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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




By midlandsmovies, Jan 21 2019 03:08PM



Pledge (2019) Dir. Daniel Robbins


This 2019 horror satire has three friends, the rotund Justin (Zachery Byrd), geeky Ethan (Phillip Andre Botello) and the Woody Allen-alike David (Zach Weiner) attempt to join a fraternity in their first few weeks at college. The trio of socially awkward nerds try their best to join a number of party-centric houses but with little success before being invited to a get together where their wildest dreams come true – booze, birds and “bro” respect.


However, as these things play out they are asked to return to this mansion in the woods and pledge their allegiance during a hazing ceremony the following night. Hazing usually consists of a few embarrassing initiation trials to show your commitment to the club. Yet a much more sadistic version of this higher education rite of passage is forced upon them before they quickly realise they are facing potentially deadly consequences.


The film has a solid cast – the lead trio are believable as the studious losers – and Aaron Dalla Villa as one of the heads of the well-dressed frat house is as cocky and arrogant as needed – especially when shouting “Are you ready to be Kings of the campus?” at his potential new ‘recruits’. The film begins well with hints upon the darkness coming up and some neat character-driven conversations showing how desperate the boys are to be popular.


Unfortunately, the excellent candle-lit cinematography – which is one of many religious-infused images seen throughout – is almost entirely undone by characters that make such silly decisions and therefore Pledge begins to fail as soon as the situation takes a turn for the worse.


The three guys are portrayed as wimps – fine, but as pupils at a university was it intentional to have them make such dumb choices? As their trials get more violent and dangerous, their attempts to escape, if you can call them that, are straight out of the Scooby-Doo school of thought. Doors are open at random, the group splits up and they repeat the same actions with the expectation of a different outcome. With the boys up against the brutal jocks, the film could have portrayed a contrast between the power of the mind versus the strength of athleticism but fails to find appropriate fodder in the themes it (superficially) broaches.


Much like the boys, an audience will be tested mentally and emotionally to stick with them and as the characters’ opportunities to escape slipped away so did my interest. With Green Room (2015) showing clever youngsters caught in a building trying their clever best in an attempt to escape, there’s no excuse for having characters not making believable decisions. With a hint of the gruesome testing games of Would You Rather (2012) the film attempts to metaphorically explore the struggles of supremacy in American institutions but fails its initiation test owing to a thin plot and thick characters.


★★ ½ Stars


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Nov 23 2018 01:08PM



Calibre (2018) Dir. Matt Palmer


In the last 2 years Netflix has been the home of interesting independent film that allows the platform to champion smaller films and lesser known filmmakers and has, please see my best of the year lists from 2016 & 2017, created many more satisfying movies in the process.


During the same period, a number of Midlands filmmakers have seen their productions gain bigger budgets and with access to more resources and developing talents, Calibre is a film that bridges these two exciting areas – especially with a focus such as ours.


Here, Nottingham’s Wellington Films have created a thriller set in Scotland where two friends embark on a hunting excursion in the Highlands. Marcus (Martin McCann) is a confident businessman who invites childhood friend Vaughn (Jack Lowden) to a shoot in the woods and after entering a small village plagued by economic woes, settle down in a bar before their hunt the next morning. That evening they meet two girls and Marcus leaves the pub with one despite receiving a warning from a local.


The next morning and with heavy hangovers the duo head to the woods and Vaughn, shooting for the first time, accidentally kills a young boy in a fluke shot. The boy’s father appears and raises his gun but Marcus shoots him dead before convincing Vaughn no one will believe it was an accident. They bury the bodies at night and then do their best to exit town.


The film sets up its simple premise with thoughtful and engaging character work, small details are symbolically presented throughout and the location is equally the great outdoors and the oppressive indoors. This sense of inescapability – both physically and from the terrible past act – is the film’s driving force. A knife in the tyres from the brother of one of the girls they were warned away from means the two lads’ car becomes incapacitated. And this in surmounting pressure of the town becomes more and more unbearable with the audience unable to escape their own feelings of unpreventable pressure.


Unable to fix their vehicle quickly and with the local taxi driver drunk, the locals set out in search of the missing boy after their suspicions become aroused. And as the reality starts to hit home, the film heads into dark territory as the secrets become a scary reality for everyone involved.


Both leads hold the film together – Jack Lowden is excellent as the wide-eyed hunt virgin whose expression of innocence slowly turns to physical sickness – whilst Martin McCann’s performance is a fantastic mixture of loud-mouth cockiness and sinister self-assurance.


The direction captures the Scottish area well and each location is brilliantly filmed and perfectly establishes the setting and scene. From cosy but awkward local pubs to dirty farm buildings, they sit well alongside photography of forests which show beauty, but also horror, as they hide mysteries (and bodies) within the confines of stifling trees.


A great support cast play a host of residents, none of which you can be entirely sure are kindly residents or lethal locals, but it’s this guessing game that maintains Calibre’s invigorating narrative. With a hint of Kill List, a dashing of Wicker Man and splash of In Bruges, Calibre’s thematic influences are varied but it carves out its own unique position as a tremendously tight and tense thriller.


7.5/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Sep 28 2018 02:31PM



Midlands Review – Voice of Belief


Voice of Belief (2018)


Directed by Alastair Railton


Fresh AIR Films and Media


“Good evening. An attack in Central London tonight has claimed the lives of seven”.


And so opens new film Voice of Belief from Grantham born Alastair Railton who directs and writes this new political thriller about freedom, oppression and belief.


Inspired by Charlie Chaplin's speech in the Great Dictator, the film attempts to create a modern take on the subject matter and give it a more relevant and up-to-date context.


The story follows anarchist revolutionary Jason Argyll (Simon Crudgington) who captures negotiator Ellen Turner (played by Astrid Bellamy) before his planned political speech to be broadcast around the globe.


The film sets up its world with Matrix-esque electronic codes alongside images of wealth in the form of wine and dollar bills. Voices in a variety of languages show this is a global issue as we are told of terrorist atrocities against the "1%ers" on the streets in a violent campaign from the “Argyle” movement and its network of followers.

Argyll’s hostage is tied to a chair which is an image ripe for the local film scene right now – see Sheikh Shahnawaz’s Witness and GM Finney’s Thursday – before they engage in a war of words over the group’s global goals.


As they discuss the world’s infection by “corporate elites”, we get an update on Chaplin’s speech including nods to modern technology such as the hacking of government databases, alluding to the recent tactics of groups such as Wikileaks.


The great cinematography from Adam Hudson uses cinematic colour grading and extensive silhouette work which gave the film a sheen of quality. However, the beige warehouse exterior needed some more texture and depth.


The above wouldn’t be as much of an issue but the film has an awful lot of dialogue. And I do mean a lot. Ditching the old adage about showing not telling, almost the entire first half of the film’s 28-minutes is expositional conversation as the two leads discuss their ideologies back and forth.


Unfortunately then, it begins to tie itself up in some cod-philosophical platitudes which dance around vague concepts. “Every society needs leadership”. “I agree”. Maybe it’s my own political leanings but it’s difficult to get on board as many of the themes are far too widely drawn.


The second half feels much more coherent though. The back and forth diatribe and talk of political machinations are ditched for a more intriguing tone featuring gun standoffs, tension building and heightened passions.


As well as this, we get some new visuals in the form of a day-dream and the dialogue shows more variation in what is being talked about.


Here it could be said Railton is figuratively depicting Chaplin’s speech when it references the “Kingdom of God is within man”. Although technically a woman in this case, Ellen Turner imagines the green rolling fields of her own Eden as she contemplates her future.


As the film builds to its crescendo, the balaclava-wearing supporters get their guns at the ready as an attack on their compound is imminent. Argyll starts to deliver his sermon direct to camera in a scene eerily akin to today’s terrorist messages.


And a sermon it is. Here the dialogue came across a little preachy and you could argue that this man sounded like every other hate preacher. With the two extreme viewpoints in opposition throughout – violence for getting what you want or blindly accept the status quo – the film doesn’t exactly sit in the grey area it alludes to.


Simon Crudgington does his best to raise some sympathy with his impassioned delivery and ends his vocal calling with a wry smile suggesting a glimmer of hope.


It has been said that bad men often come along promising easy solutions to complex problems. The lead here does somewhat the same and the film would have benefited from some more self-awareness. “I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier”, someone once said. As so it goes.


Despite all this, I can’t help but recommend the film. With two performers busting under the weight of lofty dialogue the film at least attempts to tackle complex subject matter whilst not always hitting its mark. And although you have to wade through the first half to get to the drama, the film will certainly make audiences think about wider issues. Taking international themes, Railton uses a local cast to create a new adaptation of a cinematic classic that will have you questioning your own beliefs. Which is no bad thing at all.


Mike Sales


Voice of Belief will be showing in Grantham at the Guildhall Arts Centre on Saturday the 13th of October from 2:30pm


Check out the film’s Facebook page to follow the latest updates and screenings

https://www.facebook.com/Voice-of-Belief-1591952617567805/


By midlandsmovies, Jul 29 2018 06:43PM



Sicario 2: Soldado (2018) Dir. Stefano Sollima


As a fan of Denis Villeneuve’s 2015 film Sicario (review here), I described his cross-border drama as a “taut thriller with fantastic performances…with a tight and efficient script and a strong central showing from [Emily] Blunt”. With excellent Roger Deakins’ photography, it has to be said that the film wasn’t screaming out for any kind of sequel but here we are and with the director, Deakins and Blunt all missing, the film has direct-to-Netflix written all over it.


However, with stars Josh Brolin and Benico Del Toro returning alongside a strong support cast including Catherine Keener, Mathew Modine, Elijah Rodriguez and Isabela Moner, the film is far better than anyone could have predicted. More of a spin-off than a true sequel we begin with a suicide bombing caused by Islamic extremists coming across the Mexican border. Brolin’s Matt Grave is tasked by the FBI to start a war between rival drug cartels to try and divert their attention. So he hires Del Toro’s black operative to stage a kidnapping of a warlord’s daughter (Isabela) to pin on their rivals.


Another cross-border vehicle chase is again the central highlight and the first 30 minutes have a mix of story setting and character development. However, the drama is slow, almost stopping at times, and the representation(s) of America’s enemies haven’t been this broad since the Art Malik’s Middle East caricature in True Lies.


Almost Robocop levels of fascism abounds at the start – yet without the satire – but the film’s positives help dilute some of the more problematic cultural themes and more nuanced questions are asked in the third act. Brolin and Del Toro provide amoral masculinity to the proceedings – Blunt is sorely missed as an antidote to this machismo – but their changing allegiances keep the narrative unpredictable and story threads involving.


[Slight spoiler] After its proved the bombings were nothing to do with the Mexico gangs, the FBI plans to erase all ties to their horrid plan. With the young Isabela being the pawn to sacrifice, Del Toro’s change of conscience is a thorn in the authority’s sides and figures he and Isabela themselves need to illegally cross back over the border to the USA.


With scenes of shocking violence and a side story about a boy being drawn into gangs developing into a major plot point towards the film’s end, Sicario 2 more than delivers as a hard-hitting slice of uncompromising cinema.


Without the holy trinity of Villeneuve, Deakins and Blunt – not to mention the tragic loss of the original’s composer Jóhann Jóhannsson – the film had huge sandy shoes it needed to fill. However, whilst a little rough around the edges, a strong script, a cast of dedicated performances and a moody score from Hildur Guðnadóttir, Sicario 2 shoves its problematic politics right in the audience’s face. Simply telling them to deal with it. The ruthless scenes are a stark reminder that audiences should be challenged to get them thinking whilst the film does this alongside some unforgiving excitement and entertainment.


8/10


Mike Sales



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