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By midlandsmovies, Mar 25 2020 08:13AM



Coping


Directed by Brandon Marples


2020


An older man waking up in bed to the sound of birdsong is a gentle start for this new 3-and-a-half-minute short from Midlands writer-director Brandon Marples.


The unidentified man (played with subtle and emotional nuance by local actor Melvyn Rawlinson) stares at the ceiling and then at the empty pillow next to him in a well-chosen God-shot.


From the outset, the film shows someone missing in this person’s life. The absence of dialogue is a bold choice but works well to show an inner sadness. Also, the beginning emphasises how this loss begins even as you wake up, at the forefront of your mind from the start until the end of every day.


Beautiful cinematography from Ed Radford help captures the man’s turmoil and the film conveys the loss using small but important moments from the morning. We see one pair of shoes in the hall and we see the man at an empty breakfast table too.


There are some moments of levity however with the man smiling at a hand-holding couple in the park. A shot of a large oak showing the passage of time as the man deals with his grief and appears to reflect on his life. A sad scene of tooth-brushing has our protagonist close to tears as the day ends. And as per the start of the day, he once again returns to bed alone.


Born and educated in Derby, Brandon Marples is an East Midlands based film director and has captured a deep sense of loss in Coping. The man is carrying on despite his situation yet a melancholy hangs over him throughout this day.


With a lovely performance from the lead, the film is a portrait of looking after oneself despite life’s struggles. Grappling with a bereavement, Coping shows both the difficulty of dealing with death but also focuses on the day to day struggles many face.


A poignant picture with excellent technical aspects, the film is heart-breaking but not without some heart-warming too, hinting as it does at a universal message to take care of each other one day at a time.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Mar 24 2020 12:29PM



Sand


Directed by Maddie Barnes


2020


Filmed in Skegness, Sand is a new drama from local filmmaker Maddie Barnes that focuses on two boys who struggle with who they are and the complications that subsequently arise.


We open on waves rolling towards land before cutting to our two friends, Jamie (Joel Fossard-Jones) and Curtis (Johnny Gutteridge) basking in the sun on a sandy beach.


Director and writer Maddie Barnes has filmed her short in stark black and white giving the film a classical touch yet many scenes are captured in a handheld style ensuring a contemporary feel for the issues it covers.


The young men enjoy themselves frolicking in the sea before coming together in a loving embrace and the film's cinematography looks great as a whole. It sounds good too with a quaint guitar score adding to the air of summer romance. The narrative is slight but the dreamy images have evocative connotations of summer love and a “day in the life” feel.


The two enjoy their time at a local seaside arcade and share professions of love but their situation gets much more complicated with the arrival of Lindsey (Alexandra Stapleton). The two males then discuss the difficulties of first-time love, how they feel and how others may see them.


The dialogue is a little on those nose (“why can’t I just be normal”) but overall its good intentions and subtle performances pull it over the line.


In conclusion then, unlike the ongoing sands of time, the short focuses on a particular moment in time that we can all relate to – the complexities of young love. Tackling issue of young people dealing with sexuality, love and how they are viewed it takes an honourable look at modern adolescence.


Sand therefore ends up being fun and emotional and although a little cliched at times, is as honest as the characters’ emotions it ultimately portrays.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Mar 21 2020 11:57AM



Dead Air


Directed by Jordan Dean


2020


Fishbulb Films


“It’s 3:58am, here is some Coldplay”, which is a suitably dark announcement that opens new black comedy Dead Air from Leicester based filmmakers Fishbulb Films.


The film starts with local presenter Lester who hosts a night-time radio slot, which he subsequently fills with pre-recorded phone calls during his mundane show.


Like Groundhog Day, this mind-numbing cycle is repeated daily and we see Lester returning home each night, alone and looking incredibly depressed about his current predicament. Lester is played brilliantly by real-life presenter Simon Parkin (of Children’s BBC broom cupboard fame) and he brings a suitably experienced tone to his voice that is perfect for the role.


Lester’s show however is punctuated with short news snippets about a contagious virus. These somewhat echo Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast and get more apocalyptic and perilous as the film progresses. They also create a nice air of intrigue about what is happening outside of the studio confines.


Lester is also ignored by fellow presenter Ben (Ed Spence) whose successful arrogance contrasts nicely with Simon’s increasingly dreary show on the airwaves. But one night, Lester receives a call from a distressed caller asking for help as the 999 emergency services number is out of service.


The well-written and acted comedy comes from Lester’s unawareness of the chaos around him. As each emergency phone-call from “outside” comes in, Lester sticks with the banal song-requesting lingo of a clichéd local radio DJ.


As dash of Alan Partridge’s obliviousness is nicely delivered in Parkin’s performance and the little touches really add to the experience as well. From the well-designed fictional radio station logo to the correct broadcast console equipment, those small pieces really bring you into this world.


The sound is excellent as you may have expected. The light-hearted music by Peter Flint keeps everything in the comedic space until it needs to turn darker towards the short’s conclusion. The overall sound recording by Jason Nightall which mixes phone-calls, jingles and dialogue is also of a very high standard.


The film dials up the danger as we head to a final crisis involving colleague Ben, with Lester as possibly the last man standing. And we wonder whether our host really will have the last laugh.


Dead Air therefore ends up being an exceptional short film. The quality of filmmaking and the technical aspects are first-rate. However, it’s the comedy that is strong and Parkin’s performance as the pivotal person in a pandemic is perfect. Without a doubt then, Dead Air will hopefully receive a great reception on the festival circuit and I recommend you tune in to this fantastic Midlands short as soon as you can.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Feb 24 2020 05:36PM



Midlands Review - See You Again


Directed by Jayne Slater


2020


Written and Directed by East Midlands based filmmaker Jayne Slater ‘See You Again is a supernatural drama which depicts the strained relationship between a mother and daughter, due to the commitments and struggles of modern day working life.


The film opens with the mother, Rachel (Jenn Day), driving at night, seemingly distracted. The screen fades to black as oncoming headlights fill her side window. Back at home, Rachel wakes her sleeping daughter Elle (Isobel McNerney), apologetic, after missing the movie night Elle had been looking forward to. She insists they spend some quality time together, almost as if it’s the last time they will have a chance.


The dialogue and chemistry between these two characters is vital for the success of the film and fortunately it wholly pays off. Jenn Day specifically, conveys her emotion in such a subtle, controlled and natural way that it feels realistic. The only gripe I’d have with the casting is that for me, I felt Isobel McNerney seemed slightly too old to be colouring with crayons with her mother. Casting of a younger actor may have also added to the innocence of the character, gaining a more emotional reaction from the audience. However, that in no way discredits McNerney’s performance as she does a commendable job throughout .


The aesthetic of the film is very impressive and showed the feature film experience of Jayne Slater. However, I felt fixed rather than handheld camerawork in certain moments would have worked better in this genre of film as the shakiness at some points distracted me from the drama on screen. Also, some lighting inconsistencies, specifically in the kitchen, took me out of the immersion of what otherwise was a great story. Just to put this into context, when the mother and daughter are in the living room it was obviously night-time however as they moved into the kitchen the high key lighting made it seem as if it was the middle of the day.


In a Midlands Spotlight earlier this month, Director Jayne Slater said “Work-life balance is something a lot of people struggle with, especially in this generation, and so I wanted my film to have message that a lot of people could relate to”. The film is definitely successful in doing this, it is easy to see it resonating with a large audience because of its easily relatable themes. The confined setting of the family home gives it a lot more personable feel and focuses you purely on the relationship between the two leads.


Overall, ‘See You Again’ is an impressively shot, wonderfully performed short film exploring the emotional relationship between a parent and her child. I hope that it has a significant impact on parents watching and makes them think twice about what the most important things in life are. I look forward to seeing what Jayne Slater does next.


Jake Evans

Twitter @Jake_Evans1609


By midlandsmovies, Feb 7 2020 02:36PM

Parasite (2020) Dir. Bong Joon-ho


With near universal acclaim, Palme D’Or winner Parasite is the new film from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho who tackles the complex amalgam of poverty and wealth in this multifaceted drama.


Opening with the Kim family’s below-ground apartment, we get to see a “window on the world” from their perspective. They undertake menial and low-paying work whilst their tiny and messy basement apartment sees them living in crowded squalor.


An opportunity arises when the family’s son (Choi Woo-shik as Kim Ki-woo) receives a tip from his friend that he could take over his tutoring job at a rich family’s home. With a fake degree certificate created by his sister (Park So-dam as Kim Ki-jeong), he heads to the extravagant house of the Park family to teach their young daughter English.


Much like Okja (our review) and Snowpiercer, Joon-ho tackles societal issues and jampacks his movie with metaphorical allusions to class hierarchy. The social order is represented on screen with physical window lines and staircases separating the two sides of affluence and destitution.


However, the film takes no sneering position as the desperate family hatch a plan to infiltrate the Park’s household. Kim Ki-jeong, the daughter of the Kim family takes a role as an art therapist, the father of the family Kim Ki-taek (Snowpiercer’s Song Kang-ho) becomes their chauffeur whilst they conspire to get the family’s housekeeper fired. That allows mother Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin) to replace her.


Yet the Parks aren’t portrayed as innocent victims either. The father (Lee Sun-kyun) demeans Kim Ki-taek for his unnatural “smell”, whilst Cho Yeo-jeong as the mother Yeon-gyo has her innocence undercut by her lack of empathy and dismissive attitude towards her home help.


[slight spoiler] The film takes a dark turn when the previous housekeeper returns to reveal a secret bunker in the Park’s mansion where her debt-riddled husband has been hiding for years. This begins a three-way dynamic where the hidden couple uncovers the Kim’s diabolical intrusion and threaten to tell the Park family of their scheme.


The film’s visuals are excellent as darkness and light illuminate the difference between the characters’ circumstances. Moving “into the light” from black doorways see characters jump between their social statuses. More on the nose however is the Kim’s escape down the city’s stairs back to their abode, an obvious and somewhat clichéd “descent to hell” allegory.


Another time the Kim family hide like cockroaches from their employers after abusing their hospitality and for me, this came across as a little patronising with the family home becoming its own echo chamber for the director’s heavy-handed satire. We get it right! Yes, the class system has a visual (and literal) hierarchy and the “those-above and those-below” simple trope was also a weakness of Jordan Peele’s US.


However, the tempo does help keep the audience off-kilter as to who the dupe and who the perpetrators are. The pecking order is not as always clear cut as it may seem and the director allows the audience to think about both sets of circumstances to create an ambiguous moral mood throughout.


Aspects of horror and bloody violence in the second half were much needed and helped ratchet up the dramatic interactions. And the precise editing emphasis the great visuals where stark lines and fantastic lighting embed all of the director’s motifs.


Undeniably beautiful and intricately constructed like by a cinematic watchmaker, Parasite questions who is exploiting who in a remarkable parable on humanity and society. And in the end Joon-ho’s themes of the blood-sucking rich hosts and their poor victims – or is it the other way around – infests your mind in a profound moral tale with an outstanding cinematic touch.


★★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 6 2020 03:58PM



Daniel Isn't Real (2020) Dir. Adam Egypt Mortimer


Based on In This Way I Was Saved by Brian DeLeeuw, Daniel Isn’t Real is a new horror-thriller starring Miles Robbins (Blockers) as a young man with some serious psychological issues. After witnessing a shooting, a young shy boy called Luke meets Daniel whose outward confidence ends up connecting the two boys as friends. However, Daniel cannot be seen by Luke’s mother and after his imaginary friend tricks Luke into almost poisoning her, Luke metaphorically locks Daniel in an old dollhouse.


Years later, a teenage Luke (now played by Robbins) has become a worried student who unlocks the dollhouse after travelling home one day, and now an older Daniel (played by Arnie’s son Patrick Schwarzenegger) reappears to him.


An interesting idea, the film could be the worst of b-movie horrors but takes its set-up and characters mostly seriously. As Daniel begins to help out Luke overcome personal demons and help others, the figment of his imagination is soon involved in assaults and violence and becomes a real demon of his own.


The film cleverly uses Luke’s photography hobby as a metaphor for image and self-projection and his old camera along with other students’ artwork focuses the film on symbolic duplicates, replication and the internal and external aesthetics of persona.


As Luke’s mother struggles with her own mental health issues, the film does swerve from its analysis of schizophrenia and move into more body-horror and the supernatural. This is no bad thing though and through sex, drugs and self-medication, the film attempts to tackle more heady themes than you’ll see in an Insidious or Annabelle.


Reminiscent of Austrian movie Goodnight Mommy (2014) and a bit of Fight Club (1999), the film does have somewhat of a reveal later on but it’s a pleasant surprise to have the conceit explained early on to avoid a clichéd denouement.


From the opening sequence to a body possession, there are also flashes of some brilliantly constructed and visually arresting shots yet the film doesn’t quite get away from its less-than-original premise. And narratively I felt you could mostly see where it is going beat-by-beat.


However, for the first horror of 2020 I’ve seen it has set the standard of mixing genre tropes with a few new ideas to provide a satisfying albeit slightly inconsequential tale of terror.


★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jan 30 2020 08:32PM



A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Dir. Marielle Heller


When I heard about the film I honestly thought we were going to get a slightly seedy exposé of all-American nice guy and children’s television presenter Ted Rogers.


However, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a much more intriguing movie covering redemption, innocence and forgiveness from Marielle Heller, the director of one of my favourites of last year Can You Ever Forgive Me (our review).


Matthew Rhys plays Lloyd Vogel, a middle-aged man just about coping with his past demons who still carries the weight of the loss of his mother, his anger at his father and the difficulties faced by the arrival of a new born son.


Trying, and failing, to maintain a sensible work-life balance between his wife (an excellent Susan Kelechi Watson) and his award-winning job as a serious-minded magazine journalist, he is one day surprised by his editor. She sends him from his base in New York to Pittsburgh for what seems like a “puff piece” as he is asked to interview Mr. Rogers.


Ted Rogers is a beloved television icon, famous for his softly spoken words and imaginative puppetry which resonated across generations of American children. Played by well-known “nice guy” actor Tom Hanks, he channels every bit of sweetness from his past films to recreate the persona of a man who positively affected millions of young people’s lives.


After Lloyd is involved in a punch-up with his father (Chris Cooper) at his sister’s third wedding, Rogers identifies that Lloyd is struggling internally with his life. And through their conversations, roles are reversed as Rogers begins asking simple questions about Lloyd’s life, childhood and the current troubles he’s facing.


The film cleverly frames the story around an episode of Mr. Rogers and Heller’s direction is straightforward which allows all the actors to shine through during their illuminating conversations. Heller also uses city and airplane models in the style of Mr. Rogers’ TV set to show scene transitions revealing an appropriate fun and childlike aspect to the film itself.


Reconnecting with childhood is a big theme in the movie and Rogers’ kind, patient and gentle demeanour is the same whether he’s speaking to children or adults. The soft-spoken approach acts as a psychologist’s window into past traumas, with Lloyd unable to resist the comforting and thoughtful words of Hanks’ gentle questioning.


One of the only failings of the movie is its inevitability. Once the pieces are set up the film goes nowhere other than the expected. Will the bitter and jaded old journalist find some kind of peace and redemption through Mr. Rogers’ advice? Well (spoiler), does Bill Murray like to star in Scrooged and Groundhog Day?


Despite this set back the journey is one that’s well worth going along with anyway. The performances from the main and support cast are fantastic. Obviously, Hanks is a master of real-life imitations and here embodies Rogers’ soulful view of the world. But high praise should also go to Rhys as the haunted journalist dealing with his past issues who is understated in a role that could have easily been too melodramatic.


In the end, A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood is well worth watching with its combination of fine actors delivering a slightly obvious redemption story. However, just like how Mr Rogers makes all the characters feel, it would take a hard-hearted viewer not to be truly affected by its honest sentimentality, leaving the audience at peace in this unashamedly feel-good and wholesome film.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Jan 25 2020 12:17PM

Midlands Review - Powerless


Directed by Nicole Pott


2020


Sonder Films


Powerless is the latest short film from Sonder Films, written and directed by Nicole Pott who previously brought us 'Charlie' and 'Kaleidoscope' and is the organiser of the High Peak Film Festival.


It's the story of Clara (Katie-Marie Carter), a young boxer who's preparing for a big fight while trying to keep her brother Dan (Ellis Hollins) out of trouble. Their mother died two years ago and as the older sibling Clara is trying to look after Dan as best she can – but it's not easy as he's a boisterous lad and he runs with a rough crowd. She's not best pleased when he calls up late to dinner on the anniversary of their mother's death, but when the police turn up things take a turn for the tragic.


This is an extremely moving and powerful story. It's a testament to Pott's skills as a filmmaker that no scene is wasted, and the film does so much with little fanfare or melodramatics. It's a quiet, personal story that reaches out and prods you right in the heart.


Carter and Hollins are excellent together, with easy chemistry that makes the brother-sister dynamic clear and believable right from the start. Carter is the standout as her role carries more emotional weight, and she does a brilliant job as a weary young woman who has to juggle the demands of her own dream with those of looking after a wayward teen boy.


Her sorrow and rage are entirely believable, and I'd wager it's impossible to watch the performance without choking up a little.


The sad piano soundtrack towards the end is a little on-the-nose, and a couple of the secondary performances are a bit on the flat side, but overall this is a superb film that handles the powerlessness of grief extremely well.


There are so many things that are beyond our control, and nothing reminds us of this more than the death of loved ones. It spins you out of orbit and sends you reeling into the unknown. But it is possible to claw your way back, to regain control step by step, as Clara does with her cathartic boxing. You can rebuild and move on.


Nicole Pott has a few more shorts in development at the moment, and I for one can't wait to see what comes next.


Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend

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