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By midlandsmovies, Dec 20 2018 03:12PM

Midlands Movies Top 20 Films of 2018

Well, 2018 has been a mixed bag – for me the Summer blockbuster season was as bad as there’s ever been – yet at the start of the year were some fantastic Oscar-winning and nominated films that were difficult to beat later on as the year drew to a close. Amongst some of these well-known heavy hitters, streaming service Netflix once again featured strong with its investment in smaller productions allowing filmmakers to take more risks than ever before.

You can check out our Worst of 2018 list here – which showcases more than its fair share of duffers – but what was more shocking, for me anyways, was my disappointment with some of the critics’ big favourites. For example, Paul Shrader’s First Reformed with its fantastic central performance from the ever-reliable Ethan Hawke had a tough first half essay to get through. Mandy too had an almost unwatchable first half before hugely picking up in its second and third act but not enough to forget that painful start. And the slow beginnings were even more prevalent in the beautiful to look at, but impenetrable to me, Roma from Alfonso Cuarón. Roma? More like coma, am I right? Arf arf.

But in all seriousness, I had the same reaction to Roma as I did with Boyhood (review here) – the dull meandering and almost non-existent narrative and lack of characterisation gave me little to connect with. It wasn’t just the art-house head-scratchers though. Mission Impossible: Fallout had reviewers frothing with praise but I found the film a superb genre action film with great stunts but nowhere near the game-changer some were claiming (review here). Ditto for the thematically strong but rather bland Black Panther.

With all that in mind, it has been still very difficult to choose just 20 films. My Top 10 has remained quite consistent but trying to fit in just 20 meant that a few favourites were close but failed to scrape through in the end. So more than honourable mentions must then go to:

* Blockers - the best feel-good American comedy in a long time

* Cargo – Netflix’s emotional and excellent zombie drama with Martin Freeman

* Hereditary – if for nothing else than Toni Collette’s mesmerising performance

* Calibre – the best of British in a fantastic dark thriller

* Score: A Film Music Documentary – essential viewing for the film connoisseur

* Deadpool 2 – for me, surpassing the first with its better villains and support cast

* Coco – Pixar’s Mexican flavoured music animation plucked hard on the heart strings

* Molly’s Game – bets its solid hand on Sorkin’s writing and two glorious performances from Chastain & Elba

20. The Night Comes For Us. Directed by Timo Tjahjanto

“Similar to The Raid with its mix of Indonesian gangs and corrupt cops fighting for honour and power using the most violent means possible. The Night Comes For Us has oceans of spilled blood and the bone-crunching punches and killings soon leave bodies piling up and martial arts fans will lap up the phenomenal fight choreography. Stylish and frenetically chaotic, the film is not for the queasy but its wild action and furious violence results in an intense experience that you won’t forget in a hurry”. Click here for full review

19. Phantom Thread (2018) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
19. Phantom Thread (2018) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

“Acting legend Daniel Day-Lewis plays dress-designer Reynolds Woodcock who creates fabulous clothes for a series of high class clients before meeting seemingly innocent waitress Alma played brilliantly by Vicky Krieps who is soon pressing Woodcock’s buttons with her bold observations. Phantom Thread explores the idea that true inspiration and creativity develops when recognising our own mortality and by only pushing oneself to the extremes do we come close to perfecting our passions”. Click here for full review

18. Sicario 2: Soldado. Directed by Stefano Sollima

“Whilst a little rough around the edges, a strong script, a cast of dedicated performances and a moody score from Hildur Guðnadóttir, Sicario 2 shoves its problematic politics right in the audience’s face. Simply telling them to deal with it. The ruthless scenes are a stark reminder that audiences should be challenged to get them thinking whilst the film does this alongside some unforgiving excitement and entertainment”. Click here for full review

17. Bohemian Rhapsody. Directed by Bryan Singer

“Rami Malek is without doubt stunning as Freddie Mercury. A shed-load of hits from Queen’s back catalogue are obviously interspersed throughout and Broken into three parts – the film shows Freddie’s killing of his past persona growing up, then the campy frolics and hedonism of operatic orgies and a final head-banging ending with pulsating riffs and joyous rock – if only there was a Queen song that encapsulated all this. A glossy but unfussy musical biopic”. Click here for full review

16. I Kill Giants. Directed by Anders Walter

“Based upon the graphic novel by Joe Kelly (writer) and Ken Niimura (artist), I Kill Giants has a fantastic Madison Wolfe playing a disturbed young girl Barbara Thorson who is a dungeons and dragons playing loner who escapes the troubles of her life by retreating into a world of fantasy. A strong cast of performers are led by Wolfe who is front and centre, and deservedly so, from the start. Dealing with difficult issues and seen from the viewpoint of a bright but troubled young girl, the final twist in the tale tackles much heartbreak within its skilful narrative. But, as we are moved on this poignant journey, I Kill Giants becomes one fictional world you won’t want to escape from”. Click here for full review

15. BlacKkKlansman. Directed by Spike Lee

“With a tight screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is adapted from the 2014 book of the same name by Ron Stallworth – a real-life detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s. Powerful and political, the film succeeds owing to the amazing delivery from all its cast but it’s the commanding performances of Washington, Driver and Harrier who make this a formidable criticism on the continued structural racism plaguing the USA”. Click here for full review

14. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Directed by The Coen Brothers

“A 6-part anthology film with each story having its own charms, the Coens have managed to weave varying amazing stories into a cohesive and thematic whole. Where Hail Caesar tackled Roman epics (and musical numbers) amongst its Hollywood setting, the Coens' influence here come from their love of American frontier films - another classic genre linking their modern takes within established cinematic history. Not diverging greatly from their usual style, the death-obsessed duo deliver another historical romp with a great cast and amazing outdoor locations”. Click here for full review

13.Three Identical Strangers. Directed by Tim Wardle

“This excellent documentary comes from Tim Wardle who re-discovers one of the more bizarre stories from the early 80s and re-positions it as a far more complex and dark tale than initially thought. Chilling, thrilling and fulfilling the documentary serves up a triple whammy of satisfying characteristics and combined with the revealing and candid interviews with the put-upon and exploited participants, it ends up being one of the best documentaries of 2018". Click here for full review

12. Isle of Dogs. Directed by Wes Anderson

“You could read Isle of Dogs as a cultural discussion, an auteur animation, a fight against power, a look at family units or just simply a tall children’s tale and all would be valid. Like the best of Pixar – Isle of Dogs takes universal ideas and delivers them back to a young and a mature audience to interpret without flagrantly pandering to either. Highly recommended, this surprising litter of canine characters and prevailing pedigree pups is an absolute joy throughout their adventures on Trash Island”. Click here for full review

11. Revenge. Directed by Coralie Fargeat

“A rape-revenge action horror, the film is certainly not for the faint at heart as Fargeat has created a visceral show of bloody violence and dreamy imaginations as a young girl escapes into the wilderness to hide and stalk her tormentors. The nasty action should bring in the splatter fans, whilst the more discerning can enjoy a depth of character and ideas rarely seen in this brand of furious filmmaking. With intense scenes, Revenge is a non-mainstream cinematic coup that explores slightly deeper themes than your average personal payback piece to provide exploitation pleasures and explosive sequences”. Click here for full review

10. I, Tonya. Directed by Craig Gillespie

“With the spotlight firmly on Margot Robbie’s portrayal of flawed figure skater Tonya Harding, she gives depth to a demonised woman where those around her seem far worse than herself. Whilst also being the first woman to successfully land a triple axel in competition, Harding will sadly now be remembered as a modern villainess yet the film, with Robbie’s tremendous efforts, attempts to give a more nuanced reassessment of one of the most infamous scandals in sport”. Click here for full review

9. Thoroughbreds. Directed by Cory Finley

“Olivia Cooke joins fellow horror stalwart Anya Taylor-Joy as friends who begin a dark alliance together and Thoroughbreds is another fantastic addition to their careers. With Cooke’s sociopathic Amanda matching Taylor-Joy’s prim ‘princess’ every step along the way and Yelchin showing why he is a talent so sorely missed, the film delivers a wonderful atmospheric mix of morbid themes. Thoroughbreds is an accomplished exploration of both egotistical and conflicted morals with an exceptional cast working at the top of their game”. Click here for full review

8. Annihilation. Directed by Alex Garland

“The film has a group of powerful female scientists investigating a para-scientific phenomenon as we follow their every step, involving ourselves in their personal, scientific and emotional lives throughout their excursion. Annihilation ends up being an engaging piece of excellent sci-fi tropes and characters that have clear motivations and are well acted by the cast – and Garland adds enough new ideas to the mix to create a successful slice of intelligent story-telling”. Click here for full review

7. The Shape of Water. Directed by Guillermo del Toro

“Del Toro’s always had a flair for the colourful and enjoys the mix of reality and dream worlds. Yet after a few throwaway gems like Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim, he has hooked all the prize pieces together in this film about fantasy love. A fishy fable like no other, the stupendous Shape of Water is as simple as a child’s story yet at the same time goes to depths only a master filmmaker of del Toro’s skill can reach”. Click here for full review

6. First Man. Directed by Damien Chazelle

“First Man is a fantastic voyage of both a mythical yet somewhat conventional man. Ever the reluctant hero and considering he completed one of the most, if not the most, infamous achievements in human history, moon-lander Neil Armstrong’s commitment to science, family and getting the job done comes across strong in Chazelle’s portrayal. First Man is a first-rate biography mixing an amazing directorial confidence in cinematic techniques to explore what drives us all to unimaginable personal and public feats of endeavour”. Click here for full review

5. American Animals. Directed by Bart Layton

“As the heist narrative evolves, American Animals’ unreliable narrators continue with the film even stopping and rewinding like Haneke’s Funny Games. Yet the boys involved truly find out that life is not like the movies. With the real-life protagonists expressing deep remorse for their actions – whilst still disagreeing on many of the details of the incidents years later – the film shows its obsessions with diverging stories from days gone by. And like the characters, the film itself grows up and delivers a beautiful, fun and at times deadly serious look at the theft of maturity”. Click here for full review

4. Apostle. Directed by Gareth Evans

“An ensemble cast delivers gripping drama throughout Apostle as Dan Stevens visits an emerging cult-like community at the turn of the century. Cinematic in style, production and themes, the movie is a dark and disturbing parable that is anchored by great performances with the actors, and director Evans, helping to raise Apostle by infusing it with flavour, believability and a thematic depth rarely seen in your standard cult genre movie. A divine statement on spirituality and the supernatural”. Click here for full review

3. Avengers: Infinity War. Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo

“A film in which no one feels safe and a few fan-pleasing cameos from films past, Infinity War is as huge as anyone could have asked for… and this is explosive summer blockbuster cinema of the highest order without question. A greatest hits album in all senses of the word, Infinity War is a compilation of scenes containing previously established crowd-pleasers and remixes of the popular tropes. Yet the Russos add enough new material, depth and high stakes to lay down the gauntlet to other filmmakers resulting in this absolute gem of a movie”. Click here for full review

2. A Quiet Place. Directed by John Krasinski

“Mostly avoiding jump scares, the real silent success is Krasinski himself who has taken an original idea and created a script and debut film with hugely entertaining results. Throwing in scenes of real anxiety, unease and boldness, Krasinski’s virtuoso film uses each of these elements to create a satisfying horror blend that delights, but has more than its share of frights”. Click here for full review

1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Directed by Martin McDonagh

“Showing complex struggles from start to finish (including the police, ex-husband, strangers and even the dentist) “Three Billboards” fans the flames of passions and is a brilliant advertisement for the continued talent of McDonagh’s own dark interests. Delivered impeccably by a fantastic cast, the film provides no clear answers but continues the ideas set down within In Bruges. Like that movie, the idea that carrying the pain of past misdemeanours can not only be a detriment to others but mostly to one’s own soul”. Click here for full review

Mike Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 3 2018 09:13AM

Midlands Movies Writers Top Films of 2017

There's been so many good films out in 2017 that it was difficult for me (Midlands Movies Mike) to choose just 20 for a list of my favourite films of the last 12 months.

Well, we've also got some of our writers' favourite films who had an equally difficult choice to make.

First up is Robb Sheppard who said "it was tough" but amazingly got it down to just 5 excellent films

Robb's Top Films 2017

5. Thor: Ragnarok

4. Get Out

3. Personal Shopper

2. Logan

1. Blade Runner 2049

Check out and follow Robb's further film updates at https://twitter.com/RedBezzle

Up next is Kira Comerford who had honourable mentions to Gerald’s Game, To The Bone and Hidden Figures but slimmed down her choices to the 10 fantastic movies below.

Kira's Top Films 2017

10. Moonlight

9. Jackie

8. Mother!

7. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

6. Wonder Woman

5. Manchester By The Sea

4. The Disaster Artist

3. It

2. Baby Driver

1. Dunkirk

Follow Kira at https://twitter.com/FilmAndTV101

Finally , Guy Russell chooses his best from 2017....

9. The Greatest Showman

I can’t remember the last time I saw a musical so feel-good in the cinemas. Hugh Jackman was born to sing, act and dance. A true story if a little manipulated, The Greatest Showman tells the story of P.T Barnum, a hopeless visionary whose dream to entertain and create gave birth to what we now know as the circus. A brilliant and catchy soundtrack, along with the old Hollywood sets, costumes makes this my guilty pleasure of 2017.

8. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

The Guardians return in the craziest series within the Marvel universe. Whilst I’m not the biggest superhero fan, there is something unique about these two films that gets me to revisit them again and again. This time The Guardians help their leader Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) uncover the truth behind his biological father. Just like the first entry, James Gunn writes and directs a crazy and witty blockbuster that sets itself apart from the other Marvel entries.

7. Hacksaw Ridge

Another war film but this time from director Mel Gibson who tells the story of soldier Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) a conscientious objector who served during WW2 in Japan. Refusing to kill the opposition he faces adversity from his peers and fellow soldiers, even more so when the troop find themselves in midst of war whilst on Hacksaw Ridge. A visceral war film by Gibson however he focuses on faith, courage and patriotism like many of his other films. This one will stand the test of time.

6. It

A band of mistreated kids group together when the mysterious Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) begins hunting the towns children. Not having seen the original 80s miniseries I went into this film with fresh eyes, not knowing what to expect, I came out with a firm belief that the horror genre is alive and well thanks to director Andy Muschietti who blends comedy with the macabre excellently. If you like Stranger Things or Stand by Me then this film is a must.

5. Dunkirk

Not my favourite Christopher Nolan film by a long shot, however Dunkirk is still an impressive bit of filmmaking. A dramatic account of the evacuation of Dunkirk during WW2, Nolan concentrates on three aspects of the evacuation, land, sea and air. Expertly giving equal time to each service, showing exactly how frantic and grave the situation was. Dunkirk doesn’t spend time on character development or background into the war, aspects I wasn’t a fan of when first viewed however I think a second viewing will prepare me better.

4. War for the Planet of the Apes

You could be forgiven for thinking this instalment of the Apes franchise was a WW2 film. Gun wielding maniacs on horses. However this is the third and supposedly final instalment of the Apes trilogy directed by Matt Reeves. This film honours the films before it as well as rounding up the trilogy in a satisfying manner. Another knock out performance by Andy Serkis as Caesar, the leader who leads a team of apes to retrieve his son from The Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

3. Get Out

Directed by comedy maestro Jordan Peele, his first feature film Get Out impressed critics and audiences alike. Chris is invited by his girlfriend Rose to spend the weekend at her parents’ house, introducing him to them for the first time. Embarrassingly the family make Chris’s skin colour an issue albeit a well-meaning though ludicrous issue. Peele’s debut spoke volumes to the masses in the midst of a vocal topic in America. Race. This is a popular movie that mattered.

2. Manchester by the Sea

An apartment handyman (Casey Affleck) becomes the legal guardian of his nephew when his brother passes away suddenly. I have never seen grief depicted in such an unflinching way before on film, director and writer Kenneth Lonergan handles the subject matter with a gentle hand allowing the audience to connect with the characters instead of just pitying them.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Loved by critics, hated by (a lot) of fans. I was one of the few fans of the Star Wars saga who was glued to their seat for the entirety of the films run time. Excellent action sequences, a complex villain, brilliant score and fantastic vision by Rian Johnson make Last Jedi the best cinema experience of 2017.

By midlandsmovies, Dec 17 2017 05:23PM

Midlands Movies Favourite Films of 2017

20. What Happened to Monday Dir. Tommy Wirkola

What we said: “The film’s chases, fire-fights, explosions and shoot-outs will satisfy fans of action yet it is so well constructed, with decent narrative and character development, that these have an emotional weight as an audience sides with the siblings’ plight. A career high for the director and with Rapace returning on a high from an earlier cinematic stinker, the film sits alongside Snowpiercer and Predestination as a fantastic under-valued science fiction story”.

Click here for full review

19. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

What we said: “With one of the best casts of the year, the film will find its fans in those willing to go to the darkest and most gruesome places and uses an antiquated literary device to help provide its metaphorical narrative. It feels that it exists beyond its ancient allegory and with perfect performances, the movie will hopefully gain interest for its artistry alone but in fact leaves an audience with so much more to contemplate”.

Click here for full review

18. Logan Dir. James Mangold

What we said: [Robb Sheppard REVIEW] “All the ingredients are there: Logan’s relationship with Patrick Stewart’s infirm Xavier is touching and shows a tenderness previously unseen, whilst his role reversed turn as a father figure to a young girl sees him move closer to the feeling of family that he’s been so afraid of. This is the finest X-Men outing yet and a near-perfect presentation of a jaded, aging, flawed hero”.

Click here for full review

17. Jackie Dir. Pablo Larraín

What we said: “With a constant shift from public to private, and back again, director Pablo Larraín films many of the scenes in a Kubrick-esque one-point-perspective which both signifies institutional structures but maintains the focus on the lead performance as the world spins around her. Jackie is a rare insight into the private world of a very public figure”.

Click here for full review

16. Mommy Dead and Dearest Dir. Erin Lee Carr

What we said: “The juxtaposition of interesting witnesses, side tales and the natural twists and turns of a barely believable story keeps the 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”.

Click here for full review

15. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Dir. James Gunn

What we said: “GOTG Vol. 2 is an exceptional feat. The film could be the best-looking Marvel film to date with its eye-popping colour palette and with outstanding costumes, make-up and special effects scenes will satisfy the action fans. However, for me it showed that if you care about your leads then these are hugely heightened and the film’s best asset is Gunn himself in delivering the whole package of a blockbuster franchise and is the Guardian of his own gorgeous galaxy”.

Click here for full review

14. Christine Dir. Antonio Campos

What we said: “Hall does superb work with a complex character that could have easily been exploitative. It avoids focusing on the terrible incident that made her “famous” and attempts to explain what could have caused such a tragedy. Christine’s career-minded female juggling the demands of work, love and womanhood exposes the mental strain of life yet handles all of these difficult themes with compassion and without judgement”.

Click here for full review

13. Baby Driver Dir. Edgar Wright

What we said: [Kira Comerford REVIEW] “Baby Driver proved to be a highly entertaining ride. There are some huge chase scenes to be found throughout...where I sat forward in my chair, mouth wide open, holding my breath with my eyes glued to the screen”.

Click here for full review

12. I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore Dir. Macon Blair

What we said: “One of the biggest and best surprises of the year so far, a superb central performance shows how one frustrated nobody can go almost full-on “John Wick” in the face of an apathetic society. Funny and fascinating, this indie gem uses the reluctant hero trope to perfection as an awkward misfit becomes involved in crimes just by circumstance and bad luck. Yet, there’s no bad luck in the execution by the filmmaker who delivers a knock-out punch of hilarity and humanity”.

Click here for full review

11. The LEGO Batman Movie Dir. Chris McKay

What we said: “The references are nicely woven into the fabric of the film and the jokes hit the mark far more times than they miss. A cool comic comedy, I’d recommend this to anyone who loves Batman and his history over the years and whilst younger kids may not get all the history, the film is enough of a fun family romp to be enjoyed by any audience looking for lots of laughs”.

Click here for full review

10. Brigsby Bear Dir. Dave McCary

What we said: “The low budget nature of their endeavours clearly reflect the filmmakers’ own passions and every positive ounce of that is on screen. Good-natured without being drippy, Brigsby Bear invokes the best parts of child-like innocence and exalts the benefits of simplicity in order to find the basic joys in an ever confusing world. Brilliant”.

Click here for full review

9. Get Out Dir. Jordan Peele

What we said: “A suitable sense of dread is created, not with any jump cuts (although there are a couple) but with an interesting narrative, story development and unsettling atmosphere, Who would have thought such basics would really appeal to cinema fans? Eh, Hollywood? Peele keeps it simple and the film is all the better for it and all the characters are played well be a cast of diverse actors who held hold the whole film together, without ever falling into horror-cliché territory”.

Click here for full review

8. Hacksaw Ridge Dir. Mel Gibson

What we said: “A fully rounded cast deliver a great screenplay and although Garfield as Doss takes centre stage, it really is an ensemble film with everyone delivering their role to perfection no matter how big or small. Catch this as soon as possible and tinsel town’s biggest outcast has once again come in from the cold to deliver a passion project that favours hope over horror on the big screen”.

Click here for full review

7. Free Fire Dir. Ben Wheatley

What we said: “Wheatley has created a sharp action thrill fest...and with a fantastic cast it aims to be more than a throwaway list of killings. Although it’s a little rough and ready round the edges, the film uses this to its advantages making Free Fire a comical accomplishment that will engage fans of Wheatley’s work but will widen his appeal with something more commercially accessible”.

Click here for full review

6. Miss Sloane Dir. John Madden

What we said: “Having already been won over by Chastain’s central performance and the tight script, the film concludes with somewhat of a twist ending I didn’t see coming. But all of the narrative – and almost all of the scenes throughout – squarely rests at the door of Chastain...It’s an intense single piece of acting that without which the movie would simply fall apart. Miss Sloane ends as a well-made and brilliantly paced character study that covers both personal and political themes”.

Click here for full review

5. The Love Witch Dir. Anna Biller

What we said: “Enchanting and engaging, The Love Witch sees Biller creating a multifaceted masterpiece that, whilst on the surface tells the story of a technicolour temptress, is a far more magical experience mixing low-budget tropes with high-brow awareness”.

Click here for full review

4. Raw Dir. Julia Ducournau

What we said: “Raw infects the audience with an orgy of limbs whilst Justine’s withdrawal is depicted in a painfully straight forward filming style. Raw takes the flesh-eating concept and attempts to normalise its presentation. The film becomes a biting metaphor for growing up and its effects on the body and succeeds on many levels and after it had finished I found an obsession with its images and themes and longed for another taste of its delicious pleasures”.

Click here for full review

3. Dunkirk Dir. Christopher Nolan

What we said: [Kira Comerford REVIEW] “....Overall, Dunkirk is a knock-out. It’s a grown-up film that can be enjoyed by the younger generations, and works to give a three-dimensional view of how events played out during this amazing operation that took place in WWII. It combines terrific performances with a score that ratchets tension perfectly, and visuals that place you right at the heart of the action”.

Click here for full review

2. The Last Jedi Dir. Rian Johnson

What we said: “With an expansion of its themes and both the classic and new characters finding their place The Last Jedi will hopefully satisfy super Star Wars nerds and general film audiences too. With such great filmmaking from Johnson, it’s a huge task to tackle the lore and the fan expectations of the infamous space opera, but the director more than comes through. Yet the main thing is the film is a lot of fun. Lots of unadulterated fun. And like the best cinema has to offer The Last Jedi leaves you both with a smile on your face and a lump in your throat”.

Click here for full review

1. Loving Vincent by Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman

What we said: “It’s all too easy to allude to this as a masterpiece but a masterpiece it is nonetheless. In the end, Loving Vincent provides a portrait of a conflicting and unknowable sequence of past events that maintains the celebrated artist’s place in the art world. The story, music, acting and, of course, the unique painted design combine perfectly to create a dazzling canvas to be studied over, and most of all enjoyed, like Vincent’s best works already are”.

Click here for full review

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jun 2 2017 09:09PM

Well, it's been nearly 5 years since I launched Midlands Movies and in 2012 I did one of my first ever blogs by writing a simple feature about my favourite 50 films of all time (click here).

This was done straight off the top of my head so after all this time I thought it would be very intresting to do it again! Will any of them change? What has aged well and which are no longer sitting in my favour, I wonder?

As always, these lists are entirely subjective and with *only* 50 to choose from I have obviously missed out some great films I love but thought it would be intriguing to put out a new list so many years later.

So, below is the full 50 films (and I have to clearly state that these are in no particular order):

1 Back to the Future Trilogy

2 Alien Quadrilogy

3 The Dark Knight

4 Almost Famous

5 The Big Lebowski

6 Goodfellas

7 Withnail and I

8 Die Hard

9 Dr Strangelove

10 Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

11 The Fall

12 Fight Club

13 12 Angry Men

14 The Godfather 1 & 2

15 Groundhog Day

16 Heat

17 Indiana Jones Trilogy

18 Batman '89

19 Jurassic Park

20 LA Confidential

21 Gladiator

22 The Matrix

23 Memento

24 Gravity

25 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

26 The Prestige

27 Psycho

28 Pulp Fiction

29 JFK

30 Reservoir Dogs

31 Robocop

32 Schindlers List

33 Toy Story Trilogy

34 Star Wars: Original Trilogy

35 The Silence of Lambs

36 Some like it Hot

37 Inception

38 This Is Spinal Tap

39 T2: Judgment Day

40 Trainspotting

41 Unforgiven

42 Django Unchained

43 Wall E

44 The Wolf of Wall St

45 The Warriors

46 Shawshank Redemption

47 Lord of the Rings Trilogy

48 Se7en

49 Zodiac

50 Mad Max: Fury Road

A quick check shows that the following great films have slipped out the list after 5 years:

American Beauty, Anchorman, Minority Report, Raging Bull, Requiem for a Dream, True Romance, Chinatown, Sin City, The Sixth Sense, Spiderman 2, Team America: World Police and Full Metal Jacket.

These were replaced by The Fall, Groundhog Day, Heat, Memento, Gravity, The Prestige, Trainspotting, Unforgiven, Django Unchained, The Wolf of Wall St, Zodiac and Mad Max: Fury Road

Maybe in a few years I will do another check of these and no doubt some will stick around and some will move on - and again allow myself some trilogies in there to get more films in! LOL.

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 28 2016 02:45PM

Judgement Year - A retrospective look at 1991 cinema

25 years. 25 YEARS? How did Terminator 2, one of my favourite films of all time, hit the cinema 25 years ago? Wow. As time goes by, my cinematic knowledge seems to have had an awakening in 1991, the year of its release, and much like Marty McFly and 1955, the year now has a particular significance for me.

The year 1991 involved some important events but oh how we’ve moved on since a war waged in Iraq, the European Market and closer political union were heated public debates, a Star Trek sequel was released and The Simpsons was on TV – wait, what?

Joking aside and back to film, that year gave me 2 of my top 5 movies ever – more on that later – plus a host of blockbusters, dramas and some great comedy and was a superb cinematic period that I haven’t forgotten easily.

So where do we start? Well, 2016 has been accused of being an unimaginative year of franchises, sequels and named-brand features that show the stagnation of the current film industry. The emphasis has been on Hollywood ‘product’ rather than independent originality. But was 1991 that much different?

A quick look shows that there were a glut of sequels in the summer schedule. Problem Child 2, Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze, Terminator 2, F/X 2: The Deadly Art of Illusion (still one of the great sequel titles), Never Ending Story 2, Naked Gun 2 ½, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Child’s Play 3, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West and Star Trek VI. And were these any good? Mostly no. Outside Terminator and Naked Gun they were mostly terrible cash-grabs which peaked with Return to the Blue Lagoon, starring Milla Jovovich and Brian Krause and the much maligned Highlander II: The Quickening. Hardly an original slate for the production companies at the time.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom however and the Academy Awards reflected that. For the first time since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest there was a clean sweep by one film in the “Big 5” categories. 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs received Oscars for Best Film, Best Director (Jonathan Demme), Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins), Best Actress (Jodie Foster) and Best Screenplay (Ted Tally).

In the year of real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, the film’s combination of frights, horror and drama fed the appetite of the cinema-going public along with a fantastically “hammy” Hopkins who created one of the most iconic characters in movie history. Foster had a great year and went on to release her own film Little Man Tate as well. With a box office of $272 million, it’s hard to imagine nowadays that a non-biopic drama could be so successful and it’s 2016’s loss that such fare gets far less attention nowadays.

More horrors were served up to audiences in ’91 with Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs and Martin Scorsese’s remake (yes, they were doing the same back then too) Cape Fear. De Niro gave a comparable hammy horror turn as Max Cady, the obsessed criminal stalker of Nick Nolte’s family

Remembering back, with my 11 year old self just a few years away from developing a deep love of gangster rap music, a number of significant black voices in cinema made their presence known during this year too. Jungle Fever from Spike Lee showcased Wesley Snipes whilst New Jack City directed by Mario Van Peebles also included Snipes and rapper turned actor Ice T. Sticking with hip-hop, Boyz n the Hood (John Singleton) used Ice Cube and future Oscar winner Cuba “Show Me the Money” Gooding, Jr. Another “Ice” rapper also came to prominence in 1991 as Vanilla Ice starred in his own film Cool As Ice. Which was awful in every way possible. He also did the main theme to Turtles 2 – another pile of steaming sewage.

Comedy wise, it was a great year for funnies. The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear was released by Paramount with Leslie Nielsen reprising his role. It also starred O. J. Simpson. *resists comparison to Buffalo Bill*

Another spoof released was Hot Shots! starring Charlie Sheen (the 9th biggest film of 1991!) and the laughs continued with Rik Mayall’s quirky Drop Dead Fred, Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey and Michael J. Fox in Doc Hollywood – a film which has the same story as Pixar’s Cars. Seriously, go check it out. Fox also showed up in the comedy The Hard Way to annoy James Woods’ gritty cop whilst another buddy action-thriller The Last Boy Scout also got released. Written by Shane Black, the same formula of witty one-liners in a noir Los Angeles still appears today in his latest release The Nice Guys (2016).

The most successful comedy in terms of numbers was Barry Sonnenfeld’s “reboot” of creepy and kooky TV series The Addams Family. Pulling in big names Anjelica Huston, Raúl Juliá and Christopher Lloyd and the young scene-stealing Christina Ricci as Wednesday, the film was a huge success. Itself leading to more sequels and spin offs. Not as successful but also one of the most well-known comedies from the year was Western farce City Slickers with Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby and Jack Palance. Palance won a best supporting actor Oscar which was a Sean Connery-style aging-actor sympathy award if there ever was one.

Sappy but loveable Father of the Bride starring Steve Martin got a release as did Martin’s L.A. Story in which he also penned the screenplay for. Sadly a forgotten gem, this tale of love in the city of angels is a little seen quaint movie and well worth seeking out if you haven’t caught it late night on ITV or somesuch. Together, four comedy films brought in almost a billion dollars (you could argue Hook should be included too) and this was in 1991. Quite amazing given the highest grossing films we see in today’s box office list.

Moving away from comedy, action fans had Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break with dirty dancer Patrick Swayze and a post-Bill & Ted Keanu Reeves beginning to show his action chops we’d eventually see more of in The Matrix, Speed and John Wick. The video game Streetfighter 2 also came out in 1991 and it would be a few years before a movie-adaptation would be made but the star of that future film Jean Claude Van Damme appeared in Double Impact. In that film audiences got double the Van-Damage as the first of many outings for JCVD where he fought himself as brother, twin or time-traveller. During the same summer, fellow future action b-lister Steven Seagal starred in his usual low-brow-no-brains schlock Out for Justice.

Was The Rock one of the first wrestlers turned actors? No way! 1991 saw Hulk Hogan starring in Suburban Commando, a film so bad it resulted in only 1993’s Mr. Nanny and not much else for the macho moustachioed man. A weird sub-genre that has also seen Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop and The Rock’s Tooth Fairy as men taking the unlikely role of children carers but that’s for another article. Feature failure Hudson Hawk (now having a somewhat retro cult status) showed that Planet Hollywood owner Bruce Willis wasn’t infallible either after his two Die Hard successes.

Ron Howard’s Backdraft threw together a group of stars including Kurt Russell, William Baldwin, Donald Sutherland and Robert De Niro in an action-drama about firefighters – worth checking out for the pre-CGI fire effects alone. And mixing retro-steampunk style with a good old battle against the Nazis, Disney’s The Rocketeer showed how director Joe Johnston could balance 1930s America and a superhero. This led to him taking on directorial duties for Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger many years later.

More serious fare came in the form of Alan Parker’s The Commitments about an Irish band, Palme d'Or Winner at the Cannes Film Festival Barton Fink, directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and My Own Private Idaho from Gus Van Sant. Well renowned French film Delicatessen, directed by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet hit cinemas and David Cronenberg took Peter “Robocop” Weller on a surreal semi-biographical journey in his adaptation of William S. Burrough’s Naked Lunch.

Admirable but ultimately forgettable movies from the period include Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer in Frankie and Johnny and post-Home Alone and pre-off-the-rails child star Macaulay Culkin in My Girl. Warren Beatty in Bugsy and Sylvester Stallone in Oscar were so flawed that their comparable archaic gangster stories merge into one equal recollection of two horrible messes. Finally, Thelma & Louise by Ridley Scott showcased a new feminist take on the American dream and Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King won an Oscar for Mercedes Ruehl as Best Supporting Actress. Ruehl all but disappeared from acting sadly making only a handful of films over the next 25 years.

But what of the biggies? The ones I’ve given special place in my soul? Firstly, coming back to the film that kicked this article off, is Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It made half a billion dollars (again, remember this is 1991) as it brought its original stars back for a sequel that twists the original’s formula and adds ground-breaking visuals. This early use of CGI saw Robert Patrick’s shape-shifting liquid terminator fight Arnie in a film that combines a clever sci-fi narrative with Caemron’s aesthetic flair in a film that is widely considered one of the best, if not THE best, sequel of all time. Probably Arnie’s finest hour (only the first Terminator and Predator coming close) and no doubt the best (and certainly the last great) Terminator film before the franchise spun off into a cornucopia of sub-par sequels by filmmakers who didn’t know where to take the idea.

Alongside Terminator 2 as one of my favourite films of all time is Oliver Stone’s JFK. The historical drama is not often cited as a lot of critics’ best films ever lists but its 3-hour run time allows Stone to indulge in every conspiracy theory around the President's assassination whilst poking a wagging finger at the US government.

The courtroom scene making up the final third of the movie allows Costner (never better) to rattle through absurd theories of who could have been involved and Stone’s use of different film stocks, black and white footage and flashbacks upon flashbacks created a whirlwind of ideas that confuse even the most logical of viewers.

Stone’s script is 90% talking in rooms but helping him along with his “essay” is a cast of amazing actors including Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, Laurie Metcalf, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Donald Sutherland, John Candy and Joe Pesci who bring to life the heavy dialogue. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture) and won two for Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing (rightly so) but Oliver Stone was honoured with a Best Director accolade at the Golden Globes.

Unbelievably, Stone had a second film released the same year as Val Kilmer took on Jim Morrison in the music biography feature, The Doors. Containing all the drug references you would expect, The Doors was overshadowed by JFK but the fact Stone had a second film in him was nothing less than remarkable.

And speaking of Costner, he too had another film released in 1991. Financially only beaten by T2, his badly-accented role in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was mostly glossed over as fans flocked to the cinema for Alan Rickman’s OTT Sheriff of Nottingham. Along with Die Hard (and later Harry Potter), Rickman has a knack for dark and memorable villains and most will also not be able to forget the maudlin ballad by Bryan Adams that accompanied the film. In the UK the song stayed at number one for 16 weeks (3 months!) consecutively. Rightly so, it eventually got on everyone’s tits but it didn’t take away from the fun family adventure romp the film was.

As we come to the end of this look back, 1991 not only stands out as a great year for films of the past, there’s a strange set of parallels with the current landscape in cinema today too. A Star Trek sequel was released (The Undiscovered Country) whilst 2016 saw Star Trek Beyond hit our screens. Back in ’91, the creator of Star Trek Gene Roddenberry sadly died aged 70, yet in the same year future Trek helmer JJ Abrams gained a screenwriting credit for Regarding Henry starring Harrison Ford. Abrams himself would then go on to direct Ford in Star Wars: Episode VII of all things.

In winter, Steven Spielberg took on a well-known child’s literary character in Hook which speculated on what a grown-up Peter Pan would be like. 25 years later, the family friendly Spielberg has just released his adaptation of Roald Dahls’ The BFG to a round of (improved) acclaim. Staying with children’s films, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast became one of the most prestigious films of all time when it was the first animated film to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Although it failed to win, it took home two other Oscars home for Best Score and Best Song. Alongside Terminator 2, Disney began to dip into CGI for the ballroom scene, leaving a legacy that spun off into Pixar as well as connecting it to next year’s live action remake of the film starring Emma Watson.

So what a year! For me personally, at age eleven then and thirty-six now, 1991 is one of the quintessential and most important periods in my movie memory. It was an eye opening 12 months of film and was probably the first time I saw movies as a creative art form rather than some sort of child’s entertainment. The legacies spawned from the movies of 1991 have become a tale as old as time and have ingrained themselves into every aspect of my conscious. And I will treasure that forever.

And what if you don’t agree with that?

Oh well, whatever, nevermind.

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 31 2015 03:33PM

Respect The Cock - A Cruise Top 10 Of Sorts

When Midlands Movies Mike (as I am contractually obliged to call him) asked me if I’d like to write a Top 10 piece on Tom Cruise, I lurched drunkenly at the chance and offered it outside for a fight.

But it turned out that he meant pick my top 10 films by the microScientologist. Ah.

Y’see, I can’t stand Tom Cruise. Even leaving aside his frankly insane pronouncements in interviews and the like, I loathe his anodyne, uninspired, unimaginative, box office-fodder “blockbusters”, and I find his acting utterly, as they say in my country, shite.

This may not be the article MMM deserves, but it’s the article he needs right now.

So here’s my Tom Cruise Top 10.

10. Top Gun

Utterly irredeemable wank where he perfected his toothy, grinny, runny schtick. I understand that they’re making a sequel. Oh goody.

9. Cocktail

A film about a barman who learns how to be a better barman from an older, wiser barman. The older barman dies, the young barman becomes the best barman. Barman.

8. A Few Good Men

He runs! He shouts! Jack Nicholson phones it in! Meh.

7. Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles

Short-arse is not even remotely believable as the supposedly louche, seductive vampire. Put paid to a mooted series based on the rest of the execrable Anne Rice novels, so there’s that, I suppose.

6. Mission: Impossible (All of the bastards)

A series of typically messy, runny, explodey Tommy vehicles. Most memorable for the re-working of Lalo Shiffrin’s iconic theme by the least talented members of U2. Which is saying something. And would they have been able to dangle a normal-sized human from a clothesline through that small hole in the roof?

5. Rain Man

Dustin Hoffman: Oscar Bait. Insert “Full retard” line from Tropic Thunder here. Tommy is utterly irrelevant when not being fucking annoying.

4. Vanilla Sky

Cruise Does Arthouse. Which happens to be an anagram of “Thou arse”, which is exactly what Marlow, Bacon and all that crowd would call him to his fat grinning face.

3. Tropic Thunder

He wasn’t in this much, so that was all right.

2. Minority Report

I liked this, actually. But then I’m a Philip K. Dick fanboy, no matter how much they make an arse of his novels or - in this case - short stories. An intriguing premise, as you’d expect of anything from the lad Dick, but of course the transition to the screen lost a lot of that intrigue and ended up being mostly just Cruise running around again. There’s a pretty good bit with some cars. Future cars! Worth it for Samantha Morton alone, though.

1. Magnolia

This film’s a favourite of mine, but obviously not because of our Tommy being in it. In fact I seem to have repressed everything about his role apart from him declaiming the title of this article.

Top 10 by J. Sirin

By midlandsmovies, Jun 13 2015 07:41PM

15. The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

Shouty Al plays a corporate version of the devil running a New York law firm who informs Keanu Reeves’ plucky young solicitor he is in fact the son of Satan. And the best way to do it is via a ferocious speech with Lucifer’s linguistic lips delivering a verbal onslaught against God’s absence and why the 20th Century is all his. Pacino delivers an outstanding OTT performance with the bellowing histrionics we know and love to hate.

14. Wednesday’s Thanksgiving speech Addams Family Values (1993)

A summer camp retelling of Thanksgiving with a twist as Wednesday Addams (played by a brilliant young Christina Ricci) goes off-script to ruin/improve the saccharine sweet children’s play. From the deadpan delivery to the shocked parents, this comedy speech rewrites history so the picked upon outsiders turn the tables on the popular Sarah Miller with the scene ending with the burning of the pilgrims’ village and the production breaking down into typical Addams’ chaos.

13. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

A heck of a motivational speech from Alec Baldwin as he delivers the ABCs of selling (Always Be Closing) as he heckles and abuses the sales force in this 90s office film. David Mamet’s script builds from advice on hot leads to a swearing and abrasive speech about losers and how much money he makes. Even as others are questioning his techniques, he waxes about how much his gold watch costs (we’ll see another one of those later) and continues berating them with Pacino and co on the receiving end. See the influence of this speech in little seen Boiler Room (2000) where Ben Affleck tells a group of young wannabe investors a similar story about what their earnings could be if they listen up closely.

12. Return of the King (2003)

On the fields of Pelennor comes a call to arms by King Théoden along a line of horseback soldiers as he stirs them up for one last inspiring fight against Sauron’s orc hordes. By the end of the speech, Bernard Hill is literally hoarse (pardon the pun) in the throat as he pushes his sword towards the invading armies that he and his battalion are about to take on. With hints of Shakespeare’s infamous battle speech from Henry V (Brannagh and Olivier’s both different but equally awesome) and the end of Snyder’s 300 (2007) the historical pre-battle cry is a movie staple that peaks with a later entry in this list.

11. Wall Street (1987)

With echoes of this speech appearing in Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street (2014), the provoking words of Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko explaining that “greed is good” pervaded the 80s money making boom period. As the film’s villain, investors have since reimagined him as a folk hero using this and his other mantras (“lunch is for wimps”) as part of an induction into the ruthless world of stock markets. Corporate and capitalist to a fault, the film’s speech is so well delivered by Douglas, who avoids raising his voice barely above normal which gives the whole delivery a rational and even more powerful significance.

10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

The first narrator entry on the list sees Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor summarise the postponement of the nuclear judgment day. Her message contains warnings to future generations to heed the lessons learnt and not forget the memories of those involved in the battle whilst delivering a message of hopeful optimism and expectations of the world’s prospects. The “rebirth” or “new start” speech is one we’ll be visiting again later on and the film’s subject matter of time travel and the importance of actual births means director Cameron couldn’t have provided a more appropriate ending to his sci-fi classic. (there's no copy of this speech online so the video is of the alternative cut version).

9. A Few Good Men (1992)

The heated courtroom clashes in this film culminate in a flustered Jack Nicholson admitting to a Code Red to military lawyer Tom Cruise as he attempts to defend a death in the barracks that are under his command. Written by the West Wing’s Aaron Sorkin, Nicholson’s follow up speech about the struggles and price of freedom shows how he goes into a metaphorical battle every day to defend sovereignty and liberty. Like a preacher at the pulpit, Nicholson delivers his well rehearsed sermon to the courtroom flawlessly but the cold reality of his words only serve to undermine his defence rather than convince the court.

8. Finding Nemo (2003)

One of the more intimate speeches on the list is this moving marine talk from the forgetful fish Dory, as she tries to encourage Marlin, a clownfish who has all but given up hope of finding his missing son Nemo, to continue his search with her. The brilliant Ellen DeGeneres provides the madcap voice for the film but in this private piscine moment, she explains how being with Marlin helps her remember. The best speeches don’t have to be all screams and flourishes as the oceanic oral stylings of Dory moves adults and children with her honest and frank confession. A pearl in the sea.

7. Braveheart (1995)

Well, hardly surprising is this often imitated speech from mad Mel and his painted face war cry as he addresses the Scottish clans to motivate them into fighting against the dastardly English. Exciting and passionate, Mel as William Wallace uses local dialect to remind them that this battle is part of their own history. Spearheading the revival of war speeches for the modern punter, the talk to the natives may have become clichéd in the subsequent years but the best ones who set the trend so often do.

6. Independence Day (1997)

If we’re talking rousing speeches then none get the loins stirring more so than this call to arms in the closing stages of an alien war. With Earth’s last stand all but lost and humanity hanging by a thread, who would have thought reliable everyman Bill Pullman (as the US President) would come good at a crucial moment for civilization! With more holes than Swiss cheese and twice as cheesy, the exciting enthusiasm pulls this one through to a high ranking on effort alone and its influences were seen in Idris Elba’s similar vocalisations at the climax of Del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013).

5. Dead Poets Society (1989)

With the sad loss in 2014 of funny-man turned Oscar winning actor Robin Williams, this movie set in a private school discusses creativity, growing up and the past and the future. With “eyes full of hope”, Williams drops his jokey persona to tell the boys under his tutelage they should “seize the day” and communicate some honest truths to the pupils that life begins now as they will soon be “food for worms, lads”. A quiet and understated speech in comparison to some of Williams’ more brash deliveries from the movie, the delicate wordplay and gentle speaking ensure the theme has even more veracity.

4. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Christopher Walken stares down the lens as he tells the audience (sat in as the young Butch) how he kept a gold watch safe from the savage Viet Kong during the war. From the lurid details (multiple P.O.W.s kept the watch hidden in a very secretive place) to the personal touches about a birthright, the scene shows the importance of an important macguffin that turns out to bite Butch in the bum (excuse the unfortunate parlance). Walken delivers with all the intensity he can muster and although gentle, spares no harsh truths in his manner of speaking. Funnily, Walken was on the end of an equally brilliant speech from Dennis Hopper (also written by Tarantino) in Tony Scott’s True Romance (1993) as he patiently gets told the history of his Sicilian heritage in the most callous language possible.

3. Trainspotting (1996)

An uplifting speech from ex-junkie Renton as he steals the money from a London cocaine deal from his “mates” before deciding to go straight for a fresh start in this UK classic. The narration in McGregor’s Scottish tongue is matter of fact but his character’s wry smile suggests a new beginning is in the offing and one that could only occur by removing himself from the toxic relationships of his past. Not forgetting his old pal Spud, Renton decides in the end to not destroy his life with drugs although the whole thing could be an ironic twist as we end on the dance track Born Slippy and McGregor’s big smile.

2. JFK (1991)

After almost 3 hours of conspiracy theories and multiple explanations for the President’s demise, Oliver Stone ends his film with an elongated courtroom speech from the prosecution side as District Attorney Jim Garrison (a never better Kevin Costner) appeals to the jury (representing the American public) for the truth. Whether you believe in any of the suggestions put forward is another debate but Costner sums up (over 9 long minutes) Stone’s criticism of large Government and the constant fight against those in power with an authentic appeal to always seek the answers from the political state. With Costner close to tears, the cinematic courtroom summary can be seen in films such as A Time to Kill where Matthew McConaughey’s impassioned plea stirs up similar emotions.

1. Gladiator (2000)

This rousing film by Ridley Scott gets not just one but two immortal speeches in one movie. The first is a Braveheart-esque inspirational speech to the troops before a battle in Germania: “Fratres! Three weeks from now, I will be harvesting my crops. Imagine where you will be, and it will be so. Hold the line! Stay with me! If you find yourself alone, riding in green fields with the sun on your face, do not be troubled, for you are in Elysium, and you're already dead! Brothers: What we do in life echoes in Eternity”. The second (and perhaps more famous) is once the former leader is sold into Gladiatorial slavery and comes face to face with the man responsible for his predicament as “The Spaniard” is re-introduced to his enemy Commodus in the Colosseum. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.” Stating his plans to take revenge for the killing of his family, Crowe secured an Oscar for his performance as the motivating and stirring Gladiator trying to make put Rome right from the point of a slave.

By midlandsmovies, Sep 29 2014 07:01PM

*Some spoilers if you haven’t seen the films*

With the imminent release of the seventh film in the X-Men franchise, Days of Future Past in summer 2014, I thought it was time to go back and look at some of my favourite scenes from all of the films which started back in 2000 with Bryan Singer’s X-Men, a film that paralleled real life and historical discrimination with a group of fantastical super-powered mutants who were not only in battle with human ideologies but also with each other. With that in mind and with 6 previous films (X-Men, X-2, Last Stand, two Wolverine spin-offs and the First Class prequel) there are plenty of top-notch mutant-kind moments to make a choice from.

So, use Cerebro, dust off your berserker claws and then teleport yourself back into some of the best sequences from the largest modern superhero/comic franchise of the 21st century.

12. The Intro Montage (X-Men Origins: Wolverine)

An absolute dud of a film – that cannot be stressed enough – as we sit through 2 boring hours of love story, talking, horrid versions of classic characters (Gambit, “Deadpool”) and messy continuity but it did have one moment that I think hinted on what could have been. After a very brief sequence involving the young Logan and his brother as children the film skips over a few hundred years as we witness a glorious montage of wars that the slow-aging characters take part in. Containing a brilliant operatic score and slow motion explosions alongside a scrolling camera tracking them through the US Civil War, 2 World Wars and Vietnam too - it’s a shame they did not tell that particular story in what I feel is the real mess of the franchise to date.

11. Wolverine and Jean Gray (X-Men: The Last Stand)

I am a proud apologist of The Last Stand and enjoy the guilty pleasures of the third film – I feel it contains some standout sequences despite some bad acting (Vinnie Jones) and an inconsistent tone throughout – and for this entry I’m picking the ending of the film set on Alcatraz Island. Firstly in the sequence, we see a great scene of the young X-Men from Xavier’s School finally come of age and join the group for a large fight against the rampaging Mutant Brotherhood before the army shows up to attack Jean (now the Phoenix) who begins destroying them and the surrounding facilities. After a great Swordfish-esque slow-mo F/X shot (a film also starring Jackman), Wolverine uses his healing ability to advance on her and put her out of her pain as the flesh is ripped from his metal skeleton. With great action, effects and a genuine sense of remorse for these long-term characters I thought this was one of the highlights of the admittedly sub-par threequel.

10. A coin going through Shaw’s head (X-Men: First Class)

The beginning of the prequel takes us back to the concentration camp of the first film where we witness the young Erik/Magneto unable to save his mother from evil Nazi Sebastian Shaw who bullies the boy into moving a coin he has placed in front of him. Throughout the film, the coin symbolises his first small attempts at manipulating metal which comes to a climax at the movie’s end when Shaw (momentarily catatonic owing to Xavier’s mind tricks) is finally killed by a floating coin Magneto sends through his brain. The slow motion here makes the audience focus on the agony alongside a brilliant cross-cut with Xavier himself screaming in pain/begging Erik to reconsider. A truly great sequence - that a Star Wars prequel could only dream of - as we see Erik finally succumb to his vengeful predisposition.

9. Wolverine on top of the Statue of Liberty (X-Men)

The pinnacle of the first X-Men is the film’s ending atop the Statue of Liberty in New York where Magneto plans to abuse Rogue’s powers and force distorted mutant qualities upon humans before the X-Men show up to thwart his plans. As Wolverine fights Sabretooth on the statue’s crown, the fist fight shows Logan’s menacing muscle before he unleashes his claws and with one great CGI shot, saves himself from falling from a great height before leaping back to ferociously defeat his attacker. A great mix of old school fisticuffs, mutant powers and inventive computer generated shots combine to give the audience a thrilling ending to their first meeting with the mutants.

8. Magneto and the missiles (X-Men: First Class)

Set against the (ultimately non-violent) Cuban missile crisis confrontation of the 60s, First Class goes one stage further and has a flotilla of warships actually unleash a torrent of missile and bombs towards the warring mutants who finally realise their time may be up. However, Magneto who had recently pulled a submarine from the water (itself a fantastic shot) uses his abilities to stop the incoming barrage Matrix-style in mid-air. Unlike Neo though, who drops bullets to the floor, Magneto’s inner wrath gets the better of him and he sends them back towards the now defenceless boats before a tussle with Xavier sees him direct a bullet into his old friend paralysing him. This scene echoes a later choice in the list as Magneto controls deadly projectiles from the authorities throughout his life.

7. Berserker rage at Xavier’s School (X-2)

Wolverine’s fighting is a large part of the comics and we got a taste of it in the first movie but it wasn’t until the sequel where Singer decided to showcase his full range of violent skills protecting his fellow mutants. After a late night chat with ice-man Bobby, livid Logan sniffs the air to detect the night time intruders to Xavier’s School for the Gifted. Without thinking twice he unleashes a rage of attacks against the elite force and takes no prisoners. Protecting the students he finally gets a hint at his unexplained past from Stryker before only being stopped by Bobby himself with a wall of ice. Mad and bad, furious and curious, Jackman shows why he was the perfect choice for this character with audiences now finding it hard to imagine anyone else coming close to his brilliant screen persona.

6. Magneto’s bullet time (X-Men)

Despite some floating metal platforms and a few instances of bar-bending, at the halfway stage of the first X-Men film we really hadn’t been introduced to Xavier’s or Magneto’s full powers but after the train station fight we get to see McKellen deliver a great evil performance when Magneto not only lifts and drops multiple cop cars he manages to use his powers to turn the police’s muscle back on themselves. Removing the guns from all the law enforcers aiming at him, he then turns them around, cocks their barrels and suddenly he’s holding them hostage. As Xavier “talks” to Erik and his henchmen via his telepathy, Magneto raises the stakes by letting one gun go off. Singer, the master of suspense turns the camera to show one poor cop with a bullet twisting into his forehead being simultaneously tortured and “saved” by Magneto. Similar to the warship missiles from his earlier encounter, Magneto’s intelligence is offset against his utter ruthlessness to reach his evil ends and this is a great scene that showed that the X-Men films would definitely go to difficult moral places throughout the franchise.

5. Recruitment montage (X-Men: First Class)

Easily the funniest entry in the entire list, First Class’s swinging setting enabled it to poke fun and immerse itself in the music and fashion of the era and no better was this done than when Erik and Charles use the newly created “Cerebro” to find and recruit teen mutants to their cause. Some quick edits by director Matthew Vaughan show us the two going from the back of a cab to a prison picking up mutants “in hiding” and exposing their own powers. At the gentlemen’s club private room, the two lounge back on a 60s-style bed as Magneto floats over a metal Champagne bucket quipping, “More tea vicar?” A brilliant time-saving sequence, it ends when they try to recruit a whisky drinking, cigar chomping man at a bar who tells the two to go f*ck themselves. Who is this rude chap? None, other than Wolverine himself! X-cellent.

4. Golden Gate Bridge (X:Men: The Last Stand)

By the end of the third film the audiences know Magneto can move cars, bullets, Wolverine (!), trucks and even the X-Men’s plane so how do you top that for your film’s climax. Well, in a literal “building bridges” metaphor, Ratner decides that his film needs a huge structure and they don’t get bigger or more iconic than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Lifting the crimson bridge from its anchoring, Magneto’s goals at this point is to get his band of mutants across the bay to stop the humans sharing the “cure” from incarceration on Alcatraz. Despite the film’s critics, this is a memorable scene that for me is a great highlight from all the movies – an iconic image that has been sadly missing from the Wolverine spin-offs and I’m hoping for something even more impressive in the next instalment.

3. Mystique fights Wolverine (X-Men)

Two of the greatest characters in the franchise clash as Wolverine with his adamantium skeleton goes up against the shape-shifting Mystique who is disguised as Logan himself at the Statue of Liberty’s visitor centre. The two clash in a great old school fight and after Wolverine get the upper hand we get a brilliant shot from Singer as Mystique jumps to kick Wolverine before spinning and changing back to her true blue-form self in mid air. The fight continues with chains, doors, jumping and once done trading blows we get the icing on the cake. Cyclops asks if Wolverine is who he says he is. “You’re a dick”, is his reply which is good enough for Scott Summers it seems.

2. Holocaust Intro (X-Men & X-Men: First Class)

A trick pulled by Peter Jackson in The Two Towers was to start his sequel using a scene from the previous film and then take it into a different direction. Matthew Vaughan brilliantly combines this idea by creating young Erik’s first encounter with his angry metal-moving powers as he and his family are dragged towards a concentration camp in 1944 Poland. Vaughan uses this as his movie’s starting point followed by Kevin Bacon’s evil Shaw asking the young boy to again show him his powers. Credit mainly goes to Singer however, as a director who placed the X-Men in a real world with real history from the outset. I was sceptical to say the least about an X-Men movie when it was first released – not being a fan of the comics/cartoon and unsure how you could “ground” such crazy characters, Singer went for realism, persecution and the notion of the “outsider” from the beginning and set up the franchise we all know today.

1. Nightcrawler at the White House (X-2)

At number one is an X-cellent intro, an X-treme fight and an X-citing character all directed in an X-hilarating style by Bryan Singer – the White House attack by newcomer Nightcrawler is my favourite moment in the films to date. It tops the list of X-Men sequences for me with an attempted assassination of the President by the teleporting mutant who jumps, twirls and disappears and reappears within the Oval Office as he attacks the bodyguards endeavouring to protect their Commander in Chief. The role was played brilliantly by Alan Cumming and he used his own fluency in German to nail down the character as a misunderstood but kindly blue demon. Nightcrawler's makeup design usually took around four hours to apply but without his shirt this rose to nine hours and the stunning look helped the sequel film’s opening become a visual treat for the whole audience and one it has yet to top in the subsequent sequels.

Well, that’s it, sadly there was only room for 12 in my list and there are many more that just missed out including sequences such as Wolverine’s first “un-clawing”, Senator Kelly’s death and Magneto on the train (X-Men), moving the satellite dish and N*zi hunting (in First Class) and even Xavier’s “death” in The Last Stand. Let us know what your favourites are and whether you agree with our choices by tweeting us your own lists and feedback. (Click pic to enlarge).

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 9 2014 04:41PM

Midlands Movies Mike takes a look at some of the most memorable, fantastic and important tattoos on the big screen in this Top 20 Tattoos in the Movies List.

Before we get going I’m going to start with the honourable mentions which just missed the cut (or should that be needle) - Tom Hardy as Tommy Conlon in Warrior (2011) – the tattoos are Tom’s own, Rod Steiger as Carl in The Illustrated Man (1969), Matthew McConaughey in Reign of Fire (2002), Jack Sparrow’s sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter (1955) and Matt Damon in Elysium (2013). So now, let's get on with the show!

20. Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott in Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000)

We’ll start with a reason not to get a tattoo – get so stoned/drunk and out of it that you get the word “Dude” inked on your back and your bro gets “Sweet” on his. Cue 5 minutes of brainless dialogue in this brainless film

19. Ed Helms as Stu Price in The Hangover Part 2 (2011)

The filmmakers got sued by Mike Tyson’s lawyers after the sequel covered another night of debauchery gone wrong and Stu ends up copying Iron Mike’s face tattoo. Bad in more ways than one for everyone involved.

18. Russell Crowe as Hando in Romper Stomper (1992)

Neo-Nazi Russell has a religious chest piece and a bone design down the arm for this early 90s violent thriller about racist groups in Melbourne, Australia

17. Justin Timberlake as Frankie "Nuts" Ballenbacher in Alpha Dog (2006)

More gangs in this film as we witness a kidnapping and murder as our musical Justin ditches his pretty boy persona for a combo of words, italics, stylised Chinese characters and stars over the top half of his body.

16. Edward Norton as Derek Vinyard in American History X (1996)

More gangs AND more neo-nazis in what is essentially a small tattoo in comparison to some on this list but its impact is felt every time you think of this film as Norton is captured during his topless arrest with his torso sporting a dark black swastika. A true heart of darkness in this thought provoking film.

15. George Clooney as Seth Gecko in From Dusk Til Dawn (1996)

A bit of an old-style 90s tribal design which actually had to be removed each day when gorgeous George went back to filming ER so the effects department took a neck cast and stencil that fitted directly to his body in order to airbrush it back on as quickly as they could each day. Inspired a load of Ibiza-going Loaded-reading lads tats and maybe Robbie Williams from that period too!

14. Wesley Snipes as Blade in Blade (1998)

Vampire killer Blade had a unique (until The Matrix) comic-book look that incorporated a tattoo into Snipes’ extreme haircut. Designed by tattoo artist Freddy Negrete, the tattoos include Polynesian influences and cover most of his upper chest, arms and shoulders. His partially shaved head reveals more designs that wrap around the back of the head and neck.

13. Brad Pitt as Mickey in Snatch (2000)

Coming off the back of Fight Club, Pitt already had the body for bare-knuckle Irish boxer Mickey O’Neill and director Guy Ritchie supplemented this with old school tattoos, some even look unfinished with a very rough and ready look. See a very cool rendering of the designs at this website: http://blog.creaturealchemy.com/index.php/2013/01/12/mickey-oneill-snatch-fan-art-progress/

12. John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers (1980)

Maybe as a homage to Mitchum’s “Love” & “Hate” finger/knuckle tattoos, the dynamic musical duo have their own names tattooed on their hand (or hands in Elwood’s case given the number of letters) which show that the costume details were not lost in their transition from SNL skit to the big screen.

11. Pete Postlethwaite as Father Lawrence in Romeo + Juliet (1996)

Gone but not forgotten, our Pete has put in some stellar performances over the years but this often forgotten gem has the former RSC actor as a priest who has a Celtic cross (or crucifix) tattooed on his back as he deals drugs and (not that great) advice to the films’ lovers.

Top 10

10. Ada Nicodemou as DuJour (The White Rabbit Girl) in The Matrix (1999)

A brief appearance by a small (and a bit crappy) tattoo but the importance of what it signifies (The Wachowski’s Alice in Wonderland influence, the start of his “unplugging”, the dreams within dreams connotations) is hugely influential. In the real world, you’d avoid such a poor cartoon character on the back of the shoulder but it is discreet yet draws you in like some tattoos should.

9. Ryan Gosling as Luke Glanton in The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

In a film that didn’t really grip me, one thing that can’t be argued about is the effects work and suitability of Gosling’s character’s tattoos. A mixture of hand-drawn sketches, spider webs, pictograms and finished with a large galleon on his back, this is a cool look for Gosling’s bank robbing criminal, it’s a shame the film didn’t quite have the same finish.

8. Viggo Mortenssen as Nikolai Luzhin in Eastern Promises (2007)

A brutal stark-bollock naked fight scene is the strange highlight of this UK-set crime drama from David Cronenberg and Viggo had his body covered in Russian gangster tattoos to show his allegiances in the movie. According to urban legend, the tattoos were so realistic that diners in a Russian restaurant Mortenssen visited in preparation for the film “fell silent out of fear, until he revealed his identity and admitted the tattoos were for a film”.

7. Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

My preference definitely sits with the Swedish original and I have chosen the larger and more extreme back piece over the symbolic tattoo from Fincher’s US-remake. The design has the dragon “tearing” through Rapace’s skin – maybe a bit on-the-nose – but the big design gets its righteous reveal to show her true violent nature.

6. Angelina Jolie as Fox in Wanted (2008)

With a love for tattoos including Arabic script, a Buddhist Pali incantation, gothic letters, a Tennessee Williams quote, Roman numerals, geographical coordinates AND a large Bengal tiger in traditional Thai style with a manual needle, Jolie appears to have tried every tattoo variation possible on herself. The best place to see these (plus others added by makeup for the film) is in the bath tub scene in Wanted. Taking both the audience’s and James McAvoy’s breath away, Jolie has the body to match the art too!

5. Robert De Niro as Max Cady in Cape Fear (1991)

Truth and justice crucifix scales on his back and a picture of death and a broken heart on the front amongst many others, De Niro’s vengeful criminal shows just how permanent his lust for revenge is over his perceived wrongful conviction. With The Simpsons Sideshow Bob spin off a delightful homage - “Die Bart, Die” is claimed as a German tattoo for “The Bart, The” and with a Robert Mitchum spoof (right actor, wrong film) we see written LUV and HAT (the A has a line above it) on Bob’s three cartoon fingers – the film shows anger, passion and a dark creative streak from personifying De Niro’s anarchic character and a visual representation of his motivations.

4. Ray Park as Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace (1999)

One of the best things about the ill-fated prequels was the concept for this sci-fi villain and his double-ended lightsaber and awesome body art. According to Star Wars lore his tattoos (which also cover his entire body) are described as the markings of a warrior and although face tattoos, often Maori influenced, can be seen in films such as Ender’s Game and Once Were Warriors – the great practical effects of this extreme space creature design resonated positively with fans no matter how bad the film we actually got was.

3. Johnny Depp as Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker in Cry Baby (1990)

An obscure John Walters 50s nostalgia flick with darkness, campness and a subversion that only that director could provide, this was the first of many films Depp chose to ditch his 80s “pretty boy” tag. After a lightning strike hits a tree we find out electricity killed Cry-Baby’s parents and he rips off his shirt to reveal an electric chair tattoo on his chest. Later he has a single tear tattoo under his eye as well – an extremity a wired Walters would give his film “hero”.

2. Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby in Memento (2000)

An amazing “backwards” film designed to show us chunks of memory much in the style of the protagonist himself who after a brutal attack on him and his family is unable to create new memories. So how does his recall his past? Well, he simply tattoos the “facts” directly onto his body as a daily reminder. From the large gothic “Find Him and Kill Him” to a licence plate number he picks up during his investigation the film plays with conventions and Pearce’s body becomes a testament to the power of story-telling, memory and the longevity of information as well as a daily reminder for his beliefs. From his “certainties” which become forgetful doubts, this unique vision has to be near the top of the list...

1. Tom Noonan and Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde in Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002)

We have a double winner at the top to show how 2 different designs from the same source material can be done in wonderfully creative ways for the big screen. The Red Dragon novel tells us how serial killer Frances Dolarhyde is nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" due to his victims' body bites but actually refers to himself as "The Great Red Dragon" after William Blake's painting "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun”. He has a tattoo inspired by the picture and in Michael Mann’s first adaptation, Tom Noonan went through hours of designs and redesigns before Mann decided that he wouldn’t show it on film but the great design was used for promotional purposes. Brett Ratner’s 2002 follow up (a decent if cynical flick to show more Hannibal Lecter) gave Fiennes the opportunity to show off a huge, almost full body, tattoo that took 3 hours to apply each day. Do you see?

By midlandsmovies, Apr 19 2014 08:02AM

With the release of The Desolation of Smaug, I thought I’d head back to look at some of my favourite scenes from Peter Jackson’s original and humungous Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Straight off the bat I have to say I am a huge fan of the first movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, which to my mind had the best story, the hardest job to do (setting it all up) but also has the best execution resulting in it having (in my opinion) the most memorable scenes. That said, with 6-7 more hours after that film to follow the journey there are some tremendous sequences throughout the sequels that just cannot be ignored no matter how much I enjoyed that first trip to Middle Earth.

I’m going to look at 12 of my favourite outstanding sequences from across the trilogy but of course with such a small number there is going to be a huge number of brilliantly inventive scenes that have not made the cut including Aragorn and the dead, Saruman’s speech, the Prancing Pony, Legolas versus the Oliphaunt, dwarf tossing, the Black Rider, the White Wizard, the final coronation, the Ent Attack and the Black Gate. These are all visually spectacular and to not include them only serves to highlight how good the other sequences are as well as showcase the general high quality across all three movies. In all honesty, I’m not a huge fan of the Special Editions – the original movies are more than fine without the extras – so you won’t see the Mouth of Sauron on this list either and some sequences (the final siege at Minas Tirith) are so large and all encompassing that they take up half the movie and seem to be made up of smaller sequences, some of which are included below. So without further pause, let’s see who takes their place as the rightful heir to the top of the throne!

12. Bilbo’s birthday (The Fellowship of the Ring)

The longest sequence in the list is this set of scenes that show us the party that is thrown in The Shire for Bilbo Baggins’ 111th birthday. Right from the start we see everything that Jackson is going to tease us with going forward from the intimacy of the relationships, the “jokey” Merry and Pippin, the first glimpse of the Ring and the realisation that this homely town is what is truly at stake as the journey plays itself out. A masterful director of the large action sequence, Jackson shows us that we won’t forget the characters and what they are fighting for throughout their epic quest.

11. The Helm’s Deep Battle build up (The Two Towers)

After the forest fight and loss of Boromir to the “army of Orcs” in the first film, Jackson goes large in this finale to the second movie as the men of middle earth call upon the Elves to help them protect the final bastion that is the stone-walled Helm’s Deep. As Jackson cuts between the Orcs getting closer, the women and children in the catacombs below and the masterful use of humour (Legolas lightens the mood by asking if he can get the diminutive Gimli a box to stand on so he can see over the wall) before the tension is ratcheted up as they stand off against each other. The orcs begin their spear chanting (an off-the-cuff action made up by bored extras apparently) as the rain begins to pour which gives the whole scene an ominous atmosphere. Then finally, we see THAT arrow from an inexperienced elderly soldier which slips from his bow and takes down the first orc. It’s only then, when the tension is unbearable does the battle begin, itself a great sequence, but for me its effectiveness is all in the subtle build up.

10. Ride of the Rohirrim (Return of the King)

Another battle beginning right here but this time it’s already deep into the fight when the Rohirrim show up and are shocked to see the largest war-torn conflict of the war yet and despite their trepidation, a rousing speech from Théoden reminds the audience what they are fighting for. Then after a call to “ride for ruin”, the riders’ spears are ceremoniously hit by the sword of Théoden as he rides down the line of horses before leading his cavalry of men to their destiny. Actor Bernard Hill’s voice is all bombastic shouting which is perfect for the scene and then Jackson shows that despite the thousands of hardened orcs, the will of men on horseback will always be a force to be reckoned with as the real/CGI horses head into the fray.

9. Shelob (Return of the King)

A scene that I knew was coming after friends kept saying this will be something special and although Frodo’s first encounter through the webbed caves is a solid chase sequence as he finally realises he’s been tricked by Gollum, it is the follow up episode involving her stinger and Sam’s return that cements this part of the film for me. Jackson is renowned for his rollercoaster camera moves and it is the almost silent shot of Frodo being hunted by Shelob, who straddles some rocks above the unwitting protagonist, that is possibly my favourite shot in the whole movie. After the endless noise of battle and fervour, to take the movie back to a personal moment of one-on-one with such a majestic tracking shot is a masterstroke of confidence and allows us to remember that Frodo is (mostly) alone on his quest and that the support of Sam is crucial to the success of the task they’ve been given. This is a scene of remembrance also as we earlier hear Galadriel’s voice followed later by a brilliant cut as Frodo is paralysed with venom and falls down to the floor and “dreams” of the Shire. With some great CGI providing some real “weight” to the spider and its “pincers” as she fights with Sam the sequence is a wonderful web of filmic tricks.

8. Saruman vs Gandalf (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Dear George Lucas, there’s more brilliant action between these two old codgers fighting it out with their magical staffs than a million CGI’d Gungans/droids ever could. Even with Christopher Lee, Lucas just isn’t the filmmaker that Jackson is and this sequence has echoes of the Sidious vs Tyranus battle but has so much more flair. We finally realise that Saruman is not an “old friend” but has been using his palantir (glowing orb/crystal ball) to align himself with Sauron and as Gandalf goes to leave we get a supernatural smack-down before he sends the Grey wizard spiralling up the Tower. Showing how a fight sequence can go beyond mad-fast-cutting and/or ludicrous CGI, the battle between these two elderly gents has some serious importance to the story which is why we care so much about its outcome.

7. Lighting the beacons (Return of the King)

Jackson mostly avoided sentimentality and used the beautiful landscape of his native New Zealand as the backdrop for his vision of Middle Earth and whether augmented with CGI or miniatures, the natural scenery was never bettered in the photography of this sequence. Gandalf tasks Pippin with starting a fire on the beacon at Minas Tirith that creates a chain reaction across huge vistas to get a message to Aragorn/Théoden that Gondor needs the help of men and assemble the Rohirrim for battle. Peter Jackson’s skill again lies within the fact that amongst the chaos and multiple story strands he can place panoramas of various terrains in a musical montage and let the stunning environments speak for themselves whilst not ignoring this all important plot-point.

6. Sméagol talks to himself (The Two Towers)

The now legendary motion-capture performance of Andy Serkis sits at the half-way point of my list and it was the conversation between the two warring inner-personalities of the creature Sam and Frodo meet on their way - the ring-obsessed Gollum and the more sensitive Sméagol - that showed how brilliant both the emotion came across as well as the excellent CGI that captured all the nuances of Serkis’ facial features. Debating the acts of the sneaky Hobbitses and their “false” ways, the angry Gollum attacks the friendless Sméagol and tries to get him to admit to how he stole the Ring in the first place and that he shouldn’t listen to “Master”. After standing up to him, Sméagol wins out and we see some respite for the poor creature – albeit very briefly. Mainly focusing on the performance of Serkis, Jackson’s great cutting shows the audience what otherwise would be in the character’s head and Serkis would forever be remembered for this amazing role which he reprised in Jackson’s prequel The Hobbit.

5. Council of Elrond (The Fellowship of the Ring)

This is a beautiful sequence which shows the diversity of kingdoms in Middle Earth and allows Jackson to showcase each of the main characters’ motivations whilst at the same time turning an essentially boring discussion meeting into a fiery ring-obsessed shouting match. A great shot of the characters arguing in the reflection of the ring itself and Sean Bean’s Boromir summing up the huge task ahead (“one does not simply walk into Mordor”) is followed by Frodo finally volunteering to take it and an amazing Ian McKellan reaction shot as Gandalf shows his sorrow, pride and relief all at once to the inevitable. The Hobbits join in and Elrond himself names the group the “Fellowship” and Jackson raises a heated conversation to a crucial acknowledgement of the official journey.

4. Prologues (All three movies)

A bit of a cop-out as I choose three sequences for one entry but I think the intros to each of the films are tremendous works of mini film-making themselves and incredibly underrated so let me take you back to the release of the first film and its initial impact on me. Firstly, having not read the books and not being a huge fantasy fan I had big doubts about the film as I headed to the cinema on a very cold night in wintery Leicester. However, within 5 minutes I had been witness to a whistle-stop history tour of Middle Earth, action sequences, introductions to many characters and an understanding what was at stake from the outset and I was immediately hooked. Fast forward one year and the release of the sequel and similar doubts arose again as I took my seat in the cinema. As we again witness Gandalf and co in the mines of Moria I thought Jackson decided to remind the audience of the film’s crucial part again – not bad I thought as it had been 12 months since the previous movie had been out. However, when the camera followed Gandalf over the edge of the bridge this time and the fight with the Balrog continued as they fell I was blown away as we saw the same event from a different viewpoint. Again, I was hooked as Jackson had switched my expectations. What could he cook up for a third and final film with even greater expectations? Well, with the praise heaped on Andy Serkis as Gollum, what better way to showcase the actor than portray where and how Gollum came to be in possession of the Ring. As his Sméagol murders his cousin Déagol to get hold of the “precious”, it was a great finale to all three very different but entirely memorable intros to each epic movie.

3. All Shall Fade (Return of the King)

What easily could have been an embarrassing misfire (no doubt some think it is) again shows how Jackson used every cinema trick in the book in his magical movies. This time, we get Pippin, who has offered his service to Denethor, singing to the Steward of Gondor as his surviving son Faramir rides out to almost certain death to try and take the enemy-captured Osgiliath on horseback. Cutting between the disgustingly gluttonous eating habits of Denethor with the simple melodic refrain of Pippin’s folk song, Jackson uses these quiet moments to punctuate the big battle sequences and we don’t need to see the massacre that’s about to occur as the breaking of bones by Denethor during his meal along with teary Pippin’s melancholic ballad symbolises all we need to know. “All shall....fade”.

2. Balin’s Tomb (The Fellowship of the Ring)

“They have a cave troll”. Small words uttered without seeing a single evil enemy, it is after Gimli’s mournful laments to his long lost brethren that Pippin trips an orc trap by dropping a mummified set of bones down a well. After admonishing the accident-prone Hobbit (“Fool of a Took. Throw yourself in next time and rid us of your stupidity!”), Gandalf realises he has set in motion a chain reaction that leads orcs to their door with Frodo’s blade Sting glowing blue in their presence. As they attempt to get in we see our first action scene as the amazingly animated CGI cave troll comes in swinging and the group fire arrows, axes and swords in its directions before Frodo’s Mithril vest saves the day as he almost comes a cropper to a thrusting trident. An amazingly frantic and exhausting action sequence with brilliant camera shots and editing, the scene propels the group further into the mines to face an even greater foe...

1. You Shall Not Pass (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Not a very original choice but an iconic piece of cinema lore as Gandalf’s final stand against the fiery Balrog over the Bridge of Khazad-dûm is as famous a quote as “Here's looking at you, kid” and “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn”. The culmination of an amazing set of scenes following one after the other, this film was cemented in my list of best films of all time from this point onward. All told, from the unsuccessful attempt to cross Mount Caradhras in winter, through the entrance to the mines, the conversation about Gollum (Jackson’s favourite scene apparently) all the way to the exit of the group onto the rocky mountain outcrop with Boromir defending the grieving Hobbits as Aragorn pushes the forlorn group onward, the totality of this hour of cinema is one of my favourites of all time and is up there with the most breathtaking moments in the history of the movies.

Thanks for sticking with me and as I said at the start, everyone will have their favourite sequences and with over 12 hours of film to chose from I have barely scratched the surface here and with two more films to come in The Hobbit trilogy we hopefully will be spoilt for more exemplary movie moments from Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s rich world.

Midlands Movies Mike

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