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Bullet Train

Director – David Leitch – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 126m

***

A man boards a bullet train in Tokyo to steal a suitcase only to be prevented from leaving the train every time he tries to get off it – lightweight action thriller is out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, August 3rd

This adaptation of mystery writer Kotoro Isaka’s 2010 novel, for which the Japanese title literally translates as Maria Beetle, concerns five assassins, each with their separate agenda, who board a bullet train. The film casts Westerners in many of these roles, repopulating the film with an international cast of Americans, Brits and Japanese. Brad Pitt as the lead obviously has box office clout, and is as watchable as ever in this film, however the film has inevitably been accused of whitewashing (even though ‘white’ here would seem to include Puerto Rican and African-American).

The producers here seem to think Japanese high speed rail journeys will draw international audiences but entirely Japanese characters will not. Whether or not they’re correct, casting the film the way they have reinforces this notion. Who else could have done it, you ask? Off the top of my head, I can think of three Hong Kong Chinese, any of whom would work: Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan or Tony Leung Chiu-wai.… 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 Features Movies

The Deer King (Shika no Ou: Yuna to Yakusoku no Tabi, 鹿の王 ユナと約束の旅)

Directors – Masashi Ando, Masayuki Miyaji – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 113m

**

The conquerors of a foreign land succumb to a mysterious plague there – out in cinemas on Wednesday, July 27th

This starts off with clearly epic intentions by throwing line after line of convoluted plot at the viewer in rapid fire, confusing intertitles. The kingdom of Aqifa was once ravaged by the Empire of Zol until the Black Wolf Fever prevented Zol from entering Fire Horse Territory. Today, the Black Wolf Fever is believed a thing of the past. Okay, got that? If not, you’ll be in trouble because the narrative is all about Zolians, Aquafaese and wolves and while the images are often ravishingly beautiful to look at, visually arresting eye candy in background or character design is never enough of itself to propel the story forward.

It continues piling on plot information like this for about half an hour. To make matters worse, an insistent cod-Gaelic score is overlaid over the images much of the time, and it seems composed to draw attention to itself rather than advance the story in any way.

Aquafaese toil in a salt mine (someone happens to mention some time afterwards that the mineral being mined is salt, otherwise you wouldn’t know) under sadistic guards while in the depths wolves attack and infest the slave workers whose skin comes out in purple blotches before they die.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Wake Wood

Director – David Keating – 2009 – UK, Ireland – Cert. 18 – 90m

*****

Things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad and terrible prices have to be paid in a mysterious, close-knit village community – out in UK cinemas from Friday, March 25th, 2011

This review originally appeared in Third Way.

This presages the recent relaunching of Hammer Films, a huge cultural force back in the 1950s and 60s reworking such horror staples as Dracula and Frankenstein. So far UK cinemas have hosted (1) Let Me In‘s arguably pointless US remake of terrific Swedish vampire effort Let The Right One In and (2) predictable, New York tenant in peril outing The Resident. Wake Wood is not only far and away the best of the three, but also fits in with the Hammer ethos – here represented by a mysterious, close-knit village community where things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad, and terrible prices have to be paid for misjudged actions. A fair bit of blood and gore is added for good measure.

After their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) is fatally savaged by a dog, Irish city dwellers vets Patrick and Louise Daly (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Eva Birthistle) move to the isolated village of Wake Wood to start over.… Read the rest

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Master Cheng (Mestari Cheng)

Director – Mika Kaurismäki – 2019 – Finland – Cert. PG – 114m

*****

A Chinese chef turns up at a restaurant in a remote Finnish village and impresses the locals with his cooking – charming romantic drama is out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th

A restaurant in a remote part of the Finnish countryside. Cheng (Chu Pak Hong from My Prince Edward, Norris Wang, 2019) and small boy Niu Niu (Lucas Hsuan) walk into the local restaurant where the former asks for Fongtron. The owner Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko) hasn’t heard of Fongtron and can’t help. He asks customers the same question, but they don’t know either. Cheng barely speaks Finnish, which scarcely helps. He doesn’t look like he’s going away, and when he asks if there’s a hotel, Sirkka points him towards a room that’s available. She attempts to feed the pair before closing up, but the mobile phone-obsessed Niu Niu won’t touch her Finnish sausage and mash.

And he’s not the only one: When a day or so later, a coachload of Chinese tourists turn up, they’re not very interested either. Cheng, sitting at a table, immediately springs to Sirkka’s aid and parleys with the Chinese.… Read the rest

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Memoria

Director – Apichatpong Weerasethakul – 2021 – UK, Colombia, Thailand – Cert. 12 – 126m

****1/2

A British woman travelling around Bogotá, Colombia, is troubled by a strange banging sound and goes on a quest to investigate it – out in cinemas on Friday, January 14th

This is a film to approach with caution: I confess to never having previously got on with a Weerasethakul film; perhaps I’ll go back and revisit some after this. His work – or at least his feature films – have been described as Slow Cinema (of which, more shortly).

This is light years away from Hollywood cinema with its determination to grab your attention and hold it by throwing stuff at you at frequent intervals. The director is Thai, however his films don’t seem to sit alongside any Thai movies or wider Oriental movies I’ve seen. Even locating it in art house cinema, it doesn’t really look like anything else. I am reminded of what has been said about the French director Jean-Luc Godard: if cinema hadn’t existed, he would have invented it. Although his movies are nothing like Godard’s, the same could be said of Weerasethakul’s movies.

Actually, the feature films are only the tip of the iceberg: he makes far more short films than he he does features, an output that immediately puts him at odds with the feature film-oriented world of theatrical cinema distribution.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Finding Angel (Cheonsaneun Baileoseu, 천사는 바이러스)

Director – Kim Seong-jun – 2021 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 114m

****

Who is the mysterious so-called ‘Angel’ who every Christmas delivers a box containing a large sum of money to a needy local resident of a small, rural town? – out in cinemas on Friday, November 26th

For the last seventeen years at Christmas, the ‘Faceless Angel’ has visited the town of Rohsong in Jeonju City, South Korea to leave a box containing money for a local person in need. Last year, an old woman received the money she needed for a knee operation. Who this person might actually be has remained a mystery, but the locals are glad the Angel is there doing what he or she is doing.

Wishing to solve the mystery and with the journalist’s scent of a good story, newspaperman Kim Ji-hoon (Park Sung-il from Samjin Company English Class, Lee Jong-pil, 2020) arrives in the town in December as the temperature plummets. He makes enquiries at the town office but the girl on the front desk (Lee Ga-kyung) stonewalls him. His attempts at talking to the townspeople don’t get him very far until he talks to old Miss Ok-bun (Moon Sook) about renting a room and she promptly puts him up in her freezing upstairs bedroom.… Read the rest

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Ring (Collection)

Ring

Director – Hideo Nakata – 1998 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Spiral (Rasen)

Director – Joji Iida – 1998 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 97m

** 1/2

Ring 2

Director – Hideo Nakata – 1999 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 95m

*****

Ring 0

Director – Norio Tsuruta – 2000 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 99m

***1/2

Ring plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season October / November at BFI Southbank, also currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI Japan 2021 programme. Ring and Ring 2 are on Shudder.

You watch a short, scary video on the VCR. Then your phone rings… you have a week to show it to someone else – or die! Ring (1998) took the world by storm.

A single parent, TV journalist investigates a cursed videotape…

I review Arrow’s Ring Collection for All The Anime.

Ring plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season October / November at BFI Southbank, also currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI Japan 2021 programme. Ring and Ring 2 are on Shudder.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

The Collini Case (Der Fall Collini)

Director – Marco Kreutzpaintner – 2019 – Germany – Cert. 15 – 123m

Film ****

Film trailer * (because: spoilers)

An apparently cut and dried murder case, with a young public defender caught in a conflict of interests, turns out to be far more complex – out in cinemas on Friday, September 10th

Berlin. A man enters a top hotel, makes his way to one of the rooms, is let in and kills the occupant. Then he returns to the lobby trailing bloody footprints, collapses in a chair and is questioned by one of the staff. “He’s dead,” he says, “presidential suite.”

Young public defender Casper Leinen (Elyas M’barek) goes to Court and is introduced by the judge (Catrin Striebeck) to seasoned state prosecutor Dr. Reimers (Rainer Boch). The latter two think it’s an open and shut case: the defendant obviously committed murder. Fabrizio Collini (Franco Nero) was born in 1934 and has lived in Stuttgart for 30 years. His victim was Jean-Baptiste Meyer (Manfred Zapatka). They go down to the basement holding cell to meet Collini, who doesn’t say a word when Leinen questions him.

The victim turns out to be also known as Hans Meyer, the leading industrialist. Leinen is horrified to discover this, as Meyer mentored him growing up.… Read the rest

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Ieoh Island (Iodo, 이어도)

Director – Kim Ki-young – 1977 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 110m

*****

An acquitted murder suspect visits the island birthplace of his alleged victim to learn about the latter’s life and the strange, ritualistic, matriarchal society that still exists there – from the London Korean Film Festival 2019

Environmental journalist Chun Nam-seok (Choi Yoon-seok) is sent by his editor on a boat trip junket. Both men are unaware that it’s promoting a proposed Ieoh Island hotel. Chun Nam-seok was born and raised on Parang-do island, off the coast of Jeju island. On Parang-do, Ieoh Island was regarded with a terrible awe owing to the water spirits alleged to live there and believed to take the fishermen from their boats during storms at sea. The island is populated by women who mostly work as divers and their children, the men having been lost at sea on fishing vessels or having left the island for other reasons.

Aware of Chun Nam-seok’s environmentalist credentials, but not of his past associations with the island, company man Sun Woo-hyun (Kim Jong-cheol), whose brainchild the proposed Ieoh Island hotel is, expresses a desire to colleagues to get rid of him and engages with a drinking contest with the man on deck during which Chun Nam-seok goes missing, presumed drowned.… Read the rest