The Prince’s Voyage (Jean-François Laguionie/Xavier Picard, 2019)

In 1999, Jean-François Laguionie, a French animator with directing credits dating back to 1965, made his third feature, Le Château Des Singes (The Castle Of Monkeys). It followed a rebellious teenage simian discovering an ostensibly more civilised society of simians, only to get caught up in a plot to murder a king. In the UK in 2000, the film was released as A Monkey’s Tale. The screenplay was considerably reworked in the translation to English, Rik Mayall played a comic relief villain, and the marketing campaign heavily promoted a soundtrack song by Westlife. It’s basically the epitome of a dawn of the millennium bastardisation of a foreign animation.

What does any of this have to do with Laguionie’s charming new film, The Prince’s Voyage, co-directed with Xavier Picard? Well, although it is not an explicit continuation, the new film sees Laguionie explore new ideas and stories within what seems to be the same universe. The lead of this film shares the design and royal lineage of a supporting character from A Monkey’s Tale, and that previous film’s lead character is alluded to in a flashback. But The Prince’s Voyage requires absolutely no knowledge of A Monkey’s Tale to follow its story – a relief to many…

Full review for SciFiNow

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The Sundance breakout taking on gentrification

Winner of two awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is stylistically bold and dryly funny – a soulful tale of friendship, gentrification and solitude, set in the titular city.

Jimmie Fails – who shares a writing credit with Rob Richert and Joe Talbot, the film’s director – plays himself in a narrative partly informed by his own experiences. The film sees the onscreen Jimmie, close friend Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) at his side, searching for home and belonging in a rundown part of SF.

An opportunity presents itself over in the Fillmore District when a Victorian-style house reportedly built by Jimmie’s grandfather is abruptly vacated by the current occupants in the now predominantly white neighbourhood. Jimmie sees a chance to reclaim the house, and all it represents to him – by any creative means necessary.

Huck spoke to Fails and Talbot at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, where their film played outside of North America for the first time…

Full interview for Huck

When Black Children Were Farmed Out to White Families

Over a 25-year onscreen career, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has become a character actor favourite, balancing key supporting parts in blockbusters (The Bourne IdentitySuicide Squad) with steady TV work, including major roles in two of the most influential series of their time: Lost and Oz.

His autobiographical feature debut as a writer-director, Farming, now arrives with starry names like Kate Beckinsale and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in its ensemble. The title refers to a social practice in which Nigerian immigrants to Britain would temporarily give their children to white foster families, sending money for a child’s keep while they studied to make a better life for themselves. Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s onscreen surrogate, Enitan, is played as a teen by the magnetic Damson Idris, who picked up the Best Performance award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival where Farming also won Best British Film…

Full interview for Another Man

Talk of the Toons: Scotland Loves Anime 2019 preview

An annual celebration of Japanese animation that takes place at Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, the Scotland Loves Anime festival reaches a milestone 10th edition in October 2019. “It always feels like we’re younger still,” festival director Andrew Partridge tells us. “My, how time flies when you’re stressing about running a festival!”

Regularly showcasing the best new animation from Japan, alongside restorations of established classics and the occasional live-action adaptation of an anime or video game, the festival has gone from strength to strength in terms of audience, reach, influence and programming coups. What was once just a relatively modest attempt to get more Scottish cinema showings for anime – that aren’t just from Studio Ghibli – has become one of the key European animation events on the calendar…

Full feature for The Skinny

‘Ad Astra’ director James Gray’s American masterpiece… and why UK audiences never saw it

Until going up the jungle in The Lost City of Z (2016) and now into deep space with Ad Astra, the films of American director James Gray – from Little Odessa (1994) to Two Lovers (2008) – all told stories of New York, with many focusing on immigrant families. His 2013 ode to classical melodrama, The Immigrant, was the culmination of that interest.

Set in 1921, it sees Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) tricked into a life of Manhattan burlesque and prostitution as she tries to fund the release of her ill sister, who has been confined to Ellis Island. She also finds herself caught in a toxic love triangle between Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), the charmer pimp who got her there, and his chivalrous magician cousin, Emil (Jeremy Renner).

Featuring contenders for Cotillard and Renner’s career-best performances, reliably magnetic work from Phoenix, and cinematography from Darius Khondji that simultaneously evokes 19th-century painting, silent cinema and the 70s highpoints of Godfather cinematographer Gordon Willis, The Immigrant is a beautiful and devastating slow-burn drama. Its closing act, particularly the lingering final shot, must count among the finest American filmmaking of this decade.

So, why was the film never released in the UK?

Full feature for the BFI

Tolkien (Dome Karukoski, 2019)

Having already helmed Tom of Finland in 2017, Finnish director Dome Karukoski continues his penchant for biopics about creative people with Tolkien. With Nicholas Hoult in the title role, the film presents the trials and tribulations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s life up to putting his first draft of The Hobbit to paper. These include his orphaning at a young age, a strong bond with a group of classmates at school, a burgeoning romance with his future wife, Edith (Lily Collins), and his experiences in the First World War.

Tolkien is a handsomely mounted production with an endearing pair of performances at its centre, but it never overcomes the problem at the core of David Gleeson and Stephen Beresford’s screenplay: the reductivism concerning the artistic process. Considering that Tolkien himself was a man who resisted allegorical readings of his work, particularly when it came to the influence of war on his output, there’s a degree of irony to this biopic presenting the most literal-minded interpretation of how The Hobbit – and parts of The Lord of the Rings – came to be…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Modest Heroes (Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Yoshiyuki Momose/Akihiko Yamashita, 2018)

In a short documentary available on Netflix, titled The Modest Heroes of Studio Ponoc, producer Yoshiaki Nishimura says that makers of short animation films are often asked: “Why do you make short films?” But he wonders why they never ask the question, “Why do you make feature films?” He suggests that short films are often viewed as a stepping-stone of sorts for people who can’t yet make feature films, but that this does a disservice to the form. As he says, short animation films have their own form of expression: “If the creator fully understands the idea, they can create great work… we create short films because we believe they have a value in and of themselves”

Nishimura is right to point out this unfair view towards shorts films. And it is admirable that Studio Ponoc’s second release, which clocks in at under an hour, should be an anthology collection of short films, rather than a traditional narrative feature, such as their 2017 debut, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The good news is that this three-film collection does a strong job at illustrating the range of the studio’s talents, helping them emerge from the shadow of Studio Ghibli, for whom many of their staff used to work…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams