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Jurassic World Dominion

Director – Colin Trevorrow – 2022 – US – Cert.12a – 148m

***

Sixth Jurassic movie promises then dumps a plot where humans and dinosaurs co-exist in the modern world and instead heads for a secluded valley where numerous dinosaurs are kept by a dodgy corporation – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

There’s a long tradition in cinema of putting dinosaurs alongside humans, as if the dinosaurs on their own wouldn’t be enough to bring in audiences. This is nonsense of course: look no further than the TV series Walking With Dinosaurs (1999), Walt Disney’s Fantasia (segment directors: Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, 1940) or The Animal World (effects: Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, 1956), and the high regard in which they’re held, for proof.

The genius of Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) was to reconstruct the dinosaurs from their DNA, providing a much better reason to put both species side by side than the lost plateau of The Lost World (effects: Willis O’Brien, 1925), the lost island of King Kong (effects: Willis O’Brien, 1933), the lost valley of The Valley Of Gwangi (effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1969) or the cavemen and dinosaurs of One Million Years B.C. (effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1966).… Read the rest

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Il Buco

Director – Michelangelo Frammartino – 2021 – Italy – Cert. U – 93m

**1/2

A Calabrian cowherd nears the end of his life while a group of explorers journey down a deep hole to find out how deep into the ground it descends – out in cinemas on Friday, June 10th

Literally, ‘The Hole’. Frammartino again brings to the cinema the style that made his earlier Le Quattro Volte (2010) so special. He sets up the camera, often at a great distance from the action, then leaves it there to record whatever happens. The narrative of Il Buco is actually pretty simple, a recreation of an expedition by a group of young, amateur speleologists into a hole in the ground in Calabria. (Speleology is the branch of science involved in mapping and measuring the interiors of caves, natural underground systems, and the like.)

It’s 1961. We’re first introduced to the place in a shot looking out of the ground at the edge of the hole as, eventually, the heads of two bulls come into view over the ridge. An elderly cowherd watches over the grazing cattle from a position halfway up a forty degree incline hillside. As the bus leaves the rich, urban developments of Northern Italy for the still unspoiled Southern region of Calabria, we watch it slowly make its way along rounds, through a small rural town where the party stops for the night to bed down in sleeping bags in the local, Catholic Church alongside statues of monks and the crucified Christ lying on his back, across open country until it arrives at the vast plain where the explorers will set up camp.… Read the rest

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The Battle At Lake Changjin II aka Water Gate Bridge (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖之水门桥)

Director – Tsui Hark – 2022 – China – Cert. 15 – 153m

**

Ill-considered sequel to box office barnstorming, Chinese war movie fails to match the emotional engagement and excitement of the original – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

After the exciting and energetic original, this sequel is a disappointment. It has the same expertise of CG special effects as its predecessor. However the cast is cut down, many of the memorable characters having died heroically in the first film, and there’s no attempt to replace them. Similarly, the spectacular locations are fewer in number because there’s no journey from home through different regions, so this has a smaller geographical palette to play with.

The cast of characters issue would be easy enough to fix within the war genre: members of a military unit die, others come to the fore to replace them in the vacuum created. But no, here all we get are People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) 7th Company commander Wu Qianli (Wu Jing) and his younger brother Wu Wanli (Jackson Lee) and no real attempt to further develop their relationship under fire. The two characters are just there, and the audience is expected to carry over their emotional investment from the first film without the second one providing any reason for doing so.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Weald (Somaudo Monogatari, 杣人物語)

Director – Naomi Kawase – 1997 – Japan – 73m

***

Serial elderly residents of Japan’s Yoshino Mountains go about their daily business and talk about life’s joys and hardships – online in the UK as part of Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) from Monday, January 17th to Sunday, February 6th, 2022.

Prior to making such features as The Mourning Forest (2007), Sweet Bean (2015) and Japan’s 2021 International Oscar entry True Mothers (2020), independent Japanese film maker Kawase cut her teeth on intensely personal, low budget documentaries, first shorts then both shorts and features.

For this her third feature length documentary, Kawase took her camera up the Yoshino Mountains at the Southern end of Japan’s two island mainland to shoot the lives of elderly locals recording them and presenting her footage as a series of straightforward portraits. There’s no attempt to impose any narrative or outside agenda; rather, her camera gives space to these people to talk, reminisce and, ultimately, simply to be.

A woman who has spent her entire life farming a small plot of land keeps herself to herself, claims she isn’t lonely and that she likes being at home. “How much longer can I do this,” she asks the camera as she walks up a woodland slope.… Read the rest

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The Battle At Lake Changjin (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖)

Directors – Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, Tsui Hark – 2021 – China – Cert. 15 – 176m

*****

Chinese war movie which has barnstormed the global box office does exactly what it says on the tin – out in cinemas on Friday, November 19th

There is a history of war films with a cast of thousands being directed by several (usually three) directors in an attempt to portray campaigns with huge military logistics on the screen. Probably the best known are The Longest Day (Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernard Wicki, 1962) about the World War Two Allied invasion of Normandy and Tora! Tora! Tora! (Richard Fleischer, Toshio Matsuda, Kinji Fukasaku, 1970) about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Both of those Western (and, as it happens, Twentieth Century Fox) movies presented both sides of the conflict by hiring directors from the different countries concerned.

The big difference between them and Chinese global box office phenomenon The Battle At Lake Changjin is that although the latter film deals with a conflict in which the Chinese are pitted against the Americans, all three directors are Chinese. Tsui (Zu Warriors, 1983; Once Upon A Time In China, 1991) at least has some working knowledge of America, having studied film in Texas.… Read the rest

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The Hidden Fortress (Kakushi-toride no san-akunin)

Director – Akira Kurosawa – 1958 – Japan – Cert. PG – 138m

***

Currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the Japan programme alongside 21 other Kurosawa films together with a much wider selection of Japanese movies.

Captured by soldiers, two wandering bumpkin farmers (Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara) are put waist deep in a waterlogged pit with scores of other prisoners and ordered to dig for treasure. Before they can find it, however, they manage to escape. In the middle of nowhere, one of them slings away a useless, sodden branch from their attempted campfire. It goes chink. Inside the wood is concealed gold with a royal seal upon it.

So begins Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 foray into chambara (Japanese popular historical epic genre) which also features a beautiful princess in exile (Misa Uehara) and her heroic general (Toshiro Mifune) intent on restoring her with the clan’s gold. If the story sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it’s George Lucas’ main source for his Star Wars (1977) (and one or two elements in its sequels), which today lend Kurosawa’s film an added interest. The Hidden Fortress puts hero, heroine and their two unlikely companions through a series of set piece adventures including lance duels, a spectacularly choreographed folk fire festival, horseback pursuits and, indeed, the discovery fairly early on in the proceedings of the eponymous hidden fortress.… Read the rest

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A Quiet Place Part II

Director – John Krasinski – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

****

A family move out from their isolated farm on an Earth where alien predators hunt by sound – out on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray & DVD from Monday, August 30th 2021

There are obvious differences between this film and its predecessor, the near flawless A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018) about a family surviving alien predators who hunt by sound, put together pretty much by the same director, writers, cast and crew. The first film was – well, a first film with nothing to live up to. When it became a colossal success and Hollywood clamoured for the inevitable sequel, the second film had to somehow be as potent and effective as the first but inevitably doesn’t have the opportunity to introduce the world and the characters because that’s been done.

That much is obvious without seeing the new film. There are other differences though. Firstly, the sequel leaves the safety of the farm where AQP mostly took place as Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) and her two kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) venture out to find out what’s happening beyond their farm. They don’t really have any other option since their farm was overrun by aliens at the end of AQP.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Quiet Place

Director – John Krasinski – 2018 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

*****

A family live on an isolated farm on an Earth where alien predators hunt by sound – out on DVD, Blu-ray and selected online services

NB This is the original film, not A Quiet Place Part II currently in cinemas.

The world is a changed place. Civilization as we know it has broken down. Earth’s population has been decimated by alien predators. Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) goes through the meds on a shelf in a deserted store in town where her youngest son Beau (Cade Woodward) becomes attracted to a model spaceship because “that’s how we’ll get away from here”. When his dad Lee (John Krasinski, the film’s co-writer and director as well as Blunt’s real life husband) sees this, he removes batteries from the toy and forbids his son to take it. However, his daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) takes pity on Beau and slips it to him when her dad isn’t looking. And in similar fashion, when she isn’t looking the boy also takes the batteries. An act which will have fatal consequences for him and, going forward, a huge impact on the relationship dynamics within this family.… Read the rest

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Nomadland

Director – Chloé Zhao – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12a – 107m

****1/2

A poor widow drives around the US in her van picking up casual work where she can get it, meeting and making friends with other vandwellers – on VoD, in cinemas from Monday, May 17th

There’s a restlessness about Nomadland. In most films, the characters live in fixed abodes – houses or flats. Perhaps parts of villages, towns or cities. Not so here.

“I’m not homeless”, explains Fern (Frances McDormand) at one point to a daughter of a friend she’s not seen for years and runs into in a hardware store, ” I’m houseless. There’s a difference.” Indeed there is. 

Following the rapid economic collapse of Empire, the town where she lived, explained in a throwaway introductory title at the start, and the death of her husband, Fern has taken off in an RV and now moves from place to place, getting paid work where she can find it, meeting people and, frankly, enjoying the freedom this mobile and rootless lifestyle affords her. 

The property was originally a non-fiction book by journalist Jessica Bruder who documented the lives of so-called vandwellers living on the road following the US economic depression of 2007-2009.… Read the rest

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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