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In a couple of weeks it's the 125th anniversary of the first paid film screening, at the end of an extraordinary and often horrendous year for cinemas. For all the gloom, it has also been inspiring to see how people have responded creatively, from garden screenings and drive-ins to zoom Q&As and watch parties. This festive edition features that odd mix of physical and online which we're getting used to, with lucky folks in Tier 2 places like Telford and Malvern getting the full cinema experience while the rest of us make do with streaming and the joys of Christmas TV.  Thanks for reading, and here's to a much improved 2021...

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FILM OF THE MONTH: THE SOUND OF METAL

If you want to get an idea of how Darius Marder’s feature debut The Sound Of Metal completely upends the way a film’s soundtrack is traditionally constructed, just watch the trailer. The typically bombastic rhythm is absent, the dialogue is automatically subtitled, and there are even periods of complete silence. The film has the same unique approach, following drummer Ruben Stone (a singularly brilliant Riz Ahmed) as he comes to terms with the fact that he is losing his hearing, eventually leading him to a deaf community led by Vietnam vet Joe (played by Paul Raci, who grew up with a deaf parent), many of whom see Ruben’s consideration of getting cochlear implants as a ‘betrayal’ of his new life. Attempting to replicate Ruben’s experience, the film’s sound design is startling, and the fact that subtitles and audio description are an integral part of The Sound Of Metal is a powerful statement from a director clearly uninterested in making concessions.

UK release date 28 January
 
SYNCHRONIC

The last film co-directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson made together was micro-budget sci-fi The Endless, but getting a bit more money for their new feature Synchronic hasn’t dampened their taste for the esoteric. Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan play New Orleans paramedics who discover that a new street drug can induce brief bouts of time travel, leading to some darkly comic moments when Mackie ends up having to engage with slave owners. A fun and trippy confection then, but you get the feeling Moorhead and Benson are still warming up for the breakout hit that will really blow audiences away.

Available from 29 Jan on Sky Store, Amazon Prime Video and more.

MANK

David Fincher immerses himself in the look, sound and politics of Old Hollywood with this prime piece of Oscar bait, penned by his late father Jack. A screenplay about a screenwriter, Mank is undoubtedly going to appeal most to film obsessives, but the story sensibly widens its scope as it details the risks the broken down Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) was taking in basing the story of Citizen Kane on William Randolph Hearst, the media magnate who wielded Murdoch-esque power in the 1930s. Perhaps a touch too nerdy for casual viewers, but cinephiles (so that’s most people reading this) will be in heaven.

Available now on Netflix.

IL MIO CORPO 

Director Michele Pennetta continues to delve into the economically ravaged underbelly of Sicily with this lightly told blend of fiction and documentary, following a young Nigerian immigrant and a Sicilian teenager as they both grapple with growing up on the fringes of a society that has nothing for them. The only occasion when you feel Pennetta’s guiding hand is during the climactic meeting of the two boys – before that, the style is purely observational, the heart-breaking ‘story’ of Il Mio Corpo told largely in long silences and resigned looks. A lyrical wonder.

Available now on Curzon Home Cinema.
 

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM

‘They don’t care nothin’ about me. All they want is my voice.’ Viola Davis forms a formidable team with the late Chadwick Boseman in this striking adaptation of the August Wilson play about famed 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey (Davis) and her ambitious horn player Levee (Boseman). A howl of indignation at how black artists have been exploited by white capitalists over the years, this is sterling filmmaking anchored by some truly exceptional performances across the board. Any posthumous awards for Boseman won’t be down to sentiment – they will be richly deserved.

Available from 18 Dec on Netflix.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI 

Regina King’s debut as a director offers a mouth-watering set-up that apparently did take place one night in Miami – putting Malcom X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke in the same room and watching the sparks fly. Set on the night in 1964 when Ali won the world heavyweight championship, these four Americans eat ice cream and talk civil rights at a pivotal moment in America’s history, when the phrase ‘black power’ first gained prominence. Eli Goree is perfect as Ali, and the rest of the cast shine just as bright under King’s assured direction.

Available from 15 Jan on Amazon Prime.

STARDUST

How to make a biopic of David Bowie when you don’t actually have the rights to any of his songs or the go-ahead from his family? That’s the seemingly impossible task faced by director Gabriel Range, who decides to focus on a pre-Ziggy Bowie, when he went to the US in the early 70s and - due to visa issues - found that he couldn’t actually sing on tour and was only able to talk about his work. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either a genius creative move or a particularly cynical one, but Johnny Flynn holds his own as Bowie, ensuring that Stardust doesn’t completely come off as a misguided attempt to make a biopic of somebody who never wanted a biopic made about them.

UK release date 15 January.

Throughout December & January


AFRICAN APOCALYPSE + Q&A
Rob Lemkin’s new documentary African Apocalypse follows British-Nigerian activist Femi Nylander as he travels to Niger to uncover a genocidal history centred around French army captain Paul Voulet. On 14 Dec, the Midlands Arts Centre will be hosting a free virtual screening of the film on Vimeo at 7pm, followed afterwards by a Zoom panel Q&A that includes Lemkin and Nylander.

WOLFWALKERS
Not every Midlands cinema is in the dreaded Tier 3 of COVID restrictions. Malvern Theatres have a small programme of films on offer in December, including a matinee screening of the magical new film from Ireland animation studio Cartoon Saloon on 29 Dec. Don’t pass up the chance to see this gorgeous folk tale on the big screen. Also showing at Northampton Filmhouse.

 

Luna Christmas Drive-in
The Birmingham NEC is currently playing host to a number of drive-in screenings courtesy of Luna Cinema, and the line-up is as predictably cosy as the slippers you’ll definitely be getting for Christmas – Home Alone, Elf, Frozen 2, The Holiday, It’s A Wonderful Life and plenty more. Screenings run until 20 Dec.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL
A beautiful retelling of Dickens’ classic that mixes danced action and spoken narration. Showing 23 December at Number 8 in Pershore. Also showing at Northmapton Filmhouse & The Regal, Evesham.

Festive Saturdays at Wellington Orbit

Throughout December, every Saturday The Wellington Orbit in Shropshire will be showing some Christmas crackers including Elf, Gremlins, Jingle All the Way and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

FROM AFRICA TO BRITAIN
The personal stories of people who made their way from Africa to Britain in the latter half of the 20th century are recounted in this new documentary, focusing on those who made their new homes in Birmingham and the Black Country, as well as those already settled here. Screening at the New Standard Works in the Jewellery Quarter on 29 Jan, entry is free and includes a cup of chai courtesy of Dishoom café.

TOTAL RECALL
'Get ready for a surprise!' Arnie is popping up in Shropshire in this 90s banger (15-16 Jan) alongside a bunch of new releases at the wonderful Kinokulture in Oswestry if you're in that neck of the woods.

London Short Film Festival
The 18th edition of LSFF takes place 15-24 January 2021 and you can access it all from the comfort of your own home (or someone else's if you're in Tier 1).

AN ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS

Christmas is going to be a little different this year, and no doubt many will be looking for comfort in the form of Kevin McCallister assaulting a pair of burglars or Hugh Grant dancing badly around Downing Street. But if you’re feeling a little more adventurous and want to round off an unpredictable year with some less predictable films, then check out our alternative Christmas recommendations. You wouldn’t necessarily describe any of them as ‘Christmas films’, but they all fit perfectly into the festive season.

BRAZIL
Terry Gilliam’s 1985 dystopia is very much a Christmas movie. Santa Claus is in it, for goodness sake! Yet the reason why nobody categorises it alongside It’s A Wonderful Life is pretty obvious from an early scene in which a mother is sat reading A Christmas Carol to her family, only to be interrupted by government stormtroopers breaking into their house and arresting the father for terrorist activities. Within Gilliam’s hopeless world, Christmas is used to distract depressed citizens from their empty existence, a time of love and giving co-opted and commercialised for cynical means. Hmmm… sounds familiar.
Streaming now to Amazon Prime subscribers. Also available on DVD and Blu-ray.

TOKYO GODFATHERS
It’s not easy to find a Christmas movie that offers a humanist outlook without tripping over into schmaltz, but Satoshi Kon’s accomplished 2003 anime manages to walk that line perfectly. The tale of three homeless people who find an abandoned baby on the streets of Tokyo in the dead of winter, Tokyo Godfathers tackles some heavyweight topics, but always knows when to pull it back for a lighter moment. Kon passed away at the age of 46, but this warm-hearted story is perhaps his greatest legacy – a film tailor-made for cosy Christmas viewing without making you roll your eyes.
Available to buy from Amazon Prime. Also available on DVD and Blu-ray.

TANGERINE
Christmas is a time for family, but family isn’t always about blood. That’s the message of Sean Baker’s iPhone-shot feature about two transgender women, Sin-Dee and Alex, getting into all kinds of scrapes on the darker edges of Tinseltown on Christmas Eve. The love and care Baker has for his characters shines through in every scene, and who can resist Alex’s melancholy performance of a song from saccharine Xmas movie Babes In Toyland? So keep your fingers crossed and maybe you’ll get Tangerine in your Christmas stocking this year.
Available to rent or buy from Amazon Prime, YouTube and Google Play.

GO
A topless Timothy Olyphant in a Santa hat is surely enough to make anyone’s Christmas, but Doug Liman’s rave-injected Christmas-set comedy has plenty of other things to recommend it, not least a phenomenal cast that also includes Sarah Polley and William Fichtner. Go is essentially about what Christmas can morph into when you become a teenager/twentysomething – hedonistic nights where you meet random people and make bad decisions. In the final scene, as the exhausted characters consider the wild ride they’ve just been on, one casually asks about plans for New Year’s. The party never stops.
Available to rent or buy from Amazon Prime and Google Play.

2046
Christmas can be a melancholy time for many, and Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 satisfies the urge that many have during the festive season to look back and consider the regrets they may have about the past year or beyond. A loose sequel to the sublime In The Mood For Love, 2046 jumps around in time as a writer (Tony Leung) considers his relationships with a number of different women, but Kar-wai constantly returns events to the date of 24th December, a seasonal linchpin for the film’s meandering storyline as audiences sit back and revel in Wong’s dreamy, elegiac style.
Available to rent or buy from Amazon Prime. Also available on DVD.

INSIDE
This one might be pushing the festive link a bit far, but it seems apt to finish off a disastrous 2020 with a choice pick from the New French Extremity genre. Set on Christmas Eve, Inside involves a child set to be born on Christmas Day, although in this case the pregnant woman in question (Alysson Paradis) is being stalked by a psychotic stranger with designs on her unborn child. A gory lesson in confined terror, we’re not saying that Inside is the story of the Nativity, but some wise men also turn up in the form of three police officers – who then, in the grand tradition of horror, actually turn out to be three very stupid men.
Streaming now to Shudder subscribers. Also available on DVD.

SHORT OF THE MONTH

LONG DISTANCE INFORMATION
(dir. Douglas Hart, UK 2011, 7 mins)

Jesus & Mary Chain bassist Douglas Hart directs this black comedy featuring the ever brilliant Peter Mullan. It's a wee bit sweary this one, so not for the kiddies. Very enjoyable stuff though. Merry Christmas!

OPPORTUNITIES

HEAD OF AUDIENCES & MARKETING
Festival UK 2022, Birmingham (closes 15 December)

MARKETING OFFICER
Nottingham Playhouse (closes 16 December)

LEAD MARKETING MANAGER
Festival UK 2022, Birmingham (closes 17 December)

RANGER
Nottingham Castle Trust (closes 18 December)

GALLERY MAINTENANCE & AV OFFICER
Nottingham Castle Trust (closes 18 December)

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR
Birmingham Royal Ballet (closes 1 January)

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Pentabus Theatre, Ludlow (closes 4 January)

PRODUCER 
Open Theatre Company, Coventry (closes 4 January)

PROJECT COORDINATOR
Beatfreeks, Birmingham (closes 7 January)

PROJECT MANAGER (RESEARCH & INSIGHT)
Beatfreeks, Birmingham (closes 7 January)
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Flatpack Projects (CIO) · Unit 304, The Custard Factory · Gibb St · Birmingham, West Midlands B9 4AA · United Kingdom