Category Archives: Little White Lies

The Great Yokai War: Guardians (Takashi Miike, 2021)

Sixteen years and over 30 feature credits ago, Takashi Miike directed The Great Yokai War, one of the prolific Japanese filmmaker’s earliest forays into family-oriented fantasy. The film’s narrative incorporated various creatures from Japanese mythology, known as yōkai, whereby a modern boy is chosen to team up with them to destroy evil forces.

Now, Miike has directed a belated follow-up, The Great Yokai War: Guardians – although the standalone story by Yûsuke Watanabe (a veteran of Dragon Ball Z and Attack on Titan films) is really more a spiritual sequel, requiring no real understanding of its predecessor. This wildly entertaining fantasy adventure gets by on exuberant direction, game performances from a large ensemble, and lavish production design and makeup work. For a sense of the aesthetic, imagine a mix of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

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Five of the best films from the 74th Locarno Film Festival

Under the lead of new festival director Giona A Nazzaro, this year’s Locarno Film Festival seems to have had a generally mixed reception from those on the ground in Switzerland. Some long-time attendees have been particularly critical of the 74th edition’s heavier incorporation of genre filmmaking in the programme, in the context of a festival generally lauded for premiering some of the hardest-to-classify films around. That said, Locarno has hardly turned into Fantastic Fest, and many of those genre films were far from formulaic filler. Here are five feature highlights from this year’s edition…

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Tallulah Greive: ‘Working-class women aren’t homogeneous’

Having been delayed for almost two years by the pandemic, Michael Caton-Jones’ Our Ladies, adapted from Alan Warner’s 1998 novel ‘The Sopranos’, finally arrives in UK cinemas this month. Set in 1996, the film follows six 17-year-old Catholic schoolgirls from the Highlands who head to Edinburgh for a choir competition, only to get caught up in debauchery.

At the story’s centre are five working-class friends, alongside derided posh girl Kay (Eve Austin): there’s closeted group leader Fionnula (Abigail Lawrie), her childhood bestie Manda (Sally Messham), punk singer Kylah (Marli Siu), islander Chell (Rona Morison), and Orla, who is in recovery from leukemia and hoping the Lord’s Prayer will now help her lose her virginity. Orla, also the film’s narrator, is played by Australian-born, Edinburgh-raised actor Tallulah Greive in her first feature film credit…

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Our Ladies (Michael Caton-Jones, 2019)

Let’s call Our Ladies one of the new great British teen movies. Its journey to the screen is even older than its riotous protagonists: director and co-writer Michael Caton-Jones first optioned the rights to Alan Warner’s 1998 novel The Sopranos over 20 years ago…

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The Devil’s Deal (Lee Won-tae, 2021)

In 2019, Korean director Lee Won-tae broke through globally with The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil, a thriller that had already entered discussions for an English-language remake prior to receiving an international premiere out of competition at Cannes. On the basis of the high concept premise alone, you can see why there’s been eagerness to retell it with different cultural specifics: a crime boss finds himself teaming up with a local detective trying to bring him down, after the former barely survives a vicious attack by a suspected serial killer.

Lee’s follow-up, The Devil’s Deal, is another gangster thriller, albeit with less action genre crossover, making it less likely to inspire an overseas remake. This is not a comment on its quality; if anything, this is a more accomplished and richer crime saga than its entertainingly blunt and slick predecessor. It’s more that the plot of The Devil’s Deal is so rooted in the particulars of South Korea’s electoral politics that there’s a less immediately obvious way to translate the material. That said, the notion of there being minimal differences between politicians and underworld enforcers is all-too universal…

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Fear Street: 1666 (Leigh Janiak, 2021)

In covering each entry in director Leigh Janiak’s interconnected Fear Street trilogy as they drop weekly on Netflix, it’s been relatively easy to be vague with plot details. That said, the fun and freaky final instalment, subtitled 1666, is near impossible to discuss without spoiling some threads left dangling from parts one and two. So, to paraphrase Fear Street author RL Stine’s better-known horror series, reader beware…

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Fear Street: 1978 (Leigh Janiak, 2021)

The 1994-set first part of Leigh Janiak’s RL Stine trilogy saw teenagers stalked by several undead mass murderers from their seemingly cursed town’s history. It established that these homicidal outbursts across 300-plus years were the work of suspected witch Sarah Fier, a woman killed in 1666, possessing unsuspecting Shadysiders every so often from beyond the grave, as a means of revenge against the town.

Extinguishing their specific nightmare problem in part one, the surviving characters were then left on a cliff-hanger when one of their own became Fier’s latest victim of possession. The second film’s framing device sees her friends turn to the only local who might believe them. C Berman (Gillian Jacobs, selling two decades of trauma in only a few scenes) is a scarred, nihilistic survivor of the ‘Camp Nightwing Massacre’ of 1978. In its immediate aftermath she spoke of Fier’s involvement, but no one would listen. Berman was said to have briefly died, before resuscitation, while her sister was among the slain…

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Fear Street: 1994 (Leigh Janiak, 2021)

Pre-global pandemic, a gamble was taken with a trilogy of gory films loosely based on YA-horror series Fear Street by RL Stine, all directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak. Twentieth Century Studios (née Fox) was originally set to distribute these three interconnected movies, each set in a different time period, in cinemas across three consecutive months in the summer of 2020.

With theatrical distribution disrupted that same year, production company Chernin Entertainment sold their experiment to Netflix, with the streaming giant now releasing the trilogy across three consecutive weeks. First up is the 1994-set film, directly inspired by that decade’s slasher genre revival, and it will be followed by trips to 1978 and 1666…

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WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc (Gio Arlotta, 2019)

Back in 2012, Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary Searching for Sugar Man explored undersung recording artist Rodriguez, a Detroit-born singer-songwriter. More specifically, the film looked at the unusual degree of success and influence his music exerted in apartheid-era South Africa. Its framing device sees two South African Rodriguez fans in the late 1990s journey to find out what happened to this relatively obscure musician in light of his studio album output ending in the 1970s.

The set-up of Gio Arlotta’s music documentary, WITCH, is certainly not identical to that of Bendjelloul’s film, but the rhythms of the editing bear a strong resemblance and it does also concern a small group’s pilgrimage to track down a musical titan from the 1970s that they want to bring to more people’s attention. That the journey of the film effectively starts in 2014, only two years after Sugar Man’s success, makes an intentional influence seem plausible…

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Surge (Aneil Karia, 2020)

Since early notices following its world premiere at Sundance 2020, Surge – the first feature from director Aneil Karia – has been labelled a British equivalent to Falling Down, Joel Schumacher’s 1993 thriller in which a disgruntled guy violently lashes out against “society”.

It’s not a totally unfair comparison, particularly given that the bulk of the breakdown narratives and crime sprees in both films take place over the course of a single day. But there are some crucial differences. Surge isn’t an especially reactionary work in terms of signposting dialogue, and the criminal activities it concerns are robberies and street beatings rather than a murderous rampage. Most crucially, Falling Down is built around Michael Douglas, who had established form in playing men prone to psychotic outbursts.

That’s not the case for the star of Surge, Ben Whishaw, who Karia previously directed in the 2013 short Beat. Whishaw’s breakthrough leading role was admittedly as an olfactorily-driven killer in 2006’s Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, but the star persona he has developed since has tended to concern reserved or even overwhelmingly polite individuals, one of them a friendly little bear in a duffel coat. Taking place in an altogether harsher version of London, Surge is in fact the anti-Paddington

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