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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 12.Aug.22

Fortune Favours Lady Nikuko  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
Fortune Favours Lady Nikuko
dir Ayumu Watanabe
scr Satomi Ohshima
prd Sanma Akashiya, Shu Kamigaso, Eiko Tanaka, Mitsugu Yamada
voices Shinobu Otake, Cocomi, Natsuki Hanae, Ikuji Nakamura, Izumi Ishii, Atsushi Yamanishi, Yuichi Yasoda, Hiro Shimono, Matsuko Deluxe, Riho Yoshioka, Karen Takizawa
release Jpn 11.Jun.21,
US 2.Jun.22, UK 12.Aug.22
21/Japan 1h37

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With eye-catching animation and offbeat characters, this inventive Japanese anime gets into the perspective of a young girl as she tries to make sense of the world around her. Packed with edgy gags, the film is a riot of energy and colour, finding a range of real-life wrinkles in its story about the impact of everyday attitudes. It's a remarkably complex film that takes on some enormous ideas.
A hard worker who has funded a series of shady boyfriends, food-loving Nikuko (Otake) settles in another new town with her boyish preteen daughter Kikurin (Cocomi). Rotund and cheerful, Nikuko works in Sassan's (Nakamura) restaurant, earning the nickname "the meaty lady". At school, Kikurin struggles to navigate groups of mean girls, falling out with her best friend Maria (Ishii) in the process. But she finally speaks to the intriguing shaggy-haired boy Ninomiya (Hanae), who has a facial tic. And Kikurin is only just beginning to understand who she is and how she fits in.
In addition to food, Nikuko adores wordplay involving Japanese kanji characters (her name is a meat pun). Meanwhile, Kikurin is happy to be thin and boney, a contrast to her messy mum, who gets fatter every day. She loves her mother, but is embarrassed by her raucous behaviour, often feeling like the mature one in the family. Intriguingly, Ninomiya helps Kikurin realise that her reactions may signify that she's a mean girl too. Or maybe she's anxious that, if her mother finds a boyfriend, they'll have to move again.

Gorgeously designed, the animation features a flurry of colours and textures, with hints that each character is somehow neurodivergent. The narrative is punctuated with Kikurin's imaginative perspective, in which she hears comments from animals and envisions lively title cards for events. Later, the story flickers into a flashback to Nikuko's past, a powerful sequence that's both darker and remarkably moving. What follows is a series of cathartic confrontations and revelations, accompanied by rather a lot of tears.

Kikurin sees how exhausted her mother is, but seems to miss the fact that she's also deliriously happy. This is because she sees how difficult it is for Nikuko to make friends, and how cruel people can be to her. This is a remarkable reminder of the value of every life, celebrating the discovery that the people we love are just as weird as we are. And it's fine to cause trouble; be yourself, and don't try to act like something you're not.

cert pg some themes 8.Aug.22

Laal Singh Chaddha  
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
Laal Singh Chaddha
dir Advait Chandan
scr Atul Kulkarni
prd Aamir Khan, Kiran Rao
with Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Mona Singh, Manav Vij, Chaitanya Akkineni, Rofique Khan, Karim Hajee, Azzy Bagria, Kamran Singariya, Sunil Beniwal, Shovon Jaman, Sharik Khan
release Ind/US/UK 11.Aug.22
22/India Paramount 2h39

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From India, this Forrest Gump remake credits Eric Roth's 1994 screenplay, but owes just as much to Robert Zemeckis for tone and visual touches. It's also a lovely retelling of a sweeping epic romance, this time taking in key moments in India's history over the past half-century. Director Advait Chandan and writer Atul Kulkarni cleverly keep events grounded, while actor-producer Aamir Khan is magnetic in the title role.
On a cross-country train, simple-minded Laal (Khan) recounts his momentous life story to strangers. Told he could never succeed as a student, his mother (Singh) fights to get him into school, where he's befriended by Rupa (Kapoor Khan). As they grow up, she leaves to pursue a wealthy life in Bombay. So Laal enters the army, where he meets undergarment expert Bala (Akkineni) and saves the life of enemy fighter Mohammad (Vij). Laal's compassion and loyalty lead inadvertently to financial reward, but he desperately misses Rupa, and starts running across India to clear his head.
Shot in more than 100 locations, the film offers a wonderful view of wide-ranging mountains, deserts, seas, cities and landmarks. Laal's odyssey cycles through extreme highs and lows over the decades, from success as a runner at university to his successful underwear business, complete with occasional moments in the national spotlight. Scenes are beautifully filmed on a grand scale, with lots of key side characters and several musical montage sequences. But it's the way the narrative continually gets to the heart of the people that makes it feel timeless.

As Laal, Khan adopts a wide-eyed flat facial expression that makes everyone underestimate his emotional intelligence, including the audience. So there are minor thrills each time he proves people wrong and triumphs yet again, all while maintaining a clear understanding of what's truly important in life. Khan's chemistry with Kapoor Khan is charming, feeding into a series of scenes that are sweetly emotive but underscored with the hard, real-life edge of violence, both at war and in Rupa's marriage.

Aside from its disarmingly positive message, this adaptation creates its own twists on the original's familiar aphorisms, such as Laal's mother's slogan: "Life is like a golgappa; your tummy might feel full, but your heart craves more". Without throwing out faith and hope, the story also makes very strong comments against brainwashing and violence that so often come along with religion. And the tenacity of Laal's love for the troubled Rupa emerges most strongly in the end, making the film remarkably moving and inspiring.

cert 12 themes, language 9.Aug.22

The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse   Vanamehe Film
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Old Man Movie
dir-scr Oskar Lehemaa, Mikk Magi
prd Erik Heinsalu, Mikk Magi, Veiko Esken, Tanel Tatter
voices Mikk Magi, Oskar Lehemaa, Jan Uuspold, Mart Avandi, Mart Kukk, Indrek Ojari, Jaagup Kreem, Kristjan Luus Johan Jarviste, Miina Jarviste, Reio Blond, Katre Pukk
release Est 27.Sep.19,
US 12.Aug.22, UK 2.Jun.23
19/Estonia 1h28

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The Old Man Movie
Using crudely offbeat puppetry and stop-motion animation, this relentlessly bonkers Estonian comedy is based on a series. Dubbed in English with a mischievous sensibility, the filmmakers mix comedy with horror-style elements to keep the audience on edge. Designed for adult viewers, the film is gleefully rude, with lots of cowpat humour. And the distinctive visual style has its own charms, as the bizarre events continually escalate in unexpected directions.
For the summer, three city children are visiting their grandpa, who confiscates their phones and teaches them about milking cows. And when Grandpa's cow runs away, there's a growing urgency to find her. But his neighbour, the Old Milker, has a cautionary tale to tell and becomes crazed about killing this rogue cow, roping in three local saw-wielding nutcases to help him. After an epic confrontation at a hippie music festival in the forest, Grandpa consults the randy Tree God for advice. They also meet rocker Jaagup Kreem in the belly of a bear.
Brightly colourful, the film features two black and white flashbacks, one styled as a newsreel about Old Milker's history, playing on the way people are obsessed with their daily supplies of milk, and that an unmilked cow is a potentially explosive disaster. Along the way, the narrative takes a series of wildly surreal twists and turns, most of which feature the kinds of smutty gags an audience of inebriated young men would love, right to the insane monster-movie finale.

The animation is distinctive, and packed with an unruly range of detail in the characters and settings. On faces, eyes move but not mouths. And most boys are bald. The dialog is flatly absurd, with all of the central characters voiced by filmmaker Magi with co-director Lehemaa and Uuspold. Personality traits emerge to add surprising textures that keep us engaged and entertained, such as how the children are delighted when Grandpa inflates the pig and plays it like farting bagpipes.

Witty references abound, including how the cow ignites the chaos by following a white rabbit into the woods. And back on the farm, the youngest grandchild invents alternative milk sources that are truly deranged. What emerges is a mix of riotously ridiculous and quirkily disturbing sequences, all underscored with a deep affection for the plight of farm animals who are treated as food supplies rather than sentient beings. While the bigger question is whether something is actually alright just because it's always been done this way.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 10.Aug.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall