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By midlandsmovies, Nov 9 2019 03:09PM


Step Up


Directed by Nisaro Karim


2019


Five Pence Productions


Step Up is the new film from producers Five Pence Productions and Gurjant Singh Films and is directed by Nisaro Karim, who may may have taken over fellow West Midlands filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz as the Midlands' "Most Prolific Director™".


Described as a gritty urban thriller inspired by Netflix’s Topboy, the film sees a gangster in a car (Sarfraz Mughal) asking if a friend Sam (Jacob Lander) is ready to “step up” and do a dastardly deed. Sam claims he is well prepared and we soon find out that he is being asked to kill a rival - yet is limited to just one bullet.


With no second chances he is handed the gun and pulls his hood over his head and exits to the sound of ominous music. Once out the car, his bravado turns to a more worried facial expression as he enters a mobile phone shop.


The stunned shop owner comes off a video call from a loved one and stares at his possible assailant. And as the tension rises, the man draws his gun and Karim cleverly holds the moment for a beat.


With the shooter and the audience taking in a deep breath, we ask the question whether he’ll go ahead and pull that trigger.


I won’t disclose the ending but Nisaro throws in a nice twist keeping the viewer off-kilter and sets up a possible second instalment after this opening short drama.


Similar to his previous micro-film Peaky Blinders A New Era, the film is more of a trailer than an all encompassing short such is the minimal narrative on show. It could also work as a nice sequence as part of a showreel piece for the two actors.


A nice if slight little short, to be fair to Nisaro Karim he has in fact billed Step Up as part of a series and I’ll be intrigued as to where this goes. Especially as he leaves the audience and his protagonist in a place where they certainly do not know what is coming next.


Michael Sales


Watch the full short below:




By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 08:06AM



Angel City


Directed by Duaine Roberts


2019


Carma Films


A new feature film comes courtesy of West Midlands filmmaker Duaine Roberts who covers sorrow and misery in new drama film Angel City.


We are introduced to Raven (played by Tamaira Hesson) who is grieving for reasons unknown and doesn’t feel like joining in with her sister’s social scene. Her sibling, Angel (Adaya Monique Henry), is a music artist struggling for money. Raven is trying to overcome her depression but claims drugs further affect her mood, but does she still rely too much on them to get her through her troubles?


Raven does eventually show up at party before heading to toilet for some privacy but also expresses her concerns to her sister about how she doesn’t fit in. Scarily she is then brutally attacked but the culprit is unknown and thus sets up a mystery of how all these events came to occur.


The great Birmingham accents come through from the actors, but scenes are very dialogue heavy and the conversations do not lead to the most exciting pieces of drama it has to be said.


Flashbacks begin filling in the story arcs which involve a same-sex love affair before the police start to investigate, and the film gradually reveals how the past is still affecting the lives of those in the present.


Stylistically, the director’s almost sole use of 2-people conversations (or phone calls) in household rooms really slows down the narrative. And this has the effect of losing audience engagement owing to the endless flat “mid-shot” style of filming.


Although adding some realism, a bit more creativity felt needed in these choices. An establishing shot and close-up wouldn’t go amiss. This is unfortunately compounded with the sound, where other than a few tracks, the film really could do with a score to give more emotional beats to the ups and downs of the character relationships.


As the story progresses, the film explores drugs – both recreational and medicinal – and the sibling 'rivalry' comes to a head as secrets are uncovered including blackmail, crime and sexual violence.


Sadly though, the film overall feels a little slow and the drama falls a bit flat. And a huge absence of background sound, music or a score gives little dynamics to each scene especially as nearly all information is provided to the viewer in conversations only. That said, it’s always more than a pleasure to see local filmmakers jump into the feature-length area and admirable to tackle such a sprawling story script.


In the end, the film is delivered by a talented cast who believe in the work and valiantly give everything they can to make it work. And so Angel City does take an honourable but flawed and repetitive look at issues of violence, coping with grief and at the same time respectfully deals with anxiety and the complexities of same-sex relationships.


Michael Sales


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





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