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Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) Dir. Brett Morgen

With unprecedented access to the Cobain family's archive, director Morgen also gets the blessing from Courtney Love in this documentary about the '90s grunge icon Kurt Cobain. In a variety of styles all sound-tracked by Nirvana's breakthrough garage sound, the film uses family footage, home videos, vox pop interviews and voice recordings to build up a true "montage" rockumentary of the front man as he battles his demons.

Beginning with his family background, Kurt is portrayed as an (almost) typical teenager looking for an ideal that his home life cannot give him. Wanting but at the same time resisting the family dynamic around him, the film cleverly uses animation made from his sketchbook drawings and handwritten notebooks to bring the parts of his life, well, to life. Morgen even goes for a Scanner Darkly-style animated film to showcase Kurt's attempts at escapism from the mundane suburban life. His white trash "friends" he surrounds himself with are set against his first thoughts of suicide after a failed attempt at losing his virginity.

These turbulent teenage years living with a variety of family members and friends but never belonging are insightful reminders of the fragile human behind the legend. Unheard songs and reworked versions of his classic, dare I say, hits show the inherent contradiction of the man wanting yet shunning adulation at the same time. Personal ambitions grate against the ugly commercial aspects of the "biz" and it is a comprehensive portrait to the point of obsessive. The film's 132 minute run time may put off the casual viewer but I suspect the film's target audience would be as fanatical as the film's protagonist about his music and how the world influenced / infected him.

Taking its name from a cassette recording of a musical collage made by Cobain, his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, was also a producer on the film and the documentary is brilliantly haphazard. With the feel of an unfinished scrap book, the film solidifies Cobain as the generation's voice of dissatisfaction. Like Cobain, the movie has a unique take on the world but tries a little too hard to be alternative and its bloated run time has an air of the excessive adulation Cobain wrote about and often shunned from.

An ongoing stomach illness is brought to the forefront as the cause of pain but Cobain admits it could have been the aching inspiration of his genius. Sadly, his subsequent suicide resulted in a happiness he forever denied himself and also denied his closest family, friends and fans. A denial til the end.


Midlands Movies Mike

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Following Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who in the 1980s bought low-budget scripts to make even lower budget films, this documentary explores the ups and downs of their business and with the amount of nudity in their features, the ups and downs of their stars too! Remembered for B-movie action "classics" such as the Death Wish sequels as well as Delta Force, the film actually exposes some of the creative risks (but still with no money) the cousins took as they tried to reflect, and sometimes create, the trends and fashions of the day.

The documentary itself has interviews with many of their directors and cast members (neither cousin sadly appears) but with hilarious stories from Olivia d'Abo, Bo Derek, Michael Dudikoff, Elliott Gould, Tobe Hooper, Dolph Lundgren, Franco Nero, Molly Ringwald and Franco Zeffirelli amongst many others, you get gossip direct from those involved in the turbulent whirlwind of their production schedule.

Attempts to cash in on Rocky (Over the Top) and Rambo (Missing in Action) whilst releasing as many films as they could, saw quality dip below any modern acceptable levels but with up 40+ productions in a single year, the cousins went for quantity when fare like Masters of the Universe (1987) failed to live up to its tag as the "Star Wars of the '80s".

The hilarious failure of Superman IV (whose limited budget was slashed in half) led to financial woes that they were unable to come back from and although they owned cinema chains across Europe they were subsequently investigated for their large debts. The film doesn't do anything spectacularly new and most of the interviews and simply crosscut with archive footage and clips from their films. Given that, there are plenty of clips of their films' explosions, bad special F/X and nudity (lots and lots) as well as round-house kicks and punches which reflect the tone of the films they were producing.

As the dream collapses, the final Jean-Claude Van Damme film Cyborg is made with leftover sets and costumes for another film and franchise rights were sold to fund the wind-down but the journey seems to be the lingering aspect. They made entertaining, amusing yet ultimately quite dreadful films but despite the low-low budgets, the sense of fun and the ridiculous stories retold help fill out the documentary's lack of innovation. Ironically, much like the Golan-Globus empire itself.

If you're either a fan of the schlocky pictures the company specialised in or just enjoy the sub-Hollywood stories of an alternative branch of the blockbuster tree, then this film will give you a comedic look on how not to run a studio. However, it does so with such manic stories and hilarity that you can't help but be swept up by its cheap charms even when actors describe their less than safe working conditions. Delta Force 4 anyone?


Midlands Movies Mike

WYRMWOOD: Road Of The Dead
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2015) Dir. Kiah Roache-Turner

Rated 18 - released by Studio Canal on May 8th 2015

A dusty post-apocalyptic road movie set in Australian outback? No, not Mad Max: Fury Road but you can see why the film is being released around the same time here in the UK. Like Cannon Films in the 1980s where successful films were copied on a much lower budget, the current trend is to infuse your idea with a self awareness of how bad your film actually is and revelling in that awfulness. Wyrmwood isn't aiming for a "meta" take on the zombie genre though, and in fact begins with a much more serious tone than the rom-com-zom films of late and attempts to find new angles in an already saturated horror market.

In flashback we hear the story of Barry and his family who attempt to escape from a zombie attack but after jumping in their car, his wife and daughter become infected and he has to consider the unthinkable. Meanwhile his sister is kidnapped by a sadistic agency conducting experiments and Barry meets up with an aboriginal survivor called Benny and they begin a journey in the outback to tackle the growing horde. The use of masks looks great visually (again though, this has echoes of the new Mad Max) and it is infused with some unique ideas such as zombie blood being used as petrol. Also, with a low budget and shot at weekends, the film mainly sticks to gruesome prosthetics and make-up effects with a splattering of CGI blood for head shots.

You probably won't get a bloodier film for $160,000 these days but please take note that the no-budget thrills are for serious aficionados of the genre only. With me never being a fan of zombie flicks and the infinite sub-genres it spawned, I failed to find the fun in this action-filled film and it certainly won't convince anyone other than serious horror fans to give it a watch. Dialogue not fit for a home movie and me having literally no idea who the characters were are just a few of its many flaws but you've got to admire its stab at a few new ideas in the world of the undead. Also, a few dark jokes help entertain the Friday-night fright crowd it's obviously attempting to reach out to.

The petrol-searching road warriors have got the luck to be piggy-backing on Mad Max's higher profile release this month despite Wyrmwood being originally released in 2014. A tired film in a tired genre, this is ultimately a pale zombie imitation of life. Or should that be death.


Avengers: Age of Ultron
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Marvel's $1billion franchise behemoth The Avengers gets a sequel this Summer with Age of Ultron, the 11th film in the MCU and one which comes with Hulk-sized expectations. Director Joss Whedon is again returning to earth's mightiest heroes with the old characters brought back together - and some new ones thrown in too - and the film in the main delivers on its promise to delve deeper into the group's dysfunctional dynamics.

The plot is slight with the group trying to recover Loki's powerful sceptre but accidentally unleashing newcomers brother and sister duo Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who are after revenge owing to a back-story involving Stark's weaponry. Stark himself is obsessed by creating a super A.I. to act as an international "bouncer" who would work the door of planet earth, protecting the population from the kind of intergalactic attacks seen in New York. However, it evolves quickly out of control into an evil entity called Ultron who is hell bent on destroying the planet. And in essence, that is it.

Whedon begins the film with a CGI-heavy action sequence featuring what could have been seen as the trailer's signature group shot but once that is out the way, he is more interested in showing the riotous relationships in the team. Arguably the film's best scene is early on when the Avengers relax at a party and the bravado of Thor and Cpt. America belittles Don Cheadle's War Machine whilst a blossoming romance begins between the unhinged Banner and the troubled Black Widow. A hilarious scene follows as the group take it in turns to try and lift Thor's hammer which foreshadows an important event later and these small personal touches help flesh out each individual little by little. The film bounces across the globe from Korea to South Africa, which is a huge plus after the US-centric films so far, and shows how the heroes are having a global impact. Whedon also adds depth to previously minor characters like Hawkeye, who hides a secret hideout and family, giving life to his homely credentials and putting the character in real peril and therefore having considerable weight during the epic battles scenes - of which there are many.

The film mostly avoids the Man of Steel trap of endless inconsequential destruction - the heroes save the public first before themselves - but some of the scenes of the new Hulkbuster and the film's hordes of robot drones sadly travelled towards Transformers territory. The moving camera and quick cuts were exceedingly close to "Bayhem" for my tastes but unlike that director, Whedon at least attempts to cut to the characters away from the battle to show a fight's effects or importance. And unfortunately, it is here where the biggest flaw occurs. In a 2-hour 20 minute film, there just isn't enough time to give everyone their just desserts. The 6 heroes of the first film are joined by the 2 new twins, Maria Hill & Falcon from SHIELD, War Machine, Heimdall, Peggy Carter, Nick Fury, Erik Selvig and Paul Bettany as Vision - and that's just the good guys & gals!! With a couple of baddies thrown in there too - Ultron is an interesting villain but a CGI baddie isn't close to the truly delightful wickedness of Hiddlestone as Loki - Whedon does his best to provide a reason for them all, of which he is successful, but the perceived depth is actually quite slender. There is sometimes just a hint of too much of a good thing.

The script is witty as expected but has to include a lot of set up and narrative strands that are leftovers & continuations from the previous films. Therefore Age of Ultron can feel at times somewhat like an episodic entry of a TV series but you have to argue that it is a medium in which Whedon excels at. These failings are minimal though as the spectacle and characters' charms will win over all but the most cynical viewer. If blockbuster superhero fare is what you are after then Whedon's film conjures up the best of the genre right now and although you will be crying out for more of your favourite hero, there's more than enough ultra-action to satisfy plus the film's increasingly poignant moments bring far more grandiose emotions to bear than its predecessor.

8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Monsters: Dark Continent
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Gareth Edwards (Godzilla & soon to be Star Wars spin-off director) surprised many with his debut feature Monsters from 2010 with its indie roots and by being mostly filmed with five people using off-the-shelf equipment and a budget under 500k. This film somewhat follows the "Alien" franchise template by following up that head-scratcher of a film with a more action-orientated sequel about gun-toting marines. Lost Continent also moves the action from South America to a new infected zone in the Middle East where the problems are intensified with armed insurgents and the instability of the region playing as much a part of the story as the alien invasion itself.

We begin in the USA where a group of neighbourhood muscle-heads sign up for combat ready to "kick ass" but soon after arriving reveal their bravado is no match for the atrocities they are about to face. The problems with the film at the start are twofold - first there is a severe case of "spot the stiff" - individuals' deaths are signposted from the outset - and secondly, the group are such an unlikeable bunch of douchebags that when one eventually gets blown in half by a roadside IED you are quite content to say 'fair enough'.

The first hour's slow pace also really affected my enjoyment and combined with endless shaky cam and whip pans soon became a bit of a headache. Johnny Harris pops up halfway through and plays the best character as an angry, seen-it-all Sergeant doing whatever it takes to stay alive but Dark Continent is not serious enough to sit with the Hurt Lockers of this world and not silly or fun enough for an action flick. It's not without a few good aspects however. The impressive creature designs and rendering are a joy and Harris's leader spins off into Colonel Kurtz territory but the narrative is as sprawling and haphazard as the aliens' tentacles. Similar to the first, it places the monsters as a secondary part of a human story - which is a great concept but the film doesn't really do it justice. I felt the first film was like watching a (bad) home movie of a gap year trek and like that movie, this sequel clearly aims to say something profound but what that is I am unsure. Something on the violence of man? The scares of the unknown? The acceptance of "the other"? Who knows.

If one thing is consistent, it is that the two film's trailers have grossly misrepresented the subsequent movie on offer. Not exactly worse per se - just different. So sadly, if you are expecting something akin to Aliens or Battle: Los Angeles then you are at the wrong movie. For me, Monsters: Dark Continent is again, like its predecessor, stuck in no man's land (or a quarantined zone) as to what the film's overall message and tone is meant to be.


Midlands Movies Mike