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Daaaaaali! (Daaaaaali!)

Director – Quentin Dupieux – 2023 – France – Cert. none – 77m

*****

Dali, played by five actors, repeatedly stalls a journalist’s attempts to film an interview with him, and a priest describes a dream over a meal – plays in the spirit of the Critics’ Picks Competition at the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

There are movies about art and artists. There are documentaries. And then there is Daaaaaali!

Whatever expectations one has of a Quentin Dupieux movie (Deerskin, 2019; Smoking Causes Coughing, 2022), this fulfils them. France’s comic auteur makes movies unlike anyone else, completely bonkers and very funny.

It doesn’t start off with celebrated Surrealist artist Salvador Dali but with Judith (Anaïs Demoustier from Smoking Causes Coughing and The New Girlfriend, François Ozon, 2014), 33, a former pharmacist who decided one day to become a journalist.

Actually, it doesn’t start off with Judith but with a scenario that stages a Dali painting (Necrophilic Fountain Flowing from a Grand Piano, 1932). A piano in barren Spanish countryside with a tree-shaped, potted plant sitting on top and a continuous arc of water flowing from a hole in the side of the piano.… Read the rest

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Breaking The Waves

Director – Lars von Trier – 1996 – Denmark, Sweden, France, Norway, Finland, Italy, Germany, US – Cert. 18 – 160m

*****

NSFW.

A mentally vulnerable, young woman in an austere Scots religious community marries an outsider only for her husband to be severely injured working on an oil rig – out in a 4K restoration in UK cinemas on Friday, Aug 4th

Divided into a series of chapter headings in which locked off camera shots are accompanied by popular 1970s rock songs which cut off or fade out before they reach their end, like much of von Trier’s work this is not a film for the faint-hearted.

Young woman Bess McNeill (Emily Watson) is questioned by the priest (Jonathan Hackett) of the local, austere Calvinist community before its elders as to her understanding of matrimony and warned against entering into that institution with an outsider. Nevertheless, she proceeds to marry non-religious oil rig worker Jan Nyman (Stellan Skarsgård). Their relationship is extremely carnal and she is deliriously happy until the time comes, as it must, for Jan to return to work on the rig. She finds his absence almost unbearable.

Then disaster strikes, with Jan seriously injured in a rig accident whilst trying to help an injured fellow worker.… Read the rest

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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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Vampire
Vs
Vampire
(Yi Mei Dao Ren,
一眉道人)

Director – Lam Ching-ying – 1989 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 87m

***1/2

A Taoist priest must defeat various supernatural forces including a Western-style vampire occupying a coffin in an old church – out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday, May 22nd as part of Eureka! Video’s Hopping Mad: The Mr. Vampire Sequels

Turned into a star by playing the Taoist priest who fights off jiangshi (hopping corpses) in the Mr. Vampire films, Lam went on to play similar characters in films and TV for the rest of his career until his death at age 44 in 1997. He directed this particular film himself, and while it sits easily alongside the ‘official’ Mr. Vampire entries, it’s a little bit different.

Once again, Lam’s Taoist priest and two bumbling assistants Hoh (Chin Siu-ho) and Fong (Lui Fong) battle with ghosts and other supernatural forces. First up is a ghost made up of excrement and teeth which escapes from imprisonment in a jar exposed to too much moonlight, which trope inverts Western vampire lore about burning up in sunlight.

Given directorial reins, Lam shows surprisingly little interest in jiangshi, their presence consisting of one friendly child (Lam Jing-wang) inspired by Mr.Read the rest

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Godland
(Vanskabte Land)

Director – Hlynur Pálmason – 2022 – Denmark, Iceland – Cert. 12a – 138m

***1/2

Winter is coming. In the late nineteenth century, a Danish priest who is also an amateur photographer travels to an Icelandic island to oversee the construction of a church before Winter comes – out to rent on Amazon Video, Sky Store, Chili, Rakuten TV, BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, May 5th

The late nineteenth century. Lutheran priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) meets with his Church of Denmark bishop regarding his forthcoming ministry to a remote village in Iceland where he is to oversee the construction of a church building before the harsh winter sets in. While that’s his official, designated task, the young man being something of an enthusiast for the newly emerging art of photography decides to take a camera and tripod with him to document his journey, and to this end, rather than take the simplest, safest and quickest route to his destination, he resolves to travel cross-country. (Although the film is a work of fiction, it was inspired by an actual series of photographs taken on a similar journey around this period.) He is allocated an Icelandic guide Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurðsson) to accompany him.… Read the rest

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The Dead
And The Deadly
(Ren Xia Ren,
人嚇人)

Director – Wu Ma – 1982 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 99m

*****

A couple planning an inheritance swindle convince their victim to play along then kill him, after which he comes back as a ghost to take revenge – classic and seminal HK kung fu comedy is out on UK Blu-ray in a 2K restoration.

Made three years ahead of Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau, 1985), this puts all the elements of that film in place, apart from the vampires. Actually, they’re not so much vampires as hopping ghosts (jiangshi). There’s no hopping in The Dead And The Deadly, but there are ghosts.

Chu (Sammo Hung) becomes suspicious when best friend Ma Lucho (Wu Ma) dies, suspecting Mrs. Ma (Leung Mei Hei) and her priest companion (Chung Fat) of poisoning him. As becomes clear from an early scene in a brothel, Ma is not gifted with women, so Chu is surprised that his surviving wife is pregnant. What he hasn’t realised is that Ma is actually in on the scam and is only pretending to be dead.

But that changes about an hour in when Ma’s two co-conspirators kill him for real to get his money, as Mrs.… Read the rest

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EO
(IO)

Director – Jerzy Skolimowski – 2022 – Poland – Cert. 15 – 88m

*****

Forced to leave his home in the circus, a donkey undergoes a series of adventureson BFI Player as a Subscription Exclusive along with three other Skolimowski titles on Monday, April 3rd, following its release in UK cinemas on Friday, February 3rd

After an absence of some seven years from the cinema, Skolimowski has chosen to make a movie with an animal as its central character rather than a human being. EO is a donkey (played by some six donkeys over different parts of the film) who undergoes a series of adventures as things happen around him. He starts out as a performer in a circus with a girl called Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska), who takes good care of him and treats him with genuine affection.

Life is good. But then he finds himself co-opted by (and Kasandra arguing with) another circus person Wasyl (Maciej Stepniak) who uses a whip on him to get him to drive a cart of rubbish to the local tip. These two episodes set the tone for what is to follow: while all the humans here use the animal for their own ends, some treat him with kindness while others don’t, rather using him as a means to an end without any sense of his being a conscious creature.… Read the rest

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Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Mary Cassatt:
Painting
The Modern Woman

Director – Ali Ray – 2023 – UK – Cert. U – 93m

*****

A look at an often overlooked member of the Impressionists, a US-born, female painter and printmaker who moved from Philadelphia to live in France – out in UK cinemas for one day only on Wednesday, March 8th (International Women’s Day)

I had never heard of Mary Cassatt when I came to this documentary. I’m not really sure why not (apart from the obvious reason, the widespread exclusion of numerous women artists from the annals of art history until recently) and feel indebted to this remarkable study for introducing me to her work. It comes as no surprise that the film was produced by Phil Grabsky for his excellent Exhibition On Screen series about art, although what IS a surprise here is that all the interviewees in this instance are women. Nothing at all wrong with that if they have something of value to say, which they clearly do.

One could argue that the piece has a very strong feminist leaning with its emphasis on women being free to live their lives as they choose. It’s tempting to say that one could forget the gender bias here and simply say that all the interviewees have important insights to share and do a good job.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Guillermo del Toro’s
Pinocchio

Directors – Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 114m

*****

Created as a puppet by a bereaved, religious woodcarver father, a little wooden boy must make his way in a world of ruthless show business, Fascism and war – stop-frame puppet movie is out on Netflix on Friday, December 9th

Co-helmed by Will Vinton alumnus Gustafson, del Toro’s Carlo Collodi adaptation sees him return to the theme of the Catholic Church collaborating with Fascism that he previously explored in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). The story roughly follows the familiar template of Disney’s Pinocchio (1940), even down to punctuating the action with songs, but with the loosely defined place and time of a fairytale shifted to a very specific Italy before (briefly) and during World War II, with Pleasure Island replaced by a boys’ military training camp. The emphasis has shifted, too, from the notion of the narrator cricket character as conscience to coming to terms with mortality, although the idea that just because things appear to be fun they may not necessarily be good is knocking around in there too.

A narrator who will later identify himself as Sebastian J. Cricket (voice: Ewan McGregor) introduces us to churchgoing woodcarver Gepetto (voice: David Bradley), who is working on a statue of Jesus Christ crucified for the local church, raising dutiful son Carlo (voice: Gregory Mann), an equally religious child with a true sense of wonder at the world around him, including planes in the sky.… Read the rest

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Father Stu

Director – Rosalind Ross – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 124m

***

A boxer turned actor who fancies a Catholic girl is drawn into first the church and then the priesthood – out in cinemas Friday, May 13th

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) is stuck. His career as a boxer has been going nowhere for three years, then comes the news from his doctor that he needs to pack it in. That’s okay, though – he always wanted to be an actor, so he moves to LA and lands himself a job serving on a supermarket meat counter. This seems to him as good a place as any to get discovered. That doesn’t go anywhere, but what DOES happen is that he sees a girl he likes, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz).

However, Carmen is a Catholic and won’t date anyone who isn’t. So, to make something happen, he first of all finds her church and attends services there just to see her, then pretty soon he’s signing up to classes to get baptised into the faith. This seems to have the desired effect and they become a couple with marriage on the horizon sometime in the future. It has a further effect on Stuart that he didn’t bargain for: being around religious people and studying what Catholics believe, he starts to become one himself and develop a genuine faith.… Read the rest