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By midlandsmovies, Aug 10 2019 07:24AM



Jungleland


Directed by Waheed Iqbal


2019


Dead in the City films


Written, directed and starring Waheed Iqbal, Jungleland is a new feature set amongst the seedy world of criminals in the West Midlands.


Waheed Iqbal stars as Tanha, a man with some seriously bad habits – drugs and gambling being just two of them – who gets in way over his head after a bet gone wrong. With just 5 days to pay off his debt, we get a countdown of days to a sports game that could help Tanha win a large amount of cash to resolve his situation.


He visits a number of criminal associates, prostitutes and shady dealers as he travels around the streets at night, trying to pull his wayward life together. The film also has an admirable support cast including Hannah-Lee Osborn, Magdalena Ziembla, Faraz Beg, Nav Iqbal and Haqi Ali who encapsulate the sordid aspects of their very unwholesome characters.


As the sparse story develops at an unrushed rate, the film seems to owe more than a debt to Danish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn. Iqbal has been inspired to chose a stark colour scheme with shots drenched in neon purples and reds. At the same time, the similarities continue as he focuses solely on a single character’s point of view as the director attempts to draw the audience into his depraved and shadowy psyche.


Although some parts have the vibe of Refn’s Drive (2011) with a downbeat individual entering an immoral world, Jungleland felt more of a nod to God Only Forgives (2013) as a man moonlights his way around a city dealing with threats and iniquitous behaviour.


Sadly, this is slightly unfortunate as this film has inherited the incredibly slow pace and somewhat meandering narrative of that film as well.


Regretfully, the minimalist dialogue and some extremely time-consuming sequences have the effect of making Jungleland feel a bit of a slog at times. An example straight away is the opening 2 minutes of static Birmingham shots that feel redundant - especially when the subsequent red titles, pumping music and a car swerving through a city at night is a much more intriguing and exciting opening.


And there is a LOT of walking too. Everything is dragged out and so measured I found myself switching off which was a disappointment given its mysterious narrative and impressive electro-infused soundtrack.


But it keeps coming back to its snail’s pace. At a whopping 1 hour and 40minutes, Jungleland ends up being an ambitious attempt to deliver an exploration of wickedness and sin but the repetitive script needs tightening, the film could do with a quicker edit and the length doesn’t justify the narrative content.


That said, Iqbal no doubt has an impressive variety of skills and throws them all at the screen during its runtime. Steadicam-style tracking shots, black and white scenes and some impressive and very atmospheric lighting are the film’s finest aspects. And all of this gives the movie an aura of sleazy racketeering and deadly corruption which comes across of screen.


So definitely check out Jungleland if you’re a fan of Refn’s work – especially Only God Forgives whose tone is splashed all over the film – but for others, prepare for a long-drawn-out endeavour that may leave you either immensely fascinated or slightly fatigued.


Michael Sales

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, Nov 3 2016 12:36PM

The Neon Demon (2016) Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn


After the arse-numbing carbuncles grown during the slog that was the director’s Only God Forgives (a film I will never forgive) comes Nicolas Winding Refn’s next experimental thriller The Neon Demon. The film follows an innocent young waif called Jesse (played by corpse-like Elle Fanning) who is looking to join the ranks of (exploited) models in the superficial Californian fashion industry.


Slower than a snail in L.A. traffic, Refn is aspiring for the vibe of a Kubrick or Lynch – his shot composition is admittedly great and references those director’s ‘distant’ style – but it comes across much more as art-student than art-house.


Like a copy of Vogue which has 50 pages of adverts to chore through only for the reader/viewer to be thoroughly bored when it finally gets going, the film’s shallow characters drag out the dull fashion world clichés. From the young starlet on the block, bitchy comments, exploitation and jealousy The Neon Demon attempts to do something new with them using Refn’s unique aesthetic style. The style, whilst impressive, is not however enough and simply glosses over the cracks in the film like bad mascara.


As the innocent Jesse is manipulated by those around her – from her make-up “friend” Ruby (Jena Malone) to fashion designer Robert Sarno (Alessandro Nivola) – the film throws in some horror genre tropes that grate against the sombre themes. A vicious motel owner played by Keanu Reeves is straight from a b-movie slasher and in all honesty I’d love to see a film about his background more so than the stereotypes on show here. The impressionable young red-riding hood, the photographer huntsman and the wolf like fashion house owner maybe mythical in status but are forgettable platitudes here.


The last 30 minutes are preposterous and unintelligible bilge with the idea that “the modelling industry will eat you alive and spit you out” being literally represented on screen – and as subtle as the “there’s always a bigger fish” line from The Phantom Menace.


What we’re left with is some gorgeous imagery and although that did have its charms, it was swallowed by a gagging amount of cheesy chestnuts seen a thousand times before. With the addition of some mild (for me) horror The Neon Demon ends up as shock b*llocks (shollocks?). Those who enjoyed the director’s previous outings will definitely find lots to talk about but others may be rubbed the wrong way by both Refn’s pretentious nonsense stretching for high art and his agent provocateur persona daring you to enjoy its seedy pleasures. A twisted and torturous tale for the characters AND the viewer.


6/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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