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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, May 30 2019 01:19PM



Midlands Review - Hope


Directed by Tee Visuals


2019


Hope is a new emotional drama from local director Tee Visuals starring Tenisha White and Andre Pierre as a couple facing sadness and sorrow in their poignant relationship.


Filmed with heavenly sunlight streaming into a bedroom, Hope opens with Jesse (Pierre) waking up his partner Faith (White) before he finds a pregnancy test in the kitchen which she confirms is positive.


Jesse’s happiness is at odds with Faith’s reticence but he suggests the name of ‘Hope’ if the baby is a girl. “We’ve got a long journey ahead of us”, he adds. Very true indeed as we’ll find out later. The director frames and films shots well and the visuals have a high quality sheen to them. The on-set sound is okay but could perhaps do with another pass in the editing suite to balance/boost the consistency of the dialogue volume.


However, the editing is steady and measured and the film has good use of fade-outs and metaphorical white-outs alongside some slow but meaningful scene transitions.


As the couple take their car out into the countryside for a walk in what looks like the Peak District, the tone moves into darker territory with a secret torment apparently under the surface of their relationship. More great shots are filmed here amongst the rolling valleys and hills and the director does well to capture the wide vistas and dramatic lighting of the location.


With a few drone shots as well, the filmmaker really does explore the expansive horizons, perhaps representing an unknown future to come. But here the film flashbacks to 6 weeks prior and we see the couple arguing about the difficulty of conceiving - leading to their potential break-up. 3 days after this, the couple decide to not give up despite the circumstances. But their good intentions may not be enough to see them through.


Hope's use of flashback to uncover plot details is a good but simple device to change and switch focus and create an air of intrigue over the different narrative questions the audience has.


* Some spoilers ahead*


However, as the couple begin to repair their relationship, a slow motion sequence sees Jesse involved in a hit-and-run and even though Faith says ‘yes’ after finding an engagement ring in his pocket, she cannot save him and Jesse passes away.


Sadly, a character as a ghost “twist” is quite overused in the local arena. Even last month with Leaving Home, it used the same conceit and, although I watch more local films than most, it’s a common – albeit powerful – trope that means the short isn’t quite original as it could have been.


That said, there’s enough positives to let it slide as the film has emotional gut punches and scenes that also tug on the heart-strings. And this is down to the performances of the talented White and Pierre. Both convey strong feelings of blame, guilt, sadness and loss and whether it’s a teary glance (White) or a longer passionate speech (Pierre) the two leads really hold the story together.


A bigger but slightly less welcome surprise was Hope’s post-credit scene set 25 years later (!) which featured a note that says “dad’s killer”, police sirens and a young man with a gun. I have to admit that it’s a brave choice but the sequence jolts you into another film entirely and may have been best left off this particular short.


And a melancholy piano-led song adds to the sad tone throughout and a great soundtrack overall from Marco Micucci and music from Punch Records help give the short an angelic vibe.


The (non post-credits) ending of Hope finishes on a positive note with Jesse giving some virtuous advice to instil strength and positivity to Faith to help her deal with the unfortunate situation she is facing, before he leaves her forever.


And as we are shown a drone shot that takes the audience up and away into the celestial heavens, the film’s wholesome and hopeful message very much shines through. With two divine and passionate performances and some heart-breaking scenes, Hope ends up being an impressive short containing a whole host of tender themes provided with conviction and a lot of flair.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, May 26 2019 03:37PM



A Private War (2018) Dir. Matthew Heineman

This new biographical drama comes from Matthew Heineman and is his first dramatic movie after his success with 2017’s documentary City of Ghosts about anonymous activists in Syria as it was taken over by ISIS. Staying with similar subject matter, A Private War follows the real and recent war story of American journalist Marie Colvin. Colvin is played brilliantly and with depth by Rosamund Pike, who captures Colvin’s determination to uncover stories in the most dangerous of war zones. Losing an eye in Sri Lanka whilst documenting the country’s civil war, Pike wears an eye-patch but her ability to see, and uncover, a story is not diminished. Her mental stability is diminished however as post-traumatic stress, alcoholism and broken relationships begin to take their toll. Her anguish doesn’t stop her continuing her desire to expose the evils of the world as she crosses the globe.


Jamie Dornan is solid as her photographer Paul Conroy, whom she recruits to document the stories, whilst she consistently antagonises her boss Sean Ryan (a rather sympathetic Tom Hollander as The Sunday Times' foreign editor) in her search for tortuous truths. The film uses a countdown technique as we are shown various war zones from 2001 to the more recent battle of Homs. Some subtly impressive recreations of war zones, realistic shooting locations and the dramatic back-and-forths back in London all add to the realism. But it’s the central performance of a woman torn between the truth and the terror that is the real praiseworthy aspect. Pike gives her best performance since Gone Girl and brings to life the tragic story of Colvin and her demons. An impressive debut feature, Heineman delivers a whole host of remarkable technical aspects and Pike’s exciting central performance makes A Private War a dramatic and satisfying movie covering global conflicts and personal battles. ★★★★





Arctic (2019) Dir. Joe Penna

Mads Mikkelsen stars as Overgård, a stranded man who is trying to stay alive after his plane crashed in the snowy tundra of the arctic wasteland. As he fishes for food to stay alive, he carves out S.O.S in the snow whilst trying to map his bleak and (almost) inhospitable surroundings. Filmed in Iceland, the great cinematography from Tómas Örn Tómasson captures frozen vistas, landscapes and the snow-peaked mountains and it’s this beauty that contrasts with Mikkelsen’s desperation to survive. As a rescue helicopter spots him, it gets caught in a storm and crash lands itself with only a young woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) surviving but severely injured. The wreckage contains a map and Overgård discovers a lodge that is 2-days away so decides to secure the woman to a sledge and head out into the wilderness. Filmed almost entirely without dialogue, Mikkelsen is excellent portraying a man in a precarious and pressured situation but understanding that a clear head and logical thinking is the only way to survive. Fighting the elements and himself, and overcome with emotion at times, “mute” Mads has done a similar non-speaking turn in Valhalla Rising but this is far the superior film. With elements of Alive and The Martian as Mads faces risky dangers, Arctic ends up being a well-crafted 90-minute survival flick that is simple yet emotional, and life-affirming without being overly fussy. ★★★½



Shazam! (2019) Dir. David F. Sandberg

From the director who brought sub-par horrors Lights Out and Annabelle: Creation to the big screen, it’s incredibly surprising – in a good way – to see the fright fan tackle a child-friendly family blockbuster in the much-maligned DC Extended Universe. How this fits in with the tone of Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad is anybody’s guess - heads up, it doesn’t - but that’s a huge bonus for a film with low expectations to fulfil. In short, what we get is a tearaway, Billy Batson (played by Asher Angel) who gets placed in foster care but is given a magical power by a wizard (!) that can transform him into an adult superhero. As the man-version, Zachary Levi does a great job a la Tom Hanks in Big (and to a lesser extent Judge Reinhold in Vice Versa). Mark Strong as the villain simply dusts off his Kick Ass persona and although as bland as they come, has an interesting power that sees the “7 Sins” demons emanating from his body to attack. Some cornball family themes are expectedly delivered but mostly inoffensive, yet as Billy learns to use his super speed and strength – and how to take responsibility for his powers – the film gets by with a lot of heart and plenty of laughs. And for the first time (since Wonder Woman I guess), a DC comic book movie is finally fun, has a great tongue-in-cheek tone and some actually likeable and relatable characters. Shazam is a super success! ★★★ ½



Greta (2019) Dir. Neil Jordan

What happened between 1991-1992 that filmmakers seemed to make every thriller about stalking? Cape Fear (1991), Single White Female (1992), The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992), Sleeping with the Enemy (1991), Basic Instinct (1992) and Unlawful Entry (1992) are amongst a host of dramas where obsessed individuals terrorise their victims in a variety of dark and unique ways. And with Greta, we’re thrust back into that world with Neil Jordan’s latest psychological drama. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Frances, a waitress in New York who returns a lost purse to its owner (Isabelle Huppert as Greta Hideg) and becomes close with the lonely piano-playing widow. However, before you can say “bunny boiler”, Huppert’s Greta is calling, texting and eventually stalking Frances and her flat mate. Moving from a nuisance to full-on disturbingly obsessed, Huppert is having a lot of fun as the lurker and she gives gravitas to a pantomime role – similar to SIr Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, itself a 1991 release! It nails the knowing (and at times silly) tone of those 90s thrillers and at 98 minutes it doesn’t stay around too long for audiences to question all its holes, nonsensical narrative strands and ludicrousness. However, for those who are missing the glory days of crime, betrayal and emotional nut-bags – and no, it doesn’t treat psychological disorders with anything close to seriousness – then Greta is a guilty, if slight, return to the clichéd, outrageous, preposterous - but often highly entertaining - suspense genre from 30 years ago. ★★★ ½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, May 21 2019 06:42PM



Depicted Illusion


Directed and written by Jordan-Kane Lewis


2019


Depicted Illusion is a new dramatic character study from young student filmmaker Jordan-Kane Lewis which explores the mind of a serial killer whose victims also become his “art”.


Opening with a Blade Runner-style electronica score, the short begins with a dead body and what looks like a crime-scene photographer taking pictures of a slain woman.


However, this is actually Johnathon, the killer himself who is also a photographer and who uses his gruesome scenarios as the backdrop in his regular job.


The film also uses a voiceover (ironically like Blade Runner’s original cut too) and attempts to blend the disturbing night-time incidents with some more mundane day-time conversations.


The mix of dark lighting and digital sounds echoes some of Nicholas Winding Refn’s work – which seems an influence – and the filmmaker has high aspirations mixing heady religious themes into the protagonist’s murderous intentions.


The filmmaker acknowledges their low budget and short time to plan and unfortunately this is noticeable in a few specific areas. Especially the sound which could do with another pass in the editing studio.


Using mainly on-set audio recording there is sadly a noticeable hum in an unbalanced mix and the voiceover also gets lost in a soundtrack that is at times too loud and also too sloppy.


Some consistency would help in the lighting too but the filmmaker does make a lot of interesting shot choices. Keeping the audience visually engaged, the director – clearly cinematically influenced – adds in “God” shots, drone shots, slow zooms and sequences filmed from a car to tell their story which is to the film’s credit.


As the serial killer drags more bodies around, the voiceover moves into a sermon of the killer’s manifesto of sorts and whilst the acting is a little under-par, parts of it reminded me at times of the blank expressions within Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.


The killer uses photos of his victims in his art – a bit of Lords of Chaos here crossed with Velvet Buzzsaw - and the ending sees a group of white-masked cult members (fans?) coaxing Johnathon to a local pub.


Dressed like the party-goers from Eyes Wide Shut, but filmed in what looks like a Wetherspoons, another location would have added more atmosphere but the film’s strange ambience continues with a macabre and non-explanatory conclusion.


The filmmaker is not short of cinematic inspiration and throws a lot of meaningful ideas into the 15-minute short but it’s slightly undone by the – albeit acknowledged – confines that go with a student film.


However, whilst not entirely successful on the technical side, Depicted Illusion delves deep into the mind of a disturbed individual with some resourceful flourishes despite its low budget limitations.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, May 20 2019 08:36PM



Destroyer (2019) Dir. Karyn Kusama


As a huge fan of Kusama’s The Invitation, my expectations were high for her new crime thriller Destroyer which stars Nicole Kidman as an undercover cop taking out a gang years after she began working on the case.


Kidman plays Erin Bell in a role that’s as good as any she has delivered in the past. Dishevelled, weary and, what looks like, malnourished at times, the glamorous Kidman we've known from Hollywood is nowhere to be seen as she embodies a hard-nosed detective both physically and mentally.


Her character Bell is brought back to a case from her past by the appearance of a dye-soaked $100 bill from a botched robbery she was involved in whilst undercover with her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan). The bill and the death of a man suggests that the gang’s leader Silas (Toby Kebbell) may have returned, so she begins to track down remaining gang members in order to find him.


The film’s narrative jumps from the present investigation back to the past when Erin and Chris were deep undercover. Questioning whether they should in fact become further involved with the crime, Erin and Chris begin a romantic liaison that has serious repercussions later on. Kidman is a tour-de-force here managing to perfectly play her naïve and unknowing cop from the past as well as embodying the rugged and vengeful vigilante version of herself in the present.


Harsh scenes of threats, sexual favours, violence and blackmail all add up to a world of horrid crime and one Erin is trying to protect her wayward daughter from. As each member leads her to the next, she ends up in a firecracker of a scene with lawyer turned money launderer Dennis DeFranco who is played fantastically by a sleazy Bradley Whitford. His spiteful confidence clashes with Bell but he underestimates both her resourcefulness and her lust for revenge.


The whole cast are fantastic but it’s Kidman’s great portrayal of a disparaged and down-and-out cop that has you rooting for her even when she’s aggressively settling scores.


And Kusama’s film manages to mix sadistic and cruel circumstances with intense scenes of emotional vulnerability – Kidman’s absent mother reigns in her most brutal tendencies when dealing with her daughter and her big-headed boyfriend – leading to an outstanding balance of tones and themes.


Narratively, as our protagonist begins to go off the rails, we never once get confused as to her motivations and Kidman says as much with a dismissive gesture and roll of the eyes as she does when delivering verbal take-downs of the city’s villainous crew.


With a tremendous cast throughout and first-rate scenes exploring the consequences of violence, Destroyer is an exceptional thriller from start to finish. But more importantly, it will destroy all preconceptions you had of Kidman as she delivers a superbly astonishing turn in the type of repellent role I’d love to see more of.


★★★★


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, May 15 2019 07:45AM



Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019) Dir: Joe Berlinger


Serial killer Ted Bundy returned to public consciousness with the Netflix series ‘Conversations with a Killer” and this resurgence of interest led to this biopic, based on a book by his former long-term partner Elizabeth Kendall.


As to be expected from the source material the film picks up during the time of Kendall and Bundy meeting and charts their lives from that point on, taking in accusations, courtroom drama and the struggle of fighting for justice.


However it is clear that rookie writer Michael Werwie struggled to adapt the source material, as he fails to grasp or decide what the focal point of this film should be. As a result director Joe Berlinger, on paper a great choice due to his background in true-life productions, struggles to maintain viewer interest over the 110 minute run time, despite managed to create a strong look to the film and benefiting from terrific cast performances.


Due to not knowing what sort of film it wants to be, or even who the underlying story should be with - Kendall or Bundy - Extremely Wicked… fails to fully engage on any level. Not to mention as the events unravel we begin to empathise with the charming and ever hopeful Bundy as he fights against what appears to be one of the great American miscarriages of justice.


Even knowing the reality, it is hard based on the film itself not to start thinking that Bundy is being railroaded by the system into being a patsy for unexplained crimes. This feeling is enhanced by the fact that the crimes themselves are relegated into the background, as is Kendall, for the majority of the film making it easy to separate the handsome, normal man from his heinous and brutal crimes.


Admittedly this is part of the films purpose but one in which it fails to manage in an effective manner. This is no doubt further complicated by Zac Efron’s fantastic performance which is delightful, but one fears that by getting him on board that certain compromises had to be made in order to protect Brand-Efron, and that possibly includes showing as little violence as possible for as long as possible, and that in itself is problematic when dealing with this subject matter.


Featuring big hitters such as the previously mentioned Efron and heavyweight actor John Malkovich, ‘Extremely Wicked…’ was always going to be a competent production but sadly in seeking a wider acceptance, and no doubt a financial return, the film panders to more mainstream tastes than perhaps the subject matter demands while trying to deliver too much content, which ironically results in it delivering very little of substance.


Ultimately Extremely Wicked… is unsure if it wants to be a personal film or simply a factual telling of selected moments and as a result drags and lacks focus.


★★


Marek Turner


@CinemaEuropa



By midlandsmovies, May 9 2019 05:59PM



Kaleidoscope

Directed by Nicole Pott

2019


“Who’s in control now?”


Kaleidoscope is the new 10-minute short from Derbyshire director Nicole Pott showing the preparation of a child’s party by his parents that unwraps a far more sinister side to this suburban family’s life.


We open on a brightly lit day where a child in a dinosaur onesie plays in his room. The camera lightly dances around the boy, Conan, (played by an excellent Harry Tayler) and along with a suitably whimsical piano score brings us into a world of childhood imagination.


As his mum (Cressida Cooper) calls him down to breakfast, he stops playing with his gun and goggles and we see his father (a burley Ian Virgo) arrive with a toweringly big present.


Whilst mother busies herself with phone calls and food preparation, we get scenes of father-son bonding. Conan and his ‘Papa’ pretend to be karate masters before he teaches his son to put on a tie for school and they leave.


Here the film cuts to later in the day with a distinct shift in tone as well. Director Pott subtly moves us from a place of childhood wonder to a darker drama as mother and father begin arguing.


Barbs fly about the father’s drinking habits and Conan moves himself away and retreats into his own world, returning to his steampunk goggles that help him hide from the noisy quarrel downstairs.


However, unbeknownst to the disputing parents, their argument moves into the bedroom he’s hiding in and he witnesses the argument become far more serious.


A verbal assault becomes a physical confrontation between them as their son witnesses the worst of family situations. Musically the audio turns much more melancholic and the film shows some stark realities of domestic violence.


As lonely Conan blows out the candles on his cake, the ending is far darker yet poignant than the frilly beginning. Kaleidoscope therefore leads audiences down surprising yet satisfying narrative paths and the short works tremendously well by contrasting these two extreme elements.


As Conan sees through dark lenses, the film’s kaleidoscopic nature consists of different parts, constantly blurring and fracturing your expectations.


With three strong performances, the actors are very believable during their interactions which move from heart-warming to dark warnings – especially when we get glimpses of a controlling and abusive partner.


Showcasing how domestic violence can be lurking very much beneath the surface of a seemingly fun-loving family, Kaleidoscope exposes a wealth of distorted domestic secrets using a wonderful narrative structure. Skilfully playing with expectations, the short is a great drama showing the unpleasant patterns of cruel perpetrators.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, May 4 2019 08:10PM



Midlands Review - Leaving Home


Directed by James Heaney


2019


Goldbox Productions


"After having an argument with his dad, Liam decides that he's leaving home as he's had enough of being judged. Will he be able to leave without tearing the family apart?"


Leaving Home begins with a young man scrolling through his phone one morning as he awakes from his sleep before heading downstairs to meet his mum and dad at the breakfast table.


Rather than a happy ‘good morning’, there is tension in the air as the man and his father bicker whilst his mum tries to keep the peace. As the breakfast is served, father and son’s tumultuous relationship comes to the forefront as they begin to take digs at each other.


With dad accusing his son of being lazy for not washing up his plates, the son grabs at his chest in discomfort. However, his pain is dismissed by his tough father and before he leaves the kitchen, he states that he will sort his life out when he “moves away from you two”.


The opening is well shot but the introduction of the parents has them strangely filmed from behind. In another movie this may have suggested a barrier between parents and child. But here you simply can’t see the faces and some different blocking and framing would have been more effective to draw us in to the characters as they are introduced. As it is, the white kitchen and bland beige wardrobe really doesn’t create much atmosphere on their own.


Also, although I’m no prude I felt the swearing between the two appeared unjustified in the context. Instead, it would have been great to use something more visual to represent the father-son arguments. A glance, some silence or some cleverer shot choices could have given Leaving Home some more creativity and subtlety. As it is, it’s a very literal translation of quite a literal script.


However, as the son returns to his room, the film has a good use of graphics to show him messaging his friend. The the son begins to grab at his chest once again as he listens to loud music which shuts him off from his parents. But a juddering special effect and a hard cut in the middle of the short jolts the film from its standard delivery to create some mystery as to a far greater life-changing event.


As the boy’s parents discuss how to talk to their son to resolve their differences, he is soon heading downstairs to offer his own apology. Uncomfortably though, his mum ignores his pleas and it is here where the short suggests something altogether different has occurred in these people’s lives.


In conclusion Leaving Home comes across as an honourable attempt to create a short about an important part of dealing with those who are “leaving” but with an added twist. Yet although the sound, visuals and technical aspects are undertaken well, there’s not a lot here to make the film stand out.


The film does get far more interesting towards its end however and the story is simple and delivered clearly – but I do hope the filmmaker can put their own creative stamp on their next work as the solid foundations are already successfully in place here to be built upon in future projects.


Michael Sales

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