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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Where Is Anne Frank

Director – Ari Folman – 2022 – Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Israel – Cert. PG – 99m

*****

In Amsterdam, a year from now, her imaginary friend Kitty sets out to discover what happened to Anne Frank – out in cinemas on Friday, August 12th

Amsterdam, Holland, about a year from now. Early in the morning, the usual tourist queues are assembling outside the Anne Frank House, passing a tent housing refugees on the pavement. Inside, something strange happens as a glass case shatters and the original copy of Anne’s diary is exposed to ink from a pen, affecting the ink writing on the pages and materialising Kitty (voice: Ruby Stokes), the imaginary pen-friend to whom Anne addressed her diary.

The materialised Kitty is perplexed. Where is Anne Frank? What has happened to her, to the house? The staff, too, are perplexed. They can’t let the waiting crowds in with the case broken, but those people have been queueing for hours and it seems wrong not to open up for them. After a brief debate a solution is found and the diary moved to Anne’s room where it is placed on the desk where it naturally sits. The concerns of the house staff seem trivial compared to those of Kitty.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Feast (Gwledd)

Director – Lee Haven Jones – 2021 – UK (Wales) – Cert. 18 – 93m

**

The well-heeled wife of a local MP hires a maid to serve a meal for guests, but then things go horribly wrong – shot in the Welsh language and out in cinemas on Friday, August 19th

It’s unusual to see a film executed completely in the Welsh language, and for pulling that off, the makers of The Feast are to be congratulated. Unfortunately, apart from that element and its striking visual palette, this fails to engage.

In rural Wales, well-heeled Glenda (Nia Roberts) is preparing to have guests over for the evening. Unfortunately, the girl she usually hires from the pub is unavailable, so she’s taken a replacement, Cadi (Annes Elwy), another girl who works there and comes highly recommended. However, Cadi is an unknown quantity and the woman doesn’t really trust her – and won’t do so unless Cadi can do something to earn that trust.

The woman and her family don’t feel like the sort of people you’d want to have anything to do with if you could avoid them. From Cadi’s point of view, she is most definitely not trusted by the woman who hired her, and feels most definitely an outsider.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Thirteen Lives

Director – Ron Howard – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 147m

****

A dramatisation of the 2018 Thailand boys’ football team cave rescue, with the rescuers played by name actors– out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th and globally on Amazon on Friday, August 5th

In 2018, the world held its breath when the 12 boys of a football team and their 24-year-old coach became trapped in a cave when rain fell unexpectedly and water levels within the cave system started to rise. Incredibly, the ensuing rescue attempt involving divers from the US, UK, Ireland and Canada got all 13 out alive. According to the informational titles at the end of this film, sadly, there was one fatality among the Thai Navy SEAL divers involved in the rescue (shown in the film) and another death in that group later as the result of a contracted infection.

The story captivated the world, which held its breath as the days went by after the boys first became trapped by the water flooding the cave. For over a week, it wasn’t even known whether they were still alive. When they were located, alive and well, the question loomed large as to whether they would be able to get out alive.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Cave Rescue

Director – Tom Waller – 2022 – Thailand – US Cert. PG-13 – 99m

****

A Thai-based dramatisation of the 2018 Thailand boys’ football team cave rescue, with some of the rescuers playing themselves – out in cinemas, on demand and on digital (all US only) on Friday, August 5th

In 2018, the world held its breath when the 12 boys of a football team and their 24-year-old coach became trapped in a cave when rain fell unexpectedly and water levels within the cave system started to rise. Incredibly, the ensuing rescue attempt involving divers from the US, UK, Ireland and Canada got all 13 out alive. According to this film, sadly, there was one fatality among the Thai Navy SEAL divers involved in the rescue.

Quick off the mark, Thailand-based producer-director Waller made the story into a feature film The Cave (2019), aimed at the Thai market. With Netflix having already secured the rights to the boys’ stories – a miniseries Thai Cave Rescue (2022) is coming to Netflix US in September 2022 – Waller and his co-writers had to find an alternative route to telling the story. A meeting with Irish diver Jim Warny, who was involved in the rescue operation, resulted in the decision to base the narrative not around the thirteen people trapped underground but the men and women who attempted to get them out (mostly men, although there are one or two women featured among the paramedics not to mention an assistant to the local Governor).… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Fadia’s Tree

Directors – Sarah Beddington, Susan Simnett – 2021 – UK – Cert. U – 84m

***1/2

A friendship between British artist Sarah and Palestinian refugee Fadia sparks the former into a search for a tree in the latter’s village to which she is currently unable to return – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 5th

Sometimes less is more. This takes what is essentially a very simple idea and runs with it to its logical conclusion. Fadia Loubani is a Palestinian born and living in Beirut’s Barajneh refugee camp. Her refugee status prevents her from visiting the part of what was then Palestine and now Northern Israel from which her family originally came. Even though the village of Sa’Sa’ is only about 15 miles away, it can only be accessed by a far longer round trip, the final part of which involves crossing a border which her status won’t permit. In this village is her father’s house and a mulberry tree that sits opposite it. If Fadia could achieve one thing in her life, it would be to visit Sa’Sa’ and find both the tree and the house.

She originally struck up a friendship with Sarah Beddington in a Beirut restaurant, subsequently introducing the artist to the community in her refugee camp.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Bullet Train

Director – David Leitch – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 126m

***

A man boards a bullet train in Tokyo to steal a suitcase only to be prevented from leaving the train every time he tries to get off it – lightweight action thriller is out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, August 3rd

This adaptation of mystery writer Kotoro Isaka’s 2010 novel, for which the Japanese title literally translates as Maria Beetle, concerns five assassins, each with their separate agenda, who board a bullet train. The film casts Westerners in many of these roles, repopulating the film with an international cast of Americans, Brits and Japanese. Brad Pitt as the lead obviously has box office clout, and is as watchable as ever in this film, however the film has inevitably been accused of whitewashing (even though ‘white’ here would seem to include Puerto Rican and African-American).

The producers here seem to think Japanese high speed rail journeys will draw international audiences but entirely Japanese characters will not. Whether or not they’re correct, casting the film the way they have reinforces this notion. Who else could have done it, you ask? Off the top of my head, I can think of three Hong Kong Chinese, any of whom would work: Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan or Tony Leung Chiu-wai.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Paris, Texas

Director – Wim Wenders – 1984 – US – Cert. 15 – 145m

*****

A constantly inventive movie in which a man returns after four years’ absence to bond with his seven-year-old son and seek out his disappeared wife – back out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th

Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) stumbles out of the desert in Southern Texas having disappeared to Mexico for four years following the collapse of his marriage. During this time, the estranged couple’s seven-year-old son Hunter (Hunter Carson) has been living with Travis’ brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) and wife Anne (Aurore Clement) who he understandably thinks of as his parents. Walt coaxes Travis into re-establishing his paternal relationship with the boy. When Travis decides to track down disappeared wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski), who has been sending Walt and Anne money for the child from a bank in Houston, the child talks him into letting him tag along.

Although it starts with Travis walking, and much of the early part of the film takes place in and around Walt and Anne’s home, it’s very much a road movie with a great deal of the narrative taking place in cars and pickup trucks.

The film caused a sensation when it came out in the UK over 35 years ago.… Read the rest

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Hit The Road (Jaddeh Khaki)

Director – Panah Panahi – 2021 – Iran – Cert. 12a – 93m

****

Four in a car. An Iranian family drive across Iran towards the Turkish border, for reasons that will only later become clear – out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th

A family of four – dad (Hassan Madjooni), mum (Pantea Panahiha), elder son (Amin Simiar), younger son (Rayan Sarlak) plus family dog Jessy – are driving across Iran towards the Turkish border. Actually, when we first meet them, they’ve stopped at a lay-by. That opening, combined with the title, doesn’t leave you in much doubt that this is going to be a road movie. We take an instant shining to the younger son, an irrepressible six-year-old who plays air piano on the keyboard drawn on the plaster cast around his sleeping father’s leg.

A bit of a rogue, this one: mum and dad have left their mobile phones at home as instructed, but six has brought his with him (he denies it, but the ringtone is a giveaway: it turns out he’s hidden it in his underwear and we should probably be thankful the director didn’t make this film in Odorama). Mum takes the phone away and buries it, but later on in the journey, he’s trying to buy another one.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Fire Of Love

Director – Sara Dosa – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 93m

The volcano footage *****
(and there’s lots of it, plus footage of the volcanologists themselves)

The brief animated inserts ***1/2

Almost everything else **

The 25-year career of the late volcanologist couple Katia and Maurice Krafft is explored through their extensive film archive of volcanic activity – out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th

There have been volcano movies before, but nothing quite like this. Most of them fall into the disaster movie category, with the better ones (The Last Days Of Pompeii, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1935; Dante’s Peak, Roger Donaldson, 1997) delivering incredible visual effects. The force of nature that is the volcano is obviously extremely dangerous to film so you can understand why film producers would want to recreate images of the phenomenon for the big screen rather than attempt to go out and film them.

This current film, however, is not a fictional feature in that mould but something entirely different: a documentary. It perfectly fits the remit of its distributor National Geographic of “exploring, illuminating, and protecting the wonder of our world”. It’s ostensibly a film about two real life volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft who first met in 1966 and died in an volcanic blast in 1991.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The Deer King (Shika no Ou: Yuna to Yakusoku no Tabi, 鹿の王 ユナと約束の旅)

Directors – Masashi Ando, Masayuki Miyaji – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 113m

**

The conquerors of a foreign land succumb to a mysterious plague there – out in cinemas on Wednesday, July 27th

This starts off with clearly epic intentions by throwing line after line of convoluted plot at the viewer in rapid fire, confusing intertitles. The kingdom of Aqifa was once ravaged by the Empire of Zol until the Black Wolf Fever prevented Zol from entering Fire Horse Territory. Today, the Black Wolf Fever is believed a thing of the past. Okay, got that? If not, you’ll be in trouble because the narrative is all about Zolians, Aquafaese and wolves and while the images are often ravishingly beautiful to look at, visually arresting eye candy in background or character design is never enough of itself to propel the story forward.

It continues piling on plot information like this for about half an hour. To make matters worse, an insistent cod-Gaelic score is overlaid over the images much of the time, and it seems composed to draw attention to itself rather than advance the story in any way.

Aquafaese toil in a salt mine (someone happens to mention some time afterwards that the mineral being mined is salt, otherwise you wouldn’t know) under sadistic guards while in the depths wolves attack and infest the slave workers whose skin comes out in purple blotches before they die.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Red Angel (Akai Tenshi, 赤い天使)

Director – Yasuzo Masumura – 1966 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 95m

An army nurse is sent to China – as a slogan in one of the film’s trailers puts it, “on the battlefield where life and death is decided.”

Full Blu-ray review published at All The Anime.

In 1939, for her first posting, Nurse Sakura Nishi (Ayako Wakao) is sent to Tianjin Army Hospital. A number of the male patients appear to be faking medical conditions so as to escape the front line, where Japanese casualties are heavy. When she first does her rounds, Private Sakamoto (Jotaro Senba) and a number of the other men are very forward and ask her a lot of personal questions.

Much worse is to come, however, because when she does her night rounds, she finds herself trapped in the men’s dorm and raped by Sakamoto while the others hold her down. Reporting this incident to the head nurse (Ranko Akagi), Nishi learns she’s this soldier’s third victim. The head nurse resolves to have Sakamoto sent back to the front.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Nishi is then posted to a front-line hospital where medics go through the incoming wounded, pronouncing them dead or designating them for surgery, for which read amputation.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Directors – Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 127m

*****

A warm and compelling look at the life of writer Kurt Vonnegut, the influence upon him of the bombing of Dresden, and his decades-long friendship with director Weide – out in cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday, July 22nd

Read my shorter review for Reform magazine.

The documentary Weide eventually made about Vonnegut took him the best part of four decades to complete. Weide opens with a statement about Vonnegut walking in the woods, feeling a tree and seeing the bombing of Dresden before it occurred. There seems no reason to doubt Vonnegut. He was unstuck in time, jumping around the years and decades. Weide first contacted him in 1982, never imagining that it would take him anything like as long to complete the film as it did. He starts looking at interviews of himself (“who wants to see a documentary in which a filmmaker appears as himself?”, he asks) – defined by where they were shot or what shirt Weide was wearing at the time.

Whatever else Vonnegut and his writing are, they are not conventional. He punctuates his verbal outpourings with little doodle drawings.… Read the rest

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Where The Crawdads Sing

Director – Olivia Newman – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 125m

***1/2

A young woman who grew up alone in the North Carolina Marshlands is the prime suspect for a murder she may or may not have committed – out in cinemas on Friday, July 22nd

The body of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is discovered having fallen to his death from an old, 63’ high viewing platform. But did he fall or was he pushed? The reclusive, local outcast and so-called ‘Marsh Girl’ Kya Clarke (Daisy Edgar-Jones) swiftly becomes the prime suspect after sheriffs find a red, woolly hat at her house, a fibre from which matches one found on Chase’s corpse.

As the investigation proceeds in the generic form of a whodunit by way of a courtroom drama, with the kindly Tom Milton (David Strathairn) as her self-appointed defence attorney against the state prosecutor in her jury trial, the narrative spilts into two separate strands, with the story of Kya’s personal history from childhood to the then present day of 1969 running in parallel until… well, refusing to divulge spoilers forbids me from saying, except that the final reel and the ending are arguably the most satisfying part of this engrossing movie.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Transformed by an atrocity

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time
Directed by Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott
Certificate 15
Released 22 July (cinemas and digital platforms)

Full review published in Reform magazine.

The late Kurt Vonnegut claims that after touching a tree trunk he saw the bombing of Dresden before it actually happened, and it’s easy to believe him. His whole life, he says, has been unstuck in time. Born in Indianapolis in 1922, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was shipped off as a POW to Dresden, a bustling metropolis unlike anything he’d previously seen. He survived the Allied bombing of that city inside an underground meat locker and emerged to see it razed to the ground. The Germans had him and fellow prisoners search for bodies amongst the ruins.

Back in the States… [Read the rest at Reform magazine]

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is out in cinemas and on Altitude Film digital platform in the UK from Friday, July 22nd.

Read my longer review.

Adaptation of Vonnegut’s Mother Night (writer-producer Robert B. Weide, 1996) – review.

Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018) also covers the bombing of Dresden – review.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Bergman Island

Director – Mia Hansen-Løve – 2021 – France, Belgium, Germany – Cert. 15 – 112m

First half *****

Second half **

A working, filmmaking couple spend time on the island where celebrated director Ingmar Berman lived, now a niche tourist attraction based around his life and movies – out exclusively on MUBI from Friday, July 22nd

Two writer-directors who are also a couple Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) fly in to spend time and write at the Bergman Estate on Fårö Island in the Baltic Sea, just off the coast of Sweden. This is the site that legendary Swedish film and theatre director Ingmar Bergman left as a legacy to the world, where people could apply for residencies to help in their creative or academic work, watch his films on 35mm and browse his personal audio, video and book library. Chris and Tony thus find themselves alone in Bergman’s private viewing theatre watching Cries And Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972).

Both are involved with screenplays: when he’s over at the Bergman Centre, she sneaks a look in his large notebook entitled ‘F’ which contains extensive notes and erotic drawings veering towards the sadomasochistic. On a later occasion, she stands him up by not joining the Bergman Safari coach tour around the island, complete with a tour guide describing the site where Through A Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961) plays on a screen.… Read the rest

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The Railway Children (1970)

Director – Lionel Jeffries –1970 – UK – Cert. U – 109m

****1/2

After their father is arrested and the family plunged into poverty, three siblings and their mother leave London for the Yorkshire countryside – now on BBC iPlayer until around mid-August, also recently back out in cinemas for one day only on Sunday, July 3rd

E. Nesbit’s book The Railway Children, set in 1905, has been filmed several times, most notably as the BBC TV series of 1968 and Lionel Jeffries’ 1970 cinema film, both of which starred Jenny Agutter as the eldest of three children sent from the city to Oakworth in Yorkshire. What is arguably the 1968 and 1970 version’s most memorable sequence has the children stand on train tracks waving red flags to stop an oncoming train and prevent an accident after a tree falls on the line ahead.

My parents used to sit me and my younger brother down and make us watch Sunday teatime BBC classic serials, something which has engendered a deep seated dislike within me for both filmed costume drama and literature considered worthy enough to film. I found the former stodgy and suspect the latter may be more to do with BBC cultural filters than anything else.… Read the rest

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Run

Tramps like us

Run
Directed by Scott Graham
Certificate 15, 77 minutes
Released 13 March
2020

Now on BBC iPlayer until early November 2022, also on BFI Player subscription and iTunes. Review first published in Reform, March 2020.

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

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

Now on BBC iPlayer until early November 2022, also on BFI Player subscription and iTunes.… Read the rest

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Documentary Exhibitions Features Live Action Movies

Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema

A virtual exhibition of Hong Kong movie unit photography stills

*****

Accessible from Friday, July 8th to Sunday, August 14th in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Making Waves

The online platform hosting the exhibition

Funny things, virtual exhibitions. Like online platforms for viewing movies, they can take a bit of getting used to. In a real life exhibition in a museum, you wander from room to room, either looking at everything or, perhaps, looking at particular exhibits that take your fancy or that you want to study in further depth.

All that happens too in an online exhibition. I guess they can be viewed on a smartphone, but I was looking at this on my PC. There are help instructions on the menu, but I, like many others I suspect, ignored them and worked out how it all worked as I was going round.

I must have seen quite a bit of the whole before I realised that the best way to proceed might well be the ‘previous’ and ‘next’ buttons taking you from exhibit to exhibit. Before that, I’d worked out that if you clicked on a photographic image hanging on the gallery wall, your viewpoint / the screen / the camera would zoom in on the exhibit and frame it perfectly.… Read the rest

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Chilli Laugh Story (闔家辣)

Director – Coba Cheng – 2022 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12a – 94m

****

A young man successfully markets his mother’s chilli sauce in the pandemic lockdown until the lucrative business it unexpectedly generates is taken off him– out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, July 15th and in the US and Canada on Friday, July 22nd

This starts off with a very sweet – no, make that spicy – memory of 2002 when Coba Cheng (Edan Lui Cheuk-On) was a small boy of five and visited his mum’s village where he tried her chilli sauce for the first time. It burned his mouth, but was always a part of his life from then on.

Jump to mid-2020. Hong Kong, like everywhere else, is in the middle of the pandemic. Coba is now working his job from home, and he and his parents are struggling to live with each other in the same enforced space. His dad Alan (Ronald Cheng) is engaged in a no-way forward argument with a delivery man in a surgical mask who won’t tell him what the unknown package is until dad has paid the delivery fee, which dad won’t do until he knows what it is, which Mr.… Read the rest

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The Railway Children Return

Director – Morgan Matthews – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 98m

***1/2

Almost four decades after the events in The Railway Children, three siblings are evacuated from the wartime bombing raids of Salford to the safer Yorkshire countryside– out in cinemas on Friday, July 15th

In 1944, with Britain at war and German bombing intensifying, children are being evacuated from the cities to the countryside, leaving their parents to live with substitute parents and / or families for the duration. Thus, in Salford, their mother puts Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Angela (Jessica Baglow) and Ted (Zac Cudby) on a train to the small country town of Oakworth in Yorkshire. Arriving with many other children, they wait to be assigned to a family.

However, because there are three of them – and possibly also because Angela has got rid of the smart dress that her mother made her wear for a more comfortable outfit – no family is forthcoming. So grandmother Bobbie (Jenny Agutter, reprising her role from The Railway Children, Lionel Jeffries, 1970) persuades her daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith), the local headmistress, to take the trio even though the latter isn’t sure they can manage three, and the three children move in to their new home, The Three Chimneys.… Read the rest

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The Good Boss (El Buen Patrón)

Director – Fernando León de Aranoa – 2021 – Spain – Cert. 15 – 116m

***1/2

With a prestigious business competition coming up, a factory boss must keep the judges from stumbling upon his personal and corporate dirty laundry – out in cinemas on Curzon Home Cinema on Friday, July 15th

Any day now, the local committee will descend upon the Blanco Scales factory to see if the business should receive the prize money for an upcoming good business award. No-one knows exactly when they are likely to turn up, though, least of all Blanco (Javier Bardem) himself. So, clearly everything needs to be in good order to impress the judges when they turn up. Which should be fine, because Blanco prides himself in looking out for his work force and the company is one big, benevolent, happy family.

Except that it isn’t, because although Blanco sees it that way, the reality is that he only cares for his workforce insofar as doing so will enhance their productivity. He fires dissatisfied employee Jose (Óscar de la Fuente) who promptly sets up camp outside the factory gates – on land Blanco doesn’t own so he can’t evict him – and proceeds to chant anti-Blanco slogans on a daily basis.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Donna

Director – Jay Bedwani – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 75m

***1/2

A look at the everyday life of Donna Personna, a trans activist from a Baptist background living in San Francisco – released in cinemas and on Bohemia Euphoria on Friday, July 15th

This threw me at first because it appears to be partly Welsh funded yet it’s about someone living in San Francisco. No matter. The seventysomething Donna Personna is first seen powdering her face and telling a story from her youth about getting her sister’s boyfriend to kiss him when she wasn’t around. She seems a genial person, who I would imagine is a lot of fun to be around in real life and a perfect subject for the camera who lights up the screen whenever she’s on it (which is most of the time).

What’s great about this film, for a non-trans viewer, is that it gives an idea of what it‘s like to be trans, both in terms of day to day living and upbringing. It doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind, rather it just wants to show how life is for someone like Donna. Her father was a Christian minister and her mother (not surprisingly) a minister’s wife who between them had a total of 15 kids!… Read the rest

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Breakout Brothers (To Yuk Hing Dai, 逃獄兄弟)

Director – Mak Ho-pong – 2020 – Hong Kong – 12 (Camden Council) – 90m

****

Three prison inmates attempt to escape so that they can attend to various pressing, personal issues– online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Making Waves from Friday, July 8th to Sunday, July 10th

The generic side of Hong Kong movies (kung fu, supernatural, swordplay, gangster, horror, comedy) has long been one of the strengths of that territory’s film production. This one has already spawned two sequels (Breakout Brothers 2, 2021 and Breakout Brothers 3, 2022, both Mak Ho-pong). In essence, it’s deceptively simple: three inmates in prison attempt to break out. This is hardly an original concept, however two elements makes it different.

One, it’s conceived and shot as a caper movie. It’s not really a comedy, but it most definitely has a lightweight feel. This is brilliantly established from the get-go with the introduction of the score by Pong Chow and Noel Li, which follows a long tradition of themes in caper movies and TV series typified by Mission: Impossible (composed by Lalo Schifrin, 1966) with its driving yet off-kilter bass-line. In Breakout Brothers, this is accompanied by a striking, graphic,opening title sequence as good as that for Collectors (Park Jung Bae, 2020), the difference here being that Breakout Brothers lives up to the promise of its superlative title sequence whereas Collectors doesn’t.… Read the rest

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The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent

Director – Tom Gormican – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 105m

****

Down on his luck, actor Nick Cage (playing himself) accepts the job of spending time at a fan’s house for one million dollars, unaware that his host is a crime lord pursued by the CIA – on digital Friday, July 8th and SteelBook, 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD Monday, July 11th

This unusual entry in the ‘actor playing themselves’ genre is effectively the movie equivalent of fan fiction. That might sound disparaging, but that’s not at all what I mean.

Obsessed with the actor Nic Cage and his movies, writer-director Gormican has written this: a movie in which a character called Nick Cage (Nic Cage playing a version of himself) is an actor down on his luck, desperate to get a part for which he’s just auditioned and which he believes will revitalise his flagging career. He needs this part. He’s heavily in debt. His ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) wants him to spend more time with their teenage daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen), specifically, listening to her, since he spends most of his time spouting off about his own career in particular or movies in general.

When the part he’s after falls through, he decides to take the other offer from his agent Fink (Neil Patrick Harris), the one where he gets a million dollars for hanging out with a rich fan.… Read the rest

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A Far Shore (Tooi Tokoro, 遠いところ)

Director – Masaaki Kudo – 2022 – Japan – 128m

****

An underage Okinawa bar hostess attempts to raise her small son while worsening circumstances conspire against her – world premiere in the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) 2022 which runs from Friday, July 1st to Saturday, July 9th

A man in Okinawa club Night Babylon asks her age of a hostess: “you don’t seem very old”. It turns out the girls in question are under 18 (the legal age limit for working there; in Japan, it’s also illegal to consume alcohol under the age of 20). In fact, these girls are 17 and proud of the fact that in “wild Okinawa”, the hostesses in bars are so young. The hostesses in question are Aoi (Kotono Hanase) and her friend Mio (Yumemi Ishida), and when not working, they like to party hard, for instance to celebrate a friend’s birthday, which involves much drinking and dancing in a club. There don’t appear to be any men in their immediate peer group: they’re all women.

Once she returns home from her club night shift, Aoi calls in on her grandmother to pick up her two-year-old son Kengo (Tsuki Hasegawa).… Read the rest

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Brian And Charles

Director – Jim Archer – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 91m

***1/2

In rural Wales, an eccentric inventor builds a robot companion out of odds and ends, contends with the local bully and finds love – out in cinemas on Friday, July 8th, previews from Wednesday, July 6th

Welcome to the reclusive world of Brian (David Earl), an inventor in rural Wales who builds things in his shed. Scouring the area for piles of discarded junk, he repurposes bits and pieces in such objects as a flying cuckoo clock – if you’re wondering what the time is, you just look up in the sky and it tells you – which has wings, is powered by a bicycle and looks like it’ll never actually fly. June (Cara Chase), the friendly owner of the local store, is perturbed to see him trailing nets behind shoes.

Finding a mannequin head, he combines it with a washing machine for a body to create an ungainly, seven foot tall robot, Charles (Chris Hayward). Charles has an insatiable habit to finding out things about the world around him, and would ideally like to go travelling. Brian doesn’t think this is a good idea because the world isn’t a nice place.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Nitram

Director – Justin Kurzel – 2022 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A drama re-imagining of the events in the life of a young man leading up to Tasmania’s 1996 Port Arthur Massacre – out in cinemas on Friday, July 1st

This extraordinary character study starts off with a sense of foreboding which never really lets up. Children are interviewed at the Royal Tasmania Hospital’s Burns Unit and asked how their accidents occurred. We expect cautionary tales of lessons learned. But the second child interviewed states matter-of-factly that he still plays with firecrackers, Then we see Nitram (Caleb Landry Jones) as a grown youth, some years later, doing exactly that in the garden of the house in which he lives with his parents, to the annoyance not only to his parents who have to put up with it but also to the neighbours.

His mum (Judy Davis), worn down by years of such behaviour, insists Nitram surrender the fireworks to his father (Anthony LaPaglia) who is weighed down by financial worries – he needs to get a loan off the bank – and ineffectual at discipline. She also insists he put his filthy overalls in the wash (and they are pretty disgusting) before sitting down to eat dinner with them, which he then does, returning to the table in his underpants, which she lets pass with no comment since he’s complied.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Minions: The Rise Of Gru

Directors – Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, Jonathan del Val – 2022 – US – Cert. U – 87m

***1/2

Three plots involving the Minions, their pre-teen, supervillain master Gru and a gang of supervillains called Vicious 6 compete with each other – out in cinemas on Friday, July 1st

This starts off bravely for a franchise entry with the introduction of a raft of six new supervillains who comprise the gang Vicious 6, their names thrown at the audience in rapid-fire vignettes too fast too absorb, suggesting the makers have half an eye on freeze-frameable, home viewing platforms and half an eye on merchandising. The fabulous, motorbiking Belle Bottom (voice: Taraji P. Henson) who appears to have wandered in from 1970s blaxploitation with enormous Afro hair and disco diva clothing is the main focus of an enthralling car chase in which she outwits the cops with incredible stunts.

Her co-villains are voiced mostly by a roster of action stars known for that rather than animation voice work: the crab-pincered Jean Clawed (voice: Jean-Claude Van Damme), the Scandinavian-sounding Svengeance (voice: Dolph Lundgren), Stronghold (voice: Danny Trejo) and nunchaku-wielding nun Nunchuk (Lucy Lawless).

(A quick aside: older readers will recall that back in the 1970s, nunchaku were a no-no for the BBFC who would prune their use or even excise them altogether, sometimes in the most innocuous of contexts.… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies

Benedetta

Director – Paul Verhoeven – 2021 – France – Cert. tbc – 131m

*****

A 17th Century nun subject to religious visions embarks on a lesbian relationship with a novice – exclusively on MUBI from Friday, July 1st

Christianity. The Church. Religion. Treat them the wrong way, and you can get into trouble. Horror The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), drama The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) and comedy Life Of Brian (Terry Jones, 1971) remain controversial. Lesbian nun relationship drama Benedetta may be about to join their ranks. Or perhaps times have moved on. The film is apparently based on a real 17th Century case.

As a young girl, Benedetta (Elena Plonka) claims to commune with the Divine – convincingly so, too, enough to suggest to a bandit gang about to rob her parents and her that a chirping bird is God’s voice, especially when said bird deposits excrement in the eye of the bandit leader who promptly returns a gold necklace to Benedetta’s mother.

On arrival at the convent in Pescia, Benedetta’s father (David Clavel) must pay the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling who seems to have cornered the market in Reverend Mothers judging by Dune, Denis Villeneuve, 2021) a dowry to enable his daughter to become a novice, which suggests that the institution, like the wealthy Catholic Church under whose umbrella it exists, may have ignored Jesus’ injunction to sell all you have and give to the poor.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Princess

Director – Ed Perkins – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 109m

**

The story of Princess Diana told entirely through archive footage – out in cinemas on Thursday, June 30th

The strange thing about watching this documentary about the fairytale turned tragedy of Princess Diana, if you’re old enough to remember it unfolding over several decades, is that it takes you back to the news coverage removed from everything else that was happening in the world (or for that matter in your own life) at the time. To some extent, that’s a necessity of both storytelling and cinematic narrative.

At this point in the review, I could rehash the story as a synopsis of greater or lesser length. However, since rehashing the story is primarily what the film itself does, there seems little point in such an exercise. If you want to see this, you want to see this and little I can say about it will deter you.

What Perkins has done is to assemble a version of the story solely from archive footage: no vox pops from the great and the good to explain what was happening (although he does include the occasional piece of archive interview footage from Diana, Charles, or both together) or offer ‘expert’ or other insight.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Pompo The Cinéphile (Eiga Daisuki Pompo-san, 映画大好きポンポさん)

Director – Takayuki Hirao – 2021 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 94m

*****

A film buff working as a movie producer’s assistant is unexpectedly given the job of directing his first feature film– out in cinemas on Wednesday, June 29th

Much in Pompo The Cinéphile riffs off Roger Corman’s legendary working methods. It takes place in a fictional Tinseltown named Nyallywood (what’s with the name? are they worried about getting sued?) and has near its centre the eponymous Pompo (voice: Konomi Kohara from Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train, Haruo Sotozaki, 2020; Sword Art Online, series, 2012-) who looks like a sprightly young girl (and is exactly that in occasional flashbacks) but is, in fact, a seasoned, teenage (!) producer of exploitation movies (sample titles: Across The 8th Dimension, Guns Akimbo, Zombizarre) starring a busty blonde named Mystia (voice: Ai Kakuma) who is currently shooting a Summer movie titled Marine with lots of girls in revealing bikinis fleeing a giant tentacled beastie at the beach with which the gun-wielding Mystia will do battle: quite literally a ‘tits and tentacles’ show “with just the right amount of sex appeal.” Director Hirao is, after all, the man behind similarly exploitative anime Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack!Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Mad God

Director – Phil Tippett – 1987-2021 – US – 83m

*****

A man in a gas mask descends into a dark, dangerous world on a mysterious mission, encountering strange creatures, humanoids and societal constructs along the way – stop-frame epic 34 years in the making as of Tuesday, June 28th, has become the most watched premier of 2022 on Shudder, where it plays in both the UK and the US from Thursday, June 16th; also plays London’s Prince Charles Cinema Tuesday. July 5th to Friday, July 8th

My immediate reaction after watching this was two-fold. On the one hand, wow!!! On the other, how on earth do I put the experience of watching this into words? Mad God definitely has a structure, yet what’s amazing about it is the visuals, the animation, the effects. Even though I’m familiar with the work of its director Phil Tippett (as one of the heirs apparent to stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen in the world of visual effects – career highlights include RoboCop, 1987; Jurassic Park, 1993, Starship Troopers, 1997) this film is something altogether different (even if its roots can be seen in his VFX work).

Following the destruction of a tower resembling Babel in a black cloud, and a lengthy quotation purporting to be from Leviticus 26, a man in gas mask and protective clothing descends into the bowels of the world on a mission, the exact nature of which is never revealed.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Petrov’s Flu (Petrovy v Grippe)

Director – Kirill Serebrennikov – 2021 – Russia – Cert. 18 – 145m

*****

The stream of consciousness existence of an urban, Russian comic book artist who has the ‘flu – out on VoD on Tuesday, June 28th

Despite being under the weather with the ‘flu, city dweller Petrov (Semyon Serzin) is trying his best to carry on as normal. Not so easy when you’re out of it. His nightmare starts with a bus journey. A nine-year-old girl kindly offers him her seat, but before he’s sat down, someone else seems to have taken it. A misogynist old man talks to the girl, telling her that often girls her age are married off and possibly already cheating on their husbands.

in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday December 15, 2019. (Photo Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times)

Before the old misogynist knows it, someone has had the bus stopped so the he can be thrown off, losing his false teeth in the process which Petrov picks up and which subsequently function like an intermittent Greek chorus, albeit one that doesn’t make any particular sense, throughout the remainder of the narrative. Then Petrov’s mate Igor (Yuri Kolokolnikov), who’s been pursuing the bus in a hearse, complete with coffined corpse, stops it to commandeer Petrov off the bus and into shooting an automatic rifle at victims as part of an impromptu firing squad.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Wings Of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin)

Director – Wim Wenders – 1987 – Germany – Cert. PG – 128m

*****

Angels move around Berlin, watching over Berliners, until one of them sees a beautiful girl and decides he wants to become human and experience emotion for himself – out in cinemas on Friday, June 24th and playing on Film 4 from Wednesday, June 29th to Thursday, July 28th

This film is many things. It is, first and foremost, about angels, here captured in stunning black and white cinematography and represented as men moving invisibly among the population of Berlin, observing them, listening to their thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams, perhaps imparting some sort of spiritual comfort by a touch of the hand. And just as Henri Alekan’s camera photographs the actors playing angels, so too it photographs those Berliners they observe and comfort.

The iconic Hollywood actor Peter Falk – known to millions of TV viewers as the detective Columbo – plays himself playing a character on the set of a war film and hanging out between takes. The camera takes great pleasure in simply observing him doing what he does, for instance talking to an angel he can’t see (“I can’t see you, but I know you’re here”) which might be an attempt to communicate with invisible beings or might equally well be no more than an acting routine.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Belle (Ryu to Sobakasu no Hime, 竜とそばかすの姫)

Director – Mamoru Hosoda – 2021 – Japan – Cert. PG tbc – 121m

*****

A bereaved, teenage girl starts to emerge from her shell when she signs up for a virtual world on her smartphone – out on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, June 27th and 4K UHD Blu-ray including the soundtrack from Thursday, July 7th

‘U’ is an internet, virtual world of high tech, futuristic architecture. When you sign up, you receive your own personalised avatar built from your biometrics. You have the chance to start over in a new world.

Teenager Suzu (voice: Kaho Nakamura) could do with that chance. She lives with her dad (voice: Koji Yakusho from Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda, 2018; The Third Murder, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2017; Pulse, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001; Shall We Dance, Masayuki Suo, 1996; Tampopo, Juzo Itami, 1985) in a small town somewhere in the East of Japan. She doesn’t really communicate with people at her school – not Luka (Tina Tamashiro), the sax player in the school band, not Kamishin (Shota Sometani from To The Ends Of The Earth, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2019; First Love, Takashi Miike, 2019; Foreboding, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017; The Boy And The Beast, Mamoru Hosoda, 2015; Himizu, Sion Sono, 2011) who set up the canoe club but hasn’t been able to attract any members, not Shinobu (Ryo Narita) who proposed to her – well, told her he wanted to protect her – when she was six.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Luzzu

Director – Alex Camilleri – 2021 – Malta – Cert. 15 – 95m

****

As he repairs the small boat that’s been in his family for generations, a fisherman grapples with both his role as a new parent and the economic changes threatening his livelihood – on Curzon Home Cinema (CHC) from Monday, June 27th

While out on the sea in his small boat known as a ‘luzzu’, lone fisherman Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) notices water in the bottom of his boat and realises the vessel is in urgent need of repair. His friend David (David Scicluna) both helps him beach the craft in an appropriate location for doing the work and gives him work as crew on David’s more modern boat.

When they catch a swordfish out of season which must be thrown back according to EU regulations, Jes protests that it’s dead and no-one throws these fish back. David, mindful of his liability, phones the authorities to ask if they can keep it, then throws it back. Just as well, because an inspector (Anthony Ellul) checks the vessel on their return to port.

Taking their catch to market, where they are bottom of the pile, they watch the seller fail to interest buyers in their catch and then frantically hawk it around local restaurants in the hope of shifting it while still fresh, to no avail.… Read the rest

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Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Eric Ravilious: Drawn To War

Director – Margy Kinmonth – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 87m

***1/2

The career of the British watercolour artist tragically killed while serving as an official war artist in World War Two – out in cinemas on Friday, July 1st

The first official war artist to be commissioned in World War Two, Eric Ravilious was on an aircraft which set out from Iceland in 1942 and never came back. There is no exact record of what took place, covered by the phrase “missing in action”, but in all likelihood the plane went down in the sea. Kinmonth finds simple images to convey the incident, which appears in both her opening introduction to Ravilious’ life and her closing reel representing his passing – a warplane descending, our viewpoint falling towards the surface of the sea, an indistinct body moving in water filled with bubbles. At the end, the cold blue of the water contrasts with the gentler, rural green of the family house and surroundings back home.

After his death, Ravilious’ art was largely ignored. Alan Bennett, an admirer of the artist’s work, puts this down to the work’s cheerful and unthreatening nature and a prevailing view that art should grapple with dark and foreboding subject matter.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Elvis

Director – Baz Luhrmann – 2022 – US, Australia – Cert. 12a – 159m

***

Elvis Presley’s career from the mid-1950s through to his death in 1977, and his complex business relationship with his manager Colonel Tom Parker – out in cinemas on Friday, June 24th

Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), having a heart attack, reminisces to himself about his career. Many considered him the abuser and exploiter of the singer Elvis Presley, but that wasn’t the way it was. In the early 1950s, when Parker was managing the touring show of country singer Hank Snow (David Wenham), he heard Presley’s first recording on Sun Records though Hank’s son Jimmie Rodgers Snow (Kodi Smit-Mcphee), a singer in his own right who Parker didn’t think was anything like as good as his father.

Parker, an old time carnival showman, is always on the lookout for that one act that’s a little bit different, affects audiences and might well clean up at the box office. When he first sees Elvis (Austin Butler) perform, and notices young girls and older women going wild at the singer’s dance moves, he is convinced there’s money to be made and determines to sign him before someone else does.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Beyond The Mask

Directors – Jane Harris, Jimmy Edmonds – 2021 – UK – 60m

****

People talk about their experiences of bereavement in the light of the COVID-19 lockdown – now free to watch (donation suggested)

In March 2020, the unthinkable happened as the world entered a global pandemic. In the ensuing year or so many people lost their lives while many more felt and indeed still feel a sense of loss for the ’normal’ life that existed beforehand. Directors Harris and Edmonds are no strangers to bereavement having lost their son unexpectedly at age 22 while he was travelling abroad in 2013 and part of their process of dealing with it was to make the excellent documentary A Love That Never Dies (Jane Harris, Jimmy Edmonds, 2018) in which bereaved parents talk about their different experiences of losing children.

Not everyone has suffered the misfortune of losing a child, but if you’re reading this you will invariably have lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, at least thus far. This latter condition is universal. So, what does the experience of bereavement have to say to our current situation of the pandemic – or, for that matter, what does our current situation of the pandemic have to say to our experience of bereavement?… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Between Two Worlds (Ouistreham)

Director – Emmanuel Carrère – 2022 – France – Cert. 12a – 106m

****

A successful journalist goes undercover in Caen to pose as unemployed and get a job as a cleaner to write a book on conditions in the cleaning industry – out on BFI Player (rental) from Friday, June 24th

This opens at an unemployment office where Christèle (Hélène Lambert) insists on seeing a staff member without an appointment which swiftly develops into a full blown row as she asks, how am I supposed to feed my kids? This is a film about those at the bottom of the social pile, the women who work in the cleaning industry.

The tone shifts to something much quieter as Marianne Winckler (Juliette Binoche) is interviewed for work. She’s asked about the 23-year gap in her employment record, She was married, she explains, but then her husband moved his lover into the family home and the situation became intolerable. So she came to Caen and is now looking for work.

Given a job as a maintenance agent (i.e. cleaning lady), she finds herself on a crew with Christèle who teaches her the ropes. The amount of toilet cubicles that must be cleaned in a day requires the women work at speed, which means that the work isn’t always done to the employer’s satisfaction.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Lightyear

Director – Angus MacLane – 2021 – US – Cert. PG – 107m

**1/2

Stranded on a hostile planet, Buzz Lightyear sets out on a series of missions which eventually lead to his first confrontation with the evil Emperor Zurg – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now as a Screening Event on Friday, June 17th, and opens in UK cinemas the same day.

A caption at the start explains that this was the favourite film of child protagonist Andy (from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise) and the reason he got a Buzz Lightyear toy in the first place. Other than that, though, this is a completely separate and self-enclosed film.

As the literal meaning of its title implies, Lightyear delivers a narrative that races through vast periods of time at a stretch, so that we and ace space pilot Buzz Lightyear (voice: Chris Evans) and his colleague Alisha Hawthorne (voice: Uzo Aduba) land their spaceship on an unexplored planet which turns out to be populated with hostile life-forms, specifically (1) plant tendrils which burst out of the planet’s surface and try to drag anything they can back under the ground and (2) giant, flying bugs.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies Shorts

Memories (Memorizu, メモリーズ)

1/ Magnetic Rose (Kanojo no Omoide, 彼女の想いで)

2/ Stink Bomb (Saishu Heiki, 最臭兵器)

3/ Cannon Fodder (Taiho no Machi, 大砲の街)

Directors

– 1/ Koji Morimoto, 2/ Tensai Okamura, 3/ Katsuhiro Otomo

– 1995 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 113m

*****

Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now in the Annecy Classics section

The film that made Otomo’s name and the one with which he’s most frequently associated is Akira (1988). It wasn’t his first film, though. Previously, he was one of nine directors who collaborated on the uneven portmanteau Robot Carnival (1987), a compendium of different animated stories based around robots of various types. One of the other directors was Koji Morimoto.

Memories is loosely similar – it only has three stories (and three directors), allowing each of the segments a bit more room. Its three episodes are very different yet perfectly complement each other. Otomo directed the third section Cannon Fodder.

Parts of the roughly two hour Akira drag, while Otomo’s later Steamboy (2004) gets lost within a massive set piece after a near perfect opening first reel or so.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Everything Went Fine (Tout C’est Bien Passé)

Director – François Ozon – 2021 – France – Cert. 15 – 113m

*****

An elderly man recovering from a stroke enlists his two daughters to help him achieve assisted suicide and die with dignity – out in cinemas on Friday, June 17th

Emmanuèle Bernheim (Sophie Marceau) gets a phone call to say that her dad André Bernheim (André Dussollier), 85, is in hospital recovering from a stroke. She rushes to the hospital to meet her sister Pascale Bernheim (Géraldine Pailhas) in ER where he’s having an MRI scan. When they see him on the ward, mouth elongated on on side of his face, he can’t remember what happened. He has lost many everyday functions of his body.

While a fellow stroke survivor on his hospital ward makes rapid enough progress to soon be discharged, the less fortunate and initially bedridden André is moved to another hospital for more specialist treatment. Nevertheless, he eventually improves and in due course graduates to being sat in a chair in his room. Later still, he learns to use a wheelchair. His dietary abilities improve from initial intravenous drip feed through being spoon-fed mashed veg through to eating accompanied in a restaurant.

On one occasion early on when Emmanuèle visits him in hospital, she’s horrified to discover him lying in bed in his own excrement and immediately summons the manageress, who not only makes excuses about the amount of work required to look after a patient like this and how the hospital is short-staffed but also gives a personal assurance that this won’t happen again (and, indeed, no such further incident recurs).… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies Music

The Island

Director – Anca Damian – 2021 – Romania, France, Belgium – 84m

*****

A reimagining of the Robinson Crusoe story with Robinson as a doctor on an island where Friday is the only survivor of a refugee ship – from the Annecy 2022 Animation Festival in the Official Competition section

The story of Robinson Crusoe, the man shipwrecked on a desert island befriended by a native he calls Friday, is here turned on its head by director Damian (Marona’s Fantastic Tale, 2019) bringing to life a clever script using an inventive mixture of 2D and CG animation techniques. Robinson (voiced by musician Alexander Bălănescu, who composed the music and songs with Ada Milea) is a Westerner, a well-off doctor who spends most of his time lounging around on an island with an i-Pad. He might be a shipwreck survivor, at least metaphorically. He sings about dreaming of shopping when hungry and after a while we wonder if he’s simply disillusioned with the Western materialist way of life.

He finds himself in the company of Friday (Lucian Ionescu), sole survivor of a refugee boat who treats the doctor as his saviour. Robinson admonishes Friday to drink only bottled water, because the alternative is unsafe.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The House Of The Lost On The Cape (Misaki no Mayoiga, 岬のマヨイガ)

Director – Shinya Kawatsura – 2021 – Japan – 100m

*****

Two children separated from their respective parents are taken in by an old woman in a benevolent, magical house with a malevolent monster nearby – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now in the Official Competition section

A younger girl and an older girl find themselves at Kitsunezaki (Fox Cape) Bus Station that’s been wrecked in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. An old lady appears and takes them under her wing. They walk through forests, then up a hill, until eventually they arrive at a huge bungalow with a thatched roof which is to be the girls’ home. Kiwa, the old lady, claims to be their granny.

There’s something odd about the house, though. The older girl Yui accidentally makes a hole when she puts a finger through a paper wall. Later, the hole has mysteriously vanished. Then there are the drinks which appear out of nowhere when Yui says she’d like such and such a drink. At night, outside, strange turtle spirits (kappa) gather.

The younger girl Hiyori never speaks. This appears to be the result of some sort of trauma.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

No.7 Cherry Lane (Jiyuantai Qihao, 繼園臺七號)

Director – Yonfan – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12A – 125m

*****

The tutor of an 18-year-old girl falls for her mother who hired him against the background of the 1967 protest marches in Hong Kong – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now as a Screening Event

Insofar as this is like anything else – which it really isn’t – it’s like a reworking of The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967) filtered through In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000). Oh, and it’s 3D rendered then 2D animated. Broadly speaking, The Graduate is about a young man seduced by a much older, bored housewife before later becoming romantically involved with her daughter. In The Mood For Love is set in early 1960s Hong Kong and includes a sequence on a sloping pedestrian street where a man passes a women walking in the opposite direction, the whole thing charged with a sense of romantic longing. There;’s a similar scene in No.7 Cherry Lane, although it’s considerably less central to the plot than the one in In The Mood For Love.

Yonfan, here making his first film in ten years, would certainly agree that filmic and literary references abound in the film.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi, 聲の形)

Director – Naoko Yamada – 2016 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 130m

****

Groundbreaking and innovative Japanese drama about school children, bullying, remorse, isolation and self-loathing – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now in the Special Programmes section (A Special Screening for the Hard of Hearing)

Egged on by Naoka Ueno (voice: Yuki Kaneko) then later shunned by classmates for his bullying of new girl in class Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami), who happens to be deaf, Shoya Ishida (Miyu Irino) stops interacting with them and withdraws. This is represented onscreen by the extraordinary graphic device of an ‘X’ over the faces of his fellow schoolmates whenever they appear. It’s a very powerful way of expressing his isolation. Five years on, wrecked with guilt about his treatment of Nishimiya, he learns sign language and decides to befriend her and to make amends…

This film may well broaden your idea of what animation is capable. It’s nothing like Disney and equally it’s light years from Japanese SF action fest Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) although it likewise started life as a manga and concerns teenagers.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Everything Went Fine (Tout C’est Bien Passé)

Helping a loved one to die

Everything Went Fine
Directed by François Ozon
Certificate 15, 113 minutes
Released 17 June

France. Two daughters, Emmanuèle and Pascale Bernheim (Sophie Marceau and Géraldine Pailhas), visit their 85-year-old father André Bernheim (André Dussollier) as he recovers from a stroke. The process is slow and difficult, and he may never make a full recovery. André has lived life to the full, often looking to himself rather than those around him, and has come to a decision. Separately he tells each of them, “I want to die.”

In his current state of health, he considers life no longer worth living and wants to be able to end it while he still has the mental and physical capacity to do so. Ironically, this… [Read the rest in Reform magazine]

Read my alternative, longer review.

Everything Went Fine is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, June 17th.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Director – Daniels (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert) – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 139m

*****

Do you know kung fu? A launderette owner in trouble with the IRS is sucked into serial, parallel worlds to defeat the being who threatens to annihilate the multiverse – available on demand in the UK from Monday, June 13th

You could describe it as a Cubist take on The Matrix. Or a mother-daughter relationship drama. Or a multiverse movie. Or a film about filing taxes with the IRS. Or a (multiple set of) romance(s). Or a Michelle Yeoh action movie. Or a Chinese American movie. Or a film put together unlike any other you’ve ever seen. All these descriptions would be accurate.

Chinese American Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) runs her own business. A launderette (or laundromat in American parlance). She sits at the table in her apartment which is covered with piles of receipts. She is sorting through them in preparation for an upcoming interview with the IRS. She isn’t sure she’s ready.

This pressing issue aside, her life is not without its challenges. Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, formerly the kid from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Steven Spielberg, 1983; The Goonies, Richard Donner, 1985) is attempting to file for divorce and wants her to sign the papers.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Jurassic World Dominion

Director – Colin Trevorrow – 2022 – US – Cert.12a – 148m

***

Sixth Jurassic movie promises then dumps a plot where humans and dinosaurs co-exist in the modern world and instead heads for a secluded valley where numerous dinosaurs are kept by a dodgy corporation – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

There’s a long tradition in cinema of putting dinosaurs alongside humans, as if the dinosaurs on their own wouldn’t be enough to bring in audiences. This is nonsense of course: look no further than the TV series Walking With Dinosaurs (1999), Walt Disney’s Fantasia (segment directors: Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, 1940) or The Animal World (effects: Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, 1956), and the high regard in which they’re held, for proof.

The genius of Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) was to reconstruct the dinosaurs from their DNA, providing a much better reason to put both species side by side than the lost plateau of The Lost World (effects: Willis O’Brien, 1925), the lost island of King Kong (effects: Willis O’Brien, 1933), the lost valley of The Valley Of Gwangi (effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1969) or the cavemen and dinosaurs of One Million Years B.C. (effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1966).… Read the rest

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Crazy Thunder Road (Kuruizaki Sanda Rodo, 狂い咲きサンダーロード)

Director – Sogo Ishii – 1980 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 97m

*****

Following on from Arrow’s superb BD of Sogo Ishii’s Burst City (1982) comes Third Window’s equally impressive BD release of its predecessor in the Ishii canon Crazy Thunder Road (1980) – on Blu-ray from Monday, February 21st

This was Ishii’s Nihon University student graduation project, his first to be shot on 16mm rather than Super 8, which somehow got picked up for distribution by major Japanese Studio Toei which led to their giving him a budget for Burst City. Tom Mes, who as with Burst City supplies a commentary for the film, describes Crazy Thunder Road as “one of the Holy Grails of Japanese film releases if not the Holy Grail.”

When Toei presented Ishii with what seemed like astronomical funding for Burst City, it led him to overreach himself. In retrospect, he considers Burst City unfinished… [Read the full review at All The Anime]

Crazy Thunder Road was out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday, February 21st.

Opening scene:

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Burst City (Bakuretsu Toshi Burst City, 爆裂都市 BURST CITY)

Director – Sogo Ishii – 1982 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 115m

Film ****

Cultural significance *****

Arguably the lynchpin film that brought Japanese cinema back from the brink of extinction in the early 1980s and paved the way for much of what was to follow – on Blu-ray from Monday, November 20th 2020

Looked at today through Western eyes, the opening with its breakneck, speeded up race through (presumably) Tokyo cutting between nighttime and daytime POV shots, with motorbike noises, anticipates the more demented pixillated chase scenes of Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1989), shots of bikers recall the anti-establishment feel of Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) and patterns caused by moving lights burning into film emulsion recall Norman McClaren and Len Lye’s early animation experiments drawing and painting direct onto film. Then it seems to turn into Mad Max (George Miller, 1979) by way of a gangster film elements (two men in a car wearing a suit and a leather jacket respectively) who avoid a near collision with two punks on a motorcycle and sidecar.

How many of these precedents Ishii had in mind (or even had seen) when he made this is impossible to say.… Read the rest

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Swan Song

Director – Todd Stephens – 2021 – US – Cert. – 105m

***1/2

Tasked with creating an open casket hairdo for his deceased, former best client, a hairdresser worn down by care home institutionalism escapes to reinvent himself – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

A glamourous star on a stage playing to an audience of empty chairs, Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier) wakes up to the boring reality that he’s living on social security checks and wearing an old T-shirt and sweat pants in a care home in his small town of Sandusky, Ohio.

Still, he takes his pleasures where he can find them: stealing napkins from the dining room and obsessively folding them into squares a quarter of their original size, smoking ladies’ More brand cigars. The latter he lights two at once after turning the wheelchair of Gertie (Annie Kitral) – left out in the corridor – to face the window before giving her the second cigar, something in which she clearly takes pleasure despite near total paralysis.

Otherwise, though, he battles with his nurse Shaundell (Roshon Thomas) over adjusting his armchair cushion and, worse, smoking, a pleasure she forbids. He swallows a cigar to conceal the activity; she finds out and confiscates his stash.… Read the rest

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All My Friends Hate Me

Director – Andrew Gaynord – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 93m

***

A thirtysomething charity worker’s birthday weekend at the country house of rich friends from his student days turns into a nightmare – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

Pete (Tom Stourton, who co-wrote this with Tom Palmer, with both of them producers here) heads off to the house of rich friends in Devon he hasn’t seen since university days for a weekend celebrating his 31st birthday. He doesn’t know the area well and gets lost en route. He’s a bit shocked to find a dog tied up in a field and far more shocked when he disturbs a man sleeping in a parked car who goes berserk and pursues him like a madman, causing the panicking Pete to rapidly flee in his car.

He parks by a gate and a local comes over. “Do you know the way to the manor?”, he asks. “Yes,” comes the reply. “Could you tell it me then,” he asks again. “Yes, I can,” comes the reply. Eventually, he gets the address out of the man. He later relays this story to his friends at the manor, unaware that the man, Norman (Christopher Fairbank), the local who looks after the grounds, has just come in the door behind him.… Read the rest

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Il Buco

Director – Michelangelo Frammartino – 2021 – Italy – Cert. U – 93m

**1/2

A Calabrian cowherd nears the end of his life while a group of explorers journey down a deep hole to find out how deep into the ground it descends – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

Literally, ‘The Hole’. Frammartino again brings to the cinema the style that made his earlier Le Quattro Volte (2010) so special. He sets up the camera, often at a great distance from the action, then leaves it there to record whatever happens. The narrative of Il Buco is actually pretty simple, a recreation of an expedition by a group of young, amateur speleologists into a hole in the ground in Calabria. (Speleology is the branch of science involved in mapping and measuring the interiors of caves, natural underground systems, and the like.)

It’s 1961. We’re first introduced to the place in a shot looking out of the ground at the edge of the hole as, eventually, the heads of two bulls come into view over the ridge. An elderly cowherd watches over the grazing cattle from a position halfway up a forty degree incline hillside. As the bus leaves the rich, urban developments of Northern Italy for the still unspoiled Southern region of Calabria, we watch it slowly make its way along rounds, through a small rural town where the party stops for the night to bed down in sleeping bags in the local, Catholic Church alongside statues of monks and the crucified Christ lying on his back, across open country until it arrives at the vast plain where the explorers will set up camp.… Read the rest

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Pickpocket

Director – Robert Bresson – 1959 – France – Cert. PG – 76m

*****

Why is a man compelled to pursue acts of petty thievery – acclaimed, arresting, existential drama is out in cinemas on Friday, June 3rd

I have just rewatched Bresson’s classic and am still not entirely sure I have its measure. Perhaps that’s the thing about great works of art. Oh, to have seen it on its original release, had I been old enough, and watch it without the baggage of it being proclaimed a cinematic masterwork.

Words on the screen proclaim at the outset that this is not the thriller its title might suggest; it’s rather a study of a man who repeatedly commits crimes which is trying to understand why he would do that.

The characters, of whom the main protagonist Michel (Martin LaSalle) is the one who gets most screen time and indeed, is scarcely if ever off the scree, are played deadpan, with Bresson doing his utmost to ensure that his cast perform the roles without acting. He doesn’t want the actors’ craft to come between us and his images of people doing, being, talking. He seeks to avoid the artificiality of acting thereby allowing his performers to realise his images without any acting technique mediating them.… Read the rest

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Men

Director – Alex Garland – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 100m

***

An urban woman dealing with separation and bereavement encounters several men with the same face in an English village – out in cinemas on Wednesday, June 1st

A face passes before the eyes of Harper (Jessie Buckley) as her husband James (Paapa Essiedu) falls to his death from the balcony above their London flat. It’s the Spring. She drives to a house in the country – strictly speaking, in a small rural village – which she’s rented for two weeks to get away from it all.

There, she meets well-to-do landlord Geoffrey (Rory Kinnear) who shows her round the property and hands over the keys. He’s an affable and chivalrous sort of chap who insists of bringing her bags in from the car and can’t stop talking; he might have walked straight in from the previous century or even the one before. He mentions that the TV reception can be a bit iffy, especially when it’s raining, and also recommends a visit to the village pub.

She’s glad when he’s left and promptly calls her partner Riley (Gayle Rankin), who she will be in touch with this way on and off throughout the narrative and who will eventually drive over to see her, the only time we ever see Riley in the flesh.… Read the rest

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The Burning Sea (Nordsjøen)

Director – John Andreas Andersen – 2022 – Norway – Cert. 12 – 104m

***

An underwater technician attempts to rescue her lover who is trapped and probably dead on an oil rig amidst impending ecological disaster – out on digital on Monday, May 30th

The Norwegian title translates literally as North Sea, so renaming the film The Burning Sea makes it sound more dramatic and ups the ante considerably. That increased selling point comes at a price, though. Instead of an oil rig disaster movie, you’re now expecting a sea on fire movie which doesn’t happen ’til the last reel. Still, director Andersen’s films include the impressive disaster movie The Quake (2018) while the writing team of Harald Rosenløw-Eeg (The Quake, 2018; The Wave, Roar Uthaug, 2015) and Lars Gudmestad (Headhunters, Morten Tyldum, 2011) looks promising enough. Unlike those films, however, this one lapses fairly quickly into cliché.

It spends its first 10 minutes largely on romantic drama with Sofia (Kristine Kujath Thorp from the wonderful Ninjababy, Yngvild Sve Flikke, 2021) content to be living her life with lover Stian (Henrik Bjelland) and his pre-teen son Odin (Nils Elias Olsen) at a distance rather than living together permanently with them.… Read the rest

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Psycho

Director – Alfred Hitchcock – 1960 – US – Cert. 15 – 109 m

*****

A woman steals some money she’s supposed to bank at work and leaves town, winding up at a motel off the highway… where terrible events ensue – back out in cinemas on Friday, May 27th

(Warning: may contain spoilers.)

Often imitated, never equalled, Psycho sits so large in the firmament of cinema that it’s impossible to write about it as if seeing it for the first time. Hitchcock reused to admit cinemagoers after the film had started – a radical idea in a time when punters would show up, go in, watch ’til the end, watch from the point where they came in, then leave. “We won’t allow you to cheat yourself” ran the foyer blurb agreed between Hitch and Universal.

By the time I first saw the film, twenty years after its initial release on a BBC TV rerun some time in the late seventies / early eighties, I had seen clips of various scenes, probably in a BBC documentary about Hitchcock. Definitely the notorious shower scene. Probably the patrol man. Probably the staircase murder. Probably the skull lit by the swinging light bulb.… Read the rest

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Get Carter (1971)

Director – Mike Hodges – 1971 – UK – Cert. 18 – 111m

*****

A London gangster takes the train to Newcastle to find out who killed his brother… and why… in a defining film for both Michael Caine and British cinema – back out in cinemas on Friday, May 27th

Fifty years old, Hodges’ first feature has aged well in the main. Viewed today, this gangster film has a lot going for it. It reduces London to seedy, windowless rooms where men watch pornographic slide shows or their unfaithful wives service their lovers’ sexual fantasies over long distance phone calls. After the opening London to Newcastle train journey to the strains of Roy Budd’s memorable score, It quickly settles into its Newcastle milieu of pub interiors, terraced houses, rented rooms, back to back streets, pedestrians, cars, harbours and ferries. It has a memorable finale in which one man pursues another across a beach to a coal heap.

There’s a background about prostitution which turns out to be highly significant to the plot, with histories of men luring girls into pornographic movies. Few of the women (Britt Ekland, Rosemary Dunham, Petra Markham) seem happy – they are sex objects to service the men, or prostitutes, or victims of male trickery.… Read the rest

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Top Gun: Maverick

Director – Joseph Kosinski – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 131m

****

The eponymous Maverick (Tom Cruise) returns to the Navy pilot Top Gun school to train a dozen new recruits to fly an impossible bombing mission and come back alive– out in cinemas on Wednesday, May 25th

Welcome back to the world of US Navy aviation where pilots all have their own self-given flying nicknames. While his contemporaries such as Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer), now an admiral in charge of the Pacific fleet, have advanced in ranks, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise) has remained a captain in order to stay on active service in the field. He’s now a test pilot and loves his job.

However, Maverick has got into trouble one too many times, most recently by disobeying orders when he went ahead with a Mojave Desert test flight on a programme which a rear admiral (Ed Harris) wanted shut down. In doing this, and proving that the plane in question can fly not just at the untried Mach 9 but also at Mach 10…10.1… 10.2… Maverick sees himself safeguarding the jobs of all those working on the programme. The Navy, however, sees it as insubordination and want him grounded.… Read the rest

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Tokyo Godfathers (Tokyo Goddofazazu, 東京ゴッドファーザーズ)

Director – Satoshi Kon – 2003 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 91m

*****

Three homeless people – a drag queen, a hard drinker and a runaway teenage girl – find an abandoned baby at Christmas and resolve to return her to her parents – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

This opens with a nativity play to an audience of what one initially presumes to be admiring parents, a perception rapidly revised with the realisation that what is on offer is a programme of ‘nativity play, sermon, dinner’ for Tokyo’s homeless, with the first two items something to endure in order to access the much wanted third one. Any thought that the film is going to deal with religion is however swiftly dismissed with the introduction of three homeless characters holed up in an empty house containing a piles of discarded and bagged up goods, one of which turns out to contain an abandoned baby.

Teenage runaway Miyuki (voice: Aya Okamoto) has fallen in with two men old enough to be her father (if not her grandfather) who look out for her: the cross-dressing Miss Hana (voice: Yoshiaki Umegaki) and the hard-drinking Gin (voice: Toru Emori).… Read the rest

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Akira (アキラ) 4K (IMAX)

Director – Katsuhiro Otomo – 1988 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 124m

*****

Manga artist turned director Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk classic returns to the big screen in a brand new 4K IMAX print – plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season in December and the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Waterloo IMAX #AKIRA4K

When Akira first appeared in the UK at the start of the nineties, Disney was busy reinventing the animated cartoon as a platform for the Broadway musical (Beauty And The Beast, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1991; The Lion King, Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers, 1994) and there were debates about whether comics (or ‘graphic novels’) could be created for adults as well as kids.

As so often in technology and media, Japan was ahead of the game. Otomo had published his long-running comic book or manga Akira in 1982 and turned it into a feature six years later, challenging widely held Western notions of what animation was. You could make SF in movies (Voyage To The Moon, Georges Méliès, 1902) and you could make serious SF (2001, Stanley Kubrick, 1968), but animation was strictly for kids, at least in the English-speaking mainstream, and that as what Disney did.… Read the rest

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Vortex

Director – Gaspar Noé – 2021 – France – Cert. 15 – 142m

*****

An elderly man struggles to care for his ailing wife who has dementia – out in cinemas on Friday, May 13th

Discounting the lengthy titles detailing among other things the various film clips and images used, this throws us a series of images in a pillarboxed 4:3 format with curved corners at the edges (suggesting a projected slide show or physical, analogue photographs mounted in an album) then the young Françoise Hardy singing “Mon Amie La Rose” loads irony into the proceedings: the rose is fresh and speaks to us of love, the singer young and yet to be ravaged by the passage of time. (It’s not mentioned here, but last year, Hardy announced she could no longer sing as a result of cancer treatments, which lends the video a certain poignancy today – even more so in the context of this film.)