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By midlandsmovies, Oct 2 2019 12:30PM



Dark Phoenix (2019) Dir. Simon Kinberg


Oh, X-Men! * sigh * The inconsistent and frustrating franchise continues with its focus on making either cracking or crappy blockbusters and with the recent purchase of X-owners 20th Century Fox by Disney (Marvel) this is no doubt the last we’ll see of this incarnation. And what a poor effort to say goodbye with.


In his feature directorial debut, the inexperienced Kinberg attempts to deliver a new adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's "The Dark Phoenix Saga". As the writer of X-Men: The Last Stand, Kinberg has already had one shot at this story so he’s given it a more faithful spin, right?


Well, the story opens with a flashback (like Last Stand) and young Jean Grey’s powers are a source of frustration for her parents before we find that Professor X puts her in protective state to supress her abilities (like Last Stand).


After an accident in space sees her powers get stronger, an older Jean has a fight in suburbia with the X-gang soon arriving on the street to try and stop her (like Last Stand). And it’s not too long before the whole sequence finishes with the death of a major character passing away (like Last Stand). Get it yet? In fact it’s so familiar territory that it’s just short of a remake.


And although it’s essentially the same material, I wonder why it in fact is so much worse. But the performances are phoned it, the drama is underwhelming to the point of non-existence and Jessica Chastain’s pasty white non-villain Vuk is the blandest since Malekith the Dark Elf in Thor: The Dark World.


The underwhelming fiery ending with people turning to dust (like Last Stand) leads the film to sit comfortably alongside the first two Wolverine flicks as the most unmemorable in this universe. A few exciting scenes (Quicksilver and Nightcrawler’s powers during the shuttle accident being the best by far) were sadly not enough to keep my interest.


Gone are James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s morally ambiguous arcs, Jennifer Lawrence’s internal conflicts and Evan Peters’ quirky quips as Quicksilver. And sadly Sophie Turner is no Famke Janssen either. Any attempts to inject the dull A-to-B story with deeper themes and meanings fall flat at every turn too.


So what a sad way to go out really. With our fantastic responses to Logan and Days of Future Past, the X-Men world appeared to be rejuvenated but with this and Apocalypse (review), the miserable fact is that this is a terribly wretched way to end a series I've enjoyed immensely over the years.


★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2019 11:02AM



It Chapter Two (2019) Dir. Andy Muschietti


The success of the first IT film came as a bit of an industry surprise with the best opening of a horror movie at the box office ever. The inevitable sequel was not just because of that – the book is “essentially” two parts anyways – so now we follow the Losers Club as adults as they return to Derry to fulfil their promise to each other to stop Pennywise the (killer) Clown if he ever returned.


Director Andy Muschietti builds upon the good work of his first film which, for me, is by far the best of the recent glut of mainstream Hollywood horror. But this time we have a selection of adults embodying grown-up versions of the child actors from the previous film.


Jessica Chastain/Sophia Lillis star as the old and young versions of Bev respectively, James McAvoy/Jaeden Martell are Bill, Bill Hader and Finn Wolfhard play Richie, Isaiah Mustafa and Chosen Jacobs are Mike, Jay Ryan and Jeremy Ray Taylor act as Ben, James Ransone and Jack Dylan Grazer are Eddie and finally Andy Bean and Wyatt Oleff play Stanley Uris.


As the gang reunite, the film sees their memory of past events slowly return and the success of the excellent young actors’ chemistry from the first film has led to the director inserting plenty of flashbacks to flesh out the story.


And of course, the fabulously malevolent Bill Skarsgård is Pennywise the Dancing Clown with his piercing eyes, child-like voice and drooling smile all coming back to scare the adults who are all dealing with their personal past demons too.


As well as the actors, the film is shot superbly and the glowing cinematography during the flashbacks harks back to the innocent past whilst the modern versions have a more contemporary look. And a smattering of humour, mainly built around the excellent Bill Hader helps keep the protagonists likeable.


However, despite some excellent work from the cast and filmmaker, there are some problems with that. The film is not really scary at all. A Thing-inspired spider-head and a tense meeting between an old lady and Jessica Chastain’s Bev are superb but an over-use of CGI and the humour is tonally a little off. There are also some “meta” moments with a film set location, a Stephen King cameo and constant references to McAvoy’s writer who is known for the bad endings of his published books. This makes the film feel more like the satirical Scream 2 and these self-references took me from the movie completely.


Also, we must talk about the runtime. At 169 minutes (!) it’s AT LEAST 30-minutes too long. The great drama played out by the gang works well but by the cataclysmic and over-the-top end confrontation, I was actually yearning for a conclusion. A Return of the Rings-style multi-ending added another 10 minutes on that and it soon became quite comically misjudged.


The cast (did I mention them at all?) really help the slightly ramshackle film from falling apart but with its aim to be “epic”, it falls flat at times despite the interesting dark themes of dealing with the past sitting nicely with some more positivity set within fun 80s retro references. In the end though, IT Chapter 2 is a more than solid 2 hour sequel with an added 50 unnecessary minutes that ideally could be wiped from your brain like a memory from Derry.


★★★½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Mar 11 2019 04:26PM



GLASS (2019) Dir. M Night Shyamalan


A quick story - at the end of Split (2016) I was left slightly disappointed as I was informed there would be a twist and discovered one of the 23 multiple personalities of James McAvoy as Kevin Crumb was actually a true evil power known as the Beast. However, in that film’s very final moments director Shyamalan pans to Bruce Willis (as David Dunn) and was hugely shocked to find the film is revealed to be a sequel to Shyamalan’s down-to-earth superhero flick Unbreakable from 2000. Wow.


One of the better twists from the master of them, Glass is the final part of the trilogy and sees McAvoy, Willis and Samuel L Jackson locked up in a psychiatric ward, where their ‘superpowers’ are to be studied by Sarah Poulson’s Doctor Ellie Staple. We open with David and his son as vigilantes who free a group of kidnapped cheerleaders but in David’s fight with The Beast they are captured by the authorities. Incarcerated with both David and Kevin is Mr. Glass (Jackson) – the evil brains from Unbreakable – who is heavily sedated and all three are told their abilities are simply psychiatric disorders and little more than a fantasy.


The film links the characters and themes from the previous movies using colours, comic book tropes and a self-referential awareness of its own construction. Shyamalan uses every cinematic trick in the book – point of view, spinning cameras, static shots and much more to keep the film visually interesting in what, if you break it down, is a standard thriller tale. All three actors are stupendous though – Willis’ more recent cinematic outings have been dubious at best – but here his pensive, almost uninterested, facial blandness actually works as a man doubting his own experiences.


As Mr. Glass plays clever games within the hospital’s walls – he sets up an escape plan with Kevin whilst the film is full of surprises and shows Shyamalan’s expert use of pace and, more importantly, an unbearable amount of tension. In simple scenes of dialogue we feel every character motivation and the horror techniques he used so well in The Sixth Sense and The Visit are re-visited here to great effect. Shyamalan also provides a number of technical twists – fights are witnessed from the inside of a van, an important escape plan punch-up is shown in the background and with an opening that plays on what can’t be seen – he is an expert of what to show and what not to show. And where possible, to show the audience what they weren’t expecting at every turn.


The film rolls to a climax which is the most disappointing part of the movie. Without giving it away, the film tries to expand the super-human ideas into a worldwide issue, when the films up to this point have been very much about the small and personal acts of good and evil. By using themes of conspiracy and internet technology, the film loses the humanity and character-study work it had delivered so brilliantly beforehand. Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke (from Split) and Charlayne Woodard as Mrs. Price, Elijah's mother both provide good support roles to flesh out the story.


However, it is to Shyamalan’s credit he not only got to finish a trilogy started 19 years ago but to do so in such a satisfying manner. Ignore the naysayers who have unwisely projected their own expectations onto a film that never could have existed – which is always a hiding to nothing – as Glass surprises by being the kind of dark, tension-filled shattering success that are nowadays shuffled off to Netflix when they should be enjoyed on the big screen as it provides more than satisfying thrills from the beginning until the end.


★★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Dec 1 2017 01:16PM



Atomic Blonde (2017) Dir. David Leitch


This action thriller film stars Charlize Theron as a spy uncovering double agents in Europe during the downfall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.


Rather unoriginally, the film begins as a KGB agent steals a sensitive list of active-agents hidden in a wristwatch before cutting to a bruised and hurt Lorraine Broughton (Theron) as she proceeds to explain what happened in Berlin to her handlers. This flashback frames the story as the sarcastic agent recalls the events to the CIA (John Goodman) and her MI6 superior (Toby Jones) and what unfolds is her experience to recover the list and uncover the identity of a double agent within the ranks.


All of this sets up a series of amazingly-filmed action sequences and the comparisons to this year’s John Wick: Chapter 2 are easy to see – no less obvious as director Leitch is also a producer on that film. With Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron showed she could handle punches, kicks and bone crushing fights and we get even more here with her central performance is key to the film’s charm.


Theron’s natural allure helps the audience get behind her mission but it’s the long one-take action scenes that are the film’s selling point. From bashing battles to bullets banging, the film mixes fantastic fight choreography with running, explosions and vehicle chases in a variety of exciting sequences that will keep you entertained, even though the clichéd story line hits familiar plot points.


The Berlin background is a nice change to the usual bland American cityscapes, but it is the 80s soundtrack and extreme lighting that really gives the film a different feel to its contemporaries. Like an action-filled Neon Demon, the colours pop from the screen whilst musical hits (and covers of hits) from Bowie, George Michael, The Clash and more help establish the historical context but also give the movie a soundtrack coolness not seen since the Guardians of the Galaxy films.


Support comes from a slightly bland and broad James McAvoy as an agent who is all, well, James McAvoy-like, whilst Sofia Boutella as Delphine plays an undercover French agent who is also Lorraine's lover. It’s great the film pays no attention to this seemingly edgy choice for a lead character's sexuality in a major release which is not only honourable, but fits well into the film’s narrative perfectly.


But in the end, like John Wick (with which there’s talk of possible a cross-over film), the movie is held together by the central show from Theron herself. She gives this exciting film a much-needed bout of sultriness, strength and poise alongside expertly handling the violent and bloody punch-ups.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, May 31 2017 08:58AM



Split (2017) Dir. M. Night Shyamalan


Split begins when a group of regular teenage girls are abducted by James McAvoy’s creepy stalker “Dennis” and detained against their will in a location unknown. With Shyamalan’s penchant for dark twisty thrillers, we find all is not what it seems and soon uncover the man is merely one of 23 different personalities that inhabit his body.


These characters range from the old and the young and even women and it’s to McAvoy’s talents that he can pull off such a role. He mostly omits any subtlety but is clearly having huge amounts of fun with each extreme incarnation.


Shyamalan keeps us guessing as to what the true nature of this person is as the girls try everything from escape plans to befriending “Hedwig”, one of the younger personalities, in order to get out of their locked rooms. The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy excels as the leading girl and along with this and the Ridley Scott produced ‘Morgan’, the actress is carving quite a career in spookily dark thrillers that go beyond the natural.


With this absurd premise, the filmmaker doesn’t try too much to take the audience down the route of an accurate medical depiction – quite the opposite in fact – and he mostly keeps the transitions between each of them off screen. This keeps the stakes high as we’re never sure as to which one may re-enter the room and which of them knows information the others don't.


But this being a Shyamalan film we must talk about his inevitable favourite trick of the trade. As the film hits its emotional summit, he rounds the story off with a sense that supernatural forces may actually be a part of the kidnappers psyche but he keeps it ambiguous almost until the end.


[SPOILERS]


And it is the end that is most surprising. McAvoy’s character has a supervillain vibe about him with mental (and then a physical manifestation of) powers that go beyond the real-life affliction he is suffering from. Here I felt Shyamalan had jumped the shark as I was enjoying the authentic world created. Yet, in a world full of spoilers, trailers that give away too much and news sites covering every minutiae of productions, Shyamalan manages one of his best hoodwinks yet.


In a lingering last shot we hear a journalist report on the events and comparing them to a similar villainous occurrence involving one “Mr. Glass”. And then David Dunn (Bruce Willis) appears. That’s right folks. It’s an Unbreakable sequel. Blimey!


With this and The Visit, Shyamalan has returned to his roots and gone someway, at the least, to prove his directing capabilities after misfires like The Happening and After Earth.


I was enjoying the film on its own terms but the director’s cherry expands the universe of his much beloved super-hero second film and the fact he had kept it under wraps (with another studio no less!) should be commended. It helped an already tightly wound morbid tale of mental woe conclude in a way that linked its real-life terrors with a mystical mystery that is hopefully expanded upon further.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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