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By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2020 09:44AM



Uncut Gems (2020) Dir. Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie


The Safdie brothers’ Good Time (our 2017 review here) was a fantastic thriller which showed a huge amount of promise with its story of Robert Pattinson’s criminal, attempting to break his mentally handicapped brother from prison which leads to an increasingly hectic night.


Well, they’ve proven themselves once again and then some with new flick Uncut Gems. Adam Sandler (yes, that one) stars as Howard Ratner, a Jewish diamond dealer who is addicted to gambling inbetween his time working at his shop.


The Safdie’s film style is incredibly haphazard but perfectly captures the chaotic nature of Ratner’s life. Cheating on his wife (Idina Menzel) with girlfriend Julia (a brilliant Julia Fox) he owes money all over New York. Attempting to make sales at his store, Sandler brilliantly plays Ratner as a man working with, and against, his own demise.


The film opens as Ratner gets hold of a rock containing uncut opals which he hopes to sell at auction for over $1 million dollars. At the same time he is being chased by loansharks who he owes a six figure sums to, and who ratchet up their threats as Ratner fails (and actively avoids) reimbursing them the cash.


Lakeith Stanfield plays Demany, Howard's assistant who recruits clients. One day he brings in basketball superstar Kevin Garnett (as himself) and Ratner agrees to loan him the gem. With failing bets and with the gem now out of his reach, Ratner’s life spirals out of control as he accuses his girlfriend of cheating on him.


After Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, it was clear that Sandler has the right dramatic chops when given the right material. Like a comedy version of Nic Cage – the volume of his current successful productions are close to zero – he is also like Cage in that he finds a suitable role once a decade to stretch his acting muscles.


Here he plays Ratner not as naïve but with a longing for success if only he could keep his debts at bay long enough to make the final big score. The film uses overlapping dialogue to create confusion representing Ratner’s life, but also to add a huge air of realism to the proceedings.


However no doubt its achievement is Sandler's handling of the role in the end. With a superb support cast totally believable in their parts, there are elements of comedy, drama and tension but it’s the awkward cringe-factor of Ratner’s disorganised life that permeates every frame of the film. It keeps you on edge and made me feel terribly uncomfortable at times - sometimes willing Ratner onto his hopeful success and sometimes angry at him for his foolish decisions.


A well-crafted thriller with a perfect vision from the two up and coming directors, Uncut Gems shows that the brothers are now a cinematic force to be reckoned with and Sandler should pick and choose his roles more carefully. If he does, I think there could be awards interest on the horizon for the actor who shows a flair for dramatic control and places it expertly onto an unruly character to much screen success.


★★★★ ½



Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Dec 22 2019 11:04PM



Midlands Review - On in 15


Directed by Joseph Archer


2019


On in 15 is a new short from filmmaker Joseph Archer and is set backstage at a gig during the hedonistic days of 1990s Cool Britannia.


After a band frontman (Ryland played by Sky Cheeba) falls into a drug-induced blackout 15 minutes before show time, band member Simon (Tobias Cornwell) tries to keep everyone calm whilst manager Martin (Christopher Mulvin) screams his concerns to anyone within earshot about the impending show.


With the background noise of a waiting crowd heard from afar which sets the scene, the true technical achievement is that the entire short is filmed in one take. No digital edits or clever cutting here, the filmmaker keeps the characters in one space but follows them as each one enters into the pre-show problems.


One take shots have been a staple of cinema over the years and can be seen in a variety of genres including Ray Liotta’s entrance to the club in Goodfellas, Park Chan-Wook’s corridor fight in Oldboy and Children of Men, Roma AND Gravity from Alfonso Cuarón.


Although working with a lower budget here, much like those movies this sequence requires a huge degree of planning and complexity which is done more than successfully in this short.


The technique is used to its best when switching between the characters and although the location is just one place – and a rather sparse set – the clever movement of the camera in On in 15 is certainly impressive.


With all the cast given just the one chance to get it right, the “oner” technique is fascinating as the short plays out a bit like a small act of theatre. Although the performances are a little over-the-top at times, given the nature of the piece some exaggerated drama has been creatively used to take the place of camera cuts and edits.


With stage manager Jasmine (Maya Moes) and fellow band-mates Charlie (Ed Newman) and Miche (Phoebe Farrington) joining the melee, the lack of a lead singer starts to raise the stakes as no-one wants to take on the role. But the decision is made to try and get him to vomit up the drugs although that proves problematic, and messy, too.


I have to admit I was slightly confused as to the band’s career level as the crowd overdub sounds more like a stadium but the members have day-jobs and there’s talk of playing weddings. As someone who learnt guitar during the Britpop era and played in bands in the 00s, a bit sharper detail would add to the realism. However, the battle and conflict between a day job and a creative passion is something many people face and is a relevant story arc within the main narrative.


That said, that pet peeve doesn’t impact the short as it is more comedic than a documentary and the quick fire dialogue is blasted back and forth to maintain the film’s pace. Again, this helps to keep interest up in the absence of other shots.


As more shocking revelations occur the short works better as it goes along as the camera moves between the groups of people and their mini-dramas, and the writing stays sharp and witty. The technical aspects are a joy of course and the detailed planning of such a device is impressively delivered. However, that shouldn’t take away from the tight script either.


In the end then, On in 15 is an excellent slice of music fun and just this one shot contains more characters and story beats than many other more conventionally made comedy-dramas.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 5 2019 05:20PM



Rachel


Directed by David L Knight


2019


“This won’t bring her back”.


Rachel is a new film from Midlands filmmaker David L Knight and throws us straight in to a world of drugs, violence and former wrongdoings.


Opening with a dishevelled man in a hoodie playing with a lighter, the voice of a female tells him that his pain must be “unbearable”, before we are shown her standing nearby in an angelic white dress.


However, the junkie quickly turns his aching addiction into an abduction as he drags a well-dressed woman off the street and into the alley. But here, we are shocked as a hard cut to black then takes us to a warehouse with the man now tied to chair in a brutal opening twist.


With tape over his mouth gagging his cries for help, the ghostly woman reappears laughing before two strangers arrive. “Rachel” builds up its world quickly and efficiently and with just a few lines of dialogue the short sets up a number of intriguing mysteries that help push the narrative along.


Owing to the setting and situation, the filmmaker also delivers a locally-infused Reservoir Dogs aesthetic with the tied victim attempting to speak, but also suspecting the worst. He’s definitely stuck in the middle with them!


“There’ll be plenty of time for noise later”, says one of the captors as they toy with their victim and the short builds up some good tension as we are thrown into this dark standoff.


As per the three-act structure, at about two-thirds of the way in the film finally reveals that one of the tormentors has lost his daughter and is seeking some rough justice. But although our victim claims to have no knowledge of the man’s 17 year-old, a photo thrust under his nose proves otherwise.


The presence of a person as a metaphor for a haunted past is a little over-used in films but Knight uses the apparition sparingly enough, especially as she is often glimpsed over the captor’s shoulder – haunting both the dad and his bloodied victim.


As we draw to the film’s conclusion, the verbal torture ends and physical torture begins in a brief flash of violence straight out of Taken. Rachel slowly builds a sense of concern AND revulsion for both of the main characters as we are shown the two sides of a moral quandary.


However, as the mysteries unravel so do the captors and the short ends on a cliffhanger of horror. A cautionary and mostly successful tale of drug abuse and revenge, and despite a cliché here or there, Rachel ends up a satisfyingly tense 9 minutes of drama where past mistakes haunt the present.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 3 2019 05:45PM



Unstable


Directed by Luke Allen


2019


Bottle O Productions


Unstable takes place as a growing substance abuse problem descends on a young man, Adam (Alexander Westwood) who has had the paralysing news that his father has a terminal illness and won’t see another year.


In a wooded park, alone, before he gets the news, he carefully sprinkles cannabis in a roll up. Before he can seal it up and enjoy his form “stress relief” he is disturbed by a girl he hasn’t met before called Sophie (Helen Austin).


As she sits down beside him and questions him regarding his drug use, her curiosity could be initially mistaken for intrusiveness. However after a few moments of genuine conversation it is clear her intentions are pure. An attraction between the two is ignited and in a show of defiance Adam throws away his cannabis joint.


Written and directed by Luke Allen, he makes sure to shape certain images and montages to show what his future might look like depending on which path he takes. Allen seems to have a clear agenda whilst making Unstable, to showcase how one’s problems are better dealt when they are shared with friends or family, which in the current climate is more important now than ever.


As Sophie extends an offer to always be there if Adam wants to talk, he receives a call from his distraught mother who has told him to come home as his father only has a few months left to live. Visibly distracted by the call he makes his excuses and leaves but not before being offered cocaine by a drug dealer operating in an underpass. His initial refusal is quickly ignored, and his earlier strength is tested as the dealer reiterates a line Sophie said earlier albeit with a different meaning “life’s shit mate, no point in letting it get worse”.


There is a sense of an impending burst of emotion in one of the film's final scenes as Adam sits down with his parents for dinner. They ponder when they will finally meet Sophie which prompts him to come clean regarding his drug habit. Allen cleverly leaves Adam out of shot the entire scene, concentrating on his mother and father instead. An odd choice as this is the film’s most significant moment however I think this paid off as the viewer can focus completely on the dialogue.


Whilst the sound and the mix needed more attention, as I thought it was slightly off, such technological aspects can be improved on during the director's next effort. Unstable can boast however of its performances. The acting is relaxed and good straight through the line with its key players Alexander Westwood and Helen Austin exuding chemistry making their romance believable.


In the end, Unstable is a well-made film from a young filmmaker and the story remained the priority and the plot engaging, which for a zero-budget film is wholly impressive.


Guy Russell

Twitter @BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, Nov 18 2019 11:32AM



Award-nominated 15-year old filmmaker Luke Allen hosts premiere for new film Unstable


The premiere for the latest short film from award-nominated 15-year old filmmaker Luke Allen is taking place next month in the Midlands.


Based in Telford, his latest short film UNSTABLE is having a red carpet premiere event now production is complete.


Unstable tells the story of Adam (Alexander Westwood), a man whose life starts to go downhill when his ever-increasing increasing addiction starts to affect his relationships.


Made on zero budget with all the members of the cast kindly working and travelling free of charge, what was initially going to be a small screening to kindly thank the cast and crew has now led to a much larger event.


The premiere will take place on Saturday 7th December at Telford Priory School in Wrockwardine Wood from 7.30pm.


Luke goes on to explain how the short was concepted ; “The idea for the film came about as I volunteer with a charity called ROC (Redeeming Our Communities) which has led to me coming in contact with several recovering addicts”.



“I've always felt that their representation has been incorrect in media and that addicts are very rarely (if ever) presented as ordinary people who've made a mistake and need help. I hope that this film is successful in portraying them in such a light”, adds Luke.


Tickets are free with a small cost for refreshments and dress code is formal and the audience will be treated to a Q&A with the director and the film’s cast members.


All details for the premiere are available at www.lukeallen.co.uk and free tickets are available to book at Eventbrite:


https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/unstable-red-carpet-premiere-tickets-81212931063?aff=ebdssbeac


Check out the full trailer for UNSTABLE above.



By midlandsmovies, Nov 9 2019 03:09PM


Step Up


Directed by Nisaro Karim


2019


Five Pence Productions


Step Up is the new film from producers Five Pence Productions and Gurjant Singh Films and is directed by Nisaro Karim, who may may have taken over fellow West Midlands filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz as the Midlands' "Most Prolific Director™".


Described as a gritty urban thriller inspired by Netflix’s Topboy, the film sees a gangster in a car (Sarfraz Mughal) asking if a friend Sam (Jacob Lander) is ready to “step up” and do a dastardly deed. Sam claims he is well prepared and we soon find out that he is being asked to kill a rival - yet is limited to just one bullet.


With no second chances he is handed the gun and pulls his hood over his head and exits to the sound of ominous music. Once out the car, his bravado turns to a more worried facial expression as he enters a mobile phone shop.


The stunned shop owner comes off a video call from a loved one and stares at his possible assailant. And as the tension rises, the man draws his gun and Karim cleverly holds the moment for a beat.


With the shooter and the audience taking in a deep breath, we ask the question whether he’ll go ahead and pull that trigger.


I won’t disclose the ending but Nisaro throws in a nice twist keeping the viewer off-kilter and sets up a possible second instalment after this opening short drama.


Similar to his previous micro-film Peaky Blinders A New Era, the film is more of a trailer than an all encompassing short such is the minimal narrative on show. It could also work as a nice sequence as part of a showreel piece for the two actors.


A nice if slight little short, to be fair to Nisaro Karim he has in fact billed Step Up as part of a series and I’ll be intrigued as to where this goes. Especially as he leaves the audience and his protagonist in a place where they certainly do not know what is coming next.


Michael Sales


Watch the full short below:




By midlandsmovies, Oct 31 2019 08:54AM



Safely to Shore


Directed by Matthew R. Ford


2019


Pretty Hate Productions


Safely to Shore is a new short film from Birmingham based Pretty Hate Productions and Daniel Alexander Films. Written and directed by Matthew R. Ford, the film explores the trappings of sex work and the abuse and damage that directly follows it.


Whilst walking in solitude through the woods, Pete encounters a confused, mute woman staring into emptiness. No identification, no acknowledgement and no words, the only other item she has other than her dress is an odd cube-shaped object. Joining her in a seemingly dire situation is Matylda, alone in her room and routinely self-harming, it becomes clear very soon that she is a sex worker under the watchful eye of her pimp.


Ford switches between the two stories frequently, our first setting being somewhat nicer than the latter. A crisp, burning fire in a country house is in stark contrast to Matylda's dank room above a row of shops in the city.


Whilst Pete tries to figure out who the woman he has taken in is, we see Matylda regretfully working. She climbs into a clients car and goes back to her room, there she comforts him as he cries. He does not want her for sex, instead wanting to save her from her pimp. They violently but justly dispose of him before fleeing to the countryside.


The film takes a strange turn when the two stories connect, as Matylda and her partner appear at Pete's door unannounced asking for help. All of the characters seem standoffish with one another, their personalities suddenly changed and with sinister glances given. Ford then pulls the rug out from under our feet as our two female protagonists paths dramatically merge with the following minutes leading up to the finale being ambiguous and mysterious.


It's apparent that Ford isn't going for gritty, kitchen sink realism here. As a whole, Safely to Shore feels like a fantasy, an escape route for the two women to leave their abusive lives behind. Ford amps up the uncertainly in the film with the characters operating with constant unease, we never seem to know what will happen next or what motives the characters have.


While Ford shines as the director, I felt the writing needed some work. At times the dialogue felt rigid and contrived, for example when Matylda's client asks why she does what she does, her response is “have you ever seen a hamster on a wheel?”.


However, what isn't said is the film's strength. The subtle moments where Matylda stares longingly at a picture of the ocean above her bed is a highlight - nothing is said but we can interpret what her mind is clearly thinking.


Safely to Shore therefore manages to hold your attention for the full 30 minutes, a feat not many independent short films can boast of. As the credits roll, you will be left pondering the reality women like Matylda face every day at the hands of others. This isn't a happy or an easily defined film, unfortunately you will more than likely finish Safely to Shore with more questions than answers.


Guy Russell


Twitter @BudGuyer

By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 08:06AM



Angel City


Directed by Duaine Roberts


2019


Carma Films


A new feature film comes courtesy of West Midlands filmmaker Duaine Roberts who covers sorrow and misery in new drama film Angel City.


We are introduced to Raven (played by Tamaira Hesson) who is grieving for reasons unknown and doesn’t feel like joining in with her sister’s social scene. Her sibling, Angel (Adaya Monique Henry), is a music artist struggling for money. Raven is trying to overcome her depression but claims drugs further affect her mood, but does she still rely too much on them to get her through her troubles?


Raven does eventually show up at party before heading to toilet for some privacy but also expresses her concerns to her sister about how she doesn’t fit in. Scarily she is then brutally attacked but the culprit is unknown and thus sets up a mystery of how all these events came to occur.


The great Birmingham accents come through from the actors, but scenes are very dialogue heavy and the conversations do not lead to the most exciting pieces of drama it has to be said.


Flashbacks begin filling in the story arcs which involve a same-sex love affair before the police start to investigate, and the film gradually reveals how the past is still affecting the lives of those in the present.


Stylistically, the director’s almost sole use of 2-people conversations (or phone calls) in household rooms really slows down the narrative. And this has the effect of losing audience engagement owing to the endless flat “mid-shot” style of filming.


Although adding some realism, a bit more creativity felt needed in these choices. An establishing shot and close-up wouldn’t go amiss. This is unfortunately compounded with the sound, where other than a few tracks, the film really could do with a score to give more emotional beats to the ups and downs of the character relationships.


As the story progresses, the film explores drugs – both recreational and medicinal – and the sibling 'rivalry' comes to a head as secrets are uncovered including blackmail, crime and sexual violence.


Sadly though, the film overall feels a little slow and the drama falls a bit flat. And a huge absence of background sound, music or a score gives little dynamics to each scene especially as nearly all information is provided to the viewer in conversations only. That said, it’s always more than a pleasure to see local filmmakers jump into the feature-length area and admirable to tackle such a sprawling story script.


In the end, the film is delivered by a talented cast who believe in the work and valiantly give everything they can to make it work. And so Angel City does take an honourable but flawed and repetitive look at issues of violence, coping with grief and at the same time respectfully deals with anxiety and the complexities of same-sex relationships.


Michael Sales


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