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By midlandsmovies, Jun 10 2018 08:51AM

12 Underrated films that may have passed you by since 2010


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


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




Coherence (2014) Dir. James Ward Byrkit

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



Stoker (2013) Dir. Park Chan-wook

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




Tim’s Vermeer (2014) Dir. Teller

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




Frank (2014) Dir. Lenny Abrahamson

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




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

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




Snowpiercer (2014) Dir. Bong Joon-ho

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




Joe (2014) Dir. David Gordon Green

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




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

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




Love & Mercy (2015) Dir. Bill Pohlad

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




Grand Piano (2014) Dir. Eugenio Mira

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




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

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




Life Itself (2014) Dir. Steve James

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


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 11 2016 03:28PM

Hardcore Henry (2016) Dir. Ilya Naishuller


A first-person perspective film expanded from the director’s music video using the same technique, Hardcore Henry is a 90 minute action-fest for the video game generation. A “plot” sees the protagonist Henry attempting to regain his memory after he wakes up with his body in ruins and his wife filling in the gaps. A Robocop-inspired intro sees Henry being fitted with advance prosthetic limbs before a Bourne-style chase ensues. This forces him to run, jump and fight his way across city streets and transport, eventually taking on a variety of hit squads, vehicles and guys with guns.


Very much unlike the Maniac remake which got into the mind of a killer using a first-person filming technique, Hardcore Henry has almost zero-characterisation and we barely get to know the lead. Only during a fleeting shot at the film’s conclusion do they even show who this man is. One could argue this is to project ourselves onto him but in all honesty I think this may be giving the film far too much credit. What it does do however is very much in the style of Crank. Sadly without the draw of a Statham-alike to give the silly idea some cheesy action-hero oomph! Like that movie, Henry is pursued at high speed relentlessly throughout the film’s run time and for those looking for depth you will not find it here.


There is still much to enjoy though. The violence was suitably over-the-top and generally creative, an excellent and campy Sharlto Copley gets multiple characters to inhabit – including the delivery of a song and dance number – and the stunt work is superb. I never suffer with motion sickness in film but I suspect the point-of-view perspective (‘head cam’) may not be to everyone’s taste. There is simply an absence of characters and the plot is as thin as a cyclist’s Highway Code. What worked well in a 3-minute online video struggles to fill out a full feature BUT I enjoyed the risks it took despite its flaws.


Like Unfriended, which used a computer screen to tell a narrative, I was pleased to see a film taking new technology to the cinema.


Is it completely successful? Not by a long chalk. Is it lots of guilty fun? Much more than I’d care to admit.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Nov 25 2015 03:58PM

Tangerine (2015) Dir. Sean S. Baker


This rowdy and colourful film from the brash streets of LA is most famous for being one of the first feature films to be entirely shot on a mobile phone. The iPhone 5s if you’re interested. Whilst rudimentary and clearly “digital” it is a technical achievement nonetheless and the home-made tale is a story of smut and indecency but ends on a thoughtful and sympathetic note. A triumph given the lurid subject matter it tackles.


The story tells of a trans woman s*x worker called Sin-Dee Rella who exits prison after 28 days inside and meets with her best friend Alexandra who tells her that her pimp boyfriend has been cheating on her with a girl called Dinah. Rather than let this go, she attempts to track down her boyfriend and the girl in a passionate rage.


It’s a slim premise but leads to a trail of destruction around Hollywood and that story is cross-cut with an Armenian cab driver who trawls the streets looking for customers and a whole lot more as well. Both tales come to a head at the film’s climax at a donut shop with secrets being shared by all parties.


The film is surprisingly funny, and very dark, and although it covers current topics of gender and identity, it doesn’t dwell on them and lets the drama play out amongst the characters. The edgy subject matter may not be for all audiences’ tastes but the director balances this with affection and sensitivity amongst the film’s more vulgar moments. From vomiting taxi passengers to various bodily fluids the film may make audiences gag or be considered tasteless at times. However the director places these against a complex narrative and some considerate characters who have their own hopes and aspirations.


Although most of the film has a hand-held and in-your-face style, static shots of Alexandra singing lounge music help slow the intensity and give a break from the extremely manic journey they’re all on. The soundtrack as well was also memorable and one of the best of the year. Sometimes soundtrack, sometimes radio, almost a film musical at times, the songs were evocative of a rude and rough Los Angeles and as raw as the characters themselves.


With the sun beating down and moments of black humour, you will forget the film is actually set on Christmas Eve and but it also takes a no-flinching look at issues of hatred, control and outlandish behaviour whilst never judging those it portrays.


I recommend this film as although it has its problems – it takes an awful long while to feel sympathy with some characters, and you may never agree with their life choices – it knows what it wants to say, supresses none of its crudeness, is a great low budget achievement with the whole cast very believable. Streets ahead of other independent films shot on phone, it clearly has limitations yet no one would ever call it boring or lifeless.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Oct 28 2015 08:19AM

After a great year of film watching and reviewing and enjoying a wide range of different genres, there were a number of films that passed me by and caught up with much later than their release date. With that in mind, I’m going to briefly review 7 films released in 2015 that I’ve since watched so without further pause, check out (or avoid) some of the movies below in our Midlands Movies 2015 catch up review blog.


Whiplash (2015) Dir. Damien Chazelle

Already an Oscar winning film before I got to watch it, Whiplash has ended up as one of my favourite films of the year. J K Simmons is the tour de force drum teacher who encourages then cajoles then demands, then bullies his talented new student played by Miles Teller. Whilst Simmons is intensely vocal and violently passionate, Teller holds his own as the gifted percussionist who will do almost anything to succeed. The banging drums helped provide rhythmic and dynamic editing beats as well as sound-tracking the movie in general (similar to Birdman) and this also pushed the film along to its fulfilling conclusion. There’s no need to be a fan of drumming for this thumpingly brilliant film with pulsating performances from two exceptional leads.


9/10 Midlands Movies Mike


Spy (2015) Dir. Paul Feig

Touted to be a surprisingly good comedy given the absolutely awful poster - which I thought looked like Stop or My Mum Will Shoot - Melissa McCarthy plays a desk based agent thrown into a world of gun-toting espionage. Everyone gives it their all, McCarthy isn’t as annoying as I’ve found her in the past giving a performance with heart whilst Jude Law nails an arrogant suave spy (once a possible Bond contender perhaps?) whilst Statham plays a deadpan comedic version of himself as a grizzled field operative unhappy with McCarthy’s assignment. Spy also contains possibly the weirdest scene of the year when British sitcom comedienne Miranda ends up falling on gangster rapper 50-Cent in the middle of a concert. Despite these positives, I didn’t think there were enough funny moments in the movie and I was forever snooping to actually find a laugh or two. Inoffensive to a fault, a few against-type performances were not enough to save the film which I found mostly dull, repetitive and simply not humourous enough to engage.


6/10 Midlands Movie Mike


It Follows (2015) Dir. David Robert Mitchell

The much lauded horror It Follows was on my “must-see” list for a long time before I finally got to view it in the middle of the year. And well? Well, I was unfortunately disappointed by the hyped reviews and “best-ever” tags. This was much the same case as last year for me with the dissatisfying Babadook. A great conceit where the “entity” is passed from victim to victim during s*x, the positives were realistic motivations and interactions between the American teen actors (this being a rarity in horror these days – see Gallows below) and a genuine sense of dread when the slow moving infected person entered the frame from background to foreground. The 70s style of Carpenter was also present but despite the odd moment of terror, the slowly approaching fiend was reflected in the pace of the film and never did I really feel that the group were in danger. A respectful take on a genre currently filled with jerks and jump cuts, the movie had lots of well-intentioned anxiety but no real peril for me.


6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike


The Gallows (2015) Dir. Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing

Good lord! Where to start with this film??! Dear Cluff and Lofing – you simply have no idea how to make a film. As a fan of handheld horror (REC is a favourite of mine) I deplore the fact that a “filmmaker” thinks that wobbling the camera about a bit is enough to add “realism” to a horribly structured & edited movie. The list of flaws in this film will make you want to hang yourself but in short, the characters are unsympathetic (the main guy is a bully who I wanted to be knocked off as soon as he appeared), the story boring, the filming absolutely atrocious and the execution so flawed that I’m struggling to define it as a movie. If it was made on a zero budget by a group of school kids, the you could say “well done, grade A homework for a film made on your phone” but for a mainstream movie it is inexcusable this can be released in the form I saw it. The film should be lynched by any horror movie fan as a low point for the genre in 2015.


2/10 Midlands Movies Mike


The Visit (2015) Dir. M Night Shyamalan

Shyamalan in not sh*t film shocker! So should be the headline of every movie review and blog about this new feature from the director of the awesome Sixth Sense and Unbreakable as well as the terrible Lady in the Water, The Happening, Last Airbender and After Earth. Returning to themes first tackled in his scary debut, this is a handheld horror where 2 children are sent to their grandparents to stay whilst their mum goes on holiday. The kids capture the events using a camera the daughter brings to document their time there, but very soon the odd behaviour of the geriatrics start getting out of hand. Small ticks and sleepwalking start to take a sinister turn as their night terrors, screaming and strange actions are compounded by them failing to remember what has happened. Are they ill? Are they possessed? Well, it turns out to be stranger than that but Shyamalan shows his filmmaking talent with a short and scary tale that goes back to basics with simple shocks and unfussy terror through the eyes of the two children. Boundaries haven’t been broken but it succeeds in being both a relief in Shyamalan’s career that there is still talent in his filmmaking as well as being a satisfyingly spooky tale on its own merits.


7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike


The Gift (2015) Dir. Joel Edgerton

In his directorial debut, Joel Edgerton also plays the strange loner who re-enters the life of his former classmate Jason Bateman and his wife. Twisting and turning, the plot focuses on his strange and erratic behaviour as the couple attempt to work out his intentions but it soon becomes apparent that all is not what it seems with Bateman himself holding secrets of his own. Switching from victims to perpetrators the couple and the strange outsider discuss and analyse the actions of the past and how they ripple into the present day. I’ve never really taken to Jason Bateman so his turn as a quite unlikeable egoist and overconfident intimidator was a good use of his talents whilst Edgerton delivers a strong show as a mostly silent nuisance. 20 minutes from the end I sadly guessed where the film was going but once past the slow opening, the drama was solid and the narrative clearly told. However, it’s not the gift that keeps on giving as I doubt I would want to sit through this more than once despite being an assured unveiling of Edgerton’s talent outside of acting. A serious if sluggish thriller.


6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike


Going Clear (2015) Dir Alex Gibney

A documentary focusing on a number of people who have escaped the clutches of the questionable “Church” of Scientology was always going to ruffle some feathers with the organisation and Gibney’s film does exactly that. Showing Scientology from its early beginnings as a simple money making tool for its inventor L Ron Hubbard, the later clips show celebrity endorsers John Travolta and Tom Cruise saluting this 1950’s huckster whose main goal it seems was cheap labour and avoiding tax. The film is interspersed with interviews with people who left or were forced to leave and stories like one lady’s “detachment” from her daughter and another’s car-leaping escape are equal parts harrowing and immensely terrifying. Director Gibney barely places any personal comment directly onto the footage and lets the talking heads recall their stories which shame the organisation and its cult-like practices. A powerful if not political study of a modern phenomenon, the film shows how faith and indoctrination is not just the sole domain of Middle Eastern tyrants but lands at the door of Western society as otherwise sensible people are hoodwinked into their pyramid scheme of secrecy. A must watch.


8/10 Midlands Movies Mike.

By midlandsmovies, Sep 2 2015 03:00PM

Unfriended (2015) Dir. Levan Gabriadze


Unfriended is produced by Timur Bekmambetov who is known for attempting to push the envelope of what could be just boring blockbusters from his breakthrough Day/Night Watch, the guilty pleasures of Wanted and the schlock concept Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This new release is a witty teen horror/thriller which casts its virtual eye over cyberbullying, revenge and modern technology with a unique take on the genre.


We have to start with the style which defines the narrative so much it cannot be ignored. The film is simply the computer screen of one of the protagonists and we see her cursor and mouse as she chats to her friends online via video calls on Skype. This interesting conceit taps into teens’ over-reliance on modern technology as the friends interact with various media apps but in this film it has very dire consequences.


As well as virtual chats, the lead character is shown to search for info using Google, read posts on forums, listen to music on Spotify and watch footage on YouTube. These take the place of cuts, backstory and are a creatively interesting way of giving the audience more information.


With the structure set up (one many young people could relate to no doubt) the rather simple story is filled with horror clichés as an unknown user takes control of a bullied teen’s Facebook account after she has taken her own life and also anonymously joins their group chats. One by one, the group’s secrets are revealed and conflict occurs both with the regular adolescent problems of gossip, hearsay and s*x as well as with the person that has infiltrated their computers. Is it simply a virus? Is it someone pretending to be the dead girl? Is it a ghostly revenge story?


Well, from instant messaging to the creepy emails, the film uses genre tropes in a distinct manner but the concept is consistently the most fascinating aspect of the movie. Clocking in around 90 minutes, I doubt the film could hold an audience longer as I felt like I was looking over the shoulder of a co-worker at times, it isn’t the most riveting story. At times anyone savvy with computers may find that there are periods when you wish they’d type faster or the story beats move quicker. During one point, the entire group seem to be just waiting for something to happen like a bad webinar conference call.


It has to be said the film really isn’t that scary and although the acting was solid teen fare, the biggest negative was the plot itself. Teen revenge and bullying has moved online but the story of something happening “last Summer” and the stereotypical teens being stalked by persons unknown is hardly new.


Aside from the remarkable technique then sadly the film is just a bit hollow. If you’re not into web-based media like YouTube and messaging then avoid this like the plague and there’s only so much tension that can be rung out of a kid at a desk. It’s an interesting experiment that fails to avoid the many clichés of the genre BUT the idea is more than solid and slasher films have got a much needed 21st century shot (or should that be slice) to the arm.


6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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