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By midlandsmovies, Apr 19 2019 08:09AM



Midlands Review - Troubled Waters


Directed & written by Gemma Norton


A tear runs down the cheek of our protagonist Viv in the opening of this award-winning drama from Midlands director Gemma Norton and the audience too will be moved by this fantastic film, Troubled Waters.


Viv is a mother of two – played by Vivienne Bell who won Best Actress at our 2019 Midlands Movies Awards – and her harrowing yet sensitive portrayal of a mum suffering mental health issues is a huge part of the short’s success.


Troubled Waters shows Viv undertaking a variety of household tasks, but she is concerned there’s something wrong with her baby daughter. Her husband Terry (Terry Sweeney) allays her fears but Viv is adamant she is not exaggerating.


With the baby crying, Viv’s stress levels rise and we see her curled up like a foetus on a bed, struggling to cope with the various demands of parenthood. These strong images are beautifully composed by the director and are shot excellently by the film’s cinematographer Richard Staff.


Bell does a great performance of a woman exhausted by motherhood and the story sees her attributing these anxieties ‘onto’ her children. As the strain begins to take its toll on her own health, Viv shouts at the infants before fainting due to the toll its physically taking.



Filmed in a naturalistic way, the stylistic realism and exploration of parental themes – along with Bell’s own slight resemblance to Jessica Chastain – the film has echoes of Terence Malick’s Tree of Life. Like that film, Troubled Waters concerns itself with hugely important aspects of family existence too.


A trip to the swimming baths shows some brief family fun but reveals Viv’s dependency on medication to deal with her worries. And in addition we see her suspiciously spying her partner and children from behind a curtain, suggesting her trauma is far from resolved.


As we come to the film’s conclusion, the disturbing themes come to a climax and extreme exhaustion overcomes Viv keeping the film’s tension high.


Troubled Waters covers a range of post-natal depression (PND) conditions including fatigue, exhaustion, guilt, shame and feelings of hopelessness but director Norton never pushes the envelope so far that we feel that she couldn’t recover from these frustrations. Despite her lack of ability to think through things clearly, Viv is shown bonding with the baby towards the end leaving viewers on a message, albeit a very small one, of hope.


An intense, emotional and thorough exploration of post-natal psychological stress, Troubled Waters is a brilliant film showcasing top talent and excellent high-quality technical aspects. With stunning images, a focused narrative and an affecting premise, the short is unsettling but hugely satisfying as it deals with the risk factors of such an important disorder in a sensitive way.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 15 2019 03:05PM



Midlands Review - The Duology of Man


Directed by Theo Gee and Ian Bousher


2019


It’s not every day a film like this pops up and remains in your consciousness long after it’s finished. Whether this particular topic is popular or not, it’s certainly never been more relevant. Exploring the nature of human choice.


The opening scene features a businessman waiting for a train. It’s a relatable experience with nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. The businessman appears to be locked in a situation that he can’t control when we realise he’s being hit periodically in the kneecap with a hammer by a kid. Whether he’s too polite to ask for help or he’s genuinely struggling to cope, my interpretation is that this is a representation of mental stability.


The second half shows a heavily pregnant woman frantically running through the woods alone, looking like she’s about to give birth. An elderly lady just passing by after returning from the shops passes by and reluctantly helps this woman, who is convinced she’s not pregnant.


This was one of the reasons why I kept re-watching Duology of Man; it made me empathetic to the main characters regarding their state of mind and their complacency in society. Both parables show some form of decision to hold back during difficult and unruly situations, to which I am sure most of us have encountered before.


These little experiences test our stamina for putting up with many things, such as late trains, troublesome children, motherhood and ultimately society’s pressure on particular age groups and gender.


The beauty of this short film is that the interpretation is down to the viewer, and I saw a high relevance to the mental stresses of our modern day. At what point do you ask someone to stop hitting you with a hammer? Is it just easier for everyone around you if you weren’t pregnant? These are extreme questions for severe circumstances but I feel that nearly all of us never really show our true feelings during challenging times, and at face value, we just get on with it through convenience, whilst our mental health suffers.


Ian Bousher and Theo Gelenter; the co-directors of Duology of Man and their amazing team across the Midlands helped bring this passion project to life. “We wanted to make something that teeters on the edge – odd and usual, but at the same time just accessible enough that you can explore things and pose questions for people that you can’t in the usual way.”


To help illustrate the complexities of human choice, natural light was used to film the scenes to add a sense of realism. It encouraged a more engaging narrative due to the familiarity of it all, preparing itself for an effortless shift in direction to the more bizarre nature of the situations in question.


Originally this film solely focused on the first half of the story, with more characters and longer scenes. It was then stripped down and a complimentary chapter was added, making Duology of Man a superb pairing of analogies.


The cinematography is simplistic yet captivating, nothing is made too complicated or overly expressive and practical effects were used where it was needed. The tones were kept pragmatic, and yet, something remained surrealistic throughout. It could be that it’s set in an unspecified time and the surroundings are undefined – but not without a sense of familiarity. With that respect, I was never left feeling abandoned; you are in fact, swept in by the characters and their choices.


A lot of research went into choosing which pieces of music were going to open and close Duology of Man. The decision for immediate opera fills you with a sense of melancholy and the tone is set even before the first scene hits. As we see the characters towards the end finally break down, this looked like a perfect metaphor for the unveiling of the mask some of us wear for the outside world. The use of opera towards the end really helped emphasise the emotional intensity, and with the music being so universally empowering, this particular piece felt right to use.


All of the actors in this film delivered exceptional performances. They were highly complimentary to each other with no one over exaggerating their lines. Everything was accomplished with such a natural inflection, it made it easier to absorb and accept the story as it unravels.


Stylistically, Theo tells me, Duology of Man takes inspiration from the 2015 dystopian film The Lobster, by Yorgos Lanthimos. I found some similarities to the Norwegian film The Bothersome Man (Den Brysomme Mannen), with its approach to complacency in our society, making Ian and Theo’s short film a deeply relevant piece for today’s culture concerning how we reflect on our own behaviour, thoughts and choices.


It’s exactly what Ian and Theo had in mind whilst making Duology of Man; their message isn’t force fed, but it is left open for you to think and interpret it as you see fit. For me, I saw it as a manifestation of how complacency can affect an individual.


In the last scenes, both of the main characters from each story are stood on a beach with a calm sea, yet they are both depicting pain and suffering. The serene ocean representing society and all that it should be, and the hidden distress of regular people like businessmen and expectant mothers. I loved this film because it is left down to the viewers to interpret its meaning for themselves.


Sammy S

Twitter @IsoElegant


By midlandsmovies, Apr 2 2019 05:33PM



Midlands Review - The Music Box


2018


Directed by Hendrik Harms


The predominant feeling that I was left with after viewing of The Music Box was unfortunately one of sad disappointment. The undeniably well executed moments of the film only add to the frustration of what this film could’ve been, as there are too many falters to mar what had the potential to be a fantastic horror short.


Most features of The Music Box have lots of potential; the majority of scenes are effectively lit and composed, however there is a lack of attention to detail in the framing of scenes and the steadiness of the camera is often jarring. Making improvements to these somewhat basic problems would allow the audience to fully appreciate not only the cinematography of the film, but would allow the audience to become fully immersed in the narrative.


Although The Music Box has some shortcomings, the compelling performance given by lead Penny Ashmore is reason enough alone to watch the film. Ashmore carries the film through her role as Marcy, a musically gifted young woman who must struggle to survive a night of psychological torment at the hands of a mysterious music box.


Occasionally Ashmore’s performance is somewhat stifled by some poor dialogue, which is starkly contrasted by her performance in silent moments of the film – her incredibly hypnotic portrayal of emotion slowly builds with the tension of the film, eventually reaching a beautifully painful climax.


Despite the aforementioned sparse dialogue, this is by and large the worst feature of the film. The few dialogue-driven scenes are overflowing with uncomfortable character interactions and horror monologues, predominantly delivered by the slightly wooden Hendrik Harms (Jeremy).


Jeremy’s character simultaneously overloads the audience with heavy-handed exposition with little-to-no information; each scene in which he’s featured drags and unfortunately pulls the viewer out of narrative flow and deflates the tension that is so painstakingly built throughout.


This being said, the plot of the film is beautifully written – there is a painstaking amount of attention to detail given to subtle foreshadowing, which I find can only be fully appreciated after a second viewing.


This use of foreshadowing not only leaves interesting breadcrumbs for viewers to follow throughout, but also ties into the themes of time and perception, giving the plot a cohesion that is lost on most other aspects of the film. Unfortunately, the precision focused on the thematic and narrative elements of The Music Box may be the reason the dialogue is poor, as could have been deemed unimportant in comparison and therefore was neglected.


Perhaps some of The Music Box’s shortcomings are symptomatic of an over-arching issue: the over-involvement and, by extension, over-reaching of Hendrik Harms. Harms is credited as the writer, producer, director and co-star of the short; by tasking himself with such a large number of crucial production roles instead of finding others to fill them, Harms maybe was likely unable to apply the amount of focus that each of these roles require and therefore allowed the film to fall short.


However, I would recommend watching The Music Box because the highlights of the film are incredibly enjoyable and deserve attention, but also as a warning of the detrimental effects of involving yourself in too many aspects of the filmmaking process.


Beth Hawkes



By midlandsmovies, Apr 2 2019 03:30PM



Midlands Review - A Helping Hand


Directed & written by Debbie Daniels


2018


Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers present A Helping Hand, a short film about an elderly man who is now sleeping during the day and active throughout the night. This isolated way of living forces him to seek help, with surprising results.


Arf (Arthur Fletcher) due to continued lack of sleep has now resigned himself to operating during the night and falling asleep in the day. The audience can see early on that he isn't happy with this arrangement as he is seen routinely opening his bedroom door, longing for normality, longing for sleep.


Writer and director Debbie Daniels, through a series of shots show the viewer how Arf lives his life. Because he cant sleep at night he is forced to carry out tasks such as shopping, gardening and cleaning in unsociable hours. Mute and glum with depression.


Arf decides to visit Dr Spellman where he reveals he is a widower, and since his wife's passing he has had trouble adjusting to sleeping alone. The good doctor discourages medication and recommends a “co-sleeper”, someone who will physically take the place of his late wife in bed to give Arf the familiar feeling of sleeping next to someone. Arf, taken aback by the unusual prescription agrees to give it a go.


Leah (Fiona Dunn) is introduced shortly after, lifting Arf's spirits immediately. The introduction of this character also elevates the films pace, as I enjoyed watching Arf and Leah's relationship grow in what should have been an awkward encounter. In stark contrast to Arf's conventional way of living, Leah brings with her otherworldly candles, props and music to help lull Arf into a deep slumber. Both characters are written beautifully, Arf's willingness after his initial scepticism warms me to his character whilst Leah's hunger for helping people make her a joy to watch.


“Remember, you can do anything you wan, be anything you want, you've got your whole life ahead of you” Arf says as he waves Leah goodbye after an unsuccessful effort to help him regain a normal sleeping pattern. Dave, another co-sleeper is introduced but to no avail until a third co-sleeper, an elderly lady Ann enters Arf's life. Will Arf be able to succeed in Dr Spellman's counselling and be able to live the life he wants to?


A Helping Hand is a light hearted story regarding a sombre subject which another director might have been heavy handed in their approach however director Debbie Daniels handles the story with a gentle touch surrounding Arf's evident discomfort with humorous moments.


Daniels is also responsible for the inspired choice of casting Arthur Fletcher as Arf as he gives a great performance. Fletcher is the films anchor as he commands attention in every scene and also to have great chemistry with all three of the supporting actors is a serious achievement.


The aspect that stood out for me the most whilst watching this film was friendship and the potential strangers have to be of importance to one another.


Shot on location in Sutton Coldfield, A Helping Hand reminded me of particular type of film that Britain does excellently, the mature comedy-drama. Go check it out.


For more information on Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers please click on this link.


Guy Russell

Twitter @BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2019 04:51PM



The Front Runner (2019) Dir. Jason Reitman

Depicting the rise of Gary Hart, an American Democratic senator and 1988 presidential candidate, and to be honest for this 1980s born UK film reviewer a complete nobody to me, The Front Runner is a new political drama from Jason Reitman. Although not a shoe in, Hart hits the campaign trail hard and asks journalists “to follow him around”. Bad mistake. After publishing photos of Hart having an extra-marital liaison with journalist Donna Rice, he takes a stand against the press by arguing his private life is none of their business. In a world not just before the internet but even before the 24-hour TV news cycle, Hart’s request seems silly and naïve by today’s standards. Hugh Jackman plays the senator as a strong-willed but foolish man and the film positions itself as a commentary about an historical turning point in the coverage of the private lives of public figures. However, it doesn’t do this successfully despite Jackman’s compelling efforts as the bemused senator. There is however good support from the always excellent JK Simmons (as Hart’s campaign manager), Vera Farmiga as his put-upon wife and Sara Paxton playing his mistress. Whilst I was one of only a few that thought Spielberg’s The Post was overrated, the cinematic flourishes and clever script of that film show up the flaws in this one. Consequently then, The Front Runner ends up being all surface with little depth, telling a sordid tale in a Wikipedia-style fashion, ticking bland boxes as it goes. ★★★



The Dirt (2019) Directed by Jeff Tremaine

From the director of 4 Jackass-related movies, comes along a new musical biopic in the footsteps of Bohemian Rhapsody about 1980s glam-haired shock rockers Mötley Crüe. Based on the book The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band by Neil Strauss – which I read whilst being on tour with my own heavy rock band – the story begins in 1980 when Frank Carlton Feranna Jr leaves his abusive home and changes his name to Nikki Six. It isn’t long before he is hooking up with drummer Tommy Lee (he of later Pamela Anderson fame), guitarist Mick Mars and vocalist Vince Neil. After well-received gigs in LA, the band are signed to a 5-album deal and their crazy rock antics get more and more extreme. From touring with Ozzy Osbourne (who ‘snorts’ ants and drinks urine) they go through a slew of wild parties, model girlfriends, overdoses and a car crash which ultimately results in a conviction of manslaughter for Vince. After the set backs the band go on to hit the top of the charts, sell platinum albums and go on a successful world tour. Douglas Booth (from Loving Vincent) as Nikki is the best of the bunch whilst the others give admirable facsimiles of the rest of the band. Unremarkable throughout, and as someone who liked Bohemian Rhapsody but acknowledged its pretty nondescript-recounting of the band’s life, this film goes further into mediocre TV-production wishy-washiness. With little cinematic flair, this is definitely a film for the fans in the main, as it never gets under the make-up and tasteless clichés of the band, something the book – written from each band member’s viewpoint – actually did pretty successfully. Dr. Feel“bland” ★★★



Triple Frontier (2019) Directed by J. C. Chandor

A Netflix original film featuring A-List superstars Ben Affleck and Oscar Isaac and featuring a solid support cast of Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, Adria Arjona and Pedro Pascal, Triple Frontier tackles a band of ex-soldiers who reunite for one big heist to rip off a Colombian drug baron. As Isaac tries to convince the team to get back together for one last big score (ensuring they’ll never have to work again obvs) the film’s first 25 mins moves at a pace but with little character development and a whole host of semi-retired-older-guys-getting-back-in-the-saddle clichés. After easily defeating the bland crime lord, who barely features to be fair, the guys load up their over-stuffed bags with cash. But their escape helicopter crashes as it is over the maximum weight owing to the greedy guts the guys have been. Director J. C. Chandor’s previous movie A Most Violent Year, also starring Oscar Isaac, was slow and measured – sometimes to a fault – but Triple Frontier is knuckleheaded and speedy – again, to a fault. The beginning had strong Predator-vibes – covert operation in the jungle - and to be honest I was hoping the film would go into sci-fi or horror territory to avoid the clichés it was delivering. The whole second half however shows the crew trying to get to a rendezvous point which had echoes of The Way Back (Peter Weir’s 2010 survival film) and the boredom sets in as the group slowly trudge back through different wildernesses. In the end, despite its big-name stars, the film disappoints on a triple front by being flat, flavourless and ultimately forgettable. ★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2019 10:22AM



Midlands Review - Ashes


Directed by Alan Coulson


Bradgate Films


2019


Ashes is a feature drama from Alan Coulson which was filmed in and around the Midlands with a story set around a man let out of jail and returning to Scotland.


We open with Jonathan Soter (Rupert Proctor), a man seriously depressed after the loss of his wife in a fire, which is cross-cut with Donnie McKinley (played by Graeme Rooney) getting released from prison for the crime that caused it and who decides to head home to Scotland.


This well-structured introduction sets up all the main pieces and draws you in as we see a man re-starting his life and another man seemingly at the end of his.


The film’s opening also showcases impressive production values where even BBC East Midlands newsreaders read out the fictional story and in many ways its simplicity is a huge plus point – keeping the story central and at the forefront.


A solid soundtrack is used in montages to push forward narrative and once back in Scotland, Donnie appears haunted by his past but is warmly welcomed back by his friend Kenny, played excellently with unhinged arrogance by Mark Wood.


As Kenny recalls exaggerated tales from their past, Donnie looks genuinely upset by his criminal past. Jonathan though is clearly seeking revenge of some sort and drives through the night, spotting (or imagining) Donnie at the roadside.


The film has a host of symbolism and religious imagery such as crosses (crosses to bear?) and Rupert Proctor as the victim does well in a mostly non-speaking part – troubled by his loss and focused only on comeuppance. Unshaven and disturbed he wanders aimlessly at times showing a certain amount of doubt and introspection on whether his plans are the right ones.


A (slightly) overblown string score brings some gravitas to the proceedings and both characters drown their sorrows in bouts of alcohol. Jonathan reacquaints himself with an old flame as he attempts to return to a normal life whilst Donnie is filled with regret and the audience begin to sympathise with both leads.


The technical aspects of Ashes are fantastic - it’s well filmed, nicely edited and the sound mix are all top-notch. It does however slow slightly in the middle as the characters’ reflections and recollections of the past seem a little repetitious and although aiming for seriousness, are a little dour and slow-paced. However, they are interspersed with flashes of violence as Jonathan takes revenge with a broken pool cue in the toilets of pub once he gets to Scotland.


The film contemplates the destructive effects of dwelling on the past as well as the devasting effects of alcohol – ultimately revealing that Jonathan’s wife passed away in bed – too drunk to wake up despite the fire.


As the film comes to its conclusion, Donnie’s friend Kenny feels he has been upstaged after Jonathan’s attack and soon we see violence begetting violence. A final Mexican standoff at the end and a reprise of the importance of a religious pendant ensure the themes return full circle and we get a satisfactory payoff of the film’s subject matter.


Blame, revenge and regret are all covered in an impressive feature showcasing both talent here in the Midlands and over the border in Scotland. The three central performances are all very strong and sell the intriguing story of masculinity and repentance. Mostly gripping and certainly impressive for its low budget in the technical arena, Ashes ends up being a moving reflection on the damaging consequences of vengeance and retribution.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2019 09:17AM



Midlands Review - Cradle


Directed by Joe Facer & Adam Sandy


2019


Dreams of Summer Productions


Cradle is a new film from actors-turned-filmmakers Joe Facer and Mark Wisdom and cinematographer Adam Sandy who were the team behind recent Midlands release God’s Broken Things. (link)


We open on an old spade digging up dirt in the overcast countryside before cutting to a man (Joe Facer) in a bedroom who is looking at a belt on the bedside cabinet. Immediately we are thrown into a world of dark thoughts and quiet contemplation.


Are the man’s thoughts turning to suicide? Well, we discover the man is the same one digging the grave and we begin to contemplate what may have caused his downslide.


Edited in a very slow and measured way the film’s gazing camera focuses on the man’s face as he appears torn by what cannot be an easy decision.


The film uses the natural sounds of the countryside mixed with underlying tonal notes by Mansfield based musician Hamish Dickinson which begins building suspense. Cutting back and forth from the digging to the bedroom the man looks at a child’s drawing of ‘mummy and daddy’ before we’re back grave-side as he scrumples the sheet in his dirty fist.


However, he pauses for a moment in the dirty forest and coughs up blood into his hand. Is the man ill? Dying? Has he lost his family? Perhaps a child? Well, the film leaves a lot of the questions it raises open to interpretation.


Concluding with the man crawling slowly into the makeshift “cradle” we never find out what has caused his spiral of depression and as the camera moves to above his head we get, a little cliched to be fair, a final stare up into the heavens.


The symbolism and subject matter in Cradle is a little on the nose for me but as it’s shot simply and without fuss, the film is also open to a certain amount of audience reading which is a good thing.


Although the content of the film is nothing new in the Midlands film scene, fans of dark experimental drama will enjoy its open questions, vulnerable tone and allegorical influences where a man is pushed to his final resting place in a short meditation on the human condition.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Mar 29 2019 02:54PM



At Eternity’s Gate (2019) Dir. Julian Schnabel


Enigmatic and underappreciated in his own lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh’s life – especially the last dramatic few years – have been ripe for television and film adaptation and we get one more here in this new biographical feature.


As a self-confessed Van Gogh “superfan”, I’ve enjoyed many of the takes on his passions, especially 2017’s Loving Vincent – the animated painting of a film – which ended being my favourite film of that year. So what can Willem Defoe as Vincent bring to this new film? Well, it covers a similar period following Vincent as he spends his days painting in the South of France before his infamous ear-cutting, sectioning and finally mysterious death just outside Paris at Auvers-sur-Oise.


Covered in dirt and wandering through wild landscapes, the film has echoes of Terence Malick as an all-seeing spinning camera dwells longingly around our protagonist as her pursues his dream of capturing pure nature in his canvases.


Thematically, static paintings contrast nicely with Schnabel’s cinema verité floating camera and the film, like Vincent’s work, is glorious to look at. The fantastic photography captures candlelit conversations and wild fields of dead sunflowers and the excellent colour grading echoes Van Gogh’s artwork to perfection. Blues, greens and yellows pop from the screen at times.


But for all its pretty sunflowers and sunsets, the film is beautiful but boring. The conversations are kept to a minimum with the (very unnatural) dialogue cribbed from Vincent’s infamous letters but these sequences are spread so thinly. We instead get scene-after-scene of long wordless walks in the wilderness. Definitely a “mood” piece, the high-art meditation on Van Gogh’s life is simply like watching paint dry. And at times it literally is.


The conversations though – when they do eventually occur – are the film’s real highlight. Dafoe’s expressive facial lines have all the worry, stress and doubts that encapsulated Vincent and are excellently filmed in close-up making his wrinkles seem like an expressionistic set of brush strokes. A key aspect for a man famous for his portraits.


Oscar Isaac showing up as Paul Gauguin to discuss the artist’s goals, dreams and plans is perhaps where the film should have focused its lens. Their discussions and disagreements had the most vibrancy and I longed for more drama during the movie’s infuriating slow pace. So, whilst At Eternity’s Gate does get somewhat under the skin of the troubled artist at times, it ended being a film I so wanted to love but it’s simply too slow a watch to be gripping despite Dafoe’s dedication to the role.


★★★


Michael Sales


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