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By midlandsmovies, Jun 25 2018 10:09AM

Red Sparrow (2018) Dir. Francis Lawrence

Based upon Jason Matthews’ book on his experiences in the CIA, Red Sparrow features Jennifer Lawrence fresh from her risky role in Aronofsky’s “mother!” tackling another part that pushes the actress’ boundaries further.

She plays ballerina Dominika Egorova – Lawrence prepped for the dance scenes but it looked somewhat CGI to me – who after a serious injury is recruited by her Uncle Ivan to work for Russian intelligence. She is sent to train as a “sparrow” – an agent that is assigned to use seduction to ensnare targets. In parallel, CIA operative Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) tries to re-connect with a Russian mole he’s been working with and their two operatives' lives are soon entwined as they come face-to-face.

Both end up admitting to each other their appointed roles with their respective employers and it’s here that the film becomes a convoluted dance between the two sides. This sadly results in a somewhat confusing narrative though, which is a shame.

In the UK, the BBFC removed some violence which lowered its audience age-rating, but this now pushes the film into extreme “15” territory. Although Lawrence was aware of the film’s nudity, a female-led action thriller this really isn’t - despite the trailer-house sales pitch.

For example, during her spy training, Lawrence is coerced to strip and seduce in humiliating sexual ways which makes for uncomfortable viewing. Charlotte Rampling as "Matron", the Headmistress of the school, verges on a callousness and cruelty not seen since Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And Matthias Schoenaert, Mary-Louise Parker Jeremy Irons and Ciarán Hinds flesh out the surveillance support cast with similarly shady roles.

However, the sleazy spectacle does give the film more grit than your average thriller and is all the better for it. We already have the over-the-top violence of John Wick and Atomic Blonde so this more sordid story which goes to darker places than those two helps sets it apart.

A smart and clever script ensures the sleazy sequences never get too off-putting and Lawrence, as always, is a mesmerising screen presence – from the naïve agent at the film’s start to the brutal assassin we witness later. That said, the violence may be too extreme for some and the film runs out of steam towards the end as scenes of torture may push the limits of those even with the strongest of stomachs.

Secrets are swapped and a collaboration of swift action/chase moments keep the momentum moving forward. If I may be so crude, it certainly isn’t hard to see why Jennifer Lawrence is cast as a faultless, and flawless, seducer of agents. Sensual yet dangerous, Lawrence’s physical attributes are played to the full yet she gives more depth to a role that could have been simply “Bond-girl” territory.

An intriguing espionage adaptation, Red Sparrow has some harrowing scenes alongside the usual spy tropes of double-crossing agents, security snooping and enemy infiltration. It is also an exploitation flick at heart, and although the movie doesn’t have the gloss of the violent assassin films of the past few years, its nasty pleasures are cleverly calculated and provide some ugly Cold War-style thrills.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 1 2017 01:16PM

Atomic Blonde (2017) Dir. David Leitch

This action thriller film stars Charlize Theron as a spy uncovering double agents in Europe during the downfall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Rather unoriginally, the film begins as a KGB agent steals a sensitive list of active-agents hidden in a wristwatch before cutting to a bruised and hurt Lorraine Broughton (Theron) as she proceeds to explain what happened in Berlin to her handlers. This flashback frames the story as the sarcastic agent recalls the events to the CIA (John Goodman) and her MI6 superior (Toby Jones) and what unfolds is her experience to recover the list and uncover the identity of a double agent within the ranks.

All of this sets up a series of amazingly-filmed action sequences and the comparisons to this year’s John Wick: Chapter 2 are easy to see – no less obvious as director Leitch is also a producer on that film. With Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron showed she could handle punches, kicks and bone crushing fights and we get even more here with her central performance is key to the film’s charm.

Theron’s natural allure helps the audience get behind her mission but it’s the long one-take action scenes that are the film’s selling point. From bashing battles to bullets banging, the film mixes fantastic fight choreography with running, explosions and vehicle chases in a variety of exciting sequences that will keep you entertained, even though the clichéd story line hits familiar plot points.

The Berlin background is a nice change to the usual bland American cityscapes, but it is the 80s soundtrack and extreme lighting that really gives the film a different feel to its contemporaries. Like an action-filled Neon Demon, the colours pop from the screen whilst musical hits (and covers of hits) from Bowie, George Michael, The Clash and more help establish the historical context but also give the movie a soundtrack coolness not seen since the Guardians of the Galaxy films.

Support comes from a slightly bland and broad James McAvoy as an agent who is all, well, James McAvoy-like, whilst Sofia Boutella as Delphine plays an undercover French agent who is also Lorraine's lover. It’s great the film pays no attention to this seemingly edgy choice for a lead character's sexuality in a major release which is not only honourable, but fits well into the film’s narrative perfectly.

But in the end, like John Wick (with which there’s talk of possible a cross-over film), the movie is held together by the central show from Theron herself. She gives this exciting film a much-needed bout of sultriness, strength and poise alongside expertly handling the violent and bloody punch-ups.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 10 2016 11:53AM

Midlands Movies Mike enters January by taking a look at Stoke-based filmmaker Chris Stone who has come out from his undercover mission to release his new espionage web film series “Year of Spies”.

Chris Stone’s varied background from the BBC to filming LA music videos has helped him set up his biggest project to date with the release of his Ipcress File inspired spy series. With a Royal Television Society nominated documentary also behind him, this new project compliments his previous work that has been showcased on ITV and MTV as well as being premiered at Pinewood Studios.

“Year of Spies” is the culmination of all this hard toil and Chris has turned to the internet to release this impressive 12-part thriller which unfolds over the course of a year.

Under Christ Stone Films, the director also offers custom-filmed show reel scenes for up and coming actors to show off their acting talents. Helping others to demonstrate their skills to casting directors he gives new actors and actresses a route to much needed first-hand experience of working in front of camera with a professional director.

"Year of Spies" also continues Chris’ bold visual style with Hollywood influences and larger than life heroes with Bond-esque action sequences. This major difference from his previous work is the project will be made up of individual self-contained mini stories. Chris says they are “set in the same 'universe' rather than one long continuous narrative”.

Using both his experience as a short filmmaker and finding a new route to audiences via the web, Chris has built a fanbase online and his Victorian vampire adventure 'Blood and Bone China', won 'Best Web Series of 2011' at the Indie Intertube Awards and has been viewed over 300,000 times on YouTube.

Chris also hosts seminars and practical lessons on film-making and web series production around the country, including at the UK's largest film festival Raindance and if you bring a script to Chris he is more than happy to work alongside budding writers too. So local filmmakers and actors should definitely get in touch if you want to work alongside this exciting talent from Staffordshire.

For more about Chris, his films and his future projects and local support then please check the links and watch the exciting trailer for the "Year of Spies" series via YouTube below:

Official website: http://www.yearofspies.com

Director's website http://www.chrisstonefilms.com

By midlandsmovies, Nov 24 2015 04:16PM

SPECTRE (2015) Dir. Sam Mendes

*Slight spoilers*

Well he’s lived and died more times than you or I but Bond has bounced back for another round of secrets and spies in SPECTRE, the follow up to Sam Mendes’ huge hit Skyfall. With the same director back in the chair there is a consistency between those films but this movie also attempts (and somewhat fails) to tie up all the Bond films Daniel Craig has starred in.

We begin with an impressive opening at the Day of the Dead where an elongated one-take tracking shot follows Bond from the street, through buildings onto a hotel rooftop. After a brief shoot out, a falling building and a scuffle in a helicopter we’re whisked into the obligatory Bond opening credits.

Soundtracked by Sam Smith’s boring ballad, the song reflects the rest of the film with its by-the-book delivery and ultimately unmemorable narrative. I did feel the use of previous characters in the credits was a nice nod to the earlier villains (as well as M) from Craig’s stint so far, but the shoehorning of their stories into this film was ham-fisted to say the least.

Bond again goes rogue (yawn) to try and uncover the mysterious SPECTRE organisation via a ring and a message from beyond the grave from Judi Dench whilst back in Blighty, MI5 and MI6 are at risk of closure by government forces. With a nod to modern topics such as surveillance and global affairs, they are treated as a fairly simple backdrop for Bond’s operation.

The flaws of the film are two-fold. Firstly, despite the huge gains made by Skyfall the film doesn’t have much to say and plods along hitting the same beats of any Bond film from the past 50 years. The ruthless spy is given a slightly lighter tone by Mendes but he must be dreaming if he thinks that he can pull the strands of the other films together to form an overall story (I mean, Quantum of Solace barely made sense on its own). So when it’s revealed that one person was controlling them all along, I didn’t buy it for a second.

Secondly, Mendes also cannot hide from the expectation of Javier Bardem’s great turn as Silva in the previous film despite hiring Christoph Waltz. Never has such a talent been wasted in a messy role. Waltz’s best performances have always involved his animated face and eclectic spoken delivery with nobody doing it quite the way he does (testament to 2 Oscars). Yet Mendes brings him in far too late in the film, then literally places him in the shadows when we are finally introduced to him AND gives him slow (and very little) dialogue to work with.

A fantastic car chase through Rome was a goofy action highlight for me and a train fight involving Dave Bautista’s henchmen Mr. Hinx was brutal and well-choreographed but there was little in the way of depth or development. Appearances from Ralph Fiennes’ new M, Money Penny and Q (whose incessant bumbling took him away from his quirky Skyfall persona and into C-3PO territory) felt laboured and obligatory inclusions from the franchise.

I would have swapped Bond’s one-night stand with the impeccable Monica Bellucci for his “love” Madeleine Swann (Ghost Protocol’s Lea Seydoux) any day of the week and rather than rise to the occasion, this Bond stutters along on a series of action beats and enforced tropes from the genre.

Craig has got two classic Bond films now on his resume (Casino Royale and Skyfall) so a third was maybe asking too much and devoted fans will find a fusion of familiar franchise moments but sadly for Mendes though, he should probably say never again on another instalment.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, May 29 2015 10:48AM

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) Dir. Matthew Vaughn

Matthew Vaughn (director of X-Men: First Class) returns with another kick ass action film adapted from the graphic novel The Secret Service by comic book legends Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar.

Moving slightly away from the source material, this British infused intelligence film focuses on secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) who after making a mistake in the field loses one of his agents and passes on a medal to his wife and son saying to get in touch if they ever need help. The boy, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) grows into a bright but wayward youth on an inner city estate and after going for a joyride in a rival gang’s car, he is caught by the fuzz before using his one phone call to contact the mysterious organisation.

The film then follows the “Men In Black” training route with the older Firth (as Tommy Lee Jones) mentoring the wild and crazy adolescent in the finer aspects of gentleman spying. The film plays out with the familiar tropes as Eggsy is antagonist and hot-headed towards both his instructors and his fellow (and privately educated) apprentices before his survival instincts take over as Firth continues to smooth a diamond from the rough.

The main villain, Valentine, is all theatrics and pantomime with Samuel L Jackson channelling the worst of Bond baddies in an OTT performance of lisping and bent baseball caps. His plan is to infiltrate mobile phone communications to instigate violence in the population which will cull the human race to more manageable levels.

A bit of a mess of a film, there is a sublime sequence involving Firth taking on a church congregation with guns and guts sound-tracked to the (still awesome) guitar solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” which was an orgy of fighting fists and comical killings. However, Vaughan’s overuse of CGI is another flaw in what could have been a better film. We know that mountains, planes and skydiving already exists so why not take some time to film them? As it is, a plethora of cheap-ish looking green screen continued to annoy me throughout.

The film is mostly sheen with the few pieces of depth coming through ham-fisted social commentary but it wears its shallow comic book sensibilities unashamedly on its cuffed-linked sleeve.

At times it’s suave and sophisticated and whilst its aims often overreaches its grasp, fans of the genre will approve of the film’s culture clash dynamics and fun action sequences. With a sprinkling of broad comedy, it’s more accessible and less edgy than Kick Ass but a finale set in Valentine’s lair is more Austin Powers than James Bond.

As a spoof on spy films, “Kingsman” mainly strikes its target in a sometimes too polished way but with suave support from Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella (with bladed prosthetic legs) this is a debonair affair which will leave you shaken but not too stirred.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Feb 22 2015 02:45PM

Midlands Movies Feature Review - The Hidden Truth (2015) Dir. Ben Bloore

“No stone will be left unturned”.

Derby filmmaker Ben Bloore has created a trailer/short that forms part of his upcoming spy thriller The Hidden Truth which centres around a terrorist bombing of MI5’s headquarters.

The film begins with a static radio running through 24-hour news programmes with snippets of information being relayed about a bombing in the UK and the film's intro also adds a cleverly edited Prime Minister’s response from David Cameron to the proceedings.

After this scene-setting we fast forward “two weeks later” where a bulb flashes and a woman approaches a door with top secret documents and enters, not before checking her gun is fully loaded. Having crossed the threshold into the room we get a glimpse of a man confined to a chair with his hands behind his back and head slumped down.

It is within these four walls of a darkened room we see the great cinematography of Director of Photography Lucy Young who has used light and dark in high contrast to focus the viewer on the main characters. The mystery surrounding the bomb plot is heightened by the shots of red lighting, blood being washed from hands and an inherent symbolism with the rolling up of sleeves to show this character intends to get the job done no matter what is needed.

The woman is Agent Connor (Jenn Day) who grimaces as her footsteps echo in the darkness and I enjoyed Bloore’s use of an electronic score to build tension in the vein of the Bourne films. As the agent flicks through her files for evidence, she then places what appear to be surveillance photos onto a light-box – a gesture to perhaps to figuratively shed light on the mysterious goings on.

At this point, Bloore has cleverly constructed all the mise-en-scene with no added dialogue other than the intro radio clips. It is this balance that again, maintains the feelings of dread before a phone rings, interrupting the silence as Agent Connor is contacted by what appears to be a senior operative.

Cutting to the man who asks about a safe-house, the director again chooses a great location for the story to play out, this time in a brightly lit day-time scene set in a church graveyard – the death analogy complimented with bells tolling in the background

I enjoyed the sense of foreboding and the unknown in Bloore’s short, perfect for the spy thriller genre and although there are well known tropes, the film is expertly shot, especially getting across meaning with minimum dialogue and the almost pitch-black room serves as a vast void to focus in on the intense interrogation.

As the female agent begins to punch and hit her captive who wishes to see his wife, her anger about losing 6 colleagues in the blast gets the better of her and she takes her eye off the ball. It is here where the tables are turned and the power roles are reversed that we are left by the director. A great cliff-hanger for the audience, it leaves us wanting more of the narrative to explain some of the questions posed. Looking at it another way however, Bloore has also turned in an immaculate short, keeping the topical themes of terrorism and the very-British way of handling it as the main drivers of the piece.

I for one will be keeping a very close eye on how this project develops and encourage readers to seek out this “hidden” gem and its feature follow-up. The audience can’t help but be invested in getting to the truth behind the seeds that are sown in the short film so far.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Feb 13 2015 12:20PM

Local writer/director Paul Gosling leaps from the stage to the movie world for a Leicester Premiere on his new film in February. Midlands Movies finds out more about this exciting jump...

Leicester theatre company Crooked Hand Productions are premiering their first ever film production on the big screen next month as part of De Montfort University's Cultural Exchanges Festival in Leicester.

Their first film is a new comedy-thriller called The Monochrome Spy and stars local actors Rob Leeson, Emma Bamford and Karen Gordon. Leicester independent cinema Phoenix Square will be showing the film on Thursday 26th February at 3.00pm with the screening to be followed by a discussion of cult 60s TV. This conversation will be between the Leicester-based writer and co-director of the film Paul Gosling and Tim Beddows (of Network DVD) and Dick Fiddy (of the BFI).

Set in 1966, the film is an homage to cult British TV shows and the James Bond movies of that era. Making it proved a real challenge for the film-makers given the historical aspects of the film.

"Most people make a short film with a contemporary setting for their first attempt at film-production, but we took a lot of time to try and recreate the 60s wherever possible," said Gosling.

"It was amazing to find all our locations in and around Leicester and we enjoyed support from Athena, Curve and The Little Theatre in the filming process."

Co-director Carolos Dandolo also added, "We have been very lucky to have so many talented local people in our production - from make-up artists, to actors and crew and we're very proud to be presenting the premiere in our home town of Leicester."

Tickets are free for the showing and can be booked here via Ticket Source on this link:


Or call the box office on (0116) 250 6229

For more information about Paul Gosling and Crooked Hand Productions then please see the contact details below:

Email crookedhand@hotmail.co.uk

Official website: www.crookedhandproductions.com

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