorically and actually passed on from those who grew up with them and so Pixar have created a 4th film following the gang and their adventures with Bonnie (spoiler) the girl who is gifted them by Andy at the end of 3. Bonnie and her parents go on a road trip and cutting to the chase, the toys end up getting lost/left at a carnival. The group subsequently pull together and attempt to retrieve “Forky”, a quirky toy created by Bonnie herself from a, well, plastic fork and pipe cleaners. The first 30 minutes are pure this-should-have-gone-straight-to-video fodder and although the Pixar quality sheen and photo-realistic animation is all well and present, there’s not quite enough to justify this entry’s existence.


However, just under half-way through the film really hits its stride with excellent set pieces, a break-in at an antiques store and fantastically hilarious cameos from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peel as Ducky and Bunny. Plus Keanu Reeves as daredevil stunt-biker Duke Kaboom. These new faces slip perfectly into the fold and the film is perhaps the funniest entry to date with some surreal humour added to the usual family-friendly fun. Is it really worth it though? Hmm, ultimately I think not. BUT it does act as a great epilogue and it’s second half is classic Pixar from a voice-cast working at the top of their game. You’ve got away with this Pixar. But please, no more Toy Story. ★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 14 2019 07:51AM



The Irishman (2019) Dir. Martin Scorsese


Based on the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt, this epic flick from gangster maestro Martin Scorsese stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci as Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa and Russell Bufalino and tells of Sheeran’s rise in Bufalino’s crime family alongside his support to Union head honcho Hoffa.


The plot begins slow as a Scorsese staple voiceover and a rest-home based elderly Sheeran recounts his life over many decades. Sheeran is shown in flashback participating in the horrors of World War 2 alongside his rise as “muscle” for Jimmy Hoffa, the President of an American labour union. The honest goals of decent wages and workers’ rights are undermined with its links to organised crime which leads to Hoffa heading to prison for bribery and fraud.


The acting trio heavyweights not only bring their phenomenal talent to three well-defined roles, the film plays on their combined cinematic history and their previous performances. De Niro as the gangster on the rise dealing in dodgy goods in trucks echoes his Goodfellas scams (a meat truck specifically so) whilst Pacino is constantly about to burst with his legendary rants. Pesci however is far more subdued – perhaps his years in retirement have mellowed the actor – but he holds his own by playing against type as the stoic but scary mob boss whose softly-spoken delivery of dialogue hides his real, and deadly, intentions.


As Sheeran gains respect within the union (Scorsese has him blowing up a fleet of Taxis – nice!) he gets slowly drawn into a murky world of scumbags. It’s also the little details the director adds such as Sheeran explaining about beer-soaked hotdogs, which is similar to the garlic slicing in Goodfellas, and importantly inserts small aspects that make the world breathe.


Scorsese regular Harvey Keitel also makes a cameo appearance but it’s Liverpool-actor Stephen Graham who steals the show in some feisty (and funny scenes) with Al Pacino. Graham plays Anthony Provenzano who is allowed to bankroll his activities using Union Funds but has fiery conflicts with the notorious punctual Hoffa by showing up late (and in shorts) to important meetings. Pacino and Graham have some terrific dramatic back-and-forths before their characters end up in federal prison where their sentences overlap and further fighting occurs.


Another actor of note is an understated Anna Paquin as Sheeran’s daughter Peggy who disowns her father owing to his involvement in serious crime. An earlier scene in a bowling alley with the young Peggy and a restrained Pesci creates a tension that also delivers a satisfying pay-off later.


There’s no avoiding the extended runtime and, for me, there were few iconic and easily-identifiable memorable moments but the overall structure is fulfilling. It’s an intentionally slower paced movie with Scorsese and the actors reflecting on their respective film gravitas. And the use of flashback and narrative recollection represents a reassessment of a life of violence (and violent films) and family (the casts’ relationship to each other).


Speaking of age, the director’s use of de-aging CGI is very impressive with ILM subtly capturing the youthful looks of the main cast. This works especially well on De Niro who at times looks no different to when he played his last role for Scorsese as Casino boss Sam Rothstein 24 years beforehand.


A loving goodbye, age has mellowed them all and the film’s measured pace and phenomenal length, which in all honesty could have been trimmed quite significantly, will either put you off or draw you in. For me, it mostly brought me into a satisfying world of sleaze, bribery and immorality but be wary, the runtime is a hindrance at points as it expands scene times to the limit, and sometimes beyond their dramatic breaking point.


However, Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is first-rate nonetheless. The movie is an extraordinary drama of historical importance and covers contemporary themes of authoritarian corruption and violence, but it is also a more than pleasurable and honest love letter to the group’s past creative endeavours together.


★★★★



Michael Sales


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