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By midlandsmovies, Jul 7 2018 07:46AM

Trentside (2018)


Directed by Charlie Delaney


Trentside is a 30 minute short written and directed by Charlie Delaney. It tells the story of Sterling (Josh Barrett), a troubled teen who happens upon a disturbing Super 8 reel in an abandoned building. After watching the footage, he has strange visions and dreams, finding it hard to distinguish reality from fantasy.


As a directorial debut, this film is pretty damned fantastic. Delaney has a great eye and there are some great shots and sequences here. Spencer’s foray into the darker areas of the abandoned building is a particular standout, with the use of light and shadow joining the superb sound design and eerie soundtrack to produce an incredibly creepy sequence.


‘Creepy’ is the operative word here; Trentside is a mood piece, my favourite type of horror film. The emphasis is on creepy visuals and, especially, sound to unsettle the viewer and Trentside delivers in spades. The opening scenes set the tone, with the flickering fire and the long shot of people arriving and standing in near-silence around it. I hate jumpscares but the ones here are used well, breaking the tension as needed rather than just thrown in now and then for a cheap shock. In fact, there’s one moment in the abandoned building that many would have used a jumpscare for, but the fact that they chose not to really drives the horror home.


A good horror filmmaker should know when it’s more effective to avoid the jumpscare, so kudos to Delaney for making this excellent choice here. The film-reel footage also feels genuine (perhaps filmed on Super 8 for authenticity?) and is evocative of the cursed VHS tape in The Ring.


At first I wasn’t sure what to make of Barrett’s performance as the lead – he seemed a little monotone and his lines were often mumbled and a little hard to make out. It quickly became clear that that was the point, though; Spencer is a moody teen with troubles on his mind, sent to therapy for violent outbursts in class. Barrett’s performance is completely genuine for a troubled teenager, and we’ve all sat behind kids like Sterling on the tram. Barrett’s performance gives him nuance and vulnerability.


Trentside was made for a budget of around £2000 and so was shot ‘guerrilla’ style, ensuring they made the most of the settings available. And boy did they make the most of them! From the skatepark to the Savoy Cinema to Sterling’s meditative moment on Trent Bridge, this film bleeds Nottingham (despite having been partially filmed in Yorkshire). As a Nottingham resident it was nice to see these little touches popping up and giving it a sense of authenticity. The budget is put to good use as this film certainly doesn’t look or sound cheap. The rave scene especially comes off well as it’s clear that there’s only a small group present, but the use of smoke and the barrage of sound makes it feel much much bigger than it is.


If I have any criticisms it’s that a couple of the supporting actors’ line deliveries are a little wobbly and that the therapy scenes slow the film down to a crawl (just a pacing thing, not at all the fault of Anita Dashwood who does an excellent job in the dual role of therapist and ghost), but these are merely niggles and the film overcomes them with great ease.


It’s not the most original premise, perhaps, but horror is one of those genres where that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Horror fans expect certain tropes, and as long as the production values and creep factor are high, a plot that’s slightly derivative is very easy to forgive.


This is a solid debut and a very strong foundation to build a career on – good luck, Charlie, I have a suspicion you’re going to go far!


Sam Kurd

https://twitter.com/splend

By midlandsmovies, May 23 2018 02:01PM



Midlands Review - Blackmail


Directed by Shahnawaz


Blackmail is a short thriller by Birmingham-based filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz, who you may remember from our review of his other recent short 'Witness'.


In this tightly-paced short, Nisaro Karim plays a teacher who finds himself blackmailed by a mysterious stranger who has taken pictures of him with his 15 year old lover. At the mercy of his blackmailer, he has no choice but to comply with their demands… or does he?


Karim gives a fantastic performance, really selling his character's distress at being stuck in this situation. Make no mistake, his character is reprehensible and you don't root for him to get off scot-free, but this isn't one of those stories that needs a likeable protagonist. It's a gritty backstreet brawl of a story and you know that no one in this will come out smelling of roses.


The film looks very slick and you can tell Shahnawaz has great talent and a good eye for the technical side of directing. He keeps the pace up and the tension taut throughout, which is no mean feat with such a small story as this. His shots are simple, smooth and uncomplicated, exactly what this film needs to remain grounded and do justice to the intimate nature of the story.


I'm afraid I did see the twist coming, but I think that's probably more my fault than the film's as there was nothing to give it away and I have a bad habit of expecting and guessing twists beforehand (I blame Mr. Shyamalan). The dialogue is a little on the clichéd side, but it serves the story well and is pretty much what you would expect in this situation.


In all, Blackmail is an excellent way to spend 10 minutes and is further proof that both Shahnawaz and Karim are rising stars to watch closely.


Sam Kurd


Twitter @Splend




By midlandsmovies, May 5 2018 09:47AM



The Post (2018) Dir. Steven Spielberg


Is there anything worse than the comment “oh, it’s so the film we need right now”? I think not, and Spielberg doubles down on this statement and runs with it in his ‘analysis’ of the politics of 1970s newspaper journalists and their attempts to expose corruption, in his new flick The Post. In short, what we get is a few Oscar-worthy actors (Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks) idly going through their high-quality motions as they discuss the repercussions of the Washington Post publishing Vietnam secrets buried in the Pentagon Papers.


With Spielberg’s track record, you’d expect nothing less than a well-constructed film but I found its constant pandering to topical issues so heavy-handed that the obvious parallels with current concerns about the US administration were undermined by a rather obvious delivery.


Spielberg’s floating camera and long takes are noticeable as we follow the newspaper’s owner (Streep as Katharine Graham) who is shown having her words literally taken from her mouth by male colleagues at board meetings even though the newspaper is in her hands. Spielberg tackles sexual politics as well as governmental politics, as she is shown physically placed behind groups of males and pushed out of the picture. But once they get hold of these confidential papers, she rises to take a stand and prepares to defy the newspaper's lawyers and publish the damning documents.


Early on, the Washington Post are banned from covering the wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter' which parallels Trump – who is another grandiose self-obsessed and ugly White House figure much like Nixon himself. A clever highlight for me was showing Nixon from a distance – literally spying on him – like he did on others, and was a great way to foreshadow Watergate along with the constant shady phone-calls throughout.


Alongside this, the actors are often framed in silhouette – with illumination coming from windows (a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel) – whilst Spielberg also uses slow zooms to echo the surveillance style of The Conversation and other political thrillers from the time. A 4-way telephone conversation hints at crossed-wires and the soundtrack has a mix of John Williams echoing his own JFK melodramatic strings with some of his Catch Me If You Can retro style.


Spielberg’s masterful control of the medium is without peer and his close-ups of the intricacies of the printing press were a beautifully staged montage of a technology long-gone. And the endless piles of paper the journalists sift through are here today in an aternative electronic format as seen on Wikileaks. Old fashioned but still powerful.


It’s just that my personal taste is predisposed to be wary of “topical” films like this obvious attempt. And The Post feels very by-the-book. The movie comes along with a well-respected filmmaker choosing the most blatant of tropes – “Hey, Nixon is like Trump! These secret papers are like Wikileaks! Journalists are being oppressed today!” Relevent? Yes. Rather tedious and obvious to all? Sadly I’d argue yes again. And hugely to its detriment.


For me, it is so representative of his two-trick pony current output – political allegories like Bridge of Spies, Lincoln and War Horse and his sub-par CGI heavy flicks like Tintin, BFG and Ready Player One - as films that haven't touched me in the way his past classics have. The Post therefore ends up going through the motions like a well organised print of a newspaper and this rag is ultimately disposable at the end of the day.


6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Apr 20 2018 05:07PM



Atonement (2018)


Directed by Auzair Razak from Coventry


A Ribbontree Production


Atonement is a new 12-minute psychological thriller from Coventry writer-director Auzair Razak which tackles issues of bereavement, grief and blame.


Filmed in a Paul Greengrass handheld camera style we begin our journey with Daniel who we discover has lost his daughter and is battling to come to terms with her passing. Spiralling into alcohol-fused decline, he returns home one night and begins to see visions of a mysterious forest.


Daniel himself is played by actor George McCluskey (another Coventry talent whom we have spoken with before) and here he excellently conveys the awkward confusion and stress of this melancholic man as he attempts to deal with his demons.


Atonement sticks to its low-key realism with music that is kept to a minimum but when it does arrive it has an eerie elongated tonal quality which adds a touch of unexpectedness to the weird proceedings.


A piercing tinnitus inducing sound signals the arrival of his visions as his daughter Emily (Lamissah La-Shontae) appears then disappears into surrounding woods. The washed-out colour palette of these scenes help establish a dream-like quality whilst McCluskey manages to evoke a devasted father well with the few lines of dialogue he is given.


A date scene in a restaurant conveys Daniel’s frustrations and loneliness as he fails to engage with his guest and as he drifts in and out of his ghostly nightmares we are given hints upon what brought him to this state.


Deep within his trance, a shrine against a wooden log and a blood-red toy car leave clues as to the backstory and we’re soon within Daniel’s mindset as his fanciful dreams and miserable reality collide.


Atonement’s only real drawback is its slight unoriginality. The ghostly daughter and [SPOILERS] car crash denouement is one I’ve seen a lot of in local films. It may just be coincidence but as recent as last week I reviewed a film about a middle-aged bald man suffering nightmare visions that leave him “hanging” onto reality.


However, that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to recommend this short too. The film’s technical aspects are rock solid with sound mixing being of particular note. Dialogue, music and audio effects have been well produced and it’s so easy to ruin a good short with bad sound. But not here. The performances are rugged but consistent and deliver the slightly-seen-it-too-many times before materal with believability and sensitivity.


A great introduction to a young filmmaker I haven’t heard of, Auzair Razak’s Atonement is a fantastic welcome of another gifted filmmaker onto the Midlands scene. One who I very much look forward to seeing more of – with a splash more originality I hope – in the coming months.


Midlands Movies Mike


Follow the short on Twitter at @Atonement_Short

By midlandsmovies, Apr 7 2018 12:43PM



Midlands Spotlight - Don't Follow the Light


After the success of his psychological horror and Midlands Movies Award-nominated The Telephone, Derbyshire writer-director Stuart Connock Wheeldon is again delving into the world of independent cinema with his new film Don't Follow the Light.


Stepping into the preproduction phase this short will be filmed in and around the Derbyshire countryside during the summer of 2018 and Don't Follow the Light is a prequel to the filmmaker’s much-talked-about production concept for Vanished which is gaining a cult following on social media.


That film is to be a smart spin on misadventure and mystery and Stuart says Vanished has already attracted the interest and support of industry professionals.


The prequel - which now seeks funding - pre-empts the story of Gillian Gold, who is described by the filmmaker as the ‘Banksy of Journalism’ and a tenacious investigative journalist. Stuart has been influenced by Hitchcock as Don't Follow the Light is set amongst a succession of unsolved murders and the disappearance of Gold herself.


A range of fine actors has already been chosen for production with Lana O'Kell set to play Gillian Gold and Nigel Barber will be joining the cast in the role of Dr. Williams. Paul Dewdney will play Dr. Childs and Dilly Evans-Smith has landed the role of Jessica.


Stuart hopes all these acclaimed actors will bring an engaging mix of experiences and will add heart and soul (“not to mention a degree of ruthlessness”) to the characters.


His production company Nine Ladies Film is now about to undertake a crowdfunding campaign. Stuart is joined by Nick John Whittle as producers of the film and they plan to get together a working budget to realise this early chapter in the Gillian Gold story.


He hopes that with the help of a generous public who enjoy independent film, Don’t Follow the Light's dark ideas can be expressed in full once production is underway.


For more information visit The Vanished Film website to find contact details and updates about the crowdfunding page http://vanishedfilm.org



By midlandsmovies, Mar 30 2018 11:06AM



Brokenhead (2018) Dir. Steve Rainbow

79 mins

The Birmingham Film company


This new Midlands feature from director Steve Rainbow tells the story of a solitary man who begins to experience some very strange occurrences during his final few days of his lonely job maintaining a working lighthouse.


Sean Connolly plays Stefan, the lighthouse keeper, who amongst his old radios and model sailboats, single-handedly preserves the upkeep of the coastal building but is increasingly disturbed by his isolated existence.


Caricature faces are drawn on Post-It notes which adorn the walls and give him company in the absence of any companions and the film gives the audience plenty of context and history up front. Opening with the sound of crashing waves we see this quirky owner maintain the old lighthouse but when things start to break down we question why. Is it a technical failure of something much more sinister?


Therefore, Stefan’s relaxing final days before returning to the mainland sees him investigating these spooky issues with the ocean building. His only interactions are via radio where he plays chess one move at a time and the weird sounds of the score from Andy Garbi work well to invoke the ethereal rolling melody of the sea. Building a sense of unease, sound plays a crucial role throughout as static and mysterious pleas for help come across the wirelss to Stefan, confusing and bewildering him.


A lot of attention to detail has been employed by the filmmakers as the lighthouse and all its antiquities link the past to the present which is a crucial aspect – especially as the film later explores historical legends and myths as well as personal memories and circumstances.


During his time, Stefan does voiceover work and we hear a radio drama where he plays out a multitude of fictional roles. But does the drama bleed into the real world? As he is told that burying an albatross on land is bad luck, a mix of sea-faring stories combine with the lighthouse blacking out.


And the discovery of voices on the airwaves and a life-jacket floating in the sea muddy the waters even further. Is his mental health suffering? Is he experiencing delusions? The film takes us through an emotional journey in the search for answers.


If there are a few minor improvements to be made I would have liked to see some quicker editing to build narrative tension. Although the long shots echo the extended periods alone, making time seem endless, as the story progresses we could have seen some shots cut shorter. That said, they give a great sense of time and place and are well composed and reflect the leisurely life of the keeper.


The great cinematography of Ian Brow captures the brilliant sunshine and glistening sea but again I think some more variety in the shot choices (most are mid-range shots) could have helped engross the audience more. The radio conversations, whilst no doubt accurate, are a little slow to engage with but with that said, the monotony could be part of delivering the themes of a solitary life and the boredom Stefan faces.


Exploring dark themes about the past and tormenting loneliness, the film doesn’t shy from difficult ideas and although an element of confusion did come across at times, the film keeps its shadowy revelations at its forefront and delivers a satisfying and eerie finale.


In conclusion, the film’s sole focus on one man is a difficult narrative to hold, yet the film does its best with a few lashings of comedy to lighten the mood. Moments of introspection are also littered amongst the increasingly haunting story as well. As the character writes his memoir, “The Last Lighthouse Keeper”, Brokenhead becomes a fine study of self-inflicted loneliness and confronting one's demons. With the deconstruction of fiction and reality and a solid central performance from Connolly the film is a melancholy marine thriller of personal-ghosts from the dark depths.


Midlands Movies Mike





By midlandsmovies, Jan 22 2018 01:24PM



Molly’s Game (2018) Dir. Aaron Sorkin


After her hugely entertaining and brilliant performance in last year’s underrated Miss Sloane (review here), Jessica Chastain returns as another feisty boss focused on a career that again contains many questionable practices. Based upon the real-life story of Molly Bloom who ran celebrity-attended back-room poker games, the film is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut and he brings with him the snappy dialogue he is renowned for.


The film itself is framed around a series of flashbacks (like Miss Sloane) and an ongoing court case (like Miss Sloane) where her closest confidante is a strong-willed Brit playing an American (like Miss Sloane). In this instance it’s Idris Elba who stars as Charlie Jaffey, Molly's lawyer who although reluctant at first, attempts to acquit her of charges stemming from her time organising the underground poker meetings.


Comprising of Hollywood high rollers, businessmen and later various mobsters, her hotel gambling evenings originate from Molly’s drive during her younger days as an Olympic ski prodigy which push her towards success and a lucrative, if suspect, income.


A patriarchal Kevin Costner plays Larry Bloom, Molly's dad, and provides a beat-for-beat father figure as per his stint as Pa Kent in Man of Steel but Michael Cera as Player X has much more fun in his role. Poking fun at himself again (after This Is the End) his composite character is allegedly a mix of Tobey Maguire and Ben Affleck amongst others. With a Hollywood income, and ego, he dares Molly to expand her business and provides a small but important role in the middle of the film as an arrogant antagonist once Molly double downs on her decisions to maintain control of what she has created.


Molly’s determination though has her creating new opportunities in New York and as we see her business develop, fail then re-emerge, her steely grit is played to perfection by Chastain. The actress throws in a smattering of trashy exuberance into the mix with low-cut tops and heavy make-up showing how out of her depth she is amongst the real life hoi polloi.


The fast back-and-forth dialogue from Sorkin is shown mostly in her interactions with Elba whose composed lawyer meets his match with Chastain’s ballsy businesswoman. Barbs are thrown both ways and Sorkin regular ups the ante with the two trading insults and information as Elba attempts to break through Chastain’s facade to uncover the truth. Chastain however keeps her cards close to her chest, not wanting, or unable, to clarify her position to avoid incriminating herself and even protecting, at times, her precious clients who trusted her.


The film’s narrative and subsequent editing serve to explain the complex story and glossary of gambling terms but the general cinematography of this biography/thriller is solid if underwhelming. However, dealing an audience both entertainment and raising some interesting questions of loyalty and opportunity, Molly’s Game bets its hand on Sorkin’s writing and two glorious performances from Chastain and Elba. An excellent, but somewhat forgettable, support cast fills the rest of the pack yet despite a few minor misgivings, the film delivers a jackpot payout for fans of the actors and director.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Sep 21 2017 02:31PM

Mother! (2017) Dir. Darren Aronofsky


The history of haunting, or haunted, “mother” horror movies is a long one ranging from Mama (2013) to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (Regan’s bed-bouncing screams of “mother” still linger from 1973) but the eclectic Aronofsky was never going to provide an audience with the expected. In his horror house, he places Jennifer Lawrence squarely as Mother Nature herself as his story develops from a chilling but calculated cliché to a surprise sermon in just 2 hours.


Lawrence plays the put-upon partner of Javier Bardem’s author who is ridden with writer’s block as she attempts to build a house from the ashes in order to create their own personal Eden together. The first hour contains many horror tropes – a new couple, a mysterious house, a scary cellar, the strange phenomenon in the walls etc – and sets up a film where Lawrence’s mother tries increasingly futile attempts to maintain her paradise, lost as it is to many unwarranted guests. A brilliant Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer arrive (in the script as “Man” and “Woman”) to disturb the sanctuary in their utter rudeness and contempt of Lawrence.


Here we begin to see Aronofsky’s allegory as we soon witness their children arrive (*obvious klaxon* ‘Cain and Abel’) whose Old Testament fights sees blood spattering as mother’s “guests” continue on a downward spiral of debauchery, violence and carnage.


Personally, it felt a film of two halves and I enjoyed the themes the director brings attention to but in fairness to viewers, I do think Hollywood needs to work on their trailers. Knowing Aronofsky I was surprised to see what was advertised as a haunted house chiller in the film’s promotional material which has since prompted film company Paramount to issue a statement about taking creative risks. If only the advertising was more honest about its intentions I think audiences would respect them and the film a lot more. There’s nothing in the heady themes of the film that a mainstream crowd would not “get” yet hiding it under a mask of Blumhouse-esque trailer scares does it more than a disservice.


That said, with a few dark moments of comedy in the first half, Lawrence’s patience is pushed to the limit and I was laughing along with the movie a fair bit. However, once her character became pregnant the director launches into a mother-metaphor so blatant I began laughing sporadically AT it. More of a dissertation – an unwanted lecture at times – the film’s focus shift to the dangers or war, religion, false idols and even the birth of a sacrificial “chosen one” was a bit too on the nose.


However, Mother is brilliantly filmed in grainy greys and browns and the bursts of red colour and the surrounding green nature are fleeting but all the more powerful. The lack of score maintains the stark and unsettling mood whilst the final anarchy and chaos in the house towards the film’s conclusion is a striking example of the director’s technical vision.


But was it enjoyable? Well, it’s certainly a class product and although audiences have been polarised with its efforts (part of which I maintain is a ‘marketing’ issue) the film itself contains a full-house of interesting scriptural and environmental themes which I was still picking apart way after the film had finished.


My own initial interpretation was one that the film was simply “time” itself. The “big bang” fiery opening was followed by a period of cooling earth tones before (metaphorical) dinosaurs Harris and Pfeiffer arrived. A frog jumping from the ooze onto land appeared an evolutionary nod whilst a directorial ‘god-shot’ high above the house seemed celestial in its nature with Earth (the house) at its centre. And it wasn’t until the arrival of Bardem’s “fan-fiction” (Bible) did we see the ultimate destruction of “mother” (nature).


However, it is very open to interpretation and it is that which is far and away the best thing about it but at times I was hoping to get the beginning of a film that the ending hadn’t set up or even find an ending for the more traditional horror film promised initially. But like the Bible, it is ultimately a film of two halves (Testaments) which combine into an intricate whole. This will satisfy some but others will find the bait-and-switch as awful as the violent fundamentalism that manifests in the finale. Your ultimate decision may be swayed by whether you feel humans are already a bunch of selfish shits – or want to be told that is the case just one more time but in a slightly pretentious way.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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