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By midlandsmovies, Jan 16 2020 07:29AM

3 from Hell (2019) Dir. Rob Zombie

3 from hell is the third instalment in the blood soaked Firefly trilogy written and directed by Rob Zombie. The film follows on from 2005’s cult spectacle ‘The Devils Rejects’ following Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley) and Winslow ‘Foxy’ Coltrane (Richard Brake).

After the unfortunate passing of Sid Haig (Captain Spalding) the film underwent re-writes that saw the character replaced by Richard Brakes character. The film centres around these three fiendish nihilists as they embark on a journey from incarceration to the freedom of anarchy.

Firstly the question needs to be asked… Did we need this film? NO…

The film had the same budget as the final 45 minutes of The Devils Rejects said Rob Zombie on ‘The Joe Rogan Experience.’

This film felt like a rush to the finish line for me. Zombie has gifts; he really does. And I'd rather see him using them with fresh material than repeating himself, which is what he did to some extent in 2016's 31 and also here. This film lacked that dirty, nasty, gross taste we expect with a Rob Zombie film and instead replaces it with silly humour and Hollywood production.

The film gradually feels more Hollywood, with the standard tropes, as we approach the third act which unsurprisingly presents itself like one big reshot third act, almost completely separating us from themes and character arcs presented in the first half of the film.

You have all the pieces of a great Rob Zombie picture here: hilarious comic book dialogue, gruesome violence, and charismatic anti-heroes. And 3 From Hell is as extreme as it is whimsical, and as gratuitous as it is provocative. And the Western elements are omnipresent in this one, building upon the style of The Devil's Rejects.

But unfortunately we don’t get that, we get a patchy, corny, and at times, a face-palming ordeal.

Ben Warrington

Twitter @ben_warro

By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2020 09:44AM

Uncut Gems (2020) Dir. Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie

The Safdie brothers’ Good Time (our 2017 review here) was a fantastic thriller which showed a huge amount of promise with its story of Robert Pattinson’s criminal, attempting to break his mentally handicapped brother from prison which leads to an increasingly hectic night.

Well, they’ve proven themselves once again and then some with new flick Uncut Gems. Adam Sandler (yes, that one) stars as Howard Ratner, a Jewish diamond dealer who is addicted to gambling inbetween his time working at his shop.

The Safdie’s film style is incredibly haphazard but perfectly captures the chaotic nature of Ratner’s life. Cheating on his wife (Idina Menzel) with girlfriend Julia (a brilliant Julia Fox) he owes money all over New York. Attempting to make sales at his store, Sandler brilliantly plays Ratner as a man working with, and against, his own demise.

The film opens as Ratner gets hold of a rock containing uncut opals which he hopes to sell at auction for over $1 million dollars. At the same time he is being chased by loansharks who he owes a six figure sums to, and who ratchet up their threats as Ratner fails (and actively avoids) reimbursing them the cash.

Lakeith Stanfield plays Demany, Howard's assistant who recruits clients. One day he brings in basketball superstar Kevin Garnett (as himself) and Ratner agrees to loan him the gem. With failing bets and with the gem now out of his reach, Ratner’s life spirals out of control as he accuses his girlfriend of cheating on him.

After Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, it was clear that Sandler has the right dramatic chops when given the right material. Like a comedy version of Nic Cage – the volume of his current successful productions are close to zero – he is also like Cage in that he finds a suitable role once a decade to stretch his acting muscles.

Here he plays Ratner not as naïve but with a longing for success if only he could keep his debts at bay long enough to make the final big score. The film uses overlapping dialogue to create confusion representing Ratner’s life, but also to add a huge air of realism to the proceedings.

However no doubt its achievement is Sandler's handling of the role in the end. With a superb support cast totally believable in their parts, there are elements of comedy, drama and tension but it’s the awkward cringe-factor of Ratner’s disorganised life that permeates every frame of the film. It keeps you on edge and made me feel terribly uncomfortable at times - sometimes willing Ratner onto his hopeful success and sometimes angry at him for his foolish decisions.

A well-crafted thriller with a perfect vision from the two up and coming directors, Uncut Gems shows that the brothers are now a cinematic force to be reckoned with and Sandler should pick and choose his roles more carefully. If he does, I think there could be awards interest on the horizon for the actor who shows a flair for dramatic control and places it expertly onto an unruly character to much screen success.

★★★★ ½

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 4 2020 08:56AM

Jojo Rabbit (2020) Dir. Taika Waititi

Based on Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Taika Waititi follows up family-friendly Thor: Ragnarok with the decidedly un-family friendly Jojo Rabbit. Set during World War II, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a small boy who is part of the Hitler youth and is given the nickname ‘Jojo Rabbit’ after failing to kill a bunny as part of the group’s activities.

Later, his discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden a Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. Alongside them are the well-established funny folk Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson as Nazi officers buffooning their way through their authoritarian roles.

Yet director Taika Waititi saves the worst for himself though. He plays a “comically” inept take on Hitler himself, as a projection by young Jojo. But it’s an infantile performance plucked from a pantomime – no doubt intentional as the boy's conscious – but resulting in zero laughs. I seriously mean, not one.

And the script sadly doesn't quite nail the balance between the satire, pratfalls and serious scenes. Shocking scenes of Jews hanging from the gallows in a town square should sit cleverly and uncomfortably with the lighthearted moments but seem wildly out of place given the failing humour here.

It’s not that its offensive either. Hell, from my favourite Four Lions (suicide bombers) to Team America (US imperialism) via Life of Brian (religion) and the most relevant of all, Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, incredibly serious subject matter can be made funny and thoughtful given the appropriate angle.

And Jewish comedians Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, The Dictator) and Mel Brooks – whose 1967 satire The Producers is this film’s most obvious parallel with this film – have taken so much more successful stabs at similar social criticism and the historical abuses of our shared past.

In addition, the excellent Scarlett Johansson delivers a rather fantastic dramatic performance that has been sadly dropped in from another movie altogether. And Stephen Merchant's Gestapo cameo is pure Herr Otto Flick from British TV sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!

Style wise, there’s elements of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom with a parallel between the young scouts and the Hitler youth as well as that director’s dry editing and primary colour palette.

The black comedy opening mixing The Beatles’ German-language and upbeat hit “Komm gib mir deine Hand” with actual archive footage of screaming young Nazis at rallies, is a small diamond in the rough. The Seig Heil hand gesture not going amiss here either but it’s all downhill from this beginning. So rather than continuing clever sideswipes like this, the clown-ish, and again, juvenile take on the Nazis and specifically the Führer himself is truly a joke vacuum.

The film does attempt to build a relationship between the young Jojo and Elsa as he questions the Jewish stereotypes he’s been told on the way to an enlightenment. These young actors do very well with the more tactful ideas here but once more, the tone of individual scenes don’t coalesce into a more successful whole. And I don't buy the argument that every poorly-drawn character is "seen through the eyes of a child". It's a sad excuse for fair criticism.

It’s a shame then that this possibly deep and meaningful film loses its nuance because the black comedy laughs were simply not there for me. Polarising film critics already, I throw my lot in with the commendable but flawed bunch. Ultimately comedy is one of the most subjective genres there is, but for me Jojo Rabbit is an unsuccessful satire absent of enough laughs to make it anything more than an admirable misfire.


Michael Sales

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