Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Shadow of Fire
(Hokage,
ほかげ)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2023 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 95m

****

A woman has drifted into prostitution, while a small boy struggles to survive in post-war Tokyo – plays UK cinemas in the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2024 between Friday, 2nd February and Sunday, 31st March

An interior in the ruins of post-war Tokyo. A figure sleeps restlessly on a mat. A man hunts for a child who has broken in and is stealing food to survive. The man says to the waking woman (Shuri), “I approach the ones who look harmless – but who knows?” As he forces himself upon here, the image cuts away to decay on the walls. The woman’s hand, like a strange, disembodied limb, appears over a parapet fixture. The man goes out to solicit clients from the woman.

A soldier (Hiroki Kono) comes in, clearly in a bad way, drinks some Sake, pays the fee, then falls asleep. In the morning, she makes him breakfast. He asks to stay, promising to get work and pay his way, but after a day or so the young boy (Oga Tsukao), who she has taken under her wing, reports that he just sits in the same spot and does no work-hunting.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Live Action Movies

Mars Express
(Mars Express)

Director – Jérémie Périn – 2023 – France – Cert. none – 85m

*****

In the 23rd Century, a private investigator and her resurrected robot assistant go to Mars to investigate the murder of a cybernetics student – from the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

The difference between humans and machines is one of the great themes of science fiction from Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) to Ghost in the Shell (Mamoru Oshii, 1995). Mars Express takes its name from an Earth-Mars shuttle which, following a bravura action / chase sequence early on, not unlike the one at the start of Ghost in the Shell, is used by private investigator Aline Ruby (voice: Léa Drucker from Custody, Xavier Legrand, 2017) and her assistant Carlos Rivera (voice: Daniel Njo Lobé) to transport a captured suspect from Earth to Mars where, it transpires on arrival, the relevant paperwork to detain their prisoner has been wiped from their on-person devices and internet-accessible office, meaning they are forced to release their prisoner. The narrative is littered with cleverly thought out ideas like this.

The setting is the 23rd Century and mostly Mars, where the pair are hired to search for a second year cybernetics student who has gone missing.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Guillermo del Toro’s
Pinocchio

Directors – Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson – 2022 – US – Cert. PG – 114m

*****

Created as a puppet by a bereaved, religious woodcarver father, a little wooden boy must make his way in a world of ruthless show business, Fascism and war – stop-frame puppet movie is out on Netflix on Friday, December 9th

Co-helmed by Will Vinton alumnus Gustafson, del Toro’s Carlo Collodi adaptation sees him return to the theme of the Catholic Church collaborating with Fascism that he previously explored in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). The story roughly follows the familiar template of Disney’s Pinocchio (1940), even down to punctuating the action with songs, but with the loosely defined place and time of a fairytale shifted to a very specific Italy before (briefly) and during World War II, with Pleasure Island replaced by a boys’ military training camp. The emphasis has shifted, too, from the notion of the narrator cricket character as conscience to coming to terms with mortality, although the idea that just because things appear to be fun they may not necessarily be good is knocking around in there too.

A narrator who will later identify himself as Sebastian J. Cricket (voice: Ewan McGregor) introduces us to churchgoing woodcarver Gepetto (voice: David Bradley), who is working on a statue of Jesus Christ crucified for the local church, raising dutiful son Carlo (voice: Gregory Mann), an equally religious child with a true sense of wonder at the world around him, including planes in the sky.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Hunt
(Heon-teu,
헌트)

Director – Lee Jung-jae – 2022 – South Korea – Cert. – 121m

****1/2

Two top KCIA operatives, each heading up his own department, both come to believe that the North Korean mole they are hunting is the other out in cinemas Friday, November 4th; opened the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) as part of a strand of films celebrating actor Lee Jung-jae (Squid Game) which ran in cinemas from Wednesday, October 19th to Sunday, October 30th

Two Korean intelligence men are sitting in a car. One asks the other riddles.

What’s a war in space? Star Wars.

What’s a war in winter? Cold War.

What’s a neverending war? Korean War.

A little background history will add to your enjoyment of this fictional thriller set against the backdrop of actual historical events.

In 1979, a South Korean coup d’état established the country’s fourth dictatorship since WW2. In 1980, with martial law declared, the Gwangju Uprising saw a battle between the military and ordinary citizens in the town of Gwangju in which at least 200 civilians were killed. In 1987, student protests lead to the overthrow of the Fifth Republic Of South Korea (1981-87) and free elections.… Read the rest

Categories
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

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Railway Children
Return

Director – Morgan Matthews – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 98m

***1/2

Almost four decades after the events in The Railway Children, three siblings are evacuated from the wartime bombing raids of Salford to the safer Yorkshire countryside– out in cinemas on Friday, July 15th

In 1944, with Britain at war and German bombing intensifying, children are being evacuated from the cities to the countryside, leaving their parents to live with substitute parents and / or families for the duration. Thus, in Salford, their mother puts Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Angela (Jessica Baglow) and Ted (Zac Cudby) on a train to the small country town of Oakworth in Yorkshire. Arriving with many other children, they wait to be assigned to a family.

However, because there are three of them – and possibly also because Angela has got rid of the smart dress that her mother made her wear for a more comfortable outfit – no family is forthcoming. So grandmother Bobbie (Jenny Agutter, reprising her role from The Railway Children, Lionel Jeffries, 1970) persuades her daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith), the local headmistress, to take the trio even though the latter isn’t sure they can manage three, and the three children move in to their new home, The Three Chimneys.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Maquia:
When
The Promised
Flower Blooms
(Sayonara
No Asa
Ni Yakusoku
No Hana
O Kazaro,
さよなら
の朝に約束
の花を
かざろう)

Director – Mari Okada – 2018 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 115m

***

Like a virgin. A refugee girl from an immortal race adopts an orphaned human baby to raise as her own until he leaves her as an adult – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

The Iolph are the Clan Of The Separate: they live for hundreds of years but remain in their isolated enclave cut off from the rest of humanity. They weave fabric called the Hibiol on looms; the Hibiol contains within it the storylines of their lives which the Iolph can feel and read.

Maquia and Leilia are friends. Leilia is the tomboy, getting into trouble. One day, Mezarte riders on dragons called the Renato attack and decimate the Iolph colony. Leilia is taken prisoner to be married off to the invading Mezarte prince while Maquia escapes on a Renato which goes beserk infected with the disease Red Eye, literally crashing and burning in a forest miles from home. She takes refuge in a village which has similarly been attacked and finds a baby which she prises free from the rigor mortis grip of its mother’s corpse and names the boy Erial.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Amulet

Director – Romola Garai – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 99m

*****

A border checkpoint soldier moves into a suburban, London house with a dark secret in the attic – out on VoD on Monday, February 28th

Somewhere in Russia or Eastern Europe – it’s not clear exactly where – a soldier (Alec Secareanu) is billeted in an austere wooden hut within walking distance of the border checkpoint he mans between certain hours of the day. The rest of the time, he wanders in the local woodlands. In one location, he gets the urge to dig in the peaty earth and finds a small figure – the eponymous amulet – of a female deity.

One day, a woman (Angeliki Papoulia) runs down the road towards the checkpoint, despite his warnings that he’ll shoot her, then trips. He takes her in, introduces himself as Tomaz and lets her use the shelter of his hut. Eventually it comes out that Miriam wants to cross the border, over which her estranged husband took their daughter, with whom she wishes to be reunited.

Is this in his past? It it a dream? It’s not entirely clear. In another reality or time period, Tomaz (now with a beard) is an immigrant in London, living in a squat and struggling to hold things together with piecemeal building work.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Every Time I Die

Director – Robi Michael – 2019 – US – 97m

***1/2

Reality disintegrates around a man tormented by the accidental, childhood death of his sister – on VoD from Monday, October 26th

People who’ve apparently died then come back to life have often reported the sensation of going down a dark tunnel towards the light, which they then haven’t reached because they’ve been brought back to life. That motif is realised a repeated, clumsy special effect at various points in Every Time I Die, along with more subtle and arguably more successful variants on the same theme, such as a child waking up in a hospital room where the door is slightly ajar revealing a light source beyond.

Other elements recur too: protagonist Sam (Drew Fonteiro) repeatedly feels a pain in his head and blacks out, only to repeatedly come to or wake up in another scenario. He wakes as a young lad of eight (Kenneth Moronta), a camera on the table in front of him, in the hospital room with the door ajar and the light beyond, Then he wakes up, in that device we’ve seen so many times in movies where it was all a dream. Here he wakes staring at the face of Mia (Melissa Macedo) who has spent the night with him and now must leave early to go back to her husband Tyler (Tyler Dash White), a soldier recently returned from several months away on active duty.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Military Wives

Director – Peter Cattaneo– 2019 – UK – Cert.12A – 112m

**

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, July 6th.

Currently streaming on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Curzon Home Cinema.

Twenty and a bit years after the hilarious British comedy The Full Monty (Peter Cattaneo, 1997) in which a group of unemployed male steelworkers reinvent themselves as a striptease act, director Cattaneo tries something similar with a group of soldiers’ wives on a British army base at the time of the Afghanistan War who, in order to deal with their isolation from their active service husbands, reinvent themselves as a ladies choir.

Where the men in the earlier film underwent a crisis of identity when they lost their jobs, the women here are by default defined by their absent husbands, waiting for the text messages that inform them their men are out of satellite contact until further notice or, worse, the knock on the door bringing news of their loved one’s death.

I review Military Wives for DMovies.org.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, July 6th.

Currently streaming on iTunes, Amazon Prime and Curzon Home Cinema.