J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Time Raiders: Another Tomb Raiding Franchise Gets the Feature Treatment

This excursion into the haunted tombs of western China ought to scare the willies out of Hollywood. It grossed $70 million in its opening weekend, but for added international attraction it looked to Bollywood rather than Tinseltown. For the record, it is not also based on the Ghost Blows Out the Light franchise. Instead, it is adapted from Xu Lei’s Daomu Biji novels, which has also spawned the competing television series The Lost Tomb. Officially, the supernatural does not exist in China, but it sure makes a lot of noise anyway in Daniel Lee’s Time Raiders (trailer here), which is now playing in New York.

In China, being in the “antiquities” business can be dangerous, especially the way Wu Xie’s family practices it. His Uncle Three desperately wants him to excel in a straighter line of work, but tomb raiding is in his blood. The title refers to them as “Time Raiders,” but all their raiding takes place in tombs. Of course, it would be a gifted scholar like Wu who unearths clues to the location of the fabled Snake Empress’s tomb.

Unfortunately, they have unwanted company on this expedition. They will be relentlessly pursued by a rival team of mercenaries led by Captain Ning A, retained by Hendrix, a shadowy western jillionaire. Zhang Kylin, a strong silent member of Wu’s party has some bitter history with Hendrix dating back fifty years, when the Himalayan martial artist last foiled the super-villain’s plans. Despite all his efforts, Hendrix has not aged well since that day, whereas Zhang has apparently not aged at all, so don’t scoff at the benefits of virtuous living.

Of course, when everyone gets where they are going, there will be a lot of shooting, crashing through crumbling floors, evading swarms of flesh-eating insects, and dodging the arrows of a marionette army. That is the good news. The bad news is the connective narrative is definitely on the ragged side. The third act is basically a logic-free zone, punctuated by some remarkably awkward dialogue exchanges. Frankly, Time Raiders makes Mojin look like Citizen Kane and Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe look like The Magnificent Ambersons, but if you dig huge set pieces and over the top spectacle, it is still good clean fun.

In fact, it is a minor triumph for the set design team (in collaboration with the SFX team). For the most part, the 3D is unnecessary, but it does gives viewers an eerie sense of the vastness of the underground caverns. We are talking big here.

For Chinese audiences, former EXO boy band member is also a huge marquee name, but not so much here. Jing Boran is better known in the West (probably for Monster Hunt, but Lost and Love is a far better showcase for his talents). He is actually pretty credible as the hardnosed, severely-tempered Zhang, sort of resembling a younger Chen Kun. However, Luhan is so delicate looking, their bromance scenes take on sexually ambiguous overtones that are assuredly completely unintentional, given the state’s frequent censorship of homoerotic subject matter.

However, Ma Sichun makes a convincing bid for international breakout superstardom as the steely Ning A. Her action chops are first-rate and her attitude is appealingly barbed. She is the one viewers will remember, not Bollywood star Mallika Sherawat, who basically just serves as an anchor for a swirling mass of CG effects as the Snake Empress.

It is strange that books and films about tomb plundering are so popular in China, given the government’s hardline against the practice. You could almost call it cultural appropriation, since American filmmakers essentially invented the genre with Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. Yet, Hollywood rarely makes such cliffhanger adventures anymore, so it is up to China to fill the vacuum. Mojin is still the best (probably since The Last Crusade), but at least Time Raiders is eager to please, putting it all up there on the screen. Recommended as slightly nutty, popcorn entertainment, Time Raiders is now playing in New York, at the AMC Empire, via distributor Magnum Films.

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, August 27, 2016

PDXFF ’16: Wizard Mode

You might think pinball machines are veritable museum pieces, but they are still cranking out new machines, often licensing hit films and TV series, like Avatar, 24, and Game of Thrones (you know that one must have a special place in GRRM’s hacienda). It would be fascinating to learn the economics of this apparently still viable industry, but sorry, you are in for some feel-good moral uplift instead. Jeff Petry & Nathan Drillot follow Robert E. Gagno, a high-functioning, highly ranked autistic competitive pinball player in Wizard Mode (trailer here), the opening film of the 2016 Portland Film Festival.

If the only thing you can think of right now is The Who’s Tommy, you are not alone. Petry & Drillot will duly play a cover of “Pinball Wizard” over the closing credits, but they scrupulously avoid all references until then. As fr they are concerned, this is strictly Gagno’s show. Fortunately, for the filmmakers and everyone watching their finished product, Gagno is rather sociable and sympathetic. Granted, he is somewhat socially awkward, but keep in mind, he is Canadian. You know, they have long winters up there and few people. One could argue he is doing rather well, all things considered.

For that, Gagno and his supportive parents credit pinball. It was one of the few things Gagno could lock-in on during his childhood years and he now considers it the key to his socialization. However, viewers might have a more ambiguous judgment on pinball as they watch him struggle under the pressure of championship match play.

Gagno is a nice young man working to find his place in the world, but we get the essence of his story early on. Frankly, most viewers will be more seduced by the flashing lights and old school gaming terms, like “multi-ball,” “wizard mode,” and the dreaded “tilt.” The history and scrappy survival of pinball machine development could well be the stuff of a terrific feature-length documentary—and many will wish this had been that.


However, if first and foremost you are looking for niceness than Petry & Drillot have you covered multiple times over. We really could have done without the long conversations regarding hugging. Still, once you get past those, most viewers will agree, the Gagnos truly look like super-parents and REG (as they call him) deserves credit for becoming a gainfully employed, productive member of society. That is more than three-quarters of the residents of our nation’s capital could say for themselves. Earning a mild recommendation (perhaps partly to avoid looking mean), Wizard Mode screens this coming Tuesday (8/30) and Friday (9/2) during this year’s Portland Film Festival.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Sea of Trees: Gus Van Sant Stumbles Around Aokigahara

Yet again, another film dramatizes the dangers posed to humanity by forests, yet refuses to take up the cause of deforestation. In this case, those woods are truly lethal. We are talking about the Aokigahara forest below Mount Fuji, considered the world’s top suicide destination site (previously seen in the horror movie, The Forest). An American has come to do what depressed people do here, but a New Agey woo-woo encounter might change his mind in Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

If you are in this movie, you probably don’t have much to live for. Arthur Brennan certainly feels that way, at least initially. As we learn during an interminable series of flashbacks, Brennan is wracked with guilt over the death of his wife Joan, even though she was a real pill up until she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor. Frankly, his suicidal despair just doesn’t follow from the long agonizing scenes of marital discord Van Sant mercilessly inflicts on his viewers.

However, just as Brennan is about to put the audience out of its misery, he stumbles across the badly wounded Takumi Nakamura, a laid-off salaryman, who entered the forest with similar intentions. With their survival instincts kicking in, Brennan and Nakamura will work together to weather the harsh elements and hopefully find their way out of the supernaturally dense woods.

Actually, the film sort of perks up during the survivalist second act, but it eventually descends into a maudlin orgy of on-the-nose symbolism and eye-rolling sentimentality. Is there really a Nakamura with Brennan or is he a psychological projection or maybe even a helpful spirit? Oh, but it is so ambiguous.

So basically, Sea of Trees is Swiss Army Man without the fart jokes. No question about it, the best thing about the film are the trees, which cinematographer Kasper Tuxen’s wide angles manage to make look both serene and sinister. Matthew McConaughey struggles valiantly, wisely taking an understated approach to the overwrought material on his plate, but it is a losing effort. As Nakamura, Ken Watanabe looks like he is counting the seconds until he can leave the dank, muddy forest. In her not so brief scenes as Joan Brennan, Naomi Watts seems to be auditioning for a revival August: Osage County, but she is still a thousand times more subtle and reserved than Meryl Streep. Yet perhaps most baffling, emerging Japanese star Hyunri (who was absolutely revelatory in The Voice of Water) has a throwaway walk-on-cameo as a flight attendant.

Sea is one of those films whose unforgiving reception at Cannes has given it a notorious vibe. All the ruckus tomato-throwing often creates a perversely sympathetic climate among domestic critics for such films (like Only God Forgives), until we get a chance to see them. Granted, Sea is not wildly offensive, but the Cannes press corps still wasn’t far wrong. Not recommended, The Sea of Trees opens today (8/26) in New York, at the Village East.

Labels: , , ,

Don’t Breathe: One Way or Another, Detroit Will Kill You

Detroit has slashed it police force by forty percent over the last ten years. Ordinarily, that makes things awfully convenient for Rocky and her burglar pals, because it means there just are not a lot of cops to respond to calls. However, their perspective will change drastically when they pick the profoundly wrong house to invade in Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe (trailer here), which opens nationwide today.

Detroit’s population has fallen below 700,000 yet its murder rate is eleven times what we have here in sprawling, unruly New York City. It is not uncommon to see one lone house standing amongst the razed ruins of formerly residential neighborhood. Rocky, her slimy boyfriend Money, and the torch-carrying Alex think they will find a big score inside one of them. Supposedly, the owner is a blind veteran, who received a large cash settlement when a well-heeled Grosse Pointe teenager killed his daughter in a hit-and-run.

Alex is sort of the inside man. His father works for a security company, so he has access to their alarm codes. Ordinarily, he insists on strict ground rules. The total haul should be under ten grand and include no cash. That way they can avoid grand larceny charges. This job will violate all his terms, but he agrees anyway for Rocky’s sake. In retrospect, that will be a profound mistake.

Needless to say, the old man is spryer than they anticipated. In fact, he is pretty chiseled. He also has rather sinister reasons for not wanting any visitors. When the lights are out, he clearly holds home field advantage.

Admittedly, making the terrifying old man a veteran is a real buzz kill, but at least Alvarez and co-screenwriter Rodo Sayagues try not to belabor the point (unlike the aggressively disrespectful Dementia). Arguably, it is the quickest credible explanation for why an old blind cat would have a commando’s physique (being a cop wounded on the job could add unnecessary narrative complications).

In any event, there is a ton of sneaking around on tippy-toe in Breathe, which Alvarez executes quite adroitly. Ironically, some of the most intense sequences spell out of the inhospitable house, in part because they underscore just how on your own you are in some Detroit neighborhoods.

As always, Stephen Lang is massively hardnosed as the old man, whom he plays with extra crustiness and erratic twitchiness this time around. Jane Levy chokes back screams and holds her breath pretty effectively, but it is hard to get how she got involved with Money, Daniel Zovatto’s white trash caricature or Alex, the big nothing blandly portrayed by Dylan Minnette.

Alvarez keeps raising the stakes nicely, maintaining a tight, tense one-darned-thing-after-another pace. It is maybe not staggeringly original (one could argue it shares surface similarities with Viet Nguyen’s Crush the Skull and Adam Schindler’s Intruders, both of which are even better), but it gets the genre job done. Recommended for horror fans, Don’t Breathe opens in theaters across the country today (8/26), including the AMC Empire in New York.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Level Up: Same Old Gamer Same-Same

Shamelessly under-achieving Matt plays too many video games and it will cost him. If he had watched any of the dozens of thematically similar films released in the last few years, he would recognize all the clichés that are about to bum-rush his boring life. Violent gaming goes offline yet again in Adam Randall’s Level Up (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Anna is the one with the job, but entitled Matt still can’t man-up to give his meal ticket a proper date night. The next day, she is kidnapped by balaclava wearing thugs on her way to work (something he wouldn’t know anything about). The same faceless villains outfit Matt with what looks like a suicide vest, but really contains a dummy package he must deliver to a certain place at a certain time, if he ever wants to see Anna alive again. Of course, there will be those trying to stop him, with lethal force if necessary. It is all part of some twisted game, but you would think they could have picked more interesting players.

How is Level Up derivative? Let us count the ways. It clearly follows in the tradition of video games gone all too real, recently exemplified by Beta Test and The Call Up, but it lacks the grittily cinematic lead of the former and the snazzy wardrobe of the latter. It also borrows from the infinitely superior Big Match and Rob Zombie’s even worse 31, in which well-heeled meanies place wagers on involuntary blood sport contestants. The loved ones in jeopardy aspect also recalls Raze, which really does not need to be recalled. So yes, we have seen this all before and we’ve seen it much better and far worse. If anything distinguishes Level Up, it is the utter blandness of its approach.

Josh Bowman must be the dullest leading man in the history of ticking clock thrillers. His supposedly desperate gamer constantly looks like he is woozy from a Nyquil jag. Since all the bad guys remain masked throughout, the film has no colorful villains to fall back on. The biggest name in the cast is probably Ben Wheatley regular Neil Maskell, who plays Dmitri, the chief henchman, but of course he too remains scrupulously under wraps. It is not like he has one of the resonant, immediately recognizable voices that makes you say: “dude, that’s Neil Maskell, buckle-up because we’re in for a wild ride,” so that doesn’t leave us with much.


It is one thing for a B-movie to rip-off its predecessors. There is a long, eccentric history of that kind of thing. What makes Level Up so problematic is its lack of energy and notable characters. Its really just a big nothing. Not recommended, Level Up opens tomorrow (8/26) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Space Dogs Adventure to the Moon

It was tough being a hero of the Soviet Motherland. Poor Laika, the first dog placed in orbit, died from hyperthermia, but the Soviets covered-up the details of her painful demise for decades. In contrast, Ham the chimpanzee, the first hominid in space, lived another seventeen peaceful years in DC’s National Zoo following his mission into space. Have no fear, these cute canine cosmonauts will fare better than their inspiration in Mike Disa’s Space Dogs Adventure to the Moon (trailer here), which opens this Friday in regional markets.

If you missed the original Space Dogs, you should still be able to pick up on the subtleties of the relationships. Scrappy young Pushok still dreams of following in the footsteps of his German Shepherd cosmonaut father Kazbek—and he probably will, since family connections trump merit in the 1960s-era USSR. His mother Belka, a former space dog, has returned to the vaudeville circuit with her old partner Strelka, while Pushok is on a good will tour at the Kennedy White House. However, when Kazbek disappears while investigating suspicious activity on the Moon (including the theft of the Eifel Tower via tractor beam), Pushok and Belka will hitch rides on respective American and Soviet rockets to find him.

The Moon edition of Space Dogs is pleasantly safe family fare, but it is sometimes interesting to see how they deal with the historical details. JFK is never seen, but his presence in the White House is clearly implied. However, poor Nikita Khrushchev remains persona non grata. Disa and co-screenwriter Rolfe Kanefsky generally tip-toe around the harsh realities of Soviet life, but Freud the hairless cat is obviously a representative of the KGB or GRU attached to the Soviet space program, which makes him decidedly sinister. On the other hand, Chip the chimpanzee embodies a lot of American materialist stereotypes, but his Texan-ness is a clever touch.


Younger viewers who dig dogs and space are going to flip for Moon, because two plus two just equals four. However, it is historically savvy enough to keep parents from totally zoning out and wondering who will be brutally murdered next on Game of Thrones. Nice enough as a diversion for the kids, Space Dogs Adventure opens this Friday (8/26) throughout Texas and Arizona and at the Aurora Plaza 8 in Colorado.

Labels:

Moretti’s Mia Madre

Film directors are usually control freaks. It just goes with the territory. That’s great for their auteurist visions, but not so hot for personal relationships. Margherita’s mother still loves her anyway, even in periods of ill health and maybe not quite 100% sound mind. The headstrong daughter should probably start preparing for the inevitable, but she has a didactic art film to finish first in Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Vittorio was the closest thing Margherita had to a muse, but that did not stop her from dumping him midway through their latest shoot. Barry Huggins, a famous American character actor supposedly fluent in Italian will soon be joining the production, but he most definitely will not be taking Vittorio’s place. Frankly, she is far too preoccupied with her mother Ada’s health, but so far she has left most of the hard work to her older brother Giovanni. She is also trying to be a reasonably responsible mother to her Latin-flunking, Vespa-yearning daughter Livia, but it does not come natural to her.

Unfortunately, developments on the set push Margherita to the verge of a nervous breakdown. The high maintenance Huggins might understand Italian, but his fluency is iffy and his memorization of lines is even more suspect. Plus, just about every technical problem imaginable threatens to rob the world of another overwrought melodrama about unionized strikers.

Mia Madre’s acute attention to personal crises definitely makes it feel like a Nanni Moretti film, but it is hard not to hear Georges Delerue’s soaring themes from Truffaut’s Day for Night welling up in the back of your head. Considering the ways the two films parallel each other (socially awkward, semi-autobiographical filmmakers whose sanity and latest productions are nearly undermined by untimely tragedy), it is hard to imagine Moretti wasn’t engaging with the Oscar winner on some level.

Be that as it may, Mia Madre is a fine work with an unusually high quotient of emotional truth. Margherita Buy takes another slyly subtle star turn as Margherita the namesake director, proving she is one of the best in the business. John Turturro is quite a good sport hamming it up as Huggins (who else could he be lampooning, but himself?), yet when we least expect it, he and Moretti will irreversibly humanize the Yankee prima donna. Moretti the helmer-thesp (who has not infrequently been cast in other people’s movies) oozes dignity as the wise, soul-weary Giovanni. He just can’t help being charismatic on-screen. However, Giulia Lazzarini is doing standard TV movie-central casting stuff as the spirited but slowly fading Ada.

Mia Madre is a very nice film, but Day for Night is a masterwork. That is an unfair comparison, but Moretti seems to invite it. Nevertheless, Buy follows up her wonderfully understated turn in the grossly underappreciated A Five Star Life with another notably smart and mature performance. Recommended for patrons of Italian cinema and fans of Turturro, Mia Madre opens this Friday (8/26) in New York, at the Lincoln Plaza uptown and the Angelika Film Center downtown.

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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 (8/26) in New York, at the Village East and in Orlando at the AMC Disney Springs.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , , , , , ,

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.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: ,

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).

Labels: , , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: , ,

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.

Labels: ,