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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”.

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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


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