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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, Aug 31 2016 10:51PM

David Brent: Life on the Road (2016) Dir. Ricky Gervais

15 years after the success of The Office, Ricky Gervais’ cringe worthy creation returns in this TV spin off that maintains the mockumentary style laced with squirming humour.

Here we follow Brent post-Wernham Hogg – sadly there are no cameos from anyone else from the original series – as he pulls together a reluctant band for a tour (series of local gigs) of his questionable music material. His dreams of packed venues and getting signed by a record company couldn’t be further away as we see the deluded Brent aspiring for the stars with a group of musicians laughing at his efforts.

The laudable Foregone Conclusion fail on almost every level with Brent creating “visionary” and “political” songs such as ‘Native American’, ‘Equality Street’ and the less subtle 'Please Don't Make Fun of the Disabled'.

Despite all these fiascos, it’s Gervais’ talent as an actor and writer that helps elicit huge amounts of sympathy for Brent who – like many of us – dreams of leaving a mundane day job with ambitions (some may say delusions) beyond his boring everyday life.

Support comes from Ben Bailey Smith plays a great role as Dom Johnson, an aspiring rapper held back by Brent’s ineptitude and also Jo Hartley as Pauline, a sympathetic colleague. Of course, there are plenty of laughs throughout as Brent attempts at being politically correct fail as spectacularly as the band’s atrocious gigs with t-shirt cannon slapstick and embarrassing hotel sequences added to make the viewer snort and squirm at the same time.

It’s this pathos – the sad Brent piling every penny into his musical fantasy of “making it” – that gives the film a warm glow as you root for the character despite every wrong decision he makes. The British love a loser and there isn’t a bigger one than Brent and as much as you flinch from his humiliation, I found myself rooting for some sort of catharsis. The film doesn’t go the whole “Hogg” as it delivers the required upbeat ending which suggests some individual success but I found this crucial after an abundance of hopelessness.

Is the film much more than an elongated TV episode though? For me, not really. It sits nicely alongside Alpha Papa by refusing to ‘go bi’g to ensure their respective comedy creations had smaller local problems to deal with. But the film’s are all the better because of their undersized intimacy.

If you like Gervais’ comedy stylings then there is a lot to recommend in Life on the Road. As someone who has worked in an office and been on tour with a band there was so much reflecting back at me it was uncannily accurate at times. However, those who find Gervais grating will not be won over here. However, he makes Brent take centre stage on a musical odyssey that has both sensitivity and affection at its core but never forgets the chuckles.


Midlands Movies Mike

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