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By midlandsmovies, Apr 28 2019 07:29AM



Avengers: Endgame (2019) Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo


What I’ve enjoyed in the MCU (more so than the current rebooted Star Wars) is the actual inclusion of loving relationships. Be it between father-son figures (Guardians, Spider-Man), brothers (Thor) or partners (Iron Man & Pepper Potts, Captain America and Peggy Carter) an aspect so often overlooked is how these “superficial” Hollywood blockbusters – they’re anything but in most cases – deal with human’s love/hate for one another.


So for all their bombast and CGI battles, Avengers: Infinity War was the first part of the end of an EMOTIONAL journey that both the characters, and audiences, have experienced over the last 10 years and it's what underpins Endgame throughout.


So story wise, where are we? Well, after Thanos’ success in gaining the infinitely gauntlet and ‘clicking’ half the universe’s living life away, the surviving members of the Avengers attempt to reverse the loss of their loved ones. Again, the driving factor is love, longing and personal connections and it is why Endgame is ultimately a huge success.


5 years after the event, Scott Lang returns from the quantum realm (seen in Ant-Man and the Wasp) to suggest they can reverse the horrors caused to earth by travelling back in time to snatch the infinity stones before Thanos can collect them himself. Whilst taking pot shots at time-travel paradoxes (Back to the Future is called “bullshit”) the remaining group successfully pull together and, in a nod to Back to the Future 2, head back in time to some of the most important parts of the MCU already.


One group heads to New York (essentially re-inserting themselves into Avengers: Assemble) to get the time stone, mind stone and the space stone. The film brilliantly balances a complex time-jumping narrative with a fun fan-loving re-imagining of the MCU’s greatest hits. It’s like re-discovering your favourite album with the old hits given a fresh new spin.


Rocket Raccoon and Thor travel back in time to Asgard and although their task is to get the reality stone from Jane Foster (referencing Thor: Dark World), the film focuses on Thor’s emotional reunion with his mother whom he knows will soon die.

The film is therefore a superb culmination of the 22-film story but a loving book of remembrance for them as well. Every character is given their moment to shine and as Thanos begins to uncover their plot and re-adjust time himself, the movie builds to a, somewhat inevitable, crescendo of spectacular battles for the fate of the universe.


At three hours, the film IS long. But other than a rather slow first 45 minutes – which to be fair gets the numerous plates-a-spinning and does some much needed reflection and character development – the main story moves at pace and by the end I was itching for more. An extended but poignant ending is Return-of-the-King long but in this case it feels more than totally justified.


Comedy and drama are expertly balanced and the narrative uses time to circularly return us back to the focus on Iron Man and how this blockbuster behemoth began. And like my thoughts on Civil War, I reiterate how Chris Evans is the unsung hero of the MCU. In a world of cynicism, snarks and quips, both in real-life and in their movie universe, his excellent portrayal of pure honesty, innocence and heroism is such a needed antidote that it’s no wonder why his story finale is so satisfying.


The film also focuses on the core ‘original’ Avengers – much to its credit – but the combo of Banner/Hulk was a bit strange and although Hemsworth is now essentially a ‘comedy’ Thor, I would love to see more of his adventures with Rocket. We also return to Scarlett Johansson’s history with Jeremy Renner and they get one of the most affecting scenes in the movie.


Are there any negatives? Well aside from the aforementioned slow start, I unfortunately felt the use of Captain Marvel as an all-powerful being that can change the course of the story on her own a little bit redundant. With only one film under her belt, the character here is a blunt demi-god that feels more part of Marvel’s next stage than someone who has a real history with the (movie) fans.


But speaking of fans, we do get lovely cameos from previous stars Rene Russo as Frigga, John Slattery as Howard Stark, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One and most welcoming of all for me, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter. Plus many others are included and Stan Lee’s sad posthumous cameo reminds us all where everything started.


At the conclusion, the Russos have delivered exactly what was needed by assembling a perfect narrative, cast and, more difficultly, a rewarding ending to the most epic of stories. Endgame works as a great sequel to Infinity War but it’s so much more than that. Their expert construction of so many puzzle pieces, a global shared audience pop-culture experience and, without understatement, a cinema-changing franchise, everything in Endgame is not just perfect comic-book fare, but the pure pinnacle of movie entertainment and was a gargantuan and gratifying game I never wanted to end.


★★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jun 10 2018 08:51AM

12 Underrated films that may have passed you by since 2010


Despite your huge collection of DVDs, BluRays, boxsets, collector’s editions and streaming services, have you ever found yourself staring into space struggling to find a film to watch? With so many options available at just a touch of a button, the choice can be overwhelming. However, we’re going to provide a friendly list for your viewing pleasure as we showcase a dozen great films from the last few years that may have slipped under your radar.


Whether it be quirky documentaries, underground sci-fi or a splash of comedy, we have something for you. Take a read of the list below of our highly recommended, but often little-seen, movies – especially if you’re in the mood for something different to the usual multiplex blockbusters or critics’ darlings. And hit us up on Twitter @midlandsmovies with some of your own suggestions!




Coherence (2014) Dir. James Ward Byrkit

Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit this is an 89 minute thrilling sci-fi mystery set at a suburban USA dinner party that pulls at the audience’s emotions and brainstems equally. The film sets up a dinner meal and after discussion of a passing comet, the electricity goes off and the group explore their neighbourhood which leads to a mysterious occurance.. To say too much would be to spoil the surprise but with a similar tone to the low budget film Primer (2004) as well as the confusing and twisting narrative of Triangle (2009) the handheld realism leads to a brilliantly constructed film that demands a second viewing in order to fully appreciate the looping plot.



Stoker (2013) Dir. Park Chan-wook

A tense psychological thriller from the director who gave us OldBoy, Stoker again covers dark family secrets and was written surprisingly by Wentworth Miller of Prison Break. Avoiding any happy ever after clichés, the film has sinister fairy tale imagery from wooded copses, creepy spiders and phallic rocks to heighten the Hitchcockian themes of betrayal, deception and revenge. A trio of Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, bring strangely winning performances in a social drama with a mythic quality. A far-fetched but fascinating fable.




Tim’s Vermeer (2014) Dir. Teller

Directed by stage magician Teller, this documentary gives us a portrait of Tim Jenison, a man who spends 5 years testing his theory which proposes how Renaissance Dutchman Johannes Vermeer possibly used optical instruments to help create such realistic paintings. A friend of Teller’s magician partner Penn Jillette, Tim comes across as a barmy garage-style bonkers scientist who has worked with computer graphics but has no formal artistic training. In his quest to be authentic, Tim also learns to use traditional methods to render not just the painting he admires but the entire room. The doc constructs a brilliant study of one man’s drive and his crazy courage to complete his personal canvas.




Frank (2014) Dir. Lenny Abrahamson

Based on the idiosyncratic UK comedic stylings of Frank Sidebottom, this movie is a fictionalised account of an eccentric musician trying to find his calling in life. The musical journey is seen through the eyes of Jon (a brilliantly naive Domhnall Gleeson) who leaves his humdrum life to work on an album of bizarre instrumentations and unusual compositions. The lead singer Frank (Michael Fassbender) persistently wears an over-sized homemade head and the film follows the erratic interactions and odd relationships between band members. Fassbender delivers a virtuoso performance as the comical yet infectious front man trying to connect with world he’s closed himself off to in a screwball study of creativity and mental hindrances.




White Bird in a Blizzard (2015) Dir. Gregg Araki

Set in a well-designed 80s of big hair, big phones and bigger boom boxes, the film follows the disappearance of unhappy mother Eve Connor (Eva Green) with flashbacks punctuating the modern day narrative strands to show her daughter Kat (Shailene Woodley) as she explains her drunken mother’s loveless marriage. The film may seem like Gone Girl-lite but its mysterious take on small-town life has echoes of American Beauty with its voiceovers, repressed fathers and dinner table silences. The comparisons continue with a sexless marriage and blossoming sexualised teenagers. The movie bounces easily between cold relationships to seduction secrets to create a winning formula of nosey next-door neighbours and night time naughtiness.




Snowpiercer (2014) Dir. Bong Joon-ho

All aboard for this South Korean/USA action film which tells the story of Curtis, a rebel on a fascist train that encircles the globe now that mankind has caused an accidental ice age. The snow train is a prison with the poor and destitute forced to live in squalor at the tail end whilst the rich live like royalty near the locomotive’s front. Curtis (a bearded Chris Evans) teams up with Edgar (Jamie Bell) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer) to overthrow the guards and with Tilda Swinton as a norther- accented minister with a nasty sadistic side, the movie is an original take on a tested formula. Joon-ho delivers the appropriate amount of fist fights and combines this with his artistic Eastern outlook with some inventive Hollywood-style smack downs. Although the premise is absurd, the audience will be pulled along for the wintery ride enjoying the emotional tracks the director lays out for us.




Joe (2014) Dir. David Gordon Green

After a glut of awful b-movie films, Nic Cage gets to tackle headier material by playing a violent loner in the Deep South where he stars as father figure to Tye Sheridan. We get a sizzling slice of Southern life played out amongst rural blue collar workers who turn to violence whilst trying to maintain their dysfunctional family dynamics. Alongside Cage’s muted dramatic chops and the rusty trucks, the two play out a tragic and cruel drama. The director elicits a cornucopia of emotions as we witness passionate kindred bonding and drunken falling. Cage is perfectly suited to the grizzled everyman and shows why he is still a watchable performer given the right material.




Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) Dir. Mark Hartley

Following Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who in the 1980s bought low-budget scripts to make even lower budget films, this documentary explores the ups and downs of the schlock movie business. Remembered for low budget action “classics” such as the Death Wish franchise as well as Delta Force, the film actually exposes some of the creative risks (but with little money) the cousins took as they tried to reflect, and sometimes create, the trends and fashions of the day. They made entertaining, amusing yet ultimately quite dreadful films but despite the low-low budgets, their productions focus on a sense of fun and the film provides a comedic look on how not to run a studio.




Love & Mercy (2015) Dir. Bill Pohlad

This biographical drama follows the life of Brian Wilson during the height of the Beach Boys’ fame in the 60s and his turbulent later years in the 80s where a confused Wilson deals with controlling advisors. The swinging section has a brilliant Paul Dano focusing on his song-writing whilst in the 80s, Cusack plays a more vulnerable Wilson who gets around with his new wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) and Paul Giamatti’s creepy psychotherapist. The Beach Boys’ music punctuates the film as Dano discovers his genius pop-hits and Cusack’s understatement is the flipside of Wilson’s fractured subconscious. Experimental in narrative, the film focuses on the brilliant brain of Brian through 2 different actors in a perfect portrayal of the mastermind musician.




Grand Piano (2014) Dir. Eugenio Mira

In the vein of Buried and Phone Booth Grand Piano is a taught ‘one-location’ thriller where a returning pianist protégé Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is threatened with murder during his comeback concert. An assassin promises to shoot him if he gets just one note wrong in his performance and the tension rises as a sniper’s laser sight passes over his sheet music. The pianist comes to terms that both he and his wife in the audience are at the hands of this man as he desperately tries to figure a way out using coded messages to escape with his life. A fast rhythm ratchets up the stakes using creative editing, along with a fantastic score coming from Frodo’s fingers himself. Any low-budget limitations are set aside as Grand Piano plays to its strengths like a fine composer.




As Above So Below (2014) Dir. John Erick Dowdle

Academic Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) delves into the catacombs under Paris in a found footage horror as she and her cohorts look for the philosopher’s stone, a powerful but possibly cursed historical relic. The jumps, scares and the Descent-style claustrophobia come across in every frame with the cast filming in the real caves and stone corridors under the City of Light. With a shadowy sense of foreboding around every corridor twist and turn, the concept is as old as the hills but the ancient caves contain enough no-frills shocks for a Saturday night scare-fest.




Life Itself (2014) Dir. Steve James

From the director of the Oscar nominated documentary Hoop Dreams comes this film based upon legendary film critic Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name. From his humble beginnings as a film critic through to the co-writing of the cult film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the film covers the major points of his life using interviews and archive footage as well as excerpts from his infamous show with Gene Siskel. A powerful but humorous writer, Ebert not only scored a Pulitzer for his work, he also helped elevate film criticism and established himself as the foremost authority on the subject. The doc later moves to Ebert’s hard fought struggle with illness but show how great his outlook was, not just through his career around the movies, but as a mantra for life itself.


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, May 12 2016 07:44PM

Captain America: Civil War (2016) Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo


With the underwhelming, disappointing and chaotic Age of Ultron and the fun but ultimately inconsequential Ant-Man comes the next instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the third Captain America outing attempts to make up for a few missteps. And boy does it.


Let’s get this off the bat. At this point in the MCU, if you haven’t seen the other films (and for this one especially Iron Man, Captain America and at least one Avengers) then this movie will not make a great deal of sense for the uninitiated. That negative aside (and true of most sequels, although this is now the thirteenth entry for Marvel) Captain America: Civil War continues the darker and more realistic tone of the directors’ previous sequel from 2014.


The plot is far simpler than the messy ‘Age of Ultron’ with world governments wanting to put the reins on the Avengers who they see as an unaccountable vigilante group answerable to no one. Threatening their freedom to right wrongs they are asked to sign an accord to stop another global catastrophe (good luck with that) similar to their exploits in New York (Avengers), Sokovia (Age of Ultron) and Washington DC (Captain America: The Winter Soldier).


Whilst Tony Stark thinks this is a fair request – he feels guilt for the civilian casualties of previous battles – Steve Rogers disagrees and so begins a split in their previously rock-solid team. With Bucky Barnes (the winter soldier) being searched for after a series of terrorist atrocities, the group is torn apart and Captain protects his old friend whilst becoming a fugitive himself for his cause.


The film has a nice twist in the fact that the all-American good guy is cast as the anti-hero whilst the film goes to some dark places as his previous pal/new nemesis Tony Stark (Iron Man) is shown to struggle in his attempts to control his obsessions. With shadowy links to everyone’s past, Daniel Bruhl (from Inglorious B*sterds & Rush) is excellent as Zemo, who pulls the strings in a much more believable way than Ultron. The film should be commended for its reluctance to use a CGI/heavy-prosthetic covered villain/robot/alien and is all the better for it as the last few Marvel films have had less of a human story at their core.


Here there is a better balance of characters and their screen-time and I feel sorry for Joss Whedon who was given a tough task of following his astounding Avengers. Far too much of his sequel was used to build a world for this film. However, Whedon’s loss is our gain.


Great action sequences and moving scenes again help ground the film but an airport scrap between the two warring factions is simply “amazing” in all “senses” of the word. One of the main reasons is the first appearance of Spider-Man in this universe and my scepticism of seeing this classic character rebooted again was washed away with a great fun-filled performance from British actor Tom Holland. He brings the light-hearted joy back to the character, sitting in a zone that’s more Tobey Maguire than Andrew Garfield which was a huge plus for me.


The film also has an ‘Avengers’ vibe – the well-known characters meet for the first time and “suit up” – and the familiar faces of Black Widow and Hawkeye are joined by new-comers Ant-Man (a fun Paul Rudd) and Vision (a serious Paul Bettany) ensuring there’s still light and dark throughout.


With an ending that’s as gripping as it is meaningful, the last but not least important aspect is Chris Evans as Captain himself. Originally somewhat of a clichéd damp squib of a character – the 40s hero is a war-time stereotype – Marvel have created an absolute pivotal role for the superhero and a huge part of that is due to Evans. His honest delivery and honourable persona holds the whole piece together and whilst the action and excitement are ever-present, Evans’ superb approach creates a (narrative) freedom that Cap’ himself would be proud of.


9/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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