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By midlandsmovies, Jun 16 2018 08:21AM



Songbird (2018)


Directed by Sophie Black


Written by Tommy Draper

Produced by Laura C. Cann.

Triskelle Pictures


Starring Janet Devlin (from ITV’s The X Factor), Songbird is an enchanting new short following a female singer who encounters a wicked stranger set on stealing her talents.


A folktale that jumps swiftly between reality and fantasy Songbird comes from Nottingham filmmaker Sophie Black and her Triskelle Production company who has already seen success with the 2016 film Night Owls.


With a feathery familiarity, here our red-headed heroine is Jennifer (played with a subtle vulnerability by Devlin) who is dropped off near a forest at the film's beginning. But as she holds up a writing board which says “Thanks for the ride”, we get the impression that all is not as it seems in the woods today.


Heading into the countryside, the eerie sounds are well edited as the crunch of leaves by Converse-wearing feet introduces us to the tone of the film which mixes a modern hipster vibe with fairy tale folklore.


Cutting to 3 weeks earlier at an open mic in a local café, a chattering and chirping audience isn’t paying a great deal of attention as Jennifer plays a soft rhyming ballad with her acoustic guitar. A wonderland of poetical lyrics sends us down an aural rabbit hole complimented by Black’s potent cinematography with its dreamy visuals and hazy glow.


As the audience warms to her soaring vocals we cut to a set of crusty finger nails drumming on the bar to reveal an evil dark-eyed woman. Whilst Jennifer is spotted by a local producer, all looks well but she is soon confronted by the ominous lady in an alley outside the venue. As a strange powder is blown over her by the old crone she awakens at home, yet an uncomfortable phone call reveals her inability to speak. Black invites the audience to ask if this is a medical condition, but a visit to the doctor finds nothing wrong and her frustration kicks in with her vocal wings wholly clipped.


However, a handwritten book of spells and rune symbols is discovered and we are migrated back to the film’s opening as Jennifer begins collecting frogs and mushrooms to concoct a potion that perhaps can release her from this spell.


Black alludes to well-known fairy-tale myth from Sleeping Beauty - as Jennifer passes out - to Devlin’s auburn hair which plays to the imagery of Little Red Riding Hood’s adventures in the woods. As well as this, Therese Collins is excellent as a classic villain keeping her victim in a state of bondage with her incantations. She mixes a dash of Helena Bonham Carter witchcraft with fellow vocal-thief Ursula from The Little Mermaid as she incubates her stolen voices in jars amongst the trees.


2018 has had a fair share of similar cinematic encounters with fantasy voices, from the silent creature in Guillermo Del Toro’s aquatic fable The Shape of Water, as well as Duncan Jones’ Mute. Black tackles some parallel themes using well-shot special effects, gothic make-up and a superb choral score at its conclusion to deliver a bittersweet fairy tale.


Like all good fairy tales though, the film could be interpreted with having a number of symbolic undertones including an allegory of stage fright. As a musician myself, the fear of losing one’s voice can be difficult to swallow and here the film showcases a strong female trapped in a cage of insecurities.


Songbird is a tremendous short that shows the importance of voices and how they can truly transform and heal when you are filled with doubts and a lack of confidence. Sophie Black demonstrates a skill for the craft of filmmaking and, others take note, has created an artistic short with a raft of narrative to keep an audience captivated. With a selection of thematic and emotional beats, Songbird therefore takes flight with a magical trip from the mic stand to wonderland.


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Mar 16 2018 04:19PM



Score: A Film Music Documentary (2016) Dir. Matt Schrader


If music be the food of love play on! This fantastic documentary has a who’s who roster of infamous film music composers and the sheer range of the talent on offer is worth a watch even to a passing fan of the medium.


But if you enjoy film then you must certainly be a fan. Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Trent Reznor, Tom Holkenborg, Randy Newman, Alexandre Desplat are just some of the stars interviewed in the amazing story of movie music.


Throughout, every aspect of the process is covered, as well as the historical context, and some of the pure joy is simply listening to the interviewees talking about their influences and contemporaries.


From James Cameron explaining a spotting session (where a director and composer get together to decide where music is going to be) to Hans Zimmer talking about the fear of the first meeting (“I think you better phone John Williams, I have no idea how to do this”) the trials of composing and the enjoyment of the challenges comes across in each talking-head segment.


The documentary shows Rachel Portman working on the film RACE with a screen next to her piano which a fantastic insight into her particular process whilst the film discusses motifs (such as those in Close Encounters & Lord of the Rings) and other music theory in simple but passionate terms.


Historically we see Alex North’s A Streetcar Named Desire revolutionary music as well as John Barry’s swinging big band scores (James Bond). Giving further context, current Bond composer David Arnold adds no spy film would feel like one without similar style which is the same for Morricone’s iconic sounds of Spaghetti Westerns.


From the toy piano in the intro music to the TV show Rugrats to orchestral pieces, no style is left uncovered and there’s fun to be had as the composers run through their strangest instruments in a montage of the weird and wonderful.


We are told “There’s no such thing as the wrong way to do something” as the diversity of music styles and the iconic films they are from are interrogated. Drums of Mad Max: Fury Road give way to segments about the science behind music. One of the most interesting parts describes the physiological response within the brain, followed by Moby’s “air molecules” analogy.


As Randy Newman fawns over Gerry Goldsmith we get the arrival of John Williams and his incredible splash of Star Wars and Jaws in the 70s. His rediscovery of classic orchestral scores (e.g. Superman, Indiana Jones) saw a revival of the medium leading all the way to his Duel of the Fates choir at Abbey Road.


If there was one flaw it would be that we only briefly get a piece of the history/composer before we move on to the next. Many of the explorations of genres, individual composers, music history and instrumentation go by so quickly, it can be a little frustrating. Each one alone could have entire documentaries of their own dedicated to their part but it’s a small gripe in a mostly fascinating piece.


Taking us from the need for music to cover up noisy projectors at the turn of the 20th century to Trent Reznor’s experimentations in his Oscar-winning The Social Network sound design, SCORE is a comprehensive documentary covering all the major players in over 100 years of movie music. Although brief at times, it barely misses a beat and if you’re not reaching for your LPs, CD shelf or Spotify account after watching this then I’m not sure you have any right to call yourself a film fan.


8/10


Midlands Movies Mike


By midlandsmovies, Jan 20 2018 09:57AM



Coco (2018) Dir. Lee Unkrich


Mariachi music and sumptuous Hispanic design abound in Pixar’s latest story about a young boy with dreams of becoming a famous musician. Based around the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, the film follows 12-year old Miguel who enters a talent contest despite his family having banned music.


Miguel subsequently becomes cursed after stealing a guitar connected to a long lost family member and can then only be seen by the dead but no longer the living. With his body slowing turning to a skeleton, Miguel must receive a blessing from a (dead) family member in order to return to the real world before sunrise in order to aovid being stuck there for eternity.


Having been transported to the land of the dead, the aspiring musician seeks the help of Héctor, a skeleton who once played guitar, who in returns asks Miguel to take his photo back to the living world before his daughter forgets him and he disappears completely.


The film’s, somewhat convoluted, narrative hits all the regular beats – family, escaping into other worlds, life lessons and cute animals – so isn’t exactly groundbreaking in that department. That said, Pixar do this so well that I warmed to the film despite these minor criticisms.


The animation, although sadly getting closer to uncanny valley at times especially on the elderly Coco (Miguel’s great-grandmother), is in fact still utterly fantastic. As a guitarist myself I was frankly astonished at Miguel's guitar playing shots. Cartoons often use vague movements to create chord shapes giving their complexity but Pixar have produced another marvel here. From Sully’s wintery fur in Monster’s Inc. to Wall*E’s realism, Pixar have prided themselves on their technical expertise and the real strings, fingering and strumming is a fantastic addition to their repertoire.


Another standout design was the brilliant Pepita which is an imposing Alebrije – a brightly coloured mythical creature based on Mexican folk art. Acting as a spiritual guide, I can see this jaguar-eagle-ram beast becoming next Christmas’ must-have stocking filler with its cute face but terrifying wings!


The other worldly design is a celebration with its use of well-known iconography without (too) many stereotypes, although there’ll no doubt be a number of Twitter “hot takes” on its appropriation but Coco is a world away from any offensiveness with its warm celebration of folklore.


The day-glow colours maintain the visual spectacle but shouldn’t overshadow the fine sound design which is a key aspect too. Not just the reverb of the acoustic guitars but audiences will enjoy the clacking of skeleton bones, dog barks and animal screams alongside the smooth Hispanic accents. A great voice cast of Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael García Bernal as Héctor, Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto and Ana Ofelia Murguía as Mamá "Coco" Rivera are the main standouts and each one brings a unique “spirit” to their parts.


If there was one criticism it would be the narrative itself. Bordering on confusing it portrays various religious rites of passages, superstitions and customs that are slightly under-explained for the uninitiated. If it’s not a blessing or a curse, it’s a complex family tradition and with the huge number of characters the story bones felt unconnected. Although it may not be suitable for the youngest of viewers, the film never loses sight of its important themes however, and it delivers far more often than not.


As someone who lost my mother in 2017 and my musician dad just over a year ago, the film’s conclusion had me in tears with its fantastic song “Remember Me”. Its story crescendo of being remembered, family ties and getting older hit home in a personal way reminding me of the emotional ‘Father and Son’ sequence in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.


Not without its flaws, I cannot honestly say it is a Pixar ‘classic’, the film does however take enough successful chances. A celebration of traditional cultures, amazing production design and a story that combines family with music, Coco will no doubt leave audiences feeling it in their fingers all the way down to their bones.


7.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike



By midlandsmovies, Sep 29 2017 11:18AM


Lights! Camera! Action! With The Shawshank Redemption, The Graduate and Grease, Leicester’s Curve Theatre is already a regional hub for brilliantly realised stage versions of some of the world’s most classic films. And tonight was no exception as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s infamous 1993 musical Sunset Boulevard (itself based around Billy Wilder’s 1950 Oscar winning noir classic) debuted in Leicester.


The musical matches the film’s narrative closely where struggling Hollywood screenwriter Joe Gillis (Hollyoaks and Strictly Come Dancing star Danny Mac) escapes his debtors and winds up re-writing the atrocious script of faded silent-movie star Norma Desmond. Desmond is played by Welsh West End stage star Ria Jones and boy does she deserve her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


The show opens with a bang as a full chorus explodes onto the stage with "Let's Have Lunch" which immediately whisks us into the old glamour of a bygone movie era from The Paramount production company archway to sleazy journalists, loud-mouth directors and Hollywood hopefuls.


Mac is superb as the witty writer, doing what he has to do to survive and his American style delivery is boastful yet classic at once. However, much like Norma herself, the show centres around Ria Jones but unlike the deluded and self-absorbed house-bound harridan, this starlet shines bright every time she takes the stage.


The times she is not front and centre, the play still fully delivers with the wry clothes-swapping "The Lady's Paying" being a comedy delight whilst Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer holds her own as the lovelorn film company script-reader. Her note perfect high-pitched duet on “Girl Meets Boy” played softly against the harsher dynamics of Joe and Norma’s tempestuous turns.


The technical playing of the musical’s tunes was the show’s biggest-kept secret accomplishment. Once the curtain fell an eager Leicester crowd gathered near the orchestral pit to give specific congratulations to the fantastic (and unsung) players of the night and fully deserved it was too with the sweeping score moving from bombastic to gentle without fault.


Director Nikolai Foster kept the play moving fast and choreographer Lee Proud mixed show tune flamboyancy with tiny touches (the movement of a wine bottle past almost unnoticed between three separate characters in seconds) and that level of detail is why the 2-hour plus performance flew by joyously.




With the amazing music and Jones’ impeccable delivery, the theatre was alight with talent and the props and their unique usage became key to understanding the show’s Los Angeles locations. The staircase in Desmond’s mansion became the focus of a power-dynamic with her dominating presence looming over Mac’s Joe Gillis. As she descends her ‘stairway to Hollywood heaven’, Desmond comes back to earth with the faintest glimpses of reality peeking in behind her foolish belief of a successful return to the screen.


But finally, with all the components working perfectly with each other, Jones delivered the film’s infamous “I’m ready for my close-up” line and along with her note-holding final song, the theatre erupted into a more than deserved standing ovation. Far from a silent success, this new take on Sunset Boulevard should be sung from the Hollywood hills with its beautiful gift of glamour and glitz.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 10 2017 05:44PM


Midlands Movies Mike uncovers an interesting new experimental feature that combines the mysticism of folklore with the modernism of an experimental soundtrack.


Staffordshire set film The Doxey Boggart is a new film from John E Smoke who is a deaf-blind filmmaker, musician and artist. Set within a nature reserve called Doxey Marshes, the film is a semi-documentary which follows a group of people investigating the local legend.


From an experimental sound artist with his guide dog to his fellow esoteric associates, they seek to uncover the truth about a ‘boggart’ (an evil or mischievous spirit) that is associated with the area.


Director John E Smoke is the aforementioned sound artist and has performed in many unusual locations including abandoned buildings and a set at Mermaid Pool in the Staffordshire Moorlands.


During one particular session of his there were claims of a ghostly image being caught on film which went viral online and featured widely in press at the time.


The film mixes a slim ‘plot’ with real-life elements as the musicians perform a set on Doxey Marshes during which a folk poem about a boggart is recited. At first nothing untoward happens but after the disappearance of a mother and child “the team are left wondering if the recital has brought something to life”.


Following their investigations the film includes field recordings and footage and borrows from 'actual' local folklore relating to 'boggarts', 'bugs' and other entities.



One of the key parts of the film is the music which assists in supporting the atmosphere of the historic locations. John E Smoke has pulled together friends in the music scene to compile a soundtrack that includes well-respected members of the experimental noise genre.


Soundtrack artists include 'Tunnels of Ah' (the solo project of the former Head of David vocalist, 'Autoclav 1.1', 'Khost' (featuring former members of Techno Animal, Final, Iroha etc), 'From The Bogs of Aughiska', 'John 3:16', 'Ian Haygreen', 'Whote', 'Satan's Bee Keeper', 'Theresia', 'Raxil4' and 'James Hoehl' alongside field recordings undertaken by John E Smoke.


With a mix of documentary, sound art and a little bit of horror, The Doxey Boggart’s eclectic combination of experimental images and dark ambient music will be released later in 2017 and also includes the release of hand printed DVD and double-CD music packs.


For more info please take a look at the trailer above and also check out further details of this Sonic Entrails production over on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/doxeyboggart






By midlandsmovies, Mar 27 2017 10:18AM

Midlands Spotlight – The beautiful ballad of Songbird from Triskelle Pictures




Midlands Movies Mike hears the sweet sounds of a new production nearing completion in the region from filmmaker Sophie Black. Her company Triskelle Pictures are putting the finishing touches to ‘Songbird’, a new short made in the area. Read on below to find out what the director is currently composing.


Sophie Black describes her new short Songbird as a Fairy Tale. In true fairy tale tradition, the Midlands based filmmaker explains it contains magic, adventure, peril, a villain and a heroine but unlike most fairy tales however, it begins at an open mic night in a 21st century bar.


Beginning life when local award-winning writer Tommy Draper (Stop/Eject, Wasteland) began working with Triskelle Pictures, the film was shot amongst forest locations in Derbyshire and what Sophie explains as other geographical “hidden gems”.


Currently crowd-funding for further support and finances, ‘Songbird’ is hoping this final round of finance raising will help with its festival campaign and promotion.



“We (also) need a little movie magic to enhance footage we are truly delighted with; we will use visual effects and a professional colour grade to make the witch creepier, the woods more ethereal, and Jennifer’s adventure all the more intoxicating”.


The protagonist is Janet Devlin (who rose to fame as a singer/songwriter after appearing on ITV’s The X Factor) and the talented musician has also written two original new songs for the film which are being released to backers as part of the campaign.


She plays Jennifer (the songbird) who takes a journey in the film to regain her voice which has been stolen by an ancient creature known only as The Collector.


The film has recently passed one of their targets £1500 and with that, the production has released the first footage of the film by issuing the first trailer which we have linked to above so please get viewing and sharing.


With everything coming together nicely, Sophie and her team are just months away from the release of this fantastic looking melodic movie and you can find out more about the project and the team behind it over on the official website: www.triskellepictures.co.uk




By midlandsmovies, Oct 10 2016 02:14PM

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week (2016) Dir. Ron Howard


Don’t let me down. The Beatles were at the height of their popularity in the mid-60s when they left their touring days behind them despite the fact they were filling out venues worldwide. This new documentary from Ron Howard tries to explain those heady days on the road before their live retirement with songs, gossip and historical footage.


The film begins with the band honing their talents during intensive 12 hour gigs in Hamburg before the recruitment of Ringo Starr and their rise to stardom via The Cavern in Liverpool. Already a tight-knit band by their early 20s, they embarked on endless UK tours as they began their first record releases beginning with Please Please Me in 1962. With manager Brian Epstein keen to keep them in the public’s eye, a single was demanded every few months and live gigs were very much part of the promotional (mystery) tour.


The documentary uses archive tapes along with some longer sequences of full songs to show the talent the band had from the very beginning. Their story continues as they break America on the Ed Sullivan show which turns them into a worldwide phenomenon with shows soon spread all over the globe.


The problem with the film – and this falls squarely on my shoulders as a HUGE Beatles fan – is that the stories and material are so well known to aficionados that there was very little new to learn here. I literally found myself mouthing along not only to the lyrics but to the stories including Harrison’s tale of Lennon’s “To the toppermost of the poppermost, Johnny” mantra.


Being the biggest band the world has ever seen has meant the tour tales have been told and re-told time again, not least in The Beatles’ very own Anthology – a documentary so in depth that nothing really comes close.


What I hadn’t seen before – and by default was the best part for me – was some of the archive concert footage showing the brilliant live performing skills of the mop-tops. Sounding uncannily like their recordings, their competency and delivery is so good and represents hours of toil on the road and on the stage. The footage also shows how small-time venues led to larger shows in auditoriums before the infamous Shea Stadium gig in New York which was their unknowing and penultimate swan song.


The footage also shows how the live shows became little more than crowd noise and screaming as well as their studio experimentation becoming increasingly difficult to capture on the live circuit.


In conclusion, the documentary is solid with good interviews, stories and structure and it covers an important part of the life of the greatest band there’s ever been. However, avid Beatles fans looking for exclusive tales will be disappointed by the lack of any new information with only the rare concert performances being truly dazzling. I’m really down.


7/10


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Apr 3 2016 05:10PM

Midlands Movies Editor Mike Sales take a visit to the studio of Damon Baxter (aka Deadly Avenger) as the Leicester musician continues to put his skills to use on trailers for a range of Hollywood blockbusters.


It;s a sunny Sunday afternoon when I meet with Damon Baxter at Leicester’s Meatcure restaurant (great burgers by the way) to have a chat about movies, music and more with the talented trailer composer.


Previously working as a DJ at London nightclubs such as Fabric, Damon now splits his time between Los Angeles and Leicester, creating electronic soundtracks for movie trailers. No small feat coming from his small studio on a trading estate in the Midlands.


With the food going down a treat and a quick chat about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I ask him about his career so far.


“Well, I first got into the dance scene around 2000", says Damon, "and with the likes of Fatboy Slim, Propellerheads and Jon Carter, I helped push forward the ‘Big Beat’sound”.


I asked him if that helped open up many doors? “I got to tour the world but then eventually settled nicely into a Fabric Residency alongside Unkle and The Wiseguys”.


Did that give you the breakthrough you were looking for? “Yes and no. My Deadly Avenger sound emerged when I remixed bands like Manic Street Preachers, Elbow and The Charlatans”.


And how did that leap to movies? “My ‘Deep Red’ album had a track that captured a cinematic vibe and eventually that sound was soon being used regularly for adverts, TV spots and movie trailers”


From orchestral to synthesisers via dance, Damon utilises a wide variety of sounds to create compositions that have been used on huge tent-pole move releases such as Age of Ultron, Men in Black 3 and Transformers 4. From his record label Destroy All Planets, Damon says his compositions use enigmatic and sparse arrangements to capture audiences’ imaginations.


Now finished, we both get up and head to Damon’s rusty pickup truck - which he claims belongs to a friend - and one that he’s nicknamed the “Millennium Falcon”. The second Star Wars reference of the day that I had noticed, I then realise how that franchise was a window into Damon’s world.


We headed around Leicester’s awful ring-road (luckily the city’s successful football team were playing so the roads were clearer than most days) and arrived at an industrial estate just outside the city – one that I quickly recognise from having a band residential rehearsal room for 3 years at the same location.


After acknowledging the weird coincidence we enter Damon’s studio where I am greeted with a range of movie posters. Covering the hallway and adorning the walls of the studio space itself, I witness Damon’s love of movies from framed retro posters of Close Encounters and They Live to modern blockbusters like Transformers and a ginormous 6 foot poster of Kill Bill: Vol 1.


A studio that Damon built himself, this sanctuary is a neat arena to create inspirational music. And proud of place in the corner is a full-sized Star Wars Stormtrooper costume on a mannequin set amongst his key instruments of computer, keyboard and mixing tools.


Damon went on to explain his style. “I love to use weird sounds. One of the effects on the Transformers TV spot was me hitting a metal bar outside which I mixed and put through the computer to become one of the main trademark motifs of the music”.


Using a combination of styles, Damon is also having a clear out of his DVDs on this of all days with the majority of his huge collection of 500 movies about to be given to charity in a spring clean that is not only clearing his studio for an imminent move, but also clearing his mind for Summer trailer work. Just a few of his previous summer work has included Antman, Furious 7, Chappie and The Last Witch Hunter too.


“One of the things people may not know is that I’m not always told the movie I am working on so have some free range to create something new from my own imagination whilst providing the film company with something that matches their vision”.


“I also try to combine all kinds of music into a new format. Recently I saw the trailer for Midnight Special which was brilliant as it gave the music room to ‘breathe’ rather than a traditional multiplex feel. That’s where I see my style heading towards along with my love for both the past, present and future".


Damon will next be seen at the Alfresco Festival on 27th – 30th May in Tunbridge Wells and we chat about our joint love for movies and music. Laughing at various films in his collection – Steven Seagal appears to have been a big part of his life – we then move to music and I suggest he check out both Inside Llewyn Davis (with Poe Dameron & Kylo Ren for the Star Wars fan) as well A Mighty Wind, the mockumentary from the Spinal Tap guys.


I ask him what the next stages are for Deadly Avenger. “Well, I have reworked my own tracks for use in TV shows like CSI but would love to attempt a full movie soundtrack at some point”. A great goal for an immense local talent, Damon has also kindly submitted soundtrack remixes for our own Midlands Movies events using scores and songs from films and adding his own twist to help create a brilliant atmosphere at our theme nights.


Damon says how pleased he is when his music gets used in a big production but hasn’t forgotten the local with a further keenness to offer his services to local filmmakers free of charge.


“I think I can offer some technical advice and practical pieces of music to local filmmakers to help give their soundtracks and trailers a professional quality which can sometimes be very costly on low budget films”. And this can only be a great thing for Midlands filmmakers.


With that, and the DVDs finally ready for the charity shop, we head off to enjoy the rest of the weekend with both of us humming the great “Please Mr. Kennedy” by Oscar Issac, Justin Timberlake and Adam “Kylo” Driver in a weird but satisfying duet for us both.


Midlands Movies Mike


More about Deadly Avenger :

http://www.deadlyavenger.co.uk

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