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By midlandsmovies, Aug 25 2015 02:25PM

Child 44 (2015) Dir. Daniel Espinosa

Set during the Stalinist years of the Soviet Union, this drama-mystery is based on the 2008 novel about a Ministry of State Security Agent called Leo (Tom Hardy) who uncovers some brutal child murders in Moscow.

Later, Leo’s wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) is accused of state disloyalty and they are both sent to the impoverished and industrial town of Volsk under the command of Gary Oldman’s General Nesterov. As more crimes are uncovered, the state attempts to supress the killings (only capitalist ‘pig-dogs’ create serial killers apparently) but Hardy and Rapace travel between Volsk and Moscow, using the same train line as the murderer appears to be, to find out what is going on.

If this all sounds very intriguing, it really isn’t. We haven’t got the intended “whodunit” thriller but more of a “who ruined it”. I can only guess the book was better but in all honesty the film was bum-numbingly dull. With so much talent (Paddy Considine and Jason Clarke also appear) and Hardy reprising his partnership with Rapace from their turn in The Drop earlier this year, I really expected much better.

Oppressive Eastern European regimes can make interesting film subjects – just see The Lives of Others – and additionally, Rapace’s investigations in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have seen her thrust into murderous mysteries before. However, unlike those and The Changeling – whose historic missing/murdered children plot was shot with minimal fuss by Clint Eastwood – this long drawn out affair has little intrigue, suspense or tension. The drama becomes a series of slow sequences haphazardly put together and the brown-ish colour palette, rather than giving the film an archaic sepia-esque quality, further dulls the senses.

Hardy gives us his “gruff-macho” voice again (see also Lawless, Mad Max, ‘Bane’, The Drop etc) and although criticised by some, the heavy and stereotypical Russian accents used by everyone didn’t bother me as much as the English accents of the Nazis in Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie.

Although it has an amazing cast doing their best with leaden dialogue, Child 44 has a tediously sluggish narrative that turns what could have been an intriguing look at a despotic state into a viewing experience akin to forced labour. With 3 actors from 2012’s Lawless (Hardy, Oldman & Clarke), the film is less Lawless and more lifeless. A tedious bore.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 6 2015 06:22PM

Good Kill (2015) Dir. Andrew Niccol

Ready player one? From the director of Lord of War comes this new picture featuring Ethan Hawke as a drone pilot who starts to doubt his role in the war on terror as he sits far from the battlefield. Set in 2010 the film begins in similar vein to the recent American Sniper as we see a mother and child through a set of crosshairs as he is tasked with strategically bombing high-risk insurgents and the unsuspecting collateral damage from afar.

Hawke announces a “good kill” each time he confirms a mission has been achieved but as he pinpoints increasingly vague suspects with no evidence other than being informed they are “high-value targets”, Hawke’s Major Egan begins to falter in his defence of the American dream. His concerns emerge as he controls drones from small isolated porta-cabins on a military base in Nevada and at the end of each day he returns to his typical US family home life of barbecues, beers and big houses. A small strip of green grass in the yard is his paradise in this desert which parallels his cabin “Eden” in the desert of the Middle East.

His wife (January Jones) becomes increasing concerned for his well being as he retreats into drink and explains how he misses the fear of real flying and the only risk he now takes is on the drive back home. Although never straying far, Hawke begins to show signs of PTS disorder as the game-playing ravages take their toll.

Bruce Greenwood is good support playing a Colonel giving out orders and he delivers a great speech early on about how this “ain’t fucking Playstation” and tells new recruits (hinted to be gamers from a mall) they should avoid seeing war as a “first person shooter”. However, the film consistently challenges this set up as joysticks replace real action and even the Colonel admits that “when we went to war with different countries, we actually went to different countries”.

The film’s brutal attacks jolt the viewer into taking a position alongside the protagonists and Niccol places the audience at the same level as them – insinuating that we are part of this as we stare at similar flat-screens from the safety of our own 4 walls.

Zoe Kravitz as Vera Suarez is the first soldier to raise her concerns, as the CIA begin to demand they attack even more questionable targets. Authorising “double tap” strikes on those helping to clear dead bodies via a telephone, their orders are delivered in a monotone blank voice, further distancing those in power from the actual atrocities.

The film constantly focuses on the difficulty of taking responsibility when you are so far away from the war zone, with characters even asking if they are committing war crimes or creating more terrorists through their actions. We get more echoes of American Sniper with the similar contrast of army pressure adding to family woes back home and at least one shot – protagonist watches a blank screen on a switched-off TV – was represented almost identically. However, as the tensions between the different facets reach their peak, Hawke shows why he is a watchable presence as his army man pays less attention to the task in hand – sometimes stopping to text his wife – and brings his pent-up violence and anger back home.

The American Sniper comparisons will be inevitable but it feels more like a companion piece than a carbon copy and a brilliantly written script takes all these complex issues and delivers them through natural speeches and dialogue. Although Niccol is no Eastwood in his attempt at authenticity, the discussions that take place more than make up for a slightly by-the-numbers direction. Those willing to take a seat in this hot chair will be greatly rewarded with a speech-heavy military drama that asks the audience to question the nature of these new automated armaments. The Lord of War indeed.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 11 2015 10:42AM

American Sniper (2015) Dir. Clint Eastwood

After the misstep of the ‘musical’ Jersey Boys, hot-shot director Eastwood returns to murky biographical Americana akin to J. Edgar and Changeling that saw him receive strong critical acclaim for a no-nonsense and non-judgmental approach to his storytelling.

The film is based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography (subtitled ‘The Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History’) and we get a bulked up Bradley Cooper as the Navy Seal travelling to Iraq on various tours of duty as a sniper whose increasing kill count turns him into an armed forces celebrity.

This is contrasted with a return to his home life and pregnant wife Taya (Sienna Miller), where haunted scenes of death and killing distance himself from his family. He persuades her he is defending “freedom” yet avoids telling her about any of the execution of men, women and children he witness and takes part in.

Eastwood’s simple and unobtrusive directing style focuses the film on the story as he calibrates the contrasts between the violent male world of war and the quiet family melodrama back in the US. As the insurgents place a bounty on Kyle’s life (who is nicknamed “Legend” by his fellow soldiers) he faces no doubt that he is defending the country from these barbaric terrorists.

As he fights to be a good spouse, Cooper plays Kyle with a remote haze, constantly keeping his sights on the war even when he has returned home. Miller is impressive as the impassioned wife trying to be a part of Kyle’s isolated world but it is she who keeps her finger on the trigger of their family life. She reminds Kyle of his family duties aside from his military ones as Kyle struggles to leave his disturbed experiences back there.

A subplot involving an equivalent Iraqi assassin seems a leftover from another film – a way of giving the film a pointed Hollywood villain – but doesn’t distract too much from the introspective character study Eastwood presents.

With a narrative that never loses velocity and impressive but realistic action sequences, American Sniper is a howitzer of a war film, one that balances the fine line of the trauma faced by returning soldiers and their brief of fulfilling the duty they have signed up for.

Joining The Hurt Locker (2008) as one of the best modern war films, the movie shows the pointless loss of life and the physical and psychological damage thrust upon those involved, plus a virtuoso performance from Cooper, who fights insurgents and himself throughout.

8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 10 2014 02:19PM

Fury (2014) David Ayer

Historical accuracy is mostly thrown out the window in this rough and ready war movie which although inspired by actual incidents is a fictional tale of Brad Pitt leading a gang of tank-bound soldiers across Germany in 1945. A gruesome intro of the stark realities of the battle ground continue throughout as Pitt (“Wardaddy”) and his comrades (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña & Jon Bernthal) are joined by an inexperienced youngster Norman Ellison – played by a brilliant Logan Lerman – and introduce him to the harsh truths of their campaign.

The teenager’s reluctance to kill Germans antagonises the crew before Pitt forces the young man to kill or be killed. I especially liked the touch that the crew itself were on the verge of falling apart at times, the ravages of their combined histories tearing at their very moral soul and Ayer is convincing in his portrayal of the complexities of their situation rather than a simple good versus evil position. Pitt’s presence says a lot with few words whilst newcomer Lerman holds his own with a very impressive performance as his eyes are slowly opened to the cruelty around him. Building up loyalty (both amongst the tank’s crew and with the audience), Ayer’s finale has an immobilized tank taking on 300 soldiers of Waffen-SS infantry in a tense and well edited night battle.

In summary, Fury as a whole moves at a steady march and a scene at a dinner table during one of the quieter moments shows more about the intricacies of war than some of the (admittedly electrifying) front line sequences. War film aficionados will love this yanks in tanks fighting flick.

7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 11 2014 06:42PM

Mike speaks to Calum Rhys, a graduate of St John University in York who has been making films all his life and whilst those have been small independent projects he is now in line to direct his first major movie 'Our Father' which is due to be shot this upcoming Summer. Calum met us to tell us more about this exciting new project...

VIEW TRAILER HERE: http://vimeo.com/92676333

Born in Cheltenham, but raised in Worcestershire, Calum hails from the Midlands but has resided in York for the past 3 years and has been drawn back to the Midlands region's beautiful heritage, which is one of the main reasons it was picked as the location for his upcoming World War II film "Our Father". Whilst making his first film aged eleven (with his father’s camcorder), Calum says this James Bond spoof was “terrible” but he acknowledges it was orignially at that young age that he began his first steps on his long journey in the film industry.

Seeing it as a very independent industry, Calum has pushed and pushed to get where he is today and he says people should not sit back and expect offers to come their way without the hard work to back it up. With a mix of genres on his CV, Calum sways towards crime, drama and thriller films and like most, has had to overcome the funding that is available for small film companies. From low (to zero) budget flicks, this new project is a big leap forward in terms of money with a projected budget of £12,000 which although still pretty small, is a gargantuan task to raise.

Calum adds, “I like to be the hands-on person on a project, I'd never say a film was "my" project because everyone I work alongside put all their effort into helping me create a film so it's as much theirs as it is mine, but I like to set the basis of a film, i.e. write the story and direct it, really just so I can help anyone whenever they require it.”

On set, Calum has come up against the easygoing small crews and the more stressful and conflicted larger shoots. From memory he recalls directing a Midlands based independent feature called 'Bargain'. “There were about 35 people, which is actually pretty small for a feature, but everyone had different views, there were disagreements here and there, a lot of people left and unfortunately I had to leave as well due to bad time and production management. It's now been taken over by Chris Fretwell, who I hope has more luck with it.”

With a better outlook for his new project 'Our Father', the cast and crew has grown to 50 people but Calum has tried hard to pace the production management better and enters the filming with the mantra, “I think that if you work hard during the pre-production stage, then the shoot itself is a lot easier”.

Calum’s movie heroes and favourite films include Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas), Sam Mendes (American Beauty), Terence Malick (The Thin Red Line), Sergio Leone (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) but he is also inspired by people who have been in the same boat as him including Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), Shane Meadows (This Is England) and Christopher Nolan (Inception) who all started on independent films made on budgets under £500,000, yet have gone on to larger multi-million projects.

Seeing each film finished as an achievement in itself, Calum’s short 'The Secret Eye' (collaboration with Alex Close) went on to Palm Beach in Florida for an official selection screening which was his first achievement in the industry. Since then 2 films have gone on to receive award nominations but Calum explains that “I'm not too bothered about the awards in general though - I just generally want to create a film that the audience enjoys and becomes inspired by”.

Influenced by his favourite films such as Coppola's 'The Godfather'. 'Road to Perdition' and 'Inception', Calum is currently in the pre-production stage of 'Our Father' which is being shot in Worcestershire and amazingly, he has also acquired the rights to a Stephen King short story which he hopes to adapt in 2015-16.

With dreams to venture to L.A. soon, Calum also enjoys UK made films such as 'The Third Man', 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'This Is England' and thinks that owing to the beauty of technology and social networking, he advises new filmmakers to get on Facebook/Twitter and get searching for crew and equipment. “Even if you don't have the money to make the film - I made my first film on about £10 – it was thanks to friends and family that I was able to get it started”.

Like his idol Gareth Edwards who created his debut 'Monsters' with a 7-man crew and edited it in his garage, Calum hopes to follow in his $160 million Godzilla-sized footsteps and who knows, we may have just found our next Steven Spielberg.

Our Father Wesbite: http://www.ourfathershort.co.uk

Our Father IndieGoGo Campaign: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/our-father-world-war-ii-short-film

CALUM RHYS Twitter: @CalRhys

By midlandsmovies, Feb 6 2014 04:00AM

The Monuments Men (2014) Dir. George Clooney

George Clooney stars and directs this film about a group of soldiers saving precious works of art before the Nazis destroy them during the latter half of World War II. With its crime caper conceit I tried to avoid the obvious connotations with a certain Ocean series of films but as Clooney enters talking about (Saint) Benedict in the same tone as (Terry) Benedict of the aforementioned film series, then uses a Dad’s Army-style map to describe his plan to protect and steal these treasures back, he proceeds to meet Matt Damon (another Ocean alumni) to discuss “putting a team together”. So much for that! However, the similarities end there as the joyous romp of that hotel heist is left behind for a more uneven tone of evil Germans (of the ‘Allo ‘Allo kind) and Indiana Jones style artefact hunting alongside the serious subject matter of Jewish persecution.

Clooney mishandles both providing an overwrought score to the proceedings and makes the plot as unengaging as possible with direction at a snail’s pace for what is essentially a (kind-of) treasure hunt film. Bill Murray, John Goodman and others provide solid but uninspiring support but it’s the lack of urgency that proves problematic as the concentration camp reality really jars with the boys’ own jolly aspects of the adventure. An unexploded landmine scene shows the tension and group dynamics that should have permeated the rest of the movie whilst Jean Dujardin has taken over from Jean Reno (who himself took over from Gerard Depardieu) as the go to Frenchman for Hollywood films and an appearance from Cate Blanchett makes it feel a bit reminiscent of her and Clooney’s The Good German. Overall, this film’s moral centre has good intentions (saving art/culture), it’s just that Clooney doesn’t make the sentiment that interesting and after getting the ensemble group together they are immediately sent off on their own adventures with the director relying on (too) long periods of nothing like a dull museum trip - unable to sculpt something more substantial. A classic tale expressed in an old style, The Monuments Men leaves you hanging on the wall like an old painting wanting a bit more for your investment.

6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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