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By midlandsmovies, Feb 21 2020 10:31AM

Sonic The Hedgehog (2020) Dir. Jeff Fowler

In his theatrical directorial debut, American filmmaker Jeff Fowler, takes on the challenge of a live-action adaptation of one of the world’s most beloved video game characters, Sonic the Hedgehog.

The film opens with Sonic (Ben Schwartz), our blue hero, needing a quick escape from his home planet. His mentor, Longclaw, has encouraged the young hedgehog to hide his supersonic speed but he hasn’t listened. This has led to him being hunted by a tribe of Echidnas (some form of masked, dreadlocked anteaters). To avoid the tribe Longclaw provides Sonic with a bag of golden rings that allow him to transport to other worlds when in danger. Of course, this ultimately leads to Sonic ending up on Earth, alone.

10 years later and Sonic has managed to keep hidden from the people of Green Hills, Montana, until one day his loneliness gets the better of him and he makes a mistake that reveals him to the world. The U.S government then enlists the help of the evil Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey) in order to capture him. Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), the town sheriff discovers Sonic hiding out in his shed and agrees to help him escape Earth. To do this they must travel to San Francisco together to retrieve Sonic’s bag of golden rings.

It is very apparent throughout this film that it was made with a lot of affection and care for the character and his story. The film is full of small Easter eggs that will surely please fans of the franchise. After the first look trailer for this film was unveiled, there was outcry online over the, frankly terrifying, more close to real life interpretation of the character. Thankfully, the look of Sonic was altered to a more cartoonish style, much more fitting with the tone of the film. The care for the film is refreshing in a world of video game adaptations with next to no consideration for the original source material (see Super Mario Bros. (1993) for a clear example of this).

However, despite the love of the creators, this film never really gets past the word ‘generic’. Everything about the narrative, the jokes, the character arcs is all completely predictable. I found myself guessing the gags before the dialogue had even been spoken. This doesn’t mean the film isn’t fun to a point but I would have liked to see a more innovative take on a live-action video game adaptation. This lack of innovation presents itself wholly in an action scene in a bar that seems to have taken rather a large influence from the Quicksilver fight sequence in X Men: Days of Future Past (2014).

Another issue I had with the narrative was that I couldn’t get over the fact that Sonic could simply run to San Francisco in a fraction of the time the road trip takes, rather than sit in the passenger seat of a 4x4 with a human slowing him down. Of course, sometimes in films aimed at younger audiences you’re forced to take leaps, so maybe I’ll have to let that one pass.

Despite my gripes with the film, I didn’t hate it. I thought the performances added a lot. Jim Carrey as Robotnik unsurprisingly bought a lot of his animated energy to the role, which suits itself well with this type of film. Another standout was Ben Schwartz as Sonic, he bought the same snarky teen attitude that the character has always possessed in video games over the years. His chemistry with James Marsden also worked well, emphasising the reoccurring theme of friendship and making it all the more believable.

Ultimately, Sonic the Hedgehog doesn’t break the curse of video game big screen adaptations however it ticks all of the generic boxes for an easily watchable family film. It doesn’t stretch for anything beyond mediocrity with it’s run of the mill jokes and narrative. However, I’m sure it’s easily quotable dialogue and colourful storytelling will resonate well with younger audiences.


Jake Evans

Twitter @Jake_Evans1609

By midlandsmovies, Jul 30 2018 08:56AM


2018 - Directed by Sheikh Shahnawaz

Filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz returns with a new short that presents one man’s dependency on a virtual life that has some serious repercussions back in the real world.

Sheikh has become a bit of a machine on the Midlands movie scene himself. With 4 shorts already released in 2018 (reviews of his films Duality, Sleepless, Blackmail and Witness can be found here), the director has previously stated his prolific production stance to try his hand at a variety of film styles with little budget and crew.

And here he tackles some well edited special effects in this thoughtful short concerning the side-effects of spending too much time online.

The film begins with a bit of background about a small of squad of players involved in the online game Fortnite. For those unfamiliar with the game (myself included), Fortnite is a mass online brawl with 100 players dropped on an island who fight until only one remains – akin to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games.

We are introduced to a cyborg (Nazgore), a sniper (Thorax) and a steampunk dancer (GetRekd69) who are an “unstoppable” force within the game. However, this powerful squad contrasts with the lonely man we see playing as Nazgore as we cut to Noah (Gurjeet Singh) in a dark room staring at his computer screen. His solitary figure is only drawn out of his game by the sound of his 6am alarm as he says goodbye to his online teammates before going to work.

At work, his boss (Nisaro Karim) wants to insert some last minute information into a big presentation but Noah is distracted as he sees his avatar from the game come to life in the office. The film uses good special effects to insert the pixelated characters into the film and as he returns to his house, the other characters appear throughout different rooms.

“We’ve been waiting for you” says one of the avatars as he runs upstairs to escape. Tormented by these manifestations and physically and emotionally drained, Noah exits his game. But before long, after a takeaway for one and avoiding the task of completing the boss’ request on his laptop, he is compelled back for another game.

A tiny few wardrobe issues aside – a professional suit rather than a cardigan would be a better fit for a boss pressuring his employee, whilst a wedding ring on Noah’s had undercuts his lonely demeanour – the film gets straight to the point regarding the themes of gaming addiction.

Like 2018’s Ready Player One from Steven Spielberg, the complex interaction between our real life and online personas are explored here. The music by SavFK is also a good electronic pulsing soundtrack that becomes more ominous as the protagonist begins losing his grip on reality.

In March 2018, the Guardian newspaper suggested the game’s elements are combined into a free downloadable package which makes it easy to join and stick with. And the concept of “video game addiction is contentious within the medical community”. However, the film’s ideas suggest a blurring of lines between reality and fantasy that could have an effect on vulnerable individuals.

Gamer therefore traverses an intricate set of ideas about compulsion, cravings and enslavement to technology. Whilst Sheikh has certainly provided the Midlands with a quantity of short films, the director doesn’t shy from quality productions across genres that provide food for thought. And that’s one habit I’d happily return to time and again.

Mike Sales

Watch the full short below:

By midlandsmovies, Jul 29 2017 07:56AM

The Jock and The Chav (2017) Dir. Jon David Ellison

Filmed round the back of my flat (literally) in the Cultural Quarter of Leicester, this new comedy action film incorporates a fight involving two stock characters straight out of the stereotype play book.

However, what makes this film unique is a nod to 90s computer arcade fight games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat as filmmaker Jon Ellison tries to recreate the look and the sound of the era.

As the first combatant enters the fray, the crowd boo and jeer and cleverly, appear to repeat the same background motions like a programmed sprite from the Mega-Drive era.

With the Far East influences of Nintendo and others, a second (and much bulkier) fighter enters the fray and after a “have a fair fight” warning the competition begins. Here, the film adds video game power bars for each fighter and the side-on/locked-off shot is a great recreation of the layout of retro fighting games.

The film even includes some (basic) special effects as a lighter becomes a Ryu-style flame attack although the film did stray away at times from the video-game format. One such cutaway was to two cheerleaders which slightly distracted from the style already established. That said, the sequences are used for laughs and the home-made nature gave the film low-budget charm.

The voice-dubbing was a little off sync as well – although you could argue it fitted with badly-dubbed Asian Kung-Fu style it harked back to – so again, it may have been an intentional choice.

Director Ellison has made a number of shorts prior to this film, which have included a short featuring stop-motion balloons and straight-to-the-point title, “What F*@!er Said That”, which have all included a fast-paced style combined with dark humour and comedy.

A bit rough and ready, and definitely in need of some tighter editing, it’s clearly a low budget feature and some opening shots could have benefited from a tripod or tracking shot but the sketchy technical nature fits in with the humorous tone.

A little Scott Pilgrim here, a little Fast Show “Long Big Punch Up” there, The Jock and the Chav had me smiling with only the technical side letting it down. Its dollop of fun was a refreshing addition to the local comedy film-making community (see also Flip You in Leicester) and combined with his other films, Ellison has a Kentucky Fried Movie of sketches and skits to play with in future.

Midlands Movies Mike

Watch the full short here:

By midlandsmovies, Sep 22 2016 10:56AM

Midlands Movies Film Catch Up Blog 2016 Part 2

Continuing on from this blog here, we're reviewing some of the films that have come and gone over summer and now are ready for a UK home release soon.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) Dir. Bryan Singer

I thoroughly enjoy the X-Men series and after a few missteps (the godawful ‘Wolverine: Origins’ film) the series returns again after the fantastic ‘First Class’ and ‘Days of Future Past’. Unfortunately this proves to be a bit of a dud despite all the good ingredients included. ‘Days of Future Past’ used the young/old versions of the characters to bridge past inconsistencies but the re-introducing of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler and Angel felt like going over old ground. The plot involving Oscar Isaac’s super-mutant Apocalypse is convoluted and an over-abundance of CGI leads to a clichéd city-destruction climax seen many times before. The X-Men films have always been one of the best to balance the serious and the fun aspects of superhero mythology. Singer’s focus on acceptance, difference and internal and external conflicts kept it aloft the glossy and superficial Marvel Universe in most instances. However, here the silly visuals take centre stage much to the film’s detriment. A fan-service Wolverine cameo is unwelcome and the standout moment was once again Quicksilver’s slow motion action sequence set to Sweet Dreams by the Eurythmics - but even this sequence harked back to what went before. Neither a crushing disappointment nor a well-executed summer blockbuster, Singer’s Apocalypse has mostly ditched the subtleties of the past and delivered a day of repeated motifs with little originality or aesthetic flair. An underwhelming piece of ‘X-meh’. 6/10

Warcraft: The Beginning (2016) Dir. Duncan Jones

What was he thinking? After his interesting debut ‘Moon’ followed by the Quantum Leap-alike Source Code, director Duncan Jones was carving out a cool career as the master of interesting sci-fi stories told with a focus on twisty narrative and character. But in his decision to embark on video game adaptation Warcraft, I feel he’s made a huge blunder for a once focused filmmaker whose themes were mysterious and multi-layered. Sadly, there’s no such depth here in a video game adaptation so faithful it looks like a video game. The entirely constructed CGI world with Shrek-like Orcs and green-screen humans has all the depth of a Dungeons and Dragons cartoon. Whether it was studio demands, an overwhelming budget or a need to stick to gamers’ expectations, Jones’ individual flair is rarely seen in this duffer. This (essentially) animated film may provide a few thrills for fans of the game but for everyone else it is more John Carter than Lord of the Rings and anyone but the youngest of viewers will feel ostracised by its nerdy references to the game itself. A sad flop from the once promising director, I hope Jones returns to some original source material and avoids any follow up the studio may have plans for. Let’s hope the new excuse for unnecessary sequels – “the original did well in China” – fails to come true here, as I am already hoping for the end to Warcraft: The Beginning. 4/10

Money Monster (2016) Dir. Jodie Foster

George Clooney returns as a shallow TV stockmarket analyst whose bravado and confidence is taken to task when an angry man, who has lost money on a recent stock crash, takes the broadcaster hostage. Julia Roberts makes this an Ocean’s Eleven reunion as the producer of the show who decides to continue airing the programme despite the host’s life in the balance. Clooney is his likeable self in the main – despite his character having huge arrogance issues – and local Midlands actor Jack O'Connell is superb as the angry young loser trying to find out where his money is and why his life went wrong. The story attempts, not always successfully, to parallel one company’s perils with the lack of real-life responsibility taken by big banks and government but like Clooney’s stock recommendations – they are generally superficial and short-sighted. The conspiracy plot involving African workers' unions spins off into James Bond territory although I enjoyed the tension created by Foster at the station itself. Ultimately forgettable, Money Monster raises a few stakes and will keep most audiences mildly invested for a few hours. It’s only the actors’ likeability which overcomes the wealth of convoluted and fusty plot ideas. 6/10

De Palma (2016) Dir. Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow

As one of the New Generation of Hollywood filmmakers from the 70s along with Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and Coppola, De Palma’s involvement in movie history is almost second to none. Often decried as a Hitchcock impersonator, this documentary reveals a much more grounded, interesting and commercial director than many would know about The documentary may be simple, even to a fault for some, as the directors merely place De Palma in front of a fireplace and record his thoughts as he ‘reviews’ his oeuvre, splicing his stories with clips from the films themselves. Over his 40 year career, De Palma talks about his films with fondness and nostalgia but never once shies from his failures, missteps and even laughs at some of his decisions and commercial flops. Addressing his life’s work with emotion and humanity, film fans in particular will lap up the stories as he recants tales from his films. These include horror classic Carrie (the auditions for which were done jointly with Lucas for Star Wars), the underappreciated Blow Out, the violence of Scarface and the box office draws that are The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. From Carrie’s jumpy final scene, via De Niro’s Al Capone, to Tom Cruise’s CIA break-in, De Palma’s legacy as a filmmaker has been assured with a genre-hopping career with unforgettable cinematic images. De Palma is a fantastic documentary although non-fans may not be engaged enough by the very simple stylistic approach. But for those wanting to get an insightful and, more importantly, honest review of someone’s life, De Palma lets the director do all of the talking. And that is a huge benefit when you’re as engaging and amiable as he is. 8/10

Midlands Movies Mike

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