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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


By midlandsmovies, Oct 16 2019 12:00PM

The Invitation (2016) Dir. Karyn Kusama


Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus, in case it drives you mad like it did me) plays Wil in this new thriller-drama set around a strange reunion dinner party in the Hollywood Hills.


We open with Wil and his girlfriend Kira driving to the home of Wil's ex-wife Eden and her husband David along with a host of friends for a long overdue catch up.


The hosts are a married couple who disappeared for two years at a grief support group abroad but have returned to reunite with their friends. Wil and Eden still have unresolved issues over the accidental death of their son, but this is put aside to enjoy the evening with a familiar group of friends - some old and a few new, including Sadie and Pruit, whom they met at the support retreat.


Despite the warm welcome, Wil relives his past angst throughout the house, remembering his ex-wife's attempted suicide whilst finding more pills and wondering why doors are locked. The film creates an immense atmosphere of dread and awkwardness, none more so when the happy couple share a video of a terminally ill woman passing away during their stay at the retreat.


The uncomfortableness continues as they play a game of "dare" which results in Pruitt (a fantastic turn by John Carroll Lynch of Zodiac fame) admiting to a past crime he's now forgiven himself for.


Despite their shock, Pruitt expresses regret and explains how the support group helped him deal with his pain whilst Wil's paranoia continues to increase. The film captures an atmosphere of intense claustrophobia as the guests are huddled together in rooms but whether this is out of choice or not is the question the movie poses.


Increasing irrational accusations from Wil about his hosts' intentions are excused as a result of his emotional fragility over the death of his son and the film keeps the audience guessing as to why the guests are here - something sinister, or is it to deal with unresolved issues from their pasts.


The film probes themes of mistrust, grief and loss and its achievement lies in not letting the viewer - as a guest themselves - get too comfortable within the house. A trail of circumstantial evidence - a bottle of pills, an unattended laptop, glasses of wine - are merely breadcrumbs to the film's subsequent thrilling reveal.


The final act turns the screws up for the viewer as secrets are exposed and a sudden twist of events leads to darkly tragic conclusions. Although the film is almost entirely filmed within the anxious environment of this lavish gathering, a final shot implicates the wider ramifications of the proceedings.


Sinister and slow-building, The Invitation is one of those films that rarely get made these days - a mid-budget thriller with a great premise and well-executed. It also reminded me of the thrills of the "unknown threat", covered in indie sci-fi flick Coherence (2013) which was similarly set around a middle-class American dinner party.


Director Karyn Kusama has got nearly everything right with the film, getting great performances out of a good mixed cast, as well as filling her dark shots with trepidation, terror and a fair amount of fear. One tiny flaw were the character motivations - at times I was shaking my head in disbelief about their choices - but this was a one-off and towards the end I inwardly cheered as a guest got what they deserved.


Expertly crafted by Kusama, The Invitation creates anxiety through a superb central performance by Logan Marshall-Green, and is an alarming achievement where nothing is what it seems. Filled with fear and a few frightful revelations, this is one party I recommend you RSVP to on its release.


9/10


Michael Sales


The Invitation arrives on BluRay on 4th November 2019


Special Features

Commentary with Director Karyn Kusama and Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

The Making of The Invitation

Going Back Home - an interview with Director Karyn Kusama

There is Nothing to be Afraid of - an interview with Producer Nick Spicer

Tonight's the Night - an interview with Writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi

Playing Sadie - an interview with Actor Lindsay Burdge

English Subtitles for the Hard of Hearing

By midlandsmovies, Oct 16 2019 09:23AM



JED


Directed by Nisaro Karim


2019


Five Pence Productions


Jed is the new film from actor-turned director Nisaro Karim and tells the story of a disturbed individual and their obsessions.


We open with a man walking his dog before stumbling across a body in the woods. We cut to a TV news report which explains that this is one of a number of recent victims and that witnesses tell of a tall bearded Asian man running away from the scene.


We cut to Nisaro Karim as Jed – a tall bearded Asian man – who has what appears to be a mental impairment and is weeping as he listens to the telly. Living with his mother, she asks how he got a hand injury and is suspicious of his vague and unlikely explanation


Jed has a good set-up from the start. A mystery is discovered in the first 30 seconds, a number of characters and their mysterious motivations are clearly explained and away we go. It was satisfying how the film quickly sets up its world and leads us down a dark path, whilst some swift editing and interesting shot choices keep the story moving as we continue on.


The story moves to a gym where we encounter two girls chatting. One of the women, Amy Roberts (played by Juliana Ratcliffe) strikes up a conversation with Jed before he returns home where he searches for Amy through her social media accounts.


A bit on the nose at times – the socially awkward character living at home with mum for example – the film is helped by an intense atonal score of held notes that gets more prominent as the film progresses raising the tension throughout.


Some point-of-view shots of a stalking in progress show the increasing danger to Amy and as she leaves the gym, Jed jumps in his car and follows Amy and her friend along the road. Some clever (and foreshadowing) wardrobe choices were a nice touch too and each scene has a purpose and leads nicely to the next.


Interesting locations around the Birmingham area and the almost-mute Jed allows the filmmaker to do lots of showing-not-telling with the film’s story beats which was also a positive.


Whilst I personally saw the ending coming a mile off, the 26-minute length made it feel like a solid episode of television and the film had surprisingly similar production values. Just an added bit of colour-grading and some tweaks on the lighting would see it indistinguishable from modern broadcast crime dramas.


Jed therefore ends up being a quality film which could do with a few more original takes on the stalker genre, but aside from that tiny flaw, it is a level-headed drama that’s easy to watch and contains themes of heroism and misplaced passions.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 15 2019 11:32AM



Midlands Review - Shame My Name


Directed by A R Ugas


2019


AR Ugas’ short film Shame My Name is a first part in a series called “Chronicles" and is about a young man and his Albanian girlfriend. It centres on him meeting her father and trying to make a good first impression. The girlfriend initially resists and grows weary of her boyfriend’s repeated requests for him to meet her dad; and we all know how nerve wrecking it is to introduce your partner to your parents.


The opening scene is shot near a window inside a flat. I assume the use of natural light was beneficial for the camera crew, but it read a bit like a student-made short and too basic. Watching it a second time, I could see the girlfriend was standing near the window to keep an eye out for her dad and appears quite bothered that the boyfriend is still hanging around before her dad is due. Their relationship to her father is still secretive even after them being together for a good few years and the boyfriend felt it was time to make himself known to her family.


The atmosphere seemed a little flat, even subtle body language movements such as the girlfriend biting her nails could show a jittery tone without anyone saying a thing. The writing 100% drove the story and that was it. Something visual was needed and I would have enjoyed seeing more of the flat and the potential for different settings. The bedroom is a perfect environment for an intimate and caring scene between two people who love each other. Or maybe show a playful moment in the kitchen with some light-hearted banter. Any interaction with their surroundings is ten times more interesting than a 2D conversation facing each other near a window.


As mentioned before, the script was heavy with detail and in the first five minutes you find out the dad works for a security camera company, he’s Albanian, the couple have been dating for a while and on the surface, and everything seems to be pretty stable.


Before even watching the short, I was expecting a bigger influence of Albanian culture to be present. The title alone is nicely curious as it plays with identity, and considering AR Ugas’s rich life experiences and ability to speak four languages fluently, I was surprised to see a lack of culture identity that the father seems so obsessed with.


The second half focuses on the dad and the boyfriend with their initial meeting set out like an intimidating job interview, with the father asking standard questions like “tell me about yourself". Corey Thompson who plays Michael the boyfriend does an excellent job of performing as an awkward, but sort-of-confident guy as he takes the questions in his stride.


Again, everything is playing out somewhat predictably, so much so that you don’t realise Michael is being lured into a false sense of security. The mood suddenly switches, the camera turns to wide angle for that uneasy feel and it really is a deer in the headlights kind of moment for Michael and us. The immediate transformation to a darker tone is unpredictably wonderful and the story became much more compelling.


Tensions rise and the music is as unsettling as the scene, it is all very intriguing as to what’s going to happen next. What impressed me the most was Thompson’s ability to go from meek and mild boyfriend to knight in shining armour in a matter of seconds. His character went as far as sacrificing himself for the prosperity of his girlfriend and even defending her family’s honour and name. This was a huge jump to switch so quickly and swiftly that it really did take me by surprise, mainly because nothing in the first half of the short indicated that the boyfriend was so loyal and devoted.


There were clues to the dad’s hidden security camera background and a touch upon his Albanian culture, but nothing about Michael being an understanding and courageous man. As far as the audience knew, he was just a young lad trying to make a good impression with his girlfriend’s dad with a slight culture clash.


All of the actors did a great job and I got pulled into the scenes a lot more during the dramatic parts of the short. It was fascinating to see how both Corey Thompson and James Bryhan who plays the father could so easily switch their personalities.


I’m looking forward to seeing more short stories as part of Chronicles as I’m curious to see what links them all. Considering AR Ugas’s own background and interest in many cultures and languages, I’d love to see a bigger impact and influence of this through his films.


Sammy S

Twitter: @IsoElegant



By midlandsmovies, Oct 6 2019 05:59PM



Her Smell (2019) Dir. Alex Ross Perry


Told over 5 separate sequences interspersed with old video footage, new music drama Her Smell stars Elisabeth Moss as Becky Something, a troubled and self-destructive singer on a downward trajectory.


Backstage after a gig, her intense mood swings are not helped by her reliance on a shaman before her self-appointed God-like behaviour angers her ex-partner (played by Dan Stevens) who arrives with their child which culminates in Becky spiralling down into a substance induced blackout.


Months later at a recording studio, the band’s manager Howard Goodman (Eric Stoltz) is frustrated at their lack of progress whilst Becky intimidates his label’s new signing Akergirls. With her unlikable demeanour and jealous aggression, Becky pushes her band’s drummer (Gayle Rankin) and bassist (Agyness Deyn) to quit before we soon jump forward to find Becky supporting the now more famous Akergirls at one of their own shows.


Elisabeth Moss is absolutely brilliant as the dysfunctional front woman whose star rises and falls (mostly falls) in a cacophony of self-obsession. A danger to both herself and others, Moss manages to keep a wholly unlikeable character just on the right side of sympathy.


However, her behaviour gets more extreme as she violently attacks her old band mate and verbally assaults her mother. The film brilliantly teases out the exposition and by the mid-way point there are hints of an abusive relationship by an absent father.


“There are no bad days”, says her bandmate, inferring they’re all terrible at this point as her burgeoning ego leads to further erratic behaviour. She calls out for the Goddess as she tries to channel the other-worldly into a creative endeavour that goes beyond the surface of mass-consumed pop culture but becomes a cliche herself.


But as Becky’s behaviour reaches a crescendo of rotten on and off-stage antics, the film eventually slows down in a very poignant chamber piece scene with Becky and her daughter. A beautiful and delicate piano cover of Heaven by Bryan Adams calms both Becky and the viewer as we see her finally coming to terms with her past actions.


Like my enjoyment of Lords of Chaos, I tend to gravitate towards the darker aspects of a touring rock band rather than the glossy pop stylings the like of which was covered in Vox Lux. Her Smell goes beyond the traditional take of rock misadventures but luckily the over-the-top characters don’t fall into the trap of the bro-dude stylings The Dirt, where the perm-coiffed hedonists of Mötley Crüe somewhat glamorised these nasty behaviours.


The songs in the film are actually the weakest part with the sub-Avril Lavigne American 3-chord pop-punk being musically and lyrically awful. But such a small part doesn’t take away from the successes of both the protagonist and the supporting cast.


A reunion leads the film towards a more upbeat conclusion and Moss’ terrific central performance allows us to be drawn into her shocking exploits without condoning what she is doing to those around her. As she poisons herself one event at a time, the interesting dynamics are slowly teased out and revealed as the narrative progresses.


Whilst the film doesn’t wholly take this type of rock 'n' roll redemption story in a brand new direction, from the excellent performances to the grotesque but engaging breakdowns, Her Smell is an intense and satisfying tour down a boulevard of broken dreams.


★★★★


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 3 2019 01:42PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 4


Now deep into the second half of the year, there's more films being released in cinemas, on video-on-demand and home format than we can keep up with but we have three new reviews of some of the latest releases out there. In this review catch-up post we take a look at SKIN, MA & CHILD'S PLAY.




Skin (2019) Dir. Guy Nattiv


Jamie Bell plays real-life ex-white supremacist Bryon "Pitbull" Widner in this new dark drama asking whether a racist can be reformed. At various white-power gatherings, Bell acts as father figure to new recruits but begins to doubt his own convictions when he meets Danielle Macdonald as Julie Price and becomes an actual surrogate dad to her two children. Based on an amazing true story, Bell’s Neo-Nazi is covered in tattoos, including significant ones to his face and so the drama is punctuated with gruesome flash-forwards of tattoo removal scenes as his past is literally burnt away. The film has dashes of Imperium and American History X as it tries to get under the surface of the ugly face of American fascism.


Starting with eerily prescient scenes from 2009, the film mellows slightly in the middle before Bell makes a desperate call to a man who is trying to help people leave behind their Neo-Nazi past. As Bell denounces his previous life, he erases his tribal ink along with it. Danielle Macdonald (Dumplin’) delivers a warm turn as the empathetic wife, whilst Bell is great as the former skinhead. With a multifaceted performance, he looks for something (or someone) to blame but then takes control of his own life to make it better. With a timely subject matter, Skin delves into themes we’ve seen before but this almost unbelievably true life story gives hope to a better world by erasing, and learning from, one’s past mistakes. ★★★★



Ma (2019) Dir. Tate Taylor


Director Tate Taylor made 2011’s The Help which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture before his adaptation of The Girl on the Train earnt more than $122 million worldwide but what he is doing with Ma is anyone’s guess. Billed as a psychological horror, the film neither provides any depth to the psychological part and little in the way of horror either. In fact, 45 minutes in and all we have is a group of terribly broad and clichéd teenagers partying at a house owned by “Ma” (Octavia Spencer as Sue Ann "Ma" Ellington) who has lured the group to her basement as a place to consume alcohol under the relative ‘safety’ of her adult supervision. However, a humiliating incident from Ma’s past has built up a psychopathic resentment and her initial concern and protectiveness for the teens’ well-being slowly descends into ludicrous revenge sub-plots. Octavia Spencer, who was so excellent in Hidden Figures, does her best to hold the film’s under-developed aspects together but she cannot overcome the film’s rather large flaws. Unlike suggested in the trailer, the horror is sparse and the first terrible thing Ma does is at 1 hour 10 minutes into the film. Given the credits rolled at 1 hour 32 minutes, it really is a missed opportunity for what looks, on paper, to be an interesting set-up. The sewing of a teen’s mouth shut hints upon the gore and nastiness a film like this really should have had more of, but Ma ends up being a pretty terrible and boring film with a solid idea spoiled by its sub-par execution. ★★



Child's Play (2019) Dir. Lars Klevberg


80s video-nasty Child’s Play gets a technological upgrade in this reboot about a killer doll on a murderous rampage. Unlike earlier films in the franchise, the conceit here is rather than a killer’s soul being magically transferred to a toy doll, the recently released “Buddi” is a misfiring high-tech toy that interacts with other products from the Kaslan Corporation who make it. After a suicidal employee at a Vietnamese toy factory decides to disable the safety protocols of one of the dolls on the assembly line, the corrupt product ends up in 13-year old Andy’s hands. Andy (Gabriel Bateman) is a shy youngster who lives with his single mum Karen (Aubrey Plaza) and names his doll “Chucky" (oh-oh). Before long, the doll has murdered the family’s cat and decapitated his mum’s boyfriend after hearing Andy bad-mouth both of them. The film wisely takes broad aim at consumerist culture but the comedy-horror works well in the style of 80s fare like Gremlins as the characters never nod-and-wink to the audience. This makes the dark comedy all the more funny. From table saws, blood spurts and a horrifying scalping, the required gore is present and the film’s young child actors are pleasantly relatable. Some 80s clichés work themselves in too – the investigator, the adults who don’t believe their kids, a finale in a department store – and these help solidify the tone in which the film aims for. Mark Hamill does great with his Joker-infused tones as the voice of Chucky also. Much better than it has any right to be, Child’s Play digital modernisation respects the origins of that first film and whilst it won’t win any high-brow awards, for this sort of thing it’s surprisingly entertaining. ★★★



Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Sep 20 2019 10:55AM




Midlands Review - Death Knock


Directed by Jason Croxall


2019


A man takes a deep breath in a car before exiting his vehicle and bravely walking up to a house in a suburban street at the start of new dark drama Death Knock, from local filmmaker Jason Croxall.


Grabbing his bag he wanders slowly to the door before we cut back to an office where a stern-looking lady (Evadne Fisher) sits behind a desk and says, “I need you to go and do a death knock”.


What’s that? Well, she explains that a family has lost their daughter in a hit and run accident and we discover the man is a journalist who is expected to grab an interview with the grieving family.


The reporter (Ryan J Harvey) tries to offer some resistance, suggesting a phone call would be easier, but the hard-nosed boss insists and indicates she could hire someone who would be willing.


A nice floating camera and cinematic sheen to the image give the film a movie gloss and the awkward situation the protagonist has been drawn into is nicely set up and explained. Whilst at the same time, the film creates mystery from the outset as to what could unfold once the door is eventully opened. If at all.


An inconsolable mother (Cherry Bagnall) answers and we immediately feel a sense of intrusion into this personal space. However, the man convinces her an interview could help her cause in catching the culprit.


Reluctantly agreeing to the suggestion we enter her living room. Here, director Croxall brings attention to the minutiae of the scene. A framed photo of a lost loved-one, a reporter’s notebook and an air of unsaid tension hangs in the air, portrayed excellently by the subtle movements from the actors.


As the conversation progresses, we are steered towards further friction between the two. Increasing the anxiety and stress, a mis-phrased question leads to further clashes at this most difficult of times.


A powerful short, Death Knock has a unique idea and sensitively tackles issues of grief-stricken parents and some of the shady practices of journalists to get a scoop. Leaving us with a sense of ambiguity at the conclusion the short is a successful examination of media morals and individual integrity.


Michael Sales



Watch the full short below:




By midlandsmovies, Sep 10 2019 09:25AM



Midlands Review - Keep Breathing


Directed by Mark Corden


2019


Siska Media


Keep Breathing is a new independent short film exploring the consequences of a drunken night spent together between a man and a woman, highlighting the complications and emotional aftermath from a night of questionable sexual congress.


Director Mark Corden starts the film after the event, we see a man (Damien Molony) attempting to fix a broken lift inside an office building. Meanwhile we are also introduced to a woman (Emmeline Hartley) who is busy working away at her desk in the same building. As the man finally mends the lift to make his way down to the reception area, we see the woman finishing work rushing to catch the lift, which is kindly held so she can enter.


They glance up instantly recognising each other, and after a moment passes the lift breaks down again and with the power off they are now trapped together. The man radios his colleague for assistance but this will take a few minutes.


What follows in the short is an awkward, dry exchange which he mistakes for flirting. They discuss their first meet and how much of a fun time he had, however the woman balks - she is uncomfortable with both his advances and the claustrophobic setting.


To calm her down he tells her to “keep breathing” and goes to comfort her, his contact catapults the audience into her memory of the night they met.


The grey, airless setting is then replaced with a colourful, vibrant club atmosphere. Our protagonists meet at the bar, their eyes fixated on one another. A fun night of dancing, drinking and flirting ensues ending with a kiss and an exit to the nearest taxi. Corden and editor Drew Davis move skilfully within the film, briskly switching from their night out to the tense elevator where our main characters break down that evening’s events.

Stumbling out of the taxi and into her flat, the viewer can start to tragically see where this night is heading. The next few minutes make for an uneasy watch as Corden isn't afraid of showing those dark, tough moments as the woman is pressured into sleeping with this man. Molony and Hartley give great performances throughout Keep Breathing but it's here where they showcase their talent, turning their irresistible chemistry we had seen minutes before into something more alarming and daunting.


An impressive element within the film is its ability to ground itself within most of the audience’s experiences with life. The main characters are unnamed, they could represent all of us at any time. And not too many people can say they haven't had too much to drink in a club and clambered into a taxi with someone they've just met. Making Keep Breathing universally familiar will no doubt resonate massively with the audience, a huge achievement for the film.


Written by Corden, Hartley and Tommy Draper, their words manage to capture a real issue that has been ongoing for decades but seems more relevant now than ever. Bringing the world to life on screen is cinematographer Beatriz Delgado Mena who gives it that sought after cinematic shine, making it a film that looks at home on the big screen. I enjoyed noticing certain behaviours which were explored and magnified. The unnecessary contact with someone or invading one’s personal space – these small moments haven't been often captured on a short film I’ve seen before.


However, Corden, along with his collaborators, keeps the film in a neutral space. He seems to want to educate and listen rather than lecture and sermonize. Both characters’ reactions are up for discussion which will undoubtedly create much needed debate amongst the audience. Surprisingly Keep Breathing isn't a clear black and white, it is a grey, subtle study of consent in the modern world and how if ignored can have a vast, prolonged impact on the parties involved.


Breath-taking, tense, topical, Keep Breathing is the best short film I've seen for years, it sets a benchmark for how strong and culturally relevant modern filmmaking can be. Watch it, question it, watch it again with friends & family. This film demands to be seen.


Guy Russell


Twitter: @budguyer


Future screenings of Keep Breathing to look out for.


Underwire Festival ‘Boundaries’ programme:

Weds 18th September 6:45pm

The Castle Cinema (Tickets available on sale on their website)


BFI London Film Festival ‘In An Age of Consent’ programme:

4th Oct, 20:40 Odeon (Tottenham Court Road)

6th Oct, 12:20 Cine Lumiere

Tickets for London Film Festival go on sale on 12th September.


For more info, follow the official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages @kbshortfilm

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