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Ilo Ilo (爸妈不在家)

Director – Anthony Chen – 2013 – Singapore – Cert. 12 – 99m

****

A Filipino maid must contend with the unruly son of a working Singaporean couple in a time of economic difficulty – now available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland as part of the Debut Spotlight strand until Wednesday, May 12th

1997, the Asian financial crisis is looming (see Default, 2018, Choi Kook-Hee) and the Leng family is under pressure. Secretary Hwee (Yeo Yann Yann) works for a shipping company that has hit difficult times: one of her jobs is to type up redundancy letters for staff who are about to be called into the manager’s office. She believes she and her immediate admin colleagues are safe. Her husband Teck (Chen Tian Wen) is a sales executive, but on the evidence of his pitching ‘unbreakable’ glass to a buyer – it breaks – is not that good at it.

The couple are expecting a second child. They’ve been so focused on work, though, that they perhaps haven’t spent as much time as they should with their son Jiale (Koh Jia Ler) who has the worst behaviour record in his school and is frequently the recipient of corporal punishment by the discipline teacher.… Read the rest

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The Eight Hundred (Ba Bai, 八佰)

Director – Guan Hu – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 149m – IMAX

****1/2

Hopelessly outnumbered Chinese soldiers take a last stand against the Japanese in a Shanghai warehouse – – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Domestic Hits strand in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 which runs until Wednesday, May 12th

1937, the Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese have fallen back to , Shanghai as the Japanese advance. Rounding up Chinese deserters, Colonel Xie (Du Chun) and his men of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) hole up in the Sihang warehouse on the other side of the Souzou Creek from the International Concession from which the horrified civilians compulsively watch the conflict unfold.

A Western movie covering such a subject would likely introduce us to specific soldier characters at some length, possibly derailing the larger narrative to do this. The Chinese here do it rather differently. They take the overall sweep of the story and drop the characters in to it. There are deserters, there are brave and heroic fighters and there are men who move from the former to the latter group. The writers also sketch civilian characters living across the river.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Shock Wave (Chai Dan Zhuan Jia, 拆彈專家)

Director – Herman Yau – 2017 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 118m

****

A bomb disposal expert must prevent a bomber from destroying the Cross Harbour Hong Kong Tunnel and taking numerous innocent lives in the process – now available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland as part of the Hong Kong, Reimagined strand until Wednesday, May 12th

Undercover police bomb disposal expert JS Cheung (Andy LauInfernal Affairs, Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, 2002, Days Of Being Wild, Wong Kar-wai, 1990, As Tears Go By, Wong Kar-wai, 1988) of the Hong Kong Police’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau (EOD) blows his cover during a daring operation by a gang of criminals to kill as many cops as possible using car bombs. The car chase mayhem ends with the arrest of Biao Hong (Leo Wang Zi-yi) the explosives nerd and little brother of gang leader Peng Hong (Jiang Wu – Wrath Of Silence, Xin Yukun, 2017; Monster Hunt, Raman Hui, 2015). Some time later, Peng Hong Blocks traffic in the busy Cross Harbour Hong Kong Tunnel running from Kowloon to Hong Kong, trapping motorists and passengers as hostages and threatening to blow up the tunnel unless his brother is released.… Read the rest

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Apples (Mila, Μηλα)

Where are we now?

Apples
Directed by Christos Nikou
Certificate 12a, 91 minutes
Greece
Released 07 May on Curzon Home Cinema,
17th May in cinemas

A film whose time has unexpectedly come. People are suddenly losing their memories in a pandemic. A man (Aris Servetalis) nods off on a bus and, when he comes to, can’t remember where he was going, where he came from, or even his name and address. The amnesia is permanent and no one has been known to recover. As in our real life pandemic, the health service is set up to deal with the effects of all this.

The man’s pockets are checked for ID but none found. He is given a number: 18482. In hospital, he chats to the man in the next bed until one day the man has gone – having been identified and claimed by his family. Inevitably, some people remain unclaimed, as is the case for our man… [read more]

Full review in Reform magazine.

Trailer:

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Judas And The Black Messiah

Director – Shaka King – 2021 – US – Cert. 12 – 126m

****1/2

The FBI recruit a small-time thief to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers and report on rising political leader and activist Fred Hampton – two-time Oscar winner is on digital from Monday, April 26th

This cleverly and skilfully plays out both as a terrific thriller about a smart, small time crook recruited by the FBI as an undercover agent and as a chance to take a fresh look at a piece of US social history that has been presented in an unfavourable light by its largely state-sympathetic chroniclers. That piece of history is the Black Panther Party (BPP), long presented as violent insurgents intention upsetting the US status quo. However in the #BlackLivesMatter era when the police in the US have all too often shown themselves in sync with ideas of white entitlement, maybe it’s time to look at the BPP again.

I’m not sure you can totally exonerate the BPP – they did, after all, take up arms against the police although you might argue much of that’s in self-defence – but at the same time there seems to have been a lot in the organisation that’s good: social programmes and trying to help blacks and the social underclass stand on their own two feet in a system rigged against them.… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies

Effie Gray

Director – Richard Laxton – 2014 – UK – Cert. 12A – 104m

****

The eponymous heroine marries art critic John Ruskin who then fails to consummate their relationship – in Virtual Cinemas and on VoD from Monday, April 19th and BD/DVD Special Collector’s Edition from Monday, May 31st

The real life story of Effie Gray provides a fascinating footnote to an episode of English art history. At age 19, she married ascendant critic John Ruskin but for reasons we shall probably never fully know, their sexual relationship was never consummated and she had the marriage annulled six years later. Meanwhile, she had got to know Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais through Ruskin, marrying him a year after the annulment. Effie’s second marriage was to prove a much happier affair and she bore John eight children.

The story has been dramatised numerous times, mostly either on radio or screen, as well as the odd stage play, short story or novel. Emma Thompson’s slow and deliberate screenplay may be the first time the story has been put on the big screen in a full length feature (one of the very first adaptations was the silent short The Love Of John Ruskin, Van Dyke Brooke, 1912).… Read the rest

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The Reckoning

Director – Neil Marshall – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 111m

***

A woman accused of witchcraft finds herself pitted in a battle of wills against her witchfinder torturer at the time of the Great Plague – on digital from Friday, April 16th

On the one hand, this explores the historical time period of the Great Plague and links that directly with women being burned at the stake for witchcraft by way of a widespread, social scapegoating process. On the other, it depicts a horribly misogynistic society where, for the most part women are regarded as inferior and treated really badly. Two sides of the same coin.

The film itself is mixed. Parts feel hackneyed, parts will have you on the edge of your seat. The cliché-ridden opening, for instance, cross-cuts chocolate box-y photography of a cottage-dwelling couple’s idyllic, married existence in the constantly sunlit countryside with the wife digging a grave in torrential rain after finding her husband has hanged himself from a tree at night.

It transpires that farmer Joseph Haverstock (Joe Anderson) stopped off for a pint at the local tavern and accidentally drank the beer of a plague victim, contracting the disease. He selflessly kills himself rather than take the chance of passing it on to his beloved wife Grace (Charlotte Kirk, also one of the screenwriters – Ocean’s Eight, Gary Ross, 2018) and baby daughter Abby.… Read the rest

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Promising Young Woman

Director – Emerald Fennell – 2020 – US – Cert. US R – 113m

*****

A med school dropout seeks revenge on the students and others complicit in her best friend’s rape years before – on Sky Cinema and Now from Friday, April 16th

Cassie (Carey Mulligan) goes to bars, gets wasted and is picked up by men whose intentions are less than honourable. However, all is not what it seems – before you can shout spoiler alert (and we’re not going to because this is the start of the film, given away in the trailer and effectively part of the narrative set up) she’s not wasted at all, only pretending. Depending on exactly how dishonourable these men’s intentions are, she exacts her revenge accordingly.

These acts are premeditated in the sense that she goes out, entraps men and does what she does, but not in the sense that she knows any of the men beforehand. Indeed, they choose her, so you could argue their fate is self-inflicted. And were any of them to behave chivalrously – take her home, put her to bed, not try to take sexual advantage, perhaps phone the next day to check she was okay – she’d probably look favourably on them for doing the decent thing.… Read the rest

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True Mothers (Asa ga Kuru, 朝が来る)

Director – Naomi Kawase – 2020 – Japan – Cert. – 140m

*****

An unmarried mum hands her child over to adoptive parents only to later decide that she wants the child back – Japan’s entry for the 2020/2021 Oscars is screening on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, April 16th

Naomi Kawase’s new film True Mothers deals with the interface between unwanted teen pregnancy and infertility among married couples and was Japan’s entry for this year’s Best International Feature Film at the Oscars. Sadly, it didn’t make the Academy’s shortlist. However, UK audiences up and down the land will now be able to see it on Curzon Home Cinema. It had a brief UK big screen outing late last year at the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), which, after several months of touch-and-go somewhat incredibly went ahead days before the UK went back into total lockdown.

Former documentarian Kawase has been getting a lot of exposure in the UK in recent years with both Sweet Bean (2015) and The Mourning Forest (2007) released here on Eureka! Video and Still the Water (2014) currently available on MUBI and BFI Player. I like Kawase but I must admit True Mothers sounded like it might be terrible.… Read the rest

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The Banishing

Director – Christopher Smith – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 97m

***1/2

A vicar, his wife and their daughter move into a haunted rectory which seems out to get them – on digital platforms from Friday, March 26th and Shudder from Thursday, April 15th

The Rev Stanley Hall (Matthew Clarke) is found hanged from the top of four-poster bed in his bedroom in the old rectory near the village. This follows a session with his hefty bible, annotated in placed with scrawled pentagrams and pages burned through with holes, his reading out loud Pauline admonitions against ‘sexual immorality’ and a bizarre vision of himself either having sex with or inflicting extreme bloody violence upon his wife (or possibly both at once – it’s not entirely clear). Bishop Malachi (John Lynch) is summoned to the house.

Three years later, Malachi installs a new vicar Linus (John Heffernan) in the property which has remained vacant in the interim. Linus is joined by wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her illegitimate daughter Adelaide (Anya Mckenna-Bruce) as well as the house’s incumbent deaf maid Betsy (Jean St. Clair). Like his predecessor, Linus is obsessed with abstaining from sexual immorality, despite his wife’s pointing out to him that they are married.… Read the rest