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By midlandsmovies, Aug 22 2019 11:06PM

Under the Silver Lake (2019) Dir. David Robert Mitchell

In 2001 indie chiller Donnie Darko became an underground runaway success and director Richard Kelly followed up that intelligent dark drama with a film so bad, indulgent and incomprehensible (2006’s Southland Tales) it pretty much killed his career. Well, in true Groundhog Day style, this L.A.-set neo-noir mystery film is a gigantic misfire on almost all counts, which is a shame as fans of David Robert Mitchell’s 80s-infused horror It Follows were no doubt anticipating something exciting for his second movie.

The plot, if you can decipher it, involves Andrew Garfield investigating the sudden disappearance of his neighbour Riley Keough, but during his escapades uncovers a large and complicated conspiracy. A great score clearly influenced by Bernard Herrmann’s music for Hitchcock is about the only positive to recommend the film, as low-brow discussions on masturbation and nudity crossed with comics and animated sequences fill a ridiculous incoherent narrative involving songwriters, a dog killer and some underground Pharaoh bunkers.

Influences range from Mulholland Drive, Raymond Chandler and Chinatown as we get dream sequences, the seedy underbelly of the city and some classic detective tropes but although it’s never really boring, it’s always awful.

There’s a scene midway through that so sums up this gigantic misfire that you must think that the director is trolling the audience into disliking his own film. “Do you like the movie?” asks one character to Sam (Garfield) as he stands in a cemetery next to a HITCHCOCK grave watching a film before 3 girls get into a limousine with a fancy-dressed pirate. What? How VERY clever of you.

The music is stupidly on the nose such as it is, including the “Behind movie scenes” line from Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha to REM’s What’s the Frequency, Kenneth. Ambitious, weird and bizarre but consistently terrible, Under the Silver Lake is what 2 stoner mates may think was a good idea at 4am but the film is baffling in construction and makes a terrible attempt to satire the movie industry and provides a lame and superficial commentary on female representation.

The only reason I watched right to the end of the credits was because I was hoping to get a fucking apology. I didn't.

★ ½

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Aug 11 2019 08:00AM


Directed by Ben Bloore


B Squared Films

After a bit of hiatus local Derby filmmaker Ben Bloore returns to the director’s chair for his new 7-minute short McKinley, an emotional police procedural containing many unfortunate consequences.

We open with a husband (Steve Wood as Craig) who arrives home late one Friday night to his wife (Tina Harris as Emma) who angrily shouts at his son (Rory McGuinness) to go to bed.

A violent row ensues with his wife pushed out the way as he heads upstairs to the boy’s room where he is unjustly punished by the whipping of a belt.

But there is a twist in this tale: a masked intruder enters from behind and attacks Emma before we are whisked away to the next day where a police officer is at the crime scene. A great introduction, Bloore switches focus (and our sympathies) with this narrative swap and immediately sets up an intriguing mystery just a few minutes in.

A dishevelled and unshaven detective turns up (Mark Tunstall as the eponymous McKinley) who is whisked around the house by a forensic scientist (Michelle Darkin Price) explaining how the previous night’s events unfolded.

Bloore again uses images to fill in the audience with the background as we cut back to see the final moments of the parents before their bodies were discovered now strewn on the floor. But again we are offered a plot surprise as we find out the son has in fact survived the attack.

McKinley appears haunted by a past case, especially one involving his family as he imagines their images in a broken photo frame and we again flashback to the incredibly traumatised detective at a different crime scene.

The film has a huge number of high points going for it. Bloore has assembled a crew who have created a quality short that looks as good as anything I’ve seen on TV. Director of Photography Jon O’Neill uses sharp images with great depth and the shot quality shows the professionalism and skill on screen.

Kudos should also go to editor Nick Archer who successfully cuts back and forth across many time narratives to ensure the audience can understand the multiple situations we are shown.

The acting is also a highlight with the whole cast delivering and getting across their characters in such a short space of time. This is probably due to the successful relationship the director has built up with the actors from their previous appearances in his earlier shorts 2015’s Hidden Truth (review here) and 2016’s Crossing Paths (review here).

Haunted by ghostly visions, McKinley finishes open-ended which again reflects the TV nature of the film with this short almost acting as the pilot episode of a longer drama series. As one door closes we are left to imagine another opening up as the film’s conclusion teases a bigger story and further investigation.

Although the short does contain some clichés of the genre – the troubled detective, a family murder etc – the film overcomes most of these. With high-quality professionalism and a well-written script, this allows the audience to discover the mysteries along with the characters in a fulfilling way. And from a satisfying set-up to an exceptional cast, McKinley is a first-rate detective tale with intriguing secrets that will leave an audience wanting much more.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Sep 21 2016 07:29AM

The Nice Guys (2016) Dir. Shane Black

Shane Black has written his fair share of witty dialogue, buddy-cop movies and his trademark flourishes are on full show in this 1977-set noir comedy about private detectives investigating a missing girl.

Based in Los Angeles, the films begins after an adult-movie star dies in a car crash and her aunt hires private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) after she is spotted mysteriously ‘alive’. As another missing girl Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley) hires Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to intimidate Gosling’s P.I., the two detectives are suddenly and reluctantly thrust together to search for the answers to each case. They are assisted/hindered by March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) and the threesome head to locations around the city to tie up the pieces – from an air pollution protest to a hilltop party where models, actresses and dead bodies are all “uncovered”.

As the confusing case spirals, Amelia's mother who is played by an always-pleasing-to-see Kim Basinger, enters to stir the pot from her position in the Justice Department. Her high-class demeanour and Crowe’s violent retribution somewhat echo their roles in L.A. Confidential. Black shies away from the seriousness of that film though as slaughter and laughter come in equal measure as the complicated double-crosses are revealed.

The chemistry between Ryan and Russell is one of the film’s main selling points. Crowe doesn’t do anything particularly new with his beefy muscle role, nor does Ryan with all his silly tics, but the two together deliver Black’s zippy back-and-forth dialogue brilliantly. The twisty narrative is slowly exposed with the audience grasping at the clues along with the two leads and the support from the young and talented Angourie Rice offsets the macho banter. Her scepticism towards her father, her sly and accusing looks at Crowe and generally innocent outlook help give the film some much needed soul where sleaze, murder and corruption are the main themes throughout.

The period fashion, locations and soundtrack are expertly realised and Black’s strong script delivers the knock-out lines the writer/director is known for. A single criticism could be levelled about originality – the set up of Black’s successes of Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are all prevalent here – but the plusses far outweigh the negatives in a film full of entertaining vignettes.

Its use of Warner Bros 70s "Big W" logo designed by Saul Bass shows that the Nice Guys is much more than nice – it’s a big slice of retro-influenced cool. With stylish direction, a sophisticated script and a set of trendy performances, Black’s latest is best enjoyed as a hip cocktail of cynical repartee and noir style.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 16 2015 09:03AM

Mr. Holmes (2015) Dir. Bill Condon

UK thespian and all-round acting legend Ian McKellen stars as English literature’s most famous detective in this film based upon the retirement of an aged Sherlock Holmes. With an abundance of adaptations of the long-standing eccentric (Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller, Downey Jnr) has this film got enough of a spin to make it stand out from the (very busy) crowd? Well, in most cases yes. McKellen’s Holmes is a timeworn geriatric, long-retired from the sleuthing game and now spending peaceful days tending to his bees in the countryside. He does however have an unsolved case that’s a thorn in his side and it is this mystery that pushes the story forward.

At 93 years old, Holmes’ body is frail and his mind unable to recollect evidence like it used to, but he still has his wits when dealing with his housekeeper Mrs Munro and her son Roger. As a substitute patriarch to the father-less Roger, Holmes imparts his bee-keeping knowledge whilst Roger prods him into remembering the details of the unfinished case (shown in flashback sequence).

Tying up the loose ends of that case and another situation involving a Far East family man, Holmes is shown as more human than the previous eclectic incarnations. This is down to a great script but also the acting talents of McKellen himself. Small ticks as the “flashback” Holmes hints on his genius whilst he personifies his decaying physical health without delivering the usual over-the-top geriatric characteristics.

The Go-Between-like relationship of Holmes and the inquisitive Roger has a happier ending than that novel and the picturesque surroundings of the locations set the time and place well. With more Bees than Jupiter Ascending and The Wicker Man remake combined, McKellen is the driving force in this peculiar but quaint English film with enough little twists to keep the audience guessing along with the great detective who does the same.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 12 2015 12:13PM

Inherent Vice (2015) Dir. P T Anderson

Groovy baby! From a Thomas Pynchon novel that was once described as a “generally lighthearted affair” (New Yorker) comes a film that seems anything but. Paul Thomas Anderson returns to an altogether different 70s from the one he pointed his camera towards in Boogie Nights but that film’s glam is replaced with a stoner aesthetic from the earlier part of the decade. And we view the story beats through a post-hippy drug haze and what a complicated one it is.

In short, the convoluted plot involves the various goings-ons affecting “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) a licensed P.I. who gets involved in missing people, attracts the attention of LAPD officer Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) and tries to unravel dodgy real estate and narcotic deals. What else happens? Well, it’s an incredible indecipherable journey as the film is viewed from the stoned perspective of the protagonist whose copious drug intake is reflected in the fractured narrative.

Characters, and there are a lot of them, come and go with seemingly no motivation or consequence and although there are some rather strange moments of comedy (heck, even slapstick), the film is a heady mess of the serious machinations of the west-coast society investigated in Chinatown and the hilarity that ensues in the Coens’ Big Lebowski.

Joaquin Phoenix is on great form and his performance is half intoxication and half paranoia but the film is actually a set of rather odd scenes instead of an overall narrative with the tone varying from Easy Rider to Austin Powers. You could fast forward to any scene and not know what was going on but funnily enough, the same thing occurs even if you watch this film right from the start.

A smorgasbord of ideas, from crooked dentists to swastika face tattoos, the film is solidly made but none of sequences really form any sense of coherence but I almost suspect that was the intention. Its peculiar antics and haphazard beats were not really my bag, baby and although some will find some fascination with its contraband concept (and admittedly impressive soundtrack) I will stick with a big old dose of “The Dude” for my high. Groovy indeed.

Midlands Movies Mike 6/10

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