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Features Live Action Movies

Lucky Grandma

Director – Sassy Sealy – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 87m

***1/2

An old woman in New York’s Chinatown happens upon a bag of mob money and hires a bodyguard from a rival gang to protect herself – on VoD including BFI Player from Monday, November 9th

Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) goes to have her fortune read. “Carps jumping over the Dragon’s Gate”, says the lady fortune teller. “So auspicious”. But Grandma’s life doesn’t feel that way. Fiercely independent, she lives in a small flat in New York’s Chinatown. Yes, she wins the occasional bag of rice as the 88th customer of the bank. And she goes on a day trip with a bunch of like-minded old people to the casino, where she does okay.

And then, on the three hour coach journey back, she sits next to a man who quietly dies in his sleep, leaving a bag of money. Ignoring the dragon tattoo on his neck, she surreptitiously takes the bag home.

From then on, two Red Dragon gangsters Little Handsome and Pock-mark start showing up to ask about the money. So she approaches the rival Zhongliang Gang to hire a bodyguard, beating the boss down from $8 000 to first $5 000 then $2 000 for the services of gentle giant Big Pong (Ha Hsaio-yuan).… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Totally Under Control

Directors – Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger – 2020 – US – Cert. 12 – 123m

***1/2

Documentary looks at the Trump administration’s handling of the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US – in cinemas from Friday, October 23rd and on iTunes, Amazon, Google, BFI Player, Curzon, Sky, Rakuten, Virgin. On BBC iPlayer from Sunday, November 1st.

This is a documentary shot, as it were, on the hoof. It constitutes a record of near-contemporary events as they unfolded in the recent past, in two of three very specific geographic locations. Two or three because the subject is the early months of the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic in the origin of which the third country, China, specifically the city of Wuhan, played the major part. But this film isn’t really about China beyond that country’s being the source of the infection.

Nor is it really about the second country, South Korea, here quite reasonably held up to the audience as a paragon of virtue in its handling of the crisis. The film is really about the first country, the US, during this period, which had a playbook ready and waiting should such a crisis come to pass.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Shirley

Director – Josephine Decker – 2020 – US – Cert. 15 – 107m

****

Notorious author Shirley Jackson and her professor husband are seen through the eyes of a young couple invited to stay in their house – in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, October 30th

The real life Shirley Jackson was an author who wrote fiction. She’s known to cinemagoers for the book The Haunting Of Hill House (1959) that was filmed twice for the movies as The Haunting, once brilliantly (Robert Wise, 1963) and once killed dead by an overabundance of gratuitous special effects (Jan de Bont, 1999) and more recently was turned into a Netflix TV series (Mike Flanagan, 2018). That book may not be mentioned here, but the piece of her writing that does get a mention is The Lottery, her notorious short story which appeared in 1948 in The New Yorker Magazine, where she published much of her fiction.

This new film adapts Susan Scarf Merrell’s comparatively recent, fictional book Shirley: A Novel (2016) in which she examines Shirley Jackson and her academic professor husband Stanley Edgar Hyman through the eyes of a young, pregnant woman who moves into their household along with her husband who is hoping to secure an assistant literature professor’s post at the local college in Bennington, Vermont under Stanley.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Over The Moon

Directors – Glen Keane, John Kahrs – 2020 – US, China – Cert. U – 95m

*****

A girl bereaved of her mother builds a rocket to the moon to prove the goddess Chang’e is real and convince her father not to re-marry – animated feature in cinemas from Friday, October 16th and on Netflix from Friday, October 23rd.

In Chinese mythology, archer Houyi’s wife Chang’e consumed an immortality potion then went to the moon where she mourned her lost love. The tale is also the basis of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival celebrated in many countries in the Far East. Using the mythology as a backdrop, the late screenwriter Audrey Wells crafted an extraordinary story about a girl who fails to properly deal with bereavement when her mother dies.

The figure of Chang’e acts as a metaphor for Fei Fei (voiced by Cathy Ang) who wants her dad (voice: John Cho) to be faithful to his late wife. When dad introduces a new mum Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), with a new and irritating little brother Chin (Robert G. Chiu) in tow, she decides that to convince him to remain true to mum, she must go to the moon and prove Chang’e real, which will convince her dad to do the right thing.… 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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Animation Features Movies

SCOOB!

Director – Tony Cervone – 2020 – US – Cert. PG – 93m

****

Available on VoD from Friday, July 10th and BD/DVD Monday, September 28th

I grew up watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons which would play in, if I recall, the 5.20 slot on the BBC. Some were better than others. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! (1969-70) was one of the better ones. It had five memorable characters who each week would investigate some mystery suggesting monsters or the paranormal for which there would always turn out to be a rational explanation as the perpetrator was unmasked at the end, usually with the words “and I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t have been for you kids.”

The original cartoon TV series (1969-70) has spawned numerous spin-offs over the years including a so-so live action / special effects theatrical feature Scooby-Doo (2002) and a sequel. Which brings us to SCOOB!, an animated theatrical movie once again bringing the franchise to the big screen.

It starts off with a couple of tried and tested big screen adaptation tropes. One, taking one of the characters and having them somehow meet up with the others for their first adventure. Two, an origin story.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Capital In The 21st Century

Director – Justin Pemberton – 2019 – France, New Zealand – Cert. 12 – 103m

*****

An adaptation of Thomas Piketty’s controversial economic treatise Capital In The 21st Century – in cinemas from Friday, September 25th

The content of French economist Thomas Piketty’s eponymous book couldn’t be more relevant. Far from being dry economics, Piketty’s thesis begins that there has always been a minority of wealthy people whose wealth derives from nothing more than being born into wealth. They have done nothing to merit wealth. They do not own it because of any sort of achievement.

The industrial revolution, he argues, gave those with capital (financial assets) the means to substantially increase the amount of capital they own.

Throughout history, the rich have not looked after the whole of society but rather have merely defended their own interests, i.e. maintaining and if possible increasing their position of wealth. They have shown a disdain for the other 99% of people. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, society was broken into those two groups, wealthy and poor.

The rise of the middle class after World War One changed everything, with middle class people wanting their say in how things were run. Changes since the 1970s however threaten the power of the middle class and we may be seeing a return to a majority of very poor people beholden to a wealthy minority – unless we take the action necessary to prevent it.… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies Music

Bill & Ted Face The Music

Director – Dean Parisot – Writers – Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson – 2020 – US – Cert. PG – 91m

****

Party on, dudes! The two friends return having failed over 25 years to write the song to unite all of humanity and prevent the universe unravelling – in cinemas from Wednesday, September 16th

William ‘Bill’ S. Preston esq. and Theodore ‘Ted’ Logan (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) have somehow failed to fulfil their destiny and become losers. 25 years on from their two earlier outings Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (Peter Hewitt, 1991). Bill and Ted’s band Wyld Stallyns has been reduced from selling out stadium gigs to playing open mike nights. 

Then they are taken in a time travel pod to 2700 A.D. to discover that because they never did write that song to unify all humanity, the fabric of space and time threatens to unravel by 5.17pm that very day in 2700. 

Their wives Elizabeth and Joanna (the fifteenth century English princesses from the first film here played by Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) have had enough and are going to couples’ counselling… so Bill and Ted travel back to join them, inadvertently making the situation worse.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Roads Not Taken

Director – Sally Potter – 2020 – US – Cert. 15 – 85m

*****

A man drifts through separate existences and times while his daughter struggles to look after him in present day New York City – in cinemas from Friday, September 11th

This is something of a disorienting experience because it slips and shifts effortlessly between separate realities. Molly (Elle Fanning) is taking the day off work in New York to spend time with her dad Leo (Javier Bardem) who lives in a crummy apartment the front access door of which opens onto a busy main street. Her plan is to get him to appointments at the dentists and the opticians in the morning, then be in work for an important meeting in the afternoon. However, it doesn’t work out like that.

At the start, the phone rings and the buzzer goes repeatedly. Molly is in a taxi and his Leo’s maid Xenia (Branca Katic) is outside his front door. Eventually they’re inside, Molly having presumably forced their way in. “Everything is open”, he says to her as he lies, in a daze, in bed. “It’s not, actually, dad,” she replies. “The front door is closed.” She brings him the photo of his late and beloved dog Nestor from the mirror across the room.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Coup 53

Director – Taghi Amirani – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 120m

*****

In cinemas from Friday, August 21st

Virtual premiere Wednesday August 19th, Q&A Thursday August 20th. See https://coup53.com/

A documentary begun in 2009 interviewing many people who died before the film’s completion some ten years later, this covers the 1953 coup in Iran backed by President Eisenhower in the US and Prime Minister Churchill in the UK which replaced Iran’s democratically elected, left-wing Prime Minister Mossadegh with the Shah. The UK has never officially acknowledged its role in this coup.

Amirani’s researches lead him to a basement of documents held by Mossadech’s grandson in Paris comprising archive material from the Granada TV 1985 End Of Empire documentary series, for which he is gets access to the rushes from the BFI. Iran was included because it had been controlled by British interests for so long (because of its oil reserves). Amirani’s editor, helping pull all this together, is the legendary Walter Murch (Gimme Shelter / 1970, The Conversation / 1974, Apocalypse Now / 1979, The English Patient / 1996).

The name which keeps coming up in Amirani’s research is that of Norman Darbyshire who reportedly asked for his interview footage to be removed from the film following a pre-transmission screening at the BBC.… Read the rest