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Respect

Director – Liesl Tommy – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 145m

***

Biopic of legendary singer Aretha Franklin’s career up to and including her live gospel recording Amazing Grace – out in cinemas on Friday, September 10th

There is much to admire in this sprawling biopic of America’s legendary Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. Let’s start with the opening scene in which 10-year-old Aretha (Skye Dakota Turner), known to friends and family as Ree, wanders wide-eyed through a grown-up party with its mysterious intrigues at the house of her pastor father C.L. Franklin (Forest Whitaker) to sing for the assembled guests, one of whom describes the child’s voice as “going on 30”. There’s a wondrous quality to this, a child walking through an adult world she barely comprehends where her stock is already rising on account of her incredible voice. We too are intrigued by the promise of this world then blown away by her voice.

However, there is darkness in this Detroit house too: her mother Barbara (Audra McDonald) who will leave her for the last time then be announced dead in a phone call, the boy who will shut the door behind him entering her room uninvited and the resultant shame she can’t articulate, her authoritarian father who will tour her round numerous churches from age 12 and micromanage her singing career.… Read the rest

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Minamata

Director – Andrew Levitas – 2020 – US – Cert. 15 – 114m

****

A dramatisation of celebrated photographer W. Eugene Smith’s investigation of Japan’s Minamata environmental atrocity in 1971 – out in cinemas and on digital from Friday, August 13th

This feels like a Hollywood actor-led project with laudable aims which comes unstuck somewhere in the execution. That said, there’s still much to admire.

Minamata is the name of a Japanese coastal town which became synonymous with Mercury poisoning caused by the Chisso chemicals factory in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Following a celebrated career as a war photographer in WW2, W. Eugene Smith photographed the series Country Doctor for Life magazine, now recognised as a landmark in the medium of the photo-essay. In the early 1970s, he and his Japanese-American wife Aileen were introduced to the town of Minamata and its dark secret, and collaborated on a photographic book about it. When we meet him in 1971, played by Johnny Depp (from such films as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2005; Sleepy Hollow, 1999; Edward Scissorhands, 1990, all Tim Burton) he has his own darkroom in a New York loft and has clearly seen better days as he is constantly on the whisky and amphetamines.… Read the rest

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Dance Features Live Action Movies

In The Heights

Director – Jon M. Chu – 2021 – US – Cert. – 143m

***

Boy meets girl even as they yearn to fulfil their dreams outside the confines of New York’s immigrant-populated, urban Washington Heights district – in cinemas from Friday, June 18th

Musicals in the movies present a potentially strange world where people sing rather than talk and dance rather than walk. Set the movie in an urban setting and you have the possibility of crowds of people singing and dancing in unison. All this is a cliché, though, and in order for a movie to profoundly move us, it have to find ways of transcending such material, otherwise it’ll just feel like, we’ve seen it all before.

In The Heights ticks these boxes but sadly, most of the time, fails to transcend the clichés. It has other problems too: elements in the script which aren’t fully thought out and come across as merely confusing. The basic Boy Meets Girl plots are fine as far as they go but they don’t really go very far. The parallel countdown to a blackout looks highly significant, as though it’s going to presage some incredible change in the local community – a successful fight against greedy property developers or uncaring town planning bureaucrats perhaps – but after an incredible build up… the power goes out, people have to manage without electricity and… that’s pretty much it.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Live Action Movies Music Shorts

Blondie: Vivir En La Habana

Director – Rob Roth – 2021 – US – 18m

*****

Watch an incredible collision of cultures as new wave band Blondie tours Havana – from Sheffield DocFest 2021

Shot in several aspect ratios by multimedia artist and Blondie collaborator Roth (Doom Or Destiny music video, cert. 18, 2017; creative director on lead singer Debbie Harry’s memoir Face It, 2019), this is a vibrant, visual account of the band’s March 2019 tour of Havana. There are clips from songs recorded at several gigs here (with Harry sporting a variety of striking outfits) that make you wish you’d been there. For some songs, the band’s sound is augmented by Cuban musicians giving the likes of The Tide Is High a completely new lease of life.

Rather than going the obvious route and simply producing a film of the concerts – which I’m sure would be well-received by the band’s admirers, among whom I number myself – Roth has mashed the digitally produced concert footage up with Super 8 and 16mm footage of both Havana itself and members of the band.

He’s also had a lot of fun augmenting numerous live action shots with 2D animation drawn directly onto the moving images adding another layer to the already complex imagery.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Ishiro Honda Double Feature: The H Man (Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, 美女と液体人間) and Battle In Outer Space (Uchu Daisenso, 宇宙大戦争)

The H Man

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1958 – Japan – Cert. X – 86m

Battle in Outer Space

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1959 – Japan – Cert. U – 90m

Alongside the standalone release of Mothra (1961) comes a double bill of two more Toho science fiction movies directed by Ishiro Honda with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya: , The H Man (1958) and Battle In Outer Space (1959). The Toho studio is associated more with monster movies than any other genre, notably Godzilla (1954) and Mothra. The superior entries in this cycle tend to be the ones they directed, including the initial 1954 film which ticked all the right boxes to prove a massive success.

When no-one at Toho was quite sure what had made Godzilla work, the pair collaborated on a number of different SF films before everything came together on Mothra. The H Man is a monster film dressed up in gangster trappings while Battle in Outer Space is an epic with space stations, flying saucers, rocket ships, an alien moon base and alien mind control… [read more]

Over at All The Anime, I review Eureka!’s Ishiro Honda double bill Blu-ray.

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Mogul Mowgli

Director – Bassam Tariq – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

****

A UK British Pakistani rap artist is stopped in his career tracks by an auto-immune system suppression illness – in cinemas from Friday, October 30th and on BFI Player Subscription Exclusive from Friday, February 5th

This opens with British Pakistani rapper Zed (Riz Ahmed, who also co-wrote the film) waiting in the wings then going on stage to perform before a massively enthusiastic New York crowd. I had fairly high expectations and my heart sank. Ahmed’s performance as the singer was leaving me absolutely cold. (To be fair, I’m not a huge fan of rap music.) Happily I was much more impressed with almost everything that followed.

This opening performance turns out to be the final leg of a tour. Zed has a major European Tour planned imminently. Back in Britain, he gets into a street fight with a fan/stalker and in the course of the resultant fight starts to experience severe stomach pains. He wakes up in the local hospital to learn that he’s suffering from an auto-immune system suppression illness and consequently will be unable to tour. He’s horrified by the the suggestion from his trusted manager Vaseem (Anjana Vasam) that his admirer and rival performer RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan), whom Zed despises, can cover for him on the European Tour.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

MLK/FBI

Director – Sam Pollard – 2020 – US – Cert. 12 – 104m

****1/2

Documentary traces the complex relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and black civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.– on VoD from Friday, January 15th

Probably more than any other single individual, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68) contributed to the cause of the civil rights campaign in America. His story and the story of that struggle has been told before, but what’s new in this documentary, following newly declassified documents under the Freedom Of Information Act, is its unflinching look at the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in monitoring the man and attempting to discredit him in the minds of the American people.

The years 1924 -72 saw the FBI and its predecessor organisations run by J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) and this film takes a hard look at Hoover’s personal identity, how that was stamped on the Bureau during his tenure and the effect that had on its dealings with Dr. King.

Interviews with experts, academicians and recent FBI Director James Comey feature heavily on the soundtrack, although only rarely do they appear on camera as talking heads. As the voices, male and female, effectively blur into one long narration even though the names are often put up on the screen when the voice over switches from one person to another which means it becomes quite hard to tell who’s talking .… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

When Worlds Collide

Director – Rudolph Maté – 1951 – US – Cert. U – 79m

***

RUK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Made the year before European-born producer George Pal’s The War Of The Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953), this science-fictional disaster outing stages the end of the world by a star and orbiting planet Zyra rushing headlong towards the Earth. A handful of scientists build a Space Ark to save a chosen few humans via a perilous voyage to Zyra. But who will go – and who will stay behind and face annihilation?

From its opening Bible with destruction quotations to match, right through to its New Start For Humanity In A New World finale, this is infused with Pal’s Christian sensibilities. The script never allows that to get in the way of the story, however: the result is a compelling yarn that remains almost unique in the annals of SF cinema.

Director Rudolph Maté was a former cameraman whose prior experience included shooting Foreign Correspondent (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940) which features one of the most spectacular plane crashes in the movies. Together with lensing Dante’s Inferno (Harry Lachman, 1935) , this stood him in good stead for pulling off the outstanding special effects work required for When Worlds Collide.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Lucky Grandma

Director – Sasie Sealy – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 87m

***1/2

An old woman in New York’s Chinatown happens upon a bag of mob money and hires a bodyguard from a rival gang to protect herself – on VoD including BFI Player from Monday, November 9th

Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) goes to have her fortune read. “Carps jumping over the Dragon’s Gate”, says the lady fortune teller. “So auspicious”. But Grandma’s life doesn’t feel that way. Fiercely independent, she lives in a small flat in New York’s Chinatown. Yes, she wins the occasional bag of rice as the 88th customer of the bank. And she goes on a day trip with a bunch of like-minded old people to the casino, where she does okay.

And then, on the three hour coach journey back, she sits next to a man who quietly dies in his sleep, leaving a bag of money. Ignoring the dragon tattoo on his neck, she surreptitiously takes the bag home.

From then on, two Red Dragon gangsters Little Handsome and Pock-mark start showing up to ask about the money. So she approaches the rival Zhongliang Gang to hire a bodyguard, beating the boss down from $8 000 to first $5 000 then $2 000 for the services of gentle giant Big Pong (Ha Hsaio-yuan).… Read the rest

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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