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By midlandsmovies, Nov 21 2017 05:52PM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 5


As we steam full ahead towards 2018, here are a few reviews of films we’ve seen during the past year in the fifth catch-up blog of 2017.




The Discovery (2017) Dir. Charlie McDowell

Released through Netflix this drama has a fantastic cast of Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, Robert Redford and Jesse Plemons and we begin with scientist Thomas Harbor (Redford) who has proved the existence of life after death. With the world population plummeting as the public commit suicide to experience this other world the film has a very interesting premise yet sadly little else. As Redford’s weird sect at a mansion attempt to record what these dead folk are seeing in their afterlife, the boring drama spoils its ideas in scenes of unbelievable dullness and a slow moving pace. It’s great to see Netflix as the spearhead of well-budgeted independent films that tackle subjects that no longer seem to get cinema releases but this has to be noted as a well-meaning failure. An investigation into the strange images captured lead to the film’s most interesting themes and a final reveal about what they are viewing is disappointing and unfulfilling with no light at the end of a very dark and depressing drama tunnel. 4/10




Catfight (2017) Dir. Onur Tukel

Directed and written by Turkish-American Onur Tukel, Catfight is a dark comedy drama starring Sandra Oh and Anne Heche as two women who begin a feud that ends up lasting decades. Wealthy socialite Oh embarrasses her old friend Heche who is a struggling artist at a party and thus starts a violent drunken fist fight. The action is brutal, yet contains over-the-top comedy punch sounds straight from Indiana Jones and ends with Oh falling into a coma and waking years later. After finding her son died in military service and broke owing to medical bills, the previously rich Oh deals with a role-reversal as Heche’s artist has become a narcissistic and successful artist. Great support comes from the little-seen Alicia Silverstone as Heche’s put-upon and broody girlfriend and a second vengeful fight ensues before Heche herself falls into a coma and also loses her money in the same circumstances. This is a film with hints of Trading Places but has a surreal story to tackle more serious themes of war (both in relationships and a background narrative about military intervention) and loss – of memories, possessions and family. An interesting if slight film, Catfight has two fantastic female leads and sticks to a strange and unique concept yet also has the guts to follow through with a ‘Being John Malkovich’ heightened reality. A punch-drunk oddity. 5.5/10



Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017) Dir. Luc Besson

Based on the comic series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and budgeted at an enormous €197 million, Besson returns to his eye-gouging visual sci-fi aesthetic first seen in the 1997 film The Fifth Element. In the 28th century, the movie follows Major Valerian (a rogue-ish Dane DeHaan) and his partner Sergeant Laureline (a feisty Cara Delevingne) who investigate a mysterious anomaly at the centre of Alpha which is an enormous space station populated by aliens from across the universe.


The film is great at portraying other-worldly environments and mystical beings in colourful CGI and whilst it’s clearly a green-screen mess, it’s such a glorious and inventive mess that most of the artifice is forgiven. An extra-dimensional bazaar called Big Market is an ingenious use of different worlds and Besson actually gives his audience credit for working out how this strange parallel phenomenon works. The film is filled with exciting action scenes which are perfunctory but again, and most importantly, fun. And whilst it’s no Star Wars, it certainly creates an understandable world that feels lived in and inhabited by wildly designed creatures. A commercial failure, the film is far from awful in comparison to similar recent science fiction universes such as the dull Jupiter Ascending. Away from the Pratt and Lawrence of Passengers from earlier this year, some critics didn’t like the strange and cold dynamic between DeHaan and Delevingne but I thought their quirkiness and less-than-Hollywood take on the characters was far more interesting.


Delivering the same fun yet inconsequential science fiction as his previous foray into the future, Besson has no way created anything close to a masterpiece but if you leave your brain at the door, the movie gives audiences thousands of better ideas than other summer hits like the trashy Transformers. 7/10




Casting JonBenet (2017) Dir. Kitty Green

This unique documentary about the death of child pageant superstar JonBenét Ramsey covers the theories and evidence surrounding the mysterious tragedy that caught the attention of an entire nation in 1996. Taking a very distinct approach, rather than the usual vox pops and archive footage, Kitty Green employs a more visceral technique where she runs a casting process for a fictional film. Amateur actors from the Colorado area where the death occurred are interviewed and assessed in their attempts to gain a part as one of the real people involved in the case. As they run through dialogue and dramatic recreations, this in itself is illuminating but the interspersed interviews allow these part-time actors to revel in their own theories surrounding the tragedy. Whilst they are auditioning for the roles of John and Patsy Ramsey, Burke Ramsey, John Mark Karr and various Boulder police officials that are “up for grabs”, they speculate on the motivations and emotions of the case. Being from the community, they give their insights from a local perspective as they impart their raw feelings and uncensored thoughts. Although I’d prefer a little more context to the case – the uninitiated are given a bare minimum of objective context – the film is intentionally provocative and emotional, reflecting the upsetting sentiments that echoed throughout the USA at the time. Upsetting yet extremely fascinating, Casting JonBenet takes a risk away from a traditional documentary format to deliver a fascinating portrait that is successful in all the ways I found I Am Not Your Negro wasn’t. 7/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Nov 20 2017 09:34AM



Sundance Film Festival award winning director comes to Birmingham


A Sundance Film Festival award winning director, who filmed her experience living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, has come to Birmingham to showcase her critically acclaimed documentary Unrest.


Jennifer Brea’s documentary Unrest which won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was shown at the Mac, as part of the third Screening Rights Film Festival.




Unrest follows her experience living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis which is more commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome, and she started documenting her life after showing her doctor a video she recorded on her phone of one of her symptoms.


“I had been trying for eighteen months to explain my experience in words, millions of people have been trying for decades to explain their experiences. Words fail because people translate them to what is familiar to them and there is something about the visual image that is different.”


The documentary also follows the online community of chronic fatigue syndrome patients, and the co-director believes that it was important to give an insight into the daily lives of people from around the world, by bringing a virtual reality experience to the festival.


“I thought if we could take people into our homes and bedrooms into these spaces and moments that they never get to witness, then maybe that would have to start to change the conversation."


“I chose to create a VR experience as I think the kind of internal experience that ME patients go through is very hard to convey.”




One of the Screening Rights Film Festival’s organisers Dr Michele Aaron, said that Unrest: “Tells a personal story that has not been told within mainstream culture before, and it tells of the power of activism in this process.”


Rebekah Smith


@rebekahsmithy


By midlandsmovies, Sep 11 2017 05:43PM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 4




Unlocked (2017) Dir. Michael Apted

After the awful ‘Rupture’ and the fantastic ‘What Happened To Monday’, Noomi Rapace is one of my favourite actresses but boy does she need a decent film (and some consistency) for her to attach her multiple talents to. Sadly, this action thriller falls way short of quality entertainment as Rapace’s ex-CIA interrogator is tricked into getting involved in a suspected terrorist chemical attack in London. The film is not short of talent with support coming from a sleazy Michael Douglas, a phone-in/hammy performance from John Malkovich (which this film needed much more of) and Toni Collette’s MI5 head who has more in common with Annie Lennox with her blonde buzz cut, than James Bond’s M. “Hey, that large nameless goon looks like Orlando Bloom” I screech before realising it is Orlando Bloom yet whose ‘acting’ and accent is so bad I almost stopped watching. Rapace’s thoughtful dark performance in ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' shows she can bring depth to characters, whilst her turn in ‘What Happened to Monday’ shows she can handle the lead in an action flick. So her involvement in two of the worst films of 2017 is much like this film – a huge HUGE disappointment. Avoid this dull, stilted and ponderous thriller like the biological plague. 4/10



Risk (2017) Dir. Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras new documentary is a solid if slightly amateur looking exposé on Wikileak’s founder Julian Assange. What is interesting is how it reveals the inherent conflicts of Assange’s work (and more fascinatingly his character) as the film flips from a behind the scenes look at the machinations of the organisation to the complexities of his impending extradition. The film contrasts the support for making public potential war crimes and surveillance with a critique of Assange and the shady sexual abuse claims. Sadly the brief-ish 91 minutes drags owing to a mix of constant shaky cam (which is less “intentional choice” than simply the only option and bad camerawork) in addition to the constant presence of Assange whose arrogance is unpalatable to say the least. Director Poitras wisely changes tack when she claims Assange sent her a message calling certain scenes a "threat to his freedom", with Assange missing the irony completely with this censorship request. Although his real-life escape to the Peruvian Embassy has a certain excitement to it, the film is unable to construct itself to create a meaningful narrative that’s more engaging. Difficult questions are approached, multi-sides of the story are presented and the work of Wikileaks analysed from various perspectives which is testament to Poitras’ investigations. Yet all the people involved are so inherently unpleasant that the interesting political and moral ramifications of these revelations are lost amongst the obnoxious posturing from insufferable people. 5/10



Hidden Figures (2017) Dir. Theodore Melfi

“If we keep labelling something 'a black film,' or 'a white film'— basically it's modern day segregation. We're all humans. Any human can tell any human’s story”. Theodore Melfi, Director.


Based on the real life 1960s story of African American female mathematicians working at NASA, Hidden Figures is a powerful drama about an important part in not just the history of the USA but for the work which helped build towards that “giant leap for Mankind”. With Soviet space supremacy on the horizon the internal pressure rises and genius mathematician Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is headhunted to assist the lead space team during a time of demeaning segregation.


From resolving issues about heat shields to solving equations about trajectories, Katherine fights objections, prejudices and her own anonymity in the reports she creates and it’s this conflict which gives the film its engaging power. Henson’s stoic performance channels a humble woman attempting to fulfil her role against a tide of narrow-mindedness. And there is also great support from Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan who is being denied a supervisor role and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson who has to go to court to attend a white-only night school to train as an engineer. Kevin Costner plays the director of the Space Task Group and he brings back his 60s ‘JFK’ Jim Garrison with similarly framed glasses and a focus on the injustices of the world, whilst Jim Parsons is simply his ‘Bing Bang Theory’ Sheldon Cooper with an added ignorance.


The trio of put-upon lead women are outstanding and portray a proud magnificence – and some warm light-heartedness in their car journeys together – as they all attempt to become first-rate workers in a world full of social barriers. It reminded me somewhat of Race (our 2016 review here) which I enjoyed immensely but here the narrative momentum replaces a track race with the space race. The film takes some liberties with facts from the era but a 2 hour run time is going to need to use composite characters, conflated timelines and a more simplistic explanation of NASA management structures but the importance of these ladies – both in their small steps and giant leaps – should not be underestimated. Well photographed and with enough cinematic flourishes, Hidden Figures utilises the multiple talents of its terrific cast to portray the efforts and toil that moved the world towards a more “human”-kind. 8/10



Bloodrunners (2017) Dir. Dan Lantz

A 1930s b-movie prohibition flick with Ice-T as a gangster vampire has to be a lot of fun, right? Er, sadly no as this schlock horror fails to love up to its ridiculous description. Clearly low budget, my low expectations were not even fulfilled as we follow a corrupt middle-aged cop trying to make sense of the visitors and owners of a whore house and speakeasy in his town. The film takes a vampire’s life-time to get going as the film promises blood and guns (it’s a vampire gangster flick after all) but it takes nearly 2/3rds of the film to get any real action. The high concept-low budget set up cries out for silly action yet takes itself far too seriously with nods to spousal abuse, class conflict and a soppy story of love between two youngsters from opposite sides. Some cool swing music cannot hide the TV-show style sets, awful stock characters (the “crazy” priest who isn’t believed) and hackneyed writing. Again, the concept isn’t the worse idea in the world and with (a lot of) tinkering, there is an enjoyable thrill-ride in here somewhere but unfortunately Bloodrunners will make your blood run cold with its amateur delivery. Absolutely toothless. 4/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 6 2017 07:15PM



Who Put Bella in the Wych-Elm: The Untold Secrets


Pre-release Screening, 4th August 2017, Stourbridge Town Hall


The question of who put Bella in the Wych-Elm has both baffled and captivated the public since 1943, when the body of an unidentified female was found in the innards of a tree in Hagley Woods in the West Midlands.


Director and paranormal investigator Jayne Harris set about trying to solve this long-standing mystery and uncovered some shocking revelations along the way. Stourbridge Town Hall sold out early with four hundred people wanting to be the first to see the film that documents her findings.


A director’s introduction detailed the evolution of the project, from YouTube clip to documentary feature before the audience was introduced to the case. Harris opened the introduction with claims that she isn’t a filmmaker. This is an assertion which needs to be reassessed.


The sheer wealth of material that has been excavated and created is staggering: Soaring aerial expositional shots of Hagley and its surrounding areas situate the audience slap-bang in the middle of the crime scene; ‘misplaced’ post-mortem documents were dug up and acted recreations were used effectively, never once evoking that unintentional ‘Horrible Histories’ feel that hampers some documentaries. Seamlessly put together, exhaustively researched and passionately presented, this wouldn’t look out of place under the Documentaries tab on Netflix.


Talking heads interviews with case experts and witchcraft aficionados translate as authoritative and impartial and are all the more engrossing for it. However, the medium’s insight does ask a lot of the audience, leaving this pragmatist somewhat sceptical and wishing the film was five minutes shorter.


However, depending on your inclination this and the eyewitness accounts of ghostly figures in the area will either send you running for the Wychbury hills…or running for the hills.


Although a few audio issues with the venue detracted from the presentation, it was inspiring to hear so many audience members discussing their thoughts and theories in the lobby after the film. This is clearly a case which captures the imagination and to see it in such an environment (a stone’s throw or two from the crime scene) separates this from your run-of-the-mill multiplex experience.


That the story invites such engagement is unsurprising; it’s delightfully dark and rich for exploration. Who was Bella? A prostitute, a traveller, a German intelligence agent? What about the actual killer? Was it ritualistic witchcraft, a local cover up or even Mi5 influenced? You’ll have to see it to find out for yourself.


Bella will haunt Stourbridge Town Hall again at a further screening on the 31st of October. Links to tickets will soon be available here


The DVD of Who Put Bella in the Wych-Elm is available to order here with bonus features which include copies of the original police files/photographs and an interview with Director & Producer Jayne Harris.


Robb Sheppard

https://twitter.com/RedBezzle

By midlandsmovies, Jul 27 2017 08:49AM



The Man Who Knows the Ropes (2017) LeftLion Films


This little 9-minute film comes from LeftLion in Nottingham who feature Stewart ‘Sir’ Coates, a local business owner who works making twine and rope. Stick with us here.


The gentle acoustic music compliments Stewart’s mild pace of life in his small business, W. Coates and Sons, who manufacture rope, twine and cord. Understandably, there has been a decline in such old-fashioned production but this documentary shows a man happy with his lot, and with a great deal of pride in his history.


Behind green door Number 10 we are introduced to Stewart who explains “Business has gone down...and it’s just me doing it now”. With no employees, the film contrasts this with the fact there were once 200 or so workers that helped the business in the past. Taking over the ‘ropes’ 55 years ago, Stewart explains how the company has passed from generation to generation and the sad reality is that he may be the last owner after 150 years of business.


The film is peaceful and respectful as Stewart shares his passion during interview segments as he explains how he enjoys solo work as he has “no one to fall out with”. However, in a tender moment Stewart recalls how he met his wife and how she in fact still works as an accountant – ensuring the company, for now, remains a truly family affair.


The talking heads are interspersed with shots of a trade slowly declining yet his simple workshop and black and white photos of flat cap workers from a bygone era is, again, a soothing reminder of his legacy. Stewart’s positivity shines through despite the challenging circumstances and the film is punctuated with moments of noise as the sound of machinery is portrayed as an example of the hands on nature of his craft. And hands on it is.


Yet from his small wooden lock-up Stewart doesn’t let his circumstances get him down and the film shows us a man who takes pleasure in the simple things of life. “Look at my new boiler”, he remarks to the filmmakers. And in a world of immediate and virtual social media, how refreshing this pace of life is.


There’s a touch of melancholic sadness in the film as Stewart’s positivity is juxtaposed with the inevitable reality that the business won’t be around for much longer given there is no family ties to practically continue with such an archaic trade.


However, the filmmakers leave on a note of optimism as Stewart is not blind to the upcoming truth but revels in his final days as he “slowly moves towards retirement”. The laughter of the interviewer during their conversations really brings home the personal nature of the documentary and there’s a compassionate truth to proceedings as Stewart notes that “nothing stays the same”.


With a final smiles and a jovial “goodbye” the documentary concludes and is a triumphant success, which although could be used as a short news-piece, transcends its “functional” construction to deliver a fitting portrait of a local legend. *Doffs cap*


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 24 2017 04:33PM



Midlands Movies speaks to Paula and Michael Webster, two Leicestershire filmmakers who are journeying across the Atlantic for a new documentary to be filmed in South America.


Living and working in the Midlands, Paula Webster grew up with an interest in wildlife and nature conservation. From Leicester’s Lea Meadows Nature reserve to volunteering for the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, Paula has spent a lifetime of love supporting their causes.


But soon the couple’s life was turned upside down as they headed to South America to promote the diversity of the continent where their photographic and film-making skills could be fully utilised.


Working as a two person team, Paula is very much the technical worker behind the camera with Michael acting as presenter.


“We work together on the scripts for our films, I do all the editing and Michael’s experience as a still photographer is invaluable”, says Paula.


She adds, “We come back to our home to the Midlands in the Charnwood Forest to do the important work of editing and catching up with friends and family, as well as giving talks on our work to photographic and wildlife groups”.


And despite the global nature of their endeavours, Paula is keen to emphasise her connections to the local filmmaking community back here.


“I have an excellent network of friends in the Midlands who help me with advice on my films. This is so important! Colin Sullivan from Market Harborough Movie Makers is a great help with the technical side of editing on my EDIUS software. Jill Lampert from Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers is a boon for helping develop a good story and Melvyn Rawlinson from Nottingham is a great guy who always gives thoughtful, constructive criticism. I have recently joined the Seven-Five group at the Phoenix in Leicester and hope to work with them in the future”.





Their most recent project is about the struggle to save a rare bird in Patagonia for Aves Argentinas, the sister organisation in Argentina to the RSPB in the UK.


“As you can imagine filming in the wild, windswept expanses of Patagonia was not easy”, explains Paula. “First we had to find the birds. They were spread over high plateaux, miles from the nearest tarmac road. We spent weeks searching for them. We then had to find a camp site sheltered from the wind. This meant a two hour walk laden down with all our gear to get to the lagoon where we had seen the birds. We were lucky! The birds started to display on day 2 of our stay. What an incredible performance”.


One of their main challenges was involving members of the Hooded Grebe Project who were not professional actors and the couple worked carefully to encourage people to speak English as well as try to make them look natural in front of the camera. Although not easy, the Websters had to be very flexible in their filming often leading to a lot of last minute dashes across the volcanic plateaux with new sequences to be written into the film.


With 6 trips already in the bag and more planned for the future, the Websters show that there is a whole world of film opportunities for local filmmakers. Along with their love of wildlife and travel documentaries, they haven’t forgotten their roots with their film “What Does It Mean to You?” including voxpops from their very own hometown of Leicester.


Check out more information about the filmmakers at their official site http://living-wild.net and watch the full film on the Vimeo video below.


Midlands Movies Mike






By midlandsmovies, Jul 10 2017 05:44PM


Midlands Movies Mike uncovers an interesting new experimental feature that combines the mysticism of folklore with the modernism of an experimental soundtrack.


Staffordshire set film The Doxey Boggart is a new film from John E Smoke who is a deaf-blind filmmaker, musician and artist. Set within a nature reserve called Doxey Marshes, the film is a semi-documentary which follows a group of people investigating the local legend.


From an experimental sound artist with his guide dog to his fellow esoteric associates, they seek to uncover the truth about a ‘boggart’ (an evil or mischievous spirit) that is associated with the area.


Director John E Smoke is the aforementioned sound artist and has performed in many unusual locations including abandoned buildings and a set at Mermaid Pool in the Staffordshire Moorlands.


During one particular session of his there were claims of a ghostly image being caught on film which went viral online and featured widely in press at the time.


The film mixes a slim ‘plot’ with real-life elements as the musicians perform a set on Doxey Marshes during which a folk poem about a boggart is recited. At first nothing untoward happens but after the disappearance of a mother and child “the team are left wondering if the recital has brought something to life”.


Following their investigations the film includes field recordings and footage and borrows from 'actual' local folklore relating to 'boggarts', 'bugs' and other entities.



One of the key parts of the film is the music which assists in supporting the atmosphere of the historic locations. John E Smoke has pulled together friends in the music scene to compile a soundtrack that includes well-respected members of the experimental noise genre.


Soundtrack artists include 'Tunnels of Ah' (the solo project of the former Head of David vocalist, 'Autoclav 1.1', 'Khost' (featuring former members of Techno Animal, Final, Iroha etc), 'From The Bogs of Aughiska', 'John 3:16', 'Ian Haygreen', 'Whote', 'Satan's Bee Keeper', 'Theresia', 'Raxil4' and 'James Hoehl' alongside field recordings undertaken by John E Smoke.


With a mix of documentary, sound art and a little bit of horror, The Doxey Boggart’s eclectic combination of experimental images and dark ambient music will be released later in 2017 and also includes the release of hand printed DVD and double-CD music packs.


For more info please take a look at the trailer above and also check out further details of this Sonic Entrails production over on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/doxeyboggart






By midlandsmovies, Jul 9 2017 01:13PM



Anarchy in the UK – The New Underground Cinema (2016)


Directed by Fabrizio Federico


Filmmaker Fabrizio Federico (aka Jett Hollywood) was born and bred in the Midlands and his new documentary features artists from Nottingham/Derby along with various cinema groups based around the region. Our writer Robb Sheppard takes a look at his new unique free-wheeling documentary.


Hands up…who likes a good moan about reboots and remakes?


The Matrix, Goonies, Big Trouble in Little China: as soon as one’s announced, the internet breaks like there’s been a Kardashian bum-cheek sighting.


Whilst many take to Twitter to vent their collective spleens, some have taken to the streets; cameras and mobile phones in hand to create the movies that they want to see. Labelled the Misrule Cinema Movement, it is centred on a DIY ethic towards all aspects of film: acting, directing, even viewing, which is where this documentary film finds us.


Catalysed by the abolition of the UK Film Council, the student tuition fees riots and the Occupy movement, this documentary serves as a manifesto for independent, no, make that underground filmmaking. How underground? Exploding Cinema vetoes festival submissions and selections, instead putting on guerrilla shows without licences; the Raindance Festival itself, is free for all, shunning press and VIPs in the process; Director Tony Burke makes film stars of commuters, it’s just a shame they don’t know about it.


Introduced through talking head interviews with the key players and inter-spliced with exemplar footage, it’s certainly a divisive watch. Imagine the film equivalent of speed-scrolling through your Instagram feed whilst at an illegal warehouse rave and you’re in the vivinity. It will either suck you in and inspire you or send you running in the opposite direction. And I imagine that’s precisely the reaction they’re after.


The movement posits that mainstream cinema doesn’t have all the answers; starving due to a lack of creativity and freedom, and if this is a position with which you agree then this documentary will be your Bible.


Shedding any sense of elitism or entitlement, documentary director Fabrizio Federico claims; “I decided never to study filmmaking, just to do it.”


Words to live by right there. Now let’s go make a film.


Robb Sheppard

https://twitter.com/RedBezzle


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