Thursday, 29 December 2016


Year of Release:  1988
Director:  Katsuhiro Otomo
Screenplay:  Katsuhiro Otomo and Izo Hashimoto, based on the manga Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
Starring:  Mitsuo Iwata, Nozomu Sasaki, Mami Koyama, Taro Ishida, Mizuho Suzuki, Tetshusho Genda
Running Time:  125 minutes
Genre:  animation, anime, science-fiction, action, cyberpunk

In 2019, the metropolis of Neo-Tokyo has been built over the ashes of Tokyo, which was destroyed in World War III.  Neo-Tokyo is under martial law riddled with violent anti-government terrorists, and religious cults, while the streets are owned by vicious teenage biker gangs.  After an encounter with a strange, wizened child, biker gang member Tetsuo Shima (Sasaki) finds his own psychic ability awakened.  With his devastating powers increasing exponentially, Tetsuo's ability awakens dormant superbeing Akira.  Meanwhile Tetsuo's best friend Kaneda (Iwata) and resistance-fighter Kei (Koyama) fight to stop him before it's too late.

Akira is possibly one of the most important anime films ever made, and one of the films most responsible for introducing anime to western audiences.  In fact, it is probably one of the most important science-fiction films of the 1980s, with it's influence being felt in numerous films and TV shows since then.  Co-written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, based on his own epic-length manga series which ran in Young Magazine from 1982 until 1990, this is an eye-popping visual spectacle, with practically every frame bursting with colour, detail and incident.  If you ever get the chance to see it in a theatre, then do so, because the film loses so much when the image is shrunk down to TV-size.  The film races along at a breakneck pace, and it has aged surprisingly well.  It maintains a real apocalyptic vibe.  It does suffer from incoherence at times (Otomo once commented that it had not occurred to him that people would see the film who had not already read the manga), and the pacing is sometimes clunky,  however, this remains an overwhelming experience, and a must-see.




Saturday, 10 December 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Year of Release:  2016
Director:  David Yates
Screenplay:  J. K. Rowling, inspired by the book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling
Starring:  Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman, Colin Farrell
Running Time:  133 minutes
Genre:  Fantasy

In 1926, British wizard Newt Scamander (Redmayne) arrives in New York City with a suitcase full of magical creatures, which are specifically banned under US wizarding law.  It turns out that the situation is pretty grim for the magical community in New York.  A militant, "No-Maj" ("non-magical", the American term for a person with no magical ability or connection) group called the New Salem Philanthropic Society claim that wizards and witches are real and dangerous, and that they should be wiped out, and a dangerous dark wizard is on the loose.  When Newt's suitcase is accidentally opened, all his creatures are released, forcing him to team up with demoted Auror (kind of a wizard police) Tina Goldstein (Waterston), her glamorous psychic sister Queenie (Subol) and amiable No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Fogler) to find and recapture the monsters before they expose the wizarding world.

This is technically a spin-off from the Harry Potter film series, based on the hugely successful novels by J. K. Rowling.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is referred to several times in the novels as a text-book, and Rowling published an edition of the book in 2001 to raise funds for the Comic Relief charity.  This isn't really based on the book, instead it was an original screenplay by Rowling.  Despite occasional references to Hogwarts and Dumbledore, this is wholly separate from the rest of the Harry Potter series.  It's fun to have a look at more of the Rowling universe, and retaining the same production team as the Harry Potter film series it feels close enough to it to be part of the same world, but different enough to feel fresh, and it's own beast (no pun intended), even if at times it feels closer to Doctor Who (especially Eddie Redmayne's Newt Scamander, who could almost be the next Doctor).  The special effects are incredible, and create a real sense of wonder.  It also feels like a self-contained movie rather than just an introduction for other films in the franchise.  It doesn't really have the emotional centre that Harry Potter has, but it is a very promising beginning for further adventures in the wizarding world.

 Jacob (Dan Fogler), Tina (Katherine Waterston), Queenie (Alison Subol) and Newt (Eddie Redmayne) learn about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Wednesday, 7 December 2016


Year of Release:  2016
Director:  Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay  Eric Heisserer, based on the short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang
Starring:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Tzi Ma
Running Time:  116 minutes
Genre:  Science-fiction

Twelve giant objects appear floating above apparently random places around the globe.  Linguist Dr. Louise Brooks (Adams) and theoretical physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Renner) are called in to investigate an object hovering above Montana.  As they try and find a way to communicate with the alien creatures inside, the international situation quickly deteriorates into fear and panic, and it becomes a race against time to discover the alien's purpose before global war breaks out.

If your a fan of science-fiction, then you have likely seen about a million and one films about aliens arriving on Earth, or humans discovering aliens in outer space, and almost immediately being able to communicate with them.  This film shows how difficult communication would likely be.  If humanity was to encounter an alien race, their terms of reference, the way their minds would work, would be so different to ours, it would be extremely difficult to find any common ground.  This is not an action-packed alien invasion film, it is serious-minded science-fiction dealing with big issues such as the nature of time and memory, communication between species, human aggression and connection.  There are shades of films such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Close Encounters of the Third Kind  (1977) and Interstellar (2014) but this is very much it's own film.  There is at least one element at the end that felt a little pat, but this is a minor quibble, and this remains one of the best science-fiction films of recent years, mixing suspense, food for thought and emotion.  It benefits from some incredible performances with Amy Adams proving that she is one of the greatest actresses working today.

Amy Adams in Arrival

Saturday, 3 December 2016


Year of Release:  1994
Director:  Atom Egoyan
Screenplay:  Atom Egoyan
Starring:  Bruce Greenwood, Don McKellar, Mia Kirshner, Elias Koteas, Arsinee Khanjian, Sarah Polley
Running Time:  103 minutes
Genre:  Drama

This dark, multi-layered drama focuses on the staff and clients of a Toronto strip-club called Exotica:  Lonely accountant Francis (Greenwood) is obsessed with a young exotic dancer, Christina (Kirshner), which arouses the jealousy of the club's resident DJ, Eric (Koteas), who is also in love with Christina.  Meanwhile Francis becomes involved with pet-store owner Thomas (McKellar), who runs a smuggling operation based around trading rare animals.

Back in the mid to late 1990s, Atom Egoyan was one of the leading lights of Canadian cinema, and this was the film that really made him a star director.  As with many of his films, various initially apparently unrelated stories, set in the past and present, interweave and coalesce into a whole towards the end.  The film conjures up a distinct feel right from the opening shot, as the credits play over a long tracking shot of a variety of hothouse plants and flowers while Mychael Danna's memorable, sinuous, Indian-influenced score plays and the opening line: "You must ask yourself, what brought them to this point?"  The decor in the Exotica club is full of images of jungle plants.  The film was marketed initially in some places as an erotic thriller, which conjures up images of the kind of cheap movies that come on late-night cable with dull plots and a couple of soft-focus sex scenes, and Exotica  really isn't that at all.  Given the fact that it is set in a strip club obviously there is a fair amount of nudity, mostly in the background, and there is a powerfully sensuous atmosphere in the film, but it is not a sex movies, nor is it really a thriller, although there are thriller elements in it.  It's a well-constructed film, with some great performances, and a fantastic soundtrack (including the best use on film of the late, great Leonard Cohen's song "Everybody Knows").  Not all the various storylines are resolved in the end, but it remains a haunting, powerful and deeply rewarding exploration of grief and desire.       

      Mia Kirshner and Don McKellar in Exotica

Friday, 2 December 2016


Year of Release:  1999
Director:  Doug Liman
Screenplay:  John August
Starring:  Sarah Polley, Desmond Askew, Taye Diggs, Katie Holmes, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, J. E. Freeman, Timothy Olyphant, William Fichtner
Running Time:  102 minutes
Genre:  Crime, comedy, drama

This film consists of three interlinked stories set over a Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning.  In Los Angeles, convenience store clerk Ronna (Polley) needs extra money to make her rent and attempts to double-cross the local drug dealer (Olyphant).  Meanwhile, Ronna's fellow clerk, Simon (Askew), sets off for a wild weekend with his friends in Las Vegas, where he becomes embroiled in a series of misadventures involving a wedding party, a fire and an angry strip-club owner (Freeman).  Also a couple of TV actors (Wolf and Mohr) are coerced into taking part in a sting operation by a sinister detective (Fichtner).

This film plays like a teen movie version of Pulp Fiction (1994) and, released by Columbia, it feels a lot like a major studio's attempt to emulate the hip indie movies that Miramax were specializing in at the time, and so isn't really as edgy and cool as it sometimes seems to think it is.  However, having said that it is an entertaining film, funny, fast-moving and fairly light-hearted.  The film is well-written and the individual stories are well-constructed, and each has it's own feel.  It's well cast and full of familiar faces many of whom would go on to bigger things (look out for Melissa McCarthy in her feature film debut), Sarah Polley in particular is a stand-out.  While it is very much a product of it's time, it has aged fairly well, and is always enjoyable.

Katie Holmes and Sarah Polley in Go