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Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song

Directors – Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12 – 118m

***

The career of writer-turned-singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, with particular emphasis on his best known song Hallelujah – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 16th

There have been films about Leonard Cohen before, hardly surprising given his status as one of the major singer / songwriters of the twentieth century. This one falls between two stools.

Leonard Cohen

On the one hand, it’s an attempt to document his career, and as such comes across as another Leonard Cohen movie which is fine as an introduction if you don’t know his career and music and I suspect fine for Leonard completists. As someone in the middle, this aspect seemed to be all talking heads treading mostly predictable ground.

On the other, it explores Cohen’s best known song Hallelujah, his struggles in writing it and how the piece ultimately took on a life of its own. This second aspect hasn’t been explored that widely to the best of my knowledge and proves a far richer seam into the mind, workings, practices and artistry of Cohen, making you wish the filmmakers had dumped much of the other material and explored this area at greater length.… Read the rest

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Elvis

Director – Baz Luhrmann – 2022 – US, Australia – Cert. 12a – 159m

***

Elvis Presley’s career from the mid-1950s through to his death in 1977, and his complex business relationship with his manager Colonel Tom Parker – out in cinemas on Friday, June 24th

Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), having a heart attack, reminisces to himself about his career. Many considered him the abuser and exploiter of the singer Elvis Presley, but that wasn’t the way it was. In the early 1950s, when Parker was managing the touring show of country singer Hank Snow (David Wenham), he heard Presley’s first recording on Sun Records though Hank’s son Jimmie Rodgers Snow (Kodi Smit-Mcphee), a singer in his own right who Parker didn’t think was anything like as good as his father.

Parker, an old time carnival showman, is always on the lookout for that one act that’s a little bit different, affects audiences and might well clean up at the box office. When he first sees Elvis (Austin Butler) perform, and notices young girls and older women going wild at the singer’s dance moves, he is convinced there’s money to be made and determines to sign him before someone else does.… Read the rest

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Crazy Thunder Road (Kuruizaki Sanda Rodo, 狂い咲きサンダーロード)

Director – Sogo Ishii – 1980 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 97m

*****

Following on from Arrow’s superb BD of Sogo Ishii’s Burst City (1982) comes Third Window’s equally impressive BD release of its predecessor in the Ishii canon Crazy Thunder Road (1980) – on Blu-ray from Monday, February 21st

This was Ishii’s Nihon University student graduation project, his first to be shot on 16mm rather than Super 8, which somehow got picked up for distribution by major Japanese Studio Toei which led to their giving him a budget for Burst City. Tom Mes, who as with Burst City supplies a commentary for the film, describes Crazy Thunder Road as “one of the Holy Grails of Japanese film releases if not the Holy Grail.”

When Toei presented Ishii with what seemed like astronomical funding for Burst City, it led him to overreach himself. In retrospect, he considers Burst City unfinished… [Read the full review at All The Anime]

Crazy Thunder Road was out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday, February 21st.

Opening scene:

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Get Carter (1971)

Director – Mike Hodges – 1971 – UK – Cert. 18 – 111m

*****

A London gangster takes the train to Newcastle to find out who killed his brother… and why… in a defining film for both Michael Caine and British cinema – back out in cinemas on Friday, May 27th

Fifty years old, Hodges’ first feature has aged well in the main. Viewed today, this gangster film has a lot going for it. It reduces London to seedy, windowless rooms where men watch pornographic slide shows or their unfaithful wives service their lovers’ sexual fantasies over long distance phone calls. After the opening London to Newcastle train journey to the strains of Roy Budd’s memorable score, It quickly settles into its Newcastle milieu of pub interiors, terraced houses, rented rooms, back to back streets, pedestrians, cars, harbours and ferries. It has a memorable finale in which one man pursues another across a beach to a coal heap.

There’s a background about prostitution which turns out to be highly significant to the plot, with histories of men luring girls into pornographic movies. Few of the women (Britt Ekland, Rosemary Dunham, Petra Markham) seem happy – they are sex objects to service the men, or prostitutes, or victims of male trickery.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

a-ha The Movie

Directors – Thomas Robsahm, Aslaug Holm – 2021 – Norway, Germany – Cert. 12a – 108m

***

The rise and career of the enduring, three-piece, Norwegian band a-ha – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

Norwegian trio a-ha are arguably best known for two songs. They swept to fame on the strength of their first hit Take On Me, which features extensively in this documentary. They were later asked to do the title for Bond movie The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987), which gets only a few minutes screen time somewhere in the middle here, so I’ll get that out of the way first. The band write their own material and found themselves having to work with legendary Bond composer John Barry as their producer on this gig who, as they saw it, was used to having musical input and getting his own way. They talk about recording the song in such a way as to get round him.

Perhaps what this best illustrates is that musicians (artists, composers, bands) often work and operate within their own sealed worlds and if they have to work with rivals, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this instance, it doesn’t sound a good experience for either party.… Read the rest

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Sideshow

Sideshow

Director – Adam Oldroyd – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 94m

**

Two thieves break in to the house of a washed-up showbiz psychic entertainer and medium – out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th and on all major digital download platforms on Monday, March 21st

Stuart Pendrick a.k.a. The All-Seeing Stupendo (Les Dennis) is a touring, one-man theatre act psychic and medium specialising in mind-reading and contacting the dead. He’s also a compulsive pickpocket with a mind like a sewer, hardly a great combination for wholesome entertainment. After attempting to ingratiate himself with the woman best dressed to show off her cleavage in the front row, he manages none too surprisingly to say the wrong thing and offend the mostly elderly audience.

He rows with his agent Gerald (Anthony Head) about this, insisting the latter pick up his fee for the performance and get it over to him as soon as possible, then drives away from the theatre unaware he’s being tailed by Eva (April Pearson from Tucked, Jamie Patterson, 2018) and the gun-carrying Dom (Nathan Clarke) who follow him to his house, wait for the lights to go out then break in to find the stash of money Eva is certain is in his possession.… Read the rest

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Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari)

Director – Yasujiro Ozu – 1953 – Japan – Cert. U – 136m

*****

Plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season October / November at BFI Southbank. Also currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the Japan programme alongside 24 other Ozu films together with a much wider selection of Japanese movies.

Elderly couple the Hirayamas (Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama) live in the seaside town of Onomichi, a day’s train ride from Tokyo at the time the film was made. Of their five children, Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa) still lives at home with them and works locally as a primary school teacher, two live in Tokyo, one in Osaka and one went missing in action during the war, presumed dead. The son and daughter in Tokyo, Koichi (So Yamamura) and Shige (Haruko Sugimura), work as a doctor and a beauty parlour owner respectively. Both are married while the missing son has left behind a widow Noriko (Setsuko Hara). The fifth child is a son Keizo (Shiro Osaki) in Osaka which is on the train between Onomichi and Tokyo. The couple want to visit their offspring and see how they are doing for themselves.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Mifune The Last Samurai

Director Steven Okazaki – 2015 – US – Cert. 12 – 80m

Currently streaming on BFI Player as part of Japan 2020.

Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997) is director Akira Kurosawa’s iconic star of his samurai movies Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. He’s the subject of three time Oscar-nominated documentary film maker Steven Okazaki’s useful documentary Mifune The Last Samurai (2015). As narrator Keanu Reeves says in voice-over, without Mifune there would have been no Magnificent Seven, Eastwood would not have had A Few Dollars More and Darth Vader would not have been a samurai.

The documentary spends a good twenty minutes on background Japanese history, early Japanese film and Mifune’s life before his career in movies began.

He got into movie acting by accident, having originally applied to work at Toho Studios as a camera assistant. Kurosawa spotted him there, immediately recognised a unique quality and decided he wanted to work with him as an actor. The pair would go on to make sixteen films together.

I review Mifune The Last Samurai for All The Anime.

You can watch the film on BFI Player as part of Japan 2020.

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Sound Of Nomad: Koryo Arirang

Director – Kim So-young (as Kim Jeong) – 2017 – South Korea – 87m

****

How an indigenous theatre company kept the culture of the Koryo people alive after they were deported by the Soviet authorities from Far East Russia to Kazakhstan in 1937 – in the documentary season: Korean Film Nights: In Transit presented by LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival

The Beijing Treaty (of 1860 although the date isn’t mentioned) ceded to Russia the so-called Maritime Province – an area of land stretching down to Vladivostock. The territory bordered on the Northwestern tip of Choson (Joseon), today’s Korea, and Chosons stated migrating into the Maritime Province, calling themselves the Koryo people. In late 1937, the Soviet authorities decided that the Koryos could potentially be Japanese spies and deported them in boarded up trains to Ushtobei, Kazakhstan, Central Asia.

The journey took two days and many children died, their corpses thrown unceremoniously out of the train at night. After the journey, the deportees faced a harsh winter, the eventual death toll rising to 40 000.

This story has been documented in Korea, but little else about the Koryos has. The first Kazakhstan Koryo settlement in Ushtobei is today marked by a memorial.… Read the rest

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One Cut Of The Dead In Hollywood (Kamera Wo Tomeruna!, supin-ofu: Hariuddo daisakusen, カメラを止めるな!スピンオフ ハリウッド大作戦)

Director – Yuya Nakaizumi – 2019 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 57m

The first 16 minutes **1/2; the rest ***1/2

A zombie film being shot in one long, single take and set in a restaurant in Hollywood is attacked by zombies… or is it? – out as an extra on a One Cut Of The Dead Hollywood Edition Blu-ray on Monday, May 31st

Spoiler alert. The film is basically a copy of the first film, slightly tweaked but not really adding anything much to it. Similarly, this review is basically a copy of the review of the first film.

With a title that translates literally as “Don’t Stop The Camera! Spin-off: a great strategy for Hollywood!”, this is another loving homage to both the movie shot in one take and to the zombie movie. Or so it appears for its first 16 minutes, after which it turns into a comic drama about film making.

Let’s start where the film does, with its first 16 minutes. “6 Months after the tragedy, Chinatsu is a waitress in Hollywood. Struck dumb, she died her hair blond (sic) and renamed herself Holly.” Thus reads the opening title as waitress Holly / Chinatsu (Yuzuki Akiyama) ignores customer comments about her inability to speak.… Read the rest