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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Donna

Director – Jay Bedwani – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 75m

***1/2

A look at the everyday life of Donna Personna, a trans activist from a Baptist background living in San Francisco – released in cinemas and on Bohemia Euphoria on Friday, July 15th

This threw me at first because it appears to be partly Welsh funded yet it’s about someone living in San Francisco. No matter. The seventysomething Donna Personna is first seen powdering her face and telling a story from her youth about getting her sister’s boyfriend to kiss him when she wasn’t around. She seems a genial person, who I would imagine is a lot of fun to be around in real life and a perfect subject for the camera who lights up the screen whenever she’s on it (which is most of the time).

What’s great about this film, for a non-trans viewer, is that it gives an idea of what it‘s like to be trans, both in terms of day to day living and upbringing. It doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind, rather it just wants to show how life is for someone like Donna. Her father was a Christian minister and her mother (not surprisingly) a minister’s wife who between them had a total of 15 kids!… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Benediction

Director – Terence Davies – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 137m

****

The life of First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, his homosexual lifestyle and his heterosexual marriage – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

It’s been five years since Davies’ previous film A Quiet Passion (2016) and the curious thing is, both these films have been about poets and poetry. The earlier film was about Emily Dickinson, with its discussion about religion and Christianity very much to the fore; the new film is about Siegfried Sassoon and while the Catholicism he embraced in later years is in the mix, alongside that element Davies’ research revealed others of far greater interest to the writer-director, notably that Sassoon was gay. As you might expect, the first half hour or so concentrates on the First World War, but more time is spent in the middle of the film exploring some of Sassoon’s gay relationships with a small section towards the end skimming over his later years and heterosexual married life.

Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) saw action in the First World War and had the utmost respect for the men under his command – and they for him. He was appalled by the conditions under which they found themselves serving.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Benediction

Glum heroes

Benediction
Directed by Terence Davies
Certificate 12a, 137 minutes
Released 20 May

Films about poets are few; however, the director Terence Davies has now made two in a row as different as their historical subjects. The earlier A Quiet Passion (Reform, April 2017) concerns the introverted, isolated, American spinster Emily Dickinson while the current Benediction is about First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) – a homosexual man when this sexual preference was illegal, before the word ‘gay’ was used to describe such things.

His Military Cross earned for bravery as a First World War officer drops into a stream then sinks, an image expressing Sassoon’s dissatisfaction with the way the war is being run, and the hardships endured by the troops. He writes in protest to the top brass, but instead of the court-martial and platform to speak he expects, he is diagnosed with ‘shell shock’, partly thanks to literary mentor Robbie Ross (Simon Russell-Beale). Sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

Sideshow

Sideshow

Director – Adam Oldroyd – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 94m

**

Two thieves break in to the house of a washed-up showbiz psychic entertainer and medium – out in cinemas on Friday, March 11th and on all major digital download platforms on Monday, March 21st

Stuart Pendrick a.k.a. The All-Seeing Stupendo (Les Dennis) is a touring, one-man theatre act psychic and medium specialising in mind-reading and contacting the dead. He’s also a compulsive pickpocket with a mind like a sewer, hardly a great combination for wholesome entertainment. After attempting to ingratiate himself with the woman best dressed to show off her cleavage in the front row, he manages none too surprisingly to say the wrong thing and offend the mostly elderly audience.

He rows with his agent Gerald (Anthony Head) about this, insisting the latter pick up his fee for the performance and get it over to him as soon as possible, then drives away from the theatre unaware he’s being tailed by Eva (April Pearson from Tucked, Jamie Patterson, 2018) and the gun-carrying Dom (Nathan Clarke) who follow him to his house, wait for the lights to go out then break in to find the stash of money Eva is certain is in his possession.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Cyrano

Director – Joe Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 124m

*****

The short stature of Cyrano de Bergerac makes him believe that no woman could ever love him – not even his beloved friend Roxanne, who he can’t bring himself to tell – out in cinemas on Friday, February 25th

17th Century Italy. Witty and articulate Captain of the Guard Cyrano de Bergerac (Peter Dinklage) is never at a loss for words. His rapier wit defeats any opponent, as does his rapier proper should any be foolish enough to challenge him to a duel. Being short in stature, he can’t imagine that any normal sized woman could love him for who he is.

He is therefore unable to confess his love for her to the beautiful Roxanne (Haley Bennett), the woman and lifelong childhood friend for whom he would do anything. So when she falls in love at first sight with Christian (Bashir Salahuddin), a new recruit to Cyrano’s regiment, Cyrano finds himself torn between her rejection and his desire for her to be happy with the man she loves. Unfortunately, this intelligent and free-spirited young woman enjoys nothing more than the literary cut and thrust which Cyrano is able to provide but the inarticulate and out of his depth Christian is not.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies Music

Annette

Director – Leos Carax – 2021 – France, US – Cert. 15 – 141m

****1/2

Musical conceived and composed by Sparks plays out as a very dark opera ending in tragedy – on MUBI from Friday, November 26th

Although billed as a musical, this may actually be closer to opera given that even though it starts as a story about two people deeply in love, it veers into very dark territory.

And yet framing all that, and underscoring it throughout, is the sheer pleasure of writing / composing songs… and, for that matter, performing them. The opening song is So May We Start while the closer, as the credits roll, is It’s The End. (For added enjoyment, watch 90% of the audience leave before the last song starts. Or in my case, 10% of my fellow critics.)

The former starts with the band, the brothers Mael (singer Russell and keyboard player / composer Ron, profiled in recent documentary The Sparks Brothers, Edgar Wright, 2021) and a backing band in a recording studio in an invitation for the proceedings to get going, swiftly joined by the film’s two leads, while the latter ends with seemingly the entire movie cast and crew walking through the countryside hoping we’ve enjoyed the show and asking us to tell our friends if we did so.… Read the rest

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Art Features Live Action Movies

Tove

Creator of the Moomins

Tove
Directed by Zaida Bergroth
Certificate 12, 103 minutes
Released 9 July

The Swedish-speaking Finnish writer and artist Tove Jansson is best known as the creator of the Moomins, a friendly family of trolls who live in Moominvalley, who appeared in her own books, newspaper strips and plays for children. The Moomins later spawned numerous animated movies, TV shows, and more. Tove also painted pictures, wrote novels, and worked as an illustrator.

Set in the period from the end of the Second World War up to her signing a contract for a Moomin cartoon strip for the Evening News, this drama focuses on both Jansson’s turbulent personal life, and her creation and development of the Moomins during that time.

Born into a family of artists who take pity on all non-artists, Tove (Alma Pöysti) is a free-spirited type at odds with her conventional sculptor father Viktor (Robert Enckell). [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform.

Tove is out in cinemas and in the UK from Friday, July 9th.

Trailer:

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Features Live Action Movies

Mothra (Mosura, モスラ)

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1961 – Japan – Cert. PG – 101m

*****

Giant moth attacks Tokyo to save fairies. Someone had a meeting about that.

You’d be forgiven for assuming Mothra (1961) a typical Toho monster movie in which a giant moth attacks Tokyo. Yet the film single-handedly redefined the genre much as the original Godzilla film defined it.

With a typhoon moving towards Japan, sailors abandon ship near Infant Island where Rolisica – an amalgam of Russia and the US – has recently tested nuclear weapons. Rescued survivors are tested for radiation sickness but no symptoms found. Two members of the press, reporter Zenichiro Fukuda (Frankie Sakai) and photographer colleague Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagawa) sneak into the team of scientists to take pictures and ask questions, learning the natives gave them red juice to drink. They report back to their editor (Takashi Shimura).

Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito) leads an expedition to Infant Island to find a jungle like Pathé’s for King Kong (1933) with man-eating plants, hostile natives and two telepathic, singing Shobijin (lit: ‘small beauties’) about a foot tall… [read more]

Full review at All The Anime.

Blu-ray available from Eureka!

Trailers:

Categories
Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Daughter Of Shanghai

Directors – Michelle Chen Miao, Hilla Medalia – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 90m

****1/2

A chronicle of the life and on-off career of Chinese-born, RADA-trained actress and screen legend Tsai Chin – available to rent online until Wednesday, May 12th in the UK & Ireland in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 as part of the Approaching Reality documentary strand

“I was born in a trunk when my parents were on tour in Tianjin.” The daughter of legendary Peking Opera star Zhou Xinfang, Tsai Chin came to London towards the end of her  seventeenth year when she was the first Chinese person to be accepted at RADA where she found herself alongside the likes of high-born, Welsh socialite Elizabeth Rees-Williams who in footage alongside her now husband Jonathan Aitken is one of the main interview subjects here. As well as a recent interview with Tsai Chin herself, the other main interviewee is the late lawyer Carlo Colombotti, a personal friend and a wealthy lawyer who moved in the same London circles in the sixties.

Her story, although it contains specific international and cross-cultural reference points, is, basically, an actor’s life: early success on stage and screen through the fifties and sixties, followed by a period in the seventies and eighties in relative obscurity and a later period when her rediscovery by Hollywood in the nineties restarted her career.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

The Intruder (El Prófugo)

Director – Natalia Meta – 2020 – Argentina, Mexico – Cert. – 95m

***1/2

A woman moves between dreams and reality as she starts to fear that a foreign entity may be taking her over – on BFI Player as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2020 from 20.30 Monday, October 12th to 20.30 Thursday, October 15th

This opens with a close up of a woman’s body bound in bondage gear. She speaks in Japanese and then somewhat disorientatingly (as if this disturbing imagery hadn’t already thrown you enough) in a different voice in Spanish. Voice actress Inés (Erica Rivas) is working in a dubbing theatre. “More powerful, Inés”, says the man in the booth. After a take or two more, he’s got what he needed and they move on to the next clip.

The film’s a bit like that. The opening is representative of what is to follow: a series of bravura and often disturbing sequences that suck you in and make you wonder exactly where the film will end up. As the sequences build, one on another, I was fully expecting this to be a five star review. Alas, the film didn’t seem to know how to end and the final scene, which needed to somehow pull everything together and make sense of the larger whole, quite simply didn’t.… Read the rest