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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.

SOUND Ironically bookended by White Christmas, the sparse but subtle surround mix manages two highly effective moments (the very start, the very end) that work as emotional punctuation marks.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Minamata

Director – Andrew Levitas – 2020 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

****

A dramatisation of celebrated photographer W. Eugene Smith’s investigation of Japan’s Minamata environmental atrocity in 1971 – out in cinemas and on digital from Friday, August 13th

This feels like a Hollywood actor-led project with laudable aims which comes unstuck somewhere in the execution. That said, there’s still much to admire.

Minamata is the name of a Japanese coastal town which became synonymous with Mercury poisoning caused by the Chisso chemicals factory in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Following a celebrated career as a war photographer in WW2, W. Eugene Smith photographed the series Country Doctor for Life magazine, now recognised as a landmark in the medium of the photo-essay. In the early 1970s, he and his Japanese-American wife Aileen were introduced to the town of Minamata and its dark secret, and collaborated on a photographic book about it. When we meet him in 1971, played by Johnny Depp (from such films as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2005; Sleepy Hollow, 1999; Edward Scissorhands, 1990, all Tim Burton) he has his own darkroom in a New York loft and has clearly seen better days as he is constantly on the whisky and amphetamines.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Remnants (Gong-Dong-Jeong-Beom)

Director – Kim Il-rhan, Lee Hyuk-sang – 2016 – South Korea – 116m

****

Revisiting the Korean towering inferno: follow-up doc to Two Doors, has survivors of the Yongsan tragedy released from prison to tell their side of the story and grapple with the resulting emotional and psychological problems – from the London Korean Film Festival 2017

Set to open in Korea in 2018, this is the follow-up documentary to Two Doors (Kim il-rhan/ Hong Ji-you, 2012) about the Yongsan tragedy in which a policeman and five protesters were killed in a fire atop a housing block during a protest. One of the limitations imposed on that film was the incarceration of those protesters that escaped the burning rooftop lookout atop the Yongsan building. Viewers of the first film kept asking what had happened to these people.

The short answer is: four years after originally being sentenced, they were pardoned and released. This meant that they were now available to tell their own stories, so Kim and Lee from the Pinks film making collective and their crew started talking to them on camera. Slowly, a second film started to emerge. It’s not exactly a sequel, more a follow up.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Two Doors (Doo gae-eui moon)

Director – Kim Il-rhan, Hong Ji-you – 2011 – South Korea – 101m

*****

Is this the Korean Grenfell Tower? Threatened eviction, SWAT, lethal building fire: compelling documentary about the Yongsan tragedy in which a police raid on a group of housing protesters went horribly wrong – from the London Korean Film Festival 2017

The story of the Yongsan tragedy. Yongsan is an area of Central Seoul which had been the site of a US military base and the infrastructure such as bars and prostitution which had grown up around it. Once the US military decamped to another area, the developers hoped to move in and regenerate the area. For ‘regenerate’ read ‘gentrify’, a situation not entirely unfamiliar in parts of the UK at present. In Yongsan, when some tenants in one particular housing block refused to move out, activists seized on this and helped stage a protest.

Instead of listening to their grievances as the protesters would have hoped, the authorities surrounded the block with police whose presence only served to aggravate the protesters into throwing firebombs. The police subsequently stormed the building with intent to remove the protesters who barricaded themselves inside and whose last stand would take place in a lookout structure on the roof of the building.… Read the rest