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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

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 – out in cinemas on Friday, April 22nd

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

The Bad Guys

Director – Pierre Perifel – 2022 – US – Cert. U – 100m

****1/2

A group of criminal animals led by a wolf mastermind pretend to go straight to pull off their greatest job ever – animated feature previews Saturday and Sunday, March 26th & 27th, out in cinemas on Friday, April 1st

It sounds a near impossible feat to pull off, yet The Bad Guys manages to successfully parody the meanness and violence of the gangster movie genre in a children’s animated film without any of the meanness and violence normally associated with that genre. It opens with two guys (well, a wolf and a snake) hanging out in a restaurant shooting the breeze. Yes, there’s only the two of them, but anyone who knows their gangster movies will immediately think of the six guys sitting around a restaurant table at the start of Reservoir Dogs (Quentin Tarantino, 1993) and to underscore the point, the characters are called Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake (along with, when we meet them shortly after, Ms. Tarantula, Mr. Piranha and Mr. Shark). They’re animals, but they could just as easily have been colours.

As his animal type suggests, Mr Wolf (voice: Sam Rockwell) is the leader of the pack.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Ambulance

Director – Michael Bay – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 136m

****

Two bank robbers shoot an LAPD officer then hijack as a getaway vehicle the ambulance that came to rescue him – out in cinemas on Friday, March 25th

In need of money for his wife’s experimental cancer treatment, army veteran Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II from The Matrix: Resurrections) approaches Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), the brother he grew up with in his adoptive family. Said family’s patriarch was unfortunately a career criminal and psychopath, and the former element can be found in Danny. Will expects he might get roped into some minor criminal activity, but what he absolutely isn’t expecting is to become part of the $32m heist.

Danny thinks on his feet, and has to improvise when a cop unaware there’s a robbery in progress talks his way into the bank hoping to chat up one of the tellers. Officer Zach (Jackson White) becomes first hostage then casualty, shot point-blank in the heat of the moment by Will. Hearing the “officer down” alert, highly proficient paramedic Cam Thompson (Eiza González) arrives in her ambulance on the scene only to be hijacked by the robbers and their victim, who becomes her patient she intends to keep alive.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Europa

Director – Haider Rashid – 2021 – Iraq, Italy, Kuwait – Cert. 12a – 75 m

****

A young Iraqi migrant is hunted by mercenaries after he crosses the Turkish/Bulgarian border – out in cinemas and on demand on Friday, March 18th

A number of movies hang over this bold adventure thriller about Kamal (Adam Ali), a young Iraqi migrant who after crossing from Turkey into Bulgaria finds himself hunted by paramilitaries with guns and balaclavas. One is the gothic classic The Most Dangerous Game / The Hounds Of Zaroff (Irving Pichel, Ernest B.Schoedsack, 1932) in which the passengers of a luxury liner shipwrecked on an island find themselves in a deadly relationship with the big game hunter who lives there. The others are much more recent. Utøya July 22 (Erik Poppe, 2018) is a one take recreation of the Utøya teen camp Summer massacre in which kids attempted to survive a rampaging gunman while Son Of Saul (László Nemes, 2015) follows a Jewish worker-prisoner around a Nazi death camp.

The connection with The Most Dangerous Game may actually be coincidental rather than deliberate, since what inspired Rashid was stories of real life migrants’ experiences. The locations are a Bulgarian woods not a constructed Hollywood jungle set, yet it fits neatly into that lineage.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Matrix: Resurrections

Director – Lana Wachowski – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 148m

**

One of the original directors returns for a fourth film in the popular franchise – available to own on Digital Download from Monday, March 14th

Helmed by one of the directing duo behind The Matrix (1999), this is the fourth feature film in the popular franchise. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is now the designer of the popular computer game The Matrix and being asked by owners Warner Bros. to make a fourth game, something he’s always decided he wouldn’t do. But under pressure from his boss, he capitulates. Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) frequents his local coffee shop, but they don’t know each other. The hero of his game Neo is loosely modelled on himself while Tiffany reminds him of its heroine Trinity.

With these two stars of the original film and its sequels returning, this fourth film starts off like a rerun of the original with different or substitute characters: the feisty Bugs (Jessica Henwick) as a Trinity substitute fleeing a series of suits in dark glasses, running into a man claiming to be Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who states, “I have to find Neo”.

And this is where The Matrix: Resurrections’ problems start to occur.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Chinese Odyssey (Sai Yau Gei, 西遊記)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part One – Pandora’s Box (Sai Yau Gei: Yut Gwong Bou Haap, 西遊記第壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part Two – Cinderella (Sai Yau Gei: Sin Leui Kei Yun, 西遊記大結局之仙履奇緣)

Director – Jeffrey Lau – 1995 – Hong Kong – 87 + 98m

***

The Monkey King is banished to earth with loss of memory for a series of encounters with monsters and romantic interludes – screened as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Saturday January 29th

These two films are the first and second parts of the same story, so it makes sense to screen them together as a double bill. The starting point is the 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West, which has also spawned such productions as the seminal Chinese animation The Monkey King (Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang; Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) and the long-running Japanese TV series Monkey (1978-80). The novel’s plot concerns a monk and his three assistants Pigsy, Sandy and Monkey who journey to the West (i.e. Central Asia and India) to obtain Buddhist texts.

Less an adaptation of the novel than a tangential story that uses the novel’s framework as its starting point, the films are bookended by two sequences, one at the start of Part One, the other at the end of Part Two, which start the tangential story rolling and wrap it up respectively.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Ghostbusters Afterlife

Director – Jason Reitman – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

A single parent mum and her two teenage kids relocate to a small American town to find strange, paranormal goings-on – currently streaming in Ultra HD and from Monday, January 31st on BD and DVD in the UK

Hollywood loves sequels to or reboots of successful films. The original Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984), in which three parapsychologists set up as a team to capture the many ghosts that have inexplicably begun appearing in New York City, was unlike anything that had gone before with its mixture of comedy, action and the paranormal. Deservedly a huge hit, it spawned the inevitable sequel Ghostbusters II (Ivan Reitman, 1989) which didn’t have a strong enough plot to maintain interest beyond the first 20 minutes or so. The reboot Ghostbusters (Paul Feig, 2016), recasting the parapsychologists as women, worked well enough.

Ghostbusters Afterlife, however, is another attempt at a sequel. A very brave attempt it is too, because sequels are often expected to basically rerun the original film in an attempt to serve the audience a second helping of what they enjoyed before. After seeing it, you might argue that Afterlife does that, but going in, you might wonder what on Earth is going on.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

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