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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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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

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Directors – Hironobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara – 2001 – Japan, US – Cert. PG – 106m

*****

Earth (and its attendant spirit Gaia) have been attacked by aliens, its human and animal populations decimated, its cities deserted – review originally published in Ad Hoc magazine, 2001

The first computer-generated movie to dispense with real live actors in favour of their computer-generated counterparts – at least as far as the visuals go – Final Fantasy The Spirits Within proves as radical a departure as the first animated feature Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937), the convincing computer-generated characters of Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and the first computer-animated feature Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995).

The lead heroine’s hair and the creases in the characters’ clothing both convince utterly. The characters’ movements are taken off real people and fed into a computer by a process known as motion capture, which also provided the incredible moving freeze-frame moments in The Matrix (Larry and Andy Wachowski, 1999).

Mouth movements spouting pre-recorded speech doesn’t quite come off every time while the facial expressions haven’t quite managed all the subtleties of human visages. Most of them, true, though not quite all. But then, the computer technology here is way ahead of another of this year’s animation highlights, the cartoony Shrek (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jensen, 2001).… 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

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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Features Live Action Movies

Mother Night

Director – Keith Gordon – 1996 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

*****

In this adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, a former Nazi propagandist awaits trial in Israel for war crimes – retail VHS review from Home Entertainment, 1997

From his Israeli prison cell where he must compose his memoirs while awaiting trial for his war crimes in black and white, Howard W. Campbell, Jr. (Nick Nolte in a career-defining performance) recalls in colour flashback his rise to fame in wartime Berlin as a radio propaganda writer / broadcaster for the Third Reich, surviving that regime’s madness by devoting himself to actress wife Helga (Sheryl Lee) and their self-contained Nation Of Two.

Recruited from a park as an undercover American spy by raincoat‑wearing American top brass John Goodman (a small part, but likewise impressive), Campbell has to incorporate coded messages to the Allies in his broadcasts. In 1944, Helga dies. After the War, Campbell winds up alone in a seedy New York apartment where neighbours include fellow widower Alan Arkin and Auschwitz survivor‑turned‑doctor Ayre Gross.

When admiring right wing activists arrive at Campbell’s door, the tale (based on Kurt Vonnegut’s novel) lurches even further into surrealism. Gordon’s direction is flawless throughout.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Uncategorized

Swimming With Sharks

Director – George Huang – 1994 – US – Cert. 15 – 93m

*****

A film school graduate’s job with a Hollywood producer turns out to be a nightmare

To the blissfully ignorant outsider, the Hollywood movie business is a glamorous place where dreams come true. In reality, it’s often closer to a personal hell where the aspirant’s dreams are trampled underfoot by passing megalomaniacs. At least, that’s what the nightmarish Swimming With Sharks would have us believe as it cheerfully plunges green film school graduate Guy (Frank Whaley) into an assistant’s job with major Hollywood producer Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey).

Buddy is the sort of boss who tells underlings, “your brain counts as nothing”, then insults them viciously in front of visiting clients. Reasons for insults heaped on Guy include bringing the coffee with the wrong kind of sweetener and leaving at the office the phone number of the starlet wannabe his boss is currently bedding. Further employer vitriol erupts when Buddy’s superior (a welcome if all too brief appearance from veteran Brit Roy Dotrice) notices spelling errors Buddy had earlier refused to allow Guy to correct – in script notes supplied Buddy by Guy but palmed off by Buddy as his own.… 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