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Features Live Action Movies

Maria Full of Grace

Director – Joshua Marston – 2004 – US, Colombia – Cert. 15 – 101m

Reviewed for Third Way magazine to coincide with UK release date 25/03/2004.

Life’s options are limited for 17-year-old Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno). She would rather climb old ruined buildings in the open air than succumb to her parochially-minded boyfriend’s constant demands for sex, but that doesn’t stop him getting her pregnant. When he offers to marry her for no other reason than because that’s what you’re supposed to do; she dumps him. She hasn’t told anyone else about this yet. Warned she can’t use the lavatory on work time by the foreman at the rose-stripping factory where both she and her best friend Blanca (Yenny Paola Vega) works, she quits. She’s also fed up with being asked to contribute money to support her sister’s baby. What’s a good Catholic, Columbian girl to do? She visits the church to pray about it.

Travelling to Bogotá ostensibly in pursuit of a possible lead on work as a maid, Maria runs into carefree, leather-jacketed Franklin (Jhon Alex Toro) and the word “mule”. Suckered in by his confidence and the promise of $5 000, she agrees to bodily transport Heroin pellets to the US despite the terrible stories she’s heard of people being arrested for the offence.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Godzilla Minus One
(Gojira -1.0,
ゴジラ -1.0)

Director – Takashi Yamazaki – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

Japan, defeated and demoralised after World War Two, must somehow defeat the seemingly unstoppable menace of Godzilla when it rises from the depths of the ocean – out on Netflix from Sunday, June 1st

World War Two, Pacific theatre. Unwilling Kamikaze pilot Koichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki) feigns engine trouble and lands on an island for aircraft maintenance, where he is grounded. While there, he notices deep sea fish curiously floating on the surface of the surrounding ocean: they presage the arrival of a huge monster, named Godzilla by the locals. With Koichi failing to fire his 20mm aircraft guns at the creature to kill it, almost everyone else on the small island is killed. (Whether his guns would have had any effect in halting the creature’s advance is debatable. They probably wouldn’t have had any effect whatsoever.) The only other survivor, who had previously congratulated Koichi for a near impossible landing on a tiny runway, blames him for the multiple deaths because he didn’t pull the trigger.

In 1945, in the ruins of post-war Tokyo, Shikishima is accused by a survivor – a woman whose children have died – of being a disgrace.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Padre Pio

Director – Abel Ferrara – 2022 – Germany, Italy – Cert. 15 – 104m

***1/2

Post-WW1, In San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, a Catholic mystic undergoes temptation while down in the village, armed landowners and military officers attempt to halt the rising tide of socialism – out on Blu-ray, DVD & DL from Monday, March 11th

Ferrara has long been something of an outsider, working with small budgets. This current offering is highly uneven, very strong and moving in places, betrayed by a lack of planning and resources in others. Perhaps its besetting sin (to use Christian religious parlance) is that it doesn’t deliver exactly what it sets out to: this is not exactly a portrait of early 20th Century, Catholic mystic Pio (Shia LaBeouf). The friar really only forms half of the film – arguably its weaker half – dealing only intermittently with his life from arrival in the impoverished Italian village of San Giovanni Rotondo in 1916 through to his visitation by Jesus and first manifestation of stigmata some years later.

The other half of the film, running in parallel to this, deals with the aftermath of World War One in that same village, as men return from the Front to be reunited with wives and mothers.… Read the rest

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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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Features Live Action Movies

The Boys in the Boat

Director – George Clooney – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 123m

*****

Based on a true story. A group of students become the rowing team who compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics – out in UK cinemas on Friday, January 12th

Washington State, the mid-1930s. Engineering student Joe Rantz (Callum Turner) can barely afford to live, sleeping in an abandoned, wrecked automobile at night and faced with University fees he can’t pay during the day. Desperate for some – any – work that pays enough to help him get by, he is encouraged by fellow student Roger Morris (Sam Strike) to sign up for the rowing team. Only nine people can ultimately be chosen for the team (eight plus a reserve), and to get there all applicants must undergo a rigorous trial process so that coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton from Master Gardener, Paul Schrader, 2022, and much else) and his team can select the best men for the job.

It’s backbreaking work, and against all odds, both Rantz and Morris make it into the team. Curiously, the film starts off as being about the two of them, but as the narrative progresses, the focus on Morris fades as the emphasis shifts both to Rantz and the whole eight-man-strong team.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Land
Where Winds
Stood Still
(Zhel Toqtaghan Zher)

Director – Ardak Amirkulov – 2023 – Kazakhstan – Cert. none – 108m

*****

A Kazakh mother made homeless by Soviet policy must protect her two sons in the harsh environment of the Steppes – premieres in the Critics’ Picks Competition at the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

An historical, period, survival movie. In the wake of the Russian Revolution, Soviet forced collectivisation polices, intended to have a levelling effect, instead forced Kazakh peasants off the land and led to the famine of the early 1930s. People were reduced to eating livestock essential for agricultural production, not to mention each other.

In a barren Steppes landscape loosely reminiscent of the Spaghetti Western, mother Jupar and her two pre-teenage sons Jolan and Boshay must survive mounted gunmen, starvation, extreme weather, wolves, and hungry fellow human beings. Jupar carries a concealed knife within her clothing and will stop at nothing to protect her kids in one of the most powerful expressions of motherhood ever to grace the screen.

Their seeming nomadic existence is however not without purpose; she has to get them to the eponymous Land, the village where she was born, and safety. Yet the dangers they face on the way are legion.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Fugitive From The Past
(Kiga Kaikyo,
飢餓海峡)

Director – Tomu Uchida – 1965 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 183m

*****

Voted third in Kinema Junpo magazine’s 1999 list of the greatest Japanese film of all time, Tomu Uchida’s A Fugitive From The Past (1965) is the pinnacle of a directorial career that also includes Bloody Spear At Mount Fuji (1955) and The Mad Fox (1962). In the poll, it was beaten by Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) at number one and Mikio Naruse’s Floating Clouds (1955) at number two, For the record, the fourth title was Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) while the fifth was Yuzo Kawashima’s Bakumatsu Taiyoden / The Legend Of The Sun-Tribe From The Bakumatsu Era (1957). While four of those titles were made in the mid-fifties, often considered the golden age of classical Japanese cinema, Fugitive dates from the mid-sixties, allowing it to look at Japan’s post-war period from a greater distance.

Uchida’s film, which spans the decade 1947-57, covers a colossal amount of subjects in its first 50 minutes…

[Read the full review at All The Anime.]

A Fugitive From The Past is released on Arrow Blu-ray.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

Return To Dust
(Yin Ru Chen Yan,
隐入尘烟)

Director – Li Ruijin – 2022 – China – Cert. PG – 133m

***1/2

When two misfits are put into an arranged marriage by their respective, concerned families, a kindly, gentle relationship blossomsout in UK cinemas Friday, November 4th following its screening in the 2022 Edinburgh Film Festival

His family are worried about Iron Ma (Wu Renlin), also known as fourth brother. He seems content to live off his little piece of land tilling it with his donkey to grow crops, and raising pigs and chickens. He is less ambitious than third brother, who runs the local market and sets the prices for which crops are bought off local farmers. Third brother has done well for himself, and drives around in a flashy car. By way of contrast, Ma gets around by walking, or donkey and cart if he has produce to transport.

Her family are likewise worried about Cao Guiying (Hai Qing), a shy woman who can’t control her bladder. Both Ma and Cao’s respective families view their offspring as a liability and want to get them married off as soon as possible, not least to get out of being responsible for them. So they arrange a marriage for the pair of them to get them off their hands.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

My Childhood,
My Country:
20 Years
In Afghanistan

Director – Phil Grabsky, Shoaib Sharifi – 2022 – UK – Cert. tbc – 90m

**1/2

The story of a boy from his harsh childhood in a mountain cave through to his life as a husband and father of three in present day Kabul under the Taliban – out in UK cinemas on Tuesday, September 20th

Mir Hussain has already been the subject of two previous Grabsky documentaries The Boy Who Played On The Buddhas Of Bamiyan (2004) and The Boy Mir (2011). The first covers his time as an eight-year-old living in the caves of Bamiyan, beside the remains of the famous monuments which had been destroyed by the Taliban. The second documents his life from eight- to eighteen-year-old. This third film takes a longer view, following Mir’s life from that early period through to the present day.

Afghanistan has undergone huge changes in the last twenty years, from Taliban rule through occupation post 9/11 by NATO forces led by the US to the withdrawal of Western forces, the collapse of the Afghan government and the return to power of the Taliban. That story is related here via clips of various news reports from TV channels all around the globe.… 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