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By midlandsmovies, Apr 16 2018 06:26PM



Standing at Dawn

(2018)

Directed by Marc Hamill


“A short film exploring the tolerance of youth. Set in the Ukraine during World War II”.


From taking on toxic zombies in The Wrong Floor, Leicester filmmaker Marc Hamill hasn’t balked from tackling another genre in this new short film set during the Second World War.


For low budget filmmakers, attempting to work in genre films can be a tough task given the production costs involved but Marc and his cast and crew have gone beyond the call of duty in Standing at Dawn.


The film introduces us to a young girl in her bedroom and from the outset a boom box, She-Ra poster and a Look-In annual gives away the time as the 1980s.


We also get a well-positioned Jack-in-the-box – an ominous hint of what is to come – whilst a toy DeLorean from Back to the Future connotes how the audience will be criss-crossing time lines back and forth.


The child (Leia Hamill) subsequently gets a story read to her by her mum’s friend Bapcha (Mo Shapiro) after we see she’s been learning about World War 2 at school. The film then flashbacks to the war in Kiev itself as we see soldiers in the heat of battle in a forest.


Any budget the filmmakers had can be immediately seen on the screen and I was impressed with the production value with era-specific tanks, equipment and uniforms utilised to great effect. The sound was well done too with gunshots and dropping bombs taking you (from what must have been filmed in the Midlands) to the noisy battlefields of Eastern Europe.


As the story is recounted with witness an injured solider (Shane Buckley as Pasha) being helped by a young girl Karina (also Leia Hamill) to an outpost to tend to his wounds. But soon after, a similarly forlorn Nazi is also ushered into the base as the two stand-off.


Here though we unfortunately encounter one of the film’s flaws as the audience are given little chance to interpret or take stock of situations. Whether it’s the on-the-nose script or slightly awkward delivery, interactions such as “What are you doing? He’s a German” and “he’s a wounded injured solider, just like you” simply tell the viewer what they need to know. Earlier we get the line “We can all learn from the past” – again, very obvious dialogue for a film that could really use some subtlety and space.


I was also confused with the choice of language being used. Some actors use accents whilst others do not and there are also lines of dialogue in the native tongue during the same scene. I would have preferred if the film had stuck with one or the other. The fact the actual script brings attention to the ability to speak different languages further added to the issue.


Everyone looked the part but the story set-pieces would have benefitted from increased tension – for example during interrogation-style scenes - and the fact that concealment and taking cover seemed thematically important to the piece.


A well-intentioned film, Standing At Dawn works best when the dialogue is at a minimum though and allows the great photography and costumes to shine. Actor David Hardware looks the business as a senior Nazi officer and some well-constructed lighting and sound effects – from rainstorms in the present, to gunshots and explosions in the past – show a competence rarely seen at the zero-budget level.


By the conclusion, Standing at Dawn does have a few flaws but its strong message of remembering and learning from the past is pushed to the forefront using some wonderful images, a well edited flashback structure and a neat twist at its finale.


Midlands Movies Mike





By midlandsmovies, Jan 13 2018 09:13AM



Darkest Hour (2018) Dir. Joe Wright


There are problems at the heart of Darkest Hour, a film about how Winston Churchill navigated his first days as prime minister in 1940, much as there were with man himself. Namely, how to weave a suspenseful tale out of a story where the ending is known; and also how to make a human character from a man that has become a legend. Joe Wright’s film mostly tackles these problems well but it loses its way at the worst possible moment.


The strength of the film is that it never loses sight of the fact that Churchill, and here in particular his political rivals, are flawed people bumping up against each other in close confines — often the miniscule cabinet war room — in a struggle where the stakes could not be higher. This is more political thriller than biopic.


Hitler’s military is sweeping all before it in western Europe, the entire British army is encircled at Dunkirk and Calais, meanwhile, in closer quarters Churchill’s predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, his foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, his parliamentary party and even the king are opposed to his premiership. He only has the job, the film tells us, because he is the only senior Tory who the opposition will accept as a leader.


Hanging over him is the military disaster at Gallipoli in the First World War, and a reputation for an intense self-regard — indeed, an acknowledgement from family and colleagues that he has always prioritised his personal political ambition.


So now that Churchill has his chance — or as he puts it at the start of the film, his rivals have their chance of revenge by putting him in the hot seat — how can he cling on to power among with so little support, and with Chamberlain and Halifax scheming to have this delusional warmonger removed from power altogether.


That this film was made at all, and the review is being written in English, perhaps gives the clearest indication of why Halifax and Chamberlain are the villains of the piece, but one of the film’s triumphs is to have these characters seem as reasonable in their aims as Churchill is steadfast in his.


The film swoops in and pulls away from the tight knit circle around Churchill to show the consequences of all that fighting in the war room and bitter-sweet family moments. In fact, it does this quite literally on a number of occasions as overhead camera shots launch skywards to dwarf either Churchill, a French boy, a stranded English brigadier each during pivotal moments in the story.


But this film is a political thriller at heart, and taught and compelling one at that. And it is the drama at close quarters that captivates the most.


The pressure mounting on Churchill, superbly portrayed by Gary Oldman, increasingly alone as his rivals pressure him to consider a negotiated peace with Hitler, is thrilling. As is his wrestling with an awful decision about how best to save the British Expeditionary Force in France.


Malbrough man


But it is at Churchill’s own darkest hour, as he wrestles with what appears to be a bout of self doubt and his “black dog” of depression, that the film takes a nosedive. The only difference is the film’s own darkest hour seems born of hubris rather than lack of confidence.


From out of nowhere, King George V, previously a wet individual mulling over whether or not to bugger off to Canada and hoping his mate Halifax wins the prime ministership, appears from nowhere to give our hero a pep talk. It isn’t clear why but apparently he discovers his inner kingliness while standing about on the balcony one night at Buckingham Palace. Winnie and Georgie bond, and we can only be thankful the scene with a chest bump and a high five.


And so the toe curling begins in earnest.


A film this may be and it is right that it should not be a slave to historic detail. We are watching characters in a story, not real people. But what happens next is so out of character and so blatantly false that the tension falls slack immediately, like a sprinter pulling up with a dodgy hamstring. Unlike our protagonist, it never recovers and can only limp on.


Earlier in the film, when accepting the premiership from the king, Churchill tells a companion he has never taken a bus. But following the royal heart to heart, he leaves his chauffered car and takes the tube one stop between St. James’s Park and Westminster where he is to address parliament.


It is hard to know what the most unrealistic aspect of this scene is. That Churchill strikes up a conversation with a carriage full of Londoners? Or that it takes an inordinate amount of time for this train to travel a few hundred yards? Or is it that this aristocrat, direct descendent of the Dukes of Malbrough, born in Blenheim Palace in the age of empire is on the District Line at all? And that’s before we tackle into the excruciating dialogue.


Whichever it is, the overall effect is to rip the drama out of the film, all of the tension, and any sense of jeopardy. From here on in the whole thing becomes a victory parade, albeit done, as I said, with a limp. It does the story a disservice. Secure he may have been as leader having seen off Halifax, and with Chamberlain in terminal ill health, but he was still leader of a country all but on its knees in the face of overwhelming odds.


Darkest Hour is for the most part gripping and pacey, but just when it needed to step up a notch it pulls up short, only offering a lame attempt at a fist pump of an ending rather than what in real life must have been a far more intriguing story.


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal,” the film quotes Churchill as saying at the end. Both ideas apply to this film. The disappointing final furlong does not ruin the rest of it.


“… it is the courage to continue that counts,” ends that quotation. Whether audiences have the courage to persist with this film once it loses its way is a matter they will have to decide for themselves.


6/10


Ralph Sinclair



By midlandsmovies, Aug 6 2017 07:02PM



Dunkirk (2017) Dir. Christopher Nolan


Allied soldiers are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during World War II.


Between May 26th and June 4th in 1940, 400,000 British soldiers found themselves surrounded on the beach of Dunkirk with no ships to take them home. Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill put the call out to the public that their boys needed help, and so help came. They aimed for 30,000 boats, but got 300,000 in a feat that remains just as astonishing today is it did back then.


Straight away I’ll come out and say that Dunkirk is probably the best war film I’ve ever seen. Christopher Nolan has done a fantastic job with this film. I absolutely loved it! I think we have a serious contender for Oscars here with this one, although I am unsure whether any will be for the acting because of the ensemble line-up.


There were so many great performances in this film, and what was so good about it was those making their acting debuts got as much screen time as the more experienced cast members. Fionn Whitehead was excellent. You really got the impression of a young boy way out of his depth with his performance.


Harry Styles is actually capable of some decent acting - who’d have thought it? And then you have the people who we could refer to as the veterans in this particular film. Cillian Murphy gave a very good performance as one of the soldiers who were rescued out at sea. The shock and pain that he was experiencing was something that you felt as well. Mark Rylance played Mr Dawson, one of the civilians closely followed in the film.


I think if any of the cast are to be nominated for any awards and are likely to win, it will be him. I think his was the most complex character of the lot because I think he helped to show the impact the war had back home, yet how much the public were willing to do. Finally, I would just like to kindly point out that Tom Hardy was in this film and I can conclude that he has done more acting with just his eyes during his career than anyone else has done with their whole body. 


While performances were a key part of the film, what set it apart from so many other war films were all the other elements that contribute to the film-making process. The cinema screening I went to was truly immersive, and I didn’t even see it in IMAX, so you can imagine how much more mind-blowing it would’ve been if I had.


The sound was awesome, making you feel as though the bombs were being dropped metres from you. The camera work for all of the scenes with the fighter jets was on another level entirely. When the planes moved, the camera moved with it (maybe not recommended for those with motion sickness, but hey, sometimes you just have to toughen up a little), and as I was watching these scenes unfold, I found myself moving with the picture. It was honestly like being in a flight simulator at times - phenomenal cinematography.


Of course, with this being a Christopher Nolan film, which means it was never going to be a simple, run-of-the-mill beginning, middle and end narrative. This was one thing I had been slightly concerned about because my little head has been unable to wrap itself around some of the plots in his previous films. However, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to inform you that even I managed to figure the timeline out here, and also believe it to have greatly enhanced the film as it gave it a real-time, play by play vibe, which added to the feeling that you were right there in the middle of the action.


Overall, Dunkirk is a knock-out. It’s a grown-up film that can be enjoyed by the younger generations, and works to give a three-dimensional view of how events played out during this amazing operation that took place in WWII. It combines terrific performances with a score that ratchets tension perfectly, and visuals that place you right at the heart of the action. Has Nolan excelled himself here? Hell yeah!


10/10


Kira Comerford

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