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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, 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, May 16 2017 09:00AM



Alien: Covenant (2017) Dir. Ridley Scott


After offering some universe building themes in the much maligned Prometheus – a film I coincidently enjoyed against the tide of criticism – Ridley Scott returns to his Alien ‘franchise’ in this new sci-fi horror exploration. Whilst not mine, the general consensus was that Prometheus’ lofty subject matter of creators and deities overshadowed the crowd-pleasing terror of the earlier Alien films. Well, Covenant has sadly gone even further with his quasi-religious side-stories rather than rein them in and even I am losing patience with Scott’s obsessions.


In an absolute carbon copy beginning, and one that removes any sense of tension, we are introduced to a set of poorly-fleshed out stock characters as the crew of a colonist ship follows a signal to a mysterious planet. They send a party down to a mountain-filled landscape only to discover an extraterrestrial ship which they enter. Sound familiar at all?


Well, this dullness last for almost 40 long minutes and plays out EXACTLY as Prometheus did which was, and even I have to concede this, not the most interesting original opening in the first place. Rather than drama and dread, the film is as dull as dishwater then delivers the inevitable alien infection/quarantine scene – again, a duplication of things we’ve seen so often before.


And so we come to a point where it finally follows up on Prometheus as we find that film’s android, Michael Fassbender’s ‘David’, sneaking around the planet. Wearing Skywalker-esque robes he goes on to explain some fishy goings-on about the alien goo from the first film. He seems to know the score, both physically and metaphorically. By this, I do mean the actual musical score. The film jumps the shark as he teaches the crew’s own synthetic life form (Fassbender again as ‘Walter’) to play Prometheus’ orchestral main theme on a flute. Scott’s presenting a character playing the film’s theme tune?! That’s like Indiana Jones humming John Williams in the middle of an adventure!


With two robots now introduced, Scott spends an extraordinary amount of time on them and their ‘profound’ (think The Matrix’s ‘Architect’) discussions and interactions. Yet neither one contains the humanity needed to care about their actions. And when they begin fighting, I cared even less.


That aside, the film has further niggles with over-use of poor CGI to recreate the Xenomorph, and its genetic spin-off animals, and much of the film plays out in harsh daylight. Some JCB product placement made me question if the film is now set in “our” future. Which would be like an Apple logo suddenly appearing on a lightsaber. These flaws add up and by the second act, had me gritting my teeth in frustration.


[SPOILER PARAGRAPH] The film also pulls an ‘Alien 3’ by killing off the main character we engaged with from the previous movie. Noomi Rapace’s feisty Elizabeth Shaw is shown only as a corpse experimented on yet she is strangely replaced by a carbon-copy character played by Katherine Waterston. She is now the female in the tight crop top yet the film is consistently unsure who the main character should be anyways. And the mildly-interesting space-jockey engineers? Oh, they’re wiped off the face of the planet in a sequence lasting just seconds. [END OF SPOILERS]


The disappointment of the summer so far, Alien: Covenant is an absolute mess. I would go as far to say that Scott’s 1979 original is one of my top 10 films of all time. Cameron’s superb war action film not far behind too. Yet Scott is intent on focusing this new set of films on a bottomless pit of exposition and thesis based around an android’s god-like goals and dreams. And without Alien’s terror and Aliens’ excitement, Covenant falls into the worst place possible – it’s simply dull and elicits very little emotion at all and is as underwhelming as any film I’ve seen recently. Scott must do better if he’s to continue otherwise he may blow this franchise out of the airlock forever.


5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Jan 7 2017 09:20AM



Assassin’s Creed (2017) Dir. Justin Kurzel


After 2015’s Macbeth no less, director Kurzel jumps from an adaptation of the Bard to adapting a video game as he once again teams with the lead of the former, Michael Fassbender.


Never having played the video game on which this movie is based (and less than Mark Kermode, I haven’t even seen people playing it), the film has Fassbender’s soon-to-be-executed Callum Lynch kidnapped to take part in the experimental ‘Animus Project’. Here, Callum is hooked to a machine whereby he enters one of his ancestor’s mind and body as part of the Assassin's Brotherhood in the 15th Century to help search for the “Apple of Eden”. We’re DEFINITELY in video game territory here!


Also from Macbeth is Marion Cottilard as the project’s head scientist who regresses Callum back in time to take on the Spanish Inquisition (cue Monty Python jokes). I am sure there are huge connections with the game itself and unlike the terribly convoluted and impenetrable Warcraft, here the (relatively) simple set up allows casual and non-gamers to get up to speed quickly with the world and characters of the universe.


Some so-so action sequences with the usual CGI armies are littered throughout but kudos should go to the real-life locations, the old-school horse stunts and the inclusion of parkour where risky jumps between buildings have a realism and weight to them. A few directorial flourishes to visually display the protagonists’ state-of-mind lingered the most in this viewer’s mind along with the ‘time-machine’ itself, which pirouettes the future Fassbender around – mimicking his fights back in the past.


In the pantheon of video games adaptations, the film sits comfortably near the top but it has such little competition ( Tomb Raider, Prince of Persia and definitely not *that* Mario Bros film) it’s faint praise indeed. Whether it’s Mario collecting coins or Assassins finding ‘Apples’, video games’ inherent ‘do-that-and-be-rewarded-with-this’ may always be their movie downfall as despite better graphics on modern consoles, the format is essentially the same and based around interactivity rather than story. This could be changing as the world of games increasingly uses cut-scenes and cinematic tricks but for now the films have a habit of disappointing both gamers and film fans.


Acting wise, everyone sleepwalks through this and I can only assume director Kurzel had such fun on the set of Macbeth with Fassbender and Cottilard that they all thought it would be fun to do something a little less serious. And less serious it is. An inconsequential adventure b-movie, Assassins Creed will distract for a few hours with innovative fights and a unique concept but the whole thing could have done with an injection of fun like the knockabout Prince of Persia. Generally taking itself far too seriously – which is the norm nowadays as a shortcut to being earnest and epic – the film will satisfy younger viewers with a mix of running, jumping and fighting although for the rest it’s a solid action flick but little more.


5.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 20 2015 05:28PM

Macbeth (2015) Dir. Justin Kurzel


Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and Elizabeth Debicki.

113 mins.


Shakespeare’s tragedy of Macbeth is notoriously known for its bloodthirsty power, and as for Justin Kurzel’s new 2015 adaptation, bloodthirsty attitude is certainly still pertinent in this adapted tale. This is a story about a power seeking warrior, Macbeth (Michael Fassbender), and his deceitful journey in becoming King. A rather poignant scene of a child’s funeral is our first glimpse into Macbeth’s wretched world. It is within this scene that we realise that the child is in fact Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s (Marion Cotillard) deceased son. This is the beginning of the decline of Macbeth.


One could argue that we already have our fair share of Macbeth film adaptations, most famously those of Roman Polanski, Akira Kurosawa and Orson Welles. But move over and make way for Justin Kurzel as this new version opens up and expands this Shakespearian tragedy in the most monumental of ways. The expansive landscapes of the Scottish highlands are the backdrop for the tale. You would expect to see such scenery in films such as Lord of the Rings, not for a play originally confined to a Shakespearian stage set. This makes for some of the most astonishing and inconceivable visuals. Another reoccurring pictorial throughout the film is the battlefield glow of orange fire, which ironically is a warming tone. This glow seems to signify the burning thoughts and deaths that cause the downfall of Macbeth’s life, as this hue seems to follow Macbeth. Also, Kurzel’s use of slow motion prolongs the absolute brutal happenings in the reality of Macbeth’s world and produces us with a terrifying sense of chaos.


Director Justin Kurzel’s debut film ‘Snowtown’ was also an adaptation. It was only released in 2011, making Kurzel a relatively new director to the scene, but he brought with him an ability to deal with rather controversial and chilling subjects. Snowtown deals with many of the main topics that also appear in Macbeth, such as murder, deception and grief, which may have set Kurzel up for Macbeth; a story with such an evil main character. Although Snowtown wasn’t the greatest of successes, it set Kurzel up for bigger and better endeavours and this is unquestionably shown in Macbeth. Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.


Michael Fassbender is an outright natural when it comes to playing the infamous and evil protagonist of Macbeth (with the help of a little war paint, of course). He describes the anger, sadness and mental deterioration of Macbeth with such precision that you feel as though you are sharing his emotions throughout the film; the confusion, the hatred and the sorrow. The same can also be said for Marion Cotillard’s mystifying representation of Lady Macbeth. Her beautiful prowess is almost hypnotic, a feeling also shared by Macbeth himself. Her deceptive ways almost become understandable as we are drawn into her illusory life. Her monologue to that of her departed child is hauntingly harrowing.


Overall, with scenery fit for a King and enough bloody battles to satisfy the mind of even the most corrupt and ferocious warriors something wicked this way comes to a cinema near you. Dedicated Shakespeare fans may unlike the way Kurzel has cut certain famous quotes and characters from the new adaptation, but as a film with enough rigour to satisfy many tastes, it strives. Love it or hate it, but what’s done is done.


U.K release date: October, 2nd 2015.


7.5/10 Zoe Heslop


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