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By midlandsmovies, Mar 11 2020 01:12PM

The Invisible Man (2020) Dir. Leigh Whannell

The Invisible Man is a Universal horror film created by Blumhouse. After staging his own suicide, a crazed scientist (Oliver Jackson Cohen) uses his power to become invisible; to stalk and terrorize his ex-girlfriend played by Elisabeth Moss. When the police refuse to believe her story, she decides to take matters into her own hands and fight back.

The film is Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell who rose to prominence as one of the co-creators of the "SAW" franchise. After a failed attempt by Universal to create a shared Universe of Monsters that began with the Mummy in 2017. This second attempt comes to return the stories of iconic horror characters, and it is an unexpected success. The Invisible Man is a genre defining example of making a quality horror film.

Leigh Whanell proves in this film that less is more. Each shot of this movie is teeming with questions, with extensive emphasis on space, ambiguity and inanimate items. Whanell manages to finely prod the viewer with an impending cloud of anxiety and terror, and when the scares hit. They hit hard.

With a central performance that will in my mind propel Elisabeth Moss to a new level, her reactions, the sheer terror and victimisation of her character is apparent throughout. This movie touches on some dark themes that are relevant to popular culture. Whanell managed to tell this story without it being overtly political, but instead prying solely on the innate characteristics we hold as a collective, making this an uncomfortable and at times highly emotional ordeal.

But all in all, I would go as far as saying this is a modern horror masterpiece, Very rarely do horror movies of this calibre come along. We as an audience are bombarded and hindered with mindless, bland jump scares or uninteresting and spurious gore.

The invisible man has No cheap jump scares, no unnecessary gore and no cringe worthy decisions that rattle your head. The plot is so sharp and self-reflective and Elizabeth Moss's performance is so outstanding. The concept, direction, acting, script, complexity, themes and ending all contrive like a grand orchestra, and this movie has some independent scenes that are like an epic orchestras crescendo.

All so masterfully done. Phenomenal

Ben Warrington

Twitter @MrBenWarrington

By midlandsmovies, Mar 4 2020 08:33PM

Come to Daddy (2020) Dir. Ant Timpson

Elijah Wood and Stephen McHattie star in this eclectic flick about a young man who, after receiving a cryptic request letter, visits his estranged father’s clifftop residence to rekindle their dead-end family ties.

Director Timpson produced The Greasy Strangler and Deathgasm so has already dabbled in dark comedy and opens his debut with Wood and the drunk McHattie locking horns over family responsibility and fatherly failings. Swearing, boozing and throwing insults at each other, McHattie suddenly drops down dead during a heated argument.

With his porn-star ‘tache and piercing blue eyes, Wood has made a bit of a habit of the disturbed loner (Sin City, Maniac, Eternal Sunshine) and delivers the appropriate goods again here. However, his fine performance doesn’t gel with a film that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, moving as it does from plucky Sunshine State-style indie, through thought-provoking family satire and then a big swing to murderous drama.

With the morgue full and Wood forced to take care of the body until arrangements can be made, it’s sadly not until two-thirds of the way in do we finally get some much-needed narrative oomph with some shocking family revelations.

But it’s too often a strange and haphazard mess despite some gory developments as the truth comes to light. Unfortunately then, the stark changes in tone simply prove frustrating in this schizophrenic flick about failed fatherhood.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 21 2020 10:31AM

Sonic The Hedgehog (2020) Dir. Jeff Fowler

In his theatrical directorial debut, American filmmaker Jeff Fowler, takes on the challenge of a live-action adaptation of one of the world’s most beloved video game characters, Sonic the Hedgehog.

The film opens with Sonic (Ben Schwartz), our blue hero, needing a quick escape from his home planet. His mentor, Longclaw, has encouraged the young hedgehog to hide his supersonic speed but he hasn’t listened. This has led to him being hunted by a tribe of Echidnas (some form of masked, dreadlocked anteaters). To avoid the tribe Longclaw provides Sonic with a bag of golden rings that allow him to transport to other worlds when in danger. Of course, this ultimately leads to Sonic ending up on Earth, alone.

10 years later and Sonic has managed to keep hidden from the people of Green Hills, Montana, until one day his loneliness gets the better of him and he makes a mistake that reveals him to the world. The U.S government then enlists the help of the evil Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey) in order to capture him. Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the town sheriff discovers Sonic hiding out in his shed and agrees to help him escape Earth. To do this they must travel to San Francisco together to retrieve Sonic’s bag of golden rings.

It is very apparent throughout this film that it was made with a lot of affection and care for the character and his story. The film is full of small Easter eggs that will surely please fans of the franchise. After the first look trailer for this film was unveiled, there was outcry online over the, frankly terrifying, more close to real life interpretation of the character. Thankfully, the look of Sonic was altered to a more cartoonish style, much more fitting with the tone of the film. The care for the film is refreshing in a world of video game adaptations with next to no consideration for the original source material (see Super Mario Bros. (1993) for a clear example of this).

However, despite the love of the creators, this film never really gets past the word ‘generic’. Everything about the narrative, the jokes, the character arcs is all completely predictable. I found myself guessing the gags before the dialogue had even been spoken. This doesn’t mean the film isn’t fun to a point but I would have liked to see a more innovative take on a live-action video game adaptation. This lack of innovation presents itself wholly in an action scene in a bar that seems to have taken rather a large influence from the Quicksilver fight sequence in X Men: Days of Future Past (2014).

Another issue I had with the narrative was that I couldn’t get over the fact that Sonic could simply run to San Francisco in a fraction of the time the road trip takes, rather than sit in the passenger seat of a 4x4 with a human slowing him down. Of course, sometimes in films aimed at younger audiences you’re forced to take leaps, so maybe I’ll have to let that one pass.

Despite my gripes with the film, I didn’t hate it. I thought the performances added a lot. Jim Carrey as Robotnik unsurprisingly bought a lot of his animated energy to the role, which suits itself well with this type of film. Another standout was Ben Schwartz as Sonic, he bought the same snarky teen attitude that the character has always possessed in video games over the years. His chemistry with James Marsden also worked well, emphasising the reoccurring theme of friendship and making it all the more believable.

Ultimately, Sonic the Hedgehog doesn’t break the curse of video game big screen adaptations however it ticks all of the generic boxes for an easily watchable family film. It doesn’t stretch for anything beyond mediocrity with it’s run of the mill jokes and narrative. However, I’m sure it’s easily quotable dialogue and colourful storytelling will resonate well with younger audiences.


Jake Evans

Twitter @Jake_Evans1609

By midlandsmovies, Feb 15 2020 07:09PM

1917 (2020) Dir. Sam Mendes

Two young soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are tasked with delivering a message to the front line so a platoon of fellow soldiers avoid an ambush in Sam Mendes’ new WW1 film 1917. Leaving the trenches and entering enemy territory the pair need to deliver the warning to save 1600 lives, but in the process have to protect their own fragile lives in the war zone of northern France.

Mendes stages his film around a Birdman style “single take” which puts the audience in the action, takes you on a journey and forces the viewer to see through the unblinking eye of a soldier. It opens with apparently endless trenches with the Steadicam shooting reminiscent of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory whilst the eerie musical tones echoing WW2 film Dunkirk help keep everything on a knife edge.

The whole set up is therefore simple but effective as the boys avoid German shells and disused guns whilst dead horses, bodies and wounded recruits litter their experience. Always in danger, we feel it along with them every step of the way and a trip wire scene with a rat is phenomenal in its explosive power.

Both main actors are incredibly relatable as they (and we) bond over personal stories to keep their spirits up. As they venture further from their line, they encounter abandoned buildings as the German’s undertake a tactical retreat. Moments of levity stop 1917 from becoming a moribund hellscape but it doesn’t skimp on the atrocities of The Great War either. Its impressive technical construction sees cameras floating over water, planes crashing and night turning to day seemingly in the same one-take.

The “huge-ness” of their mission is contrasted nicely with more mundane tasks as they work against small problems like a van getting stuck in mud. And the film’s focus on these small moments between soldiers makes a mid-film surprise even more of an emotional trauma for the viewer.

1917 ends up being a fantastic war film taking new risks in a genre that has been covered many times in cinema. The film appears to have the most natural shooting style in the world. But then you stop and think about it and marvel at its complexity, audacity and the one-shot camerawork is as unescapable as the horror of war itself.

★★★★ ½

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 14 2020 08:42AM

Birds of Prey (2020) Dir. Cathy Yan

DC’s eighth instalment in their ever expanding ‘Extended Universe’ is released this week. Birds of Prey, or to give it it’s full mouthful of a title, Birds of Prey (and the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn), is helmed by director Cathy Yan and stars Margot Robbie in her second outing as the titular character.

After Harley’s split from the Joker leaves her vulnerable to the wrath of all of Gotham’s criminal underworld, she crosses paths with 3 other “dames looking for emancipation” in order to take down the most nefarious villain of them all, Roman Sionis (Ewan Mcgregor). Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and cliché cop Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) team up alongside Harley when pre-teen Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) has a contract placed on her head after pick pocketing Sionis’ prized diamond.

We are told the story in an almost Tarantino-esque non-linear fashion. The chronology of the story imitates Harley’s hyperactive mind, with her unreliable narration taking us back in time to understand the events unfolding on screen. From the get go this film just oozes fun. The colourful sets and costumes really create an atmosphere you want to be a part of, unlike the dingy, suppressed nature of Harley Quinn’s first introduction to us in Suicide Squad.

In terms of performances Margot Robbie and Ewan Mcgregor are the obvious standouts. Robbie embodies the role as if she was born to play it. Again, in comparison with Suicide Squad she has a lot more opportunity within this film to bring a more emotional depth to the character allowing the audience to gain a larger understanding of her as a person. Therefore, cementing herself as one of the most beloved anti-heroes in this generation of superhero franchises.

Ewan Mcgregor seems a world away from the last time audiences saw him in last years Doctor Sleep. Both performances brilliant but in polar opposite ways. In Doctor Sleep Mcgregor a much more serious, reserved and endearing character. Whereas in this film he grabs the over the top villain role with both hands. Sionis teeters on the edge of madness, going from 0 to 100, flamboyant to terrifying in mere seconds.

An honourable mention is deserved for Chris Messina as Victor Zsasz, Sionis’ right hand man. A character in love with violence, constantly provoking his superior to allow him to feed his desperation for it. His mannerisms and even the way he looks at other people sends chills down your spine.

Unfortunately, in terms of acting, for me, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ella Jay Basco were the clear weak links. I was surprised by Winstead, I do enjoy her performances in Scott Pilgrim Versus the World and 10 Cloverfield Lane, they prove she can hold her own alongside highly respected actors. Whether it was the script or just how she played it, her appearance as Huntress felt misjudged. The character’s dialogue always seemed forced. Continuous reference is made to the fact her character has not become akin to the tough guy persona just yet which led to quite a bit of overacting and cringe inducing lines.

Similarly with Ella Jay Basco, despite her fantastic physical acting in scenes of her pickpocketing unsuspecting people on the street, her delivery of lines just didn’t feel up to the mark. I understand that she is a young child actor but her performance lacked the spark or magic that others possessed.

Getting back to the positives of the film, the influence of John Wick director Chad Stahelski on some of the action scenes in the film was clear. An excellent choice by Birds of Prey producers to gain the help of the director of this era’s staple action franchise. Wide shots, perfect use of slow motion and practical stunts immerse the audience in each and every action sequence. Each significant character’s unique fighting style is showcased in spectacular fashion. Whether it Harley Quinn’s acrobatic flair or Huntress’ sharpshooter technique, these scenes were the most fun I had whilst watching this film.

DC seem to have finally found their rhythm in their longstanding fight against Marvel and with Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar win for his performance in Joker and the quality of this film, they may even be one step ahead right now.


Jake Evans

Twitter @Jake_Evans1609

By midlandsmovies, Feb 7 2020 02:36PM

Parasite (2020) Dir. Bong Joon-ho

With near universal acclaim, Palme D’Or winner Parasite is the new film from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho who tackles the complex amalgam of poverty and wealth in this multifaceted drama.

Opening with the Kim family’s below-ground apartment, we get to see a “window on the world” from their perspective. They undertake menial and low-paying work whilst their tiny and messy basement apartment sees them living in crowded squalor.

An opportunity arises when the family’s son (Choi Woo-shik as Kim Ki-woo) receives a tip from his friend that he could take over his tutoring job at a rich family’s home. With a fake degree certificate created by his sister (Park So-dam as Kim Ki-jeong), he heads to the extravagant house of the Park family to teach their young daughter English.

Much like Okja (our review) and Snowpiercer, Joon-ho tackles societal issues and jampacks his movie with metaphorical allusions to class hierarchy. The social order is represented on screen with physical window lines and staircases separating the two sides of affluence and destitution.

However, the film takes no sneering position as the desperate family hatch a plan to infiltrate the Park’s household. Kim Ki-jeong, the daughter of the Kim family takes a role as an art therapist, the father of the family Kim Ki-taek (Snowpiercer’s Song Kang-ho) becomes their chauffeur whilst they conspire to get the family’s housekeeper fired. That allows mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) to replace her.

Yet the Parks aren’t portrayed as innocent victims either. The father (Lee Sun-kyun) demeans Kim Ki-taek for his unnatural “smell”, whilst Cho Yeo-jeong as the mother Yeon-gyo has her innocence undercut by her lack of empathy and dismissive attitude towards her home help.

[slight spoiler] The film takes a dark turn when the previous housekeeper returns to reveal a secret bunker in the Park’s mansion where her debt-riddled husband has been hiding for years. This begins a three-way dynamic where the hidden couple uncovers the Kim’s diabolical intrusion and threaten to tell the Park family of their scheme.

The film’s visuals are excellent as darkness and light illuminate the difference between the characters’ circumstances. Moving “into the light” from black doorways see characters jump between their social statuses. More on the nose however is the Kim’s escape down the city’s stairs back to their abode, an obvious and somewhat clichéd “descent to hell” allegory.

Another time the Kim family hide like cockroaches from their employers after abusing their hospitality and for me, this came across as a little patronising with the family home becoming its own echo chamber for the director’s heavy-handed satire. We get it right! Yes, the class system has a visual (and literal) hierarchy and the “those-above and those-below” simple trope was also a weakness of Jordan Peele’s US.

However, the tempo does help keep the audience off-kilter as to who the dupe and who the perpetrators are. The pecking order is not as always clear cut as it may seem and the director allows the audience to think about both sets of circumstances to create an ambiguous moral mood throughout.

Aspects of horror and bloody violence in the second half were much needed and helped ratchet up the dramatic interactions. And the precise editing emphasis the great visuals where stark lines and fantastic lighting embed all of the director’s motifs.

Undeniably beautiful and intricately constructed like by a cinematic watchmaker, Parasite questions who is exploiting who in a remarkable parable on humanity and society. And in the end Joon-ho’s themes of the blood-sucking rich hosts and their poor victims – or is it the other way around – infests your mind in a profound moral tale with an outstanding cinematic touch.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 6 2020 03:58PM

Daniel Isn't Real (2020) Dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer

Based on In This Way I Was Saved by Brian DeLeeuw, Daniel Isn’t Real is a new horror-thriller starring Miles Robbins (Blockers) as a young man with some serious psychological issues. After witnessing a shooting, a young shy boy called Luke meets Daniel whose outward confidence ends up connecting the two boys as friends. However, Daniel cannot be seen by Luke’s mother and after his imaginary friend tricks Luke into almost poisoning her, Luke metaphorically locks Daniel in an old dollhouse.

Years later, a teenage Luke (now played by Robbins) has become a worried student who unlocks the dollhouse after travelling home one day, and now an older Daniel (played by Arnie’s son Patrick Schwarzenegger) reappears to him.

An interesting idea, the film could be the worst of b-movie horrors but takes its set-up and characters mostly seriously. As Daniel begins to help out Luke overcome personal demons and help others, the figment of his imagination is soon involved in assaults and violence and becomes a real demon of his own.

The film cleverly uses Luke’s photography hobby as a metaphor for image and self-projection and his old camera along with other students’ artwork focuses the film on symbolic duplicates, replication and the internal and external aesthetics of persona.

As Luke’s mother struggles with her own mental health issues, the film does swerve from its analysis of schizophrenia and move into more body-horror and the supernatural. This is no bad thing though and through sex, drugs and self-medication, the film attempts to tackle more heady themes than you’ll see in an Insidious or Annabelle.

Reminiscent of Austrian movie Goodnight Mommy (2014) and a bit of Fight Club (1999), the film does have somewhat of a reveal later on but it’s a pleasant surprise to have the conceit explained early on to avoid a clichéd denouement.

From the opening sequence to a body possession, there are also flashes of some brilliantly constructed and visually arresting shots yet the film doesn’t quite get away from its less-than-original premise. And narratively I felt you could mostly see where it is going beat-by-beat.

However, for the first horror of 2020 I’ve seen it has set the standard of mixing genre tropes with a few new ideas to provide a satisfying albeit slightly inconsequential tale of terror.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 1 2020 09:28AM

The Turning (2020) Dir. Floria Sigismondi

The Turning is a new horror film directed by Floria Sigismondi and starring Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard and Brooklynn Prince.

The plot is a shrewd updated adaptation of Henry James’ ‘The Turn Of The Screw’. The Turning sadly embodies near every element of its cursed release date, and is a studio hack job of the highest order, despite a promising start. The Turning takes us to a mysterious estate in the Maine countryside, where newly appointed nanny Kate is charged with the care of two disturbed orphans, Flora and Miles.

Quickly though, she discovers that both the children and the house are harbouring dark secrets and things may not be as they appear.

The films atmosphere is rather eerie, and there are a good collection of scares. The main actors did a very good job of completely embodying themselves as their characters, and they really do give off a creepy aura.

However, this movie lacks any gravitas narratively speaking, with the plot being sketchy and unkempt. The narrative is very subjective to its viewer, the ambiguous pacing and the insidious, vague story make it hard for you as a watcher to really resonate with its characters and themes. The theming I feel was trying too hard to be part of the political commentary we are seeing more and more in modern horror.

This past year alone, both Jennifer Kent’s “The Nightingale” and Sophia Takal’s “Black Christmas” used rape-revenge tropes as plot points, though to vastly different degrees of success. In the case of The Turning, we get drawn out depictions of ‘toxic masculinity’ and poorly and often annoying one-liners referring to tyrannical power, and oppression.

This film does have a beautiful pallet, and certain set designs made nods to ‘The Women in Black’ and ‘The Shining ’but the movie lost its identity, and throughout loses its audience.

Overall The Turning did not know what film it wanted to be. Was it a social commentary, or was it a homage to mental health? In the end we got a tense, chilly movie with no distinctiveness and unfortunately, for a horror movie to stay with you, that narrative has to be coherent with the audience’s thoughts throughout.

The intentionally cryptic ending is the director's unapologetic take on the source material. Unfortunately, the extreme level of ambiguity is not an audience pleaser. The story would have been far better served if the conclusion offered more subtle feelings of unease or doubt.


Ben Warrington

Twitter @ben_warro

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