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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 1 2019 09:17AM



Midlands Review - Cradle


Directed by Joe Facer & Adam Sandy


2019


Dreams of Summer Productions


Cradle is a new film from actors-turned-filmmakers Joe Facer and Mark Wisdom and cinematographer Adam Sandy who were the team behind recent Midlands release God’s Broken Things. (link)


We open on an old spade digging up dirt in the overcast countryside before cutting to a man (Joe Facer) in a bedroom who is looking at a belt on the bedside cabinet. Immediately we are thrown into a world of dark thoughts and quiet contemplation.


Are the man’s thoughts turning to suicide? Well, we discover the man is the same one digging the grave and we begin to contemplate what may have caused his downslide.


Edited in a very slow and measured way the film’s gazing camera focuses on the man’s face as he appears torn by what cannot be an easy decision.


The film uses the natural sounds of the countryside mixed with underlying tonal notes by Mansfield based musician Hamish Dickinson which begins building suspense. Cutting back and forth from the digging to the bedroom the man looks at a child’s drawing of ‘mummy and daddy’ before we’re back grave-side as he scrumples the sheet in his dirty fist.


However, he pauses for a moment in the dirty forest and coughs up blood into his hand. Is the man ill? Dying? Has he lost his family? Perhaps a child? Well, the film leaves a lot of the questions it raises open to interpretation.


Concluding with the man crawling slowly into the makeshift “cradle” we never find out what has caused his spiral of depression and as the camera moves to above his head we get, a little cliched to be fair, a final stare up into the heavens.


The symbolism and subject matter in Cradle is a little on the nose for me but as it’s shot simply and without fuss, the film is also open to a certain amount of audience reading which is a good thing.


Although the content of the film is nothing new in the Midlands film scene, fans of dark experimental drama will enjoy its open questions, vulnerable tone and allegorical influences where a man is pushed to his final resting place in a short meditation on the human condition.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Mar 25 2019 09:02PM



Midlands Review - Clockworks


Directed by Mark Corden


2017


Directed by Mark Corden and written by and starring Emmeline Hartley, the 2017 film Clockworks is a time-shifting comedy-drama from the Midlands.


We open on a “In Loving Memory” memorial card for young girl Amber Clockwork before panning across a workshop where a blue-flamed blowtorch bursts across the screen. Here we see Emmeline Hartley (as Alana Clockwork) sitting pensively as her tools, including a solid-looking drill and mighty sledgehammer, surround her as she thinks.


As sparks fly during the grinding of an item the audience are initially kept from seeing, the film edits the tough brutal workmanship sequences with a more sombre tone. Midlands Movies Awards Best Actress nominee Emmeline is shown in quiet reflection, staring at a seemingly-significant watch.


The film excels with its sound as we hear (and see) a number of tools in full use and the short mixes this well with a stirring orchestral-tinged soundtrack. This is all to the credit of Alex Stroud who was deservedly picked by the Midlands Movies Awards panel for Best Sound in 2018. The classical-influenced score however soon become a crashing “stomp” soundtrack of metal on metal and mechanical and industrial melodies.


[Spoilers] However, we soon discover a rudimentary time-gauntlet has been created in this garage workshop and after quickly winding it up, our lead instantly disappears from her location. We cut to the past where our heroine grabs her sister Amber (Esmee Matthews) who is deep in a phone conversation. And as her sister pays little attention to the world around her, Alana pulls Amber out of the way from an imminent accident with an oncoming car.


The film quickly moves to a different future altogether, yet our lead may have had some doubts about her initial time-travelling, and life-saving, antics. We subsequently get an alternative timeline which does some clever re-setting of the plot points we’ve just been shown.


The film is clever and interesting from the outset and the two leads do well with their brief appearances whilst the technical proficiency is excellent with sound, image and performances all expertly coming together. Not content with all that, it even has some very effective visual effects work too. The production team also hasn’t underestimated the power of a good poster in its marketing either. Put your star faces front and centre, folks!


In summary then, the title and content obviously emphasises the concept of time, yet Clockworks’ own short runtime means it doesn’t overstay its welcome at all. And with its high quality concept and delightful execution, the film ends up being a time-travelling triumph.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Mar 23 2019 08:52AM



Midlands Spotlight - KOBE


KOBE is an upcoming short crime thriller film from West Midlands director AR Ugas about a university student who, after his childhood friend is released from prison, decides to enter into a life of crime which culminates in a robbery that goes wrong.


Shot in 5 days in several locations in the Birmingham are, the film was shot, produced, directed and edited by Ugas, who had great success with his Tolkien-inspired first film 'The Return of the Ring'.

AR Ugas explains, "After The Return of the Ring and its success I felt like I was ready to jump into making a feature film. I wrote the script, casted it and was about to start the rehearsal process, but for a variety of reasons and like many other independent projects it failed to launch".

"After that, I decided to go back to the basics and fully develop myself as a one-man team guerilla filmmaker, buying my own camera and editing software and hardware", he added.


The director explains that not only did he make decisions to save time and money in the long run, he also wanted to fully appreciate and understand what it takes to create a film. "Having dipped my toes into shooting and editing myself, I am a lot more confident and comfortable with all sides of filmmaking now".


While 'The Return of the Ring' was very high-concept and flashy, the director felt it lacked an emotional depth - "Everyone saw what happened but not many felt what happened and we watch films not just to see but also to feel".


KOBE will be a lot more gritty and dynamic film and the director hopes it's also a lot more personal too as the film delves into the friendship of an ex-prisoner and a university student, examining their moral compasses and how people change when put in a difficult situation. It also looks at a faltering relationship between a strict out-of-touch father and said student.



Working on the project are the two leads, Mathias Andre (as Kobe) and Dominic Thompson (as Mouse) who also played the hooded wizzard in The Return of the Ring.


Joining them are Tee Morris (Christopher) who recently won an award for 'Best Actor' for the wonderful short film 'Climbing Trees', Alexandria Carr (Serena), Bola Latunji (James), COrey Thompson (Sully) and Summer Carr (Natasha).


With a plan to release the film in the next few motnhs, the production are looking at several platforms for the release and you can find out more about the film and filmaker here https://www.facebook.com/ARUGASUK and check out the two exclusive screengrabs of Dominic Thompson playing 'MOUSE'.



By midlandsmovies, Mar 22 2019 01:04PM



Midlands Review - Return from the Moon


Directed by Lee Charlish


Korky Films (2018)


One of the biggest mistakes a film-goer can make is mistaking Animation for a genre. There’s nothing worse than sitting your tiny child down in front of something bright and colourful only to discover it’s Akira and the last third puts them in therapy for life. Awkward. Animation is a medium, not a genre, one that gives filmmakers the freedom to express all sorts of thoughts, no matter how dark.


‘Dark’ is the key word for this particular film, as anyone familiar with other offerings from Korky Films such as ‘Scarecrow’ and ‘The Cold Caller’ can reasonably expect. With ‘Return to the Moon’, Lee Charlish has crafted a twisted Lynchian nightmare that very much highlights how animation is not always for kids. Not for nothing did it win Best Animated Film at this year’s Midlands Movies awards!


An astronaut plummets to Earth following a visit to the dark side of the moon, but while his body is trapped in his capsule, his mind (his soul?) is elsewhere, still on that remote chunk of rock far far away. His visions are troubling, even existentially terrifying, and he’s forced to take drastic measures to free himself.


I’ve seen this short several times now, and it’s very hard to pin down in words exactly how effective it is. It was interesting watching with an audience at the Beeston Film Festival, as nervous laughter broke out at the first surreal image (a humanoid rabbit is a pretty funny sight, in fairness) but the laughter quickly died down and became an uneasy silence. It went down well, the audience liked it, but it touches you on a deeper level.


This is a film worth watching at least twice to soak up the aesthetic and to embrace how uncomfortable it makes you feel. It’s not gory or nasty or anything like that, but it’s very unsettling. And that’s exactly how it should feel – this is a consciousness in peril, a psyche warring with itself or with a higher power.


That’s up for debate and personal interpretation, of course, as all the best art is. The animation itself is fluid and has an extremely distinctive style, a little reminiscent of mid-2000s era internet animation but with a much more careful eye for detail and flow.


If you’re interested in films that leave you with an itchy id, make sure you check this one out.


Sam Kurd


Twitter @Splend


By midlandsmovies, Mar 10 2019 10:47AM



Midlands Review - Headphones


Directed by Thomas Line


2018


This new 7-minute short comes from Northampton director Thomas Line and tells the story of an introverted young girl who retreats from the world into the music blaring from her headphones.


We open in a bedroom where the girl Sarah (a fantastic Arabella Smith-James) is reading and listening to music as she blocks out the sound of what we assume are arguing parents.


Increasing the volume to drown out their war of words we then jump from night to day on a college campus where two girls hand out flyers for a local gig.


Sarah takes a flyer before pausing to exchange glances with one of the girls (actress Olivia Noyce in a small but important support role as Naomi), however as she heads into an underpass she crosses paths with a group of males who snatch the headphones from her head.


The small but meaningful glances are testament to good performance from the actresses as director Line uses music throughout. And its constant presence places the audience in a similar place to our protagonist. The absence of reams of dialogue also demonstrates a good handling of pacing and visuals to get the story across too, which compliments the subtle expressions on the faces of the girls.


As Sarah tries to retrieve her headphones from the one of the bullies (a menacing Joseph T. Callaghan) they are smashed on the ground and she returns home to the ever-constant presence of her family shouting.


With her soul crying out for a replacement, Sarah spots the flyer and decides to head to the live show. At the gig she spies the girl from before, and as the band take the stage she builds up the confidence to join the dancefloor, swaying in time to the music. The boy from the underpass is also there but Sarah rejects his advances before Noyce’s character Naomi steals his drink and invites Sarah outside on to a rooftop.


The cast are effective in a short that covers a lot of emotions with very few words. Placing an emphasis on a good soundtrack, the excellent sound editing and mixing is one of the film’s many technical achievements.


As the film draws to its conclusion, the short focuses on female friendship – or perhaps more – as Sarah comes out - both of her shell and more literally outside of the bar - for an intimate final moment of “headphone sharing” with her new acquaintance.


The fact the film treats this relationship as something for the audience to decide upon is a fine creative choice as the two look out across a sunset over the city and whether love or friendship, simply shows a sensitive connection between two people.


With brilliant performances from the three main cast members and the director’s focus on private and public moments, the film is a first-rate look at young female relationships. Exceptional music editing reflecting the feelings of those involved also emphasises its focus on aural experiences. And the excellent sound arrangement alongside the visuals helps create the narrative beats too.


As it wraps up though, Headphones emphasises the heart much more so than the head, and ends up being a tremendous local short that expresses a melodic harmony between two tender souls.


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Feb 28 2019 06:33PM



Virtual Brutality (2019)


Directed by James Heaney


From Goldbox productions and director James Heaney comes Virtual Brutality, a short film combining exciting action with dark humour.


The film starts off with a delivery driver making his way to a customer's flat with a large package that needs to be signed for. As an audience we’re not sure what is inside at this point, however the animated music alongside the prolonged trip to the customers door indicate it is possibly something that will be awe-inspiring.


Our protagonist answers the door, looks down and beams with delight as he sees that his order has finally arrived at his home. He shuts the door and starts to unravel the packaging only for two opportunistic intruders to use the door left ajar from the courier driver to let themselves in.


Director James Heaney employs a voiceover to introduce the audience to the package, a virtual reality headset, which is used here to escape the trappings of the modern world. It also lets you be who you want to be. Personally, I loved the addition of the voiceover and the way it is used to exemplify the contemporary hunger to separate one’s self from reality and explore other worlds through “virtual reality”.


As the intruders break into our protagonist's property, they see he is otherwise occupied with his new purchase. The virtual reality mode is fully on as we see him kicking and punching the air in glee. The calamitous burglars soon end up on the wrong side of our main character as he unknowingly grapples both - thinking they are part of his “virtual” world.


Dean Williams, the stunt co-ordinator, has done a great job of choreographing the fight scenes to give them whip crack intensity, something not ordinarily found in low budget short films. Because of this the action flowed well helping keep the pace of the film to a good standard.


Virtual Brutality is a fun, zany look at a young man using a virtual reality headset for the first time - described as “a product that will keep you in denial for hours on end”. The violent tone aside, I thought Virtual Brutality reminded me of the vibe and the quality of a Pixar short film, and although brief, it is a ton of fun! Brutal.


Guy Russell


Twitter @BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, Jan 5 2019 10:29AM



Night Tide


(2019) Body in the Box productions


Directed by Richard Miller


A new film from director of Call Out (click here) and The Exchange (click here), Night Tide opens with a spooky and chilling lullaby as a man enters a house in the dark at Christmas.


The child singing & off-kilter glockenspiel has the vibe of BBC’s cult TV show Psychoville and as he sits in a chair with a stiff drink, we see a female companion laughing at messages on a smart phone – clearly not paying much attention to her husband.


Tension is high as the couple argue before a knock at the door stirs the man from a bathroom soak as he listens to Beethoven’s Für Elise. After finding no one at the door he then heads to bed with a reminder that his relationship is on the rocks.


However, after discovering an open window, the man looks out into the night and unsure of what he sees grabs a torch. This illuminates not only the dark corridors but the audience are slowly illuminated along the way too.


Director Miller has done a lot with little in this short. The scenes are lit with a horror vibe but doesn’t stray into haunted house territory. I’ve always found the more grounded drama and the depiction of a realistic house can make the horror stand out when it does arrive. And this is what happens in Night Tide.


Gavin Fowler is good as the put-upon and spooked husband. He says a lot without, well, actually saying a lot, especially as dialogue is kept to a minimum. Which is hugely to its benefit. An unsettling tone is what the director goes for and delivers in spades here as well. Each short scene/sequence has a beginning, middle and end which fits into the whole narrative well and creates intrigue from the start.


The cinematography from Grant Archer is superb as uses the light from the torch, candles, isolated bulbs and clever angles to help further solidify the film’s horror credentials and morbid tone.


So what strange entity may be lurking around this domestic abode? Well, I won’t spoil it here but a splatter of blood, a silhouette at the window and a meal at a table all add to the strange atmosphere.


Miller expertly creates questions in each scene and allows the viewer to discover (or question) the strange goings-on with the protagonist as he wanders his home at night. A final reveal didn’t quite hit the mark for me but all the previous strands, music and themes are concluded very well.


With a great wrap-around story, excellent technical skill and with a set of frightful, and brilliantly executed scenes, Miller has created a terror-filled short in Night Tide that brilliantly soaks you with outstanding sinister scares.


Michael Sales

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