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By midlandsmovies, Mar 28 2020 09:39AM

The Reunion

Directed by Pixel Moore


Howdy! The sun rises across the plains as we step into the old American West for new film The Reunion from Pixel Moore which tells the tale of a man’s past catching up with him.

Set on a farming ranch, a lonesome woman (Rebecca Hanssen as Abigail) undertakes her chores before heading to the wilderness to collect water from an old pump before finding her father (Tony Hamilton as Frank) shot in the abdomen.

Written by Midlands filmmaker Louis Brough it is again honourable to see local projects tackle Hollywood-style genres that surpass the limitations of a low budget and often very restricted resources.

Brough has previously tackled the fantasy genre in his film Aurora (our review here) as well as another American drama set on the rail tracks of America in Runaways (our review here). Filming in the UK, the short does it best to convince you it’s actually the colonial past and the excellent wardrobe also sells the illusion.

From your standard cattle clothing to pioneer-era sun bonnets, the film’s costume is a highlight with its authentic look to create a cowboy-feel with rustlers, horses and a ‘yee-haw’ atmosphere.

That’s not to say it’s a comedy pastiche. From the desolate trails to the wooden barns, influences come from classic Westerns and when a stranger in black arrives (Michael Siegel as Uncle Jared), the short takes a dramatic turn which reunites family, and a dark past.

The Reunion then is clearly a genre piece and from the accents to the outfits, sells the audience a genuine slice of rodeo-inspired drama.

In addition, the solid performances and slick editing has the narrative gallop along to a powerful and bloody conclusion. So get off your horse, drink your milk and settle in for an impactful Western short with plenty to recommend.

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Sep 12 2019 12:35PM

Midlands Spotlight - Day of the Stranger

Whilst his other movie The Pocket Film of Superstitions is in full swing, local filmmaker Tom Lee Rutter is closing the book on another film that has had a more complicated journey.

And after a near-6 year battle, this highly unique and ambitious Midlands movie is finally all set to attract a cult crowd...

Billed as the only British Guerilla Acid Western ever made, new film Day of the Stranger was full of filming obstacles and hardships. With a traumatic behind the scenes story as dramatic as the movie itself, the film finally looks set to be unleashed upon the world.

In true guerilla fashion, filmmaker Tom Lee Rutter and his crew took to the sand-stoned countryside of Worcestershire to achieve the unthinkable - a West Midlands psychedelic, horror Western.

True to form, what started as a group of enthusiastic individuals making a film turned into an ordeal which spanned nearly 6 years of obstacles to get the film finished.

''Several times it nearly never happened, I was ready to bury it", says Tom.

"Everything you can imagine that went wrong went wrong - from erratic behaviour of certain individuals, constant re-shoots and re-casting to hard-drives dying on me. We had it all. Your classic underground film-making horror story.'' explains the director.

With the help of the enthusiasm of individuals and the recent involvement of new talent, new life has been breathed into the film and seen it to the finish line. 'It's a miracle we have a film at all, but such is the journey on the front-line of underground film.''

Now a trailer has been released along with an official poster. The film is a throwback homage to the sparse run of the acid-western sub-genre which included films such as Monte Hellman's The Shooting (1966), Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo (1970) and Robert Downey's Greaser's Palace (1972).

Aiming for an early 2020 world premiere and starring a wealth of talent including Gary Baxter (Beyond Fury), Richard Rowbotham (White Goods) and a special appearance by Gary Shail (Quadrophenia, Metal Mickey) Day of the Stranger looks set to offer something different to the world of cult and horror indie cinema.

By midlandsmovies, Aug 24 2019 07:00AM

The Wind (2019) Dir. Emma Tammi

Emma Tammi’s directorial debut is a western horror and although the title sounds like a sub-Blumhouse video on demand chiller (or an unwanted Shyamalan The Happening spin-off) the sombre tome makes this a scary trip to the West worth checking out.

Horror westerns are a small sub-genre – from direct-to-video sequels From Dusk Til Dawn 3 and Tremors 4 all the way to S. Craig Zahler’s excellent Bone Tomahawk via the slightly less-excellent Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966). John Carpenter’s Vampires also mixed the genres but here though, the film ditches any b-movie stylings and feels more in tune with the Coens’ Buster Scruggs.

The film stars Caitlin Gerard as Lizzy, a resourceful woman in a remote cabin on the American plains. She lives with just her husband, Ashley Zukerman as Isaac before being joined by Julia Goldani Telles as Emma Harper and Dylan McTee as Gideon Harper. With just 4 people, the women toil the crops as the men leave them for long stretches hunting and gathering.

Opening on a horrific scene of a pregnancy gone wrong, we know we’re not going to be in for an easy ride. The structure of the film flashes back and forth from the present, where Lizzy is surviving on her own, to the 4 people trying to settle in this harsh environment back in the past. The two intertwining narratives was a fantastic device to create mystery and leave questions unanswered. For some though, the lack of clarity between where we are in time could infuriate. And I have to admit myself, there were times of head-scratching to work out where we were in the story.

As Emma Harper gets pregnant, she begins to have visions and feelings of another presence in the area. Initially dismissive herself, Lizzy takes little notice of these until later when the wind – and whatever forces it is hiding – comes to her own door.

The dialogue is minimal but effective from scriptwriter Teresa Sutherland and Caitlin Gerard is great as the lonely woman battling supernatural entities and possibly her own sanity. The film is also beautifully shot and slowly allows the story to build before we get a shock scare or two.

With intrigue and violence, the film is ambitious yet doesn’t always hit its mark. The slow editing makes its 90 minutes seem longer, but in many ways the film is too short and the ending is a little rushed and offers little in the way of explanation. Although I suspect that was the point.

In conclusion, The Wind is an impressive and sporadically frightening first film which takes the large scale and uncharted American wild West and places its foreign nature into the cabin - and the mind - of a female pioneer. With heady themes of religion, redemption and the unfamiliar, you will be rewarded as you roam into this undiscovered and menacing windy wilderness.

★★★ ½

Michael Sales

By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2018 01:29PM

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) Dir. The Coen Brothers

A 6-part anthology film that quickly ended up on Netflix, the award-winning Coen brothers are not immune to the modern day perils of the straight-to-streaming phenomena. However, like Alex Garland’s Annihilation, cinematic quality is there from the outset and this easily could have been more widely released in cinemas.

And given its quality it is a huge shame it wasn't.

The multiple, and magnificent, stories themselves are framed within the pages of a book and contain a range of tonally different shorts all set in the Wild West. The Coens’ dark humour and splashes of violence are well and present and the stories include a cocky outlaw played brilliantly by Tim Blake Nelson who sings (and floats) his way to heaven (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), James Franco’s bank-robber hanging by a noose (Near Algodones) and Liam Neeson’s impresario riding through towns with his actor Harrison who has no arms and legs (Meal Ticket).

The eclectic situations continue with Tom Waits’s grizzled prospector searching for riches in the wilderness (All Gold Canyon), a wagon train being attacked by natives (The Gal Who Got Rattled) and finally five people in a stagecoach that refuses to stop as it carries a dead body (The Mortal Remains).

With something for everyone, the yarns each have their own unique style and death and misery appear in all the tales. But the Coens haven’t scrimped on the comedy from annoying dogs, witty songs and characters trapped within their situations to humorous effect.

My personal favourite was The Gal Who Got Rattled with an excellent Zoe Kazan as innocent Alice Longabaugh and Bill Heck as the kindly and gruff Billy Knapp. That story could happily have been part of a longer film and the mixture of deadly attacks and sharp conversation was a highlight.

That said, each story has its own charms and for someone not keen on anthology flicks (see my Ghost Stories review here) the Coens have managed to weave 6 amazing stories into a cohesive and thematic whole.

Where Hail Caesar tackled Roman epics (and musical numbers) amongst its Hollywood setting, the Coens' influences here come from the American love of frontier films - another classic genre linking their modern takes within established cinematic history.

Not diverging greatly from their usual style, the death-obsessed duo deliver another historical romp with a great cast and amazing outdoor locations.


Mike Sales

By midlandsmovies, Feb 14 2016 10:58AM

Bone Tomahawk (2016) Dir. S. Craig Zahler

This debut Western from writer-director Zahler pitches historical cowboys against feral natives in a drama-horror set in the wild west. Opening with an unlawful duo being set upon after disturbing an ancient burial ground, one escapes to a frontier town called Bright Hope and is immediately arrested and thrown in jail by Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell).

With injuries occurred during his apprehension the local doctor (Lili Simmons as Samantha O’Dwyer) is sent for, leaving her bed-bound husband (Patrick Wilson as Arthur O’Dwyer) who is similarly in pain from a broken leg. During the night however they disappear with the only evidence left behind being an intricately designed arrow. A friendly local native American is called upon and identifies it as being from a brutal tribe of cavern-dwelling troglodytes.

A crew is quickly assembled and thus begins a chase for their loved ones and brutal vengeance in the wastelands of the surrounding desert. Russell maintains the rough country Sheriff he embodied in The Hateful Eight (gruff beard and all) and Wilson’s agonising husband attempts to overcome his lame leg to recover his loved one.

Split into three main parts (the town, the wilderness, the caves) the narrative is straightforward but the actors have fun with their broad characters which ensures that believability is mixed with a good old fashioned retribution tale. The cinematography echoes sepia tinged photos and the lighting is consistently low and naturally lit to evoke the reality of the era.

Discussions on firearms, ponies and travel provisions are punctuated with scenes of brutal violence in the untamed wilds. Wilson’s injury threatens to slow their journey down increasing the film’s focus on both physical and emotional pain and distress.

I enjoyed the crusty nature of the protagonists with the Deputy Sheriff Chicory (an unrecognisably old but brilliant Richard Jenkins) providing much needed light-heartedness to the wicked deeds surrounding them. Getting closer to the natives keeps the audience interest up as the group’s forthright dialogue turns to nasty, yet satisfying, action sequences involving fist fights, bows and revolvers.

Bone Tomahawk therefore ends up being a furious film with pockets of revolting cruelness and the dust-covered savages are a fascinating twist on the “cowboy and indian” stories of the past. Kurt’s curt tongue and hoarse voice may be almost identical to his recent outing with Tarantino but whilst the horse-based passage through the wild is a Hollywood chestnut, the film’s formula mixes in new aspects to the genre. A bloody smattering of torture and mutilation gives the movie a bleak twist that will also satisfy the horror crowd and its no-frills narrative was a thrilling ride along.

7.5/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jun 29 2015 05:22PM

After intending to plan a trip to the lovely cities of Belfast and, for the first time ever, Dublin, the increased cost (£120 for a hostel for one night in a room of 18!) unfortunately put a halt on going down that road. So a quick look online and me and my fellow movie buff Matthew headed to the capital of Spain, Madrid.

The home of Spain’s Royal Family and slap bang in the middle of the country (no cooling sea breezes here) I check the temperature to make sure it was still sunny (duh, it’s June) and it came in at 24 degrees. Not bad I thought. A quick re-check and that was 24 degrees at night! At 11pm!!

Well, I didn’t bother packing any coat or long sleeved shirts that’s for sure, and booked 5 nights in an apartment/hotel in the centre of town. A direct flight from the East Midlands landed on a Thursday and after a quick bus ride, we were in the centre of this amazing European city.

After checking in (the pay-per-day wi-fi turned out to be free), our hosts were surprised to find we had walked from the Puerta de Alcalá to the Prosperidad district. A mere 40 minutes walk but with the afternoon sun and our backpacks it was a bit of a stroll and he looked surprised we had undertaken it. However, to be fair, it was one walk we wouldn’t do again.

Although a beautiful city, Madrid has not got the reputation (certainly for film) of Spain’s ‘other’ great city of Barcelona. However, that’s not say it doesn’t have a rich history of the arts in many forms.

On our first full day after settling in we went back to Puerta de Alcalá, a grand archway in the middle of a roundabout which drew comparisons to Marble Arch and the Arc de Triomphe but even larger in scale. It was around the year 1774, King Charles III commissioned Sabatini to construct this monumental gate in the city which was then inaugurated in 1778.

In a nearby town there is an archway influenced by this one called Puerta de Madrid. If you place yourself in the area then you may recognise its appearance in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus (1960) where the hero commands his troops.

After this neo-classical monument we were directly at the main entrance to the Parque del Buen Retiro. This film is featured prominently in Goya’s Ghosts (2006) by legendary director Miloš Forman and it is in this park where Alicia (Natalie Portman) prostitutes herself.

Walking from here along the main boulevard Calle de Alcalá we noticed a high police presence in the city during our stay which we chalked up to the Royals being in town but every corner we turned was another police car/bike/vehicle with armed security nearby.

Carrying on our journey we ended up at the Plaza de Canalejas. More specifically we saw the Café del Príncipe. It is here where in which Guardian journalist Simon Ross (Midlands alumni and Shane Meadows “muse” Paddy Considine) meets up with his contact Neal Daniels (Colin Stinton) to research Jason Bourne and first hears about the covert Blackbriar operation. Be aware though, this sequence is supposedly ‘Turin’ in the film using the power of movie magic! So, although there is an establishing shot of the Piazza Vittorio Veneto from Turin), it’s definitely this café!

After a jaunt through some backstreets where great independent shops sat amongst quirky restaurants we ended up at the glorious Plaza Mayor. Stopping for a drink in a friendly bar, this huge open square is surrounded by three-story residential buildings having 237 balconies facing the Plaza. Having a dark and chequered history the plaza has held host to events like markets, bullfights, football games, public executions, and, during the Spanish Inquisition, "autos de fe" against supposed heretics. Scary stuff. However, now it was a perfect place to stop and rest and enjoy the simple pleasure of people watching.

Film fans may recognise the square as the major site for the 2008 film Vantage Point. Directed by Pete Travis, the film follows an assassination attempt seen from multiple peoples’ points of views.

Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver star in principal roles in the movie which has the Rashomon effect as the story unfolds through multiple perspectives.

Just over from that area is Madrid de los Austrias (The Madrid of the Austrians or the Habsburgs) which is the old centre of Madrid, built during the reign of the Habsburg Dynasty. The area is located south of the Calle Mayor, in between the Metro stations Sol and Opera and portions of Pedro Almodóvar’s “Volver” (meaning "to go back") were filmed nearby.

The 2006 Spanish drama stars Penélope Cruz as a woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her daughter and Almodóvar has used the city as a main location in many of his films since moving there in 1967 to become a filmmaker. When dictator Francisco Franco closed the National School of Cinema in Madrid, Almodóvar became self-taught whilst working in the famous Madrid flea market El Rastro to support himself.

More recently, Daniel Craig’s second outing as James Bong in Quantum of Solace (2008) saw parts of the film covering the Royal Opera & Royal Palace area. We walked to the palace which is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but is now only used for state ceremonies. But with 3,418 rooms (!!) it is the largest palace in Europe by floor area and not short of space!

After resting our aching feet on day one we got up early for day two and headed for the Casa de Campo in the north west of the city. We travelled across the park by cable car and once we reached the other side, alighted to have a wander back through it. The sun scorched yellow grass punctuated by small areas of bush and scrub made it the perfect place for Sergio Leone to film A Fistful of Dollars. The walls of Rojos' house where Joe was tortured and imprisoned are now linked to a restaurant / function suite called La Pesquera.

Once we grabbed some re-energising ice cream, the evening was spent in the downtown area of Madrid trying out some local bars. Two of our favourites were Amor de Madre (link) which used a cool skater-décor for its patrons with a T2 style bike in the corner whilst the Twist and Shout Bar (link) had a great interior with movie memorabilia, a painting of Dr. Who’s Tardis as well as an X-Wing in the corner and a full size model E. T. (!)

The “Darth Vader” and “Game of Thrones” shots were also great although our heads disagreed with us the following morning.

Mentioned previously, Goya’s Ghosts from 2006 used Madrid’s beautiful locations extensively in its shoot. Although written, produced, and performed in English, it is in fact a Spanish production. Although the historical setting of the film is authentic, the actual narrative story about Goya defending a model is fictional as are a number of characters.

From the Viñuelas castle where the Spanish Queen poses for a portrait to the Nature Reserve Cuenca Alta de Manzanares which shows Wellington’s soldiers, the historic nature of Madrid and its surrounding area is used to full effect. Other locations include the Cartuja de Talamanca de Jarama (where Inés feasts in a tavern), the Castle La Quinta El Pardo and the Palacio Real de El Pardo (the Royal Palace again) where Goya witnesses the Spanish King learning about his relative’s (the French King’s) execution.

Finally on our last day of this city break we headed to Real Madrid’s Bernebeu football stadium. The home of the footballing giants, their huge stadium has a capacity of 85,454 spectators and was a great tourist day-out where you could go to the top of the stands, all the way to pitch-side via the trophy room and the player’s changing areas. We also got a visit to the press room after going down the tunnel and it was obligatory to sit in the manager’s seat in the dugout of course.

Home to historic matches both past and present, the world’s richest club has featured in the “Goal!” trilogy – especially Goal 2: Living the Dream from 2007. The film is a fictional account of a rising football star but actually stars many real life players in parts or cameos.

And with that we left this amazing city. Thank you, Madrid. You may be smaller in scale but you more than make up for it in friendliness and a welcoming attitude and I recommend any traveller to check out its charms.

Midlands Movies Mike

Check this link for a full list of films made in the city of Madrid:



Top Row (L-R): Puerta de Alcalá, the Royal Palace & Plaza Mayor

Bottom Row (L-R): Casa de Campo, Café del Príncipe, Bernabeu Stadium, Twist & Shout Bar, Dino fun!

By midlandsmovies, Nov 24 2014 07:14PM

Black Hill

Directed by Jim Peakman

BlueRidge Films

“The sun sets to rise again”.

Midlands Movies Mike takes a look at this Western from the West Midlands...

From the opening twang of western guitar notes to the wide screen vistas, Jim Peakman’s 22 minute short film Black Hill follows the classic prairie formula of a hero rediscovering himself in the wild outback but given the film’s Midlands roots, it’s an altogether more impressive feat with great new ideas thrown in.

The film begins in the US when a worn and injured Southern soldier climbs tirelessly around an arid landscape before being found and rescued by a lady who brings the injured man to her nomadic home on the hillside.

Her attempts to nurse him are thrown back in her face for one main reason. This lady is black and after a barrage of foul language we realise this lady is also mute but finds solace in her Bible reading. This holds no sway with the soldier who torments her with “Ain’t no God gonna love you”. She however returns with a gun and with tension building, cocks the pistol only to reveal she has removed the bullets.

With great cinematography showing the shadowy cave-like home, the film uses thunderous sound effects of stormy rains outside juxtaposed with the soldier’s cough which throughout the night is his only company.

Awakening the next day to a burning stove he shares his name of Red (Patterson) and fills us in on his back-story as a Confederate soldier. He shares his fears but she explains how she has learnt to love her enemies whilst a well edited montage shows Red being comforted and helped back to health as she continuous with her religious reading.

The director uses an epic and sweeping score before we see a rebirth of the soldier’s smile and offers to name the mute slave Rose (after his mother) but a group of deserters arrive and Red promises to protect the runaway slave.

The short is a great homage to the classic Western myth and the film’s balance of themes such as rebirth (the tying of shoes and the soldier re-learning to walk) and death – are handled well with a noosed rope giving rise to the film’s own version of legendary tense stand-offs where pistols are at the ready. With gunshots ringing out, the ease with which the film gets over its issues based around fear and compassion was a joy to behold as well as continuing to challenge expectations by playing with the archaic tropes of white heroes and minority villains.

Filmed with the mute slave in a position of unique power instead of persecution – even “winding” the child-like soldier at one point – Black Hill shows what local filmmakers can create when they have a strong vision, great location and a new take on an established genre. From the blood red clothing to the dusty buildings, the film is an alternative look at Westerns with a few scenes paying homage to classic showdowns all finishing with a well executed frontier finale. 8/10 Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 12 2013 07:17AM

Features writer Gary Burbidge casts an eye over the heroic influences of the new Tarantino film due in 2012.

Upon the upcoming production of the new and eagerly awaited Tarantino presentation film and his take on The Spaghetti Western franchise, comes "Django Unchained". Something has to be mentioned on the legacy of this heroic and always mysterious character.

Appearing to be clocking up over 100 sequels under his belt stretching over four decades a lot has to be said and shed light on the original Django (1966) which the film opens with a mysterious figure in black dragging a coffin behind him approaching a rundown town which appears abandoned apart from a saloon. The original was banned in some countries upon release due to the many graphic scenes of violence portrayed. For Many other Django movies that came out of the result from this film feature a different story for the lone gunman and most have nothing to do with the original.

The closest that seems to come to an actual official sequel would appear 21 years later in 1987 featuring the original actor Franco Nero, entitled; "Django 2: Il Grande Ritorno" (The Great Return) aka "Django Strikes Again" directed by Sergio Corbucci, who directed the first film, and portrays an aged Django who has left his former life of violence behind only to find himself having to return back to the life he left behind. More recently in 2007 came a Japanese take on Django, entitled; "Sukiyaki Western Django" with actually stars Quentin Tarantino and this year’s Django: "Silver Bullets, Silver Dawn" which throws Vampires into the mix!

After all the history behind the Legend that is Django, Tarantino looks to certainly have his work cut out for him making his mark on this franchise next year, but looking back on films such as Robert Rodriguez's Desperado (1995) in-which co-stars Tarantino, and incorporates a modern day western type feel, if that has in any way, shape or form inspired Tarantino to make his mark on the western world then we may be in for a few surprises, not overlooking his golden touch on his past film presentations!

Almost leaning towards his love for Spaghetti Westerns with Ennio Morricone soundtrack scores in his later films, and lastly as you'd expect in a Tarantino film; an all star credited cast has been announced with familiar faces returning to the fold yet again to trademark his own legacy! The next chapter of this on-going western saga is set to see Django (played by Jamie Foxx) back at the helm in another story line to rescue the woman he loves.

Will Django live to face another day as his theme song suggests? The outcome awaits...

Midlands Movies Gary

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