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Annette

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

****1/2

This musical conceived and composed by Sparks plays out as a very dark opera ending in tragedy – out in cinemas on Friday, September 3rd

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

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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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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

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Fukushima 50 (フクシマ50)

Director – Setsuro Wakamatsu – 2020 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 122m

****

Historically-based, disaster movie cum drama in which workers struggle to limit the considerable damage to a nuclear power plant hit by an earthquake then a tsunami – on VoD from Monday, March 8th

March 11th, 2011. A powerful earthquake followed by a tsunami hit Japan. Situated near the epicentre of the earthquake on the coast where the tsunami hits is a nuclear power plant. The resultant nuclear disaster threatens to decimate Japan. Coming in at slightly over 9.0, it remains the most powerful earthquake the country has ever experienced.

The above is history. The title Fukushima 50 is the name given to from the crew of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant who at considerable cost to their own health stayed at the plant to limit the damage as much as they could and prevent an undoubtedly appalling situation becoming far worse.

To anyone not well-versed in the specific technical minutiae of how a nuclear power plant works (i.e. most of us) much of what happens in the film is bewildering. Not that it really matters, frankly, because if someone looks at a gauge, reads off a number in units of which you’ve never heard and exclaims that they’ve got to get the number down, you have a pretty good idea what’s going on.… Read the rest

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The Vast Of Night

Director – Andrew Patterson – 2019 – US – Cert. 12 – 91m

*****

A radio DJ and a young switchboard operator discover strange noises in the ether which may possibly be of great significance to the small US town where they live in the fifties – on Amazon Prime since Friday, May 29th 2020

Bookended with a curious and somewhat redundant framing device which sets up an episode of black & white, fifties TV show Paradox Theater called The Vast Of Night, to which the otherwise colour film periodically and pointless returns from time to time, this is an enigmatic little tale set in the small rural US town of Cayuga where the local high school is set to host a basketball team for a match.

Older teenager Everett (Jake Horowitz) is trying to sort out technical problems before the game gets under way: Sam reminds him that last time this happened, it was a squirrel that had chewed through a wire and the wire was still in its mouth. This story seems to crop up every few minutes as yet another character relates their own abridged telling of it. And 16 year old Fay Crocker (Sierra McCormick) wants him to show her how the tape recorder she’s just bought works.… Read the rest

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The Empty Hands (Hung Sau Dou, 空手道)


Director – Chapman To – 2017 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 97m

Film *****

Subtitle legibility *

A Hong Kong Chinese-Japanese must come to peace with her late, estranged karate-obsessed father – online in the UK as part of Hong Kong Focus 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

To get the subtitle issue out of the way first, the subs here are what subs often used to be forty years ago – white with no black edge around the lettering. So as soon as the lettering appears over a white area of the image, it’s rendered invisible and illegible. These days, that system is rarely used so it’s rarely a problem. But there are several scenes here when it’s an issue. Nothing that will fundamentally spoil the film, but it’s a pity that someone cut a corner and didn’t get this quite right. If it ever turns up on home video, I hope someone redoes the subs properly to make them legible. The translation seems fine, which makes the poor legibility far more irritating. Now then, the film…

This follows the time-worn, martial arts movie template of a hero with something to prove so they train for a big competition fight in which they somehow find themselves.… Read the rest

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Till We Meet Again (Sheng Qian Yue Si Hou, 生前约死后)

Director – Steven Ma – 2019 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 97m

****1/2

A young man succumbs to a debilitating psychosis in the decade following his mother’s death – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

When Wai Wong Oli, Moritz) was three, his mother Mui (Josephine Ku) told him she’d always be there. Ten years ago, she died of cancer and Wai (Steven Ma) blames himself. He’s never been able to get past this, making himself dangerously ill. He gave up a job for a restaurant job near his parents’ home just so he’d be able to look after her. He’s a conscientious and efficient worker, so his boss gives him time off to see his mother whatever he wants, and when that doesn’t work out his grateful colleagues cover for him.

Sometimes, though, he doesn’t take the meds prescribed for him by Dr. Fung (Jennifer Yu) and goes completely to pieces. Fortunately, his schoolfriend Chi (Himmy Wong) is there for him. Thoughts of guilt and suicide are never far away.

The narrative proceeds on its course, flashing back and forth in time through Wai’s memories from when he was younger, including himself (Fong Chit Lun) at age 10 and himself in the decade leading up to his mum’s passing, in the company of both his mum and his bus driver dad Chung (Ling Hiu Wah).… Read the rest

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Live Action Movies Shorts

Hello

Director – Chan Lok-yi – 2017 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 12+ – 23m

*****

A schoolgirl looking for her first alcoholic drink falls in with a poor, unemployed man who likes to drink – online and Free To View in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

A schoolgirl (Chan Wing Sum) eyes up the canned alcoholic beverage section of the local 7-Eleven. She’s aware of the man (Ng Kam-chuen) at the counter asking, pleading, almost pathetically, “can I pay you next time, please?” Both are losers. After class, her teacher takes her aside and tells her, “unless you do something, you will fail.” 

The man, meanwhile, gets short shrift when he enters a local warehouse looking for work. The extremely busy and smartly dressed manager doesn’t seem to like the look of him but is quite happy to tell someone else, “you’ve come just in time.” 

Our man hangs around the streets near the school.  He’s grateful when a group of self-proclaimed Christians turn up to hand out food to the needy and enjoys a quiet meal out of fast food cartons on a bench in a deserted urban area as a result.… Read the rest

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Live Action Movies Shorts

Bright Spring Days

Director – Yeh Ka Lun – 2018 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 12+ – 25m

****1/2

The son of the family returns from his father in Canada to his mother in Hong Kong – online and Free To View in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

A block of flats seen from the walkway. Middle-aged Lai-kuen (Ellen Liu Oi Ling) spots him down below, her son Ka-kei (Sham Ka-ki from Weeds On Fire/Dian Wu Bu, Chan Chi Fat, 2016)) arriving from Canada (where he lives with his dad) pulling a wheeled suitcase. In the cramped interior of her flat, he asks about the broken door. It got stuck and the locksmith will charge $300. He shows her a mike he found on the street “so you can sing in the flat.” She asks if he wants to see Auntie Kit tonight.

So they go down to a small club with tacky illuminations on Temple Street where she sings to the audience area from a book on a music stand. While Lai-kuen and Kit (Shui Jie from Mad World / Yat Nim Mou Ming, Chun Wong, 2016 and again Weeds On Fire/Dian Wu Bu, Chan Chi Fat, 2016) chat, he helps young Chun (Lau Ching-yu) with his homework.… Read the rest

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Live Action Movies Shorts

Conditioned

Director – Chan Kam-hei – 2015 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 24m

****

A schoolgirl pretends to be a boy at home because her mother can’t deal with her being a girl – online and Free To View in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

Teenager Nam takes off a feminine top and changes into his/her boy’s school uniform. As a boy, s/he calls in on her grandpa to pick up a plate, waiting ’til she’s out of sight of the house to dispose of the contents in a dumpster, then proceeds home to where her mother has turned the apartment upside down ina hunt for earring. Her mother is only interested in her own looks. Does she look okay? He likes me in earrings, she says.

At night, Nam sneaks round to her friend’s, a boy who lets her wash her smalls – bra, knickers – in bowls in his bedsit sink. Only at thisa point does it become clear Nam is a she. She helps him with homework. He jokes, asking her to move I with him or can he walk her home.… Read the rest