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By midlandsmovies, Sep 10 2017 08:27PM

The Limehouse Golem (2017) Dir. Juan Carlos Medina

Bill Nighy stars as an 1880s Inspector named John Kildaire who inherits an East London multiple murder case in this period chiller adapted from Peter Ackroyd's 1994 novel ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’. In a parallel story, a court case ensues as a fantastic Olivia Cooke (as put upon wife Elizabeth Cree) is accused of poisoning her husband and thus begins a mystery of two entwining cases.

Framed with multiple flashbacks, the initial set up is superbly done as characters arrive in the middle of their own circumstances throwing us straight into the plot. The lighting of the film is of particular high quality and worthy of mention on its own. The dark blacks, stark lighting, cold eerie streets and warm theatrical interiors echo David Fincher’s Se7en. And it’s not the only Se7en comparison to be made. Early on we get an old Inspector teamed with a young policeman (Daniel Mays) who then head directly to a library and find a book turned into a killer’s hand-written diary using an inky ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing style. But not a bad film to be influenced by that's for sure.

The horror it doesn’t show leaves the audience in a delightfully edgy position as the murders are mostly left to the imagination and the grotty streets contrast the bawdy theatre scenes nicely. The film’s reliance on flashbacks started well – encapsulating the old filmmaking adage “show-don’t-tell” – but they turn from fleshing out the story to becoming the story. Whilst the two narratives eventually joined up, the intriguing opening detective story makes way for the background of Elizabeth Cree who moves from street urchin to stage star. Unfortunately I was ready and involved in the first part and the film took me down a dark alley as it moved from a mystery to a dramatic fictional biopic of Cree.

That said, the film does use theatre and the notion of “acting” brilliantly. The behind-the-curtain chaos shows the passions and frustrations of artists whilst the stage allows the creation of alternative personas. The great make-up of the film extends from the camp comedy of the boards to the grisly murders in the alleys. Also, multiple layers and repeated sequences translate the novel well by showing each suspect committing crimes as they are recounted – allowing us to “imagine” the different scenarios along with the detective.

On a personal note, the songs and performances within the theatre could have been cut down as full-length musical renditions slowed the immediacy of the “catch-the-killer” set up. Also, and I concede this is in the novel, the mix of real life people (e.g. Karl Marx) in fictional dramas has always felt slightly anachronistic to me. This flight of fantasy was a leap too far out of the film’s world – and into our own.

Its closest relative is the similar fact/fiction mash-up From Hell (2001) and in many ways there is one great film if you combined the two. From Hell’s central narrative thread is stronger but the themes and performances were far superior in this film. With an ending I saw coming for days – from simply one very specific shot I may add – it didn’t ruin the film but the joy only came from seeing how it played out instead of a final plot “surprise”.

Despite my reservations however, there is a lot to recommend in The Limehouse Golem. The technical side is sublime and the actors are having fun with their performances in the film and subsequently their characters’ performances within the film as well. Mixing the gruesome reality of life with the gruesome fictionality of art, the so-so murder mystery plot is kept from the gallows by great actors in superbly dressed and lit locations which show the nasty side of the streets and the stage.


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 25 2017 05:30PM

Mommy Dead and Dearest (2017) Erin Lee Carr

What would you do to maintain control of your child? Well, this new documentary explores that and other dark themes in the true life story of the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. Stabbed to death, the accused is her own daughter, Gypsy Rose Blanchard, who for years has been confined to a wheelchair and has a host of debilitating ailments including cancer, gastric issues and developmental problems.

The film begins with real-life footage from a police interview room – similar to Beware the Slenderman – and again, coming from the UK, these scenes alone are shocking in their candour. Being questioned by a forthright officer is a young girl with short hair who is told her mother is dead. And it is here we first get a glimpse into the strangeness of this case.

Carr infuses her film with some immediate facts but allows the mystery surrounding these to be unveiled slowly. First up, we hear reactions from friends who are shocked to find the girl accused of homicide. Secondly is the more surprising revelation (to them) that the girl they’ve known for years is not paralysed and can actually walk.

Diagnosing a serious case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy (a condition where a carer induces health problems in those they are looking after) a doctor recalls his diagnosis of the mother who it is revealed kept her (very healthy) daughter in a state of constant medication. As multiple surgical visits and even invasive operations occur, we empathise with Gypsy's situation as we begin to comprehend the disturbing proof uncovered.

As the film continues, Carr explores the deep dark secrets of a mother and child relationship that was fused by a dominating parent who goes too far in order to preserve her power. As Dee Dee lies to the authorities and to doctors, the film’s personal connection actually arrives in the form of Gypsy Rose’s estranged father and step-mum who are shown aghast at the horrors unfolding in front of them. As a lawyer explains the medical records he’s got access to, they recoil in visible shock at the 100+ visits the fraudulent mother took her healthy daughter to in order to sustain her sham.

With another feature length documentary (Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop, 2015) under her belt, Carr can not only create an arresting narrative in her work, but chooses her subjects carefully for stories to leave an audience astonished. Here, we are never truly sure who to believe as even the sympathy gained for the alleged perpetrator is questioned with the inclusion of an eccentric and dangerous boyfriend met on the internet. In addition, the film presents a scheming mother talented in the art of deception and begins to ask whether her daughter has perhaps inherited this horrifying gift.

The documentary concludes in a standard fashion as it reaches its end but it is the juxtaposition of interesting witnesses, side tales and the natural twists and turns of a barely believable and surreal story that kept my interest up. Tackling the lofty subject matter of neglect and child abuse alongside the mystery of a murder case, Mommy Dead and Dearest is terrifying yet very honest in its portrayal of the depths of dishonesty.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 12 2017 07:42AM


Tom Lee Rutter, Director/Writer/Producer

Carnie Features

From the deepest darkest Black Country comes a new Midlands movie from local filmmaker Tom Lee Rutter. Described as a “pseudo-doc horror mystery” it concerns the urban legend of the locally famous Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm story.

Hagley 1943 is our location and time, and a voice-over introduces the film and sets the scene. The 30-minute short has been edited in post-production to look similar to old films with added scratches, the flickering lighting of an aged projection and is also shot in stark monochrome. Inserts of static pictures of the Birmingham Star further cement its use of styles from way back in the past, as well as its regional connections.

Taking a whole year to complete, it celebrates the dark heart of the Midlands as a group of young boys in a forest uncover a human skull buried deep within a dirty tree. Originating from a little-known (outside the area it seems) folk tale, the legend has continued with strange graffiti which has appeared on the Hagley Obelisk near to where a body was found.

The boys mention their discovery to no one and the film veers from the historical version events – it is based on a real investigation – and suggests there was a more mysterious element to the whole affair. This is just one of many theories on how the skull came to be there, including the possibility of the natural AND supernatural.

In real-life the victim, whose murder was estimated to have occurred in 1941, remains unidentified but Rutter takes a very interesting premise and turns it into much more than the tale itself.

Some special effects include a mix of simple makeup and spooky transitions which were fine but what worked far better was the old-style “juddery” model effects which, again, was a superb nod to past movie-making techniques. This is further buoyed up by the liberal use of photos and etchings from the bygone era.

One area of improvement could be the sound. In an attempt to recreate the aural styling of an old vinyl record the filmmaker has added suitable after-effects but the quality did not quite work for me and could do with some EQ-ing and further post-production.

An eerie string score is far better however and much of the film is dialogue free – again, harking back to the silent shorts of the era. I would also have preferred a shorter run time as the story is slight and could be tightened up in editing.

That said, you can clearly tell Rutter has a keen interest in this fable and the film is a mix of fact, fiction and theory about the local story itself. A passion project in all senses, the short is a unique look at an esoteric and obscure slice of history and is as much documentary in parts as it is an imaginary tale.

Rutter has tried to use multiple effects to recreate archaic techniques with a different look to most mainstream Midlands films. Yet despite its length, the director has infused the film with imagination, artistry and resourceful skill to tell a tall tale of murkiness and intrigue. A dark delight.

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Mar 6 2017 03:26PM

XX (2017) Dir. Roxanne Benjamin, Sofia Carrillo, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent & Jovanka Vuckovic


An 80 minute horror anthology from different female directors, XX takes an established formula (Creepshow, V/H/S) to tell 4 interesting tales about women, made by women but to be enjoyed by all.

A quick synopsis of the 4 shorts starts with The Box (from Jovanka Vuckovic) where a young boy peers into a stranger’s present on a train and then refuses to eat any food. With the family frustrated, he shares the secret with his sister and father who also stop eating. A gory dream of the family feasting on the desperate mother leads to the end when the 3 members die of starvation and the mother searches for the mysterious stranger. What?

The Birthday Party (Roxanne Benjamin) tells a story of another mother trying to hide the fact her husband has died during the craziness of arranging and hosting her daughter’s fancy dress birthday party. She hides the body around their home then places him in a giant panda suit before the inevitable grisly uncovering happens in front of the gang of children at the end which provides the top comedic moment of the films.

Moving into monster territory is Roxanne Benjamin’s Don't Fall where a group of friends’ desert trip is interrupted by an evil spirit they saw depicted in cave paintings. Maiming and killing its way through the friends, this is the most gory of the quadrilogy and perhaps the most fun, by sticking to well-known tropes and throwing in some chases and action.

Finally, Her Only Living Son (from Karyn Kusama) shows a single mum attempting to resolve issues with her misbehaving son who turns out may or may not be Satan’s offspring (!)

Interspersed with stop-motion-animation between each individual short, XX takes some intriguing ideas and new directions and I enjoyed the different tones of each. The first is pure mystery, the second is darkly comedic, the third channels the slasher genre, whilst the last has a classic Devil’s son theme. But the problems? Well, at under 20 minutes each, there is very little oomph to the proceedings, ideas cannot be developed and characters are broad.

Also, given the talent on show, the tales simply aren’t punchy enough. I was frustrated with the first, the second tale was funny but shot like a sitcom, the third was most fun whilst Her Only Living Son was a disappointment. Made by Karyn Kusama who directed one of my favourite films of last year (#2 of my top 10 of 2016 was her movie The Invitation), this stale story of a possibly demonic son was a good premise but delivered far too little.

It’s such a shame overall that I cannot massively recommend this audacious take on horror and the involvement of all-female writers and directors is certainly to be applauded. My passion for Anna Biller’s more interesting take on horror in The Love Witch is something I would recommend much higher. The stories here though? Sadly, as a fan of narrative cinema, they just didn’t shock or feel me with any terror or fear. An admirable attempt but only the most die-hard horror fans need to investigate this frustrating four-some.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 14 2016 06:13PM

Midlands Spotlight: Nine Ladies Film to release horror short The Telephone

Award winning production company Nine Ladies Film are soon to launch the second in a trilogy of horror short films ‘The Telephone’. Mike picks up the receiver on this new regional movie full of scares and spooks.

“If you heard the ringing, would you be prepared to answer what lies at the end of the phone?”

And so asks the new film from filmmaker Stuart Wheeldon and his soon to be released project ‘The Telephone’. The second part of a planned trilogy of short horror films, this new creative film has been made and produced by Nine Ladies Film based in Wirksworth in Derbyshire.

The film tells the tale of journalist Richard who is intrigued by the story of a mysterious disappearance of a young woman called Jane and heads to a local hotel in a pub which was the last place she was known to be alive.

Awakening in the night by an endlessly ringing old telephone, the film follows Richard as he liaises with the pub’s owner Max and whose instincts tell him there is much more to the mysterious story. Is a ghostly figure that is seen late at night, that of Jane? Could the telephone ringing just be in his head?

Well, the film hopes the audience will be as intrigued as the protagonist and writer-director Stuart Wheeldon has been joined by award winning videographer/photographer George Peck who takes on the role of Director of Photography. Music for the film is composed by Jordan Frater and it was entirely shot on location in Derbyshire in Spring 2016.

The film also have a slew of well-known actors and actresses which include Nigel Barber (Mission Impossible 5, Spectre) playing the role of Max and Bern Deegan (Hideaways, The Honeymooners) supported by Rachel Prince in the role of Jane.

The trailer to the film was released earlier in Summer and can be viewed on the Vimeo link below

For further information please follow Nine Ladies Film on Twitter and keep 1st September 2016 free for the official release of the film

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NineLadiesFilm

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5180374/?ref_=nm_knf_i1

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

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