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By midlandsmovies, Jul 28 2019 08:10AM



Thunder Road (2019) Dir. Jim Cummings


Written by Jim Cummings, based on Thunder Road by Jim Cummings, music by Jim Cummings, co-edited by Jim Cummings, visual effects by Jim Cummings and starring Jim Cummings playing a guy called Jim. A passion project you say?


Well, it’s been said that a single vision can be better than committee thinking and boy is that true in new indie drama Thunder Road. I say drama but there are lashings of dark comedy throughout this 90-minute movie extended from Cumming’s own short film of the same name.


Story wise, we get Cummings playing Jim Arnaud, a police officer and soon to be divorced father whose mother passes away which sets him on a downward spiral of frustration and rage.


We are introduced to his awkward – but incredibly sincere – persona at his mother’s funeral. In a 12-minute uncut shot, Jim forgets parts of his speech and embarrassingly dances at the front of a church in silence as a CD player he has brought fails to work. In a scene reminiscent of David Brent’s biggest gaffs, the one-shot forces the audience to share the experience in excruciating embarrassment.


Jim is then forced to take time off from his cop work after a disturbance and he tries, but fails, to bond with his daughter Rosalind (an excellent low-key role from Jocelyn DeBoer). Jim’s attempts to straighten his life fall flat and the film brilliantly mixes sympathy with his hot-headed reckless reactions as his life falls apart.


Through gritted teeth the audience will laugh at times but Cumming’s full break-down in front of his cop colleagues and is as powerful and passionate as anything I have seen in 2019. His friend Nate Lewis is played by Nican Robinson in a fantastic performance as a fellow officer, whose life is seemingly doing much better, desperately seeking ways in which to help his friend.


A scene at Rosalind’s school sees Jim again fly off the handle whilst a custody hearing again brings out our sympathies again when a misplaced word leads to disastrous consequences as he desperately tries to cling to the last remaining aspect of his once happy life.


Cummings explores areas of masculinity, loss, family and violence in a subtle and sensitive way that also never imposes on the film’s main narrative. Tackling these issues with a dark view, the audience won’t be able to stop themselves from slowing down to absorb every thoughtful detail of the fiery car wreck that is Jim’s life.


And so this self-destruction lies at the heart of the film. The discomfort we’d like to avoid is expressed as laughter at times and it's with relief Jim’s struggles build to a crescendo in a very satisfying pay-off.


Hooking the film on Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road, which is about a couple who have "one last chance to make it real”, is an apt metaphor but here the couple are no longer a romantic one but the twosomes around him: whether that be a close friend, his sister, ex-wife, and most influencing of all, his at rest mother from the past and the future bond with his daughter. And many of the scenes play out with just two people, framed with Jim desperately trying to make a connection in a rough world.


With a startling low micro-budget of just $200,000, Cummings has created a true masterpiece – with his talented self, rightly so, at the centre. Is it a dark comedy drama? Is it a reflection of contemporary American talking-points? Well, it’s all that and more but without doubt it comes hugely recommended as not just one of the best debut films of the year, but one of the best films period.


★★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, May 26 2019 03:40PM



Vice (2019) Directed by Adam McKay


Christian Bale does his usual shtick by bulking up and becoming unrecognisable as he embodies the girth and the gall of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in 2019’s Vice.


A deserved win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling at the Oscars, the film nevertheless doesn’t entirely get underneath the surface of a man who pulled the puppet strings within the White House in the early 2000s.


The film flashes back and forth across time where Cheney begins as an intern and rises through the ranks of power alongside eventual long-term colleague, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell). With family tensions and political posturing, Cheney suffers from a number of heart attacks as he leapfrogs from position to position as Presidents (Nixon and Ford) are ousted.


With narration, flashbacks, snappy editing and even a faux-ending in the first half of the film, McKay throws a lot of cinematic tricks into his film but they fail to compensate for the disjointed perspectives we see. Power-mad and using George “Dubya” as a proxy president at times, Cheney is hit in the face with random pot-shots from McKay without the movie ever really uncovering much more than most of us would know from the last decade’s media coverage.


Their despicable manoeuvring during the War on Terror sets them up further as the villains and although Bale and the supporting cast are good – the film draws upon broad caricatures rather than any in-depth analysis. Amy Adams as Cheney’s Wife, Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell add much needed flavour and I enjoyed the varied film styles but it was often on the edge of falling apart. Scenes jumping forward in time just as drama was developing was its biggest failing.


In conclusion, Vice is very “worthy” and “honourable” and there’s nothing wrong per se, but it’s not much else. Its Wolf of Wall Street self-referential and satirical tone really wasn’t the right angle for me to scrutinise Cheney properly.


All the ingredients are there across the board but its attempts at an all-encompassing biography leave Vice as a slightly insubstantial, maybe even shallow, take on one of politics’ most nasty pieces of work.


★★★ ½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Nov 15 2015 07:09PM

Aside from the Midlands area, when I go on vacation I love to visit local attractions and nothing gives me more pleasure than going to see places that are featured in famous movies. With my previous holiday blogs covering Madrid, Italy and California I was very excited to be heading back to the good ol’ USA for a trip to New York, Chicago and the surrounding area.


For all the movie photos from the USA please click here


I landed at JFK airport tired but excited on October 29th (the day after our Shaun of the Dead screening) and, still drained from that late night, I put my lack of energy to one side to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the Big Apple. This was my third visit in as many years so I had seen some of the most famous destinations before, but I always get a flush of excitement when I see some of the icons of this big city. On my first full day there I walked around Manhattan for over 6 hours catching all kinds of sights and with the November weather being unusually mild, I even managed to spend some time in my t-shirt as the sun beat down.


I was staying with my good friend at an apartment on Wall Street which immediately linked to my favourite film of 2014, The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo Di Caprio, whilst later as I was walking around I even spotted a Steve Madden shop – the real–life shoe company that DiCaprio’s fraudulent banker floats on the stock exchange. Speaking of which, just 200 yards up the road was the real life stock exchange which Bane (Tom Hardy) terrorises in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Nolan’s Batman franchise was a running theme of the trip as the second half would be spent in The Windy City, Chicago, where much more of those movies were filmed. Rises also contains shots of “Gotham’s” bridges collapsing which have been clearly influenced by the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges of New York city as Bane and his gang attempt to cut the citizens off from the rest of the world.


On my walkabout I also came across the fire station from Ghostbusters (1984) as well the Museum of the Native American which was the location of the painting of Vigo for that film’s sequel. After an accident in the building which resulted in me cutting my head, it seemed that the museum still has some bad vibes. Has anyone checked for a river of slime underneath again?



Up at the other end of the island, Central Park was where the Tavern on the Green was situated (67 Central Park West) which was used when Louis Tully (a demon-dog avoiding Rick Moranis) cried for help in Ghostbusters. Just across from that is Dana’s (Sigourney Weaver) apartment building – referred to as “spook central” – where the final battle against Mr. Stay Puft occurs. Still at Central Park is the bridge the protagonists hide under from Cloverfield (2008) whilst nearer Grand Central Terminal is the Chrysler building, both of which appear in the film as well.


Further downtown is the iconic Flat Iron Building (used as the Daily Bugle’s headquarters in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy) whilst the second film also includes the fantastic action sequence where Spider-Man battles Doctor Octopus on an elevated train. In fact, NYC does not have an elevated train track passing through its skyscrapers so the filmmakers used digital footage of Chicago’s “L” train to get the shots they needed.


After my brief stay in the city that never sleeps, I headed east to meet friends nearer Chicago. Quieter and with a more relaxed atmosphere, my friends lived in Aurora which you may know as the home-town of Wayne and Garth from American comedy Wayne’s World (1992) and its sequel. The city of lights provides the backdrop for their rock antics although much of both films were actually shot in and around Los Angeles – which Myers alludes to again in a fourth wall joke from Austin Powers.


From Aurora, I took a trip up to Woodstock, Illinois - Del Preston: “It rained all morning, and then it cleared up in the afternoon. And that's it... I almost remembered something else, but it's gone”. Actually not the location of the infamous 60s musical love festival but this Woodstock was the small town used in Groundhog Day (1993).


The town’s central square double’s as Gobbler’s Knob which hosts the groundhog ceremony before Bill Murray’s grouchy weather man begins to repeat the same day over and over. As his depression sets in, Murray’s worn out character attempts to commit suicide – one death is from the town’s clock tower – but continues to wake up unharmed back in his hotel bedroom each morning.


The bandstand in the square hosts the main festivities but is also the backdrop for the first snowfall dance between Murray and Andie MacDowell. As we walked around the picturesque town we saw the infamous corner where Murray steps in a puddle trying to avoid Ned Ryerson – who has a burger named after him in a local bar (Bing!) – as well as the cinema where he takes a date dressed up as Clint Eastwood.


Woodstock also played host to the film Trains, Planes & Automobiles (1987) where Steve Martin and John Candy are stopped for speeding in a burned-out car and then the pair are picked up by a truck outside the old courthouse (now the Old Courthouse Arts Center) as well as its more famous doubling as the town of ‘Punxsutawney’.


This lovely town proved to be a calm highlight of my trip between two big cities but it wasn’t too long before I was in my room at the Red Roof Inn in downtown Chicago. The city has been on my ‘must-go’ list for an age and I was thrilled to finally be in this cinematic city. As mentioned before the city’s bridges and industrial ambience was perfect for its stand-in as Gotham. From ‘the narrows’ in Batman Begins (2005) to the Tumbler heading under Lower Wacker Drive (the underground road system), the city’s pier also was the location of the Joker’s hostage heist on the two tourist boats.



Moving to The Dark Knight (2008), me and my friends had drinks and food at the iconic Berghoff Bar which is an historical 100-year old watering hole. This was the location of the scene where Jim Gordon and his team arrest Maroni whilst the nearby Chicago Theatre was used when Harvey attempts to see ballet with Rachel, but is unable to do so after Bruce Wayne takes the entire company on a sunny cruise. Lastly, the unfinished (at the time) Trump Tower was where the final battle took place twixt Batman and the Joker at the film’s climax.


Their earlier bust-up in the street with the BatPod and a big-rig truck occurs at South LaSalle Street with the Chicago Board of Trade Building in the background (which was also the HQ of ‘Wayne Enterprises’ in Batman Begins).




That street is also famous for its appearance in The Untouchables (1987, Brian De Palma) whose fictionalised version of Elliott Ness’s struggles with Al Capone utilised a wide range of Chicago locales. Recreating the Prohibition Era, the movie mostly drops historical accuracy for cops and robbers entertainment. The police HQ is the Rookery Building on South La Salle whilst Costner’s Ness first meets Sean Connery’s “Irish” beat-cop Malone on the pedestrian deck of the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The Federal Reserve is also on the same street whist mid-town’s Cultural Center is where De Niro’s Capone pleads his innocence to the media.





The film’s most famous sequence is at the end where a shoot out at the city’s Union Station paid homage to Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and is also used at the climax of Man of Steel (2013) for the showdown between Superman and General Zod.




Another film which hugely uses Chicago’s many distinct locations is the 80s High School classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). The John Hughes teen comedy has the title character skipping school for an educational and fun day out in the Windy City with his girlfriend Sloane and his put-upon pal Cameron.


The film has many unique local settings including when the friends pass the Flamingo, a huge red structure created by noted American artist Alexander Calder. This 53-foot tall stabile is located in the Federal Plaza in front of the Kluczynski Federal Building and is not far from the Art Institute of Chicago which hosts the city’s impressive art collection. In the film, the trio are fascinated by some legendary pieces including the Portrait of Balzac by Auguste Rodin, Picasso paintings, Marc Chagall’s America Windows and (most famously) A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – an 1884 pointillism work by Georges Seurat.


The film also includes trips to Wrigley Field (home of the city’s Cubs baseball team) and Ferris crashing the annual Von Steuben Day Parade on a float for a musical sequence. The last place I visited from this film was up at the Sears Tower's skydeck (now the Willis Tower) which gives unparalleled 360 degree views of the city from the 103rd floor. Don’t go up if you have vertigo but if you’re feeling brave then take a seat in one of the all-glass boxes which allow visitors to look through the glass floor to the street 1,353 feet (412 m) below!


The final picture in the Art Institute that I recognised was Francis Bacon’s “Figure with Meat” which was the painting Jack Nicholson’s Joker asked Bob the Goon not to destroy in the museum scene in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). Another Batman link!


Outside the Institute is Millennium Park which holds Cloud Gate – a public sculpture by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. It is locally nicknamed The Bean because of its shape and weighs 110 short tons and is used in the film The Break Up (2006) but most will have seen the silver/metallic structure in Duncan’s Jones’ Source Code (2011).



So what else do we have? Well, the gritty streets of the city can be viewed in The Fugitive (1993) as Harrison Ford’s Dr. Richard Kimble goes on the run after being accused of murdering his wife. Ford rides (and fights) on the “L” train whilst he also visits City Hall which doubles as a prison in his second encounter between himself and Tommy Lee Jones’ U.S. Marshall.


There were sadly many other movie locations that I didn’t get to experience in my tight schedule. From The Blues Brothers, High Fidelity, Adventures in Babysitting, While You Were Sleeping and Public Enemies Chicago’s grimy streets have been used from genres involving gangsters and superheroes to comedy and drama and will no doubt continue to provide the backdrop for independent and Hollywood films for many years to come. If you get the chance to visit any of these locations then both tourists and die-hard movie fans will absolutely be overjoyed and thrilled by the amazing places (both old and new) that these awesome sites serve up.


Midlands Movies Mike

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