Categories
Animation Features Movies

Some recommendations from the BFI’s Anime season 2022

With the BFI’s long-promised Anime season finally under way, here are some highlights. At BFI Southbank through April and May 2022.

Anime is the Japanese word for animation: here in the West, the term has been co-opted to refer to animation produced in Japan, and there’s an awful lot of it. Further titles will be added below as the season progresses. Click on the links for full reviews. Scroll down for booking info and screening times.

Memories (1995). Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation. One is scripted by Satoshi Kon. Akira may be widely considered Otomo’s masterpiece, but for me, the more collaborative Memories is at least its equal – if not a better film altogether. Tragically, it never had a UK theatrical outing. However, if I were to recommend one film in this season, this would be it.

Perfect Blue (1997). Satoshi Kon‘s feature debut is a multi-layered, identity crisis psycho thriller which redefines the boundaries of animation, Japanese or otherwise.

Tokyo Godfathers (2003). Satoshi Kon delivers a Christmas movie with a difference. Three homeless people – a drag queen, a hard drinker and a runaway teenage girl – find an abandoned baby at Christmas and resolve to return her to her parents.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies Shorts

Memories (Memorizu, メモリーズ)

1/ Magnetic Rose (Kanojo no Omoide, 彼女の想いで)

2/ Stink Bomb (Saishu Heiki, 最臭兵器)

3/ Cannon Fodder (Taiho no Machi, 大砲の街)

Directors

– 1/ Koji Morimoto, 2/ Tensai Okamura, 3/ Katsuhiro Otomo

– 1995 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 113m

*****

Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

The film that made Otomo’s name and the one with which he’s most frequently associated is Akira (1988). It wasn’t his first film, though. Previously, he was one of nine directors who collaborated on the uneven portmanteau Robot Carnival (1987), a compendium of different animated stories based around robots of various types. One of the other directors was Koji Morimoto.

Memories is loosely similar – it only has three stories (and three directors), allowing each of the segments a bit more room. Its three episodes are very different yet perfectly complement each other. Otomo directed the third section Cannon Fodder.

Parts of the roughly two hour Akira drag, while Otomo’s later Steamboy (2004) gets lost within a massive set piece after a near perfect opening first reel or so.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Top Gun: Maverick

Director – Joseph Kosinski – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 131m

****

The eponymous Maverick (Tom Cruise) returns to the Navy pilot Top Gun school to train a dozen new recruits to fly an impossible bombing mission and come back alive– out in cinemas on Wednesday, May 25th

Welcome back to the world of US Navy aviation where pilots all have their own self-given flying nicknames. While his contemporaries such as Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer), now an admiral in charge of the Pacific fleet, have advanced in ranks, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise) has remained a captain in order to stay on active service in the field. He’s now a test pilot and loves his job.

However, Maverick has got into trouble one too many times, most recently by disobeying orders when he went ahead with a Mojave Desert test flight on a programme which a rear admiral (Ed Harris) wanted shut down. In doing this, and proving that the plane in question can fly not just at the untried Mach 9 but also at Mach 10…10.1… 10.2… Maverick sees himself safeguarding the jobs of all those working on the programme. The Navy, however, sees it as insubordination and want him grounded.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Lancaster

Directors – David Fairhead, Anthony Palmer – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 110m

****

The story of World War Two’s iconic Lancaster bomber aircraft, the missions it flew and the airmen who served as its crews – out in cinemas on Friday, May 27th

The constant drone-like sound, the view looking downwards moving over water, a Lancaster bomber aircraft flying the length of a lake, the camera above it titling down as it passes to reveal it crossing a dam. This sequence, impressive on a big cinema screen equipped with a really good sound system, opens this informative and compelling documentary.

The Lancaster is entrenched in the British psyche from The Dam Busters (Michael Anderson, 1955) and in due course clips from that film and a few others appear here. I can remember seeing it many times on afternoon television as a child in the late 1960s / early 1970s. Present day footage of this amazing aircraft in flight jostles with comments by present day airmen who fly in it, and their enormous affection and respect for the aircraft comes through loud and clear. They are seen touching a plaque by the plane’s entrance doorway commemorating all those who flew her during World War Two as a way of taking the spirits of those people with them on flights today.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Akira (アキラ) 4K (IMAX)

Director – Katsuhiro Otomo – 1988 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 124m

*****

Manga artist turned director Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk classic returns to the big screen in a brand new 4K IMAX print – plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season in December and the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Waterloo IMAX #AKIRA4K

When Akira first appeared in the UK at the start of the nineties, Disney was busy reinventing the animated cartoon as a platform for the Broadway musical (Beauty And The Beast, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1991; The Lion King, Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers, 1994) and there were debates about whether comics (or ‘graphic novels’) could be created for adults as well as kids.

As so often in technology and media, Japan was ahead of the game. Otomo had published his long-running comic book or manga Akira in 1982 and turned it into a feature six years later, challenging widely held Western notions of what animation was. You could make SF in movies (Voyage To The Moon, Georges Méliès, 1902) and you could make serious SF (2001, Stanley Kubrick, 1968), but animation was strictly for kids, at least in the English-speaking mainstream, and that as what Disney did.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Benediction

Director – Terence Davies – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 137m

****

The life of First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, his homosexual lifestyle and his heterosexual marriage – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

It’s been five years since Davies’ previous film A Quiet Passion (2016) and the curious thing is, both these films have been about poets and poetry. The earlier film was about Emily Dickinson, with its discussion about religion and Christianity very much to the fore; the new film is about Siegfried Sassoon and while the Catholicism he embraced in later years is in the mix, alongside that element Davies’ research revealed others of far greater interest to the writer-director, notably that Sassoon was gay. As you might expect, the first half hour or so concentrates on the First World War, but more time is spent in the middle of the film exploring some of Sassoon’s gay relationships with a small section towards the end skimming over his later years and heterosexual married life.

Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) saw action in the First World War and had the utmost respect for the men under his command – and they for him. He was appalled by the conditions under which they found themselves serving.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

a-ha The Movie

Directors – Thomas Robsahm, Aslaug Holm – 2021 – Norway, Germany – Cert. 12a – 108m

***

The rise and career of the enduring, three-piece, Norwegian band a-ha – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

Norwegian trio a-ha are arguably best known for two songs. They swept to fame on the strength of their first hit Take On Me, which features extensively in this documentary. They were later asked to do the title for Bond movie The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987), which gets only a few minutes screen time somewhere in the middle here, so I’ll get that out of the way first. The band write their own material and found themselves having to work with legendary Bond composer John Barry as their producer on this gig who, as they saw it, was used to having musical input and getting his own way. They talk about recording the song in such a way as to get round him.

Perhaps what this best illustrates is that musicians (artists, composers, bands) often work and operate within their own sealed worlds and if they have to work with rivals, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this instance, it doesn’t sound a good experience for either party.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Innocents (De Uskyldige)

Director – Eskil Vogt – 2021 – Norway – Cert. 15 – 117m

***

A small group of pre-teen children begin to explore their supernatural powers with devastating results – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

Two children live with their parents on a very ordinary housing estate near woodlands leading to a footbridge over a nearby motorway. Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) enjoys going outside to play with other kids of her own age, seven or eight. Often, though, her mum will ask her to take her autistic, older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), 11, with her, which Ida doesn’t really like having to do.

Anna is autistic and lives largely in her own internal world. When Ida goes outside to play, knowing Anna will likely sit happily in the same place for several hours if left to her own devices, Ida will leave Anna on her own while Ida plays with other kids her own age – Ben (Sam Ashraf) or Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim). Ida assumes that Anna will still be there when she comes back.

Ben is troubled by a strange ability he possesses which he doesn’t understand. He can control people. Alone in the woods with Ida, he explains this to her.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Onoda: 10, 000 Nights In The Jungle (Onoda, 10 000 Nuits Dans La Jungle)

Director – Arthur Harari – 2021 – France, Japan – Cert. 15 – 166m

*****

A Japanese soldier who believes his country has not yet surrendered stays on a Filipino island to fight on alone until 1973 – out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday 16th May.

16th September 1973. A backpacking Japanese student (Ryu Morioka) on Lubang Island in the Philippines sets up his tent on the beach beside the jungle and switches on the cassette player playing a song from the 1940s. The sound drifts through the trees and can be faintly heard where an old soldier, his uniform patched by years of repair, is leaving a flower as an act of remembrance. He hears the music and moves towards it…

This frame story opens this tale and sets the stage for what is to follow. Back in Wakayama, Japan in December 1944, it’s all over for drunken youth Hiroo Onoda (Yuya Endo) whose hopes of becoming a pilot have been dashed by his fear of heights. To his aid comes Major Yoshimi Taniguchi (Issei Ogata), who explains the youth can serve his country in other ways and enrols him in the Nakano School Annex in Futumata, where the major teaches guerilla warfare.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Miami Blues

Director – George Armitage – 1990 – US – Cert. 18 – 97m

Fred Ward produced and starred in an adaptation of the first of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley crime novels in 1990

****

Review from TNT magazine, March 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

To anyone already familiar with Charles Willeford’s hard-boiled novel Miami Blues, writer/director George Armitage’s screen version races through its opening so fast that numerous elements which set up what follows are omitted. Add to this the unlikely casting of Fred Ward (also one of the executive producers here) as Police Sergeant Hoke Moseley and Alec Baldwin as the killer Freddy Frenger Junior, and the end result is quite some distance from the original.

Frenger’s initial assault on a Krishna at Miami Airport – who dies of shock after his finger is broken by being bent backwards – is reduced to a one-off incident rather than an important link in Willeford’s complex chain of events. Prostitute/college student Susan Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with whom Junior gets involved, is no longer the sister of the Krishna victim. Gone, too, are Junior’s observations about Japanese haikus, in which his readings of the Japanese poems reveal his utter paucity of vision.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Tremors

Director – Ron Underwood – 1990 – US – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Review from TNT magazine, June 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

If Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) was Jaws In Outer Space, Tremors is Jaws In The Nevada Desert. As such, the film represents a return to the production values of the desert bound sci-fi of fifties alien invasion staple It Came From Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953). In place of the shark from Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) is a species of malevolent giant worm which burrows under the earth like something out of Frank Herbert’s Dune (most recent version: Denis Villeneuve, 2021).

It’s never explained where these monsters have come from, but then you tend not to worry about such things when one of them is about to knock down your home. Hapless victims disappear into sudden holes formed in the sand like a rerun of Blood Beach (Jeffrey Bloom, 1980); then muppet-like snakes grab people, bite them, and tug them under the ground, finally the full-grown beasties get to attack.

Producer-writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson plunder numerous other sources too, but the emerging whole is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Tremors 2 Aftershocks

Director – S.S. Wilson – 1996 – US – Cert. 12 – 92m

Video rental release

Tremors’ Fred Ward and Michael Gross (the survivalist Burt Gummer) joined by self‑styled “new guy” Christopher Gartin are again beset by underground beasties who, as before, outsmart the humans – here mutating into CGI bipeds created by top Jurassic Park effects man Phil Tippett. Highly inventive sequel – recommended.

Capsule review from Manga Mania, 1996, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022.

Trailer:

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Director – Daniels (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert) – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 139m

*****

Do you know kung fu? A launderette owner in trouble with the IRS is sucked into serial, parallel worlds to defeat the being who threatens to annihilate the multiverse – out in cinemas in the UK Friday, May 13th

You could describe it as a Cubist take on The Matrix. Or a mother-daughter relationship drama. Or a multiverse movie. Or a film about filing taxes with the IRS. Or a (multiple set of) romance(s). Or a Michelle Yeoh action movie. Or a Chinese American movie. Or a film put together unlike any other you’ve ever seen. All these descriptions would be accurate.

Chinese American Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) runs her own business. A launderette (or laundromat in American parlance). She sits at the table in her apartment which is covered with piles of receipts. She is sorting through them in preparation for an upcoming interview with the IRS. She isn’t sure she’s ready.

This pressing issue aside, her life is not without its challenges. Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, formerly the kid from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Steven Spielberg, 1983; The Goonies, Richard Donner, 1985) is attempting to file for divorce and wants her to sign the papers.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Vortex

Director – Gaspar Noé – 2021 – France – Cert. 15 – 142m

*****

An elderly man struggles to care for his ailing wife who has dementia – out in cinemas on Friday, May 13th

Discounting the lengthy titles detailing among other things the various film clips and images used, this throws us a series of images in a pillarboxed 4:3 format with curved corners at the edges (suggesting a projected slide show or physical, analogue photographs mounted in an album) then the young Françoise Hardy singing “Mon Amie La Rose” loads irony into the proceedings: the rose is fresh and speaks to us of love, the singer young and yet to be ravaged by the passage of time. (It’s not mentioned here, but last year, Hardy announced she could no longer sing as a result of cancer treatments, which lends the video a certain poignancy today – even more so in the context of this film.)

Then the man we’ll call the father (Dario Argento, director of such Italian gialli as Suspiria, 1977; Tenebrae, 1982) waves through windows across a courtyard at the woman we’ll call the mother (Françoise Lebrun from The Mother And The Whore, Jean Eustache, 1973) and they meet up for a glass of wine on their balcony.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Father Stu

Director – Rosalind Ross – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 124m

***

A boxer turned actor who fancies a Catholic girl is drawn into first the church and then the priesthood – out in cinemas Friday, May 13th

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) is stuck. His career as a boxer has been going nowhere for three years, then comes the news from his doctor that he needs to pack it in. That’s okay, though – he always wanted to be an actor, so he moves to LA and lands himself a job serving on a supermarket meat counter. This seems to him as good a place as any to get discovered. That doesn’t go anywhere, but what DOES happen is that he sees a girl he likes, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz).

However, Carmen is a Catholic and won’t date anyone who isn’t. So, to make something happen, he first of all finds her church and attends services there just to see her, then pretty soon he’s signing up to classes to get baptised into the faith. This seems to have the desired effect and they become a couple with marriage on the horizon sometime in the future. It has a further effect on Stuart that he didn’t bargain for: being around religious people and studying what Catholics believe, he starts to become one himself and develop a genuine faith.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Worst Person In The World (Verdens Verste Menneske)

Director – Joachim Trier – 2021 – Norway – Cert. 15 – 128m

*****

A young woman learns about both herself and life through two personal relationships – twice Oscar-nominated film is on MUBI from Friday, May 13th

Trying to reinvent herself, Julie (Renate Reinsve) spends her student days moving from medicine into psychology (believing she’s more interested in what’s inside than skin and bones) then photography as she decides she’s a visual person. Suddenly the world opens up to her, she’s meeting new people and before long she’s moved in with popular comic book artist Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie from 22 July, Paul Greengrass, 2018; Personal Shopper, Oliver Assayas, 2016). He is 15 years older than her and wants to have kids (he’s the only one in his family who hasn’t yet done so). She isn’t currently ready for that.

One night, after being pictured standing on an Oslo balcony in a repeat of the shot that opens the film, she leaves early from Aksel’s latest book launch and walking home gatecrashes a wedding party where she meets Elvind (Herbert Nodrum), their conversation gets very deep very quickly and they agree that neither of them will cheat on their respective partners, but then, as Julie says, where do you draw the line?… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Perfect Blue (Pafekuto Buru, パーフェクトブルー)

Director – Satoshi Kon – 1997 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 81m

*****

Multi-layered, identity crisis psycho thriller redefines the boundaries of animation, Japanese or otherwise – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

During a gig by girl pop trio CHAM, one of its three singers Mima announces her decision to quit the band. Her intention to pursue an acting career is a move designed to both help her escape the inevitable waning popularity of the pop idol and make the public take her more seriously than they would the innocent girl they perceive her pop idol / persona to be.

Her agent, a former pop idol herself, expresses concern when Mima is first required to play a rape scene in her new daytime TV soap Double Bind and second to pose nude for a photographer. But there’s worse to come for Mima as an internet fan page starts to chronicle an idealised version of her life and a series of bloody corpses start piling up in her wake.

Although it plays like an Argento or De Palma Hitchcockian thriller, Perfect Blue is in fact a cel animated, subtitled Japanese affair that once and for all kills off widespread misconceptions about animation – it’s neither for kids, nor cute, nor simplistic.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Tokyo Godfathers (Tokyo Goddofazazu, 東京ゴッドファーザーズ)

Director – Satoshi Kon – 2003 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 91m

*****

Three homeless people – a drag queen, a hard drinker and a runaway teenage girl – find an abandoned baby at Christmas and resolve to return her to her parents – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

This opens with a nativity play to an audience of what one initially presumes to be admiring parents, a perception rapidly revised with the realisation that what is on offer is a programme of ‘nativity play, sermon, dinner’ for Tokyo’s homeless, with the first two items something to endure in order to access the much wanted third one. Any thought that the film is going to deal with religion is however swiftly dismissed with the introduction of three homeless characters holed up in an empty house containing a piles of discarded and bagged up goods, one of which turns out to contain an abandoned baby.

Teenage runaway Miyuki (voice: Aya Okamoto) has fallen in with two men old enough to be her father (if not her grandfather) who look out for her: the cross-dressing Miss Hana (voice: Yoshiaki Umegaki) and the hard-drinking Gin (voice: Toru Emori).… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Ghost In The Shell (Kokaku Kidotai, 攻殻機動隊) (1995)

Director – Mamoru Oshii – 1995 – Japan, UK, US – Cert. 15 – 83m

****1/2

A cybernetically rebuilt, female, government agent and her male sidekick pursue a mysterious computer hacker known as The Puppet Master through Hong Kong Digital IMAX version plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

Review originally published in What’s On In London in 1996.

Ghost In The Shell is the first (and hopefully not the last) anime feature to be jointly financed by America, Japan and Britain (our very own Manga Entertainment). Although superficially pigeonholeable as teenage boy’s market material (nothing wrong with that per se), Ghost is considerably more intelligent than that implies. Its plot is highly complex: suffice it to say that cybernetically rebuilt female agent Kusanagi and male sidekick Bateau are pursuing a mysterious computer hacker known as The Puppet Master through Hong Kong.

Kusanagi, who makes her first appearance stripping off her clothing, jumping off a skyscraper roof and crashing through a window below to riddle a criminal pleading “diplomatic immunity” with bullets, employs thermoptic camouflage which renders her invisible to the naked eye in a matter of seconds. It’s an impressive touch, additionally furnishing such great moments as a fugitive ankle-deep in an urban canal suddenly finding himself hit, gripped and thrown around by an invisible assailant.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Belle (Ryu to Sobakasu no Hime, 竜とそばかすの姫)

Director – Mamoru Hosoda – 2021 – Japan – Cert. PG tbc – 121m

*****

A bereaved, teenage girl starts to emerge from her shell when she signs up for a virtual world on her smartphone – out in cinemas on Friday, February 4th; Digital IMAX version plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

‘U’ is an internet, virtual world of high tech, futuristic architecture. When you sign up, you receive your own personalised avatar built from your biometrics. You have the chance to start over in a new world.

Teenager Suzu (voice: Kaho Nakamura) could do with that chance. She lives with her dad (voice: Koji Yakusho from Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda, 2018; The Third Murder, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2017; Pulse, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001; Shall We Dance, Masayuki Suo, 1996; Tampopo, Juzo Itami, 1985) in a small town somewhere in the East of Japan. She doesn’t really communicate with people at her school – not Luka (Tina Tamashiro), the sax player in the school band, not Kamishin (Shota Sometani from To The Ends Of The Earth, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2019; First Love, Takashi Miike, 2019; Foreboding, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017; The Boy And The Beast, Mamoru Hosoda, 2015; Himizu, Sion Sono, 2011) who set up the canoe club but hasn’t been able to attract any members, not Shinobu (Ryo Narita) who proposed to her – well, told her he wanted to protect her – when she was six.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Playground (Un Monde)

Director – Laura Wandel – 2021 – Belgium – Cert. 15 – 72m

****1/2

A quiet, seven-year-old girl starts school and has to deal with the trauma of her older brother being bullied by bigger boys – out in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd

They hug in the playground before going in. It’s the first day of school for seven-year-old Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) and she doesn’t want to be separated from her elder brother Abel (Günter Duret). When she’s pulled off him, she just wants to hug her dad (Karim Leklou) and doesn’t want him to leave. Eventualy, the kindly lady schoolteacher takes her firmly by the hand and walks her into the building. In class, she’s hesitant about speaking her name. At lunch, she’s not allowed to sit with her brother but must stay with the kids the same age as her.

In the playground, she approaches Abel, but he tells her to keep away as “we’re beating up the new kids with Antoine”. She blunders in anyway and sees him trying to defend her from the bullies. Later, witnessing an incident on the stairs, she reports that older boys are bullying her brother causing a teacher to intervene. He won’t tell the teacher what’s going on, believing that will only make things worse.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Ennio: The Maestro (Ennio)

Director – Giuseppe Tornatore – 2021 – Italy – Cert. 15 – 156m

****

Documentary Ennio: The Maestro looks at the career of Italian film composer Ennio Morricone – out in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd

It’s difficult to know where to start with Ennio Morricone, whose career in film music covers some 70 years. Tornatore adopts the chronological approach, starting with his early life. The composer’s father was a trumpeter who pushed young Ennio to learn that same instrument, leading to entry into Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory where he studied both trumpet and composition. His father had raised him with a strong work ethic – using the trumpet to feed your family – and much of his early work was as a trumpeter on movie soundtrack sessions, including Othello (Orson Welles, 1951).

His wife secured him a brief stint at TV channel RAI where she was working, but on being told that he wouldn’t be able to perform anything recorded there anywhere else, Morricone quit almost immediately. Inspired by seeing experimental composer John Cage perform live, he formed the Nuovo Consonanza Improvisation Group to experiment with what he called “traumatic sounds”. This approach would inform a number of his later soundtracks.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent

Director – Tom Gormican – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 105m

****

Down on his luck, actor Nick Cage (playing himself) accepts the job of spending time at a fan’s house for one million dollars, unaware that his host is a crime lord pursued by the CIA – out in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd

This unusual entry in the ‘actor playing themselves’ genre is effectively the movie equivalent of fan fiction. That might sound disparaging, but that’s not at all what I mean.

Obsessed with the actor Nic Cage and his movies, writer-director Gormican has written this: a movie in which a character called Nick Cage (Nic Cage playing a version of himself) is an actor down on his luck, desperate to get a part for which he’s just auditioned and which he believes will revitalise his flagging career. He needs this part. He’s heavily in debt. His ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) wants him to spend more time with their teenage daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen), specifically, listening to her, since he spends most of his time spouting off about his own career in particular or movies in general.

When the part he’s after falls through, he decides to take the other offer from his agent Fink (Neil Patrick Harris), the one where he gets a million dollars for hanging out with a rich fan.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 千と千尋の神隠し)

Director – Hayao Miyazaki – 2001 – Japan – Cert. PG – 125m

A shorter version of this review was originally published in Third Way for UK release date 12/09/2002. At which point, hardly anyone in the UK outside of anime fandom knew who Miyazaki was.

In director Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a ten-year-old girl must survive a bathhouse run by demons after her parents are turned into pigs – now showing on Netflix (subtitled / dubbed) and can also be seen in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank (subtitled / dubbed for family screenings)

To discover the films of Hayao Miyazaki – and those of his company Studio Ghibli (pronounced “Jib-Lee”) – is like suddenly being exposed to those of Disney without prior knowledge of their sheer number or quality. In Miyazaki’s native Japan, Spirited Away shattered box office records to succeed Titanic as the most lucrative movie of all time. In the US, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature while making only modest inroads into the marketplace. Britain, however, is not the US and it may well fare better here than it did there.

Previous Miyazaki outings have covered children’s experience of the countryside (My Neighbour Totoro, 1988; one of this writer’s favourite films of all time), a young girl’s learning to find her way in the world (Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989) and conflicting loyalties among pilots in interwar Europe (Porco Rosso, 1992).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Batman

Director – Matt Reeves – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 175m

****

A reinvention of the popular superhero alongside his iconic villain adversaries in a Gotham City run by corrupt elites and gangsters – out in cinemas on Friday, March 4th; home premiere available to rent from Tuesday, April 19th

The posters for Warner Bros.’ second Batman movie Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992) announced it with the names of three iconic characters: The Bat, The Cat, The Penguin. They could have done similar here, although The Bat, The Cat, The Penguin, The Riddler doesn’t quite work as an animal-themed slogan. However, The Batman is a very different movie – and not just because of the addition of the Riddler.

Of all the superheroes, Batman is arguably the richest in terms of raw material and its potential for reinvention. This new film is quite unlike the Nolan films which preceded it which in turn is quite unlike the Burton films which preceded them which are quite unlike the art deco animated Batman TV series which in turn is quite unlike the sixties TV series which preceded that.

In movies as in comics, Batman, Gotham City and its accompanying cast of characters appear ripe for reinvention in a way that no other superhero and their world quite does.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Operation Mincemeat

Director – John Madden – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 127m

*****

The British WW2 deception involving a corpse and fake documents to make Germany think the Allies are landing in Greece rather than Sicily – out in cinemas on Friday, April 15th

At the height of World War II, the Allies plan a mass landing at Sicily. They want the Germans to think it’s going to happen in Greece to reduce Allied casualties. In a Whitehall Admiralty basement operates the Twenty Committee, so-called after its initials XX (or double-cross) and its work managing double or triple agents (this work of the committee isn’t really alluded to in the film although a British triple agent appears later on and plays a fairly important part in the plot, which will include some racy if subtly understated physical sexual activity). On the floors above are top brass Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) and his assistant Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), the latter devouring novels and constantly bashing out prose on his typewriter in every spare moment.

The office in the basement itself is run with a rod of iron by the fearsome Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton) while the Committee’s top man is Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth), a former Old Bailey lawyer whose friends believe to be in charge of naval supplies.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Northman

Director – Robert Eggers – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 136m

*****

A 10th Century Viking prince vows revenge on his father king’s killer and sees it through to death – out in cinemas on Friday, April 15th

Young Viking Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak from The Batman) is thrilled when his warrior father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns with a line of prisoners in two to his fortified stronghold and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Father and son are devoted to each other, participating in a private ritual involving bodily sounds and consumption of an hallucinogenic liquid that causes the boy to experience a vision of his family line: a tree of life where the trunk is a spine and branches are umbilical cords attached to grown kings as the viewpoint pans up reveal the boy attached to the highest cord. He is now prepared to take over the rule of the kingdom when his father dies.

He doesn’t seem to get on quite so well with his mother, who warns him never to enter her room unannounced. At a banquet in honour of Aurvandil, his dour brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang from The Square, Ruben Östlund, 2017) takes exception to court jester Heimir the Fool (Willem Dafoe).… Read the rest

Categories
Art Features Live Action Movies

Benedetta

Sins of the flesh

Benedetta
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Certificate 18, 131 minutes
Released 15 April

The Dutch director Paul Verhoeven revels in controversy… His latest work, Benedetta, is… sexually explicit, but also tackles religion within a historical context. It clearly has plenty of potential to offend.

Benedetta is based on the story of the 17th-century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini who had visions and exhibited stigmata. She became an abbess and was investigated and discredited by Catholic officials. There were suggestions that Benedetta’s visionary traffic was with the Devil rather than God, while various nuns’ testimonies claimed her stigmata to be faked. Her roommate Bartolomea confessed to regular sexual activity with Benedetta. Benedetta was demoted.

Verhoeven eschews historical accuracy for the spiritual, the spectacular and the carnal… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Teaser trailer:

Trailer:

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Lost City

Directors – Aaron Nee, Adam Nee – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 112m

***

A jaded woman’s romantic adventure novelist and her cover model find themselves in a real life jungle straight out of one of her books – out in cinemas on Wednesday, April 13th

Ever since her archaeologist husband died five years ago, novelist of trashy, erotic women’s adventure fiction Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) has had writer’s block. Her publishers love her books because they sell in huge volume, but she’s really an archaeology nerd who hates the novels she’s written. A friendly nudge from her editor Beth (Da’vine Joy Randolph), however, helps her complete another one, so it’s on to the promotional tour, something else Loretta hates.

She’s told exactly what to do by Beth and new social media manager Allison (Patti Harrison) This time round Loretta is required to wear a one-piece, cleavage-revealing, purple sequinned outfit that she (understandably) really doesn’t like as she is interviewed once again before fan audiences by male model Alan (Channing Tatum), whose appearance alongside her on the front cover of her books has helped propel her (and him) to stardom, effectively casting them as her heroine Angela and sidekick Dash.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Duke

Director – Roger Michell – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 96m

**1/2

A man steals Goya’s painting of The Duke Of Wellingon from the National Gallery in 1961… Based on a true story – out to rent on PVoD on Monday, April 11th

1960s Newcastle. Kempton Bunton (Jim Broadbent) wages a one-man war against pensioners paying the licence fee. He removes the BBC coil so that the set will only play ITV. His wife Dorothy (Helen Mirren), a cleaner for the wife of a local councillor, just wants him to behave like every else and try and fit in. Seeing the nation pay £140 000 to stop Goya’s painting of The Duke Of Wellington being sold abroad, he can only think of how much better the money could be spent – how many pensioners’ TV licences it could cover, for example.

Thus, he takes a trip to London to deliver an unsolicited manuscript of a play to the BBC, then lobby both Parliament and the press (The Daily Express) about free licences. All of which endeavours meet with failure. However, a plan to steal The Duke from the National Gallery works and the painting is soon in his back bedroom, where son Jack (Fionn Whitehead from Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan, 2017) bills a false wall in the wardrobe to help him hide it. … Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Compartment No. 6 (Hytti Nro 6)

Director – Juho Kuosmanen – 2021 – Finland – Cert. 15 – 107m

*****

A student taking a long, sleeper train from Moscow to the Arctic finds herself sharing a compartment with a drunken male slob – out in cinemas on Friday, April 8th

Finnish archaeology student Laura (Seidi Haarla) lives in Moscow with her life of the party, professor lover Irina (Dinara Druckerova) in the latter’s Moscow flat where life is a constant round of social gatherings and parties. Irina’s busy schedule causes her to drop out of a proposed visit to Murmansk to see the petroglyphs, so Laura takes the Artika train (Artic train) alone and finds herself sharing her first class, two person sleeper cabin with Lhoja (Yuriy Borisov from Petrov’s Flu, Kirill Serebrennikov, 2021) who knocks back the vodka and leaves half-eaten packets of food all over the shared table. She takes an immediate dislike to him.

And that’s the setup of the film: not so much a road movie as a rail movie, the bulk of what follows taking place on the train (a fascinating location in itself) with off-train episodes at various stops en route including St. Petersburg (which places the year at 1991 or after when the city was renamed from Leningrad) and a finale in Murmansk.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore

Director – David Yates – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 142m

***

In the 1930s, Newt Scamander, Albus Dumbledore and others attempt to prevent the despotic wizard Grindlewald from seizing power in a wizard’s election in J.K. Rowling’s third Fantastic Beasts movie – out in cinemas on Friday, April 8th

It’s difficult to know where to start with the third of J.K. Rowling’s self-penned Fantastic Beasts productions. A plethora of characters who apart from a few main ones quickly get confusing, some genuinely fantastic beasts as you would hope and some truly great underlying ideas poorly served by a narrative that doesn’t seem to understand basic storytelling in cinema. Perhaps if I’d immersed myself in all the books and films and whatever else is out there, it would make more sense (and no doubt this is what much of the dedicated fan audience will do), but as a standalone film, even one that’s a part of an ongoing saga, it makes little sense, although certain sequences are terrific.

The big ideas here are built around a creature called a Qilin (pronounced chillin) – a beast borrowed from Chinese and Far Eastern mythology – specifically an orphaned newborn Qilin that looks a lot like a golden version of Bambi, a resemblance underscored by the fate meted out to its mother in the opening reel.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazaro, さよならの朝に約束の花をかざろう)

Director – Mari Okada – 2018 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 115m

***

Like a virgin. A refugee girl from an immortal race adopts an orphaned human baby to raise as her own until he leaves her as an adult – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

The Iolph are the Clan Of The Separate: they live for hundreds of years but remain in their isolated enclave cut off from the rest of humanity. They weave fabric called the Hibiol on looms; the Hibiol contains within it the storylines of their lives which the Iolph can feel and read.

Maquia and Leilia are friends. Leilia is the tomboy, getting into trouble. One day, Mezarte riders on dragons called the Renato attack and decimate the Iolph colony. Leilia is taken prisoner to be married off to the invading Mezarte prince while Maquia escapes on a Renato which goes beserk infected with the disease Red Eye, literally crashing and burning in a forest miles from home. She takes refuge in a village which has similarly been attacked and finds a baby which she prises free from the rigor mortis grip of its mother’s corpse and names the boy Erial.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi, 聲の形)

Director – Naoko Yamada – 2016 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 130m

****

Groundbreaking and innovative Japanese drama about school children, bullying, remorse, isolation and self-loathing – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

Egged on by Naoka Ueno (voice: Yuki Kaneko) then later shunned by classmates for his bullying of new girl in class Shoko Nishimiya ( Saori Hayami), who happens to be deaf, Shoya Ishida (Miyu Irino) stops interacting with them and withdraws. This is represented onscreen by the extraordinary graphic device of an ‘X’ over the faces of his fellow schoolmates whenever they appear. It’s a very powerful way of expressing his isolation. Five years on, wrecked with guilt about his treatment of Nishimiya, he learns sign language and decides to befriend her and to make amends…

This film may well broaden your idea of what animation is capable. It’s nothing like Disney and equally it’s light years from Japanese SF action fest Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) although it likewise started life as a manga and concerns teenagers. These teens, however, are not rebels against the system but simply very ordinary, screwed up kids. If this were British we’d probably have made it as a live action drama, possibly for television… [read more]

Read the full review at DMovies.orgRead the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

In Fabric

Director – Peter Strickland – 2018 – UK – Cert. 15 – 118m

*****

A red dress bought from and returned to a department store wreaks terrible fates on serial owners in a film much stranger and more worthwhile than it sounds – now on MUBI and Curzon Home Cinema

A wildly inventive and unashamedly British affair, Strickland’s latest film mixes tacky 1970s aesthetics with several workplaces – a department store, a personal loans company and a washing machine repair firm. Clothing emporium Dentley & Soper is run on a series of arcane regulations, obedience to the seemingly arbitrary rules for conduct of personnel at Waingel’s Bank is encouraged by smarmy middle management types Stash and Clive (Julian Barrett and Steve Oram) while washing machine repair firm Slaverton’s Wash insists any personnel who mend their own machines must do so on the firm’s books.

Although the film is constructed on the portmanteau template used in many horror films, whether it’s a horror movie as such rather than a very strange and stylish arthouse movie is open to debate. Loosely linked narratives are woven around serial characters – Waingel’s employee Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), Slaverton’s repair man Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) and his fiancée Babs (Hayley Squires).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu Bucluc sau Porno Balamuc)

Director – Radu Jude – 2021 – Romania – Cert. 18 – 106m

*****

A teacher becomes the subject of controversy after her husband’s private sex tape is posted online – on BFI Player Subscription from Friday, April 1st

Park your prejudices at the door! The opening three or so minutes of this will surprise or possibly even shock you – basically, hard core, live action genital sex images of a man and a woman, no holds barred. Real, not simulated. And real in other senses too – banging… knocking… (oh God, double entendres, can’t see how to avoid them here) on the door as our couple go at it… Her mother, one imagines, heard through the wall… “Emi, are you asleep” – Emi’s reply, “please leave us alone” – her mother again, “the little one hasn’t sanitised”…

Yes, it’s the world of immediate, post-lockdown pandemic, with people wearing masks and social distancing (or not, if they don’t get it). That wasn’t in the script but when director Jude was shooting in Bucharest: Romania was coming out of lockdown, and he decided to incorporate that into his film. Most contemporary films pretend we’re in a world where Covid-19 never happened or isn’t happening, so we just carry on as normal.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

The Bad Guys

Director – Pierre Perifel – 2022 – US – Cert. U – 100m

****1/2

A group of criminal animals led by a wolf mastermind pretend to go straight to pull off their greatest job ever – animated feature previews Saturday and Sunday, March 26th & 27th, out in cinemas on Friday, April 1st

It sounds a near impossible feat to pull off, yet The Bad Guys manages to successfully parody the meanness and violence of the gangster movie genre in a children’s animated film without any of the meanness and violence normally associated with that genre. It opens with two guys (well, a wolf and a snake) hanging out in a restaurant shooting the breeze. Yes, there’s only the two of them, but anyone who knows their gangster movies will immediately think of the six guys sitting around a restaurant table at the start of Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1993) and to underscore the point, the characters are called Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake (along with, when we meet them shortly after, Ms. Tarantula, Mr. Piranha and Mr. Shark). They’re animals, but they could just as easily have been colours.

As his animal type suggests, Mr Wolf (voice: Sam Rockwell) is the leader of the pack.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Dance Features Live Action Movies Music

Coppelia

Directors – Jeff Tudor, Steven de Beul, Ben Tesseur – 2021 – Netherlands, Germany, Belgium – Cert. U – 82m

****

People in an idyllic town must thwart the nefarious plans of a mad scientist in this extraordinary amalgam of dance, live action performers and animation – out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, April 1st

This isn’t the first movie to combine live action with animation nor will it be the last and while it has numerous echoes of movies intentional or otherwise, it’s very much its own vision. First and foremost a dance piece but far from mere ‘filmed dance’, it will appeal as much to admirers of the twin arts of cinema and animation as to devotees of dance. Being entirely devoid of verbal language, it’ll attract lovers of silent cinema too. (One can imagine the film shown mute with a live orchestra playing the score.)

The lack of verbal language means that the characters are never named (just like in a ballet where you’d refer to a cast list in an accompanying programme) although tags for a number of them are obvious – several shop owners include a bicycle repair man (Daniel Camargo), a florist, a hairdresser (Jan Kooijman) and a baker of bread and cakes (Irek Mukhamedov) while a dance studio hosts a ballet teacher (Igoné de Jongh) and her child student troupe.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Sonic The Hedgehog 2

Director – Jeff Fowler – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 122m

**1/2

Sonic teams with Tails The Fox to battle the dastardly Dr. Robotnik and powerful, red nemesis Knuckles – out in cinemas on Friday, April 1st.

With Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) trapped on a mushroom planet, Sonic The Hedgehog (voice: Ben Schwartz) is busy trying to recreate himself as Batman-modelled superhero Blue Justice, but after his attempts to stop robbers in a security van end up decimating an entire block of the city with their explosives, that doesn’t look quite such a smart career move.

Meanwhile, the dastardly Dr. Robotnik is building a device to open a portal and return himself to Earth, where he seeks the green diamond which will give its owner ultimate power. Once opened, the portal introduces Robotnik to Knuckles (voice: Idris Elba), basically a bigger and more powerful red-furred version of the blue-furred Sonic with far more physical power and far less intelligence.

Now living with human substitute parents Tom (James Marsden) and Maddie (Tika Sumpter) in homely Green Hills, Montana, Sonic although described in the press handouts as a teenager is to all purposes played as a pre-teen boy keen to go off on his own and have adventures but not quite independent enough to do so (a conundrum that doesn’t really work).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Ambulance

Director – Michael Bay – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 136m

****

Two bank robbers shoot an LAPD officer then hijack as a getaway vehicle the ambulance that came to rescue him – out in cinemas on Friday, March 25th

In need of money for his wife’s experimental cancer treatment, army veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II from The Matrix: Resurrections) approaches Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), the brother he grew up with in his adoptive family. Said family’s patriarch was unfortunately a career criminal and psychopath, and the former element can be found in Danny. Will expects he might get roped into some minor criminal activity, but what he absolutely isn’t expecting is to become part of the $32m heist.

Danny thinks on his feet, and has to improvise when a cop unaware there’s a robbery in progress talks his way into the bank hoping to chat up one of the tellers. Officer Zach (Jackson White) becomes first hostage then casualty, shot point-blank in the heat of the moment by Will. Hearing the “officer down” alert, highly proficient paramedic Cam Thompson (Eiza González) arrives in her ambulance on the scene only to be hijacked by the robbers and their victim, who becomes her patient she intends to keep alive.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Mouthpiece

Director – Patricia Rozema – 2018 – Canada – Cert. 15 – 91m

****1/2

Tall Cassie and short Cassie struggle to find the words for the eulogy for their mother’s funeral after she dies suddenly and unexpectedly – on MUBI from Thursday, March 24th

Christmas. Tall Cassie (Amy Nostbakken) and short Cassie (Norah Sadova) get drunk in a bar with friends, make their way home on their (one) bicycle and collapse into bed, ignoring the flood of mobile messages which they don’t pick up ‘til the next, sunny morning. They answer. It’s bad news. Their mum has died. Could she pick the flowers? Danny is going to do the speech.

But Cassie is the writer in the family and she won’t have it. She’ll do the speech herself. Danny isn’t capable of doing it. Although she doesn’t yet know what to say. And the funeral is in 48 hours.

Welcome to the world of sudden parental bereavement where things you know to be solid and true fold and crumple before your eyes. Where you are flooded with random memories as you try to make sense of it all. There are social rituals and structures supposedly to help you deal with this – ordering the flowers, choosing suitable clothes to wear, picking out the coffin, writing a eulogy for the deceased, attending a funeral service.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing

Director – Patricia Rozema – 1987 – Canada – Cert. PG – 84m

****

A naive, amateur photographer comes unstuck as she gets to know a sophisticated art gallery owner – on MUBI from Wednesday, March 23rd

Polly (Sheila McCarthy) – an obsessive amateur photographer with her own darkroom – is blessed with a rich imagination and accompanying fantasy life in which she walks on water and climbs up the side of buildings. Being a scatterbrained social disaster area she is unable to hold down a job. She tells confessionally how the position of temporary secretary in the svelte Gabrielle’s art gallery didn’t work out – a tale relevant to us all, especially in these days of high unemployment. Sheila McCarthy is a perfect piece of casting with her sparklingly expressive eyes.

Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon) is everything Polly admires – beautiful, intelligent, successful and articulate. Polly falls in love with Gabrielle and dreams of the two of them dressed in fine clothes, talking about art. The reality is that Polly dresses in polyester clothing, is completely inarticulate, and has a poor employment record.

Gabrielle is secretly involved in an art world scam with her business partner; inevitably, Polly’s naive, private world comes up against the sophisticated cunning of Gabrielle’s.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Hive

Director – Blerta Basholli – 2021 – Kosovo – Cert. 15 – 84m

***

A woman whose husband went missing during the war encounters prejudice when she starts a small business to support herself and her family – out in cinemas on Friday, March 18th

Kosovan woman Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) lives with her teenage daughter and younger son and her father-in-law Haxhiu (Çun Lajçi). Her absent husband disappeared during the war and is likely dead, but no-one knows for certain and she keeps looking whenever more graves are discovered, often with clothes of the victims rather than their bodies. So far she has been unable to identify him, something of an emotional nightmare. She still tends his beehives, but occasionally gets stung and wonders how he managed to avoid that. Answer: he had a way with bees that she doesn’t.

However, life must go on and in the absence of a male breadwinner, she must provide income to feed herself, her kids and her father-in-law. She meets with other women in the village, some of whom are presumably in the same situation as she, and decides to set up a food business, making and selling jars of Avjar (roasted red pepper spread).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Paris 13th District (Les Olympiades, Paris 13e)

Director – Jacques Audiard – 2021 – France – Cert. 15 tbc – 105m

***

The criss-crossing lives and loves of four characters in Paris 13th District – in cinemas from Friday, March 18th

Shot for the most part in stylish black and white, this starts off with apartment resident Émilie Wong (Lucie Zhang) naked in her grandmother’s flat with her new tenant Camille (Makita Samba), their situation swiftly explained in a “how it all began” flashback. Their intense passion cools after a mere couple of weeks, however, with Camille subsequently bringing another girl he fancies back to the flat.

Meanwhile, law student Nora Ligier (Noémie Merlant from Jumbo, Zoé Wittock, 2020) gets mistaken for online sex cam girl Amber Sweet (Jehnny Beth) at a nightclub and the image of her (incorrect) identity immediately plastered over the internet. She quits university and gets a job at a real estate company, an area in which she has a lot of experience, run by Camille who is looking after the company for a friend and has no idea what he’s doing.

Although Nora delineates boundaries for the office, pretty soon she and Camille are involved in a passionate, physical relationship. Meanwhile, she tracks down Amber Sweet on the web, first for conversations on Amber’s expensive website and later for lengthier conversations for free on Skype.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Deep Water (2022)

Director – Adrian Lyne – 2022 – US – Cert. US-R – 115m

****

A man is jealous of the lovers of his beautiful but promiscuous wife who start mysteriously dying one by one – out on Prime Video in the UK on Friday, March 18th

Vic (Ben Affleck) is devoted to his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas from No Time To Die, 2021, Cary Joji Fukunaga) for whom he would do anything, including give her her freedom. Since she doesn’t like being tied down to just one man, this means the freedom to sleep with any man she wants. She drinks a lot too and often stays out all night, refusing to tell Vic where she’s been in the morning. The trouble is, some time ago she slept with a man named MacRae and he vanished. Disappeared. No-one knows what happened to him.

Then one night, at a party he’s hosting, Vic scares Melinda’s current lover Joel (Brendan C. Miller) by confessing to the crime, by way of a joke. Or is it? Joel is inclined to think Vic the murderer. After a job offer causes Joel to leave the area, Melinda starts meeting a piano teacher Charles (Jacob Elordi).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi, 아가씨)

Director – Park Chan-wook – 2016 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 155m

****1/2

Available on BFI Player from Friday, March 18th

Weighing in at a lengthy two and a half hours, this lavish, sexually-explicit, South Korean pot-boiler is based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith, but moves the location from Victorian England to Japanese colonial-era Korea.

Waters’ tale concerns a conman’s plot to marry and then defraud a wealthy English heiress by confining her to an asylum. He bribes a young London pickpocket (the titular ‘fingersmith’) to take on a job as the wealthy lady’s maid, hoping to get her to persuade the woman to marry him. However, his plan falls apart when the two women fall for each other.

When director Park Chan-wook discovered the BBC had already made a 2005 miniseries, he transposed the plot to 1930s Korea (a Japanese colony at the time), co-writing his script with regular female collaborator Jeong Seo-kyeong. Broadly speaking, it substitutes well-off Japanese for well-off English, and Koreans for everyone else. The print being released in UK cinemas helpfully subtitles Japanese dialogue in yellow and Korean dialogue in white… [Read the rest]

Reviewed for All The Anime.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Tucked

Director – Jamie Patterson – 2018 – UK – Cert.15 – 80m

*****

An ageing drag queen with weeks to live takes a younger performer under his wing – British film dealing with gender fluidity and death is available on BFI Player from Thursday, March 17th

Are you straight? So is spaghetti – ’til it gets hot and sticky.

Just one of the dirty jokes in the small club stage repertoire of ageing drag queen Jackie (Derren Nesbitt), 74. One night he collapses on his kitchen floor. He has an aggressive form of cancer and only six to seven weeks left to live.

Another night. He’s asked to show the ropes to a new performer Faith (Jordan Stephens), 21. Discovering Faith sleeping in his car, he offers the boy a home (with no untoward intentions).

Jackie dresses in women’s clothes but also likes women: outrageously gay Faith is shocked to find Jackie isn’t. Faith thinks Jackie should tell his estranged daughter that he’s dying… Read the rest

Tucked is available on BFI Player from Thursday, March 10th, 2022.

Review for DMovies.org.

Tucked was out in the UK on Friday, May 17th 2018. On DVD and VoD in September 2018.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Ninjababy

Director – Ingvild Sve Flikke – 2021 – Norway – Cert. 15 tbc – 103m

*****

An artist draws constantly, her life punctuated with animated inserts, as she finds she is pregnant with a ninjababy – out in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September 10th. Also free to watch on All4 for 26 days from Friday, March 11th

Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) is the messy one, Ingrid (Tora Christine Dietrichson) is the tidy one. They share a flat. All this is apparent from Rakel’s simple, sketched black lines on white background, animated plan of their flat. That opens this essentially live action film, which is thereafter punctuated by animation either in similar inserts or apparently drawn into the moving live action images e.g. on light areas of wall (this may be a special effect, but it’s an extremely low tech one).

Ingrid thinks something is up with Rakel – the larger breasts, the vast quantities of fruit drink consumed – could Rakel be pregnant? Do a test. Positive. To the abortion clinic. Sorry, 26 weeks and the legal limit is 12. That’s Mos-Aikido (Nader Khademi) off the hook, the sex with him (and it was good) was more recent.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Matrix: Resurrections

Director – Lana Wachowski – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 148m

**

One of the original directors returns for a fourth film in the popular franchise – available to own on Digital Download from Monday, March 14th

Helmed by one of the directing duo behind The Matrix (1999), this is the fourth feature film in the popular franchise. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is now the designer of the popular computer game The Matrix and being asked by owners Warner Bros. to make a fourth game, something he’s always decided he wouldn’t do. But under pressure from his boss, he capitulates. Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) frequents his local coffee shop, but they don’t know each other. The hero of his game Neo is loosely modelled on himself while Tiffany reminds him of its heroine Trinity.

With these two stars of the original film and its sequels returning, this fourth film starts off like a rerun of the original with different or substitute characters: the feisty Bugs (Jessica Henwick) as a Trinity substitute fleeing a series of suits in dark glasses, running into a man claiming to be Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who states, “I have to find Neo”.

And this is where The Matrix: Resurrections’ problems start to occur.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Death On The Nile (2020)

Director – Kenneth Branagh – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 127m

**

Detective Hercule Poirot must investigate a rising body count on a wedding party Nile cruise – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

Attending a gig by blues musician Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) where her niece and savvy business manager Rosalie Otterbourne (Laetitia Wright) is also in attendance, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) runs into Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) who are passionately in love with each other and engage in some extremely suggestive dancing. She encourages her friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) to take the floor with Simon, whereupon they too engage in some extremely suggestive dancing.

Holidaying in Egypt, Poiret runs into old acquaintance Bouc (Tom Bateman) and his overbearing mother Euphemia (Annette Bening). Cut to a lavish hotel where Simon and Linnet announce to a party of attendant friends that they are to be married. Simon appears to have done very well for himself: he lacks money or prospects while Linnet is a fabulously rich heiress. The understandably alienated Jacqueline, however, keeps following them around on their travels. The couple asks Poirot if he could do something about this. He refuses on the grounds that no crime has been committed, but nevertheless speaks with Jacqueline and politely asks her to back off.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Sing 2

Director – Garth Jennings – 2021 – US – Cert. U – 110m

****

The song and dance impressario tries to duplicate his local success in the entertainment capital of the world – animated sequel is out in cinemas on Friday, January 28th

Following successfully putting on a talent show in his local theatre in Sing (Garth Jennings, Christophe Lourdelet, 2016), impressario koala Buster Moon (voice: Matthew McConaughey) wants to move up to the big leagues and stage a musical in Redshore City, the entertainment capital of the world. He thinks it’s his big break when a talent scout, the tall, thin dog Suki Lane (voice: Chelsea Peretti), visits a performance, but has reckoned without her withering appraisal that he’ll never make it outside his local town.

Her put-down, however, only serves to spur him on to attempt the impossible: he corrals his unbelieving performers to Redshore City by coach, rehearsing a new play on the back with them seat en route, for an audition at the prestigious Crystal Tower Theater in front of its owner, wolf Jimmy Crystal (voice: Bobby Cannavale), who presses the ‘reject’ buzzer on most audition acts within about three stanzas and frequently far less.

Crystal’s rejection of Moon’s act on grounds of looking for something more original prompts the troupe’s precocious pig Gunter (Nick Kroll) to spout off, to Moon’s initial horror, about his own idea for a sci-fi musical set in Outer Space and starring the reclusive, rock star lion Clay Calloway (who hasn’t been seen in public for 15 years since the death of his wife and muse).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Belfast

Director – Kenneth Branagh – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 98m

*****

1969, Belfast, Northern Ireland. The life of a young boy and his family is impacted by The Troubles as Christian sectarianism explodes into violence on their street – out in cinemas on Friday, January 21st

Bookended by colour images of contemporary Belfast, Northern Ireland, this swiftly traverses a colour montage to pan up a wall to the black and white photographed 1969 beyond. The closing moments also feature the genuinely touching legend, “For the ones who stayed, For the ones who left, And for the ones who were lost.”

Elsewhere, apart from family trips to the cinema to see the likes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ken Hughes, 1968), where the clips from the movie and light reflected from it onto the black and white audience are in colour, everything else (including other aspects of the family cinema-going experience) is entirely in black and white.

The first ten minutes are a particularly tough watch, as images of kids playing footy, hopscotch or knights in armour (wooden swords and dustbin lids) in the streets give way to nine-year-old Buddy (ten-year-old Jude Hill) returning home to find men with clubs breaking windows on his street, hurling Molotov cocktails and shouting, “get these fockers off your street.”… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Licorice Pizza

Director – Paul Thomas Anderson – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 133m

****

Boy meets girl in San Fernando Valley, 1973, a bizarre, meandering tale constantly firing off in new directions – out in cinemas on Saturday, January 1st

Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is walking along an outdoor school corridor when he sees Alona Kane (Alona Haim), contriving to run into her. She’s much older than him (she’s actually there helping out with individual pupil photos) and pours scorn on his attempts to ask her out for a date. But he’s persistent and possessed of a way with words, talking her into turning up at the restaurant should she feel like it, which she duly does.

When he proclaims himself an actor with some films and TV series to his credit, she assumes he’s joking around, but, no, it’s true. Needing a chaperone for a new your gig he’d otherwise be unable to attend, he gives her the job. He also has his own PR company whose clients include a Japanese restaurant, has a good head for business, and is constantly chasing the latest coming trend as a means to make a fast buck.

To attempt more of a synopsis is difficult because the whole thing feels like scenes from a much longer script where lot of other scenes have been either edited out in the cutting room or possibly not even shot in the first place.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Top Ten

Top Ten Movies (and more) 2021

Work in progress – subject to change. Because I am still watching movies released in 2021, so it’s always possible that a new title could usurp the number one in due course. Before that, I have a lot more movies still to add.

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/21 and 31/12/21. Prior to 2020, I’d never included online releases (well, maybe the odd one or two as a special case) but that year saw the film distribution business turned upside down by COVID-19. How 2022 and beyond will look is anyone’s guess.

This version excludes re-releases (Seven Samurai and It’s A Wonderful Life, in that order, would top everything here, while The Shop Around the Corner would also be in my Top Ten). A link to that longer list will be added here in due course.

In addition to re-releases, this version also excludes films seen in festivals which haven’t had any other UK release in 2021. A link to that even longer list will be added here in due course.

Finally, last year’s list is here.

Top Ten (UK theatrical + online movie releases 2021)

Please click on titles to see reviews.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Director – Jon Watts – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 150m

***1/2

With Spider-man’s identity revealed as Peter Parker, he enlists Dr. Strange’s magic to restore the world to its state before that revelation – out in cinemas on Wednesday, December 15th

Hard to remember now but there was a time before the millennium when a big screen Spider-Man adaptation was something no-one thought would ever get made. Following the hugely successful Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002) there have effectively been three series of movies, with reboots The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)-compliant Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts, 2107) plus three further appearances of the character in the MCU since 2016 (Captain America: Civil War, 2016; Avengers: Infinity War, 2018; Avengers: Endgame, 2019; all Joe and Anthony Russo). In the 2002-initiated cycle, the character was played by Tobey Maguire, in the 2012, Andrew Garfield and in the MCU / 2017, Tom Holland. The latter in Jon Watts’ films is particularly good at portraying Peter / Spider-Man as a gawky, insecure teenager.

There’s even a (hugely inventive) animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, 2018) which sadly isn’t referenced in the current film.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

West Side Story (2021)

Director – Steven Spielberg – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 156m

*****

This reimagining of the landmark 1961 musical feels fresh and completely different, yet strangely familiar at the same time – out in cinemas on Friday, December 10th

The original adaptation of Broadway show West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, 1961) is widely reckoned one of the great movie musicals. It’s basically Romeo And Juliet reworked with rival houses replaced by rival ethnic gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. From the moment a former member of one gang falls for a young girl from the other ethnic group, their romance is doomed.

As well as remarkable songs (music: Leonard Bernstein, lyrics: Stephen Sondheim), the thing people remember is the incredible, almost otherworldly choreography. If this had not been a musical but a straightforward teenage youth drama, the gangs would have walked or run through the streets in packs. Here, though, they dance and glide as a synchronised group, and the never less than magical result proves highly effective.

So if you’re going to remake West Side Story, you’d better have some pretty good ideas because a carbon copy would be pointless. Enter Steven Spielberg. Like many people, he’s grown up with the 1961 movie and knows it intimately.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Director – Don Siegel – 1956 – US – Cert. PG – 80m

*****

The classic, paranoid SF outing about the residents of a small, American town being replaced by conformist, emotionless duplicates – on BFI Blu-ray from Monday, October 25th

This is an incomplete review, currently in progress…

Made in the middle of Hollywood’s 1950s B-movie Sci-Fi boom, this movie was made by Don Siegel who previously made hard-boiled crime thrillers after cutting his teeth as an editor of montage sequences in, among other things, Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942) with a striking script and a strong cast headed by Kevin McCarthy and, in her first starring role, Dana Wynter, which also includes Carolyn Jones who would later achieve fame playing Morticia Addams in The Addams Family TV series (creator David Levy, 1964).

Based on a Colliers Magazine serial by Jack Finney, it’s built around the highly potent idea of human beings being replaced by emotionless duplicates who operate as a communal whole rather than individual people. It’s often been read as a metaphor for the anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts of the period, but as noted in the fascinating documentary Sleep No More, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Revisited (2006), the left thought it was a satire on the right while the right thought it was a satire on the left.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Moving On (Nam-mae-wui Yeo-reum-bam, 남매의 여름밤)

Director – Yoon Dan-bi – 2019 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 105m

***1/2

A father takes his teenage daughter and her younger brother to stay with their ageing grandfather for the Summer – plays on MUBI as part of their New South Korean Cinema season

It’s the Summer, so dad (Yang Heung-joo) takes his two kids, teenage daughter Okju (Choi Jun-un) and smaller son Dongju (Park Seung-jun) off to stay with Grandpa (Kim Sang-dong). Moving location is no problem work-wise since he makes a living selling tennis shoes out of his small van on the street. It’s a precarious existence – at one point, he asks a man who runs a fabric shop whether he makes good money in that trade. And when Okju tries to sell some herself, she comes up against a buyer who has realised that the shoes are knock-offs.

There’s quite a bit of sibling rivalry – immediately on moving in, Okju refguses to let Dongju sleep in the room she has nabbed for herself after setting up her mosquito net. But as their aunt Mijung (Park Hyun-young) is later heard to remark, although the pair argue they actually get on with each other quite well.… Read the rest

Categories
Art Features Live Action Movies

Benedetta

Director – Paul Verhoeven – 2021 – France – Cert. tbc – 131m

*****

A 17th Century nun subject to religious visions embarks on a lesbian relationship with a novice – in cinemas from Friday, April 15th

Christianity. The Church. Religion. Treat them the wrong way, and you can get into trouble. Horror The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), drama The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) and comedy Life Of Brian (Terry Jones, 1971) remain controversial. Lesbian nun relationship drama Benedetta may be about to join their ranks. Or perhaps times have moved on. The film is apparently based on a real 17th Century case.

As a young girl, Benedetta (Elena Plonka) claims to commune with the Divine – convincingly so, too, enough to suggest to a bandit gang about to rob her parents and her that a chirping bird is God’s voice, especially when said bird deposits excrement in the eye of the bandit leader who promptly returns a gold necklace to Benedetta’s mother.

On arrival at the convent in Pescia, Benedetta’s father (David Clavel) must pay the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling who seems to have cornered the market in Reverend Mothers judging by Dune, Denis Villeneuve, 2021) a dowry to enable his daughter to become a novice, which suggests that the institution, like the wealthy Catholic Church under whose umbrella it exists, may have ignored Jesus’ injunction to sell all you have and give to the poor.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Free Guy

Director – Shawn Levy – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 115m

***1/2

A non-player character in a mayhem-riddled video game decides to take matters into his own hands after meeting the girl of his dreams – out in cinemas on Friday, August 13th

Guy (sic) (Ryan Reynolds) works in Free City. In a bank. Every day he selects the same shirt from his wardrobe, gets a coffee from the same barista, goes to work. Where, at specific times like clockwork, there are robberies. He and his buddy, a security guard named Buddy (sic) (Lil Rel Howery) drop to the floor where they then chat about life, love and other issues.

Then, one day, he meets Molotov (Jodie Comer), a gun-carrying girl with a British accent. He feels as if he’s known her forever, like she’s the missing piece in his life. But she’s a Specs. She wears specs. People who wear specs do things people who don’t don’t. Guy decides he’s going to steal specs from the first bank robber who comes along.

What Guy doesn’t know is that he’s an NPC (non-player character) in a video game called Free City. The game is made by a company called Soonami run by Antwan (Taika Waititi).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Cruella

Director – Craig Gillespie – 2020 – US, UK – Cert. 12a – 134m

****

A 101 Dalmatians prequel. How a girl named Estella unleashed her darker personality of Cruella de Vil – in cinemas from Friday, May 28th

Disney’s project of mining their pantheon of animated classics for live action feature material continues. Here it’s the turn of Cruella de Vil, the villain from 101 Dalmatians (Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman, 1961), and a very clever reimagination it is too. It commences with her birth and cleverly conceals certain significant details of her upbringing only to reveal them at the tale’s climax and give everything that went before a completely new spin.

Estella (Tipper Siefert-Cleveland) is the daughter of Catherine (Emily Beecham). Befriended at school by Anita Darling (Florisa Kamara) but picked on by bullies, Estella gives as good as she gets, fights back and gets expelled for figuratively blotting her copybook. 

So her mother pays a visit to former employer the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) seeking help. But thanks to Estella’s refusal to do as she’s told and stay in the car and her dog Buddy’s strikingly similar refusal to obey Estella this plan goes fatally wrong.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mani, 思い出のマーニー)

Director – Hiromasa Yonebayashi – 2014 – Japan – Cert. U – 103m

****

This second animated work by Ghibli / Arrietty director Yonebayashi is another adaptation of an English children’s author – now showing on Netflix (subtitled / dubbed) and can also be seen in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank (dubbed)

The following review originally appeared in Funimation UK.

Jeremy Clarke on Studio Ghibli’s latest and possibly last theatrical movie. Now showing on Netflix

Studio Ghibli’s star director Hayao Miyazaki has suggested When Marnie Was There may be its final production. That would be a great shame since the film confirms its director Hiromasa Yonebayashi as a rising talent.

Twelve year old Anna has low self-esteem, rarely interacts with others and is prone to asthma attacks. So Anna’s foster mother sends her to stay with Aunt and Uncle Oiwa in the country. Her uncle warns her to stay away from the supposedly haunted grain storage silo on the hill. The Oiwas put her up in their daughter’s long vacated bedroom.

When she opens the window an improvement is immediately visible in Anna as if the view of trees and a lake which greets her is making her aware she is breathing pure, fresh country air for the first time.… Read the rest