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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

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Lancaster

Directors – David Fairhead, Anthony Palmer – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 110m

****

The story of World War Two’s iconic Lancaster bomber aircraft, the missions it flew and the airmen who served as its crews – out in cinemas on Friday, May 27th

The constant drone-like sound, the view looking downwards moving over water, a Lancaster bomber aircraft flying the length of a lake, the camera above it titling down as it passes to reveal it crossing a dam. This sequence, impressive on a big cinema screen equipped with a really good sound system, opens this informative and compelling documentary.

The Lancaster is entrenched in the British psyche from The Dam Busters (Michael Anderson, 1955) and in due course clips from that film and a few others appear here. I can remember seeing it many times on afternoon television as a child in the late 1960s / early 1970s. Present day footage of this amazing aircraft in flight jostles with comments by present day airmen who fly in it, and their enormous affection and respect for the aircraft comes through loud and clear. They are seen touching a plaque by the plane’s entrance doorway commemorating all those who flew her during World War Two as a way of taking the spirits of those people with them on flights today.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Nightmare Alley (2021)

Director – Guillermo del Toro – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 150m

****

A former carny gets deep into trouble using mind-reading trickery on a wealthy mark – out in cinemas on Friday, January 21st. Also available on Digital Wednesday, March 16th and on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, March 21st

After burning a body in an isolated farmhouse, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) gets work with travelling carnival showman Clem (Willem Dafoe) via midget The Major (Mark Povinelli) and strongman Bruno (Ron Perlman). He soon ingratiates himself with mind reader Zeena (Toni Collette) who lets him into some of the secrets of her trade, but romantically he’s more interested in Molly (Rooney Mara) with whom, despite opposition from her unofficial guardian Bruno, he runs away intent on working a lucrative act on a wealthier audience to make larger amounts of money.

One night, during a residency at a hotel, Stanton and Molly’s show is interrupted by a woman (Cate Blanchett) trying to expose him as a fraud. Successfully navigating her heckling, he convinces Judge Kimball (Peter MacNeill) that he is in contact with the Judge’s dead son. Going against Molly’s advice not to do “spook shows”, and offering to cut in the woman, psychoanalyst Dr.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Pirates

Director – Reggie Yates – 2021 – UK – Cert. – 80m

**1/2

Party like it’s 1999! Three 18-year-old, childhood friends from London attempt to see in the new millennium in style – out in cinemas on Friday, November 26th

They’re called pirates because in this year, 1999, they’ve made it onto the air in London pirate radio, DJ-ing and MC-ing from their flat as the ICC, the Ice Cold Crew. Well, two of them, Two Tonne (Jordan Peters) and Kidda (Redda Elazouar), have. Third member Cappo (Elliot Edusah), just back from university, never really felt he contributed much to the ICC even though he was their manager, so he’s been rehearsing his one-line speech to tell the guys he’s leaving the crew.

However, when he drops in on Two Tonne at the latter’s glue factory job, before he can say his piece, his friend spots Sophie (Kassius Nelson), the girl with whom Two Tonne is smitten and with whom he’d like to be at midnight, and the conversation goes in a whole other direction. The lads concoct a plan to get into the best party of the night, the Y2K, but to do that, they need to get tickets at this last minute.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

Ròm

Director – Tran Thanh Huy – 2019 – Vietnam – Cert. 12a – 79m

*****

An urban street kid works as a lottery runner to survive while a slightly older boy attempts to steal his turf – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

Spending his nights alone in his slum rooftop shack under the stars shooting tin cans with a catapult, young teenager Ròm (Tran Ahn Khoa) must live by his wits. The tenants of his block, like all the city’s residents, are obsessed with the lottery, the only chance any of them have of getting out of poverty. He spends his days going around collecting bets, racing to place them with the bookies on time then racing back equally fast to deliver the results as soon as they’re announced.

If the numbers win, people collect their money and he’s a local hero. If they don’t his customers may beat him up. It’s a challenging and desperate lifestyle, right down at the bottom of the social pile, yet a part of him seems to thrive on it, almost like some indescribable, youthful affirmation of life.

In the course of trying to impress the local, pool playing gangster, older homeless teeenager Phúc (Nguyen Phuc Anh Tu) – who took his name from a Westerner he worked for some time back who used a simiar sounding word a lot – attempts to muscle in on Ròm’s customers and turf.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Live Action Movies Music Shorts

Blondie: Vivir En La Habana

Director – Rob Roth – 2021 – US – 18m

*****

Watch an incredible collision of cultures as new wave band Blondie tours Havana – from Sheffield DocFest 2021

Shot in several aspect ratios by multimedia artist and Blondie collaborator Roth (Doom Or Destiny music video, cert. 18, 2017; creative director on lead singer Debbie Harry’s memoir Face It, 2019), this is a vibrant, visual account of the band’s March 2019 tour of Havana. There are clips from songs recorded at several gigs here (with Harry sporting a variety of striking outfits) that make you wish you’d been there. For some songs, the band’s sound is augmented by Cuban musicians giving the likes of The Tide Is High a completely new lease of life.

Rather than going the obvious route and simply producing a film of the concerts – which I’m sure would be well-received by the band’s admirers, among whom I number myself – Roth has mashed the digitally produced concert footage up with Super 8 and 16mm footage of both Havana itself and members of the band.

He’s also had a lot of fun augmenting numerous live action shots with 2D animation drawn directly onto the moving images adding another layer to the already complex imagery.… Read the rest

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Animation Movies Shorts

Snow Kid (Xue Hai Zi, 雪孩子)

a.k.a. The Snow Child

Director – Lin Wenxiao – 1980 – China – Cert. N/C – 20m

***

A mother and her daughter build a snow child which comes to life and later saves the girl’s life – 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

Made a couple of years ahead of the perennial British Christmas TV animated favourite The Snowman (Jimmy T. Murakami, Dianne Jackson, 1982), this similarly has a story of a child making a snowman which then comes to life. A mother rabbit and her daughter live in a small house near the woods. The mother prepares food while her daughter plays with a rocking toy then suggests she and the child make a snowman, so they go outside and do exactly that.

After the mother has coaxed the child into using for the snowman’s eyes two precious longan seeds the child plans to plant next Spring, the girl tries to add a nose, but when her back is turned, the snow child pulls the carrot off and throws it on the ground.… Read the rest

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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

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Features Live Action Movies

The Painted Bird (Nabarvené ptáče)

Director – Václav Marhoul – 2019 – Czech Republic – Cert. 18 – 169m

****1/2

An orphan boy meets a series of adults, a few kind but most cruel, travelling around Eastern Europe during World War Twoin cinemas and online at Amazon, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, IFI@HOME, Rio Cinema Online and Vimeo On Demand in the UK from Friday, September 11th

You’re really not quite sure where you are for the first hour of this mammoth Czech production stuffed with Hollywood stars speaking not a word in English. A boy (Petr Kotlár) whose name we won’t discover until the film’s final minutes flees through a wood before being caught by bullies who burn and kill his pet ferret.

That proves prophetic because soon afterwards at night, he discovers that his aunt, with whom he lives, has died upright in her chair. He is so startled that he knocks over an oil lamp and burns the house down. Now he’s an orphan at the mercy of the world, which is not a pleasant one being Eastern Europe at the time of the second world war. The rural people are primitive. Christianity is largely a matter of ritual and superstition; belief in vampires is so widespread that a local witch can claim the boy is a vampire and be believed.… Read the rest