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By midlandsmovies, May 23 2020 09:01AM




Luther, Michael and Her


Directed by Penelope Yeulet


2020


Making her writing and directing debut is Penelope Yeulet whose first film Luther, Michael and Her is about two friends becoming reacquainted as they both hideout from a funeral gathering.


We are introduced to our characters in a house as a man named Michael (Rob Kirtley) enters a bathroom, but is interrupted by Luther (Penelope Yeulet) who is drowning her sorrows in the bathtub.


Both dressed in black, the two are seeking sanctuary, for perhaps different reasons, from the wake happening downstairs.


We are then given hints that hark to a previous relationship between the two. Michael appears the more understanding whilst Luther appears drunk. But the two bicker from the start about sharing the symbolic space.


The confines within the stark tiled bathroom created a cell of sorts, trapping the ex-friends before Luther shares her drink with her old companion. In the darkest of times, the two begin to break down their emotional barriers with the intention of continuing their drinking in this private refuge.


The cinematic quality of image is very professional, but the scenario feels a little underlit at times. As an accompaniment to dark subject matter it seems like an obvious stylistic choice, but I did find myself squinting at the beginning to see the action on screen.



The intense situation comes to a head when Michael confronts the reasons why they have been distant. The blame games begin and we discover their fiery connection with the departed. Their religious-related names also suggest a devil/(arch)angel dynamic and the short plays this out in the characters’ reactions.


As a first-time calling card, the film is impressive with its technical aspects and its use of a unique situation. The script could have done with another pass. Perhaps to truncate some of the dialogue which is already symbolised well by the film’s visual language. Its blocking and well-chosen camera angles and edits clearly represent the dynamic too, without the need for additional words.


However, despite a few very minor areas for improvement, Luther is a very intriguing and satisfying short film. Both actors deliver a believable and intense performance coming from different places. This keeps their clash to the forefront in a touching drama that more than pleases from the outset.


Michael Sales





By midlandsmovies, May 7 2020 04:15PM



Bombshell (2020) Directed by Jay Roach


From the director of Meet the Parents and the Austin Powers movies (!) comes a topical drama about the American Fox News Network and its culture of harassment in the workplace.


CEO Roger Ailes (a sleazy John Lithgow) heads up a news office lead by anchor Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) whose journalism work is undermined by sexist comments from presidential candidate Donald Trump. She receives little support from Ailes whilst colleague Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) fares even worse. She loses her job before subsequently attempting to expose the culture of abuse at the tv station.


Margot Robbie plays composite character Kayla Pospisil, a budding journalist who is harassed by Ailes. He promises promotions based on her willingness to engage in acts that become increasingly depraved.


The three leads are outstanding and are the film’s greatest strength. These resilient women are at different stages on their career, showing how the culture was both engrained whilst continuing against new staff members too.


Kidman’s frustration and isolation for speaking up is so well defined, whilst Robbie’s abuse at the hands of Ailes is far from gratuitous on screen, yet almost impossible to watch. Theron, covered in amazing Oscar-winning makeup and hairstyling, holds the whole thing together and the fact the trio bond over the situation is both fascinating and ultimately horrifying in its portrayal.


In the climate of the #metoo movement it would have been easy to make such a film preachy or give it a hammer-over-the-head approach. However, Bombshell’s success works because of its nuance and understated reality – which gives it a far more powerful punch – creating an engaging and imperative true-life story audiences need to hear.


★★★★


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, May 5 2020 09:07AM



WASTELANDS


Directed by Kemal Yildirim


2020


Kemikal Films & Rose the Film Ltd


Wastelands is a new feature film starring Natasha Linton as Alice, a lonely and disturbed woman whose OCD and self-destructive lifestyle choices have a devastating effect on her and her loved ones’ lives.


Her lonely existence begins as she works in a café, clearing up mess as part of her obsessive nature and the film introduces her with very few lines of dialogue. Alice’s life is shown with a melancholy and sympathetic camera whilst the film’s screeching string score and dark sounds build an air of disturbing intrigue.


With her violent hair brushing and scrubbing of herself in the shower, we witness her fixation on cleanliness which is punctuated with inserts of dreamworld flashbacks of intense sex and arguments.


The opening 10 minutes gives good scene setting with almost no dialogue. But bar a few sentences the first dramatic conversation really takes place 20 minutes in. The film then presents an almost experimental tone with a lot of the narrative either implied or hinted upon, leaving the audience somewhat to themselves to put the puzzle pieces together.


We later find her father is ill in a care home as her mother returns to Alice after a period apart describing her as a “family wrecker”. Alice is then left in the situation of being forced to care for her father at her own home.


The high-quality cinematography shows Alice increasing agitated with her fractured life and there is a fair few explicit, and sometimes troubling, scenes of passionate encounters with a male companion.

These multiple sex scenes are mostly non-exploitative although much like the film’s character exploration and silent scenes of an unsettled woman, they can get a bit repetitive. They neither push forward nor illuminate the storyline to any great extent.


Literally scrubbing herself of the past in various scenes, the film attempts to mix the standard themes of violence and sex as well as throwing in some family drama. Alice seems to want to burn aspects of her life whilst she often does not help herself – trapped as she is in a situation of her own making as she seeks an erotic outlet.


The film’s downfall is its elongated sequences of Alice’s life. From helping her father, they serve to demonstrate the daily grind she must go through, but in all honesty are a bit of a long-winded grind to watch. They are not illuminating that much more after 10 minutes than what you could not get in the first 1 minute of a scene.


Wastelands does have has much going for it though. The central performance is mysterious enough to keep your interest in her development, but there are hints of directorial self-indulgence. After an hour of extended padding, interest did start to wane a little. The unconventional lack of dialogue was not intense enough and its unrushed pace started to slow the narrative down as well.


However, there are some rewards to sticking with the question marks posited around the family’s history. The clues are only hinted upon throughout and these revelations are mostly resolved at its conclusion. It mixes the silent introspection of Only God Forgives with some 50 Shades of Grey sexual potency so if that sounds up your street, check out Wastelands as an arthouse curiosity for the avant-garde cinema crowd.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 25 2020 05:13PM



Don't Forget Me


Directed by Craig MacPhee


2020


4th Wall Productions


Don’t Forget Me is a new drama from Leicester filmmaker Craig MacPhee and discusses the awful consequences of the debilitating disease of dementia.


We open with Cameron (Craig MacPhee) staring into space, and coming to terms with the fact that his Grandma, who he’s always been close to, is suffering from a degenerative condition. A teary Cameron is comforted by his mother (a sensitive Louise Thomas) as it’s acknowledged the family have to deal with their “horrible thing”.


As someone who lost their mum to early onset dementia a few years ago, it was certainly a tough watch for me, with many issues close to home. However, these are handled sensitively by the director and certainly aren’t exploitative.


The family consider lots of options but Cameron volunteers to become his grandma’s carer as they move her closer to home to help and assist her with daily living.


The script is a bit on the nose - everything is explained in full detail in the dialogue – and this has the unfortunate effect of it being tough on actors who slightly struggle get more naturalistic performances. But there’s plenty of emotional scenes that will draw you in nonetheless.


That said, the relationship between Cameron and his grandparent (Evadne Fisher) is heart-warming and there are laughs amongst the sadness. Using photos, music and books to help recollect memories, the film also flashbacks to a young Cameron showing us the inevitable passage of time.


The recurring image of a tea cup being filled seemed to represent some of the repetition of the daily personal routine whilst Cameron’s tears at his ever going frustration was something I could relate to. Being unable to stop the onset whilst seeing problems increase daily, Cameron’s strong support is stretched to its limit. Eventually, Grandma’s recollection of Cameron himself fades in her memory.


A violent outburst leads to a tough decision for the family to move her to a home yet the family ‘s sorrow is still very raw, despite a reluctant acceptance that they all know it’s for the best.


Don’t Forget Me ends up as very powerful film by its conclusion, representing as it does a very accurate picture of the real-life medical condition – but also its sad effects on the family around the sufferer. Although some improvement with the script and a few cinematic flourishes would help, these do not distract from the accurate glimpses into a family struggling to deal with an ill loved one.


In the end, it’ll take a heart of stone to not be moved by the film and its very emotional and honest portrait of frustration and family love and loss.



Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 24 2020 12:56PM




Domino Effect


Directed by Haydn Thomas


2020


New drama Domino Effect comes from West Midlands filmmaker Haydn Thomas which looks at the fallout of a shocking street incident and the ripples that are subsequently caused by it.


A man sits in a BMW late one night and hands over a package and a gun to a friend asking him to “put him down quick”. Dark and foreboding, the film quickly sets up a mystery as we wonder who these men are and what their plan is.


We cut to a daytime kitchen where a younger boy Tyrique (Micah McDonald) speaks with his busy mum (Taja Christian) and asks her to record his new poem into his mobile phone. The boy then chats to a girl before his father (Craig Lewis) returns home. The director does very well to convey a sense of a loving family with each small interaction building to a cohesive whole.


Yet this blissful bond between these loved ones is destroyed in an instant when Tyrique is attacked from behind by the same man we saw in the opening. Knifed in the chest, he falls to the ground as the assailant runs from the scene.


A horrific surprise, the director shifts tone with ease, keeping the audience engaged with unexpected turns in the narrative and focus.


Back at home, the happy mum and dad are unaware of the awful situation involving their son as a stranger at the scene calls the emergency services.


The director’s personal vision is clearly imprinted all over all the film. With a real-life tragedy effecting his own family, Thomas Haydn has approached his subject matter with knowledge and with a sense of personal connection. The laughs and tears shown no doubt reflect the director’s past situation and the emotions have been well portrayed on screen.


Touching upon the aftermath too, the film shows how one incident can touch lots of people’s lives. “Dominos” fall one after the other, as the tragedy knocks into others’ lives without any sense of stopping. The issue of blame and responsibility is a difficult subject to tackle. Here there are times when the space between the dialogue that hits home most as we see subtle introspection contrasting the harsh words.


Tears, arguments and depression are shown as natural fallout and the passing of time and erasing of their memory – as well as part of yourself – is a technique cleverly shown with some transparent dissolve effects.


With a small budget and a sizeable cast, the director has excellently explored several timely issues with sensitivity and first-hand experience of its tragic themes. Showing how just one event can affect multiple people – even years later – makes this short not just a great personal passion project, but one with hugely important things to say about the sometimes violent world around us.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Apr 18 2020 09:28AM



Asphyxiate


Directed by Nicole Pott


2020


Sonder Pictures


A woman slowly descends into a bathtub in the dark opening that starts new drama Asphyxiate from Midlands director Nicole Pott.


Followed by a violently physical sexual assault scene, the director pulls no punches to draw you into a world of deception, love and passions.


The opening sequence is one of the best I’ve seen in a local short. David Fincher style blue lighting from cinematographer Hamish Saks and an amazing transition from above to below the bath water line was a stunning introduction.


We then arrive at a dinner date between Katie (Michaela Longden, who is also the writer of the short) and Tom (Anthony Quinlan). But their loving meet-up is punctuated by edits cutting back to a darker part of their relationship.


The man stands over the woman in a dangerous home scenario of threatening words and intimidating physical contact before we’re whisked back in time to a bar as the two friendly discuss love and life.


The contrast between the two situations, past and present, is a powerful structure showing how a bond between two people can turn into a degrading spiral of harassment and torment.


Forced apologies and psychological attempts to gain sympathy sit alongside flashback scenes that slowly reveal how the seeds of this controlling behaviour were sown.


The film continues to capture the traits of male perpetrators as Katie is pushed further into isolation and her communication monitored. It also shows how an unsafe environment is created over time. Ultimatums to end the relationship soon build and build and end in threats, bullying and finally physical harm.


Pott uses juxtaposition of the actors’ proximity, dialogue and visuals brilliantly to highlight these issues. And it makes the short an excellent exploration of very serious themes about losing oneself and drowning in verbal and intimidating attacks.


Asphyxiate is uncompromising in its representation of domestic violence. However, this is crucial to sufficiently highlight the awful situation far too many women can find themselves in. With spectacular cinematic style, the short comes highly recommended, as it looks at the catastrophic outcomes of a toxic relationship in an exceptionally well-crafted film.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Apr 15 2020 07:54AM



White Feather


Directed by Daniel Arbon


2020


Middle Realm Productions


White Feather is the latest short film from Middle Realm Productions, written and directed by Daniel Arbon. The film tells the story of a returning soldier who is met with backlash upon his return from the trenches due to his stance as a conscientious objector.


It is 1919, the war has ended, and the news of this making the front page of a newspaper belonging to George (Robert Moore). He's not reading it however, he is using it as packaging for transporting expensive crockery to a customers house. The sun beams brightly on George as he makes his way through his calm and peaceful village to Mrs Teesdale's (Penelope Wildgoose) property.


As Mrs Teesdale greets George we get a sense that he is a polite and well spoken young man, his manner easily impresses his customer as she goes into her house to complete the purchase of the crockery. Her husband calls out off screen to ask for his name to which he replies, silence, moments later Mrs Teesdale returns to the door throwing a white feather at Georges direction. We later find out a white feather was given to objectors as a symbol for their “cowardice” even though they served just as a non-combatant.


An earlier offer of a ride back into town in her husbands motorcar is swiftly replaced with a scolding perspective, “we have no dealings with cowards” she rudely says.


As the feather drops slowly to the ground Georges memory transports him back between the frontline of the trenches and the corridors of a court as he awaits his hearing in regards to his objection in firing a gun.


These locations are shot with shocking realism for a low budget short film with Arbon, alongside cinematographer Ash Connaughton, creating a claustrophobic, hellish battlefield, smoke bellowing out as George interacts with his fellow soldiers.


This is bold and powerful filmmaking, how can a man serve his country yet arrive back home a “coward”? Arbon tactfully presents both sides of the argument but without a dull courtroom setting, the visual of George sat in a trench whilst the audio of the future hearing plays out is expertly done.


An example of this is seen at the beginning of the film where George is at Mrs Teesdale's door, a photograph of a young soldier can be seen in the corner of the frame. Could this be her son? Has he been killed in battle? Is this the reason for her outburst? Arbon doesn't demonise her at all, the audience are invited to embrace the subject matter and ponder what their stance is on the topic.


White Feather will draw obvious comparisons to Hacksaw Ridge, a WW2 drama about a combat medic who refused to carry a weapon, it was refreshing however to see this film set during WW1, an event that until a few years ago never quite got the re-appraisal it deserves in cinema.


Armed with a short budget and a talented Midlands based cast and crew, writer & director Daniel Arbon defies expectations and creates a strong and informative period film about the injustice of war.


Guy Russell


Twitter @BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, Mar 25 2020 08:13AM



Coping


Directed by Brandon Marples


2020


An older man waking up in bed to the sound of birdsong is a gentle start for this new 3-and-a-half-minute short from Midlands writer-director Brandon Marples.


The unidentified man (played with subtle and emotional nuance by local actor Melvyn Rawlinson) stares at the ceiling and then at the empty pillow next to him in a well-chosen God-shot.


From the outset, the film shows someone missing in this person’s life. The absence of dialogue is a bold choice but works well to show an inner sadness. Also, the beginning emphasises how this loss begins even as you wake up, at the forefront of your mind from the start until the end of every day.


Beautiful cinematography from Ed Radford help captures the man’s turmoil and the film conveys the loss using small but important moments from the morning. We see one pair of shoes in the hall and we see the man at an empty breakfast table too.


There are some moments of levity however with the man smiling at a hand-holding couple in the park. A shot of a large oak showing the passage of time as the man deals with his grief and appears to reflect on his life. A sad scene of tooth-brushing has our protagonist close to tears as the day ends. And as per the start of the day, he once again returns to bed alone.


Born and educated in Derby, Brandon Marples is an East Midlands based film director and has captured a deep sense of loss in Coping. The man is carrying on despite his situation yet a melancholy hangs over him throughout this day.


With a lovely performance from the lead, the film is a portrait of looking after oneself despite life’s struggles. Grappling with a bereavement, Coping shows both the difficulty of dealing with death but also focuses on the day to day struggles many face.


A poignant picture with excellent technical aspects, the film is heart-breaking but not without some heart-warming too, hinting as it does at a universal message to take care of each other one day at a time.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Mar 24 2020 12:29PM



Sand


Directed by Maddie Barnes


2020


Filmed in Skegness, Sand is a new drama from local filmmaker Maddie Barnes that focuses on two boys who struggle with who they are and the complications that subsequently arise.


We open on waves rolling towards land before cutting to our two friends, Jamie (Joel Fossard-Jones) and Curtis (Johnny Gutteridge) basking in the sun on a sandy beach.


Director and writer Maddie Barnes has filmed her short in stark black and white giving the film a classical touch yet many scenes are captured in a handheld style ensuring a contemporary feel for the issues it covers.


The young men enjoy themselves frolicking in the sea before coming together in a loving embrace and the film's cinematography looks great as a whole. It sounds good too with a quaint guitar score adding to the air of summer romance. The narrative is slight but the dreamy images have evocative connotations of summer love and a “day in the life” feel.


The two enjoy their time at a local seaside arcade and share professions of love but their situation gets much more complicated with the arrival of Lindsey (Alexandra Stapleton). The two males then discuss the difficulties of first-time love, how they feel and how others may see them.


The dialogue is a little on those nose (“why can’t I just be normal”) but overall its good intentions and subtle performances pull it over the line.


In conclusion then, unlike the ongoing sands of time, the short focuses on a particular moment in time that we can all relate to – the complexities of young love. Tackling issue of young people dealing with sexuality, love and how they are viewed it takes an honourable look at modern adolescence.


Sand therefore ends up being fun and emotional and although a little cliched at times, is as honest as the characters’ emotions it ultimately portrays.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Mar 21 2020 11:57AM



Dead Air


Directed by Jordan Dean


2020


Fishbulb Films


“It’s 3:58am, here is some Coldplay”, which is a suitably dark announcement that opens new black comedy Dead Air from Leicester based filmmakers Fishbulb Films.


The film starts with local presenter Lester who hosts a night-time radio slot, which he subsequently fills with pre-recorded phone calls during his mundane show.


Like Groundhog Day, this mind-numbing cycle is repeated daily and we see Lester returning home each night, alone and looking incredibly depressed about his current predicament. Lester is played brilliantly by real-life presenter Simon Parkin (of Children’s BBC broom cupboard fame) and he brings a suitably experienced tone to his voice that is perfect for the role.


Lester’s show however is punctuated with short news snippets about a contagious virus. These somewhat echo Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast and get more apocalyptic and perilous as the film progresses. They also create a nice air of intrigue about what is happening outside of the studio confines.


Lester is also ignored by fellow presenter Ben (Ed Spence) whose successful arrogance contrasts nicely with Simon’s increasingly dreary show on the airwaves. But one night, Lester receives a call from a distressed caller asking for help as the 999 emergency services number is out of service.


The well-written and acted comedy comes from Lester’s unawareness of the chaos around him. As each emergency phone-call from “outside” comes in, Lester sticks with the banal song-requesting lingo of a clichéd local radio DJ.


As dash of Alan Partridge’s obliviousness is nicely delivered in Parkin’s performance and the little touches really add to the experience as well. From the well-designed fictional radio station logo to the correct broadcast console equipment, those small pieces really bring you into this world.


The sound is excellent as you may have expected. The light-hearted music by Peter Flint keeps everything in the comedic space until it needs to turn darker towards the short’s conclusion. The overall sound recording by Jason Nightall which mixes phone-calls, jingles and dialogue is also of a very high standard.


The film dials up the danger as we head to a final crisis involving colleague Ben, with Lester as possibly the last man standing. And we wonder whether our host really will have the last laugh.


Dead Air therefore ends up being an exceptional short film. The quality of filmmaking and the technical aspects are first-rate. However, it’s the comedy that is strong and Parkin’s performance as the pivotal person in a pandemic is perfect. Without a doubt then, Dead Air will hopefully receive a great reception on the festival circuit and I recommend you tune in to this fantastic Midlands short as soon as you can.


Michael Sales



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