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Features Live Action Movies

American Fiction

Director – Cord Jefferson – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 117m

*****

A black, American college Literature professor, unexpectedly finds celebrity via an anonymous alter-ego when he writes a cliché-ridden book about ‘the black experience’ – out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 2nd

College professor Thelonius ‘Monk’ Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) is a black academic at a white university. He teaches literature. While he’s teaching a class on the literature of the American South, a young, white, female student objects to the “N-word”, walks out of the class, and – in due course – gets him put on an unpaid Sabbatical. He’s a published novelist who hasn’t had anything published for years, including a manuscript currently doing the rounds through his agent Arthur, whereas other, white, faculty members publish work he considers beneath him yet which also sell in volume in airports.

His Sabbatical ties in with the fact of his going to a Literature Festival in his home city of Boston, where he finds his seminar poorly attended because it’s up against one by rising publishing sensation Sintara Golden (Issa Rae), author of We’s Lives in Da Ghetto, which, when he investigates her session, turns out to be what he considers pandering to black stereotypes of living in poverty, crime and misery.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Peasants
(Chłopi)

Directors – DK Welchman, Hugo Welchman – 2023 – Poland, Serbia, Lithuania – Cert. 15 – 114m

****1/2

A rural drama of romance, adultery and inheritance is expressed through the remarkable, foot-in-two-camps medium of live action filmmaking turned into animated painting – out in UK cinemas on Friday, December 8th

A small rural village in the early 20th Century. Young woman Jagna Paczesiówna (Kamila Urzędowska) is in love with Antek Boryna (Robert Gulaczyk). Unfortunately, not only is Antek already married to Hanka (Sonia Mietielica), who is fed up with his philandering, but also the latter’s father Maciej (Mirosław Baka), who is the richest person in the village, is widowed and wants Jagda to marry him – against her will but in line with that of her parents, who know a good thing when they see it. Alas, after the marriage, she carries on with Antek and things slowly go from bad to worse.

It’s gripping if harrowing stuff and would probably work well enough in live action, although it might not look that dissimilar to many other period costume dramas. It can occasionally be hard to keep track of who’s who, which I suspect is down to the script, an adaptation of a 1906 novel originally written as four volumes covering one year through the seasons Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer, a trajectory also followed by the screenplay.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Latent Image

Director – Alexander McGregor Birrell – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 82m

***1/2

A mystery thriller writer working alone in a secluded cabin in the woods is interrupted by the arrival of a stranger – out in UK cinemas and on digital platforms from Sunday, October 8th

Developed from his 20 minute, 2019 short of the same name and starring the same two leads, Birrell’s debut feature is a curious mixture of innovation and genre cliché. Yet, enough of what’s going on here works sufficiently to hold the viewer’s attention.

Ben (Joshua Tonks, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Birrell), who isn’t named until quite some way into the film, has rented a cabin in the woods in order to write his latest novel, “if you can call it that” – he’s working in horror, thriller fiction. Tonight, he becomes engrossed in writing about his antagonist – a mysterious stranger – he suddenly becomes convinced that there is someone lurking outside the cabin. When he looks, he can see no-one. Nevertheless, his gut instinct is correct: someone is watching the cabin from the darkness.

What follows skilfully walks a knife edge between someone writing or imagining a story about being terrorised by a stranger whilst staying at a cabin in the woods and someone actually being terrorised by a stranger whilst staying at a cabin in the woods.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Afire
(Roter Himmel)

Director – Christian Petzold – 2022 – Germany – Cert. 12a – 102m

*****

Two male friends’ plans to stay in his mother’s woodland house are disrupted by first a car breakdown, then a female guest of his mother’s, and finally forest fires – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 25th

Summer. Leon (Thomas Schubert from Breathing, Karl Markovics, 2011) and Felix (Langston Uibel) are driving to the latter’s mother’s holiday home on the Baltic coast when their car breaks down. Felix knows a short cut so they go through the woods,. When they reach the cottage, after getting lost, a guest is already there, a young woman Nadja (Paula Beer from Transit, Christian Petzold, 2018; Frantz, François Ozon, 2016), the daughter of a friend of Felix’s mother. At least, her belongings – underwear strewn around the big bedroom, cereal in the kitchen – are there.

Felix phones his mother to learn there’s a double booking. Not to worry – the pair can stay in the small bedroom. Except, Leon can’t sleep at night because of the sound of Nadja enjoying sex with someone through the paper-thin walls.

He doesn’t know how to confront her about this.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Are You
There God?
It’s Me,
Margaret.

Director – Kelly Fremon Craig – 2023 – US – Cert. PG – 105m

****

An 11-year-old girl navigates the difficult waters of religion and womanhood, talking privately to God as she does so – bestselling novel adaptation is out on digital Tuesday, July 18th and on Blu-ray & DVD Monday, August 7th

Is God there, can you talk to God, and does doing so make any difference? 11-year-old Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) talks to God, beginning with the “Are You There?” question and then continuing to talk to God as if God’s presence were real. Whether God is real or not, the practice of talking with God has a history in certain Christian traditions, and probably in other religious traditions with which I’m less familiar too. It does not, of itself, prove the existence or non-existence of God one way or the other.

In terms of organised religion, Margaret finds herself in a confusing place. She is the sole child of Jewish father Herb (Benny Safdie) and Christian mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) Simon. It’s a good marriage and the Simons are a very happy family, living in a cramped New York apartment with his Jewish mother Sylvia Simon (an hilariously dour yet joyous Kathy Bates).… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Women Talking

Director – Sarah Polley – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 104m

*****

Should we stay or should we go? Following an incident of mass sexual abuse in an isolated religious community, its women debate the question, stay and fight – or leave? – out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 10th

Here’s a film that defies the rule that, by rights, a bunch of people talking to one another in one location ought to make for tedious cinema. (Such outings usually work very well on the stage, a medium about a bunch of people talking in one location.) Yet Sarah Polley’s adaptation of the novel Women Talking proves electrifying. It’s based on a novel by Canadian author Miriam Toews which is in turn based on horrifying real life events (although the book is “an imagined response to real events”, rather than an attempt to actually conjure or describe those events).

Between 2005 and 2009, in an isolated Mennonite community in Bolivia, over a hundred girls and women were raped in their sleep. Their discoveries were initially dismissed by the community’s menfolk until it came to light that a small group of men had sprayed the interiors of the victims’ houses with animal anaesthetic to render them and their families unconscious.… 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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Features Live Action Movies

Bullet Train

Director – David Leitch – 2022 – US – 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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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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Features Live Action Movies

Miami Blues

Director – George Armitage – 1990 – US – Cert. 18 – 97m

Fred Ward produced and starred in an adaptation of the first of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Moseley crime novels in 1990

****

Review from TNT magazine, March 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

To anyone already familiar with Charles Willeford’s hard-boiled novel Miami Blues, writer/director George Armitage’s screen version races through its opening so fast that numerous elements which set up what follows are omitted. Add to this the unlikely casting of Fred Ward (also one of the executive producers here) as Police Sergeant Hoke Moseley and Alec Baldwin as the killer Freddy Frenger Junior, and the end result is quite some distance from the original.

Frenger’s initial assault on a Krishna at Miami Airport – who dies of shock after his finger is broken by being bent backwards – is reduced to a one-off incident rather than an important link in Willeford’s complex chain of events. Prostitute/college student Susan Waggoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), with whom Junior gets involved, is no longer the sister of the Krishna victim. Gone, too, are Junior’s observations about Japanese haikus, in which his readings of the Japanese poems reveal his utter paucity of vision.… Read the rest