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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Made in England:
The Films of
Powell and Pressburger

Director – David Hinton – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 129m

*****

Martin Scorsese talks about the seminal British filmmaking duo, and how they inspired his own movies – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 10th

As a child, Martin Scorsese suffered from asthma and would constantly find himself at home while other kids were outside playing. He often found himself sitting front of the black and white TV watching a show called Million Dollar Movie. This would show a movie a week, playing it several times, and it was at a time when US producers wouldn’t sell their movie rights to TV but British producers would. Consequently, he grew up watching black and white versions of old British movies.

The ones he particularly liked opened with an arrow hitting a target: “a production of the Archers. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.” When this logo and these names appeared, Scorsese always knew he was in good hands. He watched these movies over and over again whenever they were shown, and learned much of his filmmaking craft from them. The first of these films to which he thrilled didn’t have this logo: it was the Alexander Korda production of The Thief of Baghdad (Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, 1940) and parts of the film have the unmistakeable Powell visual stamp.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Eraserhead

Director – David Lynch – 1977 – US – Cert. 15 – 89 mins

*****

A look at where Eraserhead came from – and where its weirdness led. First published in 1996.

The current vogue for Special Editions and Director’s Cuts prompts David Lynch to rerelease Eraserhead with a Dolby Stereo sound remix.

The pre-existing gem of a soundtrack was textured by Lynch and collaborating sound designer Alan Splet to incorporate a host of industrial noises alongside such unforgettable effects as the hero’s girlfriend’s mother gargling during a dinner table fit. Eraserhead remains arguably the most original and innovative vision the last twenty years of American cinema have produced.

Not that film or director came from the mainstream. Abandoning painting as an art student, Lynch began making animation / live action films with the brief loop Six Men Getting Sick (1967) with the four minute The Alphabet (1969) and the half hour The Grandmother (1970) funded by American Film Institute grants. The AFI then funded Eraserhead, which mushroomed to feature length and required completion finance from elsewhere. Reactions to the result vary between boredom, revulsion, or admiration (this writer aligns with the latter).

Invited to his girlfriend Mary’s (Charlotte Stewart) for dinner, “Printer – on vacation” Henry (Lynch regular Jack Nance) learns she is pregnant.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

After Life
(Wandafuru Raifu,
ワンダフルライフ)

Director – Hirokazu Kore-eda – 1998 – Japan – Cert. PG – 119m

*****

…Kore-eda fell back on his TV documentary roots, interviewing 500 ordinary people about their most important memory if they could take only one with them to heaven. He incorporated ten into After Life (1998), playing recently deceased clients in the care of petty bureaucrats played by professional actors. They are given one week to choose and recreate that memory on film before being sent off to the next place…

Read the rest at All The Anime where I covered this title as part of the BFI’s Flesh And Blood Blu-ray box set which includes Maborosi (1995), After Life (1998), Nobody Knows (2004) and Still Walking (2008). Also available on BFI Player subscription and to rent on Curzon Home Cinema.

Trailer (After Life – original Japanese, subs):

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

A Chinese Odyssey
(Sai Yau Gei,
西遊記)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part One – Pandora’s Box (Sai Yau Gei: Yut Gwong Bou Haap, 西遊記第壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part Two – Cinderella (Sai Yau Gei: Sin Leui Kei Yun, 西遊記大結局之仙履奇緣)

Director – Jeffrey Lau – 1995 – Hong Kong – 87 + 98m

***

The Monkey King is banished to earth with loss of memory for a series of encounters with monsters and romantic interludes – screened as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Saturday January 29th

These two films are the first and second parts of the same story, so it makes sense to screen them together as a double bill. The starting point is the 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West, which has also spawned such productions as the seminal Chinese animation The Monkey King (Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang; Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) and the long-running Japanese TV series Monkey (1978-80). The novel’s plot concerns a monk and his three assistants Pigsy, Sandy and Monkey who journey to the West (i.e. Central Asia and India) to obtain Buddhist texts.

Less an adaptation of the novel than a tangential story that uses the novel’s framework as its starting point, the films are bookended by two sequences, one at the start of Part One, the other at the end of Part Two, which start the tangential story rolling and wrap it up respectively.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Truffle Hunters

Directors – Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw – 2020 – US, Italy – Cert. 12a – 84m

*****

Italians carry out a trade their families have pursued for generations with their beloved, faithful and trained dogs – in cinemas from Friday, July 9th

Cinema is about many things. Among them, it’s about the camera, the eye, the ability to observe, to watch. This facet of the medium is immediately apparent as The Truffle Hunters opens with a long shot of a picturesque section of hillside forest, its foliage a cacophony of greens and yellows. We become aware of movement in the vegetation. Two dogs are moving around separately, purposefully, under the watchful eye of their human master, an old man. He – and his animal entourage – are truffle hunters, seekers after the delicacy that is the white truffle which has refused all attempts at systematic cultivation and grows only in Langhe, Piedmont, Northern Italy. For mysterious reasons on which no-one agrees.

These men (they’re all men) are now in their seventies and eighties. They all have their own, jealously guarded territories for hunting the truffles. We watch as a younger man tries to prize the whereabouts of likely truffle finds out of an older man, but he won’t have it.… 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 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

Categories
Animation Features Movies

The Monkey King:
Havoc in Heaven
3D
(Da Nao Tian Gong,
大闹天宫)

Directors – Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang – 3D Restoration, 2012 (originally Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) – China – Cert. N/C PG – 92m

****

The Jade Emperor assigns the Monkey King to a series of lowly Heavenly positions to keep him out of trouble and mayhem ensues – available to rent online from Friday, February 12th to Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland as part of the Shanghai Animation Film Studio Retro in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021

In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, the Monkey King Sun Wokong breaks out of the rock in which he’s been imprisoned to realise he needs a decent personal weapon and talk the Dragon King out of his prized, giant Golden Ringed Wishing Staff, shrinking it to manageable size. The latter complains to the Jade Emperor, so to keep him out of further trouble Monkey is named Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven and assigned to a series of lowly Heavenly positions in charge of first the stables then the Queen’s peach orchard.

Upon learning that the Queen and her companions are unaware of his title and have failed to invite him to their upcoming banquet, Monkey turns himself invisible, causes the guests to fall asleep and takes the food back to his Fruit And Flower Mountain home on Earth to distribute it among his boy monkey subjects.… Read the rest

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Dick Johnson
Is Dead

Director – Kirsten Johnson – 2020 – US – 89m

*****

The director imagines the death of her dad in a film which celebrates both the man himself and the art of cinema – on Netflix worldwide from Friday, October 2nd

I was alerted to this movie both because not only was Johnson’s prior Cameraperson (2016) excellent but also the subject matter of this new film looked promising. Johnson spent three decades as the cameraperson on numerous documentaries (among them Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore, 2004 and Citizenfour, Laura Poitras, 2014) before making her previous feature out of interesting bits and pieces of footage she had lying around. Her new film is highly personal and almost fits into the home movies or personal diary school of film making – lent an inevitable, additional gravitas given Johnson’s prior artistic and technical career.

C. Richard Johnson (b. 1932 – ) is Kirsten Johnson’s dad. One day, like all of us, he is going to die. So his daughter decided that while he was still alive she would make a film about his dying, filming his possible deaths and staging his funeral service ahead of time.

There’s a huge contradiction at the heart of this idea.… Read the rest

Categories
Dance Features Live Action Movies

Climax

Director – Gaspar Noé – 2018 – France – Cert. 18 – 97m

*****

Uppers and downers – either way blood flows. Arthouse enfant terrible Noé combines technical skill and singular focus with some of the most spectacular dancing ever put on film to produce a dark and challenging vision of hell on earth – now available on VoD

Cinema at its purest. Bright white on a screen. A woman starts crawling from the top of the screen. Extreme audience disorientation. We realise she’s crawling through snow. She appears to be in a bad way. Traces of blood. The camera follows her forward movement down the screen. Slowly a tree comes into shot from the bottom. We are watching the same overhead camera movement.

A series of vox pops on a television screen with shelves of books on one side and piles of DVDs on the other. Dancers answer questions on why dance is important to them. Would they do anything in order to make it big? What would they do if they weren’t able to dance?

Then the narrative proper begins. It’s 1996. We’re inside a building with a dance floor watching the most amazing dance routines we’ve ever seen.… Read the rest