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By midlandsmovies, Dec 16 2015 09:11AM

Night Owls (2015) Directed by Sophie Black

Sophie Black shows there’s no place like home in this new 12 minute short from the Nottingham director of Ashes (2013) and tells of two unlikely souls meeting in awkward circumstances. The film begins on a rainy night with Jonny McPherson’s “Kent” minding his own business at home, reading diligently as rain pours down. A storm of another sorts occurs when he is interrupted by strange sounds at his door to find “Mari” (Holly Rushbrooke) attempting to break in.

Requesting to enter, Mari is reluctantly invited indoors from the rain by the suspicious Kent who demands she leave once the downpour stops. Drying her hair, he offers her tea and with his young but bespectacled face McPherson deftly plays a character unsure of his place – and it seems – his age.

Age, time and the contrast of young and old are motifs that appear throughout but during their talks together, they are soon drawn to each other’s quirks as they delve into their respective backgrounds. Some dialogue is a bit on the nose (“You know the kid who didn’t fit in”) and feels unnecessary when other aspects of that character tell the audience it’s clearly the case already. However, other lines help flesh out how they see each other – “You look like the kind of guy who would own a cat” with more being said in the spaces between words than their chat itself.

Black has filled her shots with trinkets and objects of all sorts including candelabras to barometers which give off an archaic tone to the proceedings and this classicism continues with the film’s photography and colour grading using mottled bronze and dark browns. Cracked leather boots and antique clocks continue the great mise-en-scene with Black’s background in costume and set design being a standout positive of the tale.

McPherson as Kent looks adrift throughout; a lonely soul in a “gargantuan” house that he says he can’t get lost in but his life appears lost in more ways than one. In contrast, Mari prods and probes with her questions like a burglar trying to break into the private world Kent has constructed. The two opposites soon find common ground however. First, in music (the old-fashioned Kent has LPs of course) and then they bond over a shared cannabis joint.

A “God-shot” camera angle finally places them in a scene together (head to toe no less) whilst the previous floating handheld camera was used to great effect poking into their lives. The antiquated discussions continue as the characters converse on diverse subjects such as parents and death but they find more mutual comfort as strangers who feel distant from their families. Feeling like lost causes, Black ensures that they look at each other through smoky hazes, again peeking through the artifices they have placed upon themselves. Trying to decipher each other through this cloud, the actors pull off both the tricky task of honesty yet failing to disclose all their private fears.

The short ends on a high as a surprise is kept (not swept) “under the carpet” and as morning arrives, a new light shines on both of them and a tale of two opposites possibly becomes the dawn of a new friendship.

A well thought-out short, the film’s themes are its greatest asset and Black also throws in some nods to Hollywood history too. We find Mari is short for Marilyn (of Monroe fame) and a symbolic pair of ruby slippers evoke a new journey and return home to family. I’d recommend catching this great short on its inevitable successful festival run and Black’s elegant style and nods to bygone eras make this a charm to watch.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Feb 22 2015 02:45PM

Midlands Movies Feature Review - The Hidden Truth (2015) Dir. Ben Bloore

“No stone will be left unturned”.

Derby filmmaker Ben Bloore has created a trailer/short that forms part of his upcoming spy thriller The Hidden Truth which centres around a terrorist bombing of MI5’s headquarters.

The film begins with a static radio running through 24-hour news programmes with snippets of information being relayed about a bombing in the UK and the film's intro also adds a cleverly edited Prime Minister’s response from David Cameron to the proceedings.

After this scene-setting we fast forward “two weeks later” where a bulb flashes and a woman approaches a door with top secret documents and enters, not before checking her gun is fully loaded. Having crossed the threshold into the room we get a glimpse of a man confined to a chair with his hands behind his back and head slumped down.

It is within these four walls of a darkened room we see the great cinematography of Director of Photography Lucy Young who has used light and dark in high contrast to focus the viewer on the main characters. The mystery surrounding the bomb plot is heightened by the shots of red lighting, blood being washed from hands and an inherent symbolism with the rolling up of sleeves to show this character intends to get the job done no matter what is needed.

The woman is Agent Connor (Jenn Day) who grimaces as her footsteps echo in the darkness and I enjoyed Bloore’s use of an electronic score to build tension in the vein of the Bourne films. As the agent flicks through her files for evidence, she then places what appear to be surveillance photos onto a light-box – a gesture to perhaps to figuratively shed light on the mysterious goings on.

At this point, Bloore has cleverly constructed all the mise-en-scene with no added dialogue other than the intro radio clips. It is this balance that again, maintains the feelings of dread before a phone rings, interrupting the silence as Agent Connor is contacted by what appears to be a senior operative.

Cutting to the man who asks about a safe-house, the director again chooses a great location for the story to play out, this time in a brightly lit day-time scene set in a church graveyard – the death analogy complimented with bells tolling in the background

I enjoyed the sense of foreboding and the unknown in Bloore’s short, perfect for the spy thriller genre and although there are well known tropes, the film is expertly shot, especially getting across meaning with minimum dialogue and the almost pitch-black room serves as a vast void to focus in on the intense interrogation.

As the female agent begins to punch and hit her captive who wishes to see his wife, her anger about losing 6 colleagues in the blast gets the better of her and she takes her eye off the ball. It is here where the tables are turned and the power roles are reversed that we are left by the director. A great cliff-hanger for the audience, it leaves us wanting more of the narrative to explain some of the questions posed. Looking at it another way however, Bloore has also turned in an immaculate short, keeping the topical themes of terrorism and the very-British way of handling it as the main drivers of the piece.

I for one will be keeping a very close eye on how this project develops and encourage readers to seek out this “hidden” gem and its feature follow-up. The audience can’t help but be invested in getting to the truth behind the seeds that are sown in the short film so far.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 1 2014 01:24PM

A Dozen Summers (2014). Directed by Kenton Hall

With Richard Linklater’s 2014 movie Boyhood filmed over a 12 year period, there appears to be something magical in the air about the number 12 and growing up in the 21st century.

A Dozen Summers follows the exploits of two 12-year olds (played by the daughters of writer-director Kenton Hall) and takes a wry look at the often overlooked gap between primary school childhood years and the almost-adult like behaviour of terrible teens by focusing on the concerns and worries of these Midlands girls as they mature between the two.

Maisie (Scarlett Hall) and Daisy (Hero Hall) McCormack are the real life twin sisters who live with their father Henry McCormack (director Kenton Hall as well) and this family friendly film covers a variety of ‘rights of passages’ from school bullying incidents to first-loves and sibling rivalry.

I enjoyed how the film takes these incidents as seriously as any adult drama, neither patronising the audience or the girls themselves. Yet with an assortment of sequences, the comedy comes via its genre-hopping delivery and from a fantasy heist film scene set in a sweet shop to a police procedural interview between father and daughter, I felt the film showed a confident use of technique and knowledge of movie culture and iconography.

The film subverts these from the beginning where the girls commandeer the camera as we open on the morning of a busy school day in their hometown of Leicester. Narrating this children’s film is Colin Baker whose authorial and gentle voice is usurped by the vocal teens in a fourth-wall breaking conceit that continues throughout the plot. From addressing the camera to responding to the narrator himself, the film’s meta-comedy is both refreshing and clever as the girls even claim “stranger danger” as the camera films children in a park.

This humour has tinges of The Simpsons and Family Guy – and most notably the TV series Spaced – whose cutaway gags and pop culture/film references come thick and fast. The film wears its influences on its sleeve but is also a comment on the fractured nature of modern society – a meme film if you will – churning out re-shaped but familiar images of well known films and ideas for its own (and our) amusement.

Key to also moving the story along is the mother Jacqueline (a rip-roaring performance from Sarah Warren) as a wannabe model with eccentric and avant-garde tendencies and introduced to the film via a hilarious visit to a school classroom to admonish her daughters’ bullies.

Unlike other characters, she does not address the camera but I felt this helped ground some of the more tender moments in the film. However, it’s not too long before we get another “leap” into movie-history – with inspired scenes in black and white during a Seventh Seal pastiche (where the two leads bemoan the use of subtitles) and then later on - horror, school comedy and romance via many others too.

Stylistically reminiscent of Annie Hall at times, being a father is key to the filmmaker’s work – Kenton also wrote Father to Fall – and I saw the film as a love letter to his own place in his children’s lives but more importantly, how the two girls face the trials of life in an increasingly pressured and intense society.

Ending on a positive outlook and with a great sound mix (original tracks are also used from the multi-talented director’s own band Ist) the movie is all the more impressive for being filmed over just 19 days in and around Leicester. But most of all, I couldn’t help but think how the film showcased the exciting talents from its young cast who take centre stage with dazzling and bright performances.

From embarrassing fathers to eclectic mothers, the whimsical beats are cemented by the central characters in ‘onesies’ jumping from one scene to the next with a click of a finger and from the audience reaction in the showing I was in, the viewer will want to leap into this exciting adventure with them. A superb first feature with a fast paced plot and assured control from director Kenton Hall, this is a Summer that you won’t want to end.

9/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Official website - http://dozensummersmovie.co.uk

By midlandsmovies, Dec 31 2013 12:00PM

Django Unchained (2013) Dir. Quentin Tarantino

With a straightforward linear plot, a focus on one sole character, few flashbacks and a more restrained directorial style, Tarantino’s eighth film is almost unrecognisable from the auteur’s previous offerings (especially his latest output) but all the better in my eyes for it. Stylistically taking off where Inglorious Basterds left us (OTT historical fiction) Tarantino exclusively follows Jamie Foxx’s Django from his break for freedom with Dr. King Schultz (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz) through to his bounty hunter training and subsequent attempts to free his slave wife from the clutches of Calvin Candie. DiCaprio’s Deep South slave plantation owner is another highlight in a film of great performances including Samuel L. Jackson's phenomenal turn as Stephen, Candie’s entrusted and apologetic aging black slave. The acting is clearly top notch throughout and Tarantino’s controlled direction and blinding score makes the (rather lengthy) 2 hours 40 minutes run-time a joy trather than a pain. With the amazing soundtrack accentuating the emotional journey, Tarantino has made a brilliant film and in this reviewer’s eyes, the best since Pulp Fiction. Django does Entertain! Midlands Movies Mike 8.5/10

Lincoln (2013) Dir. Steven Spielberg

This is a personal and historical drama, focusing on a specific period of Lincoln’s presidency, in which director Spielberg shows us Lincoln’s own internal and personal struggles as he must decide to choose between ending slavery or the civil war. Due to this subject matter, the film feels almost philosophical as Lincoln’s struggle with his conscience is inextricably linked with the nations own struggle for perceived freedom. A smartly written, well-paced film, and undoubtedly a major award winner, it may appear dialogue heavy for some viewers, but it is through the very conversations and not battle that change is brought. However, to get the most of the film some prior knowledge of Lincoln is required, as the script liberally sprinkles in references to his humble beginnings and these may be lost to some, although thankfully these slight references refer only to a couple of personal interchanges adding additional depth to the film and not the plot as a whole. This isn’t a film for those who thought ‘The Avengers’ was the pinnacle of film in 2012 but for the rest of us this is a deeply rewarding and potent film, driven by a powerful theme and exemplary performances, most noticeably by Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln himself. All men are created equal but not all films. Midlands Movies Marek 9/10

Gangster Squad (2013) Dir. Ruben Fleischer

After the highly detailed and historically accurate (although ultimately disappointing) turn from Depp and Bale in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies comes this glossy new take on a piece of American mob culture as Zombieland’s Fleischer turns his attention to Mickey Cohen’s rackets in 1940s Los Angeles. Taking huge liberties with facts, the film has more in common with Dick Tracy (garish 40s colours and comic book-levels of violence) than it does with more serious hoodlum films like Goodfellas or The Godfather. With a wealth of all-star talent like Sean Penn as a nasty foul-mouthed Cohen and Josh Brolin as the moralistic cop who pulls together this “off-the-books” crew, it’s a shame they do not have better material to work with. The script follows a clichéd and flat formula with a group of seen-it-all-before archetypes including pregnant wife, nerdy surveillance man and bruising henchmen and not even cool turns from Ryan Gosling (whose voice is a pitch higher than normal for some reason), Robert Patrick (the T-1000 man playing a dogged cowboy-esque law enforcer) and the gruffest Nick Nolte can raise it above your average popcorn flick. That said however, this Untouchables-lite was enjoyed by me for what it was and although it had nothing new to say, it did it with some cinematic style, wit, ultra-violence and a splash of comedy that made the (rather superficial) journey to clean up the streets fun for a few hours. Leave your brain at the door as you enjoy the drugs, lugs and thugs. L.A. Inconsequential. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) Dir. John Luessenhop

Made for $11m and shot over 30 days, another reboot of this franchise was not needed and expectations were not high. However, the involvement (no matter how slight) of Tobe Hooper (writer/director) and Kim Henkel (writer) from the 1974 classic should allay some fears. Continuity seems to be the key word regarding this film as it is set immediately after the end of the ’74 version, with the beginning of the film mixes in footage from the original to great effect and really sets the tone for the film, although sadly it is unable to maintain this excitement the whole way through as it gets attempts to straddle character development and a sympathetic family story. The basic plot has a young woman discover that she has inherited an old Texan mansion from a grandmother who she never knew existed, however this inheritance comes with a grave price. A pretty functional premise, let down by some poor plot devices but also enhanced by one of the best uses of 3D that I have seen and an excellent job by the cinematographers to make the film look fantastic while still in-line with the grainy feel of the original. Regarding the film itself, although a little light on traditional horror elements (but not the gore) and tending to focus more on the family drama aspect, is a solid and somewhat enjoyable effort, and if Rob Zombie knew how to handle a franchise then this would be the result, as the film manages to pay homage to the source material while still incorporating contemporary elements. Meanwhile the casting was spot on with a stunning lead actress more than capable of whatever the role threw at her and small cameos from horror icons such as Bill Moseley (further adding to the Rob Zombie comparisons) and the original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen. Sadly more a bloody family drama than a true chainsaw massacre, but it does the job and is much better than the Michael Bay released remakes although far from perfect. One for fans of the genre only…oh and why remove the word massacre from the title? 6/10 Midlands Movies Marek

Jack Reacher (2013) Christopher McQuarrie

Cruising around the USA, this adaptation of Lee Child’s novel sees Tom playing an ex-military drifter getting involved in risky business in this story of a patsy sniper all the while trying to find out who the real top gun is. The film is a cocktail of thriller and action elements and far and away better than I was expecting as Cruise can often be a polarising figure at times but this is his best performance in ages. Aside from Cruise, solid support comes from perky Rosamund Pike who works for the firm as a defence attorney and directorial legend Werner Herzog as The Zec, the primary villain. A few more good men in the form of Robert Duvall and the always watchable Richard Jenkins, who continues his run of good form from The Cabin in the Woods and Killing Them Softly, add weight to what is essentially a well-crafted popcorn flick. With a cool car chase (honed from Days of Thunder no doubt) this is an entertaining but not world changing feature with all the right moves to fit into the solid Cruise cannon of adult actionners 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Hobbit (2012) Dir. Peter Jackson

Dwarf singing and journey starting in this big-scale prequel (and side-quel of sorts) as Peter Jackson takes us back to Middle Earth to show how it all began. I was very wary of a Phantom Menace style fuck-up but Jackson keeps it familiar enough with nods to the later story as well as direct with a lighter touch to reflect the tone of the original novel. Whether it needs to be 3 films remains to be seen and a good half an hour could have been knocked from its running time without anyone noticing anything missing (the intro where Bilbo is introduced to the Dwarves at Bag End is a drawn out affair to say the least). It was always going to be compared to its bigger Oscar winning brothers and the plot of the film is almost a carbon copy of Fellowship - Hobbiton, journey starts in forest, stop off at Rivendell, cave action, final orc-y battle scene) but although this film has its baggy Baggins sections, with a great prologue, Andy Serkis’ Gollum and decent acting and action all around, it still shows why Jackson has returned as the king of fantasy cinema. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Argo (2012) Dir. Ben Affleck

After Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Ben Affleck delivers another directorial delight about a little-known US operation to rescue six embassy staff who have gone underground at the Canadian Ambassador’s house during the ’79 Iranian Revolution. The US government head to Iran incognito under the guise of making a sci-fi movie and this unbelievable (yet true) film is as much about Hollywood as it is about spying and hostages. With Affleck starring as the heavily bearded CIA man from Langley, there is great support too from Bryan Cranston as his boss on the ground, John Goodman and Alan Arkin as schlock LA film producers and Scoot McNairy(Monsters, Killing Them Softly) as one of the hostages. The film deftly balances the realism, the history, the back-story and the intrigue to enlighten the audience on a little-known (and until the Clinton administration, classified) story which is almost too far-fetched to be real. Affleck gets the period detail spot-on and the mindboggling audacity of such a raid is played both serious when needed (the final act has tremendous tension) yet for a drama it is incredibly funny at times with a brilliant script by Chris Terrio. In a year full of CGI blockbusters, superheroes, prequels and reboots, this original piece sets itself apart from the crowd but makes sure it stands on its own two feet as well. (Ar)Go catch this now! 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Machete Kills (2013) Dir. Robert Rodriguez

The sequel of the similarly ridiculous Machete (made from a trailer that first appeared in Tarantino/Rodriguez’s Grindhouse) moves from the (mildly) clever and humorous pastiche of 70s exploitation films to a full on comedy – well, I guess that is what they attempted. The film has some terrible dialogue and effects whilst leading man Danny Trejo looks more like an old leather sofa that’s been left out in the Mexican sun than ever before and similarly with Bryan Singer, I can’t wait for Rodriguez to leave these film “follies” behind and get back to real movie-making as Desperado, Sin City and hell, even Spy Kids, show RR can make a decent flick. Amongst the fake trailers, adverts and 3-D glasses “subtitles”, Charlie Sheen’s appearance as the US President cements its comedy credentials with his Hot Shots-like turn making it feel like Topper Harley has become the “chief”, but unfortunately never have I been so bored for what is essentially an action film – it’s all concept, cameos and posters and it fails abysmally in creating an actual film – a similar failing I found in Expendables 2. It’s clearly not aimed for my sensibilities but I couldn’t even appreciate it for its intentions so poorly executed as they are and I understand it’s supposed to be “crappy” but does it have to be so crap? The Kevin Smith argument that you can’t look at these types of film critically is a (pardon the pun) cop out – as if you make a pile of turd then I’m going to call it like it is as there’s a surprising amount of talking and so much exposition there’s really no tension or excitement even at the most basic level. For me, the most interesting parts included my thoughts on where Cuba Gooding Junior has been for the last few years and why not use a flashback every now and then instead of just telling us back-story within a dull office setting - this became so annoying that the next film could easily could be called Machete: Explains. In conclusion, it’s so poorly filmed I’m genuinely beginning to believe that Rodriguez doesn’t care let alone is skilled enough to “take the piss” out of the Grindhouse genre he feels he is imitating. If a film gives an audience that impression it’s clearly failing on almost every level and these geri-actionners go down the pan one film at a time. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

RIPD (2013) Dir. Robert Schwentke

Ten years on and this silly supernatural slapstick has a smattering of CGI from the League of Gentleman which rears its ugly ugly head as well as the entire concept from Men In Black which has been lifted wholesale. The story of a young cop (Ryan Reynolds continuing to add to his career worst) paired with older curmudgeon (a surly Jeff Bridges playing the Tommy Lee Jones part) is as dull as death when we see Ryan entering the afterlife to solve mystical murders in the rest in peace division. The idea itself isn’t the worst to grace our screens but the execution is a terrible mix of comedy and melodrama with Kevin Bacon, fresh from his EE adverts, giving a performance that has about the same value. A scene where time stands still is a metaphor for the entire film before Reynolds is lifted up to heaven which has the emotional heft of Kenny’s death in South Park: The Movie. From the plain metallic interview room, through to the old man in the shop and then an introduction to the underground open-planned offices (where aliens are replaced by horrid CGI criminals) they haven’t so much been influenced by MIB than just created a pale RIP(D)-off. Call the RIPD for copyright theft! With little subtlety and a frankly boring plot, you may like this film if you like uninspired action where humans chase animated cartoons but I wouldn’t wish this eternal damnation as punishment on anyone. Sadly, part of my own soul died at the film’s cloying ending and overall, this spooky stinker is best avoided and did I mention the terrible CGI that will make you spin in your grave? 4/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Captain Phillips (2013) Dir. Paul Greengrass

O Captain! My Captain! From the director of the action-packed Bourne Ultimatum and the dark realism of United 93 comes a film that mixes both intense fighting and shooting with the real-life story of Phillips, who was the skipper of the Maersk Alabama ship during its hijacking off Somalian waters in 2009. A slow-burning and mundane opening as Hanks and his wife discuss how the world is different for their kids (yeah, we get the political hammer, Greengrass) moves into the contrasting environments of a “wealth” of crates at the Oman port where Phillips boards his container vessel and the Somalians dragging their small speedboat across the sand to the shore. The difference in technology doesn’t mean a jot when 30 minutes in the brutal pirates manage to board the lonesome frigate and Greengrass’ realism through camera movement and simple shot composition shows the brutality of their actions. There’s no “Jack Sparrow-ing” here though as the simple game of the haves and have nots are played out between the hostage detainees and their new commanders with Hanks as the all American “everyman” and Barkhad Abdi playing the pirates’ boss in an emotive and engaging performance showing tension, anxiety and stress all at once. I enjoyed the tautness of the editing and the conflicts have true to life hostility and dread however I was never really fully engaged (maybe owing to already knowing how the siege eventually turned out in the news reports from the time) which is but a small criticism of a solid film whose chief goal is to entertain and give a (side) thought to existing international struggles. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike (Released Feb 10th 2014 on DVD & Blu-Ray)

Riddick (2013) Dir. David Twohy

Riddick versus The Space Monsters. Vin Diesel and director Twohy round off a trilogy based on the hard-as-nails space mercenary with this action flick from last year as the sci-fi anti-hero meanders through a sequence of darkly lit set pieces and long periods of nomadic lifestyle interspersed with political machinations of the Star Wars prequel kind (i.e. very boring). The film begins with an interesting “silent” first 10 minutes where Riddick is stranded on a desert planet with serpents, monsters, fish and aliens to battle (all nicely designed but badly rendered in CGI) but this is dragged out for another 30-40 minutes. Chronicles had a dreadful Phantom Menace look and this film is not far off with its John Carter esque landscapes – I mean how difficult is it to find a desert location on planet earth nowadays? This survivalist first act is slow and dull (and somewhat inconsistent as Chronicles suggested Riddick could “tame” most animals) but like the character Wolverine, he is best as a support character and as antagonist to group dynamics. With Karl Urban back for an early cameo (must be contractual), the film’s design and costumes now make Riddick look like he’s on Krypton fighting General Zod’s backup army before the film descended into inconsequential sci-fi clichés over a long 2 hours and completely lost me when he got a CGI Scooby Doo-style space puppy (!) From a great introduction to the character in Pitch Black’s perfect sci-fi horror (the best Alien film that never was), the films are now aiming for action blockbuster but with the dialogue used to clarify the story and direction all over the place, this is a ’dick of a movie with very little suspense and even less to recommend it to anyone other than huge fans. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Escape Plan (2013) Dir. Mikael Håfström

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, an expert in breaking out of secure prisons who is whisked off to a secret FBI jail to test their facility but his plans go awry when his tracking chip is removed and is forced to become a con for real. The film also features an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger as a fellow inmate and together they mostly avoid the nod and wink approach of similar fare like The Expendables and the movie is all the better for it. From Arnie pretending to be crazy in solitary where (for the first time I think) he speaks Austrian through to the CGI blueprint shots which help explain the (convoluted) plans the film has a low budget but does a lot and also contains some funny one liners. The set up is similar in style, tone and even plot to the jail sequence in Face/Off and has echoes of THX 1138 (the guards) and elements of The Island too. The eclectic cast are per functionary at best - 50 Cent is a tech geek (what?) but others stick to type like Sam Neill’s prison doctor and Vinnie Jones’ guard/henchman. It’s better than similar B-movie fare like Lockout and makes some attempt at drama – it’s not great but it did strive for story which is more than either star’s recent returns to the genre and of the new retro geriatric actionners (or geriactionners) this is the best so far. With script in-jokes that God is Great (said to infamous Passion of the Christ “Jesus” Jim Caviezel) and a Terminator-esque helicopter machine gun shooting spree suitably filmed in slow motion, the film has some heavy-handedness but is still 10 times more subtle than anything The Expendables movies have done. This is the first guilty DVD pleasure of 2014 (released March 17th) and if you hark for a retro action film that is closer to the standard of the originals it tries to imitate then you’d do worse than checking this break out hit. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Wolverine (2013) Dir. James Mangold

The second solo outing for Marvel’s clawed superhero features Hugh Jackman reprising the role he’s made all his own on a lonely journey (post-events from X-Men 3) to Japan to reacquaint with an old WW2 friend. Regular readers will be well aware of my disdain for the “origins” film with its ludicrous plotting through to abysmal CGI yet this film puts right some (but only some) of the things that made that film a right mess. Firstly, what’s gone right? Well, kudos points for trying something different and the Far East location setting was an interesting twist in a nod to an infamous comic story-arc. New director James Mangold has flown between the brilliant Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma although his last movie was the dreck Knight and Day. In addition, there is an unbelievable credit stinger at the end – which somewhat steals the gravitas from Days of Future Past but also returns us to the universe we REALLY want to see – Singer et al. However, despite this I again failed to fully engage with the movie as although it has a budget of $120 million I wondered why it looked so cheap overall? (I’m talking Agents of SHIELD cheap here!) The train fight seen in so many trailers is no Spidey 2 and although more serious than the disastrous Origins it also has some incredibly dull sequences. The slow pace combines with support characters who are merely plot ciphers and a distinct lack of mutants (where origins had far too many). An operation scene has echoes of The Matrix/Prometheus and the last third of film has some real tension and exciting action but a bit too little too late. The fact is, Wolverine just doesn’t work too well without the X-Men – he’s a foil (pardon the metallic pun) to their rules and boundaries and The Wolverine yearns for Nolan-esque depth and realism but fails to hit the “X” with too much CGI and studio work. You have to ask where’s the cinematic vision in this movie? Where’s the memorable slow-mo Wolverine into Mystique iconic shot everyone will remember? People have (in my opinion) nerve to say X-3 was bad but the Golden Gate bridge, Xavier’s death and Jean’s destruction were all more than solid and no amount of ninjas and samurais could turn this into Kill-Billverine. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

White House Down (2013) Dir. Roland Emmerich

10 > Run Olympus Has Fallen review

20 > Go to actors + change names

30 > Ctrl + C

40 > Ctrl + V

50 > End White House Down review

In all seriousness, I thought the film marginally better than Olympus Has Fallen as it took itself a little less seriously with the dialogue and a little bit more serious with the siege itself. Like OHF, WHD would have been a better Die Hard film than the fifth movie we got and Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum had a good (if silly) chemistry than rode over the HUGE cracks in the movie. As ludicrous as you would expect, leave your brain with security and enjoy the extended ride with all the clichés you want (or want to avoid) in this type of film. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Now You See Me (2013) Dir. Louis Leterrier

This summer release had a brilliant trailer evoking a magical mystery tour that looked to cross a heist film with a sleight of hand mystery and although the film touches on both types of caper, it fails to call forth the charm of either genre and disappoints like a cut-price entertainer. In short, Mark Ruffalo plays an FBI stooge one-step behind the “Four Horsemen” of Jesse Eisenberg (card shark), Woody Harrelson (hypnotising con-man), Isla Fisher (assistant turned escape artist) and the poor-man’s “James”, Dave Franco as a street hustler – all drawn together by a mysterious stranger looking to pull the wool over the eyes of the audience one last time. In support are Morgan Freeman’s sceptic and Michael Caine’s money man (after The Prestige, there’s no need for Micky C to be in this movie at all as it covers so much similar ground) as we follow a cheap trick of story twists and turns. Strangely, we spend less time with the magicians and more time with the FBI which is like watching Ocean’s 11 from Andy Garcia’s viewpoint as it avoids the interesting team camaraderie of the MIT students in “21” and replaces it with simple cat and mouse chasing and action. The film is as basic as a child’s first magic set but with some of the crucial pieces missing like plot, characterisation and focus and I hope they can perform miracles with the inevitable sequel now in the works but ultimately if The Prestige is an intelligent illusion then this is a disappointing deception that used $75 million to make my interest disappear. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Mud (2013) Dir. Jeff Nichols

The film is a foreign country: they do things differently there. This coming-of-age drama directed by Jeff Nichols stars Matthew McConaughey as a fugitive on the run who befriends two young local boys around the bayous of Arkansas as the youngsters go exploring in their hometown. Two great performances from the newcomers Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone hold their own against aging stars Reese Witherspoon (playing against type), Sam Shepard and McConaughey himself, who continues his career reinvention after the run of disastrous 2000-era rom-coms. The film covers a tale of forbidden love with a child messenger which has echoes of the classic English literature novel The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. I enjoyed the great cinematography and thought the script was well written and the actors are all top notch against a somewhat clichéd plot of fugitive coming good and building bonds with those most vulnerable around him. Creating great tension with heated relationships, venomous snake bites and a shoot out ending, the film is a solid tale whose biggest downfall was a subject matter I could not wholly connect with but whose Southern-drenched visuals and strong acting talent raised it above a run of the mill drama. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Dead Man Down (2013) Dir. Niels Arden Oplev

This crime thriller is directed by Arden Oplev and is his first film since the brilliant original take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which starred Noomi Rapace, as does this. The film concerns itself with Colin Farrell duplicitous actions within a gang led by head honcho Terence Howard but Farrell is no more than average and after all the subtle (and many not so-subtle) plot twists and complexities, the film becomes a Scarface-esque action shoot out in the last reel for no apparent reason. Unsure of what it really wants to be (dark brooding noir, gun-toting actionner) it succeeds in being neither and therefore comes across as a a bit of a confused mess. Nothing close to Oplev’s Dragon Tattoo it suggests that the script (as plodding as quicksand) is the thing truly at fault here and whilst Farrell & co do the best with the material, it brings the movie down to amiable failure. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Monsters University (2013) Dir. Dan Scanlon

Video Review here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJq-tcXOZyo&list=UUuloip8BW65JT1zt_IH7RvQ

Trance (2013) Dir. Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) tackles another new genre in this psychological crime thriller with James McAvoy as Simon – an insider at an auction house who’s hidden a famous painting after working alongside a gang of robbers led by Vincent Cassell’s Franck. After a blow to the head leaves him with amnesia, they seek out hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (a mesmerising turn by Rosario Dawson) who attempts to unlock the whereabouts of the painting amidst the other secrets within his messed up head. Boyle plays with realism, dream sequences and flashbacks which provide a spellbinding plot for the audience to follow and I enjoyed the twisty narrative (a baggy mid section being the least fascinating part) along with the crime/noir cinematography from the consistently brilliant Boyle. The director also conjures up a visual canvas of images and editing to establish his mental war games with nothing being quite what it seems and doesn’t bother with the sleep-inducing 2 hour plus run time of his contemporaries and tells the story in a little over 90 minutes. This direct-to-the-point approach makes the film all the better as it moves at a rapid pace and although the outcome is not at all surprising in all honesty, Boyle’s one-trick is still a good one that unlocks horrific secrets during the viewers' slow awakening. A bewitching caper. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013) Dir. Derek Cianfrance

This epic triptych of stories has lofty ambitions as we first witness Ryan Gosling as Luke Glanton, a bank robber trying to do best for his new born child followed by Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper, in a great role), a policeman who after becoming a hero has doubts about the force he works for, before the story turns to two teens showing how their father’s sins echo throughout the generations in the final act. First, the good things – Cooper puts in an excellent and believable performance and there’s a great score by Mike Patton but the film is a ramshackle set of clichés (seen elsewhere) and far, far too long for its rather simple and quite obvious message. I’m not sure how much more of Gosling’s lonely/moody criminal shtick I can take as we see his motor-vehicle entertainer doing robberies and being violent around a mother/child family dynamic and I’m convinced I’m back watching Drive again. With that film, Only God Forgives and now this, Gosling needs to step outside his comfort zone. It could be a simple case of just making a few films with similar themes in such a short amount of time but Eva Mendes is so skinny I barely recognise her and, like in many films, Bruce Greenwood enters at the midpoint which thankfully improves the movie. The second story fares no better in the originality stakes as Cooper takes the reins and just as I start to think this section reminds me of Killing Me Softly with Ben Mendelsohn on hobo duties, up crops Ray Liotta from that film too! Thematically it covers similar ground with crooked cops and money exchanges and I finally begin to think that every bit of this film is another film in disguise. Dane DeHaan is a superb actor (Chronicle being my fave of 2012) but again, in the final act he plays an outsider, the disturbed teen fighting against his alpha classmates in the film’s closing story. The narrative just about hangs together despite some implausibilities but overall I couldn’t feel that the whole thing had been covered in more depth in very recent movies. Not a complete catastrophe, the film only disappoints because of its familiarity despite my favourite Bradley Cooper performance to date and a mediocre realisation of its big aspirations. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Olympus Has Fallen (2013) Dir. Antoine Fuqua

A case of ‘Deep-Armageddon’ in this summer action film that has been released just a mere few weeks before the similarly themed White House Down by Roland “Disaster Movie” Emmerich. Both films involve terrorist attacks on the President’s residence with only one man seemingly able to save the day. That one man is ex-Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, still unable to do an American accent) who after saving the President once before is left alone to tackle the North Korean terrorists who, against all reason and logic, manage to take over the House using a hijacked plane (couldn’t happen), some machine guns (wouldn’t happen) and a ground assault (couldn’t and wouldn’t happen). However, I know it’s not a film for realism and taken as a piece of action fluff then it’s quite enjoyable nonsense that would have made for an infinitely better Die Hard film with a few rewrites especially compared to the John McLane film we actually got. With a heavy weight support cast of Aaron Eckhart (President), Morgan Freeman (not the President) plus Angela Bassett and Robert Forster, the film is best watched back to back with the other movie on a drunken Saturday night with your male friends. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Room 237 (2012) Dir. Rodney Ascher

A documentary essay on the multiple meanings of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror “The Shining” which includes theories that it was an admission of the director’s involvement in faking the moon landings, an attack on American colonialism and a reflection on the atrocities of the holocaust, the documentary showcases nine “experts” and their readings of the symbolic movie. The nine interviewees are not seen but heard over footage and excerpts from the film itself (and other Kubrick films), which is great for a limited time but I then thought I’d like to see them to help personalise the thesis somewhat. As it was, the diagrams of the hotel layout and the 90 minutes of montage reminded me of the theories I had already seen on the internet and unfortunately made the film less of a cinematic documentary and a rather long and drawn out YouTube video. The theories range from the interesting signifiers and (possibly true) “intentional” continuity errors to absolute conspiracy-style garbage and although the film is thoroughly dissected, a few trims in the edit room, some behind-scenes footage and some faces to the contributors would have helped – much akin to the amazing doc Senna. A must for fans of the film and I always have time for film criticism but I was expecting just a small amount more from the premise promised. All talk and no faces make Room 237 a (slightly) dull doc. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) Dir. Sam Raimi

James Franco plays Oscar "Oz" Diggs in this fantasy adventure prequel to the 1939 classic by Spiderman and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi who after cutting his chops on the CGI action of the webbed-wonder tells us the story of how this conning stage magician from a travelling circus is whisked in a tornado (of course) to the wonderful land of Oz. The population believe him to be the prophesized Wizard they’ve been waiting for and although he has doubts, he comes across Theodora (Mila Kunis) and her sibling Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who as the Wicked Witch of the East manipulates both Oz and her sister to her own ends. Michelle Williams rounds the cast as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South who tries to convince Franco’s protagonist of his true destiny amongst the people of the land. With no musical numbers (a big plus for me but probably not for Oz purists), Franco centres the family-friendly journey with a great performance against the nods to the earlier film whilst establishing its own universe. It's credit to Raimi who has created a much more believable and interesting world than Burton’s similar Alice in Wonderland, that he gets the actors to have fun in this mostly CGI world but he adds enough new tricks from Baum’s original novels to pay homage without duplicating. Oz conjures up some great action and although it won’t change the film world, it is an enchanting piece of fluff that is a good way to spend a few hours with the family. This Wiz is the biz! 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013) Dir. Bryan Singer

Let’s get this out of the way for starters – Bryan Singer needs to make better films than this. We need more X-Men and The Usual Suspects and less terrible movies like this one, Valkyrie (a complete misjudgement in my opinion) and the turgid Superman Returns. In the vein of the similar Snow White and the Huntsman, this traditional folk fairy tale has been given a bit of Hollywood gloss combined with new CGI giants and a few “wacky” quips. Nicholas Hoult plays Jack whose magic beans create the humungous stalk before embarking on a climb to save the kidnapped princess. Although the giants are great once they come to ground, and have more personality than The Hobbit’s dwarves, their sky-home in the clouds suffers from Attack-of-the-Clones-itis (regular readers will know my hatred of that film) where humans are placed in entirely CGI landscapes and suddenly I am removed from the movie entirely. Just stop it! One to enjoy with the family methinks and although the disgusting giants are a highlight, Singer should avoid these (rather expensive) flights of fantasy and get back to solid storytelling with a message. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Welcome to the Punch (2013) Dir. Eran Creevy

James McAvoy plays a seasoned cop who doesn’t want to play by the rules in this American influenced crime thriller from the UK. It has all the clichés of the 1980s cop film - belligerent bosses, “contradictory” colleague (this time a girl) and a villain who is driven by his own insistence to stick to his moral code, all filmed against a colour palette of cool blues and streetlights. Whilst nothing is wrong with the film, Mark Strong is all moody as the cat and mouse antagonist, the film is a soft jab of a production that fails to achieve the heights of a Michael Mann vehicle such as “Heat” which it obviously aspires to be. Not without its positives, the film has a few action highlights including the opening heist but as it has more in common with Jason Statham’s “Blitz”, it feels more like welcome to the credit crunch with its television-style cinematography and low budget office scenes. Sadly, this resulted in a slightly cheap and shabby knockoff of a movie that failed to knock me out with any of its hooks. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Hitchcock (2013) Dir. Sacha Gervasi

“She won’t be nude, she’ll be wearing a shower cap”. A great film about a great filmmaker, Hitchcock covers the master of suspense’s making of Psycho played out against the notorious marriage issues with his wife and frequent collaborator Alma Reville (played by a brilliant Helen Mirren, herself married to a director in real life). A biopic that has nods to all of Hitchcock’s output, from his blonde obsessions and voyeurism through to a Hermann-esque score by the composer Danny Elfman, the film is not a warts-and-all portrayal of Hitchcock as director Sacha Gervasi (The Story of Anvil) uses a bit too much gloss but anyone with even a passing interest in the work of “Hitch” will find delights from start to finish. The director plays with Hitchockian suspense across the couple’s arguments and through Hopkins’ attempts at orchestrating audience scares (literally in one brilliant scene) and the uncertainty of getting the film made at all keeps the interest up throughout. Hopkins’ portrayal avoids caricature and the film bookends itself using Hitchcock’s own “Presents” TV show as well as including clever references to the film and book’s inspiration, serial killer Ed Gein, but it is in fact Mirren who makes the best victim as we empathise with her dual role and desires to be a good wife, motherly figure and supporter to the difficult director. With great actors roped in as support, this is a fun and enjoyable film that analyses the making of film itself without a shadow of a doubt. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Stoker (2013) Dir. Park Chan-Wook

A tense psychological thriller from the director who gave us OldBoy amongst his work and dark family secrets are again explored in his first English-language film written somewhat surprisingly by Wentworth Miller of Prison Break fame. Mia Wasikowska (Lawless, Alice in Wonderland) plays India Stoker, a gothic social outcast who grieves for her recently deceased father along with her mother Evelyn (a strangely-lipped Nicole Kidman). Into their lives comes Uncle Charlie played by Matthew Goode (Adrian Veidt from Watchmen) who is back from his travels and begins to intimately integrate himself into the two women’s lives. Avoiding any happy ever after clichés, the film has sinister fairy tale imagery from wooded copses, creepy spiders, dreamy landscapes and phallic rocks to heighten the Hitchcockian themes of betrayal, deception and revenge and each of the trio of actors bring their “A” game to the dinner table with strangely winning performances. A social drama with a mythic quality, this film has an impish allure that hypnotized me with its twisting narrative, bold images and multi-layered fetishes that subverted the superficial vampire/Lolita subject matter it drew upon. A far-fetched but fascinating fable, Stoker add fuels to Chan-Wook’s already impressive cinema CV and strengthens his case to continue to create even more enigmatic tales. Midlands Movies Mike 7.5/10

G. I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) Dir. Jon M. Chu

The original GI Joe movie was the first film I watched when I moved into my flat in Leicester 4 years ago. The most memorable thing about that viewing was my mate Jon falling off the temporary futon I had and spilling some red wine over my brand new carpet and wall after one week of living there. We followed that film by the far more civil Story of ANVIL. Anyways, I digress, the first film was a pile of shite as Hollywood saw the success of Transformers and decided to pillage as many other toys and games from the past because that’s the perfect way to create an ever-lasting franchise. Yes, quite. This film wipes the slate clean in more ways than one as The Rock joins the “Joes” to enact payback for a Presidential coup and subsequent “Joe” massacre. For about an hour I went along with the action-filled and inoffensive ride (the cliff top sequence was probably not bad in 3-D on a cinema screen) but then it went on and on and on and on for nearly 2 hours. On the positives, it IS better than the first and it doesn’t do the Expendables 2 nod-and-wink but the film is as artificial as the plastic toys that “inspired” it. It got better but given the low standard it had to beat, that’s faint praise indeed. If this movie could talk it would say: “Gee, I’m slow.” 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Cloud Atlas (2012) Dir. Lana & Andy Wachowski & Tom Tykwer

With 3 directors and using the “unfilmable” source novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas was always going to be a bit of a challenge to your Hollywood film-making and with a budget of $100 million (raised through mostly independent, and German, sources) the movie uses 6 time periods to cover a wide variety of stories: A slave tale set in the South Pacific Ocean (1849) a musical love affair in Scotland (1936), a power plant journalist mystery in San Francisco (1973), a modern day comedic farce involving a publisher and nursing home in the UK (2012), self aware sentient androids in Neo Seoul (2144) and a tribesman/scientist tale on the “Big Island” 2321 AND a prologue/epilogue to bookend the film. Having not read the novel which has a slightly different structure, I came at this with an open mind and boy do you need it. The 6 stories are interwoven with each other with actors playing up to 6 parts throughout the film (young/old, male/female – it doesn’t matter!) and the editing criss-crosses between each one with visual (or even better, aural) motifs linking the segments. In all honesty in was like watching 6 films at once and the acting and cinematography were astonishing. I suppose your enjoyment of the film will be based upon how much you “go” with the structure – I personally found it very engaging and had to work to put the pieces of the puzzle together – but it definitely felt like hard work and, for me, was about half an hour too long (at 167 minutes, get yourself comfy). I loved the multiple story strands and literary allusions and the film was surprisingly funny, self referential (nods to song composing, writing and images littered all the way through) and challenges conventional narrative forms. From Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving (who appears in one segment as an Papa Lazarou-style hallucination) the actors adapt to each story (and style) and the movie is far from perfect but the drama is arresting and it shows ambition, awareness and erudite appreciation that is too little seen in mainstream films so deserves to be admired for the chances it takes. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

End of Watch (2012) Dir. David Ayer

From the writer of (the very very similar) Training Day which also features the lives of 2 cops driving around Hispanic suburbs of LA, this film takes a slightly different take as we no longer follow the lives of undercover detectives but see the daily goings-on of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña’s LAPD boys in blue. Using some handheld camera footage, the film cleverly switches to an omniscient camera using the same style at specific points, we see the two swapping from the routine vehicle violations to the gruesome discovery of human trafficking as well as getting mixed up in gang violence and its aggressive repercussions. Gyllenhaal and Peña have a believable chemistry which is crucial in such a “buddy” movie and there are genuine moments of tension and friction all filmed with an authentic reality in the heat of Los Angeles. A few of the plot points are a bit convoluted but it could be argued that it reflects the haphazard nature of the policeman’s job and it hits the obligatory home life signposts that are all too clichéd in this type of story (new born baby, conflict with girlfriend, job versus family occasion scene) but the film attempts to move forward quickly from these to get us back in the action as soon as it can. A shaky cam but unremarkable Fair Watch Project 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Broken City (2013) Dir. Allen Hughes

One of the worst things surely is to be boring. Love and hate occupy a similar set of values that emotionally resonate with us all but to be boring, average or ignored could be the worst of all. Unfortunately, Broken City, the first film by Allen Hughes (on his own without his brother Albert) is so run of the mill, it may as well be called Political Thriller 101. A poor script that a cast of heavyweights including Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg & Catherine Zeta-Jones (who to be fair give it their best shot) cannot raise the film above a made-for-TV afternoon melodrama in a lacklustre tale of blackmail and (limited) intrigue. Everything about the film was so-so and I felt no connection to the characters, plot or story as a series of formulaic chestnuts and night-time city images flashed in front of my tired and weary eyes. Broken City needs more than a reformed detective to fix this mess. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) Dir. John Moore

A Good Day to Die Hard has a title that even Bruce Willis could not explain during his bizarre interview on BBC’s The One Show and it sums up the movie perfectly. A haphazard set of ideas, awful action scenes and bland one-dimensional characters indiscriminately rammed together and slapped with the “Die Hard” badge, the movie would be poor as a Jason Statham vehicle but is unforgiveable as an entry into Bruce’s flagship franchise. Individuals’ lack back-story and charisma and Willis’ interaction with his Moscow-based son is stilted at best. As we’ve grown up with the franchise, the films have gone from small to large scale (building, whole airport, NY City, USA and now Russia) but each one loses that one-man army and spirit of the original. The CGI is so-so but the direction is appalling in what I guess is an attempt to emulate the gritty hand-held “Bourne” style of Paul Greengrass but comes over as confusing and uninvolving. The options for a 6th film in the series are slim to non-existent but a return to basic storytelling with some interesting characterisations is a must so I’d recommend they let the franchise DIE OR TRY HARDER. And there’s the name for it! Ha ha! 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Flight (2012) Dir. Robert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis’ first live action film since Cast Away (!) sees the director return with an in-depth character study of Pilot “Whip” Whitaker (played by an always brilliant Denzel Washington) who after saving a plane from an almost certain crash landing has to come face to face with his demons after failing an alcohol test whilst recovering in hospital. With the most literal soundtrack I have ever witnessed in a mainstream film (Sweet Jane & Under the Bridge for drug-taking scenes – oh please), this heavy-handedness undermines what is otherwise a solid exploration of what it means to be a hero, a father and a down-dirty-drunk. Possibly covering too much ground, another flaw is that the film never matches the explosive first 30 minutes (containing the crash and immediate aftermath) and drops into melodrama then (almost) comedy as John Goodman arrives from a different film altogether. Aside from the electrifying accident, there’s nothing spectacular as an ensemble cast of sturdy actors (Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood & Brian Geraghty) do their best with a TV-level script followed by some stereotypical addiction sequences but the film ultimately glides through on auto-pilot until it finally ends with a by-the-book landing. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

MAMA (2013) Dir. Andrés Muschietti

This Spanish-Canadian horror film is based upon director Andrés Muschiett’s short film that garnered interest from executive producer Guillermo del Toro and turned into this feature. After a suicidal businessman attempts to kill his 2 daughters in a wooded cabin, they are saved by a mysterious figure and after 5 years in the wilderness are later found by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who subsequently wins custody of the now feral children. Crawling on all fours and interviewed by a child psychologist, the kids communicate with an imaginary maternal guardian they call “Mama” but after some strange goings on in their new home, Lucas’s girlfriend Annabel (an unrecognisable emo-looking Jessica Chastain) begins to suspect there’s more to the girls’ story than first thought. With every horror-trope ‘borrowed’ from other films, I still found the film a grounded and fresh take on the genre with interesting characters, natural motivations (a must in horrors for me) and some weird special effects that ratcheted up the scares and tension. Chastain was great and the two animal-like children provided some genuine jolts and anxiety. No awards will be given for originality but Mama is the best American horror for years and only a CGI-heavy conclusion stopped the film garnering a higher rating. Mama, I Love you. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Last Stand (2013) Dir. Kim Ji-woon

Schwarzenegger returns in his first lead role since 2003’s Terminator 3 and we are all wondering is it more of a successful Total Recall or a sad End of Days failure. Well, first up, the good things – Schwarzenegger is still a good screen presence and the film has its fair share of OTT action with car chases, audacious escapes and gun fights galore. Also of note is the film’s (mostly) avoidance of “I’m too old for this shit” jokes. There are obvious references to Arnie’s age but these are done by others not listening to him or shown on screen through his sluggish demeanour. The reason I hated the Expendables 2 was its insistence that a nod and a wink to the audience every 5 minutes somehow helped the story. It didn’t. Despite these good points though the film is unmemorable as it is unremarkable. The budget is clearly low (no doubt Arnie’s pay packet being the biggest of it) and the supporting characters (especially Jackass’ Johnny Knoxville) verge from poor to annoying and the final fist fight does unfortunately show Arnie’s advancing years and physical limitations. However, if you are a fan of loud and proud action-fests and can overlook the many flaws, you may find some solace that the Governator is finally back! 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Red Dawn (2012) Dan Bradley

Having never seen the original 80s version I went in with a clean slate to this adolescent tale of patriotic youngsters banding together to form an underground militia in the face of a North Korean (changed in post-production from the Chinese) invasion of US soil. The DPRK enter suburban small-town America with little or no resistance from the country’s armed forces and for no reason, people begin to defect quicker than Benedict Arnold before a small throng of sport-playing jocks (calling themselves “Wolverines” and led by Chris Hemsworth) rise up against the invaders. Why they are attacking? We don’t know. How are small kids better trained than a nation famed for their massive military force? Again, no clue. What’s happening in the rest of the country? F*** knows! As they begin to detonate home-made bombs, the plot chronicles their development as guerrilla soldiers (a “first kill” makes one poor teen vomit) but this serious tone is played out amongst Dawson Creek-levels of teen angst which turns out to be essentially a popularity contest for the local prom King and Queen. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is miscast as a stereotypical grizzled marine assisting the uprising and in another universe he’d show up as his similarly flag-waving The Comedian from 2009’s Watchmen and subvert the film by blowing this annoying group away. I understand its attempt to be both edgy and action-packed but even its intended teenage audience deserve better than this. With its mix of soap opera melodrama and Rambo violence, Red Dawn was explosively underwhelming! 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Life of Pi (2012) Dir. Ang Lee

*Spoilers ahead* Having already undertaken the difficult adaptations of Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility) and the even trickier Stan Lee comic book (Hulk), Ang Lee has turned his Oscar-winning directorial eye to Yann Martel’s allegorical story of an Indian boy orphaned at sea with a Tiger from his family zoo. Named Richard Parker after a form-filling mix up, the beautifully rendered CGI animal helps this film survive beyond its glorious visuals with a genuine believability and emotional resonance opposite Suraj Sharma’s 16-year-old “Pi” and his efforts to stay alive at sea against enormous odds. Special note should also go to a phenomenal Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi who, in the main plot device, recounts his story to Rafe Spall’s wide-eyed journalist. Although I watched in 2D, the depth of the cinematography was still clearly there to see and the literal highs and lows of Pi’s journey takes the audience on a (boat) ride across the ocean’s wonders via flying fish, tempestuous storms, titanic whales and island-dwelling meerkats. For what it’s worth, and without giving too much away, the film’s mantra, "Thank you. And so it goes with God" about the power of storytelling led me to believe this was an atheist film rather than the power of “faith” it may have been trying to preach. But maybe, along with Groundhog Day, its brilliance lies with the fact that no matter your religious standpoint, the film’s universality leaves you believing it’s only about your world view. A marvellous triumph of acting, SFX, storytelling and adaptation, Ang Lee shows why he is a true master of the craft with a film feast for the eyes, brain and soul. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) Dir. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost

I have a massive soft spot for the PA films. Although a one-trick pony, it knew the trick well and each film added a new twist to the home-movie formula to keep audiences on the edge of their seat. But like most horror franchises (the genre which knows not when to stop with sequels - see Freddy, Saw, Scream & of course Friday the 13th) it’s fourth time unlucky as the same stupid set of idiots move into a freaky neighbourhood of ghostly goings on, most of which are now reminiscent of the earlier films and a sure-fire way to know your narrative has run its course. The slightly new format involves a teen and her laptop so there’s a lame attempt at capturing an audience familiar with webcams but for this reviewer it’s a case of been there, seen that and the horrible reality that a fifth film is probably underway (it is). With a lack of scares, characters and anything unique this is a franchise going nowhere. Poor and normal activity. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Alex Cross (2012) Dir. Rob Cohen

Colossal American media-mogul Tyler Perry steps into the shoes recently vacated by Morgan Freeman in the hope to launch a new franchise based on Alex Cross, the Washington homicide detective from the series of books by James Patterson. Whilst Freeman’s take was a moody (if mighty average) game of cat and mouse with a range of strange and surreal serial killers, Perry’s protagonist is given nothing but a series of action set pieces that wouldn’t look to out of place in a Die Hard movie – all machine guns, terrorists in tower blocks, blown out glass windows and collapsing floors. With a made-for-TV look, Matthew Fox looks lost as the villain “Picasso” (yes, really) as he dons Riddick-esque cyber-goggles and insanely rampages across the city. A big action spectacle that needs far more subtlety, the type that only a Morgan Freeman could give, the support cast of nobodies is rounded out by Jean Reno playing the Frenchman “du jour” who is as bloated and saggy as the film itself. Direction is almost non-existent and one can only imagine what could have been if Idris Elba had fulfilled his original casting. Cross? I’m livid how this will get a sequel, one which must up its game immensely. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 31 2012 12:00PM

Frankenweenie 3D (2012) Dir. Tim Burton

It’s been a long time since a truly good Tim Burton film with this year’s soap opera farce Dark Shadows another pet project that failed to hit the macabre /funny sweet spot and this is compounded by coming on the back of the misfiring and overblown juggernaughts of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, this 3-D animation based on one of Burton’s shorts during his very brief stint at Disney hits all the right gloomy notes with nods to classic monster myths including vampires, Frankenstein, The Mummy, Gremlin-like sea monkeys and even Godzilla. The only real flaw being that the director has used certain classic horror homages so many times (chase climax at windmill) that you would swear you have not only seen them before elsewhere, but also in Burton’s previous forays into the genre like Sleepy Hollow. That aside, the film has enough slapstick for kids and more than enough cleverness and intelligence for adults with its basic but fiendish plot of a boy re-animating his dead dog, which looks great in black and white, and comes alive at all the right moments. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Skyfall (2012) Dir. Sam Mendes

Bond is back with the usual kiss kiss bang bang formula that thankfully erases the bad memory of Quantum of Solace with a straightforward tale of a rogue MI6 agent seeking revenge after being hung out to dry. The film opens with a great train action set piece before we fall literally into the iconic Bond opening montage with suitably orchestral Adele song. With music reminiscent of the power ballads of Bond’s 60s heyday, the film continues its nods to the past with the welcome return appearance of Q (handled admirably by young Ben Whishaw), the DB5 car (cue Bond theme) and Miss Moneypenny, along with some great jokes and clever (rather than corny) one-liners. Mendes keeps the plot simple but fills the screen with luscious imagery from the glowing cityscapes of the Far East to the ghostly drizzle of the Scottish highlands and between bouts of thighs who loved him, Bond has doubts and is prone to faltering along the way. The director keeps Bond’s secret agent in the shadows both metaphorically and visually – a silhouetted fight in a skyscraper being particularly well-handled - all of which contrasts with Javier Bardem’s treacherous villain, Raoul Silva, who is literally gleaming as the man with the golden sun-like hair. The audience feels real concern as the sanctity (and safety) of MI6s building and agents are compromised by Silva’s twisty plan as he breaks into the UK’s security forces. Bond and Silva have some great scenes together with Bardem’s uncomfortable introduction speech and penetration of London’s Tube system before they face off with each other in the film’s finale as Bond attempts to protect M barricaded in a rural family home – possibly the film’s weakest point. After 50 years and over 20 films Sam Mendes waves his directorial wand over Bond and takes the franchise back to its roots with nods to the earlier films and an ironic self-knowing that hasn’t been seen since Judi Dench’s dinosaur speech to Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye. A success in more ways than one with genuine heartfelt loss at the end as well as the beginnings of a new more assured Daniel Craig, this spy flick will infiltrate your mind as it riffs on the agent’s best historical legacy and creates some great new memories of its own the audience hasn’t seen before. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Killing Them Softly (2012) Dir. Andrew Dominik

Based on the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, Pitt re-teams with Jesse James-helmer Andrew Dominik in this gritty and brutal drama of thugs, hoods and gangsters who double-cross each other in the underbelly of New Orleans. The literal set-up revolves around a heist at a high-stakes poker game and the director supplements this seedy and aggressive masculine milieu with similarly corrupt politicians all played out amid the background of the current economic crisis. If this was a subtle nod then fine, but Dominik hammers it home with background television footage in almost every scene and before the film’s end, if not already swamped by the obvious parallels, Pitt’s character starts talking about the TV as if we hadn’t got the ham-fisted message. Enough already! The slow plot builds around this backdrop as we start to question the depravity of all involved but unfortunately the movie runs out of steam before the end as multiple scenes listening to James Gandolfini’s impotent assassin wax lyrical on his character’s depraved life grow tiresome. On the plus side, Pitt is a joy in every scene and Ray Liotta’s beating is the bloodiest smack-down since Liotta doled them out himself in Goodfellas. Also, inept gangsters Scoot McNairy as Frankie and Ben Mendelsohn as Russell were both outstanding support characters and this hardboiled film should have given more focus on the savage nature of these money-orientated low-lifes rather than the obvious financial allegory. Thrilling Me Slowly. 7/10 Mike

Looper (2012) Dir. Rian Johnson

Intelligent sci-fi romp from director Johnson as he teams with his former Brick (2005) star Joseph Gordon Levitt who plays a Looper – a hired hitman who kills felons who have been sent back in time by a crime boss. With time travelling made illegal, a loop is closed when loopers assassinate their future selves (Levitt’s played by Bruce Willis) but Willis has other things on his mind, namely attempting to stop his wife being killed. Confused? Well, it avoids the time-travel clichés by refusing to discuss them – in a great scene in a remote diner between the two protagonists, Willis shouts “it doesn’t matter” – and there’s great support too from Emily Blunt (who appeared in the similarly-toned destiny changing The Adjustment Bureau) and a surprising against-type role for perennial good-guy Jeff Daniels as Levitt’s villainous boss. The film suffers from a bit too much talking, a slow and saggy middle section and a trailer that sold the movie as the next Matrix – it’s nothing of the sort – but the film doesn’t apologise for its complexity, goes places other films daren’t (Willis’ character arc especially) and despite the action coming a little too late in the last reel, the film sits alongside 12 Monkeys balancing its clever journey with bouts of conflict amidst questions of morality and providence. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Savages (2012) Dir. Oliver Stone

In an opening scene that plays out like an updated video to Chris Isaak's Wicked Game, we see a black and white shot of a girl running across a beach with highfalutin nonsense commentary throughout as she takes the audience back to the beginning of the story, quickly leaving all eyes enfolded on a rich blue Laguna Beach Californian coastline. In this Oliver Stone, Tarantinoesque drug motivated movie, the spieled story is focused around three main love triangled characters who grow and distribute their own marijuana, one of which being Taylor Kitsch (X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) John Carter (2012) Battleship (2012)) and a few others include an ageing John Travolta playing an 'on the make' federal agent. Benicio Del Toro also appears playing a Danny Trejo/Brad Pitt satire and is cast as a ruthless Mexican Cartel member whose boss (played by Salma Hayek) wants in on the Trio's profitable venture. A gripping tale, with a 90s sounding, mellow soundtrack to boot. 8/10 Midlands Movies Gary

Lawless (2012) Dir. John Hillcoat

In a weekwhere I was faced with two movies about the “law” within 24 hours (this & Dredd), Lawless was first up with director Hillcoat taking the real life story of three brothers who run an illegal bootlegging racket in Prohibition America. With a great 30s ambience, the trailer suggests your typical gangster flick and although there were echoes of Michael Mann’s similar period piece Public Enemies (2009) there was much more character drama here with great turns from Shia LeBeouf (surprisingly not terrible), Jessica Chastain (giving her dependable strong/vulnerable chops) and an always in-form Tom Hardy (mumbling through lines that were at times less intelligible than Bane). However, despite an underused almost fleeting cameo from fellow Batman pal Gary Oldman, it is Guy Pearce as the corrupt lawman from Chicago trying to take down the hicks who really stands out. Flirting with a camp menace, Pearce embodies his character with a dimensionality that gets under your skin. With rare (although harsh) violence – with the nastier aspects being hinted upon in flashes or off screen – the film follows the trials and tribulations of these three young men as they face decisions about life, women, religion, the law and standing up for family members when the going gets tough and boy does it get tough. With a great bluegrass soundtrack from screenwriter/musician Nick Cave this is a slow-burning but hard-hitting movie for have gone into her personality, their smooth. 7.5/10 MMM

Dredd 3D (2012) Dir. Pete Travis

From one film rooting for those on the more dubious side of the law to one that relishes in the almost-fascist swift murderous application of it. Forgetting the terrible 1995 Stallone effort, the film takes a more serious tone –albeit with a few cheesy one-liners including the anti-hero’s catchphrase – as Dredd is paired with a psychic female rookie orphan (yes, that stock character) on her last chance to past muster before being booted off the force. The plot concerns itself with Lena Headey’s “Ma-Ma”, a female crime boss who has taken over one of Mega-City One’s huge apartment blocks through the production of the “Slo-Mo” drug and her attempts to kill one of her goons before he has the chance to incriminate her through interrogation. Keeping the film in one location, Headey overrides the building’s internal systems, locking the entire complex down and encouraging all its tenants to attack the lone Judges. Karl Urban does what he can with the helmeted Dredd with the emotional story-arc focusing on rookie Anderson’s moral woes but really, the single staged setting allows for some Die Hard-style building shootouts, bloody and bruising fist fights and plenty of nasty killings. The 3D effects were good with the use of slow motion for the time lapse effects of the drug-induced criminals an ingenious use of an old trick and although not ground-breaking, this relatively low budget flick easily wipes the Stallone-slate clean and with a bigger budget and plenty more of the 800-million population city to explore, there’s a sequel in the making here I would love to see. A mental judge, jury and executioner of a movie 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike.

The Expendables 2 (2012) Dir. Simon West

Whilst I just about enjoyed the campy explosions of the first film, we have here the first true bonafide dud of the year. Maybe my expectations were too high but I at least expect a film and not what I think is, at best, a YouTube fan flick. Like the similarly poor Snakes on the Planes, they’ve aimed for internet fans and forgot to make an actual film and I’m not entirely sure what it is supposed to be. It’s definitely one of the unintentionally funniest films I’ve laughed AT in years and maybe the marketing department got it wrong and should have said the new “comedy” from Stallone at al. Without going in depth but things happen in the movie for no reason at all and even if it’s a homage to 80s action films it still should try and be a film however it came across like Hot Shots Part Deux without the intention. It’s funny in all the wrong ways from groan-inducing dialogue, scenes that make no sense, actors who cannot act and I’m told I’m supposed to enjoy it because it’s a bit-like-better-films-from-the-80s. No dice. Not even “the action” is of a high level. Don’t get me wrong as I like big dumb movies (I have soft spots for Independence Day, The Rock, Jumper) but this was just poor and shoddy and it’s not a million miles away from Epic Movie’s “throw enough homage and see if it sticks” mantra. EXPENDABLE - An item of equipment considered to be not worth keeping or maintaining. Nuff said. 4/10 MM Mike

Prometheus (2012) Dir. Ridley Scott

All my other priorities were rescinded as I did my best to avoid the early reviews which cried aloud “best/worst Alien film ever” as I finally visited the IMAX screen near Waterloo to catch Prometheus a week after its UK-wide release. As I finally got out of my self-inflicted quarantine my initial thoughts were that it was a good film but as a prequel I thought it was even better. Scott’s assertion that it was not a prequel but had Alien DNA running through it was ironic given the subject matter but the geeky nods to the other films were subtle and not the Lucas bat-around-the-head I have been exposed to. Story wise, we follow the Weyland corporation’s crew upon the ship Prometheus trying to find the “engineers” of human life on a distant planet. Noomi Rapace is a believable scientist (although a bit Ripley-lite) whereas Theron and Elba and especially Fassbender, as android David, were all great supporters. Rounding out the cast, dog-meat Logan Marshall-Green was a big weak point as your typical Joe Everyman and I’m not sure why you would cast Guy Pearce as an old man? However, on the IMAX, kudos has to go to one of the most amazing looking films I have seen in a long time (and in 3D) with the opening landscape shots and cockpit views into space nothing short of stunning. Maybe people were expecting too much but after the dreadful Predator crossover films, this made a welcome addition to the Alien canon and a prequel which both drew from the previous films but one that also stood on its own whilst questioning life, religion and science. Combining the best of Alien and Aliens the film is a bug-hunt with a brain. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Raid (2012) Dir. Gareth Evans

Over the last decade the martial arts B-movie scene has been rocked by the Muay Thai Stunt Team. They’ve made some mental films such as Born to Fight, the Ong Bak series & Chocolate. They specialise in realistic full contact action & insane stunts. Indonesian newcomer, The Raid, has taken the same mix but has turned everything up to 11! Evans takes a razor thin plot & stabs out a gritty claustrophobic 90 minute assault. The fights scenes are brutal, bloodthirsty and unrelenting, the stunts are creative & violent but most importantly they are real, not CGI. Expect the inevitable English language remake to cost twice as much & be half as good. A round-housing 8/10 Midlands Movies JJ

Dark Shadows (2012) Dir. Tim Burton

We all know the score by now in another Burton/Depp collaboration (gothic, quirky, plus Bonham Carter & Christopher Lee cameos) which updates the little-seen (in the UK at least) 70s mystery soap-opera Dark Shadows. Following a cursed vampire awoken in disco-era small-town America, we follow Barnabas Collins (Depp) as he tries to adapt to the hippie infused town as well as reconnect with his descendants headed by the always-stunning Michelle Pfeiffer. The film hits all previous Burton tropes which is its greatest flaw – we’ve seen it all done before (and better) in his other films. The suburban setting is very Edward Scissorhands, Pfeiffer channels both Selina Kyle and her Stardust witch whilst the story is as flimsy as the sets from the soap opera it’s based on. You could argue the soap opera-style narrative is solidly adhered to but this makes the film very uncinematic and it begs the question why Burton never got offered The Addams Family films which are essentially the same thing. That said it’s better than his billion-dollar Alice reimagining. A darkly disappointing 6.5/10 MM Mike

Cabin in the Woods (2012) Dir. Drew Goddard

This genre-bending film co-written by man of the moment Joss Whedon tries to take horror in new directions with one of the strangest plots I’ve seen in a long time. The set up of stereotypical kids (jock, bimbo, stoner, nerd and virgin) in a forest retreat conceals much larger issues of control, voyeurism and the twisting of well know horror clichés. As different a film as you’re likely to see at the multiplex, saying much more will give the game away but kudos to the film-makers for both a) trying something original and b) having the conviction to stay the course throughout. As a seedy outside agency pulls the strings on these puppet teens, the story weaves a narrative that both revels in well-known horror tricks and audience jumps but one that massively subverts at the same time. Not the game-changer some may claim but a definite new take and a surprising amount of laughs to boot. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (2012) Dir. Joss Whedon

Expectations were high as uber-geek director Joss Whedon took the director’s helm for this Marvel superhero franchise blockbuster fusing Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Cpt. America and more together to prevent the evil Loki from taking over the world. Whedon balances the right amount of screen time for each character, allowing them to develop as a group as well as pull off both comedy and drama as well as the obligatory action sequences with only the cube-stealing scenario and giant alien ending the slight flaws (stinky whiffs of Transformers 3 I’m afraid) in an otherwise crash-bang-wallop of a film. Tom Hiddleston plays the best screen villain seen in years and throw in some spectacular fighting sequences with a surprise death and things really spice up. Setting the bar high for future 2012 summer blockbusters, The Avengers is not the best superhero movie ever made but can be proud to have given both fans and casual punters the exciting fan-boy ride they have waited for. 8.5/10 Midlands Movie Mike

The Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists (2012) Dir. Peter Lord

Hugh Grant has always been a bit wooden, now he can add plasticine to his CV. Amazing stop motion married seamlessly with CGI & jam packed with more original ideas than your average block buster. It's quirky sense of humour is not laugh out loud stuff but is great fun that will have you grinning throughout, the featured songs & guest cameos are superb. The 3D elements don't add much but are well done, save the extra few quid & see the 2D version if you can. Aardman Animations continues to be a real national treasure. A swashbuckling 9/10 Midlands Movies JJ

Man on a Ledge (2012) Dir. Asger Leth

Man on a Ledge is a film that comes at the audience like a cross between PhoneSIE 10.0; Windows NT 6.2; WOW64;t (2011) but viewers should expect a few twists and turns in the plot as we see Sam Worthington's character Nick Cassidy tread lightly around narrow ledges on a top floor hotel. All the time police negotiators try to talk him down and find out the reason why he has stepped out of his room's window. Those who are wary of heights may find themselves on the edge of their seats for a large proportion of the film but with its fast pace and “what's going to happen next”-type feel, there is more than enough action and story to keep you entertained. A high raising 8/10 Midlands Movies Gary

Wrath of the Titans (2012) Dir. Jonathan Liebesman

Once again Sam Worthington returns to the screen in his cast-run of recent films and "epically acclaimed" sequel to the mighty Clash of the Titans saga remake, but after viewing, my thoughts left the question - has all the work been put into trying to 'out-CGI' the previous film and cast a beastly shadow on the storyline? Either way, expect an update in the latest 3D CGI effects in this monster fuelled marathon with more minotaur filled labyrinths to explore and a few nods to 2011's Immortals. Last, but never the least, is another bill for Liam Neeson returning to his part playing the god Zeus. 7/10. Midlands Movies Gary

The Cold Light Of Day (2012) Dir. Mabrouk El Mechri

Bruce Willis is still proving he can keep his head above water when it comes to big film titles and this one doesn't fall too short from that list. Appearing with Sigourney Weaver, the film is set on location around sumptuous parts of Spain which almost eases the viewer into a false sense of security with its relaxed views and calm seas. However, tension soon breaks the current when Will Shaw, played by Henry Cavill ("Immortals" and Superman in the upcoming "Man of Steel") realises the family vacation he had set out on has gone severely wrong upon discovering that his family has been kidnapped for unknown reasons. To further his confusion, things start to appear to not be what they seem as he embarks on distraught measures to find out what’s happened to his loved ones lands himself in the middle of a Government/Terrorist conspiracy. An evenly-paced 8/10. Midlands Movies Gary

J. Edgar (2012) Dir. Clint Eastwood

Eastwood tackles the life of Hoover in this biopic of the man who started the FBI and modern forensic science, taking us in flashback from his childhood through to battles with the authorities who question his methods and ending on his later retirement. Covering large aspects of his complex mother-son relationship as well as his ambiguous sexuality, there is great attention to period detail and fine cinematography. However, despite some great acting from Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts and Armie Hammer the film falls flat with such lengthy exposition and some hugely dull scenes even with impressive makeup and (mostly) historical accuracy. A stern but lacklustre 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Darkest Hour (2012) Dir. Chris Gorak (Russian American - produced by Timur Bekmambetov)

The uncertainty is running high and the stunning effects and visuals set this intense and gripping film from the get go with its take on "what would you do if an alien invasion happened?" type scenario. This one goes slightly further than it's predecessors and adds a more dark and sinister threat for whoever gets caught in its way. It is interesting to note that the story was written by Jon Spaihts who has also been involved in the writing on Prometheus, the RIdley Scott Alien "prequel" that is set to be released later on this year. Are we looking at a new dawn of alien movies? Let's hope so. 7/10 Midlands Movies Gary

Safe House (2012) Dir. Daniel Espinosa

Denzel Washington has come through again in this fast paced, eyes-on, action thriller. Sporting a younger ‘Morgan Freeman’ look these days, Denzel still delivers a good role and this one packs a few extra punches as he plays Tobin Frost, a rogue agent on the run from the CIA. Denzel finds refuge in being captured in order to escape a bigger threat, only to have it follow him to the safe house where he is being held. Manning the safe house is new recruit Matt Weston, played by Ryan Reynolds, who's shift has started to make him wonder whether he has bitten off more than he can chew in holding the dangerous and cunning Washington. An action from the get go 9/10 Midlands Movies Gary

Rampart (2012) Dir. Oren Moverman

Based around the late 90s Rampart scandal which saw widespread corruption in the LAPD, this film focuses mainly on the downward spiral that is veteran cop Dave Brown's career. 'Dave' played by Woody Harrelson, lives and breathes the 'stereotypical take the law into your own hands US cop' lifestyle, taking one liberty after the next, strongly believing he's serving justice on the streets, the events of his actions start to catch up with him not only in his work but his unconstrained personal life also. Harrelson portrays a more serious and sombre role to his as-of-late comedy ones we are used to him playing, but even as the viewer finds themselves drowning in Dave's despair and wanting to run out to the nearest bar themselves, there are a few comical moments. A dark humoured 8/10 Midlands Movies Gary

A Dangerous Method (2012) Dir. David Cronenberg

Cronenberg sticks with Mortensen for a third time in this film adaptation of the 1993 non-fiction book by John Kerr as he looks at Psychoanalysts Freud and Jung’s tempestuous relationship with each other and a patient-cum-doctor Sabina Spielrein. Fassbender as Jung provides the centre to the story showcasing an ability to pull off both distance and intimacy as the doctor’s life unravels with the arrival of Keira Knightly’s Sabina, in a close-to career best performance. A slow pace is used well to delve deeper into all the character’s minds and although there are few musical beats, the sparse music by Howard Shore (better known for Lord of the Rings) allows space for the introspection and build up/destruction of the protagonists’ relationships. Dark, deep and dangerous, Cronenberg’s character-piece showcases a maturity from the filmmaker and contains his usual male mind games not often seen in period movies. A more than methodical 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

American Mary (2012) Dir. Sylvia & Jen Soska

The film sees a trainee female surgeon (Mary of the title) struggle with her studies only to end up in the seedy underworld of underground body modification alongside an increasing fascination with killing after exacting gruesome revenge on her former professor and tormentor. With a string of quotes emblazoned on the DVD cover I was expecting a dark satire on the torture/body porn genre but what American Mary served up (other than its fair share of boredom) was a set of sterile set pieces that took itself far too seriously in a field that needs to self lampoon every now and then. Brave attempts at story were let down by some abysmal acting turns (English John Emmet Tracy as a cop was a particular misstep) and some turgid dialogue. On the positives, Mary herself was played with guts by the feisty Katharine Isabelle and I enjoyed the real life body modification support cast who added some much needed realism in amongst the clichés. Neither shocking enough to lure hardened horror aficionados in nor enough meat on the hook (pardon the pun) for the passing fan, American Mary was quite ordinary. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Premium Rush (2012) Dir. David Koepp

A New York cycle-courier (Joseph Gordon Levitt) gets caught up in a plot that involves a mysterious package he has been paid to transport and deliver across the busy canyon streets of Manhattan and a sleazy corrupt cop (the always awesome and soon-to-be-Zod, Michael Shannon).Off-roading through a pretty basic plot (with some clever flashbacks and Google-style map sequences however) the film is a simple vehicle for bike tricks, races through busy city streets and cops and criminals chasing each other whilst the movie also combines the pulsing kinetics of Speed with the city centre run-around of Crank. Admirably balancing its tone between popcorn nonsense and boneshaking crashes Koeep weaves the plot around some solid, if somewhat predictable, set pieces before the wheels come off later in story as ridiculous coincidences take you out of the saddle. Not braking once for anything close to character development or depth, the movie is firmly locked in one gear – that of action - making it fun for those seeking off the chain thrills but little for anyone else. It sets its own (handle)bar very low but fully delivers some hokey but well filmed bike skirmishes. A ‘wheely’ great! 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Taken 2 (2012) Dir. Olivier Megaton

Picks up mobile phone from floor and sits on the edge of a Parisian apartment bed.

“I don't know who this film is supposed to be for. I don't know even if it was wanted. If you are looking for another surprise b-Movie like the first Taken, I can tell you that you shouldn’t waste your money. But what it does have is a very particular set of flaws. Flaws it has acquired over a very long and dull running time. Flaws that make it a nightmare for people like you to watch. If you avoid it now, that'll be the end of it. You will not look for it, you should not pursue it. But if you don't, it will irritate you, it will irk you… and it will bore you. “ 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Campaign (2012) Dir. Jay Roach

Let’s get this right out the way: I have watched 3 Zach Galifianakis films in recent memory (Hangover 1 & 2 and Due Date) and have nothing against the man per se but he started out with an uphill struggle in my attempt to watch The Campaign. The trailer for this farce, also starring comedy cohort Will Ferrell as another combating local politician, seemed to hint on much to come, however (and somewhat inevitably) the man-child that is ZG up-ends the whole thing with his strange interpretation of a local businessman turned Republican candidate. Truly awful in all the ways American comedy shouldn’t be, the hackneyed Ides of March-style story of political downfall meanders all over the place and jokes fall flat as we go for the lowest (of the low) common denominator and terrible word-play. Will Ferrell often turns out as much crap as good but his 50% success rate far succeeds ZG’s touch of death and much like Ferrell’s “Semi-Pro”, the scenes play out like a series of (bad) improv “skits” rather than a cohesive story. This is not negative if the film is funny but the movie is a right old state of affairs whilst ZG’s turn in The Campaign ends up being painfully camp. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Imposter (2012) Dir. Bart Layton

A shameful omission from the 2013 Academy Awards best documentary category, this amazing film combines dramatic reconstruction with talking head interviews focusing on the truth life story of missing Texan child Nicholas Barclay who was “found” in a Spanish orphanage 3 years later. With different colour eyes and speaking in a heavy French accent, the discovered “boy” may not be all he seems but shockingly the family fail to question these facts and even the media pick up on his extraordinary kidnap. Slowly unravelling the mysteries surrounding the American family coming to terms with the sudden re-apperance alongside the shocking true facts of the case from the outset, if this had been made as a dramatic feature the audience would not have believed the twists. Alongside Eastwood’s The Changeling, the film asks serious questions about trust, loss, truth and the twisted mind games of a confidence trickster. An essential watch. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

V/H/S (2012) Dir. Various

A series of handheld-horror vignettes in portmanteau-style (whoa, get me!) in this budget scare-fest from a variety of up and coming young directors. The film is hung around the premise of a group of rowdy teens filming themselves after being asked to steal a VHS tape from a dead man’s house only to find many more rough ‘n’ ready videos in his home. Watching each in turn, we view a variety of shorts from a s*xual succubus, a hotel murder, a Halloween house and many more. With a few original ideas mixed with the tried and somewhat “testing” found-footage formula, the film suffers from being 45 mins too long (it clocks in at 2 hours!) and has a real problem with quality control. It may have worked as a YouTube esque home-made series but as assured film-making, the shoddy-look (obviously an intentional camcorder-style) and shaky-images leaves it feeling very slipshod. Although a promising “show-reel” for some future talents, unless you are a HUGE fan of amateur horror, then this will try the patience of the rest of us looking for some genuinely clever scares other than the blurry “boo” kind. V/arying H/orror S/horts. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Berberian Sound Studio (2012) Dir. Peter Strickland

The world of sound awaits you! A true trans-national picture, Berberian Sound Studio is set in 1976 and follows a timid middle-aged sound engineer (Toby Jones) named Gilderoy, who travels to Italy to work on a secretive film. Trapped in the studio with a aggressive bully producer and eerie sound engineers Massimo and Massimo amongst others, Gilderoy begins to feel isolated away from his home and mother and when he discovers that he will be working on a explicit horror movie, he starts to feel emotionally uneasy. Unable to communicate in Italian he is frequently a spectator to conversations and no one takes his questions seriously, dismissing him out of hand and making him feel impotent. This environment forces Gilderoy to retreat into his work with menacing consequences. However, there is plenty of dark humour in this film as Director Peter shows us Gilderoy’s descent into madness as life imitates art. As one might expect from the subject matter the most striking thing about this film is the sound, both audibly and visually as odd as that may seem, for example the scenes of a vegetable massacre occurring in line with audio scenes of violence, for any film fan this is a fascinating way to think about film sound and what past productions may have had to go through. For fans of gialli there are plenty of subtle references here including black leather gloves, goblin-esque soundtracks and even a vocal cameo by Suzy Kendall (The Bird with a Crystal Plumage, Torso). Finally, we must talk about the acting, Toby Jones gives an exceptional performance, and the film is cast perfectly particularly aggressive producer Francesco (Cosimo Fusco – The Card Player, Gone in Sixty Seconds) and the receptionist Paola (Tonia Sotiropoulou – Skyfall) has to get my vote of most beautiful actress of 2012. A tightly written movie, with plenty of subtle black humour and tense moments as it flirts between fascinating audio production and mental decline, any fan of film will be able to take something from this film. 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Marek

Sinister (2012) Dir. Scott Derrickson

A struggling crime-writer (Ethan Hawke) moves his family to a new town where unsolved murders and a decidedly creepy vibe abound in this horror vehicle from last year. Finding a box of Super-8 film reels in the attic, Hawke watches footage of grisly murders (at night, in the attic of course) whose images and evil power begin to infest their own world via his small child. A solid story and a couple of neat twists and scares are not enough to save this average schlock which stands alongside similar dirge like Insidious as 15-rated yawn-fests with even the reliable Vincent D'Onofrio providing scant saving grace as Professor “Exposition”, filling the huge gaps in the plot by webcam. Unfortunately, it is Hollywood films like these that have hurried up my move to foreign horror which for me have had fresher ideas and better actors in the last few years. In no way the worst chiller I’ve seen, just so ominously run of the mill. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Antiviral (2012) Dir. Brandon Cronenberg

Long Live The New Flesh! Fascinating plot combined with vivid colouring provide one of the most intriguing and possibly best films released this year. Receiving an under the radar limited theatrical release and dropping in virtually unnoticed on DVD, Brandon Cronenberg has followed in the footsteps of his father by producing a body-horror thriller of great substance. But what of the film, well it follows Syd March (A brilliantly cast Caleb Landry Jones), an employee of the Lucas Clinic, who specialise in selling the viruses of celebrities to adoring fans, one potential future of a celebrity-obsessed culture. Although Syd also has a side-gig, smuggling the viruses out through his own body before selling the viruses on the black market, but when one celebrity dies from her condition soon after Syd has infected himself with the same virus, he faces a race again time to discover what is in his body and is there a way back. Tightly written and extremely well paced, this is a rewarding film as well as a potent and sardonic look at celebrity culture extrapolated to extremes. 9/10 Midlands Movies Marek

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) Dir. Marc Webb

The aptly named Marc Webb takes over directing duties from Sam Raimi to depict (again) Peter Parker’s origin in becoming the arachnid superhero in this reboot/reimagining/reinvention of the familiar tale. And that’s its greatest problem. The film lacks the appropriate bite as it feels more like a remake as it covers so much familiar ground as Raimi’s recent version from less than 5 years ago. Although the cast are appropriately hefty (on the rise stars Garfield and Stone hold their own with veterans Martin Sheen and Sally Field) the lack of any truly new and memorable ideas from Webb gives us a film that is solid but definitely not innovative. The film’s preoccupation with being “earnest” and “real” in the relationships, cue Coldplay soundtrack, make the (poorly directed) CGI action scenes appear from a different movie entirely. Ultimately, this bug just made me shrug. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Ted (2012) Dir. Seth MacFarlane

With the joint successes of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, creator Seth MacFarlane turns his comedy skills from those small TV triumphs into a big screen sensation in this modern fairy tale of a boy who grows old with his talking ted. From an hilarious prologue (with suitable voiceover from MacFarlane regular Patrick Stewart) which shows how Ted goes through adolescence with protagonist Mark Wahlberg (demonstrating his funny acting chops honed on The Other Guys and to a lesser extent, The Departed), through to x-rated sight gags, pratfalls and witty word play, the film is the funniest to hit the screen all year. Fans of the aforementioned telly shows will lap this up as well as hopefully convert a few more to the church of MacFarlane and although rude, crude and sometimes nude (the Garfield joke is a mischievous highlight), this simple story of a boy and his bear has its heart in the right place. A barrel of belly laughs to boot, the movie is self-deprecating with a great support cast of Family Guy actors including Mila Kunis & Patrick Warburton as well as Giovanni Ribisi doing his usual bat-shit crazy routine. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Raid (2012) Gareth Evans

Welshman Evans takes the reins for this Indonesian crime-fu thriller set in a corrupt tower block on lockdown as a SWAT team’s assault goes awry and they become hunted around hazardous corridors and rooms. Using traditional martial art pencak silat, Evans amps up the action to hyper-violence levels as the skewed police team members rise up the building dealing with increasingly brutal and vicious attacks from the tenants. Strangely, this film shares an almost identical plot with 2012’s Dredd (another case of “Deep Armageddon” it seems) and being a bigger fan of guns than grips, I actually preferred Mega City One’s take on the subject. However, if martial arts are your thing, the choreography is amazing and the best of this genre in many a year. Catch this before they tone it down in the inevitable US remake. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Total Recall (2012) Dir. Len Wiseman

Another take and another unnecessary remake, Len Wiseman (of Underworld fame) directs Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale (of Underworld and his wife fame) in this sci-fi actionner based on the Phillip K Dick short story. Regular “Joe”, Doug Quaid, pays a visit to “Rekall”, a mind-implant leisure business but soon finds himself caught up in an amnesic espionage plot that bends his reality and loyalty and the new film replaces the earlier version’s wit with action, characters with action and plot with action. Paul Verhoeven’s use of Oscar winning F/X is superior in every way to the digital effects here (although there are good CGI cityscapes especially on the Blu-Ray) and there’s not an ounce of humour to be had throughout. With obligatory nods to the “three breasts” and “two weeks” ladies, if a Schwarzenegger film beats you on subtlety then you should be worried despite some familiar genre tropes reminiscent of I, Robot and Minority Report. And not going to Mars? Shame on you. Definitely, not a (memory) patch on the original. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Brave (2012) Dir. Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman

Well, sub-par Pixar is better than most in this tale of an adolescent Scottish girl rebelling against her family clan and the results of Pixar’s first foray into more traditional Disney princess territory is all a bit “meh” in this reviewer’s opinion. The animation (as expected) is flawless but there’s a lack of innovation which is especially disappointing from one of the most innovative studios working today. Without a truly memorable plot, characters or sequence, I longed for an Incredible, a Wall*E or (ahem) even a Lightning McQueen to give the film a bit of a buzz (excuse the pun). Whilst doing nothing particularly wrong (it’s got the cutesy kids, the wicked witch and an animal villain), this had the feel of Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, a movie which is was superior and got there first. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Killer Joe (2012) Dir. William Friedkin

A lurid trailer trash killer pulp movie from the director of The Exorcist, Killer Joe has Matthew McConaughey playing a Southern Sheriff who is also a part-time contract killer (and psycho) hired by a family of rednecks to off their own mother. When they cannot pay his advance, Joe takes the young sister as a retainer before they begin to double-cross each other as their ramshackle plans ultimately fall apart. From the harsh Tracy Letts play of the same name, the film is not one for the squeamish or easily offended and more than one scene (a dinner “date” and a KFC chicken leg scene) had this reviewer flinching in its off-colour “humour”. I enjoyed Thomas Haden Church as a thick-headed brother and the obvious powerhouse performance from McConaughey but neither cannot save the fact that it’s a pretty uncomfortable watch that may just push your own personal boundaries much like the similarly themed The Killer Inside Me. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Red Lights (2012) Dir. Rodrigo Cortés

Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy play tutor and student spiritual sceptics investigating the trickery of celebrity psychic Robert De Niro whose character comes out of a self-imposed hiatus to again show off his paranormal skills. With early scenes debunking pseudo science and criticising fraudulent mediums, the film’s subject matter was right up my street and starred 3 of my favourite actors with the always reliable Toby Jones in good support as a put upon scientist (his Pinky and the Brain routine has been seen before in Captain America). However, they should have had a traffic light warning on the cover as although the movie whizzes off the green light to start with the duo discrediting hoaxers and swindlers, the film slows to amber by taking an age to get through a saggy middle section only to grind to a complete halt with one of the worst “twists” this reviewer has ever seen. If you switch off the movie 5 minutes before the end you get an above-par thriller with some interesting ideas that slightly misses the mark, but watch to the end & you will feel crimson with rage and as duped as some of the poor people in the film. Wasted light Midlands Movies Mike 5.5/10

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) Dir. Timur Bekmambetov

Although Benjamin Walker as Abe himself looked like TV’s League of Gentlemen Mark Gatiss, he was clearly the best thing about this misjudged historical horror. Lacking the satirical bite the title implies, honest Abe grows up helping to free Americans from slavery, war and the blood-lust of Southern vampires but the movie gets too bogged down in the history of the political machinations of liberty and freedom instead of focusing on the action which is sporadic and uses very “cartoony” CGI. Slaying his way through hordes of vampires with a silver-edged axe, Abe’s quest is self-narrated from his fictionalised diary which is a great use of Lincoln’s oratory legacy but the plot is held captive by his real-life actions which are shoe-horned around the unreal elements. Not a complete failure but one with little to chomp on, but at least we still have Spielberg and Day-Lewis’ Lincoln biopic to look forward to later in the year. Midlands Movies Mike 6.5/10

The Innkeepers (2012) Dir. Ti West

Critics must have checked in to the Overlook Hotel after sanctifying this as a “5 star” film as the scares and jumps are far too scarce in this ghostly yarn of the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The hotel horror begins one night as two quirky young reception clerks stave off boredom by trying to contact the spirit of a murdered woman who is supposed to haunt the lodgings. Unfortunately, and after 50 long (and dreary) minutes in, they eventually succeed as guests checkout in more ways than one as the two investigate ghostly goings-on in different rooms and basements. With some good dialogue, an independent sensibility and neat performances, this ghoulish film is undone by a lack of spooks and spectres – never did I feel anyone was really in danger. A tall story done with some flair other studio pictures don’t have, the Shining it certainly is not, as it doesn’t possess half the tension, jolts or frights needed to raise it above an average shock flick. Midlands Movies Mike 6.5/10

The Raven (2012) Dir. James McTeigue

Not even the ever-reliable John Cusack can raise this film above average as he plays a fictionalised version of Edgar Allan Poe who is drafted in by Baltimore police after a killer creates a series of grisly murders using his poems and short stories as inspiration. More “frothy” than “gothy”, the period tale covers a romantic liaison followed by Poe’s attempt to link the murders inspired (or related to) his works such as "The Masque of the Red Death", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" amongst others. With echoes of Depp’s “From Hell” and “Sleepy Hollow” which cover familiar 19th century ‘detectives’ quandaries, not even a good Luke Evans as Inspector Emmett Fields and Brendan Gleeson as Captain Hamilton can help the drama, acting, costumes and plot which are all incredibly run of the mill - only this and nothing more. Midlands Movies Mike 6/10

Chernobyl Diaries (2012) Dir. Bradley Parker

A great set up sees an extreme tourist day trip turn nasty as a group of travellers visit a supposed ghost town near the site of the Russian nuclear disaster. Unfortunately, that’s where the positivity ends as these day trippers suffer from an extreme case of mental meltdown as we watch slow-witted American teens enter a chain reaction of stupidity as they choose every wrong option presented to them. With Scream (and now Cabin in the Woods) deconstructing the horror clichés I can’t help but blow up like a mushroom cloud every time I see people return to locations they know to be dangerous or decide to go into dark rooms to “explore”. A fusion of handheld camera work (the trailer suggested it was ‘found-footage’ but apart from one scene it’s not) and pretty decent performances from the unknown actors gives the impression of realism but unconvincing motivations and unnatural decision-making helps dismantle any of the movie’s authenticity. A unique showpiece in the reactor towards the end provides some critical scares but when the health of the protagonists is more concerning to the audience than their survival from the “creatures” chasing them, you know the film has missed the mark. Fallout film fail. Midlands Movies Mike 6.5/10

Iron Sky (2012) Dir. Timo Vuorensola

You probably know the story by now of this partly fan-funded Finnish film as it sets out its premise of Nazis hidden on a moon base after WWII and how they plan to return to earth to wreak a Third Reich strike. With that foundation it’s infinitely better than Expendables 2 which pays homage to another genre of B-movies and I thought the fact the film was played a bit more “straight” made it funnier than Stallone and co’s abysmal effort. With some well designed retro spaceships impressively designed in CGI (better than the recent Guy Pearce sci-fi feature Lockout too), the film’s cheese factor means you cannot take anything too seriously and some hammy acting performances and a United Nations made up of the President-ess of USA and other stereotypes ensure the audience knows where the level of the film is pitched. Neither a cult classic nor a complete failure (as some have claimed), the film , unintentionally somewhat, is far better than the ridiculous plot would lead you to believe and it’s also superior to a lot of films who have set their standards too high. Sure, it’s niche but this “fascist” film is also a lot of fun. Midlands Movies Mike 7/10

Snow White and The Huntsman (2012) Dir. Rupert Sanders

The “colonel” directs Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Thor himself Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman (although he plays it as the Scotsman) in this folk fairy epic with brilliant cameos from great British character actors Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost and more who are CGI’d into the infamous 7 dwarves. Going for a re-imagining of the tale, it is visually similar to Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Ridley Scott’s new Robin Hood, but the tone and plot are more akin to the earlier and “grimier” Prince of Thieves. This echoes most familiarly with an usurping villain (Rickman in Hood, Theron here) killing the hero’s father and then said hero escaping their clutches to form a rag-tag gang from a forest (Merry Men/dwarves) and teaming with a former enemy (huntsman/Morgan Freeman’s Moor) before leading a horseback charge on a castle’s ramparts. No bad thing there but the quality is uneven and script/characters all over the place with very little empathy for anyone other than (ironically) Theron as the evil witch whose one-note sadistic performance is clearly the best thing about the movie. One for the Twi-whites methinks! 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Lockout (2012) Dir. James Mather and Stephen St. Leger

I really wanted to like this film. I mean, REALLY. A sci-fi prison b-movie starring a fave actor of mine Guy Pearce, I thought this could be another “Taken” which took an established actor, a clichéd premise and rolled it all into a great piece of action fun. This film however gets almost everything wrong. A clever interrogation opening and interesting suitcase MacGuffin suddenly leads into the worst CGI chase shot seen in many a year (seriously, Playstation 1 bad – this has no place in this or any movie) and from this point, just 15 minutes in, it never came back. With two Scottish cons lifted from Braveheart and Maggie Grace (from Taken herself) in an unbelievable President’s daughter role, the film was far from the cheesy actionner I was promised and was in fact incredibly dull. Midlands Movies Mike 5/10

21 Jump Street (2012) Dir. Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill star as two dozy police officers working undercover at a high-school in this modern re-shaping of the 80s US TV series. Tonally similar to the recent A-Team and Starsky and Hutch movies (i.e. played for laughs) this funny film also has Ice Cube subverting the stereotypical “shouty” police chief as the two leads bumble their way through their mission reliving their teenage angst. With a couple of cool cameos and a great (if not original) drug-taking scene, the movie does not do anything revolutionary but has a sharp script, solid comedic turns from the actors and big dollops of entertaining hilarity making it one of the funnier films of the year. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Battleship (2012) Dir. Peter Berg

Taylor Kitsch star in yet another special effects vehicle that has less atmosphere than a Martian surface as the director combines the worst excesses of Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, Space Cowboys and Contact to create a soulless and mostly joyless summer spectacle. Liam Neeson, who I like, appears as the hard-nosed father of Kitsch’s love interest whilst the “plot” concerns itself with the deployment of alien spaceships versus huge destroyers in an ocean battle – that’s as ‘deep’ as it goes. Kitsch channels cliché as the bratty younger brother who gains perspective in the face of world-destruction (yawn) and despite a few entertaining scenes - such as the “real-life” battleship game – this film is submerged by the weight of its own failings. Bored games. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

American Pie: Reunion (2012) Dir. Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg

Another portion of the tasty yank pastry-fest sees the original cast back (again) to re-live some of their high-school hi-jinks as they return to their hometown to attend their 10 year reunion. Serving up a plateful of well-known and embarrassing s*x jokes, this run of the mill film either validates your fandom of the series or proves that you can never go back to that delicious summer of youth. With almost not a single surprise, the film itself does have its funny moments with gross out humour and adults acting like adolescents. Eugene Levy has perhaps developed into the film’s best character and it sticks to the heart-warming/coarse prank formula much like its 3 predecessors. In summary – it’s a bit like Greggs – its semi-warm-filling will just about do if you’re in the mood. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Wrath of the Titans (2012)

Sam Worthington as Perseus dons his sandals for a second time (and for some reason a shaggy 70s perm) in this ridiculous ‘legend’ as he fights for his father (Liam Neeson as Zeus) against the horrid Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Making ‘slightly’ more sense than the previous film (characters this time literally don’t say “we’re now coming to join you in your quest!”) the action is all CGI, some great like the twisty-turny labyrinth scene – but some very bad – such as the Cyclops that looks like a leftover from Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules series. I personally enjoyed it more than the first, which wasn’t a difficult task, but very much like “Clash” the film never feels like the classic hero epic it so obviously wants to be. Wrath’s ambition fails to match what is actually on screen and it feels like you’ve run a marathon for gallantly braving it out to the end. Dead Man’s Quest 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Hunger Games (2012)

Much has been said about this adaptation and against popular opinion I found this film could not satisfy my blockbuster appetite as we follow a social uprising where children fight to the death in a future television spectacular reminiscent of Arnie’s Running Man. Unlike that film however, this over-stylised nonsense holds none of the satirical edge and the weepy score cannot overcome its flaws including Woody Harrelson’s strange performance (and his awful wig - which he has borrowed from his stint in A Scanner Darkly). Along with other recent teen adaptations (Potter and Twilight) this jaded reviewer again does not see what all the fuss is about and the film has a famine of new ideas whilst paying homage to similar fare. With Jennifer Lawrence (also seen in X-Men: First Class) being trained up ready for the battle (like the scenes in X-Men: First Class) the film takes itself far too seriously and not even the action scenes, filmed in a blurry handheld style, satisfy as the audience cannot see much (probably to achieve the desire rating). For a film about children fighting to the death, the subject is neither given sufficient weight nor subverted enough in order to ridicule the warped social order which left this reviewer craving for a better match. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

This Means War (2012) Dir. McG

Combat Kirk Chris Pine and battling Bane Tom Hardy are CIA agents competing for the attention of celebrity chin Reese Witherspoon in this bit of Hollywood nonsense from Charlie’s Angels director McG and I’ll start by massively disagreeing with the critics’ reviews of this (Ebert’s especially which refers to the lack of reality in how they divert funds for their own ends – are you serious? It’s not a documentary!) as although it contains many a cliché with nods to films such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels it’s obviously not aiming too high and done with a fair dash of fun and I laughed more than many a modern “comedy” film. The brainless movie reminded me of a throwback to 80s inoffensive romance hokum like Bird on a Wire or Overboard which were about ridiculous concepts played for laughs with dollops of action rivalry. Yes, Witherspoon sleepwalks her performance and Pine and Hardy are mainly just okay as the feuding buddies playing one-upmanship games throughout, but for a date-night bit of superficial frolicking, avoid the stuffy critics and enjoy the dumb fun that’s streets ahead of the similar Knight and Day. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

John Carter (2012) Dir. Andrew Stanton

The film that cost £250 million (that’s £13m more than Avatar!) and put a big dent in Disney’s balance sheet finally comes to DVD and like another time traveller I have to say “oh, boy” what a right mess they have made. On the positives? They are too few but there’s a lot more location shooting than all the Star Wars prequels put together and there was a solid 40 minutes where I went along with John Carter learning to run/jump on Mars and becoming friends with the aliens. However, Lynn Collins puts an appalling turn in as the Princess caught up in the inter-planetary hokum and Mark Strong and Dominic West sleepwalk their way through pantomime villain roles as the bad guys du jour. Even John Carter’s beard was unconvincing! With an intro that harks back to the worst of Phantom Menace, I was surprised the film did not open in the past so the audience felt some anticipation and awe when finally being transported to the Martian landscape? Another scene looks directly lifted from Attack of the Clones' human versus monster in alien coliseum sequence. Director Andrew Stanton said more in the near-silent 20 minutes intro of Wall*E than the entire long, overblown script and effects of this 2 hours and 12 minutes epic . The film can be added to an unlikely bunch of many bad desert/sandy sci-fi films made up of Dune, Chronicles of Riddick, Stargate crossed with the swords and sandals fare like Immortals, Prince of Persia and Troy. Long Carter. And boring. Midlands Movies Mike 5/10

Safe House (2012)

Reviewed on its cinema release by Gary, this actionner hits DVD this month starring Denzel Washington as an ex-CIA agent gone rogue, selling official secrets before handing himself over to the authorities. Set in a gloriously shot Cape Town, Ryan Reynolds plays the lowly safe house operative struggling to keep Denzel away from those who don’t want the truth out. Bordering on the boring, the action is solid but characterization is at a minimum and although Washington is always worth a watch, the otherwise usually solid support of Brendan Gleeson (fat), Vera Farmiga (old) and the T-1000 himself Robert Patrick (fat AND old) don’t really shine here. The film adds in the standard Bourne-esque action sequence making it look like every other spy/cop film from The Taking of Pelham 123, Man on Fire, Manchurian Candidate (one scene stolen wholesale) all of which star a better Denzel. No surprises heer as the film plays it safe or thereabouts 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Woman in Black (2012) Dir. James Watkins

Post-Potter horror in which Daniel (too short /cannot act) Radcliffe plays an Edwardian lawyer trying to solve the mystery of a haunted manor he has come to try and sell on behalf of his employers. Cloaked in a fog of boredom, the atmosphere left me feeling detached from any characters and frankly couldn’t care less who lived & died. Not scary enough for horror, not interesting enough as drama and not written well enough to satisfy this disappointed audience member. I’d steer well clear of this grim fairy tale and not the comeback I was expecting from Hammer films. Hit the sack 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Chronicle (2012) Dir. Josh Trank

A modern teenage sci-fi that doesn’t insult its audience with great turns from little-known actors Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, and Alex Russell, this low budget hand-held (for a bit anyway) movie shows what happens when three teens unexpectedly gain superpowers one night after going clubbing. The fun and frolics they initially partake in make way for more sinister uses as the boys try to become popular as well as sort out the dysfunctional family matters yet keep these new talents under wraps. Director Trank shows a maturity (as does DeHaan who has echoes of a young Di Caprio about him) in his film-making and storytelling which translates to one of the best films of the year so far. Teens of Steel 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 31 2011 12:00PM

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011) Dir: S Daldry

Prepare to have your tears jerked & heart strings tugged at as EL&IC tries to grind you into submission with hokey sentimentality for an exhausting two hours. It’s a film about a unique & possibly autistic young boy & his elaborate grieving process for his father who dies in the Twin Tower attacks of 9/11. It’s superbly acted & very nicely shot. There’s some good subtle story telling but its lost in a bad mix of bitter to sweet moments. A neither extreme nor incredible 6/10 Midlands Movies JJ

Haywire (2011) Dir. Steven Soderbergh,

An all star cast meets a new face in another story set on espionage and betrayal. Retired mixed-martial arts champion Gina Carano plays Mallory Kane; a female covert ops specialist that is dead set on clearing her name after being betrayed by her own government. The film doesn't rely too much on the all-out special effects that you'd expect from previous Hollywood blockbusters, which gives it a more realistic edge as it focuses more on its outstanding fight scenes. With its late 60s Bullitt-like soundtrack score, you can throw into the mix a bit of 1998’s 'Ronin' like suspense and add a dash of 2010's 'Salt' for good measure. 7/10 Midlands Movies Gary

Underworld: Awakening (3D) (2012) Dir. Måns Mårlind

A spectacular 3D update to the Underworld saga, which returns Kate Beckinsale back to the screen playing protagonist Vampire Selene. Set months after the storyline of Underworld: Evolution, we see a different Vampire and Lycan world to the previous chapters but the war between both species and humans has escalated vastly. Expect more surprises in store also with a few familiarities as well as the visual effects and 3D working exceptionally well together in the action scenes. If you were a fan of the previous films then you'll enjoy the ride and reprise of Selenes Vamp clad slaying outfit. 8/10 Midlands Movies Gary

Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol Dir.Brad Bird

Although the plot this time round again lacks some of the the mystery and guess work of the first film, it without a doubt makes up for it on the visual aspects side, an intense white knuckle ride which brings out some new state of the art effects and gadgets that you would expect to see in a James Bond film, whilst throwing in some familiar MI attributes that fans will remember from the previous films. The main stunt that is actually performed by Tom Cruise is what really makes this movie though and leaves you literally hanging on the edge of your seat! For those that suffer from a fear of heights, be cautious!

10/10 Midlands Movies Gary

War Horse (2011) Dir. Steven Spielberg

Spanning 4 years of the 1st world war, War Horse follows the journey of Devonshire farm horse Joey. Recruited into the war effort, Joey’s story weaves together that of the many whose lives he comes into contact with. Spielberg is really back on form here using multiple perspectives to create many poignant & profound moments. The plot gives way slightly too some stunning composition & a massive John Williams score. Throw in a couple of jaw dropping Saving Private Ryan-esque action sequences & some of the best moustache work I’ve seen in years for a galloping 8/10. Midlands Movies JJ

My Week with Marilyn (2011) Dir. Simon Curtis

Considering the actress isn't a Gemini & never knew her, she still came across very much like Monroe in some scenes! As for portraying her private life and the film going off the back of some letters wrote about the event at the time by the person who was meant to have had a few "brief" encounters with her, I think more depth could have gone into her personality, despite the fact that she 'may have' a shown a different side of it to everyone she ever met. 7/10 Midlands Movies Gary

The Artist (2011) Dir. Michel Hazanavicius

In an era of remakes, 3D & CGI this film has gone another way. This is a period reproduction, a film forgery, a silent film set in the late 20s silent film era. You could show this to your gran and she probably wouldn’t twig. Authentic looking, even down to using an old school aspect ratio & scored brilliantly. Jean Dujardin is irrepressible as George Valentin, the titular Artist who is struggling to remain relevant after the arrival of talkies. Perfectly matched by co- star Berenice Bejo’s Peppy Miller, the young actress on the rise. New, old or whatever it is, it’s packed full of charm & a refreshing change to all that other noise going on out there. A silent but deadly 8/10. Midlands Movies JJ

The Thing (2011) Dir. Matthijs van Heijningen Jr

Very much like John Carpenter's version before, only difference this time round is this being a prequel to that story and adding a few slight different scenario’s here and there, but all in all if you’re a fan of "The Thing" and this genre, then you will enjoy this new and updated adaptation. The CGI isn't too OTT and there's plenty of gore moments that will keep you viewed. 8/10 Midlands Movies Gary

The Grey (2011) Dir. Joe Carnahan

Liam Neeson continues to make his mark as the thinking-man’s action hero where a group of blue-collar workers find themselves trapped in an Alaskan arctic wilderness after their plane crashes. Looking to the beastly Neeson to lead them to safety, their search for food, warmth and protection from the elements is beset by a pack of hungry wolves tracking them from the start. Mixing an uneasy blend of art-house introspective soul searching about man and nature with explosive punch-outs that sees Neeson throwing down fists upon the CGI hounds (nicked from the Day After Tomorrow no-less) it just about manages to shake off its flaws to give the audience a great shaggy dog story and a decent amount of acting from the cast. A howling good 7.0/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Woman in Black (2012) Dir. James Watkins

Post-Potter horror in which Daniel (too short /cannot act) Radcliffe plays an Edwardian lawyer trying to solve the mystery of a haunted manor he has come to try and sell on behalf of his employers. Cloaked in a fog of boredom, the atmosphere left me feeling detached from any characters and frankly couldn’t care less who lived & died. Not scary enough for horror, not interesting enough as drama and not written well enough to satisfy this disappointed audience member. I’d steer well clear of this grim fairy tale and not the comeback I was expecting from Hammer films. Hit the sack 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (2011) Dir. Luc Besson

Although released a while back I have finally got my hands on this fun-filled French fantasy based on the comic of the same name with the gorgeous Louise Bourgoin as Adele Blanc-Sec - a female Indiana Jones-style adventurer living in 1910s Paris. In the same mould as The Mummy (1999), the story centres on everlasting life, ancient Egypt, resurrecting the dead but also a Pterodactyl that terrorises the city from the Eiffel Tower to the Gare Du Nord. From intimate moments to large action set pieces it hits all the right notes with immense fun and with great pantomime acting from the French cast, the film does not take itself too seriously and at the same time reminded me of the other great European comic adventurer, Tintin. A smart and entertaining Gallic treat 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Osombie: The Axis of Evil Dead (2011). Director: John Lyde

The USA rain CGI death down on the terrorists. We have all seen this on the supermarket shelves, picked it up and laughed at the cover, a few of us may have even bought the movie but we all ask the same question: Is it any good? Well yes and no, the plot is less controversial than you would initially expect and despite the title and cover image the film barely features Bin Laden resulting in this not being the exploitation-fest that you might be hoping for, something the filmmakers missed a trick with. What you do get however, is an enjoyable, solid low budget zombie flick which benefits from above average make up. However, as with most low budget films the over-reliance on CGI is often to the detriment of the film, looking ridiculous on certain occasions and leading me to question why if there is blood flying around everywhere, how do none of our main characters get any on their clothes? Although its use is not all bad, as it allows for numerous, hilarious head shots leading me to shout that the time of the exploding head in zombie films is back! This film unsurprisingly does not take itself seriously at any point and will entertain. Not an explosive riot of a film but a solid low budget effort, for fans of the genre only. 6/10 Extras: None. Midlands Movies Marek

In Time (2011) Dir. Andrew Niccol

A bit late with this film from 2011 where a future society trades in the currency of time as humans stop aging at 25 and those rich enough to afford it can live forever whilst poorer folk have to earn and trade their time left. With echoes of Logan’s Run, JT puts in a not half bad performance as the boy who has been given the gift of a few centuries but is still morally at odds with those who control it. JT tries to give back the time to the ghetto he’s escaped from with the help of hostage-come-sidekick Amanda Seyfried the wealthy daughter of a time-loaning business man but is halted by Cillian Murphy’s “timekeeper” who’s attempting to keep everyone in their designated place. A neat idea with a touch of the Twilight-Zone about it, the movie is stretched out with your standard action fare breaking up the big issues alongside a whole bunch of themes nicked from other (and better) dystopian sci-fi movies. Essentially harmless with ideas above its station this is a Just-IN TIME-berlake average sci-fi actioner 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Melancholia (2011) Dir. Lars Von Trier

With an intro cut from the same cloth as Terence Malick’s Tree of Life (see review below), Von Trier sets up a film about depression against an end of the world disaster and a dysfunctional family wedding – 2 things to REALLY get you down. Telling the tale in 2 parts (from sisters Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) its big themes are worn on its sleeve with a planetary dance of death orchestrated with a bombastic Wagner soundtrack in slow motion to start, before focusing on the minutiae of the family lives at the wedding filmed on handheld camera. Like the aforementioned Malick film, the film contrasts and reflects the big picture/smaller details of the story at the same time, as relationships and families are destroyed. The film’s certainly no Dogville and as Charlotte Gainsbourg recites “it’s incredibly trivial” at one point, I unfortunately felt the same about the movie which although an interesting and challenging piece of work is very much like the subject matter, incredibly difficult to enjoy. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Texas Killing Fields (2011) Dir. Ami Canaan Mann

This boring bayou film directed by Michael Mann’s daughter this has some of the heavyweight police procedural of her father’s oeuvre but none of the action or storytelling as cops Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen’s The Comedian) play antagonistic partners investigating murders of young women in and around the Houston area sometime crossing lines, boundaries, relationships and jurisdictions to get their job done. The 1 ½ hour runtime seems much longer given the slow pace which is a shame as there are some great performances (especially from Kick Ass’ Chloë Moretz and Snatch’s Stephen Graham) but the whole doesn’t hang together too well and some faster editing would have done the movie a world of good. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) Dir. Guy Ritchie

No shit, Sherlock! Not being a fan of the very much overhyped first film, this sequel does less “set-up” and is all the better for it. Downey is more natural and Jude Law gives a genuinely heartfelt and honest portrayal of Dr. Watson whilst great support from Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry (as Holmes’ brother Mycroft) and a creepy Jared Harris as Holmes’ literary nemesis all add up to much greater cohesion. Some ingenious set pieces from Ritchie added to the clever fights and shoot outs help maintain the action but this is punctuated with some witty banter and a handful of solemn and grim scenes between Holmes and Moriarty as they clash with their mind games. It’s a funnier, cleverer and more “lean” film with far more clarity and sense of mystery than its predecessor all presented with a huge dollop of fun in the Indiana Jones-mould. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011) Dir. Brad Bird

Previously reviewed by our Gary on its cinema release, Cruise and co seemed to be on to a winner with this fourth outing of the MI franchise. However, with the standard launch-codes-gone-missing-plot and some par-for-the-course CGI explosions, I am genuinely surprised with the amount of praise this film has got. Cruise, as always, is a sure-fire action star (you have got to love his running and he does it in spades here) but he is teamed with anonymous Hollywood girl-nobody (Paula ‘who is she?’ Patton) and despite the terrific Burj Khalifa hijinks, this is just a tiny cut above any other standard Hollywood actionner. Certainly no worse than the others, although better than 2 in my opinion, Brad Bird shows that he can handle real-life movies away from Pixar but I just wished he had a better film (and definitely script) to work with. If you choose to accept it, I’d give this a 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Hugo (2011) Dir. Martin Scorcese

I had high expectations for this multiple Oscar winner and couldn’t wait to get stuck in but imagine my disappointment 20 minutes in when the lack of 3D at home (which I had been told had been the best use of the medium by far) and a lacklustre pace had not pulled me into the movie at all. However, don’t be put off as by the halfway mark the film had stepped up a gear (and some cogs) as we follow the mystery behind a mechanical robot left to Hugo after the death of his father (Jude Law). Asa Butterfield gives a great performance as the orphan who roams the Paris train station and with great support from Kick Ass’ Chloë Grace Moretz, (Sir) Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen doing his best ‘Allo ‘Allo impression, the film is more about the invention of film itself - much like The Artist. Personally, I feel the need to re-watch in 3D and the second half is far superior to the first with the weak script being its biggest flaw (Kingsley’s strange turn at the start almost ruined it) but like an old clock, Scorcese keeps the movie (ahem) ticking over. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Contagion (2011) Dir. Steven Soderbergh.

A full line up of well known faces ensemble in this cast in for the big pandemic film of 2011, Contagion. Echoing the current climate and anxieties of an ever-possible full viral outbreak, this film focuses on a 'what if' and 'how soon' scenario as a swine flu-like virus rapidly breaks out in Hong Kong. It subsequently finds its way to the USA as public health officials try to identify and contain the outbreak. Promising roles from Kate Winslet and Laurence Fishburne who team up to seek a possible cure only serve to build mild tension. Suggestions of graphic imagery, as opposed to what could be expected in this type of movie, lets this down and although it has lots of potential it this can only hit the halfway mark at 5/10 Midlands Movies Gary

Rum Diary (2011) Dir. Bruce Robinson

Why is the rum always gone asks Jack Sparrow? Well, after a 19-year break, former alcoholic Bruce Robinson directs Depp in this adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel and like most of the author’s work, it portrays the semi-autobiographical tale of an idealistic journalist taking on the corrupt authorities of the early 60s whilst drinking everything in sight. Set in the American territory of Puerto Rico, Depp channels his previous Thompson portrayal from ‘Fear & Loathing’ into this younger yet more naive version and the director captures every bead of sweat, palm tree and sense of colour and flavour of the island with a great soundtrack to boot. A solid if not totally fully-fleshed movie, the support acting is also top notch but its biggest downfall is the expectations of the earlier cult Gilliam film to match up to and it is unfortunately not that close. So, enjoy it for what it is but any comparison to previous will leave you disappointed. A Rum-bunctious 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Troll Hunter (2011) Dir. André Øvredal

With a “Blair Witch” vibe , this Norwegian found-footage film begins as a group of college students investigate a mysterious bearded man who may be poaching bears in the nation’s forests. Tracking him at night it soon becomes clear he’s hunting a much bigger secret in the form of trolls as one of only a handful of people employed to keep them in their designated territories. From 3-headed gargoyles, to sheep-stealing bridge-dwellers these trolls turn to stone or explode in a nasty orgy of blood and guts but the film suffers most from being at least 25 minutes too long for the nonsense it is. Troll Hunter’s best feature though is what Gareth Edwards “Monsters” should have been, a tongue-in-cheek monster-fest interspersed with deliciously OTT characters and a few tourist shots of the beautiful landscapes. Monster Monster 7.5 /10 Midlands Movies Mike

Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) Dir. Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Both a guilty pleasure and a film massively suffering from diminishing returns, the Paranormal Activity franchise lurches on with this prequel set in the 80s. From the suburban house, the family setting up cameras, the lonnnnggggg static shots of nothingness and some innocent children, this film adds almost nothing new from its predecessors except one brilliant rotating camera shot which forces the viewer to wait for the camera to “pan” as the tension builds. Yet despite all this however, it still works. The jumps are all in place and the ain’t-broke-so-don’t-fix-it approach is one which maintains a certain consistency so my view is if you liked the others then you’ll like this. A simple but jumpy 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Vanishing on 7th Street (2011) Dir. Brad Anderson

Let there be light! A post-apocalyptic genre crossover as the world’s population disappears in an instant as the shadows and darkness evaporate anyone without a light source in this horror-thriller. With the brilliant Machinist under his belt the director has turned his promising start into an unfortunate by-the-book scare-fest and when your cast consists of Hayden Christensen you know you’re struggling on the acting front too. A unique idea, it suffers most from a low budget with the intriguing premise and scares during the first 20 minutes forced into a solitary bar-set-piece for the rest of the film with an underused John Leguizamo who is wasted in a mostly catatonic state of injury throughout. Remember the end bit of “Ghost” as Patrick Swayze’s nemesis gets taken by the shadow demons? It’s essentially that for an hour and a half. Great idea, badly executed. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Apollo 18 (2011) Dir. Gonzalo López-Gallego

Featuring supposedly real archive footage from an Apollo moon mission which has been covered up by NASA, this “found-footage” movie was not high on my ‘to-see’ list with its string of mediocre reviews - but have critics been a little too unkind? The sense of time, place and use of different film stocks and homemade “security” camera recording harks straight out of the 60s/70s space programme and although a little slow to get going I thought it captured the mundane realism of a rocket launch well and also the inevitable radio and circuit checks along with authentic space suits and vehicles. The predictable shock/jump moments ensue (as is the genre convention) and the acting is perfunctory at best but the invading outsiders are given a distinctive factual design and though it won’t win any awards for best sci-fi, if you’re a geek for space then this low-key offering could be right up your launch pad. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Tower Heist (2011) Dir. Brett Ratner

Expect a comedy-drama take on your average planned robbery film where a worker gets swindled out of their pension and the rest of the workers decide to try and get it back and more. A few recognisable faces in this ensemble cast, Ben Stiller is again playing his usual 'Night at the Museum’ type character, Matthew 'Ferris Bueller' Broderick doesn't appear to be aging too well, Eddie Murphy seems to have appeared after a seemingly long absence and adopted a street-wise crook persona which made him look out of place to his usual roles we're use to seeing on screen and finally Alan Alda is a long way from M*A*S*H. Put these factors aside and you have got an enjoyable film with lots of slapstick comedy, a questionable Chess move and a good plot to follow. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Gary

Anonymous (2011) Dir. Roland Emmerich

A revisionist period piece set against a backdrop of English intrigue and political manoeuvring as Roland Emmerich tries to convince the audience that Shakespeare was not the author of his plays but a ‘jerk’ actor who was in the right place at the right time. Some of this ground has been covered in the more serious ‘Elizabeth’ as well as the more entertaining ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and although everyone gives it their best shot (CGI perfected in Emmerich’s ‘2012’ & ‘Independence Day’ creates an authentic medieval London) the whole thing falls flat from its ludicrous assertions and tiring dialogue. Despite great costumes, there is no need to worry about Billy Wobblestick’s reputation just yet if this is the best evidence on offer in this rather dull film of the bored bard on the big screen. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) Dir. Lynne Ramsay

Let’s talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin then...A hard hitting look at a mother’s pain as we flash back and forth from birth to incarceration of a sociopath child ending with a high school massacre. A great performance from Tilda Swinton centres the film as victim to the town’s vicious blame and frustrated about her child’s increasingly troubling behaviour. Ezra Miller as Kevin is also a performance of weight as he taunts, detaches and derides his mother whilst causing havoc within the family. Taking a while to get going and with a few obvious bits of symbolism (yes, red tomatoes and red paint are like blood, we get it) the film sits alongside Requiem for a Dream as a bleak look at society’s ills, one which does not compromise and offers the audience no answers but a chance to draw their own conclusions. A tough watch that will leave you definitely talking about it after. Midlands Movies Mike 8/10

Tintin (2011) Dir. Steven Spielberg

Spielberg brings to “life” Hergé’s much loved comic-book adventures in this new animation produced with Peter Jackson and his Weta wizkids. From a mash-up of 3 books, the script is a tight mystery written by UK TV faves Edgar Wright, Steven Moffatt & Joe Cornish and Spielberg throws us straight in from the start. With amazing animation, every curly hair on Snowy’s body and Haddock’s beard shimmers with realism and only Tintin himself falls into the uncanny valley which can be all-too common with mo-cap films (see Beowulf or Polar Express). Despite its technical prowess, the film is a little flat but will provide young ones with a great introduction to Hergé’s tales whilst Tintin-philes will get the literary nods they wish too. With a much better second half including a stunning one-take 2 minute action shot the film sadly kicks into gear a little too late. Win-win Midlands Movies Mike 7/10

Real Steel (2011) Dir. Shawn Levy

A robot-Rocky if you will as Hugh Jackman plays an out of luck and indisposed father to his never-seen-before 11-year old son whom he reluctantly “adopts” for a price. As he continues to wheel ‘n’ deal in robot boxing matches and set in the near future with unscrupulous characters at backstreet brawling dens, their luck changes one night when his son rebuilds junkyard ‘bot “Atom”, and Jackman (an ex-boxer living out of his truck) helps the kid train him to fight. It harks back to 80s high-concept films but like “Super 8”, keeps the focus firmly on the characters and although the father-son relationship hits every coming of age bonding cliché, it is done with such style and heart from Levy that it’s hard to fault. Definitely one for the whole family and with seamless CGI robots AND a likeable child actor (who is like Annakin Skywalker if he grew a pair), the film is a feel-good winner and as they rise through the ranks and head into the professional league to take on the current champion you’ll be rooting for the underdog throughout. A Mecha-tastic 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Ides of March (2011) Dir. George Clooney

Clooney writes, directs and stars in this government drama based around the back-stabbing affairs of a fictional campaign to be elected a Democratic Presidential hopeful. Gosling stars as his bright, upcoming and ultimately naive press secretary (a character role he appears to have stolen wholesale from his part in “Fracture”) who gets involved deep when their rivals start stirring the political pot. As intrigue builds, so does Gosling’s confusion as to what he has gotten himself into and there are great support turns from the eminently watchable Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. Like a darker West Wing, the rivals up the ante at each stage as revelations are uncovered and Gosling has to decide whether to stick to his morals or stick with the winner. A real treat for lovers of great actors in tense scenes, the film doesn’t present any innovation but is a successful slow-burner with a pace that feels right for the subject matter.

7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

30 Minutes or Less (2011) Dir. Ruben Fleischer

Being a big fan of Zombieland I had high hopes for this zany comedy that sees Jesse Eisenberg's pizza delivery boy being forced to rob a bank for a couple of delinquents after they strap him in an explosive bomb vest. Despite being well shot and directed, the story is all over the place and although the street-smart patter is tailor made for Eisenberg, the consistently unfunny Danny McBride pantomimes his way through another moribund performance. With such a hit-and-miss cast, the laughs are too few and far between which is this comedy's biggest problem - it just ain't that funny. Like a pizza with anchovies, this delivery from Fleischer has a good base but is topped with ingredients that sadly taint the rest of the whole. A refundable 5/10 MM Mike

Tree of Life (2011) Dir. Terence Malick

Terence Malick has aimed high by trying to cover the entirety of the universe’s creation and the multifaceted complexities of human existence in this Palme d’Or winner from last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Malick has made only 5 films in 30 years and this one feels as though it has been gestating for as long as Malick himself, as he depicts a poetic but difficult film where narrative is at a minimum and although beautifully shot, the ambiguous meanings may not be to every audiences liking. Sitting well alongside Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”, it’s another epic film with lofty ambitions tackling the universe, space, birth, life and death. The movie however verges from the sublime (Pitt’s performance as a 1950s father is a believable tour-de-force) to the ridiculous (Sean Penn is utterly wasted as the grown up son and the ending is an art-house mess) and for me it most resembles the non-narrative film Baraka in its visual style - leapfrogging from one tonal idea to the next. It’s worth sticking with if you’re in the mood to be challenged but on the other hand, it’s very close to not being a “movie” in the traditional sense at all. A confusing (some may say pretentious) 6.5/10 MM Mike

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Dir. Tomas Alfredson

Tinker Tea-maker Soldier Spy - Set in the 1970s Gary Oldman plays “to name” as an old man (George Smiley) in this new take on the spy novel from John le Carrè. Filling the screen with the best British talent around today (there are spots for Colin Firth, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy) the film condenses the large novel down to its crucial part focusing on the espionage taking place during Cold War Britain. Despite the clear acting talent of all involved, I thought the over-reliance on dialogue heavy scenes explaining things that I would have rather been shown, slows the film down too much. Great spy movies balance the chase, the politics and the ticking clock of backstabbing with swift editing and pacing but this elite team spend more time discussing the issues over a nice cup of tea on the sofa. The overall production quality is high but the entertainment value was not so engaging, making it less James Bond and more Brooke Bond. 6/10 MM Mike

Drive (2011) Dir. Nicholas Winding Refn

Set in a neon-drenched LA, Drive takes the viewer along for a ride with the mono-syllabic Ryan Gosling’s “driver-with-no-name” seeking revenge in this thriller-heist movie with nods to Taxi Driver and Bullit. Performances are top notch with Gosling providing a silent understated role and there’s great support from James L Brooks (the voice of Marlin in Finding Nemo) playing against type as a ruthless gangster. A superb film with a unique 80s vibe, it’s let down by a slightly saggy second act, a killer-on-the-beach scene that looks lifted from Halloween and a rather meek turn from pixie-come-actress Carey Mulligan. Ron Perlman is great as another sleazy hoodlum and a thumping soundtrack make this a film to catch. A vrooming good 8.5/10. Midlands Movies Mike

Killer Elite (2011) Dir. by Gary McKendry

Rather dull adaptation of a preposterous book by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. An Elite Team taking on the SAS headed by the acting powerhouse that is Jason Statham? Robert De Niro continues his campaign for a new script agent, Clive Owen is as bad as his moustache and Statham just cannot do “depth” as the plot takes the audience all over the world in a ramshackle plot. Elite? Pah, far below average more like. Avoid unless a massive fan of any of the above – even then I imagine it’s a struggle. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Limitless (2011) Dir: Neil Burger

The main plot device for Limitless is mind altering brain steroids; it’s all very Phillip K Dick. And like most PKD treatments it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. Finer plot details are brushed over, the deeper aspects of the concept never really explored & the ending feels like a tacked on afterthought. On the plus side the direction is slick & there’s some great casual effects going on, visually it has a lot going for it. Bradley Cooper gets to show off his acting chops, holding his own with the mighty DeNiro. Whilst it’s not as smart as the characters it portrays, it’s head & shoulders above the average blockbuster. MM John 7/10

Red State (2011) Dir. Kevin Smith

After the critical and audik to 80s high-concept films but t and Jersey Girl, Kevin Smith shows us that he can direct by pulling no punches in this edgy film where small town fundamentalist Christianity and its illogical teachings play host to a Waco-style siege and critique of small-town America’s relationship with the “authorities”. Writer/Director Smith twists and turns the plot as you follow a multitude of character arcs but he deftly manages this with great pacing and some terrific acting turns from John Goodman and Michael Parks as the Pastor. The supporting cast all provide solid turns too and Smith keeps the audience guessing until the very bloody finale. 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Warrior (2011) Dir.Gavin O’Connor

Set in Pittsburgh to the backdrop of the current financial depression; two estranged brothers try their hand at Mixed Martial Arts to make ends meet. I’m a big fan of MMA so I was excited to see a realistic fight film. Warrior takes a few liberties for dramatic effect but overall the action in the cage is outstanding. Outside the cage it’s a gritty triple threat drama about a family divided. Hardy & Edgerton wrestle the clunky script to within an inch of its life but its Nick Nolte who steals the show as their alcohol buckled dad to win a well deserved Oscar nomination. A ground & pounding 7.5/10 Midlands Movies JJ

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Dir. Rupert Wyatt

A directorial debut of some weight as Rupert Wyatt utilises Andy Serkis’ brilliant mo-cap performance to give heart and humanity to Caesar the Ape who has unwittingly inherited his mum's super genes as Doctor James Franco struggles to find a long-lasting cure for his dad’s Alzheimer’s. Deftly balancing moments of tenderness with the obligatory monkey action of the summer blockbuster it claims to be, Wyatt cleverly weaves in themes of freedom, science, loss and gain into an intelligent and believable re-boot story that leaves room for more in the saga. Chimply marvellous! 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Cowboys and Aliens (2011) Dir. Jon Favreau

In the Wild Wild West no one can hear you scream (about how bad some of this film is!) Favreau didn’t miss lassoing every cliché with a genre mash-up that takes itself far too seriously given the film’s comic book origins. Indiana Jones and James Bond cannot raise this above your average action flick and taking the worst stereotypes from both genres (saloon girl, drifter, cattle rustler, preacher, plucky young kid and the classic weak chinned bar clerk wearing an apron) with the worst sci-fi cliché at the moment – badly designed video-game eqsue aliens – Favreau ends up not knowing what type of film he’s making. On the positive, some of the Western vistas look amazing on blu-ray and the final 30 minutes is a blast but those don’t make up for the rest of the film’s shortcomings. A reviewer's gotta do what a reviewer's gotta do. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

X-Men: First Class (2011) Dir. Matthew Vaughn

After the disappointing third film and the spectacularly awful Wolverine movie comes a much needed boost to the franchise with Mathhew Vaughn's take on the origins of Professor X and Erik "Magneto" Lensherr. With a perfect tone, great effects and some excellent casting choices (Fassbender goes from strength to strength and makes a convincing case to be a contender for the next James Bond) the film sets itself against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis and 60s spy films. Director Vaughn shows that there is a lot more in the X-Men franchise yet with some ecellent action scenes and solid performances from all involved. 9/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) Dir. Ben Palmer

A summer trip to Crete is the holiday backdrop to this big-screen version of the popular Channel 4 sitcom and the teenage antics from the boys are very much what you can expect from this type of film - think a UK American Pie crossed with Kevin and Perry Go Large. However, the safe TV-like direction and the all-too-familiar plot are overcome with the 4 lead actors who give the whole thing a sense of (entertaining) familiarity as they drink themselves silly as part of their self-named “pussay patrol”. More like an extended episode than a cinema effort, the film is like a great European holiday – you’ll have a laugh, have some fun but it won’t stick around too long as you return to more serious fare. A fitting end to the programme and more laughs than you would like to admit. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Super 8 (2011) Dir. J.J. Abrams

After the lens flare-drenched Star Trek and the disasteropolis of Cloverfield, J.J Abrams sticks with the sci-fi theme but attempts a homage of Spielbergian influences from ET, Indiana Jones and Close Encounters. The focus on a child’s rite of passage and finding creativity in small town America, the film echoes Abrams and Spielberg’s own home-recording efforts and plays like a cross between Darabont’s The Mist and The Goonies. With a mix of good ol’ fashioned childhood adventure and some great performances especially from the young actors, this is a solid effort focusing on story as much as visuals. 8.0/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Horrible Bosses (2011) Dir. Seth Gordon

In an appraisal I would rate this as a “try-hard”. Farrell who has had a terrific run of films of late does a “Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder” impression minus the laughs, Anniston sheds her goody-two-shoes image for some (almost) X-rated puns and Kevin Spacey phones in a pantomime version of the boss he played in Swimming with Sharks. Put together, this is a lot less than the sum of its parts and not half as funny as it thinks it is. Good premise, poor execution and shouldn’t pass its probation period. 6.0/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Bad Teacher (2011) Dir. Jake Kasdan

Every person in this film has made a better and funnier film and why there were involved at all is beyond me. In summary, let me save you two hours of your life. Bad teacher = bad film. Go to the back of the class. 3.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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