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Features Live Action Movies

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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Animation Features Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

Onoda: 10, 000 Nights In The Jungle (Onoda, 10 000 Nuits Dans La Jungle)

Director – Arthur Harari – 2021 – France, Japan – Cert. 15 – 166m

*****

A Japanese soldier who believes his country has not yet surrendered stays on a Filipino island to fight on alone until 1973 – out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday 16th May.

16th September 1973. A backpacking Japanese student (Ryu Morioka) on Lubang Island in the Philippines sets up his tent on the beach beside the jungle and switches on the cassette player playing a song from the 1940s. The sound drifts through the trees and can be faintly heard where an old soldier, his uniform patched by years of repair, is leaving a flower as an act of remembrance. He hears the music and moves towards it…

This frame story opens this tale and sets the stage for what is to follow. Back in Wakayama, Japan in December 1944, it’s all over for drunken youth Hiroo Onoda (Yuya Endo) whose hopes of becoming a pilot have been dashed by his fear of heights. To his aid comes Major Yoshimi Taniguchi (Issei Ogata), who explains the youth can serve his country in other ways and enrols him in the Nakano School Annex in Futumata, where the major teaches guerilla warfare.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Ghost In The Shell (Kokaku Kidotai, 攻殻機動隊) (1995)

Director – Mamoru Oshii – 1995 – Japan, UK, US – Cert. 15 – 83m

****1/2

A cybernetically rebuilt, female, government agent and her male sidekick pursue a mysterious computer hacker known as The Puppet Master through Hong Kong Digital IMAX version plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

Review originally published in What’s On In London in 1996.

Ghost In The Shell is the first (and hopefully not the last) anime feature to be jointly financed by America, Japan and Britain (our very own Manga Entertainment). Although superficially pigeonholeable as teenage boy’s market material (nothing wrong with that per se), Ghost is considerably more intelligent than that implies. Its plot is highly complex: suffice it to say that cybernetically rebuilt female agent Kusanagi and male sidekick Bateau are pursuing a mysterious computer hacker known as The Puppet Master through Hong Kong.

Kusanagi, who makes her first appearance stripping off her clothing, jumping off a skyscraper roof and crashing through a window below to riddle a criminal pleading “diplomatic immunity” with bullets, employs thermoptic camouflage which renders her invisible to the naked eye in a matter of seconds. It’s an impressive touch, additionally furnishing such great moments as a fugitive ankle-deep in an urban canal suddenly finding himself hit, gripped and thrown around by an invisible assailant.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Playground (Un Monde)

Director – Laura Wandel – 2021 – Belgium – Cert. 15 – 72m

****1/2

A quiet, seven-year-old girl starts school and has to deal with the trauma of her older brother being bullied by bigger boys – out in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd

They hug in the playground before going in. It’s the first day of school for seven-year-old Nora (Maya Vanderbeque) and she doesn’t want to be separated from her elder brother Abel (Günter Duret). When she’s pulled off him, she just wants to hug her dad (Karim Leklou) and doesn’t want him to leave. Eventualy, the kindly lady schoolteacher takes her firmly by the hand and walks her into the building. In class, she’s hesitant about speaking her name. At lunch, she’s not allowed to sit with her brother but must stay with the kids the same age as her.

In the playground, she approaches Abel, but he tells her to keep away as “we’re beating up the new kids with Antoine”. She blunders in anyway and sees him trying to defend her from the bullies. Later, witnessing an incident on the stairs, she reports that older boys are bullying her brother causing a teacher to intervene. He won’t tell the teacher what’s going on, believing that will only make things worse.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Ennio: The Maestro (Ennio)

Director – Giuseppe Tornatore – 2021 – Italy – Cert. 15 – 156m

****

Documentary Ennio: The Maestro looks at the career of Italian film composer Ennio Morricone – out in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd

It’s difficult to know where to start with Ennio Morricone, whose career in film music covers some 70 years. Tornatore adopts the chronological approach, starting with his early life. The composer’s father was a trumpeter who pushed young Ennio to learn that same instrument, leading to entry into Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory where he studied both trumpet and composition. His father had raised him with a strong work ethic – using the trumpet to feed your family – and much of his early work was as a trumpeter on movie soundtrack sessions, including Othello (Orson Welles, 1951).

His wife secured him a brief stint at TV channel RAI where she was working, but on being told that he wouldn’t be able to perform anything recorded there anywhere else, Morricone quit almost immediately. Inspired by seeing experimental composer John Cage perform live, he formed the Nuovo Consonanza Improvisation Group to experiment with what he called “traumatic sounds”. This approach would inform a number of his later soundtracks.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 千と千尋の神隠し)

Director – Hayao Miyazaki – 2001 – Japan – Cert. PG – 125m

A shorter version of this review was originally published in Third Way for UK release date 12/09/2002. At which point, hardly anyone in the UK outside of anime fandom knew who Miyazaki was.

In director Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a ten-year-old girl must survive a bathhouse run by demons after her parents are turned into pigs – now showing on Netflix (subtitled / dubbed) and can also be seen in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank (subtitled / dubbed for family screenings)

To discover the films of Hayao Miyazaki – and those of his company Studio Ghibli (pronounced “Jib-Lee”) – is like suddenly being exposed to those of Disney without prior knowledge of their sheer number or quality. In Miyazaki’s native Japan, Spirited Away shattered box office records to succeed Titanic as the most lucrative movie of all time. In the US, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature while making only modest inroads into the marketplace. Britain, however, is not the US and it may well fare better here than it did there.

Previous Miyazaki outings have covered children’s experience of the countryside (My Neighbour Totoro, 1988; one of this writer’s favourite films of all time), a young girl’s learning to find her way in the world (Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989) and conflicting loyalties among pilots in interwar Europe (Porco Rosso, 1992).… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Operation Mincemeat

Director – John Madden – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 127m

*****

The British WW2 deception involving a corpse and fake documents to make Germany think the Allies are landing in Greece rather than Sicily – out in cinemas on Friday, April 15th

At the height of World War II, the Allies plan a mass landing at Sicily. They want the Germans to think it’s going to happen in Greece to reduce Allied casualties. In a Whitehall Admiralty basement operates the Twenty Committee, so-called after its initials XX (or double-cross) and its work managing double or triple agents (this work of the committee isn’t really alluded to in the film although a British triple agent appears later on and plays a fairly important part in the plot, which will include some racy if subtly understated physical sexual activity). On the floors above are top brass Admiral John Godfrey (Jason Isaacs) and his assistant Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), the latter devouring novels and constantly bashing out prose on his typewriter in every spare moment.

The office in the basement itself is run with a rod of iron by the fearsome Hester Leggett (Penelope Wilton) while the Committee’s top man is Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth), a former Old Bailey lawyer whose friends believe to be in charge of naval supplies.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Northman

Director – Robert Eggers – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 136m

*****

A 10th Century Viking prince vows revenge on his father king’s killer and sees it through to death – out in cinemas on Friday, April 15th

Young Viking Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak from The Batman) is thrilled when his warrior father King Aurvandil War-Raven (Ethan Hawke) returns with a line of prisoners in two to his fortified stronghold and Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Father and son are devoted to each other, participating in a private ritual involving bodily sounds and consumption of an hallucinogenic liquid that causes the boy to experience a vision of his family line: a tree of life where the trunk is a spine and branches are umbilical cords attached to grown kings as the viewpoint pans up reveal the boy attached to the highest cord. He is now prepared to take over the rule of the kingdom when his father dies.

He doesn’t seem to get on quite so well with his mother, who warns him never to enter her room unannounced. At a banquet in honour of Aurvandil, his dour brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang from The Square, Ruben Östlund, 2017) takes exception to court jester Heimir the Fool (Willem Dafoe).… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies

Benedetta

Sins of the flesh

Benedetta
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Certificate 18, 131 minutes
Released 15 April

The Dutch director Paul Verhoeven revels in controversy… His latest work, Benedetta, is… sexually explicit, but also tackles religion within a historical context. It clearly has plenty of potential to offend.

Benedetta is based on the story of the 17th-century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini who had visions and exhibited stigmata. She became an abbess and was investigated and discredited by Catholic officials. There were suggestions that Benedetta’s visionary traffic was with the Devil rather than God, while various nuns’ testimonies claimed her stigmata to be faked. Her roommate Bartolomea confessed to regular sexual activity with Benedetta. Benedetta was demoted.

Verhoeven eschews historical accuracy for the spiritual, the spectacular and the carnal… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Teaser trailer:

Trailer: