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By midlandsmovies, Dec 13 2018 03:28PM

Venom (2018) Dir. Ruben Fleischer

Upgrade (2018) Dir. Leigh Whannell

A two-for-one double review for films that have a two-for-one protagonist as we see Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy-lookalike Logan Marshall-Green both appearing in high-concept action films where they are fused with powers they end up speaking with.

First up, Venom sees Tom Hardy’s roving reporter Eddie Brock get ‘infected’ by an alien symbiote to create a powerful anti-hero who, violently, is trying to do the right thing against Riz Ahmed’s evil scientist. Broad strokes are the name of the game here as we get the superhero origin story with evil genius, concerned ex-girlfriend and transformation scenes so by-the-numbers the plot could have been designed on an abacus. Michelle Williams plays Brock’s girlfriend in a wasted role and the film is astonishing in how it can take three of the best actors working today and give them literally nothing to work with at all.

A selection of so-so action sequences are dotted throughout and the film improves immensely when Venom finally appears as a foul-mouthed monster that argues with his host Brock. But sadly this is far too late in the film and the CGI Venom design is only about 5% better than its 2007 iteration in Spider-Man 3. And, in all honesty, had me wishing I was watching that film at times instead. Sadly the director Fleischer has never been able to recreate that rush of fun and horror from his first film Zombieland, the tone of which is solely needed here in his latest film.

So moving on, earlier this year we also had another action body horror in the form of Upgrade. Logan Marshall-Green, who funnily enough is already in the MCU Spidey-verse with a brief appearance in Spider-Man: Home-Coming, stars as Grey Trace (which sounds a bit like Topher Grace who was Venom in Raimi's three-quel) who after being paralysed in a brutal attack – which also sees his girlfriend killed – is implanted with a bionic chip. This AI called STEM is designed by Elon Musk, no wait, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson) and is surgically inserted into Trace’s body which allows him to regain control of his limbs.

STEM then “speaks” into his mind directly and the two (?) go on a revenge spree to serve justice to those who attacked him. The AI quickly learns vicious fighting techniques and before long, the duo are picking off the assailants. The film however takes its ridiculous premise far too serious at times. In the hands of a sci-fi auteur like Paul Verhoeven Upgrade could have mixed the balance better by giving the whole film a satirical bite. As it is, the fight scenes are fun but sparse and the dramatic sequences dull and bland. With the film spiralling into a confusing high-tech plot, the narrative “discoveries” can be seen from a mile away and frankly any time when the film begins its exploration into society/tech-fears it lost momentum.

So, with Venom’s (frankly unbelievable) $852.7 million box office takings and Upgrade’s innovative but flawed genre goals, somewhere between the two films a good movie may have emerged from the Hardy/Marshall-Green soup. If I was forced to pick I slightly preferred the originality of Upgrade’s idea but with that worldwide gross, I know which flick we’ll be seeing more of in the inevitable sequel which is a shame.

Venom 6/10

Upgrade 6.5/10

Mike Sales

By midlandsmovies, Aug 6 2017 07:02PM

Dunkirk (2017) Dir. Christopher Nolan

Allied soldiers are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during World War II.

Between May 26th and June 4th in 1940, 400,000 British soldiers found themselves surrounded on the beach of Dunkirk with no ships to take them home. Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill put the call out to the public that their boys needed help, and so help came. They aimed for 30,000 boats, but got 300,000 in a feat that remains just as astonishing today is it did back then.

Straight away I’ll come out and say that Dunkirk is probably the best war film I’ve ever seen. Christopher Nolan has done a fantastic job with this film. I absolutely loved it! I think we have a serious contender for Oscars here with this one, although I am unsure whether any will be for the acting because of the ensemble line-up.

There were so many great performances in this film, and what was so good about it was those making their acting debuts got as much screen time as the more experienced cast members. Fionn Whitehead was excellent. You really got the impression of a young boy way out of his depth with his performance.

Harry Styles is actually capable of some decent acting - who’d have thought it? And then you have the people who we could refer to as the veterans in this particular film. Cillian Murphy gave a very good performance as one of the soldiers who were rescued out at sea. The shock and pain that he was experiencing was something that you felt as well. Mark Rylance played Mr Dawson, one of the civilians closely followed in the film.

I think if any of the cast are to be nominated for any awards and are likely to win, it will be him. I think his was the most complex character of the lot because I think he helped to show the impact the war had back home, yet how much the public were willing to do. Finally, I would just like to kindly point out that Tom Hardy was in this film and I can conclude that he has done more acting with just his eyes during his career than anyone else has done with their whole body. 

While performances were a key part of the film, what set it apart from so many other war films were all the other elements that contribute to the film-making process. The cinema screening I went to was truly immersive, and I didn’t even see it in IMAX, so you can imagine how much more mind-blowing it would’ve been if I had.

The sound was awesome, making you feel as though the bombs were being dropped metres from you. The camera work for all of the scenes with the fighter jets was on another level entirely. When the planes moved, the camera moved with it (maybe not recommended for those with motion sickness, but hey, sometimes you just have to toughen up a little), and as I was watching these scenes unfold, I found myself moving with the picture. It was honestly like being in a flight simulator at times - phenomenal cinematography.

Of course, with this being a Christopher Nolan film, which means it was never going to be a simple, run-of-the-mill beginning, middle and end narrative. This was one thing I had been slightly concerned about because my little head has been unable to wrap itself around some of the plots in his previous films. However, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to inform you that even I managed to figure the timeline out here, and also believe it to have greatly enhanced the film as it gave it a real-time, play by play vibe, which added to the feeling that you were right there in the middle of the action.

Overall, Dunkirk is a knock-out. It’s a grown-up film that can be enjoyed by the younger generations, and works to give a three-dimensional view of how events played out during this amazing operation that took place in WWII. It combines terrific performances with a score that ratchets tension perfectly, and visuals that place you right at the heart of the action. Has Nolan excelled himself here? Hell yeah!


Kira Comerford


By midlandsmovies, Mar 20 2016 10:15PM

Midlands Movies celebrated a fantastic year for acting superstar Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Legend, Mad Max) with a spring competition.

In March 2016, we gave our readers a chance to win a copy of Bronson starring Mr. Hardy that was partially shot around locations in Nottingham. With the regional connection and a powerhouse performance from Hardy this is a must-have for any Tom completists out there.

To enter we asked readers to simply head over to Twitter to follow us and share our competition Tweet.

With over 300 entrants there could be just one winner who was drawn at random on Sunday 20th March and the winner is....

Twitter user.... @wlsnjk - Jake Wilson

Congratulations - get in touch for your prize.

They will join previous lucky competition folk on the Prize Winners Blog:


Thanks to everyone for entering and more competition and film prizes coming soon.

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Sep 19 2015 01:09PM

Legend (2015) Dir. Brian Helgeland

A pair of dirty mobsters…talk to me! Grisly gangland gruesomeness abound in this new film from writer/director Brian Helgeland (Payback, writer of Mystic River & LA Confidential)about the notorious Kray twins who glamorised and terrorised London in the swinging sixties.

Excitingly, the grim brothers are played by the skilful Tom Hardy, an actor who balances art-house indie ventures with huge blockbuster roles such as Mad Max & The Dark Knight Rises and here he gives a Jekyll & Hyde performance as Reggie and Ronnie. Reggie is shown as the calmer of the two (though that’s not saying much) whilst Ron’s psychotic tendencies explode in violence, ramblings and a fragile mental state.

Already denounced by those who were there as a bit of a whitewash (the brothers were less of an extreme and collaborated more than they conflicted) the film leaves a certain amount of reality at the door to create a more compelling narrative. The film’s centre point is Reggie’s marriage to Frances Shea who is played with wide-eyed innocence by Emily Browning and focuses on their fiery relationship. The film contrasts the bloody violence of warring gangs, nasty fights and under the table dodgy nightclub dealings with the “ordinary” life of the couple and the turmoil both lives bring as they intertwine.

Hardy is on magnificent form here though. Whilst Paul Bettany is wasted in a brief appearance, Hardy steals the show with a fantastic attempt to differentiate the characters enough whilst the technical effect to place the actor in each scene is so seamless that you do not give it a second thought. Reminding yourself that it is in fact two actors, the film is Hardy-centric but suffers whenever he is off screen. Luckily he’s in most of the scenes in some way. Chris Eccleston plays a copper trying to bring the brothers to justice but it’s hardly a beefy plot point and could have done with a bit more screen time as he pops up randomly after being introduced in the first scene. I’m thinking something more akin to the cat and mouse of Hanks-DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can.

That’s merely speculation though as the film follows the brothers through the major points in their life with increasing tension and fighting (both with others and within the gang). One negative is clearly the pantomime nature of some of the characters. Subtlety is sometimes thrown from the window as Hardy’s version of Ronnie veers close to TV’s ‘Phonejacker’ Terry Tibbs with comedy cockney banter and rather odd dialogue. That said, a scene within a bar was a hilarious back and forth that literally had me in tears of laughter (intentional? I don’t know) before descending into a bloody and bruising battle in a boozer.

One thing to mention is that it clearly has influences from Goodfellas. Long tracking shots of Reggie & Frances entering a bar and sitting at a table appeared a direct reference whilst the atmospheric lounge music appeared similar to Scorsese’s use of popular tunes sound-tracking his scenes.

Not flinching from Ronnie’s homosexuality, the film also shows the demons that plagued both brothers coming to terms with their situation but eventually both of them succumb to their worst instincts.

Legend is a film that won’t be vying for best gangster flick anytime soon and sometimes Hardy is the only watchable thing in it but that is no bad thing at all. Taking two roles and blending them for comedy and tragedy, this is Hardy’s picture throughout and it’s a slight shame the film isn’t as narratively entertaining as that. With wit, heartbreak and brutality vying for their positions in the film, Legend is a tonal jumble but one that can be forgiven when it’s done this entertaining.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 25 2015 02:25PM

Child 44 (2015) Dir. Daniel Espinosa

Set during the Stalinist years of the Soviet Union, this drama-mystery is based on the 2008 novel about a Ministry of State Security Agent called Leo (Tom Hardy) who uncovers some brutal child murders in Moscow.

Later, Leo’s wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) is accused of state disloyalty and they are both sent to the impoverished and industrial town of Volsk under the command of Gary Oldman’s General Nesterov. As more crimes are uncovered, the state attempts to supress the killings (only capitalist ‘pig-dogs’ create serial killers apparently) but Hardy and Rapace travel between Volsk and Moscow, using the same train line as the murderer appears to be, to find out what is going on.

If this all sounds very intriguing, it really isn’t. We haven’t got the intended “whodunit” thriller but more of a “who ruined it”. I can only guess the book was better but in all honesty the film was bum-numbingly dull. With so much talent (Paddy Considine and Jason Clarke also appear) and Hardy reprising his partnership with Rapace from their turn in The Drop earlier this year, I really expected much better.

Oppressive Eastern European regimes can make interesting film subjects – just see The Lives of Others – and additionally, Rapace’s investigations in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have seen her thrust into murderous mysteries before. However, unlike those and The Changeling – whose historic missing/murdered children plot was shot with minimal fuss by Clint Eastwood – this long drawn out affair has little intrigue, suspense or tension. The drama becomes a series of slow sequences haphazardly put together and the brown-ish colour palette, rather than giving the film an archaic sepia-esque quality, further dulls the senses.

Hardy gives us his “gruff-macho” voice again (see also Lawless, Mad Max, ‘Bane’, The Drop etc) and although criticised by some, the heavy and stereotypical Russian accents used by everyone didn’t bother me as much as the English accents of the Nazis in Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie.

Although it has an amazing cast doing their best with leaden dialogue, Child 44 has a tediously sluggish narrative that turns what could have been an intriguing look at a despotic state into a viewing experience akin to forced labour. With 3 actors from 2012’s Lawless (Hardy, Oldman & Clarke), the film is less Lawless and more lifeless. A tedious bore.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 2 2015 01:36PM

The Drop (2014) Dir. Michaël R. Roskam

Based on Dennis “Gone Baby, Gone/Shutter Island” Lehane's short story "Animal Rescue", this film is the last performance of James Gandolfini who sadly passed away in 2013 but he left us on a high in this great urban thriller. Brit Tom Hardy plays bartender Bob at a Brooklyn bar which is used as a “drop” point for illegal goings-on in the neighbourhood. One night Bob finds a beaten-up puppy in a dumpster and nurses the pit bull back to health but the mutt belongs to the ex-boyfriend of Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and their connection starts a new friendship but also brings him into contact with local hoods. Bob and his cousin Marv (Gandolfini) then get robbed one night by two masked men and the Chechen owners of the bar force Bob and Marv to come up with the missing cash.

Hardy is all distant, almost mono-syllabic and a gentle giant with his new dog Rocco but his piercing performance underlies a hidden anger which, as the events unfold, begin to bubble to the surface. With Hardy and Rapace struggling with their ‘Noo Yawk’ accents, they keep their dialogue to hushed whispers and grunts but this was a minor point in an otherwise solid gangster tale. Hardy is always watchable, Gandolfini gives a Soprano-lite show which helps ground the tale and I have enjoyed Rapace since her appearances in Dragon Tattoo (original) and Prometheus. I thought the film had a lot of tension with some superb scenes holding this reviewer on the edge of his seat. As people are threatened from all angles, the movie’s plot twists and turns throughout and will keep your interest as it barrels towards a much more violent finale.

Drop into see this one when it's released for home viewing in late Januarry 2015.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 9 2014 03:00AM

Locke (2014) Dir. Steven Knight

This low-key British film has arrived with relatively little fanfare despite starring hot property Tom Hardy (Dark Knight Rises, Inception), and to be fair that is probably for the best as on the surface it is simply him driving around for a good 80+ minutes while talking on his hands free set, no doubt proving a marketing nightmare, however this film is much more than that. A stark departure from Knights first directed feature film Hummingbird, although still visually precise and perfectly executed, Locke differs as it relies heavily on a strong, engaging and dramatic script following Ivan Locke (Hardy), a construction manager leaving work and heading off down the motorway for an initially unspecified reason (no spoilers here) while the conversations he is about to have change his life entirely.

Due to the concept of the film even a strong script would not be enough to ensure success and praise has to go to Hardy’s ability to convey emotion and character while maintaining the viewer’s interest for the duration especially as one-man films can quickly become tiresome. This film has a lot of drama but sadly little replay value, potentially more a TV movie which would be congruent with Knight's background although despite this it will nevertheless prove an engaging & captivating watch for many. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Marek

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