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Amulet

Director – Romola Garai – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 99m

*****

A border checkpoint soldier moves into a suburban, London house with a dark secret in the attic – out in cinemas on Friday, January 28th

Somewhere in Russia or Eastern Europe – it’s not clear exactly where – a soldier (Alec Secareanu) is billeted in an austere wooden hut within walking distance of the border checkpoint he mans between certain hours of the day. The rest of the time, he wanders in the local woodlands. In one location, he gets the urge to dig in the peaty earth and finds a small figure – the eponymous amulet – of a female deity.

One day, a woman (Angeliki Papoulia) runs down the road towards the checkpoint, despite his warnings that he’ll shoot her, then trips. He takes her in, introduces himself as Tomaz and lets her use the shelter of his hut. Eventually it comes out that Miriam wants to cross the border, over which her estranged husband took their daughter, with whom she wishes to be reunited.

Is this in his past? It it a dream? It’s not entirely clear. In another reality or time period, Tomaz (now with a beard) is an immigrant in London, living in a squat and struggling to hold things together with piecemeal building work.… Read the rest

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Detective Chinatown 3 (Tang Ren Jie Tan An 3, 唐人街探案3)

Director – Chen Sicheng – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 136m

****

The Chinese franchise’s super-sleuth and bumbling sidekick join forces with their Japanese and Thai counterparts in Japan – out in cinemas on Tuesday, January 25th and 26th only

No sooner have the brilliant crime-solving sleuth Qin Feng (Liu Haoran) and his likeable if barely competent sidekick Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang) flown in to Tokyo and met their contact there, the sharp and colourful Hiroshi Noda (Satoshi Tsumabuki), than they find themselves embroiled in one of the most seriously bonkers action sequences in the movies in recent years when members of (at least) two gangs suddenly attack in the airport to the inspired accompaniment of the pop song ‘Welcome To Tokyo’ (which gets rolled out again for a cheerful, cast of thousands, song and dance routine accompanying the end credits). Extensive mayhem ensures. A man rolls down a long flight of steps in an oil drum. Two groups of smartly uniformed and skirted women do battle (one group in red, one in blue – stewardesses from rival airlines, perhaps?). Workmen in hard hats and overalls descend from scaffolding to join the melee.

Knowing this will be an impossible act to follow, the film then throws in a pursuer Jack Jaa (Thai martial arts sensation Tony Jaa from Ong-bak, Prachya Pinkaew, 2003) on the Tokyo subway before having the trio flee him on go-karts while he comes unstoppably and hilariously after them by stealing a child’s bicycle with tiny wheels.… Read the rest

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An Autumn’s Tale (Chau Tin Dik Tung Wa, 秋天的童話)

Director – Mabel Cheung – 1987 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 98m

****

A girl leaves her home in Hong Kong and flies to New York where her boyfriend has dumped her, so her cousin looks after her there instead – screening as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 8:15 pm, NFT2, info here

Young and innocent 23-year-old hopeful Jennifer (Cherie Chung from The Story Of Wu-Viet, Ann Hui, 1981; Wild Search, Ringo Lam, 1989; Once A Thief, John Woo, 1991, all co-starring as here with Chow Yun Fat) takes a one-way, 20 hour flight from Hong Kong to New York where she’s enrolled in acting school, something for which she plans to get whatever work she can in order to pay her way. Her other – perhaps her main – reason for the journey is to be reunited with her boyfriend, but when she goes to meet Vincent (Danny Chan Bak-yeung) off the train, she sees he’s with the more sophisticated Peggy (Cindy Ou / Wu Fu-sheng) and no longer interested in her, Jennifer.

Meanwhile, looking out for her is her Big Apple streetwise cousin ‘Figurehead’ a.k.a.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Weald (Somaudo Monogatari, 杣人物語)

Director – Naomi Kawase – 1997 – Japan – 73m

***

Serial elderly residents of Japan’s Yoshino Mountains go about their daily business and talk about life’s joys and hardships – online in the UK as part of Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) from Monday, January 17th to Sunday, February 6th, 2022.

Prior to making such features as The Mourning Forest (2007), Sweet Bean (2015) and Japan’s 2021 International Oscar entry True Mothers (2020), independent Japanese film maker Kawase cut her teeth on intensely personal, low budget documentaries, first shorts then both shorts and features.

For this her third feature length documentary, Kawase took her camera up the Yoshino Mountains at the Southern end of Japan’s two island mainland to shoot the lives of elderly locals recording them and presenting her footage as a series of straightforward portraits. There’s no attempt to impose any narrative or outside agenda; rather, her camera gives space to these people to talk, reminisce and, ultimately, simply to be.

A woman who has spent her entire life farming a small plot of land keeps herself to herself, claims she isn’t lonely and that she likes being at home. “How much longer can I do this,” she asks the camera as she walks up a woodland slope.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Belfast

Director – Kenneth Branagh – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 98m

*****

1969, Belfast, Northern Ireland. The life of a young boy and his family is impacted by The Troubles as Christian sectarianism explodes into violence on their street – out in cinemas on Friday, January 21st

Bookended by colour images of contemporary Belfast, Northern Ireland, this swiftly traverses a colour montage to pan up a wall to the black and white photographed 1969 beyond. The closing moments also feature the genuinely touching legend, “For the ones who stayed, For the ones who left, And for the ones who were lost.”

Elsewhere, apart from family trips to the cinema to see the likes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Ken Hughes, 1968), where the clips from the movie and light reflected from it onto the black and white audience are in colour, everything else (including other aspects of the family cinema-going experience) is entirely in black and white.

The first ten minutes are a particularly tough watch, as images of kids playing footy, hopscotch or knights in armour (wooden swords and dustbin lids) in the streets give way to nine-year-old Buddy (ten-year-old Jude Hill) returning home to find men with clubs breaking windows on his street, hurling Molotov cocktails and shouting, “get these fockers off your street.”… Read the rest

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Nightmare Alley (2021)

Director – Guillermo del Toro – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 150m

****

A former carny gets deep into trouble using mind-reading trickery on a wealthy mark – out in cinemas on Friday, January 21st

After burning a body in an isolated farmhouse, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) gets work with travelling carnival showman Clem (Willem Dafoe) via midget The Major (Mark Povinelli) and strongman Bruno (Ron Perlman). He soon ingratiates himself with mind reader Zeena (Toni Collette) who lets him into some of the secrets of her trade, but romantically he’s more interested in Molly (Rooney Mara) with whom, despite opposition from her unofficial guardian Bruno, he runs away intent on working a lucrative act on a wealthier audience to make larger amounts of money.

One night, during a residency at a hotel, Stanton and Molly’s show is interrupted by a woman (Cate Blanchett) trying to expose him as a fraud. Successfully navigating her heckling, he convinces Judge Kimball (Peter MacNeill) that he is in contact with the Judge’s dead son. Going against Molly’s advice not to do “spook shows”, and offering to cut in the woman, psychoanalyst Dr. Lilith Ritter, for 50%, he agrees to private sessions with the Judge who puts him onto his wealthy friend Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins).… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Hostile

Director – Sonita Gale – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 98m

**1/2

A documentary about the UK’s anti-immigrant Hostile Environment policy includes a brief history plus stories of both those it affected and a charity set up to help them – out in cinemas on Friday, January 21st

The eponymous adjective refers to the UK’s attitude to immigrants since 2012: the so-called Hostile Environment. Make Britain an unpleasant enough place for immigrants, and they’ll leave.

Gale’s film has three main plot strands. The first follows the Sair family, from Pakistan, resident in the UK since 2003. The second follows the fortunes of the Community Response Kitchen, a non-profit organisation set up to feed low paid workers in the London Borough of Brent. The third is a brief history of anti-immigration rhetoric and policy in the UK. Further material includes interviews with Windrush generation Brit Anthony Bryan and MP Stephen Timms, among others.

The story of the Sairs makes for depressing viewing. In 2003, Farrukh Sair married Saba in Pakistan. Four months later, the couple moved to the UK on a student visa to do a course. Today, they have a family, kids who have spent their entire lives in the UK.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Memoria

Director – Apichatpong Weerasethakul – 2021 – UK, Colombia, Thailand – Cert. 12 – 126m

****1/2

A British woman travelling around Bogotá, Colombia, is troubled by a strange banging sound and goes on a quest to investigate it – out in cinemas on Friday, January 14th

This is a film to approach with caution: I confess to never having previously got on with a Weerasethakul film; perhaps I’ll go back and revisit some after this. His work – or at least his feature films – have been described as Slow Cinema (of which, more shortly).

This is light years away from Hollywood cinema with its determination to grab your attention and hold it by throwing stuff at you at frequent intervals. The director is Thai, however his films don’t seem to sit alongside any Thai movies or wider Oriental movies I’ve seen. Even locating it in art house cinema, it doesn’t really look like anything else. I am reminded of what has been said about the French director Jean-Luc Godard: if cinema hadn’t existed, he would have invented it. Although his movies are nothing like Godard’s, the same could be said of Weerasethakul’s movies.

Actually, the feature films are only the tip of the iceberg: he makes far more short films than he he does features, an output that immediately puts him at odds with the feature film-oriented world of theatrical cinema distribution.… Read the rest

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The 355

Director – Simon Kinberg – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 124m

***

Five female agents from different national security agencies team up to prevent a deadly new cyber-weapon falling into the wrong hands – out in cinemas on Friday, January 7th

An illegal deal is going down 150 miles south of Bogotá, Columbia. A ruthless and powerful mercenary (Jason Flemyng) will stop at nothing to get hold of a deadly new cyber-weapon – a hand-sized device which is capable of accessing and utilising any other computer control system and that can be plugged into a laptop. However, things don’t go according to plan when the sellers’ mansion is raided by Colombia’s Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia (DNI) and the cyber-weapon taken by operative Luis (Édgar Ramirez) who pans to sell it on and vanish with the money.

Posing as a married couple, CIA operatives Nick (Sebastian Stan) and Mace (Jessica Chastain) are sent to Paris, France to rendezvous with Luis and buy the cyber-weapon off him. In their temporary apartment, Nick unexpectedly kisses her and they sleep together, but later he is fatally shot when the operation goes wrong because an operative of the German national security organisation the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BDN) Marie (Diane Kruger) snatches the bag.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Shape Of Water

Loving the alien

The Shape Of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Certificate 15, 123 minutes
Released 14 February 2018

There’s a tradition in horror films and fairytales that the monster is bad. The Shape Of Water is a fairytale that features a monster (Doug Jones) who is viewed very differently by different characters. To the military security man, Strickland (Michael Shannon), it’s an affront to the image of God, in which man is created, which must be brutally subdued. To the scientist and Russian agent, Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), he’s an intelligent being from whom our species has much to learn and who should be kept alive at all costs and treated with respect – rather than killed and dissected as the authorities suggest. And to the mute cleaning lady, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who subsequently falls in love with him, he’s someone who responds to hard-boiled eggs and Benny Goodman records, and sees her for herself rather than for her so-called disability… [read more]

Read the full review in Reform, February 2018.

Trailer: