Michael Smiley

Michael Smiley

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Glassland Review


OK

Even the lighter moments in this dark Irish drama are tinged with sadness, including a scene in which a tormented mother and son escape through dancing together ... to the strains of Soft Cell's Tainted Love. But the film is anchored by such a solid performance by Jack Reynor (Transformers: Age of Extinction) that it's definitely worth a look.

Reynor plays John, a young guy in Dublin working extra shifts as a cab driver to support his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette) and his younger brother Kit (Harry Nagle), who has been institutionalised with Down's Syndrome and is never visited by his mum, not even on his 18th birthday. But then she's too busy drinking herself into serious illness. John's only support comes from his best pal Sean (Will Poulter), who has problems of his own as his ex (Maria Carlton) is demanding cash to support their young child. When Sean opts to move abroad to find work, John decides to get his mother into rehab, consulting a counsellor (Michael Smiley) who tells him that she will require a lot more than the one week the state can provide.

Things take a bizarre turn from here that isn't very clearly defined, but then writer-director Gerard Barrett isn't interested in explaining all of the details, mainly because he's telling the story from John's frazzled perspective. John lives through all of this a moment at a time, so the past is irrelevant, he seeks brief moments of joy wherever he can find them, and he just gets on with the job at hand, however freaky it may be. Through all of this, Barrett keeps things intense and unsettling, never quite letting the audience get its balance. This bold approach makes us feel almost as overwhelmed as John does.

Continue reading: Glassland Review

Black Sea Review


OK

While this submarine adventure starts out as a brainy thriller with superior production design, it eventually gives in to the demands of the genre: silly plotting and corny melodrama. Screenwriter Dennis Kelly never remotely tries to sell the two big events that cause considerable mayhem for everyone on-screen, so both feel sudden and contrived. At least the cast is sharp enough that the audience is willing to go with it.

It opens in recession-gripped Scotland. After being sacked from the steelworks, Robinson (Jude Law) teams up with fellow unemployed pal Blackie (Konstantin Khabenskiy) to reclaim their dignity by salvaging Nazi gold from a sunken sub in the Black Sea. With finance arranged by Daniels (Scoot McNairy), they assemble a team of Brits and Russians who immediately start re-enacting the Cold War in the rusty Soviet-vintage submarine they'll be using for their heist. Crewmates include a psycho diver (Ben Mendelsohn), a wheezy veteran (David Threlfall) and an 18-year-old (Bobby Schofield) with nothing better to do. But as they skulk along beneath the Russian Fleet, tempers flare and threaten to undermine their mission. Getting their hands on the gold is one thing; making it home alive might be even trickier.

Director Kevin Macdonald keeps the film fast-paced and tense, as the biggest peril this crew faces is in the fiery interaction between themselves. Arguments, paranoia and mistrust lead to violence, which in turn causes a series of problems that threaten the lives of everyone on board the submarine. Frankly, this seems rather far-fetched for a team of supposedly elite mercenaries who know that they need to look out for each other if they have any hope of accomplishing the mission. And with some major plot twists along the way, the story begins to feel like a collection of increasingly implausible obstacles these resourceful men need to overcome.

Continue reading: Black Sea Review

We Are the Freaks Review


OK

This offbeat British drama shows real promise for new filmmaker Justin Edgar, although his relentlessly gimmicky filmmaking style is so attention-grabbing that it makes it nearly impossible to engage with the story or characters. But the bright young cast is very watchable, and even if the script never digs beneath the surface, the film's stylish energy holds our interest.

It's set in 1990 Birmingham, where 18-year-old Jack (Jamie Blackley) is desperate to escape from his boring family and annoying job and go to university, although he'll need a government grant to do that. His best pals Parsons (Mike Bailey) and Chunks (Simon Teal) have their own problems, and over the course of a fateful night these three misfits encounter smart-sexy musician Elinor (Amber Anderson), Parson's pushy girlfriend (Rosamund Hanson) and a ruthless thug (Michael Smiley).

The too-clever script opens with a post-modern monologue in which Jack looks at the camera and says, "I hate it when people in movies talk to the camera." Which pretty much explains the film's sparky style. The problem is that filmmaker Edgar is trying far too hard to deconstruct the genre, avoiding any narrative coherence for a series of random mini-adventures that don't quite connect together. Each of these three guys learns some sort of important lesson over the course of the night, but the film remains resolutely superficial in its approach.

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Svengali Review


Weak

There's enough charming energy in this loose London music scene comedy to keep us entertained, but the plot drives us round the bend by refusing to go anywhere. Yes, this is one of those achingly British films that pulls the rug out from under its characters (and indeed its audience) every time they're threatened with even a moment of happiness.

Our hero is Dixie (Jonny Owen), who leaves rural Wales when he discovers a band on YouTube that he thinks he can manage into stardom. In London, he discovers that the Premature Congratulations (Michael Sosha, Dylan Edwards, Joel Fry and Curtis Thomson) are four hapless young men who make great music but have barely a whiff of common sense between them. So his efforts to promote them are more difficult than expected, especially since his record-exec childhood friend Horsey (Roger Evans) won't give him the time of day. Then just as Dixie's girlfriend Shell (Vicky McClure) gets fed up with his debt-incurring ways, The Prems suddenly become the hottest unsigned band in London.

Not that Dixie is capable of getting them signed to one of the labels clamouring for them. No, this is one of those movies in which everything goes wrong on cue. Not only does success remain tantalisingly out of reach, but Dixie also has problems with a loan shark (Michael Smiley) and a surly record-shop boss (Martin Freeman). And his father is dying too. These are far too many obstacles for a scruffy little movie, and not one of them feels either relevant or necessary. It's merely Owen the screenwriter torturing Owen the actor. He may be relentlessly charming on-screen, but it's all so contrived that we know it's pointless to care about anything.

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Svengali VIP film screening

Michael Smiley - Svengali - VIP film screening at Rich Mix Cinema - Outside Arrivals - London, United Kingdom - Tuesday 11th March 2014

The World's End Review


Good

After Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg and Wright conclude their so-called Cornetto Trilogy with yet another riotously inspired exploration of British culture: the pub crawl. And this time it's apocalyptic! But what makes the film thoroughly endearing is its focus on old friendships that are so well-played that we can't help but find ourselves on-screen even when things get very, very silly.

Pegg plays Gary, the ringleader of his band of school pals. It's been more than 20 years since their failed attempt to visit all 12 pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven. Now approaching 40, Gary hasn't grown up nearly as much as his friends, so it takes a bit of convincing to get the now-settled Andy, Ollie, Pete and Steve (Frost, Freeman, Marsan and Considine) to reunite for a renewed attempt to drink their way through town. Then after the first couple of pints, they start to suspect that something isn't quite right. People are behaving strangely, as if there are alien body snatchers taking over the town. So to avoid attracting attention, the boys just carry on getting blind drunk on their way to the 12th pub, The World's End.

As in the previous films, Pegg and Wright continue developing the characters and their inter-relationships even as everything falls apart around them. Sure, the end of the humanity seems to be upon them, but there's unfinished business between them that needs sorting out, and besides there are more pints to drink. Along the way, things are spiced up as they meet Ollie's sister Sam (Pike), who shocks Gary by refusing to pick up where they left off. They also encounter a former teacher (Brosnan), the town's crazy old man (Bradley) and a shady guy known as The Reverend (Smiley).

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The ABCs of Death Review


Good

With 26 short segments, it's expected that this horror anthology will be hit and miss. But the experiment is an intriguing one, as the producers gave 26 filmmakers a letter of the alphabet and complete artistic freedom. The result is a mix of clever invention, pointless silliness, head-scratching indulgence and blatant misfires. Oddly, while all of them indeed deal with death, only a couple are actually creepy.

From Nacho Vigalondo's Apocalypse to Yoshihiro Nishimura's Zetsumetsu, these films are packed with black humour and grisly violence. Some are produced to a very high standard, while others look like cheesy school projects. Highlights include the mind-bendingly clever Cycle (by Chile's Ernesto Diaz Espinoza), about a guy caught in a freaky time-loop, and XXL (from France's Xavier Gens), a rather revolting commentary on super-thin models. Other viciously inventive clips include Marcel Sarmiento Dogfight, set in a deranged fight club underworld, Jorge Michel Grau's Psycho-inspired Ingrown and Ben Wheatley's Unearthed, which offers a frenetic new perspective on the vampire genre. All of these add some social relevance to their brief scenes of nastiness.

Most shorts weave comedy into the grisliness, such as the Thai short Nuptials (by Banjong Pisathanakun), which takes an amusingly awful turn. Others are more gimmicky: Exterminate (by Angela Bettis) is a witty attempt to kill a spider, while the very brief Miscarriage (by Ti West) ends on a particularly yucky gag. And some are just wrong in every way: Libido (by Indonesia's Timo Tjahjanto) is the most repulsive game show you've ever seen; Hydro-Electric Diffusion (by Norway's Thomas Cappelen Malling) features a Nazi cat tormenting an Allied dog; and Fart (by Japan's Noburu Iguchi) is an indescribably outrageous tale of apocalyptic survival.

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Shell Review


Excellent

With a remarkably vivid sense of life in rural Scotland, this tightly contained drama is an impressive debut for writer-director Graham. There isn't much dialog, and yet the filmmaker is able to evoke a strong sense of internal urgency within the characters. And in the demanding title role, newcomer Pirrie is magnetic.

Shell (Pirrie) is a 17-year-old girl who lives with her father Pete (Mawle) at their roadside petrol garage in the middle of nowhere along a highway through the Highlands. Devoted to caring for her dad, who has epilepsy, Shell knows all the customers, including a slightly too-friendly businessman (Smiley) who travels through here regularly. And Pete and Shell are willing to help stranded travellers, such as a couple (Dickie and Hickey) that needs help when they run into a deer on the road. Meanwhile, nice local guy Adam (De Caestecker) wants to take Shell away from here, but the thought of that triggers slightly too-affectionate feelings about her dad.

The film is a marvel of tiny details, as Shell and Pete communicate without the need for many words. And Graham's cameras capture every sideways glance, hint of a smile, light touch and uncomfortable scowl to let us see how isolated this father and daughter are from the rest of civilisation. This style of interaction creates tension that sometimes feels rather dangerous. For example, after Pete takes a trip into town, Shell sniffs him like a jealous wife. Yes, these are raw performances that are often unnerving. And since we see everything through Pirrie's expressive, haunted, hopeful eyes, we can't help but be drawn into her world.

Continue reading: Shell Review

Kill List Review


Extraordinary
British filmmaker Wheatley follows up his terrific debut Down Terrace with another genre-bending film that continually catches us off guard. This time we're watching a freak-out horror movie wrapped in a thoughtful exploration of the tides of relationships. Among other freak-outs.

Jay and Shel (Maskell and Buring) have a mercurial marriage, with full-tilt arguments followed by moments of tender closeness. Perhaps this has to do with their military backgrounds, but their young son Sam (Simpson) doesn't really understand. And neither does Jay's army pal Gal (Smiley), who visits for a tense dinner party with his girlfriend Fiona (Fryer). Then Jay and Gal embark on a business trip as a hitman duo, and as they progress through their kill list, they begin to fall into the clutches of what looks like a sinister pagan cult.

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Down Terrace Review


Excellent
Two weeks in the life of a family in Brighton turns into the most original British crime drama in years. Understated and deeply unsettling, this is a remarkable low-budget feature debut for director-cowriter Wheatley.

Bill (Robert Hill) is a self-proclaimed "simple person" living with his pragmatic wife Maggie (Deakin) and short-fused son Karl (Robert's real-life son Robin). When Karl finds out that his girlfriend (Kerry Peacock) is pregnant, it almost takes his mind of the shady, increasingly messy business dealings he and his dad are involved in. And their friends (Schaal, Way, Kempner and Smiley) aren't helping at all. So as trouble brews with their bosses in London, murder becomes the only option.

Continue reading: Down Terrace Review

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