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Bullet Train

Director – David Leitch – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 126m

***

A man boards a bullet train in Tokyo to steal a suitcase only to be prevented from leaving the train every time he tries to get off it – lightweight action thriller is out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, August 3rd

This adaptation of mystery writer Kotoro Isaka’s 2010 novel, for which the Japanese title literally translates as Maria Beetle, concerns five assassins, each with their separate agenda, who board a bullet train. The film casts Westerners in many of these roles, repopulating the film with an international cast of Americans, Brits and Japanese. Brad Pitt as the lead obviously has box office clout, and is as watchable as ever in this film, however the film has inevitably been accused of whitewashing (even though ‘white’ here would seem to include Puerto Rican and African-American).

The producers here seem to think Japanese high speed rail journeys will draw international audiences but entirely Japanese characters will not. Whether or not they’re correct, casting the film the way they have reinforces this notion. Who else could have done it, you ask? Off the top of my head, I can think of three Hong Kong Chinese, any of whom would work: Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan or Tony Leung Chiu-wai.… Read the rest

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Wake Wood

Director – David Keating – 2009 – UK, Ireland – Cert. 18 – 90m

*****

Things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad and terrible prices have to be paid in a mysterious, close-knit village community – out in UK cinemas from Friday, March 25th, 2011

This review originally appeared in Third Way.

This presages the recent relaunching of Hammer Films, a huge cultural force back in the 1950s and 60s reworking such horror staples as Dracula and Frankenstein. So far UK cinemas have hosted (1) Let Me In‘s arguably pointless US remake of terrific Swedish vampire effort Let The Right One In and (2) predictable, New York tenant in peril outing The Resident. Wake Wood is not only far and away the best of the three, but also fits in with the Hammer ethos – here represented by a mysterious, close-knit village community where things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad, and terrible prices have to be paid for misjudged actions. A fair bit of blood and gore is added for good measure.

After their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) is fatally savaged by a dog, Irish city dwellers vets Patrick and Louise Daly (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Eva Birthistle) move to the isolated village of Wake Wood to start over.… Read the rest

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Dead Calm

Director – Phillip Noyce – 1989 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

A bereaved couple taking time off on their yacht answer a distress call from another boat and become embroiled in a game of cat and mouse – out in UK cinemas 1989

Royal Australian Naval Officer John Ingram (Sam Neill) arrives home in Oz to discover his beautiful wife Rae (Nicole Kidman) has been involved in a car accident which was fatal for their young child. She’s in the hospital in critical condition; the camera descends into her eye. She remembers with horror her child fatefully undoing his seat belt before being thrown through a windscreen.

Having thus traumatised the audience, this then jumps to the couple on their yacht, the Saracen, where they are getting away from it all for several weeks. The weather is as flat as the title suggests. Rae bathes in the sea like an initiate in some baptismal rite awaiting a fresh start – until another vessel turns up – the Orpheus, with its one survivor Hughie Warriner (Billy Zane) claiming the rest – including several nubile, “open-minded” young women on a “photographic assignment” – have died of botulism from tuna that Hughie didn’t eat because he hates the stuff.… Read the rest

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The Handmaiden (Ah-ga-ssi, 아가씨)

Director – Park Chan-wook – 2016 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 155m

****1/2

Available on BFI Player from Friday, March 18th

Weighing in at a lengthy two and a half hours, this lavish, sexually-explicit, South Korean pot-boiler is based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 novel Fingersmith, but moves the location from Victorian England to Japanese colonial-era Korea.

Waters’ tale concerns a conman’s plot to marry and then defraud a wealthy English heiress by confining her to an asylum. He bribes a young London pickpocket (the titular ‘fingersmith’) to take on a job as the wealthy lady’s maid, hoping to get her to persuade the woman to marry him. However, his plan falls apart when the two women fall for each other.

When director Park Chan-wook discovered the BBC had already made a 2005 miniseries, he transposed the plot to 1930s Korea (a Japanese colony at the time), co-writing his script with regular female collaborator Jeong Seo-kyeong. Broadly speaking, it substitutes well-off Japanese for well-off English, and Koreans for everyone else. The print being released in UK cinemas helpfully subtitles Japanese dialogue in yellow and Korean dialogue in white… [Read the rest]

Reviewed for All The Anime.… Read the rest

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The Shape Of Water

Loving the alien

The Shape Of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Certificate 15, 123 minutes
Released 14 February 2018

There’s a tradition in horror films and fairytales that the monster is bad. The Shape Of Water is a fairytale that features a monster (Doug Jones) who is viewed very differently by different characters. To the military security man, Strickland (Michael Shannon), it’s an affront to the image of God, in which man is created, which must be brutally subdued. To the scientist and Russian agent, Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), he’s an intelligent being from whom our species has much to learn and who should be kept alive at all costs and treated with respect – rather than killed and dissected as the authorities suggest. And to the mute cleaning lady, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who subsequently falls in love with him, he’s someone who responds to hard-boiled eggs and Benny Goodman records, and sees her for herself rather than for her so-called disability… [read more]

Read the full review in Reform, February 2018.

Trailer:

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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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Beasts Clawing At Straws (Jipuragirado Japgo Sipeun Jimseungdeul, 지푸라기라도 잡고 싶은 짐승들)

Director – Kim Yong-hoon – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 108m

****

A number of individuals in dire financial straits do whatever they can to get hold of a bag of money – on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, August 6th and Digital from Monday, August 23rd

Seemingly disparate plot strands suggest a group of separate stories about to be narrated in parallel, but in fact they’re all part of the same story and eventually converge in this compelling thriller involving an ensemble of characters and a bag of money. A number of the characters are in dire and indeed impossible financial circumstances with no obvious way out. The bag of money, when it turns up in each of their lives, represents a possible escape route for each of them.

Lowly bathhouse attendant Jung-man (Bae Seong-woo) finds the abandoned carryall stuffed full with wads of banknotes in a locker on the premises. Of course, the right thing to do would be to hand it in to his boss, but his boss is a nasty piece of work who fires any employee who’s late twice. Besides, Jung-man’s incontinent mother (Youn Yuh-jung) who lives in his home has dementia, refuses to wear incontinence pads and makes life hell for his wife who works a menial cleaner’s job at the airport.… Read the rest

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Settlers

Director – Wyatt Rockefeller – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 103m

****1/2

The lives of a one-child family living on a farm on Mars are changed forever by the arrival of a hostile outsider – out on digital platforms from Friday, July 30th

Reza (Jonny Lee Miller from Regeneration, Gillies Mackinnon, 1997; Trainspotting, Danny Boyle, 1996) and his wife Ilsa (Sofia Boutella from Climax, Gaspar Noé, 2018) have emigrated to Mars to take over a farm which they now run with the help of their nine-year-old daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince from The Florida Project, Sean Baker, 2017). Growing vegetables and rearing pigs, they seem very happy with their lot, not least because that the Earth the couple left behind was not in a good way… We hear very little about it beyond a conversation where Remmy learns her parents never encountered whales or elephants, only dogs, even as that planet hangs in the sky as a constant reminder of where they came from.

The light has a reddish glow. Everything around the compound is dirt, rocky outcrops and occasional areas of bush and scrub. There is no-one else around apart from the three of them.… Read the rest

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The Shadows (殘影空間)

Director – Glenn Chan – 2020 – Hong Kong, China – 94m

*****

A forensic lady psychiatrist becomes convinced that a fellow psychiatrist’s treatment of his patients is encouraging them to commit murder – playing in the UK as part of the Chinese Visual Festival which runs until Sunday, July 25th

Award-winning social worker Chu kills his mother, wife and little girl before throwing himself out of a second floor window in a suicide attempt. Psychiatrist Dr. Tsui Ching (Stephy Tang from My Prince Edward, Norris Wong Yee-Lam, 2019; The Empty Hands, Chapman To, 2017) possesses the ability to see inside the subconscious mind of her patients, something she experiences like a vivid dream. She appears in a public talk before an audience alongside Dr.Yan. When he asks her view of humanity, she expresses her belief that people are inherently good. He thinks they are inherently bad, ascribing their motives to selfishness.

When Chu turns out to have been one of Dr.Yan’s patients, Tsui becomes convinced that by telling them to embrace their dark side rather than repress it, he is effectively encouraging them to commit murder. Advising Ho (Philip Keung – A Witness Out Of The Blue, Fung Chi-Keung, 2019; Tracey, Li Jun, 2018; Shock Wave, Herman Yau, 2017), the cop who is investigating the case, she persuades him without any admissable evidence to investigate all of Yan’s patients.… Read the rest

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Possessor

Director – Brandon Cronenberg – 2020 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 103m

*****

A woman possesses other people’s bodies via technology to assassinate selected targets – on Shudder from Thursday, June 10th, as well Digital HD or BFI Player rental

Anyone who’s seen Brandon Cronenberg’s earlier Antiviral (2012) will know that he is a force to be reckoned with, operating in much the same area as his father David (whose Crash, 1996, is currently out on VoD and is released on UHD and BD on December 14th) but with his own, highly individual slant. And equally impressive.

His protagonist here is assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) whose boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) inserts Vos’ consciousness into others so she can carry out hits on designated targets while occupying their bodies and consciousnesses. Lately, though, things haven’t been going quite to plan. In the body of Holly (Gabrielle Graham), Vos picks up a cutlery knife then repeatedly and bloodily stabs her target with it rather than simply shooting him with the supplied gun. Although Vos gives all the right answers in the psychological evaluation tests following her return, Girder is concerned.

He fears are raised further when Vos asks for time off with her partner Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and young son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot).… Read the rest