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Features Live Action Movies

The Wandering Earth II (Liulang Diqiu 2, 流浪地球 2)

Director – Frant Gwo – 2023 – China – Cert. 12a – 173m

***

Sequel – or rather prequel – wants to explain how it was that the Earth became the Wandering Earth, but instead throws convoluted plot, big budget effects and action set-pieces at us while not really explaining anything – out in UK cinemas on Friday, January 27th

Gwo’s mega-expensive, blockbuster franchise is back for a second instalment, this time at three rather than two hours in length. Surprisingly, II isn’t so much a sequel to The Wandering Earth as a prequel which attempts to explain its predecessor by exploring many of the events which take place leading up to it, including the attempt by the United Earth Government (UEG) to launch the Wandering Earth Project, the complex system of jet engines constructed around the Equator like a belt round a large man’s belly to enable the ecologically-damaged Planet Earth to be piloted through space in an attempt to find a new home for the human race.

As if aware that three hours of interpersonal drama and action sequences based around this might prove too much for even the franchise’s most ardent fans, Gwo and his screenwriters build in a second plot involving Tu Yuheng (Chinese megastar Andy Lau) whose wife and small daughter are killed in a road accident.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Wandering Earth (Liulang Diqiu, 流浪地球)

Director – Frant Gwo – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 125m

**

An ecological disaster of a deep-frozen, future Planet Earth is powered through space by jets on its surface in search of an alternate living space for the endangered human race – on Netflix UK, with sequel now in cinemas

The child Liu Qi (Guo Hexuan) looks through a telescope at Jupiter with his dad Liu Peiqiang (Wu Jing from The Battle At Lake Changjin, Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, Tsui Hark, 2021) while his grandpa Han Ziang (Ng Man-tat) sits on a nearby chair. After dad leaves for the International Space Station (ISS), grandpa will be his guardian because grandpa will get dad’s place in the Underground City.

The sun will engulf the Earth in a hundred years. But the United Earth Government (UEG) has a solution: human migration to another location in space thanks to the Wandering Earth Project. Originally, all humanity was to shelter in the underground cities following the ecological disaster that turned the Earth’s surface into an uninhabitable, frozen wasteland.

17 years later, Liu Qi (Qu Chuxiao) has grown into a typically rebellious young man. Leaving a note for his grandpa guardian, he and his younger, school student sister Han Duoduo (Zhao Jinmei) depart the Underground City via a dubious deal for fake ID passes and the thermal suits necessary to survive the intense surface cold.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Alienoid (Oegye+in 1bu, 외계+인)

Director – Choi Dong-hoon – 2022 – South Korea – Cert. 12 – 142m

*****

In Part One of a proposed double feature, aliens incarcerate prisoners in human brains and time travel between present day and fourteenth century Korea and mayhem ensures – from LKFF, the London Korean Film Festival which runs in cinemas from Thursday, November 3rd to Thursday, November 17th

The first film of a two part adventure, which would be more sensibly released as Alienoid – Part One (which may already be the case in some territories), this revolves around multiple protagonists in two separate timelines divided by six or seven centuries. In the fourteenth century, Guard, who morphs between true robot and fake human appearances not unlike the T-1000 of Terminator 2 Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991), and his even more confusing companion Thunder, who is sometimes a car, sometimes a flying pod and sometimes any number of human manifestations (both / all played by Kim Woo-bin), fail to save a woman from dying after an alien escapes incarceration within her brain, however Thunder rescues the woman’s baby.

The pair travel forward in time to raise Lee Ahn (Choi Yu-ri) in the twenty-first century where she sees what she’s not supposed to: the impregnation process whereby alien prisoners are incarcerated in human brains, a memory wiped immediately afterwards from the humans used for this purpose, meaning people wander around not knowing there are aliens trapped inside their heads.… Read the rest

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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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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 – 2022 – 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

Boonie Bears: Back To Earth (Xiong Chu Mo: Chong Fan Di Qiu, 熊出沒·重返地球)

Director – Lin Huida – 2022 – China – Cert. PG – 100m

****

The latest movie in this long-running, animated Chinese franchise, hugely successful at the Chinese (and therefore global) box office, is the first to get a UK cinema release in a dubbed format for family audiences – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 27th

Urban bear superhero Bramble (voiced in the English language version by Joseph S. Lambert) successfully battles and defeats a monster formed from the garbage that people in the city have failed to properly throw away, lapping up the ensuing admiration from local child and cute animal residents until rudely awakened from his urban daydream by the human Vick (voice: Paul ‘Maxx’ Rinehart), who wants him to clean up the litter in the rest area of the forest / national park where they live.

Motivated by the promise of an ice cream on completion, Bramble speedily undertakes the task by racing around gathering the detritus in his arms only to come a cropper at the very end, spilling all the collected rubbish at its allotted bins. Although he has the best intentions and tries hard, Bramble is not the smartest bear in the woodlands.… 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