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Features Live Action Movies

Holy Spider (Ankabut-e Moqaddas, عنکبوت مقدس)

Director – Ali Abassi – 2022 – Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France, Germany – Cert. 18 – 116m

*****

An Iranian lady crime journalist poses as a prostitute in an attempt to uncover the identity of a serial killer justifying his killing spree in the name of Islam – out in UK cinemas on Friday, January 20th and on MUBI from Friday, March 10th

2000. The Holy City of Mashhad, Iran. Leaving her small daughter at home, a woman goes out into the night. She changes into high heels in a lavatory then goes onto the streets to ply her trade as a prostitute. She tells a streetcrawler to “fuck off”. In any encounter with male sexuality, violence is never far away; in a frenzied coupling in an apartment littered with the awards of a successful entrepreneur, a client tells her, “I’m going to tear your pussy apart.”

Another man refuses to pay more than half for a blow job when police are seen near the car in which she’s performing the service, preventing him from climaxing. A further man asks her onto his bike, but later in the stairwell to his apartment she thinks she may have made a mistake and tries to excuse herself.… 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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Features Live Action Movies

Come Come Come Upward (Aje Aje Bara Aje, 아제 아제 바라 아제)

Director – Im Kwon-taek – 1989 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 121m

***1/2

As a young woman attempts to live as a Buddhist monk, she embarks on a series of increasingly physical sexual relationshipspart of a strand of films celebrating actress Kang Soo-Yeon (1966-2022) from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 3rd to Thursday, November 17th

Soon Nyeo (Kang Soo-yeon) enters a monastery as a novice. She reflects on her earlier life. Alienated from her mother, who she accuses of living off the interest of money made exploiting poor people, she develops a habit of following men on their travels. First up is a monk who knew her father who suggests that the latter failed as a monk. After she’s walked with him a while, he deliberately puts her back on a train.

As a student, she becomes fascinated by her class’ teacher Hyeon Jong, 29, (Chon Yoo-in) who, she learns later, lost his wife when she was killed in the Gwangju uprising while eight months pregnant. Uninvited, Soon accompanies Hyeon in his train travels around the country investigating sites of historical interest relating to a peasant uprising having promised his late wife he would one day write about this for her.… Read the rest

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Art Documentary Exhibitions Features Live Action Movies

Hopper: An American Love Story

Director – Phil Grabsky – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 94m

*****

The story of American painter Edward Hopper, and how his artistic career was facilitated by his fellow artist wife Jo out in UK cinemas on Tuesday, October 18th

Latest entry in Grabsky’s generally excellent Exhibition On Screen series about art and artists covers the career of Edward Hopper to tie in with a major Hopper exhibition (Edward Hopper’s New York) at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. The big (and most welcome) surprise is that it charts not just Hopper’s life and work but also that of fellow artist Josephine Nivison, later his wife Josephine Nivison Hopper, whose career was largely eclipsed by his during his lifetime. To be fair, it doesn’t really go into her life before the point at which she became involved in his.

Hopper was born in 1882 and raised in the Nyack, New York house his parents had built (an enviable state, indicative of their and his time, which must surely influence one’s outlook on life). Religion and church were important to the Hoppers, but theirs was the brand of Christianity unafraid to engage with the outside world which at that time meant vast quantities of books and periodicals; the young Edward acquired a love of books from his avid reader father.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

All That Breathes

Director – Shaunak Sen – 2022 – India – Cert. – 97m

*

Set against the backdrop of heavily polluted Delhi, Muslim siblings devote their time to healing the local species of bird that seems to get injured more than most: the black kite – plays in the BFI London Film Festival 2022 which runs from Wednesday, October 5th to Sunday, October 16th in cinemas and on BFI Player, out in UK cinemas on Friday, October 14th

Plunging the viewer right from the start into a rarely seen, night time netherworld, this contains incredible intermittent footage of life in a modern city, in this case Delhi. We are on a patch of waste ground, whether an officially designated rubbish tip or simply the place people check their waste is not clear, but the refuse is piling up and you can hear creatures scuffling around. The takes are long and soon you’re picking out rats in the darkness, and thinking that if only the rubbish was more securely contained, the rat infestation wouldn’t be a problem.

There are several similar lengthy shots that punctuate All That Breathes, and they’re absolutely mesmerising. This is in no small part due to the use of the unbroken take, coupled with complex camera moves which reminded me of last year’s pig documentary Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky, 2020).… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

Moonage Daydream

Director – Brett Morgen – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 135m

*****

David Bowie explored through his own words, accompanied by images of his life and art, many of his songs and extracts from numerous live performances – out in IMAX in the UK on Friday, September 16th and wide in cinemas on Friday, September 23rd.

In 2018, seasoned writer-director-editor Brett Morgen (Jane, 2017; Kurt Cobain: Montage Of Heck, 2015; The Kid Stays In The Picture, 2002) was granted unprecedented access to David Bowie’s personal archives and four years later we have the first film to be supported by the Bowie estate. Knowing all this, you enter the cinema wondering exactly what you’re going to get.

You’re immediately confronted by a quote about Nietzsche and God which is then revealed as a quote from Bowie 2002, the film immediately putting Bowie on a par with one of the nineteenth century’s greatest philosophers and arguably even God. The subject of Nietsche doesn’t come back up, but God does, quite a bit, with Bowie’s religious-leaning song “Word On A Wing” putting in an appearance and David’s voice-over talking about “something…a force directing the universe”. Like many of us today, he struggles with the word ‘God’ – is it the right word?… Read the rest

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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

Categories
Art Features Live Action Movies

Benedetta

Director – Paul Verhoeven – 2021 – France – Cert. tbc – 131m

*****

A 17th Century nun subject to religious visions embarks on a lesbian relationship with a novice – exclusively on MUBI from Friday, July 1st

Christianity. The Church. Religion. Treat them the wrong way, and you can get into trouble. Horror The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), drama The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971) and comedy Life Of Brian (Terry Jones, 1971) remain controversial. Lesbian nun relationship drama Benedetta may be about to join their ranks. Or perhaps times have moved on. The film is apparently based on a real 17th Century case.

As a young girl, Benedetta (Elena Plonka) claims to commune with the Divine – convincingly so, too, enough to suggest to a bandit gang about to rob her parents and her that a chirping bird is God’s voice, especially when said bird deposits excrement in the eye of the bandit leader who promptly returns a gold necklace to Benedetta’s mother.

On arrival at the convent in Pescia, Benedetta’s father (David Clavel) must pay the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling who seems to have cornered the market in Reverend Mothers judging by Dune, Denis Villeneuve, 2021) a dowry to enable his daughter to become a novice, which suggests that the institution, like the wealthy Catholic Church under whose umbrella it exists, may have ignored Jesus’ injunction to sell all you have and give to the poor.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Tokyo Godfathers (Tokyo Goddofazazu, 東京ゴッドファーザーズ)

Director – Satoshi Kon – 2003 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 91m

*****

Three homeless people – a drag queen, a hard drinker and a runaway teenage girl – find an abandoned baby at Christmas and resolve to return her to her parents – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

This opens with a nativity play to an audience of what one initially presumes to be admiring parents, a perception rapidly revised with the realisation that what is on offer is a programme of ‘nativity play, sermon, dinner’ for Tokyo’s homeless, with the first two items something to endure in order to access the much wanted third one. Any thought that the film is going to deal with religion is however swiftly dismissed with the introduction of three homeless characters holed up in an empty house containing a piles of discarded and bagged up goods, one of which turns out to contain an abandoned baby.

Teenage runaway Miyuki (voice: Aya Okamoto) has fallen in with two men old enough to be her father (if not her grandfather) who look out for her: the cross-dressing Miss Hana (voice: Yoshiaki Umegaki) and the hard-drinking Gin (voice: Toru Emori).… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies

Benedetta

Sins of the flesh

Benedetta
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Certificate 18, 131 minutes
Released 15 April

The Dutch director Paul Verhoeven revels in controversy… His latest work, Benedetta, is… sexually explicit, but also tackles religion within a historical context. It clearly has plenty of potential to offend.

Benedetta is based on the story of the 17th-century Italian nun Benedetta Carlini who had visions and exhibited stigmata. She became an abbess and was investigated and discredited by Catholic officials. There were suggestions that Benedetta’s visionary traffic was with the Devil rather than God, while various nuns’ testimonies claimed her stigmata to be faked. Her roommate Bartolomea confessed to regular sexual activity with Benedetta. Benedetta was demoted.

Verhoeven eschews historical accuracy for the spiritual, the spectacular and the carnal… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Teaser trailer:

Trailer: