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By midlandsmovies, Feb 11 2020 11:39AM

O.H.C.A (Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest)

Directed by Richard Steele


O.H.C.A is a new semi-autobiographical short film written and directed by Midlands filmmaker Richard Steele. The film focuses on Lucas (John Williams) and his journey tackling the psychological hurdles of the trauma and recovery of an out of hospital cardiac arrest.

As the film opens we see footage of a five-a-side football game, a hobby which Lucas refers to taking part in later in the story. He explains he was playing only a week before his cardiac arrest, implementing a theme that is constant throughout the narrative, the future isn’t promised.

Steele utilises the regular breaking of the fourth wall with Lucas’ narration. The film is structured in a way that sees Lucas recounting his experience in a point by point fashion when he is fully recovered. This takes away a lot of possible peril in the story but presents the audience with a reliable narrator throughout the narrative. It gives us a much better understanding of the emotions the character is feeling at each point in the film.

The inclusion of Lucas’ girlfriend, Pippa (Linda Brammer), offers another point of view of these events, giving insight into the mindset of a casualty that is not often talked about in stories of ordeals such as these. Lucas’ dependence on her provides the most touching parts of the film, especially when we see his first solo walk to the bus stop without Pippa there to rely on.

The handheld nature of the camerawork works in a personable way, reinforcing the unrehearsed, realistic feel of the film, also possibly signifying the instability of the character after his trauma.

The film centres around a touchy subject for many people, without pulling on the heart strings too much. If I was to put forward one critique it would be that the emotional side of the story could have been delved into deeper. It would have touched me in a more poignant way if the main character had been more emotive when explaining the way he felt in certain situations.

Overall, Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest is a gratifying, insightful and personable look into a road to recovery that a large number of people traverse. The fact that the director has created a semi-autobiographical film adds to the authenticity of the story, which I believe could be used by other people in similar situations to help them along their own journey.

Jake Evans

By midlandsmovies, Feb 3 2020 10:09PM

Dark Summer

Directed by Mark Murphy


Rocking Wolf Media

Dark Summer is a new January release filmed on location in Nottinghamshire from filmmaker Mark Murphy.

From Mark’s own production company Rocking Wolf Media, the director has made a number of creative shorts as well as working on corporate film work.

Here in Dark Summer we open with a satanic incantation taking place in a candle-lit room before we see two ladies laying a wreath at an ominous tree in the woods.

Back at home the younger of the two women – a heavily made-up goth girl – is angry with the mother figure before she heads off to her bedroom in a temper.

Later, the two catch up at the dinner table but not before we get a quick cutaway to more of the ritual in which a call to death is being made.

Halfway through the film it’s noticeable that Dark Summer is unfortunately affected by a terribly home-made feel. Whilst the director appears to have passion for the darker things in life, the film is mostly set in a living room area that appears solely lit by the ceiling light.

This bland tone sadly carries over into the shot choices where static camerawork highlights the dialogue which although brief, still confuses as the film doesn’t lead the audience down a clear enough narrative path.

Unfortunately then, I feel these rather poor technical and creative choices don’t represent the feeling that the filmmaker is attempting to portray.

A camera could move quickly or edit sharply during an argument. Certainly some close up to show the emotions on the protagonists’ faces but here there are just the most basic, and motionless, shot choices.

A final narrative twist hints upon some greater intrigue but the set-up isn’t handled well enough for an audience to be truly shocked. Again, a real shame given the intention.

So in the end I’d advise the filmmaker to look at the tone and shot choices of the sort of films that influence them as a way to improve. With low budgets and often amateur actors, local filmmakers need to be very inventive in their projects to overcome those limitations. But Dark Summer doesn’t do this and so the film regrettably ends up far more frustrating than frightening.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 27 2020 09:37AM

Lost Identity

Directed by Ruth Holder


Early on in the short, experimental dance film Lost Identity, director Ruth Holder makes it clear she has something to say.

A girl is sat at a dressing table, applying the usual make-up to her face, however her face is one of discontent, an expression that doesn't alter throughout the film.

There is no dialogue, Holder decides to communicate with the audience through dance accompanied by a grand musical score by Osi & The Jupiter.

Staged in a seemingly neglected loft space, only simmers of daylight creep in as our actress performs. Additionally a cold, blue light descends and embraces her literally and metaphorically, as a quiet storm rages inside her body. Holder remains focused on her the entire time, not letting the camera leave her sight.

The choreography proves to be vital and key to the success of the director being able to strongly portray what Lost Identity means. Circular actions are repeated indicating frustration within, and when theatre curtains are introduced our performer carefully wraps these around her neck before fighting and pushing them away. The score soars during these moments, reaching crescendo just as she overcomes the urge to give in.

As mentioned earlier, a permanent look of unhappiness is displayed when applying make-up, as the film proceeds the make-up becomes smeared in a constant battle between leaving it on and taking it off to reveal true beauty.

Lost Identity reminded me of the work Terrence Malick has been doing the last decade. Powerful, evocative images supported by rich, classical music. Traditional dialogue is also not used often in these films, imagery in Malick's case and dance in Holder's is the tool they use to peel back the outer layer of ourselves and society, inspecting even closer once inside.

An experimental dance film is not something I have much experience in regularly watching, it wasn't until the credits starting to roll that I really understood what the film meant to me and what writer and director Ruth Holder was trying to convey. A second viewing is recommended and achievable with the runtime only being five minutes, to truly appreciate what has been achieved.

Not a frame is wasted in the film, similar to the products and processes we sometimes use to create a different identity in life, less is most definitely more.

The brilliant performance, choreography, score and direction make this an absolute tour de force by filmmaker Ruth Holder.

Guy Russell

Twitter @Budguyer

By midlandsmovies, Jan 25 2020 12:17PM

Midlands Review - Powerless

Directed by Nicole Pott


Sonder Films

Powerless is the latest short film from Sonder Films, written and directed by Nicole Pott who previously brought us 'Charlie' and 'Kaleidoscope' and is the organiser of the High Peak Film Festival.

It's the story of Clara (Katie-Marie Carter), a young boxer who's preparing for a big fight while trying to keep her brother Dan (Ellis Hollins) out of trouble. Their mother died two years ago and as the older sibling Clara is trying to look after Dan as best she can – but it's not easy as he's a boisterous lad and he runs with a rough crowd. She's not best pleased when he calls up late to dinner on the anniversary of their mother's death, but when the police turn up things take a turn for the tragic.

This is an extremely moving and powerful story. It's a testament to Pott's skills as a filmmaker that no scene is wasted, and the film does so much with little fanfare or melodramatics. It's a quiet, personal story that reaches out and prods you right in the heart.

Carter and Hollins are excellent together, with easy chemistry that makes the brother-sister dynamic clear and believable right from the start. Carter is the standout as her role carries more emotional weight, and she does a brilliant job as a weary young woman who has to juggle the demands of her own dream with those of looking after a wayward teen boy.

Her sorrow and rage are entirely believable, and I'd wager it's impossible to watch the performance without choking up a little.

The sad piano soundtrack towards the end is a little on-the-nose, and a couple of the secondary performances are a bit on the flat side, but overall this is a superb film that handles the powerlessness of grief extremely well.

There are so many things that are beyond our control, and nothing reminds us of this more than the death of loved ones. It spins you out of orbit and sends you reeling into the unknown. But it is possible to claw your way back, to regain control step by step, as Clara does with her cathartic boxing. You can rebuild and move on.

Nicole Pott has a few more shorts in development at the moment, and I for one can't wait to see what comes next.

Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend

By midlandsmovies, Jan 22 2020 09:10PM

Midlands Review - Smoking Kills

Directed by Jacob Gates Orgill


Wicket Films

Shot in artistic monochrome, Smoking Kills is a new 5-minute short from Derby-based director Jacob Gates Orgill.

With coffee brewing and the hub-bub of customers, we start the short in a small café as a man frets over an unfinished newspaper crossword.

As another drink is passed to him by a waitress, he continues with his word puzzle but pauses to change a nicotine patch under the sleeve of his shirt.

The stark black and white visuals are a nice touch in Smoking Kills. When money is limited and colour grading a luxury on some local films, a bit of creative thinking can help turn lower budget affairs into a classier production. And this works well here.

The story continues as the man later breaks open some nicotine gum as we see his stress levels go upwards. Is it his cravings? Or the frustration of a particular difficult clue in the newspaper?

Nearby, a group of men chat nonchalantly but one well-coiffed gent with a cigarette tucked behind his ear attracts our protagonist’s eyes. The director here slows down the visuals when the gent heads outside to smoke and the absence of sound focuses the lead’s attention (and our own) on this obsessive act.

And as his friends join him outside for a “toke”, the man back inside at his table begins to sweat and the music swells to heighten the tension as we become fixated on the tiny details of the café: A slowly dripping tap. A bead of sweat. The fun and laughter of the men enjoying their snouts.

One thing to note at this point is that the shots in Smoking Kills are well composed and the filmmaker uses a lot of varied camera angles to keep the small location interesting. Without colour, the excellent use of shot depth definitely helps keep the short visually arresting.

But as the man becomes fixated on these small things, we begin to ask ourselves "will he finally snap"?

Well, you’ll have to watch to find out but Smoking Kills is a terrific film about infatuation and addiction with an added dash of dark humour. Although the subject matter isn’t wholly unique, the excellent use of colour (or lack of), clever film editing and some effective cinematic flourishes all help light up the screen in this very satisfying short.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 16 2020 07:16PM

Midlands Review - The Haunting of Alcatraz

Directed by Steve Lawson


High Flier Films/Creativ Studios

Can you make a film set on Alcatraz Island but film it around the Midlands? Well, Leicester-based horror director Steve Lawson attempts to give that a go in his new film The Haunting of Alcatraz.

With many legends set within the infamous walls over the years, we open up with a bloody bang of a beginning. An inmate manages to trick a guard who ends up giving him a blade (from a pencil sharpener no less) and a swift suicide leads to more mysterious deaths as the film progresses.

With Aura, Hellriser and Time, And Again under his belt Lawson again aims big with this film. He introduces us to Charlie Schmidt (Tom Hendryk) who comes straight out of college in 1937 to get a job as a prison guard. With the jailhouse routines explained by The Warden (Mark Topping excellently channelling some of the pious and cruel barbs of Shawshank’s Samuel Norton), he begins his shift.

But it isn’t long until Charlie’s bright young mind starts to investigate the strange deaths at the prison, yet despite warnings from a fellow guard (a very creepy Chris Lines) he continues to explore the bleak cellblocks.

Filmed at the disused Gloucester prison no less, Lawson does a more than admirable job convincing us this local made film is actually set in the bay of San Francisco. The British cast also do very well with American accents. So much so that I had to look up Chris Lines who is in fact from Stoke and not the US Deep South. And with good use of stock footage, it’s sometimes only the overcast UK weather that hints that we’re not in sunny California.

The film takes time to build its plot and Charlie eventually crosses paths with Helen Crevell’s nurse Sherry and together they begin an awkward bond of friendship, and perhaps more, which alleviates some of the more morbid aspects of the story.

Their relationship sadly leads into the middle third of the film which needed a few more scare scenes to keep the horror aspect at the forefront. And as it slows you start to notice the slightly functional camerawork – more variety in the shots could have helped visually – and some of the more cliched dialogue. Plus for a large prison, there seems to be very few inmates incarcerated. Almost none to be exact and a couple more tense scenes in this middle section sure wouldn’t have gone amiss.

However, the flashing lights and spooky sounds combined with a screeching soundtrack do just enough to keep you guessing at the film’s cryptic narrative and what could be lurking in the secretive “Cell 13”.

As Charlie uncovers further corruption, as well as possibly some supernatural goings-on, the movie definitely, and wisely, picks up the pace towards its conclusion. And later on Charlie’s enquiries into visions and voices leads to him unfortunately finding himself stuck in a cage (although not with The Rock alumni Nic Cage).

With traces of Shawshank and the Green Mile mixed with horror elements, The Haunting of Alcatraz’s does extremely well to create a convincing setting to hang its story around. Despite the obvious budget limitations, the film’s mix of penal punishment and cagey corruption drags it over the line before the illusion breaks.

And so, although you’re advised to stay well away from creepy “Cell 13”, it’s recommended you definitely head towards this disturbingly dark tale set at the infamous and sinister prison known as ‘the rock’.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 11 2020 09:06AM

Get On With It

Directed by Richard Steele


The fanfare and lights of the classic 20th Century Fox logo is one of my first memories ever of cinema – in front of Star Wars: A New Hope of course. From there, more and more production company logos – the mountain of Paramount, the globe of Universal, the badge of Warner Brothers – flooded into my memory and became a staple of the movie-going experience.

Richard Steele’s new short Get On With It starts with the premise that by the 21st century, the less than clever foxes at Hollywood began adding more and more logos before a film began.

In reality, the old monopolies of the past were actually making way for co-funded productions so every company involved – especially those fronting the money – got their individual logos (now animated too) plonked at the beginning of a screening.

But how many are too many? Well, this Midlands micro-short tackles some of these themes in increasing funny and frustrating ways.

From space to futuristic design, the short even nods to the fact that some are so like film now that they could be confused with the movie actually starting. The logos also echo a Bond-style liquid, giving a shout out to a franchise famous for its opening sequences.

A few barbs thrown in the direction of the absurd nature of these logos also appeared. And ridiculous names and the repetition of the logos in the credits also come in for ridicule.

The short is a wry take on one of some cinema audiences’ bugbear of endless logos but it did very much remind me of a similar joke from Family Guy. It’s one note theme and short run time makes it feel a little like a comedy show skit rather than a fully formed short however. The end when the film starts, or does it, gave me a naughty chuckle though.

In the end (or beginning?) the short is obviously a personal pet peeve from the filmmaker and sends up a subject we can all relate to in a slightly cynical but humorous way.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Jan 10 2020 06:54PM

Midlands Review - Damn Good Pie

Directed by Lewis Clements


Elsy Pictures

Elsy Pictures serves up a dinner from hell with Lewis Clements' short film Damn Good Pie, a horror comedy engrossed in a world where “pie makes everybody happy”.

We are made immediately aware within the first few frames that this is no ordinary family sat at the dinner table. The father is joined by his wife, his son and his daughter but he acts as if he doesn't have this company as he brazenly sniffs his dinner, his pie, licking his lips. “That's good pie” he announces.

As the family say grace it is revealed the pies they are about to eat have been made with great sacrifice, there is a loud thud upstairs when this is said and the mother looks worried as she glances at the ceiling. This must be regular occurrence in this household as no one else appears to be concerned.

Elements of David Lynch's signature surrealism surround Damn Good Pie as we are unpleasantly treated to a gross fifteen seconds of the father consuming his pie. The camera lingers on his lips as he savours every bite, the sound of each bite was almost unbearable, something I think Clements intended and will enjoy knowing he has succeeded.

But not everyone is enjoying their food. The son, Edward, seems uninterested and instead of relentlessly enjoying his meal like his Mother and Father he is patting the pie with his fork, his mind elsewhere. Offended, his Father demands him to stop and reminds him that they do not pat pie in his house.

Hilariously, Edward replies back with a line I'm sure every parent has heard at some point “but Danny at school is allowed”. Now threatened with being sent upstairs with no dinner, Edward shakes in fear begging his Father to reconsider but to no avail.

What exactly waits upstairs is unclear but it is safe to say it is not welcoming, the mood changes and the score by Robson Janser & Daniel Kanenas creates an uneasy atmosphere.

Setting a film or a scene during a family dinner has always been a great opportunity to explore the dynamic within the household as it is something we can all easily relate to. I was reminded of the infamous dinner scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where an outsider also cannot conform to the rest of the family's behaviour as we lay witness to sheer lunacy and outrageous motives.

There is not an ounce of fat in Clement's film, the writing is razor sharp and the direction focused on featuring comedy and horror in abundance. I really enjoyed making the comparison between the pie in the film to religion. The faith that the father has in pie is unprecedented, and when his own child appears unfaithful, his solution is to deliver him upstairs, for someone of a higher position to mete out punishment.

In a statement by the writer and director Lewis Clements, it says he is looking to make a connection between “British society and bizarre horror” which definitely translates on screen here. That steely determination to protect what you love is shown tenfold but in this case what is being cherished and loved are...pies. Undoubtedly Damn Good Pie has delightfully mixed “the mundane with the fantastical” resulting in a deliciously fun, short film.

Guy Russell

Twitter @budguyer

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