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Sheep Without A Shepherd (Wu Sha)

Director – Sam Quah – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A family stands together when their daughter kills the local police chief’s son who is both a rapist and blackmailer – available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

This opens with a prison break in which the escapee ends up interred in a coffin next to the corpse of the man who was trying to get him out. That turns out to be a story told by Li Wiejie or Jie for short (Xiao Yang), an insatiable watcher of detective and crime thrillers. The film lays its cinematic cards on the table almost immediately by referencing Hitchcock, montage, sound effects, excitement and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994). Sheep Without A Shepherd is in thrall to the West’s suspense movies and plays out like one while at the same time retaining its distinctive Chinese character with its emphasis on the importance of family ties and loyalty.

Jie and his wife (Tan Zhuo) run a small store in Thailand. Their daughter Ping known in the family as PingPing (Audrey Hui) persuades dad to fund her to go to summer camp where she is drugged and videoed being gang-raped by privileged brat Su Cha (Beety) and his pals.… Read the rest

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Real

Director – Aki Omoshaybi – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 78m

***

Boy meets girl but both are embarrassed by their economic circumstances so pretend to be much better off than they arein cinemas and on BFI Player and Sky Store from Friday, September 11th

Kyle (director Aki Omoshaybi) and Jamie (Pippa Bennett-Warner) first meet in a newsagents in the city centre. Her credit card is stopped. He helps her out and pays the bill. She works in a local community centre, he in a solicitor’s. Actually, both of them are lying, desperate to make a good first impression and reluctant to reveal their true circumstances for fear of judgement.

They start dating. Jamie is the first to crack. She admits she has a child Felix (Taye Matthew). And works in a convenience store. However,  Kyle can’t bring himself to come clean. Unfortunately for him, Jamie’s best mate Tash (Amy Manson from Run, Scott Graham / 2019) has had dealings with him and knows he’s an ex-offender. So it’s only a matter of time before Jamie finds out.

Kyle has become homeless, so begs his alienated mum (Karen Bryson) to let him stay at hers for a while.… Read the rest

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Fish Story

Director – Yoshihiro Nakamura – 2009 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

I review Fish Story for All The Anime.

A comet threatens to destroy life on Earth. Three years earlier a religious cult attempts a ferry hijack. In the 1970s a punk band records and disbands before the Sex Pistols do. Welcome to the bizarre and quirky vision of Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Fish Story (2009). As well as being the screenwriter of Dark Water, Nakamura is also a prolific writer-director whose films include the likeable See You Tomorrow, EveryoneFish Story had a DVD release back in 2009 and distributors Third Window are now putting out a Blu-ray with a lovely new transfer and a heap of excellent albeit standard definition extras.

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The story is touted as how a song by a punk band can change the world… which, while a good bit of PR spin, makes this highly entertaining and enjoyable film sound far more focused than it actually is.

I review Fish Story for All The Anime.

Trailer:

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The Birds (BFI Film Classics)

Author – Camille Paglia – 2020, 1998 – BFI / Bloomsbury – £11.99

****

I immediately warmed to Camille Paglia in her 2020 introduction to the new edition of her book about Alfred Hitchcock’s avian shocker The Birds (1963), originally written in 1998, when she lambasted academic film criticism as “egregiously unhelpful, failing in the crucial humanistic mission of interpretation and enlightenment”. She talks about a shift in audiences from wanting to see film in a cinema as essential experiences in the sixties and seventies to films as one of a range of possible technological entertainments in our own time.

She then goes on to talk about her issues with #metoo and the problem of expecting great artists to live exemplary lives as a premise of Victorian moralism. And discusses in passing the one minor change she would make to the book were she to write it today. (Really? Only one?) Which is to do with interpreting one character in the film as gay.

In addition to watching the film multiple times, it’s clear that Paglia has read many of the books and articles written about the film itself of Hitchcock’s wider body of work. Robin Wood keeps coming up and there are honourable mentions for, among others, Francois Truffaut and Elizabeth Weiss.… Read the rest

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Run

Tramps like us

Run
Directed by Scott Graham
Certificate 15, 77 minutes
Released 13 March

First published in Reform magazine, March 2020. Now on BFI Player and iTunes.

Finnie (Mark Stanley) hates his job in a fish factory in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire. He and his wife Katie (Amy Manson) have Springsteen’s legend ‘Born to Run’ tattooed on his chest and her ankle, but as he says to her: ‘We never did run very far, did we?’ This is a story about regret and longing, about not getting out, family and relationships.

Finnie’s older son Kid (Anders Hayward) has just got his girlfriend Kelly (Marli Siu) pregnant, isn’t talking to and has been dumped by her. Kid throws a wobbly at work, in the same plant as Finnie, and loses his job. When Katie gives Finnie the come on, he just wants to shower because he stinks of fish. Out of nowhere, he borrows Kid’s car keys and takes his son’s car out for a spot of illegal night time street racing, something he used to do when younger… Read the rest

First published in Reform magazine, March 2020. Now on BFI Player and iTunes.

Trailer:

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Crash

Director – David Cronenberg – 1996 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 100m

*****

This review was originally published in the Arts Centre Group‘s member’s newsletter. See also my review for What DVD.

All stills from Crash apart from the one from Videodrome.

Canadian film director David Cronenberg has a reputation for filming the unfilmable. Formerly dubbed The King Of Venereal Horror (“a small kingdom but I’m happy with it”), his debut (commercial) feature Shivers / The Parasite Murders / They Came From Within (1977) is a low budget horror outing in which high rise tenants are invaded/possessed by little slug-like creatures resembling a bloody cross between phallus and faeces.

For renowned British producer Jeremy Thomas (Bad Timing, The Last Emperor, First Love) he has adapted and directed books considered impossible to turn into movies, notably William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (in 1991) and J.G.Ballard’s Crash.

I was first drawn to Cronenberg’s work from the special effects angle, specifically an article on prosthetics expert Rick Baker which contained some amazing production stills (the shape of a hand-held gun pushing through the unbroken membrane of a television screen) from Videodrome (1983). An image suggesting television can kill?… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Crash

Director – David Cronenberg – 1996 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 100m

*****

This review of the UK DVD was originally published in What DVD. See also my review for the Arts Centre Group’s member’s newsletter.

Sold as a sex and car crash (and by implication action) movie, Crash is in reality something very different: intelligent, grown-up science fiction. The former description being an easy sell, especially with the added (ridiculous) controversy surrounding the film’s (eventual) UK release, the inevitable resultant popcorn sensation‑seeking mass audience was largely disappointed.

That said, for those viewers prepared to engage brain, deal with tough subject matter and go the distance, it’s a masterpiece. But if you’re someone to whom the concept of sex scene as narrative device sounds too much like hard work, you probably shouldn’t touch it.

On the other hand, admirers of director Cronenberg (The Brood, Scanners, Dead Ringers, eXistenZ) or novelist J.G.Ballard (Empire of the Sun) will appreciate the film’s uncompromising vision. Although Crash is not especially unnerving by Cronenberg standards, it’s extremely shocking by those of mainstream movies and has the potential to confuse or overwhelm an average audience.

While it brims with sex scenes, they’re not particularly arousing in tone being close to the emotionally cold experience of watching laboratory experiments.… Read the rest