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Features Live Action Movies

The Battle At Lake Changjin (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖)

Directors – Chen Kaige, Dante Lam, Tsui Hark – 2021 – China – Cert. 15 – 176m

*****

Chinese war movie which has barnstormed the global box office does exactly what it says on the tin – out in cinemas on Friday, November 19th

There is a history of war films with a cast of thousands being directed by several (usually three) directors in an attempt to portray campaigns with huge military logistics on the screen. Probably the best known are The Longest Day (Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernard Wicki, 1962) about the World War Two Allied invasion of Normandy and Tora! Tora! Tora! (Richard Fleischer, Toshio Matsuda, Kinji Fukasaku, 1970) about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Both of those Western (and, as it happens, Twentieth Century Fox) movies presented both sides of the conflict by hiring directors from the different countries concerned.

The big difference between them and Chinese global box office phenomenon The Battle At Lake Changjin is that although the latter film deals with a conflict in which the Chinese are pitted against the Americans, all three directors are Chinese. Tsui (Zu Warriors, 1983; Once Upon A Time In China, 1991) at least has some working knowledge of America, having studied film in Texas.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Ran (乱)

Director – Akira Kurosawa – 1985 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 162m

*****

This spectacular samurai period epic is currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the Japan programme alongside 21 other Kurosawa films together with a much wider selection of Japanese movies.

The following review originally appeared in Funimation UK. It was published to coincide with the film’s 2016 restoration. Stray Dog, Rashomon, Yojimbo, I Live In Fear, The Hidden Fortress, Throne Of Blood, The Lower Depths and High And Low, all of which are in the current season’s 22, also get a mention. As does Kagemusha which, curiously, isn’t.

Jeremy Clarke on Akira Kurosawa’s live action epic.

Ran is Akira Kurosawa’s remarkable 1985 free adaptation of King Lear, rereleased in cinemas worldwide in 2016 on the back of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

More than any other Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) is responsible for bringing that country’s movies to the attention of international audiences. His first big exposure abroad came with the jidaigeki or period drama Rashomon (1950) which dramatised the story of a rape victim from different, successive character viewpoints.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Mifune The Last Samurai

Director Steven Okazaki – 2015 – US – Cert. 12 – 80m

Currently streaming on BFI Player as part of Japan 2020.

Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997) is director Akira Kurosawa’s iconic star of his samurai movies Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. He’s the subject of three time Oscar-nominated documentary film maker Steven Okazaki’s useful documentary Mifune The Last Samurai (2015). As narrator Keanu Reeves says in voice-over, without Mifune there would have been no Magnificent Seven, Eastwood would not have had A Few Dollars More and Darth Vader would not have been a samurai.

The documentary spends a good twenty minutes on background Japanese history, early Japanese film and Mifune’s life before his career in movies began.

He got into movie acting by accident, having originally applied to work at Toho Studios as a camera assistant. Kurosawa spotted him there, immediately recognised a unique quality and decided he wanted to work with him as an actor. The pair would go on to make sixteen films together.

I review Mifune The Last Samurai for All The Anime.

You can watch the film on BFI Player as part of Japan 2020.

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Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

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