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Animation Features Movies

Inu-Oh (Inu-Oh, 犬王)

Director – Masaaki Yuasa – 2021 – Japan – Cert. – 98m

***1/2

In fourteenth century Japan, a blind musician and a deformed, masked dancer shake up the culturally staid world of Noh theatre by forming a hugely popular rock band – out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, September 28th

You never quite know what you’re going to get with an animated feature by Masaaki Yuasa (Ride Your Wave,2019; Lu Over the Wall, 2017; Mind Game, 2004) as he has a tendency to break with tradition. Here, he takes on periods of Japanese history but rather than go with power struggles as to who rules Japan, he focuses on two outcasts, an orphaned musician and a deformed dancer, who join together to form a rock band with an emphasis on theatrical showmanship to upend the artistic conventions of the day and become an overnight sensation until the ascendant ruler, determined to control the historical narrative, has the musician killed, and the dancer emasculated, forbidden to perform anything but state-approved material, and that only in the Imperial court.

It’s a triptych, one long story split into three sections. In the first section, after a prologue detailing the decisive Battle of Dan-No-Ura towards the end of the twelfth century, in which the Heiji clan were defeated by the Genji and the formers warriors threw themselves into the sea and perished, two centuries later in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, Northern would be Kyoto-based, shogunate emperor Ashitaka decides that the power to rule demands he acquire three sacred treasures, one of which is a sword buried in the lake at Dan-No-Ura.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Funny Pages

Director – Owen Kline – 2022 – US – Cert. US-R – 86m

***

A young, New Jersey comic book artist wannabe’s life becomes increasingly surreal when he leaves school and home to realise his desired career – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 16th

Guided by his art teacher Mr. Katano (Stephen Adly Guirgis), New Jersey high school student Robert (Daniel Zolghadri) is developing his voice as a comic artist, constantly comparing notes with fellow student / aspiring comic artist Miles (Miles Emanuel). Following Mr. Katano’s tragic and untimely death, Robert finds himself in court following his breaking and entering Katano’s classroom in an attempt to rescue as much of the man’s artwork as he can salvage before its otherwise inevitable, imminent destruction.

He alienates his middle class father Lewis (Josh Pais) by rejecting the offer of a lawyer friend to be his counsel, instead getting a state defendant Cheryl (Marcia DeBonis) who successfully gets the case dismissed. He gets on well with Cheryl and after the case is over, goes to work for her as an assistant.

Responding to an accommodation advert, Robert rents half a bedroom from Barry (Michael Townsend Wright), who lives in the sleazy basement of a well-to-do house in Trenton, sharing the room with established occupant Steven (Cleveland Thomas Jr.).… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Beyond The Mask

Directors – Jane Harris, Jimmy Edmonds – 2021 – UK – 60m

****

People talk about their experiences of bereavement in the light of the COVID-19 lockdown – now free to watch (donation suggested)

In March 2020, the unthinkable happened as the world entered a global pandemic. In the ensuing year or so many people lost their lives while many more felt and indeed still feel a sense of loss for the ’normal’ life that existed beforehand. Directors Harris and Edmonds are no strangers to bereavement having lost their son unexpectedly at age 22 while he was travelling abroad in 2013 and part of their process of dealing with it was to make the excellent documentary A Love That Never Dies (Jane Harris, Jimmy Edmonds, 2018) in which bereaved parents talk about their different experiences of losing children.

Not everyone has suffered the misfortune of losing a child, but if you’re reading this you will invariably have lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, at least thus far. This latter condition is universal. So, what does the experience of bereavement have to say to our current situation of the pandemic – or, for that matter, what does our current situation of the pandemic have to say to our experience of bereavement?… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Swan Song

Director – Todd Stephens – 2021 – US – Cert. – 105m

***1/2

Tasked with creating an open casket hairdo for his deceased, former best client, a hairdresser worn down by care home institutionalism escapes to reinvent himself – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

A glamourous star on a stage playing to an audience of empty chairs, Pat Pitsenbarger (Udo Kier) wakes up to the boring reality that he’s living on social security checks and wearing an old T-shirt and sweat pants in a care home in his small town of Sandusky, Ohio.

Still, he takes his pleasures where he can find them: stealing napkins from the dining room and obsessively folding them into squares a quarter of their original size, smoking ladies’ More brand cigars. The latter he lights two at once after turning the wheelchair of Gertie (Annie Kitral) – left out in the corridor – to face the window before giving her the second cigar, something in which she clearly takes pleasure despite near total paralysis.

Otherwise, though, he battles with his nurse Shaundell (Roshon Thomas) over adjusting his armchair cushion and, worse, smoking, a pleasure she forbids. He swallows a cigar to conceal the activity; she finds out and confiscates his stash.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Top Gun: Maverick

Director – Joseph Kosinski – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 131m

****

The eponymous Maverick (Tom Cruise) returns to the Navy pilot Top Gun school to train a dozen new recruits to fly an impossible bombing mission and come back alive– out in cinemas on Wednesday, May 25th

Welcome back to the world of US Navy aviation where pilots all have their own self-given flying nicknames. While his contemporaries such as Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky (Val Kilmer), now an admiral in charge of the Pacific fleet, have advanced in ranks, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Tom Cruise) has remained a captain in order to stay on active service in the field. He’s now a test pilot and loves his job.

However, Maverick has got into trouble one too many times, most recently by disobeying orders when he went ahead with a Mojave Desert test flight on a programme which a rear admiral (Ed Harris) wanted shut down. In doing this, and proving that the plane in question can fly not just at the untried Mach 9 but also at Mach 10…10.1… 10.2… Maverick sees himself safeguarding the jobs of all those working on the programme. The Navy, however, sees it as insubordination and want him grounded.… 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

Mouthpiece

Director – Patricia Rozema – 2018 – Canada – Cert. 15 – 91m

****1/2

Tall Cassie and short Cassie struggle to find the words for the eulogy for their mother’s funeral after she dies suddenly and unexpectedly – on MUBI from Thursday, March 24th

Christmas. Tall Cassie (Amy Nostbakken) and short Cassie (Norah Sadova) get drunk in a bar with friends, make their way home on their (one) bicycle and collapse into bed, ignoring the flood of mobile messages which they don’t pick up ‘til the next, sunny morning. They answer. It’s bad news. Their mum has died. Could she pick the flowers? Danny is going to do the speech.

But Cassie is the writer in the family and she won’t have it. She’ll do the speech herself. Danny isn’t capable of doing it. Although she doesn’t yet know what to say. And the funeral is in 48 hours.

Welcome to the world of sudden parental bereavement where things you know to be solid and true fold and crumple before your eyes. Where you are flooded with random memories as you try to make sense of it all. There are social rituals and structures supposedly to help you deal with this – ordering the flowers, choosing suitable clothes to wear, picking out the coffin, writing a eulogy for the deceased, attending a funeral service.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Till We Meet Again (Yue Lau, 月老)

Director – Giddens Ko – 2021 – Taiwan – Cert. 15 – 128m

***1/2

A man ripped from his true love by a fatal lightning strike partners with another dead person as gods of love linking romantic souls together – out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th

A young man is struck by lightning in a thunderstorm and dies. When you die, it seems, you have the choice of reincarnating and going through another life (in whatever form that might take for you) or of staying behind as a god to help people during their lifetimes. For instance, you could be a god of love who helps people to find their soul mate.

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At least this is what happens to lightning-struck Alan Shi (Kai Ko from The Road To Mandalay, Midi Z, 2016) who discovers parts of his face burned off and allocated a bureaucratic caseworker in echoes of movies as diverse as Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) and After Life (Horokazu Kore-eda, 1998). After some indecision and an encounter with the none too happy girl Pinky (Gingle Wang from Detention, John Hsu, 2019) in the next compartment, he opts to become a god of love and starts training as such.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Silent Night

Director – Camille Griffin – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

**

Families of old school friends gather for Christmas at a country house knowing they will die as a deadly mist envelops the planet – out in cinemas on Friday, December 3rd

Nell (Keira Knightley) and Simon (Matthew Goode) prepare to have her old school friends over for Christmas at her mother’s isolated house in the country. Their son Art (Roman Griffin Davies from Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi, 2019) helps mum prepare the dinner while his two twin brothers Thomas and Hardy (his real life brothers Gilby and Hardy Griffin Davies) play on the PlayStation rather than get in the bath as they’ve been told. Simon tells the boys they are allowed to swear, but not to be rude to Kitty (Davida McKenzie), daughter of Sandra (Annabelle Wallis) and Tony (Rufus Jones from The Ghoul, Gareth Tunley, 2016), even though she’s known to be difficult. Art fails this injunction spectacularly, swearing at her when she decides to watch his brothers get out of the bath, and is forced to apologise.

Additional guests include lesbian couple Bella (Lucy Punch, writer of Judy And Punch, 2019, Mirrah Foulkes) and Alex (Kirby Howell-Baptiste from Killing Eve, TV series, creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge, 2018-22) plus school heartthrob James (Sope Dirisu from His House, Remi Weekes, 2020) with his young American girlfriend Sophie (Lily-Rose Depp) in tow.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Annette

Director – Leos Carax – 2021 – France, US – Cert. 15 – 141m

****1/2

Musical conceived and composed by Sparks plays out as a very dark opera ending in tragedy – on MUBI from Friday, November 26th

Although billed as a musical, this may actually be closer to opera given that even though it starts as a story about two people deeply in love, it veers into very dark territory.

And yet framing all that, and underscoring it throughout, is the sheer pleasure of writing / composing songs… and, for that matter, performing them. The opening song is So May We Start while the closer, as the credits roll, is It’s The End. (For added enjoyment, watch 90% of the audience leave before the last song starts. Or in my case, 10% of my fellow critics.)

The former starts with the band, the brothers Mael (singer Russell and keyboard player / composer Ron, profiled in recent documentary The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright, 2021) and a backing band in a recording studio in an invitation for the proceedings to get going, swiftly joined by the film’s two leads, while the latter ends with seemingly the entire movie cast and crew walking through the countryside hoping we’ve enjoyed the show and asking us to tell our friends if we did so.… Read the rest