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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 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 – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

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

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

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Matrix

Directors – Larry and Andy Wachowski – 1999 – US – Cert.15 – 136 mins

*****

The Matrix combines tropes of Japanese animation with live action Hong Kong stunt choreography and groundbreaking ‘bullet time’ special effects.

UK release: June 11th 1999;

Article originally published in Manga Max, Number 8, July 1999.

1999. The Matrix is about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E.

Technically, a matrix is a multidimensional array of locations, with each cell uniquely addressable. Contents not specified. Back in late April, when Hollywood blockbuster The Matrix was first screened for UK press, Warners’ line beneath the film’s title on the publicity flier ran, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects. Perhaps it should have read, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects and Hong Kong styled action. Or even, Blockbusting futuristic thriller with ground-breaking special effects and Hong Kong styled action reconceived in terms of anime. Okay, it’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s closer to the truth.

Ostensibly a megabudget Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon / Die Hard / Predator / Speed / Road House / Assassins) SF actioner well beyond the extremities of this magazine’s remit, directed by the Wachowski Brothers (writer‑directors of Bound, screenwriters for Assassins), The Matrix opens with an incredible sequence wherein Trinity (Carrie‑Anne Moss, who looks for all the world like a Westernised version of a Hong Kong starlet in cat burglar get up… Black Cat’s Jade Leung or Irma Vep’s Maggie Cheung, perhaps?)… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

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

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Features Live Action Movies

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Director – Don Siegel – 1956 – US – Cert. PG – 80m

*****

The classic, paranoid SF outing about the residents of a small, American town being replaced by conformist, emotionless duplicates – on BFI Blu-ray from Monday, October 25th

This is an incomplete review, currently in progress…

Made in the middle of Hollywood’s 1950s B-movie Sci-Fi boom, this movie was made by Don Siegel who previously made hard-boiled crime thrillers after cutting his teeth as an editor of montage sequences in, among other things, Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942) with a striking script and a strong cast headed by Kevin McCarthy and, in her first starring role, Dana Wynter, which also includes Carolyn Jones who would later achieve fame playing Morticia Addams in The Addams Family TV series (creator David Levy, 1964).

Based on a Colliers Magazine serial by Jack Finney, it’s built around the highly potent idea of human beings being replaced by emotionless duplicates who operate as a communal whole rather than individual people. It’s often been read as a metaphor for the anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts of the period, but as noted in the fascinating documentary Sleep No More, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Revisited (2006), the left thought it was a satire on the right while the right thought it was a satire on the left.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Prayer (Gan Ho-Joong, 간호중)

Director – Min Kyu-dong – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 12a – 108m

*****

Just how capable are caregiver androids of looking after their terminally ill patients? – thought-provoking science fiction from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

In a vast, multi-storey building complex, end of life patients are attended by Caregivers, lifelike female androids programmed to perform all the necessary tasks of palliative care, their faces modelled after their purchaser. Manufactured by the German TRS Corporation, they come in a variety of models, including an entry-level type with only basic functions and a more advanced models which can cope better with patients’ needs.

One patient is surrounded by Christian friends of his wife loudly singing praise and worship songs, to the annoyance of those living in nearby units. Adherents of the Christian religion play quite a significant part in the narrative, with nun Sister Sabina (Ye Soo-jung) going round putting stickers wherever she can in these complexes inviting people to phone her if they want to pray.

They might well want to take up her offer. A lot of the patients’ relatives / carers could do with some sort of assistance. Mrs. Choi (Yum Hye-ran from Default, Choi Kook-hee, 2018; Memories Of Murder, Bong Joon Ho, 2003) has sold the family home to pay for a Caregiver (also Yum Hye-ran) for her dementia-stricken husband (Yoon Kyung-ho from Okja, Bong Joon Ho, 2017).… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Snake Of June (Rokugatsu No Hebi, 六月の蛇)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 77m

*****

Unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen, at once bizarre and hugely rewarding – currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI Japan 2021 programme

This review originally appeared in What’s On In London, June 2003.

In an unnamed (but suspiciously Tokyo-like) Japanese city where it’s constantly raining, a mysterious phone caller blackmails repressed housewife Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa). If that sounds clichéd, set your prejudices aside because Shinya Tsukamoto’s unique, new film is unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen. The motives of the caller (director Tsukamoto himself) are scarcely what you might expect.

From the moment Rinko opens a postal package labelled “Your Husband’s Secrets” to find photographs of herself masturbating (which she flicks into life like a series of animated stills) via her subsequent following orders involving short skirts and vibrators through to the extraordinary finale, the piece walks a difficult path between humiliating and liberating women.

With the year’s most arresting opening – a stripping model reduced to orgasmic ecstasy in serial, rapid-fire static images to the flashing of a stills camera – it’s likely to engross some viewers while offending others.… Read the rest