Category Archives: Reviews

Earthquake Bird (Wash Westmoreland, 2019)

A few minutes into Earthquake Bird, Alicia Vikander’s Lucy Fly is shown translating an English-language film into Japanese for what we soon learn has been her job in Tokyo for a number of years. The film in question is Black Rain, Ridley Scott’s cross-cultural action movie in which Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia play New York City cops escorting a Yakuza member back to Japan for extradition.

It’s a cute nod given that Scott Free Productions is one of the companies behind this Netflix-distributed film, and that Black Rain opened in 1989, the year in which Earthquake Bird is set. But the reference ends up backfiring. While the general consensus on Scott’s film remains largely negative, not least due to its use of Asian stereotypes, many of its detractors have nonetheless pointed to the director’s stylistic excesses as a positive. By contrast, Wash Westmoreland’s adaptation of Susanna Jones’ 2001 novel is a pedestrian thriller lacking any zest or flair…

Full review for Little White Lies

Chained for Life (Aaron Schimberg, 2018)

A lengthy Pauline Kael quote about the good looks of actors benefitting cinema precedes Aaron Schimberg’s Chained for Life. Its opening shot, of a young woman (Jess Weixler) navigating a corridor in a shell-shocked but glowing state, appears to complement Kael’s musing.

Yet beauty is about to be imperilled as this woman is actually starring in a horror movie. And then it’s quickly revealed that this horror movie is within another movie, where notions of beauty and representation of bodies that don’t fit societal norms will be skewered to delightful effect…

Full review for Little White Lies

Non-Fiction (Olivier Assayas, 2018)

Arriving just before his new political thriller, Wasp Network, and just after his Kristen Stewart-led horror riff, Personal Shopper, Non-Fiction finds writer-director Olivier Assayas back in the witty ensemble story mode of earlier career highlights Summer Hours (2008) and Late August, Early September (1998), but merged with the industry satire of Irma Vep (1996). There, it was the film industry skewered with affection; here, it’s the world of novels. Non-Fiction’s original French title, Double Vies, translates to ‘double lives’, and the inherent narcissism found in concealing one’s infidelities while also profiting from them is of particular interest to the director…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Monos (Alejandro Landes, 2019)

The blistering third feature by Colombian-Ecuadorian filmmaker Alejandro Landes starts with training rituals that recall the physicality of Claire Denis’ Beau Travail. Its characters are eight teenage guerrillas serving the orders of a mysterious force known as The Organisation, stationed to wait for further instructions beyond guarding both an American prisoner (Julianne Nicholson) and a loaned dairy cow.

While some have code names referencing pop culture (Rambo, Smurf), others (Bigfoot, Wolf) evoke folklore, myth and fairy tales. Their base of operations does similar, with a mountaintop fortress filmed by DoP Jasper Wolf as though it’s an island floating in the clouds, while the arrival on horseback of their adult drill sergeant, a minuscule but extremely muscular man, amplifies the surreal, fantastical quality. Were it not for the fact they’re firing guns and holding a woman hostage, the group’s early joviality and camaraderie would suggest a more gender-inclusive Lost Boys (JM Barrie’s, not Joel Schumacher’s)…

Full review for Little White Lies

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

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