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Benediction

Director – Terence Davies – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 137m

****

The life of First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon, his homosexual lifestyle and his heterosexual marriage – out in cinemas on Friday, May 20th

It’s been five years since Davies’ previous film A Quiet Passion (2016) and the curious thing is, both these films have been about poets and poetry. The earlier film was about Emily Dickinson, with its discussion about religion and Christianity very much to the fore; the new film is about Siegfried Sassoon and while the Catholicism he embraced in later years is in the mix, alongside that element Davies’ research revealed others of far greater interest to the writer-director, notably that Sassoon was gay. As you might expect, the first half hour or so concentrates on the First World War, but more time is spent in the middle of the film exploring some of Sassoon’s gay relationships with a small section towards the end skimming over his later years and heterosexual married life.

Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) saw action in the First World War and had the utmost respect for the men under his command – and they for him. He was appalled by the conditions under which they found themselves serving.… Read the rest

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Benediction

Glum heroes

Benediction
Directed by Terence Davies
Certificate 12a, 137 minutes
Released 20 May

Films about poets are few; however, the director Terence Davies has now made two in a row as different as their historical subjects. The earlier A Quiet Passion (Reform, April 2017) concerns the introverted, isolated, American spinster Emily Dickinson while the current Benediction is about First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon (Jack Lowden) – a homosexual man when this sexual preference was illegal, before the word ‘gay’ was used to describe such things.

His Military Cross earned for bravery as a First World War officer drops into a stream then sinks, an image expressing Sassoon’s dissatisfaction with the way the war is being run, and the hardships endured by the troops. He writes in protest to the top brass, but instead of the court-martial and platform to speak he expects, he is diagnosed with ‘shell shock’, partly thanks to literary mentor Robbie Ross (Simon Russell-Beale). Sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh… [Read more…]

Full review published in Reform magazine.

See also my alternative review.

Trailer:

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Hive

Director – Blerta Basholli – 2021 – Kosovo – Cert. 15 – 84m

***

A woman whose husband went missing during the war encounters prejudice when she starts a small business to support herself and her family – out in cinemas on Friday, March 18th

Kosovan woman Fahrije (Yllka Gashi) lives with her teenage daughter and younger son and her father-in-law Haxhiu (Çun Lajçi). Her absent husband disappeared during the war and is likely dead, but no-one knows for certain and she keeps looking whenever more graves are discovered, often with clothes of the victims rather than their bodies. So far she has been unable to identify him, something of an emotional nightmare. She still tends his beehives, but occasionally gets stung and wonders how he managed to avoid that. Answer: he had a way with bees that she doesn’t.

However, life must go on and in the absence of a male breadwinner, she must provide income to feed herself, her kids and her father-in-law. She meets with other women in the village, some of whom are presumably in the same situation as she, and decides to set up a food business, making and selling jars of Avjar (roasted red pepper spread).… Read the rest

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The Battle At Lake Changjin II aka Water Gate Bridge (Zhang Jin Hu, 长津湖之水门桥)

Director – Tsui Hark – 2022 – China – Cert. 15 – 153m

**

Ill-considered sequel to box office barnstorming, Chinese war movie fails to match the emotional engagement and excitement of the original – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th

After the exciting and energetic original, this sequel is a disappointment. It has the same expertise of CG special effects as its predecessor. However the cast is cut down, many of the memorable characters having died heroically in the first film, and there’s no attempt to replace them. Similarly, the spectacular locations are fewer in number because there’s no journey from home through different regions, so this has a smaller geographical palette to play with.

The cast of characters issue would be easy enough to fix within the war genre: members of a military unit die, others come to the fore to replace them in the vacuum created. But no, here all we get are People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) 7th Company commander Wu Qianli (Wu Jing) and his younger brother Wu Wanli (Jackson Lee) and no real attempt to further develop their relationship under fire. The two characters are just there, and the audience is expected to carry over their emotional investment from the first film without the second one providing any reason for doing so.… Read the rest

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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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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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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.