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The Feast (Gwledd)

Director – Lee Haven Jones – 2021 – UK (Wales) – Cert. 18 – 93m

**

The well-heeled wife of a local MP hires a maid to serve a meal for guests, but then things go horribly wrong – shot in the Welsh language and out in cinemas on Friday, August 19th

It’s unusual to see a film executed completely in the Welsh language, and for pulling that off, the makers of The Feast are to be congratulated. Unfortunately, apart from that element and its striking visual palette, this fails to engage.

In rural Wales, well-heeled Glenda (Nia Roberts) is preparing to have guests over for the evening. Unfortunately, the girl she usually hires from the pub is unavailable, so she’s taken a replacement, Cadi (Annes Elwy), another girl who works there and comes highly recommended. However, Cadi is an unknown quantity and the woman doesn’t really trust her – and won’t do so unless Cadi can do something to earn that trust.

The woman and her family don’t feel like the sort of people you’d want to have anything to do with if you could avoid them. From Cadi’s point of view, she is most definitely not trusted by the woman who hired her, and feels most definitely an outsider.… Read the rest

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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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The Railway Children Return

Director – Morgan Matthews – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 98m

***1/2

Almost four decades after the events in The Railway Children, three siblings are evacuated from the wartime bombing raids of Salford to the safer Yorkshire countryside– out in cinemas on Friday, July 15th

In 1944, with Britain at war and German bombing intensifying, children are being evacuated from the cities to the countryside, leaving their parents to live with substitute parents and / or families for the duration. Thus, in Salford, their mother puts Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Angela (Jessica Baglow) and Ted (Zac Cudby) on a train to the small country town of Oakworth in Yorkshire. Arriving with many other children, they wait to be assigned to a family.

However, because there are three of them – and possibly also because Angela has got rid of the smart dress that her mother made her wear for a more comfortable outfit – no family is forthcoming. So grandmother Bobbie (Jenny Agutter, reprising her role from The Railway Children, Lionel Jeffries, 1970) persuades her daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith), the local headmistress, to take the trio even though the latter isn’t sure they can manage three, and the three children move in to their new home, The Three Chimneys.… Read the rest

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Il Buco

Director – Michelangelo Frammartino – 2021 – Italy – Cert. U – 93m

**1/2

A Calabrian cowherd nears the end of his life while a group of explorers journey down a deep hole to find out how deep into the ground it descends – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

Literally, ‘The Hole’. Frammartino again brings to the cinema the style that made his earlier Le Quattro Volte (2010) so special. He sets up the camera, often at a great distance from the action, then leaves it there to record whatever happens. The narrative of Il Buco is actually pretty simple, a recreation of an expedition by a group of young, amateur speleologists into a hole in the ground in Calabria. (Speleology is the branch of science involved in mapping and measuring the interiors of caves, natural underground systems, and the like.)

It’s 1961. We’re first introduced to the place in a shot looking out of the ground at the edge of the hole as, eventually, the heads of two bulls come into view over the ridge. An elderly cowherd watches over the grazing cattle from a position halfway up a forty degree incline hillside. As the bus leaves the rich, urban developments of Northern Italy for the still unspoiled Southern region of Calabria, we watch it slowly make its way along rounds, through a small rural town where the party stops for the night to bed down in sleeping bags in the local, Catholic Church alongside statues of monks and the crucified Christ lying on his back, across open country until it arrives at the vast plain where the explorers will set up camp.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 千と千尋の神隠し)

Director – Hayao Miyazaki – 2001 – Japan – Cert. PG – 125m

A shorter version of this review was originally published in Third Way for UK release date 12/09/2002. At which point, hardly anyone in the UK outside of anime fandom knew who Miyazaki was.

In director Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a ten-year-old girl must survive a bathhouse run by demons after her parents are turned into pigs – now showing on Netflix (subtitled / dubbed) and can also be seen in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank (subtitled / dubbed for family screenings)

To discover the films of Hayao Miyazaki – and those of his company Studio Ghibli (pronounced “Jib-Lee”) – is like suddenly being exposed to those of Disney without prior knowledge of their sheer number or quality. In Miyazaki’s native Japan, Spirited Away shattered box office records to succeed Titanic as the most lucrative movie of all time. In the US, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature while making only modest inroads into the marketplace. Britain, however, is not the US and it may well fare better here than it did there.

Previous Miyazaki outings have covered children’s experience of the countryside (My Neighbour Totoro, 1988; one of this writer’s favourite films of all time), a young girl’s learning to find her way in the world (Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989) and conflicting loyalties among pilots in interwar Europe (Porco Rosso, 1992).… Read the rest

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Master Cheng (Mestari Cheng)

Director – Mika Kaurismäki – 2019 – Finland – Cert. PG – 114m

*****

A Chinese chef turns up at a restaurant in a remote Finnish village and impresses the locals with his cooking – charming romantic drama is out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th

A restaurant in a remote part of the Finnish countryside. Cheng (Chu Pak Hong from My Prince Edward, Norris Wang, 2019) and small boy Niu Niu (Lucas Hsuan) walk into the local restaurant where the former asks for Fongtron. The owner Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko) hasn’t heard of Fongtron and can’t help. He asks customers the same question, but they don’t know either. Cheng barely speaks Finnish, which scarcely helps. He doesn’t look like he’s going away, and when he asks if there’s a hotel, Sirkka points him towards a room that’s available. She attempts to feed the pair before closing up, but the mobile phone-obsessed Niu Niu won’t touch her Finnish sausage and mash.

And he’s not the only one: When a day or so later, a coachload of Chinese tourists turn up, they’re not very interested either. Cheng, sitting at a table, immediately springs to Sirkka’s aid and parleys with the Chinese.… Read the rest

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The Hidden Fortress (Kakushi-toride no san-akunin)

Director – Akira Kurosawa – 1958 – Japan – Cert. PG – 138m

***

Currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the Japan programme alongside 21 other Kurosawa films together with a much wider selection of Japanese movies.

Captured by soldiers, two wandering bumpkin farmers (Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara) are put waist deep in a waterlogged pit with scores of other prisoners and ordered to dig for treasure. Before they can find it, however, they manage to escape. In the middle of nowhere, one of them slings away a useless, sodden branch from their attempted campfire. It goes chink. Inside the wood is concealed gold with a royal seal upon it.

So begins Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 foray into chambara (Japanese popular historical epic genre) which also features a beautiful princess in exile (Misa Uehara) and her heroic general (Toshiro Mifune) intent on restoring her with the clan’s gold. If the story sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s George Lucas’ main source for his Star Wars (1977) (and one or two elements in its sequels), which today lend Kurosawa’s film an added interest. The Hidden Fortress puts hero, heroine and their two unlikely companions through a series of set piece adventures including lance duels, a spectacularly choreographed folk fire festival, horseback pursuits and, indeed, the discovery fairly early on in the proceedings of the eponymous hidden fortress.… Read the rest

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Voice Of Silence (Sorido Eopsi, 소리도 없이)

Director – Hong Eui-jung – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 99m

****

Things go from bad to worse for a mute forced to look after an 11-year-old girl for her kidnapper when the latter disappears in this ostensible crime drama – screened as a teaser screening for the London Korean Film Festival

From its opening this appears a crime film, but somewhere along the line, while remaining a crime film about two men involved in executing a kidnap who are increasingly out of their depth, it turns into…well, it’s hard to say. A drama? A comedy? One of those films like The House Of Us (Yoon Ge-eun, 2019) where the children seem far more important than the adults?

Chang-bok (Yoo Jae-myung) and Tae-in (Yoo Ah-in from Burning, Lee Chang-dong, 2018; Default, Choi Kook-Hee, 2018) drive their lorry into town to sell their eggs to anyone who’ll buy. Then the pair dress for their other job. In cagoules. To project their clothing from the blood. They work as a clean-up crew for gangsters – putting protective sheeting on the floor, cleaning up the mess afterwards. Not, however, the actual dirty work of killing, of which they keep well clear.… Read the rest

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Minari

Director – Lee Isaac Chung – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12A – 120m

***1/2

The Korean immigrant experience in the US as a nuclear family set up a farm in Arkansas – on VoD from Friday, April 2nd, in drive-in cinemas from Monday, April 12th and cinemas from Monday, May 17th

Jacob (Steven YeunBurning, Lee Chang-dong, 2018; Okja, Bong Joon Ho, 2017), Monica (Yeri Han) and their two kids Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David, 7 (Alan S. Kim), drive out to their new home in Arkansas. She is a little horrified that the home is a trailer on wheels supported by a basic frame, but he is thrilled that they have land with the best dirt (i.e. for growing things) America has to offer. They are surrounded by a vast area of countryside and woodlands. They speak mostly Korean, but are fluent in English and occasionally use it.

Eschewing the advice of a local water diviner, Jacob builds a well in some low ground where trees are nearby, reasoning that there must be water there. “Never pay for anything you can get for free,” he tells the attentive David, reminding him that in California, where they’ve moved from, they had nothing.… Read the rest

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The Reckoning

Director – Neil Marshall – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 111m

***

A woman accused of witchcraft finds herself pitted in a battle of wills against her witchfinder torturer at the time of the Great Plague – on digital from Friday, April 16th and Shudder UK from Thursday, 13th May

On the one hand, this explores the historical time period of the Great Plague and links that directly with women being burned at the stake for witchcraft by way of a widespread, social scapegoating process. On the other, it depicts a horribly misogynistic society where, for the most part women are regarded as inferior and treated really badly. Two sides of the same coin.

The film itself is mixed. Parts feel hackneyed, parts will have you on the edge of your seat. The cliché-ridden opening, for instance, cross-cuts chocolate box-y photography of a cottage-dwelling couple’s idyllic, married existence in the constantly sunlit countryside with the wife digging a grave in torrential rain after finding her husband has hanged himself from a tree at night.

It transpires that farmer Joseph Haverstock (Joe Anderson) stopped off for a pint at the local tavern and accidentally drank the beer of a plague victim, contracting the disease.… Read the rest