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By midlandsmovies, Nov 18 2019 05:39PM



Inkling


Directed by Wayne Kelly


2019


Spoon Jar Films & produced in association with KLens UK


New film Inkling comes from Leicester-based director Wayne Kelly of Spoon Jar films and tells the story of a date going well, then peculiar and then possibly far worse than that.


An interesting technical opening sees the camera following footsteps along the ground until we stop on a couple who head into an apartment stairwell.


Here we find out that an unnamed man (Joe Hughes) and Joanne (Rachel Nottingham) have come back from a date and although nervous she reluctantly invites him in for a drink.


A messy apartment and her (unsuccessful) draft novel manuscript somehow lead to an awkward kiss before he asks for more wine to keep the evening going. And as he heads to the bathroom, Rachel pours some drinks and puts on some music.


The man however looks increasingly disturbed as he rubs his chest, checks some of Rachel's medication and takes some deep breaths. Here the short takes a shocking turn as her guest’s personality changes, he returns to her front room and a frightening disturbance ensues.


Joanne uncovers a shocking sight, think “inkling”, on the body of Joe which may not be all it seems. He attempts to explain how he comes to have this personal body modification image and the significance it holds.


A very interesting and unique concept, Inkling is difficult to explain without spoilers but the short heads in a number of creepy and somewhat downbeat directions with each scene focusing on a dramatic incident to maintain the viewer’s attention into the next.


A hint of horror throughout, the fantastic ominous music from George Odom really helps sell the film’s creepy tone. An unusual and bizarre short at times, the two leads’ performances are also excellent and help keep up the narrative interest but the subject matter is dark to the point of blackness. Which may not resonate with every viewer with a focus heavily on "self" destruction.


Solid and unfussy direction keeps the puzzle pieces in place and a number of horrific discoveries are miles away from Inkling’s initial romantic start. With multiple layers and some metaphorical themes, Inkling jumps into very dark subject matter and will leave a more-than-permanent impression on its audience.


Michael Sales


Watch the film's trailer below:




By midlandsmovies, Nov 12 2019 04:34PM



Midlands Review - Tom, Dick and Harry: Christmas Special


Directed by Philippe Ashfield


2019


Instant Entertainment


A new micro short film comes from Midlands director and producer Philippe Ashfield and has the perfect festive theme for the forthcoming winter months where we are thrown into Christmas carols, elves and reindeer games.


Written by Julie Paupe and already nominated for a Birmingham Film Festival award, Tom, Dick and Harry: Christmas Special opens with a rendition of festive favourite "Ding Dong Merrily on High” performed by a trio of church choristers with a bell-jingling elf joining in for good measure.


Three lads (Charlie Wernham, Sam Gittins and Luke Higgins) arrive on a couch and are suspicious of the scenario before they begin to question the motives of the conductor and make clear they are not the Tom, Dick and harry of the title.


However, the star-wearing conductor explains that they are in fact creating a skit to promote the longer film Tom, Dick and Harry. Immediately this meta-moment throws us off and into the surreal comedy world we are about to inhabit. But the boys are still not pleased, especially after hearing this alternative skit will be called “Ding Dong” and they will be replicating the choir members’ singing.


Despite their protests, we cut to find the boys dressed as Santa, an elf and a reindeer as one claims to be a “serious actor”. And quickly they are forced to enact a “sing battle” with the choir.


From a jokey reindeer antler ‘mic-drop’ to a comedic attempt at some falsetto, the film creates laughs as the boys struggle both with the melody and the lyrics of the Chrimbo classic.


Thinking their ramshackle effort “smashed it” over the virtuoso vocals of the harmonic choir, the boys exit as the short wraps up.


The film clearly acts as an advert of sorts for the forthcoming film featuring the same group, but as a witty self-referential mockumentary, it’s a unique idea to tie in with their larger project.


With some festive fun and jolly jokes, the short balances a parody of Christmas clichés and its goal to set up some interest in their follow up. And with zippy dialogue and good-natured sarcasm, the short itself is still a successful stocking filler that teases a bigger present to come.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Nov 9 2019 03:09PM


Step Up


Directed by Nisaro Karim


2019


Five Pence Productions


Step Up is the new film from producers Five Pence Productions and Gurjant Singh Films and is directed by Nisaro Karim, who may may have taken over fellow West Midlands filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz as the Midlands' "Most Prolific Director™".


Described as a gritty urban thriller inspired by Netflix’s Topboy, the film sees a gangster in a car (Sarfraz Mughal) asking if a friend Sam (Jacob Lander) is ready to “step up” and do a dastardly deed. Sam claims he is well prepared and we soon find out that he is being asked to kill a rival - yet is limited to just one bullet.


With no second chances he is handed the gun and pulls his hood over his head and exits to the sound of ominous music. Once out the car, his bravado turns to a more worried facial expression as he enters a mobile phone shop.


The stunned shop owner comes off a video call from a loved one and stares at his possible assailant. And as the tension rises, the man draws his gun and Karim cleverly holds the moment for a beat.


With the shooter and the audience taking in a deep breath, we ask the question whether he’ll go ahead and pull that trigger.


I won’t disclose the ending but Nisaro throws in a nice twist keeping the viewer off-kilter and sets up a possible second instalment after this opening short drama.


Similar to his previous micro-film Peaky Blinders A New Era, the film is more of a trailer than an all encompassing short such is the minimal narrative on show. It could also work as a nice sequence as part of a showreel piece for the two actors.


A nice if slight little short, to be fair to Nisaro Karim he has in fact billed Step Up as part of a series and I’ll be intrigued as to where this goes. Especially as he leaves the audience and his protagonist in a place where they certainly do not know what is coming next.


Michael Sales


Watch the full short below:




By midlandsmovies, Oct 31 2019 01:00PM



Midlands Review - The Despondent


Directed by Nisaro Karim


2019


Five Pence Productions


The Despondent is the latest film from Five Pence Productions, the prolific Birmingham-based company who brought us Jed, The Chase, Peaky Blinders: A New Era and more. Primarily known for crime tales, this film is something of an ambitious departure for them as it sees them take on the horror genre.


Jazzmin Letitia stars as Keira, a troubled young woman who lives at home with her mother Jenny, played by Lisa Blissitt. At night she's tormented by visions of an evil demon in her room, one that seems bent on harming her, one that it seems there can be no escape from.


Horror has a rich history of externalising our internal demons, and that's pretty much what's happening here. Keira is depressed and the demon is her depression, pushing her towards suicide. It's all taking place in her head, the battleground where many of us (myself included) struggle and fight daily. It's a good analogy, but rather on-the-nose here.


The film is far from subtle, making it absolutely clear what's going on from Keira's conversation with her mum about her self-harm and medication. It would have perhaps been more interesting to see the two dance around the subject, never raising it head on but dealing entirely in subtext, so that when the tragic ending comes it hits harder. Having Keira stay in her pyjamas over the course of the two days is a very good touch, though, as that's absolutely consistent with some people who suffer from depression.


The story is quite slim and would benefit from having a little more to it, making the film a bit longer. It would have been good to have had more of a sense of Keira's struggles in the daytime sequences, and how they relate to her night terrors, so that we can relate to her more as a character. The scene with her mother establishes their rocky relationship in one quick punch, but at only 6 minutes long there's plenty of scope to let the relationship breathe a little more and help us understand Keira more intimately. As it is, she comes across more as moody than depressed.


This isn't to say that it's a bad performance; Letitia shines in the hallucinatory sequences where she's beset by the demon, coming across as believably vulnerable and disoriented. The standout performance by far though is the demon; it's not clear from the credits who played the part (perhaps split between Imran Uddin and Zohair Raza?), but it's a great piece of creepy body-performance, with stilted and almost contortionist-style movements. I definitely wouldn't want to wake to find him in my bedroom!


The film shines best in these disorienting sequences. The hand-held, shaky camerawork does a great job of confusing and distressing the viewer, and the unnatural framing and lighting work together to create unsettling scenes. There's a misconception that its easy to do horror on a low budget; it has to be planned and carried out carefully to make the most of what you have. Keeping the shots tight and moving fast keeps the audience uncomfortable and on their toes in the nightmare sequences, worrying that anything could happen. The film makes great use of noise in these sequences too, arguably the most important part of any horror film.


Ultimately, The Despondents falls just short of its ambition but it's still a great first step into horror. Nisaro Karim clearly has an instinct for how to unsettle the audience, it's just the slimness of the story itself that holds the film back. Definitely worth a watch, and here's hoping there's more horror to come from Karim and Five Pence!


Sam Kurd

Twitter @Splend


By midlandsmovies, Oct 31 2019 08:54AM



Safely to Shore


Directed by Matthew R. Ford


2019


Pretty Hate Productions


Safely to Shore is a new short film from Birmingham based Pretty Hate Productions and Daniel Alexander Films. Written and directed by Matthew R. Ford, the film explores the trappings of sex work and the abuse and damage that directly follows it.


Whilst walking in solitude through the woods, Pete encounters a confused, mute woman staring into emptiness. No identification, no acknowledgement and no words, the only other item she has other than her dress is an odd cube-shaped object. Joining her in a seemingly dire situation is Matylda, alone in her room and routinely self-harming, it becomes clear very soon that she is a sex worker under the watchful eye of her pimp.


Ford switches between the two stories frequently, our first setting being somewhat nicer than the latter. A crisp, burning fire in a country house is in stark contrast to Matylda's dank room above a row of shops in the city.


Whilst Pete tries to figure out who the woman he has taken in is, we see Matylda regretfully working. She climbs into a clients car and goes back to her room, there she comforts him as he cries. He does not want her for sex, instead wanting to save her from her pimp. They violently but justly dispose of him before fleeing to the countryside.


The film takes a strange turn when the two stories connect, as Matylda and her partner appear at Pete's door unannounced asking for help. All of the characters seem standoffish with one another, their personalities suddenly changed and with sinister glances given. Ford then pulls the rug out from under our feet as our two female protagonists paths dramatically merge with the following minutes leading up to the finale being ambiguous and mysterious.


It's apparent that Ford isn't going for gritty, kitchen sink realism here. As a whole, Safely to Shore feels like a fantasy, an escape route for the two women to leave their abusive lives behind. Ford amps up the uncertainly in the film with the characters operating with constant unease, we never seem to know what will happen next or what motives the characters have.


While Ford shines as the director, I felt the writing needed some work. At times the dialogue felt rigid and contrived, for example when Matylda's client asks why she does what she does, her response is “have you ever seen a hamster on a wheel?”.


However, what isn't said is the film's strength. The subtle moments where Matylda stares longingly at a picture of the ocean above her bed is a highlight - nothing is said but we can interpret what her mind is clearly thinking.


Safely to Shore therefore manages to hold your attention for the full 30 minutes, a feat not many independent short films can boast of. As the credits roll, you will be left pondering the reality women like Matylda face every day at the hands of others. This isn't a happy or an easily defined film, unfortunately you will more than likely finish Safely to Shore with more questions than answers.


Guy Russell


Twitter @BudGuyer

By midlandsmovies, Oct 28 2019 09:58AM



Outside the City


Directed by Nick Hamer


2019


Intrepid Media


A tough watch from the beginning, Outside the City starts with a very elderly and frail man in bed who talks about the power, or not, of prayer. As bells begin tolling, we are introduced to the monks of Mount St Bernard Abbey.


The Abbey’s location near the M1 and within spitting distance of the power station is a nice contrast between the modern world and the archaic life lived by these spiritual men. The film mixes old photos, talking head interviews and measured shots of the Abbey itself in its rural Leicestershire location.


With the lack of “new recruits”, the current number of monks have dwindled through the years, sadly by death mostly. A self-described “contemplative monastic community of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance” their life of “radical discipleship” means early rising, endless prayer and their reflection of life.


Ironically, I found out about this information on their very informative website and from mobility scooters to business planning, the monks decide to take the Abbey’s continuation into their own hands by planning for what lies ahead in the 21st century.


Fighting against an ever-changing contemporary world, they decide to secure a better future by changing their farmland from dairy produce to a Trappist beer brewery. Which turns into a great success – even with fantastic YouTube reviews.


A heart-breaking final few days, and subsequent death, of one of the monks is an extremely difficult watch and as you hear stories from these men, you are enlightened to a life so different to your very own.


However, my own personal partisanship on the importance (or otherwise) of religion did hamper my enjoyment of the film somewhat. Seeing each man – we’re all aware of the side-lining of women in these institutions – throw away months and years was partly soul-destroying if I’m being brutally honest.


Recently I watched “Hail Satan?” – a documentary about the Church of Satan who, rather than the name suggests, work within the community and accept a range of other alternative-leaning free-thinking men, women and transgender people. And their involvement in improving, rather than ostracization, of society was far more aligned to my own outlook it must be said.


I certainly don’t think a film in any way has to align to the views of the reviewer – quite the contrary – yet although this film successfully challenged my own beliefs, the interesting and quirky beer-brewery narrative was essentially side-lined for a bit of an eye-rolling sermon about the continuation of their old boys’ club.


However, it is certainly not my place to tell anyone how to live their own life. That’s down to each and everyone’s own “calling” and I support individualism and independent decision-making which these devout monks had in holy spades.


Despite some fundamental differences on the topic, it has to be said that the film is as much about age as it is religion. It also does address some of the conflicts they face with modern views similar to my own, which was a positive acknowledgement of their current struggles.


Outside the City therefore ends as a very respectful look at devoted men and the ever-changing world they, and we, inhabit. It is also a well put-together film contrasting the past, present and future and gives a challenging glimpse into a bygone world which certainly got a strong emotional response from this reviewer. And although maybe not the same feelings will be had, I think its poignant themes and affecting questions will resonate with most audiences too with its thought-provoking comments on religious lifestyles.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 10:45AM



Number 23


Directed by Jack Veasey


2019


Three hooded people are paraded into a field by armed captors in an exciting opening to new action drama Number 23 from Midlands director Jack Veasey.


A Western-inspired steel guitar soundtrack plays as one of them is callously shot and the two survivors (Andre Pierre and Becki Lloyd) are told by Dr. James Fisher (an intimidating Jason Segade) that they are now simply numbered slaves before being taken into a makeshift cell alongside other captives.


Then a white supremacist in the prison stokes a violent encounter with two black prisoners and Veasey throws us into a brutal but haphazard fight.


Although slightly underlit in these prison scenes, the director does however try to create a great mood of secrecy with dark corners and harsh shadows. Then a classic action-flick monologue is delivered to fill in the story blanks about a war which segregated the population.


A line of dialogue about “an army of superhumans” garnered a bit of a guffaw from this reviewer but the film sticks to and delivers its 80s-influenced action beats. Inmate Number 23 (Pierre) is pulled from his incarceration and is injected with an unknown serum that our villain hopes to give him ‘supernatural’ powers.


Later, as a military drum march plays, all the captives are brought back outside as a brutal henchmen (Dominic Thompson) berates them, ensuring their life is as hard as possible. But the group put their differences aside and plan to escape their predicament before it gets worse for all of them.


Overpowering their guards, the film moves into a gun-filled conclusion with some decent practical effects, more hand-to-hand combat and some bloody punch-ups.


Andre-Pierre as the eponymous Number 23 is great and the two dark performances from Segade and Thompson are a fun over-the-top portrayal of the classic central villain and henchman dynamic.


The film seemed mostly influenced by a similar societal breakdown as seen in Children of Men and Veasey has definitely brought some decent action chops to his range of filmmaking talents. And although the slightly silly human experiment storyline was a bit clichéd, overall Number 23 is a satisfying mix of grounded sci-fi and action with a tiny dollop of more serious race-relations themes. Recommended.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2019 08:06AM



Angel City


Directed by Duaine Roberts


2019


Carma Films


A new feature film comes courtesy of West Midlands filmmaker Duaine Roberts who covers sorrow and misery in new drama film Angel City.


We are introduced to Raven (played by Tamaira Hesson) who is grieving for reasons unknown and doesn’t feel like joining in with her sister’s social scene. Her sibling, Angel (Adaya Monique Henry), is a music artist struggling for money. Raven is trying to overcome her depression but claims drugs further affect her mood, but does she still rely too much on them to get her through her troubles?


Raven does eventually show up at party before heading to toilet for some privacy but also expresses her concerns to her sister about how she doesn’t fit in. Scarily she is then brutally attacked but the culprit is unknown and thus sets up a mystery of how all these events came to occur.


The great Birmingham accents come through from the actors, but scenes are very dialogue heavy and the conversations do not lead to the most exciting pieces of drama it has to be said.


Flashbacks begin filling in the story arcs which involve a same-sex love affair before the police start to investigate, and the film gradually reveals how the past is still affecting the lives of those in the present.


Stylistically, the director’s almost sole use of 2-people conversations (or phone calls) in household rooms really slows down the narrative. And this has the effect of losing audience engagement owing to the endless flat “mid-shot” style of filming.


Although adding some realism, a bit more creativity felt needed in these choices. An establishing shot and close-up wouldn’t go amiss. This is unfortunately compounded with the sound, where other than a few tracks, the film really could do with a score to give more emotional beats to the ups and downs of the character relationships.


As the story progresses, the film explores drugs – both recreational and medicinal – and the sibling 'rivalry' comes to a head as secrets are uncovered including blackmail, crime and sexual violence.


Sadly though, the film overall feels a little slow and the drama falls a bit flat. And a huge absence of background sound, music or a score gives little dynamics to each scene especially as nearly all information is provided to the viewer in conversations only. That said, it’s always more than a pleasure to see local filmmakers jump into the feature-length area and admirable to tackle such a sprawling story script.


In the end, the film is delivered by a talented cast who believe in the work and valiantly give everything they can to make it work. And so Angel City does take an honourable but flawed and repetitive look at issues of violence, coping with grief and at the same time respectfully deals with anxiety and the complexities of same-sex relationships.


Michael Sales


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