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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Free Chol Soo Lee

Directors – Julia Ha, Eugene Yi – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 83m

****

Imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, Korean American Chol Soo Lee became a figurehead for a protest movement, something he felt unable to live up to – out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 19th

In San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1973, Korean loner Chol Soo Lee was arrested and subsequently convicted for a gang murder. While it’s true he had foolishly borrowed a gun off a work colleague a few days previously and accidentally discharged it into his apartment wall giving himself a police record, he was not the murderer. He was identified on the flimsiest of premises by unreliable witnesses, possibly not helped by white cops who wanted to convict a felon for the crime and consign the case to history.

On what was to be his last journey through the outside world before many years in prison, he heard the Tower of Power song “You’re still a young man” on a car radio crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. It resonated. As the years passed in prison, his mother abandoned him. He had fallen for a Japanese American girl he’d met Jean Ranko who subsequently told him in a letter that she had no romantic interest in him.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Breakout Brothers (To Yuk Hing Dai, 逃獄兄弟)

Director – Mak Ho-pong – 2020 – Hong Kong – 12 (Camden Council) – 90m

****

Three prison inmates attempt to escape so that they can attend to various pressing, personal issues– online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Making Waves from Friday, July 8th to Sunday, July 10th

The generic side of Hong Kong movies (kung fu, supernatural, swordplay, gangster, horror, comedy) has long been one of the strengths of that territory’s film production. This one has already spawned two sequels (Breakout Brothers 2, 2021 and Breakout Brothers 3, 2022, both Mak Ho-pong). In essence, it’s deceptively simple: three inmates in prison attempt to break out. This is hardly an original concept, however two elements makes it different.

One, it’s conceived and shot as a caper movie. It’s not really a comedy, but it most definitely has a lightweight feel. This is brilliantly established from the get-go with the introduction of the score by Pong Chow and Noel Li, which follows a long tradition of themes in caper movies and TV series typified by Mission: Impossible (composed by Lalo Schifrin, 1966) with its driving yet off-kilter bass-line. In Breakout Brothers, this is accompanied by a striking, graphic,opening title sequence as good as that for Collectors (Park Jung Bae, 2020), the difference here being that Breakout Brothers lives up to the promise of its superlative title sequence whereas Collectors doesn’t.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Pickpocket

Director – Robert Bresson – 1959 – France – Cert. PG – 76m

*****

Why is a man compelled to pursue acts of petty thievery – acclaimed, arresting, existential drama is out in cinemas on Friday, June 3rd

I have just rewatched Bresson’s classic and am still not entirely sure I have its measure. Perhaps that’s the thing about great works of art. Oh, to have seen it on its original release, had I been old enough, and watch it without the baggage of it being proclaimed a cinematic masterwork.

Words on the screen proclaim at the outset that this is not the thriller its title might suggest; it’s rather a study of a man who repeatedly commits crimes which is trying to understand why he would do that.

The characters, of whom the main protagonist Michel (Martin LaSalle) is the one who gets most screen time and indeed, is scarcely if ever off the scree, are played deadpan, with Bresson doing his utmost to ensure that his cast perform the roles without acting. He doesn’t want the actors’ craft to come between us and his images of people doing, being, talking. He seeks to avoid the artificiality of acting thereby allowing his performers to realise his images without any acting technique mediating them.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Annette

Director – Leos Carax – 2021 – France, US – Cert. 15 – 141m

****1/2

Musical conceived and composed by Sparks plays out as a very dark opera ending in tragedy – on MUBI from Friday, November 26th

Although billed as a musical, this may actually be closer to opera given that even though it starts as a story about two people deeply in love, it veers into very dark territory.

And yet framing all that, and underscoring it throughout, is the sheer pleasure of writing / composing songs… and, for that matter, performing them. The opening song is So May We Start while the closer, as the credits roll, is It’s The End. (For added enjoyment, watch 90% of the audience leave before the last song starts. Or in my case, 10% of my fellow critics.)

The former starts with the band, the brothers Mael (singer Russell and keyboard player / composer Ron, profiled in recent documentary The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright, 2021) and a backing band in a recording studio in an invitation for the proceedings to get going, swiftly joined by the film’s two leads, while the latter ends with seemingly the entire movie cast and crew walking through the countryside hoping we’ve enjoyed the show and asking us to tell our friends if we did so.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Card Counter

Director – Paul Schrader – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 112m

**1/2

Tormented by internal demons relating to his activities in Abu Ghraib, for which he’s served a prison sentence, a card player bides his time on the professional gambling circuit – out in cinemas on Friday, November 5th

I’m an enormous admirer of Paul Schrader as critic, screenwriter and director. I could go through the component parts of this film and extol the virtues of most of them. And yet, somehow, adding all these elements together the end result here is less than satisfying. I left the preview theatre in shock trying to understand what had gone wrong. Was it the film or was it me?

You could have guessed it was Schrader directing one of his own screenplays from the opening shots. In American Gigolo (1980), it’s various angles on the gigolo’s car. In First Reformed (2017) , it’s various angles on the pastor’s church building. Here, it’s various angles on the card counter’s cards spread out on the green beige surface of a playing table.

Self-styled William Tell (Oscar Isaac) is travelling round the US making money from card games having taught himself to read cards whilst in military prison (the USDB in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas – it’s namechecked but not explained in the film and I had to look it up).… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies Music

Bill & Ted Face The Music

Director – Dean Parisot – Writers – Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson – 2020 – US – Cert. PG – 91m

****

Party on, dudes! The two friends return having failed over 25 years to write the song to unite all of humanity and prevent the universe unravelling – in cinemas from Wednesday, September 16th

William ‘Bill’ S. Preston esq. and Theodore ‘Ted’ Logan (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) have somehow failed to fulfil their destiny and become losers. 25 years on from their two earlier outings Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989) and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (Peter Hewitt, 1991). Bill and Ted’s band Wyld Stallyns has been reduced from selling out stadium gigs to playing open mike nights. 

Then they are taken in a time travel pod to 2700 A.D. to discover that because they never did write that song to unify all humanity, the fabric of space and time threatens to unravel by 5.17pm that very day in 2700. 

Their wives Elizabeth and Joanna (the fifteenth century English princesses from the first film here played by Erinn Hayes and Jayma Mays) have had enough and are going to couples’ counselling… so Bill and Ted travel back to join them, inadvertently making the situation worse.… Read the rest