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Occupation: Rainfall

Director – Luke Sparke – 2020 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 128m

*

Australian alien invasion epic with lots of seasoned actors and heaps of special effects. What could possibly go wrong? out in cinemas on Friday, July 9th

A sequel to Australian alien invasion outing Occupation (2018) by the same director, this big effects movie spends much time and effort on spectacular alien spaceships and dogfights, prosthetics alien costumes and the occasional creature that couldn’t possibly be portrayed by a human actor in a suit. These visual effects do the job but aren’t particularly engaging. The piece overall lacks original ideas and panache. 

The sketchy plot has the world (i.e. Australia) invaded by aliens called ‘Greys’ because of their skin colour while a military force under Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies from Spider Man 2, Sam Raimi, 2004) is fighting back. Hayes believes force is the only way to deal with the invaders and has consequently sidelined peace negotiator Amelia The Human (Jet Trantor from Thor: Ragnorok, Taika Waititi, 2017) who has made the effort to learn to speak the alien language. Greys unsympathetic to the invasion live amongst the humans. 

A wise elder named Abe (David Roberts from The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 2003) despatches a two-man recon mission to find and discover the exact nature of the eponymous Project Rainfall.… Read the rest

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The Eight Hundred (Ba Bai, 八佰)

Director – Guan Hu – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 149m – IMAX

****1/2

Hopelessly outnumbered Chinese soldiers take a last stand against the Japanese in a Shanghai warehouse – – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Domestic Hits strand in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 which runs until Wednesday, May 12th

1937, the Sino-Japanese War. The Chinese have fallen back to , Shanghai as the Japanese advance. Rounding up Chinese deserters, Colonel Xie (Du Chun) and his men of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) hole up in the Sihang warehouse on the other side of the Souzou Creek from the International Concession from which the horrified civilians compulsively watch the conflict unfold.

A Western movie covering such a subject would likely introduce us to specific soldier characters at some length, possibly derailing the larger narrative to do this. The Chinese here do it rather differently. They take the overall sweep of the story and drop the characters in to it. There are deserters, there are brave and heroic fighters and there are men who move from the former to the latter group. The writers also sketch civilian characters living across the river.… Read the rest

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Dunkirk

Director – Christopher Nolan – 2017 – UK – Cert. 12a – 106m

*****

Review originally published in DMovies.org. On Amazon Prime from Thursday, April 1st.

British filmmaker Christopher Nolan – now one of the highest-grossing film directors in history, with the Dark Knight trilogy under his belt – has created a complex and multilayered film that cleverly interweaves three separate narrative strands: 1) on land over a week a young soldier (Fionn Whitehead) after he arrives alone at Dunkirk beach and falls in with others (including the music superstar and heartthrob Harry Styles); 2) on sea over a day a small, requisitioned, civilian boat (crew: three) go to bring home trapped combatants; and 3) in the air over an hour three Spitfires fly a sortie.

Nolan is fascinated by time and runs these in parallel so that an incident partly revealed in one strand is later retold in another revealing more. There’s a constant sense of the clock ticking differently in the three time frames: mind-bending and exhilarating stuff.

Full review at DMovies.org.

On Amazon Prime from Thursday, April 1st.

Trailers:

Original UK theatrical release: Friday, July 21st 2017.

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Youth (Fang Hua, 芳华)

Director – Feng Xiaogang – 2019 – China – Cert. N/C 15+ – 135m

*****

In 1970s Maoist China, a dancer with a troubled past suffers bullying in a military dance troupe – available to rent online in the UK & Ireland as part of the Domestic Hits strand in the Chinese Cinema Season 2021 which runs until Wednesday, May 12th

Almost from the moment talented dancer He Xiaoping (Miao Miao) from Beijing joins an out of town PLA (People’s Liberation Army) troupe, she puts her foot in it. Top of her to do list is to get a picture of herself in uniform. Unfortunately, she won’t have a uniform for the first week, so without asking, she borrows one off one of her roommates planning to return it before anyone notices. Not only does her roommate notice, but when the company is unexpected deployed to another location, the journey takes the troupe past the photographer’s where the picture is displayed in the window. Now Xiaoping has the reputation of a thief and a number of the other girls pick on her.

The kindly Liu Feng (Hwang Xuan), who may be the only one of her contemporaries to have seen her file, takes pity on her.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Baron Prášil)

Director – Karel Zeman – 1961 – Czechoslovakia – Cert. U – 85m

*****

Available on Blu-ray/DVD and now on BFI Player too.

This capsule review originally appeared in Reform in 2017 as part of a wider Watch And Talk review roundup.

Using not only live action but also every form of animation you can imagine, the 1961 Czech fantasy The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (BD/DVD, cert U, 85 mins) puts the infamous teller of tall tales in the company of a rational astronaut he meets on the moon for a series of improbable adventures. It’s a charming and delightful piece of escapism and a visual marvel from start to finish.

Director Karel Zeman has probably come closer than anyone to filming the equivalent of a moving woodcut and the whole thing is highly inventive throughout, challenging the very idea of what a film might look and feel like. Children and adults alike will be entranced. For good measure, the disc includes a documentary in which students try to recreate some of the film’s spectacular special effects.

Trailer here:

This capsule review originally appeared in Reform in 2017 as part of a wider Watch And Talk review roundup.

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The Painted Bird (Nabarvené ptáče)

Director – Václav Marhoul – 2019 – Czech Republic – Cert. 18 – 169m

****1/2

An orphan boy meets a series of adults, a few kind but most cruel, travelling around Eastern Europe during World War Twoin cinemas and online at Amazon, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema, IFI@HOME, Rio Cinema Online and Vimeo On Demand in the UK from Friday, September 11th

You’re really not quite sure where you are for the first hour of this mammoth Czech production stuffed with Hollywood stars speaking not a word in English. A boy (Petr Kotlár) whose name we won’t discover until the film’s final minutes flees through a wood before being caught by bullies who burn and kill his pet ferret.

That proves prophetic because soon afterwards at night, he discovers that his aunt, with whom he lives, has died upright in her chair. He is so startled that he knocks over an oil lamp and burns the house down. Now he’s an orphan at the mercy of the world, which is not a pleasant one being Eastern Europe at the time of the second world war. The rural people are primitive. Christianity is largely a matter of ritual and superstition; belief in vampires is so widespread that a local witch can claim the boy is a vampire and be believed.… Read the rest

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The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

Director – Peter Jackson – 2003 – New Zealand – Cert. 12a – 201m (263m)

*****

(NB Extended Edition, in cinemas from Monday, August 10th 2020, 263m in cinemas due to extended frame rate = 252m version released on DVD 2004.)

This review of the 201m theatrical version was originally published in Third Way.

A much shorter review appeared in What’s On In London.

A pre-screening article on The Lord Of The Rings appeared in Sussed in 2001.

Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings is a labour of love by a brilliant academic obsessed by myth and language better at creating an alternate world than at story construction. Nowhere in the trilogy is this more evident than in The Return Of The King. Frodo’s trip to Mount Doom to unmake Sauron’s One Ring builds up incredibly to a climactic pivotal event running little more than a paragraph. This is followed by another hundred pages or so tying up loose ends, including a sequence in which evil wizard Saruman turns the Shire into a post-industrial dictatorship that’s trivial compared with the geographic enormity of what has gone before.

Jackson and co-writers wisely omit that sequence; indeed, in its last weeks of post-production his The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King has chopped its scenes of Saruman (Christopher Lee) at Isengard – on the grounds that it slowed down the start.… Read the rest

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The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (Extended Edition)

Director – Peter Jackson – 2003 (2002) – New Zealand – Cert. 12a – 225m

*****

(NB Extended Edition, in cinemas from Monday, July 27th 2020, 235m in cinemas due to extended frame rate = 225m version released on DVD 2004. Original theatrical cut: 199m)

This always had the problem that it’s the second film in a trilogy. If you think you might want to watch all three, you’ll watch the first movie. If you want to see how the story ends up, you might possibly jump straight in at the last movie (although to be honest, you’d be better watching the first movie The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and then if you like it the other two as well.)

That said, both this second movie The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers and the third film The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King deal with the problem of opening the film admirably, in both cases doing so in creative ways. This one leaps back to Gandalf being dragged down a chasm by a Balrog in FOTR and then, once we think we’re getting closer to finding out what happened, has Frodo waken from a dream.… Read the rest

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The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (Extended Edition)

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (Extended Edition)

Director – Peter Jackson – 2002 (2001) – New Zealand – Cert. PG – 229m

*****

(NB Extended Edition, in cinemas from Monday, July 24th 2020, 227m in cinemas due to extended frame rate = 218m version released on DVD 2004. Original theatrical cut: 178m)

It’s a very different thing writing about a new movie which you’re watching for the first time and an old movie with which you’re familiar. Even stranger when the movie concerned is an adaptation of a book with which you’re equally familiar. Odder still when the property exists in its original form (which was actually a side project of something else, Professor J.R.R.Tolkien’s Middle-earth project) but also in a highly regarded 13 x 1 hour BBC radio adaptation skilfully adapted by Brian Sibley.

Although it’s Tolkien’s material, for me it’s as if The Lord Of The Rings existed somewhere out there and Tolkien wrote it down in book form (Where does artistic creativity come from? Discuss) after which Sibley successfully wrote it down in radio drama form and Jackson and his two screenwriting collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens turned it into a movie trilogy.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Invention For Destruction (Vynález Zkázy)

Director – Karel Zeman – 1958 – Czechoslovakia – Cert. U – 82m

*****

Blu-ray/DVD on sale for a bargain £10/£5 until 21.07.2020 at Arrow Video’s Second Run Sale.

Review originally written as an entry for

the Aurum Film Encyclopedia: War (series editor: Phil Hardy).

Sadly, the book was never published.

Vynález Zkázy

aka

Invention For Destruction,

The Invention Of Destruction,

The Deadly Invention,

The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1961, US version)

KRATKY FILM PRAHA | STUDIO LOUTKOVYCH FILMU GOTTWALDOV

Feature length trickfilm adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel Une Invention Diabolique is less about war itself than its causes – specifically scientists who work without regard for how their experimental research will be used by others. Professor Roche (Navrátil) is kidnapped from a sanitarium and taken by clipper (towed by a prototype submarine invisible from the surface) to the island of Back-Cup where mysterious captor Count Artigas (Holub) invites him to continue his research – a task the childlike scientist is happy to undertake. The professor’s travelling companion, research assistant and the film’s narrator Simon Hart (Tokos) wants by contrast to escape and warn the world of Artigan’s plans to attack using a giant gun.

Zeman shoots his film with an all-encompassing diversity of live action and animated techniques, mixing actors, natural history photography and studio sets (augmented by drawings of set sections matted into his locked-off frame) on the one hand with live action and stop-frame puppetry, animated models, drawings and any other method you care to name.… Read the rest