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The Forgiven

Director – John Michael McDonagh – 2021 – UK/Ireland – Cert. 18 – 117m

****

A wealthy alcoholic driving to a rich school friend’s party in the Sahar desert accidentally kills a local and sparks a cross-cultural incident that will have profound consequences for him – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 2nd

Wealthy married couple David and Jo Henninger (Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain) travel to Tangier in what he calls “ah – l’Afrique” to attend a rich friend’s party at his isolated home in the middle of the Sahara. This involves driving some 400 miles through poorly mapped desert terrain. David is a high-functioning alcoholic (“I’ve always thought the high-functioning should cancel out the alcoholic”, he says) who indulges himself from a bottle before he starts to drive and the couple argue a great deal. Perhaps their relationship is nearing its end.

En route, they get lost, but in the middle of the night eventually find the turn off. They stop, bicker, then start up again and immediately hit local teenager Driss (Omar Ghazaoui) who has stepped out in front of the stationary car to sell them a fossil. Burying his ID, they bundle his dead body into the car hoping that their host will know what to do.… Read the rest

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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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Mama’s Affair (阿媽有咗第二個)

Director – Kearen Pang – 2022 – Hong Kong – Cert. PG – 127m

**

A former music business exec tries to get back into the game managing a boy singer while her jealous teenage son takes his exams – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 19th

Essentially a three-hander, this centres around middle-aged mother Mei-fung (Teresa Mo Shun-kwan), her son, Jonathan (Jer Lau) who is doing exams and hopes the study at the UK’s Cambridge and similarly aged youth Fang Ching (Keung To). The two teenagers are played by members of phenomenally successful Cantopop boy band Mirror, arguably the production’s main selling point. It also has an unashamed music industry focus. Mei-fung, whose marriage is on the rocks, is a former record label executive who has decided to go back to the workplace now that her son is on the verge of going abroad.

She originally got out of the business at the insistence of her husband following a miscarriage. She was something of a workaholic, necessitated by her job of looking after talent, babysitting stars to the extent that juggling career and potential motherhood was well nigh impossible. Trying to get back into the game twenty years on, she find those former colleagues still involved don’t really see her return as viable, and she winds up working for a former associate who is now passionately running a private school for kids with an emphasis on creativity and the arts.… Read the rest

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Paris, Texas

Director – Wim Wenders – 1984 – US – Cert. 15 – 145m

*****

A constantly inventive movie in which a man returns after four years’ absence to bond with his seven-year-old son and seek out his disappeared wife – back out in cinemas on Friday, July 29th

Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) stumbles out of the desert in Southern Texas having disappeared to Mexico for four years following the collapse of his marriage. During this time, the estranged couple’s seven-year-old son Hunter (Hunter Carson) has been living with Travis’ brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) and wife Anne (Aurore Clement) who he understandably thinks of as his parents. Walt coaxes Travis into re-establishing his paternal relationship with the boy. When Travis decides to track down disappeared wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski), who has been sending Walt and Anne money for the child from a bank in Houston, the child talks him into letting him tag along.

Although it starts with Travis walking, and much of the early part of the film takes place in and around Walt and Anne’s home, it’s very much a road movie with a great deal of the narrative taking place in cars and pickup trucks.

The film caused a sensation when it came out in the UK over 35 years ago.… Read the rest

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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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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Transformed by an atrocity

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time
Directed by Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott
Certificate 15
Released 22 July (cinemas and digital platforms)

Full review published in Reform magazine.

The late Kurt Vonnegut claims that after touching a tree trunk he saw the bombing of Dresden before it actually happened, and it’s easy to believe him. His whole life, he says, has been unstuck in time. Born in Indianapolis in 1922, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was shipped off as a POW to Dresden, a bustling metropolis unlike anything he’d previously seen. He survived the Allied bombing of that city inside an underground meat locker and emerged to see it razed to the ground. The Germans had him and fellow prisoners search for bodies amongst the ruins.

Back in the States… [Read the rest at Reform magazine]

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is out in cinemas and on Altitude Film digital platform in the UK from Friday, July 22nd.

Read my longer review.

Adaptation of Vonnegut’s Mother Night (writer-producer Robert B. Weide, 1996) – review.

Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018) also covers the bombing of Dresden – review.… Read the rest

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The Railway Children (1970)

Director – Lionel Jeffries –1970 – UK – Cert. U – 109m

****1/2

After their father is arrested and the family plunged into poverty, three siblings and their mother leave London for the Yorkshire countryside – now on BBC iPlayer until around mid-August, also recently back out in cinemas for one day only on Sunday, July 3rd

E. Nesbit’s book The Railway Children, set in 1905, has been filmed several times, most notably as the BBC TV series of 1968 and Lionel Jeffries’ 1970 cinema film, both of which starred Jenny Agutter as the eldest of three children sent from the city to Oakworth in Yorkshire. What is arguably the 1968 and 1970 version’s most memorable sequence has the children stand on train tracks waving red flags to stop an oncoming train and prevent an accident after a tree falls on the line ahead.

My parents used to sit me and my younger brother down and make us watch Sunday teatime BBC classic serials, something which has engendered a deep seated dislike within me for both filmed costume drama and literature considered worthy enough to film. I found the former stodgy and suspect the latter may be more to do with BBC cultural filters than anything else.… Read the rest

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The Good Boss (El Buen Patrón)

Director – Fernando León de Aranoa – 2021 – Spain – Cert. 15 – 116m

***1/2

With a prestigious business competition coming up, a factory boss must keep the judges from stumbling upon his personal and corporate dirty laundry – out in cinemas on Curzon Home Cinema on Friday, July 15th

Any day now, the local committee will descend upon the Blanco Scales factory to see if the business should receive the prize money for an upcoming good business award. No-one knows exactly when they are likely to turn up, though, least of all Blanco (Javier Bardem) himself. So, clearly everything needs to be in good order to impress the judges when they turn up. Which should be fine, because Blanco prides himself in looking out for his work force and the company is one big, benevolent, happy family.

Except that it isn’t, because although Blanco sees it that way, the reality is that he only cares for his workforce insofar as doing so will enhance their productivity. He fires dissatisfied employee Jose (Óscar de la Fuente) who promptly sets up camp outside the factory gates – on land Blanco doesn’t own so he can’t evict him – and proceeds to chant anti-Blanco slogans on a daily basis.… Read the rest

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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