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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1983 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 98m

*****

One of the greatest special effects action movies ever made, this groundbreaking epic delivers non-stop, near unbelievable, visually entrancing vistas of Chinese mythology – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th and available on Blu-ray

There are films which seem almost single-handedly to define cultures. There are plenty of elements in Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain that can be found elsewhere in Hong Kong cinema – martial arts stunts, flying wire work, period costumes, stock figures, airborne drapery – and yet the precise way this mixes these elements up then adds in others and adds in lots of 2D effects animation makes it a unique work, even by Tsui’s extraordinary standards.

With the ancient world in which he lives in a state of chaos due to constantly warring human factions, a man gets swiftly out of his depth when he sidesteps all that to follow a hero in the hope of becoming his disciple as the hero battles the forces of evil. If this sounds very highbrow… well, perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse to put together a series of truly extraordinary special effects action set-pieces that transport the viewer to mythological otherworlds the exact like of which have never been seen onscreen before or since.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Green Snake (Ching Se)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1993 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 99m

****1/2

Two sister snake spirits, the white snake and the green snake, enter our world to discover the mystery of human sexual love – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)

China’s White Snake legend has spawned numerous adaptations including the recent, animated White Snake / Baishe: Yuanqi (Amp Wong, Ji Zhao, 2019) which boasts fast paced action and state of the art CG visuals. Tsui Hark is from another era: the legendary Hong Kong director who almost single-handedly bought Hollywood-style special effects to Hong Kong movie production in such epics as Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983) and the Once Upon A Time In China films (1991 onwards) alongside period romps like Peking Opera Blues (1986). For Green Snake, Tsui turned to Lillian Lee’s novel based on the White Snake legend which she adapted into a screenplay for him. Rather than tell the story from the perspective of the white snake as the original legend does, Lee shifts her narrative to the perspective of the younger, less experienced green snake.

In appearance, the two spirits start off as female humans down to the waist and snakes below, not dissimilar to Harryhausen’s half woman/half snake Medusa in Clash Of The Titans (producer and effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1981) but using full size puppetry/animatronic effects rather than stop frame animation.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Detention (Fanxiao)

Director – John Hsu – 2019 – Taiwan – 12A – 103m

****

Two Taiwanese students find themselves trapped in their school overnight under that country’s White Terror regime in 1962 – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

This is a real oddity: an adaptation of a video game set in a specific historic period of political turmoil. That period is Taiwan’s White Terror (1949-87) under which, among other things, numerous books were banned by the ruling Kuomintang party on the grounds of promoting left-wing or Communist ideas. Merely reading some of these books could provide grounds for execution.

Like the video game, the film is set in the Greenwood High School. It’s 1962 and boy and girl students Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang) and Wei Chong-ting (Tseng Jing-Hua) find themselves trapped overnight in the school building after flood waters destroy the access road to the school. What follows isn’t particularly linear in terms of its narrative as school corridors, walkways, rooms and halls are visited by various supernatural beings and become scenes of terror, torture and execution.

The elliptical and sometimes repetitive nature of the storytelling and its component images mean that the film isn’t always that easy to follow, at least not to Western audiences familiar with mainstream Hollywood narrative.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Warning From Space (Uchujin Tokyo ni Arawaru)

Director – Koji Shima – 1956 – Japan – Cert. PG – 87m

***

Out on Arrow Blu-ray

The first Japanese science fiction film to be made in colour, Warning From Space (1956) features peaceful, star-shaped aliens, one of whom transforms herself into a nightclub singer to make contact with Japanese scientists. Not that the aliens possess any discernible gender themselves, but the human likenesses into which they are transformed most definitely do. If you watch the original Japanese version, the aliens’ transformation into human form doesn’t take place until a third of the way in. When the Americans got hold of the film, they not only dubbed it into English, but also did some deft re-editing to create new opening and closing sequences so that the film now both starts and ends inside the alien ship. The closing sequence is basically the transformation sequence backwards. [read more…]

The full review can be found at All The Anime.

Trailers:

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Features Live Action Movies

When Worlds Collide

Director – Rudolph Maté – 1951 – US – Cert. U – 79m

***

Review of 1997 UK PAL laserdisc

Originally published on London Calling Internet

Made the year before European-born producer George Pal’s The War Of The Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953), this science-fictional disaster outing stages the end of the world by a star and orbiting planet Zyra rushing headlong towards the Earth. A handful of scientists build a Space Ark to save a chosen few humans via a perilous voyage to Zyra. But who will go – and who will stay behind and face annihilation?

From its opening Bible with destruction quotations to match, right through to its New Start For Humanity In A New World finale, this is infused with Pal’s Christian sensibilities. The script never allows that to get in the way of the story, however: the result is a compelling yarn that remains almost unique in the annals of SF cinema.

Director Rudolph Maté was a former cameraman whose prior experience included shooting Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940) which features one of the most spectacular plane crashes in the movies. Together with lensing Dante’s Inferno (Harry Lachman, 1935) , this stood him in good stead for pulling off the outstanding special effects work required for When Worlds Collide.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Dick Johnson Is Dead

Director – Kirsten Johnson – 2020 – US – 89m

*****

The director imagines the death of her dad in a film which celebrates both the man himself and the art of cinema – on Netflix worldwide from Friday, October 2nd

I was alerted to this movie both because not only was Johnson’s prior Cameraperson (2016) excellent but also the subject matter of this new film looked promising. Johnson spent three decades as the cameraperson on numerous documentaries (among them Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore, 2004 and Citizenfour, Laura Poitras, 2014) before making her previous feature out of interesting bits and pieces of footage she had lying around. Her new film is highly personal and almost fits into the home movies or personal diary school of film making – lent an inevitable, additional gravitas given Johnson’s prior artistic and technical career.

C. Richard Johnson (b. 1932 – ) is Kirsten Johnson’s dad. One day, like all of us, he is going to die. So his daughter decided that while he was still alive she would make a film about his dying, filming his possible deaths and staging his funeral service ahead of time.

There’s a huge contradiction at the heart of this idea.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Sputnik

Director – Egor Abramenko – 2020 – Russia – Cert. 15 – 113m

***** some of the underlying concepts and the special effects

** everything else

Available on VoD from Friday, August 14th

In the early 1980s a two-man Russian spacecraft undergoes a mysterious incident during its return to Earth leaving one of the crew dead. He has had half his helmet and half his head ripped off.

Survivor Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov) is confined to a research base in the middle of nowhere for observation. Supervisor Kirill Averchenko (Aleksey Demidov) recruits psychiatrist Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina) who is in trouble for taking ethically questionable decisions concerning the life of a patient, believing that she did the right thing and saved a life. Averchenko needs someone who will do whatever it takes and damn the consequences and he would appear to have judged her correctly. Once there, however, she finds herself in conflict with chief scientist Yan Rigel (Anton Vasilev).

She quickly learns that the surviving, isolated cosmonaut is the host to an alien parasite which leaves his body at specific times of night then returns. And Konstantin, who suffered memory blackout during the return to Earth, doesn’t seem to know about the parasite.… Read the rest

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Ring (Collection)

Ring

Director – Hideo Nakata – 1998 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Spiral (Rasen)

Director – Joji Iida – 1998 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 97m

** 1/2

Ring 2

Director – Hideo Nakata – 1999 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 95m

*****

Ring 0

Director – Norio Tsuruta – 2000 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 99m

***1/2

I review Arrow’s Ring Collection for All The Anime.

Ring, Ring 0 and Ring 2 are on Shudder (US, Canada) from Monday, August 10th 2020. Ring is on Arrow Video Channel (US, UK) and BFI Player (UK – extended free trial offer here).

You watch a short, scary video on the VCR. Then your phone rings… you have a week to show it to someone else – or die! Ring (1998) took the world by storm.

A single parent, TV journalist investigates a cursed videotape…

I review Arrow’s Ring Collection for All The Anime.

Ring, Ring 0 and Ring 2 are on Shudder (US, Canada) from Monday, August 10th 2020. Ring is on Arrow Video Channel (US, UK) and BFI Player (UK – extended free trial offer here).

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

Director – Peter Jackson – 2003 – New Zealand – Cert. 12a – 201m (263m)

*****

(NB Extended Edition, in cinemas from Monday, August 10th 2020, 263m in cinemas due to extended frame rate = 252m version released on DVD 2004.)

This review of the 201m theatrical version was originally published in Third Way.

A much shorter review appeared in What’s On In London.

A pre-screening article on The Lord Of The Rings appeared in Sussed in 2001.

Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings is a labour of love by a brilliant academic obsessed by myth and language better at creating an alternate world than at story construction. Nowhere in the trilogy is this more evident than in The Return Of The King. Frodo’s trip to Mount Doom to unmake Sauron’s One Ring builds up incredibly to a climactic pivotal event running little more than a paragraph. This is followed by another hundred pages or so tying up loose ends, including a sequence in which evil wizard Saruman turns the Shire into a post-industrial dictatorship that’s trivial compared with the geographic enormity of what has gone before.

Jackson and co-writers wisely omit that sequence; indeed, in its last weeks of post-production his The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King has chopped its scenes of Saruman (Christopher Lee) at Isengard – on the grounds that it slowed down the start.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)

Director – Peter Jackson – 2003 (2002) – New Zealand – Cert. 12a – 225m

*****

(NB Extended Edition, in cinemas from Monday, July 27th 2020, 235m in cinemas due to extended frame rate = 225m version released on DVD 2004. Original theatrical cut: 199m)

This always had the problem that it’s the second film in a trilogy. If you think you might want to watch all three, you’ll watch the first movie. If you want to see how the story ends up, you might possibly jump straight in at the last movie (although to be honest, you’d be better watching the first movie The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and then if you like it the other two as well.)

That said, both this second movie The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers and the third film The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King deal with the problem of opening the film admirably, in both cases doing so in creative ways. This one leaps back to Gandalf being dragged down a chasm by a Balrog in FOTR and then, once we think we’re getting closer to finding out what happened, has Frodo waken from a dream.… Read the rest