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By midlandsmovies, May 21 2020 10:48AM



The Wretched (2020) Dir. Brett Pierce & Drew T. Pierce


Well it’s easy to call this film absolutely wretched but let’s see how we get there in a new horror from the Pierce brothers. John-Paul Howard plays Ben, a conflicted teenager involved in poorly constructed shenanigans involving a cursed witch who somewhat places people under a spell where they forget members of their own family.


Sadly for starters, American teenage boys are sometimes the biggest douches to watch on screen. You get the loveable nerd-ish type (played by our lead here and made popular by Shia LaBeouf) and the BBQ cooking jocks. Both are present. Both are cliched. And both are mostly ghastly. With shades of both Spielberg and Hitchcock (especially in Devin Burrows’ great score) the film reminds me of the original Fright Night in tone, whilst the ideas have been seen before, and better, in suburban horrors like Disturbia and The Woman. It does however provide some gross out blood and guts, but the dramatic sections feel much like soap opera Home and Away “down at the pier”.


Some arresting imagery and note-worthy visuals help and the good practical effects are definitely one of its saving graces. However, a few interesting ideas about memory never really fully coalesce and although these new directors show quite a bit of promise as filmmakers, I don’t believe this to be their breakout effort. ★★


Ophelia (2020) Dir. Claire McCarthy


I’ve been meaning to write my review of Ophelia for some time now, but the truth is that this reimagining of Hamlet from Ophelia’s point of view is sadly a bit unremarkable resulting somewhat in very little to explore. A take on Hamlet by Shakespeare, it opens with a cinematic adaptation of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia painting - an image also replicated in Laurence Olivier’s more faithful take on the Bard’s tale from his 1948 Hamlet film.


Protagonist Daisy Ridley is clearly the best thing about the film delivering a performance with much wider range than her Star Wars Rey character. The beats from the play are all present – murder, succession & deceit - but these are truncated in favour of scenes from Ophelia’s perspective. Prince Hamlet is played well by George MacKay who is having a stunning year with a solid performance here as well as his excellent appearances in 1917 and True History of the Kelly Gang already on his 2020 CV. Moving from historical tragedy to a more straight drama at times, it's an interesting take on the material with the saturated greens of nature, innocence and life slightly ironic given the tragic tale of death. The great cinematography is let down by a turgid script though and it has to be said Clive Owen’s wig is nauseatingly distracting. The sumptuous costumes and the delightful performance from Ridley are not quite enough to drag this beyond the realms of a “valiant effort” with a reimagined twist ending stuck on for good measure. Solid but uninspiring. ★★★




VFW (2020) Dir. Joe Begos


I’d love someone to correct me here, but this retro action flick opens in the antagonist’s lair with the title that it’s “12.30pm”. That’s afternoon, right? He heads outside and it’s the middle of the night. Also, there’s a coda explaining that the town has gone downhill and become a war zone because of drugs. This is immediately repeated in the first conversation between our introductory two characters. It’s that kind of attention to detail that doesn’t bode well for Joe Bego’s new film VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars).


It stars a host of grizzled faces including Stephen Lang (Avatar), William Sadler (Die Hard 2), Fred Williamson (From Dusk Til Dawn), Martin Kove (The Karate Kid), David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors) and the ultimate bar-fly George Wendt (from TV’s Cheers). This bunch of geriatrics end up in a John Carpenter-style situation stuck in their local drinkery whilst a gang of drug-crazed heavies tries to get in. And that’s about it. The character actors are in fact great and the conversations between them are actually not half bad but the boring action and sample dialogue “An army of braindead animals is still an army” is inane. Here, it’s more like a film of braindead actors is still a film, I guess (just). A fair bit of gore and violence combined with neon lighting harks to the 80s but it doesn’t do what the best 80s-influenced films do (e.g. It Follows & The Guest) which give their own modern spin on their retro roots. The boring VFW therefore sadly ends by being a bit embarrassing for everyone involved. ★½



Michael Sales





By midlandsmovies, May 7 2020 04:20PM



Bad Boys for Life (2020) Dir. Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah


17 years later and we’re back for a third outing with buddy-cop detective duo Will Smith as ladies-man Mike Lowrey and his family-orientated partner Martin Lawrence as Marcus Burnett. The two again banter and shoot their way out of a new case involving murder and money in Miami.


The story involves the widow of a kingpin who escapes from a prison and sends her son to the USA to recover hidden cash and take down Mike Lowrey. As Lawrence becomes a grandfather and (again) plans to leave the force, Mike is victim of a shooting. But when he returns to action, he vows revenge on the criminals who attacked him.


This well-worn narrative is simply the playground for shrewdly put together action sequences and the usual entertaining repartee from our leads. Mike reluctantly joins forces with a tactical team and a surprise death ramps up his intentions even more so.


Punch-ups, shoot outs and car-chases are all present and it all seems the stuff we’ve seen a million times before. Well it is. But somehow it mostly works. The two leads are still very likeable and although the comedy is too often the “we’re too old for this sh*t” type, there’s enough good humour, a smattering of solid drama and plenty of explosive action to enjoy.


In fact, there’s something very warm and familiar about popping back to characters we haven’t seen in over a decade. In many ways, the production delays help each film, as we drop in on the duo each decade. That way, there’s more story to tell, we grow with them and without over-egging it, it’s like visiting a distant family member.


All the pieces slot together in ways that are recognizable and obvious, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the familiar ride. In the end, Bad Boys for Life delivers the appropriate goods with a great thumping soundtrack.


And that was more enough to satisfy a re-visit to this established world that gets by on its enthusiastic and exciting energy.


★★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, May 7 2020 04:15PM



Bombshell (2020) Directed by Jay Roach


From the director of Meet the Parents and the Austin Powers movies (!) comes a topical drama about the American Fox News Network and its culture of harassment in the workplace.


CEO Roger Ailes (a sleazy John Lithgow) heads up a news office lead by anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) whose journalism work is undermined by sexist comments from presidential candidate Donald Trump. She receives little support from Ailes whilst colleague Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) fares even worse. She loses her job before subsequently attempting to expose the culture of abuse at the tv station.


Margot Robbie plays composite character Kayla Pospisil, a budding journalist who is harassed by Ailes. He promises promotions based on her willingness to engage in acts that become increasingly depraved.


The three leads are outstanding and are the film’s greatest strength. These resilient women are at different stages on their career, showing how the culture was both engrained whilst continuing against new staff members too.


Kidman’s frustration and isolation for speaking up is so well defined, whilst Robbie’s abuse at the hands of Ailes is far from gratuitous on screen, yet almost impossible to watch. Theron, covered in amazing Oscar-winning makeup and hairstyling, holds the whole thing together and the fact the trio bond over the situation is both fascinating and ultimately horrifying in its portrayal.


In the climate of the #metoo movement it would have been easy to make such a film preachy or give it a hammer-over-the-head approach. However, Bombshell’s success works because of its nuance and understated reality – which gives it a far more powerful punch – creating an engaging and imperative true-life story audiences need to hear.


★★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Apr 30 2020 09:52AM



The Platform (2020) Dir. Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia


From being trapped in an abusive household (The Invisible Man), to stuck in suburbia (Vivarium) to the rigid trappings of social hierarchy (Parasite) and the frustrating confined space seen in The Lighthouse, 2020 films seem to have predicted some of the real world angst caused by the current Coronavirus situation.


And with this year of lockdown films, new Spanish sci-fi The Platform arrives which tells the story of a man awakening in a ‘vertical’ prison with scarce access to food. Sound familiar?


In this construction, a table filled with gluttonous food gradually descends through the rooms, with the inmates randomly switching floors placing them at different points during their stay. And with those at the top taking first pickings, this leaves just scraps to those in cells at the bottom of the shaft.


Iván Massagué plays a dishevelled man called Goreng who arrives in his bare concrete abode with an older gent called Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) who explains the routine of this mysterious jail. As food comes down to their level, they get a predetermined time to eat what they can (or whatever is left over) before it makes it way further down to others.


A unique set up, the bare cells allow an audience to focus on the themes the film raises as well as the interesting and nuanced performances by the actors and their often feisty interactions with each other.


One day a bloodied woman arrives on the table who heads downwards looking for a child that may or may not exist. Whilst at the same time Goreng is held hostage by his cell mate who plans to eat his flesh as they end up on a low floor with barely any food to eat.


As they can converse with prisoners directly above and below them, Goreng pleads with others to ration more food out for those below as the inmates turn to desperate measures to survive.


From flesh eating and violent outbursts to bloody confrontations, The Platform may make your stomach churn at times. But that is not to say its gratuitous. Dealing as it does with poverty, wealth and societal structures, the shocking imagery serves to highlight the film’s deeper meanings.


Descending lower and lower into the depths of the prison, Goreng plans to send a symbolic message to those above in “control” and the film staunchly sticks to its sombre message of exploitation and ill treatment.


The brutalist but simple architecture of the set is somewhat reminiscent of a time long gone but its subject matter is so relevant today that its exploration of haves and have-nots feels suitably important.


However, The Platform provides this message in an extremely entertaining way. As although difficult to watch at times, this high-concept film provides engrossing dark drama, excellent acting throughout and fantastic production design. And these cinematic qualities are all tremendous as a cohesive whole, thus encouraging audiences to contemplate its ideas that unravel through its engaging narrative.


★★★★ ½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Apr 27 2020 08:59AM



Vivarium (2020) Dir. Lorcan Finnegan


Imogen Poots and Jesse Eisenberg star in this mysterious drama as a couple looking for a home to begin their life together in new film Vivarium.


The suburban nightmare begins as their characters Tom and Gemma get taken to a housing complex called Yonder by a bizarre estate agent. The homes are endless carbon-copy rows of duplicate green houses and picture blue skies with no other residents in sight.


After the agent disappears the two are unable to find their way off the estate, their car running out of petrol and their mobile phones eventually failing so they return to the bizarre #9 house they first visited.


Unable to leave, the couple try burning the house which they find rebuilt the next day, before a box is left on the street one morning by parties unknown which contains a baby. The otherworldly scenario continues as the baby grows to the size of a 7-year old in just 3 months and demands constant attention.


The film’s eerie atmosphere is incredibly unsettling and the intriguing beginning leads to further and further strange occurrences. The young boy’s screams still haunt my dreams and the performance of Poots as a mother who is first disgusted, then sympathetic, towards this “entity” is exceptional.


As time ticks on, there’s hints of sci-fi, supernatural and mythical symbolism alongside the obvious parallel of a couple trapped in a routine they cannot control and with their personal dreams slowly dwindling.


The events begin to take a psychological toll on the couple – the child soon becomes a man, a textbook book containing freakish alien language appears and Eisenberg becomes obsessed in digging a hole in a gravely scene of domestic gardening.


Kudos should also go to the Senan Jennings who plays the burdensome child with such (intentional) flatness, his erratic appearance is terrifying every time he shows on screen. This kind demonic demeanour hasn’t been seen since the similarly discomforting Damien from The Omen (1976).


Unconventional, horrifying and beautifully bizarre, Vivarium is a somewhat obvious and on-the-nose analogy of a middle-age crisis in a modern Ikea-saturated world. With fears of parenthood, loss of individuality and restless boredom the film explores the monotony of homely life and the subsequent dreary doldrum.


However, with arresting and shocking images throughout, and some of the most peculiar story beats and characters I’ve seen this year, I recommend ‘settling down’ to watch Vivarium for an unescapable journey into familial hell.


★★★★½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Apr 26 2020 10:00AM




Escape from Pretoria (2020) Dir. Francis Annan


Based on the real-life prison escape by three political prisoners in 70s South Africa, this new drama is adapted from the book Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison by Tim Jenkin, one of the escapees.


Jenkin is played by Daniel Radcliffe whilst Daniel Webber plays his friend and fellow campaigner Stephen Lee. The two are sentenced to prison time after a leaflet bombing campaign in support of the banned ANC group (famed for Nelson Mandela’s support and subsequent imprisonment). And the two white men are chastised in court for throwing away their white privilege in Apartheid South Africa.


As they are stripped of their clothes and possessions, the film shows us the typical hard-ass curmudgeon guard stereotype who explains how bad things will be in prison. At this point, hints of the Shawshank Redemption and similar jail movies came flooding back – however, it’s to the film’s credit that the real story takes off in another direction.


If it wasn’t for it being a true tale, audiences may not have believed their plan which simply involves them copying the keys to the prison doors. Away from their rigid routine, intriguing scenes of the group testing their devices – from carving tools in a woodwork classroom to adapting a broom – keep the audience informed of their plans and the fantastic performances are believable and likeable.


The film’s tension rises as they begin testing the keys at night after lockdown. Getting further and further each time, the film’s nail-biting trial and error approach and escape attempt scenes are the very definition of edge-of-the-seat thrills.


Unfortunately, the politics take a bit of a backseat at times but the underlying reasons for their escape from their incarceration means audiences will support them the whole way. With a thrilling finale, Escape from Pretoria is an engaging and exciting true life story of a daring true life break out.


★★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Apr 26 2020 09:45AM




The Gentlemen (2019) Dir. Guy Ritchie


Writer-director Guy Ritchie returns from his “little” dabble with Disney (Aladdin, $1 billion sales) with The Gentlemen - another cockney crime-caper starring Matthew McConaughey as a marijuana kingpin looking to sell his business and get out of the game.


McConaughey’s mix of toff and street smarts seem a cipher for Ritchie himself and the film pulls in the usual blend of stars playing geezers and gangsters throughout. The story is told in flashback, framed itself as a film script by Hugh Grant’s private investigator Fletcher, who regales what he knows to Raymond, McConaughey’s right-hand man played by Charlie Hunnam.


With characters named things like “Big Dave”, “Lord George” and “Dry Eye” and a mix of criminals going to drug dens on with the threat of guns and 'heavies', we’ve seen it all before and sadly, despite some self-parody in its film-within-a-film (kind of) construction, it’s ironic the structure is one of the worst things about it.


Hunnam has never been my cup of tea (he looks and acts a bit Tesco-value Tom Hardy here) but to be fair, he’s one of the most relatable characters as he tries to figure out what the bloody hell is going on.


However, Colin Farrell’s hilarious Irish boxing coach is the standout cameo. Can we get a spin off with him please? Ritchie has been very successful with his twisty gangster narratives but here the scenes were fun but most of them felt like the filmmaker treading water.


Hugh Grant is entertaining playing against type as a smarmy reporter with an East End accent and there a plenty of laughs scattered about, but for me, the film ended on a shrug of indifference.


Mostly solid across the board, fans of Ritchie will know what they’re going to get, but for me that’s part of the problem. We’ve seen Ritchie do this many times before and frankly far better.


★★★


Michael Sales


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

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