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By midlandsmovies, Jan 22 2018 01:24PM

Molly’s Game (2018) Dir. Aaron Sorkin

After her hugely entertaining and brilliant performance in last year’s underrated Miss Sloane (review here), Jessica Chastain returns as another feisty boss focused on a career that again contains many questionable practices. Based upon the real-life story of Molly Bloom who ran celebrity-attended back-room poker games, the film is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut and he brings with him the snappy dialogue he is renowned for.

The film itself is framed around a series of flashbacks (like Miss Sloane) and an ongoing court case (like Miss Sloane) where her closest confidante is a strong-willed Brit playing an American (like Miss Sloane). In this instance it’s Idris Elba who stars as Charlie Jaffey, Molly's lawyer who although reluctant at first, attempts to acquit her of charges stemming from her time organising the underground poker meetings.

Comprising of Hollywood high rollers, businessmen and later various mobsters, her hotel gambling evenings originate from Molly’s drive during her younger days as an Olympic ski prodigy which push her towards success and a lucrative, if suspect, income.

A patriarchal Kevin Costner plays Larry Bloom, Molly's dad, and provides a beat-for-beat father figure as per his stint as Pa Kent in Man of Steel but Michael Cera as Player X has much more fun in his role. Poking fun at himself again (after This Is the End) his composite character is allegedly a mix of Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck amongst others. With a Hollywood income, and ego, he dares Molly to expand her business and provides a small but important role in the middle of the film as an arrogant antagonist once Molly double downs on her decisions to maintain control of what she has created.

Molly’s determination though has her creating new opportunities in New York and as we see her business develop, fail then re-emerge, her steely grit is played to perfection by Chastain. The actress throws in a smattering of trashy exuberance into the mix with low-cut tops and heavy make-up showing how out of her depth she is amongst the real life hoi polloi.

The fast back-and-forth dialogue from Sorkin is shown mostly in her interactions with Elba whose composed lawyer meets his match with Chastain’s ballsy businesswoman. Barbs are thrown both ways and Sorkin regular ups the ante with the two trading insults and information as Elba attempts to break through Chastain’s facade to uncover the truth. Chastain however keeps her cards close to her chest, not wanting, or unable, to clarify her position to avoid incriminating herself and even protecting, at times, her precious clients who trusted her.

The film’s narrative and subsequent editing serve to explain the complex story and glossary of gambling terms but the general cinematography of this biography/thriller is solid if underwhelming. However, dealing an audience both entertainment and raising some interesting questions of loyalty and opportunity, Molly’s Game bets its hand on Sorkin’s writing and two glorious performances from Chastain and Elba. An excellent, but somewhat forgettable, support cast fills the rest of the pack yet despite a few minor misgivings, the film delivers a jackpot payout for fans of the actors and director.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Sep 21 2017 02:31PM

Mother! (2017) Dir. Darren Aronofsky

The history of haunting, or haunted, “mother” horror movies is a long one ranging from Mama (2013) to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (Regan’s bed-bouncing screams of “mother” still linger from 1973) but the eclectic Aronofsky was never going to provide an audience with the expected. In his horror house, he places Jennifer Lawrence squarely as Mother Nature herself as his story develops from a chilling but calculated cliché to a surprise sermon in just 2 hours.

Lawrence plays the put-upon partner of Javier Bardem’s author who is ridden with writer’s block as she attempts to build a house from the ashes in order to create their own personal Eden together. The first hour contains many horror tropes – a new couple, a mysterious house, a scary cellar, the strange phenomenon in the walls etc – and sets up a film where Lawrence’s mother tries increasingly futile attempts to maintain her paradise, lost as it is to many unwarranted guests. A brilliant Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer arrive (in the script as “Man” and “Woman”) to disturb the sanctuary in their utter rudeness and contempt of Lawrence.

Here we begin to see Aronofsky’s allegory as we soon witness their children arrive (*obvious klaxon* ‘Cain and Abel’) whose Old Testament fights sees blood spattering as mother’s “guests” continue on a downward spiral of debauchery, violence and carnage.

Personally, it felt a film of two halves and I enjoyed the themes the director brings attention to but in fairness to viewers, I do think Hollywood needs to work on their trailers. Knowing Aronofsky I was surprised to see what was advertised as a haunted house chiller in the film’s promotional material which has since prompted film company Paramount to issue a statement about taking creative risks. If only the advertising was more honest about its intentions I think audiences would respect them and the film a lot more. There’s nothing in the heady themes of the film that a mainstream crowd would not “get” yet hiding it under a mask of Blumhouse-esque trailer scares does it more than a disservice.

That said, with a few dark moments of comedy in the first half, Lawrence’s patience is pushed to the limit and I was laughing along with the movie a fair bit. However, once her character became pregnant the director launches into a mother-metaphor so blatant I began laughing sporadically AT it. More of a dissertation – an unwanted lecture at times – the film’s focus shift to the dangers or war, religion, false idols and even the birth of a sacrificial “chosen one” was a bit too on the nose.

However, Mother is brilliantly filmed in grainy greys and browns and the bursts of red colour and the surrounding green nature are fleeting but all the more powerful. The lack of score maintains the stark and unsettling mood whilst the final anarchy and chaos in the house towards the film’s conclusion is a striking example of the director’s technical vision.

But was it enjoyable? Well, it’s certainly a class product and although audiences have been polarised with its efforts (part of which I maintain is a ‘marketing’ issue) the film itself contains a full-house of interesting scriptural and environmental themes which I was still picking apart way after the film had finished.

My own initial interpretation was one that the film was simply “time” itself. The “big bang” fiery opening was followed by a period of cooling earth tones before (metaphorical) dinosaurs Harris and Pfeiffer arrived. A frog jumping from the ooze onto land appeared an evolutionary nod whilst a directorial ‘god-shot’ high above the house seemed celestial in its nature with Earth (the house) at its centre. And it wasn’t until the arrival of Bardem’s “fan-fiction” (Bible) did we see the ultimate destruction of “mother” (nature).

However, it is very open to interpretation and it is that which is far and away the best thing about it but at times I was hoping to get the beginning of a film that the ending hadn’t set up or even find an ending for the more traditional horror film promised initially. But like the Bible, it is ultimately a film of two halves (Testaments) which combine into an intricate whole. This will satisfy some but others will find the bait-and-switch as awful as the violent fundamentalism that manifests in the finale. Your ultimate decision may be swayed by whether you feel humans are already a bunch of selfish shits – or want to be told that is the case just one more time but in a slightly pretentious way.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jun 27 2017 01:24PM

A Cure For Wellness (2017) Dir. Gore Verbinski

A cure for preposterousness should be the title of this new thriller from Gore Verbinski who takes his great visual eye honed on the glorious high seas of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and wraps them around a ridiculous tale of terror in an eerie institution.

The film looks gorgeous and has Leonardo Di Caprio lookalike Dane DeHaan playing a Di Caprio-esque character in a film that has more than a resemblance to Di Caprio’s turn in Shutter Island. Like that film we have a protagonist sent to a remote medical facility where there may or may not be sinister forces at work.

The high-flying corporate De Haan is asked to retrieve a work colleague (now a patient) from the home in the hills of the Swiss Alps but after a freak accident becomes hospitalised himself. Confined with a broken leg he scours the creepy institution finding a host of mysteries and uncovered histories during his investigations.

Being one of the best looking films of the year is not enough however and with a hugely extended runtime over 2 hours and 20 minutes, the general themes of the film have been done elsewhere dozens of times before. The story runs out of steam two-thirds in yet contains a multitude of anti-climaxes as we are supposed to question whether he is there against his will or not.

A Beauty and the Beast allegory towards the end muddles the central theme of creating and maintaining life itself and the interesting (and realistic) premise develops into a strange fairy tale finale with monstrous outcomes that simply felt too silly.

Jason Isaacs channels a Dracula and Dorian Grey vibe and although great as an antagonistic doctor whose intentions could be darker than they first seem, his character (like the rest of the movie) overstays its welcome too.

The story is solid, De Haan is a superb actor and carries much of the film on his own but although it had me very intrigued during parts, this ‘tale as old as time’ needed to be at least 40 minutes shorter. This would help maintain a quicker pace and to get to a conclusion that would be inevitably guessed by any audience paying attention.

A nice diversion with some outstanding visuals, A Cure For Wellness is sadly a great 100-minute movie kept against its will inside a longer film that contains far too much redundant waffle.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jun 9 2017 03:19PM

New production company Them Pesky Kids hit the region as their Kickstarter campaign launches into full swing for their upcoming short film Ariella.

Formed recently in Nottingham, Them Pesky Kids are aiming for a fresh take on the crime-thriller genre as they begin production on their film with a fundraising campaign goal of £10,000 due to end on 30th June.

The filmmakers are brothers Michael and Jack Jobling and Ariella will be their first film they have created together, though they have both worked individually on music videos, short films and documentaries.

Michael Jobling’s last project Anoesis was well received locally at the Short Stack and Beeston Film festivals and went on to win a student Royal Television Society award. Ariella is being produced by Ryan Harvey who won the Best Student Drama for his debut film Tuesday Afternoon at the Nottingham International MicroFilm Festival.

With a talented crew, the film tells the story of a seemingly innocent waitress who is told to keep an eye on two thugs hiding out in her cafe, but her own motives get in the way of her professionalism.

And as well as the successful past of the filmmakers, they have managed to attract amazing local talent in front of the screen as well.

Hannaj Bang Bendz, who recently won Best Actress at the LA Film Festival for her short film, The Man up the Stairs stars alongside Johann Myers who is a Nottingham based actor who has recently starred in Luther and Black Mirror.

As the villain, James Graeme takes the creepy role and has also been in Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar on the West End. Finally, playing his daughter is Nottingham based singer and actress, Tiger Cohen Towell who has appeared as a BBC Introducing artist.

‘The cast and crew have brought this collaborative mentality on board, they’re really bringing their A-Game”, says Jack Jobling. He adds, “I’ve lived in Nottingham for a year and I’m still astonished by how professional and creative everyone is!”

His brother Michael agrees with him. “Everyone believes in this project, the community support is incredible. It’s great to direct a film that’s bringing such talented Nottingham-based artists together”.

Previously, Them Pesky Kids held a launch screening at The Nottingham Contemporary to showcase their earlier films as well as unveil their plans for the future.

And in June 2017 they’ll be releasing further news, cast announcements, vlogs, songs and flash rewards across their social media pages.

Check their full Kickstarter and social media pages below:



By midlandsmovies, May 31 2017 08:58AM

Split (2017) Dir. M. Night Shyamalan

Split begins when a group of regular teenage girls are abducted by James McAvoy’s creepy stalker “Dennis” and detained against their will in a location unknown. With Shyamalan’s penchant for dark twisty thrillers, we find all is not what it seems and soon uncover the man is merely one of 23 different personalities that inhabit his body.

These characters range from the old and the young and even women and it’s to McAvoy’s talents that he can pull off such a role. He mostly omits any subtlety but is clearly having huge amounts of fun with each extreme incarnation.

Shyamalan keeps us guessing as to what the true nature of this person is as the girls try everything from escape plans to befriending “Hedwig”, one of the younger personalities, in order to get out of their locked rooms. The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy excels as the leading girl and along with this and the Ridley Scott produced ‘Morgan’, the actress is carving quite a career in spookily dark thrillers that go beyond the natural.

With this absurd premise, the filmmaker doesn’t try too much to take the audience down the route of an accurate medical depiction – quite the opposite in fact – and he mostly keeps the transitions between each of them off screen. This keeps the stakes high as we’re never sure as to which one may re-enter the room and which of them knows information the others don't.

But this being a Shyamalan film we must talk about his inevitable favourite trick of the trade. As the film hits its emotional summit, he rounds the story off with a sense that supernatural forces may actually be a part of the kidnappers psyche but he keeps it ambiguous almost until the end.


And it is the end that is most surprising. McAvoy’s character has a supervillain vibe about him with mental (and then a physical manifestation of) powers that go beyond the real-life affliction he is suffering from. Here I felt Shyamalan had jumped the shark as I was enjoying the authentic world created. Yet, in a world full of spoilers, trailers that give away too much and news sites covering every minutiae of productions, Shyamalan manages one of his best hoodwinks yet.

In a lingering last shot we hear a journalist report on the events and comparing them to a similar villainous occurrence involving one “Mr. Glass”. And then David Dunn (Bruce Willis) appears. That’s right folks. It’s an Unbreakable sequel. Blimey!

With this and The Visit, Shyamalan has returned to his roots and gone someway, at the least, to prove his directing capabilities after misfires like The Happening and After Earth.

I was enjoying the film on its own terms but the director’s cherry expands the universe of his much beloved super-hero second film and the fact he had kept it under wraps (with another studio no less!) should be commended. It helped an already tightly wound morbid tale of mental woe conclude in a way that linked its real-life terrors with a mystical mystery that is hopefully expanded upon further.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 30 2017 02:39PM

Sleepless (2017) Dir. Baran bo Odar

Kaboom! I often moan that movies do not start quickly enough – dragging out exposition when a simple bombastic introduction is what is required. Sleepless avoids that with a car chase/shoot out which starts this 90 minute action-thriller.

Sitting firmly in “paycheque” territory, the Swiss director Baran bo Odar in his English language debut dismisses character and motivation for swift-moving crime tale. Actually a remake of French film Sleepless Night, the short run time is a bonus given the level of achievement earned by the movie’s conclusion.

In brief, Las Vegas based Jamie Foxx plays a corrupt policeman with Michelle Monaghan from internal affairs playing an obvious antagonist (example of their enlightened dialogue: “this city is crawling with dirty cops”). After stealing coke from a local casino owner (Dermot Mulroney doing his best ‘Terry Benedict’ from Ocean’s 11) Foxx’s son is kidnapped and he has just hours to return the coke to set his boy free.

Scoot McNairy as a crime-boss’ son sleepwalks his way through a villain role that literally contains moustache-twirling. In fact, I subsequently noticed all the bad guys in this film have appropriate Victorian-villain goatees.

A game of cat and mouse between Foxx, internal affairs and who has their hands on the cocaine then ensues to resolve the film’s laborious set-up. Yet it couldn’t be more inanely constructed and is filmed in a flat George Lucas-quality shot-reverse shot style. I even laughed during a kitchen fight (how original) as the choreography has Foxx receiving punches with all the 'weight' of being slapped by a giant foam hand.

Clichés abound as the film plays out more like an episode of CSI with dull direction and, despite a talented cast, a poor script they can do nothing with. Dialogue is so stale, it’s growing mould by the film’s conclusion.

Little flair, TV show-quality music and zero artistic touches means I could throw in a joke about how it puts you to sleep but the film’s failures are many and barely deserve such a pun. Don’t gamble on this film given its all-star line-up as I can assure you it will be a huge waste of your precious time.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Nov 3 2016 12:36PM

The Neon Demon (2016) Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

After the arse-numbing carbuncles grown during the slog that was the director’s Only God Forgives (a film I will never forgive) comes Nicolas Winding Refn’s next experimental thriller The Neon Demon. The film follows an innocent young waif called Jesse (played by corpse-like Elle Fanning) who is looking to join the ranks of (exploited) models in the superficial Californian fashion industry.

Slower than a snail in L.A. traffic, Refn is aspiring for the vibe of a Kubrick or Lynch – his shot composition is admittedly great and references those director’s ‘distant’ style – but it comes across much more as art-student than art-house.

Like a copy of Vogue which has 50 pages of adverts to chore through only for the reader/viewer to be thoroughly bored when it finally gets going, the film’s shallow characters drag out the dull fashion world clichés. From the young starlet on the block, bitchy comments, exploitation and jealousy The Neon Demon attempts to do something new with them using Refn’s unique aesthetic style. The style, whilst impressive, is not however enough and simply glosses over the cracks in the film like bad mascara.

As the innocent Jesse is manipulated by those around her – from her make-up “friend” Ruby (Jena Malone) to fashion designer Robert Sarno (Alessandro Nivola) – the film throws in some horror genre tropes that grate against the sombre themes. A vicious motel owner played by Keanu Reeves is straight from a b-movie slasher and in all honesty I’d love to see a film about his background more so than the stereotypes on show here. The impressionable young red-riding hood, the photographer huntsman and the wolf like fashion house owner maybe mythical in status but are forgettable platitudes here.

The last 30 minutes are preposterous and unintelligible bilge with the idea that “the modelling industry will eat you alive and spit you out” being literally represented on screen – and as subtle as the “there’s always a bigger fish” line from The Phantom Menace.

What we’re left with is some gorgeous imagery and although that did have its charms, it was swallowed by a gagging amount of cheesy chestnuts seen a thousand times before. With the addition of some mild (for me) horror The Neon Demon ends up as shock b*llocks (shollocks?). Those who enjoyed the director’s previous outings will definitely find lots to talk about but others may be rubbed the wrong way by both Refn’s pretentious nonsense stretching for high art and his agent provocateur persona daring you to enjoy its seedy pleasures. A twisted and torturous tale for the characters AND the viewer.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 10 2016 02:23PM

The Girl on the Train (2016) Dir. Tate Taylor

Having not read the book I came in cold to this adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel which stars Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow) as alcoholic Rachel Watson. She rides the train to New York each day half-remembering her drunken past whilst viewing the idyllic neighbourhood she once lived in before her split from her husband.

Her dreamy drink-infused recollections mix with her anger and self-destructiveness as she attempts to cope with the loss of the life she once had. At the same time she views another seemingly happy couple - Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) – who she passes each day and admires their romantic liaisons on their balcony from the train's windows.

With her ex-husband (Justin Theroux) now shacked up with the woman he cheated with (Anna - played by Rebecca Ferguson) Rachel uses her anger to try and protect others' fidelity. Her intrigue is peaked when she sees Megan appearing to cosy up with her psychiatrist Dr. Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramírez) instead of her partner. Attempting to get involved with a subject close to her heart, her alcoholic black outs leave her unable to remember how she got home with injuries on her head. When Megan disappears, the gaps in her memory make her a suspect along with the men involved in Megan's life.

Without saying too much more, the film is an effective dark thriller shown in a flashback format and Blunt’s central performance is what anchors the movie. Her distant looks combined with slurred speech and bouts of outrageous behaviour are a seedy joy to watch and she is helped by a great cast of supporting actors.

Haley Bennett and Rebecca Ferguson complete a triumvirate of talented actresses projecting confidence, frailty and natural emotions alongside the more brutish performances from the male threesome of Theroux, Evans and Ramirez. The complex plot sees accusations pointing at all parties whilst a smattering of morbid themes, bleak violence and clandestine encounters made it a sleazy pleasure. The score is also great with low bass sounds invoking lurking terrors and I was even more shocked this came from Danny Elfman whose familiar traits are unrecognisable here.

The pacing was great with information slowly given to the audience that mirrored Blunt’s alcoholic-fused recollections whilst Allison Janney as Detective Sgt. Riley and Lisa Kudrow as Martha were small but great additions to the cast.

With dream-like sequences helping the audience fill in the gaps, the filmmaker keeps viewers guessing along with Blunt and this effective style allowed the narrative to develop organically like an unreliable eyewitness.

At times it fell into melodrama but overall The Girl on the Train stays on track to deliver an effective mystery thriller with superb performances and a decadent tale of deceit and dishonesty.


Midlands Movies Mike

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