J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tunnel: Surviving on Two Bottles of Water and a Birthday Cake

Politically connected J. Lloyd Haigh notoriously supplied rotten cables for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, but its design was so sound, it held up nonetheless. Unfortunately, that will not be the case for the shoddily constructed mountain underpass Lee Jung-soo is driving through. He is about to become the focus of a media feeding frenzy when his car in trapped beneath a cave-in. Current events clearly inform Kim Seong-hun’s Tunnel (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Lee, a rental-car wholesale dealer is headed home with his daughter’s birthday cake when the unthinkable happens. This is not a matter of a few tiles falling from the roof. It is a complete collapse. Of course, the authorities are caught flat-footed, but at least Dae-kyung, the on-the-ground operations guy is a strong improviser. He will do his best to rescue Lee, but he will have constant distractions from the swarming press and preening politicians. Naturally, the latter are all in for photo ops in the early days of the rescue (we hope), but they bail when it turns into a protracted campaign. Unfortunately, that puts Lee’s wife Se-hyun under tremendous pressure to give up on him.

Tunnel is not merely a claustrophobic survival story in the mold of Rodrigo Cortes’ Buried or the mudslide movie Detour. Kim opens the film up into a caustic indictment of the drive-by media and the negligent political establishment (the echoes of the Sewol Ferry sinking are hard to miss). Yet, it also happens to be a tightly executed ticking clock drama. We are keenly aware of the passage of time and Lee’s dwindling supplies of food and water, especially when he discovers Mi-na, a second survivor painfully pinned behind the wheel of her car.

As our lead, Ha Jung-woo is an effectively grounded, completely identifiable everyman. Like always, Oh Dal-su inspires instant confidence as Dae-kyung, like a Korean Tommy Lee Jones. Frankly, it is hard to say who is more emotionally affecting, Bae Doo-na as the maligned and harassed Se-hyun or Nam Ji-hyun as the slowly expiring Mi-na, but they both elevate Tunnel far beyond workaday disaster movies.

Ironically, there are some decent catastrophic special effects in Tunnel, but viewers are likely to lose sight of them, focusing on the human element instead. Still, as a follow-up to the rip-roaring corrupt cop thriller, A Hard Day, Lee proves he is a massive talent to be reckoned with in multiple genres. Tense, bracing, and sometimes infuriating (because it is so spot-on depicting the cravenness of the media and politicians), Tunnel is highly recommended for those who appreciate social commentary and the drama of extreme circumstances when it opens this Friday (8/26) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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Hell Town: Soap and Gore

Kids grow up fast in Old Town Hell Town. They have to, given the psycho slasher stalking the halls of their high school. It seems to be working, since they all look way too old to be teens. Presumably, that is all part of the joke in Steve Balderson & Elizabeth Spear’s Hell Town (trailer here), presented Elvira-style by Debbie Rochon, which releases today on VOD.

According to Rochon’s vampy intro, we are about to see the only three surviving episodes of the notorious television show, Hell Town. Think of it as Halloween’s Michael Myers comes to Peyton Place. Butch Manley has just returned home from a stretch in Juvy to find his catatonic mother on death’s door, so from a census-taking perspective, it is essentially a wash.

His wannabe debutante sister Chanel bitterly resents all the adulation heaped on her wealthy rival, Trish Gamble, whose virginity their dumb jock brother Blaze is scheduled to take (for the second time) at the upcoming prom. Their other dumb jock brother Jesse is busy pretending he isn’t gay, especially when Trish’s out-of-the-closet younger brother Bobby is around. He doesn’t really mind Trish’s diva behavior, but Laura Gable, the attention-starved middle sister with daddy issues is a different story. She is the Darren Stephens of Hell Town, played by BeckiJo Neill in the first episode (supposedly S2 E7) and by Jennifer Grace in the subsequent two. Confused? Probably not sufficiently so.

Reportedly inspired by the big Moldovan gun-down episode of Dynasty, Hell Town has an amusing premise, but Balderson, Spear, and their co-screenwriters never take it beyond the level of blood-splattered farce. It has the ring and vibe of a tragically polite John Waters movie. Frankly, the stakes have risen drastically for horror comedy in the wake of legitimately funny and macabre genre productions like The Final Girls, They’re Watching, Ava’s Possessions, Witching & Bitching, You’re Killing Me, and to a lesser extent, The Girl in the Photographs, all of which are much funnier and most are considerably scarier.

Still, you cannot fault Balderson for not getting his at-bats in. Hell Town is one of four films he has in varying states of release over a three or four-week period in late August and early September, including the AXS original film, Elvis Lives. In some ways, H-Town has the feel of a stage farce (albeit one with gallons of stage blood), employing many of his regular repertory players, such as burlesque dancer Pleasant Gehman as Mother Manly and her nurse. Maybe that comfort level is a drawback in this case. On a basic level, Balderson & Spear do what they need to do to satisfy undemanding fans of gore and broad comedy, but that is as far as it goes. Mildly diverting but not nearly as clever as it should have been, Hell Town releases today (8/23) on VOD.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Single by 30: His Best Friend is Back, on YouTube Red

It is too bad torch carrying is only an exhibition event at the Olympics, because Peter Ma would be a cinch to medal. Twelve years after high school graduation, he still pines for his platonic best friend Joanna. Just as he turns the big three-oh, she moves back home to Los Angeles. It turns out, she even remembers their My Best Friend’s Wedding pact from senior year. In five months, she too will turn thirty, the age when they agreed to get hitched as a last resort. She revives their compact, as a motivational device to get them both back out there on the dating scene. At least, that is what they tell each other in Single by 30 (trailer here), the new web-series from Wong Fu Productions, which premieres on YouTube Red this Wednesday.

Supposedly, knowing Peter and Joanna are each other’s back-up plan will give them the confidence to take chances, like a safety net for a trapeze artist. When they similarly motivated each other to ask out homecoming dates, it worked out much better for her than for him. Yet, he is still down to try. Of course, viewers can immediately tell they are perfect for each other (and maybe they can too).

Nevertheless, to Peter’s great surprise, he has far greater success with the internet dater Joanna selects for him, than she does with his (deliberately flawed) pick. At least that is the case in the second and third episodes (out of the initial three made available to the media). However, she might not be as available as she lets on. It is clear from the start, she carries her own torch for the ex now engaged to her former college friend.

If this sounds familiar, you might have seen the earlier spec pilot that generated plenty of views online. They started fresh with the series proper, so Ma’s new irresponsible best pal from college is now Mark, played by “YouTube star” Eric Ochoa. In fact, most of the young, attractive cast are ‘net famous through YouTube or Vine, which should make you feel old, even if you can look past thirty as a ridiculously ominous deadline.

Regardless, the cast is admittedly attractive and often pleasantly amusing. Harry Shrum, Jr is appealingly down-to-earth as Peter M. and musician Kina Grannis is undeniably charming as Joanna (evidently, she will have to get married if she ever wants to have a surname). So far, their Moonlighting will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry is quite effective. Ochoa and Hillary Anne Matthews (two “t’s”) generate a lot of Tinder-Generation laughs as Mark, the self-styled player and Chloe, Joanna’s game-playing roommate. Manon Mathews (one “t”) probably contributes the wryest humor as Lisa, Joanna’s married college bestie and Chloe’s older sister. Anna Akana adds plenty of attitude as Ma’s DJ sister Grace, but Alexandra Metz’s Sarah just seems too cool to be interested in a luckless loser like Ma (presumably that will not last).

SB30 might not be enough to justify a YouTube Red account, but it is an enjoyable way to spend time online. Although Grannis is a talent in her own right, SB30 clearly suggests she and her social media-promoted co-stars have some real potential in front of the camera. Generally speaking, creators Wesley Chan & Philip Wang stay within safe rom com territory, but their dialogue is surprisingly sharp and it is well served by the principle cast’s crisp timing. Recommended for those looking for some of-the-moment relationship comedy, Single by 30 releases this Wednesday (8/24) on YouTube Red.

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Floyd Norman: An Animated Life—The Disney Legend Speaks His Mind

You know someone is important when the Disney mouse licenses clips and likenesses for their documentary produced outside and completely independent of the Magic Kingdom. Animator-storyman Floyd Norman has that kind of stature in the business. Although he is an officially recognized “Disney Legend,” Norman has had a complicated relationship with the Disney company, but that never diminishes his pride in the work he did there. The beloved animator takes stock of his career and speaks his mind throughout Michael Fiore & Erik Sharkey’s Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Apparently, Santa Barbara was a tucked away corner of utopia in the 1930s and 1940s, which is why the extended Norman family flocked there. According to Norman, he had a happy, well-adjusted childhood there, availing himself of the museum’s art classes, just like any other resident. As a teen, he even had the opportunity to assist local Archie Comics veteran Bill Woggon on his Katy Keene fashion model comic book. Eventually, Norman’s talent and experience landed him his dream job at the Disney studio, working under the master himself on classics like Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book, and 101 Dalmatians.

Walt Disney was a no-nonsense boss, but always fair in his blunt-spoken way. Years later, Norman would be incensed by Meryl Streep’s unhinged attacks on his former boss’s character, so he fired off a decidedly pointed rejoinder. Sign us up for Team Norman. After all, nobody understands the history and evolution of Disney’s corporate culture better than Norman. Frankly, he is always reluctant to make a big deal out of his status as the first African American in the animation department. As far as he seems to be concerned, race was never an issue in his career. Granted, that sentiment might come with a few caveats, but it is the ageism that forced him into early retirement that really rankled Norman, as he makes crystal clear.

It is easy to see why Norman is considered a legend among his peers and savvy ComicCon attendees. During his various Disney stints, he periodically penned satiric cartoons at the managements expense, much like vintage David Letterman needling the pinheads at G.E. He also had a tenure at Hanna-Barbara and was part of the team at Pixar that made Toy Story 2 too good to be released straight to DVD.

Norman pretty much is animation history, but he never comes across as a museum relic. Animated Life basically captures the two sides of Norman: the enthusiastic fanboy and the plain-speaking truth-teller. Both are completely engaging. As it happens, Norman’s story continued to develop as Fiore & Sharkey were documenting it.

Arguably, the extent of Disney imagery allowed throughout Animated Life says what you need to know about Norman’s place in the studio’s history. Fiore & Sharkey recognize his winning screen presence and have the good sense to run with it. The co-directors are clearly down with Team Norman as well, but Animated Life is too opinionated to be considered mere hagiography. It has an edge, but there is still plenty of nostalgia for Disney (and Hanna-Barbara and Fat Albert) fans. Highly recommended for those who value the art and craft of animation, Floyd Norman: An Animated Life opens this Friday (9/26) in New York, at the Village East and in Orlando at the AMC Disney Springs.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Line Walker: The Movie

They are not just moles. They are also orphans. Six ultra-deep-cover police officers are now decidedly out in the cold, after their handler, Chief Inspector Hong To Hang of the Hong Kong CIB took a suspicious header off a tall building. Apparently, he saw it coming, because he managed to delete their files first, for their protection. Ting Siu-ka (a.k.a. Ding Jie) was one of them. Now she helps her boss Inspector Q search for the other five. They might have made contact with the mysterious source known only as “Blackjack,” or they might be getting played. You never can be certain of anyone’s loyalties in Jazz Boon’s Line Walker: The Movie (trailer here), the feature film spin-off based on the hit HK limited TV series, which is now playing in New York.

Somewhat embarrassingly, it is not the CIB who find Blackjack. Instead, he rather coyly reaches out to them. He will make them jump through hoops, but since they involve a stay in a luxury Macao casino, Ding is okay with it, at least initially. It turns out Blackjack is Siu Ye, the right-hand man of Ah Lam, a high-ranking Triad—or perhaps not. Siu Ye and Ah Lam have a long and complicated history together. Their mutual bro-affection is genuine, but their trust is a different matter. Even if they suspect one another of varying sorts of betrayals, they will still have to work together to survive when a drug deal in Rio goes spectacularly bad.

For fans of the show, the big news is Benz Hui is back as fan favorite Triad leader Foon Hei Gor (you’ll know him when you see him). Those unfamiliar with its previous television incarnation should also take heart, the third act is just as baffling even if you are hip to all that backstory. Frankly, this is not a film for the pedantically inclined, but if you want to see a superstar cast engulfed in some spectacular action sequences, then Line Walker is your huckleberry. Seriously, Boon has some shout out loud mayhem going on here. For old school HK action, Walker can hold its own with White Storm and Firestorm, which is saying something.

Nick Cheung is as steely as ever as Ah Lam, while Louis Koo elevates his shark-like charm to new levels of lethalness as Siu Ye. Of course, Hui steals every scene he appears in, like the wily old pro he is. Korean supermodel Clara Lee also makes quite an impression as an assassin sent to kill Siu Ye (again, there is just no way you can miss her). Although it is not exactly a star turn, former Shaolin monk Xing Yu (a.k.a. Shi Yanneng) generously lends his considerable skills to several throw-downs as the “Brazilian.” However, when it comes to action chops, Zhang Huiwen out-classes everyone serving as Ah Lam’s loyal bodyguard. 

All thing considered, it is rather remarkable how effectively Charmaine Sheh anchors the film, reprising the role of Ding. She also has surprisingly endearing chemistry with the eternally reliable Francis Ng as the likably inappropriate Inspector Q-sir.

Line Walker will always have a place in trivia books, thanks to the large scale action sequence shot in the half-finished Rio Olympic stadium. Clearly, Boon was much more successful keeping on schedule and within budget than the Brazilian Olympic Authorities. Indeed, it is pretty impressive feature debut for the veteran TV producer and director. All kinds of ruckus fun, Line Walker: The Movie is highly recommended for HK action fans. It is now playing in New York at the AMC Empire, via Magnum Films.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

BCHFF ’16: Here Alone

The zombie horror sub-genre has always been strangely hospitable to social commentary, starting with the granddaddy of them all, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and continuing through Yeon Sang-ho’s animated-live action duology Seoul Station and Train to Busan. It is a tradition worth exploring before you snidely turn up your nose at it. Frustratingly, director Rod Blackhurst and screenwriter Ebeltoft were so determine to make an anti-zombie zombie film, they made a point of jettisoning everything that conventionally goes with the shuffling hordes, including tacky things like action and suspense. Brace yourself for a lot of staring off into the distance throughout Blackhurst’s Here Alone (trailer here), which screens tomorrow at the 2016 Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival in Chicago.

When a film is selected by a festival named after Sam Raimi’s crony with the lethal chin, patrons will probably assume it has a certain level of energy and attitude. Unfortunately, both are profoundly lacking here. Instead, Here Alone (also an award-winning selection at this year’s Tribeca) fancies itself more of an existential survivor’s tale, but its insights are either prosaically on-the-nose or rather questionable.

The zombie apocalypse has basically kneecapped human civilization, so Ann has gone native, living rough in the woodlands of upstate New York. She was taught survival skills by her late husband Jason, before the doomsday infection claimed him too. Now she a solitary existence, tormented by guilt over some mysterious tragedy. Oh by the way, did we mention she and Jason also had an infant daughter, who doesn’t seem to be around anymore. You don’t suppose that could be related?

Her days of foraging grubs and berries are interrupted by the arrival of Chris and his bizarrely petulant step-daughter Olivia. As she nurses the wounded man back to full strength, she starts to feel a human connection again. She finds she likes it, but Olivia—not so much. Frankly, this kind of perverse jealousy in the face of apocalyptic horror is pretty familiar by now, yet it never really seems convincing. If ever there is a time to put your feelings aside and get with the collective program, it would be during a zombie uprising. Still, the self-defeating emotions seemed more believable and rawer in a film like Christoph Behl’s The Desert, for example.

Naturally, Here Alone does not show us the zombies until the third act, yet when they finally arrive, they manage to be a let-down. Apparently, Blackhurst found the whole business so distasteful, he skimped on the establishing shots. One minute Ann is handcuffed to a cabinet, they next she is running free as the wind. Regardless how you feel about tick-tock action movie mechanics, that is just sloppy filmmaking.

If you are intrigued by the psychological ramifications of solitary survival, Into the Forest is a much better film. Granted, it does not have any zombies, but that is only slightly less than what you will find in Here Alone. Of course, it is possible to make a brooding, revisionist zombie movie. Henry Hobson’s Maggie (starring Schwarzenegger) is an excellent film and Sabu’s Miss Zombie is one of his masterworks—perhaps even a flat out masterpiece. In contrast, Here Alone expects originality points it does not deserve for merely sulking in the woods. Not recommended, Here Alone screens tomorrow (8/21) at the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival.

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Spa Night: Teen Angst in Koreatown

If you know you’re going to be wrestling with your sexuality, you might as well get paid for it. Essentially, that is the decision David Cho makes when he takes a part-time job at an all-male spa in Koreatown. It draws traditional clients from the Korean-American community, who see the health spa as a place for a good scrub and the latest gossip, as well as multi-racial, multi-ethnic customers, who frequent the establishment to quietly prospect for sexual encounters. Cho has a foot in both worlds, which causes him considerable inner turmoil throughout Andrew Ahn’s Spa Night (trailer here), which opens today in New York, at the Metrograph.

Cho is gay (most likely), but he is only just starting to be honest with himself and he is not about to come out of the closet with his traditional Korean immigrant parents anytime soon. Rather inconveniently, this is not his most pressing problem. Cho always assumed he would be a good son by taking over the family restaurant, but when it shutters due to his father’s mismanagement, it leaves his future in a state of limbo. Suddenly, his parents’ expectations change drastically. Despite their precarious financial position, they expect him to become an overnight academic achiever, who can score a scholarship to USC. Unfortunately, he does not have the necessary grades and test scores, nor do his parents have the money for cram school, but they enroll him anyway.

Although Spa Night has frequently been positioned as a sexual coming of age story, it is really more about the disconnect between first and second generations within immigrant families. Sexual identity just happens to be a conspicuous wedge to potentially divide them. Yet, what makes the film so poignant is the compassion Cho shows for his problematic parents: his mother Soyoung tenaciously clinging to her dignity and his father Jin slowly succumbing to shame and desperation.

In any event, it is easy to see why Joe Seo won the Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance for his lead performance. He avoids all the easy clichés, playing Cho as a confused but ever so human and humane plugger. He also has the perfect physicality, looking simultaneously nebbish and bulked up. He comes across as a man between worlds in every sense. Both Haerry Kim and Youn Ho Cho thoroughly humanize Soyoung and Jin Cho.

Granted, we basically know where this Theodore Dreiser-esque tale of family tribulation is headed every step of the way, but the maturity and fundamental decency of the performances still makes it feel fresh. It is a sad story, but it is not bereft of hope. (After the first twenty minutes, most viewers will have the same realization: this kid needs to move to New York ASAP). Recommended for those who appreciate a coming of age story with economic and sexual identification dimensions, Spa Night opens today (8/19), at the Metrograph.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV—See It, Before You Play It

If your only familiarity with the Final Fantasy RPG video game and anime franchise is through Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the film that introduced computer generated Maxim model Aki Ross to the world, this will be something completely different. Technically, it will be all new for diehard fans as well, but they understand that is how the series rolls. The fifteenth game installment has not even released yet, but it already has its tie-in anime feature. There will indeed be crystals, tragic deaths, and a supertanker’s load of fighting in Takeshi Nozue’s Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Like Spirits Within, Kingsglaive employs motion capture animation—and it has come a long way since 2001. Frankly, there are times XV could pass for live action. Seriously. (It also ties into the web series Brotherhood: Final Fantasy, which is rendered in a more traditional big-eyed anime style). While Spirits Within was pretty hardcore dystopian science fiction, Kingsglaive freely blends fantasy and sf elements, but franchise fans seem to dig that.

Regis Lucis Caelum rules over the kingdom of Lucis with the aid of a magical crystal (a regular FF motif). Through its power, he invests his elite guard, the Kingsglaive, with magical abilities, including a limited form of teleportation via special batarang-like throwing weapons that they can essentially catch a ride on, in their de-materialized forms.

Unfortunately, even with all their magic, Lucis has been losing ground to the forces of the Nifflheim Empire and its weaponized dragons. Yet, just when Lucis seems to be down for the count, the Empire offers them a truce. The terms are not great, but they could be worse. As part of their concessions, the King’s son Noctis Lucis Caelum must marry Lunafreya Nox Fleuret, the captive princess of the subjugated Tenebrae people. Lucis and Tenebrae have been on bad terms ever since the Empire conquered the latter. The Palpatine-esque Nifflheim Emperor was hoping to trap Regis during his state visit there, but the King escaped leaving his hosts high and dry. Not surprisingly, in the hours leading up to the treaty-signing ceremony, dedicated Kingsglaive warrior Nyx Ulric uncovers evidence of Nifflheim duplicity. To thwart their plans, Ulric will try to rescue their unwitting pawn, the Princess. Or something like that. The whole plot business gets decidedly murky.

Arguably, Kingsglaive might be the truest cinematic adaptation of a video game, but it also might most closely approximate the experience of watching the game being playing. At times the action is an absolutely head-spinning spectacle, in the best and worst sense. The initial battle sequences look strikingly realistic, wildly exceeding viewer expectations. Yet ironically, as the explosions get bigger, the visceral impact diminishes.

Still, you have to give any film credit that takes a dim view of appeasement as a geo-political-military strategy. Granted, in this case, it is more complicated than that, but trusting a repressive regime like the Nifflheim remains a profoundly bad idea. Plus, any fantasy world that includes kaiju and Audi roadsters definitely establishes a cool baseline. Even though it eventually becomes awash in fiery combustion, the mo-cap animation is genuinely impressive. Ordinarily, we would prefer to experience the original Japanese voice actors with subtitles, but the casting of Game of Thrones alumni Sean Bean and Lena Headey as King Regis and Princess Lunafreya is quite canny. It is an odd film, whose raison d’être is admittedly to hype the upcoming game release, yet its world building is richly immersive and intriguing. Recommended for franchise fans, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV opens this Friday (8/19) in New York, at the AMC Empire.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: Steve Aoki Keeps It Loud

Fans might consider the constantly gigging Steve Aoki the Elvis Presley or Sammy Davis, Jr. of Electronic Dance Music. Given his shtick throwing wedding cakes into the crowd, he could also be called the Gallagher of EDM. Regardless, he is certainly not lazy or shy. Clearly, that is the partial influence of his entrepreneur-daredevil father, Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki, the founder of Benihana’s. Aoki takes stock of his life and career in Justin Krook’s documentary, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Loud Life of Steve Aoki (trailer here), which premieres as a Netflix original this Friday.

You can tell how big Aoki is, by the frequent sellout charges leveled at him. However, he seems to just keep doing his thing. Clearly Krook suggests Aoki’s problematic history with his late father still drives him today. Since his parents divorced when he was young, Aoki saw very little of his larger than life father, a prominent wrestler in Japan, who built the Benihana restaurant chain from scratch. Despite his speed boat racing and hot air balloon flying, the elder Aoki was considerably more conservative than Steve. Needless to say, he did not immediately get the DJing thing.

Obviously Aoki would catch on, becoming one of the few EDM recording artists non-fans might have heard of. He really spearheaded the DIY scene before it was a recognized phenomenon and was one of the few to use it as an effective springboard. We certainly hear a good deal of his music in Sleep, but it is the father-son dynamic that really interests Krook.

Yet, rather strangely, the film never even briefly mentions the whirlwinds of litigation surrounding Rocky Aoki’s estate (which could be the basis of a fascinating, epic documentary, if there were an end in sight). There seems to be some massive ill will between some of the Aoki children and his surviving widow (wife #3). Perhaps tellingly, only one brother and half-sister Devon Aoki (the actress-model) appear in Sleep, leaving four siblings unheard from. Granted, Steve and Devon Aoki might not want to talk about the controversy and they have their own sources of income, but it is a widely-reported drama that is conspicuous in its absence.

Instead, we see Aoki schmoozing with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, which really isn’t so edgy or outsider-ish and watch as he plans a grand CD launch concert. We certainly come to understand what makes him tick. We also gain an appreciation for his father Rocky, who was quite the character, warts and all. However, it is clear Aoki either had strict veto power or Krook simply lacked the stomach for potentially contentious subject matter. As a result, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is mostly just recommended for the loyal fans it was intended for, when it starts streaming on Netflix this Friday (8/19).

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A Tale of Love and Darkness: Portman Adapts Oz

If great writers must be forged in a crucible of suffering, Amos Oz had a good start growing up amid all the warfare and terrorism directed at the early state of Israel by its belligerent neighbors, but his manic depressive mother really put him over the top. The writer’s complicated relationship with his mother and his nation are duly explored in Natalie Portman’s adaptation of Oz’s autobiographical novel, A Tale of Love and Darkness (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Fania Klausner died at the tragically young age of thirty-eight, but it wasn’t a suicide bombing that killed her. She was once the pampered daughter of a wealthy and respected Eastern European family, but she always idealized the settler’s life in what was then referred to as Palestine. Yet, somehow she wound married to Arieh Klausner, an especially bookish librarian. She seems ill-suited to the harsh realities of war-torn Israel, but her love for her son Amos will initially compensate for life’s bitter disappointments. Unfortunately, her depression will grow steadily deeper, dragging her down to a very dark place.

Given its iconic stature and relentlessly elegiac tone, Oz’s book is quite a gutsy property for Portman’s directorial debut. Frankly, it is pretty darned impressive how deftly she brings out the novel’s humanist themes. There is considerable craftsmanship evident in each frame, especially Slawomir Idziak’s classy cinematography. The fact that the film is not a complete and utter downer suggests Portman has some legit talent behind the camera. Despite playing Klausner as a tragic beauty worthy of Joan Crawford, Tale never feels like Portman’s vanity project, which is saying something. In fact, she is often quite poignant in the part.

Still, the relationship between the elegant Mother Fania nee Mussman and Gilad Kahana’s plodding Arieh Klausner remains a one-sided mystery. Although they have believably functional-dysfunctional chemistry together, just like a married couple with long, complex history together, they still look jarring together. Young Amir Tessler has the appropriate preciousness for the young future Amos Oz, but he often seems weirdly aloof, as if he were aware his older self was narrating each scene.

There are indeed pacing issues and rocky patches, but scenes that trace Amos Klausner’s development into Amos Oz (a surname he adopted for its Hebrewness), Israel’s preeminent novelist (translated in China, which is saying something) ring with resonance. Despite Oz’s reputation as a left-wing advocate of a two-state solution (but not a compete pacifist or appeaser), Portman’s adaptation largely avoids political statements. For the most part, it is a highly respectable literary period production. Better than early reviews have indicated, A Tale of Love and Darkness opens this Friday (8/19) in New York, at the Landmark Sunshine.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Killer Party: Worst Baby Shower Ever

When the zombie apocalypse comes, it will be important to have good representation. Fresh water and non-perishable food will also be helpful in the short run, but if you survive, you will want someone who can negotiate a good back-end deal. Fortunately, an aspiring screenwriter and his mega-pregnant actress wife just happen to be at their agent’s house for a baby shower when the weird homicidal pathogen rears its ugly viral head. LA will get even more nuts in Alex Drummond’s Killer Party (a.k.a. The Shower, trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

Like most of Joanne’s clients who haven’t already given up, Nick and Mary live hand-to-mouth waiting tables. To make the get-together even more uncomfortable, Joanne’s one famous meal ticket star has rather awkwardly taken up with the profoundly discouraged nice-guy Tommy’s ex, KIm. However, all bets are off when the zombie uprising dawns. Frankly, everyone is caught rather flat-footed, except Joanne’s long-suffering assistant Beth, who almost welcomes the opportunity to vent her frustrations.

As a zombie outbreak comedy, Killer Party is decidedly hit-or-miss, but it deserves credit for putting its own unique spin on the sub-genre. Instead of brain dead shuffling hordes, Drummond’s infected become ravingly homicidal loud-mouth jackasses, which is definitely different. Logically enough, none of the zombies (or whatever) or more obnoxious than the bargain basement clown Joanne hired to entertain the kids. He is one abrasive psychopath.

Unfortunately, the overstuffed cast of characters is often stuck on the sidelines looking stupid while the clown talks smack and Beth takes the fight to any zombie within a golf club’s reach of her. There are just too many bystanders and not enough trash-talkers. Do we care whether Tommy and Kim get back together? Nope, sorry. On the other hand, watching Beth club a feral child zombie to death—now that’s entertainment. Yes, Stephanie Tobey is awesome as the freshly liberated assistant—so much so, we can hardly remember anyone else.

Killer Party is amusing, but it feels like it could have been hilarious if Drummond had gone through five or ten more drafts. Still, watching it seems like a pretty fitting way to observe National Clown Week (technically just passed, but whatev), unless you were planning on re-reading Art of the Deal or It Takes a Village. Recommended as a gory bit of fluff, Killer Party is now available on VOD, from Epic Pictures.

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The Purgation: Bad Karma from Childhood that Never Goes Away

If you ever thought the kids from The Goonies should be consigned to uncanny damnation, this is the film for you. For a lark, Iris and her young pals decided to film their own scrappy horror film in the basement of an abandoned asylum, but she would be the only to walk out physically unscathed. However, she still carries the emotional scars from that fateful day, so she will come walking back into the horror chamber as the producer of a ghost-hunting reality show in Elaine Chu’s The Purgation (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

After watching their youthful misadventure, we can see why Iris couldn’t wait to get out of Black Falls. Now she has returned, looking for closure and some good footage. Ever since that day, Derrick has been nearly catatonic and Marlene has been violently unstable. She is also blind, having gauged out her eyes. Frankly, visiting them isn’t very reassuring, especially since it might just stir up the evil entity. That could be “Sister” Agnes, a novice nun who was rejected by her order due to her general insanity, so logically she took a position as a psychiatric nurse. She or it doesn’t merely howl and rattle chains. It will warp Iris’s reality, straining her sanity to the breaking point.

Granted, we should always review the film rather than its budget, but in this case, Purgation often looks like it was sabotaged by its own financial constraints. Perhaps most unfortunate is the underwhelming subterranean setting. Instead of giving the film a vivid sense of place (as in the original Grace Encounters and Hollows Grove), the asylum sub-basement just looks cramped and dingy—in the wrong sort of way. It is a shame, because Chu’s second act freak-out is legitimately disturbing. In a departure from other reality-problematizing films, she really gets at how terrifying it would be to have the pins of your sanity kicked out from under you.

Chu also violates the law of Chekhov’s gun, introducing Caden, Iris’s acknowledged imaginary friend, who seems to have his own place in the kid’s social dynamics, despite his lack of existence. In the prologue, he seems to ring with Stephen King-like resonance, but he never factors down the stretch.

Still, there is something very unsettling about Purgation’s childhood roots (and it should be noted Megan Truong has terrific poise and presence as young Iris). To make matters creepier, the film is reportedly based on a real life DIY horror movie field trip the young Chu once led her friends on. The stakes are high and evil is very real and awfully nasty throughout Purgation. As a result, there are some scary moments in the film, but it needed more cinematic locations. Earning mixed feelings and a mixed recommendation (but leaving us receptive for Chu’s next film), The Purgation is now available on VOD platforms from Osiris Entertainment.

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Lake Nowhere: The Return of 1980s Nostalgia

Welcome to Lake Nowhere, where all the kids are below average. Their hedonistic indulgences, most definitely including sex, drugs, and booze will kill them even quicker than C. Everett Koop would predict. 1980s VHS horror nostalgia returns like a psycho-slasher who never dies in Christopher Phelps & Maxim Van Scoy’s short feature Lake Nowhere (trailer here), which releases today in a BluRay-DVD combo-pack.

Much like Dude Bro Party Massacre III, Nowhere will try to recreate the lo-fi pleasures of VHS tapes, but instead of a bootleg recorded from a UHF broadcast, this supposed relic from the eighties tries to pass for a well-worn commercial VHS tape, most likely released with the rental market in mind. It comes with two fake trailers, one for a Giallo that looks like it could actually be the real thing and an environmentally-themed body-horror-conspiracy thriller that could have been released by Troma last week. There is also a brief advertisement for Wolf White Beer, which would definitely aid the viewing experience.

Okay, so a carload of thirtysomethings acting like teens arrive at Lake Nowhere for a weekend of drunken, stupid fun. When Bonnie finds a gravestone with some heavy satanic passages while walking her dog Fozzie, she thinks little of it, because why should she? Similarly, nobody is much concerned when Danny disappears for at least twelve hours skinny-dipping. This is not an intuitive bunch, but so much the better for the Masked Maniac. At just fifty-one minutes including front matter, he will have to work quickly to make mincemeat of the revelers. However, since he also seems to have some supernatural mojo going on, he should be up to the challenge.

As far as eighties slasher spoofs go, Phelps & Scow ace the look and vibe of vintage dead teenager movies, even surpassing the relentlessly grungy Dude Bro III, but they never approach the wit and inventiveness of Todd Strauss-Schulson’s Final Girls. In terms of quality and entertainment value, it probably ranks dead center between the two comparison films. It certainly knows where it is going and how it should get there.

Lake Nowhere will get you in the mood to binge-watch Prom Night and Sleepaway Camp movies, so it definitely pushes the right buttons. As satire, it arguably allows fans to indulge their sentimental nostalgia, without seeming excessively creepy. Still, the relative brevity is probably a blessing. Recommended for those who will appreciate where it is coming from, Lake Nowhere releases today on BluRay-DVD, from BrinkVision.

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Monday, August 15, 2016

Einstein’s God Model: The Physics of the Afterlife

It turns out mad scientist movies had it all wrong. It is physicists not biologists who will unlock the secrets of the afterlife. Technically, they will not cheat death, because there is no death—just different membranes of existence. It might sound exciting, but there will be a cautionary note supplied by none other than Albert Einstein. Superstring Theory and M-Theory will get radical new science fiction applications in director-screenwriter Philip T. Johnson’s Einstein’s God Model (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Reeling from the death of his (hoped to be) fiancée, Brayden Taylor latches on to something a colleague told him about Ketamine use in some sort of near death experiment. Unfortunately, Dr. Carl Meiselhoff, the physicist running the studies has recently passed away. However, his widow is willing to let Taylor take all his weird looking analog gear. That would be the God Model Project, a shadowy venture apostolically linked to Thomas Edison.

Taylor is not prepared for his solo test drive through parallel membranes, but Meiselhoff’s former protégé Louis Mastenbrook [PhD] detects the disturbance in the Force just in time. He is a cold fish, but at least he understands the physics. He also has some bitter personal history with Craig Leeham, one of Meiselhoff’s former test subjects, who has reinvented himself as an Evangelical Christian psychic after a session in the God Model helmet left him blind, but partially able to see into alternate membranes. Leeham has no affection for Mastenbrook, but he has his own reasons for joining their efforts.

You generally have to respect a film that name checks Niels Bohr, Edward Witten, and Nikola Tesla, but creating an entirely convincing Einstein lecture for its own purposes is truly impressive. Johnson is probably glossing over volumes of contradictory theory, but he gives viewers enough detail and grounding to make the quantum physics (and metaphysics) of EGM feel completely real. Granted, there are also religious implications to the God Model Project, which Johnson acknowledges, but diplomatically opts not to dwell upon. Ironically, his only mistake comes in incorporating too many special effects. Arguably, this is a case where we would intellectually engage more, if we saw less.

Regardless, the ambition of EGM is quite laudable and Johnson’s screenplay hangs together with greater consistency than many less complex, theoretically-informed genre films. In selling the film’s concepts, Kenneth Hughes and Darryl Warren also help tremendously with their authoritative performances as Mastenbrook and Meiselhoff, respectively. In contrast, Aaron Graham is achingly earnest but somewhat awkward on-screen as the bereaved Taylor. However, Andy Hannon gives the film a humane anchor as Taylor’s disbelieving colleague Devin and Brad Norman’s Leeham makes quite an intriguing wild card.

EGM’s opening credits might be the best of the year. They reflect the film’s smart, big picture, quantum sensibility. It is exactly the kind of science fiction film that deserves support when it opens this Friday (8/19) in Los Angeles, at the Arena Cinema.


Lo and Behold: Herzog Surfs the Net

The internet profoundly influenced daily life even more than we realize. Frankly, it is hard to remember how we engaged in piracy, anonymous slander, and bullying before it existed. Yet, we could lose all these advances in one Carrington Event. Werner Herzog takes stock of our digital condition in Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

You need not explain the perils of the internet to Hillary Clinton. Nobody is more secretive when it comes to hiding email archives, yet the personal data of her donors has still been splashed all over cyberspace. That is not exactly what Dr. Leonard Kleinrock had in mind when he collaborated on the internet’s creation. Like all good things, the internet does not lack competing creation stories, but a strong case can be make for the team of scientists assembled in UCLA’s Boelter Hall, feverishly working to send a digital message up the road to Stanford. That is where Herzog begins his ten-part meditation, finding Kleinrock to be figure of appropriately Herzogian enthusiasm.

The connected world also used to be a small world. One early pioneer still has the slim volume of all the collected email addresses of the entire connected world (sorted twice). In fact, early protocols were intended for that sort of tight little community and lagged behind the exponential growth that began in the mid-1990s. As a result, it is not long before Herzog stares into the abyss of the internet’s dark side.

Nobody better understands the anonymous malice the internet unleashes than Catsouras family. When their teen daughter Nikki was tragically killed in a car wreck, scores of trolls bombarded them with a gory leaked photo of the accident scene, along with their callous commentary. (Frankly, since Catsouras was driving a sports car, this could also be considered as part of the ugly Occupy Decency-class warfare movement, but Herzog maintains a rigidly narrow focus during this section.)

Ironically, tight focus is generally the one thing this far-ranging kitchen sink survey lacks. Herzog touches on just about everything, including internet security (with the help of in/famous hacker Kevin Mitnick) and our increasing dependency on the net for just about everything. For the record, it is not just preppers who are worried about the implications of future Carrington level solar flares. Herzog talks to scientists who share their concern. He also devotes time to commiserate with those afflicted with extreme electromagnetic sensitivity, who have found a refuge in the cell tower free zone surrounding the radio telescope in Green Bank, WV (which is named for lifetime pork barrel champion Robert C. Byrd, like everything else in West Virginia).

Basically, Herzog hopscotches through the landscape of the connected world, eliciting plenty of genuinely provocative insights, but never fully working through any of the issues addressed. Evidently, Herzog and commissioning executive producer Jim McNiel have hours of solid supplemental footage that may very well be re-purposed into different media forms, including perhaps the miniseries Lo and Behold really should have been. Still, it would be interesting to listen to Herzog discussing the history of lint traps, so given its heady topics, Lo and Behold should be a no-brainer for his fans. Recommended for what it is—an unresolved and perhaps unfinished work of technological-sociological history from a major documentarian-auteur, Lo and Behold opens this Friday (8/19) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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Kampai! For the Love of Sake

Frankly, a potent potable is only as good as the rituals and traditions that come with it. Japanese rice wine, known collectively as sake, has some of the best. It can be served hot, chilled, or at room temperature, but is always best enjoyed with others. Mirai Konishi introduces viewers to the brewers and journalistic evangelists who are maintaining and spreading the sake tradition beyond Japan’s borders in Kampai! For the Love of Sake (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

John Gauntner will help introduce us to sake, because that is his job. He came to Japan purely for a brief adventure before getting serious about his engineering career, but fell in love with the country—sake most definitely included. He became the preeminent western sake journalist and regularly runs sake tasting workshops for appreciative westerners.

For the distinctions between the many different kinds of sake, we refer you to Gauntner’s publications. For the details on brewing see either Kosuke Kuji, who reinvigorated his family’s Nanbu Bijin brewery, and Philip Harper, the first (and only, so far) non-Japanese Toji master brewer for the Kinoshita Brewery. We see some of their brewing processes, but not enough to glean any trade secrets, which is probably just as well.

Both Nanbu Bijin and Kinoshita presumably stand to gain from the film’s publicity, but sadly it is already too late for Blue Kudzu in Asheville, North Carolina. Founded by graduates of Gauntner’s program, Blue Kudzu were real deal traditional sake brewers, but they have sadly already shuttered, reportedly in part due to costly delays in the permitting process. So thanks to the local regulators, there is no sense traveling to Asheville now, in hopes of sampling their brew.

Regardless, it is surprisingly interesting to hear how these diverse but thoughtful people relate to sake. Of course, anyone who has seen their share of Ozu and Naruse films, particularly the latter’s seedier classics, like When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, appreciates the social significance of pouring sake for one’s drinking partner. Although the subjects were not untouched by the tragedy of Fukushima, the film is mostly an upbeat and informative ode to sake. It even makes product placement look quite elegant. Recommended for refined food-and-drink palates, Kampai! For the Love of Sake opens this Friday (8/19) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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HSFF ’16: Night of the Slasher

You have never seen Star Trek’s Spock like this before. However, you will certainly be familiar with the horror film motifs that are about to be satirized. Jenelle knows them too. She is deliberately breaking all the slasher movie survival rules for a reason: revenge. Of course, preternaturally resilient stalkers are as hard to kill as final girls—a fact viewers will see for themselves over the course of Shant Hamassian’s wickedly sly short film Night of the Slasher (trailer here), which screened during 2016 HollyShorts Film Festival.

Basically, Slasher is like all the genre satire of the Scream franchise compressed into the now legendary prologue—arguably the best part. In a way, the short also represents a sequel of sorts. Let’s just say there is a good reason Jenelle is so self-conscious about the scars on her neck. Apparently, she knew what she did wrong the first time or had Jamie Kennedy to explain it to her. She intends to do it all again, but this time she will be prepared for what follows—or so she thinks.

Hang onto your Drew Barrymore collectible figurines, because Slasher is a heck of a horror roller coaster. You generally know where it is going, but the way Hamassian keeps upping the ante is pretty awesome. He definitely knows his 1980s horror, including the Star Trek connection to Halloween (that Michael Myers is wearing a beached out Shatner mask).

The film looks pitch-perfect and the physicality of leads Lily Berlina (as Jenelle) and Adam Lesar (as Killer Spock) is impressive. This might be a proof-of-concept short, but it is hard to imagine how Hamassian will top the sinister lunacy he has already wrought in this world (but we’d like to see him try). Highly recommended for old school horror fans, Night of the Slasher next unspools this Wednesday night (8/17) at the MidAmericon II Film Festival, following its screening at this year’s HollyShorts.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

HSFF ’16: Princess Yun

A princess is expected to relinquish her heart to serve the throne. She must marry for expediency’s sake and potentially lead her subjects into the ravages of war. This particular princess has the additional task of safeguarding the Centrum, a cosmic artifact that can foretell the future. She will always do her duty, but that does not leave any room for sentimentality in Tiger Tse’s visually stunning sf-fantasy wuxia short film Princess Yun (trailer here), which screens during 2016 HollyShorts Film Festival.

It is the House of Li’s responsibility to protect the Centrum, while the House of Yi is charged with safekeeping the Actus, a relic that holds power over the past. For years, the two houses have maintained a peaceful equilibrium that Princess Yun expects to continue when she marries Yi’s Prince Jade. It is not just an arranged marriage. Ever since they were children, they had real affection for each other.

Unfortunately, that trust is dashed when a well-organized band of ruffians attacks the betrothed royals’ party, injuring the Prince and stealing the Centrum. With the natural balance shifted, the ambitious General Song exploits the resulting fear and uncertainty to stoke her plans for war.

You are unlikely to see a short film more visually and technically accomplished than Princess Yun in a month of Sundays. As an added bonus, it is also a film of considerable originality that spans and stretches genres. You rarely find a wuxia period piece that also incorporates time travel themes, while maintaining it ancient roots. Frankly, it is one of the few films of any length that could be described as both visionary and archetypal.

Tse has an eye for grand spectacle, but he also renders the classically tragic personal drama with great sensitivity. He is clearly ready for the big leagues and so is art director Ma Jun, whose grand sets and lush trappings overachieve and then some. Cao Jing’s costumes are similarly rich and cinematic. Chen Xiner wears them well, while subtly but powerfully conveying the complicated, conflicted feelings of the title character.

Princess Yun is another terrific example of how wuxia and related Chinese historicals give disproportionately strong roles to women, compared to action films in other countries. Princess Yun, her mother Queen Jingxi, and General Song are all forceful, commanding figures, whereas Prince Jade is the passive one. Highly recommended fans of all pertinent genres, Princess Yun screens this Tuesday night (8/16), as part of the “Action” block at this year’s HollyShorts.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

HSFF ’16: Legend of Dark Rider

In a fantasy world roughly based on Medieval Europe, the monarch and his men-at-arms expect to hold a monopoly on murder. Therefore, when a mythic savage continues to kill with impunity, it is rather bad for business. A detachment of the king’s guard has been dispatched to hunt down the half beast-half outlaw, but winter is coming and its coming for them in Titus Paar’s massively Grimdark Legend of Dark Rider (trailer here), which screens during 2016 HollyShorts Film Festival.

The Captain of the Guard clearly resents his posting to the snowy provinces to track what he assumes is a Medieval analog equivalent of an urban legend, so he intends to take out his frustration on the locals, starting with an unfortunate barmaid. However, the mysterious and hirsute (even by the local Nordic standards) Vlademir has a story that will stop the abusive soldier dead in his tracks.

It turns out Vlademir might be the person to survive an encounter with the Dark Rider. Admittedly, it was more of a distant gander, but that is more than anyone else can say, especially the captain. After all, his boorish behavior and disrespectful talk about the Rider is bound to generate some massively bad karma.

Legend is obviously a proof of concept short, but it is an insidiously effective one. Paar sets the hook quickly, while pulling off some remarkably fast and economical world building. Granted, we are probably expected to use Game of Thrones as an unofficial foundation, but most viewers will be immediately intrigued by the Rider legend and quickly primed to root for a revolution against the oppressive social order, even before the revelatory ending.

By now, there is a huge potential audience out there for a property like Dark Rider. Paar keeps it tight and tense, while the rugged cast look and sound perfect growling and fighting together, especially the exceptionally grizzled Ralf Beck as Vlademir. He can certainly tell a tale. If Paar, can maintain the tone and energy, the world of Dark Rider could be the first original fantasy franchise to rival those based on best-selling novels. Recommended for fans of GRRM, Joe Abercrombie, and Steven Erikson, Legend of Dark Rider screens this Monday (8/15) as part of the “Sci-Fi/Fantasy” block at this year’s HollyShorts.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

Dark Diamond: Robbing the Family Jewels

Pier Ulmann is out to punish the people who maimed his late father’s paw. They happened to be the diamond-dealing relatives he never knew. As far as the resentful son is concerned, any diamond that flows through their Antwerp brokerage is a blood diamond. However, he intends to make them pay where it hurts the most—their band account. Ulmann keeps his caper in the family throughout Arthur Harari’s Dark Diamond (a.k.a. Dark Inclusion, trailer here), which is now available on DVD from First Run Features.

By day, Ulmann does odd construction work, but by night he pulls off carefully targeted art thefts for Rachid, his fence and pseudo-god-father. Victor Ulmann, his real father, recently passed away, but they were so estranged, it will be days before the news reaches the son. However, after his father’s death, Ulmann starts to understand how badly the old man was done by the Antwerp Ulmanns. After a marathon diamond-cutting session led to the accidental amputation of his hand, the distraught Victor was kicked to the curb and disinherited by his father and brother Joseph.

When Joseph’s drug-addled son Gabi offers Ulmann some guilt-alleviating remodeling work, it gives him an excuse to start casing their business. However, when Ulmann talks his way into an apprenticeship with the Ulmann’s preferred cutter Rick De Vries, the son discovers he has his father’s talent. He also learns when Uncle Joseph’s big stones will be sitting innocently in the cutter’s vault.

Dark Diamond has a rather chilly Benelux sensibility, but it rather works for a diamond caper movie. Harari and his co-screenwriters Agnès Feuvre and Vincent Poymiro seem to have an insider’s understanding of the diamond business, including the shift of power from Belgium to India. The caper business is appealingly complex, but that is nothing compared to the evolving rat’s nest of divided Ulmann family loyalties.

Although Niels Schneider is known for his sensitive mop-top roles, he gives an effectively cold and clammy Joel Kinnaman-esque performance as resentful Pier. However, it is the old guys, Hafed Benotman as the deceptively placid Rachid, Hans-Peter Cloos as the unapologetic Uncle Joseph, and Jos Verbist as De Vries (perhaps the only fundamentally decent character), who give the film grit and tragic dimension.

Like Pier Ulmann, Dark Diamond commits a few errors in judgment (in some cases, their missteps are one and the same). However, its cerebral vibe and patient dot-connecting make for a rather pleasant change of pace. Recommended for Euro-caper-heist fans, Dark Diamond is now available on DVD from First Run Features.

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