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By midlandsmovies, Jun 10 2018 08:51AM

12 Underrated films that may have passed you by since 2010


Despite your huge collection of DVDs, BluRays, boxsets, collector’s editions and streaming services, have you ever found yourself staring into space struggling to find a film to watch? With so many options available at just a touch of a button, the choice can be overwhelming. However, we’re going to provide a friendly list for your viewing pleasure as we showcase a dozen great films from the last few years that may have slipped under your radar.


Whether it be quirky documentaries, underground sci-fi or a splash of comedy, we have something for you. Take a read of the list below of our highly recommended, but often little-seen, movies – especially if you’re in the mood for something different to the usual multiplex blockbusters or critics’ darlings. And hit us up on Twitter @midlandsmovies with some of your own suggestions!




Coherence (2014) Dir. James Ward Byrkit

Written and directed by James Ward Byrkit this is an 89 minute thrilling sci-fi mystery set at a suburban USA dinner party that pulls at the audience’s emotions and brainstems equally. The film sets up a dinner meal and after discussion of a passing comet, the electricity goes off and the group explore their neighbourhood which leads to a mysterious occurance.. To say too much would be to spoil the surprise but with a similar tone to the low budget film Primer (2004) as well as the confusing and twisting narrative of Triangle (2009) the handheld realism leads to a brilliantly constructed film that demands a second viewing in order to fully appreciate the looping plot.



Stoker (2013) Dir. Park Chan-wook

A tense psychological thriller from the director who gave us OldBoy, Stoker again covers dark family secrets and was written surprisingly by Wentworth Miller of Prison Break. Avoiding any happy ever after clichés, the film has sinister fairy tale imagery from wooded copses, creepy spiders and phallic rocks to heighten the Hitchcockian themes of betrayal, deception and revenge. A trio of Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman, bring strangely winning performances in a social drama with a mythic quality. A far-fetched but fascinating fable.




Tim’s Vermeer (2014) Dir. Teller

Directed by stage magician Teller, this documentary gives us a portrait of Tim Jenison, a man who spends 5 years testing his theory which proposes how Renaissance Dutchman Johannes Vermeer possibly used optical instruments to help create such realistic paintings. A friend of Teller’s magician partner Penn Jillette, Tim comes across as a barmy garage-style bonkers scientist who has worked with computer graphics but has no formal artistic training. In his quest to be authentic, Tim also learns to use traditional methods to render not just the painting he admires but the entire room. The doc constructs a brilliant study of one man’s drive and his crazy courage to complete his personal canvas.




Frank (2014) Dir. Lenny Abrahamson

Based on the idiosyncratic UK comedic stylings of Frank Sidebottom, this movie is a fictionalised account of an eccentric musician trying to find his calling in life. The musical journey is seen through the eyes of Jon (a brilliantly naive Domhnall Gleeson) who leaves his humdrum life to work on an album of bizarre instrumentations and unusual compositions. The lead singer Frank (Michael Fassbender) persistently wears an over-sized homemade head and the film follows the erratic interactions and odd relationships between band members. Fassbender delivers a virtuoso performance as the comical yet infectious front man trying to connect with world he’s closed himself off to in a screwball study of creativity and mental hindrances.




White Bird in a Blizzard (2015) Dir. Gregg Araki

Set in a well-designed 80s of big hair, big phones and bigger boom boxes, the film follows the disappearance of unhappy mother Eve Connor (Eva Green) with flashbacks punctuating the modern day narrative strands to show her daughter Kat (Shailene Woodley) as she explains her drunken mother’s loveless marriage. The film may seem like Gone Girl-lite but its mysterious take on small-town life has echoes of American Beauty with its voiceovers, repressed fathers and dinner table silences. The comparisons continue with a sexless marriage and blossoming sexualised teenagers. The movie bounces easily between cold relationships to seduction secrets to create a winning formula of nosey next-door neighbours and night time naughtiness.




Snowpiercer (2014) Dir. Bong Joon-ho

All aboard for this South Korean/USA action film which tells the story of Curtis, a rebel on a fascist train that encircles the globe now that mankind has caused an accidental ice age. The snow train is a prison with the poor and destitute forced to live in squalor at the tail end whilst the rich live like royalty near the locomotive’s front. Curtis (a bearded Chris Evans) teams up with Edgar (Jamie Bell) and Tanya (Octavia Spencer) to overthrow the guards and with Tilda Swinton as a norther- accented minister with a nasty sadistic side, the movie is an original take on a tested formula. Joon-ho delivers the appropriate amount of fist fights and combines this with his artistic Eastern outlook with some inventive Hollywood-style smack downs. Although the premise is absurd, the audience will be pulled along for the wintery ride enjoying the emotional tracks the director lays out for us.




Joe (2014) Dir. David Gordon Green

After a glut of awful b-movie films, Nic Cage gets to tackle headier material by playing a violent loner in the Deep South where he stars as father figure to Tye Sheridan. We get a sizzling slice of Southern life played out amongst rural blue collar workers who turn to violence whilst trying to maintain their dysfunctional family dynamics. Alongside Cage’s muted dramatic chops and the rusty trucks, the two play out a tragic and cruel drama. The director elicits a cornucopia of emotions as we witness passionate kindred bonding and drunken falling. Cage is perfectly suited to the grizzled everyman and shows why he is still a watchable performer given the right material.




Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2014) Dir. Mark Hartley

Following Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who in the 1980s bought low-budget scripts to make even lower budget films, this documentary explores the ups and downs of the schlock movie business. Remembered for low budget action “classics” such as the Death Wish franchise as well as Delta Force, the film actually exposes some of the creative risks (but with little money) the cousins took as they tried to reflect, and sometimes create, the trends and fashions of the day. They made entertaining, amusing yet ultimately quite dreadful films but despite the low-low budgets, their productions focus on a sense of fun and the film provides a comedic look on how not to run a studio.




Love & Mercy (2015) Dir. Bill Pohlad

This biographical drama follows the life of Brian Wilson during the height of the Beach Boys’ fame in the 60s and his turbulent later years in the 80s where a confused Wilson deals with controlling advisors. The swinging section has a brilliant Paul Dano focusing on his song-writing whilst in the 80s, Cusack plays a more vulnerable Wilson who gets around with his new wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) and Paul Giamatti’s creepy psychotherapist. The Beach Boys’ music punctuates the film as Dano discovers his genius pop-hits and Cusack’s understatement is the flipside of Wilson’s fractured subconscious. Experimental in narrative, the film focuses on the brilliant brain of Brian through 2 different actors in a perfect portrayal of the mastermind musician.




Grand Piano (2014) Dir. Eugenio Mira

In the vein of Buried and Phone Booth Grand Piano is a taught ‘one-location’ thriller where a returning pianist protégé Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood) is threatened with murder during his comeback concert. An assassin promises to shoot him if he gets just one note wrong in his performance and the tension rises as a sniper’s laser sight passes over his sheet music. The pianist comes to terms that both he and his wife in the audience are at the hands of this man as he desperately tries to figure a way out using coded messages to escape with his life. A fast rhythm ratchets up the stakes using creative editing, along with a fantastic score coming from Frodo’s fingers himself. Any low-budget limitations are set aside as Grand Piano plays to its strengths like a fine composer.




As Above So Below (2014) Dir. John Erick Dowdle

Academic Scarlett Marlowe (Perdita Weeks) delves into the catacombs under Paris in a found footage horror as she and her cohorts look for the philosopher’s stone, a powerful but possibly cursed historical relic. The jumps, scares and the Descent-style claustrophobia come across in every frame with the cast filming in the real caves and stone corridors under the City of Light. With a shadowy sense of foreboding around every corridor twist and turn, the concept is as old as the hills but the ancient caves contain enough no-frills shocks for a Saturday night scare-fest.




Life Itself (2014) Dir. Steve James

From the director of the Oscar nominated documentary Hoop Dreams comes this film based upon legendary film critic Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name. From his humble beginnings as a film critic through to the co-writing of the cult film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the film covers the major points of his life using interviews and archive footage as well as excerpts from his infamous show with Gene Siskel. A powerful but humorous writer, Ebert not only scored a Pulitzer for his work, he also helped elevate film criticism and established himself as the foremost authority on the subject. The doc later moves to Ebert’s hard fought struggle with illness but show how great his outlook was, not just through his career around the movies, but as a mantra for life itself.


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Mar 5 2018 08:35PM

The Greatest Snow Movies


For a huge majority of people, namely adults who’ve tired of freezing to death while building an inadequate snowman, snow is a massive inconvenience. Filmmakers on the other hand love the stuff. Since the earliest days of celluloid, when it was an obvious way to give visual distinction to black-and-white landscape shots, snow has been a far more persistent phenomenon in the movies than meteorological reality.


In no particular order…




Fargo


Goof and gore were the sideshow to a main event of snappy dialogue and Oscar-worthy acting. Frances McDormand is phenomenal as the tenacious, heavily pregnant sheriff who has to investigate three murders when a kidnapping goes very, very wrong. Was the claim that it was a true story fictitious? Oh, you betcha, yah.


Fact - Filming took place in the winter of 1995, when the region was experiencing its second-warmest winter in 100 years. Filming of outdoor scenes had to be moved all over Minnesota, North Dakota, and Canada, and a lot of the snow was artificial.




Frozen


Yes we’re all sick & tired of the songs, and lots of women worldwide who could make money by putting on a blonde wig, green dress & sing in an American accent, have long since stopped earning money on the side at birthday parties. But for a film where the snow is such an indelible element in the story, it’s hard to beat.


Fact - Much of the U.S. had a colder than average winter in 2013, prompting many jokes about the powers of Elsa and Disney's marketing department.




The Thing


The Thing is a masterpiece of relentless suspense, gore soaked and outright, nihilistic terror, placing 12 men at an Antarctic station while an alien shapeshifter takes them over one by one. The snow only heightens the feeling of paranoia & hopelessness. There's not even a happy ending. In fact there's no conventional ending at all, just two men, alone in the icy dark one, or both, of whom may not be all they appear.


Fact - To give the illusion of icy Antarctic conditions, interior sets on the Los Angeles sound stages were refrigerated down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while it was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside.




The Grey


Liam Neeson leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Not only must they battle the deadly elements, they must also combat a pack of rouge wolves. What could've been gung-ho, B-Movie schlock is given serious gravitas by director Joe Carnahan's script, and Neeson's stoic performance.


Fact - According to Liam Neeson, the temperatures were as low as -40 degrees Celsius in Smithers, British Columbia, where the film was shot. The snow storms/scenes were actual prevailing weather conditions, and not a cinematic illusion produced with CGI. The cast wore thermals under their costumes for additional protection.




A Simple Plan


The late, great Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton play polar (get it!) opposite brothers who’s lives unravel when they, decide to cover up the discovery of $4 million in a crashed plane. Sam Raimi reins in usual bag of tricks to deliver a taught, low-key thriller.


Fact - Sam Raimi learned some techniques about shooting in the heavy snow from the Coen brothers, friends of his who had been responsible for Fargo (1996), which Billy Bob Thornton appears in the TV spin-off of.



Groundhog Day


Cantankarous TV weatherman Bill Murray has to endure 2nd February in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania over, and over, and over, and over, and over again, and over, and over again, and over, and over again, and over, and over again in the greatest metaphysical, philosophical, romantic comedy of all time.


Fact - The ice sculptures featured in the movie (called Winged Victory) were carved by Randy Rupert, a.k.a. The Chainsaw Wizard. Randy is actually a Punxsutawney resident, and has a shop downtown. He can be found in the city park every Groundhog Day carving and selling his wooden sculptures




The Shining


Jack Nicholson, has never been more Jack Nicholson-y than in Stanley Kubrick's horror classic. Technically, there is no better film in the genre. Its chills are less direct (until Nicholson's character Torrance finally throws off the shackles of sanity that is), rather something that creeps under the skin to unsettle and disturb. Ambiguous to a fault, the story is open to many interpretations; in fact the excellent documentary Room 237 exploring several of them is almost as good as the film itself.


Fact - The "snowy" maze near the conclusion of the movie consisted of nine hundred tons of salt and crushed Styrofoam.




Die Hard 2


Of cause it’s not as good as the original (what is?), and it’s not as fun as the one that followed, but Die Harder is still a great action movie. At the time, Renny Harlin’s film was the most expensive ever made at $120m, but all the money is right up there on screen.


Fact - The confrontation between John McClane and William Sadler on the airplane's wing took several nights to shoot. Huge fans were used to blow in the fake snow in the background because of lack of real snow.




Cliffhanger


Another Renny Harlin joint sees Sly Stallone’s mountain rescue ace take, on Euro villains trying to escape the Rockies with $100 million. A superb pre-credit sequence kicks off the solid action template: from explosive, vertigo-inducing set-pieces, to a script chock full of obvious one liners, burning a pile of the stolen money Sly mumbles "It costs a fortune to heat this place".


Fact - Sylvester Stallone played Rambo, in the film franchise of the same name. In the novelization of this film, Stallone's character is referred to as "Rambo on ice".




Alive


Long time Spielberg collaborator Frank Marshall's second film tells the story of a young rugby team taking desperate measures to survive after being involved in an air crash that leaves them stranded in the Andes for ten weeks. Despite the survivors of the crash resorting to cannibalism to survive, this isn't a gory shlock-fest, but a triumphant tale of heroism in the face of unaccountable odds. It helps that the story is peppered with some incredible action scenes; with the initial air crash ranking as one of the most realistic and terrifying ever filmed.


Fact - The film's main location was the ski town of Panorama in the Canadian Rockies. To get all 150 cast and crew members to the location every morning took a fleet of five helicopters.


Jake Stevenson

By midlandsmovies, Jan 18 2018 04:41PM

Midlands Feature - The Movie Succession to the Throne


Having recently started watching the historical television drama The Tudors (yes, I know it’s not a movie but stick with me on this) I thoroughly enjoyed its mash-up of sex, murder, beheadings and political and religious themes. The fascinating mix of war, melodrama and a splattering of camp, the high production values make this a series well worth catching if you’re interested in Henry VIII and British royal history in general.


But it got me thinking. As a fan of Cate Blanchett, a viewer could easily do a watch of her brilliant turn as Henry’s daughter Elizabeth in both Elizabeth (1998) and its follow up The Golden Age (2007) as a kind of quasi-sequel. The films continue the political machinations from the time and show another reign of an infamous monarch.


So coming back to the Midlands, with its swathes of picturesque countryside and regal-like manors and houses, the region even has connections to movies covering monarchs. Haddon Hall in Bakewell was used as Hatfield House in Elizabeth. Henry’s story is also covered in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) by Justin Chadwick, which starred Scarlett Johansson & Natalie Portman as Mary Boleyn and sister Anne Boleyn. Parts of this film were also shot in the region at Dovedale in Castleton and Haddon Hall, as well as at North Lees Hall. Finally, Belvoir Castle in Leicester is home to the Duke of Rutland & seen in Young Victoria (2009).


But if you could follow one dramatisation of a monarch’s reign with another, could you do them all? By that I mean can we follow the entire line of succession using movies (and a few TV shows)? Well, my self-imposed challenge was accepted and the results are below. There have been 66 monarchs of England and Britain spread over a period of 1500 years. Many of the productions are about succession so there’s a lot of overlap between multiple films, but I gave myself just one 'get out' by starting the list AFTER the Saxon Kings. So we begin the list at the infamous date of 1066.


That said, for the Saxon period you can do worse than checking out the 1969 epic Alfred the Great and we begin our full lineage after the death of Harold II and the beginning of the Norman period.




NORMAN KINGS

WILLIAM I (The Conqueror) 1066- 1087 Guillaume, la jeunesse du conquérant (2015)

WILLIAM II (Rufus) 1087- 1100 Blood Royal: William the Conqueror (1990 TV adaptation)

HENRY I 1100-1135 The Pillars of the Earth (2010 miniseries)

STEPHEN 1135-1154 Cadfael (1994)




PLANTAGENET KINGS

HENRY II 1154-1189 The Lion in Winter (1968)

RICHARD I (The Lionheart) 1189 – 1199 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

JOHN 1199 -1216 Ironclad (2011)

HENRY III 1216 -1272 Becket (1964)

EDWARD I 1272 – 1307 Braveheart (1995)

EDWARD II 1307 – deposed 1327 Edward II (1991)

EDWARD III 1327 – 1377 The Dark Avenger (1955)

RICHARD II 1377 – deposed 1399 Richard II (2012)




HOUSE OF LANCASTER

HENRY IV 1399 – 1413 Chimes at Midnight (1965)

HENRY V 1413 – 1422 Henry V (1944) & Henry V (1989) - both classic adaptations

HENRY VI 1422 – deposed 1461 Beginning of the Wars of the Roses Tower of London (1939)


HOUSE OF YORK

EDWARD IV 1461- 1483 The White Queen (2013 TV)

EDWARD V 1483 – 1483 Richard III (2008)

RICHARD III 1483 – 1485 End of the Wars of the Roses Richard III (1995)




THE TUDORS

HENRY VII 1485 – 1509 Looking For Richard (1996)

HENRY VIII 1509 – 1547 Carry on Henry (1971) & The Tudors (2007)

EDWARD VI 1547 – 1553 Well, Edward VI is the basis for the Prince & the Pauper and so the best version of that is clearly Trading Places (1983). For a more traditional take check Tudor Rose (1936)

LADY JANE (9 Days Queen) Lady Jane (1986)

MARY I (Bloody Mary) 1553 – 1558 The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)




ELIZABETH I 1558-1603

There are so many films and prodcutions featuring The Virgin Queen but for some of the best check out Elizabeth (1998) and its sequel The Golden Age (2007), Shakespeare in Love (1998) and Anonymous (2011).




THE STUARTS

JAMES I and VI of Scotland 1603 -1625 Gunpowder, Treason & Plot (2004 TV)

CHARLES 1 1625 – 1649 English Civil War The Devil's Whore (2008 TV)




THE COMMONWEALTH - declared May 19th 1649

OLIVER CROMWELL, Lord Protector 1653 – 1658 Cromwell (1970)

RICHARD CROMWELL, Lord Protector 1658 – 1659 To Kill A King (2003)




THE RESTORATION

CHARLES II 1660 – 1685 Restoration

JAMES II and VII of Scotland 1685 – 1688 England My England (1995)

WILLIAM III 1689 – 1702 The League of Gentlemen Apocalypse (2005)

MARY II 1689 – 1694 Orlando (1992)

ANNE 1702 – 1714 The First Churchills (1969 TV)




THE HANOVARIANS

GEORGE I 1714 -1727 The Iron Glove (1954)

GEORGE II 1727 – 1760 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

GEORGE III 1760 – 1820 The Madness of King George (1994)

GEORGE IV 1820 – 1830 Beau Brummell (1954)

WILLIAM IV 1830 – 1837 The Young Victoria (2009)

VICTORIA 1837 – 1901 Mrs. Brown (1997)




HOUSE OF SAXE-COBURG AND GOTHA

EDWARD VII 1901 – 1910 Victoria and Abdul (2017)




HOUSE OF WINDSOR Name changed in 1917

GEORGE V 1910 – 1936 W.E. (2011)

EDWARD VIII June 1936 – abdicated December 1936 Chariots of Fire (1981)

GEORGE VI 1936 – 1952 The King's Speech (2010)

ELIZABETH II 1952 – The Queen (2006)



And there we are! With a few close calls the monarchs from 1066 to the modern day each appear in a different film or production. Which is a cinematic universe I'd give props to anyone trying from start to finish!


A special mention as well to British actress Jeannette Charles who once had difficulty obtaining Equity membership due to her resemblance to the Queen. However, she subsequently played the role in numerous films including Secrets of a Superstud (1976), Queen Kong (1976), The Rutles' movie All You Need Is Cash (1978), National Lampoon's European Vacation (1985), The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) and Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)


*raises goblet* So, ladies and gentlemen, let's toast all of the talent, both local, national and international, who put their heart and soul into bringing history to the big screen for our pleasure!


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Dec 19 2017 08:54AM

Top 5 Christmas Movies


Midlands Movies writer Guy Russell gets in the Christmas spirit by choosing his personal top 5 festive films that bring a warm feeling to his winter heart.


Well, it's that time of year again. The season of festivities, goodwill and a large amount of Christmas films showing in either the cinema or through the television at home. From childhood classics to black comedy capers here are my Top Five Christmas films.




1) Home Alone (1990)


An obvious choice but rightly so. Premiering in 1990, over the past 27 years Home Alone has cemented itself as a holiday classic. Starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McAllister, a 10-year-old boy whose parents have accidentally left him home alone in the madness of making a plane to Paris for the festive season. Burglars Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern respectively) are working the McAllister’s street not knowing Kevin is left behind. What ensues is a hilarious, chaotic fight to claim the house.


With a brilliant score by John Williams, family-friendly direction by Chris Columbus and original screenplay by John Hughes, not only is Home Alone a Christmas favourite but a favourite all year around.


Honourable Mention: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992). Whilst repetitive and overlong, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York recreates some of the same magic the first had one has, adding the festive New York atmosphere into the mix as well as the hilarious addition of Tim Curry as a snobby hotel concierge.



2) The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)


One of the greatest and most heavily adapted stories of all time, A Christmas Carol is brought to life in a unique way in The Muppets Christmas Carol. A live-action musical starring an on-form Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge whilst the supporting cast feature Kermit, Mrs Piggy and the rest of The Muppets. As a comedy film with modern songs and puppets it would have surprised many when this film revealed itself to be one of the most faithful re-enactments of Charles Dickens story. Michael Caine brings the film to life as Scrooge is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve night, they visit the past, present and future in the hope he can see the error of his ways and redeem himself.


The cold, bleak, Victorian London setting is realised fantastically and compliments the film further as a Christmas classic.


Honourable Mention: Scrooge (1951). Another adaptation of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a lot more straightforward than The Muppets take on the subject matter. Alastair Sim portrays the titular character here brilliantly however when first released the film didn’t take off, only finding an audience many years later.



3) Die Hard (1988)


Recently voted “Britain’s favourite Christmas film” by the British public, this action adventure film from John McTiernan splits fans down the middle as to whether or not it can be classed as a “true” Christmas film.


The odds are stacked against off-duty police officer John McClane as he is trapped in a L.A. skyscraper during a Christmas Eve party while terrorists storm the building led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Released during July 1988, it became a smash hit summer blockbuster. With its sunny Los Angeles setting it’s easy to see why some people disregard Die Hard as a Christmas film however the merry soundtrack and seasonal references are peppered throughout bolstering the argument this is one of the greatest Christmas films of all time.


Honourable Mention: Die Hard 2 (1990) Suffering from the same problem Home Alone 2 had, this sequel was accused of being too repetitive when first released as John McClane fights more terrorists on Christmas Eve, this time at an airport. It has become a firm favourite since then too, myself finding it greatly entertaining. It even has snow this time around!



4) The Family Stone (2005)


One film that doesn’t pop up on these lifts very often is The Family Stone, a comedy-drama film that follows the Stone family as they gather at their parent’s home, amongst them is Everett Stone (Dermot Mulroney) who introduces his family to his new fiancée Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) during the holidays. However, she receives a hostile reception and invites her own sister to stay causing further complications.


The Family Stone is a Christmas film that doesn’t get much air time come the festive season and it’s a shame. A moderate box-office and critical hit, it’s funny enough and has some real dramatic clout. It has a real slice of life feel to the film as there are awkward dinners, family rifts and arguments over spouses whilst balancing the comedy well.


If you’re after a snowy, Christmas setting with a fun premise then I would definitely recommend The Family Stone.


Honourable mention: Christmas Vacation (1989). Everyone’s favourite screwball family The Griswold’s return as they plan a big family Christmas involving both Clark and Ellen’s parents. Similar to The Family Stone in the sense that the family rarely get on for longer than ten minutes however in traditional John Hughes fashion the film doesn’t pass by without a happy, festive finale.



5) Bad Santa (2003)


Produced by the Coen Brothers and starring Billy Bob Thornton, Bad Santa was always going to be close to the knuckle and it does not disappoint. Alcoholic safe cracker Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and fellow thief Marcus (Tony Cox) hit a mall every year at Christmas whilst posing as the stores Santa and his little helper, complications arise however when Willie befriends a troubled boy.


One of the crudest but funniest Christmas films of all time, Bad Santa will have some opposition for its less than gleeful outlook on the season however its use of advent calendars and store Santa’s more than make up for it.


If you’re a fan of the comedic talents of John Ritter, Bernie Mac and Billy Bob Thornton then check Bad Santa out! Just avoid the 2016 sequel.


Honourable mention: The Night Before (2015). Booze, Drugs and Debauchery come together to produce a Christmas three friends will never forget. The Night Before stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon Levitt and Anthony Mackie as childhood friends who get together every Christmas Eve to support Ethan (Levitt) who lost his family at Christmas. They decide to end their tradition but not without going out with a bang. The Night Before is a welcome addition to the adult Christmas genre providing enough laughs for the viewer to remember why they’re having such a good time.


Guy Russell

https://twitter.com/BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, Dec 14 2016 05:25PM

The Importance of Sound in Film!


Making a short film, or any film for that matter can be a lot of amazing fun. I recently made my most recent short film called HUNGRY. A wicked, humorous, little piece on the greed that is rampant at Christmas. Here is how I came up with and developed the sound and music in the film.


So the way I work is that in the very beginning of preparing to shoot the film, when I am still writing the script actually, I start to listen to music that I like. I listen with the sole purpose of getting a feel for how this particular song will go with the film. I use each song that I like or think might go well and imagine how it will tell my story. Here is an example…in “HUNGRY”, the story takes place at Christmas. So I was constantly listening to holiday songs, wild versions, old-fashioned ones, newer versions. The one I came up with was of a child choir singing Carol Of The Bells.


This song was important in setting up the beginning of the film in 3 ways:


1. It is a beautiful innocent rendition of this song

2. It lulls the audience into the sweetness of the Christmas season

3. It also didn’t telegraph what was coming to the audience


I cannot tell you how important music or sound is in setting up your story or film. If you can do it right, then the whole film just falls into place. Another example of how much music played a part in my film is when the main character walks into the shop, the owner is listening to 1930’s jazz. The story’s background was that this woman has been alive for several hundreds of years, and this is her favorite music. Now you don’t actually see a 500 -year old woman on screen, that was just the back-story. But this music really helped the actress get the feel for what I wanted.


And her performance made the film. Another instance of how important sound was for me, was in editing.


My film is a horror film, and so I had a small creature. But because I was on a small budget, I couldn’t really afford to build a creature that could move in every way I wanted. So movement was limited. What I did tho, was to search a couple of free sound sites for sci-fi sounds, or dinosaur roars. It took me weeks to get it the way I wanted.


In order for the creature to look realistic, I had to use different sounds for each 2-second piece of footage that had the little guy in it. Each different sound conveyed a different want and emotion in the creature. It was incredibly grueling and difficult work. But in the end, the sounds and music are what really helped this film. In my opinion.


And when my main character was being eaten alive, sounds were so vitally important in conveying the horror of what was happening to him. And at the end of the film, when it is clear that the owner is in cahoots with the creature, or the creature is almost her mate, then the music that I put in at the end conveyed the craziness of this situation. So I put in this wild and crazy piece that makes me giggle whenever I hear it.


In conclusion, if you are in preparation for a film shoot, or if you are already in editing, then I cannot stress the importance of taking your time and getting the music and sound right. If you have the right style of music that brings your audience into your film, and the right sound effects if you are shooting a horror film, then this will improve your odds of this being a successful film. If nothing else, it helps your audience into your film, and it help in keeping them there. If you don’t believe me, go and watch the movie Brooklyn. The music in this film will bring you instantly into this world, and it keeps you there. Whether you like the movie or not!


John Montana




About The Author:

John Montana is an actor and filmmaker. His most recent film, “Hungry” has been accepted into 24 film festivals all over the world. Check out his short film - HUNGRY at No Title Production Films


By midlandsmovies, Aug 9 2016 12:03PM

Mike Sales speaks to Midlands born actor Jonathan Holmes who has found fame with a wealth of voiceover work for TV and cinema before being recently cast as a giant in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘BFG’.


Mike asks the actor about his work to date and how he came to be in such a large Hollywood blockbuster…


Jonathan Holmes grew up in an all boy’s school in the Midlands where he jokes he initially got involved in acting and doing plays as the only way to meet girls. However, since these humble forays into theatre, Jonathan has had a bumpy but never dull journey in his film career so far.


“I spent the first 18 years of my life in and around Shrewsbury. It will always feel like home. I've no film experiences from the region, but lots of happy theatrical memories. And growing up in deepest darkest Shropshire, actually going to the cinema wasn't as easy as it might have been, but I do remember loving (Spielberg’s) Close Encounters. Favourite moment? When Richard Dreyfus tries to wave the UFO past”.




Being Shropshire born and bred suggest Jonathan’s home-grown accent was the perfect match for the quirky Britishness encapsulated in this new CGI world Spielberg created for the film. Yet his casting was somewhat a lucky coincidence for the now Vancouver-based thespian who was originally asked to coach a girl who was up for the part of the film’s protagonist Sophie.


I ask if any roles have come that way to him before.


“In some sense - most of them! There are a whole series of decisions that have to be made before you are cast in any role over which you have no control. So it always feels like a bit of a lottery”.


With extensive CGI in lots of modern literary adaptations (Alice in Wonderland) which portray wild and vivid locations and characters, Jonathan explains that during his the recording of his role as ‘Childchewer’, the inhibiting green-screen process in fact gave him more freedom than most expect.


“We shot using performance capture technology. It takes a little getting used to, but it allows scenes to be shot in the entirety, capturing everything from all conceivable angles simultaneously. So it can actually be liberating. It's as close to theatre in the film world that I've ever encountered”.



Jonathan adds that is was a joy working with actor Martin Freeman who he describes as one of the “funniest and most astute students of the art of acting” he’s ever met and Jonathan has seen previous success as a voice actor in Marvel’s “Hulk Vs” cartoon.


In 2007 the actor worked with Peter Greenaway on ‘Nightwatching’ which he describes as “terrifying” for a different reason than the motion capture concerns. “Peter shoots incredibly beautiful and massively long takes. If you mess up - resetting a shot can take an age. So you don't mess up! But an amazing experience”.


Back to the magical world of Dahl and the BFG, I ask the five-foot-eight Jonathan if he were as tall as the character he plays, what mischief he would get up to.


“I would try out for the NBA. Or possibly be England goalkeeper and bring the glory days back to English football!”


England football glory may be a bigger fairy tale than anything Dahl has written but Jonathan says that his 10 year old daughter loves the author’s books. “Matilda is a big hit in our house,” he says before adding that the appeal of Dahl’s books is that “he can be funny, wicked, tender, intimate and extreme in the space of one paragraph”.


And which one of Dahl’s books would he personally like to see adapted (or re-adapted) for the big screen? “Hmmm...I think an anti-hipster version of The Twits would be fun”.


Now based in Vancouver, Jonathan finds the ‘Hollywood of Canada’ a great place for a working actor. “I've lived in Vancouver for about 15 years, so the majority of my film and TV work has been here. You'd be amazed the amount of work that is shot here, so it doesn't take too long to spot soon familiar landmarks”.


Sadly, Jonathan has also had to overcome unfortunate personal circumstances during his career including dealing with a diagnosis of cancer a few years ago.


“It was very challenging. And around the same time, my step mother sued myself and my 5 year old over my father's will. It was a truly rough time. But you can only appreciate the highs if you embrace the lows. As an actor, life experience can't help but inform performance, and I've had my fair share over the last few years”.


Jonathan is definitely now on the turn-around with his successful role in the BFG and his experiences on that set enriching his outlook on life. And there’s no rest either. Straight from that film he jumps into a new animation series and a video game with the hard-working actor on the rise in a multitude of disciplines.


He also hopes to back in the UK for some theatre also one thing is for sure, Jonathan will be beaming over the fantastic reviews of his and his co-stars performances in one of the most well-received family films of the Summer. Which is surely Jonathan’s biggest and friendliest success of all.


BFG is in cinemas now.


Midlands Movies Mike


Photo of Jonathan courtesy of Kristine Cofsky

By midlandsmovies, Aug 8 2016 05:54PM

Dudley Castle After Dark: The Bride of Frankenstein




The wind carried with it blood-curdling screams, an overwhelming feeling of terror hung heavily and nefarious figures lurked within the shadows; and that was just the walk through Dudley Town Centre.


The introduction to this article, much like the event itself, shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Ever the cynic, I anticipated a barrage of beard-stroking and discussions regarding aspect ratio upon entering Dudley Castle, the site of Flatpack Film Festival’s latest open air screening. Although I’m partial to beard-stroking, I was pleased to see people hiking up the hill to the castle itself, each step building anticipation and without a care about Academy ratio. Instead, I overheard fathers making their children laugh, talking about terrible Frankenstein remakes of the 80’s and for a moment, I thought I had something in my eye.


In any case, open air screenings such as this often have very little in common with their surroundings (Frozen, mid-August in Merry Hill car park, anyone?) but it’s an opportunity that Flatpack took full advantage of here. My opinion of Dudley Castle and Zoo had been shaped by an online comment regarding “deranged monkeys and a bald lion”, but this visit proved to me that, yes, Facebook can, on occasion, get it wrong. Having passed the Common Ravens and the less fear-inducing, more aww-inducing Meerkats, visitors were greeted by the film’s score, echoing in the entrance hall. As show time crept closer and night fell, the peacock calls and projections added to the ominous atmosphere, with ‘KARLOFF’ emblazoned across the ruins and Doctor Pretorius’ image keeping watch over the crowd.


As with any good show, the crowd is as important as the entertainment and initial fears about elitist film fans and the associated snobbery were instantly dispelled. Dudley director James Whale’s film was playing to his home crowd here and the laughter was firmly with fondness. Una O’Connor’s Minnie got the biggest laughs with her ‘cock-er-ney’ delivery and amped-up outrage whilst Karloff necking wine and chomping on a cigar came close to drawing a “cheers” from the crowd. The Bride… has aged remarkably well in its eighty-something years, most notably in the reveal of Doctor Pretorius’ mini-human experiments, a special effect that is truly worthy of the name and shames countless recent CGI efforts from, oh, I don’t know, let’s just say Zack Snyder.


It was when Henry Frankenstein and Doctor Pretorius relocated to the tower laboratory that it was not only The Bride herself that came alive. The panoramic ruins of the castle provided a perfect backdrop to the film’s climax which, thanks to Michael Pigott, Mark Rhodes and David Checkley, felt more immersive than any IMAX. Their innovative approach to individual projections saw bolts of lightning illuminate the screen, only to then repeat around the ruins that surrounded the crowd, signalling the arrival of The Bride.


The atmosphere upon leaving the castle was how the aftermath of every film should feel: brimming with excitement, alive with camaraderie and wondering when you can experience it all again. Perhaps these are out-dated and naïve notions but to put it into context, on the way out, no one even noticed there was a lure module active on the Pokestop.


Flatpack Film Takeover at Sandwell Arts Festival takes place at West Bromich Town Hall on 13th August with further details here: http://flatpackfestival.org.uk/event/flatpack-film-takeover


Robb Sheppard




Main photo is copyright of Katja Ogrin



By midlandsmovies, Aug 3 2016 04:49PM

Midlands Feature - Interview with Tom Loone of Do Something Jake


Midlands Movies Mike speaks to Tom Loone, the 22-year old actor who features in the upcoming Midlands film Do Something Jake, about his background and his involvement in this exciting new local project.




Midlands Movies Mike: Hi Tom. I hope you are well. How are things and can you tell us about yourself and how you heard about Do Something, Jake.

Tom Loone: Hi there. Yes, I’d be happy to. I’m Tom Noone and I'm 22 years old and actually still at university at the moment and going into my final year studying Law of all things. I think that surprises people when I tell them, they all assume I'd be studying drama.


MM: Ha ha. Very true. So you are from the Midlands yourself?

TL: Yes, I am a native of the Midlands. I live in Solihull, which is cool because it's so close to Birmingham city centre - I feel like I'm slap bang in the middle of everywhere, which I like a lot.


MM: So true. The Midlands is definitely in the middle of a lot of exciting things I can attest to that! So, how did you hear about ‘Do Something, Jake’?

TL: I heard about it on Casting Call Pro and the premise sounded crazy. I looked up the 'Raya Films' website and knew it was the real deal, so naturally I applied. I didn't hear back for a while so I kinda assumed nothing would come of it - that happens a lot as an actor. Then Caroline messaged me about an audition and I was over the moon. I remember I called my dad and told him.



MM: And where did it go from there?

TL: When I turned up to the second audition I read with Mia, Simon - Jamie was there too. They were so on the ball, line perfect, had tonnes of ideas, we just clicked, had great chemistry instantly. I guess that's when I realised the kind of calibre of actor that'd be involved with the project. Everyone was incredible, cast and crew. I loved working with Ed [Bergtold] too, a really gifted guy. It was so interesting to work with an American actor. He'd say a line in a certain way or do something that I just never would have thought of - I learnt a lot from him.


MM: And were the crew a similar bunch?

TL: They were outstanding - some of the shots these guys captured will blow people's minds. One tracking shot in particular, no spoilers, but it's breathtaking, next level stuff. Caroline and James deserve a lot of credit too - they were really hands on performance-wise, which I love. Without them, none of this would be a reality - it's all down to them, very talented folks. Everyone was a joy to work with, and in that regard the shoot was easy. As an actor I'd never had a challenge as big as this though. After every filming day I'd email James asking if I'd done okay, I think I drove him crazy!


MM: Sounds like a great set atmosphere. Was it?

TL: The cool thing about filming 'Do Something, Jake' is that there weren't any typical days, anything could happen. I'd wake up super early, like 5am, get ready and head to the location. I could never predict what it'd be like - everyday there'd be something crazy happening, but that excited me. Very often I'd have an idea in my head about how something would play out, but then I'd talk it over with the guys, experiment with the other actors, and it'd turn out ten times better, it was a very fun shoot.


MM: Have you worked in the industry long?

TL: Not long at all actually. I'd say about a year and a half. Last year I made the decision that I wanted to get into it. I was just watching so many great films and felt so inspired - I guess I just thought to myself 'I want to do what they do'. I've acted on and off all my life, mostly doing theatre in school. I'd pretty much decided it wasn't something I wanted to do anymore in my teens and shelved it. I feel like I only started properly acting last year when I got into film.


MM: Was the leap difficult for you?

TL: I think film acting is a whole different ball game. I basically started from scratch and taught myself how to do it. I did a short called 'The Forsaken' with 'MegaPixels Productions', that changed everything for me - that's when I got addicted.

MM: Do you like to specialise in any styles of work?

TL: I love all genres. Any opportunity to act in film is exciting for me, regardless of what type it is. That's something that was so cool about 'Do Something, Jake', it's such a mish-mash of ideas, there's comedy in there, drama, thriller, romance, a bit of everything.


MM: And any particular favourite films?

TL: I tend to gravitate more towards smaller, character based stuff, movies that are original, charismatic. I love the film 'Her', 'Drive', and I can't wait to see 'The Light Between Oceans' later this year and 'Nocturnal Animals'. But I love big popcorn flicks too - all these super hero films are great! I have too many favourite actors to mention, but I guess I have my select few ('The Power Four'): Joaquín Phoenix, Michael Fassbender, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Ryan Gosling. If I can be a fraction as talented as they are, I'll be happy - they are my heroes.


MM: Acting can be a tough industry. Are there any hurdles you’ve overcome? Anything you’re particularly proud of?

TL; I think the biggest hurdle I've had is being comfortable with myself, feeling natural, reigning everything in and making things subtle. Film picks up everything. When I first started out I'd watch my short films back and think 'wow, I'm really over the top here, I need to dial it back'. Achievements? That's a tricky one, I like to think the best is yet to come. I guess if I had to pick one thing, it'd be being named 'Actor Of The Week' on Casting Call Pro in May this year - I was really proud of that.


MM: Thanks Tom. What are your next plans?

TL: I can't wait to see 'Do Something, Jake', I really do think we've made something special here - everyone's been so dedicated and hardworking. I know Caroline and James have been slaving away in post-production too, it's really going to catch a lot of people off guard. It's such a fun time. In terms of future projects, I filmed a short film with a team called 'Medusa Digital' earlier in the year called 'Fate'. I'm really proud of it, and it'll be out later this year, and I'm also involved with a new adaptation of 'Wuthering Heights' and a short film called 'Chloe' by Rebecca Harris-Smith. I'm lucky to get to work with such cool people.


MM: Finally, I ask this of everyone - do you have any advice for people looking to start out in the industry (as an actor)?

TL: I'm not sure if I'm qualified to give out advice, but I guess I think If I could offer one tip to actors, it'd be to be yourself. Ironically. Nobody on the planet can do what you do. Embrace that and run with it, then I think only good things can happen.


MM: Thanks Tom. It’s been an absolute blast talking to you and all the best with the film.

TL: Thank you too. It's been a pleasure.


You can find out more about ‘Do Something, Jake” at Raya Films http://www.rayafilms.com


Top and bottom photos courtesy of James Smith. Middle photo by Mike Mafrici




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