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By midlandsmovies, Dec 3 2018 10:22AM



Midlands Spotlight - Off Grid release new trailer to coincide with crowdfunding campaign


Off Grid is the upcoming production from Dark Matter Films and Bewdley-based Director Carl Timms who shot the short film on location in Worcestershire earlier this summer with a completion date pencilled in for early 2019.


The crowdfunding campaign will raise money for the film’s special effects and final post-production for this post-apocalyptic, supernatural thriller which boasts a stellar cast including James Cosmo, MBE (Game of Thrones, Braveheart, The Outlaw King) as force of nature John Tanner; Alison Steadman (Pride and Prejudice, Gavin & Stacey) as his frail wife, Grace and Marc Baylis (Redcon-1, Coronation Street) as the enigmatic Stranger


Rising British horror actress Kate Davies-Speak (Horizon, Dead Air) as Cailtin Rourke is also involved and the trailer, which can be viewed above, offers a glimpse of the other-worldly threat, ‘The Shining Ones’, who are plaguing humanity.



Off Grid is directed by Carl Timms (click here to read our review of his earlier Midlands film STILL) and written by Mark Brendan through their production company Dark Matter Films and was shot over the summer of 2018. It tells the story of elderly couple, John and Grace Tanner, who have fled deep into the forest following an apocalyptic event. There John fights to protect his frail wife, and his own sanity, from a supernatural threat. The arrival of another survivor forces John to assess if he is an ally or a threat, leading to revelations that could shatter the sanctuary he has built for them.


Bewdley-based director Carl Timms says, "We are delighted with how the filming turned out. We feel honoured to have worked with such a talented cast who brought these characters to life exactly as we hoped. Off Grid is a hard-hitting, intense drama that tells an ambitious, character-driven story in just 20min. To make it work we needed actors with real gravitas and they delivered beyond our hopes. But credit must also go to our amazing crew who all worked so hard to make this the best it could be".




The Indiegogo campaign with a target of £5,000 for Off Grid launched 25th November and can be found by clicking here. All funds raised are being put into post-production of the film, including CGI effects work, grading, sound design and final mastering.


The ‘perks’ on offer include an Associate / Executive Producer credit including tickets to a premiere screening, sponsorship opportunities for local businesses, digital and DVD copies of the finished film, limited edition artwork and behind the scenes photography, and a thank you in the credits for making the film happen. If the campaign is a success, Dark Matter Films are planning an early 2019 completion date and high-end festival run.


Keep up to date at https://www.darkmatterfilms.co.uk


Photos courtesy of Gary Moore, strongarmphotography


By midlandsmovies, Jul 27 2018 07:24AM



The Return of the Ring (2018)


Directed and written by AR Ugas


“Enough teaching about our history. It’s time to fight for our future”.


High fantasy and enduring myth reach the Midlands in a brand new 22-minute short from AR Ugas who brings Tolkien’s tales and epic themes into a contemporary setting with his new film The Return of the Ring.


Described as a fan-film with a title that could elicit groans, don’t let that fool you as the short shouldn’t be dismissed as an amateur production but one which condenses the novel’s rich themes and ideas into a uniquely local idea.


The story follows a young female Elf (Rhi Hardman as Illyandra) who sets out to reclaim the ring after it is told that it was never originally destroyed. This was followed by The Race of Man eradicating Middle-earth which ensured any trace of its history was to become a fairy tale.


Opening with a foot chase involving a mysterious hooded-man in black, the film wears its love of not just the novel but of Peter Jackson’s infamous trilogy on its sleeve. Illyandra escapes from this Nazgûl – the immortal beings bound to the power of the One Ring – and director Ugas, who also writes, scatters some archaic Tolkien language to his script too.


The ring ends up with a barman (Sam Malley as John) and Illyandra makes contact with him at a nightclub. And despite using “orc magic” to get her hand on the powerful item, the Ring Wraith is soon back on their tail. The film balances its extreme fantasy ideas with a suburban realism and the use of potions and pointy ears is subtly ingrained in the film’s modern narrative.



Technically the short suitably aims for the epic with drone shots over the city giving a cinematic feel to the proceedings. Director of photography James Alexander Barnett excellently mixes lens flare with well-chosen locations that give a sly wink to the source material. A conversation in a park against a tree harks to fantasy forests whilst a neon lit water feature in a nightclub echoes a mythic waterfall of sorts.


Sadly, the apartment location– acting as the characters’ main sanctuary – feels a little ‘flat’ but its cramped space seems to represent their confinement – hiding from their enemy in a metaphorical dungeon. But again, its low-budget roots don’t affect the great creativity at work. A clever panning shot, some suitably intense music and well composed colour grading gives the ‘other-worldly’ illusion of the ring-bearer’s scary visions.


Dominic Thompson portrays Alatar the Young (also credited as “The Wizard”) and unfortunately I felt the actor went a bit too far with a slightly pantomime performance. However, his well-delivered monologue to fill in backstory was effectively utilised and the actor nicely incorporated hints of Brad Dourif’s Wormtongue from Jackson’s movie.




Woven into the film was also some excellent, but subtle, updating of ancient costumes. The leather jacket clad Nazgûl, a hooded advisor and the earthy tones of a wood Elf were fantastic and heck, even a white t-shirt embodied John’s naïve innocence to the events unfolding.


Nisaro Karim as Amdir arrives towards the end and the film moves swiftly between locations and characters and flashes of humour keep it light-hearted at times as well. With the power of the ring continuing to corrupt the heart of men, the film shows expert dexterity in technique and cinema skill with its innovative spin of the traditions of Middle-earth whilst still making it accessible and understandable to a modern Midlands audience.


A perfect ending that has a literary nod to Tolkien was a brilliant surprise that will leave you wanting more and the story’s present-day setting blends tones well. With great craftmanship, AR Ugas’ film therefore ends up being not just token Tolkien, but a fully-fledged and ambitious homage that throws in its own satisfying twist on legends with amazing precision. There are some good films in this world and shorts like The Return of the Ring are worth fighting for.


Mike Sales


Watch the full short here:






By midlandsmovies, Apr 2 2018 08:08PM



I Kill Giants (2018) Dir. Anders Walter


Based upon the graphic novel I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly (writer) and Ken Niimura (artist), I Kill Giants was written in 2008 before A Monster Calls but has unfortunately been released as a movie a year after. This results in the tale having some familiarity but, for me, it didn’t harm the film one little bit given the quality on show.


In this film, a fantastic Madison Wolfe plays disturbed young girl Barbara Thorson who is a dungeons and dragons playing loner who escapes the troubles of her life by retreating into a world of fantasy. Sound familiar? Maybe so, but the film explores a great deal about growing up in an intelligent way through the eyes of children. Passionate for fantasy board games with multi-sided dice, Barbara lives with her disinterested video-game obsessed brother. Together they are both looked after by their put-upon sister Karen, in which Imogen Poots plays the stressed older sibling brilliantly.


Barbara is shown to be intelligent and witty but also boisterous and looks down on her family (and teachers) with scorn. This ensures she is friendless and spends most of her time creating homemade spells and potions out of random finds, which are then used to lure huge monsters. Wolfe is so convincing that from great character introductions at the start, I was unsure whether her creative world was in fact real or not. Her feisty Barbara is only ever seen alone with the monsters and although the question is rapidly cleared up, the film explores childhood creativity and frustrations in a way that patronises neither children nor the adults who have relationships with them.


Warnings and markings are scrawled by Barbara at home, on the beach and at school to protect herself and others from (an imagined?) harm but this brings her to the attention to Zoe Saldana’s school counsellor. Finding it hard to break into Barbara’s world, the sassy youngster equally infuriates and intrigues Saldana as she relentlessly keeps her guard up. Back home, Barbara meets an English girl Sophia (Sydney Wade) who is new to the area and slowly they form a bond. Barbara begins to trust her enough to show her a private sanctuary she has created as well as share details of the different types of giant she is aware of.


Far from a fantasy, the depiction of youngsters sharing secrets, having their own protective space and also passing paper messages between each other were entirely relatable aspects of growing up. Barbara creates her own “medicine” from unique items to stop the monsters she feels are going to attack her loved ones but the film ensures the relationships feel less fantastical and more authentic. And her strong smart exterior is used as protection against real bullies, teachers and the “giant” issues she faces.


The film’s tone had an ‘Amblin’ flavour at times which was no bad thing either. The music and bike-riding definitely had the young charm of The Goonies whilst the chirpy piano score felt more than reminiscent of 1980’s Spielberg and JJ Abrams’ Super 8 (2011). And finding out it was produced by Christopher Columbus was therefore of no surprise either. The CGI forest giants and the ominous presence of a Treebeard-esque shadow monster upstairs in Barbara’s home were well-rendered but, like last year’s Colossal, the little explored “women-against-giant-monsters” sub-genre is again much more than meets the eye.


Without spoiling the film, the giants represent far more than can be imagined and although this is explicitly stated, there always seemed to be a mystery until the final third of the movie. It’s a fantastic look at childhood fun, trauma and life-learning from blood oaths to the frustration of P.E. lessons and all this is done with the right balance of fun and seriousness.


A slightly predictable parable – although it gives far less away than the A Monster Calls trailer – I Kill Giants is a brilliant and inspired coming-of-age comedy drama that sits in the same space as that film. A strong cast of performers are led by Madison Wolfe who is front and centre, and deservedly so, from the start. Dealing with difficult issues and seen from the viewpoint of a bright but troubled young girl, the final twist in the tale tackles much heartbreak within its skilful narrative. But, as we are moved on this poignant journey, I Kill Giants becomes one fictional world you won’t want to escape from.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Feb 13 2018 03:52PM



The Shape of Water (2018) Dir. Guillermo del Toro


Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute janitor at a secret government facility who begins to bond with a strange water-based creature in The Shape of Water – a new fantasy romance from creative force Guillermo del Toro.


Like the much lauded Pan's Labyrinth, Del Toro’s new film crosses the historical with the unbelievable and the director also mixes cold-war fears with a timeless love in a tale like no other. The story begins in 1962 when American Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon adding another fantastic villain to his career) brings a human-like water creature to the facility and cruelly tortures it in an attempt to discover any secrets this animal may have in their battle against the Russians.


Del Toro’s simple camera moves and basic structure give a pureness to the film allowing the subtle layers and themes of isolation, technology and communication to come to the forefront. Like all his films, this simplicity also harks back to his love of fairy tale myths. In this movie he punctuates the screen with colours of green and images of eggs – a symbol as much of creation and fertility as it is the cracked nature of Humpty Dumpty.


Hawkins’ Elisa secretly communicates via sign language which helps her bond with the creature – and whose familiarity to Abe Sapien from del Toro’s Hellboy films does not go unnoticed – and the swamp-man responds to her affections in the face of Shannon’s awful villain.


The great and deep characterisation continues as Elisa is quiet, but not lonely as such, with her being acknowledged at work and having a variety of friends including Richard Jenkins as Giles and Octavia Spencer as her fellow janitor, and sometimes interpreter, Zelda.


The symbolism continues as even her surname (Esposito) has etymological links to being an orphan as well as deriving from the Latin exponere ("to place outside"). It’s even claimed she was found by the river in an obvious parallel. During the blossoming connection we see Elisa masturbating in her bath and the great nuanced screenplay doesn’t shy away from covering themes of masculinity and femininity. Shannon’s excellent turn as the antagonist is pure male villainy yet his physical prowess take a hammering as he loses a phallic finger in an attack from the creature.


As well as sex, there are underlying nods to race and integration that echo the changing nature of society at the time - with the repressive 50s making way for equal-rights, sexual freedom and the burgeoning technology of the 60s. People begin to challenge the fact they are spoken to like second-class citizens whilst Giles loses his advertising design job in the face of photography. More obvious themes come in the form of the space-race and the rivalry between USA and Russia. This is personified by the fantastic Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, a caring scientist whose allegiances are less than clear cut.


With the inclusion of some poetic violence and exciting chase sequences there are arguments that it is unnecessary violent at times but like the best fairy tale stories it has a contrast between light and dark. The expressive dainty and subtle harp music may feel quaint at times but gives the film an ethereal quality and is broken up by loud gunshots and bloody encounters.


We mustn’t forget Doug Jones in all this as the ‘Amphibian Man’ as well. He mimes his way through heavy prosthetics to give the character plenty of feeling and empathy but it’s Sally Hawkins who really is the main draw here. Without verbal language at her disposal, her body movement, eyes and the physicality she gives to the role is key to the film’s winning charm.


Del Toro’s always had a flair for the colourful and enjoys the mix of reality and dream worlds. Yet after a few throwaway gems like Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim, he has hooked all the prize pieces together in this film. A fishy fable like no other, the stupendous Shape of Water is as simple as a child’s story yet at the same time goes to depths only a master filmmaker of del Toro’s skill can reach.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, May 18 2017 08:37PM



Colossal (2017) Dir. Nacho Vigalondo


A (very) original concept for a film, Colossal stars Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as childhood friends who reconnect when Hathaway’s ‘Gloria’ returns to her small hometown only for much larger events to take place halfway across the world. Her arrival is spawned when Dan Stevens’ Tim breaks off their city relationship owing to her boozy going-nowhere lifestyle and once back, she runs into Sudeikis’ Oscar who gives her a job at a local bar. Offering support in her time of need, the job however doesn’t help with the current woes she is suffering from.


And from here it gets much weirder. After Gloria enters a local playground she soon discovers that at the very same time, a giant Godzilla-like monster materialises in South Korea (Asia, where else?) and we learn that it’s a manifestation of herself. The ginormous lizard even acts out the same sad movements including her bad dancing and head scratching.


But here’s the rub. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie but anyone expecting the crazy laugh out loud style antics they are attempting to sell in the trailer will be very disappointed or at least confused. I don’t think I laughed once which doesn’t mean there weren’t a few light-hearted comedic moments just that there were no jokes as such.


The few amusing situations we do get very quickly turn to a much more morose tone as I began to pity Gloria quite early on. Hathaway is a likeable actress, although a bit too clean cut for me, but she gives a more ‘Girl on the Train’-style performance here as her own demons are pushed to the forefront. I’ve never warmed to Sudeikis at all but I did enjoy him in Race (2016) and here he stretches his range further by starting out as a helpful pal trying to get Hathaway back on her feet before switching to a much crueller character later on. And he too materialises in the Far East but this time his brutality is symbolised as a giant armour-plated robot.


Clearly an allegory for domestic violence – both mentally and physically – the film shows how that can manifest itself as a giant issue to be tackled head on. The huge subject matter literally becomes a huge monster. A bit on the nose? Maybe. But it’s done very well indeed by the director as the movie develops into fiery fist fights – ones that are fantastical in Korea yet explosively violent in the small town.


I would say the tone is most similar to Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind which delivered surreal storytelling and images around what was essentially a love story. Here, a ‘sobering’ return to childhood (and adult) issues is the driving force, with the strangeness and uniqueness coming from the role of the metaphorical monsters.


A very original premise is to be praised in this monstrous franchise era, and the well thought-out topic is something I felt was an interesting subject to hang the film on. I do still feel the trailer does it a disservice however. It’s a much more serious film with serious themes rather than the Pacific Rim/Rom-com product it’s been advertised as. If you ignore that though, you’ll find a very rewarding film which delves into the mammoth repercussions of intense emotions by showing the fierce fighting between fantasy and the factual.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 8 2016 08:42AM

Midlands Movies chats with Steve Green from Birmingham Horror, a collective of horror and fantasy fans from the region who meet regularly to discuss the genre and more. Mike finds out more..


Steve Green is one of the founding members of new horror and fantasy club “Birmingham Horror”. From the dark fiction of such writers as MR James, Shirley Jackson and Stephen King to the horror films of George Romero, Sam Raimi and Guillermo del Toro, the group offers a relaxed forum for all fans of the genre to meet and discuss their favourite writers, artists and film-makers.


As well as that, diverse films such as Bride of Frankenstein, It Follows, The Haunting of Hill House, The Books of Blood, The Twilight Zone and Ash vs Evil Dead are big favourites of the group and those who join can also enjoy the occasional special guest appearances from leading creators as well.


Now a regular fixture, the group meets on the first Saturday of each month at the Spread Eagle pub, Warwick Road, Acocks Green in Birmingham. Their next gathering is on 7th May at 7pm and at April’s meeting they were joined by the fantasy author and genre journalist, Stan Nicholls who is most famous for the acclaimed Orcs: First Blood series.


The Group’s launch featured in the 3rd December edition of the Solihull Observer and Steve is excited about the future plans for the group going forward with honorary president Ramsey Campbell.


Acclaimed author, editor and critic Ramsey Campbell has been described as “Britain’s most respected living horror writer,” and has received numerous British Fantasy Awards for both novels and short fiction. Wins include the Bram Stoker Award, the World Fantasy Award, the World Horror Convention’s Grand Master Award, the Horror Writers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the International Horror Guild’s Living Legend Award. In addition to his prolific fiction output, Ramsey also reviews films for BBC Radio Merseyside and the leading cinema journal Video Watchdog.


Last but not least, Steve explains that he also works with Rose of Eibon which carries news and reviews, as well as an online store carrying a range of horror-themed t-shirts. One of its more recent side projects is Ghostwords TV, a genre-themed YouTube vidcast.


All of Steve’s projects can be found on the links below and Midlands Movies recommends that the region’s horror fans should check out this close-knit community for more dark terror pleasures.


Twitter: @steveghostwords

Group: http://www.birmingham-horror.co.uk

Reviews: www.roseofeibon.co.uk

Website: www.ghostwords.co.uk


By midlandsmovies, Dec 14 2014 09:15AM

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) Dir. Peter Jackson

With a title like that it is clear where Jackson was going in this third and final frustrating prequel adapted from J. R. R. Tolkien’s slim book of the same name. Before we go back again, we started with An Unexpected Journey whose dwarf-singing, cutlery throwing antics were mostly a large misfire for me before the sequel (The Desolation of Smaug) found another gear in which the Cumberbatch voiced dragon was more than a fine spectacle.


This third act opens where we left off with Smaug attacking Lake Town which was an exciting but too brief intro and why Jackson didn’t end on the *SPOILER* killing of the dragon for part 2 shows how thin he stretched the tiny novel. Once the dwarves return to Erebor, they fortify themselves within its mountainous walls, which then sets up the mother of all scraps. And therein lies the problem. The vision is exciting and as bombastic as any film-battle depicted on screen but the casualty is any meaningful engagement with the people conducting it.


We move away from Bilbo and focus on Thorin’s downfall as a man obsessed by gold, poisoning him (much like the Ring) which means we lose focus of the hobbit’s journey. Thrown away is the character development of LOTR and we are simply given a second helping of the Minas Tirith battle which like The Fast Show’s “The Long Big Punch Up” sketch, goes on for exactly forever.


That said, the fight is undeniably thrilling. The 3D combined with Jackson’s swinging camera (perhaps too much swinging) was electrifying as we got orcs, elves, humans, dwarves and *ahem* eagles clashing in a brawl that contains fist fights, sword skirmishes, axe-swinging and pig-riding. An always acrobatic Legolas jumps and leaps in a particularly well executed bridge falling-apart scene whilst an earlier appendix-filling sequence in which 3 older characters fight early incarnations of the Nazgul was a joy for fans of the previous trilogy. In a flurry of special effects the 48fps was a little weird at first but I thought it gave the film a distinguishing style and was a risk worth taking in a film with little narrative risk elsewhere. And the CGI? Oh the CGI. Sometimes amazing (Azog was all but real) and sometimes frustrating (Billy Connolly voiced Dain Ironfoot was rendered completely in CGI for no reason whatsoever) audiences will either go along with the visual eye-candy or rebel against it. In the main, this reviewer went with it.


In summary, a decent but dry ending leads up to the events which start the LOTR trilogy and with the Tolkien estate refusing to authorise further adaptations I hope we can leave Middle Earth with the memory of one exceptional trilogy and one reasonable one.


7/10 Midlands Movies Mike

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