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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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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

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Rose: A Love Story

Director – Jennifer Sheridan – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 86m

*****

A couple isolate themselves from the outside world by living off grid in the woods for reasons not immediately apparent – out in the UK on digital including Amazon Prime from Monday, April 5th

The LFF put this in their Cult strand and the label fitted perfectly. Impressionistic images show cutlery, cups, CDs hanging from trees. A man leaves a hunting cabin. A woman sleeps in a bed. An eye of a beast in close up. A rabbit. The woman wakes, startled by a man’s voice. She puts paper in a typewriter. The rabbit is killed in a trap.

“I’m trying to give the doctor a reason to be in Prague so Susie can meet him,” Rose (Sophie Rundle) tells Sam (Matt Stokoe, also the film’s screenwriter). She is writing a book and they are living in isolation in the woods. This seems to suit them although something odd is definitely going on. They have supplies of leeches in jars, and he sits reading of an evening after applying a few of these to the upper part of his legs. Then he mashes up the results into a red pulp which comprises her diet.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Dick Johnson Is Dead

Director – Kirsten Johnson – 2020 – US – 89m

*****

The director imagines the death of her dad in a film which celebrates both the man himself and the art of cinema – on Netflix worldwide from Friday, October 2nd

I was alerted to this movie both because not only was Johnson’s prior Cameraperson (2016) excellent but also the subject matter of this new film looked promising. Johnson spent three decades as the cameraperson on numerous documentaries (among them Farenheit 9/11, Michael Moore, 2004 and Citizenfour, Laura Poitras, 2014) before making her previous feature out of interesting bits and pieces of footage she had lying around. Her new film is highly personal and almost fits into the home movies or personal diary school of film making – lent an inevitable, additional gravitas given Johnson’s prior artistic and technical career.

C. Richard Johnson (b. 1932 – ) is Kirsten Johnson’s dad. One day, like all of us, he is going to die. So his daughter decided that while he was still alive she would make a film about his dying, filming his possible deaths and staging his funeral service ahead of time.

There’s a huge contradiction at the heart of this idea.… Read the rest

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Memories Of Murder (Salinui chueok, 살인의 추억)

Director – Bong Joon Ho – 2003 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 131m

*****

Three cops attempt to track down a serial sex killer. Based on a real life, unsolved murder case. With Song Kang-ho in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, September 11th

On one level, there’s nothing remarkable about Memories Of Murder, a crime movie about cops hunting a serial killer. This is a sub-genre done to death in Hollywood and elsewhere. On another level, however, it has the hallmarks of a really rich and strange talent getting hold of a well-worn formula and doing something fresh, new and original with it.

For one thing, it never dwells on the gore or fetishises the detail of the crimes. At the same time, like much Korean cinema, it never shies away from this material either. It’s unafraid to have an autopsy scene in which the pathologist discovers nine pieces of peach inside a corpse’s vagina but feels just as at ease that a testimony from a survivor throws up an important clue like, I didn’t see the killer’s face because if I had looked at him he’d have killed me, but I did notice he had soft hands.… Read the rest

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The Painted Bird (Nabarvené ptáče)

Director – Václav Marhoul – 2019 – Czech Republic – Cert. 18 – 169m

****1/2

An orphan boy meets a series of adults, a few kind but most cruel, travelling around Eastern Europe during World War Twoin cinemas and online at Amazon, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, IFI@HOME, Rio Cinema Online and Vimeo On Demand in the UK from Friday, September 11th

You’re really not quite sure where you are for the first hour of this mammoth Czech production stuffed with Hollywood stars speaking not a word in English. A boy (Petr Kotlár) whose name we won’t discover until the film’s final minutes flees through a wood before being caught by bullies who burn and kill his pet ferret.

That proves prophetic because soon afterwards at night, he discovers that his aunt, with whom he lives, has died upright in her chair. He is so startled that he knocks over an oil lamp and burns the house down. Now he’s an orphan at the mercy of the world, which is not a pleasant one being Eastern Europe at the time of the second world war. The rural people are primitive. Christianity is largely a matter of ritual and superstition; belief in vampires is so widespread that a local witch can claim the boy is a vampire and be believed.… Read the rest