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Animation Features Movies

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 千と千尋の神隠し)

Director – Hayao Miyazaki – 2001 – Japan – Cert. PG – 125m

A shorter version of this review was originally published in Third Way for UK release date 12/09/2002. At which point, hardly anyone in the UK outside of anime fandom knew who Miyazaki was.

In director Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a ten-year-old girl must survive a bathhouse run by demons after her parents are turned into pigs – now showing on Netflix (subtitled / dubbed) and can also be seen in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank (subtitled / dubbed for family screenings)

To discover the films of Hayao Miyazaki – and those of his company Studio Ghibli (pronounced “Jib-Lee”) – is like suddenly being exposed to those of Disney without prior knowledge of their sheer number or quality. In Miyazaki’s native Japan, Spirited Away shattered box office records to succeed Titanic as the most lucrative movie of all time. In the US, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature while making only modest inroads into the marketplace. Britain, however, is not the US and it may well fare better here than it did there.

Previous Miyazaki outings have covered children’s experience of the countryside (My Neighbour Totoro, 1988; one of this writer’s favourite films of all time), a young girl’s learning to find her way in the world (Kiki’s Delivery Service, 1989) and conflicting loyalties among pilots in interwar Europe (Porco Rosso, 1992).… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Detention (Fanxiao, 返校)

Director – John Hsu – 2019 – Taiwan – 12A – 103m

****

Two Taiwanese students find themselves trapped in their school overnight under that country’s White Terror regime in 1962 – on Shudder (US, Canada) from Monday, February 21st

This is a real oddity: an adaptation of a video game set in a specific historic period of political turmoil. That period is Taiwan’s White Terror (1949-87) under which, among other things, numerous books were banned by the ruling Kuomintang party on the grounds of promoting left-wing or Communist ideas. Merely reading some of these books could provide grounds for execution.

Like the video game, the film is set in the Greenwood High School. It’s 1962 and boy and girl students Fang Ray-shin (Gingle Wang) and Wei Chong-ting (Tseng Jing-Hua) find themselves trapped overnight in the school building after flood waters destroy the access road to the school. What follows isn’t particularly linear in terms of its narrative as school corridors, walkways, rooms and halls are visited by various supernatural beings and become scenes of terror, torture and execution.

The elliptical and sometimes repetitive nature of the storytelling and its component images mean that the film isn’t always that easy to follow, at least not to Western audiences familiar with mainstream Hollywood narrative.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Chinese Odyssey (Sai Yau Gei, 西遊記)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part One – Pandora’s Box (Sai Yau Gei: Yut Gwong Bou Haap, 西遊記第壹佰零壹回之月光寶盒)

A Chinese Odyssey: Part Two – Cinderella (Sai Yau Gei: Sin Leui Kei Yun, 西遊記大結局之仙履奇緣)

Director – Jeffrey Lau – 1995 – Hong Kong – 87 + 98m

***

The Monkey King is banished to earth with loss of memory for a series of encounters with monsters and romantic interludes – screened as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Saturday January 29th

These two films are the first and second parts of the same story, so it makes sense to screen them together as a double bill. The starting point is the 16th century Chinese novel Journey To The West, which has also spawned such productions as the seminal Chinese animation The Monkey King (Wan Laiming, Cheng Tang; Part One, 1961; Part Two, 1964) and the long-running Japanese TV series Monkey (1978-80). The novel’s plot concerns a monk and his three assistants Pigsy, Sandy and Monkey who journey to the West (i.e. Central Asia and India) to obtain Buddhist texts.

Less an adaptation of the novel than a tangential story that uses the novel’s framework as its starting point, the films are bookended by two sequences, one at the start of Part One, the other at the end of Part Two, which start the tangential story rolling and wrap it up respectively.… Read the rest

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Live Action Series Television

Hellbound (Jiok)

Director – Yeon Sang-ho – 2021 – South Korea – 6 x 50m

*****

Angels state the time of death then demons come and cart people off to hell, generating a circus of fundamentalist, religious activity – series airs on Netflix from November 19th – reviewed for All The Anime

The new Netflix series Hellbound (2021) from South Korea’s Yeon Sang-ho, creator of zombie outings Seoul Station (2016) and Train To Busan (2016), began life as a webtoon some 11 minutes in length back in 2002. The first three x 50-minute episodes (out of six) have played a number of international film festivals.

Those first three episodes – screened at the London Film Festival where this writer saw them – explore notions of sin, eternal punishment and damnation. As in Belgian director Jaco Van Dormael’s hilarious and highly inventive comic, religious satire The Brand New Testament (2015), people are sent the date and time of their death then dazedly watch the moment approach on their mobile phones. After its announcement, when the time comes, three black and white, Hulk-like demons turn up to pound the person into a pulp, suck out their life force and burn the corpse… [Read more]

I review Hellbound (eps 1-3) for All The Anime.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Banishing

Director – Christopher Smith – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 97m

***1/2

A vicar, his wife and their daughter move into a haunted rectory which seems to be out to get them – on digital platforms from Friday, March 26th and Shudder from Thursday, April 15th

The Rev Stanley Hall (Matthew Clarke) is found hanged from the top of four-poster bed in his bedroom in the old rectory near the village. This follows a session with his hefty bible, annotated in placed with scrawled pentagrams and pages burned through with holes, his reading out loud Pauline admonitions against ‘sexual immorality’ and a bizarre vision of himself either having sex with or inflicting extreme bloody violence upon his wife (or possibly both at once – it’s not entirely clear). Bishop Malachi (John Lynch) is summoned to the house.

Three years later, Malachi installs a new vicar Linus (John Heffernan) in the property which has remained vacant in the interim. Linus is joined by wife Marianne (Jessica Brown Findlay) and her illegitimate daughter Adelaide (Anya Mckenna-Bruce) as well as the house’s incumbent deaf maid Betsy (Jean St. Clair). Like his predecessor, Linus is obsessed with abstaining from sexual immorality, despite his wife’s pointing out to him that they are married.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Ice Cream Truck

Director – Megan Freels Johnston – 2018 – US – Cert. 15 – 96m

**1/2

A housewife newly moved in to a suburb is unnerved by the creepy, local ice cream man and van… with good reason, as it turns out – on VoD and DVD from Monday, March 1st

Having just moved back into the neighbourhood where she grew up, Mary (Deanna Russo) should probably be worried that it looks a lot like the location of classic shocker Halloween (John Carpenter, 1979) with its pavements bordering lawns and hedges around residential houses. (There’s now prowling, gliding camera here though – the shots are mostly static.)

The locality also now boasts the traditional American ice cream truck, a simple, slow moving van which still serves exactly the same traditional ice cream that it has for generations. The ice cream man himself (Emil Johnsen) seems almost a parody of his profession, addressing both children and adults alike with archaic lines like, “hello there, young fellow.”

She takes an immediate dislike to nosy next-door neighbour Jessica (Hilary Barraford) but nevertheless accepts an invitation to a barbecue where it’s promised drink will flow celebrating the recent graduation of local couple’s son Max (John Redlinger – who feels a lot older than 18) who she meets on her way to the party as he hangs out with his girlfriend Tracy (Bailey Anne Borders) to smoke pot.… Read the rest

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Live Action Movies Shorts

Bright Spring Days

Director – Yeh Ka Lun – 2018 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 12+ – 25m

****1/2

The son of the family returns from his father in Canada to his mother in Hong Kong – online and Free To View in the UK in the Fresh Wave short films strand of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th

A block of flats seen from the walkway. Middle-aged Lai-kuen (Ellen Liu Oi Ling) spots him down below, her son Ka-kei (Sham Ka-ki from Weeds On Fire/Dian Wu Bu, Chan Chi Fat, 2016)) arriving from Canada (where he lives with his dad) pulling a wheeled suitcase. In the cramped interior of her flat, he asks about the broken door. It got stuck and the locksmith will charge $300. He shows her a mike he found on the street “so you can sing in the flat.” She asks if he wants to see Auntie Kit tonight.

So they go down to a small club with tacky illuminations on Temple Street where she sings to the audience area from a book on a music stand. While Lai-kuen and Kit (Shui Jie from Mad World / Yat Nim Mou Ming, Chun Wong, 2016 and again Weeds On Fire/Dian Wu Bu, Chan Chi Fat, 2016) chat, he helps young Chun (Lau Ching-yu) with his homework.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Find This Dumb Little #Bitch And Throw Her Into A River (Vind Die Dome #Trut En Gooi Haar In De Rivier)

Director – Ben Brand – 2017 – Holland – 87m

****

Privacy in the age of internet exposure. An act of animal cruelty on a video goes viral with terrible, unforeseen consequences – from the Schlingel International Film Festival 2018

One sunny afternoon, in a forest, Lizzy (Senna Fokke) picks up several puppies one by one and throws each into a nearby river. Her brother Remco (Nino den Brave) films the act on his mobile and, in an attempt to impress his peers, posts the video online. It goes viral.

Although the scene and the video we see here were recreated for the film, with special effects and editing making it appear that this actually took place when it didn’t, this Dutch film is based on a genuine video which went viral, with Hollywood director Michael Bay, no less, briefly offering a $50 000 reward for finding the girl. Director Brand has constructed a narrative around the recreated video, which he uses as his starting point. He elicits extraordinary performances from his cast of (mostly) young actors.

The children’s father Wim (Wim Opbrouck) runs an illegal business chipping puppies for sale on the internet. Since some of these arrive from his suppliers ill or injured and therefore not fit for sale, they need to be disposed of.… Read the rest