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Staff & contributors

The tragic irony of war — that, if battling soldiers had been born in any other time or place, they may well have been friends with each other — takes center stage in this brilliant drama set in WWII-era Java. It's a theme best encapsulated by Captain Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto in his film debut), the bushido code-following commandant of a Japanese POW camp: “How wonderful it would have been if we could have invited all of you to a gathering under our cherry trees,” he muses to the titular British Lieutenant Lawrence (Tom Conti), one of his prisoners.

Lawrence is the camp’s mediator, and not just because he’s fluent in Japanese; in the culture clash microcosm that is the camp, he is uniquely understanding of his captors’ way of life. That earns him special privileges of sorts from the camp’s often brutal enforcer (Takeshi Kitano), but this pales in comparison to the instant partiality with which the charismatic Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) enjoys, courtesy of a smitten yet deeply repressed and tormented Yonoi. This psychosexual undercurrent bubbles furiously throughout Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, deepening its (already poignant) lamentations about war’s humanity-stripping effect and the self-imposed prisons that are honor and shame.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Alistair Browning, Arthur Ranford, Colin Francis, Daisuke Iijima, David Bowie, Grant Bridger, Hideo Murota, Hiroshi Mikami, Jack Thompson, Johnny Ohkura, Kan Mikami, Rokkō Toura, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryūnosuke Kaneda, Takashi Naito, Takeshi Kitano, Tamio Ishikura, Tom Conti, Yūji Honma, Yūya Uchida

Director: Nagisa Ōshima

Rating: R

In his debut feature, Jonathan Glazer masterfully subverts our expectations of heist movies to thrilling effect: what should be a perfunctory moment — the classic recruitment scene — is stretched out into nearly an entire film of its own here, and we’re not off the edge of our seat for even a second of it.

All retired Cockney gangster Gal (Ray Winstone) wants to do is lounge around the pool of his Spanish villa with beloved wife Deedee (Amanda Redman). But now there’s a spanner in the works: an unhinged old acquaintance, Don Logan (Ben Kingsley, never better), has unexpectedly rocked up at Gal's hacienda to enlist him for a big job on behalf of the London underworld’s top brass. Don is the type of man you just don’t say “no” to, but the pull of Gal’s idyllic retirement is so powerful that he does just that, a narrative swerve that spins this film off the well-worn (but still enjoyable) track we expected it to follow. Directed with cool assurance, full of unforgettable set-pieces, overflowing with style, and even further distinguished by some surreal touches that really get under the skin, this is one of the slickest, funniest, and most exhilarating crime movies ever.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Álvaro Monje, Amanda Redman, Andy Lucas, Ben Kingsley, Cavan Kendall, Chris Webb, Desirée Erasmus, Eddie O'Connell, Gérard Barray, Ian McShane, James Fox, Julianne White, Ray Winstone, Rocky Taylor, Terence Plummer

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Jim Jarmusch’s latest film is the story of a pair of vampires, Adam and Eve (Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton), married for thousand of years and living thousands of miles apart, subsequently reunited in modern-day Detroit to find Hiddleston in state of disrepair and depression. Their lives are shaken up by the sudden appearance of Swinton’s wayward young vampire sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) that sets their lives into tumult. It's the type of evenly-paced and wryly amusing dramedy that only Jarmusch could craft. I loved the atmosphere and sensibility of this film, not to mention the various literary allusions along with the dark, somber soundtrack. Less of a narrative and more of a modern-day-vampire-slice-of-life, this is one of those films that gets under skin and stays awhile (and not in a bad way).

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Ali Amine, Anton Yelchin, Aurélie Thépaut, Carter Logan, Ego Sensation, Jeffrey Wright, John Hurt, Marc Codsi, Mia Wasikowska, Slimane Dazi, Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Wayne Brinston, Yasmine Hamdan

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rating: R

, 2019

In a small Italian town, a dog cleaner’s wholesome days dealing with elderly owners and eager children are balanced with a series of messy nights. The small and frail man finds himself targetted by the town’s black-sheep, a strong and fearless ex-convict. Dogman is about the line between being bullied and wanting to be part of something, it’s a beautiful and often thrilling character study from Italian genius filmmaker Matte Garone. Won the Best Actor award at Cannes.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Adamo Dionisi, Alida Baldari Calabria, Aniello Arena, Edoardo Pesce, Francesco Acquaroli, Giancarlo Porcacchia, Gianluca Gobbi, Laura Pizzirani, Marcello Fonte, Mirko Frezza, Nunzia Schiano

Director: Matteo Garrone

Rating: Not Rated