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By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2018 09:13AM



Darkest Hour (2018) Dir. Joe Wright


There are problems at the heart of Darkest Hour, a film about how Winston Churchill navigated his first days as prime minister in 1940, much as there were with man himself. Namely, how to weave a suspenseful tale out of a story where the ending is known; and also how to make a human character from a man that has become a legend. Joe Wright’s film mostly tackles these problems well but it loses its way at the worst possible moment.


The strength of the film is that it never loses sight of the fact that Churchill, and here in particular his political rivals, are flawed people bumping up against each other in close confines — often the miniscule cabinet war room — in a struggle where the stakes could not be higher. This is more political thriller than biopic.


Hitler’s military is sweeping all before it in western Europe, the entire British army is encircled at Dunkirk and Calais, meanwhile, in closer quarters Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, his foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, his parliamentary party and even the king are opposed to his premiership. He only has the job, the film tells us, because he is the only senior Tory who the opposition will accept as a leader.


Hanging over him is the military disaster at Gallipoli in the First World War, and a reputation for an intense self-regard — indeed, an acknowledgement from family and colleagues that he has always prioritised his personal political ambition.


So now that Churchill has his chance — or as he puts it at the start of the film, his rivals have their chance of revenge by putting him in the hot seat — how can he cling on to power among with so little support, and with Chamberlain and Halifax scheming to have this delusional warmonger removed from power altogether.


That this film was made at all, and the review is being written in English, perhaps gives the clearest indication of why Halifax and Chamberlain are the villains of the piece, but one of the film’s triumphs is to have these characters seem as reasonable in their aims as Churchill is steadfast in his.


The film swoops in and pulls away from the tight knit circle around Churchill to show the consequences of all that fighting in the war room and bitter-sweet family moments. In fact, it does this quite literally on a number of occasions as overhead camera shots launch skywards to dwarf either Churchill, a French boy, a stranded English brigadier each during pivotal moments in the story.


But this film is a political thriller at heart, and taught and compelling one at that. And it is the drama at close quarters that captivates the most.


The pressure mounting on Churchill, superbly portrayed by Gary Oldman, increasingly alone as his rivals pressure him to consider a negotiated peace with Hitler, is thrilling. As is his wrestling with an awful decision about how best to save the British Expeditionary Force in France.


Malbrough man


But it is at Churchill’s own darkest hour, as he wrestles with what appears to be a bout of self doubt and his “black dog” of depression, that the film takes a nosedive. The only difference is the film’s own darkest hour seems born of hubris rather than lack of confidence.


From out of nowhere, King George V, previously a wet individual mulling over whether or not to bugger off to Canada and hoping his mate Halifax wins the prime ministership, appears from nowhere to give our hero a pep talk. It isn’t clear why but apparently he discovers his inner kingliness while standing about on the balcony one night at Buckingham Palace. Winnie and Georgie bond, and we can only be thankful the scene with a chest bump and a high five.


And so the toe curling begins in earnest.


A film this may be and it is right that it should not be a slave to historic detail. We are watching characters in a story, not real people. But what happens next is so out of character and so blatantly false that the tension falls slack immediately, like a sprinter pulling up with a dodgy hamstring. Unlike our protagonist, it never recovers and can only limp on.


Earlier in the film, when accepting the premiership from the king, Churchill tells a companion he has never taken a bus. But following the royal heart to heart, he leaves his chauffered car and takes the tube one stop between St. James’s Park and Westminster where he is to address parliament.


It is hard to know what the most unrealistic aspect of this scene is. That Churchill strikes up a conversation with a carriage full of Londoners? Or that it takes an inordinate amount of time for this train to travel a few hundred yards? Or is it that this aristocrat, direct descendent of the Dukes of Malbrough, born in Blenheim Palace in the age of empire is on the District Line at all? And that’s before we tackle into the excruciating dialogue.


Whichever it is, the overall effect is to rip the drama out of the film, all of the tension, and any sense of jeopardy. From here on in the whole thing becomes a victory parade, albeit done, as I said, with a limp. It does the story a disservice. Secure he may have been as leader having seen off Halifax, and with Chamberlain in terminal ill health, but he was still leader of a country all but on its knees in the face of overwhelming odds.


Darkest Hour is for the most part gripping and pacey, but just when it needed to step up a notch it pulls up short, only offering a lame attempt at a fist pump of an ending rather than what in real life must have been a far more intriguing story.


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal,” the film quotes Churchill as saying at the end. Both ideas apply to this film. The disappointing final furlong does not ruin the rest of it.


“… it is the courage to continue that counts,” ends that quotation. Whether audiences have the courage to persist with this film once it loses its way is a matter they will have to decide for themselves.


6/10


Ralph Sinclair



By midlandsmovies, Jan 12 2018 12:28PM



Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2018) Dir. Martin McDonagh


Is highlighting retribution as important as getting it yourself? Well, deep themes and jet-black comedy abound in this new low-key rural American drama from the British/Irish writer-director of In Bruges Martin McDonagh. Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a put-upon mother who has lost a daughter in a violent rape and murder and, after the investigation stalls, rents three blood-red billboards on the outskirts of town. Not since Fargo has McDormand commanded a screen so fully but her foul-mouthed and impulsive renegade couldn’t be further from Marge Gunderson – although both have an intensity to see justice served.


With the billboards asking why local Sheriff Chief Willoughby (a fantastic supporting turn from Woody Harrelson) hasn’t made any arrests, not even his terminal illness breaks Mildred’s resolve to move her case forward. In addition, Sam Rockwell as Officer Jason Dixon – an actor that against all popular opinion I’ve never particularly warmed to – gives the performance of a lifetime as a drunk, racist policeman trying to maintain some sort of order. Gaining her plenty of attention in the process, Mildred is a driving force in the narrative as she seeks retribution for the depraved death of her daughter whilst she continues to deal with flashes of extreme violence from her ex-husband (John Hawkes as Charlie Hayes) whose own response to the crisis is to date a 19-year old.


The humour comes from both McDormand’s quick and vulgar responses but also through more subtle and loving comedy in her relationship with her son (Lucas Hedges as Robbie Hayes). Extremely protective of him but also reflecting her own sass, the lighter dramatic moments are relief from the themes of passion and unthinking revenge which permeate the film.


[SPOILERS] When Sheriff Willoughby takes his own life owing to cancer, he communicates from beyond the grave in a very personal suicide letter both to his family and to Mildred about her case. In a film where characters seem stereotypical in their introductions, the nuanced screenplay and interesting threads and dramatic turns see characters developing across arcs that audiences will respond to. Sam Rockwell’s hot-headed and inexperienced police officer – who lives with his mum and was held back a year at police academy – takes his temper out on the locals before finding his own enlightenment through forgiveness and correcting mistakes of the past.


As Mildred goes to war with the whole town, her billboards create chaos but stir up strong emotions about redemption. Can we hold onto revenge or is there an inherent destructive force in our search for what’s right? When she attempts to stop her billboards burning – an arson attack sees Mildred battle huge flames with a tiny extinguisher – her small one-woman passions are at odds with the larger forces at work. Yet in both cases, despite the emotional drain, this does not stop her efforts and if anything stokes her fires further.


And it’s McDormand’s complete commitment to the role in every aspect – the tough-talking, the tear-jerking and the solemn reflecting – that centre the film and gives it a star attraction. Her struggles ensure the plot moves briskly and whilst the film’s conclusion feels like an audience can finally take a breather, the reality is simply a temporary calm rather than a newly established equilibrium.


Showing complex struggles from start to finish (including the police, ex-husband, strangers and even the dentist) “Three Billboards” fans the flames of passions and is a brilliant advertisement for the continued talent of McDonagh’s own dark interests. Delivered impeccably by a fantastic cast, the film provides no clear answers but continues the ideas set down within In Bruges. Like that movie, the idea that carrying the pain of past misdemeanours can not only be a detriment to others but mostly to one’s own soul.


9/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Dec 6 2017 09:59PM



Midlands Spotlight – Lapwing


Midlands Movies Mike finds out about upcoming film Lapwing from Urban Apache Films which is being made in the region with a planned release in 2018.


Urban Apache Films are an award winning UK based independent film production company founded in 2009. The core team features director Philip Stevens whose work has been selected for festivals around the world and has won numerous international awards, including a Royal Television Society award for best short drama.


Joining Philip is producer Tom Walsh, another award winning producer/director. His work includes music videos, short films and documentary for online and TV and his short film, The Wraith, featuring Bernard Hill (Titanic, Lord Of The Rings) won the Best FreeFall category at the 2012 Limelight Awards.


Together they are tackling Lapwing which adds to their expanding portfolio of films as they endeavour to keep numerous projects in production at any given time.


Lapwing’s exciting location is the local salt-marshes of Lincolnshire. Set in 1555, the film follows an isolated group of salt famers who are arranging illegal passage to Europe for an Egyptian family in hiding. However, a love affair between Patience, a mute English girl, and Rumi the son of the Egyptian family, threatens to destroy both communities.


The cast includes Emmett J Scanlan (David), Sebastian De Souza (Rumi), Hannah Douglas (Patience) and Javed Khan (Arif) and will be produced by Urban Apache Films themselves alongside Red Dog Film and World Serpent Productions,


Urban Apache describe Lapwing as “an immersive, visceral, yet tonal window into the life of a young woman who is forced to the fringes of Tudor society”.


“Living within an isolated community on the Lincolnshire salt marshes, Patience embarks on a journey of self discovery beyond the ominous shadow of the community's violent patriarchal leader”.


“Part psychological thriller, part love story, the film sets the contemporary and modern themes of immigration, otherness and the female voice and gaze, in a dangerous world where violence, superstition and vengeance reign”.


The film has been written by Laura Turner who has written more than twenty original plays and adaptations of classic novels for the theatre, with productions of her work touring all over the world and a number published by Josef Weinberger Books. Her film The Empty Throne won a LOSA award in April 2016 at the BFI and Laura's new work The Buried Moon opened in May at the Rose Theatre in London.


After a successful IndieGoGo campaign, the film has now wrapped and the filmmakers are very proud of their local connections. “We are almost entirely local professionals who believe in the wealth of exceptional talent in the East Midlands where we are based. But above all, we want to make the most beautiful and entertaining film that we can”.


You can follow updates on the film at their social media Twitter page here: https://twitter.com/lapwingmovie or at their official website www.urbanapachefilms.com


Midlands Movies Mike



Hannah Douglas and fellow cast and crew on set of Lapwing
Hannah Douglas and fellow cast and crew on set of Lapwing


By midlandsmovies, Dec 5 2017 08:17PM



Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos


From the director of The Lobster, Yorgos Lanthimos follows up that fantastical film with an allegorical journey plumbed from the depths of a Greek tragedy. A seemingly perfect American family (played by Irish, Australian & British actors and beginning the film’s unsettling traits) is headed by Colin Farrell’s surgeon whose life is interrupted regularly by an odd young boy called Martin, played by a fantastically freaky Barry Keoghan.


The boy hangs around the hospital and a local cafe where his presence haunts the surgeon on a near daily basis. Their unexplained relationship keeps the film’s strangeness at the forefront and with a stupendous set of orchestral songs from J.S Bach, Franz Schubert and Gyorgy Ligeti, there is a sense of classical Kubrick unease throughout. Slow tracking shots through long corridors and God-like aerial sequences capture the mythological tragedy and the presence of the “hands of the heavens” whilst again harking back to Kubrick-style mannerisms in tone.


The actors’ dialogue is in a stilted but poetic style which may grate on some audiences but here it felt perfect to focus on the discomforting feeling that haunts every moment. The director wrong-foots us time and again as characters are awkwardly, but purposely, filmed from low angles and sometimes placed at the far reaches of the frame. The story unfolds with the young boy’s presence causing a string of mysterious ailments to Farrell’s family. Is the boy possessed? A devil? A harbinger of doom? Fate itself? The film goes nowhere near answering this conundrum but focuses on the various natures of revenge, punishment and retribution.


With one of the best casts of the year, it is rounded out with Nicole Kidman who plays the idiosyncratic mother she’s so adept at (The Others and Stoker), Raffey Cassidy as the blossoming daughter and Sunny Suljic as the couple’s youngest and most innocent son. Maybe not for a passing cinema-goer, the film will find its fans in those willing to go to the darkest and most gruesome places and uses an antiquated literary device to help provide its metaphorical narrative.


Unlike Aronofsky’s mother! this film feels that it exists beyond its ancient allegory and with perfect performances, the movie will hopefully gain interest for its artistry alone but in fact leaves an audience with so much more to contemplate.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 5 2017 06:12PM



Random Acts and Rural Media - Part 3


In our third and final part we cover 4 more filmmakers who are part of the region’s Random Acts and Rural Media partnership. From all across the Midlands, please read below to find out more of the young talent the area has to offer.


For the previous blogs - Part 1 please click here and for Part 2 please click here.


Body Language (Nottinghamshire)

Michael Mante’s film shows a krump dancer performing amidst the ills, filth and degradation of his urban environment in a surreal art exploration of gentrification, classism and racism. Michael is an aspiring filmmaker, both directing films and writing screenplays with his creative ambition to use film to speak to audiences, ask them questions, and encourage viewers to ask themselves questions. Michael adds, “Visual literacy is the world's most poignant language and I try to use that to communicate the things I see in everyday life.”





Everyday Choreography (Shropshire)

Everyday Choreography is a charming short dance film by Caldonia Walton following Gerrard, an overworked 45-year old man on his way home from a tiring day at the office. He puts his headphones in to forget about his worries and finds himself amongst amusing interactions with two people who alter his outlook on life. Caldonia is a 23-year old dance performer and choreographer from Shropshire who creates dance work that links with theatre, text and film, using clear narratives about the world we live in realised through physical movement and a touch of comedy.




Yellow Wallpaper (Warwickshire)

Inspired by the short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Gilman(1892), this short film from Hayley Egan uses dance to portray the claustrophobic and cruel consequences of how ‘rest cure’ kept 19th century women compliant, which resulted in an increase in mental health problems and feelings of confinement and frustration. Through dance movement, our female protagonist will find solace in the yellow wallpaper, yet is driven to exhaustion by her frustrating predicament. Hayley Egan is young filmmaker/producer from Coventry now working in London.




Taking Up Space (Staffordshire)

Emily Mulenga’s animation covers the notion that time and space in the art world and academia are not often dedicated regularly to people of colour, most notably women. Emily grows to Godzilla proportions and takes over the city in this thoughtful short from this young talented visual artist from the West Midlands.









By midlandsmovies, Dec 2 2017 09:46AM



Random Acts and Rural Media - Part 2


We take another look at a selection of young filmmakers from across the East and West Midlands who have been involved in the Random Acts/Rural Media programme in the region. Please check out the talented filmmakers and their films below.


To read more about other filmmakers from the programme please check out Part 1 of our showcase here.





The Legend of Rawry (Herefordshire)

A fantasy drawing animation based on the Michael Bailon’s own drawings, this short focuses on dragons and more. Introduced by Michael himself who has autism, the filmmaker is a young artist who is from the ASD community. AT just 17 years old Michael’s inspiration includes Pixar, Manga, Marvel and of course himself.





Dancer of the Future (Herefordshire)

Made by Anna Campbell her film focuses on pole-dancing which only recently has become a fitness phenomenon which celebrates the aspects of women which have historically been repressed: strength and sexuality. Anna says that “Pole represents a shift in how women view their bodies: from the aesthetic to the functional. The extent to which women will cripple themselves in order to exaggerate feminine beauty can be seen in footwear. Pole dancers now are barefoot, as utility becomes more important than image; pole is about what the body can do, not how it looks”. Anna Campbell is a creative writing student with a passion for filmmaking and pole-dancing.



Impact (Worcestershire)

"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most commonly associated with veterans of war, however, many diagnosed with PTSD are affected through other traumas. This short drama by Eleanor Smart explores the stigma surrounding PTSD. Elle is a graduate from University of Worcester and has a degree in Digital Film Production & Screen Writing.



Super Citrus Force (Leicestershire)

Filmmaker Laurence Maybury creates a crime-fighting duo who have to stop an evil villain from objectifying women... LITERALLY! The film is a combination of British surrealist comedy and Japanese special effects from the 24 year-old filmmaker who has a degree in media production and has been making short films since he was just 16.



Oblivion (Lincolnshire)

This animation from Sarah Worcester is a first person POV film that allows the viewer to feel like they are inside the trapped world of someone who is suffering with a mental illness. The young animator from Lincolnshire is influenced by Florence & the Machine and has found her Random Acts experience “artistically exciting and challenging”.












By midlandsmovies, Nov 27 2017 08:23PM



RANDOM ACTS & RURAL MEDIA (PART 1)


In a new 3-part series Midlands Movies will be showcasing a selection of films and filmmakers from the region who have been involved in the national Random Acts programme.


Random Acts is a collaboration between Arts Council England and Channel 4. The short films (from just 90 seconds to 3 minutes long) have been described as ‘bold expressions of creativity’ with each one being individually engaging, experimental and quirky.


For the last 3 years, local organisation Rural Media (click here) has been working with young artists and filmmakers right across the Midlands to create ‘First Acts’. And Midlands Movies will be focusing on a selection of these fantastic films created by local artists right here on the site.


This Movement is Silent (Birmingham)

This spoken word film is from Paul Stringer who has made a film covering the journey of an open mic performer from chair to stage through a crowded, passionate and engaged poetry audience. This is edited alongside a journey throughout Birmingham, past its great landmarks in a bid to show that the local poetry scene is not only the people performing the poetry, but the whole collective community as a whole. Watch his film below:





Re-Code (Birmingham)

Made by Sipho Dube, Re-Code is a dance film exploring themes of dyslexia and empowerment. Sipho is a spoken word artist and dancer and as someone who has both dyslexia and with a profound stutter, Sipho has overcome issues through the use of spoken word. Watch this thought-provoking film below:



One Rogue Santa (Kidderminster)

Another spoken word film, Steven Williams’ short is an account of a troubled home life that led to various stints in and out prison. Through stylised silhouetted sequences, Steve’s story explores the complexities of growing up without a support network and having to deal with the choices we make. Now aged 24, Steven has been homeless from the age of 18 and has been in out of prison 4 times. Yet now with two children he’s looking to become a better role model and is working towards becoming a social worker to help other young people avoid making the same mistakes. Watch Steven’s video here:



Meet Cute (Northamptonshire)

Chris Cosentino has created an animation/live-action crossover comedy where a conspiracy nut shares a "meet cute" with a nice girl but discovers he's actually a fictional character in a short film. View the short here:



Dirty Re-Birth (Derbyshire)

Joey Mottershead explores the part of the human condition where we are required to perpetually reinvent ourselves, to grow and evolve to new forms. “The reality is these moments happen in the darkest of places, where directions have no meaning and internal struggles amount to the psyche being ripped apart”. Joey is a live interdisciplinary performance artist based by in the East Midlands whose work explores gender politics, the human condition and the empowerment of the self. “I take inspiration from the beautiful aspects of the grotesque”, says Joey, “finding light in the shadows and portraying the particular strain of glory only found within sadness”. Watch the film here:









By midlandsmovies, Nov 27 2017 09:31AM



Clone (2017)


Lightbeam Productions


Director: David Hastings

Director of Photography: Joshua LA Baggott

1st AD: Suki Sandhar

2nd Camera: Kaushy Patel


From director David Hastings (The House of Screaming Death) comes Clone; in which a Professor working alone late at night in his home is visited by a mysterious stranger who causes the Professor to doubt his lifetime's work.


It is tricky to provide a detailed review of this film without giving away at least one spoiler, albeit one that is revealed quite early however it is fair to say that writer and lead actor Charles O’Neil (The House of Screaming Death) is the focal point of this movie which prioritises discussion and philosophical ethical musing over any visual action.


Paradoxically it is this focus that is both the film's strength, at times the discussion channels the composition of some philosophical writings of antiquity, for example Dionysius, and also its weakness as O’Neil’s writing (this is his second credited piece) borders at times on the mundane and the inconsequential - which in a film where the dialogue is paramount in holding the viewers attention is crucial to how it will be received.


I have no doubt that Clone will find an audience out there but for me it appeared to be a piece still in progress.


The camerawork and shot framing need a little improving, even as a secondary aspect this was noticeable, while the main crux of the film, the discussion, was slightly vague in its concepts despite its obvious importance. And as a result it was sadly hard to believe, or necessarily care at times, in the critical implications of the decision.


Perhaps the problem I faced was that the concept was definitely strong, echoes of Logan’s Run amongst several other sci-films can be found, but the execution was not quite there on this occasion but I would still look out for the writer's next project given their emphasis on a host of interesting themes.


Marek Zacharkiw

@CosiPerversa


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