Categories
Features Live Action Movies

West Side Story (2021)

Director – Steven Spielberg – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 156m

*****

This reimagining of the landmark 1961 musical feels fresh and completely different, yet strangely familiar at the same time – out in cinemas on Friday, December 10th

The original adaptation of Broadway show West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, 1961) is widely reckoned one of the great movie musicals. It’s basically Romeo And Juliet reworked with rival houses replaced by rival ethnic gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. From the moment a former member of one gang falls for a young girl from the other ethnic group, their romance is doomed.

As well as remarkable songs (music: Leonard Bernstein, lyrics: Stephen Sondheim), the thing people remember is the incredible, almost otherworldly choreography. If this had not been a musical but a straightforward teenage youth drama, the gangs would have walked or run through the streets in packs. Here, though, they dance and glide as a synchronised group, and the never less than magical result proves highly effective.

So if you’re going to remake West Side Story, you’d better have some pretty good ideas because a carbon copy would be pointless. Enter Steven Spielberg. Like many people, he’s grown up with the 1961 movie and knows it intimately.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Shorta (US title: Enforcement)

Directors – Anders Ølholm, Frederik Louis Hviid – 2020 – Denmark – Cert. 15 – 108m

****

As racial tensions simmer, two white cops become trapped on a vast, no-go housing estate – out in cinemas and on digital from Friday, September 3rd

‘Shorta’ is Arabic slang for ‘police’. An Arab suspect is interrogated and beaten in a Danish police cell, resulting in his hospitalisation. The story is all over the TV news. With tensions running high, and set to run even higher should the questioned man die as seems highly likely, the police are instructed not to enter the area of Svalegarden, a vast housing estate where many Arabs live.

With two officers under investigation for the treatment of the suspect, Jens Høyer (Simon Sears) is partnered with their trigger-happy buddy Mike Andersen (Jacob Hauberg Lohmann) with instructions from the captain to keep Mike on a leash during these difficult circumstances. In the course of their eight-hour shift, they pursue a car with Arab occupants which leads them into the forbidden Svalegarden estate, where after hassling the car’s occupants and getting nowhere, Mike pulls over a teenage boy Amos (Tarak Zayat) for no reason other than the colour of his skin and the way he looks at them.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Free Guy

Director – Shawn Levy – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 115m

***1/2

A non-player character in a mayhem-riddled video game decides to take matters into his own hands after meeting the girl of his dreams – out in cinemas on Friday, August 13th

Guy (sic) (Ryan Reynolds) works in Free City. In a bank. Every day he selects the same shirt from his wardrobe, gets a coffee from the same barista, goes to work. Where, at specific times like clockwork, there are robberies. He and his buddy, a security guard named Buddy (sic) (Lil Rel Howery) drop to the floor where they then chat about life, love and other issues.

Then, one day, he meets Molotov (Jodie Comer), a gun-carrying girl with a British accent. He feels as if he’s known her forever, like she’s the missing piece in his life. But she’s a Specs. She wears specs. People who wear specs do things people who don’t don’t. Guy decides he’s going to steal specs from the first bank robber who comes along.

What Guy doesn’t know is that he’s an NPC (non-player character) in a video game called Free City. The game is made by a company called Soonami run by Antwan (Taika Waititi).… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Eight Hundred (Ba Bai, 八佰)

Director – Guan Hu – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 149m – IMAX

****1/2

Hopelessly outnumbered Chinese soldiers take a last stand against the Japanese in a Shanghai warehouse – – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Domestic Hits strand in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 which runs until Wednesday, May 12th

1937, the Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese have fallen back to , Shanghai as the Japanese advance. Rounding up Chinese deserters, Colonel Xie (Du Chun) and his men of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) hole up in the Sihang warehouse on the other side of the Souzou Creek from the International Concession from which the horrified civilians compulsively watch the conflict unfold.

A Western movie covering such a subject would likely introduce us to specific soldier characters at some length, possibly derailing the larger narrative to do this. The Chinese here do it rather differently. They take the overall sweep of the story and drop the characters in to it. There are deserters, there are brave and heroic fighters and there are men who move from the former to the latter group. The writers also sketch civilian characters living across the river.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Movies Shorts

If Anything Happens I Love You

Directors – Will McCormack, Michael Govier – 2020 – US – 12m

*****

A couple and their spirit selves are haunted by a tragic loss from their family’s past in this beautifully economic, drawn animated short about grief and loss – on Netflix and winner of Best Animated Short at the 2020 / 2021 (93rd) Oscars

Drawn animation. A couple eat at home. Meatballs and spaghetti. Silently. Drawn in stark, gloomy black and white lines. Behind them, in sharply outlined areas of black smudge, the shadows of their spirit selves or perhaps their memories argue. This relationship is in trouble.

They go about the business of everyday living, in empty black and white, trying to snatch moments of individual joy where they can. He wanders round the outside of the house, noticing once again that bit of plasterwork he really should get fixed. She tends the potted plants and takes the laundry out of the machine, picking up the child-sized blue t-shirt. He sits watching the TV with a can of drink. She wanders into the bedroom with the empty bed and somehow the record player and a pop song gets turned on.

Happier times, playing football with their daughter (10) in the garden, the ball taking off a chuck of the wall cladding.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Judas And The Black Messiah

Director – Shaka King – 2021 – US – Cert. 12 – 126m

****1/2

The FBI recruit a small-time thief to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers and report on rising political leader and activist Fred Hampton – two-time Oscar winner is on digital from Monday, April 26th

This cleverly and skilfully plays out both as a terrific thriller about a smart, small time crook recruited by the FBI as an undercover agent and as a chance to take a fresh look at a piece of US social history that has been presented in an unfavourable light by its largely state-sympathetic chroniclers. That piece of history is the Black Panther Party (BPP), long presented as violent insurgents intention upsetting the US status quo. However in the #BlackLivesMatter era when the police in the US have all too often shown themselves in sync with ideas of white entitlement, maybe it’s time to look at the BPP again.

I’m not sure you can totally exonerate the BPP – they did, after all, take up arms against the police although you might argue much of that’s in self-defence – but at the same time there seems to have been a lot in the organisation that’s good: social programmes and trying to help blacks and the social underclass stand on their own two feet in a system rigged against them.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Once Upon A Time In China (Wong Fei Hung, 黃飛鴻)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1991 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 135m

****1/2

Groundbreaking, period martial arts epic features some of the most spectacular stunt sequences ever filmed, spawned five sequels and made Jet Li a star – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th

The real life Wong Fei Hung (1847-1925) was a Chinese practitioner of martial arts and medicine who lived in Foshan and has been the subject of over a hundred films. Tsui Hark’s 1991 production is one of the best known and spawned a series of six movies in total, four of them with Jet Li as Wong, arguably his most iconic role.

Militia-laden American and British and French ships anchored in the harbour put Foshan in an uneasy position and Wong is concerned, as well he might be since it turns out in the course of the narrative that the Americans under a man named Jackson (Jonathan Isgar) are not only tricking local men into debt via getting them to pay for their passage to San Francisco but also trafficking Chinese women into prostitution in the New World. The film isn’t particularly interested in these misdemeanours except as providing motivation for its villain.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

ManHunt (Zhui bu, 追捕)

Director – John Woo – 2017 – China, Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 109m

*****

Hong Kong action director John Woo’s return to form – currently on Netflix.

The late Japanese actor Ken Takakura who died in 2014 appeared in more than 200 films and made his name playing ex-cons and gangsters for Toei studios between the mid-fifties and mid-seventies. He was a major inspiration for Hong Kong director John Woo who here remakes the 1976 Takakura vehicle Manhunt.

Du Qiu (Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu) finds himself in a Japanese bar swapping notes on movies with the mama-san Rain (Korea’s Ha Ji-won). Almost immediately, a loutish group of men in suits storm into the same bar to demand he leaves so she can give them her full attention. Once he’s gone, Rain and her partner Dawn (the director’s daughter Angeles Woo) proceed to gun down the suits, the camera whirling around them as Woo choreographs the mayhem.

Du is a lawyer working for a pharma company. The morning after a huge corporate event he wakes up to find a dead woman (Tao Okamoto) lying next to him in his bed. Implicated in her murder, he goes on the run.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Pixie

Director – Barnaby Thompson – 2020 – Ireland – Cert. 15 – 93m

***1/2

A free-spirited, rule-bending Irishwoman takes on a world of small-time gangsters from the inside – in cinemas from Friday, October 23rd

The West of Ireland. Fergus (Fra Fee) and Colin (Rory Fleck Byrne) have received a tip-off about a shipment coming to a country church. Colin has recently split with longtime girlfriend Pixie. Entering the vestry and presumably expecting gangster types, the pair are surprised to find four priests, two who are visiting from Afghanistan “to discover the lessons we’ve learned from dealing with the IRA”. Our two protagonists, suspicious that Catholics don’t exist in Afghanistan, find themselves in a shoot out. After which, they discover the bag containing the drugs shipment.

We’ve not even met the central character yet. Pixie (Olivia Cooke) adores and dotes on her gangster stepfather Dermot O’Brien (Colm Meaney) but hates and distrusts her quick-tempered stepbrother Mike. She heads out to drink tequila in a bar where, coincidentally, Frankie (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack) are picking up pills from Daniel (Chris Walley). Frankie always fancied Pixie and, encouraged by Daniel’s lewd, drugs-fuelled suggestions regarding Pixie’s sexual proclivities, Frankie, with Harland in tow, drives out to Pixie’s remote house at two in the morning.… Read the rest