J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

My Annoying Brother: Plan B for Judo Gold

South Korea offers its Olympic medalists a pretty significant fringe benefit: exemption from mandatory military service. That no longer matters to Ko Du-young. The former Olympic judo contender went blind after his optic nerve was damaged in a match. He would still be entitled to the same financial bonus as a Paralympic champion, but Ko has given up on himself. His estranged conman half-brother is the wrong person to motivate him, but slimy Ko Du-sik moves in anyway in Kwon Soo-kyung’s My Annoying Brother (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

The Ko brothers have not spoken since he ran away from home ten years ago. In the meantime, Ko Du-young handled their parents’ funerals on his own and found his place in the world through judo. Despite their lack of contact, Ko Du-sik uses his brother’s blindness to secure early parole. He intends to loot the supposedly helpless Du-young as best he can before absconding. However, a few awkwardly embarrassing incidents force Du-sik to keep up appearances for longer than he anticipated. Yet, just as the brothers start to come together as a family again, Du-sik gets some shocking news of his own.

Suddenly, that Olympic money could really help secure Du-young’s future. His bombshell coach Lee Soo-hyun is even willing to transfer to the Paralympic division with him. She also agrees to keep silent regarding Du-sik’s secret, to maintain Du-young’s focus on the competition.

Even though Kwon film shares many surface commonalities with My Blind Brother, the two films are very different animals. Du-young being the nice guy brother is really the least of it. Basically, Kwon takes the sort of tragedy Korean audiences enjoy so much in romantic melodrama and applies it to Bromance. There is some comedy too, particularly courtesy of Dae-Chang, a seminary drop out who keeps crossing paths with Du-sik in the neighborhood. Still, everyone can tell from the start it is all leading up to a big “I love you, man” moment.

Despite some transparent manipulation, Kwon and screenwriter Yu Young-ah deliver some surprising sweet and telling moments celebrating the importance of family bonds. Cho Jung-seok has a roguish charm as Du-sik and the bickering chemistry he develops with Kim Gang-hyun’s Dae-chang is somewhat amusing. Yet, believe it or not, the funniest line is delivered by K-drama-superstar-girl-next-door Park Shin-hye. She definitely brings her “it”-factor as Coach Lee. K-pop boy-band star Do Kyung-soo (a.k.a. D.O.) sulks and mopes as well as anyone, but he just never gets Du-young much further than that.

My Annoying Bro is a nice and sincere film that occasionally surprises just by so deftly turning some third act scenes. Although it is undeniably sentimental, somehow it takes the snark out of viewers. Recommended for fans of heartfelt k-drama and teen movies, My Annoying Brother opens this Thursday P.M. (12/8) in Los Angeles, at the CGV Cinemas.

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Beyond the Gates: 1980s VHS Horror Love

This retro 1980s horror film just might make you nostalgic for a short-lived category of games you probably never played. Remember VCR board games? Probably only vaguely from seeing them on the shelves. It turns out you were right not to play, but two bickering brothers will have to learn that the hard way in Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

It has been months since the disappearance of Gordon and John Hardesty’s binge-drinking father, so they are finally facing the inevitable and closing down his anachronistic video store. This is a bad time for Gordon to return to his home town, because he is still working out issues that very nearly severed his relationship with the slightly out-of-his-league Margot Jones. In contrast, the couch-surfing John never left—and he sure seems to have plenty of time. While cleaning out the office, they come across a strange looking VCR board game called Beyond the Gates. Naturally, they are going to try playing it. In retrospect, this looks like a bad idea—one their father made before them.

Evelyn, the bossy Elvira-like hostess seems to be talking directly to them, especially when she offers them an opportunity to save the old man’s soul. All they have to do is collect the game’s four keys, but to do so they will have to complete four comically gory tasks. Eventually, they will also to journey through the spooky graveyard-style gates that suddenly sprung up in the basement, because that is literally the name of the game.

Gates is just gleefully entertaining for genre fans, both for its VHS nostalgia and the casting of nearly a dozen contemporary horror movie regulars in featured and supporting roles. Chase Williamson (John Dies at the End, SiREN) does some of his most engaging work yet as the irresponsible Hardesty brother. Likewise, Graham Skipper (Mind’s Eye, Almost Human) finally gets to play it straight and normal (and rather engagingly so) as the Hardesty with a girlfriend. Brea Grant (Best Friends Forever) dos as well as could be expected as the understanding Jones. Justin Welborn (Southbound, V/H/S Viral) and Sara Malakul Lane (Sun Choke) add further color and energy as John Hardesty’s erratic drifter friend Hank and his put-upon girlfriend Dahlia.

However, it is Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator, From Beyond) who really makes the movie as the appropriately vampy Evelyn. She chews the scenery and looks the part—in spades. Even though she has been a genre cult favorite since the eighties, it isn’t so creepy when the younger Hardesty bro starts going on about her hotness. Seriously, its not, right?


Throughout Gates, the effects always look vintage eighties straight-to-video, but in the right way. Far from feeling cheap, the film is really a triumph of cleverly detailed production design. Stewart and co-screenwriter Stephen Scarlata infuse the proceedings with sly attitude, but they never let winks and hat-tips distract from the fundamental genre movie business. Jolly good fun, Beyond the Gates is enthusiastically recommended for horror movie lovers when it opens this Friday (12/9) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Derek Yee’s Sword Master

What happens when a supporting character hijacks a film away from the protagonist? It almost necessarily feels slightly unbalanced, but there is sure to be a lot of cool stuff going on. In this case, the director might have had a been-there-done-that attitude towards the central hero, because he has. In 1977 Derek Yee broke out to superstardom playing the so-called Third Master in the Shaw Brothers’ classic, Death Duel. Now he re-interprets Gu Long’s source novel as the director and co-screenwriter of Sword Master (trailer here), produced and co-written by Tsui Hark, which opens this Friday in New York.

Dreaded swordsman Yen Shih-san (you’ll notice we’re starting with him) has always wanted to claim the title from the Third Master, Xie Xiaofeng. To intimidate opponents, Yen had a skeletal tattoo inked on his face, but the macabre image soon altered his behavior. Having worked his way up the ladder to challenge the Third Master, Yen experiences an existential crisis when he learns his rival died shortly before his arrival. To make matter worse, Yen receives a fatal medical diagnosis soon thereafter.

Unbeknownst to Yen, Third Master faked his death and has been working as a lowly brothel cleaning boy under the assumed name of Ah Chi. Repenting all the death and suffering he caused, Xie/Ah Chi has sworn to never kill again. He would also just as soon avoid Murong Qiudi, the cruel leader of the Seven Stars Pond martial arts clan and the former fiancé he jilted at least twice. Yeah, awkward. Ironically, the mopey Ah Chi develops a friendship with Yen, who has become the town’s unlikely hero as part of his own campaign for redemption.

Of course, the truth will eventually come out, forcing former adversaries to choose up sides. Frankly, it takes some pretty horrible attacks on the innocent from the Seven Stars Pond clan to get Third Master back in the game, but when he gets with the program, the martial arts sequences are pretty spectacular.

Yet, Peter Ho steals every scene he saunters into. He has some terrific fight scenes of his own, but he is still an electric presence even when he just grouchily kvetches his way through the village. Kenny Lin is maybe too reserved as the brooding Ah Chi, but he still develops some rather sweet romantic chemistry with Jiang Mengjie’s Xiao Li, the junior most courtesan at the brothel. Her eyes just melt the camera, whereas Jiang Yiyan makes Murong a wickedly fierce ice queen.

One can definitely see various stylistic elements of Tsui’s productions in Sword Master. There is a good deal of whirling and swirling in the action scenes and some of the best duels are fought against appropriately mystical looking wuxia vistas. Real followers of the genre will also appreciate the themes Yee, Tsui, and their third co-screenwriter, HK veteran Chun Tin-nam. In the world of Yen and Third Master, rivalry means something more than the mere clash of swords. It is something deeper, more primal and indelible, which Ho perfectly conveys. Highly recommended for fans of grand wuxia, Sword Master opens this Friday (12/9) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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Call of Heroes: High Noon in Republican China

This time around, action film specialist Benny Chan wears his Spaghetti Western influences/homages on his sleeve, but Sheriff Yang Kenan is cut from cloth much closer to Gary Cooper in High Noon. Yang is given a grim ultimatum: release the murderous son of ruthless warlord Cao Ying or the town of Pucheng will face the consequences. Slowly his neighbors turn against their sheriff, but at least the high plains drifter will throw-in his lot in with Yang in Chan’s Call of Heroes (trailer here) releases today on DVD and BluRay, from Well Go USA.

Dedicated schoolteacher Bai Ling (that’s her character, not the actress) leads a small group of children to sanctuary after the sadistic and entitled Cao Shaolun attacked their school in an act of terror. Following her to Pucheng, Cao kills Bai and two others before Yang captures him. Of course, he is sentenced to death, because he is guilty as sin, but representatives of the Cao forces still demand his freedom. They promise to leave the town undisturbed if they comply, but Yang knows that is a lie. So does Ma Feng, a wandering warrior who has some complicated history with Cao’s Colonel Zhang Yi. He also had some chemistry with Bai, but he realized it too late.

It might be Republican era China, but the dramatic vocabulary of Call is pure spurs-and-saddles American western. It starts at the top with Sean Lau Ching-wan, who is all about a man having to do what a man has to do. He has grit and gravitas worthy of Cooper or Alan Ladd, but he is no superman. He is flesh-and-blood, maybe even distantly approaching middle age, which makes his character so heroic yet relatable.

Eddie Peng Yu-yen continues to mature into a legit action star, showing plenty of chops, but also mixing in a comparatively light sprinkling of physical humor. In all honesty, the growth he has shown since his early teen rom-coms has been impressive. Wu Jing and Xing Yu add plenty of real deal martial arts authenticity as Zhang Yi and hired muscle Wong Wai-fu, respectively. Returning to the sort of villainous roles that actually suit him so well, Louis Koo hams it upshamelessly and goes way-the-heck-and-gone over-the-top as Cao Shaolun—and it’s a blast to watch. Yuan Quan adds some glamour and shows some decent moves of her own as Yang’s wife Chow So-so. In fact, Master Sammo Hung keeps everyone on their toes as action director, choreographing some spectacularly cinematic yet still bone-crunchingly old school martial arts sequences.


Just about every element in Call is borrowed from another film, but it is all executed at a very high level by a superstar ensemble, seen at the peak of their powers and playing to their strengths. For martial arts connoisseurs, it might not be the greatest film they have ever seen, but it is a guaranteed sure thing. Easily recommended for fans of Lau, Peng, Koo, and Hung, Call of Heroes releases today (12/6) on DVD and BluRay, from Well Go USA.

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Phantasm: Remastered—The Cult Classic Rises Again

It inspired the Slender Man internet meme-hoax-phenomenon and the name of Captain Phasma in The Force Awakens. J.J. Abrams is indeed a fan, which is why he offered his Bad Robot production company’s facilities for the 4K restoration. The original that spawned four sequels (as of now) has been spruced up, yet it still looks appropriately of its era. The creepiness and raw potency remain as strong as ever when Don Coscarelli’s Phantasm: Remastered (trailer here) releases today on DVD and BluRay, from Well Go USA.

Thirteen-year-old Mike Pearson has had a hard time dealing with his parents’ death. He idolizes his shaggy-haired grown musician brother Jody, to a degree that may not be healthy. Understanding his brother’s issues with death and separation issues, Jody instructs Mike to avoid the funeral of his recently deceased bandmate, but he watches anyway—through binoculars, while hidden in the woods bordering Morningside cemetery and mausoleum. That is how he happens to see the sinister funeral director (a.k.a. The Tall Man) pick up the casket and carry it back to the mortuary, rather than burying it after the service.

At first, Jody dismisses his younger brother’s weird claims as the product of his troubled psyche, but Mike soon retrieves some pretty compelling evidence to change his mind. Unfortunately, the Tall Man is onto Mike’s snooping by this point.

One of the knocks on Phantasm I is that the narrative does not make much sense, but frankly, it seems reasonably coherent compared to some of the postmodern pretensions and micro-budget schlock hailed and forgotten in the thirty-seven years since its initial release. Granted, the ending is a bit of a head-scratcher. Yet, it still kind of works in the context of the film’s themes.

Most horror fans will agree Coscarelli hit the trifecta in three key aspects. One is the casting of tall, menacing Angus Scrimm as the iconic Tall Man. He just radiates malevolent power. Secondly, late metal-crafter Will Greene’s designs for the flying, brain-drilling Sentinel Spheres have truly become the stuff of nightmares. Finally, the locations, including the exteriors shot at Dunsmuir Mansion outside Oakland, really evoke foreboding and dread.

Arguably, A. Michael Baldwin and Bill Thornbury do not get the credit they deserve for their work as Mike and Jody Pearson. Their brotherly relationship really is at the heart of the film. Little things also jump out at viewers when they revisit Phantasm with fresh eyes, like Mike’s wall-sized NASA moon poster, reminding us of the idealism so many had for the space program in the 1970s, which suits the character so well.


As a 1979 release, Phantasm was part of a banner year for film, sharing company with Alien, Rocky II, Life of Brian, Mad Max, Apocalypse Now, Love at First Bite, and Tarkovsky’s Stalker. This is an under-recognized golden year—and Phantasm, the scruffy indie that could, becomes its genre capstone, in retrospect. It still holds up, feeling eerily familiar, like a suspicious face we recognize but cannot identify. Very highly recommended for all horror fans, Phantasm: Remastered releases today (12/6) on DVD and BluRay, from Well Go USA.

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Monday, December 05, 2016

Kill Ratio: Coup-Foiling in Eastern Europe

The Dnestrian Autonomous Republic is fictional, but it certainly sounds related to the Dniester, in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the good Dnestrians are in for a similar experience when the old regime launches a brutal Russia-backed coup. However, they did not plan for the presence of a former CIA agent, who gets to show off all his Die Hard skills in Paul Tanter’s Kill Ratio (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

In the case of James Henderson, the “former” is somewhat uncertain, but not the CIA part. Whichever the case might be, he is currently working in the Dnestrian Republic as a fixer for Gabrielle Martin, an American telecom exec hoping to broker a major deal. Unfortunately, the negotiations will be interrupted by a sudden barrage of shelling. With the announcement of the death beloved, democratically elected Pres. Tania Petrenko, the evil Gen. Lazar would seem to have the whip hand. However, reports of Petrenko’s demise have been exaggerated. Somehow, Martin manages to blunder across her during her unsuccessful attempt to reach the airport.

As fate would have it, Henderson and Martin will try to shelter Petrenko in the very same western hotel where Lazar has set up his command center. Fortunately, Henderson can field dress a shrapnel wound nearly as well as he kills people. He will need both talents to keep alive the deposed president and the U.S. national, who is supposedly his boss.

Apparently, when Henderson was at the CIA, he had an unlimited license to kill, or so-called kill ratio, thereby establishing the rather drab title. Regardless, Ratio is a refreshing blast of pro-freedom, super-hawkish 1980s-style action movie goodness. The coup-plotters are not merely evil—they also have Russia’s backing. Why aren’t there more action movies informed by the dangers of the Putin era getting released and why did we have to wait for Ireland to produce this one? Frankly, there is an audience thirsting for this kind of film, but if it isn’t marketed to them, they will easily overlook it.

Ratio mostly features UK television actors, but they get the job done. Tom (Black Sails) Hopper’s Henderson is undeniably tall, square-jawed, and broad shouldered. As a bonus, he also has a fairly intense screen presence and clear diction. He sure looks a lot like the Jack Reacher of Lee Child’s books, which should be due for a film reboot sometime around now. Lacy (Game of Thrones) Moore is terrific as Petrenko, making courage and integrity look pretty hot for the meathead audience. Nick (The Tudors) Dunning and Brian McGuinness mangle Eastern European accents and shamelessly chew the scenery as Lazar and his right-hand man Vorza—and its all good. Amy Huberman is a bit vanilla as Martin, but at least she does not play her as a completely passive victim.

Arguably, Kill Ratio should find an appreciative audience on the right, where dictators being toppled by proactive Yanks have always been popular subjects (except maybe not with our incoming president) and on the left, which just discovered how dangerous Putin is, three years after Hillary Clinton approved the Uranium giveaway deal. It is certainly topical in light of recent developments in Ukraine and the justifiably increased vigilance in the Baltics. Just as importantly, it delivers the action and a cathartic pay-off. Highly recommended for action fans, Kill Ratio opens this Friday (12/9) in LA, at the Arena Cinelounge.

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Be My Cat: A Film for Anne—Romanian Found Footage

It is nice to see press photos of this particular cast at their film’s premiere, because this is one exercise in found footage that could easily spawn it-was-real urban legends. Partly it is the film’s Romanian origins, but the way its creepy protagonist uses the horror-movie-in-production excuse to get away with murder most deviant is just unsettlingly believable. Plus, there are pronounced echoes of John Hinckley reborn in the unhinged filmmaker desperately trying to impress Hollywood movie-star Anne Hathaway with the proof-of-concept footage that makes up Adrian Ţofei’s Be My Cat: A Film for Anne (trailer here), releasing tonight on Vimeo VOD, from Artsploitation.

It is hard to imagine anyone getting obsessed with Hathaway based on her most recent releases (seriously, any partisans for The Intern, Alice through the Looking Glass, or Don Peyote?), but Adrian the filmmaker has a thing about cats—and she played Cat Woman in The Dark Knight Rises. His script seems to be about a psycho who abducts a woman for the sake of making her his cat-suited sex slave—exactly the sort of role Anne Hathaway is surely eager to play.

Needless to say, Adrian will need one or two replacement actresses as his grubby shoot continues, but frankly the mental games he plays with the unwitting women are arguably more disturbing than the inevitable bloodshed. Frankly, most of the first two acts we have seen before, except Ţofei’s scenes are maybe even crueler. However, the cat-and-mouse give-and-take of the third act is an electric sequence that pretty much redeems the entire film.

Alexandra Stroe is terrific as her namesake actress, who is utterly believable and compelling stalling for time and winning Adrian’s trust. Ţofei too is eerily credible playing a psychotic version of himself, who loses sight of the boundaries between his own persona and his on-camera character. We slowly discover just how he became so damaged, but we never really empathize with him.

So, the obvious question is just what does Anne Hathaway have to say for herself after inspiring all this mayhem? Ţofei would also like to know, so he’s started this online petition to have Be My Cat delivered to her manager. Good luck with that. If she does start watching it, Hathaway (or anyone else for that matter), should keep in mind there is a lot of rough stuff to plow through, but it pays off at the end. Recommended for hardcore found footage horror fans only, Be My Cat: A Film for Anne launches tonight (12/5) on Vimeo with a DVD and wider VOD release to follow in January, from Artsploitation.

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The Brand New Testament: God and Man in Brussels

Surveys suggest Americans are more religious than Europeans, but you can find conclusive proof in the movies. When God appears in American films, we cast the likes of George Burns and Morgan Freeman, but the Belgians opt for Benoît Poelvoorde. We’re not being snarky here. Viewers are meant to be under-awed and even contemptuous of him in Jaco Van Dormael’s The Brand New Testament (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

God according to Van Dormael and Poelvoorde is neither infinite in his mercy or a benignly disinterested watchmaker. He is a Belgian grump, who regularly devises new laws to make mankind miserable, like dropped toast always lands with the buttered-side down. He is a domineering sod with his wife and daughter Ea, frequently becoming borderline abusive. Yes, there was once a prodigal son, but nobody talks about JC anymore.

After one particularly dramatic flare up, Ea strikes back at her father, texting everyone on Earth the date of their death and then locking the mid-1990s vintage PC on which her father does all his deity business, before running off the earth in search of six apostles of her own. It turns out, this leaves her father at a distinct disadvantage. While Ea and JC could perform light miracles, their father was completely dependent on his computer. When he follows Ea into terrestrial Brussels, he is just crank with a bad temper claiming to be God.

There is a reason for those six additional apostles, beyond the fact it allows Ea to recruit six colorful characters, several of whom are played by some of Francophone cinema’s top stars. That is indeed Catherine Deneuve, as the recently spurned Martine, who finds the romance of her life with a gorilla. Frankly, it is really no big deal, considering how often she played opposite Gérard Depardieu.

For further French star power, there is also François Damiens (Delicacy, Les Cowboys) as his namesake assassin, whose line of work becomes almost absurdly irrelevant when everyone knows their expiration date. Of course, Poelvoorde hams it up shamelessly as the prickly creator, while Yolande Moreau is painfully mousy as “the Goddess,” even when it is her time to shine.

The broad strokes of BNT might sound like cloyingly cutesy blasphemy, but it has a darkly cynical attitude nobody will confuse with the Oh, God movies. Yet, somehow it mostly manages to avoid direct critiques of any particular religion or denomination. Basically, Van Dormael and co-screenwriter Thomaas Gunzig offer up some warmed-over Gaia-friendly feminism, in between the gallows humor, porn-related subplots, and sex with primates.

In fact, all the edgy, risqué, and potentially offensive material is pretty funny. The film only really gets tiresome when it wimps out and gets politically correct and sentimental. Highly episodic in its structure, the film largely plays like a series of sequential comedy sketches rather than a narrative to emotionally invest in, but at least it delivers the laughs. Recommended for those not put off by the premise, The Brand New Testament opens this Friday (12/9) in New York, at the IFC Center, just in time for the Christmas season.

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Sunday, December 04, 2016

Anchorage ’16: Murderous Tales

There are two extremes when it comes to violence and death in animation: the if-this-doesn’t-kill-you-nothing-will slapstick mayhem of Tom & Jerry and the serious make-you-lose-your-faith-in-humanity cruelty in the films of Yeon Sang-ho (Seoul Station, The King of Pigs). You can find pretty much everything in between in a new Czech animated anthology. Death is bittersweet, otherworldly, and ironic, but it is never dull in Jan Bubeníček’s Murderous Tales (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2016 Anchorage International Film Festival.

For these three short films and the interstitial sketches, Bubeníček pretty much does it all: 2D, 3D, stop motion, mo-cap, back projection, and live action hybrids. Yet, he seems have a consistent, somewhat noir-ish style, except perhaps for the Groo the Wanderer-esque Charge the Dragon interludes. They are amusing, but they seem like inconsequential tidbits compared the three full-course-meal tales.

In look and tone, Antonio Cacto is somewhat similar to Adam (Mary and Max) Elliot, but less sentimental and more fantastical. Upon inheriting his grandfather’s flat a (live action) man discovers a mischievous Mexican hobgoblin (3D animated) living in the cactus. Chaos ensues, but there is massive payoff at the end.

The shapes and mannerisms of the characters of the essentially wordless Lighthouse might evoke memories of Shane Acker’s 9 for some viewers, but this black-and-white world is more mysterious, yet also more richly realized. The professor is a field researcher from another world, sent to an outpost on the edge of a swamp on our planet, or one very much like it. He tries to live in harmony with the alien environment around him, so he is appalled to learn his “Superior” has very different intentions. He will go rogue to protect the creatures that most intrigue him: cows.

The Big Man is sort of the Czech Tarantino film with hitmen puppets we have waited so long for. A veteran mob killer and his socially unskilled new partner are supposed to whack the titular rival gang-leader, but when they lose their directions all kinds of complications set in. It is a solid piece that would ordinarily serve as a dynamite calling card, but it is almost anti-climactic following the arresting visuals of Lighthouse and the wonderfully humanistic sensibility of Antonio Cacto. It is “just” very good, whereas the previous two constituent short films are simply terrific.

Regardless of the installments’ respective superiority, there is more than enough animated goodness in Bubeníček’s Tales to delight any animation connoisseur. He calls them “murderous,” because they will slay you, don’t you see? It is hard to say what age group Bubeníček thought he was targeting, but Cacto should be safe for most ages—whereas parental discretion should probably be advised for the rest of the charmingly sinister tales. Regardless, teens and adults who take animation seriously will definitely get it. Very highly recommended, Murderous Tales screens this Thursday (12/8), during the Anchorage International Film Festival.

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Saturday, December 03, 2016

Submitted by Ukraine: Ukrainian Sheriffs

They are Ukrainian border town sheriffs, sort of. Russia’s neo-Soviet annexation of the Crimea temporarily put Stara Zburjivka on the Ukrainian border. Suddenly, keeping the peace takes on vastly different meanings for the town’s two appointed lawmen. They keep plugging away as they can, while the town wrestles with the implications of grand geopolitical events beyond their control in Roman Bondarchuk’s Ukrainian Sheriffs (trailer here), Ukraine’s official foreign language Oscar submission, which screens next week at the Ukrainian Institute of America.

Technically, they are not formal police officers, but the nearest sub-station is so prohibitively far from Stara Zburjivka, the progressive town council chairman (mayor equivalent), Orange Revolution veteran Viktor Marunyak recruited Victor Grygorovych and his partner Volodya to act as referees. Generally speaking, the townfolk usually make nice when they intercede. Grygorovych is the small wiry one, but he is the one you really want to avoid antagonizing, rather than the big but genial Volodya.

Ever since Marunyak cut some featherbedding out of the town budget to pay their salaries, they have maintained civic order with relatively little trouble or ill feelings. However, a small but vocal faction is rising up to challenge Marunyak, not so coincidentally timed around the same time as the Russian annexation and subsequent invasion. Suddenly, the Sheriffs are serving not so far from a war zone.

Stara Zburjivka offers a fascinating vantage point for viewing recent events in Ukrainian history. However, viewers would get a fuller picture if Sheriffs were screened with the short doc Bondarchuk and producer Dar’ya Averchenko previously made on Marunyak, who was imprisoned on trumped up charges when he defied the attempted land grabs of the Yanukovich kleptocracy. There is maybe a little too much quiet observation in the feature follow-up, when they are so many true stories like Marunyak’s that need to be told.

Regardless, the Sheriffs are indeed worthy screen subjects, especially the flinty Grygorovych. During the third act, Bondarchuk duly captures a whole lot of unfolding irony from their point-of-view. We also get a vivid sense of how spirited (and in some cases, downright prickly) the Stara Zburjivka townspeople truly are. Frankly, Putin should think twice before trying to occupy the Sheriffs’ turf. Recommended as boots-on-the-ground, up-close-and-personal report from Ukraine (a friendly democracy experiencing predatory external pressure), Ukrainian Sheriffs screens this Wednesday (12/7) in New York at the Ukrainian Institute’s historic landmark building.

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Friday, December 02, 2016

ADIFF ’16: 93 Days

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nigeria is now Ebola-free, but don’t take their word for it. A Nollywood crew filmed the story of the 2014 outbreak on location in the very same hospital and isolation wards involved—and lived to tell the tale on the festival circuit. The ripped-from-the-headlines story of the dedicated medical team that contained the Ebola threat is dramatized in Steve Gukas’s English language 93 Days (trailer here), which screens as part of the Spotlight on Nigeria at the 2016 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

In August of 2014, Nigeria was still untouched by Ebola, but the virus was very definitely present in West Africa—particularly Liberia, where an estimated fifty (five-zero) doctors cared for a population of over four million. That is where grumpy business traveler Patrick Sawyer flew in from. He looked a bit peaked on the flight and practically imploded once he reached the hospital, but he refused to cooperate with efforts to diagnose his malady. Recognizing the tell-tale signs, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh imposes quarantine protocols, at least as best she can in the woefully under-prepared First Consultants. Honestly, the up-scale hospital would be a perfectly fine place to get treatment for a broken leg, but they just didn’t have the infectious disease facilities.

Of course, the tests eventually confirm the Ebola diagnosis, but by that time, several doctors and RNs are already symptomatic. They will be whisked away to a makeshift isolation ward in Yaba, where they will be treated by Dr. David Brett-Major, an American WHO specialist. Eventually, Dr. Adadevoh will also check herself into Yaba, after a short period of denial.

Unlike most outbreak thrillers, 93 Days is more about responsibility than panic and terror. Essentially, it portrays a group of doctors who get a dose of their own medicine and in some cases, heal themselves. However, it is a bit controversial in Liberia, with most of the criticism focused on the casting of a Nigerian actor as the Liberian Sawyer, but one cannot help suspecting the film stirs deeper national resentments.

The portrayal of the doctors’ professionalism and heroism is refreshing, but Gukas and editor Antonio Rui Ribeiro could have easily pruned some of the talky slack. Still, the polish of Gukas’s production stands head-and-shoulders above what many viewers might expect from Nollywood. This looks like a real movie with a respectable budget. It even features two legit Hollywood actors.

Tim Reid essentially phones in his brief appearance as a DC health official, who duly explains why a raging outbreak in Lagos would be less than optimal. On the other hand, Danny Glover is in it for the long haul as the sage-like hospital director, Dr. Benjamin Ohiaeri. There are probably more Evangelical Christian prayers in 93 Days than all of Glover’s previous films combined, but he still does his thing, radiating grizzled greybeard dignity.

Somkele Idhalama is also quite forceful as Dr. Ada Igonoh, the sequestered infected staffer who would probably be voted most likely to survive. Yet, probably the biggest surprise is the charismatic and humane performance of British Alastair Mackenzie as the American Dr. Brett-Major.

In a way, 93 Days represents the sort of earnest but unsensationalized medical drama we could have seen back in the days of Playhouse 90. It is the sort of film that honors sacrifice and suggests prayer has value during a time of crisis, even if it never directly changes anything. It really could find an audience in Red State markets if marketed correctly. Recommended for fans of Nollywood and fact-based docu-dramas, 93 Days screens tomorrow (12/3), Sunday (12/4), and Wednesday (12/7), during this year’s ADIFF.

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Other Worlds Austin ’16: Hidden Reserves

Good news, death panels will be safely abolished in the future. Instead, heroic efforts will be taken to prolong the lives of the poor and the powerless. That’s the whole problem. Those in debt, who might otherwise die in peace, will be kept alive in vegetative states, so their bodies can be used as energy sources and their unused brain capacity can be utilized for networked computing. Basically, you need yourself some death insurance. That’s what Vincent Baumann used to sell until he was demoted to an undercover operative. Baumann might just uncover more than his insurance company bargained for in Valentin Hitz’s Hidden Reserves (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Other Worlds Austin Science Fiction Film Festival.

Baumann’s meticulous preparation and keen understanding of human psychology made him a good sales agent. It also makes him a perfect narc. Baumann was on the fast track to promotion until he failed to close a sale with the reclusive industrialist Wladimir Sokulov, who might harbor mixed feelings regarding his role in realizing this brave new world. His activist daughter Lisa’s misgivings are even more pronounced. Her resistance cell was planning a major operation until her inside source was suddenly promoted.

Bringing her down will be Baumann’s first assignment. However, Sokulov is clearly onto Baumann’s true identity, while he is most likely falling for her. The stakes really start to rise when her father doesn’t quite die without death insurance.

Clearly, within the context of the film, so-called death insurance is just a fancier and more morbid manifestation of protection money. If a cat like Wladimir Sokulov can get hooked up to the ventilators for ostensive debts, anyone can. So why is it so hard to sell policies? As a concept, it pushes a lot of class warfare/right-to-die hot buttons, but it doesn’t really make sense.

On the other hand, the style of Reserve is to die for. Frankly, it evokes a Fassbinder vibe with its near future Vienna setting, resembling the divided post-war city and the Berlin of the early 1980s. There is also the seductive but androgynous femme fatale and even a breathy Ingrid Caven-esque soundtrack. Martin Gschlacht’s (mostly) black-and-white cinematography is absolutely striking, in a suitably austere, dystopian sort of way.

Indeed, Hitz has an eye for composition, but his dramatic sense is not as keen. Of course, he deliberately cast two of the iciest, most rigidly severe co-leads you will ever hope to see. Yet, there is something weirdly compelling about them, especially when they are struggling to act semi-human.

The lack of a consistent internal logic system is a big drawback for Reserve, but it definitely looks cool. If you plan on seeing several films at a genre festival where it is playing, its distinctive visuals might be enough to recommend it, but it is probably not worth a special trip on its own. For fans of Teutonic dystopian science fiction, Hidden Reserves screens this Sunday (12/4) as part of Other Worlds Austin.

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Thursday, December 01, 2016

Blood Brothers: Technically Half-Brothers, but They’re Just as Deadly

They want to be the next Leopold and Loeb, but they are more like Frasier and Niles Crane. Unfortunately, at least one of them will really take to killing. Their superior intellect is debatable, but the mounting body count is undeniable in Jose Prendes’ Blood Brothers (trailer here), which releases tomorrow in select theaters and on VOD.

It was definitely their evil, boozy, bedridden mother, who so profoundly screwed-up half-brothers Charles Brubaker and Thomas Lo Bianco, but she will have to wait until the third act. For now, they will have to start with their first victim, who must perfectly suit the occasion—as Lo Bianco insists. After an awkward misadventure with a prostitute, they settle on Genevieve, a waitress at their favorite diner.

Ironically, once they commence the crime, the siblings’ roles reverse. The formerly reluctant Brubaker develops a sadistic taste for killing, while the elitist Lo Bianco is horrified by the reality of what they have done. Suddenly, Brubaker becomes the dominant one, which rather suits Mother Dearest, because he was always her favorite. He will also try to keep Detective Homer Caul at bay, but dealing with the cop will be tricky because he has what they used to call “the Shine.”

Blood Brothers is a tonal mish-mash that is always too over-stylized to generate any real scares. However, it will still be required viewing for diehard 1980s horror fans, because of the significant supporting turns from Barbara Crampton (as the mother from Hell) and Ken Foree (as Det. Caul). Sadly, they have very little screen-time together, so it is not a proper From Beyond reunion, but they both still bring a lot of invigorating energy and attitude.

Graham Denman and Jon Kondelik are also pretty impressive as the half-brother, convincingly portraying the drastic change in their fraternal relationship dynamics. To her credit, Hannah Levien seems like two entirely different people in the dual role of Genevieve and Vanity the hooker. Yet, something about the film’s look and atmosphere constantly works against them.


There are flashes of inspiration throughout Blood Brothers, but there are just as many sequences that face-plant. Prendes fearlessly goes for broke, but sometimes he would be far better served by showing greater restraint. The result is an interesting mess that will reward some horror fans much more than others. Mainly recommended for Crampton and Foree fans eager for any potentially nostalgic vehicle, Blood Brothers releases tomorrow (12/2) on VOD and in limited theaters—it also opens next Friday (12/9) in LA, at the Laemmle Royal.

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Alleycats: Blackmailing British Bag-Messengers on Bikes

Dominick Dunne might have compared this dodgy British PM to Gary Condit, but we never would, because such talk would be reckless and potentially libelous. Sadly, the Chandra Levy murder remains unsolved, despite reports to the contrary, whereas the sleazy Yates really did kill the intern he was having an affair with. Rather inconveniently, Danni’s bag-messenger brother filmed it all on his bike helmet cam. Make that her late brother. She will pedal for all she’s worth to bring his killers to justice in Ian Bonhôte’s Alleycats (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

Naturally, when the dumber-than-a-bag-full-of-hammers Chris realizes he has footage of a prominent MP committing murder, he quickly starts blackmailing the evil sod. Actually, someone else put him up to it—and they still aim to extort their hush money, even when Yates’ French go-to-guy Rives kills Chris in an apparent hit-and-run during one of his illegal Alleycat bike races.

Poor Danni had only been back in the Alleycat racers’ squat for a day before Chris’s death. Realizing one of his squat-mates must be the blackmailer, Danni starts running her own investigation. Soon she teams up with Redman, the distraught father of the missing-presumed dead intern. Soon they are shadowing Yates around London on their bikes, with the reluctant assistance of her ex, Jake.

Alleycats is the sort of film you keep watching and even care about on some minimal level for absolutely no discernable reason. It has utterly no claims to originality and it can only be described as competent in the most basic, rudimentary sense. Yet somehow Bonhôte forces viewers to stick it out. Presumably, this is some sort of witchcraft at work.

Admittedly, Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson has real screen presence—grungy yet regal, in this case. John Lynch also adds some dignified angst as the despairing Redman. However, Sam Keeley and Josh Whitehouse are each so colorless as Jake and Chris, respectively, it is hard to tell them apart. Virgile Bramley sneers with admirable conviction as Rives, but he looks and sounds way too conspicuous to be effective as a crooked pol’s fixer. Even more problematically, notwithstanding all his scenery chewing on Spartacus, John Hannah (Four Weddings and a Funeral) just does not look comfortable wallowing in Yates’ villainy.

Alleycat evokes memories of the Condit media firestorm and the Kevin Bacon bike messenger melodrama Quicksilver, both of which are dangerous strategies. If you are looking for some extreme sports-style biking sequences, Alleycats probably under-delivers, but if you want to see Tomlinson with dramatically more tattoo art than her typical Poldark look, this is your best bet. Middling in nearly every way, Alleycats is now available on VOD.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Whistler ’16: Le Cyclotron

It is like Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, but with more National Socialists. Life had never been as uncertain as it was at the climax of WWII, during the post-Heisenberg Principle, post-Schrödinger’s Cat era. For theoretical physicists engaged in espionage, the more they know, the scarier and less predictable the world looks. Quantum mechanics becomes a deadly game in Quebecois filmmaker Olivier Asselin’s The Cyclotron (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Whistler Film Festival.

The Franco-German Simone Ziegler was once a colleague of Emil Scherrer and very nearly his lover, but now she works for the resistance. She is to make contact with the physicist on a train bound for Paris to assess how close he is to realizing an atomic weapon—and most likely liquidate him based on his response. However, she unilaterally changes her mission parameters when she learns the rogue Scherrer wants to defect. He has indeed completed an atomic weapon—a cyclotron—but on a much smaller scale than the Manhattan Project’s A-bomb.

Unfortunately, the Gestapo has the drop on Scherrer and they are also pretty sure Ziegler’s cover story is bogus. The Germans will interrogate them both with the help of collaborating scientist Helmut König, but Scherrer is not talking and Ziegler says just enough to create a sense of uncertainty, so to speak.

Le Cyclotron easily represents the cleverest cinematic use of Schrödinger’s Cat since Ward Byrkit’s Coherence. It is hard to explain outside of the film, but it is completely convincing in the cinematic moment, which sounds aptly Heisenbergian. There are also wickedly smart nods towards relativity and time travel, yet it still functions as an effective espionage thriller, which happens to be primarily set on a train, for extra genre bonus points.

Mathieu Laverdière’s mostly black-and-white cinematography (with select passages rendered in color for effect) is strikingly stylish, in an appropriately noir kind of way. As a result, in terms of its tone and visual vocabulary, Cyclotron is more closely akin to films like Kawalerowicz’s Night Train and the rotoscoped Alois Nebel.

As Scherrer and Ziegler, Mark Antony Krupa and co-screenwriter Lucille Fluet do not look like typical blow-dried romantic co-leads, but that is rather refreshing. It also means they more convincingly pass for nuclear physicists. Most importantly, they forge some compellingly tragic, ambiguously romantic chemistry together.

Admittedly, Asselin has trouble with the ending, but it is always tricky to stick the dismount when a film has this degree of difficulty. Regardless, he earns enough credit for his ambition and inventiveness to compensate. Highly recommended for fans of film noir, science fiction, and post-modern cinema, Le Cyclotron screens this Saturday (12/3) and Sunday (12/4) as part of the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia.

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Culver City ’16: Women of Maidan

Their ranks included Ruslana Lyzhychko, the first Ukrainian Eurovision song contest winner, and babushkas from the provinces. Women disproportionately answered the call during Ukraine’s Maidan Square protests, because they found the Russian-backed regime’s use of force against peacefully demonstrating students simply unacceptable. According to Putin and the gullible media, they were also largely neo-Nazi nationalists. Of course, that was a libelous lie, as viewers can easily discern when watching Olha Onyshko’s Women of Maidan (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Culver City Film Festival.

In retrospect, unleashing the paramilitary Berkut forces on orderly protesting students in November of 2013 was the Yanukovych Gang’s biggest mistake. It unleashed a sleeping giant: Ukraine’s mothers and grandmothers, who quickly filled the square to protect the nation’s “children.” Like many of the demonstrators, Onyshko arrived soon after the first brutal attack and quickly settled in for a long siege.

It is amazing how thoroughly the Euromaidan protests have been covered by documentarians, yet Putin’s disinformation campaign has still been so insidiously successful. If it were really an expression of anti-Semitic nationalism, one would think there would be signs peeking through Onyshko’s footage or that of Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire, or Andrew Tkach’s Generation Maidan, or Sergei Loznitsa’s observationally immersive Maidan, but that just was not the case. However, probably no previous doc (except perhaps Dmitriy Khavin’s post-Maidan Quiet in Odessa) so thoroughly discredits such slander as Women of Maidan.

Onyshko talks to a wide cross-section of the women at the Square, none of whom come across as ideologues of any stripe. In case after case, they are simply moved by a desire to see a better future for younger generations. They are fed up with Yanukovych’s corruption and deeply skeptical of his chumminess with Putin—especially those who lost family members during the Holomodor, Stalin’s deliberate terror famine.

Women of Maidan is a necessary corrective to lingering Russian propaganda and an inspiring chronicle of a concerted grassroots campaign to protect Ukrainians’ constitutional rights. Unfortunately, Onyshko probably overstates her case when she heralds the Revolution of Dignity as a victory for humanistic matriarchal values over patriarchal oppression. Alas, Putin remains firmly committed to patriarchy and nobody seems to have a plan to deal with him. Regardless, it remains a film of great merit and journalistic integrity. Running an easily manageable sixty-six-minutes, Women of Maidan is very highly recommended for general viewers as well as feminists and foreign policy hawks alike, when it screens this Saturday (12/3), at the Culver City Film Festival.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

ADIFF ’16: Gang of the French Caribbean

In the 1970s, there was a demand for postal money orders. That meant post offices often carried considerable sums of cash on-hand, yet they did not have the same level of armed protection common to banks. Being a symbol of the French government made them even more desirable targets for the disillusioned Jimmy Larivière and his gang. For a while they live high and feel empowered, but internal divisions and external pressures will inevitably lead to bloodshed in Jean-Claude Flamand-Barny’s Gang of the French Caribbean (trailer here), which screens as the centerpiece of the 2016 African Diaspora International Film Festival in New York.

Like many colonial immigrants from the French Antilles, Larivière feels like the victim of a bait-and-switch, falsely promised serious job-training by the Bureau for the Development of Migration in the Overseas Departments, but only offered menial employment on arrival. Unlike many disillusioned French Caribbean migrants, Larivière channels his frustration, falling in with a team of armed robbers led by the aptly named Politik.

Politik talks a good radical game and he has connections to radical separatist organizations back in the French Antilles. Unfortunately, he is also loyal to a fault with respects to the gang’s weakest link: Molokoy, a heroin addict would-be pimp deeply in debt to Algerian white slavers. Molokoy’s erratic behavior, simmering resentment, and cowardly violence make him a ticking time-bomb. Larivière also has his own long-term problems, including Nicole, a progressive former resident of Martinique, who recognized him during his first hold-up.

Gang follows a familiar gangster rise-and-fall trajectory, but the 1970s period details are spot-on. Indeed, it captures all the chaos and confusion of the era with a good deal of subtlety. Larivière’s semi-protective relationship with Molokoy’s Algerian prostitute and the French Algerian military veteran (played by Mathieu Kassovitz), who in turn protects him from the Algerian gangsters seeking to reclaim her are particularly intriguing. Of course, there is plenty of anti-colonial messaging, but Flamand-Barny wraps those bitter pills in easy to digest action.

As Larivière, Djedje Apali broods like nobody’s business, while Adama Niane just radiates bad vibes as Molokoy. Eriq Ebouaney also sets off plenty of alarm bells as the slick and vaguely sinister Politik. Whenever those three circle each other, we expect fireworks to follow shortly. Kassovitz makes the most of his all too brief experience as the shotgun-wielding café proprietor Romane Bohringer brings dignity and dimension to Nicole, one of the few female characters who is not largely stereotyped.

Although Gang is just ninety easily-manageable minutes, it feels pretty epic. Fittingly, Larivière and company namecheck the self-styled revolutionary gangster Jacques Mesrine, because the film would make an apt triple-feature with the Vincent Cassel Mesrine duology. Recommended for fans of historical gangster films, Gang of the French Caribbean has its red carpet gala screening this Saturday (12/3) during the 2016 ADIFF.

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SiREN: Lily the Demon Returns

Seriously, the last time a movie bachelor party ended with everyone happy, it probably starred Tom Hanks and Tawny Kitaen. This will be no exception. A demon like Lily (a.k.a. Lilith) is uniquely suited to punish the kind of boorish horndog behavior often witnessed during stag nights. You will remember her and her eerily wide eyes from the “Amateur Night” story arc in the original V/H/S film. Lily is back, so no lecherous men are safe in Gregg Bishop’s SiREN (note the capitalization, trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Jonah felt duty-bound to make his ragingly irresponsible brother Mac his best friend rather than his real best friend Rand. That is how they wound up in a divey strip club on the Redneck Riviera. On a tip from a suspicious fellow patron, Mac drags the stag party to an Eyes Wide Shut-style sex club way out in the sticks. This seems to be more what he had in mind, except maybe too much so. Still, the four dudes probably could have made it out unscathed if Jonah had not decided to play hero.

He is convinced Lily, the peepshow girl, whose song can literally you-know-what with your mind is being held there against her will, as is indeed the case. However, he does not realize she is a demon. Much like the “Howling Man” episode of The Twilight Zone, Jonah and his friends will have to deal with the implications of his actions, but for them it will be far more personal. Mr. Nyx, the flamboyant club proprietor well-versed in the occult is much less forgiving than John Carradine’s Brother Jerome. On the other hand, Lily rather takes a shine to Jonah, in a demons-mate-for-life kind of way.

Frankly, the non-found footage SiREN is not nearly as intense as the constituent anthology film that spawned it. While it lacks the Poe-like concentration of mood and building intensity, the feature is more about attitude and grungy southern-fried exploitation elements. There is also some very strange business having to do with the transference of memories (both as a method of payment at the club and a means of sending Jonah a message he will never forget) that distinguishes SiREN from other seductive succubus films.

SiREN is fortunate to have Hannah Fierman reprising the role of Lily. She is massively fierce, but also weirdly vulnerable. Justin Welborn (Southbound and V/H/S Viral) also has a creepy Paul Williams-from-Hell thing going on as Mr. Nyx that fits right in with the film’s dramatic tone. Brittany S. Hall is sufficiently intriguing and genre-friendly as Ash, the Medusa-haired memory-extracting bartender Ash, she could conceivably takeover the pseudo-franchise. Plus, Chase Williamson (John Dies at the End) and Hayes Mercure make surprisingly compelling average Joes in over their heads.


Fierman is just an electric presence, who powers the film through a swampy mid-section. We have seen most of these elements before, but she is something else. Recommended for fans of Fierman and her V/H/S character, SiREN opens this Friday (12/2) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Ringo Lam’s Sky on Fire

There is a great deal of deliberate confusion regarding non-controversial adult, amniotic, umbilical, and pluripotent stem cell treatments and the hot-button issue of embryonic stem cells. Ringo Lam is about to muddy the waters even further. “Ex-stem cells” (or super-stem cells, depending on the translation) are the Macguffin of his latest action film. What are Ex-stem cells? They are extra-special and can apparently cure cancer just by looking at it. Where do they come from? Essentially from the late Prof. Poon’s missing research journal. The private Sky One clinic is carrying on his work, but his protégés have very different goals in Lam’s Sky on Fire (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

After losing his wife to cancer, Chong Tin-po considers his work as chief of security for the Sky One clinic a personal calling. It is a big job protecting the Mainland skyscraper facility, but he is a hardnosed kind of guy. However, the events that follow the theft of a shipment of Ex-stem cells shakes his faith in the clinic director, Tong Wing-cheung, who sends along some suspiciously thuggish back-up for the recovery operation. Chong also cannot help feeling for Chia-chia and his step-sister Jen. They came from Taiwan seeking treatment at Sky One for her late-stage cancer, but threw their lot in with the hijackers when the clinic gave them the run around. At least Chong still trusts Gao Yu, Tong’s estranged wife and partner, who also studied under the murdered Prof. Poon.

Arguably, Sky is over-stuffed with supporting characters and the ending is supposed to be cathartic, but it is highly problematic from a moral-ethical perspective, if you think about it for more than two seconds. On the plus side, Daniel Wu pretty much puts the world on notice he can take all the steely cool-as-Elvis action protagonist gigs Andy Lau is aging out of, ever so disgustingly gracefully. As Chong, Wu broods, runs, and fights convincingly and looks good doing it.

Zhang Jingchu also adds some tragic grace as Gao Yu, even developing some tantalizingly ambiguous chemistry with Wu. Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan and Amber Kuo are enormously likable as the Taiwanese step-siblings, but she really ought to look for a good action role (like fellow Tiny Times co-star Mi Yang throwing down in Wu Dang), or risk getting type-cast as a cute but passive victim.

Call me a hand-wringer, but it really seems like the conclusion holds massively conspicuous implications Lam just ignores. Yet he can get away with it, because deftly turned action sequences always trump pedantry—and Lam still proves he has the master’s touch. Recommended despite the nagging issues for fans of Lam and the popular cast, Sky on Fire opens this Friday (12/2) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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