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By midlandsmovies, Jun 10 2018 08:51AM

12 Underrated films that may have passed you by since 2010


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


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




Coherence (2014) Dir. James Ward Byrkit

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



Stoker (2013) Dir. Park Chan-wook

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




Tim’s Vermeer (2014) Dir. Teller

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




Frank (2014) Dir. Lenny Abrahamson

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




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

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




Snowpiercer (2014) Dir. Bong Joon-ho

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




Joe (2014) Dir. David Gordon Green

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




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

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




Love & Mercy (2015) Dir. Bill Pohlad

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




Grand Piano (2014) Dir. Eugenio Mira

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




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

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




Life Itself (2014) Dir. Steve James

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


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Mar 13 2018 09:29PM



Mom and Dad (2018) Dir.Brian Taylor


About two-thirds of the way in to Mom and Dad I thought to myself, “Hey, this is on a level of ridiculousness I haven’t seen in a long time...probably since Crank”. Imagine my surprise that Mom and Dad writer/director Brian Taylor is one half of the directing duo who brought us not only Crank 1 and 2 but Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.


Bringing back Nic Cage from the latter, this film twists the traditional zombie narrative by showing the traditional family as a unit of killers and victims. In this case, static on the radio and television is turning parents into killers of their own kids. The director's visceral visuals pop from the screen from the outset with a strange 70s-style grindhouse intro sequence and the weirdly kinetic stylistic choices continue throughout.


The film begins as a soap opera with the usual family dynamics about school and disapproving parents upset about boyfriend choices and homework. However what begins as a set of mundane routines soon moves into unsettling sequences as the static “infects” parents who attempt to maim and murder their young ones.


Cage mixes his “family man” persona with his legendary “full-on Cage” mode and the fact an audience can tell he is in on the joke makes his OTT performance twisted yet funny. An impressive Selma Blair does more with her mother character who moves subtly from caring guardian to an evil-doer who even attempts to harm a newborn in a hospital.


I’ve mentioned many times I’m not the biggest zombie film fan which is its biggest hurdle it has to overcome. However, there’s slightly more going on here as the parents talk to each other thus giving us their viewpoint – although Cage mostly just shouts uncontrollably. Morbid humour can be found as the parents bond over how best to kill their children and an impressively constructed scene sees Cage and Blair attempt to gas their children (Anne Winters as Carly Ryan & Zackary Arthur as Josh Ryan) out of a locked basement. But their wily offspring have an explosive surprise in a sequence that is thrilling and comical.


The music is clearly an intended choice to connect with a young (and knowing) audience as we get Bill $aber’s I Know that You Pussies Don’t Want It alongside punk band Reagan Youth and a twisted use of Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love.


Mom and Dad gleefully says “this is me, I’m here, and this is what I want to do” and does so with reckless abandon although one’s enjoyment is related to what extent you go along with its ideas and ignore its many structural flaws and lack of depth. From Nic Cage barking like a dog and hollering like a coyote to a fun cameo from Lance Henrikson, the film is ultimately nonsense. And it fails the most when it attempts to go beyond its b-movie roots with a somewhat superficial commentary on parenting, children and the stress of family life.


In the end, not without its chilling charms, whatever message Mom and Dad is trying to say, it gets overshadowed and lost against its style and silly theatrics. Beyond its Friday-night frills, it is a muddled mess that may prove too berserk for most audiences.


6/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, May 27 2016 09:55AM

The Trust (2016) Dir. Alex Brewer & Ben Brewer


Nicolas Cage? What happened man? The actor has an Oscar and a trilogy of the best action films of the 90s (The Rock, Face/Off, Con Air – made back to back no less) but is now a straight to video star alongside such luminaries as Steven Seagal. That said, the odd gem shines through and The Trust is (close to being) one.


My love of the fun Disney National Treasure films has been mentioned before (see this article of best Nic Cage films) yet unfortunately some impressive indie fair like Joe and a supporting role in Kick Ass gave way to such “classics” like the The Dying of the Light (2014), The Runner (2015) and Pay the Ghost (2015) – most have barely heard let alone seen these stinkers.


With a rollercoaster of good-to-bad films, you never know what you’re going to get with Cage but The Trust however sits in the mostly good pile rather than the god-awful ones he’s currently known for.


This crime film sees Cage as Lieutenant Jim Stone (sounds like a first draft script name) whose moustachioed visage harkens back to Kick Ass’ Damon Macready (aka Big Daddy) and who works with Elijah Wood’s Sergeant David Waters in Las Vegas’ Police Evidence department. After spotting clues that a drug dealer was bailed on $200k cash, Cage goes undercover to find out how they made their loot. Roping in a reluctant Wood, the twosome get hold of blueprints and discover a large safe at a gang’s hideout and use money gained from a corrupt cop (played well by a creepy Ethan Suplee of My Name Is Earl) to buy equipment to break in.


The film has a slight CSI “television” vibe with nothing being particularly cinematic but it adds to the realism of a simple narrative. I’ve enjoyed Wood’s quirky film choices post-LOTR (Maniac, Sin City, Eternal Sunshine) and he plays a put-upon dupe quite well and repeats the same performance here. No bad thing. Cage is all over the place (pretty standard) but the dynamic between the two is solid, with the grizzled down-and-out Cage contrasting nicely with Wood’s more innocent stoner Sergeant.


After breaking in, their fractured relationship takes a turn for the worse as an unexpected woman becomes an unwanted hostage and the previous jovial tone of the movie switches to a more serious and bloody drama. This shift may be jarring for some but I was glad it didn’t turn into an Ocean’s 11. Taking a few bold risks in the film’s short (but appropriate) 93 minutes, the filmmakers have taken some regular genre tropes and mixed them up. Not always satisfyingly but a worthy attempt to avoid pigeon-holing.


In conclusion, the two leads are immensely watchable with good chemistry but this film of two halves (lightweight trendiness then deadly serious) may not be to everyone’s tastes. A crime caper that admirably gambles on a few eccentric creative choices, The Trust is a harmless drama that shows Cage-fans glimpses of his former skills, whilst others may find it bland and flavourless. Trust me, I’m hoping it’s the former for Nic’s sake.


6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 18 2015 10:16AM

Midlands Movies Feature - Top 10 Nicolas Cage films


Nicolas Cage. Well, what can you say?


Critics have described the actor as a pantomime or someone who reverts to over-the-top performances to compensate for a lack of quality. Others (such as Roger Ebert, no less) have noted that he has an “operatic” air to his work. In a world of method acting and weight gain/loss, the overdramatic theatrics of Nicolas Cage still dazzles and confuses fans in equal measure.


So, without too much ado, I plan to look back at 10 of my favourite (not necessarily the critics’ best) films the actor has appeared in. Right off the bat, I admit to being a much bigger fan of his action roles than his serious work but Cage has always been one to have taken many risks in his career. Never can anyone say that he’s not a very risky proposition for a film. An unlikely, sometimes odd-looking, leading man, his box office draw appears has subsided somewhat with an increase in straight to DVD “filler” and far less quality (but still very much of quantity).


A glut of poor choices more recently has seen the likes of Drive Angry and Ghost Rider 2 but still in the mix in the last few years are films like Joe (a notable return to form) and a supporting role in Kick *ss showing he still has the cinematic charisma that drew audiences in the first place.


Wikipedia cites 76 (!) films he has appeared in with 42 of those since 2000. Man, the boy Cage is prolific if nothing else so here’s some of my favourites from the huge body of work from a man whose roller-coaster of a career has no sign of letting up (4 Cage-helmed films were released in 2014 alone).


Close but not quite making it was the car-tastic schlock of Gone in 60 Seconds, his greasy-rocker road movie in Lynch’s Wild at Heart, the comedian Cage in the Coen’s Raising Arizona and the more recent bayou drama Joe.


N.B. Big thanks to Nick Staniforth who first published our article over at our good friends at Reel Good


10. Adaptation (2002)

Cage plays two roles in this meta-project from the warped mind of Charlie Kaufman which covers Kaufman’s own struggles in adapting The Orchid Thief for the cinema. Covering depression and writer’s block, Cage’s role as both brothers allows him to experiment with his own duality with his dark and brooding choices conflicting with his blockbuster sensibilities of the brother. An Academy Award nod saw Cage with the best critical reception in years and a testament to his acting ability when given the right material.


9. Lord of War (2005)

Andrew Nichol directs Cage as a Ukrainian-American arms dealer in this drama and dissection of war, conflict and weaponry. Tracing the story over many years across a global backdrop, Cage is great as the morally ambiguous gunrunner and the slightly heavy handed message is neatly wrapped up in a Cage performance that shows both a family man and his criminality and the ultimate if inevitable end game of human destruction.


8. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Winning the Academy Award for Best Actor, Cage’s most lauded role is as an alcoholic heading to the big city in order to drink himself to death. Cage embodies the carnage as a trail of broken dreams and his own broken body are the focus of a dark and disturbing film. With great support from Elizabeth Shue who balances the extremes of Cage’s performance, the film is a superb study of the dangers of addiction but you may struggle to sit through multiple viewings given its power and Cage’s haunting embodiment.


7. The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Werner Herzog re-imagines Abel Ferrara’s 1992 film and Cage challenges the previous incarnation as the craziest copper in town with this police-crime drama. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Cage’s Policeman spins out of control in a haze of drugs, corruption and lizard hallucinations. A solid tale of bribery, contraband and conflict, Cage’s experience with substance abusive characters is again showcased in this addictive film set in the Big Easy.


6. Kick Ass (2010)

Very much a supporting role in Matthew Vaughan’s violent take on comic book superheroes, Cage excels as the father to Hit-Girl in this subversive 2010 flick. Channelling every ounce of Adam West’s 1960s Batman (from the obvious bat-suit similarities to the pauses and strange ticks), Cage shows a quirky restraint but also a much needed adult focal point to the adolescent action throughout. With added moustache, Cage breathes eccentric life into an eccentric character helping to balance out the group of have a go heroes.


5. Snake Eyes (1998)

A film many critics and audiences never took to, Brian De Palma’s movie about a policeman (a staple of Cage) trying to solve a murder at a televised boxing match is an underrated gem in my book. From the directorial flourishes of split screen and long tracking shots, De Palma uses Cage’s watchability to ensure the 10-minute opening one-shot focuses on Cage’s character from the start. A series of genre tropes are mixed in with a narrative that plays and then re-plays sequences for the audience – along with Cage – to see things from different angles. Cage himself, portrays the character too from different angles as he transforms from smarmy cop to duped fool in this twisty and taut thriller.


4. National Treasure 1 & 2 (2004 & 2007)

Right, I don’t care what you say, the 2 National Treasure films are a highlight of Cage for me. Where Cage often went for independent strangeness or blockbuster action, this could have been one of his biggest departures ever. Could Cage really carry a family-friendly Disney movie? Well yes. And he even upsets purists by keeping Sean Bean alive by the end of it! Part Indiana Jones and part Da Vinci Code, director John Turtletaub makes a stupidly fun and idiotically entertaining film that those two missteps could only dream of being. A heist adventure with comedy capers thrown in, Cage’s now blockbuster likeability helps him play cat and mouse with previous Bad Lieutenant Harvey Keitel!


3. The Rock (1996)

Michael Bay has made some terrible films of late and his music-video aesthetic, wafer thin characters and sickening gyratory camera shots are now the stuff of parody. Yet, he did direct The Rock. The Rock was made immediately after Leaving Las Vegas and tells how Cage (Stanley Goodspeed) travels to Alcatraz to help release hostages held by National Treasure 2’s Ed Harris with the help of ex-MI5 convict Sean Connery. A surreal set of action beats, car chases, shootouts and punch ups are helped by the buddy-cop back-and-forth between Cage and Connery. Of course it’s silly and OTT but Cage and his fans wouldn’t have it any other way


2. Con Air (1997)

Cage’s hair has been famous throughout his career but never more so in this all-out action prison break-cum-airplane flick. A b-movie premise (escaping prisoners take over a plane) utilises Cage’s balding yet flowing locks as his good con tries to keep hostages alive and the authorities on his side. Comedy, action and a great villain (John Malkovich’s “Cyrus the Virus”) help package this film as a suitable follow up to The Rock but with Cage as the prisoner this time. Further great support from John Cusack and Steve Buscemi seals the deal with Cage demanding the “bunny back in the box” as he fights his way to freedom on a flight full of felons.


1. Face/Off (1997)

You’ve just won an Oscar and you’ve followed that up with 2 of the best action films of the 1990s so what did Cage do next? Well make another one of the best action films. Focusing more on fists and guns, the film is perfect to show one of Cage’s signature skills in playing two sides of character (see all films above). In this movie, he literally plays two characters (he starts as the insane Castor Troy & switches to the good cop Sean Archer for most of the film) and along with Travolta, both actors get to play off not only their character traits but their fellow actor in a riotous role-reversal. The story is silly, Cage is cool, crazy and criminal and the premise is ludicrous but John Woo decides to use the multi-faceted Cage, whose career is made up of using extreme characteristics and polar mannerisms, as the perfect person to tackle duality in this 90s classic.


Midlands Movies Mike


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