Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Thirteen Lives

Director – Ron Howard – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 147m

****

A dramatisation of the 2018 Thailand boys’ football team cave rescue, with the rescuers played by name actors– out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th and globally on Amazon on Friday, August 5th

In 2018, the world held its breath when the 12 boys of a football team and their 24-year-old coach became trapped in a cave when rain fell unexpectedly and water levels within the cave system started to rise. Incredibly, the ensuing rescue attempt involving divers from the US, UK, Ireland and Canada got all 13 out alive. According to the informational titles at the end of this film, sadly, there was one fatality among the Thai Navy SEAL divers involved in the rescue (shown in the film) and another death in that group later as the result of a contracted infection.

The story captivated the world, which held its breath as the days went by after the boys first became trapped by the water flooding the cave. For over a week, it wasn’t even known whether they were still alive. When they were located, alive and well, the question loomed large as to whether they would be able to get out alive.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Lightyear

Director – Angus MacLane – 2021 – US – Cert. PG – 107m

**1/2

Stranded on a hostile planet, Buzz Lightyear sets out on a series of missions which eventually lead to his first confrontation with the evil Emperor Zurg – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now as a Screening Event on Friday, June 17th, and opens in UK cinemas the same day.

A caption at the start explains that this was the favourite film of child protagonist Andy (from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise) and the reason he got a Buzz Lightyear toy in the first place. Other than that, though, this is a completely separate and self-enclosed film.

As the literal meaning of its title implies, Lightyear delivers a narrative that races through vast periods of time at a stretch, so that we and ace space pilot Buzz Lightyear (voice: Chris Evans) and his colleague Alisha Hawthorne (voice: Uzo Aduba) land their spaceship on an unexplored planet which turns out to be populated with hostile life-forms, specifically (1) plant tendrils which burst out of the planet’s surface and try to drag anything they can back under the ground and (2) giant, flying bugs.… Read the rest

Categories
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

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Jumbo

Director – Zoé Wittock – 2020 – France – Cert. 15 – 93m

*****

A young woman working at a fairground falls in love with one of the rides, a machine named Move It, which she renames Jumbo – out in cinemas and virtually via Modern Films Virtual Player on Friday, July 9th and streaming on Arrow from Wednesday, September 1st

When her single parent mother Margarette (Emmanuelle Bercot) drops Jeanne Tantois (Noémie Merlant) off for her first day of employment at the local amusement part Jeanne has known all her life, her mother makes a passing remark about Jeanne’s father: “if only he could have been my vibrator”. While that comment is never (ahem) touched on again, the idea is central to the film.

Whatever she says, it isn’t an idea that Margarette can live by. An outgoing bartender, shortly into the narrative she strikes up a relationship with Hubert (Sam Louwick), moving him pretty swiftly into the family home. Jeanne doesn’t seem to like or dislike him much either way as a step-dad… She’s not really interested.

Margarette would like her daughter to bed a nice boy. Someone like her young manager at the fairground Marc (Bastien Bouillon) who both encourages her to enter for the Employee Of The Year contest and is drawn to her physically.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Black Widow

Director – Cate Shortland – 2021 – US, UK – Cert. 12a – 133m

****

Marvel’s latest is less about mysterious former spy Black Widow than the relationship between her and her younger sister – out in cinemas on Wednesday, July 7th

The nuclear family of a father, mother and two young daughters growing up in Ohio in the mid-1990s turns out not to be a nuclear family at all but a man, a woman and two unsuspecting children planted there to look like one by mysterious Russian organisation the Red Room. Natasha (Ever Anderson) is both highly competitive with and protective of her little sister Yelena (Violet McGraw). When someone gets hurt, their mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) is always there for comfort and support.

“You remember how we said one day we’d have an adventure?” says dad Alexei (David Harbour). “Well, that day has come.” He has the only remaining copy of computer files on a disc. There’s an hour to pack before first police cars then S.H.I.E.L.D. SUVs turn up looking for them. By the time the SUVs find them, the family are busy taking off in a private plane from a hidden airfield. When they reach Cuba, the mother is dying from a bullet wound while the father is revealed as a mercenary, happy to see the two children who aren’t actually their daughters at all sedated and taken away after the older Natasha has pulled a gun on her ‘dad’.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Claydream

Director – Marq Evans – 2021 – US – 96m

****

The rise and fall of stop-frame Claymation pioneer Will Vinton and the Portland, Oregon animation studio that bore his name – from the Annecy 2021 Animation Festival in the Special Screenings – Annecy Classics section

Will Vinton, founder of Will Vinton Studios and the man who made Claymation a US household name, is in the middle of legal proceedings between himself and Phil Knight, founder of multimillion shoe company Nike. How could these two very different individuals have come into contact with one another? Well, they had a number of things in common. Both were residents of Portland, Oregon who had built up businesses there based on a successful brand name.

In the sixties, while studying architecture at Berkeley, Vinton discovered Gaudi’s organic sculptured shapes which were to influence his animation work. Borrowing his dad’s 16mm camera, he started shooting anything and everything going on around campus. At an experimental film community he set up tabletop clay animation sessions, which would often turn out pornographic footage. He became fascinated by the magical process which imbued this material with life.

Closed Mondays

He built a studio in his house where in collaboration with artist and sculptor Bob Gardiner he made the short film Closed Mondays (1974) as an excuse to show off the techniques developed by the pair.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

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

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Nezha Conquers The Dragon King (Nezha Nao Hai, 哪吒闹海)

Directors – Wang Shuchen, Yan Dingxian, Xu Jingda – 1979 – China – Cert. N/C PG – 61m

*****

A boy born out of a lotus flower must defeat the dragon king who enjoys eating live human children – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th

The four dragons rise out of the sea to wreak havoc with fire and tornado over China. In his palace, General Li awaits news of his wife’s delivery. Is it a boy or a girl? His servant is unsure: after three years, the General’s wife has birthed… a lotus flower. The petals open to reveal a boy, already walking, of diminutive size. The General’s servants and his wife’s ladies in waiting are immediately entranced and an old sage Taiyi Zhenren flies in on a crane to name the boy Ne Zha and take him under his wing as a student.

After the local people anger the Dragon King Ao Guang in his undersea crystal palace by sending him food offerings when he’d rather eat live human children, the boy happens to saunter down to the beach for a swim just as Ao Guang’s Sea Warrior has arrived to abduct some tasty boys and girls and steals one of Ne Zha’s playmates.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Art Movies Shorts

The Cowboy’s Flute (Mu Di, 牧笛)

Directors – Qian Jiajun, Te Wei – 1963 – China – Cert. N/C U – 20m

*****

A flute-playing forest boy loses then is reunited with his beloved water buffalo in the mountains. available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th

This opens with a lengthy panning shot of a forest drawn with pen and ink in a distinctive Chinese style not entirely dissimilar to the animated opening of the Japanese live action feature The Mad Fox (Tomu Uchida, 1962) but without the chaos or violence. Among the ink and watercolour-rendered trees wanders a boy playing a flute as he rides a slow moving buffalo, rendered like the backgrounds in pen and ink so that the effect is not of watching clumsily moving images over exquisitely rendered backgrounds, as has often been the case in Western animation departing from the 2D Disney model, but rather of watching a seamlessly moving brush and ink painting. Te Wei had already done this with his groundbreaking Where is Mama? (1960) and he pulls off the same trick again here.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Lotus Lantern (Bao Lian Den,宝莲灯)

Director – Chang Gwang Xi – 1999 – China – Cert. N/C U – 85m

*1/2

A boy must rescue his goddess mother from Heavenly wrath invoked when she fell for his father, a mortal – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th

Immortal Goddess Sanshengmu (voice: Xu Fan) falls in love with mortal man Liu Yanchang and leaves Heaven to pursue love with him on Earth. This goes down badly with her brother Yang Jian (Jiang Wen) since it’s against the Law of Heaven, so he sends an army of hounds down to earth in pursuit. She is however able to evade capture by keeping a lotus lantern close to her to make sure it’s not accidentally lit as this would give away her location.

Seven years later, while boating on a river with her young son Chenxian (Yu Pengfei), the lantern’s accidental lighting reveals her whereabouts to her brother, who promptly whisks the boy to heaven.  When she arrives to demand her son’s return, her brother instead imprisons her in a mountain. … Read the rest