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By midlandsmovies, May 28 2018 12:59PM

Deadpool 2 (2018) Dir. David Leitch

After losing the first film’s director (Tim Miller) to the Cameron produced Terminator franchise (good luck with that as lord knows it needs some help), the sequel to 2016’s surprisingly knowingly violent superhero flick was left in the hands of David Leitch. As either director or co-director of both John Wick and Atomic Blonde, Leitch has certainly got the action chops and he brings his kinetic aesthetic to another outing from Ryan Reynold’s ‘merc with a mouth’.

[slight spoiler] In this film, Deadpool blames himself for the death of his partner Vanessa and after a suicide attempt he joins with X-Men’s Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead to help contain a young orphaned mutant Russell/Firefist (Julian Dennison from Hunt for the Wilderpeople). But after a standoff, both Wade and the vengeful youth get taken to a prison where collars are attached to supress their powers.

At the same time, Cable (Josh Brolin) travels through time to prevent disaster (“that’s just lazy writing”) as we discover the Russell of the future uses his powers to kill others – including Cable’s family. After a breakout from prison sees Wade recruit potential new superheroes to his cause – in a sequence that owes more than a nod to 1999’s Mystery Men – he creates a new team called X-Force. This group includes Domino (a fantastic Zazie Beetz whose power is pure ‘luck’) Terry Crews as Bedlam, Lewis Tan as Shatterstar, Bill Skarsgård as Zeitgeist and Rob Delaney as a regular guy called Peter.

Ryan’s ad-libbed dialogue is still present but my gripe with the first film was that the endless snide comments and pop-culture references made it feel particularly smug. This follow up mostly avoids that with a script focusing more on narrative and the inclusion of extra characters takes some of the attention away from Ryan’s endless quips.

A James Bond-style opening with Celine Dion ballad “Ashes” sets up the film with its brand of irreverent humour and its use of varied and inappropriate musical cues. AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is pure Iron Man territory but is a stonker of a tune which attempts to pump up the audience for a parachute jump during X-Force’s heist plans.

As well the action and comedy, Josh Brolin brings the same nuances that he brought to his other Marvel villain this summer and I have to admit I was waiting for a Thanos reference throughout and got the requisite nod before the end. Although he’s not given a great deal, Brolin adds more depth than is written and he’s without a doubt infinitely better than the awful unforgettable turn by Ed Skrein from the first.

Brilliant cameos at the X-Mansion and a hilariously excellent meta-nod to the film’s timeline during the end credits – both in this universe and others – are just two of many standout comedy sequences but with the addition of some emotional heft I enjoyed this ride a lot as it zips along at a pace.

For me, the film wasn’t helmed in by the origin story problem and, although not on the same level of quality, it sits alongside Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 as far better sequels than their origin films. Dark humour, screwball sequences and a great ensemble cast, Deadpool 2 again plays like the naughty child to the MCU’s high-achieving big brother but if you want less schmaltz and more obscenity, this superhero sequel delivers it in huge dirty doses.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 29 2017 08:57AM

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017) Dir. Patrick Hughes

The very vocal Ryan “quips and quirks” Reynolds and Samuel “mother*cker” L. Jackson star in this action film, which tells the story of a disgraced bodyguard making amends by bringing a witness to a war crimes trial. Gary Oldman hams it up as the Russian gangster the authorities are attempting to bring to justice and the film mixes an 80s buddy-comedy tone with the old-school explosions of a Die Hard or Con Air.

It’s nowhere near as good as those influences however, as both actors deliver dialogue in their usual fast-paced style but ideally you need a straight man rather than two similar personalities. One huge flaw is the amount of unnecessary and endless swearing though. I’m not offended by it, quite the opposite given my love for Scorsese and Tarantino’s back catalogue, but it seems so lazy here. At times it feels as much as 50% of sentences!

In addition, the jump from the seriousness of the trial and the film's themes of loss are tonally mis-matched and the music is truly awful moving from Mr. Bean comedy jingles to cheesy rock via Goldeneye-era Bond strings. Clamouring out for the nods and winks of The Nice Guys or even The Other Guys, the film does get better as it goes along with two fantastically filmed vehicle chase sequences as they head around the tight streets of Amsterdam. Cars, bikes, boats and trams combine with real-life action stunts to provide a few much-needed thrills in the picturesque city. Sadly the boring antics around the UK countryside and lazy-ass CGI backgrounds of the conversation car sequences are again another disappointment.

It also has echoes of R.I.P.D. which saw Reynolds team up with Jeff Bridges – another award-winning older actor – and although it’s nowhere near as bad as that truly awful film, The Hitman’s Bodyguard similarly cannot use these actors’ great charisma to overcome the poor material. Salma Hayek gives a refreshing and funny turn as Jackson’s incarcerated girlfriend but who is sadly burdened, like the leads, with a huge amount of expletives in place of clever dialogue.

Overall, it’s a peculiar mix with some superb action highs and some very strange expletive-laden lows. The film could have used Gary Oldman’s penchant for over-the-top bad-guy performances as a more traditional baddie and avoided the war crimes aspect of his character. If you’ve got Oldman at least give him some scenery to chew. Shaving 20 minutes off the run-time wouldn’t have gone amiss either but the final impression is that this is a film which despite its interesting parts, gets the balance just wrong enough to turn an entertaining romp into a disappointing slog. If you're still interested then I'd advise you watch with friends and a LOT of beer.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jun 21 2017 10:32AM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 2

Each year we miss a film or two in the huge round of releases per week. Here is our second blog of the year where we catch up with some of the good (and bad) films from 2017 that are already out to watch. Enjoy!

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Dir. Chad Stahelski

This sequel to 2014’s intense action thriller has Keanu Reeves returning as the gun-dancing assassin who is now out of retirement to unleash more shooting mayhem. The film delves further into Wick’s back-story which was hinted upon in the original and in many ways it is actually a prequel as well as sequel with so much focus on Wick’s previous life. The narrative shows us more of his past and good support from Ian McShane gives the whole thing more depth and expands the world we are in. Keanu is also at the top of his game – slightly wooden as always but like Neo and Ted, the one-dimensionality of the performance lets the audience project themselves into the character.

The story of Wick owing a blood oath debt is merely window dressing for more pirouetting action which again is suitably violent and bloody. A strong support cast including Common and Reeves’ Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne flesh proceedings out but it is the fighting – amongst the splendour and seediness of Rome and New York locations – that bursts off the screen in its glorious brutality and beauty. Fans of action will lap up the intense scenes of bloody violence and its editing is pitched perfectly in the sweet spot of frantic yet understandable. With a third film set-up it may be too far to say it’s the Godfather Part 2 of action films but I feel it may be better than the first film. It combines the obligatory hard-hitting combat with an expansion on the mysteries of the assassin network and penetrates greater themes of trust, honour and revenge. 8/10

Life (2017) Dir. Daniel Espinosa

In short, Life is essentially an Alien rip off as a space crew find a small extra-terrestrial life-form which they are unable to quarantine which subsequently grows into a larger monster that stalks the astro-occupants. The good points include a realistic set up on the ISS with some Gravity-inspired long shots in the station’s cramped compartments as well as an interestingly designed life-form that starts off its existence looking like a sentient “star fish”. The clichés soon start to overpower these positives as the ‘trained experts’ of the crew (inevitably) break quarantine rules and the carnage begins. [SPOILER] A few interesting deaths including one of the main stars couldn’t save the film as it descends into b-movie territory. As the strange creature becomes a Prometheus-esque squid the film loses its premise to become schlock horror and not even a downbeat ending could salvage this sci-fi wreckage. An internet rumour suggested it could have been a Venom origin story (one of Spider-Man’s arch enemies) yet sadly that fan-theory is far more interesting than the film delivered. 6/10

I Am Not Your Negro (2017) Dir. Raoul Peck

Based on the unfinished manuscript Remember This House by James Baldwin and narrated brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson this new documentary focuses on American racism and the portrayal of black lives in recent media. Historically important and hugely socially relevant right now, the film uses Baldwin’s powerful words to highlight the roles played by Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Malcolm X. It’s sad then that I found it, despite its worthy themes and intriguing structure, a little stale and not even Jackson’s masterful voiceover kept me from thinking it was treading water when it could have been providing more powerful insights. As a huge fan of documentaries (my recommendations so far this year would be the superior Oklahoma, Mommy Dead and Dearest and Beware the Slenderman) I was disappointed with the film as the important and weighty ideas weren’t given justice in its one-trick design. Hugely recommended for those interested in the specific subject matter, less so for those not familiar with the work, the film sometimes feels exactly what I feared it could be – a man reading from a book. Disappointing. 6/10

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2017) Dir. Oz Perkins

Appearing on a few Top 10 lists of great horror films of 2017 (so far) is this fright film from Oz “Son of Anthony, Psycho” Perkins and stars Kiernan Shipka (Kat) and Lucy Boynton (Rose) as two pupils at a strict Catholic school. The highly composed shots give a huge undercurrent of tension and unease with slow and deliberate sequences portraying the slight narrative as the two girls fail to be collected by their parents once term-time has ended. Rose is possibly pregnant and Kat often appears to mentally ‘tune out’ which is ironic given that the ‘buzzing’ tones of the amelodic experimental music often sounds like an orchestra tuning up. But this adds to the peculiar atmosphereand together with the snowy weather and cold demeanour of the religious teachers, helps deliver an unsettling feeling. And unsettling it is.

As Kat continues to exhibit strange behaviour around Rose, another story is introduced with a girl called Joan who may have escaped an institution and is picked up in a car by James Remar (The Warriors) who plays an ambiguous father-figure. These flashbacks, multi-perspective sequences and possible parallel tales disorientate the viewer but some may find it confusing and the timelines are certainly not clear cut. It takes a while but eventually a few shocks come in the form of Exorcist-influenced body convulsions, vomiting and swearing and the film’s few disturbing images are all the more effective with a slow build up and in their briefness.

Unfortunately there’s a few Scream-ché (a cliché the film Scream deconstructs like investigating scary noises and “I’ll be right back”) and the ambiguous construction could frustrate some but satisfy others. For me, The Blackcoat’s Daughter had far more going for it than the negatives, whilst I got annoyed at points about the lack of clarity to tie up the individual story strands, the mystery was intriguing, the triumvirate of actresses and their performances were superb and the first-time director provided images of intense terror that, like the malevolent force portrayed, linger deep within you post-viewing. 7/10

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Feb 26 2016 02:22PM

Deadpool (2016) Dir. Tim Miller

A long-gestating pet project of Ryan Reynolds, Marvel’s ‘Merc with a Mouth’ finally gets a big screen release all on his own after the strange and awful “gene-pool” version seen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine a few years back. That film along with many others from the comic book world (including a dig at Reynolds’ own DC appearance in the shitty Green Lantern) are ripe for lampooning and the accurate translation from page to screen has kept Deadpool’s 4th wall-breaking and pop culture referencing apparently intact.

I say apparently as I have not read the comics it’s based on and I’m a big believer for those two hours of a film, although context outside can be helpful, the audience should be able to judge a movie on its own merits.

With that said, the narrative is basic but efficient as this new origin story shows ex-mercenary Wade Wilson falling for Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin) but soon discovering inoperable cancer will cut their relationship short. Searching for a cure he is approached by a shifty organisation (vague even by comic book standards as they are never explained who) that promise Wade that they can not only cure him, but improve him as well.

As Wade discovers he has super-healing powers, he subsequently goes on the run from his captors who admit the real reason behind this experiment is to create slaves (eh?). He then attempts to hunt down the main villain Ajax/Francis (British actor Ed Skrein) and force him to cure the disfiguring side-effects Wade has suffered. As Ajax captures Wade’s love we are already into the last act as the hero (along with X-Men Colossus & Negasonic Teenage Warhead) attempts to save Vanessa and enact his revenge.

Simple but uncomplicated, this is embellished with a linear narrative which moves us back and forth along the various straightforward timelines. It even brings attention to 4th wall breaking ‘within’ a 4th wall break (“16 walls!”) which was more involving than a traditional action arc. Also positive is the fact you can certainly tell it’s a much-loved pet project. Few attempts have been made to shave off rough edges or “tame” down adult themes and language for a younger audience. Reynolds is also a likeable everyman and the laughs begin from the credits (starring “British Bad Guy” and produced by “Asshats”) and with so many coming thick and fast, the joke rate is high. The actors play to type but do well with a decent script and despite its basic concept, it throws much at the screen – flashbacks, cameos, nods to the X-Men franchise and more – which doesn’t allow the audience to get complacent. It also goes far with its ‘R-rating’, showing Wade getting “pegged” by his girlfriend (look it up but not at work) and a delicious serving of blood and gore you wouldn’t see anywhere near an MCU release.

But I did get the impression that the endless pop culture references spewing from Wade’s mouth were hiding some inadequacies. These quickly became a chore in the dialogue, which at times was nothing but references. When they were restrained however, it did make them all the funnier when they were delivered. But sadly this didn’t last long – the middle sequence of Wade’s “treatment” was the most sincere – and soon the references to Twitter, Facebook and all things comic-related started to wear thin. And fast. Three-quarters in I was soon guessing punch-lines which in a comedy-centred film was a huge flaw. These references date so quickly too which made it feel like it had an immature and cynical look-at-me-now tone that felt more anachronistic than that Iron Man line “I don’t want to see this on your MySpace page”.

It was so pleased with itself and these were clearly the movie’s go-to ‘safe zone’. I started to balk at its smug nods to the ‘topical’ which rather than letting up, became more prevalent and less funny. Its self-congratulatory tone attempted to hide the fact that it was simply becoming what it had spent the entire movie poking fun at. Recently, a video showed how The Big Bang Theory was merely a series of references and not jokes. Well, your honour, I give you Exhibit B for the prosecution.

I can hear the fans say, “But it’s like that in the comics!” Well, for me there should be no need to fill in any blanks, back-story or character motivations by having to read a lot of extra material that fill in holes or deficiencies in a script or story. Being 'just like the comics' is not a good enough reason to defend the flaws of a movie. Or conversely, for even singing its praises.

In summary, there are so many things to like in Deadpool that any failings are glossed over by the theatrics on show. And for me that was weirdly the flaw. It’s not exactly ground-breaking (Marvel’s Blade was there before with a violent sword-wielding anti-hero – also another film it references) and the puffed up sense of smug satisfaction grated on me like a sandpaper dildo (natch). A riotous 2 hours won’t be wasted for action and comic book movie fans but for all the edge and boundary-pushing it claims to have, I felt the film was far more proud of itself than it had any entitlement to being.

7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Oct 25 2015 12:27PM

Mississippi Grind (2015) Dir. Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck

Along with The Gambler (Mark Wahlberg) and Wild Card (Jason Statham) comes the third card-based movie I’ve seen this year. Set amongst the floating riverboats of the Deep South, we follow down on his luck (what else) Gerry who meets with young buck Curtis in an attempt to take home some much needed winnings.

Gerry is brilliantly portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn (Dark Knight Rises, Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines) as a boozy layabout working cheap casinos before suave Curtis (Ryan Reynolds) smooth talks his way into his life as a fellow gambler. The strange attraction develops throughout the film as the characters’ hang-ups are hidden from each other. Reynolds is typical with his wise-ass smarts but again (along with Voices and Woman in Gold) is choosing his films much more carefully in recent months and is all the better for it.

Low key and intimate, the film follows the ordeals of both men and their friendship based on (apparent) trust but Gerry’s uncontrollable bets push him further into debt and subsequently into trouble. As they travel to a big buy-in tournament, they hit up casinos along the way but the film focuses much more on the incidents outside the casino – meeting up with old flames, clandestine wagers and car conversations on the road.

Sound-tracking the film are a host of excellent traditional blues and honky-tonk tracks as well as Memphis musician Scott Bomar who also composed a score for the swampy Black Snake Moan (2007).

As Mendelsohn loses further sports bets, an unknowing Reynolds enjoys the trip with ladies and dancing but Gerry’s worse instincts get the better of him time and time again and is unwilling to give up when he should. Mendelsohn battles his demons throughout in a great performance opposite a solid and self-assured Reynolds. Gerry’s poker-based “tells” are seen on and off the table as they reflect his two faces – the confident card player and the depressed/addicted loser.

Gerry’s believability is key to the film’s success whilst Ryan’s consistent optimism of looking for the good in people appears naive but offers a semblance of hope. Curtis is more forgiving than Gerry’s debtors but without any punishment or assistance, Gerry’s errors compound and the two actors play well against each other in equally depressing scenes together and when alone.

Measured and meaningful, this accomplished film is a masculine meditation on addiction, exes and excuses as the two men mosey on down to Mississippi to find money at the end of the rainbow but mostly discover a melancholic misery amongst a memorable finish.

7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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