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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Diplodocus
(Smok Diplodok)

Director – Wojtek Wawszczyk – 20234 – Poland – 84m

****

A young diplodocus must save the comic book in which he lives from being erased by the artist who created – from the 2024 Annecy International Animation Festival in the Annecy Presents section

Animation. A bookworm (English voice: Wayne Greyson; Polish voice: Tadeusz Baranowski) appears, a “respected devourer of picture stories”. His function is not exactly that of a Greek chorus, more like a comic interlude who occasionally wanders into the narrative as light relief, to leaven the whole. Not that this likeable romp, is any need of leavening, but it’s a nice touch which nicely sets the tone for the whole piece. It’s about characters in a comic book whose very existence is threatened by the originating artist’s run-in with his commercially driven but artistically clueless lady publisher.

Beyond a vast, bubbling, primeval swamp in a crater, an inventive and adventurous, male diplodocus child (English voice: Julian Wanderer; Polish voice: Mikołaj Wachowski), Diplodocus as the credits calls him, nicks snails off a frog to use as climbing suckers. A butterfly flies past. Diplodocus gets sent to his room by his essentially conservative parents (English voices: Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld, Marc Thompson; Polish voices: Monica Pikuła, Grzegorz Pawlak) for wanting a life of adventure.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

the G

Director – Karl R. Hearne – 2023 – Canada – Cert. 15 – 106m

*****

A 72-year-old conned out of her home and assets calls up someone from her past to exact revenge – gripping thriller is out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 21st

After a brief opening in which two men complete the task of burying a third alive, this switches to a hospital appointment of Mrs. Hunter (Dale Dickey from Hell or High Water, David MacKenzie, 2016; Winter’s Bone, Debra Granik, 2010), 72 years old and gruffly describing herself as “socialite, retired”. She is accompanied by her grown-up granddaughter (Romane Denis), photogenic legs in tight shorts, and giving the middle finger to men who come on to her. The elder drives the younger home, deliberately missing the turn-off so they can spend more time together talking in the car.

Then Hunter returns to her condo to care for her bedridden partner Chip (Greg Ellwand from February, Oz Perkins, 2015), hit a bottle of vodka and perch precariously on a stepladder on her balcony to fix a dicky light. She is watched by a man from a car parked in the street. Next morning, there’s a knock at the door, and men including “your legal guardian Rivera” (Bruce Ramsay) and his assistant (Jonathan Koensgen) come into the apartment bearing a court order to move the couple to a facility.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Crazy Family
Gyakufunsha Kazoku,
逆噴射家族)

Director – Sogo Ishii – 1984 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 105m

*****

After proudly moving into their first home as owner-occupiers, a family go berserk and destroy the building – out on Blu-ray on Monday, June 17th

This seemingly starts out as a conservative family drama. The family in question comprises father Katsukuni Kobayashi (Katsuya Kobayashi in his debut feature role), mother Saeko (Mitsuko Baisho who worked with directors Akira Kurosawa, Shohei Imamura and Kaneto Shindo), elder teenage son Masaki (Yoshiki Arizono from Ichi the Killer, The Happiness of the Katakuris, both Takashi Miike; Electric Dragon, 80,000 V, Sogo Ishii, all 2001) and younger teenage daughter Erika (Youki Kudoh from Typhoon Club, Shinji Somai, 1985; Mystery Train, Jim Jarmusch, 1989; Heaven’s Burning, Craig Lahiff, 1997). The Kobayashis move in to their first home as owner-occupiers which, although it’s a little on the small side, promises an idyllic existence. Father is the breadwinner with a nondescript office job, mother waters the plants and does the cooking and housework, the daughter wants to be an idol singer and the son is spending all his time studying for school and university in his room upstairs.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

New Life

Director – John Rosman – 2023 – US – 85m

***1/2

Neither the widow nor the assassin pursuing her towards the Canadian border are quite what they seem – genre-bending thriller is out on digital in the UK

The sound of a distressed woman. Now we see her (Hayley Erin) – her head is bleeding as she walks. Away from – what? She makes it down the street in a very normal-looking, small town somewhere in Middle America, into her very ordinary, well-kept, no frills, suburban house. She washes the blood off her head, switches a hoodie for a sweater. Constantly checking around her, she sees the armed men in the hallway and exits through a window.

Another woman (Sonya Walger) puts down her handgun on the edge of a bathroom sink. She looks tired. The yellow post-it notes on her mirror read “I have unlimited opportunities to succeed” and “I am in the process of becoming the best version of myself”. She takes a pill from the ‘M’ compartment of a little circular dispenser marked in letters for days of the week. On her mobile, she hits Play on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, specifically the song Like a Rolling Stone.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Next Sohee
(Da-eum So-hee,
다음 소희)

Director – July Jung – 2022 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 134m

*****

A schoolgirl on an internship is appallingly exploited by her employers, and a police detective is called in to investigate – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 14th

Here’s a film which presents a real problem for reviewers. Something monumental happens in the middle of the film which entirely changes it. It’s a little bit like the shift from the traumatic drama to the police manhunt in High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) and a bit like the infamous shower scene in the middle of Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960). And yet, the film is like neither of those classics in any other way (except, perhaps, the fact that it’s a remarkable film that will leave you with an indelible impression afterwards). Still, how much can a reviewer give away without ruining the film for audiences?

It’s very much a film of two halves. The first half centres around Sohee (Kim Se-eun), a star pupil at an average secondary school. She is obsessed with dancing, specifically the kind of dance moves associated with K-pop girl- and boy-bands. Among her friends are another former intern from her school who dropped out of her intern position and now spends her evenings getting paralytically drunk.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Wilding

Director – David Allen – 2023 – UK – Cert. PG – 75m

*****

How Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell closed down their failing farm and instead let nature run wild to regenerate the land’s depleted biodiversity – inspiring documentary is out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 14th

Charlie Burrell and Isabella Tree (Lady Burrell) inherited the Knepp farm in West Sussex from his parents in the early 1980s. They kept it going for some 17 years. However, by the late 1990s, they were in debt to the tune of one and a half million pounds. Realising that agro-chemical pesticides and contemporary industrial farming practices were destroying the topsoil necessary for biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem, the couple then took the bold decision to stop farming and, with a little initial, minor tinkering, set about rewilding the land (i.e. letting nature take its course) and, hopefully, repair the damage done. They faced considerable opposition from the local farming community for the first five years or so. Then things began to happen which brought public opinion onto their side. In 2018, Isabella Tree wrote a book about the whole experience: Wilding: the return of nature to a British farm.

This documentary feature adaptation of Isabella’s eponymous 2018 book about their experience was shot during the pandemic and uses actors to portray the couple’s younger selves, so seamlessly cast that you actually don’t notice.… Read the rest

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Sorcery (Brujería)

Director – Christopher Murray – 2023 – Chile, Mexico, Germany – Cert. 15 – 100m

*****

When the father of an indigenous Christian convert is murdered by her German Christian employer’s dogs, her thirst for justice leads her to employ occult folk magic against his family – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 14th

1881. Chiloé, the Northernmost island of an archipelago off the coast of Chile. Indigenous, 13-year-old Rosa (Valentina Véliz Caileo) works as a maid for German immigrant Stefan (Sebastian Hülk from All Quiet on the Western Front, Edward Berger, 2022; Little Joe, Jessica Hausner, 2019; The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke, 2009) who together with his wife (Annick Durán) runs a sheep farm. The couple have two young boys, Thorsten (Matías Bannister) and Franz (Iker Echevers). The family are Christians, and Rosa is a convert to that religion.

One day, Stefan’s sheep lie dead in his field, with woven garlands of vegetation round their necks. With tensions understandably high, Rosa’s father approaches Stefan holding a knife, and Stefan releases his two dogs upon him, killing the man. Rosa later places a makeshift cross of two sticks bound together on his basic grave, which she and Stefan’s family visit, Stefan’s wife pointing out that the man wasn’t a Christian.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

àma GLORIA

Director – Marie Amachoukeli – Co-Director (Animation) – Pierre Emmanuel-Lyet – 2023 – France – Cert. 12a – 84m

Live Action **** / Animation *****

After her beloved nanny returns to Cape Verde, six-year-old Cléo visits her for the Summer – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 14th and on BFI Player from Monday, July 22nd

Six-year-old Cléo (six-year-old Louise Mauroy-Panzani) lives with her dad (Arnaud Rebotini) in France, but is mostly cared for by her nanny Gloria (Ilça Moreno Zego). One day, Gloria gets a phone call informing her that her mum has died, so she has to return to her home island in Cape Verde. Cléo is distraught, and makes Gloria promise that they will see each other again.

Gloria makes arrangements for the little girl to spend the Summer with her on her island. She meets the family from whom Gloria was separated by being in France – the pregnant Fernanda (Abnara Gomes Varela), the alienated ten-year-old César (Fredy Gomes Tavares) and, in due course, Fernanda’s baby Santiago. Gloria spends some considerable amount of time mothering the newly-born Santiago, causing Cléo to experience extreme sibling rivalry for Gloria’s attentions. Eventually, these emotions come to a head in the little girl…

This is one of those sadly all too rare films which in the process of telling a story from a child’s point of view completely gets inside their head.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Freud’s Last Session

Director – Matthew Brown – 2023 – UK – Cert. 12a – 108m

****

Celebrated psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud is visited in the last month of his life, living in Britain, by young Oxford don and Christian apologist CS Lewis – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 14th

September 1939. Chamberlain has issued his ultimatum to Hitler, and Britain waits to find out whether it will shortly be at war with Germany. Celebrated psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Anthony Hopkins), recently moved to Britain from Vienna to escape the Nazis, keeps turning the radio on and off in the hope of an update from the BBC. He is also expecting a visit from a young Oxford don, CS Lewis (Matthew Goode), “the Christian apologist”, with whose views he profoundly disagrees. 

Lewis has written books including a parody of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress called The Pilgrim’s Regress, which is mentioned here, and the first book in his science fiction trilogy Out of the Silent Planet, which isn’t. He has however yet to either give his BBC broadcasts about the Christian faith, which will later form the basis of his most celebrated apologetic work Mere Christianity, or write his Narnia children’s fantasy novels.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Sasquatch Sunset

Director – David & Nathan Zellner – 2024 – US – Cert. 15 – 88m

****

As recreated by actors wearing primate suits, a family of Sasquatches are photographed in the wild over the course of a year – special previews from Monday, June 10th, before releasing across UK cinemas on Friday, June 14th.

In the US and Canada, the Bigfoot or Sasquatch is a staple of American folklore; a primate alleged to live in various American woodlands habitats, an assertion supported by such dubious artefacts as the Patterson-Gimlin film, amateur footage of a Bigfoot female walking through a forest. It’s far from conclusive, and could well be a man in an ape suit.

There is, however, no doubt whatsoever that the four Sasquatches in Sasquatch Sunset are human beings wearing ape suits. The film doesn’t try to pass itself off as anything other than actors playing a family of the creatures, and uses no narration voice-over to tell the audience what to think. Rather, it follows its creatures through a year of their existence in the wild, from Spring through Winter. It isn’t attempting to prove the existence of these creatures one way or the other; rather, it’s an attempt to imagine what they might look like and how they might behave if they were (or are) real.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Perfect Days

Director – Wim Wenders – 2023 – Germany, Japan – Cert. PG – 123m

*****

A cleaner for The Tokyo Toilet Company takes great pleasure in his everyday routineout on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, June 10th

There is a pecking order in society. Right at the lowest level is anything to do with human waste. Nowhere is this more evident than towards the end of this film when his sister, who drives a large, impressive looking car and is making a rare visit to her sibling, asks, incredulously, “are you really cleaning toilets?”

In this remarkable film, Wenders turns this notion on its head. Welcome to the world of Hirayama (Koji Yakusho), employee of The Tokyo Toilet Company, who has been doing the job for five or six years and takes great pride in it. He is part of a two-person detail, however his young co-worker Takashi (Tokio Emoto) doesn’t share his enthusiasm, often arriving late for his shift and looking at his mobile phone on the job.

Hirayama drives a small van and has invested in various tools to help him carry out the job; Takashi rides a motor scooter. Hirayama takes great pleasure in his audio cassette collection (The Animals, Lou Reed, Patti Smith) which he listens to on his van’s cassette player driving to and from work.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Matrix

Directors – Larry and Andy Wachowski – 1999 – US – Cert.15 – 136 mins

*****

The Matrix combines tropes of Japanese animation with live action Hong Kong stunt choreography and groundbreaking ‘bullet time’ special effects.

25th Anniversary UK rerelease (4k remaster): Friday, June 8th, 2024;

UK release: June 11th 1999;

Article originally published in Manga Max, Number 8, July 1999.

1999. The Matrix is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E.

Technically, a matrix is a multidimensional array of locations, with each cell uniquely addressable. Contents not specified. Back in late April, when Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix was first screened for UK press, Warners’ line beneath the film’s title on the publicity flier ran, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects. Perhaps it should have read, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects and Hong Kong styled action. Or even, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects and Hong Kong styled action reconceived in terms of anime. Okay, it’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s closer to the truth.

Ostensibly a megabudget Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon / Die Hard / Predator / Speed / Road House / Assassins) SF actioner well beyond the extremities of this magazine’s remit, directed by the Wachowski Brothers (writer‑directors of Bound, screenwriters for Assassins), The Matrix opens with an incredible sequence wherein Trinity (Carrie‑Anne Moss, who looks for all the world like a Westernised version of a Hong Kong starlet in cat burglar get up… Black Cat’s Jade Leung or Irma Vep’s Maggie Cheung, perhaps?)… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Riddle of Fire

Director – Weston Razooli – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 115m

****

Two siblings and their friend get caught up in a quest through the great hills and woods of Wyoming on their bikes to find a speckled egg so they can bake the boys’ sick mother a blueberry pie – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 7th

Wyoming. Young siblings Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Jodie A’Dale (Skyler Peters) along with their slightly older friend Alice (Phoebe Ferro) break into the Otomo warehouse to steal a videogame console so they can play on the TV during the Summer holidays. Alas, they’ve reckoned without the two boys’ mother (Danielle Hoetmer) password protecting the TV. She currently has the worst cold she has ever had and isn’t going to relent on the password for the foreseeable future – it’s a beautiful day, and she wants them outside enjoying themselves, not cooped up in the house – unless the kids go to the store and get her a blueberry pie, the one thing that would make her feel better.

So the three kids set out for the local store on their pushbikes, but on arrival find the place has run out of blueberry pies and the cook is off sick (perhaps there’s a bug going around).… Read the rest

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The Dead Don’t Hurt

Director – Viggo Mortensen – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 129m

***1/2

An independently-minded woman whose partner is away fighting a war struggles to survive in the Old West – out in UK and Ireland cinemas on Friday, June 7th

While there is much to admire in this Western, it suffers from unclear flashbacks and parallel editing. Both the trailer (below) and the UK press handouts circumvent this problem by describing a straightforward, chronological narrative (and a fascinating narrative at that). For anyone who doesn’t try to follow plot, this may not be a problem. For those who do, it most definitely is.

Two things happen at the start. One is a shoot out in which Weston Jeffries (Solly McLeod), a nasty bit of work with scant disregard for either decency or law and order, rides away into the evening after shooting various people inside and outside the town’s saloon, including the deputy sheriff. The town is apparently called Elk Flats, Nevada – something I gleaned not from the film (where, if that information is there, it’s easy to miss, and I missed it) but from the production notes.

This is indicative of a problem with the film overall: there are certain key bits of information it needs to tell the audience, which it fails to deliver in a clear, comprehensible way.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Deep Sea
(Shen Hai,
深海)

Director – Tian Xiaoping – 2023 – China – Cert. PG – 112m

Subtitled ***1/2 / Dubbed **

A girl on a cruise, who never got over her mother leaving, falls overboard into fantastical worlds – out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 7th

A red child’s coat with a hood lies abandoned on the sea bed. A girl’s feet stagger through a blizzard. She calls out for her mama. But her mama (voice: Ji Jing), a swirling mass of dark hair and eyes, is leaving. And now, the girl is lifted above the sea bottom (as we now realise this location to be) by what appears to be swirling red paint. She wakes, in her coat, on the bus. It was a dream.

Her stepmum (voice: Yang Ting) tells Shenxiu (voice: Wang Tingwen) not to mess around on the bus as she starts pulling faces at her little brother (voices: Dong Yi, Fang Taochen). She boards a big cruise ship, looking at texts from her absent mum, who is separated from her dad (voice: Teng Kuixing). Mum told her about the Hyjinx – if you made a wish on your birthday, it would come and make your wish come true.… Read the rest

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Animation Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Exhibition on Screen:
My National Gallery

Director – Phil Grabsky, Ali Ray – 2024 – UK – Cert. U – 98m

*****

Employees, punters and celebrities choose their favourite painting in London’s National Gallery – out in UK cinemas from Tuesday, June 4th

There have been documentary films about the UK’s National Gallery before, notably the wonderful, three-hour-long National Gallery (Frederick Wiseman, 2014), so, in a way, it’s a brave subject for the Exhibition on Screen people to take on. And yet, as a British production company making movies about art in art galleries, it was inevitable that they would tackle the subject sooner or later. Their version commences with a likeable enough establishing montage of what one might call ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘footfall’ – shots of various National Gallery employees at work opening the door, looking after various aspects of the art housed in the gallery and even putting out tasty-looking croissants in the cafeteria.

There are satisfying little touches throughout. A shot of The Feast Day of Saint Roch, Canaletto, with out of focus people passing in front of it, makes it feel like you’re really there in the scene depicted.

Alan Allison, security officer and gallery assistant (pictured on the front of the trailer, below) wears black clothing with a striking, patterned blue tie.… Read the rest

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The Small Back Room

Directors – Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger – 1949 – UK – Cert. PG – 106m

*****

In London during World War Two, a back room boffin and bomb disposal man struggles with alcoholism – 4K restoration played at BFI Southbank on Tuesday, May 28th prior to release on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital on Monday, June 3rd

This black and white, post-war era drama isn’t the first film that comes to mind when people think about Powell and Pressburger – it was made immediately after what today are regarded as three of their best colour features – A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947) and their arguable masterpiece The Red Shoes (1948). And that was preceded by one of their finest black and white works, i know where i’m going!” (1945).

In many ways, The Small Back Room couldn’t be more different. There’s a marvellous sense of whimsy about those films, even if the later ones are intense and savage in places. Like Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes – and, for that matter, Powell’s late solo masterpiece Peeping Tom (1960), an intensity lies at the heart of The Small Back Room.

Gone are the light, airy spaces of the earlier films, their sense of the outdoors expanse (and, in The Red Shoes, the expanded landscapes of the eponymous ballet sequence within the film).… Read the rest

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Do Not Expect Too Much
from
the End of the World
(Nu Astepta Prea Mult
de la Sfârsitul Lumii)

Director – Radu Jude – 2023 – UK – Cert. 18 – 163m

*****

The daily, working life of an overworked production assistant on a corporate film about victims of industrial accident – out on digital from Monday, June 3rd

Angela (Ilinka Manolache) wakes in her mess of an apartment. Another busy day of overwork. She drives to the homes of serial, prospective interviewees for the corporate film on which she is currently working as a production assistant to evaluate their suitability for the film and take mobile phone videos of them herself.

Whenever she gets a spare moment, she posts on TikTok using a filter that changes her head into that of a man, and under the name Bobita posts colourful and sweary, verbal rants about the British Royal family and other topics. Suffering from sleep deprivation, she dozes during the afternoon production meeting and keeps the radio on while driving to prevent sleeping at the wheel.

Towards the end of the day, she finds time for an in-car assignation with her lover, but that doesn’t last long as she has to go and pick up the production’s corporate commissioning marketing person Doris Goethe (Nina Hoss), direct descendant of the famous writer, from the airport.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Godzilla Minus One
(Gojira -1.0,
ゴジラ -1.0)

Director – Takashi Yamazaki – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

Japan, defeated and demoralised after World War Two, must somehow defeat the seemingly unstoppable menace of Godzilla when it rises from the depths of the ocean – out on Netflix from Sunday, June 1st

World War Two, Pacific theatre. Unwilling Kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) feigns engine trouble and lands on an island for aircraft maintenance, where he is grounded. While there, he notices deep sea fish curiously floating on the surface of the surrounding ocean: they presage the arrival of a huge monster, named Godzilla by the locals. With Koichi failing to fire his 20mm aircraft guns at the creature to kill it, almost everyone else on the small island is killed. (Whether his guns would have had any effect in halting the creature’s advance is debatable. They probably wouldn’t have had any effect whatsoever.) The only other survivor, who had previously congratulated Koichi for a near impossible landing on a tiny runway, blames him for the multiple deaths because he didn’t pull the trigger.

In 1945, in the ruins of post-war Tokyo, Shikishima is accused by a survivor – a woman whose children have died – of being a disgrace.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Beast
(La Bête)
(2023)

Director – Bertrand Bonello – 2023 – France – Cert. 15 – 146m

*****

Required to expunge her emotions by the ruling AI of 2044, a woman with a sense of dread revisits her past lives in 1910 and 2014 and their incarnations of the love of her life – curious mix of art house movie and science fiction is out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 31st

An actress (Léa Seydoux) against green screen rehearses a scene in a house – the director’s voice tells her where the stairs and other features are in relation to her position and marks on the floor. With these minimal visuals but with the addition of music and full sound effects, she works through the scene up to the point where she sees the terrifying shadow of the Beast on a wall and screams. Consciously or unconsciously, this echoes the screen test on the boat of Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) as she is required to scream at an unseen, gargantuan monster for the camera.

As in Kong, this scene anticipates one that will play out later in the film. However, Bonello plays it as a curious introduction to the whole, rather than part of the story proper.… Read the rest

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Hard Miles

Director – R.J. Daniel Hanna – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 108m

****1/2

A youth facility social worker takes a group of troubled young men on a transformative team bicycle ride – out in UK and Ireland cinemas on Friday, May 31st

Day-to-day life is one thing after another for Colorado medium-security correction school staff member Greg Townsend (Matthew Modine). He is in court defending, failing to get the court to see one of his charges as a human being rather than someone who committed an offence. Leaving, he finds someone has stolen his bicycle (it later gets found by the police, having sustained only minor damage). He is fielding calls from his prison-incarcerated brother about their father, who is in a care home and may not have much longer to live, and with whom Greg has not had contact for years. He is at the school, pulling boys apart as they attack each other for the most trivial remark.

However, not everything is about work and family responsibility. Greg is a cycling enthusiast, and is looking forward to taking his booked holiday of a week or more off cycling 1 000 (well, 762) miles to the Grand Canyon.… Read the rest

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Sting

Director – Kiah Roache-Turner – 2024 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 91m

***1/2

A girl traps a venomous spider and cares for it as a pet, but as she feeds it, it grows… and grows… and gets out… – into UK cinemas on Friday, May 31st

Helga (Noni Hazlehurst) is hearing strange noises in her Brooklyn apartment. She doesn’t remember so good, however, helpfully pinned to the wall by the phone is her name and address. So when she phones Frank the pest exterminator (Jermaine Fowler), she can read those details to him. It’s probably a rat, he tells her. Soon he is at the door of the block, asking her to buzz him in. But inside the apartment, he realises this particular bug may be more than he bargained for.

Flash back to four days earlier. A hand-sized meteor plunges to Earth to crash through a window into a doll’s house in the same apartment block. It is a tiny pod not unlike the ones in Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979). It opens, hatching a small spider, which looks huge until we realise it’s in a small scale doll’s house, not outside in the apartment proper. The spider is found by Charlotte (Alyla Brown from Furiosa: A Mad Max Story, George Miller, 2024) who empties out her money jar, the one with the screw lid, to make a home for it, feeding it with the roaches that infest the apartment.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Stopmotion

Director – Robert Morgan – 2023 – UK – Cert. 18 – 93m

***1/2

The bereaved daughter of a stop-frame animator attempts to complete her late mother’s last film – out on Shudder UK, Ireland, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand from Friday, May 31st

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: this is not what it says on the tin. Anyone expecting another Mad God (Phil Tippett, 1987-2021, and a long-standing Shudder favourite) or Junk Head (Takahide Hori, 2021) is going to be disappointed. This is not a stop-motion film; it’s a stop-motion / live action combination film, with the physical stop-motion component of the production forming maybe a tenth of the whole.

Unless, of course, you’re looking only at story or script. In which case, this film is all about stop-motion animation and obsession. But executed in live action. Because, after all, who would want to spend all their time moving a puppet a bit, then shooting a frame, then moving it a bit more, and taking another frame, and so on when you can shoot live action and capture a shot of whatever length on film? (The answer is, anyone who loves animation generally and stop-motion animation in particular.)… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Beast
(La Bête)
(2023)

A Fatal Belief

The Beast
Directed by Bertrand Bonello
Certificate 15, 146 minutes
Released 31 May

As satisfying as it is infuriating, this French genre-bender is part science fiction, part period costume drama and part literary adaptation. It’s based on Henry James’ 1903 novella The Beast in the Jungle, in which a man refuses to marry the woman he loves to spare her from the attack he believes will be perpetrated upon him at some point by a horrible beast.

About a third is, as you might expect, a period costume drama, sumptuously shot on film. However, the co-writer and director Bonello introduces two more separate timelines set in 2014 and 2044 and shot on harsher digital technology for a more modern feel.

He also switches the gender roles round, so that… [Read the full review in Reform]

[Read my longer review on this site]

Trailer:

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Furiosa
A Mad Max Saga

Director – George Miller – 2024 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 148m

*****

Kidnapped by a biker gang she attacks, young Furiosa must make her way in the desert wasteland populated by despots, bikers, and gas truck drivers – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 124h

In the forest where fruit is plentiful near her home, young Furiosa (Alyla Browne, the lead in the upcoming Sting, LINK, Kiah Roache-Turner, 2023) spots a group of bikers who capture her as she tries to cut their bikes’ fuel lines. Her mother Mary Jabasa (Charlee Fraser) sets off across the desert in pursuit, stealing a bike from one of their number, only to be captured and crucified. Furiosa is taken to the biker’s despotic and nomadic leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), later escaping and falling in with gas truck driver Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke). Furiosa becomes a young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) who as Jack’s protégé learns everything he knows.

The desert economy, where gasoline is the most precious commodity, consists of a wasteland in which are situated three strongholds: Gas Town, The Citadel and The Bullet Farm.

This prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) was essentially written at the same time as that film as part of the process of understanding the backstory of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron).… Read the rest

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Twilight of the Warriors
Walled in
(Jiu Long Cheng
Zhai·Wei Cheng,
九龙城寨之围城)

Director – Soi Cheang – 2023 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 126m

*****

A refugee steals money from a Hong Kong triad then hides out in Kowloon Walled City, a place as dangerous as the triads pursuing him – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 24th

Never entered by those outside, an uneasy peace has reigned in Kowloon Walled City a.k.a. the City of Darkness since Cyclone defeated ‘Dragon Head’ Liu and his warlord partner Jim. It’s Hong Kong in the 1980s, when refugees were flooding into the territory. In a nightclub where women dance to Cantopop, one such refugee (Raymond Lam) wins a fist fight competition then is conned by gang boss (Sammo Hung) into paying for a shoddily made fake ID card, which he refuses to accept when he calls to collect it two weeks later. Leaving the ensuing argument, he snatches a bag from the villain’s drug warehouse and runs hell for leather into the Walled City, where the gangsters won’t follow.

Inside, he discovers to his horror that he’s snatched not a bag of banknotes as he supposed but a bag of drugs. Trying to sell it, he finds himself fighting local gangsters, who don’t want him selling drugs on their turf.… Read the rest

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Luminous Woman
(Hikaru Onna,
光る女)

Director – Shinji Somai – 1987 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 118m

*****

A Hokkaido farmer comes to Tokyo in search of his vanished fiancée but finds a world he has not expected – on Blu-ray from Monday, Monday, May 20th

At a rubbish tip on the outskirts of Tokyo, a barefoot man (Takeiji Muto) in cheap trousers and top encounters a suave-looking sophisticate (Kei Suma) and a woman opera singer (Michiru Akiyoshi), the latter performing gracefully atop the rubbish heap. The woman is dependent on the sophisticate. The barefoot man has travelled from Hokkaido to find his fiancée Kuriko Sakura, who was supposed to return after studying accounting to help him run a farm.

The sophisticate knows someone of that name, and drives the barefoot man into the city. In his nightclub, he offers the outsider a deal – if he’ll fight the club’s pro-wrestler for ¥100 000, the other will tell him where to find Kuriko. However, she may not be the person he seeks. Out of her boss’ earshot, the woman warns the outsider that the wrestling may be to the death.

In the club she plays the piano while another woman sings opera and, on the circular dias bordered by a water pool, a challenger fights the incumbent wrestler and loses.… Read the rest

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The Goldfinger
(Jin Shouzhi,
金手指)

Director – Felix Chong – 2023 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 126m

*****

Director Felix Chong reunites his two Infernal Affairs stars for a lavish, if frequently incomprehensible, 1980s tale of cops and robbers, corruption and fraud – out on Blu-ray, DVD & Digital in the UK on Monday, May 20th

The experience of watching The Goldfinger is a lot like watching the classic Hollywood private eye movie The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946). There, you know that the hero is investigating a string of murders, and the narrative is completely engrossing, even for the viewer watching the film for the umpteenth time, yet it’s also impenetrable and incomprehensible. And so it is with The Goldfinger, which is based not on a novel but on a real life financial scandal.

Real life Hong Kong conglomerate The Carrian Group, founded in 1977 by one George Tan, expanded rapidly and made huge profits until it was declared bankrupt in 1983. The whole operation turned out to be mired in fraud. In the film, set in the late 1970s / early 1980s, the central character Ching (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) is modelled on Tan, starting off penniless but wearing suits that look like a million dollars and blessed with an understanding of what’s required to gain people’s confidence, secure deals and make money.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Big Banana Feet

Director – Murray Grigor – 1976 – UK – Cert. 12 – 77m

****1/2

The camera follows comedian Billy Connolly to Dublin and Belfast for the final dates of his 1975 tour – 2K restoration is out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 10th, and on BFI Blu-ray/DVD (Dual Format Edition) and digital from Monday, May 20th

This played the Scala Cinema a few times back in the day. I always thought there must be a reason why, and now, with its release in a restored form by the BFI, I get to find out. I must admit to mixed feelings prior to viewing – I’m not someone who particularly enjoys stand-up comedy; indeed, watching videos of comedians doing their material onstage has been known to bore me to tears, even as it enthralls fans.

Although this has clips of Billy Connolly performing on stage – comic routines, songs with banjo and guitar – it’s essentially a fly-on-the-wall piece that captures his personality as he, with the help of his seemingly tireless road manager Billy Johnson, plays dates in Dublin and Belfast on the final leg of his 1975 tour. Watching it, you feel you get to know Connolly well, at least at the period of his career being filmed.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

IF

Director – John Krasinski – 2024 – US – Cert. U – 104m

****

A 12-year-old staying with her grandma in New York meets many imaginary friends forgotten by the adults who befriended them as children – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 17th

This follows the time-worn children’s story template of a child whose father in hospital and is worried that they might not ever come home. In this instance, the child’s fear is grounded in her previous experience of this happening to her mother, who went into hospital and never came out.

Thus, 12-year-old Bea (Cailey Fleming) is sent to stay with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw) in New York while her single-parent dad (John Krasinski) goes to the hospital for what he assures Bea will be a routine operation. Dad is an inveterate practical joker of a gentle sort, performing impromptu song and dance routines with his treatment drip on a stand or staging a tableau of his escape out of the window via a rope made of knotted bedsheets. As you can probably tell, director Krasinski is clearly having a lot of fun playing this role, and fortunately for us that fun translates onto the screen. As a bonus, likeable child actor Alan Kim (Minari, Lee Isaac Chung, 2020) plays the patient in a nearby ward.… Read the rest

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Hoard

Director – Luna Carmoon – 2023 – UK – Cert. – 126m

****

A young girl’s strange relationship with her rubbish-hoarding mother, cut short in childhood, leads to an equally bizarre bond in adult life – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 17th, with previews from Friday, May 3rd

When I first stumbled across the title of this film, and the image used to promote it of a young couple staring into what I took to be a circular hole, which, I realised after seeing the film, was in fact the outline of a communal bin of the type commonly found on an English housing estate, I guessed it was a thriller – two people stumble upon a hoard: a bag of money or otherwise valuable contents. A noun. However, after viewing, I now realise the title could equally well suggest an activity, a verb. To hoard. The act of hoarding. The state of being which is hoarding. The film isn’t really a thriller. To describe it as a drama might be closer to the mark, but that doesn’t prepare the viewer for how utterly strange and alien the experience of watching this is.

Because the narrative starts off with the relationship between Cynthia (Hayley Squires) and her pre-teenage daughter Maria (Lily-Beau Leach).… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Catching Fire:
The Story of
Anita Pallenberg

Directors – Alexis Bloom, Svetlana Zill – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 113m

***1/2

The chaotic life of the archetypal rock chick, told through her own words and those of her children – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 17th

After her death in 2017, Anita Pallenberg’s two surviving children Marlon and Angela discovered a manuscript; she had written an autobiography. Marlon worked his way through it as part of his bereavement process and was so taken with the articulate text that he sought out producers to turn it into a film. (He is one of the film’s executive producers himself, while both directors are credited as among the producers). Numerous clips from an interview with him are used in this resultant documentary, along with excerpts from Anita’s manuscript voiced by an actress, along with interview footage with Angela and verbal audio from Rolling Stones band member Keith Richards, Anita’s partner for a decade and the father of her children.

Like many of the young generation who rose meteorically to cultural prominence in the swinging sixties, Anita Pallenberg was a war baby. Her first years were accompanied by the sound of falling bombs; as she puts it, she didn’t learn to walk, but to run.… Read the rest

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Nightwatch
(Nattevagten)

Director – Ole Bornedal – 1994 – Denmark – Cert. 18 – 107m

*****

Strange goings-on take place in a morgue after a law student takes on the nightwatchman’s job – out on Shudder UK from Friday, May 17th

Two male students Jens (Kim Bodnia) and Martin (Nikolaj Coster Waldau) make a pact: they are to challenge one another to a series of outrageous acts, and the first one who fails to follow though must marry his girlfriend. One evening, they and respective girlfriends Kalinka (Sofie Gråbøl) and Lotte (Lotte Andersen) are in a bar when two louts appear and hassle the two women as they return from the ladies room. Martin challenges Jens to stand up to them, which he does and gets assaulted for his pains. Jens later challenges Martin to go with 17-year-old prostitute Joyce (Rikke Louise Andersson), an encounter Jens facilitates in a restaurant, pinning his own name on Martin as a cover. Their swapping of names will later prove highly significant.

To save some money for his and Kalinka’s future, Martin takes on a job as a nightwatchman in a morgue, an easy enough job provided you don’t mind being the only living person on the premises along with a batch of corpses, which often includes murder victims since a murderer is currently at large in the area.… Read the rest

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Nightwatch:
Demons Are Forever
(Nattevagten –
Dæmoner Går i Arv)

Director – Ole Bornedal – 2023 – Denmark – 110m

****1/2

A law student’s daughter takes on his old morgue nightwatchman’s job to find out about the killer who traumatised her parents – out on Shudder UK from Friday, May 17th

WARNING: don’t watch this sequel until you’ve seen the original Nightwatch (1994). That’s easy enough to do, since both films are currently on Shudder.

SPOILER ALERT: if you’ve not (yet) seen the original, watch that before reading this review.

Almost thirty years on, Bornedal’s sequel is almost a retread of his original film. Almost, but not quite. Martin (Nikolaj Coster Waldau) has never totally got over his wife Kalinka’s suicide, caused by the fear of arrested killer Peter Wörmer. Several times a week, in scenes described but never shown, Martin visits the summerhouse where she hanged herself and talks to her. Martin’s friend Jens has long since disappeared to Thailand, while his girlfriend Lotte (played by a different actress, Vibeke Hastrup) still works as a vicar. Martin hasn’t heard from either of them in years.

Mental patient Bent (Casper Kjær Jensen) is a likewise incarcerated killer, a copycat. Later on, both he and Wörmer will escape their hospitals.

Martin lives with his med student daughter Emma (Fanny Leander Bornedal, the director’s daughter who is terrific here) who wants to find out exactly what happened to her parents.… Read the rest

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Kingdom of the
Planet of the Apes

Director – Wes Ball – 2024 – US – Cert. 12a – 145m

*****

The fourth entry in the current franchise reboot takes place several generations after the previous three films when apes live in scattered communities and humans have lost the power of speech – out in UK cinemas on Thursday, May 9th

Noa (Owen Teague) has deep-seated feelings of failure. His father is the head of the Eagle Clan, a tribe of chimps who live in symbiosis with trained eagles, and Noa thinks nothing of scaling the highest local rock face to steal his own eagle egg for later bird rearing. He goes on such quests with his two loyal friends, the male Anaya (Travis Jeffery) and the female Soona (Lydia Peckham). He also values the wisdom of Raka (Peter Macon), an orangutan with considerable knowledge of the generations-old teachings of Ceasar.

Noa spots a human girl (Freya Allan) sneaking around the village and environs. A short while later, all hell breaks loose as a cavalry of masked apes attack and burn the village. Noa resolves to leave the safety of the local valley and venture into the land beyond on horseback, accompanied by Raka. They soon realise the non-speaking girl is following on foot, and no sooner have they coax her into joining their quest than they run into first a herd of humans at a small forest pool, then the mounted masked gorillas from whom they must rescue the silent girl.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Made in England:
The Films of
Powell and Pressburger

Director – David Hinton – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 129m

*****

Martin Scorsese talks about the seminal British filmmaking duo, and how they inspired his own movies – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 10th

As a child, Martin Scorsese suffered from asthma and would constantly find himself at home while other kids were outside playing. He often found himself sitting front of the black and white TV watching a show called Million Dollar Movie. This would show a movie a week, playing it several times, and it was at a time when US producers wouldn’t sell their movie rights to TV but British producers would. Consequently, he grew up watching black and white versions of old British movies.

The ones he particularly liked opened with an arrow hitting a target: “a production of the Archers. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.” When this logo and these names appeared, Scorsese always knew he was in good hands. He watched these movies over and over again whenever they were shown, and learned much of his filmmaking craft from them. The first of these films to which he thrilled didn’t have this logo: it was the Alexander Korda production of The Thief of Baghdad (Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, 1940) and parts of the film have the unmistakeable Powell visual stamp.… Read the rest

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La Chimera
(La Chimera)

Director – Alice Rohrwacher – 2023 – Italy – Cert. 15 – 133m

***

In an attempt to come to terms with his past, an ex-con returns to his home town, where he previously used to rob ancient artefacts from burial sites and graves – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 10th

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to get in La Chimera, and after watching it, I was none the wiser. Arthur (Josh O’Connor) comes out of prison and gets the train back to Tuscany. He meets some girls on a train, and the profile of one of them reminds him of decorative Etruscan art. He has a run in with a sock salesman, who tells him he smells.

Getting off the train, he tries hard not to be picked up by an old mate, who wants to take him to see a bunch of friends. He’s been in prison for grave-robbing and doesn’t want to get back into that game. Instead, he returns to the house of his deceased (or at least presumed deceased|) girlfriend Beniamina, where her mother Flora (an unrecognisable Isabella Rossellini) refuses to believe that Beniamina has gone. While Flora welcomes him with open arms, and introduces him to her maid and singing pupil Italia (Carole Duarte), she’s happy to be there.… Read the rest

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Black Mask
(Hak Hap,
黑俠)

Director – Daniel Lee – 1996 – Hong Kong – Cert. 18 – 99m

*****

An experimentally created supersoldier without feelings revolts against his creators, even as they attempt to take control of Hong Kong’s drugs trade – on Blu-ray from Monday, April 22nd in the UK and Tuesday, April 23rd in the US and Canada

Removing the ability of human beings to feel produce an elite force of warriors known as the 701 Squad has gone horribly wrong, and the members of 701 are to be shut down. Their leader, adopting the name Tsui Chik (Jet Li), escapes to live undercover working in a library where he learns all he can by reading books. His unlucky in love co-worker Tracy (Karen Mok) is convinced by other staff members to date him.

However, Tsui is more interested in hanging out with his best friend, the policeman Inspector Shek (Lau Ching Wan) who is tracking the elimination of all the major Hong Kong drugs dealers. The reason, unbeknown to him, is that the other surviving members of the 701 Squad, under the leadership of the Commander (Patrick Lung), are trying to wipe out the gangs including the last surviving gang leader King Kau (Anthony Wong) and take control of the drugs trade themselves to gain financial security.… Read the rest

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The Fall Guy
(2024)

Director – David Leitch – 2024 – US – Cert. 12a – 126m

*1/2

A stuntman, who retired from the movies are sustaining an injury on set, is hired to trace the vanished star of the movie being directed by his former camera operator and girlfriend – out in UK cinemas on Thursday, May 2nd

Colt Seavers (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt double for big star Tom Ryder (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who allegedly does his own stunts. Retakes are common – for instance, if Colt is showing too much face, and it can be seen in the take that it’s him, not the star. Colt is fine with that – it’s just part of the business.

Gail Meyer (Hannah Waddingham) is Tom’s regular producer and has managed his career so that his many bad habits never appear on the screen or where they can be seen by the public. He is currently the world’s most bankable action star.

Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt) is a camera assistant. Colt and Jody are a couple, although they try not to make it obvious on the set.

Colt’s work requires all sorts of safety protocols be followed. On one occasion, someone behind the scenes messes up, and Colt falls from a great height and breaks his back. … Read the rest

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Love Lies Bleeding
(2024)

Director – Rose Glass – 2024 – US – Cert. 15 – 104m

****

A small town member of staff at a gym falls hard for a bodybuilding drifter, both unaware that each has baggage which will cause the other considerable grief – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 3rd

The 1980s. New Mexico. Night. Rising up from a crack in the Earth. Towards the stars. And looking out over the small town, over the Crater Gym. We follow a woman inside. (Who is she? We never find out.) Bodybuilders work out. As Lou (Kristen Stewart) works to unclog a lavatory blocked with something resembling small human body parts (!), she is hassled by Daisy (Anna Baryshnikov) who appears to have been sexually close to her at some time, and possibly still is now only Lou doesn’t care.

Elsewhere in the night, a couple are having sex in a car. He (Dave Franco) is definitely enjoying it; she (Katy O’Brian), it’s hard to tell. She wants to know if she’ll get that job now. He says he’ll sort it. He warns her to be careful where she sleeps; this is a dangerous town. She finds a place at the side of a bridge; in the morning, it’s hot and sunny, she gets up and does her exercises using the edge of the bridge for pull-ups.… Read the rest

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Kidnapped
(Rapito)

Director – Marco Bellocchio – 2023 – Italy, France, Germany – Cert. 12a – 135m

*****

A boy is forcibly taken from his Jewish family by the Pope to be raised as a Catholic priest because he has been baptised into the Catholic faith – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 26th

Italy, the mid-nineteenth century. The Papal States will have disappeared by 1870 as Italy moves towards unification. In the meantime, they are still under the administrative control of the incumbent pope, Pius IX.

Bologna, 1852. A maid sees off a soldier in the night following a romantic tryst. The soldier is neither here nor there; the maid, Anna Morisi (Aurore Camatti) will play a significant part in what follows. The life of a nine-child Jewish family is about to be disrupted forever.

The home of the very ordinary Mortalo family, who are Jewish: father Momolo (Fausto Russo Alesi), mother Marianna (Barbara Ronchi) and their nine children. The parents are deeply religious and raise their offspring accordingly, teaching them, among other things, to recite the Shema prayer every night before they go to sleep. One night in 1858, they are visited by the authorities under Feletti (Fabrizio Gifuni) who have come to take away one of their children under Papist law.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Spy x Family
Code: White
(SPY x FAMILY
CODE: White)

Directors – Kazuhiro Fusuhashu, Takashi Karagiri – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12A – 111m

*****

A spy and an assassin are married to each other, each unaware of the other’s secret career, while neither of them are aware their adopted daughter is a telepath who therefore knows everything they don’t – bonkers anime deploying cookery to prevent Armageddon (!) is out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 26th

An opulent art deco ball. Couples dance. A man connives to be alone with a drunken woman so he can…photograph a file in an office desk. A woman driving a car rips off her face (in the manner of the characters in Mission: Impossible II, John Woo, 2000) to reveal… a man, the spy Loid (voice: Takuya Eguchi). Another woman, Yor (voice: Saori Hayama), is revealed as an assassin when she kills a man who sold industrial secrets. The spy and the assassin are married to one another in a pretend marriage which is a cover for their undercover operations, although neither knows the other is in the spy / assassination game. Their daughter Anya (voice: Atsumi Tanezaki) – adopted to make the bogus marriage look real – is a telepathic orphan who can read minds, so knows about the two secret identities of her ‘parents’.… Read the rest

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Boy Kills World

Director – Moritz Mohr – 2023 – Germany, US, South Africa – Cert. 18 – 111m

***1/2

Relentless, non-stop action via a deaf-mute, orphaned kid, schooled in martial arts, returning to the city as a grown man to wreak vengeance on those who killed his family – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 26th

Elite family the Van Der Koys have taken control of the city and instigated an annual ceremony known as The Culling, a physical contest staged for television in a vast arena in which anyone who opposes the Van Der Koys and the way they run the place is killed. This was of little concern to Boy, who as a child (twins Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti from TV series Big Little Lies, 2017-19) grew up in a carefree existence eating Frosty Pops cereal every morning with his sister Mina (Quinn Copeland) and, the pair naively making insulting hand gestures at publicly displayed Van Der Koy statues during the day which gets their family onto the list of candidates for The Culling. And so his parents and sister are despatched in the ceremony, leaving Boy a traumatised deaf-mute.

All of the above comes out early on in a mixture of flashback and over-the-top interior monologue (hilariously voiced by H.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Max Beyond

Director – Hasraf Dullul – 2024 – UK – Cert. 15 – 88m

****

Leon fails to rescue his adoptive brother Max from a corporate, experimental facility, so Max starts to move around the multiverse to find the world in which he succeeds – animated SF thriller is out on digital from Monday, April 22nd in the UK and Tuesday, April 23rd in the US

Facing very specific health challenges, eight-year-old Max (mo-cap/voice: Cade Tropeano) has been signed over to the Axion corporation and is living inside their high-tech, tower block complex where he is undergoing complicated, experimental, medical treatment under the supervision of Dr. Ava Johnson (mo-cap/voice: Jane Perry). Max’s elder brother Leon (mo-cap/voice: Dave Fennoy), a dishonourably discharged war veteran, is none too happy about this and, as protesters hold placards denouncing Axion outside the building, takes it upon himself to enter the premises, find his brother and rescue him from his oppressors, as he believes them to be.

Despite warnings from Dr. Ava over the intercom that there is no way out for Leon, he at first appears to be in control of the situation, a one-man army flooring all comers, but as his corporate security adversaries, culminating a sword-wielding man or robot (it’s never clear which) called The Sync, become increasingly impossible to defeat, it becomes clear that Ava’s predicted warning is accurate.… Read the rest

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Jeanne du Barry
(Jeanne du Barry)

Director – Maïwenn – 2023 – France – Cert. 15 – 117m

***1/2

A commoner works her way into the King of France’s affections and becomes a member of the aristocracy – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 19th

Born of the illicit union between a monk and a cook, the latter (Marianne Basler) taken in along with her daughter by the kindly M. Dumousseaux (Robin Renuchi) who ensures the child gets a decent education, Jeanne (Maïwenn) quickly realises her only viable career options are cooking, which she has no intention of pursuing, and harlotry. Before long, favoured client Compte Jean du Barry suggests to her that she should meet the King. To achieve this, she would need to become part of the King’s court for which a title is required, so she marries Jean in order to become the Countess du Barry and be presented to the King, Louis XV (Johnny Depp) .

Catching his majesty’s eye and favour, she is invited to his apartment, like many other women before or after her (although one suspects there were more before than after). Before meeting him alone, she is schooled in royal etiquette by the King’s trusted, right-hand man La Borde (Benjamin Lavernhe).… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Fantastic Machine
(original title:
And the King Said,
What a Fantastic Machine)

Directors – Axel Danielson, Maximilien Van Aertryck – 2023 – Norway, Sweden, Denmark – Cert. 15 – 88m

****

An idiosyncratic history of moving image technology and its increasingly pervasive role in human society, from camera obscura to smartphones and social media – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 19th

To understand what this movie is about, which I’m not sure I did going in, you have to understand its title. The fantastic machine in question is, in part, the camera. That might lead you to anticipate a history of photography, but that’s not quite what this is about. You’d be forgiven for believing that, though, for the first few minutes when we see a contemporary, on the street, walk-in exhibit of the camera obscura or pinhole camera, a natural optical phenomenon whereby light passes through a simple pinhole onto a surface or screen beyond to recreate an inverted image of where the light came from. As a visitor marvels of the resultant, real time moving image of people outside the exhibit walking around, “it’s upside down”. As a human guide to the exhibition explains, that’s how the human eye works. Our brains correct the upside down image so that appears the right way up.… Read the rest

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If Only I Could Hibernate
(Baavgai Bolohson)

Director – Zoljargal Purevdash – 2023 – Mongolia, France, Switzerland, Qatar – Cert. 12a– 96m

****

A gifted Mongolian boy is torn between providing for his siblings and pursuing his studies – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 19th

Teenager Ulzii (Battsooj Uurtsaikh) lives with his mum and his three younger siblings in the yurt district of Ulaanbaataar, Mongolia’s capital city, their father having long since disappeared. Mum (Ganchimeg Sandagdorj) is illiterate and struggles to find work, and there is much antagonism between her and Ulzii, who is going through the school system his mother never experienced and took money from his summer job to buy sneakers before giving the remainder to his mum, who needs it to buy coal for their yurt’s stove to keep the family warm in severe, subzero wintry conditions. Sometimes it’s all too much for their mum, who often gets drunk at night.

In class, Ulzii is the star pupil at physics, often completing complex equations using solutions his teacher wouldn’t expect from anyone less than two years older. His teacher (Batzorig Sukhbaatar), finding a prodigy on his hands, starts to coach him to do well in the National exams in order to win a free university scholarship to study physics, which the boy wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.… Read the rest

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Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Exhibition on Screen:
John Singer Sargent
Fashion & Swagger

Director – David Bickerstaff – 2024 – UK – Cert. U – 93m

****

Late nineteenth century society portrait painter John Singer Sargent was fascinated more by their clothing and the possibilities of paint than he was by the women he painted – documentary is out in UK cinemas for selected screenings from Tuesday, April 16th

Based on the exhibition first at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) and now at Tate Britain, this opens with incidental music that conjures a contemporary dance floor, a soundtrack which provokes a strange tension with paintings hanging on walls and costumes displayed in glass cases as the camera moves through the physical spaces in which they are displayed. But then, the title suggests this might be a little different from Exhibition on Screen’s usual fare.

John Singer Sargent’s A Portrait of Miss Elsie Palmer (A Lady In White), 1889-90, shows the energy and intensity of his portraiture. The brushstrokes are arresting and like nothing else being done at the time. The paintings might be perfect, but the people within them most definitely are not: Sargent captures their imperfections in a most compelling way. He looked deeply at people, and some of his sitters were afraid to sit for him because of what he might see.… Read the rest

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Civil War

Director – Alex Garland – 2024 – US – Cert. 15 – 109m

*****

Four journalists travel across the war-torn US to interview the President before he resigns or flees the country – out in both UK and US cinemas on Friday, April 12th

The US President (Nick Offerman) is rehearsing a speech, But he can’t seem to work out how to deliver the words.

Seasoned photojournalist Lee Miller (Kirsten Dunst) and journalist colleague Joel (Wagner Moura) are on the front line in the war-torn US. She is in the thick of it, taking photographs, when she spots a twentysomething woman Jessie Colin (CaIlee Spaeny from Priscilla, Sofia Coppola, 2023) doing the same thing, and gives the young woman her hi-vis jacket to help her chances of staying alive.

The girl is so preoccupied with taking pictures that she cradles the jacket in an arm while shooting images with her stills camera. Later, she runs into Lee in their hotel where all the journalists are staying, among them the grizzled veteran Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson from Dune, Denis Villeneuve, 2021) who, despite mobility issues which require him to walk with a cane, insists on being in the thick of it as far as possible.… Read the rest

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The Teachers’ Lounge
(Das Lehrerzimmer)

Director – Ilker Çatak – 2023 – Germany – Cert. 12a – 98m

**** 1/2

A new teacher at a school where petty thefts have been taking place for some time makes some bad decisions which put her in a very difficult place – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 12th

Schoolboy Lukas (Okar Mats Zickur) is being questioned about recent thefts in the school. Does he have any suspicions as to which of the pupils might be doing this? A girl sits beside him, a class representative, to make sure everything is being done properly. “You don’t have to speak if you don’t want to”, teacher Carla Nowak (Leonie Bedesh) assures him. Nevertheless, her male colleague pressurises the boy. First, he gives him a printed list of names with checkboxes and asks the child to tick any relevant boxes. When that doesn’t work, he goes down the list with his finger and asks the boy simply to nod at any suspicious name. He gets a nod.

Teaching in class, with a number of the kids stumped by the current algebra problem, star pupil Oskar Kuhn (Leonard Stettnisch) works through a proof on the blackboard, way in advance of the capabilities his age would suggest.… Read the rest

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Opponent
(Motståndaren)

Director – Milad Alami – 2023 – Sweden, Norway – Cert. 15 – 119m

***1/2

Two asylum seekers – an Iranian pro-wrestler and his pianist wife – are confronted with inhospitable Scandiniavian hotel accommodation and state bureaucracy – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 12th.

An ominous pulsing, thumping soundtrack. Wearing training kit, an Iranian man runs until stopped in his tracks by the sight of men on the nearby road searching for someone. There is a man hiding from their sight behind a parked car. The first man goes down to the parked car and demands of him, why couldn’t you keep your mouth shut?

Hoping it will help him be seen as contributing positively to the cultural life of Sweden, thus enhancing his and the family’s chances as being accepted into citizenship, Imam joins a local wrestling team. He is clearly glad to be once again participating in the sport that was his life back in Iran, but his wife is less than happy to see him taking it up again, especially since he sometimes comes back to the hotel with a bloodied nose. Imam befriends Thomas (Björn Elgerd) at the club, who invites him out to parties where Imam spends the night rather than going home to his wife.… Read the rest

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Some recommendations
from
Ireland’s
Japanese Film Festival
2024

Runs from 11-27 April 2024.

Please click links to read reviews.

Blue Giant

Director – Yuzura Tachikawa – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 120m

*****

Three 18-year-olds form a jazz band with the aim of playing at Tokyo’s top jazz club

Evil Does Not Exist

Director – Ryosuke Hamaguchi – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 106m

**

A small, unspoiled village community is visited by two representatives of a company planning to set up a glamping facility.

The First Slam Dunk

Director – Takehiko Inoue – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

A high school basketball team sets out to defeat the seemingly unstoppable league champions

Nominated for Technical Achievement in Sound Design at the London Critics Circle Film Awards 2024.

Lonely Castle In The Mirror

Director – Keiichi Hara – 2022 – Japan – Cert. – 116m

*****

Seven children are sucked via mirrors in their homes into a mysterious castle perched high above a sea, presided over by a wolf queen, and prowled by a hungry wolf at night

Mondays: See You ‘This’ Week

Director – Ryo Takebayashi – 2022 – Japan – Cert. – 82m

****

A comedy in which a group of office workers must find a way to escape the week-long time loop in which they find themselves trapped

Monster

Director – Hirokazu Kore-eda – 2023 – Japan – Cert.… Read the rest

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Io Capitano
(Io Capitano)

Director – Matteo Garrone – 2023 – Italy – Cert. 12a – 121m

*****

Two teenage Senegalese boys set out on a journey to Europe and a better life – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 5th

Garrone’s earlier features (Gomorrah, 2008; Tale of Tales, 2015; Dogman, 2018; Pinocchio, 2019) have a particular, muted look, making considerable use of browns and, to a lesser extent, greys or greyish colours. These were all films set in Garrone’s native Italy, featuring characters with an Italian perspective of one sort or another. This new film eschews all that and, while it’s recognisably the work of the same director, exhibits a completely different colour palette in accordance with its different location. It’s brighter and much less dingy.

The different look very much fits with the different intent. Garrone wanted to deal with migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe, but portray the journey from the migrants’ perspective rather than that of their destination countries. So this starts with two teenage, Senegalese boys who want to run away to Europe and is made in various African dialects, with the main one spoken by the two boys being recognisable as French.… Read the rest

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Yannick
(Yannick)

Director – Quentin Dupieux – 2023 – France – Cert. – 67m

*****

An audience member, unhappy with the play currently being performed, hijacks it with a gun to write something more entertaining himself – on Mubi UK from Friday, April 5th

NSFW. Absolutely worth seeing.

A play, The Cuckold, is being performed at a two-thirds empty Paris theatre. In the play, the husband (Marmaï Pio from Daaaaaali!, Quentin Dupieux, 2023) had learned from his wife (Blanche Gardin from Smoking Causes Coughing, Quentin Dupieux, 2022) that she is seeing another man. Couldn’t she wait until the weekend to tell him?

Worse, the man is ill, having picked up some sort of stomach bug from Kenya. Finally, the man – Bruno (Sébastien Chassagne from Mars Express, Jérémie Périn, 2023; The Truth, Hirokzu Kore’eda, 2019; Eden, Mia Hansen-Løve, 2014) – comes back from the lavatory. The wife wants to leave with Bruno. The husband tries to talk him into staying. Perhaps a bite from the fridge? The wife doesn’t want him to open the fridge.

At this point, audience member Yannick (Raphaël Quenard from Jeanne du Barry, Maïwenn, 2023; Smoking Causes Coughing) stands up.… Read the rest

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Evil Does Not Exist
(Aku wa Sonzai Shinai,
悪は存在しない)

Director – Ryosuke Hamaguchi – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 106m

**

A small, unspoiled village community is visited by two representatives of a company planning to set up a glamping facility – out in UK cinemas on Friday, April 5th

This starts and ends with a journey on foot through a forest with a viewpoint looking up at the branches of trees as quiet, meditative and arresting music by Eiko Ishibashi plays on the soundtrack.

A young girl of about eight (was it her viewpoint?) wanders through the woods.

A man chainsaws chopped tree trunks into small logs, then takes them near to his house to chop them for firewood. He puts several big, plastic cans in his car boot and drives out to a stream to fill them with water. Kazuo drops by to help the man load the filled bottles into his car. They hear gunshots, which the first man remarks he heard they were hunting in Kunihara.

At this point the first man Takumi (Hitoshi Omika) realises he’s forgotten to pick up his daughter from daycare, and drives over there to discover she’s given up waiting and walked home along. He finds her in the forest and gives Hana (Ryo Nishikawa), for that is her name, a piggyback home.… Read the rest

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Typhoon Club
(Taifu Kurabu,
台風クラブ)

Director – Shinji Somai – 1985 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 115m

*****

A group of teenagers is trapped inside their school by a typhoon – screenings around the UK and Ireland from Wednesday, April 3rd; also available on Blu-ray from Third Window Films

A film about teenagers which uses tropical weather conditions – in this instance, an approaching and then all-encompassing typhoon – as a catalyst for exploring character. Its bravura visual style engages from the get-go, with a shot looking across a swimming pool between two ropes of a lane with a child swimmer.

Thursday. A bunch of girls in bathing costumes including Yasuko (Tomoko Aizawa) lark about outside in what is obviously hot and humid weather – one runs through a shallow pool and turns on a water spray to catch the others as they follow, but soon their tomfoolery looks like it may have dire consequences as they all but drown the boy pool swimmer Akira (Toshiyuki Matsunaga). Fortunately, Kyoichi Mikami (Yuichi Mikami), who turns up with his friend Ken (Shigeru Benibayashi) in tow, is able to sort the situation out by administering artificial respiration.

Later, Akira and Mikami, with Ken smoking between the pair of them, hang out on a bamboo scaffolding structure discussing girls, including Yasuko’s lesbian activities with another girl.… Read the rest

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Hoarder on the Border
(Danshari Paradise,
断捨離パラダイス)

Director – Takayuki Kayano – 2022 – Japan – 101m

****

A failed pianist takes on a job at a cleaning company which specialises in decluttering houses filling up with rubbish – played UK cinemas in the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2024 between Friday, 2nd February and Sunday, 31st March

Promising young pianist Ritsuke Shirotaka (Ryo Shinoda), whose mantelpiece is adorned with prizes he won in school, can’t carry on due to hand tremors. His girlfriend pushes him towards eking out a living giving piano lessons, but that isn’t enough to stop her abandoning him.

In need of gainful employment, he interviews for and gets a job at cleaning company Danshari Paradise. (Note: Danshari is a Japanese philosophy of decluttering, based on principles that have been around in that culture a long time.)

This is a whole new world to him, and he must learn on the job. The houses or flats that the company deals with are typically places where you can’t see the floor for items of clothing and packaging that have been discarded there.

On his first assignment with such a team, Ritsuke attempts to physically pull blockages from a kitchen sink, only for a female colleague to pull him aside and pour liquid down the plughole to clear it.… Read the rest

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Restore Point
(Bod Obnovy)

Director – Robert Hloz – 2023 – Czech Republic – Cert. 15 – 113m

*****

A detective investigates the murder of a couple, one of who helped create the technology for restoring people to life after they die – thought-provoking SF thriller is out UK on digital on Monday, April 1st

In essence this is a crime movie about corporate conspiracy and murder, but with a difference putting it into the real of science fiction – although given the speed at which current technological advances are taking place, it’s the sort of thing one can imagine being reality in a matter of years. It’s set in the not too distant future of Central Europe 2041, where technology has been developed to back up people to restore them to life should they die. This has been guaranteed by the State for anyone dying a violent, unnatural death following an increase in violent crime. This in turn is the result of growing social and economic inequality (an element not explored beyond an introductory intertitle on the screen).

This allows for fascinating plot variants to the crime genre. If someone is shot dead, they can be brought back to life within 48 hours – provided they have a backup and only so far as that backup is up-to-date.… Read the rest

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Concrete Utopia
(Konkeuriteu Yutopia,
콘크리트 유토피아)

Director – Eom Tae-hwa – 2023 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 130m

****1/2

A massive earthquake makes the residents of the sole Seoul apartment block still standing close their doors to survivors outside – out on UK digital platforms on Monday, April 1st

Concrete: a structural material made of aggregate, cement, and water. (Definition from Encyclopedia Britannica.) Harsh. Unyielding. Impenetrable. Opaque. Not alive. Commonly used in today’s world in the manufacture of buildings, and associated with Brutalist architecture.

Utopia: an ideal community whose inhabitants exist under seemingly perfect conditions. (Definition from Encyclopedia Britannica.) The English word derives from two Greek words, the compound meaning of which is nowhere. Hence, “seemingly”. Utopias tend to have some fatal flaw. If they didn’t, any story about them would lack dramatic conflict. Thus, the word carries within it a degree of irony.

The eponymous montage of these two words pits them against each other: an unyielding, dead physicality confronts the optimism of a better world. The title evokes JG Ballard’s novels Concrete Island (1974) and High-Rise (1975), the former about a stranded motorist struggling to survive on a spaghetti junction after a car accident, the latter about a newly built block of flats in which the residents descend through social breakdown towards a new order.… Read the rest