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Master Cheng (Mestari Cheng)

Director – Mika Kaurismäki – 2019 – Finland – Cert. PG – 114m

*****

A Chinese chef turns up at a restaurant in a remote Finnish village and impresses the locals with his cooking – charming romantic drama is out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th

A restaurant in a remote part of the Finnish countryside. Cheng (Chu Pak Hong from My Prince Edward, Norris Wang, 2019) and small boy Niu Niu (Lucas Hsuan) walk into the local restaurant where the former asks for Fongtron. The owner Sirkka (Anna-Maija Tuokko) hasn’t heard of Fongtron and can’t help. He asks customers the same question, but they don’t know either. Cheng barely speaks Finnish, which scarcely helps. He doesn’t look like he’s going away, and when he asks if there’s a hotel, Sirkka points him towards a room that’s available. She attempts to feed the pair before closing up, but the mobile phone-obsessed Niu Niu won’t touch her Finnish sausage and mash.

And he’s not the only one: When a day or so later, a coachload of Chinese tourists turn up, they’re not very interested either. Cheng, sitting at a table, immediately springs to Sirkka’s aid and parleys with the Chinese.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Ninjababy

Director – Ingvild Sve Flikke – 2021 – Norway – Cert. 15 tbc – 103m

*****

An artist draws constantly, her life punctuated with animated inserts, as she finds she is pregnant with a ninjababy – out in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September 10th. Also free to watch on All4 for 26 days from Friday, March 11th

Rakel (Kristine Kujath Thorp) is the messy one, Ingrid (Tora Christine Dietrichson) is the tidy one. They share a flat. All this is apparent from Rakel’s simple, sketched black lines on white background, animated plan of their flat. That opens this essentially live action film, which is thereafter punctuated by animation either in similar inserts or apparently drawn into the moving live action images e.g. on light areas of wall (this may be a special effect, but it’s an extremely low tech one).

Ingrid thinks something is up with Rakel – the larger breasts, the vast quantities of fruit drink consumed – could Rakel be pregnant? Do a test. Positive. To the abortion clinic. Sorry, 26 weeks and the legal limit is 12. That’s Mos-Aikido (Nader Khademi) off the hook, the sex with him (and it was good) was more recent.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Till We Meet Again (Yue Lau, 月老)

Director – Giddens Ko – 2021 – Taiwan – Cert. 15 – 128m

***1/2

A man ripped from his true love by a fatal lightning strike partners with another dead person as gods of love linking romantic souls together – out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th

A young man is struck by lightning in a thunderstorm and dies. When you die, it seems, you have the choice of reincarnating and going through another life (in whatever form that might take for you) or of staying behind as a god to help people during their lifetimes. For instance, you could be a god of love who helps people to find their soul mate.

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At least this is what happens to lightning-struck Alan Shi (Kai Ko from The Road To Mandalay, Midi Z, 2016) who discovers parts of his face burned off and allocated a bureaucratic caseworker in echoes of movies as diverse as Beetlejuice (Tim Burton, 1988) and After Life (Horokazu Kore-eda, 1998). After some indecision and an encounter with the none too happy girl Pinky (Gingle Wang from Detention, John Hsu, 2019) in the next compartment, he opts to become a god of love and starts training as such.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Cyrano

Romantic self-doubt

Cyrano
Directed by Joe Wright
Certificate 12a, 124 minutes
Released 25 February

Edmond Rostand’s 1897 romantic play Cyrano de Bergerac concerns a man who, because of his long nose, considers himself too ugly to tell the girl of his dreams and childhood friend Roxanne that he loves her. This new version ditches the nose to cast Peter Dinklage (Game Of Thrones) as the hero whose dwarfism becomes his reason for thinking Roxanne (Haley Bennett) couldn’t possibly love him. Then she falls in love… with one of the men in the regiment he commands.

However… [Read more]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Cyrano is nominated for Best Costume Design in the 2021/22 (94th) Oscars.

Cyrano is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, February 25th.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

Cyrano

Director – Joe Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

The short stature of Cyrano de Bergerac makes him believe that no woman could ever love him – not even his beloved friend Roxanne, who he can’t bring himself to tell – out in cinemas on Friday, February 25th

17th Century Italy. Witty and articulate Captain of the Guard Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is never at a loss for words. His rapier wit defeats any opponent, as does his rapier proper should any be foolish enough to challenge him to a duel. Being short in stature, he can’t imagine that any normal sized woman could love him for who he is.

He is therefore unable to confess his love for her to the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett), the woman and lifelong childhood friend for whom he would do anything. So when she falls in love at first sight with Christian (Bashir Salahuddin), a new recruit to Cyrano’s regiment, Cyrano finds himself torn between her rejection and his desire for her to be happy with the man she loves. Unfortunately, this intelligent and free-spirited young woman enjoys nothing more than the literary cut and thrust which Cyrano is able to provide but the inarticulate and out of his depth Christian is not.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

La Mif

Director – Fred Baillif – 2021 – Switzerland – Cert. 15 – 110m

*****

The lives of inmates in a girls’ care home, and the working lives of the staff who look after them – out in UK & Irish cinemas on Friday, February 25th

This ‘docudrama’ (for want of a better term) follows the residents of a Geneva care home for vulnerable young people.

Screaming blue murder, a young woman is escorted from the premises by a policewoman.

Lora (Claudia Grob), the manager of this care home, returns after time off to say “hi” to the girls. (The fact of her returning is thrown in to the narrative almost casually at this point; only later does its significance become apparent.) These girls are vulnerable children in the State’s care, and Lora feels like a mother to them. They, in turn, refer to the home – meaning themselves and the other girls, with their support workers on hand in the background as sort of substitute parents – as La Mif (French slang for “the family”; literally, “The Fam”).

Novinha (Kassia Da Costa) is a sassy, pushy teenager who talks frankly about sex, And everything else. Audrey (Anaïs Uldry) – the arrested girl from the opening – has been caught having sex with a boy three years younger than her; after this, the centre is turned into a home for girls only.… 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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Features Live Action Movies

An Autumn’s Tale (Chau Tin Dik Tung Wa, 秋天的童話)

Director – Mabel Cheung – 1987 – Hong Kong – Cert. 15 – 98m

****

A girl leaves her home in Hong Kong and flies to New York where her boyfriend has dumped her, so her cousin looks after her there instead – screening as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Chinese New Year on Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 8:15 pm, NFT2, info here

Young and innocent 23-year-old hopeful Jennifer (Cherie Chung from The Story Of Wu-Viet, Ann Hui, 1981; Wild Search, Ringo Lam, 1989; Once A Thief, John Woo, 1991, all co-starring as here with Chow Yun Fat) takes a one-way, 20 hour flight from Hong Kong to New York where she’s enrolled in acting school, something for which she plans to get whatever work she can in order to pay her way. Her other – perhaps her main – reason for the journey is to be reunited with her boyfriend, but when she goes to meet Vincent (Danny Chan Bak-yeung) off the train, she sees he’s with the more sophisticated Peggy (Cindy Ou / Wu Fu-sheng) and no longer interested in her, Jennifer.

Meanwhile, looking out for her is her Big Apple streetwise cousin ‘Figurehead’ a.k.a.… Read the rest

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The Shape Of Water

Loving the alien

The Shape Of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Certificate 15, 123 minutes
Released 14 February 2018

There’s a tradition in horror films and fairytales that the monster is bad. The Shape Of Water is a fairytale that features a monster (Doug Jones) who is viewed very differently by different characters. To the military security man, Strickland (Michael Shannon), it’s an affront to the image of God, in which man is created, which must be brutally subdued. To the scientist and Russian agent, Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), he’s an intelligent being from whom our species has much to learn and who should be kept alive at all costs and treated with respect – rather than killed and dissected as the authorities suggest. And to the mute cleaning lady, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who subsequently falls in love with him, he’s someone who responds to hard-boiled eggs and Benny Goodman records, and sees her for herself rather than for her so-called disability… [read more]

Read the full review in Reform, February 2018.

Trailer:

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Spider-Man: No Way Home

Director – Jon Watts – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 150m

***1/2

With Spider-man’s identity revealed as Peter Parker, he enlists Dr. Strange’s magic to restore the world to its state before that revelation – out in cinemas on Wednesday, December 15th

Hard to remember now but there was a time before the millennium when a big screen Spider-Man adaptation was something no-one thought would ever get made. Following the hugely successful Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002) there have effectively been three series of movies, with reboots The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)-compliant Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts, 2107) plus three further appearances of the character in the MCU since 2016 (Captain America: Civil War, 2016; Avengers: Infinity War, 2018; Avengers: Endgame, 2019; all Joe and Anthony Russo). In the 2002-initiated cycle, the character was played by Tobey Maguire, in the 2012, Andrew Garfield and in the MCU / 2017, Tom Holland. The latter in Jon Watts’ films is particularly good at portraying Peter / Spider-Man as a gawky, insecure teenager.

There’s even a (hugely inventive) animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, 2018) which sadly isn’t referenced in the current film.… Read the rest