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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Getting It Back:
The Story of Cymande

Director – Tim MacKenzie-Smith – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 90m

****

How a promising, innovative black 1970s band failed to crack the UK music business, only for their music to take on a life of its own through various later, popular musical movements – out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 16th and out on BFI Blu-ray, BFI Player Subscription, iTunes and Amazon Prime on Monday, 26 February

Film critics have their blind spots (there are films you’d assume I’ve seen which I never have) and so too do serious music listeners, among whom I number myself. Prior to this film, I had never heard of Cymande. That’s surprising to me, actually, because I started seriously listening to music in the 1970s and have never stopped (although, significantly, rap and hip-hop, which came later, never really did it for me). And Cymande, it turns out, were a band of the early 1970s. It’s not mentioned in this film, but they played a couple of sessions for legendary UK Radio One DJ John Peel where it’s likely I would have heard them, had I started listening regularly to his show earlier than 1974, after they recorded a session.

The narrative in MacKenzie-Smith’s documentary runs something like this: in the 1950s and 60s, Britain invited numerous Commonwealth citizens from Caribbean islands like Jamaica, St.… Read the rest

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American Fiction

Director – Cord Jefferson – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 117m

*****

A black, American college Literature professor, unexpectedly finds celebrity via an anonymous alter-ego when he writes a cliché-ridden book about ‘the black experience’ – out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 2nd

College professor Thelonius ‘Monk’ Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a black academic at a white university. He teaches literature. While he’s teaching a class on the literature of the American South, a young, white, female student objects to the “N-word”, walks out of the class, and – in due course – gets him put on an unpaid Sabbatical. He’s a published novelist who hasn’t had anything published for years, including a manuscript currently doing the rounds through his agent Arthur, whereas other, white, faculty members publish work he considers beneath him yet which also sell in volume in airports.

His Sabbatical ties in with the fact of his going to a Literature Festival in his home city of Boston, where he finds his seminar poorly attended because it’s up against one by rising publishing sensation Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), author of We’s Lives in Da Ghetto, which, when he investigates her session, turns out to be what he considers pandering to black stereotypes of living in poverty, crime and misery.… Read the rest

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Nobody Leaves Alive
(Ninguém Sai Vivo Daqui)

Director – André Ristum – 2023 – Brazil – Cert. none – 86m

****

After a woman is incarcerated in Brazil’s notorious Colonia psychiatric hospital simply because she is pregnant outside of marriage, her hold on reality starts to disintegrate – premieres in the Critics’ Picks Competition at the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

Lovingly shot in a stylish black and white that both makes the whole thing feel like a dream and detracts from any sense of reality, this opens with a young woman being bundled by two men into what looks like a cattle truck. Inside the truck are other people, and the group is clearly being sent somewhere specific.

Once off the train they are frogmarched down a country track, through some wrought metal gates of late 19th / early 20th Century design and into a hallway where they are separated into men and women and the women (since it is one woman’s story we are following here) are taken to a large, tiled room and hosed down by two women, the younger of whom is Laura.

Then the woman we are following is taken for interview with a man who denies he’s a doctor. Her name is Elisa, and she explains there’s been some sort of mix-up.… Read the rest

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Oppenheimer

Director – Christopher Nolan – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 180m

*****

Drama about the father of the atomic bomb, shot with IMAX cameras and best watched in IMAX 70mm format – out in UK cinemas on Friday, July 21st

There are certain hallmarks to Christopher Nolan’s feature length movies. Since The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008), his second Batman movie, he has been shooting a proportion of each one with IMAX cameras. Seen projected on a screen the size of three double-decker London buses at London’s BFI Waterloo IMAX, these are larger than life experiences in a way that movies shown in the viewer’s own home on a screen, even a large one, can never be. And while Nolan is interested in character and performance, most of his movies in the IMAX format, even the historically inspired WW2 movie Dunkirk (Nolan, 2017), contain memorable action, exploiting the vastness of the IMAX screen to great kinetic effect whether it’s Batman roaring along on the Batbike, co-conspirators free floating inside a falling transit van in Inception (Nolan, 2010) or British WW2 soldiers trapped inside a flooding ship.

There is, however, a problem with watching Nolan’s IMAX-intended films in a lesser theatrical cinema format: the framing.… Read the rest

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Hello, Bookstore

Director – A.B. Zax – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 86m

*****

A small town US bookstore and its enthusiastic, bookworm owner are seen in good times and bad, bad being the global pandemic when it’s just getting by, profits plunge and the business is threatened with closure – out in UK cinemas and on demand on Friday, June 30th

Shot in a mixture of colour and black and white, this documentary about a bookstore (or bookshop, as we call them in the UK) in Lenox, Massachusetts – called, quite literally, The Bookstore – and its owner of 40 years Matt Tannenbaum opens with a short sequence in black and white showing the premises under pandemic lockdown, making this film an addition to that small but welcome group of movies that don’t pretend the pandemic never happened.

The genial Tannenbaum has to explain to callers that he’s not letting anyone in, “not for browsing, just for kerbside” and has lengthy conversations on the phone. He admits a masked delivery man with the latest shipment of books, but that’s all. “It’s so hard, it’s so boring, it’s so different,” he says. Clearly he prefers non-pandemic times, when people come into the store, and he can talk to them, find out what they like, and supply books suitable for their tastes.… Read the rest

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Asteroid City

Director – Wes Anderson – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 104m

***

A stage play frames a tale of various characters in a 1950s US desert town, built on the site of an asteroid impact, which becomes the centre of a cover-up after an alien appears – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 23rd

Iconoclast Anderson’s latest is being sold as one thing by its trailer, when it’s actually something else. And watching the film, that something else completely threw me. What we are being sold via the standard letterboxed movie framed image is, a 1950s family trapped in the town of Asteroid City, USA when their car irreparably breaks down, then the entire (not very large) population including visitors imprisoned there following an incident with an extra-terrestrial spaceship and an alien. The overall tone is of whimsy, but maybe there’s something unsettling and disturbing about it too.

Anderson’s movies have never been about photorealism as much as artifice, which is part of their undeniable charm. Perhaps that’s even more true of Asteroid City than most. The costumes, the production design, have gone for a very particular, stylized look. This is fifties American desert romanticised into pastel-shaded eye candy, and if all that were required of going to a movie were to sit down in your seat and soak up the scenery, then provided you’re not the type to insist on photo-representational accuracy, this would be a winner hands down.… Read the rest

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The Other Fellow

Director – Matthew Bauer – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 80m

**1/2

The name’s Bond. James Bond. This is a look at real life people who share the name of Ian Fleming’s popular spy character – out in UK cinemas and on demand from Friday, May 19th

What’s in a name? When Ian Fleming was looking to name the secret agent he’d written a novel about, he wanted a dull, ordinary name that wouldn’t stand out. On his shelf in Goldeneye, the Jamaican retreat where he wrote the books, was Birds Of The West Indies by James Bond. It was perfect. He stole the name for his character. When the wife of the real James Bond later got in touch by letter, Fleming was concerned they were going to sue. Fleming appears in a film clip from that time, which must be used here two or three times. The author’s wife and the bird book author James Bond himself are here played by actors Tacey Adams and Gregory Itzin.

That’s just one of the stories about identity in this brilliantly conceived documentary about people named James Bond. There’s a Bond family who have been passing the name James down for generations and weren’t going to stop because of Ian Fleming’s character.… Read the rest

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Red Angel
(Akai Tenshi,
赤い天使)

Director – Yasuzo Masumura – 1966 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 95m

An army nurse is sent to China – as a slogan in one of the film’s trailers puts it, “on the battlefield where life and death is decided.”

*****

Full Blu-ray review published at All The Anime.

In 1939, for her first posting, Nurse Sakura Nishi (Ayako Wakao) is sent to Tianjin Army Hospital. A number of the male patients appear to be faking medical conditions so as to escape the front line, where Japanese casualties are heavy. When she first does her rounds, Private Sakamoto (Jotaro Senba) and a number of the other men are very forward and ask her a lot of personal questions.

Much worse is to come, however, because when she does her night rounds, she finds herself trapped in the men’s dorm and raped by Sakamoto while the others hold her down. Reporting this incident to the head nurse (Ranko Akagi), Nishi learns she’s this soldier’s third victim. The head nurse resolves to have Sakamoto sent back to the front.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Nishi is then posted to a front-line hospital where medics go through the incoming wounded, pronouncing them dead or designating them for surgery, for which read amputation.… Read the rest

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Wings Of Desire
(Der Himmel
Über Berlin)

Director – Wim Wenders – 1987 – Germany – Cert. PG – 128m

*****

Angels move around Berlin, watching over Berliners, until one of them sees a beautiful girl and decides he wants to become human and experience emotion for himself – out in cinemas on Friday, June 24th and playing on Film 4 from Wednesday, June 29th to Thursday, July 28th

This film is many things. It is, first and foremost, about angels, here captured in stunning black and white cinematography and represented as men moving invisibly among the population of Berlin, observing them, listening to their thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams, perhaps imparting some sort of spiritual comfort by a touch of the hand. And just as Henri Alekan’s camera photographs the actors playing angels, so too it photographs those Berliners they observe and comfort.

The iconic Hollywood actor Peter Falk – known to millions of TV viewers as the detective Columbo – plays himself playing a character on the set of a war film and hanging out between takes. The camera takes great pleasure in simply observing him doing what he does, for instance talking to an angel he can’t see (“I can’t see you, but I know you’re here”) which might be an attempt to communicate with invisible beings or might equally well be no more than an acting routine.… Read the rest

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Mother Night

Director – Keith Gordon – 1996 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

*****

In this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, a former Nazi propagandist awaits trial in Israel for war crimes – retail VHS review from Home Entertainment, 1997

From his Israeli prison cell where he must compose his memoirs while awaiting trial for his war crimes in black and white, Howard W. Campbell, Jr. (Nick Nolte in a career-defining performance) recalls in colour flashback his rise to fame in wartime Berlin as a radio propaganda writer / broadcaster for the Third Reich, surviving that regime’s madness by devoting himself to actress wife Helga (Sheryl Lee) and their self-contained Nation Of Two.

Recruited from a park as an undercover American spy by raincoat‑wearing American top brass John Goodman (a small part, but likewise impressive), Campbell has to incorporate coded messages to the Allies in his broadcasts. In 1944, Helga dies. After the War, Campbell winds up alone in a seedy New York apartment where neighbours include fellow widower Alan Arkin and Auschwitz survivor‑turned‑doctor Ayre Gross.

When admiring right wing activists arrive at Campbell’s door, the tale (based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel) lurches even further into surrealism. Gordon’s direction is flawless throughout.… Read the rest