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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, Nov 25 2019 09:03AM



Midlands Review - Invasion Planet Earth


Directed by Simon Cox


2019


Invasion Planet Earth


Alpha Star Creative Productions


A number of children in the 1980s recreating their favourite TV show ‘Kaleidoscope Man’ (this film’s previous title in fact) opens new sci-fi feature Invasion Planet Earth from Midlands director Simon Cox.


This clever parody is a fun way to start a feature that contains more than its fair share of disaster and peril. We then move to the present as a couple Thomas (Simon Haycock) and Mandy (Roxi Drive) are shown to be ready for a new start after the death of their daughter whilst Mandy shares the news that she is pregnant again.


Like all good disaster films the feature moves deftly between different characters at its beginning and lets the story build up without giving away too much of the impending attack to come.


Heading to his job as a doctor Thomas has strange premonitions of an alien Armageddon – but so do some of his patients Harriet (Julie Hoult), Samantha (Sophie Anderson) and Floyd (Danny Steel). The four characters are then abducted by a visiting alien spaceship and are trapped in pods in a strange state of stasis.


Invasion Planet Earth does contain many end-of-the-world and disaster movie clichés. The cross-cutting between character stories helps set the scene and the constant presence of background media reports provide information on the global repercussions of the events.


The check list also includes vulnerable children and the “mad” guy (hello Randy Quaid in Independence Day). But you know what? It doesn’t really matter as it cleverly uses a host of film techniques that raise it above its obvious low-budget roots.


The CGI effects are rather spectacular – digital of course but used wisely given the film’s scope. Other techniques such as shot choices, editing, camera angles and coloured filters shows that the film can handle story beats and excitement without the money of a Roland Emmerich production.


A few religious motifs such as stained-glass windows, a church graveyard and the Ark Bible story attempt to give the film a little more depth which mostly work and great cameos from Toyah Wilcox and Ian Reddington added a bit of stardom to the acting roster. Unfortunately, the super clichéd dialogue is a slight weakness and tends to be so on the nose it may as well be a Groucho Marx costume kit.


That said, I was more impressed by the use of locations and scale of the whole production. Good choice of settings from a school, a church, a gallery and even the sea and coast keep the visuals varied and is a fantastic example to Midlands filmmakers that moving from a terraced house can reap huge rewards!


The slightly confusing narrative continues when it becomes apparent that many scenes are in fact the characters living out each others’ past, dreams and nightmares whilst still in their pods.


Yet some very impressive crowd scenes filmed in Birmingham give the film some cinematic sheen and although the feature trips up a little when the fully-rendered CGI environments are used, that’s my same gripe with Hollywood movies.


The film barrels towards an inevitable CGI action finale with the aliens finally attacking New York (!) and beyond. The striking scale continues when the military show up with tanks. And Thomas’ past heroic actions with his father come back into play as he hopes to save his wife and unborn child from the horde of alien ships.


Overall, the film therefore ends up being an impressive achievement. A few genre clichés aside, it’s amazing to see such a fantastic feature hail from the Midlands. But it goes beyond that. Ignoring geographical limitations the film doesn’t hold back by tackling global issues and inserting well-handled action sequences and a dash of drama into its narrative. Check out Invasion Planet Earth if sci-fi is your thing and for others, bask in its remarkable ambitions which aim for the sky but actually hit the stars.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Nov 14 2019 12:35PM



Independent sci-fi Invasion Planet Earth Cast and Crew to appear at MCM Comic Con Birmingham


Originally titled Kaleidoscope Man, much of Invasion Planet Earth was shot in the Birmingham area over the 2000s and now the cast and crew will be leading a panel and a workshop on 17th November at MCM Comic Con Birmingham ahead of the film’s release.


It took two years and seven campaigns for filmmaker Simon Cox and his team to raise a significant amount of money which enabled them to shoot around a third of the movie.


Including some spectacular scenes in central Birmingham where nine hundred extras turned up to be blasted by aliens in an epic, War of the Worlds style battle scene.


Taking place as a special panel on the MCM main stage, the gang will be taking the audience behind the scenes of Invasion Planet Earth. And following this, Simon Cox (director, co-writer, editor, as well as supervisor and producer of the vfx) and Chris Jones (guerilla filmmaker) will be leading a free workshop on Creating Special Effects on a Budget.




Invasion Planet Earth tells the story of Tom Dunn who after the death of his daughter is a broken man. When his wife falls pregnant again, he cannot believe their luck. However, his joy is short lived, as on the very same day, the people of Earth become plagued with terrifying visions of the end of the world.


When a gigantic, all-consuming alien mothership appears in the sky and launches a ruthless attack on Earth’s cities, chaos and destruction follow.


Tom must find the strength and wisdom to save his wife and unborn child. However, first he must confront a shocking truth. A truth which threatens the key to the survival of the human race.


The story of the production of the film is a remarkable one. A true passion project, Invasion Planet Earth has taken twenty years to make from inception to release.


After years of pitching to the UK film industry and private investors, a small amount of money was raised which Simon used to produce a pilot and for concept art to be created. However, it soon became apparent that funding this movie in what was then, the traditional way, was not going to happen. In 2012, Simon took the bold decision to crowdfund the film using social media.




Simon then found some investors who financed the rest of the movie. However, this took time and once the live action scenes were finally shot, the special effects took another two and a half years to complete. In total, the movie was in production for seven years with ten years before that in development. Such was the multitude of generous donors and patrons of this project; the film lists over 100 producers on IMDb.


A theatrical release date of 5th December has been set and the film will be released on Digital Download on 16th December, shortly followed by the DVD release on 30th December.


For more info check out https://www.invasionplanetearth.com


By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 02:23PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 6


This month we check out new releases DOMINO (from Brian De Palma) MEN, IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (from F. Gary Gray) & TOY STORY 4 (from Josh Cooley). Scroll down to read the reviews:




Domino (2019) Dir. Brian De Palma


Scarface, The Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Carrie and heck, even Snake Eyes and kickstarting the Mission Impossible franchise, Brian De Palma has a pretty impressive film CV. Well, he did once. In the last 12 years he’s made just 2 (terrible) films and it’s sad to say he’s added another here with boring potboiler thriller Domino.


At just 89 minutes this crime thriller feels twice as long and stars Game of Throners Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten who are investigating the death of a Danish police officer. Stopping them is a dodgy CIA agent (Guy Pearce) and Eriq Ebouaney as a double agent acting on behalf of ISIS. Or is he? Well, who cares is the real question.


I don’t want to give away any spoilers about Domino but literally nothing happens. Combined with a troubled production and a star or two dropping out, this ramshackle made-for-TV level movie is lacklustre and dull. Sleepwalking actors deliver clichéd dialogue which is punctuated with the odd blandly-shot action/fight sequence. Flashes of De Palma’s fascination with Hitchcock sometimes comes through in a Vertigo-style roof chase and an ingenious shot here or there hinting upon the stylistic flourishes the director used in his more successful films from the past.


In the end though, it seems the director’s strategy of not caring at all about his utterly useless movie hasn’t paid the handsome dividends he might have hoped for. ★★





Men in Black: International (2019) Dir. F. Gary Gray


In a franchise of less-than-successful sequels, the Men In Black property gets a sort-of reboot in this new blockbuster flick from F. Gary Gray. Chris Hemsworth stars as the arrogant Agent H who is teamed up with new recruit (and his Thor: Ragnarok co-star) Tessa Thompson as Agent M to investigate more intergalactic shenanigans involving the destruction of Earth.


Emma Thompson returns as Head of MiB operations and the film follows the globe-trotting duo taking pot shots at a wide array of eclectic aliens and each other. However, the sad fact is that there’s little more to it than that. Any franchise that loses Will Smith (hello Independence Day) suffers from a loss of his comedy chops and charm – although it has to be said Hemsworth and Thompson do have chemistry which is one of the film’s highlights. Director F. Gary Gray brings none of the fun from his previous guilty pleasure flicks The Negotiator and Law Abiding Citizen or none of the bite/edginess from his Straight Outta Compton. So it ends up being rather bland.


The creatures are excellently designed though – especially “Pawny”, a tiny and loyal alien with a smart mouth – but the world-destruction/infiltrated agency story is instantly forgettable. That said, I don’t think it deserves the critical mauling I’ve also seen published. It’s miles better than the awful second sequel and for me it’s mostly harmless and relatively likeable blockbuster fare for children with two pleasant leads. Add in a handful of action set pieces and MiB: International provides an entertaining if ultimately unremarkable 2 hours of silly escapism. ★★★




Toy Story 4 (2019) Dir. Josh Cooley


After the perfect ending of Toy Story 3 (which has the honour of making me cry twice), the franchise was so brilliantly finished that no more stories of Woody and Buzz were surely needed given the satisfying send-off these animated characters deservedly got.


However, the toys were metaphorically and actually passed on from those who grew up with them and so Pixar have created a 4th film following the gang and their adventures with Bonnie (spoiler) the girl who is gifted them by Andy at the end of 3. Bonnie and her parents go on a road trip and cutting to the chase, the toys end up getting lost/left at a carnival. The group subsequently pull together and attempt to retrieve “Forky”, a quirky toy created by Bonnie herself from a, well, plastic fork and pipe cleaners. The first 30 minutes are pure this-should-have-gone-straight-to-video fodder and although the Pixar quality sheen and photo-realistic animation is all well and present, there’s not quite enough to justify this entry’s existence.


However, just under half-way through the film really hits its stride with excellent set pieces, a break-in at an antiques store and fantastically hilarious cameos from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peel as Ducky and Bunny. Plus Keanu Reeves as daredevil stunt-biker Duke Kaboom. These new faces slip perfectly into the fold and the film is perhaps the funniest entry to date with some surreal humour added to the usual family-friendly fun. Is it really worth it though? Hmm, ultimately I think not. BUT it does act as a great epilogue and it’s second half is classic Pixar from a voice-cast working at the top of their game. You’ve got away with this Pixar. But please, no more Toy Story. ★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 10:45AM



Number 23


Directed by Jack Veasey


2019


Three hooded people are paraded into a field by armed captors in an exciting opening to new action drama Number 23 from Midlands director Jack Veasey.


A Western-inspired steel guitar soundtrack plays as one of them is callously shot and the two survivors (Andre Pierre and Becki Lloyd) are told by Dr. James Fisher (an intimidating Jason Segade) that they are now simply numbered slaves before being taken into a makeshift cell alongside other captives.


Then a white supremacist in the prison stokes a violent encounter with two black prisoners and Veasey throws us into a brutal but haphazard fight.


Although slightly underlit in these prison scenes, the director does however try to create a great mood of secrecy with dark corners and harsh shadows. Then a classic action-flick monologue is delivered to fill in the story blanks about a war which segregated the population.


A line of dialogue about “an army of superhumans” garnered a bit of a guffaw from this reviewer but the film sticks to and delivers its 80s-influenced action beats. Inmate Number 23 (Pierre) is pulled from his incarceration and is injected with an unknown serum that our villain hopes to give him ‘supernatural’ powers.


Later, as a military drum march plays, all the captives are brought back outside as a brutal henchmen (Dominic Thompson) berates them, ensuring their life is as hard as possible. But the group put their differences aside and plan to escape their predicament before it gets worse for all of them.


Overpowering their guards, the film moves into a gun-filled conclusion with some decent practical effects, more hand-to-hand combat and some bloody punch-ups.


Andre-Pierre as the eponymous Number 23 is great and the two dark performances from Segade and Thompson are a fun over-the-top portrayal of the classic central villain and henchman dynamic.


The film seemed mostly influenced by a similar societal breakdown as seen in Children of Men and Veasey has definitely brought some decent action chops to his range of filmmaking talents. And although the slightly silly human experiment storyline was a bit clichéd, overall Number 23 is a satisfying mix of grounded sci-fi and action with a tiny dollop of more serious race-relations themes. Recommended.


Michael Sales


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