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By midlandsmovies, Oct 2 2019 12:30PM

Dark Phoenix (2019) Dir. Simon Kinberg

Oh, X-Men! * sigh * The inconsistent and frustrating franchise continues with its focus on making either cracking or crappy blockbusters and with the recent purchase of X-owners 20th Century Fox by Disney (Marvel) this is no doubt the last we’ll see of this incarnation. And what a poor effort to say goodbye with.

In his feature directorial debut, the inexperienced Kinberg attempts to deliver a new adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne's "The Dark Phoenix Saga". As the writer of X-Men: The Last Stand, Kinberg has already had one shot at this story so he’s given it a more faithful spin, right?

Well, the story opens with a flashback (like Last Stand) and young Jean Grey’s powers are a source of frustration for her parents before we find that Professor X puts her in protective state to supress her abilities (like Last Stand).

After an accident in space sees her powers get stronger, an older Jean has a fight in suburbia with the X-gang soon arriving on the street to try and stop her (like Last Stand). And it’s not too long before the whole sequence finishes with the death of a major character passing away (like Last Stand). Get it yet? In fact it’s so familiar territory that it’s just short of a remake.

And although it’s essentially the same material, I wonder why it in fact is so much worse. But the performances are phoned it, the drama is underwhelming to the point of non-existence and Jessica Chastain’s pasty white non-villain Vuk is the blandest since Malekith the Dark Elf in Thor: The Dark World.

The underwhelming fiery ending with people turning to dust (like Last Stand) leads the film to sit comfortably alongside the first two Wolverine flicks as the most unmemorable in this universe. A few exciting scenes (Quicksilver and Nightcrawler’s powers during the shuttle accident being the best by far) were sadly not enough to keep my interest.

Gone are James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s morally ambiguous arcs, Jennifer Lawrence’s internal conflicts and Evan Peters’ quirky quips as Quicksilver. And sadly Sophie Turner is no Famke Janssen either. Any attempts to inject the dull A-to-B story with deeper themes and meanings fall flat at every turn too.

So what a sad way to go out really. With our fantastic responses to Logan and Days of Future Past, the X-Men world appeared to be rejuvenated but with this and Apocalypse (review), the miserable fact is that this is a terribly wretched way to end a series I've enjoyed immensely over the years.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, May 28 2018 12:59PM

Deadpool 2 (2018) Dir. David Leitch

After losing the first film’s director (Tim Miller) to the Cameron produced Terminator franchise (good luck with that as lord knows it needs some help), the sequel to 2016’s surprisingly knowingly violent superhero flick was left in the hands of David Leitch. As either director or co-director of both John Wick and Atomic Blonde, Leitch has certainly got the action chops and he brings his kinetic aesthetic to another outing from Ryan Reynold’s ‘merc with a mouth’.

[slight spoiler] In this film, Deadpool blames himself for the death of his partner Vanessa and after a suicide attempt he joins with X-Men’s Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead to help contain a young orphaned mutant Russell/Firefist (Julian Dennison from Hunt for the Wilderpeople). But after a standoff, both Wade and the vengeful youth get taken to a prison where collars are attached to supress their powers.

At the same time, Cable (Josh Brolin) travels through time to prevent disaster (“that’s just lazy writing”) as we discover the Russell of the future uses his powers to kill others – including Cable’s family. After a breakout from prison sees Wade recruit potential new superheroes to his cause – in a sequence that owes more than a nod to 1999’s Mystery Men – he creates a new team called X-Force. This group includes Domino (a fantastic Zazie Beetz whose power is pure ‘luck’) Terry Crews as Bedlam, Lewis Tan as Shatterstar, Bill Skarsgård as Zeitgeist and Rob Delaney as a regular guy called Peter.

Ryan’s ad-libbed dialogue is still present but my gripe with the first film was that the endless snide comments and pop-culture references made it feel particularly smug. This follow up mostly avoids that with a script focusing more on narrative and the inclusion of extra characters takes some of the attention away from Ryan’s endless quips.

A James Bond-style opening with Celine Dion ballad “Ashes” sets up the film with its brand of irreverent humour and its use of varied and inappropriate musical cues. AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” is pure Iron Man territory but is a stonker of a tune which attempts to pump up the audience for a parachute jump during X-Force’s heist plans.

As well the action and comedy, Josh Brolin brings the same nuances that he brought to his other Marvel villain this summer and I have to admit I was waiting for a Thanos reference throughout and got the requisite nod before the end. Although he’s not given a great deal, Brolin adds more depth than is written and he’s without a doubt infinitely better than the awful unforgettable turn by Ed Skrein from the first.

Brilliant cameos at the X-Mansion and a hilariously excellent meta-nod to the film’s timeline during the end credits – both in this universe and others – are just two of many standout comedy sequences but with the addition of some emotional heft I enjoyed this ride a lot as it zips along at a pace.

For me, the film wasn’t helmed in by the origin story problem and, although not on the same level of quality, it sits alongside Spider-Man 2 and X-Men 2 as far better sequels than their origin films. Dark humour, screwball sequences and a great ensemble cast, Deadpool 2 again plays like the naughty child to the MCU’s high-achieving big brother but if you want less schmaltz and more obscenity, this superhero sequel delivers it in huge dirty doses.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Mar 13 2017 09:30PM

Logan (2017) DIr. James Mangold

As soon as Johnny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ strummed its way into the trailer, I got a sense that man-sized tissues would be needed for Logan. Just in case I got something in my eye. Wolverine’s weariness and Professor X’s aged vulnerability foreshadowed a last stand which would carry more emotional heft and heartbreak than X-Men 3, albeit hopefully for slightly different reasons.

Wolverine’s final fight finds Logan (Jackman) trapped in anonymity: grinding at a chauffeur job to finance Charles Xavier’s treatment for the senility and seizures which have turned his mind into a weapon of mass destruction, whilst Logan’s own body is slowly poisoned by the Adamantium that powers him.

However, the introduction of Laura (Dafne Keen), the escaped experiment formerly known as X-23, puts the kibosh on their exit strategy as she leads her previous owners straight to the self-exiled former X-Men. With Pierce (Holbrook) and the cyborg Reavers in hot pursuit, Logan begrudgingly drags X and X-23 across America in search of the near-mythical Eden, where mutants can supposedly seek sanctuary.

The resulting escape in Logan’s indestructible limousine is edge-of-your-car-seat stuff that injects a sense of frustrating realism and urgency to an audience accustomed to seeing GTA-style car chases. The dismembering of baddies is laugh out loud enjoyable too and X-23 more than proves her metal with her claws well and truly out. Here, the true grit promised by the trailer and the 15 age certificate is in abundance as the Wolverine is truly let loose: limbs leave bodies, henchmen are halved and there’s more grunting than a Tom Hardy Taboo super-cut (roll on Mangold’s rumoured black and white version).

However, whereas Logan’s brutality in 2000’s X-Men was shocking and stood apart, the audience quickly becomes desensitized to the selection of skewered heads on offer here, leaving the more human moments to connect. Almost.

That the seal on the tissues remained unbroken is perhaps more an indication of the fleetingness of superhero cinema. Hugh Jackman’s anti-hero has self-healed from the wounds of reboots, spin-offs and alternate timelines so this being his onscreen swansong resonates more than the demise of the character himself. All the ingredients are there: Logan’s relationship with Patrick Stewart’s infirm Xavier is touching and shows a tenderness previously unseen, whilst his role reversed turn as a father figure to Laura sees him move closer to the feeling of family that he’s been so afraid of.

Affecting, yes, but it just doesn’t deliver the “POW” that the trailer had me hoping for. Call me cynical, but it’s the sense that perhaps this isn’t really the end for Wolverine; the sense that the resurrection has probably already been “writing roomed” that takes away some of the poignancy. While mirror universes and Earth 2’s are a comic book staple, a sated sense of finality they do not create and I wonder how long it will be before we hear of the sound of snikts again.

That aside, this is the finest X-Men outing yet and a near-perfect presentation of a jaded, aging, flawed hero. Let’s hope those behind The Batman are watching.


Robb Sheppard

By midlandsmovies, Nov 8 2016 07:00PM

In November 2016 Midlands Movies held a competition to tie in with the UK home release of X-Men: Apocalypse on DVD & Blu-Ray by giving away a Marvel X-Men Enclyopedia Book for fans to read about the comic origins of the superhero group.

We've pulled out one winner at random to take home the prize on the X-Men day of release (7th November) and the lucky prize recipient is....

Twitter user - AllesKlar71


Get in touch to receive your prize and a big thank you to all the entrants.

More prize competitions coming soon!

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

By midlandsmovies, May 10 2014 04:00AM

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Dir. Bryan Singer

Inspired by Chris Claremont /John Byrne's X-Men comic, "Days of Future Past" (Uncanny X-Men #141 &142 from 1981) the movie brings back original helmer Bryan Singer who returns to the franchise that could be argued kick-started the now epic Marvel superhero club. Set in the 70s (Logan’s sideboards now fashionably cool), the cast of Matthew Vaughan’s First Class reprise their historical roles alongside the modern day versions played by Jackman, Page, Berry and co and for this seventh (!) film I wondered if they could come up with something relevant? Well, with enough (read: loads of) nods to all the films whether it be cameos, pictures, or during conversations, nearly every X-Men that hasn’t died (and some that have) gets a bit of screen time which keeps the movie moving at a high pace. The story concerns itself with Trask Industries who have used Mystique’s shape-shifting DNA to create adaptable Sentinels that are hunting mutants (and any human helpers) in a dark future.

This future incidentally looks a little like Tron: Legacy and Kitty Pride uses enhanced powers to place Logan’s conscience in a younger version of himself to get the X-Men to change the past to stop the current future playing out. Got it? Well, the multiple story strands actually work well together and there’s enough exposition and cross-cutting to explain the plot but as blockbusters go, it’s the action sequences and great head-to-heads that linger most in the cerebrum. Peter Dinklage stars as the villain Trask (although it isn’t as clear cut as it should be) and Logan enlists the help of Beast, Xavier and new guy Quicksilver, with super speed powers to put a stop to the seemingly inevitable. It is a sequence that involves unleashing Magneto that Singer shows his directorial flair as we see Quicksilver’s speed in a slow-mo action sequence that is inventive, funny and looks amazing with mostly in-camera effects.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the site, this franchise work so much better as a group than any standalone film and this new ensemble raises the bar for The Avengers sequel as it acts as both prequel and sequel (300 Rise of an Empire tried this as did more critically acclaimed Godfather Part 2) but the many characters are handled well by the director throughout. Avengers 2 will also have a version of Quicksilver (!) but Singer has thrown down the power gauntlet with his interpretation of the character. With consequences wiping out certain futures and starting others, the multi-verse nature of the movie essentially stops any fan-boy continuity niggles (something most viewers wouldn’t care about anyway) and Fassbender, McAvoy and Jackman are given the best lines with the future Xavier and Magneto (Stewart and McKellan) a little underused. With further great set pieces including another White House attack echoing past struggles and some jail breaks, aeroplane spinning and excellent fist fights with Mystique and Beast – Singer returns to basic but effective punch-up choreography - DOFP is the perfect balance of familiar old themes/faces and a new direction which wipes away any memories of past mis-steps.

8.5/10 MM Mike

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