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Animation Features Movies

Inu-Oh (Inu-Oh, 犬王)

Director – Masaaki Yuasa – 2021 – Japan – Cert. – 98m

***1/2

In fourteenth century Japan, a blind musician and a deformed, masked dancer shake up the culturally staid world of Noh theatre by forming a hugely popular rock band – out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, September 28th

You never quite know what you’re going to get with an animated feature by Masaaki Yuasa (Ride Your Wave,2019; Lu Over the Wall, 2017; Mind Game, 2004) as he has a tendency to break with tradition. Here, he takes on periods of Japanese history but rather than go with power struggles as to who rules Japan, he focuses on two outcasts, an orphaned musician and a deformed dancer, who join together to form a rock band with an emphasis on theatrical showmanship to upend the artistic conventions of the day and become an overnight sensation until the ascendant ruler, determined to control the historical narrative, has the musician killed, and the dancer emasculated, forbidden to perform anything but state-approved material, and that only in the Imperial court.

It’s a triptych, one long story split into three sections. In the first section, after a prologue detailing the decisive Battle of Dan-No-Ura towards the end of the twelfth century, in which the Heiji clan were defeated by the Genji and the formers warriors threw themselves into the sea and perished, two centuries later in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, Northern would be Kyoto-based, shogunate emperor Ashitaka decides that the power to rule demands he acquire three sacred treasures, one of which is a sword buried in the lake at Dan-No-Ura.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Moonage Daydream

Director – Brett Morgen – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 135m

*****

David Bowie explored through his own words, accompanied by images of his life and art, many of his songs and extracts from numerous live performances – out in IMAX in the UK on Friday, September 16th and wide in cinemas on Friday, September 23rd.

In 2018, seasoned writer-director-editor Brett Morgen (Jane, 2017; Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, 2015; The Kid Stays In The Picture, 2002) was granted unprecedented access to David Bowie’s personal archives and four years later we have the first film to be supported by the Bowie estate. Knowing all this, you enter the cinema wondering exactly what you’re going to get.

You’re immediately confronted by a quote about Nietzsche and God which is then revealed as a quote from Bowie 2002, the film immediately putting Bowie on a par with one of the nineteenth century’s greatest philosophers and arguably even God. The subject of Nietsche doesn’t come back up, but God does, quite a bit, with Bowie’s religious-leaning song “Word On A Wing” putting in an appearance and David’s voice-over talking about “something…a force directing the universe”. Like many of us today, he struggles with the word ‘God’ – is it the right word?… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Strawberry Mansion

Directors – Kentucker Audley, Albert Birney – 2020 – US – Cert. 12a – 91m

*****

A strange and compelling tale, at once whimsical and terrifying, of a tax inspector sent to audit an artist’s dreams – out in UK cinemas and on demand Friday, September 16th

Nothing can prepare you for the experience of watching this extraordinary film. A man sits in his strawberry-coloured kitchen. In his strawberry-coloured fridge are strawberry-coloured boxes of food and strawberry-coloured cartons of drink. A knock at his door opens to reveal billowing clouds floating into the room like fog. It’s his friend who has arrived with a golden bucket container of fried chicken pieces and a bottle of cola. They eat and enjoy.

If you think this is weird, the scene turns up on the man’s video alarm clock. And the film has barely got started. Our hero’s work today involves a long drive to a lone house in the middle of a field. At the door, James Preble (Kentucker Audley) announces to the elderly occupant Arabella “Bella” Isadora (Penny Fuller) that he’s here to audit her dreams. As government legislation of seven year requires. She has over 2 000 VHS tapes, but it seems she hasn’t yet got around to fulfilling the legal requirement of the latest software.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Tad The Lost Explorer And The Curse Of The Mummy (Tad The Lost Explorer And The Emerald Tablet; Tadeo Jones 3. La Tabla Esmeralda; Tadeo Jones 3. La Taula Maragda)

Director – Enrique Gato – 2022 – Spain – Cert. U – 90m

****

In Mexico, desperate for recognition as a bona fide archaeologist, our hero unearths an Egyptian sarcophagus and unleashes a mysterious power from an Inca temple – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 9th

Gato’s third instalment of the Tad The Lost Explorer franchise is a lot better than it sounds, chiefly because it delivers narrative coherence and picks up and runs with numerous opportunities afforded by character and script where the similarly inventive Minions: The Rise Of Gru (Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, Jonathan del Val, 2022) failed.

Having agreed with girlfriend Sara not to go public about his previous archaeological discoveries, Tad has with her help got on to the Chicago Museum’s dig in Mexico – as a lowly assistant, even though he seems more clued-up than the three qualified archaeologists in charge. Rashly opening a secret door by pushing a part of a wall frieze, he finds himself in a vast chamber containing an Egyptian sarcophagus, his report of which is pooh-poohed by his three superiors until, after firing him, they discover it for themselves and take the credit.

This rivalry between the ‘amateur’ Tad and qualified but comparatively clueless ‘professionals’ is kept up throughout the narrative, although the professionals remain secondary characters.… Read the rest

Categories
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 – out on Blu-ray from All The Anime, Monday, 12th September, details below review

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

Categories
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, BFI Player Rental from Monday, August 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.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Free Chol Soo Lee

Directors – Julia Ha, Eugene Yi – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 83m

****

Imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, Korean American Chol Soo Lee became a figurehead for a protest movement, something he felt unable to live up to – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 19th

In San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1973, Korean loner Chol Soo Lee was arrested and subsequently convicted for a gang murder. While it’s true he had foolishly borrowed a gun off a work colleague a few days previously and accidentally discharged it into his apartment wall giving himself a police record, he was not the murderer. He was identified on the flimsiest of premises by unreliable witnesses, possibly not helped by white cops who wanted to convict a felon for the crime and consign the case to history.

On what was to be his last journey through the outside world before many years in prison, he heard the Tower of Power song “You’re still a young man” on a car radio crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. It resonated. As the years passed in prison, his mother abandoned him. He had fallen for a Japanese American girl he’d met Jean Ranko who subsequently told him in a letter that she had no romantic interest in him.… Read the rest

Categories
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

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Fortune Favours Lady Nikuko (Gyoko no Nikuko-chan, 漁港の肉子ちゃん)

Director – Ayumu Watanabe – 2021 – Japan – Cert. PG – 97m

*****

A large, single parent mum continues to make bad relationship choices as her daughter tries to make her way in the Northern Japanese coastal village where they currently live– out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, August 10th

Charging in its opening minutes in rapid-fire, riotously paced colour through the love life of large lady Nikuko (voice: Shinobu Otake) – whose name given by her daughter translates roughly as Meat-lady, a reference to her size and resultant huge appetite – this details her poor, serial, romantic choices via which the various men for whom she falls scam her for money and cheat on her one after the other. Eventually, she falls for The Novelist, who is at least faithful and comes with the added bonus that he’s always spending money on books (not that he’s generating any money himself) which engenders in the story’s voice-over narrator, but not in the woman herself who doesn’t bother with books, a lifelong love of books and reading. But, one day, he unexpectedly leaves, so Nikuko follows his path up north, fails to find him and settles in a small, coastal fishing town.… Read the rest

Categories
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