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By midlandsmovies, May 20 2019 08:36PM



Destroyer (2019) Dir. Karyn Kusama


As a huge fan of Kusama’s The Invitation, my expectations were high for her new crime thriller Destroyer which stars Nicole Kidman as an undercover cop taking out a gang years after she began working on the case.


Kidman plays Erin Bell in a role that’s as good as any she has delivered in the past. Dishevelled, weary and, what looks like, malnourished at times, the glamorous Kidman we've known from Hollywood is nowhere to be seen as she embodies a hard-nosed detective both physically and mentally.


Her character Bell is brought back to a case from her past by the appearance of a dye-soaked $100 bill from a botched robbery she was involved in whilst undercover with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan). The bill and the death of a man suggests that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) may have returned, so she begins to track down remaining gang members in order to find him.


The film’s narrative jumps from the present investigation back to the past when Erin and Chris were deep undercover. Questioning whether they should in fact become further involved with the crime, Erin and Chris begin a romantic liaison that has serious repercussions later on. Kidman is a tour-de-force here managing to perfectly play her naïve and unknowing cop from the past as well as embodying the rugged and vengeful vigilante version of herself in the present.


Harsh scenes of threats, sexual favours, violence and blackmail all add up to a world of horrid crime and one Erin is trying to protect her wayward daughter from. As each member leads her to the next, she ends up in a firecracker of a scene with lawyer turned money launderer Dennis DeFranco who is played fantastically by a sleazy Bradley Whitford. His spiteful confidence clashes with Bell but he underestimates both her resourcefulness and her lust for revenge.


The whole cast are fantastic but it’s Kidman’s great portrayal of a disparaged and down-and-out cop that has you rooting for her even when she’s aggressively settling scores.


And Kusama’s film manages to mix sadistic and cruel circumstances with intense scenes of emotional vulnerability – Kidman’s absent mother reigns in her most brutal tendencies when dealing with her daughter and her big-headed boyfriend – leading to an outstanding balance of tones and themes.


Narratively, as our protagonist begins to go off the rails, we never once get confused as to her motivations and Kidman says as much with a dismissive gesture and roll of the eyes as she does when delivering verbal take-downs of the city’s villainous crew.


With a tremendous cast throughout and first-rate scenes exploring the consequences of violence, Destroyer is an exceptional thriller from start to finish. But more importantly, it will destroy all preconceptions you had of Kidman as she delivers a superbly astonishing turn in the type of repellent role I’d love to see more of.


★★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, May 15 2019 02:06PM



Loro (2018) Dir: Paolo Sorrentino


Stylish. Decadent. Captivating. Loro, the latest film from Paolo Sorrentino see’s the Italian director reunite with Toni Servillo, with whom he collaborated with on The Consequences of Love and The Great Beauty, in a satirical take of Silvio Berlusconi.


Now to describe Loro as a biopic is perhaps a little misleading as the film itself is a fictional account of what might or might not have happened behind closed doors during this period of his return to politics and the breakdown of his marriage, although Sorrentino covers much more than that in this layered yet somewhat confused societal and political comedy. However the fact that the film was released in two parts in its native land, with the UK receiving a combined version lacking an hours worth of material may perhaps explain this.


The film itself is imbued with symbology, for instance at the very beginning a lamb dies in a villa, no doubt a reference to rival Agnelli, which is balanced out by the more explicit, quite literally in some cases, visual excesses which may or may not work on several levels depending on your knowledge of the characters, Italian politics and culture. This unfortunately, like many other foreign releases that do not cover universal themes, means that Loro suffers from a lack of transferability and that layers of meaning are lost.


To further complicate matters, a significant portion of the first act focuses on Sergio, a small-time and unscrupulous business man who seeks to win favour with old Silvio. However as compelling as this story is, Sorrentino appears to lose interest part way through and poor Sergio is relegated to barely even being a supporting player.


If some storylines are seemingly tossed aside in the UK version thankfully the visuals remain consistent in their beauty and alongside Servillo’s perhaps too-charming performance, there is enough for the rest of us to enjoy.


Sorrentino once again delivers excess and style in a high-brow and artistic manner, some of which is certainly questionable but perhaps apt, and while entertaining for the most part, Loro is one perhaps only for his committed fans, Italophiles or those who want an overly sympathetic story of partying Silvio.


★★½


Midlands Movies Marek

@CinemaEuropa



By midlandsmovies, May 15 2019 07:45AM



Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) Dir: Joe Berlinger


Serial killer Ted Bundy returned to public consciousness with the Netflix series ‘Conversations with a Killer” and this resurgence of interest led to this biopic, based on a book by his former long-term partner Elizabeth Kendall.


As to be expected from the source material the film picks up during the time of Kendall and Bundy meeting and charts their lives from that point on, taking in accusations, courtroom drama and the struggle of fighting for justice.


However it is clear that rookie writer Michael Werwie struggled to adapt the source material, as he fails to grasp or decide what the focal point of this film should be. As a result director Joe Berlinger, on paper a great choice due to his background in true-life productions, struggles to maintain viewer interest over the 110 minute run time, despite managed to create a strong look to the film and benefiting from terrific cast performances.


Due to not knowing what sort of film it wants to be, or even who the underlying story should be with - Kendall or Bundy - Extremely Wicked… fails to fully engage on any level. Not to mention as the events unravel we begin to empathise with the charming and ever hopeful Bundy as he fights against what appears to be one of the great American miscarriages of justice.


Even knowing the reality, it is hard based on the film itself not to start thinking that Bundy is being railroaded by the system into being a patsy for unexplained crimes. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that the crimes themselves are relegated into the background, as is Kendall, for the majority of the film making it easy to separate the handsome, normal man from his heinous and brutal crimes.


Admittedly this is part of the films purpose but one in which it fails to manage in an effective manner. This is no doubt further complicated by Zac Efron’s fantastic performance which is delightful, but one fears that by getting him on board that certain compromises had to be made in order to protect Brand-Efron, and that possibly includes showing as little violence as possible for as long as possible, and that in itself is problematic when dealing with this subject matter.


Featuring big hitters such as the previously mentioned Efron and heavyweight actor John Malkovich, ‘Extremely Wicked…’ was always going to be a competent production but sadly in seeking a wider acceptance, and no doubt a financial return, the film panders to more mainstream tastes than perhaps the subject matter demands while trying to deliver too much content, which ironically results in it delivering very little of substance.


Ultimately Extremely Wicked… is unsure if it wants to be a personal film or simply a factual telling of selected moments and as a result drags and lacks focus.


★★


Marek Turner


@CinemaEuropa



By midlandsmovies, May 9 2019 05:59PM



Kaleidoscope

Directed by Nicole Pott

2019


“Who’s in control now?”


Kaleidoscope is the new 10-minute short from Derbyshire director Nicole Pott showing the preparation of a child’s party by his parents that unwraps a far more sinister side to this suburban family’s life.


We open on a brightly lit day where a child in a dinosaur onesie plays in his room. The camera lightly dances around the boy, Conan, (played by an excellent Harry Tayler) and along with a suitably whimsical piano score brings us into a world of childhood imagination.


As his mum (Cressida Cooper) calls him down to breakfast, he stops playing with his gun and goggles and we see his father (a burley Ian Virgo) arrive with a toweringly big present.


Whilst mother busies herself with phone calls and food preparation, we get scenes of father-son bonding. Conan and his ‘Papa’ pretend to be karate masters before he teaches his son to put on a tie for school and they leave.


Here the film cuts to later in the day with a distinct shift in tone as well. Director Pott subtly moves us from a place of childhood wonder to a darker drama as mother and father begin arguing.


Barbs fly about the father’s drinking habits and Conan moves himself away and retreats into his own world, returning to his steampunk goggles that help him hide from the noisy quarrel downstairs.


However, unbeknownst to the disputing parents, their argument moves into the bedroom he’s hiding in and he witnesses the argument become far more serious.


A verbal assault becomes a physical confrontation between them as their son witnesses the worst of family situations. Musically the audio turns much more melancholic and the film shows some stark realities of domestic violence.


As lonely Conan blows out the candles on his cake, the ending is far darker yet poignant than the frilly beginning. Kaleidoscope therefore leads audiences down surprising yet satisfying narrative paths and the short works tremendously well by contrasting these two extreme elements.


As Conan sees through dark lenses, the film’s kaleidoscopic nature consists of different parts, constantly blurring and fracturing your expectations.


With three strong performances, the actors are very believable during their interactions which move from heart-warming to dark warnings – especially when we get glimpses of a controlling and abusive partner.


Showcasing how domestic violence can be lurking very much beneath the surface of a seemingly fun-loving family, Kaleidoscope exposes a wealth of distorted domestic secrets using a wonderful narrative structure. Skilfully playing with expectations, the short is a great drama showing the unpleasant patterns of cruel perpetrators.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 30 2019 09:17AM



Replicas (2019) Dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff


What is up with Keanu Reeves career making decisions? For every critical and commercial success he then opts to star in something so awful it beggars belief. As far back as Speed (followed by the woeful Johnny Mnemonic), all the way to The Matrix (followed by the unwatchable The Watcher), Keanu has moved from stone cold classics to utter drivel within months. So with John Wick being followed by the awful Knock Knock (see our review) he now moves from the excellent John Wick: Chapter 2 to new sci-fi film Replicas. And guess what? A $30 million dollar failure, the film sees Reeves as William Foster, a scientist who breaks the law to clone his family members after they perish in a vehicle accident. Sadly the film contains every plot cliché you can imagine and, whether it’s the script (likely) or the direction, Alice Eve as his wife gives a simply atrocious performance. Film fans will notice all the scenes hawked out of previous, and better, sci-fi movies including an I-Robot car crash (and Sonny-looking droid), an obsessed scientist and some Minority Report interfaces. And despite its attempts to tackle deeper issues of loss, humanity and family, the film is mostly reminiscent of the bold boringness of Transcendence. Avoid. ★★




The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019) Dir. Alex Gibney


This new documentary film tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her technology company Theranos, a now defunct business which was claiming to have revolutionised blood testing in the United States. Using just a small amount of blood from a finger prick, the company was testing machines that could return results of certain conditions in minutes. With their stupendous, and world-changing claims, Forbes named Holmes the youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in America. However, just one year later her value was reassessed at zero dollars. What happened? Well Gibney’s documentary builds upon investigations at the time that uncovered there were significant problems with the company’s medical claims despite the endorsement of some high-flying business leaders. As a fan of Gibney’s past work – Zero Days being one of our top films of 2016 – it’s a shame to see such a lacklustre delivery of what is clearly an interesting subject. Unsure if it wants to be a study of manipulative characters like the delusional Holmes, or a take-down of Silicon Valley’s empty capitalism, the documentary sits in a sort of no man’s land of so-so interviews, archive footage and analysis. With a few tweaks and a tighter edit (it runs at 2 hours) this could have been a fantastic look at a modern-day conspiracy but despite Gibney making the complex subject matter understandable, it’s ultimately a dry recounting of the facts at hand. ★★★



The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (2019) Dir. Robert D. Krzykowski


Directed, produced and written by Robert D. Krzykowski, the film’s title has “solo passion project” written all over it in this new adventure drama starring Sam Elliott. The story sees old man Elliott as Calvin Barr who is shacked up in his home reminiscing about his past. On a covert operation to kill Hitler, Barr does the deed but his actions are swept under the carpet by seedy government forces and the public never find out. Later on in the present and after getting in fights around town, two new government agents explain that the world is at risk of destruction owing to a virus caused by, you’ve guessed it, Bigfoot. Aidan Turner plays the young Barr whilst Mark Steger has the enviable IMDB listing as “Bigfoot” himself. All this sounds lots of b-movie fun, right? Well, sadly, categorically no. Despite having the ridiculous title of a grindhouse film, the cinematography and pacing is that of an earnest character study. Sadly this results in an inherent dull-ness and it massively fails to live up to its ludicrous premise. In hindsight that could (and should) have been a semi-serious romp in the vain of another recent historical horror, Overlord – which combined similar genres far more effectively. A wasted opportunity. ★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 28 2019 07:29AM



Avengers: Endgame (2019) Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo


What I’ve enjoyed in the MCU (more so than the current rebooted Star Wars) is the actual inclusion of loving relationships. Be it between father-son figures (Guardians, Spider-Man), brothers (Thor) or partners (Iron Man & Pepper Potts, Captain America and Peggy Carter) an aspect so often overlooked is how these “superficial” Hollywood blockbusters – they’re anything but in most cases – deal with human’s love/hate for one another.


So for all their bombast and CGI battles, Avengers: Infinity War was the first part of the end of an EMOTIONAL journey that both the characters, and audiences, have experienced over the last 10 years and it's what underpins Endgame throughout.


So story wise, where are we? Well, after Thanos’ success in gaining the infinitely gauntlet and ‘clicking’ half the universe’s living life away, the surviving members of the Avengers attempt to reverse the loss of their loved ones. Again, the driving factor is love, longing and personal connections and it is why Endgame is ultimately a huge success.


5 years after the event, Scott Lang returns from the quantum realm (seen in Ant-Man and the Wasp) to suggest they can reverse the horrors caused to earth by travelling back in time to snatch the infinity stones before Thanos can collect them himself. Whilst taking pot shots at time-travel paradoxes (Back to the Future is called “bullshit”) the remaining group successfully pull together and, in a nod to Back to the Future 2, head back in time to some of the most important parts of the MCU already.


One group heads to New York (essentially re-inserting themselves into Avengers: Assemble) to get the time stone, mind stone and the space stone. The film brilliantly balances a complex time-jumping narrative with a fun fan-loving re-imagining of the MCU’s greatest hits. It’s like re-discovering your favourite album with the old hits given a fresh new spin.


Rocket Raccoon and Thor travel back in time to Asgard and although their task is to get the reality stone from Jane Foster (referencing Thor: Dark World), the film focuses on Thor’s emotional reunion with his mother whom he knows will soon die.

The film is therefore a superb culmination of the 22-film story but a loving book of remembrance for them as well. Every character is given their moment to shine and as Thanos begins to uncover their plot and re-adjust time himself, the movie builds to a, somewhat inevitable, crescendo of spectacular battles for the fate of the universe.


At three hours, the film IS long. But other than a rather slow first 45 minutes – which to be fair gets the numerous plates-a-spinning and does some much needed reflection and character development – the main story moves at pace and by the end I was itching for more. An extended but poignant ending is Return-of-the-King long but in this case it feels more than totally justified.


Comedy and drama are expertly balanced and the narrative uses time to circularly return us back to the focus on Iron Man and how this blockbuster behemoth began. And like my thoughts on Civil War, I reiterate how Chris Evans is the unsung hero of the MCU. In a world of cynicism, snarks and quips, both in real-life and in their movie universe, his excellent portrayal of pure honesty, innocence and heroism is such a needed antidote that it’s no wonder why his story finale is so satisfying.


The film also focuses on the core ‘original’ Avengers – much to its credit – but the combo of Banner/Hulk was a bit strange and although Hemsworth is now essentially a ‘comedy’ Thor, I would love to see more of his adventures with Rocket. We also return to Scarlett Johansson’s history with Jeremy Renner and they get one of the most affecting scenes in the movie.


Are there any negatives? Well aside from the aforementioned slow start, I unfortunately felt the use of Captain Marvel as an all-powerful being that can change the course of the story on her own a little bit redundant. With only one film under her belt, the character here is a blunt demi-god that feels more part of Marvel’s next stage than someone who has a real history with the (movie) fans.


But speaking of fans, we do get lovely cameos from previous stars Rene Russo as Frigga, John Slattery as Howard Stark, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One and most welcoming of all for me, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. Plus many others are included and Stan Lee’s sad posthumous cameo reminds us all where everything started.


At the conclusion, the Russos have delivered exactly what was needed by assembling a perfect narrative, cast and, more difficultly, a rewarding ending to the most epic of stories. Endgame works as a great sequel to Infinity War but it’s so much more than that. Their expert construction of so many puzzle pieces, a global shared audience pop-culture experience and, without understatement, a cinema-changing franchise, everything in Endgame is not just perfect comic-book fare, but the pure pinnacle of movie entertainment and was a gargantuan and gratifying game I never wanted to end.


★★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 27 2019 07:20AM



Suspiria (2018) Dir. Luca Guadagnino


Having just discovered the original Suspiria 1977 two years ago (yeah, I know) I was impressed with the Giallo style and music of the cult classic but a tad underwhelmed – perhaps as a result of high expectations.


However, as stylish as Dario Argento’s film was, this film – which is “inspired” by that horror of the same name – goes to much more complex and dark places than Argento’s slasher.


The story is familiar as Dakota Johnson’s expert dancer heads to Berlin to enrol in a dance academy in the 70s but finds there are dark forces behind the façade of the respected school.


Stylistically Guadagnino avoids the extreme colours of the original – bar some fantastical dream sequences – and shows Berlin as an oppressive and grey city rocked by terrorist atrocities. And although these ideas aren’t fully formed – some going nowhere – the constant presence of outside public news is as oppressive as the oppressiveness featured within the mirrored walls of the school itself.


Despite her unquestionable talent Susie Bannion (Johnson) begins to exhibit traits of a missing student and a parallel story sees psychotherapist Josef Klemperer investigate the mystery. Sadly one of the biggest drawbacks is the decision to cast Tilda Swinton, an actress I love, as the very male doctor. Each of her appearances – in what has to be said is fantastic make-up – took me out of the movie and seems an excellent experiment in the wrong film for it.


Swinton does the best she can caked in prosthetics BUT also appears as stern matriarch Madame Blanc – the lead choreography teacher and away from the sex-swap role is much better in delivering a strict matron – but one with a layer of sensitivity and doubt by the film’s conclusion.


The film’s editing begins chaotically and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke provides a soundtrack that echoes some of the original’s melodies but in fact sets itself apart from it in the best way possible. From full songs that contain his inimitable falsetto, Yorke also seems to have delved into horror music’s past. With orchestral segments reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s Psycho score to repeated piano refrains influenced by Halloween and The Exorcist, Yorke keeps the score diverse, layered and yet unobtrusive throughout. A phrase not echoed in the original’s bombastic and totally over-powering music.


One of the best scenes in the film occurs when a student threatens to leave but is locked in a rehearsal room and Johnson’s dance moves in another room are replicated – voodoo doll-style – by the trapped woman. Smashing her bones into the mirrored wall and with joints flying out of sockets, the beauty of the dance shapes are contrasted brilliantly with the nastiness of the injuries being inflicted.


Disgusting, shocking and bloody, it’s a masterclass of visual storytelling and horrific aesthetics, and is one of the best scenes of 2018 without question and has to be seen to be believed. Brace yourself people.


As the teachers are slowly revealed to be part of a witches coven, the film explores issues of motherhood as they try to “re-birth” the spirit of Markos – currently contained in the body of a disfigured corpse-like woman.


The dancing is fantastic and the dull-colour palette of the film is punctuated by the vivid reds of dance costumes, dresses and, of course, plenty of the red stuff as Johnson uncovers awful goings-on in the hidden catacombs of the academy building.


As the film comes to a physical crescendo the ending is a slight let down with a new twist on the original. And with the good work delivered to that point it becomes frustratingly unfortunate that clichéd operatic music and a seen-it-before ceremony brings the film to a slightly drab conclusion.


That said, despite a 2 and a half hour run time – which certainly doesn’t feel like it – Suspiria is a gory piece of art from start to finish. Themes of guilt, history and power are all thrown into a mix of dark passions and the body horror/beauty of contemporary choreography. Whilst not all of them gel together, the film dances to its own ritualistic chaos in a distorted orgy of cinematic pleasures.


★★★★ ½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Apr 18 2019 01:59PM



Mary Queen of Scots (2019) Dir. Josie Rourke


Based on John Guy's biography Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart, this new historical drama stars Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as her cousin Queen Elizabeth I.


Covering the 1569 conflict between England and Scotland, the film opens with Mary returning to Scotland from France to take up her throne but she is immediately challenged by her inner circle and cleric John Knox (an incredibly bearded David Tennant) whilst Elizabeth, who is worried about Mary’s claim to her own throne, tries to arrange Mary’s marriage to an Englishman.


With both sides fearing a rebellion from each other and their own internal traitors, Mary’s marriage fails spectacularly and eventually she exiles herself in England. But the two queens’ devotion to their respective countries leads Mary to be sentenced to death.


Covering a tumultuous period, the film is quite timid in its drama but the two central leads are fantastic. The support cast are sadly just passable, and it’s unfortunate that a few admirable progressive themes stick out like a sore thumb in a film that, for the most part, is relatively historically accurate.


Two areas the film does excel in however is the cinematography and the costumes which is understandable given the director’s theatrical past. Glorious Scottish vistas are contrasted brilliantly with dark interiors where castle rooms are either candlelit or have striking streaks of sunlight beaming through thin windows.


At times reminiscent of a Holbein painting (as well as An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright), these locations are spectacularly filmed and Mary’s amazingly-designed period blood-red and blue dresses add tremendous colour to a film often drenched in Tudor dirt.


An acceptable diversion, Mary Queen of Scots never really steps a foot wrong, but for some reason is as forgettable as it is expertly made. A respectable way to spend a couple of hours, its cinematic charms won’t take your head off but should leave you satisfied as it marries outstanding performances with a scrutinising look at British history.


★★★ ½


Michael Sales


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