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Features Live Action Movies

The Courier

Director – Dominic Cooke – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 112m

*****

The real life story of businessman Greville Wynne who smuggled secrets out of Moscow and helped avert the Cuban missile crisis – out on premium digital Monday, September 27th

The early 1960s. The cold war. High up Kremlin bureaucrat Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) is convinced Kruschev wants to start a nuclear war. He has information about this he wants to leak to the West, for which the Soviet state is likely to punish him should they find out, possibly with death. However he has no easy route through which to send the information. He accosts American tourists and tells them to take packages straight to their embassy and then leave the country immediately.

Impressed with the calibre of his leaks, MI6 and the CIA, represented respectively by London operatives Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan), set about finding the perfect person to to bring his packages back to the West. They meet businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) under the aliases James Dobbin from the Board of Trade and his associate Helen Talbot.

Greville does business by talking to (and drinking with) clients to find out what their businesses need and putting them in touch with other businesses who might be able to work with them, the classic networker.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Servant

Director – Joseph Losey – 1963 – UK – Cert. 12 – 115m

*****

A highly capable working class manservant slowly takes control of his foppish, upper class master’s life – out in cinemas on Friday, September 10th

Barrett (Dirk Bogarde) enters the curiously unlocked Chelsea house of Tony (James Fox) to interview for the position of manservant. He finds the unkempt Tony asleep in a chair. He seems to fit Tony’s bill and gets the job. Tony got the house very cheap, although it’s in need of repair and decoration. Barrett has any number of useful suggestions, but Tony overrides one or two of them. A servant should know their place, after all.

At a club Tony tells his date Susan (Wendy Craig) that he’s involved in clearing jungle to build three cities. When he brings her back to the house, she finds her attempts at both romantic intimacy and imposing her ideas on his home consistently thwarted by Barrett’s intrusions.

Barrett secures a job for his “sister” Vera (Sarah Miles) as a maid. She is actually his lover. And she sets about seducing Tony. All of this will come to a head, with Tony throwing the pair of them out.… Read the rest

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Animation Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Escher: Journey Into Infinity (Escher: Het Oneindige Zoeken)

Director – Robin Lutz – 2018 – The Netherlands – Cert. PG – 81m

*****

The life and work of graphic artist M.C. Escher is explored through his own images and words (read by Stephen Fry) – out in cinemas on Friday, August 13th

Maurits Cornelius Escher’s words at the start of this film suggest a production doomed to fail: “I am afraid there is only one person in the world who could make a good film about my prints: me.” Sadly, since Escher passed away in 1972, we will never see that film. Happily, Robin Lutz has proved Escher wrong by making this one. And so too has his collaborator Stephen Fry whose voice-over for the English language version, recorded in under three hours at a London dubbing studio, is nothing short of inspired (of which more later). He must have done some serious preparation beforehand.

For the uninitiated, Escher (1898-1972) is the Dutch graphic artist whose prints famously include Ascending and Descending (March 1960), the impossible staircase which keeps going up and up, or down and down for people travelling in the opposite direction – as it goes round and round in a square. The concept was first developed by psychiatrist / mathematician Lionel Penrose and his mathematician son Roger Penrose, the latter credited as patron on the film.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

The Sparks Brothers

Director – Edgar Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 140m

****

The rollercoaster career of musical duo Sparks with its successful hits and intermittent lapses into obscurity – out in cinemas on Thursday, July 29th

There’s a story about John Lennon phoning Ringo Starr to say, “you won’t believe what’s on television – Marc Bolan doing a song with Adolf Hitler.” This was Sparks’ auspicious debut on BBC music show Top Of The Pops in the early 1970s playing what is probably their best known track, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, a broadcast estimated to have reached some 15 million people. Everyone was talking about this the day after – that’s mentioned here, and it’s something I myself remember from my own school days: the lively energetic singer (Russell Mael) and the suited, almost motionless, keyboard player (Ron Mael) with the slicked back hair and the Hitler moustache. The Hitler appearance may not have been deliberate, but that image of the duo – the extrovert and the introvert – has become the band’s enduring media image over the years.

TOTP 1974

One gets the impression from passing moments in this film that Charlie Chaplin was an equally formative presence for Ron – and though it’s never mentioned, Chaplin made the film The Great Dictator (1940) in which he played a Hitler type despot as well as a Jewish barber unfortunate enough to look like him…but I digress.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Fast & Furious 9

Director – Justin Lin – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 145m

***

The hero’s embittered younger brother must be prevented from assembling a device with which he can conquer the world – in cinemas from Thursday, June 24th

Latest instalment of the long running franchise features stalwart characters Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who at the start are living off-grid as Dom is attempting to be a good father to his small son Brian. Cue a surprisingly gripping scene where their isolated residence receives visitors and it becomes apparent that Brian has been trained to hide himself in a specially constructed trunk on such occasions while the two adults, guns at the ready, prepare for what might be coming. (Strangely, this scene has an emotional resonance rare in the rest of the film; it’s one of the best things in it.)

The visit is friendly – it’s Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, exploiting her English accent to the full) and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), members of the crew with whom the adults have shared adventures in previous The Fast And The Furious instalments, and they lay out what’s to follow which involves further characters from previous instalments: the shady intelligence operative Mr.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Cruella

Director – Craig Gillespie – 2020 – US, UK – Cert. 12a – 134m

****

A 101 Dalmatians prequel. How a girl named Estella unleashed her darker personality of Cruella de Vil – in cinemas from Friday, May 28th

Disney’s project of mining their pantheon of animated classics for live action feature material continues. Here it’s the turn of Cruella de Vil, the villain from 101 Dalmatians (Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman, 1961), and a very clever reimagination it is too. It commences with her birth and cleverly conceals certain significant details of her upbringing only to reveal them at the tale’s climax and give everything that went before a completely new spin.

Estella (Tipper Siefert-Cleveland) is the daughter of Catherine (Emily Beecham). Befriended at school by Anita Darling (Florisa Kamara) but picked on by bullies, Estella gives as good as she gets, fights back and gets expelled for figuratively blotting her copybook. 

So her mother pays a visit to former employer the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) seeking help. But thanks to Estella’s refusal to do as she’s told and stay in the car and her dog Buddy’s strikingly similar refusal to obey Estella this plan goes fatally wrong.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Delia Derbyshire: The Myths And Legendary Tapes

Director – Caroline Catz – 2020 – UK – 98m

*****

Docudrama explores the ten years the legendary electronic musician spent at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – on BBC iPlayer from Sunday, May 16th for a year

Part documentary, part drama and part performance art, this is a fascinating examination of Delia Derbyshire, the woman who between 1962 and 1973 worked in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The film does examine her life and career before and after that, but only briefly. After studying mathematics and music at Cambridge, she became interested in music as an expression of mathematics and, as such, knew that the Radiophonic Workshop was the place she wanted to be.

We see Delia (writer-director Caroline Katz) interviewed for a job at Decca Records only to be told that women don’t work in the technical department but there are openings for secretaries. It’s easy to see that as sexism now, but at that time such attitudes were commonplace. She wonders if her interviewer was the person who turned down the Beatles. We see interviewed Dutch video artist Madelon Hoodykas with whom she collaborated in The Netherlands after her BBC period and there’s some brief footage of the LYC museum set up by Li Yuan-chia near Hadrian’s Wall where she spent some time after a disastrous marriage to a man with whom she had little in common with beyond drinking.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Movies Music

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché

Punk biopic

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché
Directed by Celeste Bell and Paul Sng
Certificate 12a, 96 minutes
Released 5 March at www.modernfilms.com
Viewers can select a participating local cinema to share the revenue of the virtual box office

This documentary about the late Poly Styrene (real name Marion Elliot), the iconic front woman of the 1970s punk band X-Ray Spex, paints a compelling picture of a creative and innovative young woman going against the grain to break new ground in pop music. The band was very much her baby which she put together by advertising for musicians in the music press. She wrote all their material.

Her literal baby is the film’s co-director and co-writer Celeste Bell, who as a young child escaped from her well-intentioned but unfit mother during their time living on the Hare Krishna estate in Hertfordshire. On her mum’s death, Celeste found herself the guardian of Poly’s vast archive. It was five years before she could bring herself to look inside and see what was there… Read more

Full review in Reform magazine.

Trailer:

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Daughter Of Shanghai

Directors – Michelle Chen Miao, Hilla Medalia – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 90m

****1/2

A chronicle of the life and on-off career of Chinese-born, RADA-trained actress and screen legend Tsai Chin – available to rent online until Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 as part of the Approaching Reality documentary strand

“I was born in a trunk when my parents were on tour in Tianjin.” The daughter of legendary Peking Opera star Zhou Xinfang, Tsai Chin came to London towards the end of her  seventeenth year when she was the first Chinese person to be accepted at RADA where she found herself alongside the likes of high-born, Welsh socialite Elizabeth Rees-Williams who in footage alongside her now husband Jonathan Aitken is one of the main interview subjects here. As well as a recent interview with Tsai Chin herself, the other main interviewee is the late lawyer Carlo Colombotti, a personal friend and a wealthy lawyer who moved in the same London circles in the sixties.

Her story, although it contains specific international and cross-cultural reference points, is, basically, an actor’s life: early success on stage and screen through the fifties and sixties, followed by a period in the seventies and eighties in relative obscurity and a later period when her rediscovery by Hollywood in the nineties restarted her career.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Vanguard

Director – Stanley Tong – 2020 – China – Cert. tbc – 107m

**

Jackie Chan actioner trades on his former glory from decades ago but relies too much on CG trickery and fails to ignite the screen – on VoD from Friday, January 8th

Vanguard is an organisation which… well, it’s never clear exactly what it does, but Jackie Chan is fairly high up in it and it has a lot of field operatives and high tech equipment, surveillance, weaponry and similar. This film moves around various high profile international locations – including London, the African bush and Dubai. When a man is kidnapped by criminals who want to access his vast wealth for their own nefarious ends, it’s up to Vanguard to rescue him.

One could be charitable and say that no-one goes to a Jackie Chan movie for the script, but the script here is so sketchy as to be almost non-existent. It plays out rather as a series of set pieces, and I’d love to be able to tell you that these are incredible – in some Jackie Chan movies that’s true – but sadly, in this one, for the most part, they really aren’t.

Chan in his heyday picked up the baton passed on by some of the great stunt / gag players of Hollywood’s silent era (Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd), combined what they were doing with Chinese martial arts and appeared in some truly spectacular films such As the Project A and Police Story films.… Read the rest