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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


By midlandsmovies, Oct 10 2019 09:50AM



The Day Shall Come (2019) Dir. Chris Morris


As a huge fan of Chris Morris’ previous work, it’s great to see the director back after his successes of The Day Today, Brass Eye and the controversial suicide bomber film Four Lions.


Here Marchánt Davis plays Moses Al Shabaz who is an unstable preacher in a Miami commune who is investigated by a corrupt FBI. They are shown to undertake morally dubious undercover work in their attempts to convict potential terrorists.


Anna Kendrick is Kendra Glack, an operative whose conscience is tested by the bureaucratic game-playing of the FBI and police procedures she is forced to adhere to. And before long, the FBI is actively “encouraging” the group to take risks that they would not do otherwise.


Although this film is certainly a new project, the obvious surface parallels with Four Lions – a bungling religious group, the incompetent authorities – mean The Day Shall Come feels very familiar and it’s sad to say but Four Lions works better in almost every respect.


With its razor-sharp focus and balance of politics, drama and farce, Four Lions’ satirical targets are so precise that it’s a shame this film’s criticism of American security spirally wildly within the narrative. Also, Four Lions’ Riz Ahmed was essentially the “straight” guy to the foolish antics of his friends and this film was aching for a similar central character (either from Moses’ group or the FEDs) to ground the whole thing.


Sadly there isn’t and there’s nothing stopping it from sometimes twisting off into nonsense – especially in the third act. With this scattershot approach, the themes are not as insightfully critiqued as they need to be.


And from nuclear weapons to bank loans, The Day Shall Come wants to target every hot topic in the current climate and therefore loses further focus. The cast are ok but praise should be singled out for Marchánt Davis’ likeable and funny portrayal of the naïve Moses, but even his best efforts couldn’t keep the narrative on course.


With a concluding coda that is inevitable (and again, similarily ‘borrowed’ from his own Four Lions), it has to be said the movie is a rather large disappointment from someone I expected so much more from.


★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Oct 6 2019 05:59PM



Her Smell (2019) Dir. Alex Ross Perry


Told over 5 separate sequences interspersed with old video footage, new music drama Her Smell stars Elisabeth Moss as Becky Something, a troubled and self-destructive singer on a downward trajectory.


Backstage after a gig, her intense mood swings are not helped by her reliance on a shaman before her self-appointed God-like behaviour angers her ex-partner (played by Dan Stevens) who arrives with their child which culminates in Becky spiralling down into a substance induced blackout.


Months later at a recording studio, the band’s manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz) is frustrated at their lack of progress whilst Becky intimidates his label’s new signing Akergirls. With her unlikable demeanour and jealous aggression, Becky pushes her band’s drummer (Gayle Rankin) and bassist (Agyness Deyn) to quit before we soon jump forward to find Becky supporting the now more famous Akergirls at one of their own shows.


Elisabeth Moss is absolutely brilliant as the dysfunctional front woman whose star rises and falls (mostly falls) in a cacophony of self-obsession. A danger to both herself and others, Moss manages to keep a wholly unlikeable character just on the right side of sympathy.


However, her behaviour gets more extreme as she violently attacks her old band mate and verbally assaults her mother. The film brilliantly teases out the exposition and by the mid-way point there are hints of an abusive relationship by an absent father.


“There are no bad days”, says her bandmate, inferring they’re all terrible at this point as her burgeoning ego leads to further erratic behaviour. She calls out for the Goddess as she tries to channel the other-worldly into a creative endeavour that goes beyond the surface of mass-consumed pop culture but becomes a cliche herself.


But as Becky’s behaviour reaches a crescendo of rotten on and off-stage antics, the film eventually slows down in a very poignant chamber piece scene with Becky and her daughter. A beautiful and delicate piano cover of Heaven by Bryan Adams calms both Becky and the viewer as we see her finally coming to terms with her past actions.


Like my enjoyment of Lords of Chaos, I tend to gravitate towards the darker aspects of a touring rock band rather than the glossy pop stylings the like of which was covered in Vox Lux. Her Smell goes beyond the traditional take of rock misadventures but luckily the over-the-top characters don’t fall into the trap of the bro-dude stylings The Dirt, where the perm-coiffed hedonists of Mötley Crüe somewhat glamorised these nasty behaviours.


The songs in the film are actually the weakest part with the sub-Avril Lavigne American 3-chord pop-punk being musically and lyrically awful. But such a small part doesn’t take away from the successes of both the protagonist and the supporting cast.


A reunion leads the film towards a more upbeat conclusion and Moss’ terrific central performance allows us to be drawn into her shocking exploits without condoning what she is doing to those around her. As she poisons herself one event at a time, the interesting dynamics are slowly teased out and revealed as the narrative progresses.


Whilst the film doesn’t wholly take this type of rock 'n' roll redemption story in a brand new direction, from the excellent performances to the grotesque but engaging breakdowns, Her Smell is an intense and satisfying tour down a boulevard of broken dreams.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 3 2019 01:42PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 4


Now deep into the second half of the year, there's more films being released in cinemas, on video-on-demand and home format than we can keep up with but we have three new reviews of some of the latest releases out there. In this review catch-up post we take a look at SKIN, MA & CHILD'S PLAY.




Skin (2019) Dir. Guy Nattiv


Jamie Bell plays real-life ex-white supremacist Bryon "Pitbull" Widner in this new dark drama asking whether a racist can be reformed. At various white-power gatherings, Bell acts as father figure to new recruits but begins to doubt his own convictions when he meets Danielle Macdonald as Julie Price and becomes an actual surrogate dad to her two children. Based on an amazing true story, Bell’s Neo-Nazi is covered in tattoos, including significant ones to his face and so the drama is punctuated with gruesome flash-forwards of tattoo removal scenes as his past is literally burnt away. The film has dashes of Imperium and American History X as it tries to get under the surface of the ugly face of American fascism.


Starting with eerily prescient scenes from 2009, the film mellows slightly in the middle before Bell makes a desperate call to a man who is trying to help people leave behind their Neo-Nazi past. As Bell denounces his previous life, he erases his tribal ink along with it. Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’) delivers a warm turn as the empathetic wife, whilst Bell is great as the former skinhead. With a multifaceted performance, he looks for something (or someone) to blame but then takes control of his own life to make it better. With a timely subject matter, Skin delves into themes we’ve seen before but this almost unbelievably true life story gives hope to a better world by erasing, and learning from, one’s past mistakes. ★★★★



Ma (2019) Dir. Tate Taylor


Director Tate Taylor made 2011’s The Help which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture before his adaptation of The Girl on the Train earnt more than $122 million worldwide but what he is doing with Ma is anyone’s guess. Billed as a psychological horror, the film neither provides any depth to the psychological part and little in the way of horror either. In fact, 45 minutes in and all we have is a group of terribly broad and clichéd teenagers partying at a house owned by “Ma” (Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington) who has lured the group to her basement as a place to consume alcohol under the relative ‘safety’ of her adult supervision. However, a humiliating incident from Ma’s past has built up a psychopathic resentment and her initial concern and protectiveness for the teens’ well-being slowly descends into ludicrous revenge sub-plots. Octavia Spencer, who was so excellent in Hidden Figures, does her best to hold the film’s under-developed aspects together but she cannot overcome the film’s rather large flaws. Unlike suggested in the trailer, the horror is sparse and the first terrible thing Ma does is at 1 hour 10 minutes into the film. Given the credits rolled at 1 hour 32 minutes, it really is a missed opportunity for what looks, on paper, to be an interesting set-up. The sewing of a teen’s mouth shut hints upon the gore and nastiness a film like this really should have had more of, but Ma ends up being a pretty terrible and boring film with a solid idea spoiled by its sub-par execution. ★★



Child's Play (2019) Dir. Lars Klevberg


80s video-nasty Child’s Play gets a technological upgrade in this reboot about a killer doll on a murderous rampage. Unlike earlier films in the franchise, the conceit here is rather than a killer’s soul being magically transferred to a toy doll, the recently released “Buddi” is a misfiring high-tech toy that interacts with other products from the Kaslan Corporation who make it. After a suicidal employee at a Vietnamese toy factory decides to disable the safety protocols of one of the dolls on the assembly line, the corrupt product ends up in 13-year old Andy’s hands. Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a shy youngster who lives with his single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and names his doll “Chucky" (oh-oh). Before long, the doll has murdered the family’s cat and decapitated his mum’s boyfriend after hearing Andy bad-mouth both of them. The film wisely takes broad aim at consumerist culture but the comedy-horror works well in the style of 80s fare like Gremlins as the characters never nod-and-wink to the audience. This makes the dark comedy all the more funny. From table saws, blood spurts and a horrifying scalping, the required gore is present and the film’s young child actors are pleasantly relatable. Some 80s clichés work themselves in too – the investigator, the adults who don’t believe their kids, a finale in a department store – and these help solidify the tone in which the film aims for. Mark Hamill does great with his Joker-infused tones as the voice of Chucky also. Much better than it has any right to be, Child’s Play digital modernisation respects the origins of that first film and whilst it won’t win any high-brow awards, for this sort of thing it’s surprisingly entertaining. ★★★



Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2019 11:02AM



It Chapter Two (2019) Dir. Andy Muschietti


The success of the first IT film came as a bit of an industry surprise with the best opening of a horror movie at the box office ever. The inevitable sequel was not just because of that – the book is “essentially” two parts anyways – so now we follow the Losers Club as adults as they return to Derry to fulfil their promise to each other to stop Pennywise the (killer) Clown if he ever returned.


Director Andy Muschietti builds upon the good work of his first film which, for me, is by far the best of the recent glut of mainstream Hollywood horror. But this time we have a selection of adults embodying grown-up versions of the child actors from the previous film.


Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis star as the old and young versions of Bev respectively, James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell are Bill, Bill Hader and Finn Wolfhard play Richie, Isaiah Mustafa and Chosen Jacobs are Mike, Jay Ryan and Jeremy Ray Taylor act as Ben, James Ransone and Jack Dylan Grazer are Eddie and finally Andy Bean and Wyatt Oleff play Stanley Uris.


As the gang reunite, the film sees their memory of past events slowly return and the success of the excellent young actors’ chemistry from the first film has led to the director inserting plenty of flashbacks to flesh out the story.


And of course, the fabulously malevolent Bill Skarsgård is Pennywise the Dancing Clown with his piercing eyes, child-like voice and drooling smile all coming back to scare the adults who are all dealing with their personal past demons too.


As well as the actors, the film is shot superbly and the glowing cinematography during the flashbacks harks back to the innocent past whilst the modern versions have a more contemporary look. And a smattering of humour, mainly built around the excellent Bill Hader helps keep the protagonists likeable.


However, despite some excellent work from the cast and filmmaker, there are some problems with that. The film is not really scary at all. A Thing-inspired spider-head and a tense meeting between an old lady and Jessica Chastain’s Bev are superb but an over-use of CGI and the humour is tonally a little off. There are also some “meta” moments with a film set location, a Stephen King cameo and constant references to McAvoy’s writer who is known for the bad endings of his published books. This makes the film feel more like the satirical Scream 2 and these self-references took me from the movie completely.


Also, we must talk about the runtime. At 169 minutes (!) it’s AT LEAST 30-minutes too long. The great drama played out by the gang works well but by the cataclysmic and over-the-top end confrontation, I was actually yearning for a conclusion. A Return of the Rings-style multi-ending added another 10 minutes on that and it soon became quite comically misjudged.


The cast (did I mention them at all?) really help the slightly ramshackle film from falling apart but with its aim to be “epic”, it falls flat at times despite the interesting dark themes of dealing with the past sitting nicely with some more positivity set within fun 80s retro references. In the end though, IT Chapter 2 is a more than solid 2 hour sequel with an added 50 unnecessary minutes that ideally could be wiped from your brain like a memory from Derry.


★★★½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2019 10:06AM



John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) Dir. Chad Stahelski


Keanu Reeves returns once more as the eponymous ‘hero’ John Wick in this third instalment of the hyper-violent neo-noir action series. The movie picks up immediately from the previous sequel where the ex-assassin is in New York escaping from a $14 million hit put upon his head after his unsanctioned killing of a member of the “High Table” – a seedy cabal of hitmen and women. But before you can say “parabellum”, Wick is involved in bloodier fist/knife/gun fights than ever before.


Influenced at times by old gun-slinging westerns – (Wick-y Wick-y Wild Wild West) he uses 6-shooter guns and tomahawks, rides a horse through Manhattan and there is a distinct steel-guitar vibe on the soundtrack. Technical wise, the lighting is beyond fantastic with the gorgeous visuals, neon lights and heavy rain giving the locations a classic cinematic feel in comparison to other genre films.


The culture continues (as first seen around Rome in Chapter 2) with scenes set at theatres, museums, libraries and art galleries setting the somewhat low-brow fight action against more civilised environments.


During a ballet rehearsal, a rare but welcome Anjelica Huston appearance explains “the path to paradise begins in hell”. This is one of a number of religious nods alongside a crucifix necklace, stained glass windows and later on a cross is seared on Wick’s back before a gruesome scene of anatomical sacrifice. And redemption is a big theme too. Wick wants out but is drawn back in – not just by his guilt – but by a sense of obligation to the codes of conduct the High Table group enforce.


Support comes from an excellent duplicitous Ian McShane as the manager of a hotel refuge whilst Laurence Fishburne brings his mouthy gravitas to underground crime lord, the Bowery King. The excellent Halle Berry is sadly wasted in a silly shoot-out sequence in Casablanca. The bland gun action is not helped by some CGI dogs - however, those waiting for some long overdue dog revenge will lap up the hounds’ killing spree.


What doesn’t work? Well, the action – as good as it is – is constant. And relentlessly so. Characterisation is kept to a minimum but expected I suppose and the much-lauded motorcycle chase is a poor facsimile of the superior one in The Villainess.


Also, and I’m not sure if it’s because I watched this recent video breaking down stunt choreography from an expert, Keanu was starting to look his age as the overly-choreographed fights seemed to have a few missed marks. A minor gripe I admit.

Whilst expanding the mythos Wick has also lost some of its initial Taken-style charm. The two films were never realistic per se but in Parabellum, murders in public at Grand Central Station and bus-loads of SWAT push it a little bit too far into fantasy. Heck, it even bordered on WANTED (2009) territory with its clan of shady assassins clinging to their historical rules of engagement.


All that said, Wick does what it sets out to do with no apologies. A few nice nods to The Matrix are a nice inside-joke - Neo, I mean Wick, is asked to make a choice by a monologue-ing mentor in a video-screened room and also asks for “Guns. Lots of guns”. And not to mention that Morpheus is in it of course!


And so, genre fans will lap up the explosions, punches, martial arts, gun-fu and the well-executed stunt work. But Wick goes beyond b-movie staples with a film that not only delivers on its action but is a feast for the more discerning viewer with its eye-wateringly impressive lighting, cinematography and production design.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Aug 28 2019 10:13AM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 4


In this collection of recent reviews we take a look at ANGEL HAS FALLEN, KILLER'S ANONYMOUS, IN FABRIC and THE STANDOFF AT SPARROW CREEK.


Read on to hear our thoughts on some of these new 2019 cinema and dvd releases.



Angel Has Fallen (2019) Dir. Ric Roman Waugh

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. Suffering from a form of PTSD, he protects US President (Morgan Freeman) from a drone attack but is implicated in the crime itself. Cue a tedious game of cat and mouse between an on-the-run Banning and his previous colleagues. He’s also chased by forces “unknown” (it’s so obvious from the outset who the culprits are) who want to get to Banning to finish the job and execute their conspiracy.


What we have then is an unexciting, monotonous and dreary “action” film whose 2-hour runtime feels like 2 weeks. Jada Pinkett as an FBI agent spouts tedious action-film clichés passing itself off as dialogue and its plot has been done numerous times before as seen in the Bourne franchise, Sentinel (2006) and most of M:I series as an operative is framed for a crime he didn’t commit whilst others attempt to bring them to justice.


Positives? Although I’m struggling to find many, when Banning meets his father (Nick Nolte) in his remote wood cabin, the film is given some much-needed pleasure with a tongue-in-cheek tone and some nifty banter. A mid-credits scene has to be seen to be believed too, so if you manage to make it to the end, stick around for that. I also thought the explosions were pretty spectacular with some stuntmen really taking a battering as they are thrown around. But the woeful quick editing on the fights makes them hard to follow and one brawl in a car at night is frankly unwatchable and shouldn’t be in a movie with this budget. In the end it may just be the best of the series, stay with me on this, as the others were beyond terrible and this is simply mostly bad. Action 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.


Killers Anonymous (2019) Dir. Martin Owen

This American crime thriller film directed by Martin Owen tells the story of a group of assassins being brought together in a secret hideaway situated in a London church after the assassination of an American Senator on UK soil. Opening with an elongated conversation between Gary Oldman and Jessica Alba – filmed strangely, as characters talk to the camera Peep Show-style – the group finally congregates in a small set of rooms as they share their backgrounds and “days since last killing” stories like an AA meeting. The film wastes its talented cast which includes a delicious Tommy Flanagan as Markus, an excellent Rhyon Nicole Brown as Alice, a subtle performance from MyAnna Buring as Joanna and stalwart Tim McInnerny as Calvin who all did their best with some awful dialogue. It could have worked as a more serious chamber piece like 12 Angry Men (1957) or pushed the envelope and gone further into the knowing horror of the more recent Would You Rather (2012) 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 and it most reminded me of the darkly comic Inside No. 9 both in flat TV look and its eclectic soundtrack. In the end though, 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.

★★



In Fabric (2019) Dir. Peter Strickland

A horror comedy infused with Italian ‘Giallo’ genre stylings, In Fabric is a new movie featuring, bear with me, a killer dress. A ridiculous conceit, the film in fact uses this far-fetched idea to look at consumerism, desires and hypnotising capitalism. It stars Oscar-nominated Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Sheila, whose awful managers and worse dates increase her feeling of loneliness since her recent divorce. She purchases a crimson dress at the enigmatic Dentley and Soper's store from assistant Miss Luckmoore (an incredibly creepy Fatma Mohamed) who appears part of a ritualistic coven. The cursed dress leaves a strange rash on Sheila as the supernatural piece of clothing causes havoc with a washing machine and attempts to murder Sheila’s son’s girlfriend – played by a welcome but all too brief appearance from Gwendoline Christie. A sharp turn in the narrative though is where the film started to lose its way a little. The dress ends up in possession of washing machine repair man Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) whose story of hypnotism is far less interesting and developed than Sheila’s. In Fabric’s tone however seems not only to be hinting at classic Italian horrors but also by very British influences too. I saw hints of the satirical website Scarfolk Council, who is in itself influenced by the panic-filled sensibilities of 1970/80s government health and safety films and iconography. And In Fabric at times seems to be what Matthew Holness was attempting in Possum (2018) which was a snail-paced disappointment. A beautiful looking film of strong colours and lighting and a terrific cast playing bizarre and peculiar characters, In Fabric suffers most with its plotline switch at the halfway point, dismissing almost all of what came before it. Fans of the cinematic influences will lap it up but for me, it’s a slightly missed, but to be fair with a lot to like, opportunity to bring Suspiria to suburbia.

★★★



The Standoff of Sparrow Creek (2019) Dir. Henry Dunham

Written and directed by Henry Dunham in his feature debut The Standoff at Sparrow Creek tackles current U.S. obsessions with gun ownership, responsibility, media blame and political and social paranoia. Throwing us straight in, James Badge Dale plays ex-cop Gannon who has joined a local militia and ends up investigating his own group after one of them is suspected of a mass shooting at a police funeral. Information comes in sporadically over the police radio meaning a time limit is set, and in their secluded warehouse base one of their machine guns is suspiciously missing. Creating a sense of dread and hidden motives, the film is set almost solely in this location and using the fantastic conceit, the group is faced into confronting this situation with the audience trapped in this mystery along with them. The cinematography mixes dark shadows and spotlights as the questions fly and these help create the best scenes which involve Gannon interrogating members using his previous experience. A small but powerful indie feature, its 88 minutes gives the movie a swift pace with more depth than most small dramas. But it doesn’t let up either with a multitude of talented performances from the excellent cast playing distrustful characters obsessed with protecting their “freedoms”.

★★★★



Michael Sales



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