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By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2019 10:06AM

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) Dir. Chad Stahelski

Keanu Reeves returns once more as the eponymous ‘hero’ John Wick in this third instalment of the hyper-violent neo-noir action series. The movie picks up immediately from the previous sequel where the ex-assassin is in New York escaping from a $14 million hit put upon his head after his unsanctioned killing of a member of the “High Table” – a seedy cabal of hitmen and women. But before you can say “parabellum”, Wick is involved in bloodier fist/knife/gun fights than ever before.

Influenced at times by old gun-slinging westerns – (Wick-y Wick-y Wild Wild West) he uses 6-shooter guns and tomahawks, rides a horse through Manhattan and there is a distinct steel-guitar vibe on the soundtrack. Technical wise, the lighting is beyond fantastic with the gorgeous visuals, neon lights and heavy rain giving the locations a classic cinematic feel in comparison to other genre films.

The culture continues (as first seen around Rome in Chapter 2) with scenes set at theatres, museums, libraries and art galleries setting the somewhat low-brow fight action against more civilised environments.

During a ballet rehearsal, a rare but welcome Anjelica Huston appearance explains “the path to paradise begins in hell”. This is one of a number of religious nods alongside a crucifix necklace, stained glass windows and later on a cross is seared on Wick’s back before a gruesome scene of anatomical sacrifice. And redemption is a big theme too. Wick wants out but is drawn back in – not just by his guilt – but by a sense of obligation to the codes of conduct the High Table group enforce.

Support comes from an excellent duplicitous Ian McShane as the manager of a hotel refuge whilst Laurence Fishburne brings his mouthy gravitas to underground crime lord, the Bowery King. The excellent Halle Berry is sadly wasted in a silly shoot-out sequence in Casablanca. The bland gun action is not helped by some CGI dogs - however, those waiting for some long overdue dog revenge will lap up the hounds’ killing spree.

What doesn’t work? Well, the action – as good as it is – is constant. And relentlessly so. Characterisation is kept to a minimum but expected I suppose and the much-lauded motorcycle chase is a poor facsimile of the superior one in The Villainess.

Also, and I’m not sure if it’s because I watched this recent video breaking down stunt choreography from an expert, Keanu was starting to look his age as the overly-choreographed fights seemed to have a few missed marks. A minor gripe I admit.

Whilst expanding the mythos Wick has also lost some of its initial Taken-style charm. The two films were never realistic per se but in Parabellum, murders in public at Grand Central Station and bus-loads of SWAT push it a little bit too far into fantasy. Heck, it even bordered on WANTED (2009) territory with its clan of shady assassins clinging to their historical rules of engagement.

All that said, Wick does what it sets out to do with no apologies. A few nice nods to The Matrix are a nice inside-joke - Neo, I mean Wick, is asked to make a choice by a monologue-ing mentor in a video-screened room and also asks for “Guns. Lots of guns”. And not to mention that Morpheus is in it of course!

And so, genre fans will lap up the explosions, punches, martial arts, gun-fu and the well-executed stunt work. But Wick goes beyond b-movie staples with a film that not only delivers on its action but is a feast for the more discerning viewer with its eye-wateringly impressive lighting, cinematography and production design.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Nov 4 2018 07:46PM

Review - Movie Catch Up Blog 2018 - Part 4

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) J. A. Bayona

The fifth film in the dino-giant Jurassic franchise, and boy does it feel like it. In the world of the soft reboot, what we get here is a re-tread of Spielberg’s disappointing sequel where a group of military personnel return to the infested island. As they try to retrieve precious DNA remnants, the animal's eco-system is disrupted by the impending eruption of a volcano which puts the remaining dinosaurs at risk of a second extinction. Why this is a problem remains a mystery as they can surely clone them all again? That was the first film’s point. Chris Pratt moves further from his great Guardians performance and slides into “Blando Hero-man” alongside Bryce Dallas Howard’s retconned footwear-obsessed power female. The film also takes a sharp 180 degree turn at the halfway point and we are soon in a Scooby-Doo esque haunted mansion where – and this is actually the story – a group of rich billionaires are buying and selling dinos in an underground laboratory. WTF? Reminding me of the human trafficking auction in Taken, the film flies off the rails with only a few hints of the skill Bayona showed in his earlier films The Orphanage and A Monster Calls. Boring and dull, Fallen Kingdom is somewhat unbelievably the 12th highest grossing film of all time which means there will most certainly be another - but count me out of this dead-as-a-dodo theme park attraction. 5.5/10

The Meg (2018) Dir. Jon Turteltaub

More monstrous-sized nonsense in this actioner starring everyone’s favourite knees-up-muvva-brown geezer Jason Statham. Back in 2015 for my review of Wild Card I said, and I quote, Statham “often plays the same ex-cop/gangster/trained assassin/cage fighter/thief with violent skills who attempts to go straight, but is pulled in by circumstances beyond his control”. And unsurprisingly here, he is a retired and disgraced diver whose skills are needed when he returns to investigate an ocean anomaly, despite his suspect past and *cough* his attempts to leave his aquatic life behind. As quick as you like he’s back in the saddle, or should that be scuba, and thus begins a sub-Deep Blue Sea monster movie with awful CGI and atrocious acting. Films that hope to be ironic b-movies tend not to work unless you go “full pastiche”. So, The Meg’s hammy performances and plastic special effects are not ironically bad, they’re just bad. Director Turteltaub helmed the fun guilty pleasure National Treasure movies yet this is neither family fun nor satisfying grindhouse splatter-fest. The Meg sadly handles its efforts in both genres terribly badly. Some may find a bit of Saturday night excitement in its glossy shark sequences but for me the film was simply mega disappointing. 4/10

Tag (2018) Dir. Jeff Tomsic

During the end credits of Tag there is real-life camcorder footage of the men who inspired this new American comedy from Jeff Tomsic and it’s indicative of the film’s quality that those few minutes are far more interesting than the preceding 2 hours. Based on the real-life story of a group of grown adults who play a game of “tag” (“it” in the UK) for one month of the year, Ed Helms plays Hoagie who stalks his friends Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress and Isla Fisher. He then convinces the old gang to play one final game before ‘retirement’ by tagging their elusive friend Jeremy Renner who has never been tagged despite years of attempts. With Renner on the verge of marriage, the group try to tag him during his wedding planning but his 'Bourne' skills sees Renner using Hawkeye-style reflexes to avoid their juvenile attacks. A few fine jokes and some rip-roaring editing still cannot overcome the fact that, for me, a documentary on the actual participants – who still play to this very day – is where the true entertainment would lie. With Blockers and Game Night both tackling the “adults playing at kids games” theme as well, Tag sadly doesn’t have anything close to the fun found in those. And with its TV-style filming, a strangely maudlin ending and its one-trick-pony idea Tag is definitely not “it”. 4.5/10

The First Purge (2018) Dir. Gerard McMurray

How did The Purge start? Well, this is the film to answer the question that no one was really asking but as with the other films in the series, this 4th franchise instalment tackles some deeper issues than your regular b-movie thriller. In the mid-21st Century, we are told via news footage that the fascist New Founding Fathers of America (NFFA) are launching an experiment on Staten Island where citizens can commit crime consequence-free for 12 hours. The film follows local drug gangs, a criminal called Skeletor and young anti-purge activists throughout the night as they fight off the expected (and unexpected) participants of The Purge. With a mainly black cast, the film also discusses issues of community, poverty, substance abuse and even has Ku Klux Klan members and black-faced mercenaries. Not just a throwaway action-flick for sure.

In my review of The Purge: Election Year I explained how the “anthology” nature of The Purge series has allowed it to explore more interesting themes than similar low-budget fare, whilst also allowing young up and coming talent to take centre stage amongst its cast. And good turns from Y'lan Noel as Dmitri, Lex Scott Davis as Nya, Joivan Wade as Isaiah, Mugga as Dolores and Christian Robinson as Capital A mean everyone delivers more than fine performances throughout. With “weighty” films like Black Panther, The Post and Black Klansman all tackling lofty themes, it’s great that The Purge gives them all a run for their money with its social commentary alongside b-movie bloodshed. With the authorities trying to stir up hatred with militias, The First Purge (and the others in the series) has used its silly premise to turn a mirror on to the problems currently facing America. And through inventive costume design, handheld camera and a pumping soundtrack, uses its non-mainstream genre to explore the far darker, but no less important, aspects of politics and policymakers. 6.5/10

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Oct 24 2018 12:52PM

Incredibles 2 (2018) Dir. Brad Bird

The Incredibles is one of my favourite films from Pixar with its balance of warm family feels, amazing retro-style animation and a fantastic cast of characters – one of which, the diminutive designer Edna Mole, is voiced hilariously by the film’s director Brad Bird and returns here for its sequel.

That film demonstrated all the best bits of Pixar and their films with an universal appeal to children and adults alike. However, when it was announced there would be a sequel I had many reservations. Some of which began a Twitter disagreement where I argued that more of a good thing is, well, not always a good thing.

Picking up directly from the first, the Parr family of superheroes are tackling The Underminer (who appeared briefly at the end of the previous movie) but the collateral damage from their city-destroying encounter results in the authorities outlawing superheroes. A bit Watchmen here.

And like Watchmen, the film, at times, is incredibly dark. Although there are fun sequences throughout, the lighting has become even more extreme - bordering on seizure inducing - so be wary before taking your super young ‘uns to the cinema!

The story unfurls as Winston Deavor, the owner of a telecommunications business, suggests a publicity stunt to regain public trust in superheroes with support from his sister Evelyn.

The film flips the first’s conceit as Helen (Holly Hunter as the “stretchy” Elastigirl) is the one chosen to represent their cause and track down new villain Screenslaver. Whilst Mr. Incredible himself – the burly Bob played by Craig T. Nelson – reluctantly becomes a stay at home dad. In a posh new technological advanced house, he helps/hinders his children with their dating-life (Violet), homework (Dash) and uncontrollable superpowers (Jack Jack).

The film’s male/female role-reversal is a good twist on the original’s traditional family dynamic and Elastigirl’s rubber body provides the film’s most exciting action sequences. Whether she’s stopping a runaway train, bouncing through corridors or creating a parachute with her body, Pixar sure know how to do inventive and kinetic action fun like no other.

However something just didn’t quite hit the mark in all this. The opening goes for action over character build-up, then we enter a character development section that verges on the dull. The conversations surrounding family roles are honourably progressive but slow down the narrative to such a pace that the film was aching for some lighthearted comedy skits for the kids. And to be honest, myself too! Many will feel that this is its best selling point but we’re talking an animated sequel here – not Empire Strikes Back. Also, hiding the main villain’s identity aims to create mystery but the anonymous antagonist is a gaping hole usually filled by Pixar’s excellent design team who created Sid, Lotso Bear, Stinky Pete et al.

A welcome reappearance of Samuel L. Jackson’s Frozone and more than highly competent voice performances from the cast are wonderful call-backs to the more rounded original. And whilst Pixar movies are always a quality affair – the animation perhaps bordering slightly too close to reality here – in their attempts to add depth they’ve lost a tiny bit of heart along the way. Simply credible.


Mike Sales

By midlandsmovies, Oct 1 2015 03:05PM

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) Dir. Leigh Whannell

I’ve made no bones about not being a fan of these 12A horrors of recent years. With Insidious, The Conjuring, Sinister, Annabelle and their sequels all vying for the teen-scare audience, I’ve been mostly disappointed by each one of them. So much so, I made up the term “The Insinistering” as a capture-all title for these family friendly frighteners.

With that in mind, I went into the strangely named Insidious: Chapter 3 with a lot of trepidation AND having not even caught up with the sequel of the franchise at all.

Quickly realising that this was a prequel – the slightly-90s haircuts, fashions and music were close enough I guess – the film tells the story of Quinn Brenner who seeks out Elsie Rainer to contact the spirit of her recently deceased mother. As always, things don’t go so well and the supernatural attempt merely opens the door to more sinister (arf arf) demons. Living with her now single and busy father (Dermot Mulroney aka that boss from Friends who went out with Rachel for a few episodes) there begins a night time of eerie noises, footsteps and shadowy figures. One of these incidents causes a car crash where she ends up in a wheelchair with broken legs – thus keeping her confined to the apartment with even more difficultly in escaping from the ghouls.

With the paranormal incidents increasing, the scares are mainly the jump-cut kind but there are a few attempts to build some tension with a basement sequence involving “oily” foot prints being the pick of the crop. Psychic Elsie soon doubts her abilities but her confidence soon grows as she enters the “further” (a kind of dark hotel/portal of afflicted souls) and attempts to beat the demon.

Lin Shaye is great as the spiritualist and the balance of the young girl and experienced woman was a pleasant change of pace from stupid male teen jocks and showcased both their talents even in this simple and unremarkable horror story. The film followed a pretty standard structure but seemed to be at least attempting some artistry with an interesting villain and unique symbolism of feet, moving on and leaving a mark.

Despite its flaws, you may as well skip a chapter in this series as Insidious 3 does “go beyond” the rest of the films in this genre. And although it’s not saying much, I’d even argue that this is the best of the teen terrors to date with more horror highs than hackneyed lows.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2015 04:52PM

The Worst Sequels of All Time

With a mix of franchise balls-ups and delayed sequels as well as the truly horrid unnecessary follow up, here is my countdown of 30 of my least favourite sequels of all time with a few reasons why.

Sorry for those wanting to see Matrix Reloaded (the action saves it for me), X-Men: Last Stand (it’s pap but finishes the story fine for me) or Terminator: Salvation (it’s not the worst in the franchise by a long way) but I hope there’s plenty of others that got on your nerves without spoiling too many of your favourite films. From classics to straight-to-video, you’ll also find no prequels here (so no Phantom Menace or Dumb and Dumber: When Harry Met Lloyd) but definitely some of those WTF were they thinking moments and the always difficult to accept changing of established cast members.

Let the countdown begin..


30. The Exorcist 2 – replace the horror with grasshoppers and “visions” and you lose any audience that may have come with you from the original.

29. Rocky V – a franchise killer with Stallone casting family members unable to act in key roles.

28. Star Trek V – seriously old men camping in coats talking to God in this “action” sci-fi.

27. Spider-Man 3 – as a big fan of the Raimi-helmed web-slinger it pains me to include this but a duffer it is with far too many villains and THAT emo-Peter Parker dance scene. Tingling.

26. Son of the Mask – remove the excellent Jim Carrey and replace with Jamie Kennedy. That’ll work. No, it didn’t. It really didn’t.

25. Teen Wolf Too – replacing Michael J Fox with Jason Bateman was this film’s worst crime.

24. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – *spoiler warning* bad enough was a belated sequel no one cared even slightly about, but the original provocateur Oliver Stone concludes his movie with a ridiculous happy ending. This from the man who brought us Natural Born Killers, JFK and Platoon. Unforgiveable.

23. Deuce Bigalow: European Gigalo – a contender not because it spoilt the original – a mildly amusing gross-out farce – but because it could be the least funny comedy ever on screen.

22. Staying Alive – do you want to see a sweaty John Travolta in a leotard trying to make it as a dancer on Broadway directed by Sly Stallone? Nope. Neither did anyone else.

21. Sin City 2 – possibly the dullest sequel for sure and one that missed its chance of success by nearly a decade too late.


20. Robocop 3

Different actor for Robocop? Check. Directed by someone with no pedigree at all? Check. Ninjas? What the fuck but yes, check. Flying Robocop? Why the fuck not?! All the ingredients for a right old fuck up were here and present as Verhoeven’s original is stripped of any edge for a future children’s audience. You have the right to remain terrible.

19. S. Darko

Seriously. Whose idea was this? It’s such a mind bending decision that I would have rather seen a film about that than the absolute knock-off/money-grabbing sequel that was released.

18. Blues Brothers 2000

The terrible replacement of a beloved character (in which the actor died no less) is no way to begin thinking about creating a sequel 20 years after a classic. Add some worse musicians, an annoying kid and a rubbish plot and you have one of the lamest films from John “Trading (I forgot he was once good) Places” Landis.

17. Jaws 2/Jaws 3-D/Jaws: The Revenge

A truly special entry for 3 films that are all terrible in their own unique ways. Jaws 2 was always going to live in the shadow of its classic forerunner, whilst 3 added a low budget gimmick and terrible effects to the proceedings. The final mess of a film is universally despised (and rightly so) with the pissed off piscine hunting its prey and swimming 2000 miles in 3 days to do so. A franchise fail of great white proportions.

16. Grease 2

The not-needed sequel to the only musical film I really love was a huge mistake and not even one of my favourite actresses, Michelle Pfeiffer, can save this monstrosity. Throw in a few cameos from supporting characters (i.e. the only people who needed the money) and you’ve got a film that is far from supreme.

15. Matrix: Revolutions

Along the same lines as a film we’ll see later on the list, Revolutions thought more complexity equalled more interest. As we spend even less time in The Matrix (including an opening set in a limbo-representing subway, remember that shit?) the plight of Zion becomes something we care less and less about until an overblown fight and disappointing ending got the whole debacle over with and left us with the fading memory of that amazing first film.

14. Highlander 2

A legendary bad sequel that not only was a bad film, it totally changed the concept of the film before by including an alien back-story that made little or no sense. It would be higher in the charts if I was a bigger fan of the first but I know a duffer of a sequel when I see one and feel the pain of a once-beloved film being shat on.

13. Scream 4

A big fan of the original films (even 2 & the misjudged 3), here was a belated sequel literally no-one was crying out for – maybe except Courtney Cox’s accountants. With some behind-the-times allusions to cyberspace and celebrity culture, the first trilogy’s self-referential tone was lost amongst Epic Movie style pop culture “jokes” and zero scares.

12. Transformers 2

I’ve mentioned elsewhere my unapologetic and superficial enjoyment of the first Transformers film but by the sequel we were already seeing where this franchise was going. With less emphasis on the humans, more focus on comedy, a 2 ½ hour runtime and more product placement than you could shake a stick at, this sequel set the new low- standard for the others that came next.

11. American Psycho 2

Didn’t know this film exists? Well it does and this direct-to-video movie has Mila Kunis (of Black Swan fame) killing fellow students for a good grade. It also stars, wait for it, William Shatner. An absolute mess of a sequel and the pinnacle of low (no) budget filler follow ups.


10. The Godfather Part 3

It’s going to be difficult to follow up the Oscar winning original and the lauded sequel but what you shouldn’t do is wait nearly 20 years, give a key role to your unable to act daughter and not include one of your main protagonists (Robert Duvall). Despite 7 Oscar nominations and a large budget, this is rightly hailed as a template for why sequels can fail.

9. Terminator 3

I will still never understand the hate for Salvation whilst Rise of the Machines is in existence. Arnie’s “comedy” robot, Nick Stahl’s annoying Connor and SFX somehow worse than T2, this film should have been so much better but a disappointment was all we got.

8. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

I literally still have no idea what went on in this film. Part 4 was bad but at least had a self-contained story. This third part lost its navigation and do you remember that bit with Jack Sparrow as a chicken or talking to a goat? Well, it’s there and we’ve collectively blocked out this appalling stinker.

7. Alien vs Predator: Requiem

Watching this revealed one of those moments where you literally stop and think “how did we get here?” From the TV-soap opera cast and awful “story” we are light years away from Ridley Scott’s original space horror.

6. Blair Witch Project 2

A sequel to the infamous found footage horror ditched the main conceit of that film – the found footage aspect – and made a sequel with such bad acting and lack of connection with the previous film that its surprising it was even released as a sequel at all . Bland Witch Project.

5. Superman IV

An interesting one as I kind of remember enjoying this as a kid but a recent rewatch showed up the huge lack of budget and hilariously abysmal special effects. Heck some of the shots were even reused within the film. An absolute franchise killer for almost 20 years. Super!

4. Speed 2: Cruise Control

This is one of those completely unnecessary sequels that not only moved the exciting freeway-speeding concept to a rather slow boat, it lost its biggest star and still got a cinema release! The only remarkable thing was the speed in which the quality went from classic action to box office bomb.

3. Batman and Robin

I was such a huge childhood fan of Batman that when I hired this film from the shop, the 15-year old me turned it off halfway through and took it back the same day. Well done 15 year old me and I stand by that decision to this day.

2. Ocean’s Twelve

As a huge fan of the first heist movie, it lost everything that made that movie fun and its worst crime was Julia Roberts playing a character who gets mistaken for Julia Roberts by Bruce Willis. Yes, that’s the level of this film.

1. Die Hard 5

If you ever want a franchise killer, here’s one. Nothing like any of the previous films, Willis (showing up in spots 2 and 1) sleepwalks through a PG-level film making it my worst film of that year and the worst sequel ever since. My hatred of this film is immense and if it were possible, Die Hard 5 should be on its own list whereby if you have seen it you can get your mind wiped of its badness as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Midlands Movies Mike

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