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By midlandsmovies, May 21 2019 06:42PM



Depicted Illusion


Directed and written by Jordan-Kane Lewis


2019


Depicted Illusion is a new dramatic character study from young student filmmaker Jordan-Kane Lewis which explores the mind of a serial killer whose victims also become his “art”.


Opening with a Blade Runner-style electronica score, the short begins with a dead body and what looks like a crime-scene photographer taking pictures of a slain woman.


However, this is actually Johnathon, the killer himself who is also a photographer and who uses his gruesome scenarios as the backdrop in his regular job.


The film also uses a voiceover (ironically like Blade Runner’s original cut too) and attempts to blend the disturbing night-time incidents with some more mundane day-time conversations.


The mix of dark lighting and digital sounds echoes some of Nicholas Winding Refn’s work – which seems an influence – and the filmmaker has high aspirations mixing heady religious themes into the protagonist’s murderous intentions.


The filmmaker acknowledges their low budget and short time to plan and unfortunately this is noticeable in a few specific areas. Especially the sound which could do with another pass in the editing studio.


Using mainly on-set audio recording there is sadly a noticeable hum in an unbalanced mix and the voiceover also gets lost in a soundtrack that is at times too loud and also too sloppy.


Some consistency would help in the lighting too but the filmmaker does make a lot of interesting shot choices. Keeping the audience visually engaged, the director – clearly cinematically influenced – adds in “God” shots, drone shots, slow zooms and sequences filmed from a car to tell their story which is to the film’s credit.


As the serial killer drags more bodies around, the voiceover moves into a sermon of the killer’s manifesto of sorts and whilst the acting is a little under-par, parts of it reminded me at times of the blank expressions within Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.


The killer uses photos of his victims in his art – a bit of Lords of Chaos here crossed with Velvet Buzzsaw - and the ending sees a group of white-masked cult members (fans?) coaxing Johnathon to a local pub.


Dressed like the party-goers from Eyes Wide Shut, but filmed in what looks like a Wetherspoons, another location would have added more atmosphere but the film’s strange ambience continues with a macabre and non-explanatory conclusion.


The filmmaker is not short of cinematic inspiration and throws a lot of meaningful ideas into the 15-minute short but it’s slightly undone by the – albeit acknowledged – confines that go with a student film.


However, whilst not entirely successful on the technical side, Depicted Illusion delves deep into the mind of a disturbed individual with some resourceful flourishes despite its low budget limitations.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, May 6 2019 04:01PM



No Guesses Found


Directed by Georgie Cubin & Jane Leggat


2019


No Guesses Found is a new short from Leicester that hopes to question the expected representations of dyslexia by confronting some mainstream, and perhaps commonly misunderstood, expectations of the condition.


Made by Georgie Cubin and Jane Leggat, dyslexia is a somewhat common learning difficulty that can cause problems with reading, writing and spelling. And this short experimental documentary opens with the clatter of pens being clicked and computers keys being whacked in a hurriedly-paced flourish of alphabetical confusion.


Mixing personal and performative elements, the documentary is self-referential in its style with its own cinematic language. It chaotically at times processes the narrative with lots of quick edits, stuttering cuts and descriptive images crossed with a host of interesting visual signifiers.


Although one “over-arching” condition, the film clarifies that the nature of the disorder can affect people in many different ways. And the filmmaker uses allegorical symbols to highlight its nature within the medium of the film. For example, a split-screen technique used often suggests the film is at least recognising some of the neurological aspects of dyslexia.


In addition, various voiceovers describe their real-life experiences. And a percussive soundtrack gives certain sequences a music-video feel – or a clock-countdown, perhaps inferring the pressures people feel they are under. With dyslexia sometimes being expressed as the “difficulty with phonological processing (the manipulation of sounds)”, the film again uses the symptoms to play with the structure of the short.


This unique combination is the documentary’s greatest achievement. It is a terrific creative conceit that draws you in to the (sometimes) confusing arena of words that sufferers face. Shots that have been sped up – but with our protagonist standing rigid – represent how those with dyslexia may feel the world is passing them by. Whilst the title itself refers to one of the voiceovers struggling to complete sentences when word processing programmes cannot autocorrect.


A successful documentary not just in style but in content, I have to admit I’m not always the greatest fan of what is labelled as an ‘experimental piece’. However, the filmmakers here have more than successfully used a whole host of cinematic techniques to deliver something special about a condition that could do with having its profile raised.


Reflecting the nature of dyslexia in the film’s style is therefore an inspired creative choice. “Having a better image of dyslexia in mainstream media and film would be fantastic”, says one sufferer. Well, No Guesses Found is the first in hopefully a long line of many to come and it’s bloody brilliant.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, May 4 2019 08:10PM



Midlands Review - Leaving Home


Directed by James Heaney


2019


Goldbox Productions


"After having an argument with his dad, Liam decides that he's leaving home as he's had enough of being judged. Will he be able to leave without tearing the family apart?"


Leaving Home begins with a young man scrolling through his phone one morning as he awakes from his sleep before heading downstairs to meet his mum and dad at the breakfast table.


Rather than a happy ‘good morning’, there is tension in the air as the man and his father bicker whilst his mum tries to keep the peace. As the breakfast is served, father and son’s tumultuous relationship comes to the forefront as they begin to take digs at each other.


With dad accusing his son of being lazy for not washing up his plates, the son grabs at his chest in discomfort. However, his pain is dismissed by his tough father and before he leaves the kitchen, he states that he will sort his life out when he “moves away from you two”.


The opening is well shot but the introduction of the parents has them strangely filmed from behind. In another movie this may have suggested a barrier between parents and child. But here you simply can’t see the faces and some different blocking and framing would have been more effective to draw us in to the characters as they are introduced. As it is, the white kitchen and bland beige wardrobe really doesn’t create much atmosphere on their own.


Also, although I’m no prude I felt the swearing between the two appeared unjustified in the context. Instead, it would have been great to use something more visual to represent the father-son arguments. A glance, some silence or some cleverer shot choices could have given Leaving Home some more creativity and subtlety. As it is, it’s a very literal translation of quite a literal script.


However, as the son returns to his room, the film has a good use of graphics to show him messaging his friend. The the son begins to grab at his chest once again as he listens to loud music which shuts him off from his parents. But a juddering special effect and a hard cut in the middle of the short jolts the film from its standard delivery to create some mystery as to a far greater life-changing event.


As the boy’s parents discuss how to talk to their son to resolve their differences, he is soon heading downstairs to offer his own apology. Uncomfortably though, his mum ignores his pleas and it is here where the short suggests something altogether different has occurred in these people’s lives.


In conclusion Leaving Home comes across as an honourable attempt to create a short about an important part of dealing with those who are “leaving” but with an added twist. Yet although the sound, visuals and technical aspects are undertaken well, there’s not a lot here to make the film stand out.


The film does get far more interesting towards its end however and the story is simple and delivered clearly – but I do hope the filmmaker can put their own creative stamp on their next work as the solid foundations are already successfully in place here to be built upon in future projects.


Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Apr 19 2019 08:17AM



Midlands Review - Paralysis


Directed by Benjamin Perry


99 Films / Goldbox Productions


2019


‘Paralysis’ is a short horror film from writer/director Ben Perry out of Derby University.


It focuses on a young man’s rough night as he tries to sleep but finds himself plagued by mysterious forces. The titular Paralysis is a sleeping disorder called Sleep Paralysis, in which a sleeper finds themself unable to move upon waking and often sees disturbing visions of figures in the room.


Our unnamed protagonist just wants a good night’s sleep, but he’s trapped in a cycle of dreams, unable to tell what’s real and what’s illusion, where the dream ends and if he’s truly awake. Some good tricks are used to disorient the audience, from the flickering light of the TV to the eerie soundtrack that unsettles and disturbs.


The creepy mood does suffer a big blow when the apparition shows up, unfortunately. I don’t want to spoil it, but it made me laugh out loud in surprise – not the ideal reaction.


People who suffer from sleep paralysis have reported seeing all sorts of things, from faceless shadow people to grotesque demons sitting on their chests (fun fact: my mother used to see a Jack-the-Ripper type looming over her).


It’s tough to achieve an effective monster or ghost on a microbudget, but it can certainly be done with a little thought and ingenuity. Perhaps there wasn’t time to work on the ghost’s appearance, or perhaps it was even meant to be slightly funny, but either way it doesn’t really suit the film’s established serious tone. It’s also quite thin on story, with a fairly predictable ending.


Let’s not dwell on the negative, though. For a student film, this is a good start and shows early promise. There’s a good command of mood and soundscape, and lead Ryan Loveridge sells his distress well.


We’ve all had those nights where we wake up into another dream and can’t seem to get out, and ‘Paralysis’ captures that disorientation really well.


If ‘Paralysis’ is Perry’s first film, then hopefully it’s a sign of good creepy things to come. Practice makes perfect, and with more films under his belt then no doubt he’ll hone those mood-setting skills and work to nail story and tone better. Keep at it!


Sam Kurd

Twitter @splend


By midlandsmovies, Apr 19 2019 08:09AM



Midlands Review - Troubled Waters


Directed & written by Gemma Norton


A tear runs down the cheek of our protagonist Viv in the opening of this award-winning drama from Midlands director Gemma Norton and the audience too will be moved by this fantastic film, Troubled Waters.


Viv is a mother of two – played by Vivienne Bell who won Best Actress at our 2019 Midlands Movies Awards – and her harrowing yet sensitive portrayal of a mum suffering mental health issues is a huge part of the short’s success.


Troubled Waters shows Viv undertaking a variety of household tasks, but she is concerned there’s something wrong with her baby daughter. Her husband Terry (Terry Sweeney) allays her fears but Viv is adamant she is not exaggerating.


With the baby crying, Viv’s stress levels rise and we see her curled up like a foetus on a bed, struggling to cope with the various demands of parenthood. These strong images are beautifully composed by the director and are shot excellently by the film’s cinematographer Richard Staff.


Bell does a great performance of a woman exhausted by motherhood and the story sees her attributing these anxieties ‘onto’ her children. As the strain begins to take its toll on her own health, Viv shouts at the infants before fainting due to the toll its physically taking.



Filmed in a naturalistic way, the stylistic realism and exploration of parental themes – along with Bell’s own slight resemblance to Jessica Chastain – the film has echoes of Terence Malick’s Tree of Life. Like that film, Troubled Waters concerns itself with hugely important aspects of family existence too.


A trip to the swimming baths shows some brief family fun but reveals Viv’s dependency on medication to deal with her worries. And in addition we see her suspiciously spying her partner and children from behind a curtain, suggesting her trauma is far from resolved.


As we come to the film’s conclusion, the disturbing themes come to a climax and extreme exhaustion overcomes Viv keeping the film’s tension high.


Troubled Waters covers a range of post-natal depression (PND) conditions including fatigue, exhaustion, guilt, shame and feelings of hopelessness but director Norton never pushes the envelope so far that we feel that she couldn’t recover from these frustrations. Despite her lack of ability to think through things clearly, Viv is shown bonding with the baby towards the end leaving viewers on a message, albeit a very small one, of hope.


An intense, emotional and thorough exploration of post-natal psychological stress, Troubled Waters is a brilliant film showcasing top talent and excellent high-quality technical aspects. With stunning images, a focused narrative and an affecting premise, the short is unsettling but hugely satisfying as it deals with the risk factors of such an important disorder in a sensitive way.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 15 2019 03:05PM



Midlands Review - The Duology of Man


Directed by Theo Gee and Ian Bousher


2019


It’s not every day a film like this pops up and remains in your consciousness long after it’s finished. Whether this particular topic is popular or not, it’s certainly never been more relevant. Exploring the nature of human choice.


The opening scene features a businessman waiting for a train. It’s a relatable experience with nothing out of the ordinary at first glance. The businessman appears to be locked in a situation that he can’t control when we realise he’s being hit periodically in the kneecap with a hammer by a kid. Whether he’s too polite to ask for help or he’s genuinely struggling to cope, my interpretation is that this is a representation of mental stability.


The second half shows a heavily pregnant woman frantically running through the woods alone, looking like she’s about to give birth. An elderly lady just passing by after returning from the shops passes by and reluctantly helps this woman, who is convinced she’s not pregnant.


This was one of the reasons why I kept re-watching Duology of Man; it made me empathetic to the main characters regarding their state of mind and their complacency in society. Both parables show some form of decision to hold back during difficult and unruly situations, to which I am sure most of us have encountered before.


These little experiences test our stamina for putting up with many things, such as late trains, troublesome children, motherhood and ultimately society’s pressure on particular age groups and gender.


The beauty of this short film is that the interpretation is down to the viewer, and I saw a high relevance to the mental stresses of our modern day. At what point do you ask someone to stop hitting you with a hammer? Is it just easier for everyone around you if you weren’t pregnant? These are extreme questions for severe circumstances but I feel that nearly all of us never really show our true feelings during challenging times, and at face value, we just get on with it through convenience, whilst our mental health suffers.


Ian Bousher and Theo Gelenter; the co-directors of Duology of Man and their amazing team across the Midlands helped bring this passion project to life. “We wanted to make something that teeters on the edge – odd and usual, but at the same time just accessible enough that you can explore things and pose questions for people that you can’t in the usual way.”


To help illustrate the complexities of human choice, natural light was used to film the scenes to add a sense of realism. It encouraged a more engaging narrative due to the familiarity of it all, preparing itself for an effortless shift in direction to the more bizarre nature of the situations in question.


Originally this film solely focused on the first half of the story, with more characters and longer scenes. It was then stripped down and a complimentary chapter was added, making Duology of Man a superb pairing of analogies.


The cinematography is simplistic yet captivating, nothing is made too complicated or overly expressive and practical effects were used where it was needed. The tones were kept pragmatic, and yet, something remained surrealistic throughout. It could be that it’s set in an unspecified time and the surroundings are undefined – but not without a sense of familiarity. With that respect, I was never left feeling abandoned; you are in fact, swept in by the characters and their choices.


A lot of research went into choosing which pieces of music were going to open and close Duology of Man. The decision for immediate opera fills you with a sense of melancholy and the tone is set even before the first scene hits. As we see the characters towards the end finally break down, this looked like a perfect metaphor for the unveiling of the mask some of us wear for the outside world. The use of opera towards the end really helped emphasise the emotional intensity, and with the music being so universally empowering, this particular piece felt right to use.


All of the actors in this film delivered exceptional performances. They were highly complimentary to each other with no one over exaggerating their lines. Everything was accomplished with such a natural inflection, it made it easier to absorb and accept the story as it unravels.


Stylistically, Theo tells me, Duology of Man takes inspiration from the 2015 dystopian film The Lobster, by Yorgos Lanthimos. I found some similarities to the Norwegian film The Bothersome Man (Den Brysomme Mannen), with its approach to complacency in our society, making Ian and Theo’s short film a deeply relevant piece for today’s culture concerning how we reflect on our own behaviour, thoughts and choices.


It’s exactly what Ian and Theo had in mind whilst making Duology of Man; their message isn’t force fed, but it is left open for you to think and interpret it as you see fit. For me, I saw it as a manifestation of how complacency can affect an individual.


In the last scenes, both of the main characters from each story are stood on a beach with a calm sea, yet they are both depicting pain and suffering. The serene ocean representing society and all that it should be, and the hidden distress of regular people like businessmen and expectant mothers. I loved this film because it is left down to the viewers to interpret its meaning for themselves.


Sammy S

Twitter @IsoElegant


By midlandsmovies, Apr 8 2019 02:09PM



Midlands Review - Ghosts


Directed by Joey Lever


Digital Heart


2019


"Early 2019 The Ghost Catchers were hired to rig 369 Film Studios with state-of-the-art paranormal technology to find spirits that have been haunting the studio for 30 years.


This is the footage recovered”.


And so opens this new paranormal comedy mockumentary from Leicester filmmaker Joey Lever. With the relatively recent explosion of films based around a similar premise – the Paranormal Activity franchise films and 2011’s Grave Encounters - Lever plays Malone, a ghost who is haunting a local film studio but is followed by a film crew too.


In this unique twist we are introduced not just to Malone, but he shares this haunted space with two other spirits – Flynn (Jak Beasley) and his girlfriend (ghost-friend?) Spryte played by Phoebe Hammond.


The trio have quirky personas and spend their days pranking the owner Jeff, played by real-life studio owner David Hardware. As we are reminded that “ghosts can’t die”, we see Flynn hanging from a noose in one of many comedy japes they play. But they are not all as macabre as that. For example, we are shown how Malone spends an extra ordinate amount of time simply moving mugs and newspapers around to annoy Jeff.


The filmmakers have kept the documentary feel by inserting several interviews and talking-heads sections. We are introduced to Harry from the fictional Ghost Catcher TV series and these help give the short some structure as well as provide fun background information about the characters.


From the Martin Freeman-style direct-to-the-camera “stares” to the David Brent embarrassing smiles and shrugs, there’s a fare chunk of The Office in tone included in Ghosts. However, the supernatural element is clearly influenced by the similarly-styled What We Do in The Shadows. That 2014 film followed a group of vampire friends and the filmmakers have taken the genre and added some of their own spooky situations.


The comedy is understated and despite their morbid predicament, the threesome's lives are often framed by petty arguments and silly squabbles. Whilst their horrible deaths bring them together, the film gets laughs from the mundane minutiae of their lives rather than any spiritual revelations.


Later on an exorcist is hired by Jeff to rid the building of its phantoms and once he arrives, he begins to shriek “may the power of Christ compel you” as they look on incredulously. He leaves with the apparent spirits in a ghost catching unit, but this simply results in the three ghosts laughing as they remain where they are.


Leading up to their biggest prank moment – Malone brings along some white sheets and the trio prepare for some scares. As mild as they are and filmed in bright daylight, the ghosts’ final masterplan is as mundane as their previous efforts. However, despite this everyday quality, they may have taken it too far this time. Leaving us to ask whether Jeff will finally discover his tormentors or head to an entirely different place altogether.


A witty and somewhat improvised script helps sell this short and although the ideas are certainly nothing new, the film does manage to find a unique slant on an established formula. With plenty of gags present, Ghosts is an excellent manifestation of a solid idea with a humorous delivery. And whilst zombie-fans often get the majority of comedy-horror, this mockumentary certainly gives the audience an amusing account of the afterlife.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Apr 2 2019 05:33PM



Midlands Review - The Music Box


2018


Directed by Hendrik Harms


The predominant feeling that I was left with after viewing of The Music Box was unfortunately one of sad disappointment. The undeniably well executed moments of the film only add to the frustration of what this film could’ve been, as there are too many falters to mar what had the potential to be a fantastic horror short.


Most features of The Music Box have lots of potential; the majority of scenes are effectively lit and composed, however there is a lack of attention to detail in the framing of scenes and the steadiness of the camera is often jarring. Making improvements to these somewhat basic problems would allow the audience to fully appreciate not only the cinematography of the film, but would allow the audience to become fully immersed in the narrative.


Although The Music Box has some shortcomings, the compelling performance given by lead Penny Ashmore is reason enough alone to watch the film. Ashmore carries the film through her role as Marcy, a musically gifted young woman who must struggle to survive a night of psychological torment at the hands of a mysterious music box.


Occasionally Ashmore’s performance is somewhat stifled by some poor dialogue, which is starkly contrasted by her performance in silent moments of the film – her incredibly hypnotic portrayal of emotion slowly builds with the tension of the film, eventually reaching a beautifully painful climax.


Despite the aforementioned sparse dialogue, this is by and large the worst feature of the film. The few dialogue-driven scenes are overflowing with uncomfortable character interactions and horror monologues, predominantly delivered by the slightly wooden Hendrik Harms (Jeremy).


Jeremy’s character simultaneously overloads the audience with heavy-handed exposition with little-to-no information; each scene in which he’s featured drags and unfortunately pulls the viewer out of narrative flow and deflates the tension that is so painstakingly built throughout.


This being said, the plot of the film is beautifully written – there is a painstaking amount of attention to detail given to subtle foreshadowing, which I find can only be fully appreciated after a second viewing.


This use of foreshadowing not only leaves interesting breadcrumbs for viewers to follow throughout, but also ties into the themes of time and perception, giving the plot a cohesion that is lost on most other aspects of the film. Unfortunately, the precision focused on the thematic and narrative elements of The Music Box may be the reason the dialogue is poor, as could have been deemed unimportant in comparison and therefore was neglected.


Perhaps some of The Music Box’s shortcomings are symptomatic of an over-arching issue: the over-involvement and, by extension, over-reaching of Hendrik Harms. Harms is credited as the writer, producer, director and co-star of the short; by tasking himself with such a large number of crucial production roles instead of finding others to fill them, Harms maybe was likely unable to apply the amount of focus that each of these roles require and therefore allowed the film to fall short.


However, I would recommend watching The Music Box because the highlights of the film are incredibly enjoyable and deserve attention, but also as a warning of the detrimental effects of involving yourself in too many aspects of the filmmaking process.


Beth Hawkes



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