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By midlandsmovies, May 28 2020 12:54PM


Directed by Dave Hastings


Lightbeam Productions

5cm/Sec Productions

ICI Films

Faceless Films

Sustain is a new feature length drama from local filmmaker Dave Hastings which looks at racism, violence and the complicated and troublesome effects it can have on friends and families.

Brett Dewsbury plays Kieran, a young man whose mixed-race stepbrother Toby (Joshua Sewell) is attacked one evening in a pub toilet by a group of men.

But when the men don’t leave him alone, a second racist attack in a park leads to severe head trauma and Toby’s death. Shattered by this turn of events, Kieran’s life crosses path with the police who struggle to find suitable evidence to pin the crime on the men.

Known to the police, Richard Buck plays Kevin McKenzie whose arrogance rubs off on his brother Roy McKenzie (Matthew Kinson), whilst the pair have had a previous threatening past with a vulnerable local journalist.

At the same time, the caring and sensitive Kieran starts to go through various emotions in order to come to terms with his loss. Distraught at first, his thoughts turn to revenge after he himself is set upon, but we are asked to consider what action he may eventually decide to take.

There are many things to like about Sustain – its subject matter and shocking dramatic scenes nearer the start – but some slow dialogue, lethargic pacing and overall length really hinders at times. It’s sadly frustrating then to see the positives undone in this way.

The second half brightens the visuals a little, but the first 22 minutes of Sustain is set at night or in very dark rooms. Even thriller maestro Fincher lets a little light in at times. Whilst the choice certainly gives it mood, we’re not given any respite and some shots were not as clear as could be.

The location work is really enjoyable, however. A standard semi-detached is all too easy for limited budget filmmakers to focus their drama in. In Sustain though, the filmmakers have used supermarkets, pubs, nightclubs, a mechanic’s workshop and more, and it is this variation that really helps to build the world and increases the scope of the production.

But it’s the pacing again that throws the whole film off balance. Scenes start to lose the intrigue with little character development beyond the basic beats. The simple motivations too are delivered through over-explanatory dialogue. As it is, it could do with some trimming to create a sense of urgency, despite the film eventually coming to a satisfyingly heated conclusion.

With honourable themes of racism, violence and family relationships, Sustain covers a whole range of important issues. I just wished it honed its construction to focus on how these would be delivered in a more engaging way. Sadly, I didn’t feel it ultimately had efficiency in its storytelling to sustain its runtime.

However, credit is more than due to these local filmmakers for completing a feature length film. Large productions are incredibly difficult to complete for sure. The structure is all here, and the cast and crew are obviously talented, committed and throw themselves into their characters and story with a huge amount of passion and hard work.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Apr 1 2020 12:58PM

The Jack in the Box

Directed by Lawrence Fowler


High Fliers Films

Antique and vintage toys are awful. They’re all painted wood and cracked porcelain and not a Transformer in sight. And of all the vintage toys, the jack-in-the-box is definitely the wost. Its not a toy, its a jump-scare machine.

You crank the handle, a cheap mechanism mangles Pop Goes the Weasel and then BAM! Face full of creepy ugly clown. Just the worst. Unless the box houses an evil demon, in which case it’s much more fun.

The Jack in the Box is the latest horror film for Northampton’s Up A Notch Productions, written and directed by Lawrence Fowler. When Casey (Ethan Taylor) turns up for his first day of work at a museum in a stately home, he and new colleague Lisa (Lucy-Jane Quinlan) discover an antique jack-in-the-box with a deadly secret – the clown is a demon, and once freed it’ll prey on all around it unless Casey can find a way to stop it.

Two things are apparent right away. Firstly, that this is was shot on a low budget. Secondly, that Fowler won’t let a little thing like that get in the way of making a good film. Every penny was put to good use – this film looks great. It’s slick, it’s creepy, and it uses its limitations to great effect. Shot mostly on location at Abington Park Museum, the setting works great as the demon’s hunting grounds as victims get trapped in dark rooms and twisting stairways. It’s lit perfectly, and Fowler ramps the tension up in most of the right places. In fact, in its direction I’d say The Jack in the Box is head and shoulders above its peers and even rivals some of the lower-end mainstream horror fare.

The special effects are also really well done. The box itself is remarkably creepy, and the way it moves to reveal its handle is very much like a Hellraiser puzzlebox and the clown inside is, as many characters remark, absolutely hideous. In the best way, of course! Jack looks much scarier once he’s out of the box, of course. What looks at first glance to be a standard clown mask is, on closer inspection, a really effective creature effect considering the budget.

A lot of low budget films have shaky acting, but almost everyone here is great. Taylor and Quinlan work well together, with the latter stealing her scenes with an effortless realism, making up for her character not having much to do until near the end. But the real standout is Robert Nairne as Jack. He cuts an imposing figure as he stalks his prey, walking like Doug Jones and generally have a whale of a time. He gives the monster a sense of genuine glee that’s fun to watch.

There are some bum notes, inevitably. The story’s a little basic and predictable, but no less fun for that. The pacing’s a little rushed at the beginning too, but it settles down and learns to take its time. At the beginning there’s over-reliance on slow-motion montages with people speaking silent as the music plays over it – once would be ok, but twice in one act is a bit much, especially as the music is what lets the film down the most. It’s too… earnest? Overwrought? I’m not sure how to describe it, but it’s trying too hard and could do with being a tad more subtle. It makes the film feel cheesier than it needs to be, which is a shame as all the other aspects of the film don’t need to work as hard to be effective.

In all, this is a very fun film. If you’re looking for so-bad-it’s-good low budget flick then you may want to look elsewhere, as this is a genuinely good horror film to be enjoyed unironically. It’s a hard genre to pull off cheaply, as evidenced by all the poor attempts out there, but Lawrence Fowler does it with ease. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend

By midlandsmovies, Apr 3 2018 07:54PM

Art Is Dead (2018)

Directed by Luke Oliver

Gatling Gun Productions / Inky Blue Productions

1 hour 27minutes

Written and directed by local Leicestershire filmmaker Luke Oliver, Art Is Dead is an impressive debut feature about the problems of struggling actors in the media age.

Clearly a subject close to his heart, Luke Oliver also stars as the lead Ant who is an unlucky actor working in kitchens just to make ends meet. Each day his dreams get further away, despite the support from his girlfiend, as he witnesses celebrities being paid millions whilst he is offered “exposure” for his hard work.

Art Is Dead opens with Ant himself taking a hostage in a radio station and then flashbacks to see what drove him to this point. As Ant struggles with finding paid work, we are introduced to his friend Matt played by Steve Mace. He’s equally disappointed by awful auditions and their trio of failing actors is completed by Richard Mason as Dickie.

Alongside all this we have a fantastic portrayal of vacuous celebrity-types by Oliver Hall as the highly paid and beloved Benjamin Cummabund. His white-smiled soundbites are delivered to great effect via the director’s wise choice of splicing in red carpet footage, TV talk shows and paparazzi news segments. These not only give production value to what is obviously a low budget film but help maintain variety and is key on independent features which sometimes often struggle with pacing.

No such qualms here though. In these segments Genevieve Capovilla as the comically-named Franella Toffeefee channels the glossy insincerity of entertainment reporters. And later we get acoustic music performances and dance videos too which were both to the film’s benefit and showed great filmmaking confidence and technique. Elsewhere, This Is England’s George Newton is terrifying as a foul-mouthed burger van owner and also of note, Tiernan Welch delivers a fun performance as a talk-show host.

As the narrative progresses, the three desperate male friends finally go ahead with their plan to kidnap Cummabund with an aim to provide him with a political speech to read out at an upcoming award ceremony. I'll give it a pass even when it throws some shade towards film awards ;)

At the same time, Matt meets media executive Sheridan. He’s played by Darrell Imbert who is superb as a sleazy manager but unfortunately the material he is given to work with in his restaurant scene was marred by a longwinded pace which slowed that part of film to a crawl. Far better though is the sequence between by Mark Peachey’s ostentatious and Simon Cowell-esque “Dick Mann” and Dickie. A plan to capture him ‘in flagrante’ sees plenty of Carry On humour (“Big Dicks don’t wait”) but Peachey’s flashy and tasteless sleazebag was the highlight of the film for me.

Coaxing him to a hotel, Dickie and Mann play out a series of comedy encounters which would have made a great short on its own and had me laughing like a drain with its fine editing and clever scripting.

The film is a bit agenda-heavy and obvious at times with the silliness of characters’ names undermining the more serious points it’s trying to make but it doesn’t shy away from what it wants to say. An over-reliance on swearing had me irritated slightly too when it was clear to me the lines of dialogue were more than fine without them. But the film’s comedy will have most audiences laughing past any minor quibbles.

Finally coming to a head at the awards ceremony, I won’t spoil the film by providing its final act but suffice to say that a lot of people get their comeuppance and the underdogs feel a sense of satisfaction in their goals.

Art Is Dead is therefore certainly an accomplished film and one of the better features from the region with its assortment of nods to film genres, styles and ingenious sequences. These are hugely complimented by likeable characters, all played by terrific actors. In the end, the film delivers enough laughs from its jokes and wears its heart on its sleeve - proving that film art, if nothing else, is certainly not dead here in the Midlands.

Midlands Movies Mike

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