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By midlandsmovies, Aug 10 2019 03:58PM



My Father


Directed by Lewis Clements


2019


Elsy Pictures


Written and directed by Birmingham director Lewis Clements, My Father is a new short film about fathers and family but doesn’t forget to have a whole lot of fun along the way.


Veering away from the very different dramatic tone of his previous film Eviction (review here) My Father takes a less-than-serious look at a father finding out about his past during a very eclectic adventure.


The short opens when a man is alerted by the beeping noises of a handheld game console and enters his son’s room where he finds the young boy awake in his bed. As his dad asks him to turn it off ready for school the next day, the boy asks if he can hear a story before going to sleep.


Parodying somewhat The Princess Bride (which is framed around an adult recounting a tale to a child) the film throws in some funny moments from the start which get more surreal as we go along.


From a mention of “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” to what looks like a blatant ginger wig (sorry, if it isn’t) the film jumps between different comedy styles to tell its amusing anecdote.


Our protagonist is Tarik who tells his son how he used to work as a cleaner at a kitchen and bathroom store. He sadly gets fired from his job and returns to his own father who consoles him but admits he isn’t his real dad – which, given the context, is somewhat of an understatement.


This flashback also slyly references Family Fortunes, Lionel Richie and shows a rather gratuitous shot of a cock. And I’m not talking male chicken here!


And so Tarik discovers he was picked up at a Tamworth theme park. And his “father” tells him about “The Barrington” – a mysterious character who may hold the key to who his biological father is, as he apparently has the Drayton Manor entrance list from 2003.


This nice nod to a local landmark is combined with some very surreal comedy as we next see a senior citizen in a leather clad outfit along with a gimp “pet” who then challenges Tarik to a contest involving a Pot Noodle!


Whether or not you go along with the short’s comedic style, Varakunan Panchalingam is without doubt absolutely fantastic as Tarik. And the film uses innuendo, sight gags and Tarik's delivery of silly lines of dialogue to give us a variety of funny situations and ridiculous scenarios.


The support cast go from solid to over-the-top and that’s probably intentional – but to be fair we’re not here for any Oscar winning performances. My Father knows what it wants to be and has some genuine laugh out loud moments.


As his search grinds to a bit of a halt, Tarik heads to a church as his farcical journey comes to a conclusion. But does the film, and Tarik’s story, give us a happy-ever-after ending? Well kind of, but it definitely teases the potential of a sequel.


In the end though, My Father provides plenty of hilarity and humour and whilst the cinematography and technical side could do with some tweaking, the real joy lies in lots of laughs provided throughout.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jul 28 2019 08:10AM



Thunder Road (2019) Dir. Jim Cummings


Written by Jim Cummings, based on Thunder Road by Jim Cummings, music by Jim Cummings, co-edited by Jim Cummings, visual effects by Jim Cummings and starring Jim Cummings playing a guy called Jim. A passion project you say?


Well, it’s been said that a single vision can be better than committee thinking and boy is that true in new indie drama Thunder Road. I say drama but there are lashings of dark comedy throughout this 90-minute movie extended from Cumming’s own short film of the same name.


Story wise, we get Cummings playing Jim Arnaud, a police officer and soon to be divorced father whose mother passes away which sets him on a downward spiral of frustration and rage.


We are introduced to his awkward – but incredibly sincere – persona at his mother’s funeral. In a 12-minute uncut shot, Jim forgets parts of his speech and embarrassingly dances at the front of a church in silence as a CD player he has brought fails to work. In a scene reminiscent of David Brent’s biggest gaffs, the one-shot forces the audience to share the experience in excruciating embarrassment.


Jim is then forced to take time off from his cop work after a disturbance and he tries, but fails, to bond with his daughter Rosalind (an excellent low-key role from Jocelyn DeBoer). Jim’s attempts to straighten his life fall flat and the film brilliantly mixes sympathy with his hot-headed reckless reactions as his life falls apart.


Through gritted teeth the audience will laugh at times but Cumming’s full break-down in front of his cop colleagues and is as powerful and passionate as anything I have seen in 2019. His friend Nate Lewis is played by Nican Robinson in a fantastic performance as a fellow officer, whose life is seemingly doing much better, desperately seeking ways in which to help his friend.


A scene at Rosalind’s school sees Jim again fly off the handle whilst a custody hearing again brings out our sympathies again when a misplaced word leads to disastrous consequences as he desperately tries to cling to the last remaining aspect of his once happy life.


Cummings explores areas of masculinity, loss, family and violence in a subtle and sensitive way that also never imposes on the film’s main narrative. Tackling these issues with a dark view, the audience won’t be able to stop themselves from slowing down to absorb every thoughtful detail of the fiery car wreck that is Jim’s life.


And so this self-destruction lies at the heart of the film. The discomfort we’d like to avoid is expressed as laughter at times and it's with relief Jim’s struggles build to a crescendo in a very satisfying pay-off.


Hooking the film on Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road, which is about a couple who have "one last chance to make it real”, is an apt metaphor but here the couple are no longer a romantic one but the twosomes around him: whether that be a close friend, his sister, ex-wife, and most influencing of all, his at rest mother from the past and the future bond with his daughter. And many of the scenes play out with just two people, framed with Jim desperately trying to make a connection in a rough world.


With a startling low micro-budget of just $200,000, Cummings has created a true masterpiece – with his talented self, rightly so, at the centre. Is it a dark comedy drama? Is it a reflection of contemporary American talking-points? Well, it’s all that and more but without doubt it comes hugely recommended as not just one of the best debut films of the year, but one of the best films period.


★★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jun 30 2019 09:17PM



Fighting with My Family (2019) Dir. Stephen Merchant


I am very much aware of WWE – who isn’t I guess – but let’s open this review with an acknowledgement of my lack of engagement with what I remember as a kid being called the WWF - before the wildlife fund got all litigious. But you know what? This brilliantly written and directed sports-comedy drama from The Office creator Stephen Merchant is so well-done, even a wrestling ignoramus like myself enjoyed so much of it.


In short, the film dramatizes the life of WWE professional wrestler Saraya "Paige" Knight and begins with her family’s wrestling passion which sees her and her brother compete in the local ring in their hometown of Norwich, England.


A fantastic Lena Headey and hilarious Nick Frost are the ex-wrestler parents who promote and train up-and-coming new prospects in their small gym. But soon Paige has the opportunity to try out for the big league in the USA. With her and her brother (Jack Lowden as Zak) fighting for a spot alongside a host of hopefuls, only Paige is chosen by professional coach Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn) to head to America and pursue her dream.


It’s here the film nicely balances its signature move of the emotional turmoil of Paige’s feuding relationship with her brother whilst also hitting entertaining comedy beats as her outsider is tested ‘Rocky-style’ in a series of endurance events and training montages.


Paige is played by a dazzling Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Outlaw King & soon-to-be-released horror Midsommar) and she brings warmth, charm and feistiness to a well-rounded character in charge of her own destiny. With her alternative/goth-y looks, she battles all-American ex-models for the limelight and her go-getting attitude faces-off against an alliance of personal and professional struggles.


British family-issues and a theme of helping the local community sit comfortably with the glitz and glamour (and sweat) of the wrestling world stage. And Merchant gives each narrative point enough time to shine in his cinematic ring before pushing the fun story forward. A welcome, and very comical, cameo from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also brings some Hollywood gravitas to a slightly quaint overcoming-the-odds narrative but the film is always charming and appealing throughout.


Whilst doing nothing spectacularly new, it gets by on so much heart and has funny (and when needed, dramatic) scenes that mean audiences will empathise with the characters from the outset.


With crowd-pleasing humour, a tender heart and some affected drama, the film is brought to life with a simple and engaging directorial style from Merchant but the excellently delivered performance from the whole cast is the real contest winner here.


And with all that going for it, Fighting with My Family ends up winning the title belt for best comedy of 2019 so far.


★★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jun 13 2019 02:50PM



David and Goliath


2019


Produced by Nisaro Karim and directed by Sheikh Shahnawaz


Five Pence Productions


“You have to, brother. You’ve been chosen to defeat the giant Goliath”.


Five Pence Productions are a new West Midlands company and David and Goliath is its first ever production and one which recounts the famous Biblical tale from yore.


We open in the woods where a reluctant David (Sam Malley, The Chase) is given a slingshot by his mother and tells him to have faith in a planned fight with Goliath - whilst his younger brother optimistically offers to help him on his quest.


A stirring soundtrack sees David then walk into the distance to begin his journey before meeting a girl (Return of the Ring's Rhi Hardman as Abigail) who chides him for his use of a slingshot to best the “crusher of skulls”. But she too offers to join him and his brother on their expedition.


However, just moments later Goliath (Nisaro Karim from Reversal) arrives at their feet – literally – as he pratfalls down a hill but warns them of an even bigger danger in their midst – a colossal Titan!


Some nifty scripted word-play and a splattering of dead-pan delivery of the dialogue gives the short some pep and liveliness that is certainly refreshing to see in a world of regional shorts that are often dramatic and serious in nature.


And filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz uses a bit of Lord of the Rings-style forced perspective and woodland locations to echo the tropes of cinematic fantasy – albeit on a small budget.


From coy flirting to embarrassing slip-ups, the short undermines mythical legends but does so with enthusiasm and its tongue firmly in its cheek. Visual gags add to the humour and each jokey sequence shows an affection for the classics – but one the production is happy to poke fun at.


It is also great to see the director again jump genres by trying out various filmmaking styles and tones in their body of creative work. And this has clearly helped them develop an excellent grasp of different aspects of cinema – including a bloody and frantic fight between David, Goliath and the “lofty” Titan towards the end of the short.


A pleasing parody, David and Goliath therefore ends up being as an amusing and silly spoof with a lot of warmth generated by the terrific cast - who are effective at delivering both punch-ups and punchlines.


Michael Sales


Watche the full short below:




By midlandsmovies, May 29 2019 02:09PM



Socks and Robbers


Directed and written by David Lilley


2019


“Stitched up and totally stuffed”.


Produced over the last couple of years in Nottingham, Socks and Robbers is a new comedy crime short that asks audiences to dip their toes into places I’m sure they’ve never been before.


The film opens as a white van pulls to a screeching halt outside an extravagant bank which is cross-cut with black and white security footage of the tellers and customers going about their business inside. An impressive location, it’s great to see the filmmakers have secured a suitably old fashioned building to give their local production some swanky Hollywood style.


As a gang of smart men enter we get further cinematic nods, this time to the guns and suits of Heat which in turn was an influence on The Dark Knight – but here the clown masks are replaced by sock puppet heads. That’s right, sock puppets. It’s here too we get to enjoy a good sound mix from Alex Stroud – which combines comedy effects with the Hans Zimmer-style score from Matthew S Cooper with its drawn-out droning notes and pulsing bass.


Director David Lilley also gives a nod to another definitive gangster flick, Snatch. As rock music kicks in, we freeze frame on each member to get their name in colourful fonts. The gang are made up of Gout (Pete Bennett), Sniffer (David Chabeaux), Hammer Toe (Andy Batson) and Bunion (A.J. Stevenson) who have four suitably foot-centric nicknames, and whose heads range from a torn teddy look to a classic sock puppet.


There’s no dialogue from the gang – they speak in “squeaky” vocalisations like Sooty – but we do get yellow-font subtitles which seemed to nod to Tarantino. More of whose work will be an inspiration later.


Although 3 of the 4 are actors with woollen masks, one gang member is a visual effect of a real sock-puppet with the actor’s head replaced in post-production which is very impressive for a local project. In fact all the technical elements from sound, vfx, lighting and more are all excellently disciplined and used fittingly.


As terrified staff and customers kneel on floor in fear, Hammer Toe torments a female teller but his cohort attempts to convince him to stop. However, his mask is torn off and then he is knocked out but the butt of a gun. Again, some fantastic, and fantastical special effects are used as his clothes are removed and an ingenious falling scene ends with him dropping through space and sky before landing in a bin – and into his own flashback!


Removing himself from the trash, he arrives at an American diner with a surf-style soundtrack - again echoing Tarantino’s work. And as he sits in a booth and comically looks at prison mug shots of more sock puppets we discover that the man is an undercover cop – evoking Reservoir Dogs’ Mr. Orange.


Regaining consciousness on the bank floor we return to the heist and the unmasked man is revealed to be a cop to the gang itself but soon their plan goes haywire as the bungling group finally expose to each other who they really are. But things go from bad to worse when another final twist puts them into an even more dangerous predicament at the film’s conclusion.


Socks and Robbers ends up being a fabulously bizarre short with tremendous ideas wrapped in a (very) eclectic package. Fun-filled and funny, the short’s 7-minutes are a warm homage to a host of Hollywood heist films. And as it echoes the pulpiest of fictions, Socks and Robbers both wrong-foots you and keeps you on your toes as it entertains from the outset.



Michael Sales





By midlandsmovies, May 26 2019 03:39PM

Stan & Ollie (2019) Dir. Jon S. Baird


Beginning in 1937, a tremendously long one-take shot pulls us into the Hollywood world of one of comedy’s most iconic duos where Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy move through a studio backlot to a film set during their heyday. However, as Stan is on a different contract to Ollie, a rift is borne which continues to 1953 where the more mature duo embark on a gruelling UK-wide tour as part of a planned comeback.


Composed of Englishman Stan Laurel & American Oliver Hardy, their slapstick comedy was a hit with war-time audiences and they went on to star in over 100 films together. John C. Reilly is covered in prosthetics to play the portly Oliver Hardy, whilst comedian Steve Coogan is a spitting image for the “confused” persona of Stan Laurel. However, despite Stan and Ollie's well-known on-screen traits, the creative partnership begin to struggle with a music hall tour of the UK in the hopes of getting another film made.


Checking-in to rough hotels and playing to a run of empty theatres, Reilly and Coogan give magnetic performances as the two elderly men coming to terms with some of their glamour slipping away. Coogan especially, whose legendary Alan Partridge alter-ego I am a huge fan of, finally (for me) ditches Alan’s mannerisms and this films contains probably Coogan’s best movie screen performance to date.


As the duo begin to fill up more theatres owing to a string of publicity events, their past catches up to them and whilst their wives come to visit from Los Angeles (another fantastic double act from Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda as Ida Kitaeva Laurel), the tension boils over into a public spat.


Filmed right here in the Midlands, some scenes were shot in Dudley as well as The Old Rep theatre in Birmingham and also along the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire. We get old-fashioned and charming set-ups in a loving homage to both the duo and their trade. Baird’s direction is unfussy and straightforward, which allows the actors to shine. But it’s delightfulness of tone does sometimes push the film towards being a tad artless and plain.


As their past feelings of reciprocated betrayal are revealed, the film's amiable drama does moves into a slightly more interesting take on resentment, creativity and mutual respect.


When Ollie has a heart-attack, it marks the beginning of a reconciliation and the pleasantness is re-established. And the film shows great fondness and respect for the two great men and reveals a little about their motivations and inspirations.


However, as humble as it is, the film at times slips into mawkishness and some of the curious simplicity results in some underdeveloped sequences. That said, the movie made me want to watch many more of the duo’s finest celluloid moments and the two leads pull off more than just a great imitation. Although at times a bit wishy-washy, Stan and Ollie is a humble and uncomplicated look at two mesmerising legends in a quaint tribute piece.


★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Apr 8 2019 08:35AM



Midlands Spotlight - A Sort of Burial


A Sort of Burial is a new comedy, currently in pre-production, from Coventry based production company, Korky Films which was written by and will be directed by Midlands filmmaker Lee Charlish.


The film follows Alistair who is late for a funeral which annoys many including Carla who is there to say goodbye to her loyal family friend who is has now passed away. With the Vicar starting the service and Harry 'the fencer' having a job to do, the film is a funny look at a final send off.


Written by Midlands Movies Awards winner Lee Charlish, he again assumes directing and editing duties on this new film and he feels it’s a departure from his recent, more darker offerings.


Carla, the movie’s lead, will be played by Korky Films stalwart Marian ‘Mazzy’ Elizabeth who Lee describes as "solid, dependable and talented and she was the natural choice to assume the grief stricken and highly-agitated Carla".


Alistair, her hapless close friend will be played by Leicester-based actor, Martyn Luke. Lee adds, "Martyn is a well-established voice-actor who has provided voices on a few Korky Films animations previously. However, he is true talent in front of the screen too and is soon to appear in a few other local short films. His comic timing and expressive personality will bring the right level of credence to the often ‘put upon’ Alistair".


In addition, Leamington-based filmmaker Mark Hancock, who recently played The Psychopath in the last Korky Films ‘live-action’ release The Cold Caller, will assume a decidedly different role as Harry the Fencer.


And completing the cast is Stoke-based acting talent, Harrington Day as The Vicar, Gregory. "An accomplished, local actor, Harry is in constant demand by filmmakers for his professionalism and acting brilliance. He will compliment proceedings with a stoic and reverential turn in front of the cameras", says Lee.


As with The Cold Caller, the crew list for A Sort of Burial isdeliberately small as again, the production will be total self-funded. Like a lot of local filmmakers, Lee will use his house and garden, and minimal exterior locations as well, to keep costs deliberately down.


But Lee doesn't want to stop there. "More, larger scale scripts have been written, however, for the short-term, I have concentrated on preparing a slate of smaller-scale films, deliberately written so they can be filmed economically on a shoestring budget".


He adds, "To be clear, everyone gets paid; we fully support the needs of creatives, but we just cannot compete with projects who secure funding. For us, it just isn’t there, despite our output and successes. That said, our small-scale movies are no less ambitious and the level of professionalism we squeeze out of productions is a testament to the team’s talent".


Behind the camera is Damien Trent, another Coventry-based filmmaker (from Doktored Films) and Damien has previously worked as a sound recordist on the Korky Films/Jam-AV production, Scarecrow and operated camera on The Cold Caller. And finally, Ryan Clarke, a new member of the team will provide assistance to Lee as First AD.


Lee is currently looking for local musicians who may be able to assist in crafting a score and/or creating an original song to complement proceedings.


"The movie also requires a sound recordist and we're actively trying to recruit a competent professional before shooting begins on May 5th in Coventry, West Midlands".


For more information follow Korky Films on Twitter and Facebook




By midlandsmovies, Apr 2 2019 03:30PM



Midlands Review - A Helping Hand


Directed & written by Debbie Daniels


2018


Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers present A Helping Hand, a short film about an elderly man who is now sleeping during the day and active throughout the night. This isolated way of living forces him to seek help, with surprising results.


Arf (Arthur Fletcher) due to continued lack of sleep has now resigned himself to operating during the night and falling asleep in the day. The audience can see early on that he isn't happy with this arrangement as he is seen routinely opening his bedroom door, longing for normality, longing for sleep.


Writer and director Debbie Daniels, through a series of shots show the viewer how Arf lives his life. Because he cant sleep at night he is forced to carry out tasks such as shopping, gardening and cleaning in unsociable hours. Mute and glum with depression.


Arf decides to visit Dr Spellman where he reveals he is a widower, and since his wife's passing he has had trouble adjusting to sleeping alone. The good doctor discourages medication and recommends a “co-sleeper”, someone who will physically take the place of his late wife in bed to give Arf the familiar feeling of sleeping next to someone. Arf, taken aback by the unusual prescription agrees to give it a go.


Leah (Fiona Dunn) is introduced shortly after, lifting Arf's spirits immediately. The introduction of this character also elevates the films pace, as I enjoyed watching Arf and Leah's relationship grow in what should have been an awkward encounter. In stark contrast to Arf's conventional way of living, Leah brings with her otherworldly candles, props and music to help lull Arf into a deep slumber. Both characters are written beautifully, Arf's willingness after his initial scepticism warms me to his character whilst Leah's hunger for helping people make her a joy to watch.


“Remember, you can do anything you wan, be anything you want, you've got your whole life ahead of you” Arf says as he waves Leah goodbye after an unsuccessful effort to help him regain a normal sleeping pattern. Dave, another co-sleeper is introduced but to no avail until a third co-sleeper, an elderly lady Ann enters Arf's life. Will Arf be able to succeed in Dr Spellman's counselling and be able to live the life he wants to?


A Helping Hand is a light hearted story regarding a sombre subject which another director might have been heavy handed in their approach however director Debbie Daniels handles the story with a gentle touch surrounding Arf's evident discomfort with humorous moments.


Daniels is also responsible for the inspired choice of casting Arthur Fletcher as Arf as he gives a great performance. Fletcher is the films anchor as he commands attention in every scene and also to have great chemistry with all three of the supporting actors is a serious achievement.


The aspect that stood out for me the most whilst watching this film was friendship and the potential strangers have to be of importance to one another.


Shot on location in Sutton Coldfield, A Helping Hand reminded me of particular type of film that Britain does excellently, the mature comedy-drama. Go check it out.


For more information on Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers please click on this link.


Guy Russell

Twitter @BudGuyer


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