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The Card Counter

Director – Paul Schrader – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 112m

**1/2

Tormented by internal demons relating to his activities in Abu Ghraib, for which he’s served a prison sentence, a card player bides his time on the professional gambling circuit – out in cinemas on Friday, November 5th

I’m an enormous admirer of Paul Schrader as critic, screenwriter and director. I could go through the component parts of this film and extol the virtues of most of them. And yet, somehow, adding all these elements together the end result here is less than satisfying. I left the preview theatre in shock trying to understand what had gone wrong. Was it the film or was it me?

You could have guessed it was Schrader directing one of his own screenplays from the opening shots. In American Gigolo (1980), it’s various angles on the gigolo’s car. In First Reformed (2017) , it’s various angles on the pastor’s church building. Here, it’s various angles on the card counter’s cards spread out on the green beige surface of a playing table.

Self-styled William Tell (Oscar Isaac) is travelling round the US making money from card games having taught himself to read cards whilst in military prison (the USDB in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas – it’s namechecked but not explained in the film and I had to look it up).… Read the rest

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Woman Of Fire (Hwanyeo, 화녀)

Director – Kim Ki-young – 1971 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 98m

*****

A married couple’s housemaid seduces the husband, ensnaring him in a love triangle from which there is no escape – 4K Restoration played at the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) (European Premiere) and screens again 6.30 at the ICA on Friday, November 5th book here as part of a strand dedicated to actress Youn Yuh-jung (Best Supporting Actress, Minari) at the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) which runs from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th

Kim Ki-young is probably better known for his breakthrough film The Housemaid (1960) than any other title. Not only did the film establish him as a maker of dark films about twisted relationships, it also inaugurated something of his trademark style. While a real watershed in Korean cinema generally and Kim’s career in particular, the material was something he felt he could do a lot more with: he remade it directly not once but twice as Woman Of Fire (1971) and Woman Of Fire ‘82 (1982). Where the highly effective original was shot in both black and white and the old 4:3 Academy format, the two remakes like many of his later films were both colour and scope, and made full use of both, giving them additional qualities lacking in the original.… Read the rest

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Death, Desire And Rat Poison

An introduction to the films of Korea’s late and, lamentably, largely unknown director Kim Ki‑young – originally published in Manga Max, Number 8, July 1999. Reprinted here to coincide with London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)’s screening of Woman Of Fire (1971) on Friday, October 29th. If you missed it, the restoration screens again on Friday, November 5th as part of a strand dedicated to actress Youn Yuh-jung at London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) which runs from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th

Kim Ki-young

It seems unthinkable that the world could have failed to recognise a director whose 2.35:1 widescreen visuals compare favourably with Seijun Suzuki and John Boorman and whose marriage of technique with subject matter is as terrifying as anything by Dario Argento or Alfred Hitchcock. Nevertheless, when 1997’s Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) ran a retrospective season of films by Kim Ki-young (the first of a proposed series of annual events showcasing Korean directors) it quickly became clear to astonished audiences that the unthinkable had indeed happened. Sadly, on February 4th 1998 – within six months of his new-found international acclaim – Kim and his wife died in a fire in Korean capital Seoul.… 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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WITCH We Intend To Cause Havoc

Director – Gio Arlotta – 2019 – Italy, Czech Republic – Cert. 12 – 98m – English Language

***1/2

Winsome if shallow documentary follows survivors from Zambia’s seventies music Zamrock phenomenon as they reform and tour Europe – in cinemas and on VoD from Friday, July 2nd

On the verge of a pan-African trip that will take the narrator through Zambia alongside bassist / vocalist Jacco Gardner and drummer Nic Mauskoviç, intensive research reveals the Zamrock phenomenon of the 1970s which mixed traditional African rhythms with psychedelic rock music of which the band WITCH was the leading proponent. The name later turned in to an acronym for We Intend To Cause Havoc at the suggestion of the band’s then graphic designer. Sadly, many of the original band members are now dead following the AIDS crisis which hit the African continent pretty hard.

At Zanis, the state-owned television company, we enter a 16mm archive that hasn’t been opened for 17 years because the room key had been lost. The music section reveals footage of James Brown performing in Africa but nothing of WITCH even though apparently they were all over broadcast TV at the time – much of what was taped of them may well have been recorded over by footage of President Kaunda on his latest walkabout.… Read the rest

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Muscle

Director – Gerard Johnson – 2019 – UK – Cert. 18 – 110m

****

Pump it up! A man dissatisfied with his life comes under the influence of a manipulative bodybuilding trainer – on Sky and NOW from Tuesday, June 1st

Newcastle, UK. Simon (Cavan Clerkin) is at a dead end working days in a dodgy telesales job he hates and coming home at night to his partner Sarah (Polly Maberly) who no longer loves him. Whatever attracted her to him has gone. Looking for a way to move forward, Simon sees a man walk confidently out of a doorway and on realising it’s a local gym, decides to join. It’s not long before he’s under the influence of fellow member Terry (Craig Fairbrass), an ex-forces type who takes him under his wing as a personal trainer to help him transform his body. Under Terry’s influence, Simon changes his diet, reduces his drinking with colleagues to virtually nil and is suddenly achieving top sales at work. None of that is enough to stop Sarah leaving him.

Terry is however not what he initially seems. He suggests first he then his friend Crystal (Lorraine Burroughs) move into Simon’s house to help pay the bills then instigates increasingly orgiastic parties with his friends as if the place was his own.… Read the rest

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Cruella

Director – Craig Gillespie – 2020 – US, UK – Cert. 12a – 134m

****

A 101 Dalmatians prequel. How a girl named Estella unleashed her darker personality of Cruella de Vil – in cinemas from Friday, May 28th

Disney’s project of mining their pantheon of animated classics for live action feature material continues. Here it’s the turn of Cruella de Vil, the villain from 101 Dalmatians (Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman, 1961), and a very clever reimagination it is too. It commences with her birth and cleverly conceals certain significant details of her upbringing only to reveal them at the tale’s climax and give everything that went before a completely new spin.

Estella (Tipper Siefert-Cleveland) is the daughter of Catherine (Emily Beecham). Befriended at school by Anita Darling (Florisa Kamara) but picked on by bullies, Estella gives as good as she gets, fights back and gets expelled for figuratively blotting her copybook. 

So her mother pays a visit to former employer the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) seeking help. But thanks to Estella’s refusal to do as she’s told and stay in the car and her dog Buddy’s strikingly similar refusal to obey Estella this plan goes fatally wrong.… Read the rest

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The Invisible Man Vs The Human Fly (Tomei Ningen To Hae Otoko, 透明人間と蝿男)

Director – Mitsuo Murayama – 1957 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 96m

**1/2

The lesser of Daiei’s two Invisible Man movies. Mitsuo Murayama, working from a script by Hajime Takaiwa, delivers not so much a sequel but, much like the different entries in Universal’s Invisible Man series, a different story with a different set of characters built around the concept. Without Eiji Tsuburaya’s guiding hand, the invisibility effects are less memorable but do what they need to. A striking theramin score by Tokujiro Okubo adds an unearthly atmosphere.

This time, the Invisible Man is not a criminal but on the side of the law. It’s a murder mystery with a bizarre twist… [read more]

On a Blu-ray double bill with The Invisible Man Appears (1949). Full review at All The Anime.

Trailer (double bill):

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The Invisible Man Appears (Tomei Ningen Arawaru, 透明人間現る)

Director – Nobuo Adachi – 1949 – Japan – Cert. PG – 82m

****

With a title that seems to proclaim, “look at me, I’ve arrived”, Daiei’s The Invisible Man Appears (1949) is a Japanese manifesto, a statement that they can match American movies. Eiji Tsuburaya‘s effects are as good as anything in Universal’s The Invisible Man (1933) and were almost certainly produced at a fraction of the cost.

Although the concept originates with H.G.Wells’ 1897 novel, images from the Universal version starring Claude Rains are lodged in the popular consciousness. Thinking of The Invisible Man, I immediately recall a hat being removed then bandages being unwrapped from covering a man’s head to reveal… nothing… a shirt collar with no neck inside. The Invisible Man Appears recreates such effects convincingly… [read more]

On a Blu-ray double bill with The Invisible Man Vs The Human Fly (1957). Full review at All The Anime.

Trailer:

Trailer (double bill):

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Judas And The Black Messiah

Director – Shaka King – 2021 – US – Cert. 12 – 126m

****1/2

The FBI recruit a small-time thief to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers and report on rising political leader and activist Fred Hampton – two-time Oscar winner is on digital from Monday, April 26th

This cleverly and skilfully plays out both as a terrific thriller about a smart, small time crook recruited by the FBI as an undercover agent and as a chance to take a fresh look at a piece of US social history that has been presented in an unfavourable light by its largely state-sympathetic chroniclers. That piece of history is the Black Panther Party (BPP), long presented as violent insurgents intention upsetting the US status quo. However in the #BlackLivesMatter era when the police in the US have all too often shown themselves in sync with ideas of white entitlement, maybe it’s time to look at the BPP again.

I’m not sure you can totally exonerate the BPP – they did, after all, take up arms against the police although you might argue much of that’s in self-defence – but at the same time there seems to have been a lot in the organisation that’s good: social programmes and trying to help blacks and the social underclass stand on their own two feet in a system rigged against them.… Read the rest