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By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 09:21PM



Midlands Review – Starman


Directed by Stuart Connock Wheeldon


2018


MontsegurFilms / NineLadiesFilm


Starman is the new short from Midlands production company NineLadiesFilm and was directed by Stuart Wheeldon. Wheeldon also co-wrote the film with Nick John Whittle and the team have come up with a mysterious story about a homeless man in the woods whose origins may not quite be what those around him expect.


Shot on location in Wirksworth in Derbyshire the filmmakers open the story well with fantastically filmed aerial drone shots giving us a great sense of this remote location. The slow hovering camera reflects a UFO of sorts which is mighty handy when the story unfolds later.


We dissolve to a mysterious man (Nigel Barber as Mark) who seems at peace in his own world and is currently confined to a solitary tent in the woods. Looking up to the sky we soon cut to him attempting to “make contact” with unknown people through an old radio.


Living off the land we get the feeling this individual is at one with their surroundings but his idyllic camp is at odds with local couple Peter and Lisa. Whilst Peter (Elliott Rennie) believes he could be a dangerous ex-con, his partner Lisa (Mia Mills) is more sympathetic to his plight.


Nigel Barber is great as the lonesome man, Mark, portraying him with a blankness that hints upon an “alienated” individual. Mia Mills’ subtle kindness is also used to good effect with her caring personality and friendly demeanour acting as our guide.


However, these good performances are unfortunately undermined with some less-than-adequate sound mixing. Whilst the slightly strange music and staccato strings echo the weirdness of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score – it is placed in such random places that there is often no link between the sound, the score and what’s being shown going on screen.


And although maybe it is an intentional choice to give the project an ‘other-worldly’ vibe, it simply feels like the film hasn’t quite finished its work in the sound department – certainly with regards to syncing it all up. Alongside this, several scenes at night muffle the words of our protagonists when a ‘chirping crickets’ background hum overpowers the dialogue almost to the point of being unlistenable.


Later on Lisa asks “where was home before?” and the film does an admirable job of never explicitly playing its hand as to the man’s origin. I also enjoyed the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to the filmmaker’s previous flick “In Limbo”. The film also earns points for its unique location. Other than the woods and the couple’s home, the film is mostly located a Wirksworth’s StarDisc – a suitably celestial stone sculpture showing constellations.


In the end though, despite positive performances from the cast, they are infuriatingly let down by the short’s sloppy technical issues and frustrating sound design. So whilst the location gives hints to a wonderful map of the stars, Starman is a slightly confused piece overall that could do with another run through in the studio.


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:29PM



The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Dir. The Coen Brothers


A 6-part anthology film that quickly ended up on Netflix, the award-winning Coen brothers are not immune to the modern day perils of the straight-to-streaming phenomena. However, like Alex Garland’s Annihilation, cinematic quality is there from the outset and this easily could have been more widely released in cinemas.


And given its quality it is a huge shame it wasn't.


The multiple, and magnificent, stories themselves are framed within the pages of a book and contain a range of tonally different shorts all set in the Wild West. The Coens’ dark humour and splashes of violence are well and present and the stories include a cocky outlaw played brilliantly by Tim Blake Nelson who sings (and floats) his way to heaven (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), James Franco’s bank-robber hanging by a noose (Near Algodones) and Liam Neeson’s impresario riding through towns with his actor Harrison who has no arms and legs (Meal Ticket).


The eclectic situations continue with Tom Waits’s grizzled prospector searching for riches in the wilderness (All Gold Canyon), a wagon train being attacked by natives (The Gal Who Got Rattled) and finally five people in a stagecoach that refuses to stop as it carries a dead body (The Mortal Remains).


With something for everyone, the yarns each have their own unique style and death and misery appear in all the tales. But the Coens haven’t scrimped on the comedy from annoying dogs, witty songs and characters trapped within their situations to humorous effect.


My personal favourite was The Gal Who Got Rattled with an excellent Zoe Kazan as innocent Alice Longabaugh and Bill Heck as the kindly and gruff Billy Knapp. That story could happily have been part of a longer film and the mixture of deadly attacks and sharp conversation was a highlight.


That said, each story has its own charms and for someone not keen on anthology flicks (see my Ghost Stories review here) the Coens have managed to weave 6 amazing stories into a cohesive and thematic whole.


Where Hail Caesar tackled Roman epics (and musical numbers) amongst its Hollywood setting, the Coens' influences here come from the American love of frontier films - another classic genre linking their modern takes within established cinematic history.


Not diverging greatly from their usual style, the death-obsessed duo deliver another historical romp with a great cast and amazing outdoor locations.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:07PM



BlacKkKlansman (2018) Dir. Spike Lee


With a tight screenplay by Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman is adapted from the 2014 book of the same name by Ron Stallworth – a real-life detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1970s.


The plot sees African-American Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) join the Colorado police force only to be faced with racism from his own colleagues at every turn. After rising through the ranks through sheer determination, Stallworth attempts to join the KKK by answering an advertisement via phone. Setting up a meeting with clan elders, Stallworth then enlists the help of Adam Driver’s Detective (and Jewish) Flip Zimmerman who acts as Stallworth at the rendezvous.


As the KKK plan violent attacks, the two policemen work in tandem to take the group down whilst all the while hiding their intentions (and each other’s personas) from the members. Stallworth goes on to connect with the KKK Grand Wizard (a sleazy and naïve Topher Grace as David Duke) whilst he also dates Laura Harrier’s Patrice Dumas – a black student passionate about civil rights issues – which complicates things further as he witholds his police background from her.


A fantastic drama that expertly balances the ludicrous situation with the injustices of racism, Lee links the story to both horrors of the past - Harry Belafonte recounts the lynching of Jesse Washington in 1916 – as well as the film’s future – the movie ends with the disturbing footage of the 2017 Charlottesville protests and President Trump.


However, unlike The Post, which tries similarly to tie in past politics with modern concerns, the film’s metaphors are less heavy-handed and all the more powerful because of it. Stating its concerns as matter-of-fact and contextualising the historical significance of those events is Lee’s trump card.


Despite having to dramatise more than its fair share of the book, the film is entertaining away from its politics to keep audience’s engaged in a cat-and-mouse game of undercover officers and their methods to avoid detection.


Powerful and political, the film succeeds owing to the amazing delivery from all its cast but it’s the commanding performances of Washington, Driver and Harrier who make this a formidable criticism on the continued structural racism plaguing the USA.


8/10


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:04PM



The Night Comes for Us (2018) Dir. Timo Tjahjanto


It would be easy to compare this film to 2011’s The Raid given the two main actors Joe Taslim as and Iko Uwais are major players in both films, yet it’s that film I cannot reference here with its similar mix of Indonesian gangs and corrupt cops fighting for honour and power using the most violent means possible.


And violent it is! Extremely.


When Ito (Taslim) saves a young girl and goes rogue from lethal Triad enforcers the Six Seas, he is immediately hunted down by the gang and thus begins a film that is almost entirely action-orientated throughout. Iko Uwaisis as Arian is called up to kill the traitor and Taslim returns to an old friend’s apartment for refuge.


It’s at this apartment where the best scenes occur. Forced into a tight situation, the character set up is fleshed out before the martial arts kick in and flesh of another kind is strewn around the room. Fantastic brawling action is brilliantly filmed with the character development helping us care about each person’s fate. Arms are blown off, necks are broken and if you don’t like stabbings or gunshots then don’t even think about watching this film. Oceans of blood are spilled and the bone-crunching punches and killings soon leave bodies piling up.


If there was one thing missing, it is that the film quickly ditches its character motivations for more endless fights. As well as they are filmed, the movie needed some space to give the audience the chance to take a breath. It also plays its best hands far too early. The aforementioned early apartment fight is followed by a great battle in a police van but soon repetition kicks in and, like The Raid, once you get down to one-on-one fights, the film all but loses its momentum.


That said, action and martial arts fans will lap up the phenomenal fight choreography and Zack Lee as "White Boy" Bobby is a minor character who steals any scene he is in. Stylish and frenetically chaotic, The Night Comes for Us is not for the queasy but its wild action and furious violence results in an intense experience that you won’t forget in a hurry.


The fight comes to you!


8/10


Mike Sales





By midlandsmovies, Dec 7 2018 12:36PM



Three Identical Strangers (2018) Dir. Tim Wardle


[Spoilers – please be aware this review reveals the film's main story]


This excellent new 96-minute documentary comes from Tim Wardle who re-discovers one of the more bizarre stories from the early 80s and re-positions it as a far more complex and dark tale than initially thought.


An outstanding opening tells the story of a young man, Robert Shaffran, who heads to college only to be mistaken by random strangers as their friend Edward Galland. After establishing that Robert isn’t Edward – who dropped out of the same college the previous year – fellow student Michael Domnitz encourages Robert to contact Edward and they drive cross-country to go meet him the very same day.


Amazingly, the tale unfolds to reveal that the two mistaken men are in fact twins, separated at birth through adoption yet who grew up in the same area.


The documentary uses talking head interviews to explain their incredibly wild story in simple terms which makes the tale all the more fascinating when the coincidences occur. And what coincidences!


As only a short time later – with the brothers’ story and photos making national newspapers – they are contacted by another man, David Kellman, who questions why he is looking at a picture of two of himself.


And so, the three men come to realise that far from twins, they are in fact a set of triplets who were raised in different households by loving families, unaware of each others existence.


Splicing in footage from the time across interviews, panel shows and question and answer TV appearances, the trio come across as likeable, fun and eerily similar siblings who make the most of their new found fame and fortune.


However, in a search for some answers to their adoptive pasts the families uncover a sinister reason for their separation involving a science experiment by psychiatrists Viola W. Bernard and Peter B. Neubauer. Without care or diligence, the two set a terrible scheme in motion to try and answer the age-old question of what has the most influence in our lives – nature or nuture?


The “scientific” study is given ominous context and with the full results sealed in a locked vault at Harvard University the brothers struggle to come to terms with their predicament. Grappling with their world, and their inner demons, one of them eventually commits suicide and the painful reality of their topsy-turvy lives is underscored in this honest yet fascinating documentary.


As with many of the best documentaries, it is the story itself that is the real enticement for audiences but the filmmaker’s change of tact to delve into the murky past and shady machinations is to its benefit and depth, with the film contrasting the happy reunion with the fatal outcomes.


Chilling, thrilling and fulfilling the documentary serves up a triple whammy of satisfying characteristics and combined with the revealing and candid interviews with the put-upon and exploited participants, it ends up being one of the best documentaries of 2018.


8.5/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 6 2018 08:25PM



Midlands Review - Climbing Trees (2018)


Directed by Matthew R. Ford


Midlands Movies writer Sam Kurd takes a look at a new 33-minute short "Climbing Trees".


Climbing Trees is a short drama film written and directed by Birmingham-based writer/director Matthew M. Ford. It’s the story of a guilt-ridden father, tormented by dreams 12 years on from the murder of an 8-year old girl, who is trying to come to terms with the event and his inability to move on.


It starts slowly, almost lazily, as Kris meets 8-year-old Eliza at the scene of her murder. The mood quickly turns dark as he slips from dream into nightmare, though, and it’s immediately clear that this isn’t going to be a happy tale. Kris is a man divorced from society, seemingly living on the fringes even while passing among the crowds around him.


People know him, know his story, know his 12-year-long tragedy, but no one can bring themselves to speak to him. He drinks hard and grieves hard, living in a blur of drugs and tears. Things come to a head when the news reports that Eliza’s killer is due to be released under an alias, leading him to his presumably-ex-wife Sarah for a spot of soul-searching on how things could have gone differently.


Lead actor Tee Morris does a fantastic job playing Kris, a man torn apart by the depression and guilt that’s wrecked his life for over a decade. It’s all in the eyes, the pain and the despair, all on show but never over the top. When he’s attacked outside a pub and challenging his assailant to kill him, it’s clear what depths this poor man has sunk to. Caroline Frewin is also great as Sarah, putting in a performance that does a lot of heavy emotional lifting with relatively few lines.


The film is shot well, with a good balance between the beautiful bright park where the dreams take place and the dinginess of places like Kris’ rundown apartment. The only real problem is that the pacing is quite slow, and as a result the film tends to drag in places. A few of the scenes would benefit from tighter editing to keep the story flowing smoothly; 30 minutes is quite long for this film, and the story could easily be effectively told in half that time. The dream sequences get a little repetitive towards the end too.


On the whole, though, the film is certainly excellent. The ending was a great resolution to the story, tragic and bittersweet in equal measure, and more than made up for the slow time it took to get there. It’s technically accomplished, wonderfully acted and very moving indeed.


Check it out as soon as you can!


Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend


Find out more about the film over on IMDB by clicking here

By midlandsmovies, Dec 3 2018 10:22AM



Midlands Spotlight - Off Grid release new trailer to coincide with crowdfunding campaign


Off Grid is the upcoming production from Dark Matter Films and Bewdley-based Director Carl Timms who shot the short film on location in Worcestershire earlier this summer with a completion date pencilled in for early 2019.


The crowdfunding campaign will raise money for the film’s special effects and final post-production for this post-apocalyptic, supernatural thriller which boasts a stellar cast including James Cosmo, MBE (Game of Thrones, Braveheart, The Outlaw King) as force of nature John Tanner; Alison Steadman (Pride and Prejudice, Gavin & Stacey) as his frail wife, Grace and Marc Baylis (Redcon-1, Coronation Street) as the enigmatic Stranger


Rising British horror actress Kate Davies-Speak (Horizon, Dead Air) as Cailtin Rourke is also involved and the trailer, which can be viewed above, offers a glimpse of the other-worldly threat, ‘The Shining Ones’, who are plaguing humanity.



Off Grid is directed by Carl Timms (click here to read our review of his earlier Midlands film STILL) and written by Mark Brendan through their production company Dark Matter Films and was shot over the summer of 2018. It tells the story of elderly couple, John and Grace Tanner, who have fled deep into the forest following an apocalyptic event. There John fights to protect his frail wife, and his own sanity, from a supernatural threat. The arrival of another survivor forces John to assess if he is an ally or a threat, leading to revelations that could shatter the sanctuary he has built for them.


Bewdley-based director Carl Timms says, "We are delighted with how the filming turned out. We feel honoured to have worked with such a talented cast who brought these characters to life exactly as we hoped. Off Grid is a hard-hitting, intense drama that tells an ambitious, character-driven story in just 20min. To make it work we needed actors with real gravitas and they delivered beyond our hopes. But credit must also go to our amazing crew who all worked so hard to make this the best it could be".




The Indiegogo campaign with a target of £5,000 for Off Grid launched 25th November and can be found by clicking here. All funds raised are being put into post-production of the film, including CGI effects work, grading, sound design and final mastering.


The ‘perks’ on offer include an Associate / Executive Producer credit including tickets to a premiere screening, sponsorship opportunities for local businesses, digital and DVD copies of the finished film, limited edition artwork and behind the scenes photography, and a thank you in the credits for making the film happen. If the campaign is a success, Dark Matter Films are planning an early 2019 completion date and high-end festival run.


Keep up to date at https://www.darkmatterfilms.co.uk


Photos courtesy of Gary Moore, strongarmphotography


By midlandsmovies, Dec 1 2018 06:20PM



Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) Dir. Christopher McQuarrie


Tom Cruise running and running and running. And sometimes falling. Fallout is the 6th entry in the MI franchise that is becoming more Bond-like with each instalment and like Bond, sees no signs of stopping with its huge box office takings.


Maintaining consistency from previous movie Rogue Nation – star, director and support cast members all returning alongside a continuing narrative – the film sees Cruise and his cohorts tackle another world-ending evil plan with gadgets, vehicles and some implausible action.


One problem with the series is that since Cruise goes “rogue” in almost every film that I’m surprised his character Ethan Hunt is still employed. In this film we have another inconsequential story involving nuclear bombs that is hugely secondary to the stunts and frantic story pace.


Henry Cavill is a new and positive addition showing the likeable acting chops sorely missing from his dour Superman and sneaky Sean Harris returns as Solomon Lane who helps bridge this film with the last.


The film doesn’t quite balance its realistic elements with frankly ludicrous Olympus Has Fallen-style silliness where a stunning real-life helicopter chase sits in the same film as obviously-rendered CGI cars on the streets of Paris. Also making a reappearance are those horrid latex masks that have always stuck in my craw. Clichés abound – a double-agent, a spy called “White Widow”, a new world order villainous plan – and the middle of the film slightly bores with its constant slew of mistaken identities and compromised missions.


But to be fair, it is still a lot of fun. One of the best sequences is a race across London rooftops mixing stunts, laughs and solid action and contains the infamous Cruise ankle-breaking jump between buildings that halted production for weeks.


However, there were just too many little flaws to make this a truly great actioner. A parachute jump had me rolling my eyes when the leads talk about the need to avoid being hit by lightning only to be zapped a second later like a Warner Bros cartoon. But a brutal and brilliant bone-crunching fight in a nightclub bathroom had me wincing in joy – and again reminded me of Bond in Casino Royale’s opening. Speaking of openings though, the film again undermines its own positives by seemingly showing the whole film you’re about to watch in a sequence so unbelievably misjudged I almost fainted.


One part which seemed to have no flaws though was the excellent score from Lorne Balfe. Zimmer-esque at times, Balfe has found some great uses of the classic TV show’s theme mixing emotional subtlety with bombastic blasts when needed.


Easily in the top MI films so far, is the film the Nolan-classic some critics are lauding it? Not even close in this reviewer’s eyes. That said, it’s one of the better summer blockbusters and, dare I say, Cruise’s franchise behemoth is certainly catching up with Bond especially with that franchise currently languishing in development hell.


Better than Rouge Nation (a film I didn’t massively gel with) but for me not quite having the spectacular sequences of Ghost Protocol, it’s probably the best looking film amongst all six and despite some recent missteps (I’m looking at you, The Mummy) the film cements Cruise as the superstar to watch out for each summer season.


7.5/10


Mike Sales



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