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By midlandsmovies, Aug 11 2019 08:00AM



McKinley


Directed by Ben Bloore


2019


B Squared Films


After a bit of hiatus local Derby filmmaker Ben Bloore returns to the director’s chair for his new 7-minute short McKinley, an emotional police procedural containing many unfortunate consequences.


We open with a husband (Steve Wood as Craig) who arrives home late one Friday night to his wife (Tina Harris as Emma) who angrily shouts at his son (Rory McGuinness) to go to bed.


A violent row ensues with his wife pushed out the way as he heads upstairs to the boy’s room where he is unjustly punished by the whipping of a belt.


But there is a twist in this tale: a masked intruder enters from behind and attacks Emma before we are whisked away to the next day where a police officer is at the crime scene. A great introduction, Bloore switches focus (and our sympathies) with this narrative swap and immediately sets up an intriguing mystery just a few minutes in.


A dishevelled and unshaven detective turns up (Mark Tunstall as the eponymous McKinley) who is whisked around the house by a forensic scientist (Michelle Darkin Price) explaining how the previous night’s events unfolded.


Bloore again uses images to fill in the audience with the background as we cut back to see the final moments of the parents before their bodies were discovered now strewn on the floor. But again we are offered a plot surprise as we find out the son has in fact survived the attack.


McKinley appears haunted by a past case, especially one involving his family as he imagines their images in a broken photo frame and we again flashback to the incredibly traumatised detective at a different crime scene.


The film has a huge number of high points going for it. Bloore has assembled a crew who have created a quality short that looks as good as anything I’ve seen on TV. Director of Photography Jon O’Neill uses sharp images with great depth and the shot quality shows the professionalism and skill on screen.


Kudos should also go to editor Nick Archer who successfully cuts back and forth across many time narratives to ensure the audience can understand the multiple situations we are shown.


The acting is also a highlight with the whole cast delivering and getting across their characters in such a short space of time. This is probably due to the successful relationship the director has built up with the actors from their previous appearances in his earlier shorts 2015’s Hidden Truth (review here) and 2016’s Crossing Paths (review here).


Haunted by ghostly visions, McKinley finishes open-ended which again reflects the TV nature of the film with this short almost acting as the pilot episode of a longer drama series. As one door closes we are left to imagine another opening up as the film’s conclusion teases a bigger story and further investigation.


Although the short does contain some clichés of the genre – the troubled detective, a family murder etc – the film overcomes most of these. With high-quality professionalism and a well-written script, this allows the audience to discover the mysteries along with the characters in a fulfilling way. And from a satisfying set-up to an exceptional cast, McKinley is a first-rate detective tale with intriguing secrets that will leave an audience wanting much more.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Aug 10 2019 07:24AM



Jungleland


Directed by Waheed Iqbal


2019


Dead in the City films


Written, directed and starring Waheed Iqbal, Jungleland is a new feature set amongst the seedy world of criminals in the West Midlands.


Waheed Iqbal stars as Tanha, a man with some seriously bad habits – drugs and gambling being just two of them – who gets in way over his head after a bet gone wrong. With just 5 days to pay off his debt, we get a countdown of days to a sports game that could help Tanha win a large amount of cash to resolve his situation.


He visits a number of criminal associates, prostitutes and shady dealers as he travels around the streets at night, trying to pull his wayward life together. The film also has an admirable support cast including Hannah-Lee Osborn, Magdalena Ziembla, Faraz Beg, Nav Iqbal and Haqi Ali who encapsulate the sordid aspects of their very unwholesome characters.


As the sparse story develops at an unrushed rate, the film seems to owe more than a debt to Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Iqbal has been inspired to chose a stark colour scheme with shots drenched in neon purples and reds. At the same time, the similarities continue as he focuses solely on a single character’s point of view as the director attempts to draw the audience into his depraved and shadowy psyche.


Although some parts have the vibe of Refn’s Drive (2011) with a downbeat individual entering an immoral world, Jungleland felt more of a nod to God Only Forgives (2013) as a man moonlights his way around a city dealing with threats and iniquitous behaviour.


Sadly, this is slightly unfortunate as this film has inherited the incredibly slow pace and somewhat meandering narrative of that film as well.


Regretfully, the minimalist dialogue and some extremely time-consuming sequences have the effect of making Jungleland feel a bit of a slog at times. An example straight away is the opening 2 minutes of static Birmingham shots that feel redundant - especially when the subsequent red titles, pumping music and a car swerving through a city at night is a much more intriguing and exciting opening.


And there is a LOT of walking too. Everything is dragged out and so measured I found myself switching off which was a disappointment given its mysterious narrative and impressive electro-infused soundtrack.


But it keeps coming back to its snail’s pace. At a whopping 1 hour and 40minutes, Jungleland ends up being an ambitious attempt to deliver an exploration of wickedness and sin but the repetitive script needs tightening, the film could do with a quicker edit and the length doesn’t justify the narrative content.


That said, Iqbal no doubt has an impressive variety of skills and throws them all at the screen during its runtime. Steadicam-style tracking shots, black and white scenes and some impressive and very atmospheric lighting are the film’s finest aspects. And all of this gives the movie an aura of sleazy racketeering and deadly corruption which comes across of screen.


So definitely check out Jungleland if you’re a fan of Refn’s work – especially Only God Forgives whose tone is splashed all over the film – but for others, prepare for a long-drawn-out endeavour that may leave you either immensely fascinated or slightly fatigued.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jul 26 2019 03:57PM



Midlands Review - Betrayal


Directed by French Director


NFX Films


2019


“I thought we were friends”.


A man awakens in a hotel room from an amnesiac slumber to call out the name “Jess” in this mysterious opening to a new drama film called Betrayal from local filmmaker ‘French Director’. An intriguing pseudonym to say the least!


However, it doesn’t take him too long to find who he was looking for as this missing girl is discovered dead in the main room. And from this small but significant incident, Betrayal sets up an intriguing enigma of what horrid things happened to get our characters to this moment.


Cutting to later that night, the man (Joshmaine Joseph) meets a friend (Mathias T André) in a dark underpass to discuss who could have possibly committed the act. But as these things often go, the man doesn’t want the authorities involved – in fact, he would prefer to take matters into his own hands. And what do we see in hands? A pistol. And it’s ready for action.


As the man enters a high-rise apartment (or what could pass as one on a limited budget), our vigilante incapacitates a burly security guard. He then confronts a well-dressed man (The Return of the Ring’s Dominic Thompson) by aiming the gun barrel to his head ready to enact some sort of murderous retribution. But is everything really as it seems? And doesn't this man seem a bit too keen to kill?


Well, the director moves us around the story with aplomb as a flashback takes us to the exact same characters in the same location. But this time the suited man shows our lead some very incriminating video evidence of his nearest and dearest.


On the technical side, the director deftly uses handheld camera to give the short gritty realism whilst the brief fight scene is well edited which provides it with a brutal edge.


The film also has all the strong elements of a thriller here too. A mystery set up. Criminals in dark alleys. A henchman fight. I suppose for me though there was nothing particularly new added to this mix of these often-seen genre staples. And although functional, the script could have been given one more pass to drop a few clichés (“we’re monsters”, “we had a deal”). However, given the run-time the lines may have been direct and to the point to keep its quick tempo.


The fast pace does keep the momentum up and we are pushed to a dramatic conclusion. The editing throughout is also strong so as to slowly reveal the layers of the secrets it sets up. Kudos should also go to the stark film noir lighting which can be difficult on a low budget but is more than successfully pulled off here.


Betrayal therefore ends up being a solid short crime story. The best thing for me was the dexterity of the director trying lots of cinematic techniques to further his skill. In just 8 minutes we get a well-constructed story, action, drama and sadness – all delivered with great technical capability from someone who knows the genre well.


So although this is the first film I’ve seen from “French Director” (actually West Midlands filmmaker Idi Assoumanou I believe), from the promising talent I’ve seen in Betrayal, I certainly don’t think it will be my last.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jun 23 2019 02:19PM




Kobe


2019


Directed by A R Ugas


Kobe is a short crime thriller from West Midlands writer/director/producer AR Ugas, who you may remember from last year’s Return of the Ring.


Lead character Kobe (played by Mathias Andre) is a disillusioned and hungry young man. About to graduate University and pushed hard by a father he sees as overbearing, he’s seen what happens to those who fail to live up to society’s expectations afterwards. In his own words, he wants to work smart and get rich now, not work hard and get rich at 50 – or never.


So when childhood friend Mouse (Dominic Thompson) is released from prison, Kobe jumps at the chance to join him in a life of crime, as they’re hired by a mysterious man (Tee Morris) to knock off a warehouse full of cocaine. But when the address changes, the stakes shoot up and Kobe finds some very hard choices ahead indeed...


The film gives us some wonderful dilemmas, which I won’t go into in too much detail for fear of spoilers. There are two lines that, to me, embody the best parts of this story. “Lions don’t walk with hyenas,” Kobe’s dad says threateningly to Mouse. And later, not long afterwards, when Mouse cautions Kobe to “go to sleep and don’t wake up as the same person you went to sleep as”. Kobe sees himself as a class warrior, defying his father’s middle-class attitudes in favour of running with Mouse and taking on a life of violent crime.


But Mouse knows the truth of it, and is warning him that Kobe the 3rd-year student might not have what it takes to pull this crime off. Kobe the faceless masked criminal might.


Ugas brings his camera in close and handheld, eschewing glossy shots to bring a gritty low-tech feel to this gritty low-tech story. It’s a realistic story told in a no-frills way, which mostly works extremely well.


Some of the scenes felt a little flat and could have used more dynamic editing or movement (Mouse’s argument with his now-ex comes to mind), but once the story gets going there’s no stopping the flow. The only technical area that could use more attention is the sound; sound design is often the first casualty of a low budget, but it’s arguably one of the areas that needs the most attention. Clear, audible dialogue and effective use of soundtrack and sound effects are essential in grabbing and holding an audience’s attention and helping them stay immersed. Some of the dialogue towards the beginning is mumbly, and some of the silent scenes would benefit from music to help evoke emotion.


The cast is superb – Andre shines in moments of conflict where he wrestles with his conscience, and Thompson balances cocky chav with wounded victim of the life he leads. He’s trapped in his life, a bit more explicitly so as we see towards the end, but Kobe chooses to walk his path. No wonder Mouse seems almost frightened by Kobe’s willingness. Tee Morris is another standout, bringing the intensity he had in Climbing Trees and channelling it into the brief but memorable role of a man twisted by anger and hatred.


This is only AR Ugas’ second film, with a third in development (with a title like “We Have the President’s Daughter” it promises to be a slicker and faster-paced affair). It’s clear he has the talent and aptitude to take a tiny budget and deliver an entertaining and moving story. I suspect this is only the beginning of a career to keep an eye on!


Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend


By midlandsmovies, Jun 12 2019 09:00AM




Midlands Spotlight - Rachel from David L Knight


Midlands Movies checks out the forthcoming release ‘Rachel’ from regional filmmaker David L. Knight as he prepares to put the finishing touches to a new dark drama.


Award-winning filmmaker David L. Knight recently released his last film Suicide Blonde (our review here) which won Best Local Short Film at last year’s Birmingham Film Festival. It also picked up a prize at 2019’s Heart of England Film Festival.


However, David has quickly moved on to his next project and describes Rachel as a “supernatural revenge film”, but he refuses to pigeon hole this ensemble drama as a horror. Even though he admits there are traces of the genre within the film.


"Rachel tells the story of Alex, a junkie living on the street who wakes up to find himself gagged and tied. Beginning to realise what his capturer’s motives are, a battle of wills ensues and Alex’s only ally is a girl he once knew".


Containing his largest cast to date, Rachel is made up of actors from around the UK including Stafford-based actor David Pritchard. Having had a small role in Suicide Blonde, he impressed the director so much that Knight decided to write a role that could showcase David as a local talent. Other cast include Joseph Hughes, Lilibeth Langford and newcomer Jake Brown.


Reuniting with long-term collaborator Martin Tucker - whom David studied with at the University of Gloucestershire - he continues as Director of Photography, and further Rachel crew also includes Rob James (1st AC) and Janine Bevan (make-up artist).



These are joined by Stafford-based Tim Vickerstaff (sound recordist) and Charlie Morton (editor) originally from Leamington Spa.


The film will also have original music written exclusively for it by newly established Birmingham-based composer Peter May.


While Rachel is currently in the final stages of post-production and is expected to be finished by the end of June, David and his team have already began pre-production on their next film Lucky, which will see its crowd funding campaign launching in mid-June 2019.


Check out the brand new poster above and find out more about the film and its release dates at the social media links below:


https://www.facebook.com/rachelshortfilmuk/


https://www.facebook.com/DavidLKnightFilms/


https://twitter.com/DaveLKnight




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, Mar 23 2019 08:52AM



Midlands Spotlight - KOBE


KOBE is an upcoming short crime thriller film from West Midlands director AR Ugas about a university student who, after his childhood friend is released from prison, decides to enter into a life of crime which culminates in a robbery that goes wrong.


Shot in 5 days in several locations in the Birmingham are, the film was shot, produced, directed and edited by Ugas, who had great success with his Tolkien-inspired first film 'The Return of the Ring'.

AR Ugas explains, "After The Return of the Ring and its success I felt like I was ready to jump into making a feature film. I wrote the script, casted it and was about to start the rehearsal process, but for a variety of reasons and like many other independent projects it failed to launch".

"After that, I decided to go back to the basics and fully develop myself as a one-man team guerilla filmmaker, buying my own camera and editing software and hardware", he added.


The director explains that not only did he make decisions to save time and money in the long run, he also wanted to fully appreciate and understand what it takes to create a film. "Having dipped my toes into shooting and editing myself, I am a lot more confident and comfortable with all sides of filmmaking now".


While 'The Return of the Ring' was very high-concept and flashy, the director felt it lacked an emotional depth - "Everyone saw what happened but not many felt what happened and we watch films not just to see but also to feel".


KOBE will be a lot more gritty and dynamic film and the director hopes it's also a lot more personal too as the film delves into the friendship of an ex-prisoner and a university student, examining their moral compasses and how people change when put in a difficult situation. It also looks at a faltering relationship between a strict out-of-touch father and said student.



Working on the project are the two leads, Mathias Andre (as Kobe) and Dominic Thompson (as Mouse) who also played the hooded wizzard in The Return of the Ring.


Joining them are Tee Morris (Christopher) who recently won an award for 'Best Actor' for the wonderful short film 'Climbing Trees', Alexandria Carr (Serena), Bola Latunji (James), COrey Thompson (Sully) and Summer Carr (Natasha).


With a plan to release the film in the next few motnhs, the production are looking at several platforms for the release and you can find out more about the film and filmaker here https://www.facebook.com/ARUGASUK and check out the two exclusive screengrabs of Dominic Thompson playing 'MOUSE'.



By midlandsmovies, Jan 29 2019 02:58PM



The Chase (2018)


Fight Club production in association with Five Pence Productions.


Directed by Nisaro Karim & Sam Malley. Written by Nisaro Karim


A trio of contract criminals are assigned a case whereby they must steal a Christmas present from an empty household, only the job doesn’t turn out to be quite as straightforward as they had anticipated.


Sometimes I see films and I have to admire the potential they showed, even if they don’t quite hit the mark in terms of their execution. What Sam Malley and Nisaro Karim have created with The Chase is something that is a very solid foundation for what could go on to be a well-developed concept should they continue to invest in it.


What piques my interest most here is the premise and the number of questions it raises for the viewer. First and foremost, we have a story that centres around the bad guys, which is never a bad thing in my eyes. Generally speaking, the dodgier the character, the more intriguing the narrative tends to be. The thing with villains is they’re grafters. They always have to work hard, whereas the heroes - no matter how high the odds may be stacked against them - they always seem to come out on top with little or no hardship.


So the fact that I’m straightaway presented with two not-so-good characters as the front runners here tells me that the filmmakers also acknowledge this in some way, and I can appreciate that. What I think would be beneficial is that, going forward, how these people got to be where they are today gets explored.


To be able to get inside the head of a villain is always a fascinating thing, and would absolutely add layers of depth to what is a promising blueprint. Add to this the fact that little notes are added throughout the story with the intention of capturing attention and suddenly you have something that shows a lot of potential indeed. Some of these are a bit on the nose, for example, a package with content that remains a mystery from start to finish. However when you look at the bigger picture, it’s the slightly less obvious details that raise the bigger questions, which is another thing I was a fan of.


There were some moments that felt like they were supposed to be more comedic that didn’t hit the mark for me. For the most part, the downfall occurred in one of two ways. Either the generations involved in making the jokes didn’t fit, such as when there is the opening exchange between Dima and Daisy regarding Daisy’s Netflix viewing habits, or the responses to certain situations weren’t reactive enough, and were just too straight-laced.


Personally, I don’t think comedic elements are really needed here if I’m perfectly honest. I think out-and-out crime drama is the approach I’d prefer, and which I think would work better as getting the balance just right with lighter moments is hard and can carry some weight when it’s even just slightly off.


Overall, I do feel like there is a lot of potential there with The Chase, but it does need more development. Foundations are strong, but I think before any future projects are built upon them some of the writing could be tightened up a little bit, and it needs to have more confidence with whatever direction it is headed in.


There is a good idea here, and I think with the right amount of love it could grow into something great. It’s a work-in-progress, but definitely one where the bigger picture is worth keeping an eye on.


Kira Comerford


Twitter @FilmAndTV101


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