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The 355

Director – Simon Kinberg – 2022 – US – Cert. 12a – 124m

***

Five female agents from different national security agencies team up to prevent a deadly new cyber-weapon falling into the wrong hands – out in cinemas on Friday, January 7th

An illegal deal is going down 150 miles south of Bogotá, Columbia. A ruthless and powerful mercenary (Jason Flemyng) will stop at nothing to get hold of a deadly new cyber-weapon – a hand-sized device which is capable of accessing and utilising any other computer control system and that can be plugged into a laptop. However, things don’t go according to plan when the sellers’ mansion is raided by Colombia’s Dirección Nacional de Inteligencia (DNI) and the cyber-weapon taken by operative Luis (Édgar Ramirez) who pans to sell it on and vanish with the money.

Posing as a married couple, CIA operatives Nick (Sebastian Stan) and Mace (Jessica Chastain) are sent to Paris, France to rendezvous with Luis and buy the cyber-weapon off him. In their temporary apartment, Nick unexpectedly kisses her and they sleep together, but later he is fatally shot when the operation goes wrong because an operative of the German national security organisation the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BDN) Marie (Diane Kruger) snatches the bag.… 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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Licorice Pizza

Director – Paul Thomas Anderson – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 133m

****

Boy meets girl in San Fernando Valley, 1973, a bizarre, meandering tale constantly firing off in new directions – out in cinemas on Saturday, January 1st

Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is walking along an outdoor school corridor when he sees Alona Kane (Alona Haim), contriving to run into her. She’s much older than him (she’s actually there helping out with individual pupil photos) and pours scorn on his attempts to ask her out for a date. But he’s persistent and possessed of a way with words, talking her into turning up at the restaurant should she feel like it, which she duly does.

When he proclaims himself an actor with some films and TV series to his credit, she assumes he’s joking around, but, no, it’s true. Needing a chaperone for a new your gig he’d otherwise be unable to attend, he gives her the job. He also has his own PR company whose clients include a Japanese restaurant, has a good head for business, and is constantly chasing the latest coming trend as a means to make a fast buck.

To attempt more of a synopsis is difficult because the whole thing feels like scenes from a much longer script where lot of other scenes have been either edited out in the cutting room or possibly not even shot in the first place.… Read the rest

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Top Ten Movies (and more) 2021

Work in progress – subject to change. Because I am still watching movies released in 2021, so it’s always possible that a new title could usurp the number one in due course. Before that, I have a lot more movies still to add.

All films received either a theatrical or an online release in the UK between 01/01/21 and 31/12/21. Prior to 2020, I’d never included online releases (well, maybe the odd one or two as a special case) but that year saw the film distribution business turned upside down by COVID-19. How 2022 and beyond will look is anyone’s guess.

This version excludes re-releases (Seven Samurai and It’s A Wonderful Life, in that order, would top everything here, while The Shop Around the Corner would also be in my Top Ten). A link to that longer list will be added here in due course.

In addition to re-releases, this version also excludes films seen in festivals which haven’t had any other UK release in 2021. A link to that even longer list will be added here in due course.

Finally, last year’s list is here.

Top Ten (UK theatrical + online movie releases 2021)

Please click on titles to see reviews.… Read the rest

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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 – out in cinemas on Wednesday, December 22nd

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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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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No Time To Die

Director – Cary Joji Fukunaga – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 163m

*****

We have all the time in the world. The new Bond movie gives Daniel Craig’s James Bond unexpected space to deal with human relationships and mortality – out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK on Monday, December 20th and the US on Tuesday, December 21st

With its release delayed for over a year because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Daniel Craig’s final screen outing as James Bond 007 finally arrives in UK cinemas, a week ahead of US release. Which is as it should be: Bond is British after all.

And yet, the plot sees Bond, now retired and living (like his late creator Ian Fleming towards the end of his life) in Jamaica, help out not MI6 but the CIA in the form of Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright in his third outing in the role opposite Craig’s Bond.).

The snowbound opening shows a little girl’s mother killed by a man wearing a Noh mask over a disfigured face; in the space of an edit, the little girl grows up to become Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), previously Bond’s love interest in Spectre (Sam Mendes, 2015) and still together with him here.… Read the rest

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Cry Macho

Director – Clint Eastwood – 2021 – US – Cert. 12 – 104m

***1/2

A rodeo star and horse trainer well past his prime is sent to bring his boss’ son back to Texas from his “abusive” mother in Mexico – out to rent on Premium Video on Demand from Monday, December 13th

1979. Mike Milo (Clint Eastwood) is late for work. Again. His boss Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam) ticks him off. Milo verbally lays into him. Gets fired. Newsreel footage from back in the day shows Mike’s rodeo accident, when a horse threw him and he landed on his back. He’s never been the same since.

They go back a long way, though, and that isn’t the end of their relationship. Howard phones Mike for a favour. Howard hasn’t seen his son since the boy was six. He’s now 13 and living with his mother, Howard’s estranged ex, down in Mexico. Howard has heard is son is being abused, although he doesn’t clarify. He wants Mike to go down to Mexico and bring the boy back.

Mike is unsure but agrees. His attempt to complete this task will form the body of the movie. He finds the mother’s house easily enough.… Read the rest

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West Side Story (2021)

Director – Steven Spielberg – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 156m

*****

This reimagining of the landmark 1961 musical feels fresh and completely different, yet strangely familiar at the same time – out in cinemas on Friday, December 10th

The original adaptation of Broadway show West Side Story (Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, 1961) is widely reckoned one of the great movie musicals. It’s basically Romeo And Juliet reworked with rival houses replaced by rival ethnic gangs, the Jets and the Sharks. From the moment a former member of one gang falls for a young girl from the other ethnic group, their romance is doomed.

As well as remarkable songs (music: Leonard Bernstein, lyrics: Stephen Sondheim), the thing people remember is the incredible, almost otherworldly choreography. If this had not been a musical but a straightforward teenage youth drama, the gangs would have walked or run through the streets in packs. Here, though, they dance and glide as a synchronised group, and the never less than magical result proves highly effective.

So if you’re going to remake West Side Story, you’d better have some pretty good ideas because a carbon copy would be pointless. Enter Steven Spielberg. Like many people, he’s grown up with the 1961 movie and knows it intimately.… Read the rest

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The Shop Around The Corner

Director – Ernst Lubitsch – 1940 – US – Cert. PG – 99m

*****

Two store employees argue constantly, unaware they are perfect for one another – out in cinemas on Friday, December 3rd

It’s quite a shock to see an old Hollywood classic for the first time and realise that you’re seeing one of the greats of which you’ve somehow never heard, but that’s exactly what happened to me watching this extraordinarily charming film which is likely to appeal to anyone who loves the much more familiar It’s A Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946). Both have stories that culminate at Christmas, both star American everyman James Stewart, and both give off what you might call a generosity of spirit. But in other ways, they’re two very different films.

For a start, this is not set anywhere in the US but rather in Europe, specifically the Hungarian capital Budapest. And then, its subject is not so much a town and the people who live there as a department store and the people who work there. There are no rich people dubiously making money by exploiting the poor: certainly there are bosses and workers, but the former treats the latter well and might reasonably be described as benevolent.… Read the rest