J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Kadokawa at Japan Society: The Little Girl Who Conquered Time

Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1965 time travel novel has inspired at least three features and one television series, but each one is substantially different. That seems oddly appropriate, given the space-time continuum issues involved. While Mamoru Hosoda’s anime film is the most acclaimed, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s original 1983 adaptation is a sentimental favorite, largely thanks to former idol Tomoyo Harada. She is a teenager rather than a little girl and it would be a vast overstatement to call her a conqueror, but her earnestness perfectly suits the nostalgic charm of Obayashi’s The Little Girl Who Conquered Time (trailer here), which screens as part of the Japan Society retrospective: Pop! Goes Cinema: Kadokawa Films and 1980s Japan.

This is Onomichi in the early 1980s, so Kazuko Yoshiyama and her friends still have class on Saturday mornings. Traditionally, it is a day of service, which is why Yoshiyama was cleaning the chemistry lab. Unfortunately, a weird lavender smelling concoction knocks her unconscious before her two loyal guy pals, Kazuo Fukamachi and Goro Horikawa arrive to help.

The good news is her fainting spell gets her out of gym. The bad news is she starts repeating fragments of the next two days, sort of like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (but not to such an absurd degree)—and oh what fraught days they are, featuring earthquakes, fires, collapsing roof tiles, and teen angst.

Granted, the special effects look hopelessly dated, but Obayashi conveys a wonderfully vivid and wistful sense of Onomichi’s seaside hills and winding pathways. You can practically smell the lavender, which plays a significant role in the narrative. It starts to feel like the home you never knew but always missed.

In her feature debut, former idol (and coincidentally the star of the early 1980s Sailor Suit and Machine Gun TV series) Tomoyo Harada is just terrific as Yoshiyama. She portrays the time-jumping teen with tremendous sensitivity and pluck, yet she also coveys the girl’s stubbornness and even a little flakiness. Likewise, Toshinori Omi is shockingly poignant as the torch-carrying Horikawa. Poor Ryôichi Takayanagi often gets dissed for his awkward stiffness as Fukamachi, but you could argue it is perfectly justifiable—even necessary—within the film’s dramatic context.

Regardless, TLGWCT is intoxicatingly bittersweet, similar in spirit to Peggy Sue Got Married (which it pre-dates by several years, unlike Goodbye Mr. Loser), except everything does not work out so neatly perfect. Still, it is hard to beat its eighties nostalgia goodness, right down to the inclusion of the music video for Harada’s theme song before the closing credit. Incredibly sweet but still a lot of high school genre fun, The Little Girl Who Conquered Time is very highly recommended when it screens this Tuesday (12/13) at the Japan Society, as part of their ongoing Kadokawa retrospective.

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Friday, December 09, 2016

AFI’s EU Showcase ’16: Stefan Zweig—Farewell to Europe

Stefan Zweig was one of the many Jewish intellectuals who escaped National Socialist-dominated Europe through Varian Fry’s network, yet he tragically took his own life in 1942, out of despair with the state of the world and his Austrian homeland. Such depression was not uncommon among European emigres. The guilt and alienation of the involuntary expatriate experience are fully explored in Maria Schrader’s Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe (trailer here), Austria’s official foreign language Oscar submission, which screens during the AFI’s 2016 EU Film Showcase.

After Thomas Mann, Zweig was the second most widely read German language novelist in Europe and the Americas during the 1930s. Thanks to The Grand Budapest Hotel, he has made a recent posthumous comeback. Farewell to Europe should further fuel the Zweig renaissance, even though does not always portray him in the most flattering light. Frankly, many viewers will be frustrated by Zweig’s reluctance to condemn the country he could no longer call home. However, they should also respect his principled refusal to grandstand or to criticize as someone now safely standing on the outside looking in.

Basically, Schrader evokes a sense of Zweig’s life in exile through five extended vignettes. In terms of tone and structure, Farewell to Europe often resembles a theater piece, but the thesp-turned-helmer shows a strong aptitude for visual composition, which helps viewer engagement. Much like its subject, it is a cerebral film that refuses to engage in cheap sentiment or phony moral uplift.

Although scrupulously buttoned-down and reserved, Josef Hader is just terrific as Zweig. When he quietly lowers the boom, it is guaranteed to flatten the audience. Likewise, Aenne Schwarz is wonderfully smart and sad as his younger but constitutionally weaker second wife Lotte. German grand dame Barbara Sukowa (who played the title role in Von Trotta’s Hannah Arendt, a fitting comparative film) gives the film some real bite as Zweig’s first wife Friderike, with whom he maintains complicated but mostly amicable relations. The way she first rebukes him and then absolves him during a New York reunion is quite compelling, but also rings consistently true.

Schrader proves to be an actor’s director, which maybe is not so surprising. Farewell to Europe also represents quite an accomplishment of mise en scène, but pacing remains an area where she could better refine her craft. Still, it is refreshing to watch an intelligent film that trusts the audience to pick up on its points without shining a searing spotlight on them. Recommended for admirers of Zweig and German-language cinema, the potential Oscar contender Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe screens this Sunday (12/11) and Wednesday (12/14), as part of the AFI’s annual EU Film Showcase.

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Sugar Mountain: A Simple Plan for Simpletons

We think of Alaska as a wild frontier that lags years behind the current trends sweeping the lower forty-eight, but there have been as many as ten reality shows simultaneously filming in the land of the midnight sun. With programs like Deadliest Catch, Alaska State Troopers, and Bering Sea Gold available, how much media interest could a lost hiker’s story generate? Admittedly, some sibling rivalry and sexual jealousy could spice it up a little, but as hoaxes go, this one seems awfully speculative. It is also an incredibly stupid idea for the irresponsible West sibling to pretend to be lost in the wild, but brains are pretty scarce in Richard Gray’s Sugar Mountain (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

After the death of their sainted mother, Miles and Liam West have run the family tour boat business into the ground. With the repossessed boat in dry dock, the younger Liam eventually agrees to his brother’s scheme. Miles will hole up in a pre-supplied shelter, eventually coming down after a week or so, to the relief of an eager media. To make it more interesting, they will stage his disappearance to make it suspiciously follow a very public spat, in which Miles will accuse Liam of having eyes for his girlfriend Lauren Huxley, the daughter of the local sheriff, which maybe isn’t so unlikely a coincidence in a tiny Alaskan town.

Of course, the younger West really has been carrying a torch for Huxley. Inevitably, the two co-conspirators will become awkwardly close as the endure the media scrutiny together. The pressure starts to rise when they realize that fool Miles never made it to his shelter. To make matters worse, recently released ex-con Joe Bright comes around looking to collect Miles’ gambling debts.

If you have seen a film with more stupid decisions than Sugar Mountain, than Dude, I really feel for you. Frankly, Abe Pogos’s ridiculous script causes so much face-palming, it is hard to actually watch the movie—not that there’s much there to miss. Nothing makes any sense, starting with Liam’s mopey infatuation with Huxley when the kind-hearted (and just-as-attractive-or-more) girl from the general store is clearly interested in him. Any guy growing up in Alaska would know better than squandering such opportunities, but Gray is Australian, so whatever.

Frankly, the only times Sugar is remotely entertaining are Jason Momoa’s periodic pop-ins to beat the snot out of everyone as Bright. Sadly, most of the film is dominated by the excruciating Cain and Abel dynamics and the love triangle, which is ultimately resolved in an absolutely risible fashion.

Drew Roy, Shane Coffey, and Haley Webb certainly make the three central characters look and sound like idiots, which could be quite fine acting, but it doesn’t give us much to work with. Arguably, it is even more depressing to watch Cary Elwes stumble around as the schlubby Sheriff Huxley. Forget The Princess Bride, this will even depress Saw fans. Only Hawaii’s Momoa seems to glide through unscathed, perhaps feeling that 1959 non-contiguous kinship.

Regardless, this film is just a mess that would try anyone’s patience. Gray’s previous film, The Lookalike was not spectacular, but it had a basic level of competency and managed to be interesting in patches. So, what happened here? Not recommended, Sugar Mountain opens today (12/9) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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Thursday, December 08, 2016

Frank & Lola: Michael Shannon in Vegas and Paris

Surely, Paris is a more romantic city than Las Vegas, right? Believe it or not, a damaged couple will meet and fall in love in Sin City, despite both having history in the City of Light. At least it feels like love for a while. Their relationship will take a dark turn in Matthew Ross’s Frank & Lola (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Of all the struggling restaurants in Las Vegas, Lola walks into Frank’s on Halloween night. They immediately feel a kinship between lost, lonely souls. What starts as a likely one-night stand blossoms against the odds into the romance of a lifetime. Even though Frank is somewhat prone to jealousy and understandably bitter about the failure of his restaurant, things are good between them, until one fateful day.

There will be no getting around the fact that she cheated on him. However, once Frank settles down, he discovers more of the surrounding context. Apparently, Lola once again succumbed to the Svengali-like power her mother’s Parisian friend Alan holds over her. Although he is a celebrated memoirist in Europe, Alan is really a sexual predator, who raped Lola at a point when she was highly malleable emotionally and psychologically. Or so she tells Frank. He will start to have his doubts when he confronts the smooth-talking playboy in Paris.

Frankly, Frank & Lola feels like two entirely different films depending on which city Frank finds himself in. The Las Vegas scenes he shares with Lola are darkly seductive and potently redolent of lust and jealousy. Every development of their fraught relationship rings true. In contrast, the pseudo-noir revenge sequences in Paris largely feel forced and excessively lurid. They are just off compared to the moody but grounded Vegas passages.

Regardless, Michael Shannon just puts on a masterclass as Frank. He raises brooding to a high art form and forges some believably flawed but viscerally charged chemistry with Imogen Poots’ Lola. Unfortunately, she remains largely passive throughout the film, which is problematic. Likewise, Michael Nyqvist more-or-less hits the replay button on his portrayal of the literary cradle-robber in The Girl in the Book.

Arguably, the biggest star of F&L after Shannon is cinematographer Eric Koretz, who gives the proceedings a sheen that evokes classic 1970s hothouse dramas. He also captures the alien vibe of Las Vegas, especially for those who are not interested in gambling. Ross goes for the sort of genre ambiguity you often find in the films of André Téchiné, which is laudably ambitious, but the smarminess of some of the Parisian scenes pulls him up a bit short. It is flawed, but its adult sensibility probably makes it worth catching up with on DVD or VOD streaming. For Shannon’s diehard partisans, it opens tomorrow (12/9) in New York, at the Village Eastand releases on iTunes.

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Bousman’s Abattoir

New Yorkers will need little convincing of the real estate industry’s evilness. However, the sort of flipping reporter Julia Talben uncovers will be a new one on them. A mysterious holding company is buying up crime scene houses and removing the murder rooms before re-selling cheap. The story gets personal for Talben when it happens to her late sister’s house. The trail leads her to the fixer-upper from Hell (more or less literally) in Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

Talben is understandably devastated when her sister, brother-in-law, and sickly nephew are murdered by a home invader, especially since the poor boy never really had a chance to enjoy life. To add salt to the wounds, the bank sells their house suspiciously, nearly impossibly quickly soon thereafter. It turns out the purchaser is a holding company with a record of these sort of transactions. Generally, the shady outfit only hangs onto properties long enough to somehow remove the rooms of infamy. It also happens to be registered in the same depressed [post-] industrial town that Talben traced her birth mother to, in hopes of finding a donor match for her nephew.

The locals are not exactly friendly. In fact, the sheriff keeps trying to run her off. Yet, he is probably the friendliest of the lot, except perhaps Allie, the proprietor of the world’s most available bed-and-breakfast, who shelters Talben until her on-and-off cop boyfriend Declan Grady arrives to back her up. It turns out the town is under the malevolent sway of demonic cult leader Jebidiah Crone, who is about as sinister as his name suggests.

Abattoir is set in the world of (but not adapted from) Bousman’s limited graphic novel series of the same name. It definitely helps having such a richly eerie backstory pre-established and ready to be applied. Although Bousman slightly loses sight of the human element during the big, woo-woo special effects climax, the film is mostly a character driven affair, which is why it gets so creepy.

Jessica Lowndes and Joe Anderson have surprisingly snappy chemistry together as Talben and Grady. However, the film really belongs to the crafty old timers. Lin Shaye’s Allie keeps viewer completely off-balance, whereas Dayton Callie chews the scenery with menacing authority as Crone. John McConnell adds further screwed-up small town color as the less than reassuring sheriff and Michael Paré even turns up briefly as the murderer of Talben’s family.

Granted, Abattoir falls apart at the end, but that is oh so typical of the genre. For at least eighty percent of the film, it is a first-class example of moody, suspenseful story-telling and intriguing dark fantasy world-building. Vastly superior to his Saw franchise installments and his Grand Guignol excesses, like Repo: The Genetic Opera, Abattoir is probably Bousman’s best film to-date. Recommended without caveats for horror fans, it opens tomorrow (12/9) at the Arena Cinelounge in LA and the AMC Westminster in Colorado.

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808: The Biography of a Drum Machine

The Roland TR-808 was like the Hammond B-3 of drum machines, except it was only produced during the span of 1980 to 1984. Ironically, the seeds of its demise were embedded in its ingenious design. Yet, it remains the drum machine of choice across a wide spectrum of electronic music. Alexander Dunn chronicles the instrumental role played by the programmable box of beats in the development of hip hop, pop, house, and electronica in 808 (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.

When Ikutaro Kakehashi Roland Corporation introduced the 808 it was not the most lifelike sounding drum machine on the market. Yet, that sizzle in its sound became a huge part of its appeal. Its distinctive character was baked in through the deliberate use of faulty transistors. As the computer component industry perfected its production techniques, defective transistors were no longer available for 808 production, hence its premature demise.

Of course, that only adds to the mystique. Dunn recruits a genuine hall of fame of pioneering hip hop artists and producers, who all credit the 808 for being the crucial bit of hardware that made it all possible. In the process, Dunn gives viewers a history of the rise of hip hop, essentially from a studio engineer’s vantage point. Frankly, it is refreshing to strip away the excesses now associated with the music in order to concentrate on the early innovators who were all about crafting the beats. It is a gritty, organic perspective on the music that is often lost in today’s glitz.

Throughout the film, Dunn talks to the likes of Afrika Bambaataa, Questlove, Hank Shocklee, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Rick Rubin, and Mike D and Ad-Rock from the Beastie Boys. However, we also hear Phil “Sussudio” Collins, who explains how the 808 will play repetitive patterns indefinitely that would bore a flesh-and-blood drummer (and he ought to know).

Dunn’s approach is pretty straight forward, but the animated transitions presenting each track under discussion as a 12-inch single give the film a nice look and should definitely appeal to the target demo. The way he brings the film full circle with Kakehashi in Japan is also quite nice.

Dunn and co-screenwriter Luke Bainbridge make a pretty persuasive case for caring about the 808 even if viewers are not fans of Hip Hop, Techno, House, Crunk, Drum & Bass, Dubstep, Acid Rock, or EDM, but it certainly doesn’t hurt if they are. For an expression of gear love, it is quite tight, focused, and informative. Recommended for tech-savvy pop music fans, 808 opens tomorrow (12/9) at the Arena Cinelounge in LA and also releases exclusively on iTunes.

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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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