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By midlandsmovies, Jan 18 2019 01:54PM



Midlands Review - Please Forgive Me


Directed by Marcus Marino Gould 2019.


Please Forgive Me is a short horror film written & directed by Marcus Marino Gould. It’s produced by Clockwork Paragon, a team of media students in Chesterfield with a few short films and a web series already under their belt.


The film concerns a father and daughter suffering the aftermath of a tragic incident. Amy (Justine Moore) blames herself, while Peter (Leon Chrimes) struggles to help her manage her mental health but has problems of his own as he may well be losing his grip on reality…


It’s a creepy little film, one that slips under your skin before you know it. The soundtrack is effectively eerie, ramping up the tension as Peter notices something’s wrong outside. It builds up to a great climax, with unearthly whispering and muttering that really sets the viewer on edge.


The build up to the climactic vision is good too, as father and daughter clash over a disturbing picture she seems unable to stop drawing. Moore is excellent as Amy, playing her with angry defiance and an edge of vulnerability, really selling how torn up with guilt the character is. The energy in the scene is a great counterpoint to the slow build-up of creepiness that follows.


The filming itself is very technically competent and well-shot, with a good eye for the right angle at the right time so it doesn’t feel static during the argument. Some of the shots could benefit from being allowed a little more time to linger, though, and there’s a curious flatness to some of the early shots, but overall it’s very pleasing on the eye.


I’ve struggled not to spoil the events of the film in this review, because the film does suffer from having a very slim story. To be blunt, it feels incomplete. We get a great sense of what the family’s world is now, and some good hints at the trauma that caused it, but just when the plot begins to move the film ends. We’re left with too many questions unanswered, and certainly wanting more. This is a rare occasion where I would advocate that short be longer rather than shorter! It works very well as a teaser to a web series or a proof-of-concept for a longer project, but ultimately it needs more to be a satisfying story.


Which is not to say it’s a bad film! Clocking in at around 4 and half minutes long, this is definitely worth a watch if you want to be creeped out and left with a lasting sense of unease. Clockwork Paragon are a very talented bunch, and though this film has a few problems it’s still evidence that they know their stuff well. They’re going to go far!


Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend



By midlandsmovies, Jan 17 2019 09:02PM



The Favourite (2019) Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos


Olivia Colman stars as Queen Anne in this bawdy black comedy-drama that sees the eccentric and frail head of state avoid her kingdom’s woes as she gets caught up in a tit-for-tat but serious squabble between her confidante Sarah and Sarah’s poorer cousin Abigail.


La La Land’s Emma Stone plays Abigail Hill, a fallen woman who arrives caked in mud and is soon to set to work as a maid amongst the luxurious palace rooms. Despite undertaking menial labour she has her sights set on bigger things and begins a surreptitious plan to move up society’s ladder by usurping Sarah (Rachel Weisz) in the Queen’s affections.


Abigail begins by assisting the Queen with her ailments before planting more sinister seeds to curry favour with the throne. Once it is revealed that Sarah is in fact involved in a lesbian affair with the monarch, Abigail discovers another way into the Queen’s good books – via her bed.


Lanthimos shoots his film with glorious cinematography using wide angle and fisheye lenses to show the vast spaces in the stately house, and the sumptuous chequered floors provide a metaphorical board for the chess pieces to play out their game. The pawns of Weisz and Stone try to checkmate the Queen but their false appearance of power is not quite the same as the actual divine power of royalty.


There’s plenty of humour to be had as well and the three leads are nothing short of phenomenal on screen. Funny when needed, whilst also showing vulnerability and empathy, the trio of amazing actresses fully come into their own with their vicious put downs and deliciously devilsome dialogue.


A (very small) hint of Trading Places occurs as Stone’s lowly serf becomes a lady in waiting whilst Weisz’s influential lover is brought to her knees when she is drugged and almost killed after falling from her horse.


The fine female cast are pushed to the forefront whilst the men in court definitely take second fiddle. And as the women fire guns, slap each other and drink heartily, the males are caked in make-up and wigs and pushed behind in an interesting twist on the period drama formula.


Nicholas Hault as Robert Harley is the best of the background bunch where he gets to act like a total arse throughout and is given some of the best and most profane dialogue, playing his own games in parliament and beyond.


But it really is Colman, Stone and Weisz’s show. The power games, the flip-flopping and the sparring of physical and verbal humour are delivered impeccably by all three and allow the actresses to create fully-rounded characters we can sympathise with. Yet the audience can just as easily hate when the trio’s primal and nasty game-playing comes to prominence. But either way, their conniving deceits provide plenty of juicy drama to enjoy.


Stylistically it couldn’t be further from the director’s previous film The Killing of a Sacred Deer (review here) which appeared in our Top 20 of 2017 which was far slower, slightly meandering (in a good way) and conceptually abstract. Whilst this is far more accessible, similar mythical and classical themes are explored where power, retribution and revenge all come in to play throughout the narrative.


The lighting is natural and adds to the period realism where night time scenes are lit by candle flame echoing a similar technique seen in Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon whilst the score utilises the classic music of composers like Handel and Bach.


Whilst its historical accuracy can be hotly debated, like Tarantino’s take on history I don’t see this as some quasi-realistic portrait and it sure has far more in common with a Carry On film than period-precise documentation. That said, with Anne keeping 17 rabbits to represent each of her child-bearing tragedies, Lanthimos doesn’t let the humorous aspects stop him from exploring the morbid issues of motherhood, dominance and sovereignty in all its forms.


However, with its added darkness and the Machiavellian machinations of the three protagonists, the film is full to the brim with incredible performances alongside some eccentricities in its technical aspects, plus we mustn’t forget its terrific quip-filled script. The Favourite therefore is a formidable film from a director who takes weighty themes and provides a theatre for three mighty actresses to deliver some of the best performances of the year and possibly of their career.


★★★★ ½


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 17 2019 05:11PM



Backtrace (2018) Dir. Brian A. Miller


An unbelievably low (no?) budget ‘action’ film starring Sylvester Stallone, Backtrace does a great job of setting the standard for what to expect from the most terrible movies of the upcoming year.


With a filming style that can only be described as first-time-student-using-digital-phone-camera, Backtrace is phenomenally appalling from the outset. After Matthew Modine’s bank robber falls foul to a bout of amnesia he is sprung from his facility to help find the whereabouts of the stolen money he’s forgotten the location of using a “special drug”.


Cinematography is non-existent in shaky-cam shots that fail at even the CSI-level of quality and, as always, Stallone’s charisma is the only thing to stop you switching it off. Although I’d advise you take serious consideration in stopping this mess any time you like.


This Variety review somehow describes Backtrace as a workman-like b-movie. No, no, NO! With no style, substance or any flair whatsoever Backtrace seems to aim at the Cobra-crowd but in reality, that movie is Citizen Kane next to this awful amateur effort.


How does Stallone even get involved in films this bad? Sure, Nic Cage has made a ton of straight-to-VOD pish but at least they look like films. So, a January film already laying claim to the worst of 2019?


Well, one positive is that maybe Stallone can better himself by improving on his third place position for Escape Plan 2 on our least favourite films of 2018 list and claim the top spot this year instead. Good luck!


But, with 12 months to go, this film is so bad that Stallone is in with a VERY good chance of being the best of the worst.



Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jan 17 2019 05:09PM



Colette (2019) Dir. Wash Westmoreland


This biographical drama comes from Still Alice director Wash Westmoreland and is based upon the life of French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. Nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature she is also famous for her 1944 novella Gigi which was the basis for the film of the same name.


Colette covers the early part of her life with Keira Knightley returning from an acting break as the lead woman whose first writings were published under the pen name of “Willy” – a nickname for her husband Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West). She writes a series of stories revolving around “Claudine”, a fictionalised version of her own life which is filled with avant-garde parties and lesbian liaisons.


However, much like in the film Big Eyes (Tim Burton), Colette soon demands her name be revealed as the real author of the stories which her husband resists and which subsequently causes riffs between them. The film is told in a linear fashion and for a film about writing, sadly has too few literary trappings and most reminded me of the standard fare of Merchant Ivory period dramas – but with added liberal and progressive flourishes.


Knightley is solid and Dominic West plays the uptight, sleazy type of macho husband that he often excels in – but is one actor I have never thought has much of a range and he does little to correct that here in Colette.


As Colette’s will becomes more determined, the film delves into notions of masculinity and femininity and whilst swanning into boisterous parties one night in extravagant dresses, she partakes in serious muscular exercise the following day. The cinematography is fascinating as it captures beautiful French scenery as well as bawdy get-togethers exploring both public and private spaces.


The film however concludes with her departure from literature into her mime and stage career displaying her fight for female independence at a time where female respectability was considered paramount and she moves from exercising her mind to the physicality of her body.


Therefore Colette is certainly progressive and honourable – telling a little-known tale of creative and wanton passions – but if I’m honest I found little “life” in the film. Also, there was a very palpable chemistry vacuum between the two leads, yet the excellent support from Eleanor Tomlinson, Aiysha Hart and Fiona Shaw helps ease these gaps.


A melodrama of women’s independence, I would recommend Colette for those interested in the film’s central historical subject matter but for many others, the film – as respectful as it is – dips into blandness, both technically and narratively.


★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jan 17 2019 05:07PM



Suspiria (2018) Dir. Luca Guadagnino


Having just discovered the original Suspiria 1977 two years ago (yeah, I know) I was impressed with the Giallo style and music of the cult classic but a tad underwhelmed – perhaps as a result of high expectations.


However, as stylish as Dario Argento’s film was, this film – which is “inspired” by that horror of the same name – goes to much more complex and dark places than Argento’s slasher.


The story is familiar as Dakota Johnson’s expert dancer heads to Berlin to enrol in a dance academy in the 70s but finds there are dark forces behind the façade of the respected school.


Stylistically Guadagnino avoids the extreme colours of the original – bar some fantastical dream sequences – and shows Berlin as an oppressive and grey city rocked by terrorist atrocities. And although these ideas aren’t fully formed – some going nowhere – the constant presence of outside public news is as oppressive as the oppressiveness featured within the mirrored walls of the school itself.


Despite her unquestionable talent Susie Bannion (Johnson) begins to exhibit traits of a missing student and a parallel story sees psychotherapist Josef Klemperer investigate the mystery. Sadly one of the biggest drawbacks is the decision to cast Tilda Swinton, an actress I love, as the very male doctor. Each of her appearances – in what has to be said is fantastic make-up – took me out of the movie and seems an excellent experiment in the wrong film for it.


Swinton does the best she can caked in prosthetics BUT also appears as stern matriarch Madame Blanc – the lead choreography teacher and away from the sex-swap role is much better in delivering a strict matron – but one with a layer of sensitivity and doubt by the film’s conclusion.


The film’s editing begins chaotically and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke provides a soundtrack that echoes some of the original’s melodies but in fact sets itself apart from it in the best way possible. From full songs that contain his inimitable falsetto, Yorke also seems to have delved into horror music’s past. With orchestral segments reminiscent of Bernard Herrman’s Psycho score to repeated piano refrains influenced by Halloween and The Exorcist, Yorke keeps the score diverse, layered and yet unobtrusive throughout. A phrase not echoed in the original’s bombastic and totally over-powering music.


One of the best scenes in the film occurs when a student threatens to leave but is locked in a rehearsal room and Johnson’s dance moves in another room are replicated – voodoo doll-style – by the trapped woman. Smashing her bones into the mirrored wall and with joints flying out of sockets, the beauty of the dance shapes are contrasted brilliantly with the nastiness of the injuries being inflicted.


Disgusting, shocking and bloody, it’s a masterclass of visual storytelling and horrific aesthetics, and is one of the best scenes of 2018 without question and has to be seen to be believed. Brace yourself people.


As the teachers are slowly revealed to be part of a witches coven, the film explores issues of motherhood as they try to “re-birth” the spirit of Markos – currently contained in the body of a disfigured corpse-like woman.


The dancing is fantastic and the dull-colour palette of the film is punctuated by the vivid reds of dance costumes, dresses and, of course, plenty of the red stuff as Johnson uncovers awful goings-on in the hidden catacombs of the academy building.


As the film comes to a physical crescendo the ending is a slight let down with a new twist on the original. And with the good work delivered to that point it becomes frustratingly unfortunate that clichéd operatic music and a seen-it-before ceremony brings the film to a slightly drab conclusion.


That said, despite a 2 and a half hour run time – which certainly doesn’t feel like it – Suspiria is a gory piece of art from start to finish. Themes of guilt, history and power are all thrown into a mix of dark passions and the body horror/beauty of contemporary choreography. Whilst not all of them gel together, the film dances to its own ritualistic chaos in a distorted orgy of cinematic pleasures.


★★★★ ½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jan 14 2019 08:09PM



Midlands Spotlight - CineQ Queer Film Festival in Birmingham in March


Working with the BFI FAN Film Hub Midlands, Centrala Art Gallery, Midlands Arts Centre and Mockingbird Cinema and Kitchen the CineQ Film Festival runs from the 22nd until the 24th of March covering a range of Queer AF screenings, parties and workshops.


CineQ Queer Film Festival will put the focus on new stories, and QTIPOC (Queer Trans and Intersex People of Colour) perspectives, while introducing ‘New Queer Cinema’ a type of queer cinema often overlooked and showcase some of the best underrepresented LGBTQ film both past and present.


After the film festival, CineQ will specially curate a selection of queer films representative of the LGBTQ community which will tour cinemas, film festivals and film societies in the region in order to grow the appetites of LGBTQ cinema lovers in the Midlands.


CineQ founder Rico Johnson-Sinclair says, “Queer cinema has often been a blind spot in the region’s best independent and multiplex cinemas. Not to say that there isn’t an offer. LOVE, SIMON, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME and GOD’S OWN COUNTRY were notable successes in recent years, but there’s a plethora of films from a variety of perspectives that are being made, but just not shown in cinemas”.


“Often the only places to watch queer films are streaming services, we want to change that by bringing audiences across Birmingham and the Midlands, more opportunities to see these brilliant titles on the big screen”.



CineQ was previously operating as a community cinema supported by Flatpack Projects. They’ve screened many titles such as THE WOUND, CLOSET MONSTER, and CHECK IT as well as short film programmes at Centrala Art Gallery and Cafe, Mockingbird Cinema and Kitchen, and Flatpack Film Festival.


CineQ has also worked with cinemas outside of Birmingham such as Phoenix Cinema in Leicester and was recently awarded a commendation by Cinema for All, Britain’s leading authority for community cinemas and film societies.


Further programme announcements will be made available via social media and the CineQ website from 22nd January 2019.


Facebook @CineQBrum

Twitter: @CineQBrum

Instagram: @CineQBrum


By midlandsmovies, Jan 14 2019 11:31AM



SYNT: A Night in the Death of Jenny Taylor


Directed by Dave Inglis


2018


SYNT is the debut film from Dave Inglis, a writer-director from Birmingham who previously starred in West Midlands short Eviction and has now turned his hand to filmmaking in this horror comedy.


With a cast and crew from Birmingham and Solihull, SYNT is a kind of faux-documentary about Keith Fairbanks (Dave Inglis himself) who is a part-time journalist and online bingo-caller.


But things go strange very quick in this story as Keith arranges an ‘interview with a vampire’ after an online audition and heads to meet Jenny Taylor, an octogenarian bloodsucker AND a prostitute to boot. Sucker indeed.


Giving its documentary feel, the film has been wisely made in a very hand-held style. The camera movements and slice-of-life discussions are like a dark re-imagining of BBC’s The Office and everyday mundane activities are shown in a comically matter of fact delivery.


The script has lots of odd-ball and surreal jokes and dialogue often seems improvised which keeps with the documentary vibe as Dave and his cameraman – Ignatious Orlando Fyke – have funny off-the-cuff chats on their journey around town at night.


Long takes again maintain realism and whole scenes are played out without cuts which is testament to the actors’ skills. In addition, the film is punctuated with inserts, text, pauses and more which creates some visually interesting editing. However, SYNT could have definitely done with more of this though, as the long takes can begin to feel drawn-out and it just about avoids the pitfall of looking too much like an un-edited home-movie.


I am aware however of a shorter director’s cut that the filmmaker has made for festivals and I think this would work better as although the film throws lots of jokes at the audience, the murky lighting and juddering camera verges may push audience's to their 'wobbly' limit.


Brent-like Keith continues his investigations on the streets with Vlad and others, and seems somewhat unaware of his bumbling interview technique as he not only portrays events but almost gets involved in them himself. From take-aways to kerb-crawlers, the film finds lots of morbid fun in seedy night time shenanigans and its new suburban spin on the classic vampire hunter.


Obviously, the film is most reminiscent of Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows with its mix of vampire lore, comedy and documentary stylings but with the director freely admitting to some personal troubles outside of filmmaking, SYNY feels a cathartic exercise. Dave approaches the production as a form of therapy, involving friends and family and focusing on a complex project yet with a humorous tone which is more than an honourable exercise.


In conclusion, at over an hour in length some viewers’ patience may feel as stretched as a vampire’s life span but SYNT has more positives than negatives overall despite its drawn-out feel. If you loved Waititi’s 2014 film then I’d highly recommend this similar local Midlands flick with its fun parody mix involving crypts and quips.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jan 7 2019 01:47PM



Farside


Directed by Ash Morris


2018


Farside is the new film from Stoke-On-Trent director Ash Morris who has taken his Midlands crew to Welsh seaside town Rhyl to film his latest movie.


Presented in a very real-to-life hand held camera style, we follow refugee Sayeed (BAFTA shortlister Amir El-Masry) who heads to a caravan park to be trained as an on-site security guard.


As well as this with get glimpses into others’ lives from the park including Annabel (Sacha Parkinson who recently starred as the lead in feature film Apostasy) and her angry drunken father Jez (Shane Attwool from Clio Bernard’s Dark River).


As Sayeed kneels in Muslim prayer, we hear anti-immigrant sentiment on a radio phone-in and see Annabel going about her business on the sea front. But not before she suffers an epileptic seizure in her caravan home which foreshadows further physical and mental themes later in the film.


As Sayeed heads to the beach he has recollections of the sounds of war and the director cleverly shows the horrors of the past without giving too much away too early in the story.


Soon, Annabel joins him and they have fun together at the seaside arcade games but on her return we find her dad has lost his job which he blames on Polish workers. With drunken violent outbursts and attributing his current predicament on others, he seethes in boiling rage as we, the audience, feel a sense of tension about to explode.


With a crew made up locally from Staffordshire University students, a change of national location and its international themes, Farside successfully mixes small town sensibilities with wider worldwide issues. And it’s to its credit, that the film handles each of these ideas well – never forgetting the past and future whilst tackling the theme of conflict, both small and large.


As the two friends grow closer, Sayed still has nightmares from his previous life in the Middle East but is about to face new nightmares in his adopted home from those around him.


Hard-hitting and heart breaking, Ash Morris has tackled a difficult subject with gusto but also with sensitivity. Small details like Union Jack flags and background sound effects show the contrasting lives of the main players and the production doesn’t flinch from the complex matters at hand.


Escaping from violence in war-torn Syria into further violence in the supposedly peaceful UK, Morris parallels the loss of loved ones in a poignant yet stark short.


With fantastic performances from the three main leads, Farside ends up being a powerful reminder of the world we live in and explores the demonization of people escaping tragic circumstances and war-torn fighting, but only to find more battles in their new home.


Michael Sales



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