Midlands Movies's Movie Ratings - Rotten Tomatoes

Movie Ratings and Reviews

Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck

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.


8/10

Midlands Movies Mike

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
½

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?


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

WYRMWOOD: Road Of The Dead
½

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.


4.5/10

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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
½

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.


6/10

Midlands Movies Mike

John Wick
John Wick(2014)

Keanu Reeves is back in action with his new film playing a retired hit man named John Wick who loses his wife to illness but receives a posthumous puppy from her to keep her memory alive. Later, a group of young Russians lead by Isosef break into his home killing the dog and stealing his car, after a perceived slight during a previous encounter at a local gas station. This act unleashes the rage inside Wick who digs up (literally) his old cache of guns for a large slice of revenge pie. This old-as-the-hills set up is filmed in a great minimalist style with stunning visual cinematography that is usually reserved for films way outside of the action genre.


However, Wick's reputation precedes him as word of his return filters back to Viggo Tarasov, the father of Iosef, who fears the retribution that's been unleashed will prove problematic to his crime syndicate. Played to perfection by Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Michael Nyqvist, Tarasov was once Wick's employer too and is well aware of his skills. So it's not long before Wick's attention begins to focus on finding and reprimanding (i.e. killing in the face) the gang who broke in. Splashes of blood turn to rivers of the stuff as clean-up crews try to keep pace with Wick's ruthless rampage. From crunching "gun-fu" action scenes to violent punch ups in neon black-lit clubs the film is raw and messier than The Matrix with head shots coming as standard and the edited brawls as slick as Reeves' oiled-back hair.


The story rolls on with the body count rising exponentially with strong support coming from Ian McShane, John Leguizamo and Willem Dafoe and a dance club sequence is reminiscent of The Matrix - which is to be expected as the directors were part of the stunt crew from that film. The comparisons continue with a similar industrial/Marilyn Manson-infused rock soundtrack but the fights are rough and ready and every punch comes with a crack of bone and each kill ends in a bloody pool.


The narrative is simple but effective as Wick is shown to have connections everywhere and is universally respected whilst Tasarov's increased frustrations lead him to put a price on Wick's head with a number of contract killers getting involved to assassinate him. Whilst the movie continues with sparse story interspersed with inventive action sequences, the kills grow and by the end the film (according to the web) Wick has racked up 76 deaths! The closest film with the one-man-on-a-rampage vibe of late was the first Taken film which meshed a similar old-trope with a quality aesthetic. However the kill rate is that film was "only" 35 deaths. "Only".


In summary, most viewers will hopefully enjoy seeing Reeves back in an action role whilst wisely avoiding his sometimes wooden delivery. His smart suit compliments the smart filmmaking techniques that prioritises sheen over depth but the movie is all the more fun for jettisoning any sense of reason and going for an ironic action bloodbath.


8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Kidnapping Mr. Heineken
½

This UK-Dutch venture dramatises the 1983 kidnapping and ransom of brewing billionaire Alfred "Freddy" Heineken and the friction it causes amongst the hostage takers as the stakes are raised.


Jim Sturgess stars as Cor van Hout whose newly pregnant wife, bankrupt business and low prospects push him towards the classic "one last big score" in order for him and his friends to be set for life. His idea to kidnap Freddy Heineken (a HUGELY underused Anthony Hopkins) is shared with his closest friends and they begin to take steps - buying handcuffs, building sound-proof rooms and stealing getaway cars - to put their criminal plan in action.


Support comes from Sam Worthington as Willem Holleeder who, despite his inherent likeability, well, for me anyway, is wasted as a background brooder. He, along with the rest of the idiotic crew, don't appear to have any other motivation other than to get rich quick - and to also stick it to the bank manager who (probably quite rightly) turned them down for a loan at the start of the movie.


Although, the action is solidly handled - a few action car chases and fights are admirably presented as the group instigated their plan - the whole thing is saddled with average-ness. The script is ok. The performances are ok. The story is ok. But ok isn't good enough when you have Oscar winners and established stars of this calibre.


Hopkins won an Academy Award on for a man locked up against his will yet here he isn't given enough to do, other than be smarmy to his captors. One scene where he gets under the skin of Sturgess ends before it even gets started. In my mind, it's these missed opportunities to develop the one-dimensional characters that make the film so disappointing.


As well that, for me the cinematography was truly abysmal. At the end of the film I could not remember a single standout shot or unique vision. Sometimes slightly handheld, other times the director used an establishing shot here and a cross-cut conversation there, but the film feels like it's from a first-time filmmaker rather than someone with a few movies under their belt. Alfredson is best known for directing (the sub-par sequels) of The Girl Who Played with Fire/Kicked the Hornets' Nest. However, his younger brother Tomas Alfredson was the director of beautiful-looking Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Sorry, Daniel but you need to look to your sibling for some pointers.


It's by no means the worst of the year, and those with a curiosity in hostage/historical films may find particular interest in some aspects of the story. However, overall the film hijacked my fascination with the case after about 20 minutes as well as snatching any goodwill I had towards the established actors who wouldn't raise much of a ransom given the material they are working with.


A less than capturing 5.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

Good Kill
Good Kill(2015)
½

Ready player one? From the director of Lord of War comes this new picture featuring Ethan Hawke as a drone pilot who starts to doubt his role in the war on terror as he sits far from the battlefield. Set in 2010 the film begins in similar vein to the recent American Sniper as we see a mother and child through a set of crosshairs as he is tasked with strategically bombing high-risk insurgents and the unsuspecting collateral damage from afar.


Hawke announces a "good kill" each time he confirms a mission has been achieved but as he pinpoints increasingly vague suspects with no evidence other than being informed they are "high-value targets", Hawke's Major Egan begins to falter in his defence of the American dream. His concerns emerge as he controls drones from small isolated porta-cabins on a military base in Nevada and at the end of each day he returns to his typical US family home life of barbecues, beers and big houses. A small strip of green grass in the yard is his paradise in this desert which parallels his cabin "Eden" in the desert of the Middle East.


His wife (January Jones) becomes increasing concerned for his well being as he retreats into drink and explains how he misses the fear of real flying and the only risk he now takes is on the drive back home. Although never straying far, Hawke begins to show signs of PTS disorder as the game-playing ravages take their toll.


Bruce Greenwood is good support playing a Colonel giving out orders and he delivers a great speech early on about how this "ain't fucking Playstation" and tells new recruits (hinted to be gamers from a mall) they should avoid seeing war as a "first person shooter". However, the film consistently challenges this set up as joysticks replace real action and even the Colonel admits that "when we went to war with different countries, we actually went to different countries".


The film's brutal attacks jolt the viewer into taking a position alongside the protagonists and Niccol places the audience at the same level as them - insinuating that we are part of this as we stare at similar flat-screens from the safety of our own 4 walls.


Zoe Kravitz as Vera Suarez is the first soldier to raise her concerns, as the CIA begin to demand they attack even more questionable targets. Authorising "double tap" strikes on those helping to clear dead bodies via a telephone, their orders are delivered in a monotone blank voice, further distancing those in power from the actual atrocities.


The film constantly focuses on the difficulty of taking responsibility when you are so far away from the war zone, with characters even asking if they are committing war crimes or creating more terrorists through their actions. We get more echoes of American Sniper with the similar contrast of army pressure adding to family woes back home and at least one shot - protagonist watches a blank screen on a switched-off TV - was represented almost identically. However, as the tensions between the different facets reach their peak, Hawke shows why he is a watchable presence as his army man pays less attention to the task in hand - sometimes stopping to text his wife - and brings his pent-up violence and anger back home.


The American Sniper comparisons will be inevitable but it feels more like a companion piece than a carbon copy and a brilliantly written script takes all these complex issues and delivers them through natural speeches and dialogue. Although Niccol is no Eastwood in his attempt at authenticity, the discussions that take place more than make up for a slightly by-the-numbers direction. Those willing to take a seat in this hot chair will be greatly rewarded with a speech-heavy military drama that asks the audience to question the nature of these new automated armaments. The Lord of War indeed.


7.5/10

Midlands Movies Mike

Jupiter Ascending
½

As someone who has often defended the Wachowski's for Matrix Reloaded (the freeway chase is a master class in action editing and pacing) and the sometimes sprawling adaptation Cloud Atlas, I was ready to take on their new space opera Jupiter Ascending as a rather big fan of their experimental style and their sci-fi leanings.


This film's focus is Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a poor cleaner who gets swept up in an intergalactic battle when a warrior called Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) explains that she is a long lost connection to royalty and the rightful inheritor of earth. Our planet is in fact being used as the basis for alien ingredients to produce a kind of rejuvenation tonic (think extreme Loreal skin cream) to keep the extraterrestrial monarchy in their youth. And it is this sort of ludicrousness that completely engulfs this silly movie.


A slow beginning with voiceover already had me confused and the dull dull (very dull) pace varies wildly from statically stagnant to stirring explosions with truly some of the worst dialogue heard in a blockbuster for many a year. With the Matrix's Architect spouting pseudo-nonsense like "the otherwise contradictory systemic anomaly", the directors now employ lines like "Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty" (delivered by a straight-faced Sean Bean) that had me laughing more than lauding. Eddie Redmayne (Oscar winner by the way) is simply hilarious as the film's main villain, delivering lines like a stoned James Mason. I could have easily watched a film of just him whispering his insane speeches punctuated by bouts of adolescent shouting reminiscent of Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element.


Even the most die-hard fan of their style - their industrial sexual costumes and white noise music are always alternative delights - will find little here with the action sequences being stuffed to the gills with CGI as Tatum flies around on some anti-gravity New Rocks. These are the inventors of "bullet time" for lord's sake! What they are doing messing around with this is anybody's guess.


I really do admire the directors' risk taking in the face of an onslaught of reboots, reimagining and sequels and although they have the talented Kunis (Black Swan and Ted) and Tatum (Foxcatcher and 21 Jump Street) on board, the material is so flimsy and disorderly that they cannot raise the quality given the material they have to work with.


More strange soap opera than space opera, Jupiter Ascending is an honourable mess and although its attempts at originality should be admired, it is in fact an unmitigated deep space disaster.


3/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Voices
The Voices(2015)
½

Well, let's start with the obvious elephant in the room. It's nice to see (even from the trailer I reckon) Ryan Reynolds trying something that, well, doesn't look completely shit. His recent output of RIPD, Safehouse & the abysmal Green Lantern movie showed a real lack of risk in his acting projects and from someone even as likeable as Reynolds, the movie going public knew a stinker when they saw one. Although essentially a comic actor, Reynolds is at his best mixing his snarky persona with heavier material (Smokin' Aces, Buried) and The Voices allows him to revel in this contrast.


The Voices begins with Reynolds as Jerry, a menial assembly line worker in a world that looks one part Truman Show suburbia and another part Grand Budapest Hotel fantasy, whose seemingly innocent view on the world hides a dark and disturbing secret. You see, Jerry's world is influenced heavily by the voices he hears - mainly from his dog Bosco and his cat Mr. Whiskers. Through talks with his psychiatrist we realise that Jerry should be taking medication for his condition but as the animals manipulate him into more and more menacing situations, Jerry slowly loses his grip on reality. As his crush on colleague Fiona (Gemma Arterton) ends in bloodshed, he then projects her voice onto her dismembered fridge-head as his life spirals from his grasp.


The film's style ranges from dark reality to insane hallucinations and it is where these cross over does it have the greatest effect. Using sound, image, colour and slick (and sick) cinematography, all the tricks in the directorial handbook are well utilised to show the "projection" of Jerry's mind onto his surroundings. With the animals acting like his conscience - the dog being his angelic good side and the cat egging him on to more hazardous acts - the film plays on these contrasts to get its points of accountability and sanity across.


Tonally, it is a tad chaotic with the narrative and characters a bit of a jumbled mess but you could argue this still fits in with the mind of the delusional Jerry. Anna Kendrick plays another likeable co-worker called Lisa, who tries to find the good in Jerry but after a failed surprise date, discovers some very nasty home truths. Coming full circle, Reynolds is fantastic as the loner protagonist, his fantasies mixing with the ugly real-world consequences and Reynolds capably leaps from fanciful visions to threatening evil from scene to scene without breaking a sweat. But he does break a neck or two!


I think the trailer mis-sells the film slightly with its emphasis on comedy over horror - omitting disturbing scenes such as a young Jerry with his ill mother - but those wanting to see a creepy yarn with a pitch-black comedy sensibility may just enjoy the most wonderfully weird movie of 2015 so far.


7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Exodus: Gods and Kings
½

With Aronofsky's Noah at the start of 2014, this December-released Christian Bale -starring biblical vehicle purports to show a new version of the Moses story where the exiled Hebrews rise up against their oppressors in ancient Egypt.


Filmed in 3-D (although I only saw the regular version), the film has Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Rameses as two brothers with different life views which eventually leads to betrayal, reprisal and a series of plagues in the kingdom. Sadly, the endless characters - who spend much of their screen time discussing the past and "scene-setting" - meant there was less room for their development. Also, all the talk of "viceroys" and the appearance of hooded characters in royal chambers had a nasty whiff of the Phantom Menace. Compounded with the chariot inspired Pod Racers being replaced with (or returned to) chariots again!


A shaven-headed John Turturro and a perplexed looking Ewen Bremner are hideously (and hilariously) miscast with Sir Ben Kingsley on hand to provide the Gandhi-esque elder voice of reason. One of the few saviours were the impressive looking real life landscapes and admittedly gorgeous locations - but something I would expect, nay, demand from an auteur like Ridley Scott.


However, in truth, the film is utter utter bilge. Huge swathes of story time consisted of laboured exposition from the book of exodus to keep everyone up to speed with the goings on whilst the final Red Sea sequence plays out like The Day After Tomorrow. A sword and bland-als film, the lengthy Exodus joins Robin Hood and Kingdom of Heaven as another sub-par hollow imitation of Scott's own epic Gladiator. Mike's letter to the Hovisians. Dear Ridley, for the love (and wrath) of God, please move on from the historical "epic". Yours.


5/10
Midlands Movies Mike

Wild Card
Wild Card(2015)

So here we go again. Let's start by stating the obvious. Wild Card joins the endless Statham revenge action thrillers similar to most of the other films from the actor's career to date. They not so much follow the same formula but, for me, merge into one giant film making it difficult to differentiate between any of them. Can anyone really say what they remember about Blitz, Safe, Parker, Homefront or Hummingbird? In fact I am wondering if he secretly starring in his own cinematic universe! He so often plays the same ex-cop/gangster/trained assassin/cage fighter/thief with violent skills who attempts to go straight, but is pulled in by circumstances beyond his control that he could be the same person!


Surprise surprise then, this film continues the pattern as Statham plays Nick Wild, a man giving protection to others to help pay for his gambling addiction in Vegas. When a woman is brutally attacked and seeks her revenge against the perpetrators, she uses Nick's help but as he crosses paths with these gangsters, they start having their own plans on getting revenge on Nick himself. Parallel to this we see a young self-made millionaire called Cyrus Kinnick (Michael Angarano) who enlists Nick's help to deal with his own anxieties.


The same whispering Statham persona that appears in all his films (who so desperately tries to avoid the violence that catches up with him) appears here too and although a couple of slow motion action sequences had an air of what could have been, the rest is mostly derivative tosh. I wish Simon West had thrown in some of the tongue-in-cheek OTT fun from his magnum opus Con Air. The earnest "realism" is at odds with the violence in Vegas and although babes, bullets and brawn still have a place in 21st century action, sadly this film this isn't it.


A quick 90-odd minutes of runtime help focus the slight story and the second half was more fun than the beginning which dragged. One more positive was that it certainly wasn't as offensive as the output from other action "baldie" Bruce Willis who appears to have given up altogether. However, despite a few plus points, I really just want one film where Statham DOESN'T want to go straight & DOESN'T have a trained set of skills designed to throat punch everyone. Sadly, Wild Card takes its place alongside The Gambler as another bad revenge gambling film in 2015. Hit me!


6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Vice
Vice(2015)

A 0% score on Rotten Tomatoes, whilst not the be all and end all of how to grade a film, it is a score that one may want to take note of before embarking on spending some of your precious life on a movie. Especially this movie. I've no doubt that director Miller and all the cast (bar one) and crew gave it their best but this really is a shoddy piece of work, as bad as anything I've ever seen.


In short, the movie riffs on WestWorld (1973) where a theme park of human-esque robots repeats the same day over but begin to break their programming. Much to the base pleasure of the paid patrons, the "Vice" park allows visitors to play out their dark desires (mostly murder and rape) under the watchful eye of park owner, Julian Michaels (played by a dead-eyed Bruce Willis).


As one female cyborg becomes self aware, she gets caught between the park's security guards trying to shutdown their rogue robot and a cop trying to pull the plug on the nasty goings-on forever. While the cop is played by a valiant but futile performance from Thomas Jane, it's Bruce Willis, who cements his utter lack of interest in any project he is currently taking on, that lingers long in the memory. In my eyes, Bruce has gone from an absolute hero of mine, with the classic Die Hard being the pinnacle of his wise-cracking action bravado, to someone who gives the kiss of death to everything he is in.


The frankly atrocious Die Hard 5 showed his lack of conviction in his movie-making choices whilst his off-screen antics (awkward press interviews & douchebaggery to Kevin Smith on Cop Out) have made the Bruce "brand" so utterly unlikeable. Here, he is a selfish character (played by a selfish man rightly kicked off The Expendables 3 for demanding too much money) and although the villain of the piece should be somewhat unlikeable, his few minutes of terrible screentime and a catatonic performance (where his face and mouth barely move!) spreads like a virus all over the movie.


As a piece of SyFy television crap, this low budget "film" may have just passed muster as a misfiring pilot for the inevitable spin off series, but as a film, Vice stakes its claim to be at the top of my "worst of 2015" list already. And I think it will take something truly spectacular to remove it from the top spot. Avoid!


1/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Clown
Clown(2016)

If you're scared by clowns then this *may* just be the movie you're looking for. After a birthday clown fails to show up for their child's party, the boy's mother Meg (Laura Allen) explains over the phone to her real estate husband Kent (Andy Powers) about how disappointed he will be. However, as he clears a house he's recently sold, he comes across an old dusty clown outfit so dons the wig, nose and silly costume and arrives much to the kids' delight. Post-party and tired after a day of fun, Kent then falls asleep wearing said costume before waking for another day of work. But there's a problem. A big daft problem. The traditional costume will not come off. Not even with power tools!


He seeks out the previous owner - a suitably strange Peter Stomare - who gives him bad (and frankly ludicrous) news about demonic possession. With that kind of set up, I think you know what kind of a carnival ride you are in for and the film doesn't disappoint in that respect. Equal parts gross out drama combined with dark humour and simply hilarious body modification, the film wastes no time wearing its heart on its frilly coloured sleeve.


More of a big top curiosity than truly scary horror, the film doesn't take itself too seriously at all as drama but the gruesomeness keeps it just out of the parody genre. The film's deadpan humour was genuinely funny with a few laugh out loud moments (a policeman asks, "Do you remember what he was wearing last time you saw him?") but doesn't dip into buffoonery. However, it did lose me when he appears to be ruled by a rumbling belly. Indeed.


With joker-like make-up scarring his body, the film's initial campy comedy moves to a more disturbing tone as his enforced separation from his family brings darker thoughts. As his blood turns into rainbow ink, the contrast between the film's light-heartedness and its serious themes grow wider, creating both comedy and incredible bleakness. In its latter half, throwing the audience from one extreme to the other. One moment we're recoiling from attacks on children but as the jester laments his growing evil we can't help notice the ludicrousness of his multicoloured curly wig.


In summary, from bloody handprints to serious stranger danger if you are after Friday-night foolishness or a silly Saturday night, the antics in this film should keep you entertained for a jolly few hours.


6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Big Hero 6
Big Hero 6(2014)
½

Inspired by a Marvel superhero team, Disney's partnership (owners) with the comic giants has led to a more formal creative crossover in this new computer-animated feature. Mixing comedy and action, the story follows the young Hiro Hamanda who is a boy genius that builds his own "minibots" to get into a science school his brother currently attends.


After a deadly accident that destroys his invention, he gives up his dream but is comforted by an inflatable medical robot his brother made called Baymax. As he secludes himself from his friends, Baymax attempts to support him out of his depression but together they form a bond after tracking one of his minibots to a factory run by a masked villain who is using the previously-thought-destroyed invention for nefarious means.


The film's city location of San Fransokyo is a sumptuous mix of Western and Asian influences and the animation and voice work are solid if a little run-of-the-mill. As Hiro creates armour and suits for his 4 school chums, the group of 6 begin to fight, fly and battle with the unknown villain to find his true intentions. The film was enjoyable on the surface but one issue was that the second half action sequences were, for me, typical of the genre (and Marvel) and strangely less exciting than the character development and build up of the first half (more Disney-like).


Baymax is a brilliantly conceived inflatable robot mixing Short Circuit's Johnny Five inquisitiveness with a Michelin Man/StayPuft crossover and his mentor/student relationship with Hiro (sometimes its him learning, sometimes teaching) that is the real key to the film. As the battles increase in action and the camera whizzed around, my interest waned and the narrative beats of the first half got lost in the endless explosions and bombastic flourishes. As the animation got closer to realism, I also began to wonder why a film like this couldn't have been a live-action affair but that was probably just me.


That said however, the film is a quality product (not quite hitting the Wreck It Ralph successes for me) and combines Disney and Marvel tropes well for equal effect. The end result is a colourful mish-mash of standard genre moments combined with a great loveable character in Baymax but one that may satisfy kids at the cinema but not the adults who take them.


7/10

Midlands Movies Mike

The Interview
½

Mired in controversy after the real North Korea was accused of digital espionage, The Interview finally got a release in early 2015 - ironically, as a streaming download VOD. After the email hack at Sony headquarters exposed a number of notorious slurs from the CEO, the film has already caused a stir for its subject matter before the infamous exposé by the inward-looking state.


To summarise the film however, the plot covers Seth Rogen and James Franco playing an American TV show producer and presenter respectively, who wish to swap their Hollywood gossip show for a chance at interviewing the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un. After getting the okay from the DRPK government, Lizzy Caplan shows up as Agent Lacey from the CIA who challenges the two with an assassination plot which will overthrow the regime for the greater good of the USA. Franco (who I like) gurns and overacts throughout - quick note James, this isn't needed for comedy, often the straighter is the funnier - and Rogen (who I no longer find funny) teams up with him for another "comedy" that uses swearing as a replacement for dialogue.


The film wants to sit with a number of cinematic releases with a history of trouble in the real world, from the religious (Life of Brian, The Da Vinci Code) to the violent (Clockwork Orange, Natural Born Killers) by poking fun at foreign despots - in a similar way to Chaplin's The Great Dictator. However, Rogen and co simply can't get away from the drink, drug and knob gags. Sorry Seth, but although I am against censorship of all kinds and kudos to Sony for finally releasing it to the public, this film is neither a creative satire (like Team America) or a clever comic caper. The film presents broad, dumb jokes and the general bumbling of the protagonists reminds me (unfortunately) of Spies Like Us (John Landis, 1985).


It also mostly fails to hit any kind of political punches at all and I cannot remember laughing once at any of the scenes. I'm not kidding. Not one laugh at all in nearly 2 hours. It's closer to dirge like Epic Movie than it would ever care to admit. Even after 40 minutes in and the two arrive in the rogue state, the first jokes are about butts and a fat kid. Within 5 more minutes it's more arsehole amusement. *SIGH* If that's the level you like then there's no reason not to enjoy this international farce, but for everyone else, it's difficult to see why the Koreans would be so upset if this is the level of cultural criticism they are facing from the most powerful country in the world.


I think I feel more disappointed that the fuss was so great, yet the film was so slight and missed every opportunity to poke fun at the portly person in charge of the communist power. I long for the likeable Rogen of Superbad and the long-lost Franco of Spiderman, heck, even Oz if needed. It joins Pineapple Express, This is the End, Your Highness and Bad Neighbours as a huge list of hilariously awful and laugh-free 'comedy' films starring Rogen or Franco (or sometimes both). After cross-examination, this interminable unfunny film is the softest lampooning of an appalling regime and its biggest crime is an abuse of the human right to laugh.


3/10
Midlands Movies Mike

White Bird in a Blizzard
½

"I was 17 years old when my mother disappeared" says Shailene Woodley's Kat Connor which introduces writer/director Gregg Araki's adaptation of Laura Kasischke's novel - a French/American production of a dysfunctional family broken up by a mysterious disappearance.


Set in a well designed 80s of big hair, big phones and bigger boom boxes, the film starts with the disappearance of unhappy mother Eve Connor (a suitably eclectic Eva Green) and flashbacks to the past with daughter Kat fleshing out the story with a voiceover explaining the past. The film gets going slowly with moody introspection, silence and a symbolic dream sequence but soon kicks up a gear as we see the nostalgic past of Kat growing up in a perfect primary colour-filled retro household direct from the suburbs of Edward Scissorhands.


The film's flashbacks punctuate the modern day narrative strands which show Kat facing the foibles of teen angst set to gothy/new romantic music of the 80s. The film has a great sense of time with a dash of Donnie Darko's soundtrack and some perverse black humour. Kat grows before our eyes as she explains her drunken mother's loveless marriage to her unassuming Volvo-driving father to a psychotherapist played by Angela Bassett. And her crimped hair makes way for a young adult femme fatale as she has designs on Thomas Jane's cop who they originally reported the disappearance to.


The film may seem like Gone Girl-lite but its mysterious take on small-town life has echoes of 1999's American Beauty with its voiceovers, repressed fathers and dinner table silences. The comparisons continue with a sexless marriage and blossoming sexualised teenagers. An Edward Cullen-haired stoner boyfriend is pushed aside by Kat for more adult carnal desires and Woodley's post-Divergent efforts as a "serious" actress take a positive step forward in this film.


There is also great support and performances from Christopher Meloni as the furtive father Brock Connor and Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) as her friend Beth. Unfortunately, the end reveal is fluffed big style with a twist or three too many added to some ham-fisted symbolism from the director which undoes some of the solid character work done before. This ultimately dashes some of the good work earned up until that point.


However, the story bounces easily between cold relationships to seduction secrets involving nosey next-door neighbours and night time naughtiness - and whilst it won't set the world alight, the surprisingly intense 91 minutes of the film may spice up your life like a brief clandestine affair, exciting for a while but pretty forgettable.


7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Kill the Messenger
½

The war on drugs linking the USA to covert efforts on home soil to counteract the growing problems overseas in Central America is the topic of this new film from Michael Cuesta. Starring Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy) as journalist Gary Webb, we are placed amongst the vague period detail of the 90s as Renner exposes (tenuous) links that the CIA helped fund an illegal war in Nicaragua by allowing drug dealers to sell crack back home on the streets of LA. Renner brings all his Hurt Locker intensity to the real life persona of Webb whose investigations under the small San Jose Mercury newspaper are hailed for exposing a conspiracy at the heart of government but who is then vilified by the national press about the facts of his story. Renner's beard and deep worry lines make him look like a confused Shar Pei as his good intentions turn to clumsy relationship errors with his family which unfortunately killed the empathy this type of movie needed for its protagonist.


Solid support comes from Mary Elizabeth Winstead as his editor and Frost-Nixon star Oliver "respected man in suit who questions authority" Platt who is perfectly cast as the manager of the local rag. The film aims for realism but I had to search Wikipedia on the background of the case to actually understand the story once it was over. This is because the film fails to set up the basic tenements of story-telling with double-crosses occurring before we've heard about which "side" people are on. The film's locations bounce from clichéd ghettos straight from a Snoop Dogg video to Washington DC where Webb meets fellow Frost-Nixoner Michael Sheen in a JFK-esque "conversation that never happened". Whilst I enjoyed the well paced court room scene where former alliances crack (pardon the pun) under the pressure, the clichés continued with Andy Garcia channelling all the realism of an episode of animated spy comedy Archer in his depiction of a drug lord - safari shirt, moustache, cravat & panama hat! As the huge media coverage spins Webb's article to claim the CIA literally sold drugs to the black community in LA, the film spirals into successive scenes of paranoia and character assassinations composing of alleged break-ins, late night phone calls and cover ups.


But like fellow flick JFK, the "facts" of the case have already been discussed in the print media as having a heavy bias way before the film came out. Although fun to see reporters uncovering wrongdoings in Government, the film (and the facts) don't really stand up to scrutiny. As with all classic conspiracies, if I disagree with the film's angle then I'm part of the problem and not part of the solution. And that's why conspiracies and this film fails as characters show up and disappear as quickly as Webb's reputation. The film ends on a coda that covers similarly murky ground and even explains plot points more interesting than what we've just seen (Webb's ultimate suicide and the CIA facing criticisms from the community directly).


Dramatically slow, with underdeveloped themes and an over-complicated plot, the film would have done better to drop the wishy-washy family elements and focus on (less) core characters rather than the martyrdom of the journalist who failed to see his own failings.


5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Predestination
½

Based upon the short story "-All You Zombies-" by Robert A. Heinlein, this ultra low budget Australian sci-fi thriller may just be the hidden gem of the year. Plot wise it's very difficult to explain without spoiling as I counted at least 3 (!) twists, all of which were brilliantly set up and too much explanation here could affect one's enjoyment of the film as a whole.


What I can tell you is this. A Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) travels through time using a violin-case field kit to try and catch a terrorist known as The Fizzle Bomber. After an explosion leaves him scarred we flashback to an earlier jump where he works as a bartender and meets a troubled man who proceeds to tell him of his life to that point.


This elongated flashback begins with a focus on a young lady Jane who is left at an orphanage and grows up never knowing her true place in the world. We get emotional scenes of her life as she is enrolled in the "Space Corps" and later gives birth to her lover's baby which has huge repercussions in her life. As the lives interweave, some audacious revelations occur and we start seeing how the time-jumping narrative is linked throughout. Jane herself is played by a frankly amazing Sarah Snook who deserves Oscar recognition for her performance playing on duality, identity and the ravages of time and consequence.


Those expecting some kind of riff on TimeCop will be disappointed but those prepared to invest in a poignant and expressive character study will find the pay off much more satisfying. The only film I can think of in 2014 where there was an element of sci-fi time travel where protagonists try to affect the path of the past with knowledge of the future was Nolan's $165 million Interstellar. In comparison, that film's nearly 3 hour run time is up against this film's $5-6 million budget and a 97 minute length.


Strangely, for films about time, Interstellar doesn't so much stretch it, it wastes huge amounts and from the two films I'd advised audiences to go and see Predestination for its character-based emotions and unique twisty plot. Your enjoyment may depend upon whether you go with rug-pulling that occurs but after a year of bombastic sci-fi, this smaller and intimate puzzle of a picture may just be the one that lingers the longest.


9/10

Midlands Movies Mike

Inherent Vice
½

Groovy baby! From a Thomas Pynchon novel that was once described as a "generally lighthearted affair" (New Yorker) comes a film that seems anything but. Paul Thomas Anderson returns to an altogether different 70s from the one he pointed his camera towards in Boogie Nights but that film's glam is replaced with a stoner aesthetic from the earlier part of the decade. And we view the story beats through a post-hippy drug haze and what a complicated one it is.

In short, the convoluted plot involves the various goings-ons affecting "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) a licensed P.I. who gets involved in missing people, attracts the attention of LAPD officer Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin) and tries to unravel dodgy real estate and narcotic deals. What else happens? Well, it's an incredible indecipherable journey as the film is viewed from the stoned perspective of the protagonist whose copious drug intake is reflected in the fractured narrative.

Characters, and there are a lot of them, come and go with seemingly no motivation or consequence and although there are some rather strange moments of comedy (heck, even slapstick), the film is a heady mess of the serious machinations of the west-coast society investigated in Chinatown and the hilarity that ensues in the Coens' Big Lebowski.

Joaquin Phoenix is on great form and his performance is half intoxication and half paranoia but the film is actually a set of rather odd scenes instead of an overall narrative with the tone varying from Easy Rider to Austin Powers. You could fast forward to any scene and not know what was going on but funnily enough, the same thing occurs even if you watch this film right from the start.

A smorgasbord of ideas, from crooked dentists to swastika face tattoos, the film is solidly made but none of sequences really form any sense of coherence but I almost suspect that was the intention. Its peculiar antics and haphazard beats were not really my bag, baby and although some will find some fascination with its contraband concept (and admittedly impressive soundtrack) I will stick with a big old dose of "The Dude" for my high. Groovy indeed.

Midlands Movies Mike 6/10

A Most Violent Year
½

Statistically 1981 was one of the most violent years in New York City history and it's against that backdrop we view a family run oil business struggling against felons, larceny and police interference in the grimy Big Apple. Oscar Isaac plays Abel Morales, the father of 2 and husband to Anna (Jessica Chastain) whose integrity and moral stubbornness is tested to the limit as he tries to do a business deal to expand his operation by buying a river-front property owned by a local Jewish group.

Giving him limited time to finalise (and pay for) the deal, Abel must turns every cheek on his body to remain righteous despite an impending police department investigation and rising threats against his family. The film's slow pace allows tension to build up and the absence of almost any music shifts focus to the performances and Isaac shows a magnetic screen presence and a restaurant showdown with his rivals sees him channelling Al Pacino in The Godfather. His oily dark hair and suit bringing out incredibly dark eyes with a piercing stare that the film even brings attention to in his speeches to his wayward employees.

The snail's pace of the film may not be for everyone and it almost grounds to a halt two-thirds in but maintains a solid if lumbering forward momentum to its conclusion. With an interesting protagonist to characterise, Isaac has the look of every Brooklyn gangster ever seen but the revelation of the movie is that throughout the movie he tries to do the right thing although this comes with its own hefty repercussions.

Chastain gives a great performance as his multi-faceted wife, equally supportive and exasperated with her obsessed husband as he fails to react to the attacks upon their idyllic life. Support from David Oyelowo as the police captain unravelling the dirty deeds on the street and Albert Brooks as Abel's legal confidante fills out an impressive cast and the period setting is spot on in its representation of dilapidated neighbourhoods and warehouses.

The film doesn't run out of fuel but those expecting a quick cutting gangster flick will be tested but those willing to invest in the challenging and calculative direction and some beautifully lit scenes will be rewarded with a tale of money and murky morality.

7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Son of a Gun
Son of a Gun(2015)

Strewth mate! Locked up with his long hair shaven off, young Australian J.R. is imprisoned for a petty offence in this Antipodean action crime thriller. During his stretch making shoes and playing cards, the cons waste no time in tormenting this new arrival who sticks out like a shag on a rock but shows his ingenuity by getting into fights with inmates to help them avoid prison abuse. This brings him to the attention of Brendan Lynch (Ewan McGregor) who warns him to keep his "nose out of other people's stuff". With their joint interest in chess, Brendan protects J.R. from a shower lynching but expects payback for his efforts but soon after making parole, the protection debt is called in. J.R. is instructed to go and pick up guns from a Rambo 3-loving hellraiser before practicing army-level attacks with an M-60 in one of the few 'lighter' moments in the movie.

We return to a dark and serious tone as J.R. takes a helicopter pilot hostage during a flight and diverts it to the prison in an audacious escape attempt to grab the tattooed McGregor and his gang from incarceration. Dumping his bland Obi Wan and bringing a raw Scottish-accented intensity not seen since his edgy and legendary Trainspotting appearance, McGregor acts with passion as the con pulling strings on the inside before flying to freedom. J.R. is as cunning as a dunny rate as the film continues with his blossoming relationship with the mysterious Alicia Vikander as Tasha and the cons evading capture from the law.

A two-sided story contrasts the wide-eyed youth against the violent veterans before they undertake an even more daring escapade in the form of a gold robbery. A father-son dynamic was interesting but the plinky-plonk piano score/soundtrack was not up my street at all and a bit off kilter with the violent down-under 'chess-game' thrills elsewhere.

The second half drops the character build up with shootouts and car chases and I felt the film was more solid than riveting, tackling nothing new in the narrative but doing what it did down under proficiently. McGregor returns to form and his head-to-heads with Home & Away alumni Brenton Thwaites as J.R. keeps the Oz drama at the forefront and avoids a descent into an all-out action-fest.

6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Gambler
The Gambler(2014)
½

From the director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes comes a very different film in the form of this character study starring Mark "Marky Mark" Wahlberg. Yes, I still refer to him as that. It's also The Rock. Not Dwayne Johnson. Anyhoo, The Gambler is based loosely on the 1974 film of the same name and this crime drama remake follows Wahlberg as Jim Bennet, a professor turned high rolling gambling addict who is up to his neck in debts and threats, whilst not seeming to give a shit about the danger he is in. As his losses pile up, the gangs and individuals to whom he owes money give him a 7-day limit to settle or face the no doubt violent consequences.

Unlike similar card-based fare like Casino, Kevin Spacey's 21 and Rain Man, the gaming scenes are so dull as we watch Wahlberg double-down on game after game with no directorial flair or tension building. For a movie about high stakes, I couldn't have been more bored as any excitement of gambling is seemingly removed by intent. I felt like I was watching the most boring clichés with the "game of life" being obviously paralleled with the gaming table that would have been obvious in a student film. The protagonist's nihilistic way of thinking is shared with his students and he explains to them life is not about middle ground, it's the extreme moments that shape us the most with choices being a clear case of black or white to him. Or at the gaming table, red or black. Natch.

The addiction destroys his life but I recall Mark Kermode accusing The Wolf of Wall Street of having an unlikeable lead character (which I don't agree with as Di Caprio helps smooth that over) but I found it hard to relate to this character at all.

With people who care about him in his social circle being pushed aside - including a student/girlfriend and his mum, played by a brilliant Jessica Lange - he continued to instil no warmth or empathy. Maybe that was the point. He's a bad gambler. The addiction has taken over. However, I just didn't understand his motivations or feel sympathy for him. The film is conservative in a way by presenting him as the creator of his own downfall. There are many ways out and options for him and he still ruins his life. There's little excitement until towards the end but as I said before, maybe this was a way of showing addiction but it frankly made him look like a dick.

Not even an always reliable John Goodman can save him or the film and for me, the character is not nice to his students, the people around or his family and so I found it difficult to root for him or the movie as a whole. BUST!

5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

American Sniper

After the misstep of the 'musical' Jersey Boys, hot-shot director Eastwood returns to murky biographical Americana akin to J. Edgar and Changeling that saw him receive strong critical acclaim for a no-nonsense and non-judgmental approach to his storytelling.

The film is based on Chris Kyle's autobiography (subtitled 'The Most Lethal Sniper in US Military History') and we get a bulked up Bradley Cooper as the Navy Seal travelling to Iraq on various tours of duty as a sniper whose increasing kill count turns him into an armed forces celebrity.

This is contrasted with a return to his home life and pregnant wife Taya (Sienna Miller), where haunted scenes of death and killing distance himself from his family. He persuades her he is defending "freedom" yet avoids telling her about any of the execution of men, women and children he witness and takes part in.

Eastwood's simple and unobtrusive directing style focuses the film on the story as he calibrates the contrasts between the violent male world of war and the quiet family melodrama back in the US. As the insurgents place a bounty on Kyle's life (who is nicknamed "Legend" by his fellow soldiers) he faces no doubt that he is defending the country from these barbaric terrorists.

As he fights to be a good spouse, Cooper plays Kyle with a remote haze, constantly keeping his sights on the war even when he has returned home. Miller is impressive as the impassioned wife trying to be a part of Kyle's isolated world but it is she who keeps her finger on the trigger of their family life. She reminds Kyle of his family duties aside from his military ones as Kyle struggles to leave his disturbed experiences back there.

A subplot involving an equivalent Iraqi assassin seems a leftover from another film - a way of giving the film a pointed Hollywood villain - but doesn't distract too much from the introspective character study Eastwood presents.

With a narrative that never loses velocity and impressive but realistic action sequences, American Sniper is a howitzer of a war film, one that balances the fine line of the trauma faced by returning soldiers and their brief of fulfilling the duty they have signed up for.

Joining The Hurt Locker (2008) as one of the best modern war films, the movie shows the pointless loss of life and the physical and psychological damage thrust upon those involved, plus a virtuoso performance from Cooper, who fights insurgents and himself throughout.

8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Foxcatcher
Foxcatcher(2014)

"I want to talk to you about America...and I want to talk about why I wrestle".

Foxcatcher is the true story of gold medal winning brothers David and Mark Schultz and their relationship with John Du Pont - heir to the wealth of the famous family dynasty. What we get here is another Oscar-baiting biographical drama based on actual events which has "award winning" written all over it.

That aside, the story unfolds from Du Pont's efforts in hiring the Schultz brothers to help train future US wrestling Olympians whose mansion looks uncannily like a larger version of the White House. The film grabs the audience in a headlock as it rams down American iconography at every opportunity. An early scene also shows the brothers practising which ends with blood on a white t-shirt in an eerie foreshadowing of the story. The social and family-centred older brother David (an effortless Mark Ruffalo) is not tempted to leave his home despite his younger brother, the introverted man-child Mark (played by a brooding Channing Tatum) falling under the wing of John (playing against his funnyman persona Steve Carrell) and his Foxcatcher programme to develop new champions.

Analogies are made with war and epic patriotic battles and the fight for freedom as the three mono-syllabic men with detached emotions ooze more awkwardness than sweat. As Du Pont assists the confused Mark, I couldn't help but think of the similar sociopathic nature of Mason Verger from Hannibal whose wealth (and prosthetic face makeup) made him look like a danger.

The Du Pont family, who funnily made their fortune in gunpowder, have a house stuffed with eagles which not only echo American iconography but also the ever-watching symbols seen in Psycho. With the celebrations of the world championship resulting in bear hugs and mock fights as the team cheer Du Pont, the situation turns dark a scene later as he fires a gun into the ceiling to mark the number of days to the Seoul Olympics.

The film focuses on the triumvirate of players as the sibling rivalry also conflicts with Du Pont's attempts at positioning himself as a mentor. This comes across as sinister as he asks to be called "Eagle" before writing a speech for Mark so self congratulatory it's almost unbearable. The great wordplay in a minimalist script throws in blink-and-you-miss it phrases like "son" as he tries to be father to Mark's vulnerable position.

With a lycra-clad photo-shoot and grappling male flesh, the film can't help but be homoerotic - confirmed when a frosted-tipped Tatum shaves his mentor.

In his pants.

Overall though, as I'm not that into sports plus its sometimes too on the (prosthetic) nose symbolism - they wrestle in a posh portrait gallery - the film is too earnest its recounting of a tragic tale. With roles like a snobbish Norman Bates-esque mother who asks John about his "train set" and disapproves of his engagement in this "low" sport, the stock characters are there - albeit based on true people.

In conclusion, like its contemporaries it has clichéd (yet powerful) scenes of self-punching and mirror head-butting (Birdman and The Theory of Everything have similar room destroying self hate) and the ultimatums played out push Du Pont to the literal sidelines as he loses his grip on his protégé.

Du Pont's delusion peaks as he labels himself brother, fighter and mentor but the director's real focus is an attempt to grapple with large issues. Like his previous films Capote and Moneyball, Foxcatcher is another true slice of life attempting to takedown subjects like sports, fighting and guns. It's the American dream.

8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Theory of Everything

Based upon "Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen" by Hawking's first wife Jane, director James Marsh's tries to cover everything in the genius astrophysicist's life from his 1960s Cambridge student years through two marriages and finally to his debilitating illness. Beginning at University, Marsh uses fireworks to show a big bang of a romance as Hawking (played by an amazing Eddie Remayne, but more of him later) woos both his tutors with his intelligence and his future wife with romance.

As an awkward relationship finds its feet, Hawking stumbles upon learning that his laboured movements are the result of motor neuron disease which the doctor explains will see him lose function of his body and see him dead within 2 years.

The film then follows the difficulties the new couple must face as Jane (played by Felicity Jones) agrees to marry Stephen and stick by her man through these most difficult of circumstances. The solid but not spectacular direction portrays the pioneering Hawking through major milestones in his career from gaining further awards to marriage difficulties until he eventually succumbs to a wheelchair despite his active mind exploring the complexities of space as well as his complicated life on earth. Great support comes in the form of David Thewlis as College Professor Dennis Sciama who pushes, supports and challenges Hawking with a knowing glint in his eye that he is, in fact, in his immense superior shadow throughout.

But it is Redmayne who should be held as high in his profession as Hawking is in his. The actor completely embodies Hawking's slow decline and from researching the role to his complete commitment, every scene Redmayne is not in he is sorely missed. A dedicated performance is complimented by Felicity Jones playing an equally forthright wife and although the film fuses together composite characters, skips some of the more awkward realities of the book (with only hints of Hawking's stubbornness appearing) and compresses time, the movie is always tender at heart. From Hawking enjoying time with his 3 children and Jane's stoic resolve, the movie is about the human spirit rather than the scientific reasoning that has made Hawking so famous.

With Hawking himself providing his equalizer computerized voice to the later scenes, it is also somewhat ironic that I (people my age pretty much only know Hawking as he currently is) wanted to see less of the 'now' and more of the story of how it all began at the start.

This biography therefore follows the formula like a simple equation but if the only flaw is that it is too simple like your ABCs then as long as you are interested in Amazing Actors, Brilliant Biographies or Celebrating Cosmoslogical Champions then you will certainly enjoy this film.



9/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Birdman
Birdman(2014)

After the critically lauded Boyhood (which I didn't like) I entered the critically lauded Birdman with some trepidation but within just a few minutes I felt that I was watching something genuinely special. We begin by following an out-of-the-limelight actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who is attempting to put on a Broadway play after 20 years of being known as the star of a Hollywood superhero franchise called Birdman. After an accident knocks out his underperforming co-star, Keaton is recommended to use the actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who joins the ensemble, yet comes into conflict with all involved especially Keaton himself. As Riggan prepares for the preview shows, he is also seen battling with his relationships including the ever-watchable Emma Stone playing the "hot mess" of a daughter and with Andrea Risenborough (seen in the sci-fi Oblivion) as Keaton's possibly pregnant girlfriend. The acting is top-notch throughout with brilliant group dynamics and a cast that also includes Naomi Watts as a frustrated actress and Amy Ryan as his ex-wife.

Although Edward Norton will be rightly regarded as playing a great supporting performance the real surprise here is Zach Galifianakis as Keaton's producer trying to help his client hold it all together. Zach to me is a cinematic jinx for me, playing the same unlikeable idiot in each film but here I felt he was much more suited to the straight man role as the Producer trying to keep it all together emotionally and financially. Although flashes of his comedy were here, it was all part of the story and played with a much lighter touch. The film includes both laugh out loud moments and tenderly played family scenes as well as metaphorical scenes of the metaphysical - as Keaton is shown floating and using telekinesis - which are brilliantly used when he trashes his dressing room and fights his "alter ego".

You could view the movie as a narrative on Hollywood versus Theatre - there's plenty of heavy handed moments involving critics as well as YouTube and social media commentary - or as a treatise on getting old and feeling relevant but it's the private moments and Keaton's subtle performance that stick with you most. One technical aspect of the film which never took me out of the movie (unlike Boyhood's unique conceit) was that the film 'appears' to be one shot. That's right, there are no obvious cuts at all in the film- digital trickery plus clever pans like Hitchcock's 'Rope' cover the breaks - but it works brilliantly as the camera floats around the actors, up the side of buildings and through windows whilst also using different devices to show the passing of time.

An enigmatic ending open to interpretation is fitting for a film that balances both sides of someone's self-image and the audience can bring their own views on the story at its conclusion. With a unique style, a group of actors playing to their strengths, a well-played out narrative and an interesting score (by jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez) Birdman is a great achievement and one I recommend you checking out before a no-doubt successful night at the 2014 Oscars.

9/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Drop
The Drop(2014)
½

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.

7.5/10
Midlands Movies Mike

Boyhood
Boyhood(2014)
½

I take a big gulp as I move up the staircase to a large platform. A bead of sweat descends from my forehead. With a dry mouth I attempt to speak. The crowd finally quieten to a deadly silence. I'm being stared at by piercing eyes.

Finally a noise...

"I didn't like Boyhood", I croak.

An audible intake of breath emanates from the throng. Then a pause as I stare at the open mouthed pack.

There. I said it.

I'm not taking this solitary position lightly. It's not an intentional contrarian view. Going against the grain for the sake of exposure. I genuinely did not enjoy Linklater's much lauded latest release and I'll tell you why.

I'm sure you know the story by now. The film follows the childhood of one particular American boy called Mason and although fictional, the director spaced out his shooting so that the film actually spans 12 years of the actor's life and subsequently we see him physically changing and growing on screen from sequence to sequence.

From the opening spiralling shot of a young boy on grass to the final teenager at college, Linklater follows the whole family - Mason himself (played by Ellar Coltrane), his sister Olivia Patricia (the director's daughter Lorelei Linklater) and the estranged parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke - all of whom grow old along with the protagonist. And that's essentially it.

"Boyhood began filming without a completed script". That fact alone tells you everything about this film. As Mason grew up, my interest faded as the film slowly descending into an absolute entertainment vacuum. The conflict and clashing needed to build the tension that is so crucial to drama was absent and without it, the film is just a documentary. And what a boring one at that.

I began to ask myself why there was so much absent - the adventure, the unknown, friends (where the fuck are those important relationships made during these years?), excitement, laughter, games and most important fun - before adult foibles become an inevitable necessity. We end up just looking at the life of a child almost through an adult prism - all the seriousness of it and that alone.

As Mason grows, the child actor slowly becomes a new Hayden Christensen - a charisma void of a lead and too much of "I did this thing the other day" telling rather than showing the audience what has happened in his life. Like George Lucas, who simply placed people in rooms to talk about (the more exciting) things they had done, Linklater mismanages the balancing act of visuals, narrative, construction, plot and drama. For me, it's all construction here which takes you from the film completely. I found myself thinking I wonder if they kept the car all these years between takes. If I was worrying about that then I feel that the moviemaker had not captivated this audience member at all.

I'm not heartless but sadly felt no emotional connection with the characters (the sister is clearly the character we should be following) and although it is a controversial position, I suppose there was always going to be one great film I was going to stand in contrast with.

From Russell Maloney (New Yorker) who said The Wizard of Oz was "a stinkeroo", to Pauline Kael's (Harper's) scathing attack on The Graduate: "Mike Nichols' 'gift' is that be lets the audience direct him; this is demagoguery in the arts," there are lauded movies that will always not connect for one reason or another with critics. Infamous contrarian Armond White said that Spike Lee's Malcolm X had "no formal innovations or controversial content....Let the mourning begin" and I guess this film was not the one for me.

Aside from the unique conceit of being filmed over 12 years, I really got the sense that there's not much here. I'd argue if this film was simply recast at ages 8, 12 and 16 I doubt I would have given the whole thing a second glance and not have noticed much of a difference too.

A bold and daring experiment but so is the documentary "7 Up" which has followed people every 7 years for over 50 years and whose protagonists, again, have much more interesting lives.

And nostalgia? The film presents precisely the opposite. No warmly (and maybe falsely) remembered childhood events. Almost no events at all. Linklater removes the nostalgia factor but also removes anything memorable at all. Did Mason have any part of his life worth remembering? Looking back on my own boyhood, I had a "regular" upbringing but I don't recall it being anything like this. I know the eras are different but for a film about time I felt that the characters barely moved on at all in their lives and it certainly wasn't fun in the sense I know the word. 12 years worth of footage and this was the most interesting cut they could put together?

If I was this kid I'd be as depressed as he is towards the end. His life is dull. Duller than most peoples' actual lives. And that's the problem. Turn it off and go and spend some time with your kids. Or with your family. Or with someone else's kids.

Maybe I'll be accused of missing the subtleness. This is a gentler affair with an unobtrusive camera they'll say. Far from subtle, these shots of technology are heavy handed (we can already see the passing of time on the casts faces) so every shot of different technology wasn't needed. It should have been background. In addition, I'm not against Linklater or his experiments either. The rotoscoping in the strange sci-fi A Scanner Darkly is a brilliantly weird interpretation of the Phillip K Dick novella whilst his "Before..." series is a stunning look at relationships over time as well as trying his hand at commercial comedies ("School of Rock") and interesting adaptations ("Fast Food Nation") which all show his vast array of talents.

But this didn't work for me. It was just so mind-numbingly dull. They say some films reflect what you yourself bring to it. I brought an exciting childhood with me and left with the memory of a dreary and tedious one. I enjoyed my boyhood, I didn't enjoy this.

6/10

Midlands Movies Mike

Gone Girl
Gone Girl(2014)
½

Fincher, the director of macabre and dark films such as Seven, The Game and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adapts Gillian Flynn's 2012 novel in this thriller concerning the seedier side of the American dream. When Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) returns home one day, he finds his wife (Rosamund Pike) missing with blood splatters around the house before the media spend no time roundly pointing an accusing finger at him. With the police checking his every move, his demeanour is analysed by all around him as we uncover some home truths about his "perfect" marriage and with clues piling against him - from suspicious credit card purchases to extra-marital dalliances - Fincher points the camera at Affleck as his life spirals out of control.

An impressive Tyler Perry acts as Nick's lawyer as Affleck begins to put some interesting puzzle pieces together in the hope of finding the truth. Ben Affleck shows that his acting chops in Argo and The Town weren't a recent fluke but the outstanding performance is Rosamund Pike who holds the film together with a multi-faceted and multi-faced performance. Saying too much would spoil the story surprises but as we uncover the truth about everyone's past, the audience are struck with a conundrum between people's public persona versus their very much private performances. A few rug-pulls are obvious from the outset but Fincher is never boring, keeping the narrative strands moving forward but allowing space for characters to develop and expand.

A mystery and thesis in one, Gone Girl uses a simple set up to tackle thorny issues of marriage and relationships and throws in some absurdly murky twists and turns along the journey.

A sinister 7.5/10
Midlands Movies Mike

Nightcrawler
Nightcrawler(2014)

With a mesmerising performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler stalks along with a plot of opportunism and media frenzies whilst focusing on the actions of one loner whose goals become all consuming. Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an unemployed Californian oddball who witnesses a crash one night and is in awe of an amateur film crew taking gruesome footage which is later sold to a TV news show. Rene Russo as Nina is the head of the local station who then encourages Lou to get more salacious shock footage that will help give audiences "what they want". Buying a cheap camera and enlisting the help of a drifter (also played to perfection by Riz Ahmed), Lou comes up against Bill Paxton (finding a new lease of life after his support in Edge of Tomorrow) who plays a rival news gathering entrepreneur but their opposing businesses take a toxic turn as Lou goes further than a regular rivalry should.

As he arrives at scenes of chaos and violence, Lou takes more and more risks and stipulates higher acclaim from Nina before arriving first at a fatal home-intrusion leading to run-ins with the police authorities. Writer-director Gilroy goes very Michael Mann with his night time shoot around the City of Angels and the Taxi Driver-esque themes of obsession and fixation are scattered throughout. The parallels with real life and the questions of what is news (and who creates the meaning) are thrown at the screen all the while the audience focuses on a captivating piece of acting by a gaunt Gyllenhaal. The need for news collides with the actuality of it even happening and people's privacy is invaded during their most vulnerable moments. The film executes this with style and a compelling script and it's no accident that this film smashes together a wide range of modern concerns about the media as it hurtles towards a dark finale.

8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
½

With a title like that it is clear where Jackson was going in this third and final frustrating prequel adapted from J. R. R. Tolkien's slim book of the same name. Before we go back again, we started with An Unexpected Journey whose dwarf-singing, cutlery throwing antics were mostly a large misfire for me before the sequel (The Desolation of Smaug) found another gear in which the Cumberbatch voiced dragon was more than a fine spectacle.

This third act opens where we left off with Smaug attacking Lake Town which was an exciting but too brief intro and why Jackson didn't end on the *SPOILER* killing of the dragon for part 2 shows how thin he stretched the tiny novel. Once the dwarves return to Erebor, they fortify themselves within its mountainous walls, which then sets up the mother of all scraps. And therein lies the problem. The vision is exciting and as bombastic as any film-battle depicted on screen but the casualty is any meaningful engagement with the people conducting it.

We move away from Bilbo and focus on Thorin's downfall as a man obsessed by gold, poisoning him (much like the Ring) which means we lose focus of the hobbit's journey. Thrown away is the character development of LOTR and we are simply given a second helping of the Minas Tirith battle which like The Fast Show's "The Long Big Punch Up" sketch, goes on for exactly forever.

That said, the fight is undeniably thrilling. The 3D combined with Jackson's swinging camera (perhaps too much swinging) was electrifying as we got orcs, elves, humans, dwarves and *ahem* eagles clashing in a brawl that contains fist fights, sword skirmishes, axe-swinging and pig-riding. An always acrobatic Legolas jumps and leaps in a particularly well executed bridge falling-apart scene whilst an earlier appendix-filling sequence in which 3 older characters fight early incarnations of the Nazgul was a joy for fans of the previous trilogy. In a flurry of special effects the 48fps was a little weird at first but I thought it gave the film a distinguishing style and was a risk worth taking in a film with little narrative risk elsewhere. And the CGI? Oh the CGI. Sometimes amazing (Azog was all but real) and sometimes frustrating (Billy Connolly voiced Dain Ironfoot was rendered completely in CGI for no reason whatsoever) audiences will either go along with the visual eye-candy or rebel against it. In the main, this reviewer went with it.

In summary, a decent but dry ending leads up to the events which start the LOTR trilogy and with the Tolkien estate refusing to authorise further adaptations I hope we can leave Middle Earth with the memory of one exceptional trilogy and one reasonable one.

7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Fury
Fury(2014)

Historical accuracy is mostly thrown out the window in this rough and ready war movie which although inspired by actual incidents is a fictional tale of Brad Pitt leading a gang of tank-bound soldiers across Germany in 1945. A gruesome intro of the stark realities of the battle ground continue throughout as Pitt ("Wardaddy") and his comrades (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña & Jon Bernthal) are joined by an inexperienced youngster Norman Ellison - played by a brilliant Logan Lerman - and introduce him to the harsh truths of their campaign. The teenager's reluctance to kill Germans antagonises the crew before Pitt forces the young man to kill or be killed. I especially liked the touch that the crew itself were on the verge of falling apart at times, the ravages of their combined histories tearing at their very moral soul and Ayer is convincing in his portrayal of the complexities of their situation rather than a simple good versus evil position. Pitt's presence says a lot with few words whilst newcomer Lerman holds his own with a very impressive performance as his eyes are slowly opened to the cruelty around him. Building up loyalty (both amongst the tank's crew and with the audience), Ayer's finale has an immobilized tank taking on 300 soldiers of Waffen-SS infantry in a tense and well edited night battle. In summary, Fury as a whole moves at a steady march and a scene at a dinner table during one of the quieter moments shows more about the intricacies of war than some of the (admittedly electrifying) front line sequences. War film aficionados will love this yanks in tanks fighting flick. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Tusk
Tusk(2014)
½

Oh Kevin Smith, it's one step forward and two steps back. After the diminishing returns of Zack & Miri and then Cop Out, Smith appeared to somewhat wipe the slate clean with the impressively different Red State. Gone were the weed-inspired puerile antics of his last flops but guess what? They're back with a vengeance in Tusk. You probably know the story by now but let me fill you in. Justin Long plays one half of a podcast duo who goes to Canada to interview an internet sensation but after the kid's suicide he ends up at the home of Howard Howe (Michael Parks) who tells him of poetic stories of past adventures on the sea. Before nightfall though, Howe drugs the young man and straps him to a wheelchair whilst explaining he had to remove his leg as he was bitten by a spider. It is right up to here, the film works. Long is suitably obnoxious as the arrogant and over-confident podcaster (simply, he's Smith himself) and the journey in the first 30 minutess has hints of dark humour, some interesting characters and is well paced. However, it's all downhill from here. Already aware of the ludicrous plot (Howe begins to change his kidnap victim "into" a Walrus), Smith just cannot find the right tone for the next two-thirds. Intrigue is lost as characters spout long diatribes, there is no tension and the horrific transformation/mind games I was expecting were nowhere to be seen. But Smith saves the worst for last - a cameo by Johnny Depp as a French-Canadian investigating Howe's previous crimes. Just imagine Inspector Clouseau showing up in the middle of Misery and you get the idea. Whereas his last film looked like he had finally left his former juvenile behaviour behind, he makes his "Snakes on a Plane" film which die-hard fans may find some entertainment from but left me wondering where it went wrong. With poor makeup, the film has interesting ideas but is badly executed and for a horror-comedy, it's neither horrific or funny enough. This creature feature is out of its depth. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Maze Runner
½

Young Adult Fiction is really not my bag. With a big shrug to all things Hunger Games (the first film was a so-so rehash of Battle Royale/The Running Man) and the like, I came at this with an attitude of "so, impress me". And (in the main) impress me it did. Maybe it was the switch to a contained arena with little backstory which gave the film a more Lord of the Flies literary vibe that helped. However, we join an unknown boy (Thomas) who is thrust into a self-sustaining prison eco-system called The Glade which is surrounded on all sides by a huge maze which they regularly "run" when the doors open in an attempt to find a way out. Will Poulter ("We're the Millers") plays the chief of the tribe and boys mix menial tasks with night time parties alongside their battles against Grievers - bio-mechanic monsters that stalk the maze itself. With a good amount of intrigue and strong performances by the young cast, I was impressed with the pacing of the story (Thomas is seen as an outcast risk-taker disrupting their paradise), the slow revelations and some genuinely scary encounters in the maze which may frighten younger viewers so take that as a warning. Although clearly set up with a finale to suggest more instalments (there are more books in the series), it could have easily stood on its own such was the character development and design of the self controlled environment. With a mixture of sci-fi, teen angst and some well edited action, the film is aimed at the young - but adults too will find something interesting amongst the literary lore in this labyrinth. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

13 Sins
13 Sins(2014)

This independent horror is a remake of a 2006 Thai film called 13 Beloved and the film is a (very) dark horror comedy where a regular guy is contacted by a mysterious caller who gives him 13 increasingly difficult and immoral (AND later on illegal) challenges to complete to help him win a large amount of cash. He has high debts, a pregnant fiancée and has recently lost his job all the while worrying about his disabled brother who is scared about being taken back to a home. The rules stated by the voice on the phone simply state if he fails to complete any challenge then he loses the money gained up until that point but after checking his bank account, the protagonist - a Sam Rockwell-alike Mark Webber as Elliot - finds the cash as promised under his ownership. As the rewards rise then so do the stakes and these actions stir the interest of local police officers. Will Elliot be able to complete the challenges or will he lose his bottle? A cameo by Ron Perlman as a senior detective is a welcome but too little-too late addition to a well intentioned but ultimately inconsequential film. Although you may root for Elliot at the outset, his addictive personality (a drug parallel is hinted upon by the director) gives way to his baser instincts and the audience may feel turned off from the dark dangerous tasks he is asked to finish. I felt that the film was a run of the mill thriller with a few interesting new ideas but without knowing who the real enemy/antagonist is, the film falters from one challenge to the next with far too many questions unanswered. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Lucy
Lucy(2014)

From Luc Besson comes this high concept actionner in the vein of the recent-ish Bradley Cooper film Limitless with the parallel stories of protagonists who increase their brain capacity to almost super-human levels owing to experimental drugs. Not known for his subtlety, Besson hits home with some heavy handed montages between animal behaviours and human instincts as we follow Scarlett Johansson's Lucy who after a run in with some Asian criminals, has a bag of drugs explode inside her, giving her a huge dose of CPH4 which expands her mental and physical powers. Johansson, as always, is a brilliant screen presence, channelling the vulnerable voice from Her with the black goo strangeness of Under the Skin, all wrapped up in the fighting chops of the Avengers' Black Widow. However, despite the Hollywood starlet's obvious draw, the movie never makes up its mind what it is and from the Taken-style opener (an exciting 30 mins of tension and violence) the film spirals into a mixture of the cyberspace-ness of Transcendence (an appearance by Morgan Freeman from that movie doesn't help) and even Malick's Tree of Life's earth creation and CGI dinosaurs. Yes, this really happens! This mish-mash of genres does not sit well as a whole and I although really enjoyed some sequences - an emotionless Lucy crazily speeding through the streets of Paris was a highlight - but by the film's finale, the movie disappears up its own convoluted behind where big serious themes sit uncomfortably with the silly supernatural story. 6/10

Grand Piano
Grand Piano(2014)

In the vein of Buried and Phone Booth comes this taught 'one-location' thriller where a returning pianist protégé Tom Selznick (Lord of the Rings' Elijah Wood) is threatened with murder during his comeback concert with an assassin promising to shoot him if he gets just one note wrong in his performance. With long tracking and panning shots, the director pulls us along into the movie with a slow build up before the tone switches to high stress as Wood's character realises his predicament. As a sniper's laser sight passes over his sheet music, the pianist comes to terms that both he and his wife in the audience are at the hands of this man as he desperately tries to figure a way out using his mobile phone and coded messages whilst completing the increasingly difficult tasks set by the voice in his ear. The key to the film are a set of good performances (Wood plays the nervous yet intense musician with great flair) and a fast rhythm that ratchets up the stakes with creative editing - along with a fantastic score coming from Frodo's fingers himself. With grand aspirations, Eugenio Mira tickles the audiences' ivories with sequence after sequence of rising tension and although the film knows its low-budget limitations, it also plays its strengths like a fine composer. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

As Above, So Below

It seems when it comes to horror I really like the films everyone else hates. With an approval rating lingering around the 20% mark on Rotten Tomatoes this film is accused of being a poorly written and acted cliché of found footage horror. The problem being is I'm quite fond of the genre - with the exceptions of the original Blair Witch and this year's awful Willow Creek - so as a fan of REC (it's sub-par USA remake directed by Dowdle too) this female-fronted investigative shaky cam story had me interested from the outset. So we follow academic Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) into the catacombs under Paris as she and her cohorts look for the philosopher's stone - a powerful but possibly cursed historical relic. Whilst conceding it is hardly the most original concept, the jumps, scares and the Descent-style claustrophobia comes across in every frame with the cast filming in the real caves and stone corridors under the City of Light. I enjoyed the slow build up and although the usual "why are they doing that?/don't got into there" chestnuts occur, I enjoyed the dark caverns, mystical elements but mostly just the shadowy sense of foreboding around every corridor twist and turn. The concept is as old as the hills but it's the caves that are ancient and contain enough no-frills shocks for a Saturday night scare-fest. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Life Itself
Life Itself(2014)
½

From the director of the Oscar nominated basketball documentary Hoop Dreams comes this film based upon legendary film critic Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name. From his humble beginnings as a film critic starting in 1967 for the Chicago Sun-Times through to the co-writing of the sexploitation cult film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with Russ Meyer, the film covers the major points of his life using interviews and archive footage as well as excerpts from his infamous show with Gene Siskel. A powerful but humourous writer, Ebert not only scored a prized Pulitzer for his work, he also helped elevate film criticism from the press to television and established himself as the foremost authority on the subject. With contributions from Scorsese amongst other film-friends, the movie also follows Ebert's later battle with salivary gland cancer and the subsequent removal of his lower jaw and the tireless support of his wife Charlie "Chaz" Hammelsmith. It's these segments that bring home the simple power of the film which show a man looking back on his life, his family, his achievements and regrets - all filmed through the capturing eye of a non-intrusive camera. Bringing a tear to this reviewer's eye, the film avoids soppy sentimentality and simply states Ebert's struggles, his fight with alcoholism and his artistic endeavours in such a matter of fact way that his significance, influence and importance shine through easily. The film's summation shows just how great Ebert's outlook was, not just through his career around the movies but as mantra for life itself. 9/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Interstellar
Interstellar(2014)
½

*Mild spoilers* To authenticity and beyond! Wunderkind director Chris Nolan returns with this space odyssey that is confusing, chaotic, challenging and determined to raise cinematic blockbusters above the mediocre but ultimately gets destroyed by its own self aware cleverness. Nolan chooses American everyman Matthew McConaughey to play Cooper, a farmer who once tested NASA spaceships to be our last hope in finding a solution to mankind's food problems. With huge dust storms, the director combines large scale problems with small scale intimacy and soon sends him to the heavens to fly through a wormhole in the hope of finding a habitable colony. What Nolan gets right is to show us galactic wonders on an epic scale and harvesting Zimmer's ear-splitting score, cultivates a feeling of awe in the vast emptiness. McConaughey is joined by Anne Hathaway as Amelia Brand (daughter of Professor Brand played by Nolan stalwart Michael Caine) & David Gyasi & Wes Bentley as the "expendable" crew. As they planet hop and come up against the problems of relativity and time dilation set against mountain-high waves and polar landscapes, the film stutters from one sequence to the next and is juxtaposed with the panic back on our homeworld. One superb scene is played brilliantly by McConaughey, who leaves son & daughter behind, and watches them literally grow up in front of his eyes as time is contracted in videos sent from earth. The astro-antics continue as their options dwindle yet I began to question why Nolan's wizardry with action resulted in him focusing so much on the (badly written) mawkish character aspects that are clearly not his forte. Ironically Interstellar is so full of corn that it could keep the human species alive for another generation or two. One review also suggested the film needed to more strictly adhere to science to make it work. I would suggest the exact opposite. The long protracted explanations of everything made me pine for Gravity (2013)-style simplicity and its arse-sleeping 169 minutes felt even longer with a dragging and ridiculous third act. With some pleasant surprises such as TARS (a uniquely designed robot who is a help rather than a HAL-hindrance) and an exhilarating spinning space-lock sequence, you may be able to overlook the time-looping looseness of the story. Howver, despite enjoying the planetary exploration I felt that after his previous highs, the film ultimately disappointed and failed to break out of its sentimental science-fact orbit. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike (doing my best to avoid a Matthew McConaughey "Failure to Launch" pun - doh, too late!)

Blackfish
Blackfish(2013)
½

This 2013 documentary tackles the sensitive subject of keeping Killer Whales in captivity and especially focuses its harpoon on the orca called "Tilikum" and the dangers of working with this majestic but dangerous species. The story begins with the sad tale of Sealand who began showing its prized asset in the 80s - and yes, they're treated like we have some kind of ownership - before a death (the first of many from this particular whale - and the first of many attributed to "trainer error" or "accident" too) forces the park to close and give this animal to SeaWorld. The documentary takes us through the problems from the whales' mental anguish, performing like circus animals and their collapsed dorsal fins (all okay it seems if under the guise of "conservation") and dispels many of the myths that the holiday destination would rather have you not know about. The sad laments and tears of grown men that a few ex-trainers tell - who remorsefully but honestly explain away their previous actions of taking these babies from their mothers - are filled with genuine regret which is the greatest strength of the film as it asks, if not even those elite few who risk everything and are closest to these animals believe what is happening is right, then what are we doing with them at all? From SeaWorld's "blame-shifts" and their lies on the average age of the beasts (no, it's not longer in captivity we hear) the bad guys are clearly exposed for the money-grabbing, life-threatening business folk they are with little care for their animals and even less care for the trainers asked to work with them. Is it a superbly made documentary? I would say it was standard at best but the issue within should make us all take notice as to why there is still a modern aqua-equivalent to bear-dancing in this day and age 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

"This rotten town... It soils everybody." So says Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) and oh how true it is. This sequel to the 2005 hit continues the monochrome graphic-novel style from the pages of the comic and combines more of Frank Miller's brutal noir stories, some adapted plus a few new ones written especially for this movie. We get brutal card games, revenge violence, femme fatales and crooked cops and although these themes continue from the original with equivalent gloss, it does not have the same excitement and it's difficult to know exactly why. For me, the stories were less engrossing - my favourite being Joseph Gordon-Levitt's "The Long Bad Night" (actually one of the original stories for the film) - yet the plotting and editing were awkward and cumbersome. Marv (Mickey Rourke) is both a great character and well acted plus there are corking cameos from Lady Gaga and a too-little-seen Christopher Lloyd as a shifty "doc" whilst Eva Green (from 300: Rise of an Empire) is definitely to die for with a seemingly endless set of partially dressed explicit scenes. However, the large cast fail to reach any chemistry on screen and a HUGE misstep for me was the incessant recasting of actors. With the sad passing of Michael Clarke Duncan we get an understandable but dull replacement, Devon Aoki and Michael Madsen are replaced and the worst crime is there's no Clive Owen (who I only like in one film, guess which). Although I do like Josh Brolin and he gives it his all, the sequel/prequel plot was confusing and compounded by his involvement in a facial plastic surgery story! Sadly then, this is the second Frank Miller sequel (after Rise of an Empire) in 2014 to miss the mark - which just proves you can't really go back. It's 9 years too late and sadly the biggest sin is that it is actually quite boring and Rodriguez's roulette of good-to-bad films continues. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Babadook
The Babadook(2014)

Critically acclaimed since its release at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, I had high hopes for this antipodean horror from first time director Jennifer Kent. Plot wise, we have Amelia (an astounding Essie Davis) who since the death of her husband, has been struggling as a single mum trying to raise her son Samuel (an equally astounding Noah Wieseman) and his increasingly erratic behavioural problems. After reading from a gothic pop-up book, 'Mister Babadook', Sam starts to believe the ghostly monster is real and attacking the family home. And he may be right. The great characters and superbly realised house beguile more unexplained occurrences as Amelia's awareness of her possession blur the boundaries of dreams and reality and the violence is ratcheted up as Samuel attempts to help his mum overcome the peculiar fiend. Despite all these right ingredients though, I felt the scares and tension promised in the trailer were not delivered on and although I understand the need for build up and am not looking for cheap jump-cuts or "quiet quiet bang" moments, for this reviewer it just wasn't that scary. The metaphors for loss, bereavement, family and anxiety are correct and present but with a far too long beginning, when the "entity" is eventually revealed I felt a sense of disappointment. For me, if the horror fails to horrify then there's a crucial element missing. It's certainly a class product but with a lack of true terror I cannot feel anything more than frustration as to what could have been. An anti-climatic child's play curiosity. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon

Austin Powers/Wayne's World star Mike Myers directs this documentary about showbiz manager to the stars Shep Gordon and his lifetime of high and lows with a variety of musicians, film stars and even TV cooks! Beginning out in LA in the late 60s, Myers explains how Shep fell into his role by carving out a dark satanic career for gothic legend Alice Cooper before heading in the opposite direction to manage Canadian crooner Anne Murray. Alongside the obvious stock footage and a few dramatic reconstructions we get fawning vox pops from friends Michael Douglas and Sylvester Stallone who tells us a few (mild) tales of debauchery but sadly most of it is left to our imaginations. My favourite parts were the latter stages of Shep's career as he helped Teddy Pendergrass face a worldwide audience after a car crash that left him paralysed as well as becoming a father figure to his adoptive family despite having no long-term partner of his own. These emotional beats are still somewhat fluffy and out there somewhere is the real story of depravity and wantonness but you won't find it here in this flattering facade. A gentle, glossy and polished biopic but sadly it is mostly surface stories we get rather than a treatise on the talented talent manager and his no doubt thrilling life. A pleasant and sentimental ride that will have you beaming 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Horns
Horns(2014)
½

This gothic fantasy murder mystery is an adaptation of Joe Hill's novel and stars Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, playing lead character Ig Parrish who we join in the middle of a suburban nightmare seeing that his neighbourhood shuns him as the accused of his murdered girlfriend. However, he awakes after a drunken one night stand to find a pair of demonic horns growing from his head which no one seems to mind but which actually cause those around him to admit their sordid secrets. A strange and unearthly experience, I am no fan of Radcliffe but here (with an impressively faultless mid-Atlantic American accent) he is dazzling and dramatic and with a darkly comic tone in places I enjoyed the bonkers shifts in atmosphere and story. A sinister 'Stand By Me' style flashback shows us the interactions between childhood friends and Radcliffe tries to investigate who the real culprit is whilst uncovering dark and wicked secrets along the way. Juno Temple is a bit typecast as the woman victim of male violence (see Sin City 2, Dark Knight Rises, Killer Joe as well) but is strong and holds her own amongst the blend of fiendish characters around her. Its weakness is its typecasting though as Max Minghella's appearance is not subtle and spoils the story as certain beats play out exactly as expected. Despite these reservations, kudos to Alexandre Aja for trying something new and with this and the Elijah Wood starring Maniac (2012) is building an impressive horror/fantasy oeuvre that combines fresh ideas with some established and evil supernatural myths. Midlands Movies Mike 7.5/10

The Purge: Anarchy
½

This sequel to the 2013 film continues to follow the exploits of a future American society where for one-night a year only, residents can commit crimes including murder without fear of prosecution from the authorities. That first film was a so-so house invasion movie but this movie expands the concept into new directions with quasi-religious sermons on the significance of The Purge as a means of wealth distribution and oppression. Story wise, it's the year 2023 and we follow 3 sets of characters - waitress Eva and her daughter Cali who are picked upon by a paramilitary group, a couple whose car is sabotaged and are left to be chased around the city by masked thugs and finally Leo Barnes (a grizzled Frank Grillo) who heavily arms himself for revenge. A stroke of serendipity sees their paths cross and the film takes a different angle from its predecessor as penny pinching poverty is contrasted with violent acts as the group combine and are then chased through dark neighbourhoods in something akin to The Warriors or Judgement Night. With bloody SWAT team shootouts alongside car chases and punch ups, the film mixes action with essays on class and citizenship which aspires to be like Elysium - although it felt a little more like Justin Timberlake's "In Time". However, as an original property telling interesting stories I enjoyed that the film did not just re-hash the first story and in fact went off on many engrossing tangents and stories that covered different aspects of the human condition during The Purge - repentance, revenge and retribution. Some good night time cinematography and shocking twists including a scene of a bidding war at a posh society event where hunting the poor is the norm helps elevate the film beyond the voyeuristic and the violent. Hopefully the franchise can survive for a third annual outing which I will look forward as we view even more peoples' stories during the same sickening event. Grime and gunishment in equal measure. 7.5/10 MM Mike

Transformers: Age of Extinction
½

The fourth instalment of the Hasbro toys summer spectacle is a frustrating affair and trying to bring a critical eye to a billion dollar success story is a baffling exercise. As a fan of the first film, a superficial but pretty genuine attempt to put in some humour and character into a movie about giant robots, never has a franchise property gone so quickly downhill. 2 was a mess, 3 was pointless and oh my god, four! Where to start? I just hate these movies now. Genuine disgust with throwing away any goodwill generated from the first film into a now nearly 3-hour (!) bore-fest. Replacing the Whitwickys are Mark Wahlberg's family of annoying rubes working with the (somehow the worst animation of all the films) CGI battlebots to avoid capture from shady government forces. From the inane dialogue to the badly paced story, it feels as if it has been made by a film student who is learning the art of editing. The robots are now nothing like their vehicle forms (huge gigantic guns appear from nowhere and couldn't even fit into the cars they turn into) and the frantic cutting and 10,000 part Transformers are more confusing than ever. A short section in a disused theatre with an American football bouncing off into a character's face is the worst thing I've seen in a modern movie in a generation and the nerve to extend the run time just means more of the tired formula. With Transformers now creating beards - why would they need these things - and a scene of a robot that looked like a cross between a T-1000 and sentinel from The Matrix floating around the freeway like magic dust, the whole affair just started to offend me. As I said at the start, I am still a fan of that first one - ludicrous but with updated nostalgic fun - but these advertorials for toys, beers, cars and many other products are a sad incarnation of these megabusting summer movies. Dear Michael Bay, I beg, no implore you to return to the fun silliness you created with Bad Boys, The Rock or even my guilty pleasure The Island and leave these hateful films behind. 3/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Autómata
Autómata(2014)
½

In the year 2044, earth's population has dwindled to a few million and radioactive solar flares have scorched the earth's surface. Assisting the survivors are manual labour droids who have 2 protocols they must follow (don't hurt humans and don't fix themselves) and amongst this apocalyptic scenario Antonio Banderas plays an insurance investigator from the company which makes the robots. After a few encounters, he fears that a mysterious "clockmaster" may have found a way for robots to break their fixed rules. From a black & white photographic back-story in the opening credits, we then get the typical industrial Phillip K Dick-esque cityscapes and therein lie the film's biggest flaws. As Banderas' investigator becomes the investigated, the familiar sci-fi tropes (pregnant wife, corrosive city, hologram adverts/media) makes the stylish production design harder to swallow as the story becomes sloppy and slow. After being kidnapped by a group of outlaw droids and taken to the desert, a great scene with supporting Dylan McDermott as a fellow investigator sent to get Banderas shows the tension that could have been - but like their desert wander, it's all a bit sparse and meandering. A few great ideas (a learning to dance scene, robots creating robots and themes of evolution) are lost amongst a poor script and not just shades, but a whole palette of ideas from Blade Runner, Minority Report and most obviously, I, Robot. With a cameo from Melanie Griffith (who's the least human looking of all), the film squanders its premise with a strange lack of pace that a lack of a pounding score exacerbates. With one part Asimov and one part Asimo (the Honda robot), the sum of these never adds up to more and the movie only partially functions as it should. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Coherence
Coherence(2014)
½

Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit this is an 89 minute thrilling sci-fi mystery set at a suburban USA dinner party that pulls at the audience's emotions and brainstems equally. The film sets up an 8-person meal and we are introduced to each of the characters as they arrive for dinner with Byrkit utilising handheld camera for a realistic style. After discussion of a passing comet, the electric goes off and only one other house in the neighbourhood has their lights on so some of the group decide to check it out. To say too much would be to spoil the surprise but with a similar tone to the low budget film Primer (2004) as well as the confusing and twisting narrative of Triangle (2009), Byrkit has used improvisational techniques to heighten the tension and I thought it was great to see people discuss the actual ramifications and consequences of their actions for once. Brilliantly constructed with consistent characters who engage in plausible actions, the film demands a second viewing in order to fully appreciate the chilling doppelgangers that populate the looping plot. A cerebral but engaging film, Coherence plays with dual characters and themes whilst a feisty Emily Foxler holds her own against Buffy star Nicholas Brendon. He in fact parodies his TV-starring credentials yet to pick out just one actor would do a disservice to the whole ensemble cast who help establish a credible backdrop for the fantastical elements. The film is an indie highlight showing how a great idea done well with a low budget can compete with more expensive fare and it does so with an inspired and audacious concept that is well executed. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow

Doug Liman (Bourne Identity and the guilty pleasure Jumper) delivers his first film since Fair Game (2010) with this adaptation of Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill and stars Tom Cruise as William Cage, a demoted military Major who ends up repeating the same day over and over in a fight against an alien horde. Joining Groundhog Day and Source Code as "repeat-day" films the movie shares some themes from those including the learning new things each day, re-planning situations based on knowledge gained as well as a musical montage to show a "training" section - here Andie McDowell's slaps are replaced with Emily Blunt's robotic training claws that batter and bruise Cruise. The time loop narrative is effective and Cruise ultimately gets better at fighting the aliens but the movie also has a great supporting cast who help deliver the high concept plot. Blunt plays an elite special forces fighter who is used to promote the cause to new recruits but who also knows more about the aliens than originally thought, whilst the much-missed Bill Paxton (Aliens, Twister) returns to sci-fi as a bombastic Sergeant putting Cruise through his paces. Brendan Gleeson is a nice addition but underused as a misinformed General and the European settings of London and Paris were a fine change from the regular California locales that audiences are used to from such summer blockbusters. From the battle-ready mech-suits - which were much better utilised than the similar body-weapons of 2013's Elysium - to the cleverly structured narrative, Cruise delivers a much better sci-fi performance than the stale Oblivion from last year with a twisty concept that (almost) rivals his stunning turn in Spielberg's Minority Report. A big blockbuster with brains, brawn, brute force and Blunt, Edge of Tomorrow is a movie you'll no doubt come back to again and again. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Frank
Frank(2014)

A quirky independent film loosely based on the idiosyncratic UK comedic stylings of Frank Sidebottom, this movie is a fictionalised account of an eccentric musician trying to find his calling in life. Beginning in a suburban nightmare, the musical journey is seen through the eyes of Jon (a brilliantly naive Domhnall Gleeson) who leaves his humdrum life to join an unpronounceable band then spends the next 11 months working on an album of bizarre instrumentations and unusual compositions. The lead singer is Frank (Michael Fassbender) who persistently wears an over-sized homemade head and the film follows the erratic interactions and odd relationships between new and old band members, the manager Don (an exceptional Scoot McNairy) and Frank himself. Without a single facial expression in sight (Frank at times describes them out loud, "Welcoming smile") Fassbender delivers a virtuoso performance as the comical yet infectious front man trying to connect with world he's closed himself off to. With the band pulling in different directions, Jon gets them a slot at South By South-West Festival in Austin, Texas but their expedition begins to unravel as tempers rise and personalities clash. As a screwball study of musical differences, the film is an infectious harmony of well acted scenes that despite a rather unsure ending, is a mirthful look at both creativity and mental hindrances. A weird and wonderful musical tour that has a great score by Stephen Rennicks (who also co-wrote the crazy chants Frank warbles) and a surprisingly understated performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal as Clara, the silly songs by the band and the right balance of cranium and compassion make Frank a tender tale of creativity. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Brick Mansions

Set in a violent near-future in Detroit where a rough ghetto called Brick Mansions has been segregated from the rest of the city, this film is a remake of the 2004 French film District 13 and stars the same French free-running star David Belle. The late Paul Walker plays an undercover narcotic cop but story and plot are sparse as we follow the standard action beats as drug gangs and cops fight, drive and smash everything they can to get the job done. One of the major problems is that everything is so glossy it doesn't feel cinematic in the slightest - sadly just as superficial as the paint jobs on the American muscle cars it features. This glossy presentation conflicts with the gritty style they're obviously aiming for so the movie has an advertising feel to both the film stock and editing. And what is it advertising exactly? Shoes or cargo pants, probably. In addition, the kinetic street gymnastics of parkour make the fight scenes look even more choreographed than a regular movie whilst RZA as a crime lord is about as scary as Lenny Henry's Delbert Wilkins. I suppose the most remarkable thing is how unremarkable it is and when an early high speed car chase around a city centre ends in a crash for Paul Walker watching his co-passenger fly through the windscreen, it all foreshadows real life and feels a bit eerily macabre. 4.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

They Came Together

This send up of romantic comedy movies stars comedians Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler as Joe and Molly who are starry eyed 30-somethings who have to overcome the usual barriers associated with the genre in this spot on satire. The spoof begins as they tell their story to 2 friends over dinner with Rudd's employment at the Corporate Candy Store threatening Poehlers's independent sweet shop but they soon meet at a joint friend's party. The parody of the film unfortunately becomes a bit too self-aware (I did enjoy the male friends' combination of traits whilst failing abysmally at life represented by street basketball) but overall, it knows what it's mocking and doesn't stray from its target too far. The jokes are a bit hit and miss and I've never seen Poehler's attraction but Rudd is consistently brilliant as the likeable everyman who gets screwed over by his ex - an adulterous Cobie Smoulders. The predictability and clichés of the rom-com genre are the real problem for the plot as you know the targets before they arrive - from their first ambivalent encounter and musical montage of dates to the falling out and subsequent realisation of their rekindled love. The farcical jokes continue from a room-smashing first snog to a unique twist of the behind the ear coin trick in order for Rudd to look the perfect father figure to Poehler's sassy single mom. I suppose the closest companion is other high concept fare like The Invention of Lying (2009) but like that film, you have to be careful not to become a citizen of "Smugland". More than once I felt a twinge of self righteousness in the movie that it wasn't a fond homage to the genre but was in fact above it. I think the best parodies have to love the genre as much as poke fun at it. That said, a late cameo from Michael Shannon is spot on as the 'ex with issues' and the haphazard nature of the film and the sometimes aimless jokes are a small price to pay for an often funny farce that looks at how these films follow formula. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

A Million Ways to Die in the West
½

Family Guy writer, creator and voice star Seth MacFarlane follows up the brilliant originality of his debut film Ted with the notoriously-difficult-to-sell-outside-of-the-USA western genre, as he plays a cowardly farmer in the Wild West. Immediately after the impressive Monument Valley opening we get a knob joke and pratfall within the first 30 seconds which sets the tone for this attempted comedy as a new woman played by Charlize Theron helps him face his fears after losing his girlfriend to the moustachioed Neil Patrick Harris. MacFarlane is a pretty decent actor but he unfortunately he attempts to take on the (very high) standard set by the similar Blazing Saddles which is a brave (or foolish) undertaking. Considering that, he may as well have rebooted a rock band spoof or airplane disaster comedy but unlike those classics he simply returns to endless swearing and rather poor breaking wind gags. Despite all the Western tropes being there from shootouts, saloons, whorehouses and prospectors the film plays a bit like the Family Guy cutaway gags coming thick and fast one after the other but, with no let up, it ends up exhausting and ultimately unamusing. Despite one great Doc Brown cameo, from the frontier fart jokes to the silly sunset slapstick this prairie parody clowns around in the dustbowl without ever finding gold. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Two Faces of January
½

The first film from Hossein Amini is based on the 1964 novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith and stars Viggo Mortensen as Chester MacFarland, an American conman in Europe with a shady past of defrauding shareholders. His young wife Collette (Kirsten Dunst) sticks by his side but after being hunted down by an agent representing the swindled investors, a fatal hotel accident sees him go on the lam with another local scammer Rydal - played by the fast-rising star Oscar Isaac. A flawed character study with hints of Hitchcockian suspense, the characters flee around Europe in a flair of well shot but rather typical locales. The film has hints of the Ripley series (conman in Europe) and is a solid adaptation despite Dunst's performance which blends into background but it is Isaac who gives a first class performance undertaking the difficult task of getting the audience to feel empathy for his dupe. The beautiful sites of Greece, Crete & Turkey are used well, the 60's period outfits are consistent of the time and Mortensen is very watchable as the anchor holding the numerous narrative strands together. "Two Faces" won't set the world alight but as a leisurely trip, this violent vacation contains enough duplicitous twists and turns to satisfy fans of murderous movie mysteries. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Guardians of the Galaxy

Known for his dark comedic genre films, James Gunn brings an edgy look to one of Marvel?s more obscure properties from its comic book oeuvre in this sci-fi adventure. Years after being abducted from earth, Peter Quill steals an ancient orb artefact but this small ball proves to be a big problem. A group known as the Kree, led by Lee Pace doing a brilliant nasty turn as the evil Ronan, are also after its secret powers. Not only that, but bounty hunters Groot (a walking tree voiced by Vin Diesel) and a CGI Racoon called Rocket (Bradley Cooper) are also on the trail and they all end up in jail with Gamora (Thanos? estranged daughter) and Drax (a victim of Ronan?s brutality) where they eventually learn to work as a team. As an action buddy film, prison escape film and a quirky character sci-fi, the best of Star Wars, Blade Runner and Firefly is channelled into a multi-layered movie with superb characters and interesting set pieces. Rocket is lots of fun, part lovable pet and part ruthless mercenary whilst the always undervalued Michael Rooker (JFK, The 6th Day, Mallrats) delivers a great performance as Yondu. The pace is good and the action a bit by-the-numbers Marvel (city attack by alien force) but it is the characters and fast dialogue that will win over audiences. Not the best Marvel film for me (Iron Man & Avengers still top) but with a director with a unique vision, they are still prepared to take a few risks and have made me eat my words after positing the film could be Marvel?s first flop. With Chris Pratt a clear superstar(lord) in the making, the film?s zany off planet antics and amiable ensemble of kooky characters make this one of the best Marvel films to date. Catch him again in the already brilliant Lego movie from this year and look out of him in Jurassic World in 2015. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Guvnors
The Guvnors(2014)
½

Turner writes and directs this passionate movie about football firms and clans of South East London and the interaction of different generations on a violent estate. We follow ex-hooligan Mitch (an impressive Doug Allen channelling a bit of Christian Bale in his performance) whose family life is disrupted when young sadistic Adam (played by Harley Sylvester, one half of pop duo Rizzle Kicks) and his gang of youths terrorise the established order. As Adam slashes and shoots his way to respect, he's taken down a peg or two by the unrecognisable David Essex playing Mickey Senior who once trained Mitch and the old clan. When Adam gets his wild revenge on Mickey, it pulls Mitch out of retirement and back to the brutal and bloody life he left behind before eventually finding out a cruel twist of family fate. From alpha males to unchecked aggression, the film flips between the modern day and flashbacks to Mitch's past which helps explain the different paths of the protagonists. The movie also throws in flashes of comedy amongst the nastiness - a scene with a traffic warden was an hilarious highlight - but the furious flying fists are done with a painful realism which may not be for those with a faint heart. With small but well acted support roles from the likes of Richard Blackwood, Barrington "One Eyed Baz" Patterson (with a real-life past to match the character on-screen) and Vas Blackwood (Lock Stock's Rory Breaker) helping to round out the cast, this slice of street life from the UK gives us some new angles on an established genre plus some funny moments to counteract the knock out fight scenes. With a cool soundtrack and Harley Sylvester showing some impressive acting chops, you may think you know what the film will be about but there's enough new ideas here to shake up your view in this violent thriller. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Neighbors
Neighbors(2014)

It's amazing to think that Jonah Hill who was a lowly extra in 40-Year Old Virgin is now 2-times Oscar nominee but still returns to his roots to play an immature adult infiltrating college for his own ends in this summer's comedy sequel 22 Jump Street. However, in this film, we get fellow Virgin-ite Seth Rogen also getting involved in frat boy shenanigans but the outcome and current trajectory of the 2 actors' future couldn't be more different. Plot wise, when a fraternity moves next door to a tired couple with a new baby, the pressures of parenthood are not helped by the loud noise from the parties and activities of the jocks next door. After an initial friendly start, the nice newlyweds next door cannot tolerate the nuisances any longer so call the cops on Zac Efron and his boozy buddies which begins a tit for tat turf war in suburbia. The film also stars the "other" Franco brother (Dave, if anyone cares) but from the sexualised topiary and the endless dick and tit jokes, the film fails at nearly every aspect. With scenes descending into shouting and quipping (clearly part of the actors "improv" style of multiple takes and riffing on ideas) the film meanders around with virtually no script and Rogen's middle-aged stoner shtick sure has taken its toll on this viewer. Done with zero wit, style or invention, the high concept set up descends quickly into a laugh free zone and there's so little substance the director has inserted much slow motion and music video-esque party montages padding out an excruciating 90 minutes which feels much much longer. 4/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Post apocalyptic simian sci-fi sequel in this follow up to the surprise hit prequel that saw Caesar the chimp and his monkey mates gain high intelligence whilst the same virus inadvertently caused a worldwide pandemic, killing most of the human population. The story quickly recaps the last 8 years as the apes now have a wooded fortress and an uneasy truce with survivors in neighbouring San Francisco but their need to fix a dam to provide energy for the immune humans begins a struggle between the two factions. An uneasy truce is upended by Caesar's second in command, the scheming Kobo, who wants revenge for his perceived mistreatment and sets about tricking the humans into a violent conflict. The CGI is simply phenomenal and certain shots have a photo realistic quality unseen in many other films and with the legendary Andy Serkis (Caesar) and the impressive Toby Kebbell (Koba) at their performance capture best, the film balances a fine line of spectacular set pieces, proficient plotting and sombre storytelling. The humans play second fiddle but Jason Clarke is great as the "good man" Malcolm, whilst Gary Oldman is his usual gifted self as a paranoid and emotional military leader. From the private to the primate, "Apes" continues the hefty issues raised by its predecessor and the audience will continue to enjoy the profound topics that affect the planet. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

22 Jump Street
½

22 Jump Street wears not only its TV-spin off influences on its sleeve but the film has more of the same self referential comedy as the last movie, with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum again starring as two incompetent undercover drug officers who go incognito in college, this time attempting to stop the supply of a drug known as "WHYPHY". Beginning with a TV-style recap ("Previously on Jump Street...") the comedy is broad but with jokes coming this thick and fast then at least some stick. They vary from the good - the film mocks sequels with lines like, "Do the same thing as last time" and "we'll be back next time across the street again" (cue a shot of 23 Jump Street) to the bad - a racial stereotype dodgy accent skit is lazy - but with lots of campus antics to ridicule the film has plenty of opportunity to poke fun at itself. From improvisation poetry nights to hallway encounters and further frat house parties and American football, the strain on their busy lives in the case leads the partners to go into therapy with the most prevalent homo-erotic undertones since the male machismo of 300! After their struggles lead to a brief split for the couple (soundtracked by John Waite's 1984 hit "Missing You" of course) they re-team for an onslaught of beach action and fast and furious Lamborghini driving at Spring Break. The bromantic man-love is often brilliant but slightly inconsistent although stick around for some GREAT end credits that reference cartoons and toy spin offs and further sequels in different educational guises from dance class to karate class which was excellently observed. Young, dumb and full of fun, this comedy retreads familiar ground but with more highs than lows, the movie graduates with full comedy honours. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Willow Creek
Willow Creek(2014)

Written and directed by ex-Police Academy alumni Bobcat Goldthwait, this home-video found footage film shows a couple heading into the woods looking for the legendary Bigfoot. Shot in this raw documentary style, the handheld camera work begins as they head into Willow Creek and wander the gaudy visitor attractions named after the mysterious sasquatch with street names, restaurants and a Bigfoot hotel all alluding to the beast. A colourful cast of idiosyncratic locals give their thoughts on the creature as we get told "tall" stories interspersed with quirky musical interludes. One such patron tells of the curse of Bigfoot and then after what feels like an age we actually get to a forest. And that's the film's issue. I'm all for build up but after 45 minutes + of interviews and scene-setting the film takes forever to finally get some dramatic beats. With its scary noises, tents and wooded settings, the inevitable Blair Witch comparisons come to the forefront but with none of the tension of that film as the story grinds to a sudden halt with a 10 minute static shot (a Paranormal Activity trick). This long segment of the couple's reaction to random sounds outside their tent could have worked if the film hadn't lost the audience way before. The similar Troll Hunter at least showed some trolls and Paranormal Activity gave some hints of the malevolent force in fleeting shots, there's no such luck here as Bigfoot ironically barely makes an appearance. A clichéd unsatisfying finale, some human dragging (like REC) and the obligatory night-time low-shot "selfie" (a la Blair Witch again) means you can see where Willow Creek's influences come from, although it adds up to not much at all. A hard to pin down horror that is as elusive as the legend and despite the two lead actors the film struggles to find its (big) feet and ends up mostly abominable. 4.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Homefront
Homefront(2013)

Based on Chuck Logan's novel and adapted into a screenplay by Sylvester Stallone (!) this is the perfect vehicle for bald bruiser Jason Statham as he plays an undercover DEA agent in Mississippi. After a drugs bust goes awry, Statham and his daughter have moved to a small town where he (and she) cross paths with the redneck locals who clearly don't take too kindly to outsiders. Kate Bosworth's Cassie asks local drug goblin 'Gator' (a dangerous looking James Franco) to rough up the newcomer and Statham has to use all (i.e. violent) means to defend his family bringing him to the attention of the neighbourhood Sheriff (Shawshank's Clancy Brown). Once Gator finds out who Statham really is, a chain of events is put in place to capture him as revenge for the first investigation. The plot is as dodgy as Statham's wobbly accent and the stereotypical hillbillies amongst the jetties, fields and gas stations are very one dimensional although the film, despite its interesting but basic style, is one of the better entries in Statham's canon. With Mud/Joe taking the more serious Southern dramatic route, Statham ensures a steady stream of aggressive action and brutal beatings with Franco going OTT as his ruthless rube rival. Kinetic and violent with a smattering of family story beats, it won't win any originality awards but steadfast Statham fans will have a brainless blast in the backwards bayou. 6 /10 Midlands Movies Mike

Grudge Match
Grudge Match(2013)

Stallone and De Niro clash in their first outing since Cop Land as the former Rocky and Raging Bull play aging boxers who decide to have one final match to settle an old stalemate from the past. Stallone plays the reluctant 'Razor' Sharp who is happy to move on with his life whilst Robert 'Stay Puft' De Niro plays Billy 'The Kid' McDonnen who is eager for a final fight to resolve their rivalry. Rounding out the cast is Kim Basinger, always watchable as an old flame that came between the two, Alan Arkin who plays to type as a cranky old sports trainer and Kevin Hart as the token black loudmouth promoter. Opening with a sportscast round up of their past fights, poor CGI retro shots are mixed with photos on the news that are clearly Rocky and RB promotional shots, the film's subplot involving family ties and a long lost son tries to give the film some weight but is as flabby as De Niro's gut. Using the clichés from similar boxing films it neither twists nor subverts them and is unsure of its true intentions starting off as a comedy then changing attack by becoming more like a day time TV melodrama. However, just when you need a montage we get the old school cross cutting training section plus an ironic nod to the meat locker and a segment comparing boxing with MMA. For every cleverly set up scene there is LL Cool J getting punched in the balls and throw in the estranged son and a cheeky young child and the clichés are complete. As old age catches up with them both we get more heartfelt moments in place of the ludicrous banter of the Expendables one-liners but the fight scenes are realistically done - especially compared to a recent viewing of Rocky 3 which were laughably bad. That said the film has a meandering middle section like a middle-aged slump and although neither actor hits the heights of their respective boxing classics it lands a few entertaining punches. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

I, Frankenstein
½

I initially thought of cobbling together the dead parts of other movies I had seen in order to reanimate them into a new review of this movie much like this film itself appears to be doing. Its first 10 minutes tells you all you need to know with its horribly over-serious (but funnily hilarious) gothic style that I hated from the Underworld films, combined with the obligatory horrid video game-esque CGI and from that, you needn't watch the subsequent 80 minutes. Anyone liking Underworld may find a perverse joy here but those interested in any nods to the original novel will hate the dumb action and Hollywoodisation of a complex literary character whilst fans of Two-Face or the Aaron Ekhart of Thank You For Smoking will find nothing of interest within. Adding to the cast is charisma vacuum Jai Courtney who brings the subtlety and acting chops he brought to my worst film of 2013, Die Hard 5 and one can only pray for help regarding his recent addition to the Terminator franchise. With references to "the gargoyle order", "the demon horde" and dialogue such as "That way you can look after yourself...you're good at that", the script feels as if it's written by an angry teen goth who has gone grave-robbing from films like Season of the Witch, LOTR and Van Helsing. Once the monster (named "Adam" here - as subtle as this film is) returns to the present, the insipid dialogue can no longer hold it together as he destroys mystical demons in Blade-style anti-hero action sequences and Bill Nighy phones in a pantomime performance as Charles Wessex (!). The plot of modern science trying to unlock and replicate Frankenstein's original experiment/secret is wasted as we cut to another computer generated fight between hordes of warring immortals and one small positive is that it is only 93 minutes long but you will feel as old as Eckhart's 200-year old freak by the end I assure you. With Ekhart spending 50% of the film moping and the other 50% crashing through walls and windows the film, like Frankenstein, is cobbled together from long dead movie tropes. Wankenstein. 4/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Joe
Joe(2014)
½

Coming off the back of such "successes" as Ghost Rider 2 and Drive Angry, Nic Cage finally gets back to a meatier role by playing a violent loner in the Deep South where he stars as father figure to Tye Sheridan. Sheridan also appeared in the (very) similar Mud where his distant young man is taken under wing of crooked crim Matthew McConaughey and the same happens here. Also like that film, we get a sizzling slice of Southern life played out amongst rural blue collar workers who turn to violence whilst trying to maintain their dysfunctional family dynamics. Finding out what it takes to earn a living, the adolescent Sheridan is beaten by his real father Wade - an amazing performance by the late Gary Poulter who was homeless in real life and sadly passed away before the film's release - but his ramshackle and drunken performance is a joy to watch. Alas it was all too close to his real life but alongside Cage's muted (for him) dramatic chops and the rusty trucks and wooden porches, the two play out a tragic and cruel drama. From knives and guns to w***re houses and animal skinning, the director elicits a cornucopia of emotions as we witness passionate kindred bonding and drunken falling. Why Cage is not offered these parts too often as he is perfectly suited to the grizzled everyman is a question we are all asking, but like McConaughey who bounced back into a run of great films post-Mud, Cage shows why he is still a watchable performer given the right material. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Expendables 3
½

A train intro a la Skyfall sees series regulars Stallone, Statham, Crews, Lundgren & Couture fly in on their helicopter and "shoot the shit" out of the unnamed terrorists heading towards a tightly secured jail before breaking out Wesley Snipes and we're set up for kind of ride we can expect for the rest of the film. The first was a fun romp of familiar faces and the second was the worst film I saw that year so where does this one end up? Well, almost directly between the two as it's not as embarrassing as the second film but with lines like "bunch of has-beens trying to be hard" landing squarely on the bleeding obvious school of comedy, it's just about watchable if you're as drunk as Lundgren's character is. The plot is your similar revenge "job" that makes little to no sense and then we're into a montage of recruiting the new team as Kelsey Grammar brings some much needed light to the OTT seriousness of it all - with a soundtrack so INTENSE that having a coffee is like disarming a bomb. It's not that the plot is so complicated you can't follow it, it's just that the dialogue and action is so inane you just don't really give a shit. Aside from that it's just spot the cameo - "ooh look, Mel Gibson given a role because his career is in the toilets, ooh look, it's Antonio Banderas channelling the charisma of Puss in Boots, oooh it's Harrison Ford, that reminds me - when IS the new Star Wars out" and so forth. Endless "profound" speeches between characters and silly but solid action moments, most of the audience would have already made up their mind about whether this is the film for them so will either see it despite what I said or won't like this 80s-style flick - it's almost beyond criticism. Me? I like 80s/90s action but prefer it to be from that time rather than these increasingly poor attempts at homage. From the badly photoshopped poster (as if your dad had found clipart) The Expendables 3 movie is equally disappointing and predictable 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Expendables 2
½

Whilst I just about enjoyed the campy explosions of the first film, we have here the first true bonafide dud of the year. Maybe my expectations were too high but I at least expect a film and not what I think is, at best, a YouTube fan flick. Like the similarly poor Snakes on the Planes, they've aimed for internet fans and forgot to make an actual film and I'm not entirely sure what it is supposed to be. It's definitely one of the unintentionally funniest films I've laughed AT in years and maybe the marketing department got it wrong and should have said the new "comedy" from Stallone at al. Without going in depth but things happen in the movie for no reason at all and even if it's a homage to 80s action films it still should try and be a film however it came across like Hot Shots Part Deux without the intention. It's funny in all the wrong ways from groan-inducing dialogue, scenes that make no sense, actors who cannot act and I'm told I'm supposed to enjoy it because it's a bit-like-better-films-from-the-80s. No dice. Not even "the action" is of a high level. Don't get me wrong as I like big dumb movies (I have soft spots for Independence Day, The Rock, Jumper) but this was just poor and shoddy and it's not a million miles away from Epic Movie's "throw enough homage and see if it sticks" mantra. EXPENDABLE - An item of equipment considered to be not worth keeping or maintaining. Nuff said. 4/10 MM Mike

Sabotage
Sabotage(2014)
½

"Sabotage" derives from 15th century Dutch workers who threw their 'sabots' (clogs) into the gears of looms fearing the machines would render human workers obsolete. Well, the cast of this action film have taken the wooden analogy in their stride and delivered performances so stilted you can pick up the separate parts from an Ikea warehouse. The film tells of a group of DEA agents who attempt to steal $10 million from a drug cartel they are up against which subsequently goes missing. The team are then investigated before some are murdered one by one but who is seeking revenge? Is someone inside bent on destroying the team? Who really cares? The film is never sure if it wants to be a full on action-fest (there's a decent car chase towards the movie's end), a drama or even a mystery and so ends up failing at being any of these with the constant criss-crossing and "nicknamed" characters blurring into each other and only Olivia Williams as a CIA Investigator fulfilling a real persona. Sam Worthington is completely underused as a meat-headed gun-toting operative and what of Schwarzenegger? Well, he actually comes off well playing a Copland-style grizzled senior agent with some decent lines (plus a few 80s-style "get down"'s) and although the film is a shambles in terms of genre and plot, it gives Arnie his best post-politics role and a hint of what could be a great comeback if he continues to choose the right projects. Sadly, this isn't it, but with no "too old for all this" jokes/winks and (almost) the right balance of action and dialogue, Arnie could still be a big player in the film world. Here's hoping this average appetiser can push him in the right direction for a main meal blockbuster. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

John Carter
John Carter(2012)

The film that cost £250 million (that's £13m more than Avatar!) and put a big dent in Disney's balance sheet finally comes to DVD and like another time traveller I have to say "oh, boy" what a right mess they have made. On the positives? They are too few but there's a lot more location shooting than all the Star Wars prequels put together and there was a solid 40 minutes where I went along with John Carter learning to run/jump on Mars and becoming friends with the aliens. However, Lynn Collins puts an appalling turn in as the Princess caught up in the inter-planetary hokum and Mark Strong and Dominic West sleepwalk their way through pantomime villain roles as the bad guys du jour. Even John Carter's beard was unconvincing! With an intro that harks back to the worst of Phantom Menace, I was surprised the film did not open in the past so the audience felt some anticipation and awe when finally being transported to the Martian landscape? Another scene looks directly lifted from Attack of the Clones' human versus monster in alien coliseum sequence. Director Andrew Stanton said more in the near-silent 20 minutes intro of Wall*E than the entire long, overblown script and effects of this 2 hours and 12 minutes epic . The film can be added to an unlikely bunch of many bad desert/sandy sci-fi films made up of Dune, Chronicles of Riddick, Stargate crossed with the swords and sandals fare like Immortals, Prince of Persia and Troy. Long Carter. And boring. Midlands Movies Mike 5/10

The Last Days On Mars

This sci-fi horror has to fight the curse of films with Mars in the title (e.g. Mission to Mars and John Carter from Mars) and stars Liev "will always be Cotton Weary from Scream" Schreiber and British actress Olivia Williams as part of a crew sent to Mars to run a number of scientific experiments. The film jumps straight onto the red planet with a neat motif of the refrain "blue sky" both in the script and the lyrics of an old musical song and the location shooting (in Jordan) shows some solid desert desolation photography standing in for the Martian landscape. Sadly, this promising start quickly falls apart as the space vehicles, walks and crew briefings are aiming for realism but the TV-style eye-level camera work is merely monotonous. The film (space) walks the wrong line between realism and boredom and they ironically come to find life on Mars but can barely muster any atmospherics between the anonymous crew members who get infected by an alien parasite one-by-one. With little character development, the second half does show some more eerie promise but the first half set up (which forgets filmmaking basics of close-ups, cutaways and angles to create meaning) is so slow you'll be lucky to make it. "This doesn't make any sense", says a character and I agree with him as although Williams' bitchy boss is a role with a sense of over the top nonsense, the film had me shouting at both its ludicrous plot (anyone with a passing interest in science would have screamed "quarantine" at some point) and the subsequent stupid crew who once infected looked like drunken space chimps. Despite the good make up and everyone giving it their best shot, the film has almost no music/soundtrack (a big omission for me when considering the best orchestral electronic scores of past space films), a clichéd "blurred" 1990s dream sequence and the fact it took just £24k at the box office reflects the reality that in space, no one can hear you yawn. 4/10. Midlands Movies Mike

Her
Her(2013)

From music videos for Fatboy Slim and the amazing Sabotage video for The Beastie Boys, director Spike Jonze has always stayed leftfield of the mainstream norm and his modern take on relationships takes place in a near future virtual world. Commenting on current interactions on social media, Jonze also wrote the movie which tells the story of lonely Joaquim Phoenix who after a bitter divorce gets an idea. Bing! He's going to get a new O.S. (operating system) to help clean up his online/electronic life (and files) but the female voice he chooses is the velvety tones of Scarlett Johansson - something that would get even the most depressed bachelor alive no doubt. An anti rom-com but with a traditional (-ish) ending, the movie asks everything from what is consciousness to deep communication and philosophical questions amongst the mundane of everyday relationship foibles. Asking how their days are and dissecting each others' tone of voice, Phoenix takes on a Sandra Bullock in Gravity role - responding to few characters and mainly acting "alone" or with just a voice. Infused with laughter and good times, the film goes as far to suggest their relationship is not much different to a long distance relationship with a human and although their attempts at intimacy fall flat, the timeless issue of fidelity becomes a virus in their interactions. 2014 is becoming Johansson's year with this, the arty Under the Skin, solid superhero support in Cpt. America 2 and a lead in Luc "Leon" Besson's upcoming adult action flick "Lucy" which shows a great variation in roles from voice-only here (replacing the original vox of Samantha Morton) to a near mute in Under the Skin. I enjoyed the themes and the concept is executed as well as any computer programme but I admit I didn't fully engage with this slow-burner of a film despite it being a solid story of someone "Going out with Google". 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Transcendence
½

As a huge fan of Nolan, this first film from his regular cinematographer Wally Pfister was eagerly awaited and even contains some regular faces including Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman (both Batman) and Rebecca Hall (The Prestige) from his previous collaborative films. Transcendence concerns itself with AI expert Dr. Will Caster (Depp) who is fatally wounded by an assassin from an extremist group concerned with the growth of computer power so his wife helps him upload his "conscience" to a quantum computer. Fresh from his stint as another powerful A.I. Jarvis (in Marvel's Avengers/Iron Man) Bettany plays best friend and super-sceptic Max who has doubts about the power Depp now wields. Like The Net and Hackers and Firewall (also starring Bettany), computers and films have had an uneasy ride together as they are inherently an interactive medium in a one-way art-form and despite the big names and big (£100m) budget Pfister delivers nothing but big disappointment. Scene after scene, the characters spout cod-1990s concerns about "the power of uncontrolled cyberspace" and for a film about the future it feels incredibly dated. Long, slow and unforgivably boring, the film looks the part (at times) but the basic storyline is somehow stretched over 2 agonising and illogical hours. This is one computer you'd happily switch off and not back on again. 5.5/10

Under the Skin

Reviewed by our Marek on its cinema release, the film is due to hit home on July 14th 2014 and is a loose adaptation of Michael Faber's 2000 novel. After Sexy Beast and Birth, director Glazer combines science fiction and art as Scarlet Johansson plays it low-key as an alien on earth attacking men in Scotland. Driving around in a transit van she lures men with her attractiveness before immersing them in a metaphysical black goo before finding a kind of humanity (or pity) with a man with facial deformities. With encounters becoming more complex and her attempts at eating, sex and awareness of her body conflicting her, the viewer is asked to engage with the "alien" nature of our world slowly over the film's duration. With many characters played by non-actors it's not so much of a dramatic film than a slice of Scottish life with the general public filmed in the street and in Greggs' bakeries (!) as the almost-mute Johansson (the opposite of her voice only role in "Her") mooches around the depressing landscapes trying to take in the people and places around her. One's enjoyment depends on how you find the lack of narrative and dialogue, however the haunting Man Who Fell to Earth-like strangeness and troubling imagery serves up an interesting (albeit slow) film and I enjoyed the awesome eclectic soundtrack by composer Mica Levi. 6/10

Only Lovers Left Alive
½

The modern day story of two eternal vampires and their love and loathing for each other, the world around them and the human "zombies" that criss-cross their lives is an atmospheric if ultimately faint piece of mood cinema. Tom Hiddleston plays Adam, an aging alternative rocker longing for the recording sounds and instruments of the past as he reunites with his lover Eve (I see what you did there Jarmusch) who travels from Tangiers to rekindle a perpetual bond. The film had trouble getting funding from the outset (no surprise given the lack of interesting script, plot and characters) and Jarmusch simply infuses the film with atmospherics and a dark tone to replace its lack of story. The good points are clearly the performances of Swinton and Hiddleston with a great ambient score and eclectic soundtrack but as someone who has a personal interest in the dark, rock music and can play guitar - Adam's introduction with a set of classic electric axes peaked my interest - the film is so beyond boring it hurt my neck. I needed some plot. Needed some story. Something to seek my teeth into! With its morose tone, how Jarmusch dared to stretch this over two long hours as some kind of antidote to Twilight is a risky proposition. To me, it's rather the embarrassing parent of that tween film trying to recapture its youth on date night. It falls far short of portraying the sensual slayers as appealing and despite the praise lauded upon it by others, it is instantly forgettable and not the timeless tale it aims for. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

3 Days To Kill

Written by Luc Besson, you have to question how much of this film has been "Taken" from his previously penned film starring another aging actor Liam Neeson? Well, there's Oscar nominated actor doing grizzled father figure. Check. A retired agent seeking to make amends with estranged wife. Check. Set in Paris. Check. Protecting a daughter from horny Frenchmen. Abso-fucking-exactly! The plot of this film concerns past his prime Costner as US agent Ethan Renner (a name kind of made up from Tom Cruise's character in Mission Impossible and M-I:4 co-star Jeremy Renner) who is let go from his work after the discovery of chronic lung cancer so heads to Paris to make amends with his separated family. A mysterious CIA femme fatale operative Vivi Delay (who is every bit as burlesque looking as that name implies) then recruits Costner despite him trying to get out of the game. Not just that but she has an experimental "cure" that could extend his remaining life. WTF?!? Using the drug and doing the dirty deeds, Costner 'cranks' it up and uses the extra time to bond with his wayward daughter but the film's major problem is its shift in tone from OTT comedy-action alongside some semi-serious family bonding time.

The obligatory Parisian car chase alongside some majorly stereotypical French iconography frames a comical depiction of Paris including lazy sports obsessed policeman tied to procedure, bike rides along the Seine and fights in restaurants where crepe toasters and bottles of wine are used are weapons, which all mean that a shot of Costner in a beret with onions was not too far away. But for every solid action sequence there was a jarring heartfelt moment or social commentary (a birth amongst a group of minority ethnic squatters was a strange sight) that felt like the film was even fighting itself at times. I really like Costner from his JFK highs to his cheesy Robin Hood so the best I can say is I hope that with this piece of nonsense he can build up some sort of comeback as not even his watchable persona can salvage this haphazard but harmless romp. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Maleficent
Maleficent(2014)

This updated fantasy from the point of view of the evil witch Maleficent shows Angelina Jolie taking on the role of the iconic antagonist in this live action version of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty". Alongside Jack the Giant Slayer, Snow White and the Huntsmen and Hansel and Gretel, the film joins a long list of revisionist fairy tales but whilst I enjoyed the silliness of such fare like Sam Raimi's "Oz" prequel, this movie takes on a much darker presence. Far and away not suitable for very young children (a scene involving Maleficent's loss of her wings is as shocking as anything you can squeeze into a Disney film) but not moving far enough into the Twilight-teens genre, the movie confuses as it occupies a sort of no man's land between the two. Jolie is clearly relishing every angular pose and Sharlto Copley is great as a despot King but all the other characters (and plenty of CGI nobodies) fade into the elaborately designed background. Speaking of which, whilst the film looks great, with director Stromberg cutting his teeth as special effects artist on Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and Oz (and it shows), the pretty visuals and one great performance can only take a movie so far. Even though it has a few highlights and some child-friendly silliness, the movie's greatest sin is a rising sense of boredom throughout that not even a handsome prince can kiss you out of. Oh, and the prince looks like Donny Osmond. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Oculus
Oculus(2014)
½

Like 2013's Mama (which just missed a space on that year's Top 10 for me) Flanagan's horror "Oculus" was developed from an earlier short and this film expands on those ideas to tell a frightful story of a mirror with a history of malevolence and violence and its effects on a family with a macabre past. Cross-cutting between the past and future, daughter Kaylie attempts to convince her brother Tim (on his release from a psychiatric hospital) that the horrific murders pinned on him were in fact the result of the morbid mirror in their possession. The film is a slow build of fearful interactions and the parallel relationships from their current lives and their younger selves are edited well to give the film some story heft not too often seen in the jumpy scares of a Paranormal Activity type film. The characters are subsequently fully developed which made you care for their superstitious story and the ambiguous realities presented keep the audience on their toes as we work out what is flashback and what are dreams, hallucinations and memories. The fractured narrative reflects the film's themes of scary pasts and twisted histories and the various shards of story, although well handled, were not particularly scary and it reminded me most of Stir of Echoes (1999) - in that it was more supernatural thriller rather than a straight out horror. More obviously, it builds upon the reflective themes of Mirrors (2008) but that said, if you like your films with a dark measured pace then Oculus' tightly-wound tale of terror would fit the bill on its (appropriate) release in UK cinemas on Friday 13th. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

X-Men: Days of Future Past

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 Midland Movies Mike

Pompeii
Pompeii(2014)
½

An $80 million historical disaster film and disaster is the perfect word for this shoddy Day After Tomorrow/2012-Gladiator hybrid knock-off. The obligatory child survivor of a tribal massacre grows up a slave to seek revenge on the Roman leader who killed his family. Kit Harington plays the now adult Milo - renamed as a gladiator called "the Celt" (Spaniard anyone?) and is brought to Pompeii amongst the political machinations of the rulers to entertain and fight a bitter rivalry with Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a champion in the arena. He also strikes up a forbidden love affair with Cassia (Emily Browning) and sadly all this creates precisely zero drama and tension as we know the outcome of the bubbling mountainous volcano in the background of every shot spewing forth steam, magma and earthquakes - which the town amusingly shake-off with a "this always happens so don't worry" attitude. The climax takes place at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii where the gladiators are soon to be slaughtered in a recreated battle set up by the Roman Corvus (an evvvviiiiiilllllllll Kiefer Sutherland) and if this all sounds familiar then you've come to the right conclusion. Despite fireballs destroying the city, the film couldn't have inflamed any less passion and is as rigid and lifeless as the stone bodies of the those citizens encrusted in Vesuvius' pyroclastic flow. Plaster casted acting sits among B-movie action sequences as the blazing saddle of the hero and heroine's horse races away from the CGI apocalypse yet their love story couldn't be less smouldering with its inane dialogue and predictable plot beats. A dormant 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Non-Stop
Non-Stop(2014)

Continuing his renaissance as the thinking-man's action superstar, Liam Neeson is joined by Julianne Moore on a frightful flight in this tale of an alcoholic air marshal faced with a trans-Atlantic assault from a terrorist texting (yes!) his demands or there will be murders aplenty. The threats increase after he initially dismisses the messages but as the stakes are ratcheted up, Neeson begins to harass an increasingly confused cabin of passengers as time begins to run out and the body count rises. Neeson is in straight-forward Taken mode (a great film that he's been trying to capture in almost every performance since) as his one-man crusade is at odds with the petrified passengers and doubtful dollies of the crew. Part thriller and part mystery, Moore is wasted by being half-asleep through the movie (figuratively and factually) whilst the unidentified criminal lurking amongst the cattle class only holds so much attention before you actively urge Neeson to punch each person in turn to get things moving. For such films of this ilk (I'm thinking of "one place" films like Phone Booth, Buried and more literal siblings like Flight Plan, Red Eye and heck, even Passenger 57) you need a much tighter script than this film can provide as without the requisite tautness of tension strands, the film buffers you around like bad turbulence without any real sensation. In fact a direct to video sequel could be called Non-Stop 2: Bad Turbulence but I doubt there will be one as this film fails to fully fly or satisfy. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Departed
The Departed(2006)

Solid Scorcese which means it's far better than other directors' best efforts. Not anyone involved's best film (NIcholson's One Bird..., DiCaprio's Gilbert Grape...Wahlberg's Boogie Nights) but the twisted plot is directed well and the actors deliver a belivable crime thriller. Depart to the DVD store to get this out now! Scorsese's Boston-set Oscar winner, itself a remake of Infernal Affairs, begins our list with a bang with DiCaprio, Damon, Sheen, Wahlberg and a phenomenal Jack Nicholson providing heavyweight acting performances in this crime saga. The ending still packs a wallop (watch it with someone who hasn't seen it) and the twists and turns of the narrative helped this gangster flick win many fans

Reservoir Dogs

More gangster goings-on in Tarantino's debut which comes with his now trademark verbal assaults as we track a group of cons in the aftermath of a botched robbery. The wacky and bloody warehouse sticks us in the middle of the in-fighting as each man tries to figure out what went wrong and who could be the "rat" but it's the dialogue that stands out from the opening coffee bar through Tim Roth's back-story to the Mexican standoff. A debut of some magnitude, Tarantino made sure the world took notice of the man who made a heist film without showing the heist. Hot dog! Like a Virgin I haven't felt anything like it in a long while :D

Alien
Alien(1979)
½

Scott's scary space saga began life as the "Starbeast" before wisely being re-titled into the horror classic we know today. With designer HR Giger's xenomorph stalking the crew of the mining ship Nostromo, the director includes the jumps of your standard horror with the depth of a character piece, all tied up with a new take on familiar sci-fi tropes like androids, hyper-sleep and space exploration. Perfectly directed, the film influenced a slew of imitators and launched a franchise behemoth that he would return to in 2012's Prometheus. Featuring Alien-rape, the film is a superb blend of scares, screams and spooks in space with excellent special effects and a new heroine in Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley. In Space, no one can hear me squeal like a girl when the alien is in the air duct

Inception
Inception(2010)

One of the films in my own top ten of all time, Nolan's Inception was made between his Batman films and showcases an intelligent and mind-bending script that sees Leonardo DiCaprio and his team enter dreams (and dreams within dreams) to plant an idea into the mind of a corporate rival. Essentially a mix of heist film with touches of Bond (the snow scenes especially), Nolan doesn't insult his audience with easy answers but provides them with a perplexing puzzle and structures his music and editing around the confusing nature of dreams, time and film-making itself. With a cast of Nolan regulars (Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy and Marion Cotillard) providing support to explain the film's trickier concepts, Nolan doesn't forget the big set pieces including bending cityscapes, car chases, explosive shootouts and the most amazing rotating corridor fist fight in this must-see multi-layered movie.

Wayne's World

No way! Way! Mike Myers leaped from TV's Saturday Night Live to the big screen in the early 90s with his slacker comedy that was littered with heavy rock, dollops of self knowing and a huge amount of quotable dialogue ("hurl", "schwing", "asphinctersayswhat" and many many more). If I'm honest I prefer the sequel but understand that this film was a cultural phenomenon that meant no one would ever listen to Bohemian Rhapsody the same way again! *Bangs head during Brian May riff*

Superman
Superman(1978)
½

We finally believed a man could fly in this 70s superhero classic that is all the more poignant this year as we see the release of a rebooted Kal-El in the upcoming Man of Steel. Using state of the art special effects at the time, for many Christopher Reeve IS Superman (a part Sylvester Stallone originally lobbied for) and provides a strong central performance as the bumbling Clark Kent whilst Margot Kidder's feisty Lois Lane has also yet to be bettered (as seen in the abysmally cast Superman Returns by Bryan Singer). The script was written by none other than Mario "The Godfather" Puzo and the film's legacy was to mainstream the popularity of all of Hollywood's superhero film franchises and by the look of its position, the film is still everything that comic book fans hoped for.

It's a Wonderful Life
½

Famed for not winning any Oscars and being filmed in 90 degree heat in summer (Jimmy Stewart can be seen sweating if you look close enough), Capra's It's a Wonderful Life has been a Christmas favourite since it fell out of copyright for a period and was shown on hundreds of channels in the 80s. Stewart's everyman is visited by his guardian angel Clarence to show how many lives he has influenced after wishing he had never been born and like A Christmas Carol there is a positivity and feel good feeling despite the serious subject matter of life, death and (in this film) suicide. It's a wonderful film.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Lucas wanted an archaeological James Bond and got it in this adventure serial which sees Harrison Ford as the eponymous hero battling Nazis for the secrets that lie within a sacred religious artefact. As he searches for the biblical relic, Indy crosses his nemesis Balloq, armed henchmen, snake-infested pits and ancient sites whist trying to stay one step ahead of the evil Nazis who would like to use the Ark for their own nefarious ends. The (now-infamous) stunts, cinematography and John Williams' iconic score are difficult to find fault with and one can only guess what could have been if it had been Magnum P.I. & The Lost Ark? Shit, probably.

RoboCop
RoboCop(1987)

"Your move, creep". Paul Verhoeven's seminal futuristic fascist/Jesus cyborg cop is being given the reboot treatment next year but it's the 80s original that audiences still have a warm affinity for. Taking a B-movie premise but dressing it in religious allegory, the director uses TV news bulletins, car commercials and a whole host of brilliantly inventive special effects (the suit itself is still a marvel) to create a modern classic set in the run down city of Detroit. With themes of corporate conflict and technological tensions, the film has the set pieces to satisfy the appetite of action fans but an intelligent satirical edge to ensure its place in the sci-fi classics canon.

Ghostbusters (1984 Original)

Three New York oddball scientists begin investigating paranormal activity in the tri-state area in this comedy action film written and starring several Saturday Night Live alumni (intended originally for Blue Brothers Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi with Eddie Murphy as Winston Zedmore!) Balancing the funnies with the scary, the film entertains with deadpan Bill Murray getting the pick of the 'busters one-liners and allowing room for his infatuation with Sigourney Weaver's Dana Barrett. The chemistry between the leads makes the movie and the special effects of the iconic spooks (Slimer and Mr. Staypuft) helped attract the action crowd who enjoyed their destructive attacks on New York buildings. "This is Casey Kasem. Now, on with the countdown".

True Romance
True Romance(1993)
½

Tony Scott changed the ending but stayed faithful to the rest of Tarantino's script with its amazing dialogue in this 1990s love story. Christian Slater plays a down and out geek (his Taxi Driver-esque visit to a Sonny Chiba film is QT's wet dream for sure) who meets a call girl named Alabama before embarking on a drug-dealing road trip after a shootout with her ex-Pimp, Drexl (a brilliantly dreadlocked and gold-toothed Gary Oldman). With further support from Christopher Walken and a speech from Dennis Hopper to rival any seen on screen, the cast is brilliant and the usual Tarantino tropes (violence and shootouts) are given a fresh unique spin by Scott's flash-pan visuals. This film has got everything from a diddled-eyed joe to a damned if I know.

Shaun of the Dead

Panic on the streets of London! The highest placed British film is the horror-zom-rom-com from Edgar Wright with Simon Pegg starring as the Shaun of the title whose life is going nowhere and his girlfriend Liz wanting more commitment. Alongside his best friend Ed (a crude and rude Nick Frost), they begin to notice the undead populating their suburban street before seeking refuge in their local boozer. Combining foul-mouthed humour, British eccentricities ("we grab Mum, we go over to Liz's place, hole up, have a cup of tea and wait for this whole thing to blow over") and plenty of OTT splatter, the film showed how home-made films could be popular with the masses without the budget or pandering to Americanisms. FUCK-A-DOODLE-DO!

Oldboy
Oldboy(2005)

Soon to be remade by Spike Lee, this South Korean revenge thriller sees Choi Min-sik as Oh Dae-su, a businessman who is imprisoned for 15 years and then mysteriously released without warning. His search for his captors (and their motives) sets him on a violent journey where past secrets are dug up to settle perverse and twisted scores. This is the second instalment of The Vengeance Trilogy and the movie is imprisoned with a brutal streak where vicious attacks are bloodily played out in beautifully filmed set pieces (including the iconic one-take corridor scene) and this Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury winner encapsulates the dark heart it takes to gain a sense of retribution.

Jaws
Jaws(1975)

Bigger boats required in this Spielberg Summer blockbuster as Roy Scheider plays police chief Martin Brody trying to protect the residents of his local town from a giant man-eating great white shark. "Bruce" picks off the Amity Islanders one by one to the tune of John Williams' "duh-dum" score as bathers are bitten, chomped and gnawed before the authorities ask Robert Shaw's scurvy Quint to help in the search and killing of the beast. An iconic movie in all senses of the word, the film changed the marketing, soundtracking, posters and the future movie release schedule of the industry and set the rudders in motion on Spielberg's smash hit career.

American History X
½

Shot in both colour and in scary black and white flashbacks, two brothers in modern day America are attracted to Neo-Nazism in Tony Kaye's dramatic essay on the powerful allure of fringe groups. The power of redemption is as strong today as it was then as audiences were repulsed yet fascinated by the film's violent outbursts as older brother Edward Norton tries to steer his young brother (T2's Edward Furlong) from the path of extremist views. Provocative and sobering, the movie raises questions and thoughts about society that few films have dared to touch and is all the more admired by our readers for it.

The Dark Knight
½

A serious Michael Mann-style gangster thriller dressed up as a superhero blockbuster for kids, Nolan's second film in the Batman franchise was the best of the bunch as the flying mouse's infamous evil nemesis, The Joker, threatens Gotham with an increasingly random series of attacks spreading fear and panic that only Batman can stop. Nolan widens the city-scape with action set pieces in Hong Kong whilst Gary Oldman (again) rounds out an impressive cast that also features Two-Face enacting revenge on those who took away his future. Heath Ledger excels as the maniac in make-up, the cinematography is all glorious Pfister shadows and murk, whilst Nolan's focus on criminality, intimidation and city bombings gives the film a real-world heft that raised the bar for future "comic-book" movies.

Blade Runner
Blade Runner(1982)
½

A film that made my top 10 overrated movies is Scott's moody noir sci-fi from the early 80s. In the year 2019 Harrison Ford is Dekkard, a private detective charged with hunting down human-looking replicants (a term never used in Phillip K. Dick's original novel) in a squalid sleazy future. The cinematography is gorgeous and the special effects showed Scott's adherence to making sci-fi look "lived-in" and grubby and through multiple dramatic and narrative levels, the film asks what it means to be human. Although I may need to go into hiding as I previously denounced the film as "boring and pretentious" (having 7 versions of a movie suggests it hasn't quite ever got it right!) the film no doubt has an unforgettable appearance with a serious tone which has resulted in the readers voting it so high. I guess I stand corrected.

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Yeah, it's probably the best of the bunch. The film that had to follow the cultural phenomenon of the original by going darker and more intimate as Luke Skywalker begins his Jedi training with Dagobah-swamp creature Master Yoda before finding out some family secrets in the film's infamous finale. A troubled production (Irvin Kershner would give direction to Yoda instead of Frank Oz by mistake) the film had a luke-warm (ahem) response when it was first released but with its character development, ingenious battle sequences and further probing into the power of the force, audience appreciation has increased over time and is now considered more thought provoking and satisfying than A New Hope.

GoodFellas
GoodFellas(1990)

Scorcese got the Oscar for The Departed and should have won for The Aviator, Taxi Driver or Casino as well. However, everyone KNOWS they like this one the best. Go shine your f***ing shoes!! "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster". Sadly winning just one Oscar (but deservedly for Joe Pesci's psychotic Tommy) the film is often named as the greatest gangster flick in many a film-debate with The Godfather but it's Coppola's epic that pips it in our list. Following the rise and fall narrative of Ray Liotta's Henry Hill, an up and coming wise guy who violently hustles his way up the mob before risking it all with off-the-book dodgy drug deals,. We also see his attempts at keeping his pals Pesci and De Niro from fucking up as they rob, steal, murder and more across the city. Scorsese uses all the cinema tricks in his book from flashbacks to LONG tracking shots to music montage and the film's kinetic pace and brilliant voiceovers have helped secure its place amongst the greats. The film is here "outta respect".

Fight Club
Fight Club(1999)

"Ban this sick filth" said the Daily Mail on the release of this film. Never has the point of a film been so greatly missed that to this day, the fighting is the thing viewers remember the least about it. From the snazzy camera moves and editing(all CGI, IKEA and "cock" insertions) to the expertly and explicitly written dialogue from the most unreliable of narrators, Fincher's rug-pull is backed up by Pixies-infused post-masculine angst and Meat Loaf with tits. Pitt is as good as he ever was and Bonham-Carter made her career re-invention from Merchant Ivory lady to pasty gothic waif in just one movie. Pitch black humour combined with a great story, Fight Club shows how a film can be watched again and again making it a classic of modern cinema.

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

Despite the appreciation of its immediate successor, Lucas' original Star Wars still commands a huge presence on the screen and although it is the shortest of the 6 franchise films, its classical boy-given-unwanted-challenge and powers narrative (Hobbit, Harry Potter, Matrix et al), wise old sage and meetings of Princesses and rogues along their journey, showed how Lucas took an established structure and transposed them to the galaxy far far away. Whilst adding an unforgettable musical score, brand new special effects and make up into the mix, Lucas' characters were ones audiences could relate to, alongside the boo's created during the presence of the best on-screen villain of all time. With a final climax that will echo in eternity, Star Wars is the childhood we can revisit again and again yet was sadly Lucas' swansong in the franchise as he moved to bigger (but definitely not better) things. With this film we all wanted to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi....like our fathers.

Pulp Fiction
Pulp Fiction(1994)

20 years old, time has been very kind to Quentin's nonlinear tale of violent thugs and pop-culture dialogue and it's easy to see why it's Midlands Movies' readers' number one. Watching today you get both nostalgia AND a sense of modernism with possibly the coolest soundtrack alongside genuine great performances from Travolta, Jackson, Thurman, Keitel and Bruce Willis who I often forget is even in it! This neo-noir film essentially turned Tarantino from a wunderkind into the global phenomenon we know today and the film's violence and drug references are so uniquely balanced with its humour and love of character that its unique style has been much imitated yet never bettered. We happy? Yeah, we happy.

Step Brothers

As one half of sibling rivalry Brennan Huff, Ferrell again plays an overgrown man-child, this time with John C. Reilly in the domestic comedy that raised a few eyebrows but very few laughs.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
½

Dwarf singing and journey starting in this big-scale prequel (and side-quel of sorts) as Peter Jackson takes us back to Middle Earth to show how it all began. I was very wary of a Phantom Menace style fuck-up but Jackson keeps it familiar enough with nods to the later story as well as direct with a lighter touch to reflect the tone of the original novel. Whether it needs to be 3 films remains to be seen and a good half an hour could have been knocked from its running time without anyone noticing anything missing (the intro where Bilbo is introduced to the Dwarves at Bag End is a drawn out affair to say the least). It was always going to be compared to its bigger Oscar winning brothers and the plot of the film is almost a carbon copy of Fellowship - Hobbiton, journey starts in forest, stop off at Rivendell, cave action, final orc-y battle scene) but although this film has its baggy Baggins sections, with a great prologue, Andy Serkis' Gollum and decent acting and action all around, it still shows why Jackson has returned as the king of fantasy cinema. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Cars
Cars(2006)
½

Worst Pixar isn't bad but in comparison its the dud of their output.

Year One
Year One(2009)

Year one = one star. Abysmal

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)
½

Watching this is like consuming shit from a rectum sown to your face. All hype and no pay off.

The Tourist
The Tourist(2010)

Good bits: It's set in the beautiful city of Venice.
Bad bits: The rest
Frickin' tourists.

The Fighter
The Fighter(2010)
½

Wahlberg and Bale are brilliant in this great underdog story.

Rango
Rango(2011)
½

Well designed but not brilliantly executed.

Hall Pass
Hall Pass(2011)

Ronseal. Look at the poster and you'll know whether you'll like this movie. Offensive in an inoffensive kind of way

Insidious
Insidious(2011)
½

How people like this is the most horrific thing about the movie. An end that was like watching a pantomime was the worst of its many flaws.

Fright Night
Fright Night(2011)
½

A right old mess but Dr. Who was funny

Immortals
Immortals(2011)

A less engaging 300/Gladiator pastiche.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

Captain Kirk himself takes up the mantle of another legendary character that Ben Affleck, Alec Baldwin and Harrison Ford have all portrayed on the big screen in this reboot of the Tom Clancy CIA agent. Not adapted from any of the novels, this original story sees Ryan recruited by Kevin Costner's CIA man Thomas Harper to track down laundered terrorist money when his path crosses with Russian tycoon Viktor Cherevin (Branagh, both actor and director again) who is trying to mainipulate the world into the next global depression. Pine is as watchable as ever - his screen persona is as good if not better than an Affleck and it's a shame he's been given the dullest of stories to try and inject some life into. Although there are obligatory punch ups, shoot outs and car chases the film plods along with all the intensity that a compliance officer audit can muster and sadly that's about as engaging as it sounds. Kiera Knightly shows up as Jack's partner and her stupidity immediately puts her in danger yet I couldn't have cared any less about the outcome of any of this. Sadly, just as the film got going and a vehicle chase began to get my attention, the credits then rolled! With a bit of pruning, this could have been a great spy-thriller but with Bond and Bourne setting some high standards, this average agent film is as drab as they come. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer(2014)

All aboard for this South Korean/USA action film which tells the story of Curtis, a rebel on a fascist train that encircles the globe now that mankind has caused an accidental ice age in an attempt to delay the onset of global warming. This snow train is essentially a prison with the poor and destitute forced to live in squalor and eat protein blocks delivered sporadically by armed guards at the tail end whilst the rich live like royalty near the locomotive's front. Curtis (a bearded Chris Evans) teams up with Edgar (Jamie Bell) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer) to overthrow the guards and secure freedom for those he's lived amongst for the last 20 years. With John Hurt and Ed Harris playing the train elders seemingly representing each faction, the cast raise this Under Siege 2-esque film far beyond its graphic novel origins (it's based on French comic Le Transperceneige) and alongside Tilda Swinton as a northern accented minister with a nasty sadistic side, the movie is an original take on a tested formula. Joon-ho delivers the appropriate amount of fist fights and shooting action with a decent script and moody dialogue as the rebels fight their way through different parts of the train from prison-like pod cars, greenhouse and aquarium carriages all the way to cabins full of the wealthy. Despite some admittedly dodgy CGI on the outside of the train, this revolution film combines Joon-ho's artistic Eastern eye with some inventive Hollywood-style smack downs and although the premise is absurd, the audience will be pulled along for the wintery ride enjoying the emotional tracks the director lays out for us. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
½

As a big fan of Raimi's 2004 Spiderman 2 I had high(er) hopes for this sequel to Marc Webb's web-slinging first instalment of the beloved superhero now the seen-it-all-before origin story was out the way. Readers will know I did not gel with that first film (covered far too much similar ground too soon) but the acting was solid and with new villains not seen on celluloid in this follow up there were lofty expectations to develop this world of Peter Parker and co. A quick synopsis sees Peter struggle to balance his relationship with Gwen Stacy (a feisty Emma Stone) whilst re-acquainting with old school chum Harry Osbourne (Dane DeHaan) alongside Jamie Foxx's "nobody" Oscorp engineer who idolises Spider-Man but falls into a vat of electric eels to become Electro. At the same time Peter is uncovering some shady goings on involving his father's research but unfortunately, despite the good intentions of all involved, the film has some really major flaws. First, the transitions between CGI and real-life footage is ridiculous. At times it was like an animated film with what looked like The Incredibles simply "pasted" on top of the film. At times Spidey, the people and the city are all created in the computer and boy can you see it! This antagonistic problem was further compounded by the strange tone with the comedic elements of a Fantastic Four-style adventure (Electro also reminded me of Jim Carrey's Edward Nigma from Batman Forever - not good) which was fighting against a Nolan-esque character piece. Spidey's cockiness more often than not made him come off like a jerk and although I acknowledge they use the same source material, the truck stealing, public transport stopping, cop car flinging, industrial accident and hospital re-birth were all similar shots done before from Raimi. With 50 years of comics there's really no need for this. It's a real shame as Spider-Man is now up against the group ensembles (X-Men, Avengers and Snyder's soon to be developed Justice League) which has made the film-makers use this movie to begin plans for a Sinister 6 Spidey-villain spin off. They have focused so much on setting up the next film it forgets to satisfyingly resolve the issues of this one which feels like watching a second origin film but for the baddies. So Mr. Webb, my advice would be to forget the "franchise" and focus more on the film in front of you. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Blue Ruin
Blue Ruin(2014)

A Kickstarter funding campaign helped get Blue Ruin's creation underway and the film breathes new life into the revenge thriller genre with some bloody violence and authentic characters. Macon Blair (who has Hellbenders 3D and Murder Party on his CV) leaves his schlock past behind to play a mild beach hobo called Dwight who finds out the murderer of his parents (Wade) is set to be released from prison. Dwight uses his limited means to return to Virginia and after a gruesome bloodbath achieves his aim which only prompts the Wade's family into revenge. Estranged from his sister (who I thought was his wife for a large part of the film), he unfortunately places her family in danger so decides he needs to go and finish the job fully. Well shot and delivered in a simple style, the actors (including Home Alone's "Buzz" himself, Devin Ratray) deliver superb performances across the board. My main niggle was that it didn't really engage me. After the brilliant first 20 minutes, the tension wasn't ratcheted up for me enough and found myself yawning through some of the sparse minimal dialogue sequences. Intensely acted with a brilliant vulnerability by Macon Blair himself, I just found myself wanting a bit more to chew on and the lack of momentum really stopped the film from being any better than "solid". An indie delight with high aspirations that (for me) just failed to hit the mark. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Double
The Double(2014)
½

A real dead ringer to dispose of. Writer-Comedian Ayoade follows up his quirky British debut Submarine with material from a heavier source in the form of a Dostoyevsky novella that delves into the darker recesses of the human condition. The plot involves shy Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) whose humdrum working life and inept social skills are challenged when a bold and brash new employee James Simon (also Eisenberg) begins to advise then takeover Simon's awkward life. Mia Wasikowska as Hannah plays a colleague Simon is interested in but new boy James has other plans in this very stylised film which is dimly lit and has an almost steam-punk aesthetic. Set in a parallel but non-descript alternate reality full of ambiguous and morose spaces for dark dealings the star is all Eisenberg who shows both a vulnerable side and a nasty streak (straight from The Social Network). Playing both roles admirably he repeats sentences and finds the fun in grim situations all the way to a near breakdown as his life spirals downwards to a violent and grave finale. Ayoade leaves the audience guessing all the way to the credits about its meaning allowing the viewer to propose duplicate readings of a complex and callous tale. The film's sparse sets focus the audience on the well drawn performances but I was never fully "in" the film as the Terry Gilliam-esque Brazil-style overrides many of the movie's sequences. Funnily enough however, this is the second film about doppelgangers I have seen in 2 weeks (Enemy is the other) and both tackled open-ended symbolism, the role of the state and control and the nature of the "self" but if I had to choose I think Ayodade's shady adaptation just beats its theatrical twin. Midlands Movies Mike 7/10

Noah
Noah(2014)
½

Are you not entertained? In this imaginative retelling of the familiar biblical tale, Aronofsky takes a $130 million budget and delivers a CGI epic starring muscular Russell Crowe as Noah, the devout family man building a life-saving boat during the deluge to rescue his uncorrupted kin along with two of every creature. After a series of graphic and vivid nightmares, Noah ups his family and during their travels comes across a village of bodies slain by his father's killer Tubal-Cain (a menacing Ray Winstone) and adopts a girl survivor of the massacre called Ila (Harry Potter's Emma Watson). Then, after being given a seed from Eden by Sir Anthony Hopkins' Methuselah, a forest grows almost instantaneously and Noah uses this wood for his holy mission.

Most will think they know the story from inoffensive childhood illustrations from primary school books but many may not remember a set of fallen angels known as 'Watchers', who are banished on Earth as stone giants. These CGI beasts are a cross between Tolkien's wise tree-like Ents and The Never Ending Story's Rock Biter but alongside the naturalistic photography of the mountainous and wooded scenery, I stifled guffaws at their every appearance. Just as we got into the darker nature of this menacing fable, they would show up like the 80s toys Rock Lords and destroy any good work done. The film's uneven tone sadly continues when the animals arrive as well. For every good new idea we see - for example, the age-old debate about why the animals don't eat each other is answered with a herbal potion effectively putting them into "hibernation" - there are CGI snakes arriving at the Ark which reminded me of Whacking Day from The Simpsons. Further straying from the source, Ray "You slag!" Winstone as the leader of a clan of evil-doers, delivers a great non-Winstone performance as an Ark stowaway and plays it suitably threatening against Crowe's Gladiator/Robin Hood-light performance. In the first half of the film Crowe is all punching, jumping and using a variety of weapons before demonstrating Noah's all-encompassing religious zeal overrides his faculties and we see him becoming increasingly unhinged as his family fight to stay alive on the boat. From dreamy sea sickness to images of rainbows and light replacing the "word" of God, we are not only shown Noah trying to interpret God's meaning but the film itself also attempts to re-interpret the classical-version of the biblical story audiences know.
As an atheist you won't see me criticising any divergence from the text (which is as reliable as Verbal Kint) but the film doesn't quite know what it wants to be with elements from LOTR, 10,000 BC and Aronofsky's own The Fountain in the muddling mix. Also a montage of animal evolution thrown in as the universe forms planets and life springs from microbes to land lizards and then monkeys seems to hint at a scientific angle which, alongside shots of planet Earth from space, is at odds with the rest of the film's message.

With no room for dinosaurs here, it's strange to see Griffin-like creatures on the Ark which detracts from the good acting from the whole cast who show internal struggles from survivor guilt to family feuding throughout. In summary, as Noah saves "all that creeps and crawls" the film's great score (as always) by Clint Mansell compliments the movie's mad brilliance which while although not always engaging, is consistently interesting and attempts to tackle deep topics in this fantastical but frustrating film 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Art of the Steal

After his brother Nicky (Matt Dillon) snitches on him to save himself for a long jail term, Kurt Russell plays Crunch Calhoun who comes out of a 7-year Polish prison stretch after a heist they're both involved in goes awry. Now a daredevil performer (echoes of Death Proof's stuntman Mike) and with apprentice Francie (Jay Baruchel) and "Uncle" Paddy (Kenneth Welsh), they get back in touch with Nicky after he steals a Georges Seurat painting and they all band together for an even bigger score to steal and sell a Gutenberg Bible - a priceless artefact stored in a Canadian warehouse. With good support in the form of Jason Jones as Agent Bick of Interpol and Terence Stamp as Samuel Winter (a con helping them) the film plays as Ocean's-lite crossed with the disappointing Now You See Them. With great chemistry between the characters, even the normally annoying Baruchel is given some good lines, the film won't break any new boundaries and is filmed in the most perfunctory manner but in spite of that it works as a fun forgery/crime caper. As the game of cat and mouse hots up, the group's tensions boil over as they create replicas, plan the forgeries and try to cross the border as they attempt to stay one step of the authorities - and of each other. From comical cops and criminals to a well written if generic script, The Art of the Steal is simply a harmless heist film with its share of hold-ups and humour. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Carrie
Carrie(2013)

This remake of the 1976 Brian De Palma classic from the Stephen King novel of the same name is a valiant attempt to breathe fresh life into the tale of a psychic teen outsider pushed by her bullying peers into revenge filled horror but it sadly fails to deliver the screams and scares with a teen-rating and a short 99 minutes run time lacking any really new innovations. Chloe Grace Moretz is always watchable and Julianne Moore provides underused acting heft as the disturbed mother picking on her shy daughter and the film thankfully avoids the problems of most updates by staying away from the shoehorning in of modern technology. It thankfully allows the young rivalries to take place in the real world rather than online or on mobiles. An overly long, but somehow not deep enough, build up paves the way for the final 30 minutes of chaos and carnage as Carrie's powers culminate in violent and inventive destruction as payback to her tormentors. With good support from the underrated Judy Greer as a gym teacher and some gruesome and gorily inventive killings, it was never going to challenge the De Palma film for originality but there are a few highlights in this hexed horror to make it worthwhile for its intended adolescent audience. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Reasonable Doubt

I really like a good thriller. I mean, whether they are a police procedural (Seven), courtroom drama (Lincoln Lawyer or Fracture) or law-breaking mystery (The Usual Suspects), I like to take pleasure in the tense manipulation of the audience by a well a crafted crime plot. Reasonable Doubt sadly is not one of those. For every classic I've enjoyed above, the majority of this genre often hit TV-levels of production and without an inventive director they can be a bland Alex Cross-style misfire. In this movie, on the rise DA Dominic Cooper tries in vain to cover up a hit-and-run accident but this gets complicated when a criminal he acquits for the crime (Samuel L. Jackson) may not be all he seems. Only good acting from the two leads saves this from being terrible but even that cannot elevate this above a run-of-the-mill potboiler. Tedious direction and a lacklustre support cast means this can be added to the pile of movies labelled "direct to DVD". There's no doubt this is reasonably humdrum. 4.5/10 Mike

300: Rise of an Empire
½

After Snyder's adaptation of Frank Miller's "300" proved to be a violent visual hit back in 2007 comes this belated sequel (of sorts) as we follow Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles during the Battle of Salamis. Definitely no Gerard Butler in the charisma stakes, Stapleton is as Australian as Butler was Scottish but accents aside, the film also sees the return of regular faces Xerxes, Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes, Daxos, David Wenham as Dilios and Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo. Headey is the narrator this time and fans of her in Dredd will love more slow motion and 3-D blood splatters that this film provides but Headey isn't the best female character because Eva Green as Artemisia - a Greek traitor now in control of Persia's navy - gets some of the best lines and sequences including an S & M sex scene where clothes are ripped like the flesh from bones on the battlefield. Her thirst for vengeance drives the story forward and I enjoyed the structure of the film which covered prequel, side-quel and sequel time periods and there's enough explosive killing and crimson gore to keep the action fans happy. Although the characters are not even as deep as the wounds that are weapon-inflicted during the war, the actors know what kind of movie they are in and the big overblown performances of the tyrannical Xerxes and volatile Green fit the style which is a good approximation of the first film. For all the homage there's no new real innovation - the long slow-mo fights are longer and slower and the ultra-violence is turned up to 11 - although that said, I enjoyed another bout of senseless and bloodthirsty action but it's definitely not a history lesson as anyone expecting a clever look at the spread of democracy is searching around the wrong Empire. "Oh, I've chosen my words carefully, Persian" - if you leave your brain at the door you may just enjoy another bout of senseless fighting and vein-y violence in this second-rate but solid sequel. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Killing Oswald
½

As a big fan of Oliver Stone's JFK (one of my top 10 of all time in fact) as well as the conspiracy theories around the assassination itself (although for the record, I'm in the lonely nut camp) this documentary's subject matter is already right up my Dealey Plaza with its look into the details surrounding Lee Harvey Oswald's life. Unfortunately, despite the interesting topic the documentary is per functionary at best with some of the dramatic recreations being dubious and poorly acted - I especially don't really see the point in a reconstruction of Oswald writing in his diary with an actor's voiceover. There's plenty of archive footage and interesting interviews with its look at the Cuban missile crisis and asking questions on whether he could have been sent on a false defector mission. Also it asks why his return from the Soviet Union was not investigated and was his wife part of the puzzle but as someone in the church of the lone gunmen it seems mostly bluster and theory with a few rumours thrown in for good measure. If nothing else, one of the things the documentary highlights is how accurate a performance Gary Oldman gave of Lee Harvey Oswald in Stone's drama, especially his vocal ticks and accent. In summary, there isn't really anything new in the ideas debated here just the usual conspiracy theories and questions that have been covered by JFK and other docs like 3 Shots That Changed America or 24 Hours After 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Ender's Game
Ender's Game(2013)
½

We Need To Talk About Wiggin. After one hour does anyone discuss the moral of using children for war and that sums up this film adaptation of the sci-fi novel of the same name. Asa Butterield is the young Ender Wiggin, recruited into a military academy to be trained to destroy aliens attacking earth and despite the great young actor giving it his best - I genuinely look forward to more of his output - the director of Wolverine can't help but put together a Star Trek: The Next Generation style movie which has fascist overtones but none of the irony of a Starship Troopers. Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff is all grizzled(TM) and although it's great to see him back in a spaceship corridor, the film shows him nothing more than a manipulator of this frankly know-it-all brat. With training reminiscent of Full Metal Jacket and Aliens, the film does cover its fare share of adult themes but rather than sympathise with Ender, I felt he was a Norman Bates in waiting, an unfeeling sociopath and the perfect poster boy for this army recruiting film. With nods to video games and an obscene amount of Grange Hill bullying (including the inevitable shower lynching) the kids should "just say no" to this brutal military conditioning which has more children fighting than the similar Hunger Games. Along with After Earth, I'm not a fan of the dehumanising and stunting of children's emotions in current sci-fi movies and although there are a few good action set pieces, everything is so emotionless it's frankly frightening to see them controlling drones so far away from the battlefield. A rather confusing film with good intentions but a misplaced moral centre with a final 10 minute redemption not making up for what has gone before. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Saving Mr. Banks

This biopic retells the story of Mary Poppins author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) and her pursuit by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) as he tries to get her to agree to a film version of her work. Based on their brief 1961 encounter, every attempt Walt has at sprinkling his fairy dust over the adaptation is poo-poo'd by Travers (should that be Pooh-Pooh given his link with A. A. Milne's literature) as she attempts to maintain creative control over her personal work. As the jolly songs and rosy costumes come together, Travers resists every fantastic flourish as Walt tries to find what really drives this cold lady and her inner demons. Alongside this story is a series of flashbacks to Travers' upbringing in Australia with a brilliant Colin Farrell as her alcoholic father which taints her decisions in the future - an action in which a cynical viewer would say Walt subsequently exploits. As a film it doesn't quite capture the facts of the story (Travers loathed the film despite her softening on screen here) but Thompson provides a tour de force performance as the stiff-upper lipped woman with great support from Paul Giamatti as her American chauffeur and Bradley Whitford as the co-screenwriter of the movie in making. The magic of the film is that I truly despised Thompson's character for a long period of the film - her obnoxious rudeness is the true battle and only a loveable Hanks as Disney helped offset this difficult protagonist and the story perfectly captured what according to her grandchildren said was a life in which Travers "died loving no one and with no one loving her". However as Thompson warms up her personality, we warm to her too and alongside the recreations of the film's songs by the composers Sherman brothers (brilliantly played by Jason Schwartzman and B. J. Novak) the dreamy brilliance of Disney's encouragement is clear to see. As explained earlier, certainly not an in depth Frost/Nixon character study (the film is also made by Disney) the movie however hits the right sentimental beats and enough enchanting events to win you over. Let's go fly a kite! 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Monuments Men

George Clooney stars and directs this film about a group of soldiers saving precious works of art before the Nazis destroy them during the latter half of World War II. With its crime caper conceit I tried to avoid the obvious connotations with a certain Ocean series of films but as Clooney enters talking about (Saint) Benedict in the same tone as (Terry) Benedict of the aforementioned film series, then uses a Dad's Army-style map to describe his plan to protect and steal these treasures back, he proceeds to meet Matt Damon (another Ocean alumni) to discuss "putting a team together". So much for that! However, the similarities end there as the joyous romp of that hotel heist is left behind for a more uneven tone of evil Germans (of the 'Allo 'Allo kind) and Indiana Jones style artefact hunting alongside the serious subject matter of Jewish persecution. Clooney mishandles both providing an overwrought score to the proceedings and makes the plot as unengaging as possible with direction at a snail's pace for what is essentially a (kind-of) treasure hunt film. Bill Murray, John Goodman and others provide solid but uninspiring support but it's the lack of urgency that proves problematic as the concentration camp reality really jars with the boys' own jolly aspects of the adventure. An unexploded landmine scene shows the tension and group dynamics that should have permeated the rest of the movie whilst Jean Dujardin has taken over from Jean Reno (who himself took over from Gerard Depardieu) as the go to Frenchman for Hollywood films and an appearance from Cate Blanchett makes it feel a bit reminiscent of her and Clooney's The Good German. Overall, this film's moral centre has good intentions (saving art/culture), it's just that Clooney doesn't make the sentiment that interesting and after getting the ensemble group together they are immediately sent off on their own adventures with the director relying on (too) long periods of nothing like a dull museum trip - unable to sculpt something more substantial. A classic tale expressed in an old style, The Monuments Men leaves you hanging on the wall like an old painting wanting a bit more for your investment. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Wolf of Wall Street
½

The credit crunch is for wimps. Scorsese returns with DiCaprio again in their 5th collaboration as they tackle 80's hedonism in the stock-broking world. With both the characters and Marty himself overindulging in excess, the decade of greed permeates every shot as the director wants everything on screen even if that means a self satisfying 179 minutes run time. DiCaprio's characterisation of the real-life Jordan Belfort is a plethora of over-the-top screams, jerks and self pity as he swindles his way up from penny stock dealer to multi-million pound rackets whilst living the very high (literally drug-addled) life. Scorsese overloads his film with Goodfellas-esque freeze-frames, flashbacks and voice-overs which, whilst not particularly original, are well used to show us the hedonistic lifestyle of Belfort and his wealthy pals. What surprised me most was how funny the film is, and before anyone accuses me of siding with the "glamour" of the lifestyle, I felt throughout we were laughing AT these hoaxers, not WITH them as their reprehensible traits were clear to see and for all their insatiable drive, each actor including a great Jonah Hill, as Belfort's partner, portrayed their shallow pleasure seeking, cash-hungry characters as wholly unlikeable greedy assholes.

The support cast were superb throughout, an amiable Rob Reiner as Belfort's wise-thinking (but along with everyone else very "sweary") father is the voice of reason in a world of unreasonableness and an hilarious Quaalude taking scene which renders DiCaprio spasmodic before an attempt to drive home was a comedy highlight. His scenes with Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey are all fast-talking, high trousers with a glut of profanities thrown in as the greedy geckos crave further riches and amass fortunes they no longer know what to do with. A sub-plot to move money to Switzerland involving The Artist's Jean Dujardin showed Scorsese still has fresh ideas as voice-overs begin talking to each other and a mid-movie appearance from posh-Brit Joanna Lumley was a quirky cameo as Belfort seeks to hide his illegal gains from the FBI using foreign family and friends as aliases.

The story has the obligatory climax as the fraud comes to its natural conclusion and the veneer of the sham begins to fall away. The film itself reflects this with an (over) abundance of graphic parties, naked women and material goods giving way to violent and emotional outbursts as the business and personal deceptions are uncovered. Anyone with sensitive sensibilities should steer well clear but Scorsese reflects the horrific self-serving 80s age with self-serving covetous images with the human body used as an asset to be abused by drink, drugs, sex and cruelty with no thought to any repercussions - much like they do with their office based moneymaking. A ferocious piece of cinema with echoes of 2013's Filth where an unlikeable protagonist falls from grace with little or no sympathy when they receive their final comeuppance, The Wolf of Wall Street is a Fortune 500 of a film dealing in corporate corruption with great success from a now established partnership at the top of their industry. 9/10 Midlands Movies Mike

RoboCop
RoboCop(2014)
½

This reimagining of Paul Verhoeven's seminal sci-fi from 1987 tries valiantly to update the themes of unionisation/commercialism of the police and public safety found in the original to a more global/military issue covering suicide bombers, world affairs and unmanned drones. From the US public's "robo-phobia" of having unfeeling machines on their soil comes Michael Keaton's (great to see back on the screen) "product with a conscience" as he puts Joel Kinnaman's cop Alex Murphy inside a cybernetic suit after a near fatal car explosion. Samuel L. Jackson's TV personality sets the scene in an all-capturing intro but this confirms the film's serious tone rather than the subversive satire that made the '87 Robocop so successful. One of the biggest flaws is Murphy's awareness of who he is so early on rather than the slow realisation/re-connection of his human traits. However, Padhilha brings some innovative joys to the party such as guitar playing robotic limbs and the new body parts of Robocop himself but Jay Baruchel as an OCP employee is as annoying as his voice and the everyday 'borgs have an "I, Robot" quality owing to some average CGI. The retro use of the music, logo and (some) character names reference Verhoeven's movie but it has little else is common, with this film's PG-13 rating smoothing off the violent rough edges that will antagonise those old enough to enjoy the original. The biggest question is where is the memorable Clarence Boddiker or Dick Jones? A big pantomiming villain (a la Sharlto Copley in Elysium) is what is needed but despite the heavyweight talent of Jackson, Oldman and Keaton, who all give noble performances, the film runs through the automated plot points seen before in the likes of Minority Report, Terminator Salvation and the aforementioned I, Robot. The film's action is also not particularly innovative and the strange soundtrack conflicts with the rest of the film - sometimes Zimmer-esque score then a jarring switch to guitar rock(?!). In summary, the film doesn't quite successfully communicate its ideas and for all its glossy sheen, much like Robocop the audience will find themselves disconnected from any real emotions. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Machete Kills
½

The sequel of the similarly ridiculous Machete (made from a trailer that first appeared in Tarantino/Rodriguez's Grindhouse) moves from the (mildly) clever and humorous pastiche of 70s exploitation films to a full on comedy - well, I guess that is what they attempted. The film has some terrible dialogue and effects whilst leading man Danny Trejo looks more like an old leather sofa that's been left out in the Mexican sun than ever before and similarly with Bryan Singer, I can't wait for Rodriguez to leave these film "follies" behind and get back to real movie-making as Desperado, Sin City and hell, even Spy Kids, show RR can make a decent flick. Amongst the fake trailers, adverts and 3-D glasses "subtitles", Charlie Sheen's appearance as the US President cements its comedy credentials with his Hot Shots-like turn making it feel like Topper Harley has become the "chief", but unfortunately never have I been so bored for what is essentially an action film - it's all concept, cameos and posters and it fails abysmally in creating an actual film - a similar failing I found in Expendables 2. It's clearly not aimed for my sensibilities but I couldn't even appreciate it for its intentions so poorly executed as they are and I understand it's supposed to be "crappy" but does it have to be so crap? The Kevin Smith argument that you can't look at these types of film critically is a (pardon the pun) cop out - as if you make a pile of turd then I'm going to call it like it is as there's a surprising amount of talking and so much exposition there's really no tension or excitement even at the most basic level. For me, the most interesting parts included my thoughts on where Cuba Gooding Junior has been for the last few years and why not use a flashback every now and then instead of just telling us back-story within a dull office setting - this became so annoying that the next film could easily could be called Machete: Explains. In conclusion, it's so poorly filmed I'm genuinely beginning to believe that Rodriguez doesn't care let alone is skilled enough to "take the piss" out of the Grindhouse genre he feels he is imitating. If a film gives an audience that impression it's clearly failing on almost every level and these geri-actionners go down the pan one film at a time. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Captain Phillips
½

O Captain! My Captain! From the director of the action-packed Bourne Ultimatum and the dark realism of United 93 comes a film that mixes both intense fighting and shooting with the real-life story of Phillips, who was the skipper of the Maersk Alabama ship during its hijacking off Somalian waters in 2009. A slow-burning and mundane opening as Hanks and his wife discuss how the world is different for their kids (yeah, we get the political hammer, Greengrass) moves into the contrasting environments of a "wealth" of crates at the Oman port where Phillips boards his container vessel and the Somalians dragging their small speedboat across the sand to the shore. The difference in technology doesn't mean a jot when 30 minutes in the brutal pirates manage to board the lonesome frigate and Greengrass' realism through camera movement and simple shot composition shows the brutality of their actions. There's no "Jack Sparrow-ing" here though as the simple game of the haves and have nots are played out between the hostage detainees and their new commanders with Hanks as the all American "everyman" and Barkhad Abdi playing the pirates' boss in an emotive and engaging performance showing tension, anxiety and stress all at once. I enjoyed the tautness of the editing and the conflicts have true to life hostility and dread however I was never really fully engaged (maybe owing to already knowing how the siege eventually turned out in the news reports from the time) which is but a small criticism of a solid film whose chief goal is to entertain and give a (side) thought to existing international struggles. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Riddick
Riddick(2013)

Riddick versus The Space Monsters. Vin Diesel and director Twohy round off a trilogy based on the hard-as-nails space mercenary with this action flick from last year as the sci-fi anti-hero meanders through a sequence of darkly lit set pieces and long periods of nomadic lifestyle interspersed with political machinations of the Star Wars prequel kind (i.e. very boring). The film begins with an interesting "silent" first 10 minutes where Riddick is stranded on a desert planet with serpents, monsters, fish and aliens to battle (all nicely designed but badly rendered in CGI) but this is dragged out for another 30-40 minutes. Chronicles had a dreadful Phantom Menace look and this film is not far off with its John Carter esque landscapes - I mean how difficult is it to find a desert location on planet earth nowadays? This survivalist first act is slow and dull (and somewhat inconsistent as Chronicles suggested Riddick could "tame" most animals) but like the character Wolverine, he is best as a support character and as antagonist to group dynamics. With Karl Urban back for an early cameo (must be contractual), the film's design and costumes now make Riddick look like he's on Krypton fighting General Zod's backup army before the film descended into inconsequential sci-fi clichés over a long 2 hours and completely lost me when he got a CGI Scooby Doo-style space puppy (!) From a great introduction to the character in Pitch Black's perfect sci-fi horror (the best Alien film that never was), the films are now aiming for action blockbuster but with the dialogue used to clarify the story and direction all over the place, this is a 'dick of a movie with very little suspense and even less to recommend it to anyone other than huge fans. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Escape Plan
Escape Plan(2013)
½

Stallone plays Ray Breslin, an expert in breaking out of secure prisons who is whisked off to a secret FBI jail to test their facility but his plans go awry when his tracking chip is removed and is forced to become a con for real. The film also features an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger as a fellow inmate and together they mostly avoid the nod and wink approach of similar fare like The Expendables and the movie is all the better for it. From Arnie pretending to be crazy in solitary where (for the first time I think) he speaks Austrian through to the CGI blueprint shots which help explain the (convoluted) plans the film has a low budget but does a lot and also contains some funny one liners. The set up is similar in style, tone and even plot to the jail sequence in Face/Off and has echoes of THX 1138 (the guards) and elements of The Island too. The eclectic cast are per functionary at best - 50 Cent is a tech geek (what?) but others stick to type like Sam Neill's prison doctor and Vinnie Jones' guard/henchman. It's better than similar B-movie fare like Lockout and makes some attempt at drama - it's not great but it did strive for story which is more than either star's recent returns to the genre and of the new retro geriatric actionners (or geriactionners) this is the best so far. With script in-jokes that God is Great (said to infamous Passion of the Christ "Jesus" Jim Caviezel) and a Terminator-esque helicopter machine gun shooting spree suitably filmed in slow motion, the film has some heavy-handedness but is still 10 times more subtle than anything The Expendables movies have done. This is the first guilty DVD pleasure of 2014 (released March 17th) and if you hark for a retro action film that is closer to the standard of the originals it tries to imitate then you'd do worse than checking this break out hit. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
½

After the long and dreary Unexpected Journey, Jackson is back with another tale stretched from the pages of Tolkien's short novel and expanded over a bum numbing 161 minutes. However, with the set-up all done and dusted, the director throws us straight into the action from the outset with the obligatory nods to his previous LOTR trilogy (The Prancing Pony, Legolas) yet the film still lacks a decisive protagonist as although we should be focusing on Bilbo, he barely gets much screen time and the character is a cipher for Jackson's visual pyrotechnics. Somewhat predictably Howard Shore's original score foreshadows every viewing of The One Ring which becomes funny rather than fundamental and I swear that some of the dwarves weren't even in the first film showing the lack of characterisation within the anonymous clan. That said, it is miles better than "Journey" with more on location shooting, better effects and a faster pace which keeps the action coming, although at the expense of depth. Speaking of which, the 3D works better this time around and there were some genuine amazingly conceived scenes including a barrel escape, a spider attack and the final uncovering of Smaug, a giant Jumbo 747-sized dragon voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Freeman gets little to do acting wise, as does regular Ian McKellen (who inexplicably climbs a huge mountain just to tell Radagast he needs to "shoot off to be somewhere else" - WTF?) so the acting is not at the forefront although newcomers Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman and a Melchett-style Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown are the best additions. However, these take second place to the endless set-piece encounters. Overall, this story is again far too slack in its execution with much of it as shapeless as the flabby dwarves but Jackson stays the right side of boredom this time giving the audience what it wants to see - mainly a selection of well conceived visual sequences - although fans of the book should be warned that the director takes huge liberties with the text, adding characters and scenes but if you put that aside, most will enjoy another exciting expedition to Middle Earth. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Wolverine
½

The second solo outing for Marvel's clawed superhero features Hugh Jackman reprising the role he's made all his own on a lonely journey (post-events from X-Men 3) to Japan to reacquaint with an old WW2 friend. Regular readers will be well aware of my disdain for the "origins" film with its ludicrous plotting through to abysmal CGI yet this film puts right some (but only some) of the things that made that film a right mess. Firstly, what's gone right? Well, kudos points for trying something different and the Far East location setting was an interesting twist in a nod to an infamous comic story-arc. New director James Mangold has flown between the brilliant Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma although his last movie was the dreck Knight and Day. In addition, there is an unbelievable credit stinger at the end - which somewhat steals the gravitas from Days of Future Past but also returns us to the universe we REALLY want to see - Singer et al. However, despite this I again failed to fully engage with the movie as although it has a budget of $120 million I wondered why it looked so cheap overall? (I'm talking Agents of SHIELD cheap here!) The train fight seen in so many trailers is no Spidey 2 and although more serious than the disastrous Origins it also has some incredibly dull sequences. The slow pace combines with support characters who are merely plot ciphers and a distinct lack of mutants (where origins had far too many). An operation scene has echoes of The Matrix/Prometheus and the last third of film has some real tension and exciting action but a bit too little too late. The fact is, Wolverine just doesn't work too well without the X-Men - he's a foil (pardon the metallic pun) to their rules and boundaries and The Wolverine yearns for Nolan-esque depth and realism but fails to hit the "X" with too much CGI and studio work. You have to ask where's the cinematic vision in this movie? Where's the memorable slow-mo Wolverine into Mystique iconic shot everyone will remember? People have (in my opinion) nerve to say X-3 was bad but the Golden Gate bridge, Xavier's death and Jean's destruction were all more than solid and no amount of ninjas and samurais could turn this into Kill-Billverine. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Gravity
Gravity(2013)
½

Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star as NASA astronauts within this thriller set in the emptiness of the heavens who are involved in an astro-accident as debris from exploding satellites causes a chain reaction of chaotic crashes leaving them stranded in the void of deep dark space. A slow introduction of the Space Shuttle over the Earth forebodes Emmanuel Lubezki's luscious cinematography which leads to an amazingly beautiful 13-minute uninterrupted take as we swirl, spin and rotate in orbit with the scientists as they go about their strangely mundane technical tasks. A gruesome shot of the aftermath of the first disaster shows that no punches will be pulled, whilst cool Clooney lends a metaphorical and actual hand to the inexperienced Bullock who fights against low O2 levels and a 90 minute debris-free window before things comes full circle for another catastrophe. Cuarón's cosmic direction focuses on plenty of point-of-view shots whilst zooming around (and within) their helmets which reaches out to the personal aspect of the film. As amongst the stars, Bullock fights her own personal battle in her pressure suit and her odyssey to get to a safe place allows her to "re-birth" (one shot particularly makes her look like a space foetus, or star-child) and overcome her inner demons. Across huge distances, we are forced to face the fragile nature of humans and the technology enclosing them and realise whether on ground or outer space, the film is a vehicle to showcase our limitless potential in the face of adversity. A cheeky cameo from Ed Harris (Apollo 13) as the voice of Houston ground control is a delight as is Clooney's wise-cracking American everyman and only an endless stream of barriers (the final scene even garnered a laugh from the audience I was in) detracts from a superbly realised vision. From lost relatives to relativity, Gravity is set in the vacuum of space yet Cuarón creates a movie full of atmospheric tension that splashes down on a delicate trajectory of action, understatement and ingenious cinematic expertise. Midlands Movies Mike 8/10

Thor: The Dark World

The sequel to 2011's Thor sees Marvel forge deeper into Phase 2 post-Avengers as an imprisoned Loki taunts Thor as the Dark Elf Malekith attempts to regain possession of a mysterious power called the Aether which has the strength to destroy the universe. The story switches between the mystical nine realms whilst in London, Jane Foster finds a portal back to Asgard not before being infected by the Aether thus throwing her into harm's way during Thor's defence of his lands from Malekith's invading armies. Hemsworth is slowly becoming one of my favourite actors with his old-school charm and heroic delivery whilst Natalie Portman is given infinitely more to do as Thor's love interest. With plenty of humour thrown in (The IT Crowd's Chris O'Dowd makes a humorous love foil and Stellan Skarsgård is mostly undressed throughout) the film massively under utilises Chris Ecclestone's Malekith (he's more of a plot point than a real character) but with Kat Dennings and more action for Idris Elba's Heimdall, the film has all the right elements to go deeper and darker into the roles established by the first movie. However, although the 3D wasn't great there's a comical Marvel Universe cameo and the film shows that the real "hero" gluing the piece together is actually Loki. Hiddlestone has created one of the best comic characters of all time, villain or otherwise with his cheeky portrayal of Loki, both as heinous criminal and sarcastic japer and he's a joy to watch in every scene he stars in. Also, I enjoyed the film being set in London, taking it away from the US-centred previous films and opening it up to the global world these superheroes inhabit. Finally, as one of the most female-orientated of the Marvel films, Jaimie Alexander and Rene Russo get to beef up their roles which is enjoyable and although the mid-credit stinger continues my huge doubts about Guardians of the Galaxy, the combination of large action sequences with funny demigod dialogue and solid performances make this another cosmological conquering for Marvel. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

White House Down

10. Run Olympus Has Fallen review
20. Go to actors + change names
30. Ctrl + C
40. Ctrl + V
50. End White House Down review
In all seriousness, I thought the film marginally better than Olympus Has Fallen as it took itself a little less seriously with the dialogue and a little bit more serious with the siege itself. Like OHF, WHD would have been a better Die Hard film than the fifth movie we got and Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum had a good (if silly) chemistry than rode over the HUGE cracks in the movie. As ludicrous as you would expect, leave your brain with security and enjoy the extended ride with all the clichés you want (or want to avoid) in this type of film. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Mud
Mud(2013)
½

The film is a foreign country: they do things differently there. This coming-of-age drama directed by Jeff Nichols stars Matthew McConaughey as a fugitive on the run who befriends two young local boys around the bayous of Arkansas as the youngsters go exploring in their hometown. Two great performances from the newcomers Tye Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone hold their own against aging stars Reese Witherspoon (playing against type), Sam Shepard and McConaughey himself, who continues his career reinvention after the run of disastrous 2000-era rom-coms. The film covers a tale of forbidden love with a child messenger which has echoes of the classic English literature novel The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley. I enjoyed the great cinematography and thought the script was well written and the actors are all top notch against a somewhat clichéd plot of fugitive coming good and building bonds with those most vulnerable around him. Creating great tension with heated relationships, venomous snake bites and a shoot out ending, the film is a solid tale whose biggest downfall was a subject matter I could not wholly connect with but whose Southern-drenched visuals and strong acting talent raised it above a run of the mill drama. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Filth
Filth(2014)

James McAvoy stars as Bruce Robertson, an abusive and manipulative Scottish detective who bullies and taunts his fellow officers in a bid to win a promotion against his colleagues in this adaptation of Irvine Welsh's novel. First up, the film is very funny but definitely not for the faint hearted as the drug use, sexual exploits and violence are fired at the audience in quick succession but the film is done with so much fun that it's difficult to take anything too seriously and I ended up siding with Robertson at the end as his "games" come to a unexpected conclusion. Disturbing and dark, the director uses music, quick edits, voiceovers and cutaway gags to explore the intricacies of Welsh's novel and, apologies for the crude comparison, it reminded me most of the freshness and frankness of Trainspotting which covered similar serious subjects with humour and wit. Filth also uses a myriad of dream sequences, flights of fancy and even animation - all juxtaposed against the murky subject matter - to explain the protagonist's psychotic descent. Eddie Marsden is brilliant as McAvoy's only friend from his Masonic lodge, Clifford Blades, whilst Jamie Bell plays a great naive young detective and Jim Broadbent (who has been in endless films this year) hams it up as Dr Rossi in psychedelic couch sequences. Humorous and horrific in equal measure, McAvoy shows what a great actor he is and the peculiar style only supports the story-telling in this unexpected triumph from the up and coming director Baird. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Jack Reacher
Jack Reacher(2012)
½

Cruising around the USA, this adaptation of Lee Child's novel sees Tom playing an ex-military drifter getting involved in risky business in this story of a patsy sniper all the while trying to find out who the real top gun is. The film is a cocktail of thriller and action elements and far and away better than I was expecting as Cruise can often be a polarising figure at times but this is his best performance in ages. Aside from Cruise, solid support comes from perky Rosamund Pike who works for the firm as a defence attorney and directorial legend Werner Herzog as The Zec, the primary villain. A few more good men in the form of Robert Duvall and the always watchable Richard Jenkins, who continues his run of good form from The Cabin in the Woods and Killing Them Softly, add weight to what is essentially a well-crafted popcorn flick. With a cool car chase (honed from Days of Thunder no doubt) this is an entertaining but not world changing feature with all the right moves to fit into the solid Cruise cannon of adult actionners 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Gangster Squad
½

After the highly detailed and historically accurate (although ultimately disappointing) turn from Depp and Bale in Michael Mann's Public Enemies comes this glossy new take on a piece of American mob culture as Zombieland's Fleischer turns his attention to Mickey Cohen's rackets in 1940s Los Angeles. Taking huge liberties with facts, the film has more in common with Dick Tracy (garish 40s colours and comic book-levels of violence) than it does with more serious hoodlum films like Goodfellas or The Godfather. With a wealth of all-star talent like Sean Penn as a nasty foul-mouthed Cohen and Josh Brolin as the moralistic cop who pulls together this "off-the-books" crew, it's a shame they do not have better material to work with. The script follows a clichéd and flat formula with a group of seen-it-all-before archetypes including pregnant wife, nerdy surveillance man and bruising henchmen and not even cool turns from Ryan Gosling (whose voice is a pitch higher than normal for some reason), Robert Patrick (the T-1000 man playing a dogged cowboy-esque law enforcer) and the gruffest Nick Nolte can raise it above your average popcorn flick. That said however, this Untouchables-lite was enjoyed by me for what it was and although it had nothing new to say, it did it with some cinematic style, wit, ultra-violence and a splash of comedy that made the (rather superficial) journey to clean up the streets fun for a few hours. Leave your brain at the door as you enjoy the drugs, lugs and thugs. L.A. Inconsequential. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Senna
Senna(2011)
½

The turbulent life of a brilliant Brazillian boy moves into pole position as one of the best movies of the year.

Zero Dark Thirty

After the impressive and award winning The Hurt Locker (2008), Kathryn Bigelow returns to Middle East tensions in this drama based on the ten-year struggle to find the perpetrators of 9/11. Their biggest goal is to capture (or kill) Osama/Usama Bin Laden himself and after many years, a courier is found to be delivering more than just food to a secure compound in Pakistan. Taking us through all the major events, the film is a solid thriller with good acting and an amazing final 30 minutes as the US take the compound in the dead of night. The film takes a while to get going and not for one instant did this reviewer see the film as pro-torture - the characters get gobbledegook from the detainees by using it and the perpetrators are shown to be repulsed by it. The acting however is a bit middling, Chastain is always good but cameos from John Barrowman (!!!) and James Gandolfini (couldn't help but think of his war-mongering role within In The Loop) took me "out" of the film's otherwise consistent attempts at realism. If you enjoy the subject matter, then the Bin Laden: Shoot to Kill documentary (2011) is a must see follow up or if you're like me, even more essential as they interview everyone from the Head of the CIA to President Obama himself. Not the breath of fresh air that Bigelow and writer Mark Boal's Hurt Locker was, the film still raises relevant questions about the War on Terror and its participants. Abuse Bigelow: Middle East Gigolo. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Apollo 18
Apollo 18(2011)
½

Featuring supposedly real archive footage from an Apollo moon mission which has been covered up by NASA, this "found-footage" movie was not high on my 'to-see' list with its string of mediocre reviews - but have critics been a little too unkind? The sense of time, place and use of different film stocks and homemade "security" camera recording harks straight out of the 60s/70s space programme and although a little slow to get going I thought it captured the mundane realism of a rocket launch well and also the inevitable radio and circuit checks along with authentic space suits and vehicles. The predictable shock/jump moments ensue (as is the genre convention) and the acting is perfunctory at best but the invading outsiders are given a distinctive factual design and though it won't win any awards for best sci-fi, if you're a geek for space then this low-key offering could be right up your launch pad. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Let's talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin then...A hard hitting look at a mother's pain as we flash back and forth from birth to incarceration of a sociopath child ending with a high school massacre. A great performance from Tilda Swinton centres the film as victim to the town's vicious blame and frustrated about her child's increasingly troubling behaviour. Ezra Miller as Kevin is also a performance of weight as he taunts, detaches and derides his mother whilst causing havoc within the family. Taking a while to get going and with a few obvious bits of symbolism (yes, red tomatoes and red paint are like blood, we get it) the film sits alongside Requiem for a Dream as a bleak look at society's ills, one which does not compromise and offers the audience no answers but a chance to draw their own conclusions. A tough watch that will leave you definitely talking about it after. Midlands Movies Mike 8/10

Snow White and the Huntsman

The "colonel" directs Kristen Stewart as Snow White and Thor himself Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman (although he plays it as the Scotsman) in this folk fairy epic with brilliant cameos from great British character actors Ray Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Nick Frost and more who are CGI'd into the infamous 7 dwarves. Going for a re-imagining of the tale, it is visually similar to Lord of the Rings, Narnia and Ridley Scott's new Robin Hood, but the tone and plot are more akin to the earlier and "grimier" Prince of Thieves. This echoes most familiarly with an usurping villain (Rickman in Hood, Theron here) killing the hero's father and then said hero escaping their clutches to form a rag-tag gang from a forest (Merry Men/dwarves) and teaming with a former enemy (huntsman/Morgan Freeman's Moor) before leading a horseback charge on a castle's ramparts. No bad thing there but the quality is uneven and script/characters all over the place with very little empathy for anyone other than (ironically) Theron as the evil witch whose one-note sadistic performance is clearly the best thing about the movie. One for the Twi-whites methinks! 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Iron Sky
Iron Sky(2012)

You probably know the story by now of this partly fan-funded Finnish film as it sets out its premise of Nazis hidden on a moon base after WWII and how they plan to return to earth to wreak a Third Reich strike. With that foundation it's infinitely better than Expendables 2 which pays homage to another genre of B-movies and I thought the fact the film was played a bit more "straight" made it funnier than Stallone and co's abysmal effort. With some well designed retro spaceships impressively designed in CGI (better than the recent Guy Pearce sci-fi feature Lockout too), the film's cheese factor means you cannot take anything too seriously and some hammy acting performances and a United Nations made up of the President-ess of USA and other stereotypes ensure the audience knows where the level of the film is pitched. Neither a cult classic nor a complete failure (as some have claimed), the film , unintentionally somewhat, is far better than the ridiculous plot would lead you to believe and it's also superior to a lot of films who have set their standards too high. Sure, it's niche but this "fascist" film is also a lot of fun. Midlands Movies Mike 6/10

Chernobyl Diaries

A great set up sees an extreme tourist day trip turn nasty as a group of travellers visit a supposed ghost town near the site of the Russian nuclear disaster. Unfortunately, that's where the positivity ends as these day trippers suffer from an extreme case of mental meltdown as we watch slow-witted American teens enter a chain reaction of stupidity as they choose every wrong option presented to them. With Scream (and now Cabin in the Woods) deconstructing the horror clichés I can't help but blow up like a mushroom cloud every time I see people return to locations they know to be dangerous or decide to go into dark rooms to "explore". A fusion of handheld camera work (the trailer suggested it was 'found-footage' but apart from one scene it's not) and pretty decent performances from the unknown actors gives the impression of realism but unconvincing motivations and unnatural decision-making helps dismantle any of the movie's authenticity. A unique showpiece in the reactor towards the end provides some critical scares but when the health of the protagonists is more concerning to the audience than their survival from the "creatures" chasing them, you know the film has missed the mark. Fallout film fail. Midlands Movies Mike 6.5/10

Sinister
Sinister(2012)

A struggling crime-writer (Ethan Hawke) moves his family to a new town where unsolved murders and a decidedly creepy vibe abound in this horror vehicle from last year. Finding a box of Super-8 film reels in the attic, Hawke watches footage of grisly murders (at night, in the attic of course) whose images and evil power begin to infest their own world via his small child. A solid story and a couple of neat twists and scares are not enough to save this average schlock which stands alongside similar dirge like Insidious as 15-rated yawn-fests with even the reliable Vincent D'Onofrio providing scant saving grace as Professor "Exposition", filling the huge gaps in the plot by webcam. Unfortunately, it is Hollywood films like these that have hurried up my move to foreign horror which for me have had fresher ideas and better actors in the last few years. In no way the worst chiller I've seen, just so ominously run of the mill. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Amazing Spider-Man

The aptly named Marc Webb takes over directing duties from Sam Raimi to depict (again) Peter Parker's origin in becoming the arachnid superhero in this reboot/reimagining/reinvention of the familiar tale. And that's its greatest problem. The film lacks the appropriate bite as it feels more like a remake as it covers so much familiar ground as Raimi's recent version from less than 5 years ago. Although the cast are appropriately hefty (on the rise stars Garfield and Stone hold their own with veterans Martin Sheen and Sally Field) the lack of any truly new and memorable ideas from Webb gives us a film that is solid but definitely not innovative. The film's preoccupation with being "earnest" and "real" in the relationships, cue Coldplay soundtrack, make the (poorly directed) CGI action scenes appear from a different movie entirely. Ultimately, this bug just made me shrug. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Ted
Ted(2012)

With the joint successes of Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, creator Seth MacFarlane turns his comedy skills from those small TV triumphs into a big screen sensation in this modern fairy tale of a boy who grows old with his talking ted. From an hilarious prologue (with suitable voiceover from MacFarlane regular Patrick Stewart) which shows how Ted goes through adolescence with protagonist Mark Wahlberg (demonstrating his funny acting chops honed on The Other Guys and to a lesser extent, The Departed), through to x-rated sight gags, pratfalls and witty word play, the film is the funniest to hit the screen all year. Fans of the aforementioned telly shows will lap this up as well as hopefully convert a few more to the church of MacFarlane and although rude, crude and sometimes nude (the Garfield joke is a mischievous highlight), this simple story of a boy and his bear has its heart in the right place. A barrel of belly laughs to boot, the movie is self-deprecating with a great support cast of Family Guy actors including Mila Kunis & Patrick Warburton as well as Giovanni Ribisi doing his usual bat-shit crazy routine. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Real Steel
Real Steel(2011)
½

A robot-Rocky if you will as Hugh Jackman plays an out of luck and indisposed father to his never-seen-before 11-year old son whom he reluctantly "adopts" for a price. As he continues to wheel 'n' deal in robot boxing matches and set in the near future with unscrupulous characters at backstreet brawling dens, their luck changes one night when his son rebuilds junkyard 'bot "Atom", and Jackman (an ex-boxer living out of his truck) helps the kid train him to fight. It harks back to 80s high-concept films but like "Super 8", keeps the focus firmly on the characters and although the father-son relationship hits every coming of age bonding cliché, it is done with such style and heart from Levy that it's hard to fault. Definitely one for the whole family and with seamless CGI robots AND a likeable child actor (who is like Annakin Skywalker if he grew a pair), the film is a feel-good winner and as they rise through the ranks and head into the professional league to take on the current champion you'll be rooting for the underdog throughout. A Mecha-tastic 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Django Unchained
½

With a straightforward linear plot, a focus on one sole character, few flashbacks and a more restrained directorial style, Tarantino's eighth film is almost unrecognisable from the auteur's previous offerings (especially his latest output) but all the better in my eyes for it. Stylistically taking off where Inglorious Basterds left us (OTT historical fiction) Tarantino exclusively follows Jamie Foxx's Django from his break for freedom with Dr. King Schultz (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz) through to his bounty hunter training and subsequent attempts to free his slave wife from the clutches of Calvin Candie. DiCaprio's Deep South slave plantation owner is another highlight in a film of great performances including Samuel L. Jackson's phenomenal turn as Stephen, Candie's entrusted and apologetic aging black slave. The acting is clearly top notch throughout and Tarantino's controlled direction and blinding score makes the (rather lengthy) 2 hours 40 minutes run-time a joy trather than a pain. With the amazing soundtrack accentuating the emotional journey, Tarantino has made a brilliant film and in this reviewer's eyes, the best since Pulp Fiction. Django does Entertain! Midlands Movies Mike 9/10

Stoker
Stoker(2013)

A tense psychological thriller from the director who gave us OldBoy amongst his work and dark family secrets are again explored in his first English-language film written somewhat surprisingly by Wentworth Miller of Prison Break fame. Mia Wasikowska (Lawless, Alice in Wonderland) plays India Stoker, a gothic social outcast who grieves for her recently deceased father along with her mother Evelyn (a strangely-lipped Nicole Kidman). Into their lives comes Uncle Charlie played by Matthew Goode (Adrian Veidt from Watchmen) who is back from his travels and begins to intimately integrate himself into the two women's lives. Avoiding any happy ever after clichés, the film has sinister fairy tale imagery from wooded copses, creepy spiders, dreamy landscapes and phallic rocks to heighten the Hitchcockian themes of betrayal, deception and revenge and each of the trio of actors bring their "A" game to the dinner table with strangely winning performances. A social drama with a mythic quality, this film has an impish allure that hypnotized me with its twisting narrative, bold images and multi-layered fetishes that subverted the superficial vampire/Lolita subject matter it drew upon. A far-fetched but fascinating fable, Stoker add fuels to Chan-Wook's already impressive cinema CV and strengthens his case to continue to create even more enigmatic tales. Midlands Movies Mike 7.5/10

G.I. Joe: Retaliation
½

The original GI Joe movie was the first film I watched when I moved into my flat in Leicester 4 years ago. The most memorable thing about that viewing was my mate Jon falling off the temporary futon I had and spilling some red wine over my brand new carpet and wall after one week of living there. We followed that film by the far more civil Story of ANVIL. Anyways, I digress, the first film was a pile of shite as Hollywood saw the success of Transformers and decided to pillage as many other toys and games from the past because that's the perfect way to create an ever-lasting franchise. Yes, quite. This film wipes the slate clean in more ways than one as The Rock joins the "Joes" to enact payback for a Presidential coup and subsequent "Joe" massacre. For about an hour I went along with the action-filled and inoffensive ride (the cliff top sequence was probably not bad in 3-D on a cinema screen) but then it went on and on and on and on for nearly 2 hours. On the positives, it IS better than the first and it doesn't do the Expendables 2 nod-and-wink but the film is as artificial as the plastic toys that "inspired" it. It got better but given the low standard it had to beat, that's faint praise indeed. If this movie could talk it would say: "Gee, I'm slow." 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas(2012)

With 3 directors and using the "unfilmable" source novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas was always going to be a bit of a challenge to your Hollywood film-making and with a budget of $100 million (raised through mostly independent, and German, sources) the movie uses 6 time periods to cover a wide variety of stories: A slave tale set in the South Pacific Ocean (1849) a musical love affair in Scotland (1936), a power plant journalist mystery in San Francisco (1973), a modern day comedic farce involving a publisher and nursing home in the UK (2012), self aware sentient androids in Neo Seoul (2144) and a tribesman/scientist tale on the "Big Island" 2321 AND a prologue/epilogue to bookend the film. Having not read the novel which has a slightly different structure, I came at this with an open mind and boy do you need it. The 6 stories are interwoven with each other with actors playing up to 6 parts throughout the film (young/old, male/female - it doesn't matter!) and the editing criss-crosses between each one with visual (or even better, aural) motifs linking the segments. In all honesty in was like watching 6 films at once and the acting and cinematography were astonishing. I suppose your enjoyment of the film will be based upon how much you "go" with the structure - I personally found it very engaging and had to work to put the pieces of the puzzle together - but it definitely felt like hard work and, for me, was about half an hour too long (at 167 minutes, get yourself comfy). I loved the multiple story strands and literary allusions and the film was surprisingly funny, self referential (nods to song composing, writing and images littered all the way through) and challenges conventional narrative forms. From Tom Hanks, Jim Broadbent, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving (who appears in one segment as an Papa Lazarou-style hallucination) the actors adapt to each story (and style) and the movie is far from perfect but the drama is arresting and it shows ambition, awareness and erudite appreciation that is too little seen in mainstream films so deserves to be admired for the chances it takes. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies

End of Watch
End of Watch(2012)
½

From the writer of (the very very similar) Training Day which also features the lives of 2 cops driving around Hispanic suburbs of LA, this film takes a slightly different take as we no longer follow the lives of undercover detectives but see the daily goings-on of Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña's LAPD boys in blue. Using some handheld camera footage, the film cleverly switches to an omniscient camera using the same style at specific points, we see the two swapping from the routine vehicle violations to the gruesome discovery of human trafficking as well as getting mixed up in gang violence and its aggressive repercussions. Gyllenhaal and Peña have a believable chemistry which is crucial in such a "buddy" movie and there are genuine moments of tension and friction all filmed with an authentic reality in the heat of Los Angeles. A few of the plot points are a bit convoluted but it could be argued that it reflects the haphazard nature of the policeman's job and it hits the obligatory home life signposts that are all too clichéd in this type of story (new born baby, conflict with girlfriend, job versus family occasion scene) but the film attempts to move forward quickly from these to get us back in the action as soon as it can. A shaky cam but unremarkable Fair Watch Project 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Broken City
Broken City(2013)

One of the worst things surely is to be boring. Love and hate occupy a similar set of values that emotionally resonate with us all but to be boring, average or ignored could be the worst of all. Unfortunately, Broken City, the first film by Allen Hughes (on his own without his brother Albert) is so run of the mill, it may as well be called Political Thriller 101. A poor script that a cast of heavyweights including Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg & Catherine Zeta-Jones (who to be fair give it their best shot) cannot raise the film above a made-for-TV afternoon melodrama in a lacklustre tale of blackmail and (limited) intrigue. Everything about the film was so-so and I felt no connection to the characters, plot or story as a series of formulaic chestnuts and night-time city images flashed in front of my tired and weary eyes. Broken City needs more than a reformed detective to fix this mess. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Mama
Mama(2013)

This Spanish-Canadian horror film is based upon director Andrés Muschiett's short film that garnered interest from executive producer Guillermo del Toro and turned into this feature. After a suicidal businessman attempts to kill his 2 daughters in a wooded cabin, they are saved by a mysterious figure and after 5 years in the wilderness are later found by their uncle Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who subsequently wins custody of the now feral children. Crawling on all fours and interviewed by a child psychologist, the kids communicate with an imaginary maternal guardian they call "Mama" but after some strange goings on in their new home, Lucas's girlfriend Annabel (an unrecognisable emo-looking Jessica Chastain) begins to suspect there's more to the girls' story than first thought. With every horror-trope 'borrowed' from other films, I still found the film a grounded and fresh take on the genre with interesting characters, natural motivations (a must in horrors for me) and some weird special effects that ratcheted up the scares and tension. Chastain was great and the two animal-like children provided some genuine jolts and anxiety. No awards will be given for originality but Mama is the best American horror for years and only a CGI-heavy conclusion stopped the film garnering a higher rating. Mama, I Love you. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Last Stand

Schwarzenegger returns in his first lead role since 2003's Terminator 3 and we are all wondering is it more of a successful Total Recall or a sad End of Days failure. Well, first up, the good things - Schwarzenegger is still a good screen presence and the film has its fair share of OTT action with car chases, audacious escapes and gun fights galore. Also of note is the film's (mostly) avoidance of "I'm too old for this shit" jokes. There are obvious references to Arnie's age but these are done by others not listening to him or shown on screen through his sluggish demeanour. The reason I hated the Expendables 2 was its insistence that a nod and a wink to the audience every 5 minutes somehow helped the story. It didn't. Despite these good points though the film is unmemorable as it is unremarkable. The budget is clearly low (no doubt Arnie's pay packet being the biggest of it) and the supporting characters (especially Jackass' Johnny Knoxville) verge from poor to annoying and the final fist fight does unfortunately show Arnie's advancing years and physical limitations. However, if you are a fan of loud and proud action-fests and can overlook the many flaws, you may find some solace that the Governator is finally back! 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

A Good Day To Die Hard
½

A Good Day to Die Hard has a title that even Bruce Willis could not explain during his bizarre interview on BBC's The One Show and it sums up the movie perfectly. A haphazard set of ideas, awful action scenes and bland one-dimensional characters indiscriminately rammed together and slapped with the "Die Hard" badge, the movie would be poor as a Jason Statham vehicle but is unforgiveable as an entry into Bruce's flagship franchise. Individuals' lack back-story and charisma and Willis' interaction with his Moscow-based son is stilted at best. As we've grown up with the franchise, the films have gone from small to large scale (building, whole airport, NY City, USA and now Russia) but each one loses that one-man army and spirit of the original. The CGI is so-so but the direction is appalling in what I guess is an attempt to emulate the gritty hand-held "Bourne" style of Paul Greengrass but comes over as confusing and uninvolving. The options for a 6th film in the series are slim to non-existent but a return to basic storytelling with some interesting characterisations is a must so I'd recommend they let the franchise DIE OR TRY HARDER. And there's the name for it! Ha ha! 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Flight
Flight(2012)

Robert Zemeckis' first live action film since Cast Away (!) sees the director return with an in-depth character study of Pilot "Whip" Whitaker (played by an always brilliant Denzel Washington) who after saving a plane from an almost certain crash landing has to come face to face with his demons after failing an alcohol test whilst recovering in hospital. With the most literal soundtrack I have ever witnessed in a mainstream film (Sweet Jane & Under the Bridge for drug-taking scenes - oh please), this heavy-handedness undermines what is otherwise a solid exploration of what it means to be a hero, a father and a down-dirty-drunk. Possibly covering too much ground, another flaw is that the film never matches the explosive first 30 minutes (containing the crash and immediate aftermath) and drops into melodrama then (almost) comedy as John Goodman arrives from a different film altogether. Aside from the electrifying accident, there's nothing spectacular as an ensemble cast of sturdy actors (Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood & Brian Geraghty) do their best with a TV-level script followed by some stereotypical addiction sequences but the film ultimately glides through on auto-pilot until it finally ends with a by-the-book landing. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Paranormal Activity 4

I have a massive soft spot for the PA films. Although a one-trick pony, it knew the trick well and each film added a new twist to the home-movie formula to keep audiences on the edge of their seat. But like most horror franchises (the genre which knows not when to stop with sequels - see Freddy, Saw, Scream & of course Friday the 13th) it's fourth time unlucky as the same stupid set of idiots move into a freaky neighbourhood of ghostly goings on, most of which are now reminiscent of the earlier films and a sure-fire way to know your narrative has run its course. The slightly new format involves a teen and her laptop so there's a lame attempt at capturing an audience familiar with webcams but for this reviewer it's a case of been there, seen that and the horrible reality that a fifth film is probably underway (it is). With a lack of scares, characters and anything unique this is a franchise going nowhere. Poor and normal activity. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Life of Pi
Life of Pi(2012)

*Spoilers ahead* Having already undertaken the difficult adaptations of Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility) and the even trickier Stan Lee comic book (Hulk), Ang Lee has turned his Oscar-winning directorial eye to Yann Martel's allegorical story of an Indian boy orphaned at sea with a Tiger from his family zoo. Named Richard Parker after a form-filling mix up, the beautifully rendered CGI animal helps this film survive beyond its glorious visuals with a genuine believability and emotional resonance opposite Suraj Sharma's 16-year-old "Pi" and his efforts to stay alive at sea against enormous odds. Special note should also go to a phenomenal Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi who, in the main plot device, recounts his story to Rafe Spall's wide-eyed journalist. Although I watched in 2D, the depth of the cinematography was still clearly there to see and the literal highs and lows of Pi's journey takes the audience on a (boat) ride across the ocean's wonders via flying fish, tempestuous storms, titanic whales and island-dwelling meerkats. For what it's worth, and without giving too much away, the film's mantra, "Thank you. And so it goes with God" about the power of storytelling led me to believe this was an atheist film rather than the power of "faith" it may have been trying to preach. But maybe, along with Groundhog Day, its brilliance lies with the fact that no matter your religious standpoint, the film's universality leaves you believing it's only about your world view. A marvellous triumph of acting, SFX, storytelling and adaptation, Ang Lee shows why he is a true master of the craft with a film feast for the eyes, brain and soul. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Red Dawn
Red Dawn(2012)
½

Having never seen the original 80s version I went in with a clean slate to this adolescent tale of patriotic youngsters banding together to form an underground militia in the face of a North Korean (changed in post-production from the Chinese) invasion of US soil. The DPRK enter suburban small-town America with little or no resistance from the country's armed forces and for no reason, people begin to defect quicker than Benedict Arnold before a small throng of sport-playing jocks (calling themselves "Wolverines" and led by Chris Hemsworth) rise up against the invaders. Why they are attacking? We don't know. How are small kids better trained than a nation famed for their massive military force? Again, no clue. What's happening in the rest of the country? F*** knows! As they begin to detonate home-made bombs, the plot chronicles their development as guerrilla soldiers (a "first kill" makes one poor teen vomit) but this serious tone is played out amongst Dawson Creek-levels of teen angst which turns out to be essentially a popularity contest for the local prom King and Queen. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is miscast as a stereotypical grizzled marine assisting the uprising and in another universe he'd show up as his similarly flag-waving The Comedian from 2009's Watchmen and subvert the film by blowing this annoying group away. I understand its attempt to be both edgy and action-packed but even its intended teenage audience deserve better than this. With its mix of soap opera melodrama and Rambo violence, Red Dawn was explosively underwhelming! 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Alex Cross
Alex Cross(2012)
½

Colossal American media-mogul Tyler Perry steps into the shoes recently vacated by Morgan Freeman in the hope to launch a new franchise based on Alex Cross, the Washington homicide detective from the series of books by James Patterson. Whilst Freeman's take was a moody (if mighty average) game of cat and mouse with a range of strange and surreal serial killers, Perry's protagonist is given nothing but a series of action set pieces that wouldn't look to out of place in a Die Hard movie - all machine guns, terrorists in tower blocks, blown out glass windows and collapsing floors. With a made-for-TV look, Matthew Fox looks lost as the villain "Picasso" (yes, really) as he dons Riddick-esque cyber-goggles and insanely rampages across the city. A big action spectacle that needs far more subtlety, the type that only a Morgan Freeman could give, the support cast of nobodies is rounded out by Jean Reno playing the Frenchman "du jour" who is as bloated and saggy as the film itself. Direction is almost non-existent and one can only imagine what could have been if Idris Elba had fulfilled his original casting. Cross? I'm livid how this will get a sequel, one which must up its game immensely. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

American Mary

The film sees a trainee female surgeon (Mary of the title) struggle with her studies only to end up in the seedy underworld of underground body modification alongside an increasing fascination with killing after exacting gruesome revenge on her former professor and tormentor. With a string of quotes emblazoned on the DVD cover I was expecting a dark satire on the torture/body porn genre but what American Mary served up (other than its fair share of boredom) was a set of sterile set pieces that took itself far too seriously in a field that needs to self lampoon every now and then. Brave attempts at story were let down by some abysmal acting turns (English John Emmet Tracy as a cop was a particular misstep) and some turgid dialogue. On the positives, Mary herself was played with guts by the feisty Katharine Isabelle and I enjoyed the real life body modification support cast who added some much needed realism in amongst the clichés. Neither shocking enough to lure hardened horror aficionados in nor enough meat on the hook (pardon the pun) for the passing fan, American Mary was quite ordinary. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Premium Rush
Premium Rush(2012)
½

A New York cycle-courier (Joseph Gordon Levitt) gets caught up in a plot that involves a mysterious package he has been paid to transport and deliver across the busy canyon streets of Manhattan and a sleazy corrupt cop (the always awesome and soon-to-be-Zod, Michael Shannon).Off-roading through a pretty basic plot (with some clever flashbacks and Google-style map sequences however) the film is a simple vehicle for bike tricks, races through busy city streets and cops and criminals chasing each other whilst the movie also combines the pulsing kinetics of Speed with the city centre run-around of Crank. Admirably balancing its tone between popcorn nonsense and boneshaking crashes Koeep weaves the plot around some solid, if somewhat predictable, set pieces before the wheels come off later in story as ridiculous coincidences take you out of the saddle. Not braking once for anything close to character development or depth, the movie is firmly locked in one gear - that of action - making it fun for those seeking off the chain thrills but little for anyone else. It sets its own (handle)bar very low but fully delivers some hokey but well filmed bike skirmishes. A 'wheely' great! 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Taken 2
Taken 2(2012)
½

Picks up mobile phone from floor and sits on the edge of a Parisian apartment bed.
"I don't know who this film is supposed to be for. I don't know even if it was wanted. If you are looking for another surprise b-Movie like the first Taken, I can tell you that you shouldn't waste your money. But what it does have is a very particular set of flaws. Flaws it has acquired over a very long and dull running time. Flaws that make it a nightmare for people like you to watch. If you avoid it now, that'll be the end of it. You will not look for it, you should not pursue it. But if you don't, it will irritate you, it will irk you... and it will bore you. " 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Campaign
The Campaign(2012)
½

Let's get this right out the way: I have watched 3 Zach Galifianakis films in recent memory (Hangover 1 & 2 and Due Date) and have nothing against the man per se but he started out with an uphill struggle in my attempt to watch The Campaign. The trailer for this farce, also starring comedy cohort Will Ferrell as another combating local politician, seemed to hint on much to come, however (and somewhat inevitably) the man-child that is ZG up-ends the whole thing with his strange interpretation of a local businessman turned Republican candidate. Truly awful in all the ways American comedy shouldn't be, the hackneyed Ides of March-style story of political downfall meanders all over the place and jokes fall flat as we go for the lowest (of the low) common denominator and terrible word-play. Will Ferrell often turns out as much crap as good but his 50% success rate far succeeds ZG's touch of death and much like Ferrell's "Semi-Pro", the scenes play out like a series of (bad) improv "skits" rather than a cohesive story. This is not negative if the film is funny but the movie is a right old state of affairs whilst ZG's turn in The Campaign ends up being painfully camp. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Imposter
The Imposter(2012)
½

A shameful omission from the 2013 Academy Awards best documentary category, this amazing film combines dramatic reconstruction with talking head interviews focusing on the truth life story of missing Texan child Nicholas Barclay who was "found" in a Spanish orphanage 3 years later. With different colour eyes and speaking in a heavy French accent, the discovered "boy" may not be all he seems but shockingly the family fail to question these facts and even the media pick up on his extraordinary kidnap. Slowly unravelling the mysteries surrounding the American family coming to terms with the sudden re-apperance alongside the shocking true facts of the case from the outset, if this had been made as a dramatic feature the audience would not have believed the twists. Alongside Eastwood's The Changeling, the film asks serious questions about trust, loss, truth and the twisted mind games of a confidence trickster. An essential watch. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

V/H/S
V/H/S(2012)
½

A series of handheld-horror vignettes in portmanteau-style (whoa, get me!) in this budget scare-fest from a variety of up and coming young directors. The film is hung around the premise of a group of rowdy teens filming themselves after being asked to steal a VHS tape from a dead man's house only to find many more rough 'n' ready videos in his home. Watching each in turn, we view a variety of shorts from a s*xual succubus, a hotel murder, a Halloween house and many more. With a few original ideas mixed with the tried and somewhat "testing" found-footage formula, the film suffers from being 45 mins too long (it clocks in at 2 hours!) and has a real problem with quality control. It may have worked as a YouTube esque home-made series but as assured film-making, the shoddy-look (obviously an intentional camcorder-style) and shaky-images leaves it feeling very slipshod. Although a promising "show-reel" for some future talents, unless you are a HUGE fan of amateur horror, then this will try the patience of the rest of us looking for some genuinely clever scares other than the blurry "boo" kind. V/arying H/orror S/horts. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Raid: Redemption
½

Welshman Evans takes the reins for this Indonesian crime-fu thriller set in a corrupt tower block on lockdown as a SWAT team's assault goes awry and they become hunted around hazardous corridors and rooms. Using traditional martial art pencak silat, Evans amps up the action to hyper-violence levels as the skewed police team members rise up the building dealing with increasingly brutal and vicious attacks from the tenants. Strangely, this film shares an almost identical plot with 2012's Dredd (another case of "Deep Armageddon" it seems) and being a bigger fan of guns than grips, I actually preferred Mega City One's take on the subject. However, if martial arts are your thing, the choreography is amazing and the best of this genre in many a year. Catch this before they tone it down in the inevitable US remake. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Total Recall
Total Recall(2012)

Another take and another unnecessary remake, Len Wiseman (of Underworld fame) directs Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale (of Underworld and his wife fame) in this sci-fi actionner based on the Phillip K Dick short story. Regular "Joe", Doug Quaid, pays a visit to "Rekall", a mind-implant leisure business but soon finds himself caught up in an amnesic espionage plot that bends his reality and loyalty and the new film replaces the earlier version's wit with action, characters with action and plot with action. Paul Verhoeven's use of Oscar winning F/X is superior in every way to the digital effects here (although there are good CGI cityscapes especially on the Blu-Ray) and there's not an ounce of humour to be had throughout. With obligatory nods to the "three breasts" and "two weeks" ladies, if a Schwarzenegger film beats you on subtlety then you should be worried despite some familiar genre tropes reminiscent of I, Robot and Minority Report. And not going to Mars? Shame on you. Definitely, not a (memory) patch on the original. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Brave
Brave(2012)

Well, sub-par Pixar is better than most in this tale of an adolescent Scottish girl rebelling against her family clan and the results of Pixar's first foray into more traditional Disney princess territory is all a bit "meh" in this reviewer's opinion. The animation (as expected) is flawless but there's a lack of innovation which is especially disappointing from one of the most innovative studios working today. Without a truly memorable plot, characters or sequence, I longed for an Incredible, a Wall*E or (ahem) even a Lightning McQueen to give the film a bit of a buzz (excuse the pun). Whilst doing nothing particularly wrong (it's got the cutesy kids, the wicked witch and an animal villain), this had the feel of Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon, a movie which is was superior and got there first. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Killer Joe
Killer Joe(2012)
½

A lurid trailer trash killer pulp movie from the director of The Exorcist, Killer Joe has Matthew McConaughey playing a Southern Sheriff who is also a part-time contract killer (and psycho) hired by a family of rednecks to off their own mother. When they cannot pay his advance, Joe takes the young sister as a retainer before they begin to double-cross each other as their ramshackle plans ultimately fall apart. From the harsh Tracy Letts play of the same name, the film is not one for the squeamish or easily offended and more than one scene (a dinner "date" and a KFC chicken leg scene) had this reviewer flinching in its off-colour "humour". I enjoyed Thomas Haden Church as a thick-headed brother and the obvious powerhouse performance from McConaughey but neither cannot save the fact that it's a pretty uncomfortable watch that may just push your own personal boundaries much like the similarly themed The Killer Inside Me. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Red Lights
Red Lights(2012)
½

Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy play tutor and student spiritual sceptics investigating the trickery of celebrity psychic Robert De Niro whose character comes out of a self-imposed hiatus to again show off his paranormal skills. With early scenes debunking pseudo science and criticising fraudulent mediums, the film's subject matter was right up my street and starred 3 of my favourite actors with the always reliable Toby Jones in good support as a put upon scientist (his Pinky and the Brain routine has been seen before in Captain America). However, they should have had a traffic light warning on the cover as although the movie whizzes off the green light to start with the duo discrediting hoaxers and swindlers, the film slows to amber by taking an age to get through a saggy middle section only to grind to a complete halt with one of the worst "twists" this reviewer has ever seen. If you switch off the movie 5 minutes before the end you get an above-par thriller with some interesting ideas that slightly misses the mark, but watch to the end & you will feel crimson with rage and as duped as some of the poor people in the film. Wasted light Midlands Movies Mike 5.5/10

The Raven
The Raven(2012)

Not even the ever-reliable John Cusack can raise this film above average as he plays a fictionalised version of Edgar Allan Poe who is drafted in by Baltimore police after a killer creates a series of grisly murders using his poems and short stories as inspiration. More "frothy" than "gothy", the period tale covers a romantic liaison followed by Poe's attempt to link the murders inspired (or related to) his works such as "The Masque of the Red Death", "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "The Tell-Tale Heart" amongst others. With echoes of Depp's "From Hell" and "Sleepy Hollow" which cover familiar 19th century 'detectives' quandaries, not even a good Luke Evans as Inspector Emmett Fields and Brendan Gleeson as Captain Hamilton can help the drama, acting, costumes and plot which are all incredibly run of the mill - only this and nothing more. Midlands Movies Mike 6/10

The Innkeepers

Critics must have checked in to the Overlook Hotel after sanctifying this as a "5 star" film as the scares and jumps are far too scarce in this ghostly yarn of the Yankee Pedlar Inn. The hotel horror begins one night as two quirky young reception clerks stave off boredom by trying to contact the spirit of a murdered woman who is supposed to haunt the lodgings. Unfortunately, and after 50 long (and dreary) minutes in, they eventually succeed as guests checkout in more ways than one as the two investigate ghostly goings-on in different rooms and basements. With some good dialogue, an independent sensibility and neat performances, this ghoulish film is undone by a lack of spooks and spectres - never did I feel anyone was really in danger. A tall story done with some flair other studio pictures don't have, the Shining it certainly is not, as it doesn't possess half the tension, jolts or frights needed to raise it above an average shock flick. Midlands Movies Mike 6.5/10

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
½

Although Benjamin Walker as Abe himself looked like TV's League of Gentlemen Mark Gatiss, he was clearly the best thing about this misjudged historical horror. Lacking the satirical bite the title implies, honest Abe grows up helping to free Americans from slavery, war and the blood-lust of Southern vampires but the movie gets too bogged down in the history of the political machinations of liberty and freedom instead of focusing on the action which is sporadic and uses very "cartoony" CGI. Slaying his way through hordes of vampires with a silver-edged axe, Abe's quest is self-narrated from his fictionalised diary which is a great use of Lincoln's oratory legacy but the plot is held captive by his real-life actions which are shoe-horned around the unreal elements. Not a complete failure but one with little to chomp on, but at least we still have Spielberg and Day-Lewis' Lincoln biopic to look forward to later in the year. Midlands Movies Mike 6.5/10

Lockout
Lockout(2012)
½

I really wanted to like this film. I mean, REALLY. A sci-fi prison b-movie starring a fave actor of mine Guy Pearce, I thought this could be another "Taken" which took an established actor, a clichéd premise and rolled it all into a great piece of action fun. This film however gets almost everything wrong. A clever interrogation opening and interesting suitcase MacGuffin suddenly leads into the worst CGI chase shot seen in many a year (seriously, Playstation 1 bad - this has no place in this or any movie) and from this point, just 15 minutes in, it never came back. With two Scottish cons lifted from Braveheart and Maggie Grace (from Taken herself) in an unbelievable President's daughter role, the film was far from the cheesy actionner I was promised and was in fact incredibly dull. Midlands Movies Mike 5/10

American Reunion

Another portion of the tasty yank pastry-fest sees the original cast back (again) to re-live some of their high-school hi-jinks as they return to their hometown to attend their 10 year reunion. Serving up a plateful of well-known and embarrassing s*x jokes, this run of the mill film either validates your fandom of the series or proves that you can never go back to that delicious summer of youth. With almost not a single surprise, the film itself does have its funny moments with gross out humour and adults acting like adolescents. Eugene Levy has perhaps developed into the film's best character and it sticks to the heart-warming/coarse prank formula much like its 3 predecessors. In summary - it's a bit like Greggs - it's semi-warm-filling will just about do if you're in the mood. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

21 Jump Street
½

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill star as two dozy police officers working undercover at a high-school in this modern re-shaping of the 80s US TV series. Tonally similar to the recent A-Team and Starsky and Hutch movies (i.e. played for laughs) this funny film also has Ice Cube subverting the stereotypical "shouty" police chief as the two leads bumble their way through their mission reliving their teenage angst. With a couple of cool cameos and a great (if not original) drug-taking scene, the movie does not do anything revolutionary but has a sharp script, solid comedic turns from the actors and big dollops of entertaining hilarity making it one of the funnier films of the year. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Battleship
Battleship(2012)
½

Taylor Kitsch star in yet another special effects vehicle that has less atmosphere than a Martian surface as the director combines the worst excesses of Armageddon, Pearl Harbour, Space Cowboys and Contact to create a soulless and mostly joyless summer spectacle. Liam Neeson, who I like, appears as the hard-nosed father of Kitsch's love interest whilst the "plot" concerns itself with the deployment of alien spaceships versus huge destroyers in an ocean battle - that's as 'deep' as it goes. Kitsch channels cliché as the bratty younger brother who gains perspective in the face of world-destruction (yawn) and despite a few entertaining scenes - such as the "real-life" battleship game - this film is submerged by the weight of its own failings. Bored games. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Wrath of the Titans
½

Sam Worthington as Perseus dons his sandals for a second time (and for some reason a shaggy 70s perm) in this ridiculous 'legend' as he fights for his father (Liam Neeson as Zeus) against the horrid Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Making 'slightly' more sense than the previous film (characters this time literally don't say "we're now coming to join you in your quest!") the action is all CGI, some great like the twisty-turny labyrinth scene - but some very bad - such as the Cyclops that looks like a leftover from Kevin Sorbo's Hercund some faster editing would hav it more than the first, which wasn't a difficult task, but very much like "Clash" the film never feels like the classic hero epic it so obviously wants to be. Wrath's ambition fails to match what is actually on screen and it feels like you've run a marathon for gallantly braving it out to the end. Dead Man's Quest 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Hunger Games
½

Much has been said about this adaptation and against popular opinion I found this film could not satisfy my blockbuster appetite as we follow a social uprising where children fight to the death in a future television spectacular reminiscent of Arnie's Running Man. Unlike that film however, this over-stylised nonsense holds none of the satirical edge and the weepy score cannot overcome its flaws including Woody Harrelson's strange performance (and his awful wig - which he has borrowed from his stint in A Scanner Darkly). Along with other recent teen adaptations (Potter and Twilight) this jaded reviewer again does not see what all the fuss is about and the film has a famine of new ideas whilst paying homage to similar fare. With Jennifer Lawrence (also seen in X-Men: First Class) being trained up ready for the battle (like the scenes in X-Men: First Class) the film takes itself far too seriously and not even the action scenes, filmed in a blurry handheld style, satisfy as the audience cannot see much (probably to achieve the desire rating). For a film about children fighting to the death, the subject is neither given sufficient weight nor subverted enough in order to ridicule the warped social order which left this reviewer craving for a better match. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Safe House
Safe House(2012)

This actionner hits DVD this month starring Denzel Washington as an ex-CIA agent gone rogue, selling official secrets before handing himself over to the authorities. Set in a gloriously shot Cape Town, Ryan Reynolds plays the lowly safe house operative struggling to keep Denzel away from those who don't want the truth out. Bordering on the boring, the action is solid but characterization is at a minimum and although Washington is alway cast in for the big pandemic fisually solid support of Brendan Gleeson (fat), Vera Farmiga (old) and the T-1000 himself Robert Patrick (fat AND old) don't really shine here. The film adds in the standard Bourne-esque action sequence making it look like every other spy/cop film from The Taking of Pelham 123, Man on Fire, Manchurian Candidate (one scene stolen wholesale) all of which star a better Denzel. No surprises heer as the film plays it safe or thereabouts 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

This Means War

Combat Kirk Chris Pine and battling Bane Tom Hardy are CIA agents competing for the attention of celebrity chin Reese Witherspoon in this bit of Hollywood nonsense from Charlie's Angels director McG and I'll start by massively disagreeing with the critics' reviews of this (Ebert's especially which refers to the lack of reality in how they divert funds for their own ends - are you serious? It's not a documentary!) as although it contains many a cliché with nods to films such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels it's obviously not aiming too high and done with a fair dash of fun and I laughed more than many a modern "comedy" film. The brainless movie reminded me of a throwback to 80s inoffensive romance hokum like Bird on a Wire or Overboard which were about ridiculous concepts played for laughs with dollops of action rivalry. Yes, Witherspoon sleepwalks her performance and Pine and Hardy are mainly just okay as the feuding buddies playing one-upmanship games throughout, but for a date-night bit of superficial frolicking, avoid the stuffy critics and enjoy the dumb fun that's streets ahead of the similar Knight and Day. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Grey
The Grey(2012)
½

Liam Neeson continues to make his mark as the thinking-man's action hero where a group of blue-collar workers find themselves trapped in an Alaskan arctic wilderness after their plane crashes. Looking to the beastly Neeson to lead them to safety, their search for food, warmth and protection from the elements is beset by a pack of hungry wolves tracking them from the start. Mixing an uneasy blend of art-house introspective soul searching about man and nature with explosive punch-outs that sees Neeson throwing down fists upon the CGI hounds (nicked from the Day After Tomorrow no-less) it just about manages to shake off its flaws to give the audience a great shaggy dog story and a decent amount of acting from the cast. A howling good 7.0/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Woman in Black
½

Post-Potter horror in which Daniel (too short /cannot act) Radcliffe plays an Edwardian lawyer trying to solve the mystery of a haunted manor he has come to try and sell on behalf of his employers. Cloaked in a fog of boredom, the atmosphere left me feeling detached from any characters and frankly couldn't care less who lived & died. Not scary enough for horror, not interesting enough as drama and not written well enough to satisfy this disappointed audience member. I'd steer well clear of this grim fairy tale and not the comeback I was expecting from Hammer films. Hit the sack 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec (The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec)
½

Although released a while back I have finally got my hands on this fun-filled French fantasy based on the comic of the same name with the gorgeous Louise Bourgoin as Adele Blanc-Sec - a female Indiana Jones-style adventurer living in 1910s Paris. In the same mould as The Mummy (1999), the story centres on everlasting life, ancient Egypt, resurrecting the dead but also a Pterodactyl that terrorises the city from the Eiffel Tower to the Gare Du Nord. From intimate moments to large action set pieces it hits all the right notes with immense fun and with great pantomime acting from the French cast, the film does not take itself too seriously and at the same time reminded me of the other great European comic adventurer, Tintin. A smart and entertaining Gallic treat 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Chronicle
Chronicle(2012)
½

A modern teenage sci-fi that doesn't insult its audience with great turns from little-known actors Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, and Alex Russell, this low budget hand-held (for a bit anyway) movie shows what happens when three teens unexpectedly gain superpowers one night after going clubbing. The fun and frolics they initially partake in make way for more sinister uses as the boys try to become popular as well as sort out the dysfunctional family matters yet keep these new talents under wraps. Director Trank shows a maturity (as does DeHaan who has echoes of a young Di Caprio about him) in his film-making and storytelling which translates to one of the best films of the year so far. Teens of Steel 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

In Time
In Time(2011)

A bit late with this film from 2011 where a future society trades in the currency of time as humans stop aging at 25 and those rich enough to afford it can live forever whilst poorer folk have to earn and trade their time left. With echoes of Logan's Run, JT puts in a not half bad performance as the boy who has been given the gift of a few centuries but is still morally at odds with those who control it. JT tries to give back the time to the ghetto he's escaped from with the help of hostage-come-sidekick Amanda Seyfried the wealthy daughter of a time-loaning business man but is halted by Cillian Murphy's "timekeeper" who's attempting to keep everyone in their designated place. A neat idea with a touch of the Twilight-Zone about it, the movie is stretched out with your standard action fare breaking up the big issues alongside a whole bunch of themes nicked from other (and better) dystopian sci-fi movies. Essentially harmless with ideas above its station this is a Just-IN TIME-berlake average sci-fi actioner 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Melancholia
Melancholia(2011)

With an intro cut from the same cloth as Terence Malick's Tree of Life (see review below), Von Trier sets up a film about depression against an end of the world disaster and a dysfunctional family wedding - 2 things to REALLY get you down. Telling the tale in 2 parts (from sisters Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg) its big themes are worn on its sleeve with a planetary dance of death orchestrated with a bombastic Wagner soundtrack in slow motion to start, before focusing on the minutiae of the family lives at the wedding filmed on handheld camera. Like the aforementioned Malick film, the film contrasts and reflects the big picture/smaller details of the story at the same time, as relationships and families are destroyed. The film's certainly no Dogville and as Charlotte Gainsbourg recites "it's incredibly trivial" at one point, I unfortunately felt the same about the movie which although an interesting and challenging piece of work is very much like the subject matter, incredibly difficult to enjoy. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Texas Killing Fields

This boring bayou film directed by Michael Mann's daughter this has some of the heavyweight police procedural of her father's oeuvre but none of the action or storytelling as cops Sam Worthington and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen's The Comedian) play antagonistic partners investigating murders of young women in and around the Houston area sometime crossing lines, boundaries, relationships and jurisdictions to get their job done. The 1 1/2 hour runtime seems much longer given the slow pace which is a shame as there are some great performances (especially from Kick Ass' Chloë Moretz and Snatch's Stephen Graham) but the whole doesn't hang together too well and some faster editing would have done the movie a world of good. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

No shit, Sherlock! Not being a fan of the very much overhyped first film, this sequel does less "set-up" and is all the better for it. Downey is more natural and Jude Law gives a genuinely heartfelt and honest portrayal of Dr. Watson whilst great support from Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry (as Holmes' brother Mycroft) and a creepy Jared Harris as Holmes' literary nemesis all add up to much greater cohesion. Some ingenious set pieces from Ritchie added to the clever fights and shoot outs help maintain the action but this is punctuated with some witty banter and a handful of solemn and grim scenes between Holmes and Moriarty as they clash with their mind games. It's a funnier, cleverer and more "lean" film with far more clarity and sense of mystery than its predecessor all presented with a huge dollop of fun in the Indiana Jones-mould. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Hugo
Hugo(2011)
½

I had high expectations for this multiple Oscar winner and couldn't wait to get stuck in but imagine my disappointment 20 minutes in when the lack of 3D at home (which I had been told had been the best use of the medium by far) and a lacklustre pace had not pulled me into the movie at all. However, don't be put off as by the halfway mark the film had stepped up a gear (and some cogs) as we follow the mystery behind a mechanical robot left to Hugo after the death of his father (Jude Law). Asa Butterfield gives a great performance as the orphan who roams the Paris train station and with great support from Kick Ass' Chloë Grace Moretz, (Sir) Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen doing his best 'Allo 'Allo impression, the film is more about the invention of film itself - much like The Artist. Personally, I feel the need to re-watch in 3D and the second half is far superior to the first with the weak script being its biggest flaw (Kingsley's strange turn at the start almost ruined it) but like an old clock, Scorcese keeps the movie (ahem) ticking over. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

Cruise and co seemed to be on to a winner with this fourth outing of the MI franchise. However, with the standard launch-codes-gone-missing-plot and some par-for-the-course CGI explosions, I am genuinely surprised with the amount of praise this film has got. Cruise, as always, is a sure-fire action star (you have got to love his running and he does it in spades here) but he is teamed with anonymous Hollywood girl-nobody (Paula 'who is she?' Patton) and despite the terrific Burj Khalifa hijinks, this is just a tiny cut above any other standard Hollywood actionner. Certainly no worse than the others, although better than 2 in my opinion, Brad Bird shows that he can handle real-life movies away from Pixar but I just wished he had a better film (and definitely script) to work with. If you choose to accept it, I'd give this a 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Jobs
Jobs(2013)

Ashton Kutcher (The Butterfly Effect, That 70s Show) stars as Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers in this biopic about the hippy who wanted to change the world. We follow Jobs from his early days bucking the system (firstly against James Woods representing the educational establishment) before finding himself in India then planting the first seeds of his plans linking technology with the mass public. Kutcher is very watchable as he plays all of Jobs' core traits from his early days at Atari through to his founding of Apple. Director Stern doesn't stray too far away from a clichéd formula as we get moody piano refrains and stirring strings in this cheese fest that could be served with crackers.

The film has an amusing scene when Jobs and Wozniak discuss the use of the name Apple (predicting later court cases with The Beatles' label of the same name) but what tries to be profound has more in common with the large conglomerate Pepsi, a company whose marketing manager switches to Apple, in that these objects (fizzy "soda" and PCs) are essentially a life luxury that they convince populations they need. The film's closest comparison is with Fincher's Social Network but the inter-boardroom battles between the bare-feet dreamer and the money-men are more akin to a TV movie. Rather than the modern edge of that film, the director goes for the "soft" tone of an Almost Famous with 70s rock soundtracking the soldering of circuit boards and geeks imagined as easy-riders and revolutionists. In an attempt to make it cool, it subsequently fails to be anything but. Dressing up the 70s as a golden and delicious era, the film is as superficial as Apple products - so a pretty accurate representation of their inventions which are often all smooth gloss and no soul.

The tale continues with Jobs germinating his ideas and his girlfriend as he launches the Apple II computer at the West Coast Computer Faire and does his first crowd-pleasing speech which many a passerby would know him from in his later life. Long tracking shots of Jobs from behind suggest we are all literally walking in his footsteps whilst his house is decorated with a portrait of Einstein, who changed our views on science but to me (and in this film) Jobs convinced us he created "new" technology but in fact was more focused on convincing the public we all need more "stuff". Kutcher explains to his company that Apple should represent "social status/currency" which is the fundamental issue I have with the company. It's the haves and haves not.

As he continues to argue with his team about fonts (again, image over substance), his metaphorical "baby" goes public on the stock market and the fluctuation of share prices maps Jobs' own obsessions with the new MacIntosh and his increasing rivalry with everyone around him. Matthew Modine (as the ex-Pepsi marketer) becomes CEO and Jobs gets kicked off the Board of Directors like Norman Osborne in an orchard of tried and tested plot points.

Once fallen from his own tree, Jobs at this point returns home and the film becomes overly cloying and Hallmark-y as he literally plants a new seed in his garden (surely to represent his burgeoning family life and the nurturing of a new company before being asked to rejoin Apple 2.0) whilst all I could think of was how the public went mad for similar plastic rubbish the Cabbage Patch Kids around the same time. Jobs ends with him recording a commercial for Apple which funnily enough the movie ends up feeling like, as the core of the film is really about investors and business yet wants to convince the audience it's about creativity and breaking the mould. The film ultimately is as bland as the characters that inhabit the world and I'm convinced now at least we won't get the Bill Gates story as we get no juicy insights or depth in a script that feels like it's cribbed from Jobs' Wikipedia entry. Some may see this as a paean to their geeky hero but for me it was confirmation of Apple's worst excesses of superficiality.

6.5/10

The Rum Diary
½

Why is the rum always gone asks Jack Sparrow? Well, after a 19-year break, former alcoholic Bruce Robinson directs Depp in this adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel and like most of the author's work, it portrays the semi-autobiographical tale of an idealistic journalist taking on the corrupt authorities of the early 60s whilst drinking everything in sight. Set in the American territory of Puerto Rico, Depp channels his previous Thompson portrayal from 'Fear & Loathing' into this younger yet more naive version and the director captures every bead of sweat, palm tree and sense of colour and flavour of the island with a great soundtrack to boot. A solid if not totally fully-fleshed movie, the support acting is also top notch but its biggest downfall is the expectations of the earlier cult Gilliam film to match up to and it is unfortunately not that close. So, enjoy it for what it is but any comparison to previous will leave you disappointed. A Rum-bunctious 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Trollhunter
Trollhunter(2011)
½

With a "Blair Witch" vibe , this Norwegian found-footage film begins as a group of college students investigate a mysterious bearded man who may be poaching bears in the nation's forests. Tracking him at night it soon becomes clear he's hunting a much bigger secret in the form of trolls as one of only a handful of people employed to keep them in their designated territories. From 3-headed gargoyles, to sheep-stealing bridge-dwellers these trolls turn to stone or explode in a nasty orgy of blood and guts but the film suffers most from being at least 25 minutes too long for the nonsense it is. Troll Hunter's best feature though is what Gareth Edwards "Monsters" should have been, a tongue-in-cheek monster-fest interspersed with deliciously OTT characters and a few tourist shots of the beautiful landscapes. Monster Monster 7.5 /10 Midlands Movies Mike

Paranormal Activity 3

Both a guilty pleasure and a film massively suffering from diminishing returns, the Paranormal Activity franchise lurches on with this prequel set in the 80s. From the suburban house, the family setting up cameras, the lonnnnggggg static shots of nothingness and some innocent children, this film adds almost nothing new from its predecessors except one brilliant rotating camera shot which forces the viewer to wait for the camera to "pan" as the tension builds. Yet despite all this however, it still works. The jumps are all in place and the ain't-broke-so-don't-fix-it approach is one which maintains a certain consistency so my view is if you liked the others then you'll like this. A simple but jumpy 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Vanishing On 7th Street

Let there be light! A post-apocalyptic genre crossover as the world's population disappears in an instant as the shadows and darkness evaporate anyone without a light source in this horror-thriller. With the brilliant Machinist under his belt the director has turned his promising start into an unfortunate by-the-book scare-fest and when your cast consists of Hayden Christensen you know you're struggling on the acting front too. A unique idea, it suffers most from a low budget with the intriguing premise and scares during the first 20 minutes forced into a solitary bar-set-piece for the rest of the film with an underused John Leguizamo who is wasted in a mostly catatonic state of injury throughout. Remember the end bit of "Ghost" as Patrick Swayze's nemesis gets taken by the shadow demons? It's essentially that for an hour and a half. Great idea, badly executed. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Anonymous
Anonymous(2011)
½

A revisionist period piece set against a backdrop of English intrigue and political manoeuvring as Roland Emmerich tries to convince the audience that Shakespeare was not the author of his plays but a 'jerk' actor who was in the right place at the right time. Some of this ground has been covered in the more serious 'Elizabeth' as well as the more entertaining 'Shakespeare in Love' and although everyone gives it their best shot (CGI perfected in Emmerich's '2012' & 'Independence Day' creates an authentic medieval London) the whole thing falls flat from its ludicrous assertions and tiring dialogue. Despite great costumes, there is no need to worry about Billy Wobblestick's reputation just yet if this is the best evidence on offer in this rather dull film of the bored bard on the big screen. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Adventures of Tintin
½

Spielberg brings to "life" Hergé's much loved comic-book adventures in this new animation produced with Peter Jackson and his Weta wizkids. From a mash-up of 3 books, the script is a tight mystery written by UK TV faves Edgar Wright, Steven Moffatt & Joe Cornish and Spielberg throws us straight in from the start. With amazing animation, every curly hair on Snowy's body and Haddock's beard shimmers with realism and only Tintin himself falls into the uncanny valley which can be all-too common with mo-cap films (see Beowulf or Polar Express). Despite its technical prowess, the film is a little flat but will provide young ones with a great introduction to Hergé's tales whilst Tintin-philes will get the literary nods they wish too. With a much better second half including a stunning one-take 2 minute action shot the film sadly kicks into gear a little too late. Win-win Midlands Movies Mike 7/10

The Ides of March
½

Clooney writes, directs and stars in this government drama based around the back-stabbing affairs of a fictional campaign to be elected a Democratic Presidential hopeful. Gosling stars as his bright, upcoming and ultimately naive press secretary (a character role he appears to have stolen wholesale from his part in "Fracture") who gets involved deep when their rivals start stirring the political pot. As intrigue builds, so does Gosling's confusion as to what he has gotten himself into and there are great support turns from the eminently watchable Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. Like a darker West Wing, the rivals up the ante at each stage as revelations are uncovered and Gosling has to decide whether to stick to his morals or stick with the winner. A real treat for lovers of great actors in tense scenes, the film doesn't present any innovation but is a successful slow-burner with a pace that feels right for the subject matter.
7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Drive
Drive(2011)
½

Set in a neon-drenched LA, Drive takes the viewer along for a ride with the mono-syllabic Ryan Gosling's "driver-with-no-name" seeking revenge in this thriller-heist movie with nods to Taxi Driver and Bullit. Performances are top notch with Gosling providing a silent understated role and there's great support from James L Brooks (the voice of Marlin in Finding Nemo) playing against type as a ruthless gangster. A superb film with a unique 80s vibe, it's let down by a slightly saggy second act, a killer-on-the-beach scene that looks lifted from Halloween and a rather meek turn from pixie-come-actress Carey Mulligan. Ron Perlman is great as another sleazy hoodlum and a thumping soundtrack make this a film to catch. A vrooming good 8.5/10. Midlands Movies Mike

30 Minutes or Less
½

Being a big fan of Zombieland I had high hopes for this zany comedy that sees Jesse Eisenberg's pizza delivery boy being forced to rob a bank for a couple of delinquents after they strap him in an explosive bomb vest. Despite being well shot and directed, the story is all over the place and although the street-smart patter is tailor made for Eisenberg, the consistently unfunny Danny McBride pantomimes his way through another moribund performance. With such a hit-and-miss cast, the laughs are too few and far between which is this comedy's biggest problem - it just ain't that funny. Like a pizza with anchovies, this delivery from Fleischer has a good base but is topped with ingredients that sadly taint the rest of the whole. A refundable 5/10 MM Mike

The Tree of Life

Terence Malick has aimed high by trying to cover the entirety of the universe's creation and the multifaceted complexities of human existence in this Palme d'Or winner from last year's Cannes Film Festival. Malick has made only 5 films in 30 years and this one feels as though it has been gestating for as long as Malick himself, as he depicts a poetic but difficult film where narrative is at a minimum and although beautifully shot, the ambiguous meanings may not be to every audiences liking. Sitting well alongside Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Aronofsky's "The Fountain", it's another epic film with lofty ambitions tackling the universe, space, birth, life and death. The movie however verges from the sublime (Pitt's performance as a 1950s father is a believable tour-de-force) to the ridiculous (Sean Penn is utterly wasted as the grown up son and the ending is an art-house mess) and for me it most resembles the non-narrative film Baraka in its visual style - leapfrogging from one tonal idea to the next. It's worth sticking with if you're in the mood to be challenged but on the other hand, it's very close to not being a "movie" in the traditional sense at all. A confusing (some may say pretentious) 6.5/10 MM Mike

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

A directorial debut of some weight as Rupert Wyatt utilises Andy Serkis' brilliant mo-cap performance to give heart and humanity to Caesar the Ape who has unwittingly inherited his mum's super genes as Doctor James Franco struggles to find a long-lasting cure for his dad's Alzheimer's. Deftly balancing moments of tenderness with the obligatory monkey action of the summer blockbuster it claims to be, Wyatt cleverly weaves in themes of freedom, science, loss and gain into an intelligent and believable re-boot story that leaves room for more in the saga. Chimply marvellous! 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Red State
Red State(2011)

After the critical and audience pounding he took for Cop Out and Jersey Girl, Kevin Smith shows us that he can direct by pulling no punches in this edgy film where small town fundamentalist Christianity and its illogical teachings play host to a Waco-style siege and critique of small-town America's relationship with the "authorities". Writer/Director Smith twists and turns the plot as you follow a multitude of character arcs but he deftly manages this with great pacing and some terrific acting turns from John Goodman and Michael Parks as the Pastor. The supporting cast all provide solid turns too and Smith keeps the audience guessing until the very bloody finale. 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Killer Elite
Killer Elite(2011)

Rather dull adaptation of a preposterous book by Sir Ranulph Fiennes. An Elite Team taking on the SAS headed by the acting powerhouse that is Jason Statham? Robert De Niro continues his campaign for a new script agent, Clive Owen is as bad as his moustache and Statham just cannot do "depth" as the plot takes the audience all over the world in a ramshackle plot. Elite? Pah, far below average more like. Avoid unless a massive fan of any of the above - even then I imagine it's a struggle. 5.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Inbetweeners
½

A summer trip to Crete is the holiday backdrop to this big-screen version of the popular Channel 4 sitcom and the teenage antics from the boys are very much what you can expect from this type of film - think a UK American Pie crossed with Kevin and Perry Go Large. However, the safe TV-like direction and the all-too-familiar plot are overcome with the 4 lead actors who give the whole thing a sense of (entertaining) familiarity as they drink themselves silly as part of their self-named "pussay patrol". More like an extended episode than a cinema effort, the film is like a great European holiday - you'll have a laugh, have some fun but it won't stick around too long as you return to more serious fare. A fitting end to the programme and more laughs than you would like to admit. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

X-Men: First Class
½

After the disappointing third film and the spectacularly awful Wolverine movie comes a much needed boost to the franchise with Mathhew Vaughn's take on the origins of Professor X and Erik "Magneto" Lensherr. With a perfect tone, great effects and some excellent casting choices (Fassbender goes from strength to strength and makes a convincing case to be a contender for the next James Bond) the film sets itself against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis and 60s spy films. Director Vaughn shows that there is a lot more in the X-Men franchise yet with some ecellent action scenes and solid performances from all involved. 9/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Cowboys & Aliens

In the Wild Wild West no one can hear you scream (about how bad some of this film is!) Favreau didn't miss lassoing every cliché with a genre mash-up that takes itself far too seriously given the film's comic book origins. Indiana Jones and James Bond cannot raise this above your average action flick and taking the worst stereotypes from both genres (saloon girl, drifter, cattle rustler, preacher, plucky young kid and the classic weak chinned bar clerk wearing an apron) with the worst sci-fi cliché at the moment - badly designed video-game eqsue aliens - Favreau ends up not knowing what type of film he's making. On the positive, some of the Western vistas look amazing on blu-ray and the final 30 minutes is a blast but those don't make up for the rest of the film's shortcomings. A reviewer's gotta do what a reviewer's gotta do. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Super 8
Super 8(2011)

After the lens flare-drenched Star Trek and the disasteropolis of Cloverfield, J.J Abrams sticks with the sci-fi theme but attempts a homage of Spielbergian influences from ET, Indiana Jones and Close Encounters. The focus on a child's rite of passage and finding creativity in small town America, the film echoes Abrams and Spielberg's own home-recording efforts and plays like a cross between Darabont's The Mist and The Goonies. With a mix of good ol' fashioned childhood adventure and some great performances especially from the young actors, this is a solid effort focusing on story as much as visuals. 8.0/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Horrible Bosses
½

In an appraisal I would rate this as a "try-hard". Farrell who has had a terrific run of films of late does a "Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder" impression minus the laughs, Anniston sheds her goody-two-shoes image for some (almost) X-rated puns and Kevin Spacey phones in a pantomime version of the boss he played in Swimming with Sharks. Put together, this is a lot less than the sum of its parts and not half as funny as it thinks it is. Good premise, poor execution and shouldn't pass its probation period. 6.0/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Bad Teacher
Bad Teacher(2011)
½

Every person in this film has made a better and funnier film and why there were involved at all is beyond me. In summary, let me save you two hours of your life. Bad teacher = bad film. Go to the back of the class. 3.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Hitchcock
Hitchcock(2012)

"She won't be nude, she'll be wearing a shower cap". A great film about a great filmmaker, Hitchcock covers the master of suspense's making of Psycho played out against the notorious marriage issues with his wife and frequent collaborator Alma Reville (played by a brilliant Helen Mirren, herself married to a director in real life). A biopic that has nods to all of Hitchcock's output, from his blonde obsessions and voyeurism through to a Hermann-esque score by the composer Danny Elfman, the film is not a warts-and-all portrayal of Hitchcock as director Sacha Gervasi (The Story of Anvil) uses a bit too much gloss but anyone with even a passing interest in the work of "Hitch" will find delights from start to finish. The director plays with Hitchockian suspense across the couple's arguments and through Hopkins' attempts at orchestrating audience scares (literally in one brilliant scene) and the uncertainty of getting the film made at all keeps the interest up throughout. Hopkins' portrayal avoids caricature and the film bookends itself using Hitchcock's own "Presents" TV show as well as including clever references to the film and book's inspiration, serial killer Ed Gein, but it is in fact Mirren who makes the best victim as we empathise with her dual role and desires to be a good wife, motherly figure and supporter to the difficult director. With great actors roped in as support, this is a fun and enjoyable film that analyses the making of film itself without a shadow of a doubt. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Welcome to the Punch

James McAvoy plays a seasoned cop who doesn't want to play by the rules in this American influenced crime thriller from the UK. It has all the clichés of the 1980s cop film - belligerent bosses, "contradictory" colleague (this time a girl) and a villain who is driven by his own insistence to stick to his moral code, all filmed against a colour palette of cool blues and streetlights. Whilst nothing is wrong with the film, Mark Strong is all moody as the cat and mouse antagonist, the film is a soft jab of a production that fails to achieve the heights of a Michael Mann vehicle such as "Heat" which it obviously aspires to be. Not without its positives, the film has a few action highlights including the opening heist but as it has more in common with Jason Statham's "Blitz", it feels more like welcome to the credit crunch with its television-style cinematography and low budget office scenes. Sadly, this resulted in a slightly cheap and shabby knockoff of a movie that failed to knock me out with any of its hooks. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Jack the Giant Slayer

Let's get this out of the way for starters - Bryan Singer needs to make better films than this. We need more X-Men and The Usual Suspects and less terrible movies like this one, Valkyrie (a complete misjudgement in my opinion) and the turgid Superman Returns. In the vein of the similar Snow White and the Huntsman, this traditional folk fairy tale has been given a bit of Hollywood gloss combined with new CGI giants and a few "wacky" quips. Nicholas Hoult plays Jack whose magic beans create the humungous stalk before embarking on a climb to save the kidnapped princess. Although the giants are great once they come to ground, and have more personality than The Hobbit's dwarves, their sky-home in the clouds suffers from Attack-of-the-Clones-itis (regular readers will know my hatred of that film) where humans are placed in entirely CGI landscapes and suddenly I am removed from the movie entirely. Just stop it! One to enjoy with the family methinks and although the disgusting giants are a highlight, Singer should avoid these (rather expensive) flights of fantasy and get back to solid storytelling with a message. 6.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Oz the Great and Powerful

James Franco plays Oscar "Oz" Diggs in this fantasy adventure prequel to the 1939 classic by Spiderman and Evil Dead director Sam Raimi who after cutting his chops on the CGI action of the webbed-wonder tells us the story of how this conning stage magician from a travelling circus is whisked in a tornado (of course) to the wonderful land of Oz. The population believe him to be the prophesized Wizard they've been waiting for and although he has doubts, he comes across Theodora (Mila Kunis) and her sibling Evanora (Rachel Weisz) who as the Wicked Witch of the East manipulates both Oz and her sister to her own ends. Michelle Williams rounds the cast as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South who tries to convince Franco's protagonist of his true destiny amongst the people of the land. With no musical numbers (a big plus for me but probably not for Oz purists), Franco centres the family-friendly journey with a great performance against the nods to the earlier film whilst establishing its own universe. It's credit to Raimi who has created a much more believable and interesting world than Burton's similar Alice in Wonderland, that he gets the actors to have fun in this mostly CGI world but he adds enough new tricks from Baum's original novels to pay homage without duplicating. Oz conjures up some great action and although it won't change the film world, it is an enchanting piece of fluff that is a good way to spend a few hours with the family. This Wiz is the biz! 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Room 237
Room 237(2013)
½

A documentary essay on the multiple meanings of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror "The Shining" which includes theories that it was an admission of the director's involvement in faking the moon landings, an attack on American colonialism and a reflection on the atrocities of the holocaust, the documentary showcases nine "experts" and their readings of the symbolic movie. The nine interviewees are not seen but heard over footage and excerpts from the film itself (and other Kubrick films), which is great for a limited time but I then thought I'd like to see them to help personalise the thesis somewhat. As it was, the diagrams of the hotel layout and the 90 minutes of montage reminded me of the theories I had already seen on the internet and unfortunately made the film less of a cinematic documentary and a rather long and drawn out YouTube video. The theories range from the interesting signifiers and (possibly true) "intentional" continuity errors to absolute conspiracy-style garbage and although the film is thoroughly dissected, a few trims in the edit room, some behind-scenes footage and some faces to the contributors would have helped - much akin to the amazing doc Senna. A must for fans of the film and I always have time for film criticism but I was expecting just a small amount more from the premise promised. All talk and no faces make Room 237 a (slightly) dull doc. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Place Beyond The Pines

This epic triptych of stories has lofty ambitions as we first witness Ryan Gosling as Luke Glanton, a bank robber trying to do best for his new born child followed by Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper, in a great role), a policeman who after becoming a hero has doubts about the force he works for, before the story turns to two teens showing how their father's sins echo throughout the generations in the final act. First, the good things - Cooper puts in an excellent and believable performance and there's a great score by Mike Patton but the film is a ramshackle set of clichés (seen elsewhere) and far, far too long for its rather simple and quite obvious message. I'm not sure how much more of Gosling's lonely/moody criminal shtick I can take as we see his motor-vehicle entertainer doing robberies and being violent around a mother/child family dynamic and I'm convinced I'm back watching Drive again. With that film, Only God Forgives and now this, Gosling needs to step outside his comfort zone. It could be a simple case of just making a few films with similar themes in such a short amount of time but Eva Mendes is so skinny I barely recognise her and, like in many films, Bruce Greenwood enters at the midpoint which thankfully improves the movie. The second story fares no better in the originality stakes as Cooper takes the reins and just as I start to think this section reminds me of Killing Me Softly with Ben Mendelsohn on hobo duties, up crops Ray Liotta from that film too! Thematically it covers similar ground with crooked cops and money exchanges and I finally begin to think that every bit of this film is another film in disguise. Dane DeHaan is a superb actor (Chronicle being my fave of 2012) but again, in the final act he plays an outsider, the disturbed teen fighting against his alpha classmates in the film's closing story. The narrative just about hangs together despite some implausibilities but overall I couldn't feel that the whole thing had been covered in more depth in very recent movies. Not a complete catastrophe, the film only disappoints because of its familiarity despite my favourite Bradley Cooper performance to date and a mediocre realisation of its big aspirations. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Trance
Trance(2013)
½

Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) tackles another new genre in this psychological crime thriller with James McAvoy as Simon - an insider at an auction house who's hidden a famous painting after working alongside a gang of robbers led by Vincent Cassell's Franck. After a blow to the head leaves him with amnesia, they seek out hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (a mesmerising turn by Rosario Dawson) who attempts to unlock the whereabouts of the painting amidst the other secrets within his messed up head. Boyle plays with realism, dream sequences and flashbacks which provide a spellbinding plot for the audience to follow and I enjoyed the twisty narrative (a baggy mid section being the least fascinating part) along with the crime/noir cinematography from the consistently brilliant Boyle. The director also conjures up a visual canvas of images and editing to establish his mental war games with nothing being quite what it seems and doesn't bother with the sleep-inducing 2 hour plus run time of his contemporaries and tells the story in a little over 90 minutes. This direct-to-the-point approach makes the film all the better as it moves at a rapid pace and although the outcome is not at all surprising in all honesty, Boyle's one-trick is still a good one that unlocks horrific secrets during the viewers' slow awakening. A bewitching caper. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Dead Man Down

Dead Man Down (2013) Dir. Niels Arden Oplev
This crime thriller is directed by Arden Oplev and is his first film since the brilliant original take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which starred Noomi Rapace, as does this. The film concerns itself with Colin Farrell duplicitous actions within a gang led by head honcho Terence Howard but Farrell is no more than average and after all the subtle (and many not so-subtle) plot twists and complexities, the film becomes a Scarface-esque action shoot out in the last reel for no apparent reason. Unsure of what it really wants to be (dark brooding noir, gun-toting actionner) it succeeds in being neither and therefore comes across as a a bit of a confused mess. Nothing close to Oplev's Dragon Tattoo it suggests that the script (as plodding as quicksand) is the thing truly at fault here and whilst Farrell & co do the best with the material, it brings the movie down to amiable failure. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The Great Gatsby

Having never seen the Robert Redford starring '74 version or even read the book (poor for an English Literature graduate like myself I know) I had very few expectations of Baz Luhrmann's new version who inexplicably plumped for filming in 3-D. Right off the bat, the 3-D is solid but ultimately pointless as the majority of the movie consists of scenes where characters simply converse in rooms and therefore feels a rather wasted opportunity. Short of using gimmicks, it would be difficult to see how the 3-D would help this story in any way. Along with that gripe, the film glosses over any sort of depth (aside from the three dimensional kind) and embodies a pop-video representation of Gatsby's glamour whose summer parties could have been organised by P-Diddy or Jay-Z. Funnily enough, it's the latter that provides a soundtrack which is one of the highlights of the film, where cover versions of modern artists are "retro-fitted" into a remixed 20s/30s-style of swinging hip-hop. The story itself is newly framed around a flashback device as Tobey Maguire's Nick Carraway retells his encounter to a doctor about his summer in West/East Egg with Carey Mulligan's spoilt Daisy Buchanan and how their paths crossed (and re-cross) with the extravagant Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). It is DiCaprio who (understandably) gets the best of the film as he brings both swagger (a brilliant introduction is pure Hollywood glitz) and vulnerability (a reunion encounter is comically awkward) to his character which is a joy to watch. One could argue that Baz's interpretation is as valid as any other and what I liked the most was the (Tarantino-esque) way of mixing the past and the present to create an almost alternative history. For a plot that is as old as the hills, this was an interesting, although not completely successful re-telling of a familiar tale but the movie was ultimately the "good" Gatsby but definitely not great, old sport 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Man of Steel
Man of Steel(2013)
½

Is it a t*rd? Is it plain good? No, it's simply solid Superman. Zack Snyder reigns in his slow motion visual excess under the tutelage of Batman-phile and producer Chris Nolan to give us an updated take on the daddy of all superheroes. Gone is John Williams' score (not even a nod) as well as the red pants and, sadly, some of Superman's humour in this epic tale taking us from his birth to his 'coming out' during an invasion of Metropolis by Michael Shannon's Zod and his gang of evil survivors. For me, the first 20 minutes summed up the film as a whole as alongside heavy weight acting and great back story (Russell Crowe is great as Jor-El) planet Krypton's shoddy Attack of the Clones-style CGI landscapes lacked imagination for me. Later, this is echoed when we see a well crafted set of flashbacks re-telling how Clark slowly comes to terms with his increasing strong powers positioned alongside (yet another) CGI action sequence. If it had left a little something for the (almost) inevitable sequel to allow a bit more time for character development then I think I would have rated the movie higher as this is definitely more sci-fi man than Smallville Superman.

During the back-story, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent is the film's revelation providing surly and sagely advice to his "son's" problems and Henry Caville as Supes is stronger than Routh but not exactly a Reeve. Unfortunately, like Returns, they seem to have miscast Lois Lane who, although a fan of Amy Adams, still doesn't have the bite of a Kidder or sadly even Teri Hatcher from the 90s TV show. Neither the best thing ever, nor a complete misfire, a bit of pruning on the action would have cemented this as one of the comic classics but as it is, I felt that the bombastic and endless skirmishes and lack of focus upended the solid footing established with Clark's frustrations as an outsider (both as a teen and an alien) and his role as a protector of Earth. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Pacific Rim
Pacific Rim(2013)
½

Influenced by Japanese monster/disaster movies, Del Toro has taken the CGI to insane levels in this popcorn summer blockbuster where we see giant inter-dimensional "Kaijus" (monsters) fight off against the human built "Jaegers" (giant people-controlled mecha). Jumping straight into the action with a news-reel summary of how we arrive at the current predicament, the film dispenses with the usual back story and slow build up and within 5 minutes we are watching the first (of many) brutal clashes in cities around the world. So how's it different to the similar Transformers franchise? Not as much as I hoped unfortunately. The 2nd/3rd Transformers films were messy and loud but Del Toro punctuates his film with one or two quieter sequences and the editing on the fist-fights is definitely easier on the eye by cutting at a slower pace however it is still very dark (and constantly raining) and once you've seen one big punch up, well, you've kind of seen them all. A sequence in Hong Kong with Del Toro regular, Ron Perlman, who plays a dealer in illegal Kaiju "organs" was my favourite section but sorry to say these were too and far between as the chemistry between most of the actors was abysmal with the two "comedy" scientists having whiffs of Jar-Jar about them (i.e. annoying from the outset). I guess it did what it said on the tin but made me realise I don't really need the contents that much in my life, as Del Toro's great eye for the visual seemed to make him forget almost every other aspect of the film including story, character, plot and missed most of all, the acting, where not even a great Idris Elba can bring life to a stuffy script. Entertaining nonsense for the young but for those wanting a bit more bite you will be will be barking up the wrong tree however you may be able to overlook its specific flaws and enjoy the fun if you leave your brain waaaaaaay out in the lobby. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Only God Forgives
½

After the brilliance of the noir feature "Drive", director Nicholas Winding Refn re-teams with Ryan Gosling for this tale of revenge, brutality and spirituality which the director sees as a natural progression on a similar subject. Filmed in an experimental and narratively sparse style, the director operates within a single set of rules: Show a lot, describe very little - and keep dialogue to a minimum (Gosling has just 22 lines of dialogue in the 1 hour 30 minutes). The story (as it is) concerns the brutal murder of Gosling's brother in Thailand and the arrival of their ruthless mother (a brilliantly trampy and unrecognisable Kristen Scott Thomas) who insists Gosling takes revenge on the corrupt Lt. Chang. Refn wanted to make a Western in the Far East but unfortunately he didn't do much Good (the neon-soaked artificial lighting brilliantly permeates every seedy corridor scene), did plenty of Bad (for this reviewer, the lack of dialogue and plot was not engaging enough) and some Ugly (the violence, although not a problem for me, was gory but no more so than similarly themed films). And therein lies the problem. Some audience members at Cannes left because of the sickening bloodshed but I would have had more respect if they left because of its one true flaw...it's so astonishingly dull. Endless meandering camera shots, Gosling on a chair staring for what seems like hours at a time and scenes that finish just as they get interesting. Some have said you have to bring something of yourself to this film to "read" it properly. Well, if that's the deal then so should the director. Fine for those wanting to see a fair attempt at trying to capture something enlightenly different but everyone else should steer well clear. A long and winding Refn Road. 5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Alan Partridge
½

CASHBACK! A Partridge film has taken a long journey to the big screen but Alan has finally arrived in this hilarious outing from performer Steve Coogan and long time collaborators/writers Armando Iannucci, Peter Baynham and Neil and Rob Gibbons. After a takeover over of North Norfolk Digital sees Alan save his own skin during a restructure at the expense of fellow veteran DJ Pat Farrell (a glum-faced Colm Meaney), the ousted DJ returns with a shotgun to take the new owners hostage until his demands are met. Cue Alan as the face of the siege ("I'm Siege-Face!") as he turns others' misery into his own promotional tool to get back into the big leagues much to the frustration of his fellow hostages, the police and his long-serving (and suffering) PA Lynn, well played by an underrated Felicity Montagu. For a character that is 20 years old Coogan and co breathe fresh life into the Norwich newshound and the jokes come at an Airplane-like speed whether it be clever wordplay, silly slapstick or hilarious one-liners and the small-town setting is the perfect backdrop as the film avoids any "go big" or "fish out of water" clichés that often occur in TV to film transitions. Coogan has created an iconic comedy character whose reinvention from his radio beginnings through to his chat show, Christmas specials and subsequent return to the airwaves makes this latest outing is a fine addition to his oeuvre and both existing fans of Coogan's creation and the uninitiated will find funnies aplenty with the film avoiding stops at Rejection, Disappointment, Backstabbing Central and Shattered Dreams Parkway. It's simply classic comedy all the way. Back of the net! 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Elysium
Elysium(2013)

After District 9's sci-fi critique of the political apartheid regime, South African director Neill Blomkamp returns to more social commentary with this futuristic feature where the poor live on a refuse-filled earth and the rich have emigrated to a space station idyll where serious illnesses like cancer can be eradicated at the push of a button - but only if you can afford to be a citizen. The movie stars Matt Damon as Max Da Costa, an ex-con trying to make his way in the manual labour market who builds the robots that police the earth (but controlled by those on Elysium) where employees are as disposable as the rubbish in the streets. After an industrial accident leaves him with a short life span, he joins a set of anarchic rebels who seek to overthrow the corrupt government who are going through their own machinations as Jodie Foster's Secretary of Defence attempts a coup on the President to keep the rebels on earth where she feels they belong. Moving from selfish to selfless ends, Damon slowly comes to terms with the bigger issues along with the audience and trying to stop him is violent mercenary Sharlto Copley, with a scary but brilliant pantomime performance of a villain. The SFX are spectacular and the film has the analysis of social order that Paul Verhoeven similarly covered in sci-fi vehicles like Robocop and Total Recall (the bionic mech-suit and population oppression seemed a direct evolution) and the story is rounded off by a great support cast of Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura and classic corporate bad-guy William Fichtner. The film's only flaws lie in a bizarre choice of accent (or bad overdub) from Jodie Foster as well as my own huge expectations after the surprise brilliance of District 9 so it had a high standard to follow which I felt it didn't quite match despite the vastly increased budget. From the human USB that Damon becomes, to the technological battle fought across space, the film asks big questions using inventive (and sometimes gruesome) CGI about who is entitled to the machinery we make. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

The World's End
½

The third and final instalment of the Three Colours Cornetto trilogy sees director/writer Edgar Wright join forces with writer/actor Simon Pegg in another British indie comedy from the duo. This time Pegg is Gary King who gets four of his mates back together for a middle-age reliving of their teenage pub crawl in Newton Haven to try and finish what they started 20 years previously. Wright's trademark fast editing and appearances from the usual support cast from Spaced (including Marsha, Brian and Tyres) mean the film is very relatable for its target audience who may also wish to relive their youth with round after round of male bonding. With a great 90s soundtrack (featuring Suede, The Charlatans, Primal Scream and Stone Roses) there are also nods to Kylie and many song lyrics are used as lines in the script but it's unfortunately not as funny as the previous two. However, credit should be given to Wright/Pegg who play with audience expectations - a Dusk til Dawn style genre change about a third in also reminded me of Attack the Block as the crawl turns into a sci-fi apocalyptic nightmare. Continuing the risks, many of the actors play against type - Nick Frost as a lawyer is all sense and sensibility whilst a superbly filmed toilet fight is the best since The Warriors or James Bond's Casino Royale. The film suffers most from trying to be everything at once - with many layers vying to be analysed at the same time from the self-referential fence jump jokes of Shaun/Fuzz to a much deeper allegorical Odysseus-esque journey where 3 sirens in The Mermaid Pub draw our adventurers in. Pierce Brosnan replacing Timothy Dalton shows how it wants to continue similar themes yet challenge what went before and each of the stereotypical pubs - the spit and sawdust, the gastro chain pub and the school disco club night - focuses the viewer to confront its unique and evolving British charm. Not a complete failure and it could be argued it may even be a much deeper movie than the previous films but your enjoyment of it, much like the characters in the film, will depend on whether you want a rehash of past successes or are willing to embrace new changes. 7.5/10 Midlands Movies

Oblivion
Oblivion(2013)

So a lonely man lives on a post-Apocalyptic and wrecked Earth, finds growing plant life whilst interacting with floating iPod-like drones before heading into space. Sorry but I have already seen Wall*E thank you. Oblivion isn't bad, it has some good acting from the cast like Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough (albeit a shockingly short appearance by the awesome Morgan Freeman) but everything has been done better elsewhere. Despite a great 80s electro-orchestral soundtrack sitting somewhere between Vangelis and the Inception score, the movie slowly meanders from one set piece to the next with the obligatory shoot-outs, night stalking and motorbike chases. The story concerns Jack Harper whose job is to maintain and fix security drones on a desolate earth whilst avoiding "scavs" (scavengers) who we are told are leftover aliens from the previous interstellar nuclear war whilst later on he finds a mysterious but strangely reminiscent survivor in an escape pod from a vessel brought to earth by an unknown beacon. Cruise then smirks, shoots, jumps and (obviously) runs throughout whilst the story then shifts into Duncan Jones's Moon territory (ironic for a film where the moon is destroyed) but with its collection of clichés and customary chestnuts, the film isn't even the best Tom Cruise movie about a man named Jack in 2013! Oblivious to its own lack of heft or pace these films need, the movie is as atmospheric as the space it depicts and fails to fill its potential in the serious sci-fi genre. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3(2013)

Robert Downey Junior and new-to-Marvel director Shane Black bring old metalhead back to the screen with more kiss kiss (greater parts for Pepper Potts) and definitely more bang bang, with larger action set pieces, in a much needed boost of serum to Marvel's most exposed character. After the dreadful squib of a sequel, the script and pacing have both been tightened up and despite a lack of AC/DC, the strengths of RDJ's sarcastic and cocky quips and Black's twisting narratives, voiceovers and a pop-cultured inspired self-referential tone has helped Iron Man 3's durability in a busy genre. We follow Stark on a journey of re-discovery as he succumbs to panic attacks after the Avenging-antics of New York which he struggles to balance with his drives and goals whilst managing his deepening relationship with Paltrow's Potts. During all this we face a new evil in the form of deadly body-repairing soldiers which Stark faces in a showdown of explosions and fight sequences. This bombastic and exhilarating final confrontation scene on a multi-level dockyard is one of the film's high points alongside a witty script but I failed to engage with a major mishandling of the Mandarin whose character arc and subsequent unveiling was too knowing for its own good. Blockbusting its way to an enormous opening weekend, IM3 deserves to be a big summer hit and begins Marvel's Phase 2 films with a genuine gold (or should that be Iron) star and a high quality that the other franchise sequels will have a hard time to match. Not just any ol' Iron. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Olympus Has Fallen

A case of 'Deep-Armageddon' in this summer action film that has been released just a mere few weeks before the similarly themed White House Down by Roland "Disaster Movie" Emmerich. Both films involve terrorist attacks on the President's residence with only one man seemingly able to save the day. That one man is ex-Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler, still unable to do an American accent) who after saving the President once before is left alone to tackle the North Korean terrorists who, against all reason and logic, manage to take over the House using a hijacked plane (couldn't happen), some machine guns (wouldn't happen) and a ground assault (couldn't and wouldn't happen). However, I know it's not a film for realism and taken as a piece of action fluff then it's quite enjoyable nonsense that would have made for an infinitely better Die Hard film with a few rewrites especially compared to the John McLane film we actually got. With a heavy weight support cast of Aaron Eckhart (President), Morgan Freeman (not the President) plus Angela Bassett and Robert Forster, the film is best watched back to back with the other movie on a drunken Saturday night with your male friends. 6/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Rush
Rush(2013)
½

Vrrrrooooommm! Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Da Vinci Code, Beautiful Mind) tackles the true-life 70s sporting rivalry between Englishman James Hunt (a wobbly-accented Chris Hemsworth of Thor fame) and Austrian Nikki Lauda (an outstanding Daniel Brühl probably best known as the sniper in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds) who fought each other on and off the Formula One circuit in the battle for the '76 championship. The score is all Zimmerman epic horns but the soundtrack is dirty 70s-classic rock evocative of the oil and long hair of the day. The characterisations are as broad as a barn door but Howard's race scenes and general sense of fun in the proceedings will guarantee a fast and frantic time as we see the playboy Hunt sweet talk, shag and drink his way through the good times and the workmanlike Lauda spending lonely nights checking his gear ratios (not a euphemism). Interspersing real footage and (an unnecessary and obvious) race commentary - "He's spun out" - yes, I can see that myself (!!), Howard builds upon the historical antagonism witnessed in his earlier Frost/Nixon (2008) but on a much larger global canvas than the talking heads of that film. It doesn't stop the movie having its intimate moments however, as we cover Hunt's burgeoning alcoholism and Lauda's almost fatal crash and gruesome burns recovery period, the movie has a lot of slick but mostly avoids the soppy wetness of melodrama. A slightly Formulaic One but a great F1lm nonetheless, Rush puts the pedal to the floor from the start to the chequered flag 8.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Prisoners
Prisoners(2013)
½

This American thriller features Hugh Jackman as Keller Dover, the father of a homely suburban family whose daughter (along with a neighbour's daughter) goes missing during a Thanksgiving party. The abduction forces the family into contact with Jake Gyllenhaal's Detective Loki (couldn't help but give a smirk at that name) who investigates a local oddball with child-like intelligence played brilliantly by a distressed Paul Dano. Along with the father of the second girl (Terrence Howard), Jackman puts in a tour de force performance as a man who will go to any lengths (and beyond) to find his daughter. This dark and brooding story has echoes of similar child abduction films like The Changeling and Gone Baby Gone and the director uses simple scene set ups to allow the actors to go through every troubling emotion on screen. I enjoyed the story and although the alarming subject matter wouldn't result in a high re-watchable factor for me, this disturbing film questions society about their own "cells" and focuses on religious imagery from the start with ominous nods to the Lord's prayer, faith, God and the actual and metaphorical crosses we bear. If you like dark and disconcerting police procedurals with a slow burning but gripping plot then Prisoners could be the film for you but don't expect an easy ride from this solemn and spiritual journey of the disturbed. 7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

Taking Lives
Taking Lives(2004)
½

Bits stolen from different movies in what is essentially a poor US TV pilot for a female detective crime series. If that's your bag then this may be up your street.

Priest
Priest(2011)

Hail Mary that was poor!

Machete
Machete(2010)
½

Ludicrous but good ludicrous.

The Other Guys

Quite a few laughs in this predictable film but great to see Michael Keaton do some comedy again. There's a least three spin-of films they could get from this.

Sucker Punch
Sucker Punch(2011)

Mess of a film that I couldn't even stick out to the end.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
½

Mad mad film with a mad mad Cage - not bad and a return to form for the grossly-overexposed and now mostly terrible Nic Cage.

Primer
Primer(2004)

Much like the protagonists I need to go back and re-live this over again to try and make sense of it all. Great film and amazing script on a $7000 budget!

Paranormal Activity 2

Got a soft spot for these films as we know the drill (quiet....quiet.....quiet....BOOM!) but it's done pretty well. It feels more like a remake than a true sequel but the makers squeeze just enough new scares out of the formula.

Blitz
Blitz(2011)

Crank meets The Bill - Statham of the former, budget of the latter. Saying that, quite enjoyable.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed
½

Would work well on stage with only 3 actors and one true location. Solid British thriller with believable performances from all involved.

Attack the Block

Good first feature and good acting from an untrained cast. Good effects on a small budget and little-bit-o-politics thrown in. Cornish is the new kid on the block.

Thor
Thor(2011)

Solid if not spectacular Marvel film. Hemsworth is great but didn't like the Phantom Menace look of Asgaard - this felt like the most "set up" of all the recent Marvel films for the Avengers but whetted my appetite nicely.

Law Abiding Citizen
½

Ludicrous but watchable revenge thriller is very much guilty pleasure of the year.

Fair Game
Fair Game(2010)
½

So-so political drama saved by 2 good performances by Watts and Penn. Watch if you're interested in the topic, nothing much here for anyone else.

Captain America: The First Avenger
½

Despite some poor CGI and not-needed 3D, the heart of the story and good character actors help push this beyond your average superhero flick even with the lacklusture Chris Evans who comes across well as the super soldier. America, Fuck yeah!

Scream 4
Scream 4(2011)
½

Aged as well as Courteny Cox's face.

Hanna
Hanna(2011)

Held together by a great performance from Saoirse Ronan this is as much coming of age drama and comedy as assassin/hitwoman flick. Really well filmed by director Joe Wright and highly recommended.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Gilliam films the actions but not the head or the heart of the superior book.

Source Code
Source Code(2011)

Director Duncan Jones slyly twists Back to the Future with Quantum Leap via Deja Vu and Groundhog Day in this stop-the-terrorist time travelling train movie. With top performances, nifty directing and âloopyâ? plot, this fits snugly alongside Inception and Adjustment Bureau as another great sci-crime thriller.

Unknown
Unknown(2011)
½

*SPOILER ALERT* An interesting film for 35 minutes until it suddenly dawned on me that the entire movie IS Total Recall. I couldnt enjoy it after that and every character and scene has its equivalent including Quaid, Quatto, Cohagen and the briefcase full of information, the use of Johnny cabs and, oh yeah, the ENTIRE story. Just missing 3 t*ts!

The Lincoln Lawyer
½

McConaughey playing wise-ass lawyer again but he does it well in this Fracture-esque story of murder and double-crossing. The twisty plot and solid performances help overcome the straightforward TV-style filming and holds its own in the courtroom drama movie sub-genre.

Limitless
Limitless(2011)

Not a massive fan of Bradley Cooper but he plays the slob-turned-highflyer well as the man who uses an enhancing pill to improve his life. A flabby middle section and ambiguous ending unfortunately detract from the promising start as you begin to lose sympathy with his plight. Great visuals though.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Miles better than 2 (which wasn't too difficult) and the first half had its moments but the second half is so extraordinarily long-winded I was left wishing my bottom would transform into a comfy pillow.

London Boulevard
½

Half decent mockney gangster flick with obligatory appearance from Ray Winstone and a decent turn from Farrell who appears to be on a decent comeback right now.

Burke and Hare

Pantomine-poor. Landis should have left this one dead and buried.

127 Hours
127 Hours(2010)
½

Oh Danny Boyle, Franco's pipes are calling!

Suffers from the same flaws of other stuck in one place movies (Phone Booth, Buried etc) that rely on audience patience to develop its bigger themes. Well worth a look and THAT scene had me flinching - owing to Franco's great acting rather than the gruesome FX.

Paul
Paul(2011)
½

Hollywood-ised Pegg & Frost is still worth a chuckle in this road-trip sci-fi with geeky nods to a number of classic 'alien' movies including most of Spielberg's back catalogue.

The King of Comedy
½

The Stalking of Comedy. Definitely darker than the subject matter it portrays but unsure what's in Pupkin's head and what isn't. Which I guess is the point. Interesting more than entertaining in Scorcese's look at celebrity obsession before it's time.

Sanctum
Sanctum(2011)
½

Hollywood nonsense and cliche of the highest order but quite a lot of fun if you leave your brain at the door in this Abyss/Descent-inspired action adventiure.

Hereafter
Hereafter(2010)

Huge disappointment from Eastwood as even his superlative direction cannot keep the 3 different story strands from lurching towards ludicrous melodrama. Each works on its own but the film would have worked better as a longer TV mini-series.

The Mechanic
The Mechanic(2011)

Statham's films continue to blur into one long assassin/hitman/shoot 'em up and this follows the template to the letter.

Hot Rod
Hot Rod(2007)
½

Was led to believe that this was some kind of underground classic and although there were a fair few titters, it didn't have the belly laughs I wanted. Poor rod.

The Way Back
The Way Back(2011)

Incredible survival story and not even Ed Harris doing his best Ed Harris impression (as always) can ruin this great piece of film-making from director Peter Weir. Colin Farrell nails the Polish accent as an unhinged inmate and good turns from Sturgess and supporting cast. Quite long but so was the journey. Epic.

From Hell
From Hell(2001)
½

actors and actresses rip apart the English accent like one of Saucy Jack's trollops. Solid if a little underwhelming take on Alan Moore's graphic novel.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

what started out as a Silence-of-the-Lambs style murder mysetery thriller series dragged on longer than the "Pirates" trilogy. Great talents, good acting and well filmed, it's a shame the story just crawled along to an inevitable conclusion over a slow 2 and a half hours. A solid piece of cinema that never lived up to the masterful debut.

Megamind
Megamind(2010)
½

fun twist on the good versus bad superhero template but one wonders what it could have been had it come from the mega-minds at Pixar.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
½

Mean. Mode. Median. Pirates 4. These are all ways to measure average.

The American
The American(2010)

Cloon-tang plays an introspective, subdued, muted, quiet and low-key assassin in this introspective, subdued, muted, quiet and low-key film. More character study than action piece but if you're after something different you'd do worse than give this a try.

Due Date
Due Date(2010)
½

Actually better than I was expecting and probably about 5 good laughs in it.

The Green Hornet

It's nonsense but I laughed at least 4-5 times and if you like 80s-style nonsense - you'll like this 80s-style nonsense. Dick Tracy.

The Rite
The Rite(2011)
½

Surely, this is just The Exorcist? Hopkins good but subject matter done so much better elsewhere.

The King's Speech

B-B-B-Brilliant. This time the hype was more than deserved. King dong!

Cherry Tree Lane
½

A film is never good when you start fast forwarding to the end and you still know exactly what is going on. Dull cliched nonsense in this drama school value production. Worst film in a long time.

Unstoppable
Unstoppable(2010)
½

I found Denzel and Tony Scott's last few outings a bit of a chore but this is more of a straightforward actionner with great sound and visuals. Nothing out of the ordinary but solid entertainment with this "Speed on rails" movie.

Skyline
Skyline(2010)

First bonafide mess of the year in this piss-poor sci fi outing. Within 5 minutes of the film starting I wanted all the sub-90210 douchebag characters to die as soon as possible. Nasty CGI, worse acting and only a glimpse of what could be at the end (although somewhat stolen from District 9). Avoid.

Battle: Los Angeles

Definitely RONSEAL so don't expect anything like character development (although Eckhart is great), sub plot or "story" but do expect solid action, wall to wall explosions, tons of aliens and a smattering of 12A-rated gore. A bit computer-gamey but worth a watch for no brained blockbuster despite the cliches.

Buried
Buried(2010)
½

An interesting filmic experiment from the Spanish director Rodrigo Cortes as Ryan Reynolds is holed up in a box trying to find out the whys, wheres and hows of his predicament. Wouldn't stand up to much re-watching given the ending but a great techinical achievement.

Red
Red(2010)
½

Kind of like a fun comic-booky Expendables but done with more style and more likeable actors. Great fun.

The Social Network

Even with 3 highly unlikeable characters/actors the film is another Fincher triumph about the invention, rise and backstabbing of a bunch of nerds who invented facebook. A solid 2 hours of entertainment.

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
½

Love-hate with this film as anytime Douglas is on the screen, it's worth watching and whilst money never sleeps, I nearly did when Shia The Beef was doing his version of "acting". Saying that, enjoyable fair from Stone from what essentially is dull money talk although the ending is pretty laughable.

The Cell
The Cell(2000)

Insane-Lo! A treat for the eyes, not much for the brain in this sci-fi serial killer crossover.

Coraline
Coraline(2009)

Great kids movie with subversive themes and dark undertones - if only Tim Burton could recapture some of this originality. Also watched it at home on Blu-Ray (gorgeous) and in 3-D with pre-packed glasses which gave the film some depth it lacked on the story front. Maybe 20 mins off the running time would have helped.

The Lives of Others
½

Well acted German film about Stasi oppression of free-thinkers and the arts in East Germany in the 1980s. Solid work by all involved, especially good from the actors, although the direction was nothing to write home about. My one big gripe though was the ending â" I actually thought a better ending would be to make the main Stasi protagonist the author of the book using the â~insider-knowledgeâ(TM) he had acquired, thus making him an âartistâ?.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Edgar Wright shows us every cinematic trick in the book and makes up some new ones to boot. Only minus 1 star as I don't think Cera's bass playing was up to much and the computer references were laid on heavily but great mix of styles and funny enough to get past any shortcomings.

Grindhouse
Grindhouse(2007)
½

Grindhouse works much better as two shorter versions of the directors' films than the longer cuts I first saw. The faux-trailers add to the spectacle and although neither a classic for Rodriguez or Tarantino (Death Proof is still as flabby as QT's acting) it's much better as a double feature.

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)
½

Solid but slightly disappointing sequel to Dragon Tattoo. There just wasn't enough plot or action really to keep me entertained for two hours and fell victim to the usual problems of middle-part-of-a-trilogy films.

The Last Exorcism

More entertaining than Blair Witch but that's like saying I prefer to watch green paint drying rather than red.

Beowulf
Beowulf(2007)
½

Poor showing from Zemeckis

The Ghost Writer

Good beginning and end let down by a flabby middle and wondered why they got Americans and Scottish to play English (Cattrall & McGregor) and English to play Americans (Wilkinson) - none of which are any good and take away from the sense of place in this twisty adapatation.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
½

Douglas is criminally underused in theis dull remake with a ludicrously rushed climax. Poor thriller.

Monsters
Monsters(2010)
½

Take the 2 minutes of monsters from the film and it was like watching someone's (rather dull) holiday videos. A monstrous disappointment.

Salt
Salt(2010)

Jolie looks ill throughout this film and everything from the editing, action, "characters" and "plot" are average at best in this thriller that-in-salts the intelligence. (Worst.Pun.Ever.)

The Tortured
The Tortured(2012)
½

With acting that would shame Dr. Drake Ramoray from Days of our Lives, this poorly conceived film does touch on some important points of retribution and misplaced vengeance but ultimately is b-Movie horror hokum with only a half-decent twist hinting on what could have been.

How to Train Your Dragon
½

Probably the best CGI animation outside of the Shrek and Pixar establishments. Nothing spectacular aside from the end scene but something for most of the family in here.

Tron Legacy
Tron Legacy(2010)

Story is bollocks but with the best visuals since Snyder's 300 and a soundtrack courtesy of Daft Punk, whack on the 3D glasses to be entertained by this no-brainer blockbuster!

Unthinkable
Unthinkable(2014)

Watchable drama as terrorist and interrogator play mind and physical games with each other. You could read it as a political diatribe on modern warfare or a cheap thriller as Jackson goes to work on Sheen's balls! Either way, I thought it quite entertaining :)

Disney's A Christmas Carol
½

Disney has scrimped and saved on delivering any real excitement - very dull re-telling of the miserly tale and still don't understand these photo-realistic CGI films Zemeckis is pouring his heart into. They've all been terrible.

Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3(2010)
½

Another pixar triumph. The ending is as superb as any film this year and the animation is so on another level it gave me a Woody. :)

The A-Team
The A-Team(2010)

The C+ Team. Nothing more than a guilty nostalgic pleasure and will last as long in your mind as one of Murdock's psychiatric ward stints.

[Rec] 2
[Rec] 2(2010)
½

Impressively jumpy follow up to one of my fave horrors of the last few years. The only downer was a slightly disappointing âexplanationâ? of the goings on inside the apartment building which took away some of the mystery of the virus/infestation. Worthy sequel.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Tough uncompromising thriller. Hadn't read the books but great characters and a twisty plot makes this one of my top 5 of the year. Swedish-tastic.

10,000 B.C.
10,000 B.C.(2008)
½

A bad CGI jurassic lark!

28 Weeks Later...

Surprisingly good sequel taking the first film's premise in new directions. Also, great production values and an awesome soundtrack make this a scary, adult, frightener with even a few main characters getting offed in the process! A gory shocker.

Iron Man 2
Iron Man 2(2010)
½

Real disappointment. What was the story here? Plot and characters thrown at the screen and action seemed to be on war (machine) rations. Grand Prix, house fight and final scrap the only action pieces? Come on Favreau, I thought this was going to be Stark's dark days. One scene actually had me going "what the hell is going on?" as nothing happened, literally like a unedited scene. Outake at best. Suddenly my doubts about Captain America are turning to quietly optimistic.

A Mighty Heart
½

Another candid look at world affairs from Winterbottom. Jolie shows she has the acting chops but a little boring if anything.

Whip It
Whip It(2009)

Ellen Page is watchable and director/star Drew Barrymore does her best to avoid the cliches of this American coming of age drama but doesn't always skate past some more turgid moments. One for the ladies.

Cemetery Junction
½

Quaint and mildly amusing but just not much of a story with its "kid wants out of shit hometown" cliche stamped all over it.

Mean Girls
Mean Girls(2004)
½

A surprisingly funny film written by SNL's Tina Fey, I thought this was a well written US teen comedy, up there with the first American Pie and Breakfast Club for a slice of high school angst. A vomiting Lohan is also an eerie picture of a career to come.

Defendor
Defendor(2009)
½

A kind of like if Rain Man was crossed with Kick Ass. The whole film hangs on Harrelson's performance which is top notch and is funny and touching - something that KA seriously lacks.

Downfall (Der Untergang)

Very good historical drama with a powerhouse performance from Ganz.

Clash of the Titans

One giant big pantomime of a film which would benefit from more story and less action as an endless horde of CGI characters take on the Terminator/Jake Sully.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

People are so busy these days they don't have time to go to the movies and think as well - there's nothing worse than a movie that leaves you with questions or subtext. If that's your bag then this is the film for you.

However, I want a magic dagger to take me to a time before I watched this. At best, unintentionally campy nonsense. In reality, toss.

Kick-Ass
Kick-Ass(2010)
½

Fell slight victim to the hype machine but cool, edgy and a whole lot of fun overcomes any pretentious film reviewing gumph I could add here. Violent and funny.

Trick 'r Treat

Pump(kin) Fiction. Multi-strand plot and a few good jumps spoilt by one MTV-Marilyn Manson-Twilight-werewolf-titty fest scene. Alternatively, could be the best scene in the movie, ha ha. Friday night popcorn scares only.

Exit Through The Gift Shop

The movie itself could be another one of Banksy's stunts and has an air of "mockumentary" but either way, it's a great film and tackles some interesting issues of creativity, authenticity and the disposable nature of an artist's work. Cool beans.

Hot Tub Time Machine
½

Almost as bad as a movie can get and I was steaming drunk! Didn't "get" any of it and I suppose Crispin Glover's cameo tried to tie it in with another time travel movie. Cusack's one-for-him-one for-the-studio continues apace but he'd be so much better if he dropped the studio one each time. Toss.

Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel
½

Thought I had reviewed this! Saw it late one night on BBC and although a good concept, the budget was on par with Dr. Who.

Centurion
Centurion(2010)
½

Certainly better than recent sword & arrows histories (Robin Hood & Outlander) but even a few cliches doesn't stop this being a decent bit of fun. Fassbender is good although with Dominc West also in the cast, it has an air of "300" about it.

Four Lions
Four Lions(2010)

Controversial, moving, absurd, political, deep, slapstick but most of all VERY funny. A British corker from Chris Morris who digs the depths of the inate contradiction in suicide bombings. One of my top 5 of the year so far.

Repo Men
Repo Men(2010)
½

Wasn't quite the film I was expecting. Lacking in action, a bit too gory - it fits but it's needlessly boring - it was better than other recent "future-body" films like Surrogates/Gamer but a cop-out ending and slow pace resulted in major disappointment. Concept great - execution messy.

The Expendables
½

EXACTLY what you are expecting with The Expendables. Washed-up action stars delivering old school 80s action sequences and even worse dialogue. Not quite the sum of its parts but possibly the funniest film of the year.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

UPDATE: Did see it again in a pleasant afternoon of comedy film-making. An unintentionally hilarious mess.

ORIGINAL:After seeing 10 minutes of the film again on youtube, I no longer want to see this film again and give it one star for kindly making me realise I should do something better for two hours! The film is atrocious.

Shutter Island

Doesn't feel like a "Scorcese" movie (which shows Scorcese's skill more than anything) and Di Caprio has turned from annoying brussel-sprout-faced goon to one of the most watchable actors around at the moment. A twisty thriller that jolts in all the rights places.

Die Hard
Die Hard(1988)

In the Top Ten actionners of all time? Pretty darn close. Yippy-kay-ay muddiefunster!

:D

Casino
Casino(1995)
½

Not quite up to the standard of Goodfellas but a great companion piece to the movie. Like that film Casino contains the Holy Grail of Gangster combos of De Niro and Pesci under the direction of Scorcese and immaculate editing by Schoonmaker make this one not to miss and Stone's best film of her career - period.

L.A. Confidential

Forgot how good this is. Powerhouse performances from all the big names - quite a few Oscar winners in this cast in a great tale of sleaze, corruption and detective work in the 40s. I'm confident this is a real LA classic.

The Crazies
The Crazies(2010)

Didn't Olyphant have a fight in a gap underneath a vehicle in Hitman? Not as terrible as that film but like that scene, you'll swear you've seen it all before and certainly does nothing new with the genre. That said, it's done with a sense of location and tone lacking in a lot of remakes.

Legion
Legion(2010)
½

All a bit boring really given the great trailer. Bettany sleepwalks his way as Angel Michael versus a horde of apocalyptic and vengeful angel-spawn saving the last Psion - the action is so-so and Quaid brings another hellish performance. Did someone say Dogma? Methinks they did.

I Love You Phillip Morris

Carrey nails a gay man - I mean nails playing a gay man. Definitely "Ronseal" - i.e. it does what it says on the tin...and it's for men's wood.

Green Zone
Green Zone(2010)
½

An intense war thriller that is essentially The Bourne Greenzonery.

The Haunting in Connecticut

The yawning in connecticut. Horror by the book. A dull book.

The Lovely Bones

Alice (Sebold) in Wonderland. Again, a CGI "alternate life" section distracts from a more interesting reality on earth and despite some great performances from the top-notch cast, the tone of the film didn't sit well with me given that the character seems pretty happy having been murdered as a child. Jackson, you are Lord of the leering.

The Fountain
The Fountain(2006)
½

And I thought Requiem was depressing! Sumptuous imagery and gorgeous visuals unfortunately do not overcome a chaotic and confusing "plot". The movie deals with big themes of life, death, loss, religion, science and more but just not in a cohesive way. An extravagantly opulent mess.

The Orphanage
½

Actually wanted this movie to be more scary. Decent little horror and have the DVD if anyone wants to borrow it. Kinda forgettable in a way hence this rubbish review. :D

Predators
Predators(2010)

"Come on... Come on! Do it! Do it! Come on. Come on! Kill me! I'm here! Kill me! I'm here! Kill me! Come on! Kill me! I'm here! Come on! Do it now! Kill me!"

Kind of how I felt after the first 30 mins but it gets better with a War of the Worlds-style appearance from Morpheus which breaks up some of the action cliches that riddle this 80s-influenced actionner. Plus, Predators? There are about 4 in it.

The Illusionist
½

Giamatti is really good but has the feel of a Tesco Value Prestige.

Alice in Wonderland

Another Burton remake. Another Depp folly. Another atrocious film. Get a blonde haired female friend to stand in front of the TV whilst watching Shrek and that's this film - a human in a (frankly bad) CGI fantasy land. It's a sad day when I preffered the opening and ending period drama sections in comparison to the "exciting" middle. Alice in Dunderand.

Drag Me to Hell
½

Disappointing. Kind of everything and nothing.

The Book of Eli
½

If only he was carrying anything other than the most obvious book in the whole world then I would have liked this a lot more. Well filmed and great colour on the shots and the sound editing is great which comes into its own at the twist. Oldman hams in his baddie and worth a second watch - but maybe not a third.

Daybreakers
Daybreakers(2010)
½

A vampire film? There are hardly any of those recently! Of course, I jest, but this film is probably my fave since Blade 1 with a neat twist where the vampires's populationâ??s blood supply harvest is depleting and a wary vamp in the form of Ethan Hawke looking for alternative solutions. Good to see Sam Oâ??Neill back in the fray and some class set pieces make a lowbrow guilty pleasure.

Edge of Darkness
½

Gibbo is back and giving some Payback-style vengeance to an evil corporation that his daughter was involved in. Much like State of Play, this conspiracy-cum-thriller-mystery is worth persevering with but the first 30 minutes is excruciatingly slow-paced and director Campbell films without flair or style to tell this one man out-for-justice story. Winstone is the daddy though.

The Wolfman
The Wolfman(2010)
½

Paint Del Toroâ??s nose black and heâ??s spent twelve hours in make-up. A solid if uninspirational horror-thriller with hammy Hopkins and Mr. Smith from the Matrix tracking down the hairy actor. The ending is like Scott Howard and his dad fighting in Teen Wolf. For all its gothic posturing, a little slow to get going and only one scene (the transformation at the psyche ward) really exciting.

Triangle
Triangle(2009)

Ghost Ship crossed with Groundhog Day. Slightly better than that sounds actually

Pandorum
Pandorum(2009)

Havenâ??t seen a film this dark since a bad VHS copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Dark = scary. Too dark = wtf is going on???? Sadly this is very much the latter.

Sherlock Holmes
½

Sherlock Homo-erotic.

Or...Young Sherlock Holmes Part 2

Robin Hood
Robin Hood(2010)

Kind of a prequel to the Robin Hood legend. Everyone and everything is okay - just all a bit dull. Makes you (slightly) nostalgic for the Costner version which did it all with a lot more fun.

Capitalism: A Love Story

Michael Moore beating the same drum again - it's an important, large and socially relevant drum but one we've all heard before. Time to invest in some more riskier film stock, Mr. Moore.

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Humourous and quirky tale - especially when when McGregor asks "What's a Jedi?" - of supposed true story of America's psyche-warfare programme. Bridges plays a Lebowski-style 60s hippie whilst McGregor STILL cannot get an American accent right. Funny in places (Coens-style) but Spacey is well under-utilised although Clooney is goaty good.

The Box
The Box(2009)
½

What starts as an interesting mystery thriller descends into more floaty water, Donnie-Darko, multi-verse territory from Mars. Director Richard Kelly is again thinking outside the box but another Southland Tales-style mess occurs. Poor.

Cocoon
Cocoon(1985)

Unlike the characters in this film, this movie has aged really badly.

Jumper
Jumper(2008)
½

Surprisingly good film which disregards backstory for a simple tale of good versus evil. Hayden Christensen shows a broader range than Darth and Jamie Bell was great as a moody sidekick. Entertaining if you want something a bit simple with great effects.

Harry Brown
Harry Brown(2010)

Tesco Value Gran Torino.

Adventureland

The guy from Zombieland, now in Adventureland. Once he does the Industrialland and Aztecland we'll see him in the Crystal Maze. This film, kind of what I imagine Twilight to be like without the vampires. However, there were times when I thought Woody Harrelson would have improved this film along with a pack of the undead. Solid coming-of-age melodrama but nothing much REALLY happens.

2012
2012(2009)
½

Unintentionally hilarious. Not once is there a sense of peril and how many last-second excapes can a limo driver have?!! Good special effects but that's not good enough for a 2 1/2 hour summer blockbuster.

2.012 out of 5 stars

Zombieland
Zombieland(2009)
½

Real good film although Bill Murray didn't talk to Woody's character about Kingpin! :D

Up
Up(2009)
½

Probably the most poignant of Pixar's output and "UP" to their usually high standard as always. Not as deep as Wall*E or as entertaining as The Incredibles but average Pixar is better than 75% of any other films anyways. Sad at times and thenonly real drawback is lack of a memorably good villain. A story to make your spirits soar! :D

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Gilliam agains fails to tell a cohesive story but the film is a sumptious theatre of weird fantasy worlds and eccentric characters. The film was more a curious piece owing to Ledger's death with the Depp-Law-Farrell troupe a side-show to what could have been. Visually interesting but narratively a bit of a mess. Like Gilliam - you'll love this.

Paranormal Activity
½

One of the best "found footage" films and certainly the best American horror film I've seen in a long while. The low budget and naturalistic acting are complimentary to the story and retro horror techniques of static camera and long periods of eeriness make it better than the crazy editing and shaky-cam of your Blair Witches etc.

Withnail and I

Ages well like the finest wines known to humanity.

Gamer
Gamer(2009)
½

Made Crank look like a serious look at drug abuse and Gamer's editing is for people with ADHD ONLY. Rip-off of Running Man/Matrix and really quite terrible. Terrible.

[Rec]
[Rec](2007)

The Europeans show that they are the new horror masters (along with Portugal's The Orphanage & Frecnh-based Martyrs) with this great flick with scares coming courtesy of Blair-Witch/Cloverfield-style shaky cam. Hollywood could take a leaf from their Euro-counterparts (and that doesn't mean just re-making them). |>eject.

The Horsemen
The Horsemen(2009)
½

If the film dismissed the four horsemen of conquest, war, famine, and death and renamed them cliché, boredom, nonsense and disappointment it would have been a more accurate movie.

Sin City
Sin City(2005)

When Rodriguez and Tarantino are on fire, they are REALLY on fire. Great atmospherics in this comic-book-come-to-life! We built this Sin City on rock n roll. A modern classic.

Hamlet 2
Hamlet 2(2008)
½

Coogan's accent is way out but a great off-beat indie comedy.

Along Came a Spider
½

Along came quite a dull thriller. Apparently a better book and not even the gravitas of Freeman can raise this above a whole web of average.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

I canâ??t remember the last time Denzel Washington didnâ??t play an out-of-his depth public service official tackling multiple hostage takers (Déjà vu, Man on Fire, Inside Man..the list is endless) OR the last time John Travolta made a half decent film. Tony Scottâ??s direction makes Michael Bay look like Orson Welles so am giving this Taking of Pelham, one, no two stars but not even close to three.

The Hurt Locker
½

Really great war film, a genre Iâ??m not usually a massive fan of. Taking a look at the Iraq conflict from the point of view of bomb disposal experts, Bigelow directs some great hand-held scenes (which arenâ??t Bourne-motioned blurred) and heaps on a set of fully rounded characters too. The only criticism is a lack of anythng truly exciting but as a realistic study of the turmoil of war it ticks all the right boxes. Explosive!

S.W.A.T.
S.W.A.T.(2003)
½

This film is T.W.A.T.

The Invention of Lying

Very similar in tone to Ghost Town with an overweight slobby guy (quelle suprise Gervais) coming good in the end by realising what's good in the world. Kind of riffs on Liar Liar in a way and although there was no concept of lying, the characters don't have a concept of saying nothing either. In the hands of Michel Gondry could have been a lot better but just a solid rom-com.

Dawn of the Dead

Not bad really. Avoids (most) horror cliches and a few scares and (relatively) realistic characters. Acting is abysmal but that's not the point I guess.

Family Guy Presents: Something Something Something Dark Side
½

Too much Stars Wars and not enough Family Guy jokes. Yeah, you've animated the CGI ships perfectly but don't forget the true fans. The law of diminishing returns on this sequel (ironically, much like the Star Wars franchise itself!)

Surrogates
Surrogates(2009)
½

The robot stuff is from i-Robot (including the main actor!), the crime department is from Minority Report and the plugging in is The Matrix. Seen everything before and the only saving grace was a 90 minute run time.

Dorian Gray
Dorian Gray(2009)
½

Somewhere in my attic there's a DVD that's getting better...Also, it's Colin Firth's best film which is no oil painting either.

Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter and Under the Hood
½

Would have loved to see this cartoon edited into the film (like the animated section in kill bill) but it was good to see that Snyder didn't omit it completely from his Watchmen adaptation. More of a companion piece than a standalone but worth a watch if you're interested in the graphic novel.

Avatar
Avatar(2009)

Keeping this one short. It's a really good sci-fi film and the 3D helped immerse te audience into the amazing CGI effects. The story and eco-babble are a bit so-so and it's neither the next-gen of cinema or a collossal disappointment.

Synecdoche, New York

Strange, intriguing and questioning the human existence, Kaufman has made and written a film as complex as Iâ??ve ever seen. However, does this make it any good? Absolutely not. Confusing, difficult and boring to the nth degree, I was wooed by the many 5 star reviews on the cover but save 2 hours of your life and donâ??t listen to the critics who hailed this as a masterpiece â?? itâ??s a downright mess of a film and not half as clever as it thinks it is.

Body of Lies
Body of Lies(2008)
½

Best performance from Leo in a good while as a CIA operative uncovering terrorist factions in the Middle East. Ridley Scott reigns in the directorial flourishes and the film is all the better for it. Crowe is slightly miscast - as I can never see him as the "man behind the desk". A good modern thriller tackling some topical issues with aplomb.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

Great, warm-hearted documentary of a real Spinal Tap. Like documentaries, then you'll like this, like music then you'll love this.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
½

My favourite as a child but not so much now - the worst of the old trilogy especially if you watch the CGI enhanced version - that sing-song in Jabba's palace and the new rubbish end song = terrible beyond belief.

Moon
Moon(2009)
½

Bought this on a whim and was pleasantly surprised to find I got a great depth thought-provoking piece of indie sci-fi with little cgi (reliance on old school model work a massive plus for me) and a great turn from Sam Rockwell who holds the whole thing together playing a lunar-tic!

The Hangover
The Hangover(2009)

Good but 2am kinda good. Was maybe expecting more or was just too drunk to appreciate.

Public Enemies

A real let down as Michael Mann's use of digital video made the film look like it was filmed on a Nokia Mobile Phone. This kind of heightened reality works well for your Cloverfields but seemed amateurish and haphazard in this period crime biopic. Great acting from Depp, Bale, Crudup and co but the technical defects (poor sound and editing too) were a hurdle too far for me to get over.

X-Men Origins - Wolverine
½

Terrible CGI and an overall boring film. Think the X-Men need to have a little rest to get the franchise back on track. What next? X-Men Origins Storm: Fills out her UCAS form for School for gifted mutants? Y-awn men.

Inglourious Basterds

Tarantino disappeared up his own movie-wanking arse a long time ago and this film (like the Kill Bills and Grindhouse) has about 10% classic scenes (the first one and the bar scene) 30% unneccessary talk, 20% homage to other people's movies, 10% comedy, 20% violence and a final 10% of directorial flourish which means like his last 3 movies - it's an interesting film but not always an entertaining one.

Van Helsing
Van Helsing(2004)
½

I wish a real life Van Helsing would stick a stake through this film's heart - as it mashes together bits of other (better) movies like Dr.Frankenstein and ends with a corpse-like mess.

Austin Powers in Goldmember
½

A bit too topical as some of the jokes have fallen flat years later...that said, it had some laughs and throwing mini-me around in a pillow case will ALWAYS be funny! :)

Spider-Man 3
Spider-Man 3(2007)
½

Some great scenes spoilt by an overall mess of a narrative â?? too many baddies (3!) and the same old story of a director getting carried away by his own folly and not respecting the fans. Maguire comes off worst which is a shame given the character development in the far superior second film. Watch it (if you have to) to complete the story but lets hope it gets back on track if (or when) they make the spider swing for a fourth film.

Traitor
Traitor(2008)

Traitor is held together by great support cast lead by Guy Pearce as the FBI man on the case of terrorists across the globe but the stand out is Cheadle as the religious man with a dilemma. No surprises other than that is was co-written by Steve Martin â?? yes, that Steve Martin (!) but this is a solid and watchable thriller that makes some salient points on current political affairs.

Minority Report

The best of Spielberg's early noughties chase movies and not even Tom "You can't catch me gay thoughts" Cruise can ruin this cop whodunnit (who's going to do it I suppose) crime thriller.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

The first and best mockney flick of Ritchie's.

Funny Games
Funny Games(2008)
½

Pretentious poo and the THICKEST family in the history of the movies.

Southland Tales

Epic? Yes. Twisty plot? Yes. Ensemble cast playing against type? Yes. An absurd amateurish surrealist mess with lashing of pretentiousness that makes The Matrix and Donnie Darko look like Dr.Who and The Goonies? Absolutely.

Adaptation
Adaptation(2002)

Adaptation is a clever film of two halves as Cage puts in his best performance in years as struggling scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman trying to find his way around unfilmable novel The Orchid Thief as twin brother Donald (also Cage) writes his own clichéd Hollywood thriller script. I struggled to write this review so am going to let my twin brother â??Ronaldâ?? Sales finish the end of the review by describing it as a â??roller-coaster of a ride that leaves you on the edge of the seatâ??.

Crank 2: High Voltage

For boys only I would say as Crank 2: High Voltage ups the amps from the previous film with an electrifying Jason Statham as Chev Chelios ratcheting up the ludicrous-ness level set by the first film. By the end though, with the fast MTV-style cutting and arty camera effects, the comedy of it all outweighs any action buzz that may jolted you.

The Game
The Game(1997)

Solid but unispiring thriller with an ending I had guessed before putting the DVD in. Fincher's direction is tame compared to his other films but some solid acting just about keeps the ridiculous premise in tact.

Defiance
Defiance(2009)
½

Nothing really new to say about the Holocaust but strong performances from some solid actors make it an interesting take on an actual story from the period. Interesting if ultimately unremarkable.

The 40 Year Old Virgin
½

Great funny film with a good heart at it's centre, hilarious set pieces and a witty and modern script without being too self-referential. Mooj is a star and like it's companion piece Anchorman it's the support cast of improv comedians that tie it all together. Better than a bag of sand!

Angels & Demons

Coming with low expectations I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Obviously not without its flaws, it improves immensely over the previous film (better pacing, acting, script and Hanks' wig) and Howard has wisely chopped out some of the backstory for the 2 hours running time. Not bad.

Hide and Seek

I'm still playing hide and seek with De Niro's career! Where's it gone? This film continues his downward spiral...so poor.

Spider-Man
Spider-Man(2002)

Spiderman 2 is better - the CGI animation on this is terrible but the story just about holds it all together.

I Love You, Man

Lightweight comedy bromance as Rudd plays Rudd - fitting that I should see him playing the same down-on-his-luck-Stiller-esque character on TV in "Friends" AND in "Clueless" right after watching this. Essentially a cross between "Sarah Marshall" and "Role Models". Enjoyable but forgettable.

State of Play

Solid political/journalist thriller with Affleck as the only weak spot as he can't handle the on-screen Oscar winners of Crowe and Mirren.

Surveillance
Surveillance(2009)
½

A ridiculous twist ending spoils an otherwise nasty thriller from Ms. Lynch junior. Disappointing.

Hunger
Hunger(2009)
½

Remarkable but ultimately unmemorable. Praise has been heaped upon this flick but aside from the middle 20 min chat between Sands and a priest, all a bit too preachy even though it positions itself as a even-handed account. When you're on the side of the priest, nuff said. Shit on the walls.

Bronson
Bronson(2009)
½

Can't believe this is Gay Bob from RocknRolla. Tom Hardy is great but its kind of like Chopper although not as good.

Outlander
Outlander(2009)

Outlandish tale as Jim Caviezel crash lands his spaceship in 7th Century Norway and joins Vikings to do battle with an alien space beast. Part Planet of the Apes, part Mad Max, part Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood but all of Alien 3s plot: Sole crash landing survivor reluctantly joins forces with under-weaponised religious society to defeat a monster he inadvertently brought upon them. A few hours of amusement in this geekâ??s wet dream of sci-fi and historical sword fights.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
½

Another great big slice of Elizabethan romping. The Spanish King has got Armada pie all over his face. Good actors and a worthy follow up.

District 9
District 9(2009)
½

One of the most riginal films I have seen in a long time. Exciting mix of handheld cinema verite and action set against an apartheid inspired story of illegal aliens being forcefully segregated whilst one man journeys from bully to sympathetic conspirator. Top 3 of the year so far.

Requiem for a Dream

Awesome film with a very disturbing ending. Great soundtrack too.

In the Loop
In the Loop(2009)
½

Satiric political comedy that is vulgar, on-the-mark, relevant and very funny. Spot on characterisations and only flaw is that it feels more made-for-TV than a "real" movie. Want something with a bit more substance - then this should be your choice. Difficult difficult lemon difficult. :D

Mirrors
Mirrors(2008)
½

A load of cliched SKCOLLOB. A retired cop (yes), ex-alcoholic (yes), lost his family (yes), takes up night security (you still there?) and finds a buried psycho-ward under a burnt out mirrored department store - you couldn't make it up... but they have...and badly.

The 6th Day
The 6th Day(2000)

A fun stupid thrill ride of a film. "I might be back" - Not even Arnie is sure why it got made but makes the most of the two hours of chases, pseudo-science and playing himself TWICE!

The Godfather
½

"Mumble, mumble, mumble...day of my daughter's wedding."

With a script like that how could it not be 4 and 1/2 stars?

12 Angry Men (Twelve Angry Men)
½

12 Reasons this film is great -

Martin Balsam
John Fiedler
Lee J. Cobb
E.G. Marshall
Jack Klugman
Ed Binns
Jack Warden
Henry Fonda
Joseph Sweeney
Ed Begley
George Voskovec
Robert Webber

W.
W.(2008)

Not quite the movie the trailer made it out to be but an interesting character study on the biggest idiot out there. W is well worth a watch.

Knowing
Knowing(2009)
½

SPOILER - you KNOW every twist and turn of this cliched ridden nonsense and you KNOW that Cage phones in another performance (I KNOW he hasn't made anything watchable in years) and you KNOW that despite some (quite shoddy) CGI, it jumps from one slow scene to the next. You KNOW you've seen this film a million times before and if you have seen Close Encounters, Indy 4 or Signs then I KNOW you will be disappointed. Knowingly shit (especially the end).

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
½

Not in the bad sequels arena like Matrix Revolutions or Pirate 3 but with a complete lack of respect for what went before, Bay ignores the subtle humour and likeable characters of the first film and replaces them with lots of swearing, Jar Jar Binks-esque hip hop references and so many robot fights that you, well, frankly, just dont care any more. Combined with a 2½ hour running time and pirate and gremlin-like robots (why?) I just cant see what they were trying to do. All of this transforms the movie into the biggest disappointment in a long time.

Watchmen
Watchmen(2009)
½

Havent read the book but with a cast of relative unknowns, they help make this cerebral and adult film very watchable. The ending was the weakest part but that is s a flaw of the graphic novel rather than the film and like 300, Snyder takes the panels of the comic and brings them to life using well-rendered CGI and great city sets.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth(1998)
½

Not something I would regularly watch but great period detail and superb actors like Blanchett, Ecclestone and the ever-watchable Geoffrey Rush make this an interesting take on our first Lizzy. And Eric Cantona is in it!

The Deer Hunter
½

Aged well like a fine wine. Up there with the best Vietnam films showing the before and aftermath as well as the jungle action.

Gran Torino
Gran Torino(2009)

Clint plays an old racist calling every Asian he sees "eggroll" or "Jackie Chan" is a weird concept but as these things go he rightly learns to love his neighbours after they both get to know each other more after the death of his wife and with the street being terrorised by a gang of thugs. Although most audiences will know the drill (old Clint with big gun and taking justice upon himself) it's done with style, flair and heart. Grand.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

My second attempt at getting into Potter movie stopped around the hour mark. After falling asleep at the Odeon to Philosopher's Stone (a first for me) I was "encouraged" to watch this as it was "darker". After an hour of the movie the person watching it with me switched it off saying, "you obviously don't like this so why bother". She was right. Terrible acting, story, CGI and direction. Still the most overrated series on the block.

Push
Push(2009)

I feel terrible for the friend who I watched this with as it was my choice. Awfully made and acted film about nonsense AND making no sense.

Equilibrium
Equilibrium(2002)

Good sci-fi with shitty villain but the protagonist is played well by the ever-watchable Christian Bale. Kind of like a modern 1984, Logan's Run and Fahrenheit 451 combined.

Arlington Road

My memories of this film are different to my recent watching of it. I think knowing the twist ending spoils it a lot as coincidence after coincidence piles up and the subtle performances you thought you saw the first time are more like huge knowing winks and pantomime villains. A cynical post 9/11 review possibly but this film about suburban terrorists just hasnt aged that well. 4 stars for the first time you watch and less the second time.

Paths of Glory
½

Great anti-war film from our Stan.

Reign of Fire
½

Surprised I had never actually seen this film until 2009 and even more surprised that it was pretty good. McConaugheyâ??s best film by miles (heâ??s not playing blonde surfer dude with love problems) as he and a pre-Batman/John Connor Bale tackle monstrous dragons in a post-apocalyptic London/UK. It doesnâ??t drag-on. (Worst. Pun. Ever).

Terminator 3 - Rise of the Machines

Wankinator 3: Rise of a load of old cock.

Smells like Sarah Connor's rotting and turning corpse. Avoid.

Wag the Dog
Wag the Dog(1997)
½

Great performances, especially by Hoffman, in this tense and amusing political satire on the nature of government and entertainment. Solid support from Leary, Heche, H. Macy, Dunst and Harrelson flesh out the other characters. Not instantly re-watchable but a clever fusion of brains and wit.

Terminator Salvation
½

Better than 3 (probably), makes chronological sense in the Terminator canon, some impressive SFX scenes and decent turn by most of the cast. Despite that, it's all a bit ...well...meh. Doesn't "save" the franchise nor does it ruin it. The Averaginator.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

A funny return to form for Kevin Smith and his most enjoyable film since Dogma I reckon. Funny and dirty in equal measure.

Martyrs
Martyrs(2008)
½

A bit like Cronenbergs Crash in that it's nasty but this goes beyond shock and into the damnright depressing, brutal and pretty sick. Original and not for the feint-hearted by nothing more than a one-watch-wonder. Yuk is the word

Role Models
Role Models(2008)

Stifler, Brian Fantana, McLovin, a sweary little black kid and Miri (from Zack and Miri) combine in a comedic tour de force. Not highbrow but funny is as funny does.

The Spirit
The Spirit(2008)
½

So, so, so poor. Terrible acting and when my DVD player decided not to play the disc I knew it hated it as much as me! Avoid like the plague.

Eastern Promises
½

Too much Aragorn and his ring of power in the shower but good adult film-making dealing with serious issues and interesting relationships. Viggy plays to perfection an Eastern European chauffeur/hardman with a consience. Great entertainment for those who like a little brain with their *ahem* balls.

Eagle Eye
Eagle Eye(2008)

Cross between Enemy of the State and I, Robot I suppose both of which are better films. If you like those, watch this, if you don't then avoid this bog-standard thriller with a few choice set-pieces.

Yes Man
Yes Man(2008)

By the book Jim Carrey comedy with a shade of Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty with underachieving everyman giving the ability to change his life and get a girl. Solid but don't expect miracles, affirmative?

Valkyrie
Valkyrie(2008)
½

Average of 4 stars??! Pfft! A great piece of history spoiled by a complete miscasting. Famous Germans playing the Nazi's like Terence Stamp, Kenneth Brannagh and Tom Cruise. Not a war movie but more of a why movie? Why do all the Germans have British accents? Why does Tom Cruise just not bother and keep his American accent? Why, oh why, is Eddie Izzard even involved? And just when you thought it couldn't get worse, you notice that during the planning 4 of the actors appeared together in the Pirates of the Carribean movie (Nighty, McNally, Hollander and the other guy who sneaks around with the scar on his lip). A waste.

Jackie Brown
Jackie Brown(1997)

Kind of mild Tarantino working to an excellent Elmore Leonard novel. Definitely not his best but I enjoyed it more than the homages of the Kill Bills/Grindhouse QT of late.

RocknRolla
RocknRolla(2008)
½

"And then, after marrying Madonna, I made another mockney gangster film...which was nice". Well and truly Ronseal.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
½

A bit long, a bit dreary, a bit "Forest Gump meets Big Fish", a bit cliched but also a bit good as well. Well acted, seamless CGI and I suppose my only concern is my own lack of interest in movies like these as a whole. If you like the above you'll love this.

Vantage Point
½

Like watching the same film over and over again in 20 minute chunks? You'll like this then whilst the rest of us decide that it's got boring long before the end. Poor.

Frost/Nixon
Frost/Nixon(2008)

Hello, good evening and wel....Kind of a slow potboiler mix of Catch Me if you Can an Good Night and Good Luck. Great performances all around, a bit of dramatisation of the truth and well paced make this a fantastic bio pic from "Ritchie" Howard.

Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?
½

Entertaining and educating. Not as fun as Super Size Me but a fun tale of one's man search for tolerance from all sides.

Transformers
Transformers(2007)

Blockbuster of the summer without a doubt. The only flaw - probably 20-30 minutes too long as with most of the summer releases. But there's plenty for your eyes (or more than meets them!)

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)

Wanted to not like but god damn, a very very good blockbuster. Hits all the right Enterprise buttons for casual fans and purists alike. The rest of the Summer films have a lot to live up to with this. SPOCK-NOTCH!

Disturbia
Disturbia(2007)

Average thriller with average cast but there are worse films out there. Disturbia repackages Rear Window and I waited and waited for a twist that never came.

Fargo
Fargo(1996)
½

One of the better Coen films in my opinion with the usual idiosyncracies of strange but intriguing characters, interesting locations and plenty of murder and mayhem.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day My Brain Stood Still. Plenty to criticise with this tosh of a film but I will save my anger towards one of the WORST (it's atrocious) CGI "characters" in GORT as it bounces across the screen like a fucking cartoon...a fucking cartoon no less!!! It makes CGI in TV shows like Stargate/Hercules look like Lord of the Rings. Actually, watch it for how awful this character is rendered alone. Terrible.

Ghost Town
Ghost Town(2008)
½

Solid Rom Com in the Ghost/What Women Want formula made all the more bearable (if you like him) by Gervais' disgust of the world and people around him. Very poignant ending and nice warm feel to the whole thing. A good "date" movie.

Family Guy Presents Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story

This came out in the UK before the episodes were aired so works nicely as one long story and as ever is classic Fam Guy.

Chinatown
Chinatown(1974)

Awesome detective noir with a showtime performance from Nicholson as Gittes and a fine support cast to back him up. Great screenplay and delivered with aplomb by the actors with fine direction by Polanski.

Monsters vs. Aliens
½

Solid movie but great in 3D.

Pride and Glory
½

A bog standard police thriller with a criminally under-used Ed Norton and horrible direction and story lines that are all over the place. A disapointment.

X2: X-Men United
½

Nothing really happens in this and I would go as far as saying apart from the Nightcrawler/President's Office bit, the third one is actually better. Bit of a lame sequel.

RoboCop 3
RoboCop 3(1993)

Terrible - turned off after 20 minutes.

Carlito's Way
½

Kind of average gangster done before by DePalma and Pacino in latin-gangster Scarface. Worth a watch and Sean Penn is pretty good in this too.

Taken
Taken(2009)
½

A trashy b-movie of a film made to be a European art house thriller but just so much damn fun and a kill count close to Hot Shots! Part Deux. Nonsense...but very good nonsense and Neeson brings a bit of gravitas to a role that could have been a Seagal-style throwaway in the wrong hands.

Gangs of New York
½

Daniel Day Lewis + moustache = Oscar interest. Solid but not spectacular film but amazing set design and construction in an age where CGI would have been easier to do evokes a great feel for the period.

THX 1138
THX 1138(1971)
½

Very very strange and although very experimental, actually a little dull to watch. Amazing to think Lucas could make this then the great American Graffitti and Star Wars and then Jabba his fat way through CGI-fests from 1977 onwards. He should try something a little riskier like this again.

The Godfather, Part III
½

Watched in context it isn't too bad as I watched all 3 films in a week and a half but Sofia Coppola deserves a horses head for her "acting". Too much "acting".

The Butterfly Effect

Directors version is only version I saw and seemed better than the reviews I had heard. Interesting concept and Kutcher is bad but not THAT bad. I did laugh at a few scenes unintentionally as the writers must have thought - "what are the ten worst things to happen to kids and how can we fit them all into the first ten minutes of the film?" Ridiculous but not offensive.

U.S. Marshals
½

After recently watching The Fugitive, this then came on Channel 5 (sums up quality of the movie really). A "forced" kind of sequel-tie in when it wasn't needed and definitely the underachieving brother to the fugitive's older and star quarterback sibling.

The Mist
The Mist(2007)

I can see this film dividing people right down the centre. On it's minuses is the usual "scary monsters" and some cliches along with most of the film set in a supermarket but the characters are fully rounded, developed, change their minds, have great dialogue, pacing is awesome, it's funny without being B-movie and scary without resorting to "jumps". You hate some characters and love others and Darabont and Stephen King have done a great job coming up with an ending that's not typically Hollywood. Highly recommended.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Hellboy 2)
½

Disappointing. Seemed to go for "funny" like Superman 3 and aside from the costumes, make-up and set design the whole thing was only a little more fun than a fart in a space suit - which one of the characters was. For fans only.

The Sentinel
The Sentinel(2006)
½

Predicatable and standard conspiracy thriller. Everyone plays to type and the script is poor but technically very astute. Worth a watch if you can pick it up for £3 like I did.

The Fugitive
The Fugitive(1993)

Aged pretty well (music aside) cos unlike Bond and most modern chase movies he's not talking/texting into a mobile for half the movie. Good stunts, effects, story and acting make this a solid thriller from the early 90s

Speed
Speed(1994)

A guilty pleasure if there ever was one.

Big Daddy
Big Daddy(1999)

One of his better films - although that's not saying much.

Almost Famous

I keep forgetting how good this movie is. Rock stereotypes without being cliched, sentimental without being soppy and funny without being a comedy movie. Cameron Crowe and his ensemble cast hit all the right notes in this great music/coming-of-age tale. Second only to "Tap" in the movie/rock band genre.

Say Anything...

Bit of a strange one this as I thought he (Lloyd) would struggle to get the girl but pretty much gets her straight away. And Joan Cusack is in another John Cusack film! Well written by Cameron Crowe but a little too sickly sweet for a jaded ol' hack like me.

Gladiator
Gladiator(2000)
½

To those about to watch this film, I salute you. A Ceasar's "Thumbs up".

A History of Violence

Not as a good as the grpahic novel, too short AND Ed Harris playing Ed Harris (i.e. see National Treasure 2, The Rock, A Beautiful Mind) BUT still a really good film and a more accessible Cronenberg is GOOD Cronenberg. A must-see.

GoldenEye
GoldenEye(1995)
½

Hasn't aged THAT well but definitely one of the better Bonds. Seriously, watch the later Brosnan ones or the Moore era and you actually have a very low success rate for this franchise. However, I still like Bond and go with the "Golds" (finger and gun) to see the best of the other actors.

The Matrix Revolutions
½

Preferred the second movie in honesty and watching it again recently, I just have to ask, what the fuck happened again? Can't be bothered to watch 2 or 3 again in their entirity so I'll just guess. The law of diminishing returns on trilogies in full effect again right here. Disappointing.

Jurassic Park

Impressive CGI (even today) and although it takes some liberties with Crichton's superior novel, Stevie Spileberg shows us why he's the master of the family orientated sci-fi summer blockbuster. A nice mix of sentimentality crossed with the sheer spectacle and eventual horror on the island. Just ignore the sequels really.

The Crow
The Crow(1994)
½

So overrated that it's one of the few films in my collection I have watched just once. Terrible effects and script that haven't aged well at all. Am going against my friends on this one but it's pretty much tosh from start to finish. The "metal" soundtrack and brooding pout of the lead does not make this a serious or even good film. At least I know where Ledger got his Joker from though; ironic really.

Munich
Munich(2005)

Very good and touching film about a terrible terrorist event from the Munich Olympic Games. Bana turns in a great performance alongside Daniel Criag and Geoffrey Rush amongst others and Spielberg takes an objective view of not demonising either side too much. A serious delight.

The Killing of John Lennon
½

Very realistic documentary-style independent film about the grisly slaying of one of the world's greatest pop/rock stars. Not to everyone's taste but as a fan of Lennon, his life and his music, an intriguing look as to why the man did what he did using the real locations Chapman visited. Not pretty but neither was the incident it's based on.

Groundhog Day
½

Great comedy movie with many different subtle levels of humour and an intelligent theme of redemption and making the world at a better place for it. Wouldn't mind re-living this film again.

Fallen
Fallen(1997)

Solid supernatural thriller with some neat touches but nothing spectacular.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Never going to be groundbreaking but if you like your rom-coms with a bit of an edge (a stupid amount of male and female nudity) then this will suit you. Some new concepts on a tried-and-tested formula and Russel Brand just plays himself really. A guilty laugh-out pleasure.

The Matrix
The Matrix(1999)
½

There's a handful of movies at best that in the last few years have really blown my bollocks off at the cinema which still dazzles and excites after so many summer blockbusters. This however, is definitely one of them. Blowing Phantom Menance out of the water during the same Summer it takes a lot to beat the first Star Wars in 22 years but this did it. Cynics will have their points but show me a better sci-fi movie since that covers the bases of plot, adult themese and killer special effects to the same degree and I'll eat my blue pill!

Red Dragon
Red Dragon(2002)

I wrote a great review here but now it's gone. Er, good film and liked it better than Manhunter.

Quantum of Solace

A good film. A good Bond film. A great anything? Defintely not. Some "classic" Bond moments but the adage stilll applies...watch Bond films with "Gold" in the title and you cannot go wrong - fact!

Bubba Ho-Tep
Bubba Ho-Tep(2003)

An interesting idea just poorly executed. I know it's a B-Movie but expected a little bit more really given the premise.

Mr. Woodcock
Mr. Woodcock(2007)
½

Not as bad as it could have been. A Friday night no-brainer.

Kind Hearts and Coronets
½

Not the classic i was led to believe but a standout performance from Sir Alec-wan Kenobiness makes this a watchable Ealing comedy.

V for Vendetta

Good concept but terribly filmed. Felt like I was watching a soap opera at times as the prodcution design of the office interiors were truly awful. Some good themes and Hugo Weaving does more with a mask than most of the other particpants. A flawed adaptation.

The Contract
The Contract(2006)
½

With two acting stars like Cusack and Freeman this should have been great but was in fact very very poor. I hope I wasn't the only one who watched this and thought "C'mon scriptwriters, kill off Cusack and the boy and let's see Freeman and his team do some deadly assassin stuff". Not recommended.

Be Kind Rewind
½

A good but not great Gondry film. His visuals are a treat and the film is deeper than the trailer gave it credit for with themes of artistic creation and community cohesion amid the usuall Jack Black foolishness. Worth a curiosity watch if nothing else.

Gone Baby Gone
½

Solid serious subject matter and intelligent film making from the Afflecks. A pleasant surprise and watch if you want something heavyweight for your head and heart.

The Shawshank Redemption

We now return to Morgan Freeman starring in "The Narrator."
Morgan Freeman: "Ever since I was a little boy, people have enjoyed the sound of my voice. And I figured you either get busy talkin or you get busy dyin'. The work is really quite easy. Why even right now I'm just sitting in a chair, sipping some tea and reading from a script. The wall is covered in something that resembles egg crates except they're soft and spongy, like a twinkie...like a twinkie."

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Jack Nicholson's finest performance? You betcha so that's 4 1/2 stars right there. The support cast, Nurse Ratched and great directing (simple yet perfect) make this a 5-star film no question. Oh and a great ending: Fly away Chief!

Batman
Batman(1989)

Using my Bat-keyboard I'm going to say keep this short. "Holy-reviews Batman, this is the best Batman film - period." No argument.

The Sixth Sense

Still think this is one of the most underrated horrors of all time. A slow build up combined with some genuine eerie scares - I'd recommend re-watching alone at midnight for the mood to be correct and Joel-Osment turns in a great performance as the kid who can see dead people. Shyamalan's first won't be bettered I fear.

The Prestige
The Prestige(2006)
½

Director and actors and actresses at the top of their game. A wistful, magic trick that pulls the wool over your eyes. You may se the prestige coming a mile off but what a twisty journey to get there. Great showmanship and a very watchable and stylish period thriller.

Seven (Se7en)

First saw this over 10 years ago and still has the power and energy to shock to this day. Pitt is watchable but Freeman knocks your socks off and Spacey's turn as the killer fills the screen with fear. Fincher's direction is flawless and leaves you with a feeling of "Did I just watch that?" A must-see.

Signs
Signs(2002)

Not quite as bad as I remembered it and something a bit deeper than War of the Worlds. Shyamalan always makes interesting films, whether they are any good is another matter...

The Big Lebowski
½

Great characters in this unique twist on the 1930s detective story with dames and stolen identities. Plus it's funny as hell. Go and watch The Dude.

Dreamcatcher
Dreamcatcher(2003)
½

How this got made is beyond me?! Great character actors in an absolutely abysmal film. Why was Morgan Freeman even associated to this dross? Poor poor poor. Dream? More like a frickin' nightmare. Avoid. You have been warned.

Kill Bill: Volume 1
½

Kill Bill? Kill anyone who recommends this self indulgent tosh more like. More pastiche/copying/comedy/parody from Tarantino - silly billy! Between the two films is one pretty good film aching for huge cuts.

Speed Racer
Speed Racer(2008)
½

Epileptic visual eye rape.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High
½

Caught it on the hop, seemed good!

Never Back Down

Cliched High School nonsense and what two-time Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou is doing in this is anyone's guess??! Plague avoidance.

Tropic Thunder
½

Not quite the funniest comedy of all time the hype would have you believe and a better "movie" than a "comedy movie" if that makes sense. Downer Jr. is great, Jack Black is kinda wasted (in both senses of the word) and Tom Cruise is a revelation! Probably best comedy of the year still.

Hancock
Hancock(2008)

The trailer only shows half the movie - the good half. After a "twist" you can see coming a mile away the superhero satire turns into some poor City of Angels style tear jerker. My advice, Leave after the big superhero clash! The first half is HAN(DSOME) whilst the rest is just COCK!

The Faculty
The Faculty(1998)

A guilty pleasure. Nuff said.

Wanted
Wanted(2008)
½

A predicting-the-future loom?! Yes, this film is as ridiculous as that but great action scenes in this Fight Club-The Matrix-The Office mix of brains and bullets.

WALL-E
WALL-E(2008)
½

Pixar at their best (again). Animation flawless and amazing storytelling about Earth's Johnny 5/R2D2 style clean-up bot. Top 3 of 2008 for sure - go and see it.

Broken Arrow
Broken Arrow(1996)
½

Steven Seagal film dressed up as something more. Travolta does a dry run for his superior performance in Woo's Face/Off and is the best thing about this should have been straight-to-video mess.

The Incredible Hulk

Solid comic book fare and much better than the first incarnation. A bit stale at the end with another CGI fest of two monsters fighting in a city (Iron Man, Transformers, Fantastic Four etc). The ending hints on something great in the pipeline though.

United 93
United 93(2006)

Great film and very moving. Take a watch for a realistic and sensibly dramatised version of the events of 9-11.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Missed the first half but the second half was so bad it needs to be like Citizen Kane to get it's score up. Poor sequel.

Snakes on a Plane

Snakes. Plane. Motherfucker. Average.

Semi-Pro
Semi-Pro(2008)

Poor film. Will Ferrell is a great comic talent but this film does no justice for him or anyone else in it for that matter. Poor script, bad story and not really funny - just a lot of extended "improv" scenes. Avoid if at all possible.

National Treasure

Not sure why but really liked this film and is more like a fourth Indiana Jones than the latest release. Simple and fun. Rent it and enjoy.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets
½

Not as good as the first one but more ludicrous disney nonsense that is as inoffensive as it is Oscar worthy! A treasurely treat.

3:10 to Yuma
3:10 to Yuma(2007)
½

Not being a massive western fan I wasn't too sure about this but this is the best example of the genre since Unforgiven. Two great actors kept up my interest about redemption and the lore of the old west.

Rush Hour 3
Rush Hour 3(2007)

Stealing my mate's review policy. This film is the third best rush hour film ever!!!!

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (AVP 2)

Expectation versus. disappointment.

The winner in this movie is everyone who wasn't in it!

Poor

Cloverfield
Cloverfield(2008)

Old fashoined monster movie in the style of Godzilla. A unique idea but not brilliantly executed as the acting is poor, characterisation is lacking and you always want to see what the camera isn't pointing at. Short and sweet and leaves a lot of unanswered questions but worth a watch as it's only 75 minutes long! Second viewing = better. Appreciated mit much more so getting an extra star.

No Country for Old Men

Very overrated. Very Coens. No good film for old Mike.

Juno
Juno(2007)
½

Surprisingly good teen drama-comedy with some good performances and a witty but ultimately too knowing for it's own good script. Definitely a surprise and a pleasant one at that.

St. Trinian's

Wasn't my choice but one for the kids or pervs who like school girls or men dressing up as women!

Sicko
Sicko(2007)

Great documentary and very atypical Michael Moore as he turns his spotlight to another seedy corporation - this time those that provide/deny Healthcare in the USA. Shot with typical one-sidedness (as per his past films) it nonetheless highlights some huge inequalities in the system and one segment set in Britain made me proud of the NHS for the first time in my life. Like him or loathe him, Moore makes great documentaries on big issues so watch and learn from it.

Shoot 'Em Up
Shoot 'Em Up(2007)
½

In the same vein as Jason Statham's Crank, this film tries to hit the same notes but plays them badly. After his good turns in Sin City and Closer, Owen plays a cartoon version of the character in the aforementioned Rodriguez film - which is saying something! A few laughs, plenty of shoot outs but a ludicrous film not funny enough to cover the huge chunks of brain you won't be using whilst watching it.

Control
Control(2007)

Solid cast and well filmed and with an obvious different tone to 24 Hour Party People, it still felt that they had got there in second place covering much of the same story arc. Bleak picture of the stresses of the fame game and some great music from JD and an evocative soundtrack. Worth a watch, especially for fans of the band.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
½

Oh dear, oh dear. Why has Georgie Porgie been let loose to spoil yet another one of his franchise classics. Like the previous Star Wars prequels, the nostalgia rating wears thin quickly and Atom Bomb and ending temple sequences are simply ridiculous. A few decent bike/car chases and the first warehouse action were great. Harrison is great (considering what he has to work with) and the only person who comes out with dignity is Sean Connery who wisely appears as a still photo! Avoid.

American Gangster
½

Solid crime flick with two titans who surprisingly hardly meet in the movie. Don't let that put you off as the powerhouse performances are top notch although Denzel is starting to play the same character in every film (see Training Day, Man on Fire etc). Restrained directing from Scott too.

I Am Legend
I Am Legend(2007)
½

Huge disappointment with a few scary-ish scenes with lots of nothing happening for vast stretches. Thinking about it, it's kinda difficult to make a visual film with one guy and no-one else and even his dog looks pretty bored.

Platoon
Platoon(1986)
½

Charlie Sheen being tempted with good and bad sides directed by Oliver Stone - is this Wall Street? - no but it's bloody gud and a cinematic indictment of the Vietnam war from the master political director.

Iron Man
Iron Man(2008)

Best comic book adaptation since Batman Begins and a great tongue-in-iron turn from Downey Jnr. A rock hard gem!

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Finally got around to seeing it and it's flaws lie not in the casting, direction or set design - typically classic Burton/Depp - but the godawful songs! Am no musical fan by any means so it was going to be a struggle but it's miles away from being watchable. Sacha Bron Cohen's cameo was a highlight but the less said about "Joanna" the better. A disappointment.

21
21(2008)

Watchable, likeable but like the next card in a deck, instantly forgettable. Spacey phones in his performance and the pretty teens are a mish mash of US college stereotypes. Saying that, pretty enetertaining way to make a film about cards and a cheesy ending makes it Friday night cinema fare only.

The Warriors
The Warriors(1979)
½

An underground urban epic with a soundtrack evoking the cool streets of late 70s New York. Hilarious in places, the right amount of action and the best costume and wardrobe in film history - ha ha. An underrated classic.

Warriors....come ..out to pl-ay!!!

Planet Terror (Grindhouse Presents: Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror)
½

It's obvious that RR is not as good a director or as innovative as QT but he's making much more entertaining movies than his friend and this along with Sin City shows him at his finest. Pure trash film making at it's best and only reservation is it won't withstand repeat viewings in my opinion. A terrifying and gory 3 1/2 stars!

Superbad
Superbad(2007)

Better than Knocked Up which is another film from the same camp. Superb performances by the young actors and harks back to the "cool" youth movies of 1980s teen supremo John Hughes. Not high brow, but again, it's not meant to be and has a soft heart at it's centre. Plus some knob gags! :D

The Bourne Ultimatum
½

Better than the first film and miles better than the second film - which I would love to have wiped from my mermory like Bourne. Still has too much camera movement - you're trying to be realistic but we get it! Great action and some good performances to end the series on a high though.

Donnie Brasco

Great acting and a great story. Not terribly clever editing or directing but the two leads hold their own against each other and the story itself is intriguing enough not to need any fanciful flourishes.