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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 16 2019 12:00PM

The Invitation (2016) Dir. Karyn Kusama


Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, in case it drives you mad like it did me) plays Wil in this new thriller-drama set around a strange reunion dinner party in the Hollywood Hills.


We open with Wil and his girlfriend Kira driving to the home of Wil's ex-wife Eden and her husband David along with a host of friends for a long overdue catch up.


The hosts are a married couple who disappeared for two years at a grief support group abroad but have returned to reunite with their friends. Wil and Eden still have unresolved issues over the accidental death of their son, but this is put aside to enjoy the evening with a familiar group of friends - some old and a few new, including Sadie and Pruit, whom they met at the support retreat.


Despite the warm welcome, Wil relives his past angst throughout the house, remembering his ex-wife's attempted suicide whilst finding more pills and wondering why doors are locked. The film creates an immense atmosphere of dread and awkwardness, none more so when the happy couple share a video of a terminally ill woman passing away during their stay at the retreat.


The uncomfortableness continues as they play a game of "dare" which results in Pruitt (a fantastic turn by John Carroll Lynch of Zodiac fame) admiting to a past crime he's now forgiven himself for.


Despite their shock, Pruitt expresses regret and explains how the support group helped him deal with his pain whilst Wil's paranoia continues to increase. The film captures an atmosphere of intense claustrophobia as the guests are huddled together in rooms but whether this is out of choice or not is the question the movie poses.


Increasing irrational accusations from Wil about his hosts' intentions are excused as a result of his emotional fragility over the death of his son and the film keeps the audience guessing as to why the guests are here - something sinister, or is it to deal with unresolved issues from their pasts.


The film probes themes of mistrust, grief and loss and its achievement lies in not letting the viewer - as a guest themselves - get too comfortable within the house. A trail of circumstantial evidence - a bottle of pills, an unattended laptop, glasses of wine - are merely breadcrumbs to the film's subsequent thrilling reveal.


The final act turns the screws up for the viewer as secrets are exposed and a sudden twist of events leads to darkly tragic conclusions. Although the film is almost entirely filmed within the anxious environment of this lavish gathering, a final shot implicates the wider ramifications of the proceedings.


Sinister and slow-building, The Invitation is one of those films that rarely get made these days - a mid-budget thriller with a great premise and well-executed. It also reminded me of the thrills of the "unknown threat", covered in indie sci-fi flick Coherence (2013) which was similarly set around a middle-class American dinner party.


Director Karyn Kusama has got nearly everything right with the film, getting great performances out of a good mixed cast, as well as filling her dark shots with trepidation, terror and a fair amount of fear. One tiny flaw were the character motivations - at times I was shaking my head in disbelief about their choices - but this was a one-off and towards the end I inwardly cheered as a guest got what they deserved.


Expertly crafted by Kusama, The Invitation creates anxiety through a superb central performance by Logan Marshall-Green, and is an alarming achievement where nothing is what it seems. Filled with fear and a few frightful revelations, this is one party I recommend you RSVP to on its release.


9/10


Michael Sales


The Invitation arrives on BluRay on 4th November 2019


Special Features

Commentary with Director Karyn Kusama and Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

The Making of The Invitation

Going Back Home - an interview with Director Karyn Kusama

There is Nothing to be Afraid of - an interview with Producer Nick Spicer

Tonight's the Night - an interview with Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Playing Sadie - an interview with Actor Lindsay Burdge

English Subtitles for the Hard of Hearing

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 9 2019 09:49AM




Midlands Spotlight - A Kidnap


'A Kidnap' is a new Midlands-based psychological thriller feature from award-winning writer/director Lee Greenhough and cinematographer Paul Horton. With aims to be both innovative and daring, the film is an ambitious project which will be made on a low budget scale within one soundstage in the region.


The film tells the story of adopted brother Lewis and his younger sister Izzy who get kidnapped, and they are brought into two rooms by three strangers known as Tuco, Angel and Blondie. Over the next two hours the kidnappers start to realise they don’t share the same ideas on how to orchestrate the kidnap and with tension mounting, their plans have to change.


The filmmakers are currently crowdfunding (click IndieGoGo link here) where contributors will get a chance to be involved in the film and also receive one incredible perks and rewards which can range from learning to fly a drone to VIP tickets to the film’s premiere.


Lee Greenhough explains his background, “The most important thing you need to know about me is that I really love film, if I’m honest I’m pretty obsessed. I started off wanting to act but as I got into my late twenties decided it wasn't for me as I wanted more creative control and started to write and direct”.


“Any hobbies went out of the window, all I wanted to do was pursue my dream. Since then I started my own production company Greenhoughfilms, won awards and raised money for charities with some of my short films. I’ve also tried to learn every aspect of filmmaking from directing and editing to more specialised skills like aerial cinematography and colour grading”, Lee adds.


Lee has also been mentored in creative writing by a former BAFTA winner and is a regular at the London Screenwriting Festival as well as being a screenwriting and directing judge at the prestigious Top Shorts Film Festival.


Working on various projects including pre-production on his new British thriller feature film ‘On Our Own’, Lee is also looking for producers for his latest feature screenplay ‘Together Apart’ and an original TV show pilot 'Verifying Vincent'.


Also involved in the project is Director of Photography Paul Horton who has over 15-years of experience as a professional and has worked on a range of projects from popular feature films to classic British TV shows such as Hollyoaks.


Ash Gardiner joins as Assistant Director and is based near Birmingham in the Midlands and the crew is rounded out by Matthew S Jones (Sound Recordist), Merryn Rea Peachey (Scipt Supervisor), Grant Snaith (1st Assistant Cameraman) and Abbie Allen (PR and Film Administrator).


With regards to crowdfunding Lee goes on to explain, “As with any film endeavours there are always inherent risks, however, me and my team are well experienced in these projects and know that with whatever we raise we can still make a film”.


“If you want to help but can't afford to contribute money, you can still pitch in by sharing this campaign with as many people as possible: friends, family, social media it all helps to raise awareness for this campaign. Also if you know someone who is a psychological thriller fan or a business who may want to become a corporate sponsor then please pass on our details”, says Lee.


With the project now underway you can find out more about the film and all the latest updates at the production’s official website and social media pages:


Web www.akidnap.co.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/akidnapfilmmidlands

Twitter https://twitter.com/akidnapfilm

By midlandsmovies, Apr 14 2019 08:27AM



Sustain movie releases brand new trailer


Award-Winning producers Troy Dennison and Keiran Bowers have unleashed the newest trailer for the Midlands-based crime thriller/drama Sustain, directed by Dave Hastings.


With the film in deep post-production, editor Sam Woodhall has been working closely with Hastings on fine-tuning the now locked visual cut of the film. The next stage sees film grading whilst James Hall will be supervising a new sound mix. And with a composer for the film being announced in the near future, the picture is close to completion for audiences.


However, the second trailer for the film is here to whet audiences’ appetites even more. “And we’re very proud to unleash the new footage from Sustain which we all hope you will find exciting” teases producer Troy Dennison.


Featuring lots of new footage that illustrates the wide-ranging scope of exciting Midlands locations, the filmmakers had help from people Sophia French at Walsall Council and beyond. "The new trailer raises the stakes and gives you an even more thrilling look into the dangerous world that protagonist Kieran Flank (Brett Dewsbury), finds himself slipping into after the brutal murder of his step-brother Toby (Joshua Sewell)”, says director Hastings.


Dewsbury comments that “people should be excited by the film because it was produced locally, made by local talent, cast filled with raw local talent and promotes the Midlands area so very much. It is exciting because it shows what hard work, passion and creativity can achieve when you virtually have a non-existent budget. It’s a beautiful, gritty and very emotional piece that people should be happy to support because it touches on many issues we face in our day to day lives”.


The trailer also features an expanded glimpse at some of the films ensemble of other actors such as Richard Buck as the dangerous Kevin McKenzie as well as Matthew Kinson and Jay Podmore who make up the film’s chilling trio of villains who set off the dramatic chain of events the film follows.


As well as this, are the good guys like Greg Yates as DI Bridge and Laura Evenson as local news reporter Kara Marshdale, who form an uneasy allegiance in an attempt to expose the dark heart of humanity.


All of them in the trailer “shine so very much, giving audiences a new compelling glimpse into a story we’ve been incredibly excited to share with everyone”, comments Dennison.


Sustain is a joint co-production between Lightbeam Productions, 5cm/Sec Films, ICI Films, Faceless Films and Pat The Bull Films. You can follow the film on Facebook and Twitter for more exciting developments.


By midlandsmovies, Mar 14 2019 02:18PM



The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018) Dir. Fede Álvarez


As a big fan of the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) – which had terrific introductory performances (to me anyways) from Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace – I was greatly looking forward to The Girl in the Spider's Web which is an adaptation of the 4th book in the Millennium series.


After the author of the first three books, Stieg Larsson, died of a heart attack in 2004 Swedish author and crime journalist David Lagercrantz was commissioned to continue the stories of Goth-hacker Lisbeth Salander and political investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist.


This is an adaptation of the first of Lagercrantz's two books he has had published so far, and the film follows Salander as she hunts down a file that could access the world’s nuclear arsenal whilst protecting a young boy who is the key to accessing its precious secrets. Along the way we get a flashback to Salander’s abusive past and plenty of intrigue as multiple parties – from the State to terrorist goons – try to get their dirty mitts on the electronic bounty.


If that sounds a bit too far-fetched for what began as a drama-thriller then you’d be right. Fresh from an amazing performance in First Man, Claire Foy dons the dark leathers of the rebellious Salander and despite her multitude of talents cannot raise the sub-Mission Impossible material. Which is certainly a weird direction for the franchise to go in.


Gone are the dark machinations of political and family drama and in comes a Bond-pastiche of nuke codes, bike chases and villainous lairs. Combined with a series of sequences that has Foy tazering and brawling, by the end we are exhausted from the chaotic action as a team made up of a sniper and a computer hacker support Salander beat up a clan of henchman.


Also disappearing from view is the simplicity of the first novel – a whodunit in the main – and Sverrir Gudnason is monstrously miscast as a far-too-young Mikael Blomkvist. The father-figure/mentor character which operates as an antidote to Salander’s wayward impulses was a highlight of the Swedish originals – and Fincher’s US remake – and its absence here is sorely missing. Salander’s mysterious character too has been replaced with a spousal revenge superhero of sorts with her Bat-belt of tricks and black hoodie “cape”.


The Bond-lite developments continue with car chases, gadgets and codebreaking along with duplicitous double-agents and an albino-haired henchman. There was also not enough dialogue to flesh out the characters, their motivations or to create drama. And I yearned for the powerful verbal sparring of the earlier incarnations that would have punched up this bland screenplay.


So despite many of the great ingredients and with Claire Foy doing well as Salander, sadly it all just doesn’t gel. A passable time for a few hours, this ‘facsimile of Fincher’ means only (super) fans of the book should clear their diary and make time for this unremarkable, and highly disappointing, adaptation.


★★ ½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Mar 11 2019 04:26PM



GLASS (2019) Dir. M Night Shyamalan


A quick story - at the end of Split (2016) I was left slightly disappointed as I was informed there would be a twist and discovered one of the 23 multiple personalities of James McAvoy as Kevin Crumb was actually a true evil power known as the Beast. However, in that film’s very final moments director Shyamalan pans to Bruce Willis (as David Dunn) and was hugely shocked to find the film is revealed to be a sequel to Shyamalan’s down-to-earth superhero flick Unbreakable from 2000. Wow.


One of the better twists from the master of them, Glass is the final part of the trilogy and sees McAvoy, Willis and Samuel L Jackson locked up in a psychiatric ward, where their ‘superpowers’ are to be studied by Sarah Poulson’s Doctor Ellie Staple. We open with David and his son as vigilantes who free a group of kidnapped cheerleaders but in David’s fight with The Beast they are captured by the authorities. Incarcerated with both David and Kevin is Mr. Glass (Jackson) – the evil brains from Unbreakable – who is heavily sedated and all three are told their abilities are simply psychiatric disorders and little more than a fantasy.


The film links the characters and themes from the previous movies using colours, comic book tropes and a self-referential awareness of its own construction. Shyamalan uses every cinematic trick in the book – point of view, spinning cameras, static shots and much more to keep the film visually interesting in what, if you break it down, is a standard thriller tale. All three actors are stupendous though – Willis’ more recent cinematic outings have been dubious at best – but here his pensive, almost uninterested, facial blandness actually works as a man doubting his own experiences.


As Mr. Glass plays clever games within the hospital’s walls – he sets up an escape plan with Kevin whilst the film is full of surprises and shows Shyamalan’s expert use of pace and, more importantly, an unbearable amount of tension. In simple scenes of dialogue we feel every character motivation and the horror techniques he used so well in The Sixth Sense and The Visit are re-visited here to great effect. Shyamalan also provides a number of technical twists – fights are witnessed from the inside of a van, an important escape plan punch-up is shown in the background and with an opening that plays on what can’t be seen – he is an expert of what to show and what not to show. And where possible, to show the audience what they weren’t expecting at every turn.


The film rolls to a climax which is the most disappointing part of the movie. Without giving it away, the film tries to expand the super-human ideas into a worldwide issue, when the films up to this point have been very much about the small and personal acts of good and evil. By using themes of conspiracy and internet technology, the film loses the humanity and character-study work it had delivered so brilliantly beforehand. Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke (from Split) and Charlayne Woodard as Mrs. Price, Elijah's mother both provide good support roles to flesh out the story.


However, it is to Shyamalan’s credit he not only got to finish a trilogy started 19 years ago but to do so in such a satisfying manner. Ignore the naysayers who have unwisely projected their own expectations onto a film that never could have existed – which is always a hiding to nothing – as Glass surprises by being the kind of dark, tension-filled shattering success that are nowadays shuffled off to Netflix when they should be enjoyed on the big screen as it provides more than satisfying thrills from the beginning until the end.


★★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 5 2019 03:57PM



Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) Dir. Dan Gilroy


In a world of instant gratification and the need to be the first with any news and information about a movie, it’s a shame that new film Velvet Buzzsaw comes with such huge baggage. Humour me if you will, but it used to be the case that to find out the spoiler details of a film you had to dig-deep in some super-fan film forum. Later on you could find a lot of info just by scrolling through social media.


But in the case of drama-horror Velvet Buzzsaw, the film company – Netflix in this instance – has taken those out of the equation to spoil the entirety of the film with their own trailer.


Ironically, given director Dan Gilroy’s previous film Nightcrawler which had a news-hunting sociopath (Jake Gyllenhaal) attempting to be the first with breaking stories he had a hand in, the unbelievable misstep of the film’s promo campaign has unfortunately bled into the movie itself.


Anyways, back to the film. Gilroy’s movie again sees him team up with Jake Gyllenhaal who stars as bisexual art critic Morf Vandewalt - who can make or break an artist’s career with just a few sentences.


Rene Russo plays hard-hitting gallery owner Rhodora Haze, but when her employee Josephina (Zawe Ashton) steals a number of paintings made by a deceased man from her apartment block, the two see an opportunity to profit from the works. But all is not as it seems as the artist’s dark past is infused into the chaotic canvases.


And later on we discover that the works have far more sinister entities captured within them, moving the film beyond its opening (and slightly campy) drama into a more overt horror genre. The film attempts and mostly succeeds in trying to balance some very black humour amongst the frightening set-pieces as the cursed paintings leave a trail of death in their wake.


The cast is largely excellent too – the main trio of Gyllenhaal, Russo and Ashton give quirky turns and are supported by a slightly-underused John Malkovich and a brief appearance by Toni Collette as Gretchen.


And speaking of her brief appearance. A trailer, for me, teases the audience with excitement to come. There’s always been the problem of trailers simply shortening the story, showing the film’s best bits or simply revealing too much. But oh boy, Velvet Buzzsaw's trailer shockingly delivers all three.


[SPOILERS] Maybe I have myself to blame. I chose to watch the trailer after all. That said, how anyone could get enjoyment from the film given the secrets the trailer gives away is a mystery to me. It shows the film’s main secret (the paintings are possessed and can move) and provides the film’s entire story in linear fashion. It also gives away some of the best scenes – paint literally “stalking” one of the protagonists – and finally, and by far the worst of all – it shows a death of one of the main characters.


I was hoping that the film's spoilerific trailer footage would be cleverly repositioned for the movie itself. Nope. Seen the trailer, seen the film. Absolute tension killer. Shame.


Gilroy is an excellent filmmaker and Velvet Buzzsaw has great set pieces and can be seen as an on-the-nose satire of the art world, contrasting elements of superficiality with deep destructive passions of art creators. But ultimately my recommendation has to be that audiences should DEFINITELY go into this one cold and avoid the trailer at all costs. If you don’t you’ll find what’s left behind is an absolute buzzkill.


★★★½


Mike Sales




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