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By midlandsmovies, Jun 30 2019 09:17PM



Fighting with My Family (2019) Dir. Stephen Merchant


I am very much aware of WWE – who isn’t I guess – but let’s open this review with an acknowledgement of my lack of engagement with what I remember as a kid being called the WWF - before the wildlife fund got all litigious. But you know what? This brilliantly written and directed sports-comedy drama from The Office creator Stephen Merchant is so well-done, even a wrestling ignoramus like myself enjoyed so much of it.


In short, the film dramatizes the life of WWE professional wrestler Saraya "Paige" Knight and begins with her family’s wrestling passion which sees her and her brother compete in the local ring in their hometown of Norwich, England.


A fantastic Lena Headey and hilarious Nick Frost are the ex-wrestler parents who promote and train up-and-coming new prospects in their small gym. But soon Paige has the opportunity to try out for the big league in the USA. With her and her brother (Jack Lowden as Zak) fighting for a spot alongside a host of hopefuls, only Paige is chosen by professional coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) to head to America and pursue her dream.


It’s here the film nicely balances its signature move of the emotional turmoil of Paige’s feuding relationship with her brother whilst also hitting entertaining comedy beats as her outsider is tested ‘Rocky-style’ in a series of endurance events and training montages.


Paige is played by a dazzling Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Outlaw King & soon-to-be-released horror Midsommar) and she brings warmth, charm and feistiness to a well-rounded character in charge of her own destiny. With her alternative/goth-y looks, she battles all-American ex-models for the limelight and her go-getting attitude faces-off against an alliance of personal and professional struggles.


British family-issues and a theme of helping the local community sit comfortably with the glitz and glamour (and sweat) of the wrestling world stage. And Merchant gives each narrative point enough time to shine in his cinematic ring before pushing the fun story forward. A welcome, and very comical, cameo from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also brings some Hollywood gravitas to a slightly quaint overcoming-the-odds narrative but the film is always charming and appealing throughout.


Whilst doing nothing spectacularly new, it gets by on so much heart and has funny (and when needed, dramatic) scenes that mean audiences will empathise with the characters from the outset.


With crowd-pleasing humour, a tender heart and some affected drama, the film is brought to life with a simple and engaging directorial style from Merchant but the excellently delivered performance from the whole cast is the real contest winner here.


And with all that going for it, Fighting with My Family ends up winning the title belt for best comedy of 2019 so far.


★★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jul 29 2017 05:07PM



Bruised (2017) dir. Robert Ludlam


Underground Cinema presents Bruised, a short film about Danny (AJ Stevenson) an amateur boxer who saves a stranger from a mugger, then comes into contact with the stranger again and knows her as Chloe (Jessica Millott), a girl he will do anything to love and protect, at any cost.


Directed by Robert Ludlam, Bruised Is not your typical boxing drama nor is it your typical love story. The relationship between Danny and Chloe is not perfect and Danny himself is not your usual archetypal athlete. He is lonely, focused on the sport and getting the job done. His once simple life is changed when his eyes catch Chloe whilst on a morning run. SUbsequently Danny struggles to balance his feelings for her as he’s unable to forget her face.


Before making the big step in talking to her, Danny spends his nights on his laptop and his phone searching her social media. Ludlam brilliantly captures this aspect of modern love and life, where we can access someone’s entire public sphere within seconds, sometimes creating circumstances and manipulating encounters to meet a potential partner rather than it arriving naturally. The visuals here speak a thousand words with Ludlam using the image to ask if this is the healthiest way to start a relationship.


Another aspect of Bruised I really enjoyed was the director's take on violence. It’s refreshing to see a filmmaker have so much to say and so much focus on their themes. The camera lingers on the crowd as they watch Danny fight his opponent during an amateur boxing match, with the shot occupying itself on the audience’s hands as they clap and cheer on the violence. All this whilst Chloe holds back with worry plastered over her face.

Weaving in and out of the films timeline, Ludlam sensibly uses time to entertain the audience instead of confusing them. A film can sometimes lose meaning and its viewer when time is interfered with badly however it works perfectly here, leaving the audience anticipating every frame up until the final second. Assisting Ludlam in bringing Bruised to life is Lee Averne, credited as the cinematographer who is responsible for the shots that give the film its professional look complementing the director's vision. AJ Stevenson plays Danny brilliantly and is given the tough task of not having any dialogue for the first five minutes, relying instead on his face doing the talking.


Bruised is a short film that really impressed me and people who I have shown it to, I can easily place it as one of my favourite short films of 2017 and can’t wait to see what the cast and crew produce next.


Guy Russell

Twitter @BudGuyer



By midlandsmovies, Jun 6 2016 08:32PM

Race (2016) Dir. Stephen Hopkins


The story of black athlete Jesse Owens and his struggles against racism, family and eventually the entire world at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is the focus of this new film from Stephen Hopkins who also made the biographical The Life & Death of Peter Sellers.


Stephan James gives a winning turn as Jesse Owens, a talented young athlete from a poor background who makes it to Ohio State University where he is mentored by trainer Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis). Sudeikis is probably one of the most slap-able men in movies but is surprisingly good here with perhaps his best performance – especially in a dramatic role - I've ever seen him give.


The period dress, costumes and locations are excellent but a slight overuse of CGI to recreate 1930s streets, buildings and skylines, as well as some “fake” crowds, are stylised akin to Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Why they bother with this rather than an augmented shot is beyond me but The Panic Room-lite location titles were a better touch.


As Owens fights institutionalised racism at his college (and the public at large), the American Olympic Committee discuss the politics of boycotting the Summer Games.


Jeremy Irons as (future International Olympic President) Avery Brundage plays the sceptical American who receives assurances of Nazi pledges of non-discrimination whilst clashing with William Hurt as Jeremiah Mahoney who supports a boycott. After visiting Europe, Irons’ character soon sees the duplicity of his German hosts (notably Goebbels) and the USA eventually agree to take part.


The segregation and racism is an abhorrent echo to the cruel realism of the past and Owen faces tough choices with his family and his fame. Side stories on German’s film propagandist "Leni" Riefenstah and Owens’ friendship with Carl Ludwig "Luz" Long flesh out the narrative with added historical events.


After Luz helped Owens qualify for the long jump (by moving his mark) and then congratulating him (in front of Hitler no less) Owens once said, “You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn't be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment”. A phenomenal part of history.


From the back of a bus to a national (and international) icon, Owens begins to understand what his controversial participation in the games means to different communities but with fellow athlete Eulace Peacock’s support, he decides to go and “stick it up Hitler’s ass”.


I write this on the weekend of Muhammad Ali’s passing – another iconic athlete whose career was equally mired in topics of race – and the issues the film raises seem eerily prescient and brought a tear to my eye being with its emphasis on a story of hope. Owens’ legacy is far longer than the races he ran but his journey in fighting for what was right and ultimately changing others' attitudes is an important one captured here in a fine film.


With Creed, Concussion, The Program and now this, 2016 has provided a wealth of sports films for fans and Race is a movie that makes you want to read more on a subject which is a rare commodity. Breaking track and field records alongside breaking barriers in America, I recommend you take a chance with this winning film as, despite its shortcomings, is one worth investing your soul in.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 21 2016 01:32PM

Eddie the Eagle (2016) Dir. Dexter Fletcher


British rising star, Taron Egerton (Kingsman, Legend) has teamed up with producer Matthew Vaughn (X-Men, Kingsman) to bring us a biopic about a different kind of hero. Eddie the Eagle follows the story of British ski-jumper Michael ‘Eddie the Eagle’ Edwards and his journey to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Directed by Dexter Fletcher and produced by Marv Films Eddie the Eagle is a heart-warming tale of determination and friendship that will make you laugh, cry and want to do everything in your power to achieve your dreams.


Having been born seven years after the 1988 Winter Olympics occurred; I had no idea who Eddie the Eagle was until I found out that this film was being made and part of the film’s beauty is that even if you have no clue who Eddie is, you still immediately connect with him. This is down to the talent and charm of Egerton who is unrecognisable as Eddie and pulls off a persuasive performance as the characterful ski-jumper, bringing both a likeability and vulnerability to the character. Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) takes on the role of a fictional character, former ski-jumper and Eddie’s unwilling coach, Bronson Peary and although it sounds like an odd pairing, their relationship quickly becomes the heart of the film.


At first Bronson is portrayed as a washed up, retired Olympian with a bad attitude and is not one to shy away from his belief that Eddie is crazy to think that he can learn to ski-jump and compete in the Winter Olympics. However, as the film progresses we see that Bronson warms to Eddie and agrees to help him. In turn, Eddie seems to bring out the best in Bronson and we see how the two characters are equally gaining from their unlikely friendship.


Throughout the film I found myself willing Eddie to succeed in every moment and there is a continued element of camaraderie as the audience experiences everything that he goes through; from wincing at his physical pain when he inevitably falls (a lot) to bursting with pride and getting a little emotional and teary-eyed when he finally fulfils his goals. The landscape cinematography and point of view shots of Eddie at the top of the ski-jumps make you feel like you’re with him every step of the way and avoiding the use of CGI where possible makes it all the more authentic.


The soundtrack for the film, created by Gary Barlow, is also a highlight, especially if you’re a big eighties fan. With tracks from the likes of Kim Wilde, Go West, ABC, Tony Hadley and a song in the end credits by the stars of the film, Egerton and Jackman (always a nice touch) the music is the cherry on top of a good old-fashioned, whole-hearted British film.


Overall, it lived up to its expectations of being a feel-good, family film with a positive message and combines this with both a brilliant cast and upbeat soundtrack.


7/10


Charlotte Brown


By midlandsmovies, Mar 3 2016 03:59PM

The Program (2016) Dir. Stephen Frears


The Program is a British-French film which encompasses the controversial story of cycling legend (and now infamous cheat) Lance Armstrong during his unprecedented seven consecutive Tour De France wins.


Starring an insanely good Ben Foster as Armstrong himself, the actor plays the arrogant and egotistical athlete to perfection. He also does a great job at finding and exposing, a bit at a time, the weaknesses of a man obsessed by winning at all costs.


Chris O'Dowd play Irish sports journalist David Walsh (the film is based upon his book Seven Deadly Sins) who ultimately uncovers the deceit but is discredited throughout by Armstrong and his cronies. Pedalling through the narrative, the film leaps to the pivotal points in Armstrong’s dishonesty from his introduction to performance enhancing drugs via Michele Ferrari (played by a suitably sleazy Guillaume Canet) to his eventual role as “dealer” to others on his team. Injections, blood transfusions and avoiding tests are shown in scientific and matter of fact terms before the repetition of these images becomes the norm – as it did to Lance.


Foster is also convincing because he plays Armstrong as a man who truly believes his own lies and caught up in a world of his own making. The lies continue as the rider attempts to diffuse the controversy with references to his (real-life) battle with cancer and the related charity he subsequently set up – diverting attention from his fabrications by pointing a wagging finger to (what he labels) “unsympathetic” journalists.


Frears lets the performances do most of the talking (sometimes literally) and the methodical construction of the movie aligns itself to the precise thought-out motions the cyclists went through to beat the system.


With the focus on the chase, Frears doesn’t sprint to the ending but lets the story unfold slowly which captures how the frustrated and sometimes vilified Walsh tried to pursue Armstrong for over a decade.


With little fanfare, some may say it could have focused a bit more on the rivalries and racing, the film wisely shows what was hiding behind the scenes of the well-known competition rather than the glitzy contest. There are some well shot landscapes with sweeping camera moves down the Alps for mountain time-trails but the real winner here is Foster though. A great performance of a criticised racer, he fully encapsulates the nose dive that was Lance’s career and that special individual big-headedness that only a failed competitor still holds on to.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 15 2016 04:33PM

CREED (2016) Dir. Ryan Coogler

Having seen the legendary actor Sly Stallone wax lyrical about his career during “An Audience with” event at Sheffield Town Hall in early 2015, one of the things that stood out was his assertion that he was leaving the UK having just filmed part of the new Rocky film. Already having doubts for the seventh (!) instalment, he didn’t allay my fears when he said he and his entourage were returning to Philadelphia after completing scenes at Everton’s Goodison Park football ground (!)


So far so weird but what could this entry cover that six films could not, you ask? Well, after Rocky Balboa which covered the final fight by Stallone, the aging actor has wisely put himself to one side avoiding a pensioner-aged return to the ring. So, we pick up with Adonis Johnson (Michael B Jordan), who is the wayward offspring of Apollo Creed who after stints in juvenile facilities is adopted by Anne Marie (Phylicia Rashād). She's Apollo’s widow and although she is not Adonis’ mum she chastises him after he leaves his comfortable office job to pursue his dreams of becoming a boxer. Tracking down his father’s old friend/rival, Rocky in Philly, Adonis convinces the retired heavyweight to train him up.


Adonis also begins a relationship with up and coming singer Bianca (a terrific Tessa Thompson) whose artistic temperament contrasts with his workmanlike exercise regime but the unlikely couple find solace in their differences helped by great performances from both actors.


Later Rocky has to confront his own problems with his broken body and deal with medical issues that begins another kind of fight outside the sporting world. Facing issues of race, life, love, mortality and relationships, Creed is an unusually deep film and by far the best film since Stallone’s debut. Michael B Jordan removes any memory of the frankly awful Fantastic Four with a heartfelt performance that is both bruising yet complex with a wonderful honest delivery.


Hints of nostalgia are littered within Creed as past characters and events are mentioned and whilst there is no over-the-top 80s cheese (Rocky IV) the film can’t help itself from doing a musical training montage. Still, it’s done with panache and a subtleness the other franchise films were nowhere near. And still it’s Michael B Jordan who holds the film together with a great central performance showcasing how Adonis wants to make it on his own – where even a mention of his father’s legacy instils violent outbursts.


However it is that infamous name which allows him a shot at world light heavyweight champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan. The strong accent from the scouse antagonist was quite a shock to hear in such a large Hollywood film but made a nice change from the norm and their rivalry is a believable mish-mash of cultures and backgrounds.


With Stallone turning in his best performance in 20 years, we see something we have not really seen from him before - vulnerability. The curl of his lip as he recounts sad stories from his life brought a lump to my throat. Stallone has already won Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes and received an Oscar nomination for this role too and in many ways the film mirrors his true life tale as well, as he comes back full circle to rejuvenate a career fallen from grace.


For the fans, all the ingredients of the Rocky formula are there with a focus on the characters you have grown up with but the drama is so well crafted there is plenty for those who know nothing about the journey so far. This means that Creed is a filmic feat, an emphatic return to form with an individual voice from director Coogler that amounts to a knock-out triumph.


8/10 Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 11 2015 12:36PM

Trainwreck (2015) Dir. Judd Apatow


The new film from Judd Apatow (40-Year Old Virgin & Knocked Up) is a quirky new romantic comedy featuring the funny talents of Amy Schumer in a film of entertaining relationships and slapstick emotions. She plays Amy (natch!) who after her dad’s divorce as a child, is introduced as an adult fan of one-night stands in between her work as a jobbing journalist at a low-brow men’s magazine. The first 20 minutes are a bit of a slog to get through in all honesty.


Her boss Diane (an unrecognisable Tilda Swinton) is all mouth and English “gob” whilst my disappointment of the last few American ‘comedies’ I had seen appeared to be playing out again. My sensibilities lie with Four Lions, Alpha Papa and Edgar Wright’s films for decent and ingenious laughs whereas the American comedies often interpret ‘edgy’ as more jokes about j*zz. Hilarious.


However, the set-up is brief enough and we are introduced to Amy’s current squeeze Steven, played by ex-WWE wrestler John Cena. His gym-obsessed (and strangely camp) boyfriend role cuts through the clichés like a knife with Cena himself putting in a great performance. His bedroom dirty talk of “you want my protein” and “there’s no ‘i’ in team” and orgasmic-face was the beginning of many laughs for me.


Fighting against the fact it always wants to revert back to obvious s*x-jokes – her dad, now in a home, complains the residents are at it day and night (“it’s like Caligula in here”) – the film then moves away from that to focus on her current assignment which is to interview sports doctor Aaron (played by Bill Hader).


When relationship issues with her pregnant sister and her father in his home begin to take their toll, Amy breaks her no-staying-over rule and begins to fall for Hader’s likeable everyman - who by his own admission at James Franco’s roast often plays “best friend asking an exposition question”.


The film also has a whole host of cameos including a brief glimpse of Daniel Radcliffe in fictional film “The Dogwalker” and basketball superstar LeBron James, who has a surprisingly huge part as Hader’s confidant


Hader is a perfect sensible foil to Amy’s wackiness as the c*m/sp*rm/load jokes spew forth over the film throughout. Amy slowly has doubts thinking she will mess it all up and gossip of her reputation precedes her as tragic family news and a fall-out with her sister begin to put pressure on her life with Aaron.


I am not too familiar with Schumer but her performance is both heartfelt and ‘ballsy’ as she puts in a great acting turn showing the struggles of dealing with her own self-doubt in a testing couple. The film’s setting amongst basketball (a sport I’ve loved since the 90s) really helped me engage and the inclusion of stars and commentators was a nice touch and gave a unique and relatable (to me anyway) theme to hang the movie on.


It’s definitely not a rom-com reinvention as all the traditional beats are there – the long drawn out courtship, the break up, the rekindling, the best friend advice and careers getting in the way – BUT, much more importantly, it FEELS fresh. And to this jaded reviewer, that was crucial given some of the clichés presented.


But with enough new twists, great comedic (yet sensitive) performances from the stars, support and cameos, you could do a lot worse than check out this film which shows more than promising developments in the careers of both Schumer and Apatow. Certainly no train wreck of a film here.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 9 2015 01:29PM

A Season with Sue (2015) Dir. Thomas Wilson


Filmmaker Thomas Wilson releases this new local documentary, Season with Sue, which covers the second campaign for Suecastle Football Club from Leicester and the ups and down of the amateur football leagues.


Under the tutelage of player/manager Adam O’Shea, the film begins with the traditional coach woes of injury-prone players who are out of action with body damage even before their competitive matches begin. The low-key coverage shows as much car park smoking as it does of side-line action but the fever of these local heroes shine through.


Chasing promotion from Division Five of the Alliance Football League, the team struggles through a range of issues whilst the filmmaker chooses interesting coverage of deserted practice grounds, off-pitch chats and fantasy football banter to flesh out the picture of sporting social life in the Midlands.


With limited voice-over, the players’ positivity help their “winning ways” and the 30 minutes documentary is a world away from Premiership excess but all the better for it showing the passion and friendship amongst the enthusiastic team mates. The cheeky chat that punctuates the football action amuses and entertains whilst the agony piles on as the injuries pile up.


With an almost rustic view of the action, the pitches are sometimes framed by housing estates or pylons showing the metaphorical (and actual) grass roots of the team. Shots of lonely corner flags are contrasted with the inspirational team talks giving the audience a unique view of these Sunday successes.


A great selection of footage covers all aspects of their season broken up by a simple 4-part structure but it could have done with a few more talking heads, interviews or player’s personal stories to expose the journey of a few individuals as well as the team.


That small flaw aside, the film’s colourful language, “get stuck in, they’ll shit it”, adds to the brilliant portrayal of a group of football loving lads


Slightly overgrown pitches put up as much of a fight as the opposition as the hardworking guys find themselves battling referees, questionable decisions and but never each other – even in the face of dirty tackles and reckless challenges.


Not even their local pub is unaffected, shutting down before their season ends but the group run their awards ceremony at home with spirited team-bonding sing-a-longs. Ending with a quality top 3 finish (after another team disband) the documentary is less fly on the wall and more of a warts and all portrait of football fans and friends making the most of every moment and coming through it all stronger and closer.


A fantastic football film


7/10


You can now watch the entire documentary online at Vimeo right here: https://vimeo.com/135612082


Midlands Movies Mike

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