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Features Live Action Movies

After Yang

Director – Kogonada – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 96m

****1/2

In the distant future, a couple must come to terms with the loss of the eldest child, actually an A.I. purchased as an ethnically programmed companion for their adopted South East Asian daughter – SF mystery drama is on Sky Cinema from Thursday, September 22nd

Memory is one of the great themes of cinema because when you point a moving image camera at someone, you capture and preserve their moving image for posterity. (Something similar happens when you record the sound of someone’s voice. Or even if you write down their words on paper, a simpler, more primitive form of recording.) Memory is also one of the elements which defines us as human beings.

Full marks, then, to director (actually writer, director, editor) Kogonada for taking the short story Saying Goodbye To Yang by Alexander Weinstein and expanding it into a feature. As described in the parlance of the distant future world in which this is set, Yang is a technosapien (i.e. a robot), a purchased elder sibling of a family comprising father Jake (Colin Farrell), mother Kyra (Jodie Turner-Smith) and daughter Mika (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja).

Mika is adopted, and her ever so Hollywood liberal parents – he a white man who has built a business around his passion for tea, she a black woman who is a hard-working, highly motivated high-flier in a demanding corporate business that’s never really defined – are concerned that she connect with her South East Asian heritage.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Crimes Of The Future (2022)

Director – David Cronenberg – 2022 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 107m

*****

Even as two performance artists enact bizarre public rituals exploring the unlikely boundaries between sex, surgery and mutation, a young boy who eats plastic is murdered by his mother – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 9th

Back in 1970, underground filmmaker Cronenberg made a film called Crimes Of The Future, inspired by the title of an unseen poem in an art film he’d seen several years earlier. That 1970 film, consisting of a cast on a campus of modernist architecture shot in colour without sync sound and deploying a monologue voice-over alternating with blocks of weird, improvised sound effects, bears little relation to this new one, except that it likewise briefly and peripherally features a dancer. More significantly, it also features a character whose body produces new organs. We don’t see them in that film, we merely hear a verbal description.

Fast-forward to the present and Cronenberg has had a career from the late 1970s through the 1990s making cinema features packed with icky special effects about something called The New Flesh followed by a series of (arguably) more mainstream, arthouse movies. To those who know the whole body of work, they’re all of a piece; however, to the newcomer they can be overwhelming or potentially offensive.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies Shorts

Memories (Memorizu, メモリーズ)

1/ Magnetic Rose (Kanojo no Omoide, 彼女の想いで)

2/ Stink Bomb (Saishu Heiki, 最臭兵器)

3/ Cannon Fodder (Taiho no Machi, 大砲の街)

Directors

– 1/ Koji Morimoto, 2/ Tensai Okamura, 3/ Katsuhiro Otomo

– 1995 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 113m

*****

Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation – out on Blu-ray from All The Anime, Monday, 12th September, details below review

The film that made Otomo’s name and the one with which he’s most frequently associated is Akira (1988). It wasn’t his first film, though. Previously, he was one of nine directors who collaborated on the uneven portmanteau Robot Carnival (1987), a compendium of different animated stories based around robots of various types. One of the other directors was Koji Morimoto.

Memories is loosely similar – it only has three stories (and three directors), allowing each of the segments a bit more room. Its three episodes are very different yet perfectly complement each other. Otomo directed the third section Cannon Fodder.

Parts of the roughly two hour Akira drag, while Otomo’s later Steamboy (2004) gets lost within a massive set piece after a near perfect opening first reel or so.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Directors – Hironobu Sakaguchi, Motonori Sakakibara – 2001 – Japan, US – Cert. PG – 106m

*****

Earth (and its attendant spirit Gaia) have been attacked by aliens, its human and animal populations decimated, its cities deserted – review originally published in Ad Hoc magazine, 2001

The first computer-generated movie to dispense with real live actors in favour of their computer-generated counterparts – at least as far as the visuals go – Final Fantasy The Spirits Within proves as radical a departure as the first animated feature Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937), the convincing computer-generated characters of Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) and the first computer-animated feature Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995).

The lead heroine’s hair and the creases in the characters’ clothing both convince utterly. The characters’ movements are taken off real people and fed into a computer by a process known as motion capture, which also provided the incredible moving freeze-frame moments in The Matrix (Larry and Andy Wachowski, 1999).

Mouth movements spouting pre-recorded speech doesn’t quite come off every time while the facial expressions haven’t quite managed all the subtleties of human visages. Most of them, true, though not quite all. But then, the computer technology here is way ahead of another of this year’s animation highlights, the cartoony Shrek (Andrew Adamson, Vicky Jensen, 2001).… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Lightyear

Director – Angus MacLane – 2021 – US – Cert. PG – 107m

**1/2

Stranded on a hostile planet, Buzz Lightyear sets out on a series of missions which eventually lead to his first confrontation with the evil Emperor Zurg – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now as a Screening Event on Friday, June 17th, and opens in UK cinemas the same day.

A caption at the start explains that this was the favourite film of child protagonist Andy (from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise) and the reason he got a Buzz Lightyear toy in the first place. Other than that, though, this is a completely separate and self-enclosed film.

As the literal meaning of its title implies, Lightyear delivers a narrative that races through vast periods of time at a stretch, so that we and ace space pilot Buzz Lightyear (voice: Chris Evans) and his colleague Alisha Hawthorne (voice: Uzo Aduba) land their spaceship on an unexplored planet which turns out to be populated with hostile life-forms, specifically (1) plant tendrils which burst out of the planet’s surface and try to drag anything they can back under the ground and (2) giant, flying bugs.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Akira (アキラ) 4K (IMAX)

Director – Katsuhiro Otomo – 1988 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 124m

*****

Manga artist turned director Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk classic returns to the big screen in a brand new 4K IMAX print – plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season in December and the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Waterloo IMAX #AKIRA4K

When Akira first appeared in the UK at the start of the nineties, Disney was busy reinventing the animated cartoon as a platform for the Broadway musical (Beauty And The Beast, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1991; The Lion King, Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers, 1994) and there were debates about whether comics (or ‘graphic novels’) could be created for adults as well as kids.

As so often in technology and media, Japan was ahead of the game. Otomo had published his long-running comic book or manga Akira in 1982 and turned it into a feature six years later, challenging widely held Western notions of what animation was. You could make SF in movies (Voyage To The Moon, Georges Méliès, 1902) and you could make serious SF (2001, Stanley Kubrick, 1968), but animation was strictly for kids, at least in the English-speaking mainstream, and that as what Disney did.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Tremors

Director – Ron Underwood – 1990 – US – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Review from TNT magazine, June 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

If Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) was Jaws In Outer Space, Tremors is Jaws In The Nevada Desert. As such, the film represents a return to the production values of the desert bound sci-fi of fifties alien invasion staple It Came From Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953). In place of the shark from Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) is a species of malevolent giant worm which burrows under the earth like something out of Frank Herbert’s Dune (most recent version: Denis Villeneuve, 2021).

It’s never explained where these monsters have come from, but then you tend not to worry about such things when one of them is about to knock down your home. Hapless victims disappear into sudden holes formed in the sand like a rerun of Blood Beach (Jeffrey Bloom, 1980); then muppet-like snakes grab people, bite them, and tug them under the ground, finally the full-grown beasties get to attack.

Producer-writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson plunder numerous other sources too, but the emerging whole is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Ghost In The Shell (Kokaku Kidotai, 攻殻機動隊) (1995)

Director – Mamoru Oshii – 1995 – Japan, UK, US – Cert. 15 – 83m

****1/2

A cybernetically rebuilt, female, government agent and her male sidekick pursue a mysterious computer hacker known as The Puppet Master through Hong Kong Digital IMAX version plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

Review originally published in What’s On In London in 1996.

Ghost In The Shell is the first (and hopefully not the last) anime feature to be jointly financed by America, Japan and Britain (our very own Manga Entertainment). Although superficially pigeonholeable as teenage boy’s market material (nothing wrong with that per se), Ghost is considerably more intelligent than that implies. Its plot is highly complex: suffice it to say that cybernetically rebuilt female agent Kusanagi and male sidekick Bateau are pursuing a mysterious computer hacker known as The Puppet Master through Hong Kong.

Kusanagi, who makes her first appearance stripping off her clothing, jumping off a skyscraper roof and crashing through a window below to riddle a criminal pleading “diplomatic immunity” with bullets, employs thermoptic camouflage which renders her invisible to the naked eye in a matter of seconds. It’s an impressive touch, additionally furnishing such great moments as a fugitive ankle-deep in an urban canal suddenly finding himself hit, gripped and thrown around by an invisible assailant.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Matrix: Resurrections

Director – Lana Wachowski – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 148m

**

One of the original directors returns for a fourth film in the popular franchise – available to own on Digital Download from Monday, March 14th

Helmed by one of the directing duo behind The Matrix (1999), this is the fourth feature film in the popular franchise. Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is now the designer of the popular computer game The Matrix and being asked by owners Warner Bros. to make a fourth game, something he’s always decided he wouldn’t do. But under pressure from his boss, he capitulates. Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) frequents his local coffee shop, but they don’t know each other. The hero of his game Neo is loosely modelled on himself while Tiffany reminds him of its heroine Trinity.

With these two stars of the original film and its sequels returning, this fourth film starts off like a rerun of the original with different or substitute characters: the feisty Bugs (Jessica Henwick) as a Trinity substitute fleeing a series of suits in dark glasses, running into a man claiming to be Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who states, “I have to find Neo”.

And this is where The Matrix: Resurrections’ problems start to occur.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Dune

Director – Denis Villeneuve – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 155m

*****

A powerful family is exiled to a desert planet populated with giant sandworms as part of an interplanetary conspiracy to end their dynasty – out to rent on Premium Video on Demand from Monday, December 6th

Frank Herbert’s sprawling novel Dune (1965) was read in the late 1960s and 1970s by any teenage boy with the slightest interest in science fiction and fantasy. It had (a little) space travel but more significantly it had alien worlds, notably the desert planet Arrakis on which 95% of the action takes place, and so ticked the SF box.

Then it had a whole ecology involving the planet’s occupants the Fremen, a drug known as ‘the Spice’, and giant sandworms, so it also ticked the fantasy box.

On top of this, it pitted dynasties – ‘Houses’ – against each other in a tale of interplanetary political intrigue.

The plot was unbelievably convoluted, spawning a lengthy series of sequels. I gave up around the fifth or sixth book. And yet, the first book possessed an almost mythic quality that my diminishing interest in the later volumes was unable to dispel.

The sheer quantity of plot was always going to be a challenge for a standalone movie.… Read the rest