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By midlandsmovies, Dec 20 2019 10:05PM

Midlands Movies Top 20 Films of 2019





20. A Vigilante Dir. Sarah Dagger-Nickson

What we said: “Great cinematography helps focus the story on a stellar performance from Wilde, who plays both a hard-nosed enactor of violence and, in flashback, a sensitive and emotional victim-turned-avenger. It has a smart and timely premise and is a quality movie tackling the issues surrounding domestic abuse. Olivia Wilde gives a career-best performance as the woman fighting this head on, and this exciting debut is a successful revenge film that delivers more insight into the topic than similar movies”

Click here for full review





19. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Dir. JJ Abrams

What we said: "with so many people to please, JJ has stuck safely to familiar beats. And although too familiar at times, The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting tribute to this trilogy and may just bring a bit of hope, and certainly a tear to your eye, knowing we’ve finally left this galaxy far, far behind".

Click here for full review





18. One Cut of the Dead Dir. Shin'ichirô Ueda

What we said: "Made on just $25,000 with a cast of unknowns, this surprising Japanese “horror” is an underground bloodbath success. Clever and knowing with plenty of comedy, One Cut of the Dead is as much about low budget zombie filmmaking as it is a low budget zombie film. A genuine indie gem, the film is in love with other rom-zom-coms but its true romance is with the filmmaking process itself".

Click here for full review








17. Us Dir. Jordan Peele

What we said: “The cast excel in their physical portrayal of their ‘other’ selves. Mixing slasher and home-invasion tropes with a Twilight Zone episode, Us is another frightful look at the current politics and issues facing the United States/U.S./‘Us’. And Peele’s masterful handling of a wide range of deeper meanings, along with a love for horror staples, sees Us continuing his spectacular cinema successes”.

Click here for full review





16. Fighting with My Family Dir. Stephen Merchant

What we said: “The film gets by on so much heart and has funny (and when needed, dramatic) scenes that mean audiences will empathise with the lovable 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”.

Click here for full review





15. Brightburn Dir.David Yarovesky

What we said: “The movie's superhero genre-homages are a pleasure to watch as Brightburn has an interesting idea and a surprising amount of gore and horror making it a fantastic what-if fantasy film. With a mother desperate for a child to love, the film gives more depth to what could have been a throwaway fright flick and although firmly in the b-movie genre, I hope it gains enough of a cult following to deliver a sequel to its rather dark finale”.

Click here for full review





14. Can You Ever Forgive Me? Dir. Marielle Heller

What we said: “This career-defining role showcases McCarthy’s dramatic ‘chops’ and Richard E Grant channels some Withnail but is more likeable here – especially when pleading with McCarthy about being her only friend. Unobtrusive directing helps focus on the characters and it really is the McCarthy and Grant show here so can I ever forgive her for those awful comedies? Well, based on this performance, I’d be a fool not to”.

Click here for full review





13. Glass Dir. M Night Shyamalan

What we said: “It is to Shyamalan’s credit he not only got to finish a trilogy started 19 years ago but to do so in such a satisfying manner. Glass surprises by being the kind of dark, tension-filled shattering success that are nowadays shuffled off to Netflix when they should be enjoyed on the big screen as it provides more than satisfying thrills from the beginning until the end”.

Click here for full review





12. Lords of Chaos Dir. Jonas Åkerlund

What we said: “Whilst band members dispute the historical accuracy of some of the events in the film, it is then somewhat ironic the film concerns itself with character dualism, surface personality and the clashing viewpoints of each member. And Lords of Chaos dramatizes a bleak story with a great combination of multi-layered performances and grave scenes of violence. Ghastly but gratifying”.

Click here for full review





11. The Irishman Dir. Martin Scorsese

What we said: “A loving goodbye, age has mellowed them all and the film’s measured pace brought me into a satisfying world of sleaze, bribery and immorality. The Irishman is first-rate as an extraordinary drama of historical importance and covers contemporary themes of authoritarian corruption and violence. But it is also a more than pleasurable and honest love letter to the group’s past creative endeavours together”.

Click here for full review





10. Joker Dir. Todd Phillips

What we said: “And so, throwing in many modern political issues as it does along with a complexity not seen in many graphic novel-inspired films, Joker is not perfect but if you fancy something with a little more depth – think Nolan’s trilogy and then some – then the flick has enough thoughtful ambiguity and an amazing central performance to make it more than worthwhile”.

Click here for full review





9. Her Smell Dir. Alex Ross Perry

What we said: “Moss’ terrific central performance allows us to be drawn into her shocking exploits without condoning what she is doing to those around her. As she poisons herself one event at a time, the interesting dynamics are slowly teased out and revealed as the narrative progresses. From the excellent performances to the grotesque but engaging breakdowns, Her Smell is an intense and satisfying tour down a boulevard of broken dreams”.

Click here for full review





8. Destroyer Dir. Karyn Kusama

What we said: “With a tremendous cast throughout and first-rate scenes exploring the consequences of violence, Destroyer is an exceptional thriller from start to finish. But more importantly, it will destroy all preconceptions you had of Kidman as she delivers a superbly astonishing turn in the type of heroically repellent role I’d love to see more of”.

Click here for full review





7. Apollo 11 Dir. Todd Douglas Miller

What we said: “And as I type this on a laptop that has 1,500 times more processing power than the lunar module, the reality is that this was a dangerous mission with men strapped into a claustrophobic metal box stuck to the world’s biggest firework. Covering both science and patriotic emotions, Apollo 11 is a must-see for space enthusiasts and for the rest, you can bask in the jaw-dropping and immaculate footage which brings the electrifying lunar landing to life”.

Click here for full review





6. Booksmart Dir. Olivia Wilde

What we said: “The movie balances coarseness with an emotional heft that is incredibly satisfying. The two leads, Feldstein and Dever, are simply wonderful and some off-the-wall sequences on a boat, at a murder mystery party and as toy dolls are a giddy joy. A poignant conclusion and some believable drama throughout, the balance of laughs and moving scenes were affecting in this impressive film. Booksmart therefore comes highly recommended as a fun night out for all”.

Click here for full review





5. Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood Dir. Quentin Tarantino

What we said: “The film demonstrates that Tarantino truly is in a class of his own in a period where franchise building has mostly replaced the draw of the big-named actor. But this incredibly satisfying love letter to these fictional pulp princes and real-life silver screen starlets provides a brilliant fantasy romance steeped in the glow of an era long gone. Helter Skelter in a summer swelter indeed”.

Click here for full review





4. Border Dir. Ali Abbasi

What we said: “Abassi uses themes of family and genetics to tackle the problems of being an outsider as he injects realism and history into his tall tale. A cracking drama with added fantasy elements, Border is both compassionate and shocking and comes hugely recommended as it combines amazing performances that go beyond the prosthetics with a host of disturbing images you simply won't forget”.

Click here for full review





3. Thunder Road Dir. Jim Cummings

What we said: “With a startling low micro-budget, Cummings has created a true masterpiece – with his talented self, rightly so, at the centre. Is it a dark comedy drama? Is it a reflection of contemporary American talking-points? Well, it’s all that and more but without doubt it comes hugely recommended as not just one of the best debut films of the year, but one of the best films period”.

Click here for full review





2. Avengers: Endgame Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo

What we said: “At the conclusion, the Russos have delivered exactly what was needed by assembling a perfect narrative, cast and, more difficultly, a rewarding ending to the most epic of stories. With their cinema-changing franchise, everything in Endgame is not just perfect comic-book fare, but the pure pinnacle of movie entertainment and was a gargantuan and gratifying game I never wanted to end”.

Click here for full review





1. The Favourite Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

What we said: “With its added darkness and the Machiavellian machinations of the three protagonists, the film is full to the brim with incredible performances alongside some eccentricities in its technical aspects, plus we mustn’t forget its terrific quip-filled script. It’s a formidable film from a director who takes weighty themes and provides a theatre for three mighty actresses to deliver some of the best performances of the year and possibly of their career”.

Click here for full review



By midlandsmovies, Dec 19 2019 06:20PM



Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Dir. JJ Abrams


Retcon or narrative development? Do you want story risks and surprises or a reprise of the best of SW? Well, The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams returns with a bit of both to helm a sequel to both his first film of the new trilogy plus also Rian Johnson’s controversial (but far superior) second instalment.


Does JJ manage to bridge the gap or jump the shark? In fact, it’s mostly a success – a bit disorderly throughout but filled with a great (force) spirit of adventure with only a few missteps along the way.


The film begins by wasting no time with the narrative and rather than a slow reveal, it’s shown within the first 5 minutes that the Emperor is resurrected. On a secret planet called Exegol he now hopes to create a new Galactic Empire with an armada of Star Destroyers using Kylo as a pawn to rule the galaxy.


Rey still trains as a Jedi and in order to confront Emperor Palpatine, she rejoins the resistance efforts and with Poe, Finn, Chewbacca, BB-8, and C-3PO attempts to search for Sith artefacts that will lead them to the big bad.


The film throws action constantly at the screen, sometimes at the detriment of characters' development and boy are there a lot of them. The group cross with Lando Calrissian (a rather effective cameo from old-timer Billy Dee Williams) but there’s also a host of alien and humans welcomed to the fold, some more interesting than others. Keri Russell is underused as a space criminal yet new droid-mechanic Babu Frik could easily have been annoying but is mostly a fun addition.


As they continue their travels, Rey’s parentage is revealed during a Force-bond fight (projections can now interact with each other – and so much more later) and Abrams simply cannot resist curtailing to some fan’s need for Rey’s lineage being somehow tied into the saga.


It’s the need for a do-over that are the worst parts of this final episode of the nine-part "Skywalker saga". Adapting unused Carrie Fisher footage is hugely impactful though and her story has an amazing emotional resonance. And whilst C3PO is very funny, his goodbye to his “friends” as his memory is wiped hits the heart strings hard and references the audiences’ own goodbye to familiar faces.


Therefore, whilst Johnson’s film was about throwing away the past, JJ’s film is definitely more about goodbyes but there is a lack of finality at times and the death “fake-outs” are an overused trope that undermine the film’s weighty ambitions.


The resurrection of previous threads and the nods to the two previous sagas were somewhat expected but again, more than satisfying in the main. Rey and Kylo’s overblown lightsabre battle on a water-logged Death Star is the aquatic equivalent of the fiery battle between Obi-Wan and Annakin on the volcanic lava trails of Mustafar. And huge chunks of Return of the Jedi (visually and musically) are echoed on a visit to the rubble of the Death Star.


Other standouts include Richard E Grant who is so fantastic as a First Order general that I almost wished for him to have been in this trilogy from the start. But the focus on Kylo and Rey has always been the best part of this series and wisely, the film works best when focused on them. From heated battles and horrific visions to quieter more tender moments, the trilogy has consistently been watchable anytime stars Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are on screen. Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe are window dressing at times but them taking a back-seat to let the conflicting couple slice and dice wasn’t unwelcome at all.


A bit overstuffed with characters – old, current and new ones get mere minutes at times – The Rise of Skywalker ends with an appropriate space battle alongside a darker duel of differing fates for Kylo, Rey and the Emperor. It’s not the stunning success surprise that was The Last Jedi nor the easy re-tread of a New Hope that was The Force Awakens yet it works as a glorious and worthy, albeit messy, send-off to the saga.


We’ll no doubt get all the YouTube hate reactions, ‘10 things wrong with’ and “fan” criticism over on Reddit in the coming days but with so many people to please, JJ has stuck safely to familiar beats. And although too familiar at times, The Rise of Skywalker is a fitting tribute to this trilogy and may just bring a bit of hope, and certainly a tear to your eye, knowing we’ve finally left this galaxy far, far behind.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jun 30 2019 08:44PM


That’s No Moon, it's the Space Centre!


20 years since The Phantom Menace? 20 years? Really?? Well, yes. The highest-grossing film of 1999 and the second-highest-grossing film worldwide at the time, the film has since been seen as a less than favourable entry into the saga, but it is as good time as any to celebrate the anniversary in order to have another Star Wars event at the National Space Centre in Leicester.


Now a regular feature in the attraction’s calendar, Leicester’s National Space Centre has had a number of film-related events in 2019 and on the last weekend of June we headed down to a fan and family charity event featuring the 501st UK Garrison.


Joining forces with the Rebel Legion, Galactic Academy, Vok Chi and Mandalorian Mercs, these are super-fans who are premiere costuming groups renowned for their high standard 'movie accurate' costumes and fundraising for charity.


This meant the Space Centre’s stellar exhibition floor was filled to the brim with Stormtroopers, Clone Troopers, Imperial Officers and Darth Vader himself which resulted in fantastic photo opportunities for fans of all ages.


And as for the charity, this year’s event was helping Little People UK. Co-founded in 2012 by Warwick Davis (Star Wars’ very own legendary Ewok ‘Wicket’ as well as many other characters in the franchise) the organisation offers friendship and support to people with dwarfism and their families and friends .




As well as these great attractions there was also a lightsabre masterclass for younglings (mostly) and a ‘Hyperspace Hypermarket’ which had artwork and Star Wars-related merchandise and collectables. One such quirky stall was Pam's Happy Hats and I met the lovely Pam who knits collectible crocheted pop-culture characters. Her website genuinely brings a smile to my face given its geocities vibe. Do go check it!


Another group were SFM:uk who are a community of science fiction and fantasy model builders and had an array of amazing character and vehicle models from the entire saga on show. Running a raffle we were kindly offered a Star Wars LEGO set for a donation – a win-win if there ever was one.




The Pulse Gallery exhibition offered exciting Star Wars art as well as bringing some exclusive pieces and pins for sale. They were joined by artist Mark Daniels from Stoke-on-Trent who has worked on many Star Wars products, including inflatable remote control characters, stationery and limited edition prints for ACME Archives and Dark Ink Art.




The biggest star of the weekend however was special guest and legendary Star Wars actor Warwick Davis who played Wicket the Ewok in Return of the Jedi (1983). He went on to take the title role in Willow, again with George Lucas, played Professor Filius Flitwick and Griphook in the Harry Potter films and cameoed most recently in the last Star Wars film Solo.


Also in attendance was Andy Secombe (best known for being the voice of Watto), Daniel Logan (who portrayed young Boba Fett in Attack of the Clones) and Annabelle Davis who recently appeared in The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi and Solo, where she worked alongside her dad Warwick.




With long lines of eager fans seeking autographs, photos and just a few moments with their heroes, all the guests were warmly welcomed and the smiles on everyone’s faces was evidence enough of how much all who attended were enjoying the day.


With more movie sci-fi coming on 6th September for a special 40th Anniversary screening of Ridley Scott’s Alien, the Space Centre continues to provide a whole host of excellent events for sci-fi, movie and intergalactic fans alike.


National Space Centre Alien screening: https://spacecentre.co.uk/event/alien-40th-anniversary-screening


By midlandsmovies, May 31 2019 11:03AM



Return of the Garrison Star Wars Event at Leicester Space Centre


At last you can reveal yourself to the Jedi…


On 29 – 30 June 2019 visitors are invited to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace at the National Space Centre.


The Centre, 501st UK Garrison, Rebel Legion, Galactic Academy and Mandalorian Mercs are joining forces to create a full weekend of immersive experiences from a galaxy far far away.


With costume characters, exhibitions, talks, workshops and the all-important Parade there will be over 100 characters from film, comic, game and animation at the event.


Enjoy a family day out, or full weekend with chances to show off your skills in a Silver Sabres lightsabre masterclass, see amazing full size props thanks to the Isle of Wight Prop Crew, take home limited edition merchandise from the Hyperspace Hypermarket, and get hands on with craft sessions for children to enjoy.


In a weekend packed with activities there’ll also be talks and workshops available throughout, an amazing art exhibition, including limited edition prints and pins.


Costumes are encouraged with the highlight of the weekend, as always, being the costume parade.


There will be the opportunity to meet some very special guests (autograph fees apply).


Warwick Davis - Sunday Only


Warwick Davis played Ewok Wicket in Return of the Jedi. He went on to take the title role in Willow, again with George Lucas. He has also played Professor Filius Flitwick and Griphook in the Harry Potter films and a fictionalized version of himself in the sitcom Life’s Too Short, written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.


Harriet Walker - Saturday only


Dame Harriet Walter is well known for her stage and Shakespearian roles, as well as her appearances in Sense and Sensibility, Downton Abbey and The Crown. Harriet played Kalonia, a Doctor in the Resistance, in The Force Awakens in 2015, following in the footsteps of her Uncle, Sir Christopher Lee.


Andy Seacombe - Saturday & Sunday


Probably best known for being the voice of Watto in the two Star Wars prequels: The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, he is also an accomplished stage, television and radio actor, with a career spanning four decades.


This event will raise money for charity. Malika Andress, Head of Marketing at the National Space Centre, added: “We are proud to be working with Warwick Davis to support Little People UK through this event.”


“We are extremely grateful that our friends 501st UK Garrison, Rebel Legion, Galactic Academy and Mandalorian Mercs are returning to help us create an unforgettable weekend."


Tickets cost £15 per adult and £12 for children and concessions. Annual Passes are not valid and Jedi mind tricks won’t work. https://spacecentre.co.uk/event/return-of-the-garrison


Little People UK was co-founded in January 2012 by actor Warwick Davis, his wife Samantha and a group of individuals with the same goal; to offer friendship and support to people with dwarfism, their families and friends, and help build a positive future for those individuals.


By midlandsmovies, Nov 19 2018 07:37AM

Movie themed events at Leicester Comedy Fest 2019


I swear it comes round quicker every year but it certainly gets bigger and better every year, so here we are once again providing you with some of the highlights of Leicester’s infamous Comedy Festival.


Running from Wednesday 6th February to Sunday 24th February 2019 the festival hosts a whole cavalcade of excellent events across the city in a now amazing 70 (!) venues.


And whilst there are comedy and hilarious shows of all types and genres – with something for everyone – as always we have checked out the festival programme to bring you a list of the best of the festival shows with a movie or cinematic theme for our film buff readers out there.


Without further ado please check out these fantastic looking events and for more shows and to purchase tickets please head to http://www.comedy-festival.co.uk/




The Big Lewbowski: Presented by Edy Hurst and Cinema Para-Discount

Attenborough Arts Centre

9th February

Cinema Para-Discount is a film night like no other, comedians are given the chance to create an interactive screening that enhances a film of their choice. Edy Hurst is an award-winning musical comedian. Armed with a guitar, loop pedal and assortment of DIY props, he'll be providing comic commentary on his favourite film, The Big Lebowski. Watch and help Edy bring the film to life with an alternate sound track and interactive games.




Robin Hood and the Revolting Peasants

The Y Theatre

10th February

With no less than 2 films related to the infamous Midlands legend heading our way in 2018, come join Robin, Little John, Maid Marion and Friar Tuck as they take on some of their hardest challenges to date: A conniving king, a sinister sheriff and a downtrodden village of peasants who's 'get up and go' has got up and gone. Can the merry band teach the baddies a lesson? The villagers to revolt? The world to sing? Find out when Oddsocks rumble in with the adventures of this legendary folk hero in a show for all the family. Suitable for ages 7+




The Just Us League: Improvengers Assemble

Grays @LCB Depot

10th February

IMPROVENGERS ASSEMBLE: The UK's premiere nerd-comedy duo, The Just Us League, bring their brand new show to Leicester Comedy Festival. Improvengers Assemble is the fully improvised Marvel-based comedy show. All the heroes. All the villains. Your story.




Nathan Cassidy: My Shawshank Redemption

The Cookie

14th February

On the film's 25th anniversary, award-winning comedian Cassidy with a stand-up show to the soundtrack of a masterpiece. Love can hold you prisoner. Crawling through sh*t can set you free. Happy Valentine's Day! 'Relentlessly laugh out loud, hilarious.' Edinburgh Eve News 2018 'Stormingly good' Kate Copstick 2018 'Piercingly sarcastic jibes have a touch of Stewart Lee' Chortle 2017




Rik Carranza: Star Trek vs Star Wars

O’Neills

14th February

The hit film-related show of Edfringe 2016, 2017 and 2018 comes to Leicester! Rik Carranza guides two comedians through the ultimate comedy panel show that boldly goes to a galaxy far, far away. Kirk vs Solo, Klingon vs Wookie, Neelix vs Jar Jar Binks? There can only be one winner and you, the audience, decide. 'Exceptionally nerdy and hysterically funny' FringeBiscuit.co.uk 'Fun for geeks and all' **** Voice Mag.




Action Figure Archive with Steve McLean

Grays @LCB Depot

17th February

Steve opens his old toy box and rediscovers your faves from He-Man, Transformers, Star Wars and many more (about three more). Remember when toys were better? Your memory might be playing tricks on you. Action Figure Archive is a hit with audiences and the critics alike - ''A hilarious walk down memory lane'' The Scotland Herald, ''A fun examination of nostalgia and nerdiness'' Wired Magazine. "Geeks and nerds unite in this fun show" Geek-List.




The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron Munchausen

Attenborough Arts Centre

21st/22nd/23rd February

Amazing tales elegantly told. Made into an 80s cult classic by ex-Python Terry Gilliam, this version of the tale has top award-winning comedians and improvisors telling extravagant stories all based on the Adventures of Baron Munchausen. There will be swords, and duels, and elephants and castles built of cheese, and all of it is completely and irrefutably true. Leicester Comedy Festival "Best Children's Show 2018" Nominee.




Hats off to Laurel & Hardy

The Guildhall

22nd February

With the new Midlands-made and Steve Coogan-starring film from John Baird soon to be released, the award-winning Lucky Dog bring their internationally renowned biopic about the best-loved comedy duo of all-time back to Leicester Guildhall. Widely regarded as being the most accurate show ever written about The Boys, it is the closest thing you can get to seeing the original pair in action. Be prepared to laugh your socks off before having your heart broken.




Comedy Film Show – Some Like it Hot

Harborough Theatre

22nd February

Some Like It Hot (12) (1959) Director: Billy Wilder. Starring: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon. After witnessing a Mafia murder, slick saxophone player Joe (Tony Curtis) and his long-suffering buddy, Jerry (Jack Lemmon), improvise a quick plan to escape from Chicago with their lives in the comedic cinema classic. Disguising themselves as women, they join an all-female jazz band and hop a train bound for sunny Florida. 116 mins.




Comedy Film Show – Blues Brothers

Harborough Theatre

22nd February

The Blues Brothers (15). After the release of Jake Blues (John Belushi) from prison, he and brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) learn the Archdiocese will stop supporting their former school and will sell the place to the Education Authority. The only way to keep the place open is if the $5000 tax on the property is paid. The Blues Brothers want to help and decide to put their blues band back together and raise the money by staging a big gig. 142mins




David Benson Q & A: My Life with Kenneth Williams

The Angel Hotel

24th February

Join actor/comedian David Benson and Festival Director Geoff Rowe, as they chat about David's admiration of comedy Carry On legend Kenneth Williams. David's semi-autobiographical, award-winning show "Think No Evil Of Us" has become a regular fixture on the UK theatre circuit, and London's West End, and this talk will help reveal how David's unusual childhood led to an extraordinary connection with the Carry On star. Price includes afternoon tea.




The Laurel & Hardy Cabaret

The Guidhall

23rd/24th February

This spin-off cabaret is a bumper package of routines, sketches, songs and dances from The Boys' lengthy career which you won't find in the biopic. Including all their Music Hall scripts from their UK Tours between 1947-1954 and a lot of other rare material, it's the closest you will get to seeing the original pair in action.


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jun 5 2018 08:30PM



SOLO (2018) Dir. Ron Howard


With a troubled production you have to ask is it all Happy Days at Disney as it releases yet another new Star Wars movie? As Ron Howard stepped on board the galactic train after original directors Lord and Miller were ditched, many wondered if we would be getting a Suicide Squad/Fantastic Four chop job. Well, from first glance Howard has done stellar work in bringing a film back from the brink of collapse where the cohesive whole shows no sign of the multiple hands at work.


Solo is another Star Wars “Story” film – originally called Anthology films, Disney has done a great job in convincing everyone that this is expanded universe territory – but make no mistake that this is pure prequel fare. With huge reservations after the dull and misjudged Rogue One (another SW film with production woes), I had very low expectations for a narrative filling in a back story that I had no interest in.


That said, Howard (with sci-fi and fantasy skills honed with Apollo 13 and Willow) does a pretty solid job at the helm as we are introduced to Han, who is part of a gang of youths under the protection of slimey space worm Lady Proxima. But he soon wants to leave his home planet for a new freedom with his lover Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke). However, whilst Han escapes to join the Empire’s war, Qi’ra is captured and returned home. Moving forward in time we catch up with Han as he tries to escape the violent war by selling his skills as a pilot to Woody Harrelson’s gang of outlaws. They intend to grab some McGuffin power sources to fulfil a contract to Paul Bettany’s facially scarred baddie Dryden Vos.


The film actually keeps things simple in the main and is all the better for it as we follow a likeable and active protagonist (unlike the charisma-free Jyn Erso) who takes his life decisions into his own hands. Alden Ehrenreich is very alluring as a young and cocky Solo – some hints of Harrison Ford’s legendary charisma are present – but mostly avoids a direct impression of the actor as he blags his way through risky plans and double-dealing hunters. If anything, in seedy caverns and bars, he at times will remind audiences of Indiana Jones rather than Han. Which is no bad thing.


The subtler nods to the franchise and the muddy-brown battle scenes feel a far better attempt at a Star Wars “war” film than Rogue One and I thoroughly enjoyed the real location work given my constant struggle with dodgy CGI. The light-hearted banter was fun, the characters were broad but understandable and although not hilarious, the dialogue avoided the under-cutting Marvel quips to make the characters well, actually, likeable.


But it’s not all good right? Well, yes there are some problems. It’s ultimately not needed as an entry into Star Wars lore, that much is true. Also, the Starship Troopers-style Empire recruitment video was a mess alongside (in the same scene no less) a reveal about the origin of Han’s surname so heavy handed it will draw groans.


Emilia Clarke returns later in the film and is passable after some worrisome performances (her stilted Sarah Connor in Terminator Genisys still grates) but Donald Glover certainly delivers as a young Lando. His space gambler is a mixture of sleaze and, strangely, sexuality that has him build more than a just a friendship with sarcastic freedom-fighting robot L3-37. It was also great to see Ron throw some romance back into the galaxy after the amicable friendships of the last 3 movies with a bit of frisson between Han and Qi’ra. And he also gives cameos both to his brother Clint and his Willow (and Star Wars) star Warwick Davis.


On a technical level, a slightly strange vignette-sepia colour palette with backlighting that sometimes drowned out the foreground characters was an enjoyable aesthetic but I predict some may think it doesn’t ‘sit’ well in the SW universe. The small sets were intimate yet underwhelming but they did remind me of the matinee style of the original films and this more compact story was a nice change from planet-destroying space battles.


As Han inevitably meets Chewie in a fun, if again unnecessary, prison break scene, the film ticks off its obligatory story beats whilst some surprises arrive in a lack of a Jabba appearance and a rather shocking Lucas-prequel reference. And after a rollicking rollercoaster heist on snowy mountainside (especially fun in 3-D it has to be said), the film heads towards a more interesting final third act with plenty of double-crossing character beats.


Solo is not perfect and as a prequel (yes, it is!) it just cannot compare to the forward-thinking joys of The Last Jedi but it is far more fun than Rogue One’s deathly hellscape of non-characters and forced fan service. Howard has done more than an admirable job with a production that was deep in trouble and his classic filmmaking style gives Solo some intimacy and old-fashioned movie making gloss. It won’t set the world alight – and I’m dreading the inevitable internet backlash – but ignore the haters as this is a fun, if a little undistinguished, family blockbuster.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2018 09:14AM

To celebrate a new year we asked our Twitter followers to retweet a competition tweet for a chance to win one copy of Carrie Fisher's book Shockaholic which details her acting past during the Star Wars years.


On 13th January we picked out one winner at random from all entrants and that winner is....


Twitter user @MadameNottm


CONGRATULATIONS!


Please get in touch to claim your prize and a big thank you from Midlands Movies to everyone who entered.


Stay in touch for more movie related competitions in the future!


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 15 2017 08:59AM



The Last Jedi (2017) Dir. Rian Johnson


WARNING: Contains spoilers


After the soft-reboot that was The Force Awakens and the misstep, for me, of the dull prequel Rogue One, with The Last Jedi comes Disney’s third foray into the galaxy far, far away with director Rian Johnson (Looper) stepping into the director’s chair.


We pick up where Force Awakens left us. Luke has banished himself on an island after failing to train Ben Solo, now Kylo Ren who is again played with evil ‘emo’ glee by Adam Driver. A courageous Rey (Daisy Ridley) is on a mission from the Resistance being tasked with coaxing the powerful Jedi back into action against the dastardly First Order. The internet was buzzing over what his (or her) first words would be. Two years in the making and every possible theory pored over and Johnson builds up tension with lingering shots on the two protagonists. And what are they? Well, essentially none. Cool-hand Luke slowly accepts his lightsaber in his robotic palm and then...simply chucks it over his shoulder and walks away.


And this favouring of the unexpected over the predictable is its winning formula and a metaphor for Johnson’s whole film. The moments an audience give assumed importance to are given little significance whilst the smaller details are given prominence throughout. Heck, Johnson provides an entire 10 minute battle sequence even before we return to the island and pick up the story JJ Abrams left us with.


Narrative wise, the film sticks to a basic plot where the resistance have been decimated to a few ships then go on the run tracked by huge star destroyers (now with a super-sized dreadnaught class version). Supreme Leader Snoke, another amazing Andy Serkis creation with pitch-perfect CGI, tasks Domnhall Gleeson’s pantomime Hux and Kylo Ren to continue their search for Rey in a bid to get her to turn to the dark side. The light-hearted family feel is there from the opening, the loveable rogue Poe Dameron, filling Harrison Ford’s shoes (AND clothes at times) delivers an overtly comedic exchange over a radio – again echoing Han in A New Hope. Despite its slightly awkward tone which made me fear “I have a bad feeling about this" it luckily settled down and Johnson balanced the light and dark with vigour.


As the resistance plans to infiltrate the First Order to stop their tracking device, John Boyega’s fantastic Finn gets a chance to shine as he joins feisty newcomer Kelly Marie Tran as Rose on a trip to Canto Bight and its wealthy casino patrons. Gambling on alien-horse races sees Johnson add a throwaway but thrilling CGI chase sequence which along with the city’s building design had the worrying look of the much maligned prequel trilogy. However, for me it felt as though it brought back the links between all trilogies which Johnson had fun in delivering. There’s also seeds sown of a wider universe with farm orphan slaves (“it’s like poetry, it rhymes”) being drawn into the events, perhaps helping to establish Johnson’s recently announced stand-alone trilogy. We’ll have to wait and see.


Rogue One’s fan-service appeared tokenistic but R2-D2’s playback of Star Wars’ original “you’re our only hope” message and a hugely surprising cameo from Yoda as a Force ghost were more than welcome. Context is everything and both served the story and I loved the fact the ghosts had returned for the first time since 1983’s Return of the Jedi.


However, at every turn the film swept me off my feet and pulled out something unexpected in each new scene. Expanding the myths of the force we see new powers including a resurrection and transcendence. Mark Hamill as Luke and the late Carrie Fisher as his sister Leia are both mesmerising in career defining performances and their coming together showed that amongst the battles, fights and comedy, the film’s tender emotional beats are what really draw you in.


Away from the nods, we get new creatures – the loveable puffin-like Porgs avoiding Jar Jar Binks levels of annoyance in the main – as well as new characters. Benicio Del Toro’s stuttering code-breaker and Laura Dern’s focused Vice Admiral are welcome additions with the latter’s sacrifice by flying a ship at lightspeed into another craft is one of the film’s visual highlights. With bombastic sounds being replaced with an eerie silence, the image is lingering and powerful. Alongside that, Snoke’s blood red throne room and a Kylo-Luke showdown showed the film’s cinematic ambitions were far more than space banter and franchise references.


In the end, this is epic blockbuster cinema at its very best. It would have been easy to follow the established pattern but the film sets up a precedent that anyone could be expendable which kept tension high. It also highlights how The Force Awakens, a film I hugely enjoyed, really didn’t tackle many new things yet this one twisted my expectations from the start.


With an expansion of its themes and both the classic and new characters finding their place The Last Jedi will hopefully satisfy super Star Wars nerds and general film audiences too. With such great filmmaking from Johnson, it’s a huge task to tackle the lore and the fan expectations of the infamous space opera, but the director more than comes through. Yet the main thing is the film is a lot of fun. Lots of unadulterated fun. And like the best cinema has to offer The Last Jedi leaves you both with a smile on your face and a lump in your throat.


10/10


Midlands Movies Mike



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