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By midlandsmovies, Jan 11 2020 09:06AM



Get On With It


Directed by Richard Steele


2020


The fanfare and lights of the classic 20th Century Fox logo is one of my first memories ever of cinema – in front of Star Wars: A New Hope of course. From there, more and more production company logos – the mountain of Paramount, the globe of Universal, the badge of Warner Brothers – flooded into my memory and became a staple of the movie-going experience.


Richard Steele’s new short Get On With It starts with the premise that by the 21st century, the less than clever foxes at Hollywood began adding more and more logos before a film began.


In reality, the old monopolies of the past were actually making way for co-funded productions so every company involved – especially those fronting the money – got their individual logos (now animated too) plonked at the beginning of a screening.


But how many are too many? Well, this Midlands micro-short tackles some of these themes in increasing funny and frustrating ways.


From space to futuristic design, the short even nods to the fact that some are so like film now that they could be confused with the movie actually starting. The logos also echo a Bond-style liquid, giving a shout out to a franchise famous for its opening sequences.


A few barbs thrown in the direction of the absurd nature of these logos also appeared. And ridiculous names and the repetition of the logos in the credits also come in for ridicule.


The short is a wry take on one of some cinema audiences’ bugbear of endless logos but it did very much remind me of a similar joke from Family Guy. It’s one note theme and short run time makes it feel a little like a comedy show skit rather than a fully formed short however. The end when the film starts, or does it, gave me a naughty chuckle though.


In the end (or beginning?) the short is obviously a personal pet peeve from the filmmaker and sends up a subject we can all relate to in a slightly cynical but humorous way.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jan 10 2020 06:54PM



Midlands Review - Damn Good Pie


Directed by Lewis Clements


2020


Elsy Pictures


Elsy Pictures serves up a dinner from hell with Lewis Clements' short film Damn Good Pie, a horror comedy engrossed in a world where “pie makes everybody happy”.


We are made immediately aware within the first few frames that this is no ordinary family sat at the dinner table. The father is joined by his wife, his son and his daughter but he acts as if he doesn't have this company as he brazenly sniffs his dinner, his pie, licking his lips. “That's good pie” he announces.


As the family say grace it is revealed the pies they are about to eat have been made with great sacrifice, there is a loud thud upstairs when this is said and the mother looks worried as she glances at the ceiling. This must be regular occurrence in this household as no one else appears to be concerned.


Elements of David Lynch's signature surrealism surround Damn Good Pie as we are unpleasantly treated to a gross fifteen seconds of the father consuming his pie. The camera lingers on his lips as he savours every bite, the sound of each bite was almost unbearable, something I think Clements intended and will enjoy knowing he has succeeded.


But not everyone is enjoying their food. The son, Edward, seems uninterested and instead of relentlessly enjoying his meal like his Mother and Father he is patting the pie with his fork, his mind elsewhere. Offended, his Father demands him to stop and reminds him that they do not pat pie in his house.


Hilariously, Edward replies back with a line I'm sure every parent has heard at some point “but Danny at school is allowed”. Now threatened with being sent upstairs with no dinner, Edward shakes in fear begging his Father to reconsider but to no avail.


What exactly waits upstairs is unclear but it is safe to say it is not welcoming, the mood changes and the score by Robson Janser & Daniel Kanenas creates an uneasy atmosphere.


Setting a film or a scene during a family dinner has always been a great opportunity to explore the dynamic within the household as it is something we can all easily relate to. I was reminded of the infamous dinner scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where an outsider also cannot conform to the rest of the family's behaviour as we lay witness to sheer lunacy and outrageous motives.


There is not an ounce of fat in Clement's film, the writing is razor sharp and the direction focused on featuring comedy and horror in abundance. I really enjoyed making the comparison between the pie in the film to religion. The faith that the father has in pie is unprecedented, and when his own child appears unfaithful, his solution is to deliver him upstairs, for someone of a higher position to mete out punishment.


In a statement by the writer and director Lewis Clements, it says he is looking to make a connection between “British society and bizarre horror” which definitely translates on screen here. That steely determination to protect what you love is shown tenfold but in this case what is being cherished and loved are...pies. Undoubtedly Damn Good Pie has delightfully mixed “the mundane with the fantastical” resulting in a deliciously fun, short film.



Guy Russell

Twitter @budguyer


By midlandsmovies, Jan 7 2020 09:36PM



Midlands Spotlight - Movie-related shows at Leicester Comedy Festival 2020


We take a wry look and recommend some of the best film-related shows at the annual and hilarious Leicester Comedy Festival taking place in February 2020 at venues all across the city.


For these and all other shows check out the full programme at the official website https://comedy-festival.co.uk/


Nathan D’Arcy Roberts: Is My Dad Denzel Washington?

Saturday, 08 February 2020 Time: 4:30pm (5:30pm) Doors open: 4:10pm Entry: £5 OR PWYW

Venue: Just the Tonic at The Shed - Vault

Nathan D'Arcy Roberts (BBC Introducing Radio 4 Comedy Award nominee) is bringing his exciting new show to the Leicester Comedy Festival. Raised having never met his father Nathan embarks on a journey to confirm his belief that the identity of his estranged papa is none other than the Oscar-winning actor.

https://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/nathan-darcy-roberts-is-my-dad-denzel-washington


Jokes On Us present MADDIE CAMPION: MAD MONEY WORK IN PROGRESS

Wednesday, 12 February 2020 Time: 7:45pm (8:45pm)Doors open: 7:25pm Entry: FREE

Venue: Manhattan 34 - Downstairs bar

In 2008 Katie Holmes didn't reprise her role as Rachel Dawes in the acclaimed Batman Begins follow up, The Dark Knight. Instead she chose to make the movie "Mad Money", which was both a critical and commercial flop. In this stand-up show Maddie Campion argues that Katie Holmes made the right decision.

https://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/maddie-campion-mad-money-work-in-progress/


COMEDY FILM NIGHT: TRADING PLACES

Friday, 14 February 2020 Time: 8:00pm (9:55pm)Doors open: 7:40pm Entry: £7.00

Venue: Harborough Theatre - Theatre

Upper-crust executive Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and down-and-out hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) are the subjects of a bet by brokers Mortimer and Randolph Duke. An employee of the Dukes, Winthorpe is framed by the brothers for a crime he didn't commit, with the siblings then installing the street-smart Valentine in his position. When Winthorpe and Valentine uncover the scheme, they set out to turn the tables on the Dukes.

https://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/comedy-film-night-trading-places/


COMEDY FILM NIGHT: FOUR LIONS

Friday, 14 February 2020 Time: 6:00pm (7:35pm)Doors open: 5:40pm Entry: £7.00

Venue: Harborough Theatre - Theatre

Four Lions tells the story of a group of British jihadists who push their abstract dreams of glory to the breaking point. As the wheels fly off, and their competing ideologies clash, what emerges is an emotionally engaging (and entirely plausible) farce. In a storm of razor-sharp verbal jousting and large-scale set pieces, Four Lions is a comic tour de force; it shows that while terrorism is about ideology, it can also be about idiots.

https://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/comedy-film-night-four-lions/


MCUSICAL: THE UNOFFICIAL MARVEL PARODY MUSICAL WORK IN PROGRESS

Sunday, 16 February 2020 Time: 2:30pm (3:30pm) Doors open: 2:10pm Entry: FREE OR PWYW

Venue: Grays@LCB Depot - Lightbox

MCUsical: The Unofficial Parody Musical retells the last 10 years of your favourite superhero cinematic films through an hour of your favourite Broadway songs! You'll love it 3000! (Please note that this show is a Work-in-Progress showing)

https://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/mcusical-the-unofficial-marvel-parody-musical-work-in-progress/


Dad’s Army Radio Show

Monday, 17 February 2020 Time: 7:30pm (9:30pm) Doors open: 7:10pm Entry: £12.00 - £15.00

Venue: Harborough Market Hall

Watch as your favourite, classic BBC sitcom (and film!) comes to life with just two actors, two microphones and plenty of sound effects! Be transported back to Walmington as David Benson and Jack Lane work from original radio scripts, vintage music and all of Perry and Croft's beloved characters and catch phrases.

https://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/dads-army-radio-show-harborough-market-hall/


Hats Off To Laurel and Hardy

Saturday, 22 February 2020 Time: 8:00pm (10:00pm) Doors open: 7:40pm Entry: £10.00

Venue: The Guildhall - The Great Hall

The award-winning Lucky Dog bring their internationally renowned biopic about the best-loved comedy duo of all-time back to Leicester Guildhall. Widely regarded as being the most accurate show ever written about The Boys, it is the closest thing you can get to seeing the original pair in action.

https://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/hats-off-to-laurel-and-hardy/


Notflix: The Improvised Musical

Saturday, 22 February 2020 Time: 8:00pm (9:00pm) Doors open: 7:40pm Entry: £12.00

Venue: Curve - Studio - Curve - Studio

Five-star, total sell out show Edinburgh Fringe 2016-2018 and Vaults Festival 2017-2019. Did we mention the cast are making it up as they go along? Did we mention it's a musical? Featuring a live band and original, improvised songs.

https://comedy-festival.co.uk/event/notflix-the-improvised-musical/



By midlandsmovies, Jan 4 2020 08:56AM



Jojo Rabbit (2020) Dir. Taika Waititi


Based on Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, Taika Waititi follows up family-friendly Thor: Ragnarok with the decidedly un-family friendly Jojo Rabbit. Set during World War II, Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a small boy who is part of the Hitler youth and is given the nickname ‘Jojo Rabbit’ after failing to kill a bunny as part of the group’s activities.


Later, his discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden a Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their home. Alongside them are the well-established funny folk Sam Rockwell and Rebel Wilson as Nazi officers buffooning their way through their authoritarian roles.


Yet director Taika Waititi saves the worst for himself though. He plays a “comically” inept take on Hitler himself, as a projection by young Jojo. But it’s an infantile performance plucked from a pantomime – no doubt intentional as the boy's conscious – but resulting in zero laughs. I seriously mean, not one.


And the script sadly doesn't quite nail the balance between the satire, pratfalls and serious scenes. Shocking scenes of Jews hanging from the gallows in a town square should sit cleverly and uncomfortably with the lighthearted moments but seem wildly out of place given the failing humour here.


It’s not that its offensive either. Hell, from my favourite Four Lions (suicide bombers) to Team America (US imperialism) via Life of Brian (religion) and the most relevant of all, Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, incredibly serious subject matter can be made funny and thoughtful given the appropriate angle.


And Jewish comedians Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, The Dictator) and Mel Brooks – whose 1967 satire The Producers is this film’s most obvious parallel with this film – have taken so much more successful stabs at similar social criticism and the historical abuses of our shared past.


In addition, the excellent Scarlett Johansson delivers a rather fantastic dramatic performance that has been sadly dropped in from another movie altogether. And Stephen Merchant's Gestapo cameo is pure Herr Otto Flick from British TV sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!


Style wise, there’s elements of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom with a parallel between the young scouts and the Hitler youth as well as that director’s dry editing and primary colour palette.


The black comedy opening mixing The Beatles’ German-language and upbeat hit “Komm gib mir deine Hand” with actual archive footage of screaming young Nazis at rallies, is a small diamond in the rough. The Seig Heil hand gesture not going amiss here either but it’s all downhill from this beginning. So rather than continuing clever sideswipes like this, the clown-ish, and again, juvenile take on the Nazis and specifically the Führer himself is truly a joke vacuum.


The film does attempt to build a relationship between the young Jojo and Elsa as he questions the Jewish stereotypes he’s been told on the way to an enlightenment. These young actors do very well with the more tactful ideas here but once more, the tone of individual scenes don’t coalesce into a more successful whole. And I don't buy the argument that every poorly-drawn character is "seen through the eyes of a child". It's a sad excuse for fair criticism.


It’s a shame then that this possibly deep and meaningful film loses its nuance because the black comedy laughs were simply not there for me. Polarising film critics already, I throw my lot in with the commendable but flawed bunch. Ultimately comedy is one of the most subjective genres there is, but for me Jojo Rabbit is an unsuccessful satire absent of enough laughs to make it anything more than an admirable misfire.


★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Dec 22 2019 11:04PM



Midlands Review - On in 15


Directed by Joseph Archer


2019


On in 15 is a new short from filmmaker Joseph Archer and is set backstage at a gig during the hedonistic days of 1990s Cool Britannia.


After a band frontman (Ryland played by Sky Cheeba) falls into a drug-induced blackout 15 minutes before show time, band member Simon (Tobias Cornwell) tries to keep everyone calm whilst manager Martin (Christopher Mulvin) screams his concerns to anyone within earshot about the impending show.


With the background noise of a waiting crowd heard from afar which sets the scene, the true technical achievement is that the entire short is filmed in one take. No digital edits or clever cutting here, the filmmaker keeps the characters in one space but follows them as each one enters into the pre-show problems.


One take shots have been a staple of cinema over the years and can be seen in a variety of genres including Ray Liotta’s entrance to the club in Goodfellas, Park Chan-Wook’s corridor fight in Oldboy and Children of Men, Roma AND Gravity from Alfonso Cuarón.


Although working with a lower budget here, much like those movies this sequence requires a huge degree of planning and complexity which is done more than successfully in this short.


The technique is used to its best when switching between the characters and although the location is just one place – and a rather sparse set – the clever movement of the camera in On in 15 is certainly impressive.


With all the cast given just the one chance to get it right, the “oner” technique is fascinating as the short plays out a bit like a small act of theatre. Although the performances are a little over-the-top at times, given the nature of the piece some exaggerated drama has been creatively used to take the place of camera cuts and edits.


With stage manager Jasmine (Maya Moes) and fellow band-mates Charlie (Ed Newman) and Miche (Phoebe Farrington) joining the melee, the lack of a lead singer starts to raise the stakes as no-one wants to take on the role. But the decision is made to try and get him to vomit up the drugs although that proves problematic, and messy, too.


I have to admit I was slightly confused as to the band’s career level as the crowd overdub sounds more like a stadium but the members have day-jobs and there’s talk of playing weddings. As someone who learnt guitar during the Britpop era and played in bands in the 00s, a bit sharper detail would add to the realism. However, the battle and conflict between a day job and a creative passion is something many people face and is a relevant story arc within the main narrative.


That said, that pet peeve doesn’t impact the short as it is more comedic than a documentary and the quick fire dialogue is blasted back and forth to maintain the film’s pace. Again, this helps to keep interest up in the absence of other shots.


As more shocking revelations occur the short works better as it goes along as the camera moves between the groups of people and their mini-dramas, and the writing stays sharp and witty. The technical aspects are a joy of course and the detailed planning of such a device is impressively delivered. However, that shouldn’t take away from the tight script either.


In the end then, On in 15 is an excellent slice of music fun and just this one shot contains more characters and story beats than many other more conventionally made comedy-dramas.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Nov 20 2019 03:46PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 7


This month we check out new releases YESTERDAY (from Danny Boyle), THE KING (from David Michôd), HAIL SATAN? (from Penny Lane) and BOOKSMART (from Olivia Wilde).


Scroll down to read the reviews:





Yesterday (2019) Dir. Danny Boyle


Himesh Patel plays Jack Malik in this musical fantasy where a guitar-playing shelf-stacker becomes the only person in the world to remember that The Beatles existed after he survives a bike-crash during a global blackout. The screenplay by Richard Curtis is suitably nimble and light-hearted and after discovering his predicament, Jack decides to take credit for the infamous songs of the Fab-Four’s back catalogue. The more than likeable Lily James plays Jack’s friend and possible love interest Ellie, and she helps him cut a demo of their greatest hits. With audiences going wild for the classic tracks, Jack’s career rushes to worldwide stardom with Ed Sheeran appearing as himself and a ruthless Kate McKinnon as Hollywood music manager Debra Hammer. Probably biased (and certainly a film for fans) my love for The Beatles definitely helped my enjoyment, as the film plays with the song titles, famous stories, the background of the band's music and we even get to visit their hometown of Liverpool. The support cast are also good, especially Sanjeev Bhaskar and Meera Syal as Jack’s parents who barely listen as he plays “his" new song "Let It Be" in the family front room. With over half of the budget reportedly going on the rights to The Beatles’ songs, every penny has been well spent with the tracks, and a score incorporating their various melodies, bringing joy and sadness in equal measure. With fun and jokey performances, heartfelt (and maybe schmaltzy at times) storytelling as well as the obligatory but still legendary music, everything comes together in this captivating comedy.


★★★★



The King (2019) Dir. David Michôd


Back at University I did a course called Shakespeare on Screen and ever since I have been somewhat obsessed by how the Bard’s work has been adapted for movies. And so hopes were high for medieval drama The King which is inspired by Henry IV: Part 1, Henry IV: Part 2 and Henry V. With gorgeous cinematography by Adam Arkapaw, this Netflix period piece had all the fascinating elements of a deep dive into royal politics and war. However, despite a great start whereby the playboy Henry, Prince of Wales (Timothée Chalamet) reluctantly but successfully succeeds his war-mongering father, the film quickly veers into mind-numbingly dull drama and tediousness. The support is great, Joel Edgerton as Falstaff brings a lot of charm, Robert Pattinson as The Dauphin of France is a sleazy delight and Sean Harris is solid as the duplicitous William Gascoigne. However, the carbuncle-growing pace and lacklustre dialogue slows down every dramatic development of the plot to a complete standstill. As Henry eventually succumbs to the war merchants who desire the King to show his strength, the film STILL doesn’t draw your attention - wasting as it does every possibly interesting plot point. Stick with Olivier and Branagh for the definitive Henry V takes and avoid this wearisome run-though of Willy’s work.


★★



Hail Satan? (2019) Dir. Penny Lane


A documentary about The Satanic Temple seems ripe for a warts-and-all exposé on the demonic practices of its debauched members but prepare yourself to be very surprised with new film Hail Satan?. The film opens with the background to the temple’s inception and the subsequent negative media coverage. From the 70s, the “satanic panic” labelled members outcasts at best – and murderers and abusers at worst. However, the film’s politics are much more centred on its tolerance and fight for religious freedoms. After a Ten Commandments monument is set up on State grounds in Arkansas, the group, led by Lucien Greaves (not his real name, and also his “real” name is not his real name), take steps to advocate the separation of church and state. This is done in the main by suggesting their statue of Baphomet (a goat-headed, angel-winged demon) should also be placed on the grounds to maintain impartiality. And more revealing, the film shows that far from the religious extremists that is suggested by its name, the group are dripping in self-conscious irony, media-awareness and tolerance of alternative lifestyles. Although the film shows some internal rifts within the temple's leadership, from after school clubs to the cleaning of beaches, the diverse members in fact commit themselves to well-thought out political and eco causes. At 95 minutes, Hail Satan? doesn’t overstay its welcome and disputes the spurious claims heaped upon the temple whilst exposing the hypocrisy of certain elements of far-right Christianity.


★★★★



Booksmart (2019) Dir. Olivia Wilde

What a year it’s been for Olivia Wilde who starred in the fantastic A Vigilante earlier in 2019 (our review) and now in her directorial debut has delivered a more than pleasurable film about the anxieties of growing up. Beanie Feldstein is amusing as the studious Molly whilst her best friend is Amy (Kaitlyn Dever). After overhearing some gossip in the school bathroom, Molly comes to the conclusion they haven’t had enough fun before they go off to college. Convincing Amy they should attend a party the night before graduation, the two head off on an evening of adventure. With a sensitive, yet hilarious, journey into teen angst, sexuality, popularity and school chaos, Booksmart balances some coarseness with an emotional heft that is incredibly satisfying. At times, the film hits the beats of the similarly structured Superbad (2007) with the protagonists criss-crossing the city in search of a party whilst getting caught up with the cops, strangers and illicit substances. However, the two leads are simply wonderful and some off-the-wall sequences on a boat, at a murder mystery party and as toy dolls are a giddy joy. A poignant and affecting conclusion and some believable drama throughout, the balance of laughs and moving scenes were affecting and even the support cast bring real entertainment to their (sometimes exaggerated) roles. An impressive film, Feldstein and Dever bring real empathy and believability to their characters - whilst being hilarious at the same time - and Booksmart comes highly recommended as a fun night out for all.


★★★★½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 12 2019 04:34PM



Midlands Review - Tom, Dick and Harry: Christmas Special


Directed by Philippe Ashfield


2019


Instant Entertainment


A new micro short film comes from Midlands director and producer Philippe Ashfield and has the perfect festive theme for the forthcoming winter months where we are thrown into Christmas carols, elves and reindeer games.


Written by Julie Paupe and already nominated for a Birmingham Film Festival award, Tom, Dick and Harry: Christmas Special opens with a rendition of festive favourite "Ding Dong Merrily on High” performed by a trio of church choristers with a bell-jingling elf joining in for good measure.


Three lads (Charlie Wernham, Sam Gittins and Luke Higgins) arrive on a couch and are suspicious of the scenario before they begin to question the motives of the conductor and make clear they are not the Tom, Dick and harry of the title.


However, the star-wearing conductor explains that they are in fact creating a skit to promote the longer film Tom, Dick and Harry. Immediately this meta-moment throws us off and into the surreal comedy world we are about to inhabit. But the boys are still not pleased, especially after hearing this alternative skit will be called “Ding Dong” and they will be replicating the choir members’ singing.


Despite their protests, we cut to find the boys dressed as Santa, an elf and a reindeer as one claims to be a “serious actor”. And quickly they are forced to enact a “sing battle” with the choir.


From a jokey reindeer antler ‘mic-drop’ to a comedic attempt at some falsetto, the film creates laughs as the boys struggle both with the melody and the lyrics of the Chrimbo classic.


Thinking their ramshackle effort “smashed it” over the virtuoso vocals of the harmonic choir, the boys exit as the short wraps up.


The film clearly acts as an advert of sorts for the forthcoming film featuring the same group, but as a witty self-referential mockumentary, it’s a unique idea to tie in with their larger project.


With some festive fun and jolly jokes, the short balances a parody of Christmas clichés and its goal to set up some interest in their follow up. And with zippy dialogue and good-natured sarcasm, the short itself is still a successful stocking filler that teases a bigger present to come.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 02:23PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 6


This month we check out new releases DOMINO (from Brian De Palma) MEN, IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (from F. Gary Gray) & TOY STORY 4 (from Josh Cooley). Scroll down to read the reviews:




Domino (2019) Dir. Brian De Palma


Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Carrie and heck, even Snake Eyes and kickstarting the Mission Impossible franchise, Brian De Palma has a pretty impressive film CV. Well, he did once. In the last 12 years he’s made just 2 (terrible) films and it’s sad to say he’s added another here with boring potboiler thriller Domino.


At just 89 minutes this crime thriller feels twice as long and stars Game of Throners Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten who are investigating the death of a Danish police officer. Stopping them is a dodgy CIA agent (Guy Pearce) and Eriq Ebouaney as a double agent acting on behalf of ISIS. Or is he? Well, who cares is the real question.


I don’t want to give away any spoilers about Domino but literally nothing happens. Combined with a troubled production and a star or two dropping out, this ramshackle made-for-TV level movie is lacklustre and dull. Sleepwalking actors deliver clichéd dialogue which is punctuated with the odd blandly-shot action/fight sequence. Flashes of De Palma’s fascination with Hitchcock sometimes comes through in a Vertigo-style roof chase and an ingenious shot here or there hinting upon the stylistic flourishes the director used in his more successful films from the past.


In the end though, it seems the director’s strategy of not caring at all about his utterly useless movie hasn’t paid the handsome dividends he might have hoped for. ★★





Men in Black: International (2019) Dir. F. Gary Gray


In a franchise of less-than-successful sequels, the Men In Black property gets a sort-of reboot in this new blockbuster flick from F. Gary Gray. Chris Hemsworth stars as the arrogant Agent H who is teamed up with new recruit (and his Thor: Ragnarok co-star) Tessa Thompson as Agent M to investigate more intergalactic shenanigans involving the destruction of Earth.


Emma Thompson returns as Head of MiB operations and the film follows the globe-trotting duo taking pot shots at a wide array of eclectic aliens and each other. However, the sad fact is that there’s little more to it than that. Any franchise that loses Will Smith (hello Independence Day) suffers from a loss of his comedy chops and charm – although it has to be said Hemsworth and Thompson do have chemistry which is one of the film’s highlights. Director F. Gary Gray brings none of the fun from his previous guilty pleasure flicks The Negotiator and Law Abiding Citizen or none of the bite/edginess from his Straight Outta Compton. So it ends up being rather bland.


The creatures are excellently designed though – especially “Pawny”, a tiny and loyal alien with a smart mouth – but the world-destruction/infiltrated agency story is instantly forgettable. That said, I don’t think it deserves the critical mauling I’ve also seen published. It’s miles better than the awful second sequel and for me it’s mostly harmless and relatively likeable blockbuster fare for children with two pleasant leads. Add in a handful of action set pieces and MiB: International provides an entertaining if ultimately unremarkable 2 hours of silly escapism. ★★★




Toy Story 4 (2019) Dir. Josh Cooley


After the perfect ending of Toy Story 3 (which has the honour of making me cry twice), the franchise was so brilliantly finished that no more stories of Woody and Buzz were surely needed given the satisfying send-off these animated characters deservedly got.


However, the toys were metaphorically and actually passed on from those who grew up with them and so Pixar have created a 4th film following the gang and their adventures with Bonnie (spoiler) the girl who is gifted them by Andy at the end of 3. Bonnie and her parents go on a road trip and cutting to the chase, the toys end up getting lost/left at a carnival. The group subsequently pull together and attempt to retrieve “Forky”, a quirky toy created by Bonnie herself from a, well, plastic fork and pipe cleaners. The first 30 minutes are pure this-should-have-gone-straight-to-video fodder and although the Pixar quality sheen and photo-realistic animation is all well and present, there’s not quite enough to justify this entry’s existence.


However, just under half-way through the film really hits its stride with excellent set pieces, a break-in at an antiques store and fantastically hilarious cameos from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peel as Ducky and Bunny. Plus Keanu Reeves as daredevil stunt-biker Duke Kaboom. These new faces slip perfectly into the fold and the film is perhaps the funniest entry to date with some surreal humour added to the usual family-friendly fun. Is it really worth it though? Hmm, ultimately I think not. BUT it does act as a great epilogue and it’s second half is classic Pixar from a voice-cast working at the top of their game. You’ve got away with this Pixar. But please, no more Toy Story. ★★★★


Michael Sales


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