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By midlandsmovies, Oct 18 2018 06:49PM



Midlands Review - Assassins


Written and directed by Liane Moonraven


Assassins is a new micro-short from filmmaker Liane Moonraven and is the first film the American director has completed since arriving in England. And she opens her film in the most English of settings – the good ol’ boozer – and it is here in the pub where her short crime story unfurls.


Liane also stars in the short herself and enters the pub with Midlands Movies favourite Nisaro Karim, star of many shorts from the region. As Nisaro’s unknown man lights a cigarette, the barman brings over some stiff drinks before Liane’s character expresses a stern “We’re expecting a call” to give the short a little mystery from the outset.


As the locals drink, laugh and text, the buzz of the pub is interrupted by the expectant call as the barman hands over a Post-It to the double act at their table.


Downing their drinks they reveal their target is in the car park and with the short’s title of Assassin, the audience may expect a brutal slaying from the pair.


The assassins exit the bar through a back corridor and the woman takes out her gun ready to engage in their next mission. However, a sting in the tale reverses the audience’s expectations and provides a explosive bullet to the narrative.


A micro-short can be difficult to review given the extremely condensed time frame but Liane Moonraven gets over a lot of information in a few shots and with minimal dialogue. With a solid foundation, the film creates a dash of tension yet I hope to see a few more artistic choices in the shots for her next film.


A good grounding, Assassins is the sort of film that a filmmaker can build upon as they develop, where the right balance of character, editing and narrative is delivered simply and with little fuss. Check out the short on the YouTube video embedded below and expect bigger and better things off the back of this level-headed debut.


Mike Sales





By midlandsmovies, Oct 13 2018 02:26PM



The Initiation (2018) Dir. Sheikh Shahnawaz


Local independent filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz is back with The Initiation, a short film about two childhood friends who have their relationship put to the test when they meet a local crime boss they are interested in working for.


The Initiation starts off in an underground multi-storey car park, quiet with no one around but Aaron and Neil (Sam Malley and Dominic Thompson) as they wait nervously. Their long friendship is clear as they fist bump and agree to stand by each other no matter what, ‘since day one’ Neil says with an anxious Aaron agreeing.


As a dark car creeps up to them it’s clear this is their ride. A window rolls down to reveal a mysterious figure smoking. “Get in” he calmly demands. Neil makes the mistake of getting into the front passenger seat which is quickly met with another demand from the man to get in the back.


As the car drives out of the underground and into the streets it is clear this is one of Sheikh Shahnawaz’s most ambitious films yet as he films in external locations and makes it look effortless.


As the three men pull up on a quiet industrial estate they enter a dilapidated building with just a chair and a small table next to it. It is revealed that the strange man is Vinnie (Nisaro Karim) a local crime boss and a man to be respected and feared within the area. He takes the only seat and sits before Aaron and Neil as he quizzes them over a vacant position in his crew.


Vinnie makes sure to mention however that with the sought after lifestyle he can provide, the money, cars, respect, the job also brings with it responsibilities, one of which is making “difficult decisions whilst in difficult situations”. The initiation has begun.


I really enjoyed The Initiation, the premise being one of the main reasons. It is an interesting dynamic to have two loyal friends have the opportunity to make something of themselves albeit illegally but have them be prepared to do something drastic to achieve this.


Another factor of this short film I really enjoyed was the menacing performance by Catharsis Films regular Nisaro Karim, he seemingly towers over the other two men physically and mentally. Karim brings that authenticity to the role and brings Vinnie to life.


I would have liked to have seen more of a build up as it gears towards the finale as their friendship is ultimately tested it feels a tad rushed. However, this doesn’t detract from the fact this is a strong, short film. It is great to see well-made, entertaining genre films being made in this region by what seems to be the busiest and most determined filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz.


What’s next Catharsis films? I can’t wait.


Guy Russell


Twitter @BudGuyer


Watch the full short below:




By midlandsmovies, Oct 12 2018 01:13PM



The Hurricane Heist (2018) Rob Cohen


From the director of such “classics” as XXX (2002), Stealth (2005) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) comes this inane action romp where a bunch of criminals plan a bank heist around the impending arrival of a Force 5 hurricane.


There’s so little to recommend in a film with such a ludicrous premise as this and with a CinemaScore of “B-“, that’s far too generous for a movie which I think sits near the top, if not actually at the top, of my list of the worst film experiences of 2018.


A no-brainer in all senses of the word, the film is unsurprisingly a no-entertainment zone too. As although the silly concept is ripe for fun action set pieces, it goes through the motions with a set of stock characters and atrocious dialogue.


A vague attempt at some family drama alongside some double-crossing is terribly handled and the main character’s name “Breeze” is such a stupid analogy that it had me groaning as soon as I heard it.


Some would argue that certain sections have a knowing irony about them, but the joke was certainly lost on me as one risible scene led to another. So, batten down the hatches and ensure you are safely hidden away until this monstrous disaster has passed you by.


You have been warned.


3/10


Mike Sales




By midlandsmovies, Aug 24 2018 07:23AM

Thursday (2018)


Directed by Glenn McAllen-Finney


GM Finney Productions


Opening with a tied up and handcuffed female covered in blood, Thursday, the new film from Glenn McAllen-Finney, throws the audience straight into scenes of scary violence and life or death terror in this new Midlands crime drama.


With the use of a handheld camera technique and washed out colour palette, a mysterious man torments his captive with a monologue of evil intentions. And given her situation, it’s not long before fists are flying as she defies his demands not to scream in an attempt to escape. But how did these people get here and what are the enigmatic numbers he is demanding from his hostage?


Not shying from brutal scenes, Thursday concerns itself with Jade (played by Kelly McCormack) who is interrogated about an unknown set of secret numbers believed to be received from her deceased father. We are told these are needed in order to open a case with important company documents. Recalling the Tom Berenger/Cillian Murphy scene from Inception (movie-geek here knows them as 528491) this film may also be harking back to that movie with its use of an expressive orchestral score.


Although this is a nice change of musical tone for a local film and attempts to give the short some gravitas, it unfortunately sometimes moves scenes into melodrama. At more than one point, it overpowers the interesting conflicts which also may be down to a slightly muddled sound mix, and drowns out the all-important dialogue.


The tormentor however is played with spiteful malice by Sam Winterton who delivers a great, if slightly sometime over-the-top, Bond-villain style performance that captures a nasty menace punctuated with loud verbal outbursts.


More Nolan influences are seen in the film’s narrative structure. Whilst opening on the cell-based conversation, the film flashes forward and backward in time. When it does, the film’s colour palette changes to a much more natural colour – twisting the traditional black-and-white style and throwing the audience out of any cinematic familiarity.


Back in the past, we see a vibrant house party which begins to explain some of the events leading to the current predicament. With the surprising return of her father to the party, he demands she takes responsibility for her life and then exits quickly leaving us intrigued as to his intentions.


Containing a very different tone and style to the director’s previous film The Rockman, McFinney-Allen has moved from cheaper b-movie sci-fi thrills with this more mature drama. And done with some flair too. Whilst the film relies a bit too heavily of dialogue exposition – story beats are unashamedly spelled out for you – the filmmaker however uses his skills to avoid low budget pitfalls to get a lot of information over in the short 20-minute runtime. And as we shuffle back to the cell, some hidden truths are uncovered before the revelation of the numbers become clear in a satisfying conclusion.


With influences from Tarantino – McCormack is literally stuck in the middle with you throughout and we see the arrival of authorities towards the film’s conclusion – as well as Christopher Nolan, the filmmaker has tried to sprinkle some style from Hollywood genre flicks into a local film. A table-turning ending leaves the short with the audience wanting more and the film certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.


With a bevy of strong performances, a mix of genre influences from the highbrow to the sleazy, Thursday ends up being an ambitious short which, whilst not always hitting its mark, is a first-rate film from a filmmaker developing his talents into much more complex and interesting territory.


Mike Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jun 25 2018 10:06AM



Game Night (2018) Dir. John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein


Game Night is a refreshing American comedy film which stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams as couple Max and Annie who after meeting during a bar trivia night, get married and run regular game nights at home with their suburban friends.


When Max’s more successful brother Brooks (Super 8 and King Kong’s Kyle Chandler) shows up unexpectedly one evening, he invites his sibling and his fellow players to join in an elaborate murder mystery evening.


However, unknowingly to the participants, Brooks’ dodgy past catches up with him and the evening turns into an actual kidnapping as Brooks is taken by the real criminals he has crossed. Game Night has a simple set up but what is refreshing is the lack of improvisation sequences. I am personally sick to death of the Will Ferrell and Seth Rogen's “stumbling” and “shouting” style and on-the-spot quips. That particular shtick can only be edited and shot one way but the directors clearly have a well-written script to work from. This also leads them to more bold directorial choices.


The movie looks like a film (rather than the flat TV-style of a lot of American comedies) and has more in common with Edgar Wright’s frenetic approach than, say, Judd Apatow. Again, the use of scripted dialogue allows for many more clever jokes, set-ups and pay-offs.


The film’s support cast is equally appealing with Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury all playing interesting roles as the couple's friends whilst Jesse Plemons’ police officer is a fantastic performance of a quizzical and creepy next door neighbour.


As the various teams split up and follow fake clues to identify the real location of the kidnapping, the film is actually not too dissimilar to Keanu (2016) where suburbanites get caught up with criminals for one crazy night. Like that film, the script helps allow more film-making creativity as we later get strangely artistic tilt shift shots and an impressive one-take Faberge egg throwing sequence – which gets tossed around a mansion like the pig-skin of a Super Bowl.


But it’s not all trivial filmmaking pursuits, the jokes fly thick and fast with inventive sequences such as McAdams trying to remove a bullet from her husband’s arm as she follows medical instructions from a militia website on her phone. A dog toy in his mouth and some gruesome effects meant the movie began winning me over with its black comedy charms.


Coming in with very low expectations it has to be said, Game Night may have garnered a few extra points for its surprising movie-making skill but I was pleasantly surprised by actors I previously don’t much care for. And the car chases, fights and witty dialogue had the feel of classic 80s comedies like Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon. A compendium of clever scenes and sequences therefore sees Game Night as a fun and entertaining ride that has winning elements throughout.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Aug 29 2017 09:00PM



Stratton (2017) Dir. Simon West


With 1997’s Con Air, Simon West has a bona fide action classic under his belt yet it is a shame that his follow up films which include Tomb Raider and Jason Statham vehicles The Mechanic, The Expendables 2 and Wild Card were mostly middling.


The prolific director has two more to come in 2017 – Salty (an action comedy with Antonio Banderas) and fantasy flick War Wolf but is he spreading himself too thin? The evidence in Stratton would sadly suggest so.


This British thriller is based on the books by Duncan Falconer with the lead character John Stratton played by Dominic Cooper as a kind of budget Bond. As part of the SBS (the UK equivalent of Navy Seals) the film opens with a suitably pumping 80s electro soundtrack before a ridiculous over-the-top John Barry-esque string score kicks in.


With a team of operatives spouting nonsense techno-babble about various targets alongside “banter” between agents, the movie begins with an exciting(-ish) extended mission sequence in “Iran”, although the location doesn’t look Middle Eastern in the slightest.


This beginning front-loads the movie with its best feature – some solid action sequences. Gun fights, helicopters, swimming, infiltration, a truck chase and a beach rescue throw the audience in at the deep end but little time is spent on character relationships or motivations. Point of view heads-up-display shots gave the film a video game aesthetic which was an instant personal turn off for me, whilst the MI5 headquarters is so clearly a regular office block it made me laugh.


The film then goes all over the place with a ‘house-boat’ Derek Jacobi reciting drunken limericks before setting up a second half located in Rome which improves things a lot. The scenes have echoes of Spectre but it’s a great city to see and the streets are perfect for a night-time car chase sequence.


Everything seems to be delivered with a bit too upper-class-England inflection which is compounded with some abysmal overacting although I can give this a bit of a pass as the dialogue is so hackneyed. Gemma Chan comes off the best, as a technical operative called Aggy, Cooper is solid if a bit bland and Connie Nielsen (from Gladiator and The Devil’s Advocate) can’t save the obvious exposition monologues she has to deliver whilst meandering through the city.


A boat chase on the Thames and an explosive finale involving a London Routemaster bus continue the good action but it’s more like the TV show Spooks than spectacular. Stratton ends up being an honourable attempt at a Bourne-style special ops thriller but it’s worth noting that just five days before filming began, Henry Cavil (Superman) exited the film over ‘creative differences’.


The action just about saves it from being awful but short of a few dynamic sequences, there’s not a great deal here to recommend and admiration can only go to Cavil for spotting a duffer before it was too late.


5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jun 9 2017 03:19PM



New production company Them Pesky Kids hit the region as their Kickstarter campaign launches into full swing for their upcoming short film Ariella.


Formed recently in Nottingham, Them Pesky Kids are aiming for a fresh take on the crime-thriller genre as they begin production on their film with a fundraising campaign goal of £10,000 due to end on 30th June.


The filmmakers are brothers Michael and Jack Jobling and Ariella will be their first film they have created together, though they have both worked individually on music videos, short films and documentaries.


Michael Jobling’s last project Anoesis was well received locally at the Short Stack and Beeston Film festivals and went on to win a student Royal Television Society award. Ariella is being produced by Ryan Harvey who won the Best Student Drama for his debut film Tuesday Afternoon at the Nottingham International MicroFilm Festival.


With a talented crew, the film tells the story of a seemingly innocent waitress who is told to keep an eye on two thugs hiding out in her cafe, but her own motives get in the way of her professionalism.


And as well as the successful past of the filmmakers, they have managed to attract amazing local talent in front of the screen as well.


Hannaj Bang Bendz, who recently won Best Actress at the LA Film Festival for her short film, The Man up the Stairs stars alongside Johann Myers who is a Nottingham based actor who has recently starred in Luther and Black Mirror.


As the villain, James Graeme takes the creepy role and has also been in Phantom of the Opera and Jesus Christ Superstar on the West End. Finally, playing his daughter is Nottingham based singer and actress, Tiger Cohen Towell who has appeared as a BBC Introducing artist.


‘The cast and crew have brought this collaborative mentality on board, they’re really bringing their A-Game”, says Jack Jobling. He adds, “I’ve lived in Nottingham for a year and I’m still astonished by how professional and creative everyone is!”


His brother Michael agrees with him. “Everyone believes in this project, the community support is incredible. It’s great to direct a film that’s bringing such talented Nottingham-based artists together”.


Previously, Them Pesky Kids held a launch screening at The Nottingham Contemporary to showcase their earlier films as well as unveil their plans for the future.


And in June 2017 they’ll be releasing further news, cast announcements, vlogs, songs and flash rewards across their social media pages.


Check their full Kickstarter and social media pages below:


https://www.facebook.com/thempeskykidsfilm


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/498110007/ariella-short-film?ref=user_menu

By midlandsmovies, Apr 30 2017 02:39PM

Sleepless (2017) Dir. Baran bo Odar


Kaboom! I often moan that movies do not start quickly enough – dragging out exposition when a simple bombastic introduction is what is required. Sleepless avoids that with a car chase/shoot out which starts this 90 minute action-thriller.


Sitting firmly in “paycheque” territory, the Swiss director Baran bo Odar in his English language debut dismisses character and motivation for swift-moving crime tale. Actually a remake of French film Sleepless Night, the short run time is a bonus given the level of achievement earned by the movie’s conclusion.


In brief, Las Vegas based Jamie Foxx plays a corrupt policeman with Michelle Monaghan from internal affairs playing an obvious antagonist (example of their enlightened dialogue: “this city is crawling with dirty cops”). After stealing coke from a local casino owner (Dermot Mulroney doing his best ‘Terry Benedict’ from Ocean’s 11) Foxx’s son is kidnapped and he has just hours to return the coke to set his boy free.


Scoot McNairy as a crime-boss’ son sleepwalks his way through a villain role that literally contains moustache-twirling. In fact, I subsequently noticed all the bad guys in this film have appropriate Victorian-villain goatees.


A game of cat and mouse between Foxx, internal affairs and who has their hands on the cocaine then ensues to resolve the film’s laborious set-up. Yet it couldn’t be more inanely constructed and is filmed in a flat George Lucas-quality shot-reverse shot style. I even laughed during a kitchen fight (how original) as the choreography has Foxx receiving punches with all the 'weight' of being slapped by a giant foam hand.


Clichés abound as the film plays out more like an episode of CSI with dull direction and, despite a talented cast, a poor script they can do nothing with. Dialogue is so stale, it’s growing mould by the film’s conclusion.


Little flair, TV show-quality music and zero artistic touches means I could throw in a joke about how it puts you to sleep but the film’s failures are many and barely deserve such a pun. Don’t gamble on this film given its all-star line-up as I can assure you it will be a huge waste of your precious time.


4/10


Midlands Movies Mike


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