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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Agent
of Happiness

Directors – Arun Bhattarai, Dorottya Zurbó – 2023 – Bhutan, Hungary – 94m

****

A civil servant travels around Bhutan assessing individual people’s happiness even as his personal life begs the questions whether he, himself, is truly happy – out in UK cinemas on Friday, July 12th

Judging by the opening montage of cloudy and hilly scenery here, Bhutan may not be the sunniest place on the planet, but it looks fabulously beautiful. In their house, a fortysomething man clips and files his mother’s fingernails. He puts on his uniform (which includes a traditional type of robe), says goodbye to her, and goes out to work. He has a job as one of 75 agents who travel the kingdom conducting surveys assessing people’s happiness. We will only lean his name fortysomething minutes into the film.

The surveys have 148 questions and nine categories. The King of Bhutan has instigated a Happiness Index, to measure Gross National Happiness (GNH), which serves as the basis of future policy to improve his subjects’ lot and make them as happy as they can be.

The agent and his colleague drive around in his car meeting people and asking them the questions. At the end of each interview, a chart overlays the image of the person (sometimes it’s more than one family member) showing marks from one to ten for each category, plus another mark for their overall Happiness Level.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Sting

Director – Kiah Roache-Turner – 2024 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 91m

***1/2

A girl traps a venomous spider and cares for it as a pet, but as she feeds it, it grows… and grows… and gets out… – into UK cinemas on Friday, May 31st

Helga (Noni Hazlehurst) is hearing strange noises in her Brooklyn apartment. She doesn’t remember so good, however, helpfully pinned to the wall by the phone is her name and address. So when she phones Frank the pest exterminator (Jermaine Fowler), she can read those details to him. It’s probably a rat, he tells her. Soon he is at the door of the block, asking her to buzz him in. But inside the apartment, he realises this particular bug may be more than he bargained for.

Flash back to four days earlier. A hand-sized meteor plunges to Earth to crash through a window into a doll’s house in the same apartment block. It is a tiny pod not unlike the ones in Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979). It opens, hatching a small spider, which looks huge until we realise it’s in a small scale doll’s house, not outside in the apartment proper. The spider is found by Charlotte (Alyla Brown from Furiosa: A Mad Max Story, George Miller, 2024) who empties out her money jar, the one with the screw lid, to make a home for it, feeding it with the roaches that infest the apartment.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Furiosa
A Mad Max Saga

Director – George Miller – 2024 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 148m

*****

Kidnapped by a biker gang she attacks, young Furiosa must make her way in the desert wasteland populated by despots, bikers, and gas truck drivers – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 124h

In the forest where fruit is plentiful near her home, young Furiosa (Alyla Browne, the lead in the upcoming Sting, LINK, Kiah Roache-Turner, 2023) spots a group of bikers who capture her as she tries to cut their bikes’ fuel lines. Her mother Mary Jabasa (Charlee Fraser) sets off across the desert in pursuit, stealing a bike from one of their number, only to be captured and crucified. Furiosa is taken to the biker’s despotic and nomadic leader Dementus (Chris Hemsworth), later escaping and falling in with gas truck driver Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke). Furiosa becomes a young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) who as Jack’s protégé learns everything he knows.

The desert economy, where gasoline is the most precious commodity, consists of a wasteland in which are situated three strongholds: Gas Town, The Citadel and The Bullet Farm.

This prequel to Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller, 2015) was essentially written at the same time as that film as part of the process of understanding the backstory of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron).… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Disconnect Me

Director – Alex Lykos – 2023 – Australia – Cert. 12 – 87m

***1/2

A man attempts to live for 30 days without the use of his smartphone, tablet or computer – out on digital from Monday, April 1st

This documentary opens with an advisory to keep your phone handy during the screening, as you may be required to use it at some point. In the UK, it’s only available on digital platforms… but even so, that advisory marks it out as different from most films.

Lykos, who narrates his documentary, is old enough to have grown up without a smartphone or other digital devices, but kids today handle smartphones from a younger and younger age. What would happen, wonders Alex, if I disconnected myself for an entire month? His and his wife’s home contains their two smartphones, two tablets, and a TV. Learning that Alex wakes and checks his smartphone three or four times a night, Alex’s doctor wires him for a sleep test.

Like many of us, Alex finds himself spending an hour on social media and wondering, what just happened? He and others admit to feelings of envy when others post about good things in their lives. A near-tearful divorcee talks about it being hard seeing people having a good time with partner or family.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Godzilla x Kong
The New Empire

Director – Adam Wingard – 2024 – US – Cert. 12a – 115m

*****

Godzilla must leave the surface world to team up with Kong in the subterranean Hollow Earth below to defeat a powerful enemy – out in UK cinemas on Friday, March 29th

The latest movie in the Toho / Warner Bros. Godzilla / Kong Monsterverse is globetrotting in scope, with scenes of monsters wreaking havoc in Rome and Rio; its central conceit is that Godzilla roams the surface of the Earth fighting off other monsters which humanity would be unable to see off alone, while Kong, reconceived as a similar size to Godzilla, lives in the subterranean paradise of Hollow Earth.

With one beast on the outer rim of the planet and the other in a world beneath its surface, there is no possibility one will run into the other, which fight would be devastating for mankind. To make sure the two monsters remain isolated from one another, the huge Monarch organisation monitors both constantly.

Yet a terrible force is on the ascendant in Hollow Earth, one that neither Kong nor Godzilla would be able to contain let alone defeat on their own. And so, to save humanity, they must join forces and fight it.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Fungi Web of Life
laser digital IMAX 3D

Director – Joseph Nizeti – Co-directors – Gisela Kaufmann, Paul Phelan – 2023 – Australia – Cert. U – 40m

*****

The amazing world of fungi, its place in the ecosystem and how it may be able to help solve some environmental issues; narrated by Björk, presented by Merlin Sheldrake – out at the BFI Waterloo IMAX on Friday, February 9th

Think of fungi and most of us immediately think of mushrooms or toadstools, but those are merely its above ground manifestation. In fact, the wood wide web (a phrase easily misheard as the more familiar World Wide Web) extends through forests which are, as this notes in passing, disappearing at an alarming rate through deforestation, when the mostly slow paced and marvellous imagery and peaceful sounds and music on offer are briefly interrupted by a close up of the huge drive wheel of a mechanical digger and grating sounds of machinery to match.

Innovative Icelandic musician Björk, who has referred to her 2022 album Fossora as her ‘mushroom album’, lends her voice to the English language narration here. This gives the piece a strange, unearthly feeling that’s somehow perfect for its subject matter. Also on hand is biologist, writer and speaker Merlin Sheldrake, who wanders through the proceedings to visit Kew Gardens and assorted natural areas of forest around the planet to point out pertinent items and features.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Top Ten

Top Ten Movies
(and more)
2023

Work in progress – subject to change. Because I am still watching movies released in 2023, so it’s always possible that a new title could usurp the number one in due course. Before that, I have a lot more movies still to add / sort.

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/23 and 31/12/23.

This version includes re-releases, but those aren’t numbered. It’s hard to imagine movies improving on Powell and Pressburger’s i know where i’m going or The Red Shoes, Powell’s Peeping Tom or Von Trier’s Melancholia.

In addition to re-releases, this version also includes films seen in festivals which haven’t had any other UK release in 2023.

The star ratings may occasionally differ from the star rating I gave a particular film at the time of review.

Beyond the first 25 numbered titles, there may be numerous errors (missing links to reviews where I wrote one, year of release, country, and maybe more). All this will be fixed in time, but I wanted to get something online in the holidays.

Finally, last year’s list is here.

Top Ten Movies (and more) 2023

Please click on titles to see reviews. (Links yet to be added.)… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Talk To Me

Director – Danny Philippou, Michael Philippou – 2022 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 94m

**

Under peer pressure, a teenager takes her turn contacting undead spirits at a party, with devastating consequences – out in UK cinemas on Friday, July 28th

For me, this was probably always going to be an uphill struggle: people wilfully contacting undead spirits really isn’t my idea of fun (and I knew that going in). It starts off really well, with a Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) vibe as a lengthy widescreen shot effortlessly glides around a teenage party culminating in an horrific knife murder and suicide.

After this, it switches to other characters. Mia (Sophie Wilde) hasn’t got over the death of her mother two years ago, and goes to a party with her friend Jade (Alexandra Jensen) where the host produces the embalmed hand of a psychic.

Apparently, if you grasp the hand and say first “talk to me” then “I let you in”, the first spirit in the vicinity will possess you. “It’s always different,” says the girl who produced the hand, who also informs them that it mustn’t last more than 90 seconds, because after that the possessing host can’t be sent back to the place from whence it came.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Other Fellow

Director – Matthew Bauer – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 80m

**1/2

The name’s Bond. James Bond. This is a look at real life people who share the name of Ian Fleming’s popular spy character – out in UK cinemas and on demand from Friday, May 19th

What’s in a name? When Ian Fleming was looking to name the secret agent he’d written a novel about, he wanted a dull, ordinary name that wouldn’t stand out. On his shelf in Goldeneye, the Jamaican retreat where he wrote the books, was Birds Of The West Indies by James Bond. It was perfect. He stole the name for his character. When the wife of the real James Bond later got in touch by letter, Fleming was concerned they were going to sue. Fleming appears in a film clip from that time, which must be used here two or three times. The author’s wife and the bird book author James Bond himself are here played by actors Tacey Adams and Gregory Itzin.

That’s just one of the stories about identity in this brilliantly conceived documentary about people named James Bond. There’s a Bond family who have been passing the name James down for generations and weren’t going to stop because of Ian Fleming’s character.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Lunana:
a Yak in the Classroom
(ལུང་ནག་ན)

Director – Pawo Choyning Dorji – 2022 – Bhutan – Cert. PG – 109m

****

A young man trapped in and frustrated with a teaching career is sent to a remote village, which turns out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to him – 2022 Oscar-nominated film for Best International Feature is out in UK cinemas on Friday, March 10th

Bhutan operates a system of National Service, and for Ugyen (Sherab Dorji) this means five years working in education. His heart was never in it, and he finds it something of an ordeal. His grandmother (Tsheri Zom) constantly berates him for not getting up early enough, while the State education system is less than impressed with his record. If he had his own way, he’d give it all up, take his guitar and go to Australia to try and set himself up as a singer. He’s still required to finish his five years first, though.

That’s bad enough, but then this die-in-the-wool urbanite addicted to his mobile phone and music listening on headphones finds that the system is so fed up with him, it sends him to an unexpected Autumn term teaching placement he’s in no position to refuse, much as he might wish to do so.… Read the rest