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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Directors – Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 127m

*****

A warm and compelling look at the life of writer Kurt Vonnegut, the influence upon him of the bombing of Dresden, and his decades-long friendship with director Weide – out in cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday, July 22nd, BFI Player Rental from Monday, August 22nd

Read my shorter review for Reform magazine.

The documentary Weide eventually made about Vonnegut took him the best part of four decades to complete. Weide opens with a statement about Vonnegut walking in the woods, feeling a tree and seeing the bombing of Dresden before it occurred. There seems no reason to doubt Vonnegut. He was unstuck in time, jumping around the years and decades. Weide first contacted him in 1982, never imagining that it would take him anything like as long to complete the film as it did. He starts looking at interviews of himself (“who wants to see a documentary in which a filmmaker appears as himself?”, he asks) – defined by where they were shot or what shirt Weide was wearing at the time.

Whatever else Vonnegut and his writing are, they are not conventional.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Red Angel (Akai Tenshi, 赤い天使)

Director – Yasuzo Masumura – 1966 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 95m

An army nurse is sent to China – as a slogan in one of the film’s trailers puts it, “on the battlefield where life and death is decided.”

Full Blu-ray review published at All The Anime.

In 1939, for her first posting, Nurse Sakura Nishi (Ayako Wakao) is sent to Tianjin Army Hospital. A number of the male patients appear to be faking medical conditions so as to escape the front line, where Japanese casualties are heavy. When she first does her rounds, Private Sakamoto (Jotaro Senba) and a number of the other men are very forward and ask her a lot of personal questions.

Much worse is to come, however, because when she does her night rounds, she finds herself trapped in the men’s dorm and raped by Sakamoto while the others hold her down. Reporting this incident to the head nurse (Ranko Akagi), Nishi learns she’s this soldier’s third victim. The head nurse resolves to have Sakamoto sent back to the front.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Nishi is then posted to a front-line hospital where medics go through the incoming wounded, pronouncing them dead or designating them for surgery, for which read amputation.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time

Transformed by an atrocity

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time
Directed by Robert B. Weide, Dan Argott
Certificate 15
Released 22 July (cinemas and digital platforms)

Full review published in Reform magazine.

The late Kurt Vonnegut claims that after touching a tree trunk he saw the bombing of Dresden before it actually happened, and it’s easy to believe him. His whole life, he says, has been unstuck in time. Born in Indianapolis in 1922, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was shipped off as a POW to Dresden, a bustling metropolis unlike anything he’d previously seen. He survived the Allied bombing of that city inside an underground meat locker and emerged to see it razed to the ground. The Germans had him and fellow prisoners search for bodies amongst the ruins.

Back in the States… [Read the rest at Reform magazine]

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is out in cinemas and on Altitude Film digital platform in the UK from Friday, July 22nd.

Read my longer review.

Adaptation of Vonnegut’s Mother Night (writer-producer Robert B. Weide, 1996) – review.

Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2018) also covers the bombing of Dresden – review.… Read the rest

Categories
Art Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Eric Ravilious: Drawn To War

Director – Margy Kinmonth – 2022 – UK – Cert. PG – 87m

***1/2

The career of the British watercolour artist tragically killed while serving as an official war artist in World War Two – out in cinemas on Friday, July 1st

The first official war artist to be commissioned in World War Two, Eric Ravilious was on an aircraft which set out from Iceland in 1942 and never came back. There is no exact record of what took place, covered by the phrase “missing in action”, but in all likelihood the plane went down in the sea. Kinmonth finds simple images to convey the incident, which appears in both her opening introduction to Ravilious’ life and her closing reel representing his passing – a warplane descending, our viewpoint falling towards the surface of the sea, an indistinct body moving in water filled with bubbles. At the end, the cold blue of the water contrasts with the gentler, rural green of the family house and surroundings back home.

After his death, Ravilious’ art was largely ignored. Alan Bennett, an admirer of the artist’s work, puts this down to the work’s cheerful and unthreatening nature and a prevailing view that art should grapple with dark and foreboding subject matter.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Boonie Bears: Back To Earth (Xiong Chu Mo: Chong Fan Di Qiu, 熊出沒·重返地球)

Director – Lin Huida – 2022 – China – Cert. PG – 100m

****

The latest movie in this long-running, animated Chinese franchise, hugely successful at the Chinese (and therefore global) box office, is the first to get a UK cinema release in a dubbed format for family audiences – out in UK cinemas on Friday, May 27th

Urban bear superhero Bramble (voiced in the English language version by Joseph S. Lambert) successfully battles and defeats a monster formed from the garbage that people in the city have failed to properly throw away, lapping up the ensuing admiration from local child and cute animal residents until rudely awakened from his urban daydream by the human Vick (voice: Paul ‘Maxx’ Rinehart), who wants him to clean up the litter in the rest area of the forest / national park where they live.

Motivated by the promise of an ice cream on completion, Bramble speedily undertakes the task by racing around gathering the detritus in his arms only to come a cropper at the very end, spilling all the collected rubbish at its allotted bins. Although he has the best intentions and tries hard, Bramble is not the smartest bear in the woodlands.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

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:

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

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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Features Live Action Movies

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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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