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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song

Directors – Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12 – 118m

***

The career of writer-turned-singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, with particular emphasis on his best known song Hallelujah – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 16th

There have been films about Leonard Cohen before, hardly surprising given his status as one of the major singer / songwriters of the twentieth century. This one falls between two stools.

Leonard Cohen

On the one hand, it’s an attempt to document his career, and as such comes across as another Leonard Cohen movie which is fine as an introduction if you don’t know his career and music and I suspect fine for Leonard completists. As someone in the middle, this aspect seemed to be all talking heads treading mostly predictable ground.

On the other, it explores Cohen’s best known song Hallelujah, his struggles in writing it and how the piece ultimately took on a life of its own. This second aspect hasn’t been explored that widely to the best of my knowledge and proves a far richer seam into the mind, workings, practices and artistry of Cohen, making you wish the filmmakers had dumped much of the other material and explored this area at greater length.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Railway Children (1970)

Director – Lionel Jeffries –1970 – UK – Cert. U – 109m

****1/2

After their father is arrested and the family plunged into poverty, three siblings and their mother leave London for the Yorkshire countryside – now on BBC iPlayer until around mid-August, also recently back out in cinemas for one day only on Sunday, July 3rd

E. Nesbit’s book The Railway Children, set in 1905, has been filmed several times, most notably as the BBC TV series of 1968 and Lionel Jeffries’ 1970 cinema film, both of which starred Jenny Agutter as the eldest of three children sent from the city to Oakworth in Yorkshire. What is arguably the 1968 and 1970 version’s most memorable sequence has the children stand on train tracks waving red flags to stop an oncoming train and prevent an accident after a tree falls on the line ahead.

My parents used to sit me and my younger brother down and make us watch Sunday teatime BBC classic serials, something which has engendered a deep seated dislike within me for both filmed costume drama and literature considered worthy enough to film. I found the former stodgy and suspect the latter may be more to do with BBC cultural filters than anything else.… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies

Benedetta

Director – Paul Verhoeven – 2021 – France – Cert. tbc – 131m

*****

A 17th Century nun subject to religious visions embarks on a lesbian relationship with a novice – exclusively on MUBI from Friday, July 1st

Christianity. The Church. Religion. Treat them the wrong way, and you can get into trouble. Horror The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), drama The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) and comedy Life Of Brian (Terry Jones, 1971) remain controversial. Lesbian nun relationship drama Benedetta may be about to join their ranks. Or perhaps times have moved on. The film is apparently based on a real 17th Century case.

As a young girl, Benedetta (Elena Plonka) claims to commune with the Divine – convincingly so, too, enough to suggest to a bandit gang about to rob her parents and her that a chirping bird is God’s voice, especially when said bird deposits excrement in the eye of the bandit leader who promptly returns a gold necklace to Benedetta’s mother.

On arrival at the convent in Pescia, Benedetta’s father (David Clavel) must pay the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling who seems to have cornered the market in Reverend Mothers judging by Dune, Denis Villeneuve, 2021) a dowry to enable his daughter to become a novice, which suggests that the institution, like the wealthy Catholic Church under whose umbrella it exists, may have ignored Jesus’ injunction to sell all you have and give to the poor.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Pickpocket

Director – Robert Bresson – 1959 – France – Cert. PG – 76m

*****

Why is a man compelled to pursue acts of petty thievery – acclaimed, arresting, existential drama is out in cinemas on Friday, June 3rd

I have just rewatched Bresson’s classic and am still not entirely sure I have its measure. Perhaps that’s the thing about great works of art. Oh, to have seen it on its original release, had I been old enough, and watch it without the baggage of it being proclaimed a cinematic masterwork.

Words on the screen proclaim at the outset that this is not the thriller its title might suggest; it’s rather a study of a man who repeatedly commits crimes which is trying to understand why he would do that.

The characters, of whom the main protagonist Michel (Martin LaSalle) is the one who gets most screen time and indeed, is scarcely if ever off the scree, are played deadpan, with Bresson doing his utmost to ensure that his cast perform the roles without acting. He doesn’t want the actors’ craft to come between us and his images of people doing, being, talking. He seeks to avoid the artificiality of acting thereby allowing his performers to realise his images without any acting technique mediating them.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Wicker Man: The Final Cut

Director – Robin Hardy – 1973 – UK – Cert. 15 – 94m

*****

A Christian police sergeant investigating a missing child on a remote Scottish island meets a terrible fate – out in UK cinemas from Friday, September 27th, 2013

Originally released forty years ago in the UK in a cut down version its director disliked, The Wicker Man now reaches our cinema screens in a longer, restored version which he says fulfils his original vision. Its plot is deceptively simple. A Christian police sergeant flies to a remote Scottish island in response to a letter about a missing child. But when he arrives on Summerisle, no-one seems to have heard of that child. It gradually emerges that the policeman has stumbled into an intricate web of lies and deceit wherein a terrible fate awaits him….

Using material from a recently discovered, longer US release print – rechristened The Final Cut by Hardy who assembled this cut in 1979 – it’s a provocative work on a number of levels. Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward)’s Christian values comprise dogma about Christ being the Resurrection and the Life plus traditional sexual mores: he’s engaged to be married and does not believe in sex before marriage.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Wake Wood

Director – David Keating – 2009 – UK, Ireland – Cert. 18 – 90m

*****

Things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad and terrible prices have to be paid in a mysterious, close-knit village community – out in UK cinemas from Friday, March 25th, 2011

This review originally appeared in Third Way.

This presages the recent relaunching of Hammer Films, a huge cultural force back in the 1950s and 60s reworking such horror staples as Dracula and Frankenstein. So far UK cinemas have hosted (1) Let Me In‘s arguably pointless US remake of terrific Swedish vampire effort Let The Right One In and (2) predictable, New York tenant in peril outing The Resident. Wake Wood is not only far and away the best of the three, but also fits in with the Hammer ethos – here represented by a mysterious, close-knit village community where things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad, and terrible prices have to be paid for misjudged actions. A fair bit of blood and gore is added for good measure.

After their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) is fatally savaged by a dog, Irish city dwellers vets Patrick and Louise Daly (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Eva Birthistle) move to the isolated village of Wake Wood to start over.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Lancaster

Directors – David Fairhead, Anthony Palmer – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 110m

****

The story of World War Two’s iconic Lancaster bomber aircraft, the missions it flew and the airmen who served as its crews – out in cinemas on Friday, May 27th

The constant drone-like sound, the view looking downwards moving over water, a Lancaster bomber aircraft flying the length of a lake, the camera above it titling down as it passes to reveal it crossing a dam. This sequence, impressive on a big cinema screen equipped with a really good sound system, opens this informative and compelling documentary.

The Lancaster is entrenched in the British psyche from The Dam Busters (Michael Anderson, 1955) and in due course clips from that film and a few others appear here. I can remember seeing it many times on afternoon television as a child in the late 1960s / early 1970s. Present day footage of this amazing aircraft in flight jostles with comments by present day airmen who fly in it, and their enormous affection and respect for the aircraft comes through loud and clear. They are seen touching a plaque by the plane’s entrance doorway commemorating all those who flew her during World War Two as a way of taking the spirits of those people with them on flights today.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Tokyo Godfathers (Tokyo Goddofazazu, 東京ゴッドファーザーズ)

Director – Satoshi Kon – 2003 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 91m

*****

Three homeless people – a drag queen, a hard drinker and a runaway teenage girl – find an abandoned baby at Christmas and resolve to return her to her parents – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

This opens with a nativity play to an audience of what one initially presumes to be admiring parents, a perception rapidly revised with the realisation that what is on offer is a programme of ‘nativity play, sermon, dinner’ for Tokyo’s homeless, with the first two items something to endure in order to access the much wanted third one. Any thought that the film is going to deal with religion is however swiftly dismissed with the introduction of three homeless characters holed up in an empty house containing a piles of discarded and bagged up goods, one of which turns out to contain an abandoned baby.

Teenage runaway Miyuki (voice: Aya Okamoto) has fallen in with two men old enough to be her father (if not her grandfather) who look out for her: the cross-dressing Miss Hana (voice: Yoshiaki Umegaki) and the hard-drinking Gin (voice: Toru Emori).… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Father Stu

Director – Rosalind Ross – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 124m

***

A boxer turned actor who fancies a Catholic girl is drawn into first the church and then the priesthood – out in cinemas Friday, May 13th

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) is stuck. His career as a boxer has been going nowhere for three years, then comes the news from his doctor that he needs to pack it in. That’s okay, though – he always wanted to be an actor, so he moves to LA and lands himself a job serving on a supermarket meat counter. This seems to him as good a place as any to get discovered. That doesn’t go anywhere, but what DOES happen is that he sees a girl he likes, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz).

However, Carmen is a Catholic and won’t date anyone who isn’t. So, to make something happen, he first of all finds her church and attends services there just to see her, then pretty soon he’s signing up to classes to get baptised into the faith. This seems to have the desired effect and they become a couple with marriage on the horizon sometime in the future. It has a further effect on Stuart that he didn’t bargain for: being around religious people and studying what Catholics believe, he starts to become one himself and develop a genuine faith.… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies

Benedetta

Sins of the flesh

Benedetta
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Certificate 18, 131 minutes
Released 15 April

The Dutch director Paul Verhoeven revels in controversy… His latest work, Benedetta, is… sexually explicit, but also tackles religion within a historical context. It clearly has plenty of potential to offend.

Benedetta is based on the story of the 17th-century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini who had visions and exhibited stigmata. She became an abbess and was investigated and discredited by Catholic officials. There were suggestions that Benedetta’s visionary traffic was with the Devil rather than God, while various nuns’ testimonies claimed her stigmata to be faked. Her roommate Bartolomea confessed to regular sexual activity with Benedetta. Benedetta was demoted.

Verhoeven eschews historical accuracy for the spiritual, the spectacular and the carnal… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Teaser trailer:

Trailer: