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Features Live Action Movies

After Yang

Director – Kogonada – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 96m

****1/2

In the distant future, a couple must come to terms with the loss of the eldest child, actually an A.I. purchased as an ethnically programmed companion for their adopted South East Asian daughter – SF mystery drama is on Sky Cinema from Thursday, September 22nd

Memory is one of the great themes of cinema because when you point a moving image camera at someone, you capture and preserve their moving image for posterity. (Something similar happens when you record the sound of someone’s voice. Or even if you write down their words on paper, a simpler, more primitive form of recording.) Memory is also one of the elements which defines us as human beings.

Full marks, then, to director (actually writer, director, editor) Kogonada for taking the short story Saying Goodbye To Yang by Alexander Weinstein and expanding it into a feature. As described in the parlance of the distant future world in which this is set, Yang is a technosapien (i.e. a robot), a purchased elder sibling of a family comprising father Jake (Colin Farrell), mother Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) and daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja).

Mika is adopted, and her ever so Hollywood liberal parents – he a white man who has built a business around his passion for tea, she a black woman who is a hard-working, highly motivated high-flier in a demanding corporate business that’s never really defined – are concerned that she connect with her South East Asian heritage.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

My Childhood, My Country: 20 Years In Afghanistan

Director – Phil Grabsky, Shoaib Sharifi – 2022 – UK – Cert. tbc – 90m

**1/2

The story of a boy from his harsh childhood in a mountain cave through to his life as a husband and father of three in present day Kabul under the Taliban – out in UK cinemas on Tuesday, September 20th

Mir Hussain has already been the subject of two previous Grabsky documentaries The Boy Who Played On The Buddhas Of Bamiyan (2004) and The Boy Mir (2011). The first covers his time as an eight-year-old living in the caves of Bamiyan, beside the remains of the famous monuments which had been destroyed by the Taliban. The second documents his life from eight- to eighteen-year-old. This third film takes a longer view, following Mir’s life from that early period through to the present day.

Afghanistan has undergone huge changes in the last twenty years, from Taliban rule through occupation post 9/11 by NATO forces led by the US to the withdrawal of Western forces, the collapse of the Afghan government and the return to power of the Taliban. That story is related here via clips of various news reports from TV channels all around the globe.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Tad The Lost Explorer And The Curse Of The Mummy (Tad The Lost Explorer And The Emerald Tablet; Tadeo Jones 3. La Tabla Esmeralda; Tadeo Jones 3. La Taula Maragda)

Director – Enrique Gato – 2022 – Spain – Cert. U – 90m

****

In Mexico, desperate for recognition as a bona fide archaeologist, our hero unearths an Egyptian sarcophagus and unleashes a mysterious power from an Inca temple – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 9th

Gato’s third instalment of the Tad The Lost Explorer franchise is a lot better than it sounds, chiefly because it delivers narrative coherence and picks up and runs with numerous opportunities afforded by character and script where the similarly inventive Minions: The Rise Of Gru (Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, Jonathan del Val, 2022) failed.

Having agreed with girlfriend Sara not to go public about his previous archaeological discoveries, Tad has with her help got on to the Chicago Museum’s dig in Mexico – as a lowly assistant, even though he seems more clued-up than the three qualified archaeologists in charge. Rashly opening a secret door by pushing a part of a wall frieze, he finds himself in a vast chamber containing an Egyptian sarcophagus, his report of which is pooh-poohed by his three superiors until, after firing him, they discover it for themselves and take the credit.

This rivalry between the ‘amateur’ Tad and qualified but comparatively clueless ‘professionals’ is kept up throughout the narrative, although the professionals remain secondary characters.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Return To Dust (Yin Ru Chen Yan, 隐入尘烟)

Director – Li Ruijin – 2022 – China – Cert. PG – 133m

***1/2

When two misfits are put into an arranged marriage by their respective, concerned families, a kindly, gentle relationship blossoms – played in the 2022 Edinburgh Film Festival, forthcoming UK release Friday, November 4th 2022

His family are worried about Iron Ma (Wu Renlin), also known as fourth brother. He seems content to live off his little piece of land tilling it with his donkey to grow crops, and raising pigs and chickens. He is less ambitious than third brother, who runs the local market and sets the prices for which crops are bought off local farmers. Third brother has done well for himself, and drives around in a flashy car. By way of contrast, Ma gets around by walking, or donkey and cart if he has produce to transport.

Her family are likewise worried about Cao Guiying (Hai Qing), a shy woman who can’t control her bladder. Both Ma and Cao’s respective families view their offspring as a liability and want to get them married off as soon as possible, not least to get out of being responsible for them. So they arrange a marriage for the pair of them to get them off their hands.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Directors – Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 127m

*****

A warm and compelling look at the life of writer Kurt Vonnegut, the influence upon him of the bombing of Dresden, and his decades-long friendship with director Weide – out in cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday, July 22nd, BFI Player Rental from Monday, August 22nd

Read my shorter review for Reform magazine.

The documentary Weide eventually made about Vonnegut took him the best part of four decades to complete. Weide opens with a statement about Vonnegut walking in the woods, feeling a tree and seeing the bombing of Dresden before it occurred. There seems no reason to doubt Vonnegut. He was unstuck in time, jumping around the years and decades. Weide first contacted him in 1982, never imagining that it would take him anything like as long to complete the film as it did. He starts looking at interviews of himself (“who wants to see a documentary in which a filmmaker appears as himself?”, he asks) – defined by where they were shot or what shirt Weide was wearing at the time.

Whatever else Vonnegut and his writing are, they are not conventional.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Hit The Road (Jaddeh Khaki)

Director – Panah Panahi – 2021 – Iran – Cert. 12a – 93m

****

Four in a car. An Iranian family drive across Iran towards the Turkish border, for reasons that will only later become clear – out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th

A family of four – dad (Hassan Madjooni), mum (Pantea Panahiha), elder son (Amin Simiar), younger son (Rayan Sarlak) plus family dog Jessy – are driving across Iran towards the Turkish border. Actually, when we first meet them, they’ve stopped at a lay-by. That opening, combined with the title, doesn’t leave you in much doubt that this is going to be a road movie. We take an instant shining to the younger son, an irrepressible six-year-old who plays air piano on the keyboard drawn on the plaster cast around his sleeping father’s leg.

A bit of a rogue, this one: mum and dad have left their mobile phones at home as instructed, but six has brought his with him (he denies it, but the ringtone is a giveaway: it turns out he’s hidden it in his underwear and we should probably be thankful the director didn’t make this film in Odorama). Mum takes the phone away and buries it, but later on in the journey, he’s trying to buy another one.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Where The Crawdads Sing

Director – Olivia Newman – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 125m

***1/2

A young woman who grew up alone in the North Carolina Marshlands is the prime suspect for a murder she may or may not have committed – out in cinemas on Friday, July 22nd

The body of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is discovered having fallen to his death from an old, 63’ high viewing platform. But did he fall or was he pushed? The reclusive, local outcast and so-called ‘Marsh Girl’ Kya Clarke (Daisy Edgar-Jones) swiftly becomes the prime suspect after sheriffs find a red, woolly hat at her house, a fibre from which matches one found on Chase’s corpse.

As the investigation proceeds in the generic form of a whodunit by way of a courtroom drama, with the kindly Tom Milton (David Strathairn) as her self-appointed defence attorney against the state prosecutor in her jury trial, the narrative spilts into two separate strands, with the story of Kya’s personal history from childhood to the then present day of 1969 running in parallel until… well, refusing to divulge spoilers forbids me from saying, except that the final reel and the ending are arguably the most satisfying part of this engrossing movie.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Breakout Brothers (To Yuk Hing Dai, 逃獄兄弟)

Director – Mak Ho-pong – 2020 – Hong Kong – 12 (Camden Council) – 90m

****

Three prison inmates attempt to escape so that they can attend to various pressing, personal issues– online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Making Waves from Friday, July 8th to Sunday, July 10th

The generic side of Hong Kong movies (kung fu, supernatural, swordplay, gangster, horror, comedy) has long been one of the strengths of that territory’s film production. This one has already spawned two sequels (Breakout Brothers 2, 2021 and Breakout Brothers 3, 2022, both Mak Ho-pong). In essence, it’s deceptively simple: three inmates in prison attempt to break out. This is hardly an original concept, however two elements makes it different.

One, it’s conceived and shot as a caper movie. It’s not really a comedy, but it most definitely has a lightweight feel. This is brilliantly established from the get-go with the introduction of the score by Pong Chow and Noel Li, which follows a long tradition of themes in caper movies and TV series typified by Mission: Impossible (composed by Lalo Schifrin, 1966) with its driving yet off-kilter bass-line. In Breakout Brothers, this is accompanied by a striking, graphic,opening title sequence as good as that for Collectors (Park Jung Bae, 2020), the difference here being that Breakout Brothers lives up to the promise of its superlative title sequence whereas Collectors doesn’t.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Minions: The Rise Of Gru

Directors – Kyle Balda, Brad Ableson, Jonathan del Val – 2022 – US – Cert. U – 87m

***1/2

Three plots involving the Minions, their pre-teen, supervillain master Gru and a gang of supervillains called Vicious 6 compete with each other – out in cinemas on Friday, July 1st

This starts off bravely for a franchise entry with the introduction of a raft of six new supervillains who comprise the gang Vicious 6, their names thrown at the audience in rapid-fire vignettes too fast too absorb, suggesting the makers have half an eye on freeze-frameable, home viewing platforms and half an eye on merchandising. The fabulous, motorbiking Belle Bottom (voice: Taraji P. Henson) who appears to have wandered in from 1970s blaxploitation with enormous Afro hair and disco diva clothing is the main focus of an enthralling car chase in which she outwits the cops with incredible stunts.

Her co-villains are voiced mostly by a roster of action stars known for that rather than animation voice work: the crab-pincered Jean Clawed (voice: Jean-Claude Van Damme), the Scandinavian-sounding Svengeance (voice: Dolph Lundgren), Stronghold (voice: Danny Trejo) and nunchaku-wielding nun Nunchuk (Lucy Lawless).

(A quick aside: older readers will recall that back in the 1970s, nunchaku were a no-no for the BBFC who would prune their use or even excise them altogether, sometimes in the most innocuous of contexts.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Director – Daniels (Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert) – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 139m

*****

Do you know kung fu? A launderette owner in trouble with the IRS is sucked into serial, parallel worlds to defeat the being who threatens to annihilate the multiverse – available on demand in the UK from Monday, June 13th

You could describe it as a Cubist take on The Matrix. Or a mother-daughter relationship drama. Or a multiverse movie. Or a film about filing taxes with the IRS. Or a (multiple set of) romance(s). Or a Michelle Yeoh action movie. Or a Chinese American movie. Or a film put together unlike any other you’ve ever seen. All these descriptions would be accurate.

Chinese American Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) runs her own business. A launderette (or laundromat in American parlance). She sits at the table in her apartment which is covered with piles of receipts. She is sorting through them in preparation for an upcoming interview with the IRS. She isn’t sure she’s ready.

This pressing issue aside, her life is not without its challenges. Her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan, formerly the kid from Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Steven Spielberg, 1983; The Goonies, Richard Donner, 1985) is attempting to file for divorce and wants her to sign the papers.… Read the rest