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Features Live Action Movies

The Whale

Director – Darren Aronofsky – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 117m

***

An obese man nearing his death must confront people from his past as well as incidental visits from the present– out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 3rd

A dysfunctional body, a dysfunctional family, a dysfunctional world. Charlie (Brendan Fraser) has so abused his body that his obesity is on the verge of killing him. He is bereaved of his gay partner for whom he left his wife and eight-year old daughter and earns his living as an online English language tutor for high school students. His nurse friend and unpaid carer Liz (Hong Chau) visits him at regular intervals, but can’t get him to go to hospital since he doesn’t have a healthcare plan and anyway resents pouring money into the healthcare system.

The healthcare element will look a little weird to anyone living in the UK with its “free at the point of need” National Health Service.

His other visitors in the course of the film are his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink), his wife Mary (Samantha Morton), a suited missionary (Ty Simpkins) and fast food delivery boy (Sathya Sridharan), the latter mostly heard at the door and only finally glimpsed towards the end.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Peter Von Kant (Peter Von Kant)

Director – François Ozon – 2022 – France – Cert. 15 – 85m

***1/2

A re-imagining of R.W. Fassbinder’s all-female-cast The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant, with the three central gay characters switched from female to male – plays in cinemas from Friday, 30th December

Köln, 1972. Peter von Kant (Denis Ménochet) is a successful film director who resides in his apartment with his personal assistant Karl (Stefan Crepon). He is visited by his old friend, the singer Sidonie (Isabelle Adjani), whose blown up picture adorns one of his walls. She introduces him to young man of Arab extraction and actor wannabe Amir Ben Salem (Khalil Gharbia) with who Peter becomes besotted and who subsequently moves in with him.

Their passionate relationship is, however, doomed, with Amir suddenly leaving some months later on the pretext of visiting his wife when she unexpectedly phones him from a nearby city. After Aamir has left him, Peter becomes an emotional wreck. On his birthday, he waits on the phone, hanging up in seconds when he realises the caller isn’t Amir. He vents his emotional distress on his three birthday visitors: his mother Rosemarie (Hanna Schygulla), his boarding school student daughter Gabrielle (Aminthe Audiard) and Sidonie.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Directors – Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 114m

*****

Created as a puppet by a bereaved, religious woodcarver father, a little wooden boy must make his way in a world of ruthless show business, Fascism and war – stop-frame puppet movie is out on Netflix on Friday, December 9th

Co-helmed by Will Vinton alumnus Gustafson, del Toro’s Carlo Collodi adaptation sees him return to the theme of the Catholic Church collaborating with Fascism that he previously explored in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). The story roughly follows the familiar template of Disney’s Pinocchio (1940), even down to punctuating the action with songs, but with the loosely defined place and time of a fairytale shifted to a very specific Italy before (briefly) and during World War II, with Pleasure Island replaced by a boys’ military training camp. The emphasis has shifted, too, from the notion of the narrator cricket character as conscience to coming to terms with mortality, although the idea that just because things appear to be fun they may not necessarily be good is knocking around in there too.

A narrator who will later identify himself as Sebastian J. Cricket (voice: Ewan McGregor) introduces us to churchgoing woodcarver Gepetto (voice: David Bradley), who is working on a statue of Jesus Christ crucified for the local church, raising dutiful son Carlo (voice: Gregory Mann), an equally religious child with a true sense of wonder at the world around him, including planes in the sky.… Read the rest

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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

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Transformed by an atrocity

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time
Directed by Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott
Certificate 15
Released 22 July (cinemas and digital platforms)

Full review published in Reform magazine.

The late Kurt Vonnegut claims that after touching a tree trunk he saw the bombing of Dresden before it actually happened, and it’s easy to believe him. His whole life, he says, has been unstuck in time. Born in Indianapolis in 1922, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was shipped off as a POW to Dresden, a bustling metropolis unlike anything he’d previously seen. He survived the Allied bombing of that city inside an underground meat locker and emerged to see it razed to the ground. The Germans had him and fellow prisoners search for bodies amongst the ruins.

Back in the States… [Read the rest at Reform magazine]

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is out in cinemas and on Altitude Film digital platform in the UK from Friday, July 22nd.

Read my longer review.

Adaptation of Vonnegut’s Mother Night (writer-producer Robert B. Weide, 1996) – review.

Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018) also covers the bombing of Dresden – review.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Miami Blues

Director – George Armitage – 1990 – US – Cert. 18 – 97m

Fred Ward produced and starred in an adaptation of the first of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley crime novels in 1990

****

Review from TNT magazine, March 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

To anyone already familiar with Charles Willeford’s hard-boiled novel Miami Blues, writer/director George Armitage’s screen version races through its opening so fast that numerous elements which set up what follows are omitted. Add to this the unlikely casting of Fred Ward (also one of the executive producers here) as Police Sergeant Hoke Moseley and Alec Baldwin as the killer Freddy Frenger Junior, and the end result is quite some distance from the original.

Frenger’s initial assault on a Krishna at Miami Airport – who dies of shock after his finger is broken by being bent backwards – is reduced to a one-off incident rather than an important link in Willeford’s complex chain of events. Prostitute/college student Susan Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with whom Junior gets involved, is no longer the sister of the Krishna victim. Gone, too, are Junior’s observations about Japanese haikus, in which his readings of the Japanese poems reveal his utter paucity of vision.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Death On The Nile (2020)

Director – Kenneth Branagh – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 127m

**

Detective Hercule Poirot must investigate a rising body count on a wedding party Nile cruise – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

Attending a gig by blues musician Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) where her niece and savvy business manager Rosalie Otterbourne (Laetitia Wright) is also in attendance, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) runs into Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer) and Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) who are passionately in love with each other and engage in some extremely suggestive dancing. She encourages her friend Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) to take the floor with Simon, whereupon they too engage in some extremely suggestive dancing.

Holidaying in Egypt, Poiret runs into old acquaintance Bouc (Tom Bateman) and his overbearing mother Euphemia (Annette Bening). Cut to a lavish hotel where Simon and Linnet announce to a party of attendant friends that they are to be married. Simon appears to have done very well for himself: he lacks money or prospects while Linnet is a fabulously rich heiress. The understandably alienated Jacqueline, however, keeps following them around on their travels. The couple asks Poirot if he could do something about this. He refuses on the grounds that no crime has been committed, but nevertheless speaks with Jacqueline and politely asks her to back off.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Dune

Director – Denis Villeneuve – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 155m

*****

A powerful family is exiled to a desert planet populated with giant sandworms as part of an interplanetary conspiracy to end their dynasty – out to rent on Premium Video on Demand from Monday, December 6th

Frank Herbert’s sprawling novel Dune (1965) was read in the late 1960s and 1970s by any teenage boy with the slightest interest in science fiction and fantasy. It had (a little) space travel but more significantly it had alien worlds, notably the desert planet Arrakis on which 95% of the action takes place, and so ticked the SF box.

Then it had a whole ecology involving the planet’s occupants the Fremen, a drug known as ‘the Spice’, and giant sandworms, so it also ticked the fantasy box.

On top of this, it pitted dynasties – ‘Houses’ – against each other in a tale of interplanetary political intrigue.

The plot was unbelievably convoluted, spawning a lengthy series of sequels. I gave up around the fifth or sixth book. And yet, the first book possessed an almost mythic quality that my diminishing interest in the later volumes was unable to dispel.

The sheer quantity of plot was always going to be a challenge for a standalone movie.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

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. Also available on Digital Wednesday, March 16th and on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, March 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.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Servant

Director – Joseph Losey – 1963 – UK – Cert. 12 – 115m

*****

A highly capable working class manservant slowly takes control of his foppish, upper class master’s life – out in cinemas on Friday, September 10th

Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) enters the curiously unlocked Chelsea house of Tony (James Fox) to interview for the position of manservant. He finds the unkempt Tony asleep in a chair. He seems to fit Tony’s bill and gets the job. Tony got the house very cheap, although it’s in need of repair and decoration. Barrett has any number of useful suggestions, but Tony overrides one or two of them. A servant should know their place, after all.

At a club Tony tells his date Susan (Wendy Craig) that he’s involved in clearing jungle to build three cities. When he brings her back to the house, she finds her attempts at both romantic intimacy and imposing her ideas on his home consistently thwarted by Barrett’s intrusions.

Barrett secures a job for his “sister” Vera (Sarah Miles) as a maid. She is actually his lover. And she sets about seducing Tony. All of this will come to a head, with Tony throwing the pair of them out.… Read the rest