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Movie Reviews

The Third Murder



Released: 23rd March 2018

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Kôji Yakusho, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Mikako Ichikawa, Izumi Matsuoka, Suzu Hirose, Yuki Saito

Reviewed By: Ren Zelen

Dealing with the problematic unearthing of truth and the fallible administration of legal justice, Kore-Eda’s new film The Third Murder is a departure from the humane family dramas (Nobody Knows, Still Walking, I Wish, Out Little Sister, After the Storm) he is best known for.

The Third Murder is a complex legal drama about a jaded lawyer’s struggle to discover the actual events that led to a homicide, and the slippery nature of people’s perceptions.

Veteran Japanese actor Koji Yakusho plays Misumi Takashi, who is shown at the beginning of the film in a deserted riverside spot at night, apparently bludgeoning a man to death, then setting fire to the victim’s body. Misumi has willingly confessed to this violent crime.

State defender Shigemori Tomoaki (Fukuyama Masaharu) is asked by one of his associates to join the team for Misumi’s defence. The case would seem to be cut and dried – one of murder and robbery. Misumi is, moreover, a previously convicted killer who has already spent 30 years in prison for a double murder. The lawyer Shigemori also happens to be the son of the now retired judge who considered Misumi’s case 30 years previously.

Misumi is now back in jail, having affirmed that he robbed, killed and burned the body of his former employer, a much-disliked manager of a food-canning factory. Despite grounds for clemency due to the fact that he has freely confessed to committing ‘the third murder’, because of his prior convictions, Misumi will almost certainly get the death sentence.

It is the task of the defence team to try and get the sentence reduced to life imprisonment. Shigemori realises there is no material evidence against his client other than this confession, and that if he can persuade Misumi to say something different, some extenuating circumstance might induce the court to reduce the sentence.

Shigemori is much more interested in manipulating the law and winning his case than in unveiling the truth, but once he begins to gather information to support his stance – after interviewing his client and the victim’s family and trying to piece together his case – he finds that the evidence becomes increasingly less trustworthy. Misumi’s story seems to change with each new revelation and Shigemori realises that creeping doubts are beginning to bother him regarding the authenticity of Misumi’s confession of guilt.

Shigemori and his legal team find, for example, that Misumi has given an interview to a tabloid newspaper, claiming that the victim’s wife persuaded him to kill her husband in return for a share in the life insurance. An incriminating email and a mysterious deposit into Misumi’s bank account might support that story, but likewise may also indicate that Misumi was blackmailing the victim over the illegal mislabelling of cans of food produced in his factory.

Then, the victim’s 14 year-old daughter (Hirose Suzu of Our Little Sister) comes to them with crucial evidence which offers mitigating circumstances regarding Misumi’s motives for killing her father. However, as with all the information the team gather, it is never entirely clear how accurate this may be.

Witnesses prove to be unreliable or self-motivated – in the absence of tangible proof, the evidence for what happened resides solely in the testimony that people give. In the end, it boils down to believing what they say…or not believing it. Misumi’s own answers are vague and non-committal, his motive unclear, and we are left to wonder why the seemingly gentle Misumi would withhold the truth from his own lawyers.

As the facts refuse to reveal themselves and the various stories supersede each other, against his own impulses of detachment, Shigemori becomes driven to unveil the truth. The conflict between him and Misumi, who remains elusive about what happened, becomes more surreal.

The tension of the interview-room face-offs between Shigemori and Misumi reveal the experience and deft hand of a sophisticated director. The striking cinematography achieves imagery which reinforce the themes of the film. Sometimes there are telling close-ups of the faces of the antagonists, or Kore-eda’s camera will linger on just one, while the reflection of the other is superimposed over his in the security glass, indicating how these two have begun to interact and influence each other’s perceptions.

It would be unlike Kore-eda’s to give definitive answers to questions — a certain degree of moral ambiguity is fundamental to his work – he deals with the complexity of human nature.

When asked in an interview about being compared to Yasujiro Ozu. Kore-eda answered – “I of course take it as a compliment…I try to say thank you. But I think that my work is more like Mikio Naruse (a Japanese director of working-class dramas) and Ken Loach.”

Capital punishment is still on the statute books in Japan, amid growing calls for its removal. The Third Murder may be read partly as a critique of the death sentence and of a legal system which prefers to safeguard its own interests rather than administer actual justice. The film however, is more ambiguous than that – it veers from the certainty with which it starts and leads both the audience and Shigemori toward a (literal) crossroads of ambivalence.

Copyright R.H. Zelen – ©RenZelen 2018 All rights reserved.

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Movie Reviews

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again ★★★★



Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Ol Parker

Starring: Lily James, Meryl Streep, Cher, Christine Baranski, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard

Reviewed By: Darryl Griffiths

The iconic Swedish pop group said ‘Thank You For The Music!’. An overjoyed studio said ‘Thank You For The Box Office!’.

Sure. Pierce Brosnan singing ABBA’s SOS had a hint of the Borat (Sorry Sacha!) about it. But the summer of 2008 bared witness to a cinematic juggernaut in ‘Mamma Mia’, a jubilant jukebox musical whose sense of joy and fun proved irresistible for audiences. Considering life’s too short. Ten years on we return to the sumptuous setting of Kalokairi Greece with ‘Here We Go Again’, as the sequel fleshes out the timeline, remaining keen to create more cinematic memories.

Content with her unorthodox triple father situation in Harry (Colin Firth), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) and Sam (Pierce Brosnan). Sophie’s (Amanda Seyfried) fierce determination to honour her mother Donna’s (Meryl Streep) dream of renovating her surroundings into a lavish hotel, coincides with the severe turbulence she’s enduring in her ongoing relationship with Sky (Dominic Cooper).

Increasingly doubtful of her own capabilities. The dynamo duo of Christine Baranski’s Tanya and Julie Walters’ Rosie look to bolster her confidence by delving into Donna’s past, as Lily James’ enthused younger incarnation of the character guides us through her eventful youth with the dungarees intact, reliving her initial encounters in 1979 with Sophie’s dads (Hugh Skinner/Jeremy Irvine/Josh Dylan).

Previously unapologetic in its ramshackle charm and high camp. Director Ol Parker to much relief resists applying restraint to its energetic, big-hearted song and dance numbers, whilst technically and narratively tightening up the deficiencies that perhaps plagued its 2008 counterpart for the purists, with a sharper focus on emotional engagement. As a result, it may not be as quick to overwhelm us with its blindingly sunny disposition like its predecessor, occasionally labouring in its first half with its time-hopping.

Yet when those glorious highs arrive like a new take on ‘Dancing Queen’ and Cher’s stellar firework-heavy rendition of ‘Fernando’, whose cameo evoked hearty cheers in the screening i was in. They are now armed with a poignant and reflective slant, reinforcing the ingenuity in how these timeless songs are integrated into the framework, in order to offer fresh interpretations.

Lighting up the screen as a young Donna Sheridan. Lily James captures the carefree spirit and mannerisms of the character superbly, proving a solid counterpart to Meryl Streep’s original performance and Amanda Seyfried’s Sophie in the singing stakes. Speaking of Streep, much has been made about her (lack of?) involvement in this follow-up. Without slipping into spoiler territory, her gorgeous screen moments this time around epitomise why many fans deemed her an instant hit in the first film. Elsewhere, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters continue to provide fantastic farce, stealing much of the script’s zingy dialogue whilst Andy Garcia’s enigmatic hotel manager is a disarming and dashing addition.

It may not have been a sequel we were warming up the vocal chords for. Yet in striking a killer balance between emotive and euphoric. ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is a truly wonderful follow-up that brims with sincerity and show-stopping splendour.

Dig out the spandex and unleash your inner ‘Super Trouper’…

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Featured Review

Hotel Artemis ★★★



Released: 20th July 2018

Directed By: Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Iron Man 3 alum Drew Pearce makes his feature directorial debut with this slick future-set actioner – evoking the neon-tinged hyperbolic aesthetic of John Wick and applying it to a more stripped-down set-up akin to Joe Carnahan’s strangely forgotten Smoking Aces. Hotel Artemis sees the eponymous underworld hospital of the future come under siege by forces both outside and in, with a who’s-who of “hey – it’s….!” figures to bring its gleefully vitriolic war well and truly to life.

On Pearce’s part, Hotel Artemis knows its own playbook pretty well – tense action beats are played with coherence but don’t skimp on imagination, and the staging of it all is first rate. Jodie Foster, meanwhile, leads an engaging cast that includes a wonderfully sleazy Charlie Day, the brilliantly deadpan Sterling K. Brown, and an amusingly in-her-comfort-zone Sofia Boutella. It’s best to keep as much of its casting a surprise as possible, but there’s tons of fun to be had via mere cast reveals to keep proceedings engaging.

On the action front, though, it is strange that Hotel Artemis feels as subdued as it does as regards its own sense of internal rage. Whilst far from a bloodless PG-13, Pearce’s film never quite embeds itself as much in the hyperviolence of its world as you’d expect, or, rather, hope. It’s certainly no John Wick in that sense, and, though there is a decent share of world-building to kick things off, it’s quickly evident that this element of restraint is self-imposed by Pearce’s writing, rather than a by-product of now requisite franchise-creation. Hotel Artemis, incidentally, could easily garner itself a cheap and cheerful sequel or two, were there somehow a demand.

On the back of this pretty solid ninety minute actioner, that’s absolutely a consideration. The world it builds is fleshed out enough to intrigue, the cast are game for an intriguing balance of quirk and creepiness, and Pearce steps up to the director’s chair with unbroken confidence and a comic book sensibility that takes him deftly to the finish line. Stoker cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung astonishes as ever, and, while not his showiest work to date, Cliff Martinez’s score fleshes out the bonkers world of Hotel Artemis nicely.

Best aimed at those looking for another round of Smoking Aces-grade action – though, without quite the same singular ferocity – Hotel Artemis is a nice bit of bullet-laden fun with a lively cast and some slick visuals. It’ll never be one of the iconic points on the timeline of action cinema, but it’s a worthy stop-off on the way between the ones that are.

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Movie Reviews

Skyscraper ★★★★



Released: 12th July 2018

Directed By: Rawson Marshall Thurber

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell

Reviewed By: Van Connor

Be honest. Sooner or later, you knew The Rock was going to make Die Hard. It was inevitable. As he ascends higher and higher thought the upper echelons of the – increasingly spartan – Hollywood star system, this was always going to be coming. The only question really, was going to be whether or not it was going to be either any good, or even welcome in a world in which even a bonafide Die Hardsequel now typically ranks among the worst of whichever year it’s released in.

Alas, Dwayne Johnson is no Bruce Willis, and that quality control barrier could not be any clearer as Die Hard meets The Towering Inferno – with a dash of The Fugitive – for Skyscraper. Rawson Marshall Thurber’s adrenaline-fuelled ride takes DJ to China as amputee and former FBI tactical agent Will Sawyer, an American tasked with signing off on the security of The Pearl – the tallest building in the world. When terrorists seize The Pearl, however, Sawyer finds himself the subject of a Chinese manhunt and forced to find a way back into the building in order to save his wife and children from not only the terrorists seeking to fulfil their own agenda, but also to the out-of-control blaze that threatens to consume them all.

Johnson’s played in the sort of arena on more than a few occasions now, with Skyscraper arguably skewing closest to San Andreas as regards the sort of tone and polished spectacle you’re in for. There are some offhand nods to more classical genre archetypes – hell, it makes more Die Hard references than Jake Peralta – and there’s the requisite degree of fistbumping and utilisation of the term “brother”, but those still unsure of what to expect can rest easy on the promise of what’s essentially an Irwin Allen movie with a Neal Moritz sensibility. It ain’t clever, it doesn’t want to be, it just wants you to sit on the edge of your seat and then cheer afterwards. Which you will. A lot.

Neve Campbell brings an impressive amount to what’s an already impressively sketched out female supporting character in Sawyer’s wife (take notes, Bedelia – that’s how you handle hostage takers), and Pablo Schreiber (Orange is the New Black) continues to make for an engaging added value element. Roland Møller, meanwhile, makes for a decent enough villain, but lacks the charisma needed to really sell the ludicrously named Kores Botha as much of an evil mastermind. Sure, he was never going to rival Hans Gruber on the scale of action movie villains, but Botha’s so thinly devised as a villain that he’s not up to the grade of Tommy Lee Jones’ Under Siege villain either. And that’s a real detriment when your action hero lead is someone as genuinely charismatic as Dwayne Johnson. Both Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Joe Manganiello took the wrong Rock movie, would be a decent takeaway.

In lieu of a captivating villain, Thurber nonetheless ensures value for money is had with a barrage of spectacle-fuelled set-pieces the likes of which will have you squirming in your seat biting your fist for dear life – IMAX could well inspire a sense of vertigo with this one. It’s a glossy-looking actioner – thanks to some smooth production design and slick visuals from cinematographer and Mission: Impossible alum Robert Elswit – and fight choreographer Allan Poppleton goes above and beyond to stage Johnson’s antics not as the all-powerful action commando, but a credible fighter dwarfed by the spectacle of what’s up against him.

It’s a good time for all. Sure, it’s in no way destined to become an enduring classic of the action genre – though, the spoilerific marketing campaign does well and truly show off what will become one of this summer’s more memorable movie moments – but it’s Die Hard on fire. With The Rock. In 2018. And if there’s an easier sell for a good time at the movies than that, it just means Dwayne Johnson has another movie out. In which case, still see Skyscraper first.


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