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Justine

Director – Jamie Patterson – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 82m

***1/2

LGBQT romance. Fiercely intelligent, young woman living in Brighton with no prospects falls for a student teacher – out exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, February 5th

A young woman with a bruised lip soaks in the bath. Her landlord pounds on the door of the flat demanding rent. She gets out of the bath – in wet clothes, and answers, putting him off ’til another day.

Welcome to the world of Justine (Tallulah Haddon) – young, intelligent, in good health and damaged. She fills a plastic water bottle with vodka and swigs from it regularly. She hangs out and goes shoplifting with her best mate (Xavien Russell) who has his own problems – his mother has a new boyfriend who’s all over her and he can’t bear to be in the house. Regular meetings with her probation officer (Sian Reese-Williams) suggest a young woman closed in on herself, desperate for love and affection. No educational qualifications. No job. Lacking hope or ambition for anything. Except, perhaps, death or oblivion.

And yet, she loves to read. And one day browsing and lifting in a bookshop she spots a young woman.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Limbo

Director – Ben Sharrock – 2020 – UK – Cert. N/C 15+ – 103m

****1/2

Immigrants are holed up in a rundown house on a bleak Scottish island as they await letters granting their requests for asylum in the UK plays Glasgow Film Festival Wednesday, March 3rd to Saturday, March 6th

A smiley chalked on a blackboard. A woman’s austere face suggesting exactly the opposite. Instructors Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Boris (Kenneth Collard) are demonstrating how a man should behave towards a woman dancing to pop music. Helga’s top looks far too proper and her skirt both far too formal and long for a good night out, as if she were dressed for work in an office. Boris is admonished for first resting his head on Helga’s clothed breast then putting his hands on her bottom. “Now, can anyone tell me what Boris did wrong,” she asks the group of stunned men watching, seated.

Behind her on the blackboard are the words, “Cultural Awareness 101. Sex. Is a smile an invitation?”

Welcome (or maybe not) to the world of an asylum seeker from Syria placed on a remote Scots island. Welcome (or maybe not) to the UK’s Hostile Environment.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Movies Music

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché

Punk biopic

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché
Directed by Celeste Bell and Paul Sng
Certificate 12a, 96 minutes
Released 5 March at www.modernfilms.com
Viewers can select a participating local cinema to share the revenue of the virtual box office

This documentary about the late Poly Styrene (real name Marion Elliot), the iconic front woman of the 1970s punk band X-Ray Spex, paints a compelling picture of a creative and innovative young woman going against the grain to break new ground in pop music. The band was very much her baby which she put together by advertising for musicians in the music press. She wrote all their material.

Her literal baby is the film’s co-director and co-writer Celeste Bell, who as a young child escaped from her well-intentioned but unfit mother during their time living on the Hare Krishna estate in Hertfordshire. On her mum’s death, Celeste found herself the guardian of Poly’s vast archive. It was five years before she could bring herself to look inside and see what was there… Read more

Full review in Reform magazine.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

The Mauritanian

Director – Kevin Macdonald – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 129m

****

A pro bono lawyer defends a post-9/11 terrorist suspect in Guantánamo Bay against his US Army prosecutor – plays Glasgow Film Festival Thursday, February 25th to Sunday, February 28th then Amazon Prime from Friday, April 1st

Based on a true story, this kicks off in Mauritania, North West Africa in November 2001 – as a title tells us, two months after 9/11. Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) walks on a beach then attends a Muslim wedding in Mauritania, to which he’s returned after living in abroad in Germany. During the celebrations, two local cops turn up and want him to come for questioning about his brother, whose current whereabouts he reminds them he doesn’t know. “The Americans are going crazy since the attacks two months ago,” they tell him. Momentarily alone, changing out of celebratory robes into something more casual, he erases his mobile phone contacts before agreeing to go with them.

Three years later, New Mexico law firm partner Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) learns of his disappearance and that the story has just broken in Der Spiegel that Slahi is currently allegedly being detained in Guantánamo Bay as “one of the organisers of 9/11”.… Read the rest

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Undergods

Director – Chino Moya – 2020 – UK – Cert. N/C 18+ – 91m

**1/2

Overlapping narratives unfold within a mysterious city which resembles something out of Eastern EuropeGlasgow Film Festival Friday, February 26th to Monday, March 1st

In a grey urban environment resembling an unspecified city somewhere in Eastern Europe or possibly Russia, two lorry drivers go about their daily routine of picking up corpses from the street. These two characters form the frame story of what is to follow, although exactly what that is isn’t clear from the narrative’s meandering nature. There are stories within stories wherein the character you think is the main character is suddenly usurped by a different character. Several times over.

That’s a pity because they are potentially very interesting stories, so it’s frustrating to see them consistently half-baked. The anthology film is, after all, a tried and tested format and this film attempts do something radical and new with it. The problem is though, to make that form work you really need to understand its rules before you play around with them, break them, or abandon them altogether. This film seemingly lacks that understanding, or thinks you can throw away the framework and everything will still somehow work.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Daughter Of Shanghai

Directors – Michelle Chen Miao, Hilla Medalia – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 90m

****1/2

A chronicle of the life and on-off career of Chinese-born, RADA-trained actress and screen legend Tsai Chin – available to rent online until Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 as part of the Approaching Reality documentary strand

“I was born in a trunk when my parents were on tour in Tianjin.” The daughter of legendary Peking Opera star Zhou Xinfang, Tsai Chin came to London towards the end of her  seventeenth year when she was the first Chinese person to be accepted at RADA where she found herself alongside the likes of high-born, Welsh socialite Elizabeth Rees-Williams who in footage alongside her now husband Jonathan Aitken is one of the main interview subjects here. As well as a recent interview with Tsai Chin herself, the other main interviewee is the late lawyer Carlo Colombotti, a personal friend and a wealthy lawyer who moved in the same London circles in the sixties.

Her story, although it contains specific international and cross-cultural reference points, is, basically, an actor’s life: early success on stage and screen through the fifties and sixties, followed by a period in the seventies and eighties in relative obscurity and a later period when her rediscovery by Hollywood in the nineties restarted her career.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Mogul Mowgli

Director – Bassam Tariq – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

****

A UK British Pakistani rap artist is stopped in his career tracks by an auto-immune system suppression illness – in cinemas from Friday, October 30th and on BFI Player Subscription Exclusive from Friday, February 5th

This opens with British Pakistani rapper Zed (Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the film) waiting in the wings then going on stage to perform before a massively enthusiastic New York crowd. I had fairly high expectations and my heart sank. Ahmed’s performance as the singer was leaving me absolutely cold. (To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of rap music.) Happily I was much more impressed with almost everything that followed.

This opening performance turns out to be the final leg of a tour. Zed has a major European Tour planned imminently. Back in Britain, he gets into a street fight with a fan/stalker and in the course of the resultant fight starts to experience severe stomach pains. He wakes up in the local hospital to learn that he’s suffering from an auto-immune system suppression illness and consequently will be unable to tour. He’s horrified by the the suggestion from his trusted manager Vaseem (Anjana Vasam) that his admirer and rival performer RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan), whom Zed despises, can cover for him on the European Tour.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Muscle

Director – Gerard Johnson – 2019 – UK – Cert. 18 – 110m

****

Pump it up! A man dissatisfied with his life comes under the influence of a manipulative bodybuilding trainer – in cinemas and on BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, iTunes, Sky Store, Virgin and other VoD platforms from Friday, December 4th; digital download from Monday, January 18th; Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, February 1st

Newcastle, UK. Simon (Cavan Clerkin) is at a dead end working days in a dodgy telesales job he hates and coming home at night to his partner Sarah (Polly Maberly) who no longer loves him. Whatever attracted her to him has gone. Looking for a way to move forward, Simon sees a man walk confidently out of a doorway and on realising it’s a local gym, decides to join. It’s not long before he’s under the influence of fellow member Terry (Craig Fairbrass), an ex-forces type who takes him under his wing as a personal trainer to help him transform his body. Under Terry’s influence, Simon changes his diet, reduces his drinking with colleagues to virtually nil and is suddenly achieving top sales at work. None of that is enough to stop Sarah leaving him.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Stardust

Director – Gabriel Range – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 109m

****

In 1971, an unknown David Bowie tours America to promote his new album The Man Who Sold The World – on VoD from Friday, January 15th

The late David Bowie remains one of the most significant and iconic musicians, artists or stars of the last century. Aside from numerous clips of him performing music or being interviewed of radio or TV, he has a presence in a number of films, among them science fiction adventure The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicholas Roeg, 1976) and Japanese POW outing Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983). So if you’re going to try and recreate Bowie on film, you’d better be sure of what you’re doing.

On paper, Stardust seems to be doing everything right. Director Range is first and foremost a Bowie admirer familiar with the music, the albums, the wider body of work, the man. You’d have to be in order to make a film like this. And he’s honed in on a particular episode of Bowie’s life – a very interesting one too, the period in the early seventies when he was known for little more than two seeming novelty records, The Laughing Gnome and Space Oddity, the latter now widely regarded as one of his finest songs.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Top Ten

Top Ten Movies (and more) 2020

Work in progress – subject to change.

Top Ten (UK theatrical + online movie releases 2020)

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/20 and 31/01/20. I’ve never previously included online releases (well, maybe the odd on or two as a special case) but this year the film distribution business has been turned upside down by COVID-19. How 2021 and beyond will look is anyone’s guess.

Please click on titles to see reviews. (Some links yet to be added.)

1. Parasite (S.Korea) reviews one and two

2. Coup 53 (UK)

3. A Hidden Life (US/Austria/Germany)

4. Akira (1988, IMAX reissue) (Japan)

5. The Eight Hundred (China)

6. Possessor (Canada) reviews one and introductory link to two

7. Misbehaviour (UK)

8. Dick Johnson Is Dead (US)

9. Away (Latvia, no dialogue!)

10. Snowpiercer
(2013, Eng lang, S.Korea, UK theatrical release in 2020 – finally!)

11. Run (UK)

12. Sócrates (Brazil)

13. County Lines (UK)

14. First Love (Japan)

15. Parasite (Black & White) (S.Korea)

16. The Vast Of Night (US)

17. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (US)

18. Over The Moon (US/China)

19. WolfWalkers (Ireland) reviews one and two

20. Sheep Without A Shepherd (China)

21.… Read the rest