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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies Music

The Sparks Brothers

Director – Edgar Wright – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 140m

****

The rollercoaster career of musical duo Sparks with its successful hits and intermittent lapses into obscurity – out in cinemas on Thursday, July 29th

There’s a story about John Lennon phoning Ringo Starr to say, “you won’t believe what’s on television – Marc Bolan doing a song with Adolf Hitler.” This was Sparks’ auspicious debut on BBC music show Top Of The Pops in the early 1970s playing what is probably their best known track, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, a broadcast estimated to have reached some 15 million people. Everyone was talking about this the day after – that’s mentioned here, and it’s something I myself remember from my own school days: the lively energetic singer (Russell Mael) and the suited, almost motionless, keyboard player (Ron Mael) with the slicked back hair and the Hitler moustache. The Hitler appearance may not have been deliberate, but that image of the duo – the extrovert and the introvert – has become the band’s enduring media image over the years.

TOTP 1974

One gets the impression from passing moments in this film that Charlie Chaplin was an equally formative presence for Ron – and though it’s never mentioned, Chaplin made the film The Great Dictator (1940) in which he played a Hitler type despot as well as a Jewish barber unfortunate enough to look like him…but I digress.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Truffle Hunters

Directors – Michael Dweck, Gregory Kershaw – 2020 – US, Italy – Cert. 12a – 84m

*****

Italians carry out a trade their families have pursued for generations with their beloved, faithful and trained dogs – in cinemas from Friday, July 9th

Cinema is about many things. Among them, it’s about the camera, the eye, the ability to observe, to watch. This facet of the medium is immediately apparent as The Truffle Hunters opens with a long shot of a picturesque section of hillside forest, its foliage a cacophony of greens and yellows. We become aware of movement in the vegetation. Two dogs are moving around separately, purposefully, under the watchful eye of their human master, an old man. He – and his animal entourage – are truffle hunters, seekers after the delicacy that is the white truffle which has refused all attempts at systematic cultivation and grows only in Langhe, Piedmont, Northern Italy. For mysterious reasons on which no-one agrees.

These men (they’re all men) are now in their seventies and eighties. They all have their own, jealously guarded territories for hunting the truffles. We watch as a younger man tries to prize the whereabouts of likely truffle finds out of an older man, but he won’t have it.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Black Widow

Director – Cate Shortland – 2021 – US, UK – Cert. 12a – 133m

****

Marvel’s latest is less about mysterious former spy Black Widow than the relationship between her and her younger sister – out in cinemas on Wednesday, July 7th

The nuclear family of a father, mother and two young daughters growing up in Ohio in the mid-1990s turns out not to be a nuclear family at all but a man, a woman and two unsuspecting children planted there to look like one by mysterious Russian organisation the Red Room. Natasha (Ever Anderson) is both highly competitive with and protective of her little sister Yelena (Violet McGraw). When someone gets hurt, their mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) is always there for comfort and support.

“You remember how we said one day we’d have an adventure?” says dad Alexei (David Harbour). “Well, that day has come.” He has the only remaining copy of computer files on a disc. There’s an hour to pack before first police cars then S.H.I.E.L.D. SUVs turn up looking for them. By the time the SUVs find them, the family are busy taking off in a private plane from a hidden airfield. When they reach Cuba, the mother is dying from a bullet wound while the father is revealed as a mercenary, happy to see the two children who aren’t actually their daughters at all sedated and taken away after the older Natasha has pulled a gun on her ‘dad’.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Movies

Gunda

Director – Victor Kossakovsky – 2020 – US, Norway – Cert. PG – 93m

*****

Strangely compelling naturalistic, black and white documentary Gunda, follows the lives of a sow and her litter on a farm – in cinemas from Friday, June 4th and now available to rent on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema

Break it down to its fundamental elements and cinema is sound and image. You can impose narrative on it. You can make a script and construct a story bolstered up by production design and soundtrack music. All that is an add on. You can throw most or all of that out, pick a subject you believe to be worthwhile and go out and shoot a documentary of it. In the current case, seasoned documentary film maker Kossakovsky has spent 30 years trying to find a producer who believed in this film enough to help him get it made.

Its subject is the lives of farm animals, and while these include one sequence featuring cows and another involving chickens, its main character is a pig. There are no spoken or written words in the film outside the written credits and the name Gunda visible at the start. The images are in black and white – they were shot in colour, which was then removed to cull the cuteness of the pink pigs.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Man Standing Next (Namsanui Bujangdeul, 남산의 부장들)

Director – Woo Min-ho – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 113m

****

The head of the Korean CIA becomes increasingly sidelined by President Park and decides to assassinate him – in Virtual Cinemas including Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, 25th June and on Digital Download from Monday, July 5th

Adapted from a novel, part historical truth, part guesswork and invented fiction, this is the story of Kim Gyu-Peong (Lee Byung-hun from The Fortress, Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2017; The Age Of Shadows, 2016; I Saw The Devil, 2010; The Good, The Bad And The Weird, 2008; A Bittersweet Life, 2005, all by Kim Jee-woon, and Joint Security Area, Park Chan-wook, 2000), the last director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) under President Park Chung-hee ( Lee Sung-min from The Good, The Bad And The Weird, 2008) who was in power in South Korea between leading a coup and winning the subsequent elections in 1963 and his assassination by Kim in 1979. Confusingly, a second character bears the same surname as the President, Kim’s predecessor at the KCIA Park Yong-gak (Kwak Do-won from The Wailing, Na Hng-jin, 2016).

It starts off in 1979 with Kim entering the presidential safe house and vowing to the gate security detail that the president “dies tonight”.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Fast & Furious 9

Director – Justin Lin – 2021 – US – Cert. 12a – 145m

***

The hero’s embittered younger brother must be prevented from assembling a device with which he can conquer the world – in cinemas from Thursday, June 24th

Latest instalment of the long running franchise features stalwart characters Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) who at the start are living off-grid as Dom is attempting to be a good father to his small son Brian. Cue a surprisingly gripping scene where their isolated residence receives visitors and it becomes apparent that Brian has been trained to hide himself in a specially constructed trunk on such occasions while the two adults, guns at the ready, prepare for what might be coming. (Strangely, this scene has an emotional resonance rare in the rest of the film; it’s one of the best things in it.)

The visit is friendly – it’s Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges), Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel, exploiting her English accent to the full) and Dom’s sister Mia (Jordana Brewster), members of the crew with whom the adults have shared adventures in previous The Fast And The Furious instalments, and they lay out what’s to follow which involves further characters from previous instalments: the shady intelligence operative Mr.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Claydream

Director – Marq Evans – 2021 – US – 96m

****

The rise and fall of stop-frame Claymation pioneer Will Vinton and the Portland, Oregon animation studio that bore his name – from the Annecy 2021 Animation Festival in the Special Screenings – Annecy Classics section

Will Vinton, founder of Will Vinton Studios and the man who made Claymation a US household name, is in the middle of legal proceedings between himself and Phil Knight, founder of multimillion shoe company Nike. How could these two very different individuals have come into contact with one another? Well, they had a number of things in common. Both were residents of Portland, Oregon who had built up businesses there based on a successful brand name.

In the sixties, while studying architecture at Berkeley, Vinton discovered Gaudi’s organic sculptured shapes which were to influence his animation work. Borrowing his dad’s 16mm camera, he started shooting anything and everything going on around campus. At an experimental film community he set up tabletop clay animation sessions, which would often turn out pornographic footage. He became fascinated by the magical process which imbued this material with life.

Closed Mondays

He built a studio in his house where in collaboration with artist and sculptor Bob Gardiner he made the short film Closed Mondays (1974) as an excuse to show off the techniques developed by the pair.… Read the rest

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Dance Features Live Action Movies

In The Heights

Director – Jon M. Chu – 2021 – US – Cert. – 143m

***

Boy meets girl even as they yearn to fulfil their dreams outside the confines of New York’s immigrant-populated, urban Washington Heights district – in cinemas from Friday, June 18th

Musicals in the movies present a potentially strange world where people sing rather than talk and dance rather than walk. Set the movie in an urban setting and you have the possibility of crowds of people singing and dancing in unison. All this is a cliché, though, and in order for a movie to profoundly move us, it have to find ways of transcending such material, otherwise it’ll just feel like, we’ve seen it all before.

In The Heights ticks these boxes but sadly, most of the time, fails to transcend the clichés. It has other problems too: elements in the script which aren’t fully thought out and come across as merely confusing. The basic Boy Meets Girl plots are fine as far as they go but they don’t really go very far. The parallel countdown to a blackout looks highly significant, as though it’s going to presage some incredible change in the local community – a successful fight against greedy property developers or uncaring town planning bureaucrats perhaps – but after an incredible build up… the power goes out, people have to manage without electricity and… that’s pretty much it.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

The Reason I Jump

Director – Jerry Rothwell – 2020 – UK – Cert. 12A – 82m

*****

The inner world of the autistic, explored through the writings and lives of autistic people and innovative cinematography and sound design – in cinemas from Friday, June 18th (Autistic Pride Day)

Originally this was a remarkable book in which autistic teenager Naoki Higashida communicated to the rest of the world in prose what it’s like to be autistic. It had already been widely read in Japan when author David Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida, whose son is autistic, were so taken with it that they undertook an English translation. International acclaim followed. For Mitchell, the book provided the opportunity to understand his son’s interior world like nothing before it.

A film is a very different media from a book. That begs the question, if you wanted to make the book into a film, how would you go about it? Seasoned documentary filmmaker Jerry Rothwell (Deep Water, co-directed with Louise Osmond, 2006; How To Change The World, 2015) had some innovative ideas. One was to use Higashida’s writings as a through line for the film, augmenting it with the experiences of several other autistic people.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Lamya’s Poem

Director – Alex Kronemer – 2021 – US, Canada – 88m

****1/2

A young Syrian girl becomes a refugee at the same time as she explores the writings of 13th century poet Rumi in her dreams – from the Annecy 2021 Animation Festival in the Official Competition section

Lamya (Millie Davis) is a young girl living with her mum (Aya Bryn) in a city in Syria, her dad having been killed when he went out on a protest. Her tutor Mr. Habadani (Raoul Bhaneja) lends her a thick book of selected poetry by Rumi knowing her to be a voracious reader who will both get much out of the book and take good care of it.

Distant bombing raids seem to come closer every day until one day everyone needs to evacuate the locality. The day in question, Lamya has begged her mum to let her go to the shops with friends. Buying treats, she puts her backpack containing the poetry book on the floor only to find it gone seconds later.

The thief, a young boy named Bassam (Nissae Isen), is reprimanded by his mother and told to return the bag. A bomb raid turns the locality upside down. Unaware of Bassam and what’s been happening with him, Lamya finds the returned bag in the wreckage.… Read the rest