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Annette

Director – Leos Carax – 2021 – France, US – Cert. 15 – 141m

****1/2

Musical conceived and composed by Sparks plays out as a very dark opera ending in tragedy – on MUBI from Friday, November 26th

Although billed as a musical, this may actually be closer to opera given that even though it starts as a story about two people deeply in love, it veers into very dark territory.

And yet framing all that, and underscoring it throughout, is the sheer pleasure of writing / composing songs… and, for that matter, performing them. The opening song is So May We Start while the closer, as the credits roll, is It’s The End. (For added enjoyment, watch 90% of the audience leave before the last song starts. Or in my case, 10% of my fellow critics.)

The former starts with the band, the brothers Mael (singer Russell and keyboard player / composer Ron, profiled in recent documentary The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright, 2021) and a backing band in a recording studio in an invitation for the proceedings to get going, swiftly joined by the film’s two leads, while the latter ends with seemingly the entire movie cast and crew walking through the countryside hoping we’ve enjoyed the show and asking us to tell our friends if we did so.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Censor

Director – Prano Bailey-Bond – 2021 – UK – Cert. – 84m

****

In the 1980s so-called ‘video nasties’ era, a BBFC examiner increasingly confuses horror films with reality – on MUBI from Sunday, October 31st

A peculiarly British film in that it pertains to the way so-called ‘video nasties’ were dealt with by the UK censor in the 1980s. With the rise of video technology, a legal loophole meant that while cinema films were given a certificate by the UK censor, films released straight to video were not. A number of horror films far more violent and bloody than the censor would allow for cinema exhibition thus found their way onto VHS videotape, into video stores and onto the nation’s home TV screens via the video player.

Sections of the UK press ran stories of ‘video nasties’ suggesting that seeing such videos would corrupt children and impressionable members of society. One or two Tory MPs campaigned for changes to the law, resulting in the 1984 Video Recordings Act. Now videos came under the BBFC’s remit (it changed its name from the British Board Of Film Censors to the British Board Of Film Classification) and video titles were examined then passed, passed with cuts or banned.… Read the rest

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Animation Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Escher: Journey Into Infinity (Escher: Het Oneindige Zoeken)

Director – Robin Lutz – 2018 – The Netherlands – Cert. PG – 81m

*****

The life and work of graphic artist M.C. Escher is explored through his own images and words (read by Stephen Fry) – on UK/Ireland digital download platforms from Monday, October 18th – iTunes, Amazon, Sky Store, Curzon Home Cinema, Google and Microsoft

Maurits Cornelius Escher’s words at the start of this film suggest a production doomed to fail: “I am afraid there is only one person in the world who could make a good film about my prints: me.” Sadly, since Escher passed away in 1972, we will never see that film. Happily, Robin Lutz has proved Escher wrong by making this one. And so too has his collaborator Stephen Fry whose voice-over for the English language version, recorded in under three hours at a London dubbing studio, is nothing short of inspired (of which more later). He must have done some serious preparation beforehand.

For the uninitiated, Escher (1898-1972) is the Dutch graphic artist whose prints famously include Ascending and Descending (March 1960), the impossible staircase which keeps going up and up, or down and down for people travelling in the opposite direction – as it goes round and round in a square.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Courier

Director – Dominic Cooke – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 112m

*****

The real life story of businessman Greville Wynne who smuggled secrets out of Moscow and helped avert the Cuban missile crisis – out on premium digital Monday, September 27th

The early 1960s. The cold war. High up Kremlin bureaucrat Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) is convinced Kruschev wants to start a nuclear war. He has information about this he wants to leak to the West, for which the Soviet state is likely to punish him should they find out, possibly with death. However he has no easy route through which to send the information. He accosts American tourists and tells them to take packages straight to their embassy and then leave the country immediately.

Impressed with the calibre of his leaks, MI6 and the CIA, represented respectively by London operatives Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan), set about finding the perfect person to to bring his packages back to the West. They meet businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) under the aliases James Dobbin from the Board of Trade and his associate Helen Talbot.

Greville does business by talking to (and drinking with) clients to find out what their businesses need and putting them in touch with other businesses who might be able to work with them, the classic networker.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Souad

Director – Ayten Amin – 2021 – Egypt, Tunisia, Germany – Cert. 12a – 96m

***

Home truths are revealed about a 19-year-old, social media-obsessed, Egyptian girl in this small independent film – out in cinemas on Friday, August 27th

Starting and ending with a (different) young woman riding a bus, this slice of life drama takes a look at the lives of teenage girls in Egypt. The older generation live according to traditional, Islamic values, including the subjugation of women to men, while their younger counterparts like many Generation Z-ers around the world have more contemporary Western concerns.

For Souad (Bassant Ahmed), 19, it’s all about fashion, boys and looking cool on and off social media. Riding on the bus, she regales fellow travellers with tales of her boyfriend whose identity changes as she talks to the next woman sitting next to her. She visits a clothes shop and successfully shoplifts an item of headgear.

Having established her as either a teller of tall tales or a pathological liar, we see her giving her younger sister Rabab (Basmala Elghaiesh), 16 going on 17, a pretty unreasonable grilling when the later complains, understandably, that Souad is late picking her up.

When Souad unexpectedly vanishes from the story, her shaken sister travels to Alexandria to meet and get to know better her sister’s former boyfriend Ahmed (Hussein Ghanem) in an attempt to find out more about sides of Souad’s life she didn’t really know.… Read the rest

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Live Action Movies Shorts

Three Brothers

Director – Aleem Khan – 2014 – UK – Cert. – 17m 11s

****

A teenager must take care of his two brothers when their father vanishes – available as an extra on the After Love Blu-ray released on Monday, August 23rd

It’s not entirely clear what’s happened to London teenager Hamid (Zain Muhammad Zafar) and his two younger brothers Humza (Yousuf Hussain) and Billy (Muhammad Mujahid-Ali Shahzad). An opening family video complete with dropout at picture bottom shows the parental hassle of getting the three boys into the car for a trip, then mum (Sona Vyas) and dad (Kulvinder Ghir) driving, then – presumably – a car accident (because the picture cuts out) in which the mother is kiled (because she’s never seen again (apart from as a presence in a photograph). This is mashed up with footage of the brothers, most notably Hamid caring for his chicken and inspecting eggs he keeps in a little electric-powered hatchery device in his bedroom.

Neither parent is around and there are dire warnings on the phone from school about how this can’t go on. There’s a parents evening coming up, so Hamid takes the other two and sends them in to the classroom alone, but his teacher (Kate Russell-Smith) comes out and demands he stop walking away down the corridor and take off his mask.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Underground (Souterrain)

Director – Sophie Dupuis – 2020 – Canada – Cert. 15 – 97m

**

A tale of friendship, loss and regret plays out against the working lives of miners – out in cinemas and on Virtual Cinemas and VoD from Friday, August 20th

A vast, modern, industrial mine in the French-speaking part of Canada. An explosion is heard, so a rescue team is put together to go and extract the trapped workers. Max, full name Maxime (Joakim Robillard) is one of the youngest team members and has a disagreement with the leader Catherine (Catherine Trudeau). They have two men on stretchers and need to get them out to safety. Protocol insists they should not go and rescue anyone else as it would endanger not only the two they are ready to take to safety but also the rescue crew members.

However, the headstrong Max wants to go down and save the remaining trapped miners. He seems incapable of following either protocol or orders.

We flash back two months and get to know Max’s life. He and his partner Andrée-Anne (Lauren Hartley) have for some time been trying to start a family using in vitro fertilisation, but when she miscarries, she decides she can’t go on with the process any more.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Minamata

Director – Andrew Levitas – 2020 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

****

A dramatisation of celebrated photographer W. Eugene Smith’s investigation of Japan’s Minamata environmental atrocity in 1971 – out in cinemas and on digital from Friday, August 13th

This feels like a Hollywood actor-led project with laudable aims which comes unstuck somewhere in the execution. That said, there’s still much to admire.

Minamata is the name of a Japanese coastal town which became synonymous with Mercury poisoning caused by the Chisso chemicals factory in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Following a celebrated career as a war photographer in WW2, W. Eugene Smith photographed the series Country Doctor for Life magazine, now recognised as a landmark in the medium of the photo-essay. In the early 1970s, he and his Japanese-American wife Aileen were introduced to the town of Minamata and its dark secret, and collaborated on a photographic book about it. When we meet him in 1971, played by Johnny Depp (from such films as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2005; Sleepy Hollow, 1999; Edward Scissorhands, 1990, all Tim Burton) he has his own darkroom in a New York loft and has clearly seen better days as he is constantly on the whisky and amphetamines.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Wendy

Director – Benh Zeitlin – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 111m

*****

A bold re-imagining of Peter Pan told through the eyes of Wendy which is unlike any other version of the story you’re likely to see – out in cinemas on Friday, August 13th

Her mother runs a fast and furious restaurant. Wendy (Tommie Lynn Milazzo) crawls along the long tables.

Boys play on trains on the nearby tracks outside.

Her brothers James (Gavin Naquin) and Douglas (Gage Naquin) come out to play on the jukebox, but quickly get thrown out for causing disruption. Through the night the goods trains pass. There’s a spark. Wendy, slightly older now (Devin France) sees something atop a train. A boy. She runs outside to chase the train. Her mother’s voice calls her back in.

The fast trains pass. One day she is on one, riding the rails. The boy (Dwight Henry) is in the freight car. He tells them to stand close to the open boxcar door. The train crosses a bridge over water. He pushes them out. They’re in the water.

Then they’re all in the boat, crossing the ocean to the island, Mother. They land. Beach. Forest. Geysers erupt.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Free Guy

Director – Shawn Levy – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 115m

***1/2

A non-player character in a mayhem-riddled video game decides to take matters into his own hands after meeting the girl of his dreams – out in cinemas on Friday, August 13th

Guy (sic) (Ryan Reynolds) works in Free City. In a bank. Every day he selects the same shirt from his wardrobe, gets a coffee from the same barista, goes to work. Where, at specific times like clockwork, there are robberies. He and his buddy, a security guard named Buddy (sic) (Lil Rel Howery) drop to the floor where they then chat about life, love and other issues.

Then, one day, he meets Molotov (Jodie Comer), a gun-carrying girl with a British accent. He feels as if he’s known her forever, like she’s the missing piece in his life. But she’s a Specs. She wears specs. People who wear specs do things people who don’t don’t. Guy decides he’s going to steal specs from the first bank robber who comes along.

What Guy doesn’t know is that he’s an NPC (non-player character) in a video game called Free City. The game is made by a company called Soonami run by Antwan (Taika Waititi).… Read the rest