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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

By midlandsmovies, Jan 8 2014 04:31PM

After another fantastic year at Midlands Movies I treated myself to a little jaunt across the Atlantic to see some old friends in the city that never sleeps, New York. With its esteemed history of movie locations I wanted to visit some of my favourite movie settings in the city so over 7 days, headed around the city (mainly by foot by sometimes by subway as the 2013/14 “polar vortex” headed in) and if you ever visit on vacation I can highly recommend the below places for any cinema connoisseur.

As mentioned, I often used my Metro card to travel on the city’s subway which criss-crosses all five boroughs and is an easy and safe way to get around. However, the movies have previously portrayed this transit system as a place of gang warfare or crazy loners as seen in 1979’s cult classic The Warriors, 1990’s Ghost (“Get off my traaaaiiin!”) or even in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” music video. One of the stops is the city’s main hub at Grand Central Terminal, a huge building and the 6th most visited place in the world (!) which has been seen in Cloverfield (2008) as well as a great scene with disappearing people in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). More recently a large part of the finale of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (2012) is set on the raised part of the road nearby there.

Just a few blocks south is the art deco classic and iconic image of New York, the Empire State Building, which is most famously climbed by King Kong in the 1933 black and white film as well as again in Peter Jackson’s recent remake. Further down past Broadway is another infamous building in the slim-line facade of the Flat Iron Building. This plays the offices of the Daily Bugle in Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man movie.

Slightly off the track on the East of Manhattan I wandered down towards the University area where I headed to Washington Square (seen briefly with a monstrous apparition in 80s actionner Ghostbusters) before taking a short walk to a street of shops where I found The Little Lebowski Shop (215 Thompson Street, New York, NY 10012 http://www.littlelebowskishop.com) which is the world’s only dedicated “dude” store.

Continuing around the East Village area I stumbled across Tompkins Square – the location where John McLane and Zeus (Bruce Willis and Samuel L Jackson) have to play a game for the villainous Jeremy Irons “Simon Says” with a couple of water jugs in the third Die hard movie. The park also hosts regular outdoor movie screenings every summer so if you go during the summer months you may be able to catch a film or two!

Slightly further south is Katz’s delicatessen (www.katzsdelicatessen.com) which has been established since 1888 and maintains its tradition of quality food but is beloved for film fans for its “orgasm” booth where Meg Ryan fakes her pleasure across the restaurant table to Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally (1989) – “I’ll have what she’s having”.

Another food related place is Joe’s Pizza where Peter Parker is (briefly) employed in Spider-Man 2 (2004) and although I didn’t pop in, the food smelt and looked great and the queue from the shop to outside seemed to suggest the same. Later on in the vacation, my friend who I was visiting worked at a restaurant uptown and to get there we came out of the 72nd Street subway station which also appeared in Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995) as the place Simon gives our two protagonists a verbal riddle by phone as well as again appearing in The Warriors (1979).

Although I had been to New York 3 times before and had sampled the main attractions the city had to offer, one place had always eluded me but no more during this visit. I walked a long distance as the temperatures lowered (but that was not going to stop me) to the NYFD Hook and Ladder #8 Fire House. What’s that I hear you ask? Well, it’s from one of my favourite childhood films and may be better known as the Head Quarters to the Ghostbusters as seen in the 1984 film of the same name. The firehouse even has a (slightly faded) Ghostbusters-inspired insignia on the sidewalk outside and was one of those places that “looked just like the movie”.

As I was visiting in Dec/Jan, I was in the city for New Years. Planning to go to a friend’s party at a bar in Brooklyn I got a taste of the chaos in Times Square as I tried in vain to get to her apartment. Over 20 blocks were cordoned off by the police and the detour I had to take was massive as some subway stations were closed as well. The crowds were building and the streets densely packed and it was not even 7pm yet! The neon signs and advertisements of the square itself can be seen (although in a different context) in the deserted/empty scenes in the movies I Am Legend (2007) and Tom Cruise’s dreamy Vanilla Sky (2001). The emptiness of the square in those films contrasted massively to the reality of the tourist packed sidewalks of the holiday season.

I decided to avoid that area for the rest of the trip so over the next few days I went down Fifth Avenue to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, seen in classic sequel Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) where a genetically engineered flying Gremlin is thrown in wet cement before drying on the Cathedral’s roof as an epic gargoyle.

Also on Fifth is the Rockefeller Building. Beneath the imposing height of the main skyscraper is the infamous ice rink with a statue that I found out when I got back is actually Prometheus! The area’s Christmas tree can be seen in Will Ferrell vehicle Elf (2003) as well as the meeting place in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992).

During my first trip to NYC in 2002 I stayed at a hotel on East 57th Street NY 10022 and opposite the hotel was a tall tower which I again saw on this trip and was used for the exterior shots of the Oscorp building in Spider-Man (2002). A few streets away are the Roosevelt Island cable cars which I rode and can also be seen in the same web-slinging movie as Spidey fights off the Green Goblin.

On the Upper East Side later in my trip I hopped off the subway and walked a short distance to the Guggenheim Museum, an iconic and startling looking circular building seen in Will Smith’s first alien encounter in the opening of Men in Black (1997).

Opposite is New York’s huge open green space Central Park which has been seen in everything from Ghostbusters (1984) to Annie Hall (1977) and Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy (1999). A walk through the park from East to West and I ended up at The Museum of Natural History which has the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the back of the building (81st Street, Central Park West) and this unique globe-inside-glass structure was seen in Spider-Man 2 (2004) for the John Jonah Jameson III benefit event.

Post New Year’s Eve and many days into the trip, the city was struck by what the media dubbed “Snowpocalypse” and then was subsequently labelled a “polar vortex” as snow, ice and below freezing temperatures swept the North East of the country. For me it was a cross between the planet Hoth from Star Wars (see a video I filmed here - facebook video) and disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow (2004) where Manhattan gets covered in a thick layer of icy snow such were the shockingly (and shiveringly) low temperatures.

However, on my final few days the snow began to thaw (briefly enough) to get on the Staten Island ferry which takes you out into the water near the Statue of Liberty as seen in Planet of the Apes (1968), Ghostbusters 2 (1989) and Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000). Once back on dry land, a short walk downtown saw me end up on Wall Street which is where Christopher Nolan filmed Bane’s attack on Gotham’s Stock Exchange in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) as well as being extensively in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987) and a brief appearance at the end of National Treasure (2004).

On Park Avenue, my last memory of the trip was seeing the famous Met Life Building (formerly Pan Am) which is in Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (2002) and doubles as the offices of The Daily Planet in Christopher Reeves’ incarnation of Superman (1978).

Not even the cold weather could stop my enjoyment of such a creative, bohemian and cosmopolitan city which is still one of my favourite places on the planet. If you get the chance then I can guarantee you will have a good time seeing iconic buildings and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the busy streets - but if you’re a film fan then there’s even more to marvel and enjoy and you will get an understanding of why New York is so regularly used on the big screen – hopefully you’ll have as much fun as Eddie Murphy does in Coming to America (1988)!

See all my New York pictures in this gallery here - Facebook Gallery

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 22 2013 11:05AM

Midlands Movies Top 10 Hostage Films

With the release this week of Captain Phillips, the new thriller from director Paul Greengrass starring Tom Hanks as sailor Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in 2009, we’re looking at the top hostage films of all time. From real-life situations to over-the-top action blockbusters the hostage sub-genre is filled with films about peril, stress, heroism and sacrifice so let’s take a look at some of my favourite examples below. Please note, I’m not including a “one-person” hostage (that’s a kidnap or abduction movie) so no place for Fargo, Silence of the Lambs or Misery I’m afraid.

10. Funny Games (2007) Dir. Michael Haneke

I have only seen the 2007 US-made version which itself is a shot-for-shot remake of Haneke’s 1997 Austrian film. Filmed in Long Island, this English language version stars Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as a couple with a child who are taken hostage by two disturbed male teens who physically and psychologically torture their captives in their own home. Haneke’s cleverness (or annoyance) is how the two troubled teens break the fourth wall - addressing the audience by talking to the camera and even “rewinding” incidents to have them played out again in a better way for the protagonists. Dark and devious, the film asks the audience to question their own motives as viewer and voyeur.

9. Air Force One (1997) Dir. Wolfgang Petersen

Written by Andrew W. Marlowe this film shows a bunch of Russian terrorists led by a suitable OTT performance by Gary Oldman (does he do any other?) as they hijack the US President’s plane Air Force One. Harrison Ford stars as the President himself and rather than sit back and relax he’s basically Indiana Jones/Han Solo with wings as he punches, slaps and kicks the terrorists’ butt across the cargo hold. A box office success at the time even Bill Clinton praised the movie however its biggest weakness is the final plane crash ending which showed CGI had a long way to go! America! Fuck yeah!

8. Panic Room (2002) Dir. David Fincher

Another home-invasion film, this time from the pen of writer David Koepp as Jodie Foster and a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart (who I thought was a boy on the first few watches!) star as mother and daughter who buy a new home in New York City. Literally on their first night there they are burgled by 3 criminals played by Forest Whitaker (heart of gold) Jared Leto (30 Seconds To Mental Breakdown) and Dwight Yoakam (off the fucking chain!). Using CGI and impossible virtual camera rigs to fly the audience through the home we go through the handle of a jug as well as air vents and light fittings and Nicole Kidman, who dropped out owing to injury, appears as a voice cameo as Foster’s ex-husband’s new missus. This underrated film showcases Fincher’s frantic film and editing talents.

7. Hostage (2005) Dir. Florent Emilio Siri

This mid-2000s thriller stars Bruce Willis as a former SWAT hostage negotiator who after a bungled mission that left him emotionally scarred finds himself embroiled in another situation as two sibling teens and their accomplice take a family hostage after a failed robbery. With a mafia sub-plot, the film hits a number of hostage clichés (Stockholm syndrome, escape attempt and bungling authorities) and cranks them up to eleven in this Hollywood blockbuster. More stupid than serious, the film has Willis on auto-pilot but the plot twists and dark characterisations are enough to entertain on a Saturday night.

6. Inside Man (2006) Dir. Spike Lee

A great bank hostage drama set in New York City, Spike casts Denzel Washington as the smooth-talking Detective negotiator who comes across a multi-layered heist as he plays out a cat and mouse game between himself and criminal mastermind Clive Owen. Foster appears for the second time on the list as a power broker trying to calm (and then fix) the delicate situation and a good set of support from Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe and Chiwetel Ejiofor showcase the clever and original screenplay. Grossing around $184 million, the film is a walk in the park for most of the actors but is a fun ride from the first gun shots to the final denouement.

5. The Negotiator (1998) Dir. F. Gary Gray

Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey this Chicago-set drama twists the tables by pitting TWO negotiators against each other in a battle of skill, wits, intelligence and procedure in a tightly written script. For me, a movie with brilliant character names from Jackson’s Danny Roman who gets framed for the murder of his partner “Nate” Roenick who has to take a group of hostages, including Internal Affairs investigator Niebaum (a great J.T. Walsh), to prove his innocence. Support comes in the form of brilliant con man Rudy Timmons (Paul Giamatti) as one of the captured before the FBI send in the beautifully named Chris Sabian (an always awesome Kevin Spacey) who plays another top negotiator who Jackson thinks he can trust. The word-play is always crucial to a hostage drama and the back-and-forth between the wordsmiths Jackson and Spacey doesn’t get any better right here.

4. The Rock (1996) Michael Bay

Taking place on Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco Bay Area producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer avoid any subtlety in this action vehicle where a group of rogue US Marines led by Ed Harris take over the ex-prison and threaten to set off missiles containing deadly VX gas on the American population unless their demands are met. Nicolas Cage plays FBI agent Stanley Goodspeed who is tasked to diffuse the bombs after being sent to “the Rock” with a group of Navy Seals and the only man ever to escape from the prison (Sean Connery, 007 who else?) Mainly an excuse for shootouts, explosions, fist fights and special effects, the film dispenses with negotiation and focuses on the fights but does so with fun and banter between Connery and Cage. Harris would again go up against Cage again in National Treasure 2 so their Bruckheimer feud hadn’t quite finished here! :-)

3. Argo (2012) Dir. Ben Affleck

This Oscar-winning historical thriller film tells the story of the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. The brilliance of the crazy scheme to get the hostages out (a fake Hollywood film is created in the vein of a low-budget Star Wars in order to get the team into Iran) is all the more fantastic to know that this actually happened and was redacted for many years by the FBI themselves. Affleck continues his resurgence as actor and director with a strong performance ably assisted by excellent support actors Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman. Winning Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Picture at the Oscars, the film has a number of historical inaccuracies but the inventive script and fluid direction keeps the audience on their toes throughout. (Ar) Go see it!

2. Speed (1994) Dir. Jan de Bont

Keanu Reeves left behind his West-coast surfer/stoner shtick as he bulked up to play Jack Traven, the LAPD cop who has to stop a bus from exploding after Dennis Hopper’s crazy-ass terrorist plants a bomb on it which will detonate if the vehicle dips below 50mph. One of Tarantino’s favourite films and it’s easy to see why as the high-concept (albeit ludicrous) idea is played out around the streets of LA with good support from Sandra Bullock as Annie, a hostage turned participant after the bus driver gets shot and Jeff Daniels as Harry Temple, who has his own grudge after crossing paths with Hopper previously. The action sequences are spectacular, the set-up flawless and the execution of the F/X and script outstanding in one of the highlights of not just the hostage genre but of action films as a whole.

1. Die Hard (1988) Dir. John McTiernan

Not much of a surprise is this action adventure in the high rise building that is the Nakatomi Plaza as Bruce Willis’ John McClane kicks off a 20 year franchise with the first and the best hostage movie of them all. The film is memorable not only for Willis’ iconic take on the NYPD cop out of his depth over Christmas but actually allows great characterisation of the criminals themselves who are organised by the devious Hans Gruber (a career-defining Alan Rickman) to give their backstory some weight as they break into the building’s vaults whilst keeping the police at bay. Originally offered to Frank Sinatra (look it up!) and then Schwarzenegger, the film gave Willis the chance to bring his smarmy/charming Moonlight persona to the big screen and proved to critics and viewers that he had what it took to be a massive action movie star. With diminishing returns for the sequels, the first Die Hard is a template for action, script, characters and witty dialogue and remains one of the defining films of the 80s.

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 13 2013 05:15PM

Best Opening Titles/Credit Sequences

After watching the new film “Hitchcock” with Sir Anthony Hopkins as the master of suspense himself along with the trials of getting the film Psycho made, it got me thinking about the brilliant credit sequence from the 60s classic. That was created by the awesome graphic designer and credit maker Saul Bass and I started to reflect on what my favourite opening title/sequences were.

By no means an exhaustive list (and definitely NOT in any order) but here are some of my favourites over the years and please drop us a message below or reply with a tweet about your own favourites or any glaring omissions from the list.

Let the credits roll!

Zombieland (2009) – The film begins with a superb montage of slow motion zombie attacks on screaming American victims to the heavy sounds of Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.


Casino (1995) – Here the titles are actually by the infamous Saul Bass who was coaxed out of retirement for one more intro sequence by Martin Scorsese and is a brilliant explosion of lights, colours and neon shapes in his inimitable style.


Casino Royale (2006) – A different “casino” in the title again, this time with a Bond-song by Chris Cornell that has grown on me over the years but the card-playing imagery and animation was a neat twist on traditional Bond motifs.


Watchmen (2009) – The graphic novel’s entire back story/alternative universe history is shown with Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are A’ Changing” overdubbed in full which is an epic beginning to an epic film.


Speed (1994) – Jan De Bont used a very slow, deliberate and almost never ending lift shaft where the steel girders are used to “frame” the actors’ names as he winds up the tension from the start. (Mike update – obviously no one else likes this as I am unable to find an online video of it!)

Spiderman 2 (2004) – It was great to see traditional comic book artwork in the intro to Sam Raimi’s comic book film and the images run through a quick recap of the first movie’s major plot points. (The reboot of The Incredible Hulk did a similar thing in an attempt to both skip the “origin” part of the story and somewhat erase Ang Lee’s first film).


Catch Me if You Can (2002) – Spielberg went old school in this Saul Bass inspired intro sequence that covers the film’s story points and is reminiscent of the Pink Panther in its retro use of animation


Anchorman (2002) – I enjoyed this intro as we get a series of quick jokes in the style of a 4:3 television set with rounded corners which immediately gives us the time, the place and the actors’ names in the style of a news bulletin. These “outtakes/riffs” put us straight into 70s San Diego.


Inside Man (2006) – Here it is the music by Punjabi MC that sets up a multi-cultural New York with some traditional (and others not so) shots around the infamous city Skyline and canyon-like streets. Bang! Spike Lee has placed us right there in the hustle and bustle of the city immediately.


LA Confidential (1997) – A retro-postcard of an intro with a great Danny De Vito voiceover who sets the scene as we head around the city.


Lord of War (2005) – A perennial favourite is the “bullet-journey” from manufacture to being shot out of a gun barrell in this audacious sequence filmed from the bullet’s perspective. This is a must see.


Snatch (2000) – Guy Ritchie uses fast editing and fast talking in this cockney barrel of monkeys of an intro which jumps from actor to actor and character to character in a microcosm of the film’s multi-stranded storyline.


Saturday Night Fever (1997) – John Travolta strutting down a New York street to the sound of The Bee Gees. Nuff said.


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) – The elongated living room jam session shows us the film’s indie roots as well as setting up its brilliant subversion of time and space with graphic novel style animation and grunge-y fonts.


Ocean’s 11 (2001) - A Saul Bass-y funky intro with harsh lines, luminous colours and edgy design which harks back to the 50s cool that Soderbergh was trying to recreate for his updated version with Clooney & co.


Raging Bull (1980) – Another special one from Scorsese as we see a “caged” Robert De Niro warming up in black and white to the sounds of the classical Cavallerio rusticana: Intermezzo as he shadow boxes in the ring in slow motion. The blood-red writing hints at the violence about to be unleashed in this memorable intro.


Panic Room (2002) – Fincher takes a leaf out of Saul Bass’ book this time as he updates North by North-West by using CGI to super impose HUGE lettering against city skyscrapers in this tense thriller. The large typeface is a literal “floating” billboard which took a year to create.


Seven (1995) – another great Fincher intro as the combination of the “scratched” negative juxtaposed against the creation of John Doe’s scrapbook of insane writing and horrific photographs creates an unnerving and dark start to the an unnerving and dark film.


The Fall (2006) – Tarsem Singh’s slow motion black and white intro shows Cowboys and Indians against a backdrop of bridges, rivers and trains but only later do we realise the full implications of this classic Hollywood stuntmen scene.


Requiem for a Dream (2000) – Set against Clint Mansell’s legendary score, the opening scene gives us Jared Leto and Marlon Wayans’ characters as they steal the family TV and drag it through the streets to a nearby pawn shop for drug money. The shots of seedy streets and the abandoned rollercoaster show the dark journey we are about to embark upon.


Trading Places (1983) – A brilliant juxtaposition in Philadelphia as Mozart plays on the soundtrack which begins with the usual tourist hotspots before alternating between scenes of the wealth and poverty in the city. We get setting, character and a flavour of the story ahead.


The Warriors (1979) – A funky 70s soundtrack accompanies shots of various gangs travelling through the city by subway as they come out to pla-ay with awesome costumes, some character development and great graffiti style fonts.


Honourable mentions to Django Unchained (what a soundtrack!), Alien (great minimalism), Sin City (Frank Miller’s raw art), Sleepy Hollow (smokey names in the forest journey), Terminator 2 (LA city and flames) and The Untouchables (great music and THOSE imposing and shadowy letters).

There is one more area of film credit sequences that I would like to address. It is a very small and select group of films that would have been great ONLY if you left immediately after the start credits finished.

Let me explain…

Indiana Jones & Crystal Skull (2008) – If you avoid the CGI gopher then the Rock Around the Clock soundtrack and racing hot rod cars in the desert transports us immediately to the 1950s with Spielberg keeping the same font we all know and the young teens contrasted against the Cold-War Russians was a great combination of generations as we moved away from Indiana’s Nazi chasing roots. With its A-bomb testing military finale, it’s a huge shame that the film then went CGI crazy and left us all pining for a return to the classic stunts we were promised.


Superman Returns (2006) – From the first bass notes of the score provided by John William’s iconic fanfare and then the flying blue type of the original font, Singer used our pre-existing expectations along with a Marlon Brando voice-over to recapture our imagination and make us believe once again that a man can indeed fly. Sadly, the film failed to take off as the plot moved slower than a speeding snail and miscasting all over the place bored the red pants off cinema goers.


X-MEN Origins Wolverine (2009) – Watching Logan and his brother through time was an amazing way to convey their longevity and the operatic voices and classical music that underscore the sequence from the US civil War through World War 1 & 2 and then Vietnam was as good as this film got. If the whole movie had been this sequence I think I would have enjoyed it more but a frankly rubbish Ryan Reynolds and more terrible Taylor Kitsch saw that this was the final claw in the coffin.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 30 2013 05:43PM

With the Man of Steel tearing up the box office, the Comic Con announcement that Superman AND Batman will appear in the next DC film together as well as being deep inside Phase 2 of the Marvel Universe, I’m going to take a brief look at my favourite superhero films. A few films like Scott Pilgrim and Wanted (both of which I love) I’ve decided against including as although both from graphic novels and both having protagonists with “powers” they didn’t seem to fit in with the masked crusaders from the rest. They’d both be pretty high up however. Also, honourable mentions to Mystery Men, Captain America, Hellboy 2 & The Rocketeer. That said, commence au festival!

15. Thor (Kenneth Brannagh)

Marvel proved it was willing to take a few chances with its directorial choices as Sir Ken came in and gave a big dose of Shakespearean family feuding to the usual CGI fight-fests and to his credit comes out with one of the more distinct movies from Marvel’s Phase One. Hammer time!

14. Superman (Richard Donner)

We believed a man could fly in the ultimate showcase of actors (Brando, Reeve and Hackman) taking a serious look at the indestructible red pants man, taking us from Krypton to Earth with amazing results. Super dooper!

13. Blade (Stephen Norrington)

With the black jacket, sunglasses, bullet dodging and building leaps, it’s easy to see how The Matrix overshadowed this movie despite their similar style in this dark and gritty 90s vampire-killing classic. It’s got a big bite of action and effects with some unique fighting that sadly fizzled out in the humour-filled sequels. Tasty!

12. Unbreakable (M Night Shyamalan)

His second (and last good) film and the one that many of us are awaiting a sequel for, the director told a slow-burner of a story as a man who doesn’t even believe he has any powers but has to protect his family and the public from a classic villain taken (literally) from comic books. Uniquely told with comic-panel visuals and presented in a down-to-earth realistic way makes the film all the more impressive. Shatter proof.

11. Batman Begins (Chris Nolan)

Nolan sets the bar high with his re-imagining of Batman after the dreadful Joel Schumacher failures with an authentic tale of rich boy going AWOL and then being trained by assassins before returning to his beloved city to do good. With a strong set of actors and some exciting action scenes, Bale’s Batman placed him solely in the real world with very real problems. Bat-tastic!

10. Kick A** (Matthew Vaughn)

Over the top action sequences combined with some hilariously named heroes, all tied together with a self-referential knowing of superhero traits blended to give this film a violent look at a brand new set of characters outside of the usual huge franchises we already know. Cage hasn’t been this good in years and the young protagonists try to balance their growing pains with the torture of street pummels! A cult classic with a sequel due anytime now in July 2013.

9. X-Men (Bryan Singer)

Again, the origin story seems to be the strongest of the bunch as Singer takes the mutant group and brings it into a faithful world setting (or gay allegory as some have suggested) by aligning them with modern day persecution. Amazingly, Singer takes the premise of a child’s cartoon (my first experience) and turns it into an action packed narrative with serious adult themes and where moral discussions lead to genuine and sincere consequences. The film also introduces us to an unforgettable actor/character pairing with Hugh “Wolverine” Jackman. X-cellent.

8. Iron Man (Jon Favreau)

Marvel’s first foray into movie-making may never be topped for some as Robert Downey Jnr plays arrogant billionaire Tony Stark who after a kidnapping uses his company’s technology to create the ultimate military suit. From the playboy with the boy’s toy to the perfect pacing, Iron Man has humour, hurt and tenderness but is mostly a lot of fun with an amazingly recreated CGI suit, great action scenes and set the stage for the future team-up with his avenging pals. A metal marvel. (Just don’t mention Iron Man 2).

7. The Incredibles (Brad Bird)

Pixar moved away from cuddly toys and talking animals in this almost art-deco style story of one family’s superhero problems - from secret identities to the inconveniences of capes, the movie twists the genre conventions, the animation is flawless and the characters well shaped. Throwing in plenty of funnies and nods to other famous superhero powers (ice, stretching, invisibility etc), director Brad Bird even gets in on the action as the voice of costume designer Edna Mole. Nobody does it quite like Pixar.

6. X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn)

After the incredibly disappointing and flawed X-Men Origins: Wolverine, we go back to the beginning for a Cold War narrative as the backdrop to finding out how Xavier and Magneto met, developed their skills and started the school for the gifted in this brilliant prequel/origin story. From the nods to real world events (Cuban missile crisis) to the training montages, the film balances the serious Nazi themes of the opening with a later light-hearted touch as the swinging 60s takes hold. Fassbender is a joy as we watch his downfall during his clashes against Kevin Bacon’s excellent villain. Pure class.

5. The Avengers (Joss Whedon)

The pinnacle of Marvel’s Phase One as we finally got to see Nick Fury’s plans come to fruition during his ploy to assemble the greatest set of heroes on earth to defend against the nefarious Loki (a brilliant Tom Hiddleston) and his alien army of minions. Whedon gives everyone their fare share of screen time and injects a dose of humour and knowing about the proceedings before unleashing Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and finally a decent Hulk onto the city of New York with support from Black Widow and Hawkeye. Action aplenty, lots of laughs and solid storytelling all lead to a brilliant finale that satisfied geeky fans and the passing crowd on its way to a $1billion plus box office. Avenge that!

4. Watchmen (Zack Snyder)

Snyder’s literal interpretation of the infamous graphic novel was a turn off for some but with adult themes in an alternative history and his visual pyrotechnics assaulting the eyes, the film is a faithful re-telling of Moore’s opus. A story of getting older, doing things for the greater good and double-crossing, the film tackled huge themes and has one of the best opening credit sequences of ANY film. From the violent Rorschach who refuses to compromise to the out of shape Night Owl via the omniscient Dr. Manhattan, the brilliantly realised characters show the darker side of the American dream. The joke’s on us as we are forced to confront our own moral standpoint. Very watchable.

3. The Dark Knight (Chris Nolan)

Nolan’s best entry in his trilogy contains Heath Ledger’s astounding take on Batman’s nemesis as he creates havoc in Gotham as the sadistic Joker whilst Bruce comes to terms with losing a loved one alongside the transformation of Harvey Dent to Two-Face. Filled to the brim with classic scenes from the opening heist to the Bat-cycle speeding through city streets, Nolan makes not just a superhero film but an inspired crime saga with immense depth previously unseen in the genre. Virtuoso acting, remarkable stunts and a convincing script resonated with audiences who wanted to follow Bruce’s continuing journey as the watchful protector. Wayne-derful.

2. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi)

The first film established a solid but uninspiring take on the webbed-wonder but after its success Raimi was allowed to unleash his full directorial flourishes onto the franchise in the form of zooms, whip pans and more Bruce Campbell in this superior sequel. Maguire loses his mojo as Parker tries hard to be both Spidey and boyfriend to MJ whilst Alfred Molina is top drawer as Dr. Octopus, a much improved and far more fun villain than the Green Goblin. With less-cartoony CGI, brilliant action sequences on the elevated train, during the bank robbery and high-up on buildings, Raimi showed he could handle the affectionate closeness between characters whilst wasting no time in slinging in some comedy, mild horror and plenty of fisticuffs as Spiderman comes to terms with what’s important in his life. Go web go!

1. Batman (Tim Burton)

The best of Batman in my eyes with the right balance between fantasy comic book and dark reality with a brooding Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne and devilish Jack Nicholson as The Joker in a role he was born to play. Rejuvenating the comic-book movie (after the Superman franchise ended in a damp squib) the film was stylish, sassy (“where does he get those wonderful toys?”) and equal parts insane and serious. Nolan took more from this than anyone cares to admit (see my Bat-blog here on their similarities – click for blog) and Burton focused on the Caped Crusader’s crime and detective background and gave us the origins in well-thought out flashbacks. With a BatMobile for the ages, a solid support cast (Michael Gough as Alfred lasting ALL four of this franchise’s movies) and a gothic design by the late Anton Furst, the simply titled Batman was not only the sum of its parts but much more than that and made the anti-hero not just a campy actor in tights, but a major cultural phenomenon. Good knight my sweet Prince.

By midlandsmovies, Jul 4 2013 05:18PM

For previous blogs about the rest of the Top 50 please click the links below:

• 50-41 – http://goo.gl/zUSxr

• 40-31 – http://goo.gl/7P7w2

• 30-21 – http://goo.gl/hAUvI

• 21-10 – http://goo.gl/adVo2

Well, you can see the list quickly below but now I can finally talk about some of the big surprises that missed out in our readers’ Top 50 films. Just missing out on the Top 50 were seasoned classics like Psycho, Titanic, Natural Born Killers, Gladiator, Singing in the Rain, Seven Samurai, The Terminator, There will be Blood, Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver, Chinatown and Seven whilst One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest received just 2 low-scoring votes from everyone. LA Confidential & Anchorman appeared a lot but their scores were too low across the submissions to be anywhere near the list sadly. More surprisingly only one vote EACH went to the following films: Citizen Kane, Heat, Some Like It Hot, Fargo, Eternal Sunshine, Schindler's List & JFK (both my own!), Memento, Amelie and Vertigo. In comparison, this was the same as The Muppets Christmas Carol, 27 Dresses & Hook! Unbelievable! Anyway, it’s finally here so please read below for the Midlands Movies Readers’ Top 10...

10. Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Dir. Irvin Kershner

Not quite the highest placed sequel on the list but the film that had to follow the cultural phenomenon of the original by going darker and more intimate as Luke Skywalker begins his Jedi training with Dagobah-swamp creature Master Yoda before finding out some family secrets in the film’s infamous finale. A troubled production (Irvin Kershner would give direction to Yoda instead of Frank Oz by mistake) the film had a luke-warm (ahem) response when it was first released but with its character development, ingenious battle sequences and further probing into the power of the force, audience appreciation has increased over time and is now considered more thought provoking and satisfying than A New Hope.

9. Apocalypse Now (1979) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola

Coppola’s own journey through the jungle trying to complete this 70s war film was as much a struggle as his protagonist (Martin Sheen, who was also not spared as he had an infamous heart attack on set) who is tasked with tracking down Kurtz, an awol Colonel played by a bloated and bald Brando. Using rock and classical musical to accompany the horrors of hostilities, the film is the pinnacle of war allegory movies and the combat and questions raised are as relevant now as they were then. Although I am not fan of the film (especially the elongated REDUX which has ballooned like Brando), the film’s significance is undeniable from the making of the movie, through to the actors’ journey, the narrative and the multiple meanings of the gorgeous cinematography.

8. Django Unchained (2013) Dir. Quentin Tarantino

Only out this year, Tarantino’s western slave Django has escaped from his chains to a surprise high entry on Midlands’ movie-goers favourites with its blaxploitation vibe, (another) funky soundtrack picked by QT and great performances from Waltz (Oscar worthy), Foxx (badass) and DiCaprio (eviiiiiillllll). Despite a lengthy running time and (now obligatory but terrible)Tarantino cameo, it’s mixture of comedy, history and surprising amount of action makes me feel it that not only will it be appearing on many critics’ “Best of 2013” lists, but it will also be heralded a masterpiece for years to come.

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Dir. Peter Jackson

For many, the Star Wars for a new generation as the story of a young Hobbit given a power to defeat an evil menace helped by a ragtag group of strange men and creatures had both a familiarity and “other worldly” vibe that audiences could relate to. Jackson’s spectacular visual imagery and roving camera gave the film a truly epic feel from the tight community of The Shire to the large battles. Containing one of my all time favourite sequences (entering the mines to the Balrog-Gandalf exit) the perfect balance of story, character, brilliant CGI and miniature use set up a story that would soon spawn even greater achievements like Gollum and the siege of Minas Tirith. The sequels may have won Jackson the Oscars but it required the most audacious opening to set the scene for the subsequent journey and the Fellowship showed how to do that without a fault.

6. Leon (1994) Dir. Luc Besson

Jean Reno plays the professional assassin protecting a young neighbour (Natalie Portman) after her parents are killed by corrupt policemen in this action-thriller from ‘94. With perennial scene-stealer Gary Oldman as the baddest of bad cops, Leon is a film that has both heart and horror with as many tender moments and growing pains as it has splatter, blood and bullets. The odd couple are perfectly cast and a series of brilliantly choreographed action scenes are balanced against the quieter personal moments. With European sensibilities, the film is less Hollywood-by-numbers and more of an intellectual tussle between action, character and the moral fibre of those around us.

5. Aliens (1986) Dir. James Cameron

THE highest placed sequel is this follow up to Scott’s space horror and Cameron gave the franchise a boost by subverting it into a Vietnam saga in space. After years in hypersleep, Ellen Ripley is thrown back into the bug hunt with an outfit of marines to see what has happened to the settlers on the planet the original xenomorph was found and with wise-cracks and military back packs, Cameron’s camera fizzles with excitement with slime and grime in every shot whilst there is action-a-plenty as the marines shoot everything in their sights. With Lance Henriksen brilliant as the ‘bot Bishop and a superb and eclectic ensemble cast, the movie was eventually nominated for seven Academy Awards, including a Best Actress nomination for Sigourney Weaver, the film’s ending featuring the Queen versus Ripley’s power-loader is one of the best bust-ups on screen.

4. Fight Club (1999) Dir. David Fincher

“Ban this sick filth” said the Daily Mail on the release of this film. Never has the point of a film been so greatly missed that to this day, the fighting is the thing viewers remember the least about it. From the snazzy camera moves and editing(all CGI, IKEA and “cock” insertions) to the expertly and explicitly written dialogue from the most unreliable of narrators, Fincher’s rug-pull is backed up by Pixies-infused post-masculine angst and Meat Loaf with tits. Pitt is as good as he ever was and Bonham-Carter made her career re-invention from Merchant Ivory lady to pasty gothic waif in just one movie. Pitch black humour combined with a great story, Fight Club shows how a film can be watched again and again making it a classic of modern cinema.

3. The Matrix (1999) Dir. The Waschowskis

“What is the matrix?” Well, to sum up the Waschowski’s brilliant bullet-time sci-fi magnum opus and how its modern reinvention of sci-fi, simulated reality and sentient machines couldn’t have been more on the movie-going pulse in 1999, consider this… Star Wars: The Phantom Menace also came out that same year. “Whoa”.

2. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) Dir. George Lucas

Despite the appreciation of its immediate successor, Lucas’ original Star Wars still commands a huge presence on the screen and although it is the shortest of the 6 franchise films, its classical boy-given-unwanted-challenge and powers narrative (Hobbit, Harry Potter, Matrix et al), wise old sage and meetings of Princesses and rogues along their journey, showed how Lucas took an established structure and transposed them to the galaxy far far away. Whilst adding an unforgettable musical score, brand new special effects and make up into the mix, Lucas’ characters were ones audiences could relate to, alongside the boo’s created during the presence of the best on-screen villain of all time. With a final climax that will echo in eternity, Star Wars is the childhood we can revisit again and again yet was sadly Lucas’ swansong in the franchise as he moved to bigger (but definitely not better) things. With this film we all wanted to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi....like our fathers.

And finally...

1. Pulp Fiction (1994) Dir. Quentin Tarantino

20 years old next year, time has been very kind to Quentin’s nonlinear tale of violent thugs and pop-culture dialogue and it’s easy to see why it’s Midlands Movies’ readers’ number one. Watching today you get both nostalgia AND a sense of modernism with possibly the coolest soundtrack alongside genuine great performances from Travolta, Jackson, Thurman, Keitel and Bruce Willis who I often forget is even in it! This neo-noir film essentially turned Tarantino from a wunderkind into the global phenomenon we know today and the film’s violence and drug references are so uniquely balanced with its humour and love of character that its unique style has been much imitated yet never bettered. We happy? Yeah, we happy.

By midlandsmovies, Jun 30 2013 12:49PM

As we get closer to the top 10 I feel it safe to tell readers of some more of the surprises that came in from the votes. Hopefully not too spoilerific, it was a surprise to me that no animation made it into the top 50 at all. There were plenty of votes for different films but these were spread too thin. Some of the major films loved by you all included Howl's Moving Castle, Toy Story 1 & 2, The Incredibles, The Jungle Book, Spirited Away, Beauty and The Beast and The Lion King (which was the closest) but none gained enough to break into the 50.

20. Die Hard (1988) Dir. John McTiernan

“Hey babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Eurotrash”. Bruce Willis left behind his comedy stylings in Moonlighting to join Arnie/Sly as one of the infamous action stars of the 80s/90s. Alan Rickman in his feature film debut stars as Hans Gruber, the head of a terrorist organisation who take hostages during Christmas at the Nakatomi Plaza to get their euro-mitts on millions of dollars worth of bearer bonds. With only John McLane to stop them, the film has memorable characters, great quotes ("Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!") and endless action set pieces including punch ups, shoot outs and explosions. With increasingly diminishing returns for the sequels, the original and best Die Hard is still massively popular.

19. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) Dir. James Cameron

One of my favourite choices, James Cameron’s sequel raised the stakes, the budget and the amount of Special F/X in this time travelling sci-fi film twisting the original’s plot where Arnie is reprogrammed to be the protector of John Connor as a child. The clever script, nods to the first film and fantastic fighting were all overshadowed by the shape-shifting liquid-metal T-1000 and Cameron has been pushing the CGI envelope ever since. In 78 years, this is the only sequel to win an Academy Award when the previous movie wasn't even nominated and the combination of heavy action, solid acting and dazzling effects has ensured the film’s legacy ever since.

18. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Dir. Guillermo del Toro

The highest foreign language film on the list, Del Toro’s twisted war-torn fairy tale is a favourite amongst our readers no doubt for its highly inventive storytelling and award-winning makeup as animatronics and CGI effects bring life to its myriad of creatures. In post–Civil War Spain in 1944, a young girl Ofelia escapes into a world of Fauns and fairies as the atrocities of war surround her and undertakes a series of tasks to see if she possesses the same spirit of the land’s long-lost Princess Moanna. Del Toro weaves a web of reality and fantasy taking narrative-nods and imagery from Lewis Carroll's Alice books and Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan and The White People. The lasting image may be of the film’s signature monster the Pale Man but as a piece of storytelling, the film showcases the director’s obsession with dreams, visions and nightmares.

17. Goodfellas (1990) Dir. Martin Scorsese

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”. Sadly winning just one Oscar (but deservedly for Joe Pesci’s psychotic Tommy) the film is often named as the greatest gangster flick in many a film-debate with The Godfather but it’s Coppola’s epic that pips it in our list. Following the rise and fall narrative of Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, an up and coming wise guy who violently hustles his way up the mob before risking it all with off-the-book dodgy drug deals,. We also see his attempts at keeping his pals Pesci and De Niro from fucking up as they rob, steal, murder and more across the city. Scorsese uses all the cinema tricks in his book from flashbacks to LONG tracking shots to music montage and the film’s kinetic pace and brilliant voiceovers have helped secure its place amongst the greats. The film is here “outta respect”.

16. 12 Angry Men (1957) Dir. Sidney Lumet

Both the highest black and white film AND the oldest film in our top 50 list, Sidney Lumet’s brilliant jury drama from 1957 still wins with audiences. Set in just one room (3 if you include the VERY brief courthouse start and the short scene in the bathroom) the film shows how a great script delivered by an even better cast can still be the most watchable of features. Henry Fonda stars as jury member number 8 (identified as ‘Davis’ at the end) who merely asks the jury to consider each bit of evidence in a murder trial out of respect for the “accused”. Slowly the prosecution case looks less open-and-shut as the jury deliberates the arguments. A three week tight budgeted shoot subsequently shows what inventive camera angles and focus on character can do for a film but it’s for these 12 reasons the film is ultimately a classic - Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Ed Binns, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec & Robert Webber.

15. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Dir. Stanley Kubrick

Kubrick’s cold mind-trip takes us from Monkey to space junky in a toss of the bone as 2001 continues to hold audiences in wonder with its spectacular visuals, classical soundtrack and non-opening of pod-bay doors. Daisy, daisy followed by some druggy crazy, Kubrick tackles life, death, earth, space and humans and aliens all in one film showing that he had the minerals to take on the largest of subjects. Allowing for multiple interpretations from the public, the film shows everything on screen yet somehow the viewer comes away with wanting more – a trick only a genius like Kubrick could even attempt. “Would you like to buy some pegs, Dave?” Wait! That’s not right.

14. The Godfather (1972) Dir. Francis Ford Coppola

"Mumble, mumble, mumble...day of my daughter's wedding." With a script like that how could it not be the greatest gangster film of them all? In all seriousness, like many I prefer the original film over the (still excellent) sequel as we are introduced to the Corleone crime family and the rise of the Don’s son Michael (Al Pacino, never better). Coppolla’s thorough interpretation of Mario Puzo’s novel focuses on the minutae of the Italian family (food, culture and relationships fill the running time as much as gangster goings-on) and the mise-en-scene, cinematography, ensemble acting and narrative are a cinephile’s dream. Let's just not mention Part 3 shall we.

13. Blade Runner (1982) Dir. Ridley Scott

A film that made my top 10 overrated movies (click link here) is Scott’s moody noir sci-fi from the early 80s. In the year 2019 Harrison Ford is Dekkard, a private detective charged with hunting down human-looking replicants (a term never used in Phillip K. Dick’s original novel) in a squalid sleazy future. The cinematography is gorgeous and the special effects showed Scott’s adherence to making sci-fi look “lived-in” and grubby and through multiple dramatic and narrative levels, the film asks what it means to be human. Although I may need to go into hiding as I previously denounced the film as “boring and pretentious” (having 7 versions of a movie suggests it hasn’t quite ever got it right!) the film no doubt has an unforgettable appearance with a serious tone which has resulted in the readers voting it so high. I guess I stand corrected.

12. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Dir. Frank Darabont

Overlooked at Oscar time, then a renaissance of sorts on DVD, now kind of sneered at by critics as schmaltzy, Shawshank however remains a perennial favourite for many and can be considered “It’s A Wonderful Life” for another generation with its positivity in small acts making a big difference over one’s lifetime. A solid turn from Robbins and an amazing performance from Morgan Freeman as Red (both steely AND vulnerable) show how two friends can support each other through the tough times to come out clean on the other side. Male-bonding at its best.

11. The Crow (1994) Dir. Alex Proyas

The BIGGEST surprise on the list is this 1994 anti-hero flick and one which I do not have too much love for myself. Maybe it’s an age thing but the sub-par script and terrible effects haven't aged particularly well at all but I guess the readers enjoy the dark and brooding subject matter (years before the Nolan-verse of Batman) and the "metal" soundtrack and brooding pout of Brandon Lee who infamously died on set. Looking back, at least we know where Ledger got some influence for his Joker from though; ironic really I suppose given the actors involved, but with the Midlands being the home of the Download Festival, this rocky superhero still goes to the gloomy and bleak places that our readers’ are attracted to.


20. Die Hard

19. Terminator 2

18. Pan’s Labyrinth

17. Goodfellas

16. 12 Angry Men

15. 2001: A Space Odyssey

14. The Godfather

13. Blade Runner

12. The Shawshank Redemption

11. The Crow

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