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By midlandsmovies, Jan 30 2019 06:01PM

Review - Crucible of the Vampire

The reign of vampire movies has slowed down in recent years due to a new breed of superhumans on the block. It’s apparent though, that this genre has not been forgotten.

Crucible of the vampire grabbed my attention for three reasons.

The opening scene. To set the tone of the movie, we’re introduced to an elderly gentleman stirring a pot in the woods by a creek. The story quickly develops when a band of witch hunters suspect the gentleman of performing necromancy.

This whole sequence is done in stark black and white. It could have benefitted from a few reflectors on set, as the details in some faces were completely lost. However, one scene, only lasting a second, which struck with me with awe, was when the gentleman was branded with a hot poker. The embers flickered in colour. The excitement of something so visually unexpected in the first three minutes threw me right into the story and I was eager to continue.

Jump to present day and we’re introduced to Isabelle, a museum curator tasked with verifying a piece of cauldron in a remote Stately manor in Shropshire. The family within the house are seemingly inviting, except for Scarlet, the daughter.

In a let’s-break-the-ice kind of evening dinner, the family’s strange dynamic is revealed. The acting was cold and lacked fluidity and I couldn’t help but imagine these guys had only just met behind the camera earlier that day. This was both unsettling and noticeable; there was no real chemistry made between the main actors in the first place.

That’s not to say they didn’t try. Katie Goldfinch, who played Isabelle, completely blew me away in the third act when she’s tied up and held against her will. Therein lays my second reason as to why this film engrossed me.

This particular scene was shot with Isabelle in a frantic, animalistic panic over all that had happened. Not only did the fast paced editing induce hysteria and leave you just as off balance as Isabelle, but also the surreal colours and offset music inspired a quicker heart rate than usual. This was the scene I was waiting for in amongst this slow paced movie.

As for the interior of the house; whether it was made to look this way or it was simply how it originally was, the house gave you chills.

There is nothing warm about the place and even if the house looked clean, you could feel dust everywhere. It was genuinely a perfect place for such a story to flourish, and only later in the film do you see more hidden layers of it.

The characters, however, remained two-dimensional. It could have had something to do with the costumes, or lack thereof. Even though it was set in present day and the need for modern clothing was apparent, the counterpart historical scenes were rich in the outfit department.

I would’ve liked to have seen a more subtle connection to the past. Instead, the only thing that connected them to the history of events was the cauldron and the obviously ominous black robes. The music was unnecessary at times. Some scenes would have benefitted more from pure silence to further enhance the feeling of remoteness. Harsh violins and deep cellos became a distraction at the wrong time.

The film failed to allow the audience’s imagination to ascend and develop, but instead the story was served straight up with no satisfaction of conceptualising anything for ourselves. This was especially apparent when an important character known as the “dark lady” would appear. Full ghoulish makeup, big black wig and scary unblinking eyes. If there was supposed to be shock value, it wasn’t there.

This leads me to my third and final premise on why I advanced deeper into the movie. With the dark lady, there was a genuinely creepy moment. This scene was layered with only hints of light, shot at night of course. It worked because so much was left to the imagination. When the dark lady unnervingly walks down the stairs, your eyes are fixated on Isabelle playing the organ. With an unknown source of light, your eyes suddenly dart to the lady coming from the shadows and then disappear again. The effect of having less really did mean more.

With the film’s genre almost forgotten, it was nice to be reminded that vampires aren’t dead yet. A more minimalistic approach to the sound would’ve matched the visuals well, and a deeper connection between characters could’ve driven the story deeper. The film is worth watching for some excellent stand-alone scenes as they are spread out evenly across the movie.

★★ ½


By midlandsmovies, May 12 2016 03:27PM

Who Killed British Cinema? (2016) Dir. Robin Dutta & Vinod Mahindru

‘So much leg work, so many miles, so little progress’ echoes a title card in this documentary about the ‘death’ of the British Film Industry. This informative film charts the rise and more importantly the fall of cinema in Britain. First time directors Robin Dutta and Vinod Mahindru successfully delve into the complicated world of the British film industry, managing to cover a wide canvas of points voiced by the likes of Ben Kingsley, Stephen Frears and CEO of the now defunct UK film council John Woodward. It is these moments with these veterans of the industry that elevate this documentary from a cheap report on the politics behind the films to a surprisingly shocking expose on how corrupt the system was.

With the abolishment of the UK film council in 2011 obvious questions began to rise from its ashes. Why has this happened? Who made this decision? How did it get this bad? But more importantly, what happens next? Directors Dutta and Mahindru entice you with the question ‘Who killed British Cinema?’ only to reveal that many interviewed in the film believe that the British Film Industry died in the early 70s and has never recovered since. The successful working class films of the 60’s coupled with the hippy movement scared the government and the powerful elite into acting to prevent the establishment being spoiled. Stars like Michael Caine and Albert Finney were heroes through their working class films like Get Carter and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, films which spoke to a generation wanting to quit work and live tax free in the countryside.

Dutta and Mahindru highlight the fact that Britain has been home to the productions of Superman, Alien, Star Wars and other Hollywood blockbusters yet the industry has never been poorer. British films rarely have lasting stay in the multiplexes, with many smaller cities and towns not showing half of the country’s releases. The Full Monty being an example of a British box office smash hit commercially and critically, yet the producers and investors being American meant hardly any money went back into Britain. A sad state of affairs.

Whilst the many interviews recorded for this film are diverse and informative, the film lacks the real punch it deserves with an absent counter argument as the British Film Institute and the various Screen Agencies across Britain refused to take part with the making of the film. Had they accepted the offer to be interviewed the documentary could have held its 1 hour 40-minute run time, instead the middle act is let to linger on a little long.

Whilst ‘Who Killed British Cinema’ offers very little positivity for the future of the country’s film industry and its respective filmmakers, Dutta and Mahindru present advice given from directors such as Alan Parker, Stephen Frears and actor Ben Kingsley such as ‘don’t be discouraged’ and saying how success will taste sweeter if one makes a success out of this decaying national industry.

‘Who Killed British Cinema’ is an absolute must for film fans.


Guy Russell

By midlandsmovies, Oct 19 2015 12:25PM

North Vs South (2015) Dir. Steven Nesbit

Director Steven Nesbit follows up his supernatural thriller “Curio” which was sound-tracked by Blur’s Graham Coxon with this violent British gangster flick.

Obviously, given the title, the crime rivals are split between the north and south of England and we begin with a black and white slow-motion intro with voiceover from Terry (Elliott Tittensor), a young northerner who is knee-deep in wrongdoing. Terry is also protective of his girlfriend Willow (Charlotte Hope) and his mum wants him to get out of his seedy life to avoid a similar nasty fate like his dad.

The plot begins when we see a young girl witnessing the death of her father (in clown makeup) after their road-trip is halted for a toilet break in a hotel – which unfortunately happens to be the location of a meeting between the two rival gangs. They are there for a “peace” conference but hot-headed southern gang member Gary Little kills the father over a trivial matter and his loud mouth continues to get him into trouble at the meeting itself. Unluckily, the father is friends with the northern faction who promise revenge for the bloody attack.

With a great sequence involving the girl hiding from the perpetrators underneath a table that the gangs are sitting across from each other on, there is plenty of intrigue as we move to a French hit-man who puts on lipstick in an echo of the strange clown makeup from the beginning.

The film jumps from one plot point to another but it struggled with the cohesion of these together as a whole. Female gangster Penny (Freema Agyeman) tells Eastern Europeans to “get some manners” as she’s taking protection money whilst Gary’s plans to become the head leads him creating further friction by knocking off his partner Bill in a violent underpass confrontation. This is subsequently blamed on the northern group (as an eye for an eye attack for his previous indiscretion) and Gary begins playing off the two sides for his own nefarious means but some narrative confusion may stop audiences getting fully engaged.

One issue is the film does not focus on the protagonist enough. Assuming it was Terry as he was delivering the voiceover but he didn’t seem to have the most screen time. Also, his is love story with Willow – which is heavily focused on the poster – is actually barely in the film. A succession of interwoven set pieces are interesting but it needed someone like Snatch’s Turkish (Jason Statham) who audiences can root for and who centres all the chaos. At the start, the voiceover doesn’t always give any enlightening insight into characters that cannot be worked out from the images but it later goes to the other extreme by delivering so much information I would have preferred to have seen the action rather than hear about it.

The film is shot very well but with a few more scenes, a bit less voiceover and a tweak in the editing, it would have made more sense. That said, there are many postitives. Brad Moore as Gary is a nasty piece of work but a joy to watch as he becomes unhinged as the movie continues and there are many great images that lingered in the mind. From the black and white intro, the slow motion flamethrower and Silence of the Lambs-esque killer putting on make-up in the mirror, the film had superb cinematography even on a low budget.

A well edited car chase with a helicopter offers a scene of intense action and Keith Allen, Steven Berkoff and Bernard Hill are great as the senior heads of the gangs and light up the screen every time they are on. The story loses some realism when the young girl from the start begins to use snipers rifles and guns like a British Hit-Girl but she throws in a few comedy quips acknowledging its absurdity. This all leads to a crescendo that Gary has orchestrated which places both sides in trouble, whilst Terry and Willow (who we find are on opposing sides) try to stay safe in the face of increasing violence.

If you enjoy your Brit-gangster flicks then North vs South will be up your brutal street showcasing a variety of stories, characters and bloody violence that will satisfy fans of the genre.


By midlandsmovies, May 29 2015 10:48AM

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) Dir. Matthew Vaughn

Matthew Vaughn (director of X-Men: First Class) returns with another kick ass action film adapted from the graphic novel The Secret Service by comic book legends Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar.

Moving slightly away from the source material, this British infused intelligence film focuses on secret agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) who after making a mistake in the field loses one of his agents and passes on a medal to his wife and son saying to get in touch if they ever need help. The boy, Eggsy (Taron Egerton) grows into a bright but wayward youth on an inner city estate and after going for a joyride in a rival gang’s car, he is caught by the fuzz before using his one phone call to contact the mysterious organisation.

The film then follows the “Men In Black” training route with the older Firth (as Tommy Lee Jones) mentoring the wild and crazy adolescent in the finer aspects of gentleman spying. The film plays out with the familiar tropes as Eggsy is antagonist and hot-headed towards both his instructors and his fellow (and privately educated) apprentices before his survival instincts take over as Firth continues to smooth a diamond from the rough.

The main villain, Valentine, is all theatrics and pantomime with Samuel L Jackson channelling the worst of Bond baddies in an OTT performance of lisping and bent baseball caps. His plan is to infiltrate mobile phone communications to instigate violence in the population which will cull the human race to more manageable levels.

A bit of a mess of a film, there is a sublime sequence involving Firth taking on a church congregation with guns and guts sound-tracked to the (still awesome) guitar solo from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” which was an orgy of fighting fists and comical killings. However, Vaughan’s overuse of CGI is another flaw in what could have been a better film. We know that mountains, planes and skydiving already exists so why not take some time to film them? As it is, a plethora of cheap-ish looking green screen continued to annoy me throughout.

The film is mostly sheen with the few pieces of depth coming through ham-fisted social commentary but it wears its shallow comic book sensibilities unashamedly on its cuffed-linked sleeve.

At times it’s suave and sophisticated and whilst its aims often overreaches its grasp, fans of the genre will approve of the film’s culture clash dynamics and fun action sequences. With a sprinkling of broad comedy, it’s more accessible and less edgy than Kick Ass but a finale set in Valentine’s lair is more Austin Powers than James Bond.

As a spoof on spy films, “Kingsman” mainly strikes its target in a sometimes too polished way but with suave support from Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella (with bladed prosthetic legs) this is a debonair affair which will leave you shaken but not too stirred.


Midlands Movies Mike

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