J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cut to the Chase: Shreveport Noir

It is a really bad idea to run up gambling debts with a gangster simply known as “The Man.” It is a particularly bad idea to do so in Louisiana, where a lot of the rules do not apply so much. Of course, a lowlife like Max Chase specializes in really bad decisions. He assumed his sister, an assistant district attorney would protect him from consequences, but he will have to save her instead when she disappears under mysterious circumstances in Blayne Weaver’s Cut to the Chase (trailer here), which screens tomorrow in New York and next Monday in Los Angeles.

After an ill-advised double-or-nothing bet, Chase now has a week to pay The Man $3,000—or else. Yet, he is not even trying to raise the money or get out of town. He just carries on with his degenerate life style. Unfortunately, he misses the frantic calls from his frantic sister Isobel during his drunken debauchery.

It turns out Izzy Chase had an abusive ex-boyfriend in her private life and had just been assigned to lead the DA’s case against The Man in her professional life, so there is no shortage of people Chase can get mad at. Thanks to the spooked DA (who was also seeing Isobel on the side), Chase tracks down Nola Barnes, the star witness against The Man to forge an alliance of convenience. Unfortunately, Chase is getting played left and right, but he is still dangerous in a bull in a china shop kind of way.

The most important thing to take into consideration regarding Cut is Lance Henriksen, The Man himself, plays The Man. Knowing Henriksen is on-board guarantees the film a solid baseline of genre entertainment. As his own lead, Weaver is certainly willing to act sad and disreputable, perhaps succeeding too well. Lyndie Greenwood also shows some impressive fierceness as Barnes. Frankly, the entire film is well cast. The problem is the narrative often feels very small time.

When watching Cut, it is hard not to think of the recent tragic death of Bill Paxton, who made a specialty of playing colorfully flawed characters in Southern noirs like this. Weaver is no Paxton, but he is not bad, while Henriksen reliably does his thing, being The Man. Darkly diverting but not exactly essential, Cut to the Chase screens tomorrow (2/28) in New York, at the AMC Loews 19thStreet.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscars 1976: The Man Who Skied Down Everest

Win an Oscar, attain immortality. That is what media coverage of the Academy Awards generally suggests. However, without the headline above, could you have named the best documentary winner from 1976? Honestly, it is a decent film, but it is not exactly on the tip of a lot of tongues, like so many forgotten statuette winners. At least Bruce Nyznik & Lawrence Schiller’s The Man Who Skied Down Everest (trailer here) has been restored by the Academy and recently released on DVD and BluRay from the Film Detective.

Yuichiro Miura twice became the oldest man to summit Everest in 2003 and 2013, but in the mid-1970s he famous for, you know, skiing down it. His May 1970 expedition was eventful and duly documented by Nyznik, Schiller, and their intrepid cinematographer Mitsuji Kanau (who also shot the Sandakan 8, which was nominated for best foreign language film at the same Oscars). As those who have seen subsequent Everest documentaries understand, just getting to the mountain is a grueling trek. Unfortunately, their party met with tragedy when an ice shelf collapsed under six Sherpas.

Miura does in fact question whether his mad scheme can still be justified in light of their deaths. We hear much from him throughout the film, yet we rarely really truly hear from him. The voice-overs are entirely adapted from his expedition journals, but instead of relying on his voice and subtitles, we hear Douglas Rain (the voice of HAL 9000) narrate the English translations. This was probably considered a much more accessible strategy at the time, but it makes it far more difficult to forge an emotional connection with Miura. Rain’s rich English-sounding Canadian voice arguably is not so well suited to Miura’s Zen-like meditations, making them sound more self-serious than they probably should.

Still, there is no question the filmmakers captured some extreme alpinism. Frankly, it is a little surprisingly some distributor did not think to re-release the Oscar winning doc during the mini-boomlet for mountaineering films a few years ago. Man Who Skied is particularly notable because you can argue the 1970 skiing campaign was either a thrilling victory or an agonizing defeat based on the climatic event itself.

It is entirely possible the filmmakers would make different aesthetic decisions if they were making Man Who Skied today. Nevertheless, it remains a film with considerable merits (including its respect for the Sherpas). It might jolly well have been the best documentary released in 1975, for what that’s worth.

If you want to see how fleeting supposed “fame” can be, checkout the video of the producers receiving their Oscars from Beau Bridges and Marilyn Hassett. Bridges and who? Hassett co-starred with Bridges in The Other Side of the Mountain, which at that time was one of Universal’s top-grossing films ever. She won the best newcomer award at that year’s Golden Globes, without generating any controversy. The Academy declined to nominate her, but in retrospect it seems almost suspiciously apt they chose the stars of a skiing drama to give the documentary award in a year when a skiing doc won. Regardless, it is worth remembering as this year’s presenters make their tiresome political statements how short the shelf life for fame and Oscar glory can be.

In contrast, Miura did really went out and did something. It was probably crazy and ill-advised, but he ran the risks just as much as his unfortunate Sherpas—and he keeps going back out there. Recommended for extreme sports fans, The Man Who Skied Down Everest is now available on DVD and BluRay, from the Film Detective.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Reseeing Iran ’17: 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami

Somehow Abbas Kiarostami found a way to rise above the extreme manifestations of politics and ideology that have bedeviled Iran for decades. He never went into exile (voluntarily or otherwise), yet he openly collaborated with dissident filmmakers like Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rassoulof. He rarely directly addressed contentious issues, yet his focus on children characters is often considered a deliberate strategy to circumvent censorship. With his death, there is no equivalent filmmaker to step into his shoes. Kiarostami’s friend and photographic colleague Seyfolah Samadian splices together some of the fond moments he captured with the master in 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami (trailer here), which screens tomorrow as part of Reseeing Iran: The 21st Annual Iranian Film Festival in DC.

It is easy to see why Samadian and Kiarostami were friends and collaborators. As fellow photographers, they both shared an appreciation for visual composition. Unfortunately, from a cinematic perspective, Samadian was apparently particularly involved in Kiarostami’s long-take video installation Five Dedicated to Ozu, an ostensive tribute to the Japanese master, which is easily one of the most challenging films in the Kiarostami oeuvre. However, it makes it clear those paddlings of ducks and gaggles of geese did not happen by accident.

If nothing else, 76 Minutes will present a clear picture of Kiarostami’s painstakingly deliberate process of crafting film. Yet, there is nothing neurotic or obsessive about it. Instead, he rather seems to enjoy it. As befits its purpose as a tribute film, Samadian includes many scenes of Kiarostami reciting poetry and laughing with friends. Both subject and toastmaster-documentarian also look like they get a kick out of the meta scenes, as when Samadian films Kiarostami “co-directing” a scene Massoud Kimiai, with Panahi serving as their handheld cinematographer.

There are some interesting insights tucked away in 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds (an accurate reflection of the films running time that also references Kiarostami’s age at the time of his death: 76 years and 15 days), but it is definitely a small, quiet film. Still, the man who helmed minimalist fare such as Five and Shirin would probably approve.

Samadian’s doc has often been paired-up with Kiarostami’s final short film on the festival circuit and such is the case again this weekend. Kiarostami’s Take Me Home is a Red Balloon-esque film that follows a rolling soccer-football through the infinite, Escher-like steps of a picturesque Southern Italian coastal village. The black-and-white cinematography is spectacular and Peter Soleimanipour’s melodic score is snappy and sophisticated, but the computer-enhanced bouncing ball is often distractingly fake looking. Still, it is another film that illustrates how Kiarostami’s photographic sensibilities influenced his films. 

Regardless, Certified Copy remains one of his most wry and rapturously best films. 76 Minutes and 15 Seconds with Abbas Kiarostami is basically recommended for the auteur’s dedicated admirers when it screens tomorrow (2/26) at the National Gallery of Art, but Certified Copy is recommended for everyone when it screens today (2/25) and Monday (2/27) at the AFI Silver Theatre, as part of Reseeing Iran.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Get Out: Racial Politics, Blumhouse-Style

Rose Armitage’s parents are truly terrifying. They are rich white liberals who would have voted for Obama a third time if they had the chance. That alone sounds pretty creepy, but they go out of their way to be hospitable when Rose brings her African American boyfriend home for a visit. However, they have nefarious ulterior motives for their warm welcome in Jordan Peele’s Blumhouse-produced Get Out (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

Armitage promises Chris Washington her parents will not freak out when they meet him and initially they live up to her assurances. Frankly, they might be trying to act a little too cool. Her jerkweed brother Jeremy is a different story, but everyone seems duly embarrassed by him. Washington is slightly put off by the constant offers from Rose’s hypnotherapist mom Missy to stop his smoking habit through post-hypnotic suggestion, but it is the eerily quiet live-in housekeeper and handyman (both African American) who first stir his suspicions.

Washington really starts to get freaked when a missing acquaintance of his TSA buddy Rod Williams turns up at the Armitages’ garden party on the arm of a late middle-aged white woman, acting thoroughly lobotomized. He will snap out of it long enough to provide the titular warning, but by this point the trap is set. Williams and his TSA-honed crime-fighting instincts possibly represent Washington’s best hope, so he should probably start saying his prayers.

Since there is really nothing to satirize in the Trump White House these days, Peele profitably turns his attention towards limousine (or at least McMansion) liberals. As part of the Key & Peele duo, he has relatively little comedy experience, but he makes the transition quite smoothly with Get Out. Of course, many of the laughs come from a dark “you’re in trouble now, dude” kind of place, just like most successful horror comedies. Granted, the actual evil plot afoot is beyond ludicrous, but Peele still gets us to buy in, thanks to the potent feeling of paranoia he so deftly keeps cranking up.

Daniel Kaluuya is serviceable enough as Washington, the not completely clueless but still insufficiently intuitive potential victim. Allison Williams perfectly plays with and off him as Rose Armitage, adding a meta element as the daughter of MSNBC news reader Brian Williams and a cast-member of HBO’s Girls. Similarly, West Wing’s Bradley Whitford (so wonderfully manic in the Broadway revival of Boeing-Boeing) is uncomfortably convincing as the predatory liberal, Dean Armitage. Lil Rel Howery is a bit shticky as Williams, but he still scores a good deal of laughs, often at his own expense. However, it is Betty Gabriel (in her third Blumhouse production) who really brings the weirdness as the disturbingly spaced-out domestic, Georgina.

One might argue Get Out is not nearly as didactic as it has been cracked up to be. Maybe it is an awkward viewing experience if you identify with the Armitages of the world, but if you are coming from a different perspective, it is easy to just laugh at their mayhem. Recommended for its paranoid nuttiness, Get Out opens today (2/24) in New York at multiple locations, including the AMC Empire.

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Drifter: Giving Cannibalism a Bad Name

It is the post-apocalyptic near-future or maybe just California today. Cars are worth killing for and so is just about everything else. Yet the cannibals living in a nearly deserted trailer park village can apparently get by just by waiting for prospective food to blow into town. Two desperate brothers will become the special of the day in Chris von Hoffmann’s Drifter (trailer here), which opens today in Los Angeles.

Miles and Dominic Pierce just got themselves some payback, so they are now on the run. Unfortunately, the more passive Miles had a hole literally blown through his hand. Deml does not look like they would have much medical help but they stop anyway—and they will stay stopped, thanks to the freaky old dude who punctures their tire. Vijah takes them in out of compassion, but she implores the hot-headed Dominic to sit tight and shut up. Unfortunately, that is not how he rolls. Thanks to his blundering, the Pierce Brothers will find themselves on the business end of some torture porn, before one off them gets served up rare.

Drifter is a horribly frustrating film, because the first act shows surprising promise, but it soon craters into a morass of clichéd sadism. The abandoned temp housing and mobile homes are an unsettling sight, perfectly underscored by Nao Sato’s John Carpenter-ish soundscape. Tobias Deml sun-drenched cinematography further heightens the sense of disorientation.

Bizarrely, it is all undone when von Hoffmann has the pack of flesh-eaters execute the more interesting brother, leaving the audience to endure nearly an hour of desensitizing carnage that does not even build up much appreciable suspense. Halfway through, you will just implore the film to end as soon as possible.

It is so obvious when Drifter runs off the rails, you have to wonder how von Hoffmann could let it happen. Oh well, better luck next time. There will indeed most likely be a next time, because you can see some impressive horror movie mise-en-scene work went into Drifter. It just lacks the character and narrative development to match. Not recommended (unless you only watch the first half hour of any given movie), Drifter opens today (2/24) at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood, USA.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Lost Cat Corona: Truly Made in NY

A lot of those free “Made in NY” subway posters doled out by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment go to films that do not look so “made in NY,” but that certainly won’t be an issue here. People in the City tend to forget Queens is technically part of Long Island, but it has plenty of street smart neighborhoods and iconic New York sites. From the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park of World’s Fair fame to plenty of back alleys and backyards, a reluctant sad sack searches for his girlfriend’s missing feline in Anthony Tarsitano’s Lost Cat Corona (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Leonard the black cat is missing, probably to make poor Dominic’s life miserable. He had taken the day off to attend the wake for the father of his high school pal Sal, but the domineering Connie insists he find Leonard first. For a while, Dominic’s buddy Ponce offers his dubious help, but all he finds is a paper bad stuffed with cash and a severed ear. As Dominic scours the neighborhood, he crosses paths with some criminal elements. Disappointingly, it seems old Sal the cop is one of them. However, Dominic also re-connects with some decent folks, including his Uncle Sam and Jimmy Pipes, a Vietnam veteran whose Purple Heart was stolen by a local punk kid.

As movies go, LCC is light-weight and wafer-thin, but Ralph Macchio carries it quite well. The Karate Kid survivor was surprisingly funny in the unfairly maligned Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead and he exudes an easy everyman charm as Dominic. On the other hand, Gina Gershon is like fingernails on the blackboard as Connie, a stereotypical big-haired hen-pecking Queens drama queen. The large ensemble of New York character actors largely do their shticky thing playing colorful members of the neighborhood, but Tom Wopat (the former Duke of Hazard turned Tony-nominated Broadway mainstay) is the clear standout for his sensitive turn as Pipes.

Let’s be honest, a film about a lost cat is by definition small stakes stuff, but Tarsitano helms with a light touch. Over the course of the day, he forces Dominic to dredge up some painful memories, but the film never feels maudlin or manipulative. In fact, it is rather pleasant in a low-calorie, low-stress kind of way. Recommended for natives of Queens and maybe parts of Brooklyn that can relate, Lost Cat Corona opens tomorrow (2/24) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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NYICFF ’17: Your Name.

It is the second highest grossing domestic film in Japan, second only to a Miyazaki film. In some ways, the teen body-switch Macguffin is comfortably nostalgic, evoking memories of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s I Are You, You Am Me, but it also displays a post-Fukushima sensibility. Perhaps it came along at the perfect zeitgeisty time for Japanese audiences, but it is still more than sufficiently universal to sweep up viewers of any nation in its tragic romance. Anime does not get much more emotionally sophisticated than Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name. (trailer here), which screens as the opening spotlight selection of the 2017 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Taki Tachibana is a bit of a mess, but the Tokyo high school student works hard at his part-time job waiting tables. Mitsuha Miyamizu is a very together student, but she would much prefer to live in Tokyo than the provincial Itomori, because she is embarrassed by her overbearing father, the most likely crooked mayor, and the Kuchikamizake rituals (sake brewed from chewed-up and spit-out rice) she is forced to participate in. Even though they are strangers separated by miles, Tachibana and Miyamizu start waking up in each other’s bodies. It happens regularly enough they develop a system leaving notes for each other on their smart phones of what transpired while they were swapped.

Initially, they bicker via voice memos and generally angst out over the ways they disrupt their respective lives, but naturally a strange attraction percolates between them, even though they never met face-to-face. As a result, Tachibana grows alarmed when the switching suddenly stops. In fact, he is so concerned, he sets off to find Miyamizu offline, or whatever the right term might be, only to learn her hometown was destroyed several years prior in a freak comet collision.

At this point, Name takes a turn into Il Mare territory, introducing unexpectedly fantastical, temporal, and spiritual themes. Frankly, Shinkai’s adaptation of his own novel is almost assuredly the most mature and potent movie romance you will see all year—and its anime. Seriously, if you are not carried along by its sweep and earnest pluckiness than you really must be old and mean.

Both Miyamizu and Tachibana are appealing but imperfect teenage characters, who are each surrounded by believably distinctive social circles. Anyone living in the first world, broadly defined, should be able to relate to the body-switchers and their friends. A perfect case in point is Tachibana’s rather endearing crush relationship with Miki Okudera, a college student also working at the restaurant, whom Miyamizu finally asks out, on his behalf.

Arguably, the first act body-switching business is like cinematic comfort food. We have seen it before, but it always seems to work. However, even reasonably committed anime fans are likely to be surprised how original Your Name gets and how deep it goes. The characters, especially the co-leads, are gracefully rendered and many of the visuals are quite striking. Very highly recommended, Your Name. screens this Saturday (2/25) at the SVA Theatre, as the opening spotlight of this year’s NYICFF.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Reel South: An Enduring Legacy

If you have ever gone on an eating tour of New Orleans and Cajun country, there is a good chance you ate oysters supplied by Croatian-American oyster farmers. It really is more like farming than fishing, as the veteran oyster hands duly explain in James Catano’s An Enduring Legacy: Louisiana’s Croatian Americans (trailer here), which airs as part of the current season of Reel South on PBS’s World Channel (hosted by Darius Rucker).

It stands to reason the skills one learns living off the Dalmatian Coast translate fairly readily to the Gulf Coast. In fact, Croatian immigrants quickly identified the comparative advantage they held in oyster farming. Since the late 1800s, they have built a small but resilient community in Louisiana, largely centered on the oyster business. As one might expect, Hurricane Katrina did not do them any favors, but it was the BP oil spill and the clueless response that really threatened their livelihoods. Yet, they persevere and have started building more permanent community infrastructure.

Basically, Catano pitches it to viewers straight over the plate, but it is a story worth hearing, so why get overly complicated? These are hard-working, hard-playing folks who do not ask anything from anyone. All they want to do is work their oyster beds and keep their Croatian cultural traditions alive for the next generation (who seem to be showing interest, even though there is less oyster work to be had).

It just goes to show, when it comes to New Orleans and the state of Louisiana, the more you look, the more you find. Frankly, just the thought of oysters prepared any dozens of ways in the Crescent City should make you hungry, so it is nice to take twenty-some minutes to appreciate the oyster farmers who helped make so many great meals possible. Recommended for additional perspective on a fascinating state, An Enduring Legacy: Louisiana’s Croatian Americans airs this Sunday (2/26), as part of the current season of Reel South.

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Bitter Harvest: Ukraine’s Tragic History, Finally on the Big Screen

On the spectrum of human enormity, the Holodomor, Stalin’s genocidal campaign to starve Ukraine to the brink of extinction, ranks somewhere near the Cambodian Killing Fields, just below the National Socialist Holocaust. Yet, many in the West never knew it was happening. The prime culprit of Stalin’s disinformation campaign was the compromised journalist Walter Duranty. The New York Times no longer stands by his reports but the Pulitzer organization refuses to rescind the prize they awarded for his denial of Stalin’s crimes against humanity. On one level, George Mendelok’s English language Bitter Harvest functions as a historical romance, but it is also a timely reminder of what happens when journalists chose to serve as propagandists. Truth is a victim along with upwards of 7.5 million Ukrainians in Mendeluk’s Harvest (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

There was no love for the Czar amongst Ukraine’s sturdy peasantry, so they initially welcomed the revolution as an opportunity to finally declare independence. Unfortunately, Lenin soon reconquered the republic, expressly so its grain could fuel the Soviet regime. After his death, Stalin pursued a more exploitative and intentionally brutal policy. All land was nationalized and collectivized. Harvests were almost entirely exported back to Moscow, leaving insufficient stocks for even subsistence living and the borders were sealed, with full knowledge mass starvation would result.

Like so many Ukrainians, Yuri comes from Kulak stock, the so-called “rich land-owning” peasants, a term that only makes sense to a Marxist-Leninist theorist or a Bernie Sanders intern. His childhood sweetheart Natalka grew up in even meaner conditions, but her family will still suffer and starve at the hands of the brutal commissar quartered in their village.

When Yuri is awarded a scholarship to a Kiev art school, he assumes it will offer opportunities to help his family, but conditions in the city turn out to be worse than in the countryside. He also witnesses the Party’s attack on free expression first-hand when Socialist Realism is rigidly mandated throughout the school. He assumes his old village chum will protect him when he is elected Ukrainian Party Secretary, but poor Mykola fails to understand the caprices of Comrade Stalin until he finds himself on the business end of a purge. When Yuri is also imprisoned, his hopes of reuniting with Natalka look grim, but the grandson of a legendary Cossack warrior has more fight in him than the art school pedigree might suggest.

On-screen, Bitter Harvest has the epic tragedy of its obvious role model film, Doctor Zhivago. However, if you sniff underneath the celluloid, you might smell the burnt rubber and tear gas that permeated many crew members who participated in the Maidan Square demonstrations on their free days from shooting. The parallels between the Lenin and Stalin eras of exploitation and attempted annihilation and the Putin era neo-Soviet militarism hardly need explaining. Yet, lingering ignorance of the Holodomor helps embolden Putin’s military incursions.

Much like Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn, Mendeluk and screenwriter Richard Bachynsky Hoover clearly illustrate the acrid demoralization of the propaganda that so brazenly denied the victims of Communism’s abject suffering (Duranty does indeed make an appearance in the film, but there is no context to explain who he is). Yet, the Zhivago-esque storyline has plenty of sweep and even harbors a handful of surprises. Samantha Barks was probably the best part of the Les Mis movie, but she is even more convincing as an illegitimate Slavic peasant than a French street urchin. Max Irons is a little stiff portraying Yuri’s puppy love years, but he shows some surprising grit in the second and third acts. Terence Stamp does his hardnosed thing as old leathery Ivan, while Tamer Hassan chillingly projects the wanton cruelty of the empowered extremist.

Bitter Harvest is not a pitch-perfect film. Frankly, Mendeluk’s dream sequences are far too woo-woo for a film that ought to be all about cold hard realism. However, it vividly shines a light on a criminally under-reported and often deliberately misunderstood case of systematic mass murder, while the family saga picks up speed and power as it develops. Highly recommended for fans of big picture historical dramas, Bitter Harvest opens this Friday (2/24) at the AMC Empire in Midtown and the Village East downtown.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

WFA ’17: Beyond the Curtain (short)

Even though Chinese opera has a long tradition, all but eight so-called “model operas” were banned during the Cultural Revolution. Not surprisingly, comic books faced a similar, but possibly more stringent prohibition. Yet, a mysterious man will spark a young boy’s interest in both, despite the oppressive conditions mandated by the Gang of Four in Haixu Liu’s short film Beyond the Curtain (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Winter Film Awards.

Hai’s family has relocated to the provinces, but they have largely been spared the worst of the Cultural Revolution. They certainly seem to be sufficiently poor, since Hai lacks even the simple toys enjoyed by his classmates. One day, a mysterious homeless man starts to take an interest in the boy, giving him a few modest gifts, including a series of hand-drawn comic books that begins the narrative of a dark and stormy operatic tale of courtly intrigue.

With tragic inevitability, Hai’s comics and discovered. Consequently, his parents and local cadres force him to denounce the homeless man. Although the resulting guilt and shame will haunt Hai all his life, he will not understand the full significance of his forced betrayal until he visits that same provincial village decades later, returning as a successful opera director.

Curtain really is bittersweet in the fullest sense of the word. While the pain from the Cultural Revolution lingers, the inspiration stoked by the mysterious vagabond also has a lasting, edifying effect. Somehow, Liu tightly bundles up every conceivable emotional response in his potent happy-sad pay-off, getting key assists from his small but talented ensemble. As young Hai, Zhiwen Zhang is arrestingly open and earnest, while Xianli Meng is hauntingly dignified and sad as the homeless man.

Liu also has an impressive eye for visual composition. He dramatically contrasts the drabness of life during the Cultural Revolution with the lush, stylized sets of the opera unfolding in Hai’s comic books. Arguably, Curtain is more cinematic than most full length features. In fact, Liu fits plenty of character development into its twenty-seven-minute running time, telling quite a dramatic, era-spanning story with great economy. Very highly recommended, Beyond the Curtain screens this Sunday night (2/26) and the following Wednesday (3/1) as part of programming blocks of the 2017 Winter Film Awards.

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The Girl with All the Gifts: R-Rated Zombie YA-Crossover Adaptation

Humanity ought to just give up the ghost and make way for zombies to rule the Earth in our place. It is what we deserve for being so rapacious and exploitative, whereas zombies are all about sensitivity and sustainable growth. Not according to any zombie film we’ve ever seen, yet those same films insist the shuffling hordes will be better stewards of the planet. That is even true of the zombie movies based on YA-crossover novels. In this case, it also happens to be rated R. Regardless, humanity is up the creek, but Melanie, a second-generation “hungry” probably has the right stuff to survive in Colm McCarthy’s The Girl with All the Gifts (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

In this case, Melanie really is a girl, a bright ten-year-old who carries the zombie-turning fungal infection. Since she was infected in-utero, she can still conduct herself in a rational manner, as long as she does not get a good whiff of human flesh. She and two or three dozen of her fellow hybrids are serving as research guinea pigs in a secret military base outside London. Helen Justineau is probably the only sympathetic adult figure the kids-with-the-gift know. Aside from her, nobody on staff really takes her daily lessons seriously, but it provides a bonding catalyst for Justineau and the children, especially Melanie. Therefore, when the hungries over run the base, it is Melanie who she will save.

Rather awkwardly, Justineau and Melanie fall in with the hardnosed hungry-hating Sgt. Eddie Parks and the icily self-assured Dr. Caroline Caldwell, who was one zombie attack away from vivisecting Melanie for the sake of a cure. Together, they will try to make it to the Beacon base, but all the hungries in their way make it hard going.

We have been down the humanized zombie road before, most notably with Sabu’s Miss Zombie, but also with Maggie, In the Flesh, and Wyrmwood, but at least Gifts starts promisingly. With the help of aerial drone photography of Chernobyl-decimated Pripyat, McCarthy creates an eerie vision of post-zombie apocalypse London. Melanie also seems to engage with her human captors in mature, interesting ways, particularly her intellectually curious exchanges with Dr. Caldwell. Unfortunately, nearly everyone becomes a zombie movie cliché is the third act, including Melanie herself. Events and decisions that are not well-founded by the preceding scenes just seem to happen in order to bring the film to a ridiculously unsatisfying conclusion.

Sennia Nanua is pretty impressive as Melanie, even when she is forced to wear that protective ski mask (lucky they made that model out of transparent plastic). Glenn Close chews the scenery like a pro and Paddy Considine broods like nobody’s business as crusty Sgt. Parks. Gemma Arterton looks uncomfortable playing Justineau, but she manages to get by. Unfortunately, the ragamuffin hungry-hybrids who shows up later are far more laughable than feral or fierce.

Despite some intense hungry-zombie action, most notably the scenes in which they are able to sneak around the zoned-out in-place packs of the fungal-infected, Gifts ends on a dubious note. It is like McCarthy and screenwriter Mike Carey (adapting his own novel) just give up on their narrative as well as the human race. Only recommended for zombie fans in dire want of a fix, The Girl with All the Gifts opens this Friday (2/24) in New York, at the Village East.

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WFA ’17: Moon of a Sleepless Night (short)

Neil deGrasse Tyson might not approve of the astronomy, but so be it. This gentle quest fable is a charmer and probably good bedtime viewing for little ones, so hopefully some enterprising DVD distributor will pick it up, despite its twenty-seven-minute running time. When the moon gets stuck in the trees only a young boy and a lunar squirrel can save it in Takeshi Yashiro’s elegant stop-motion animated short Moon of a Sleepless Night (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Winter Film Awards.

The little boy is tossing and turning tonight, so his woodsman father takes him out for a stroll to tire him out. There is no moon to light their way, so the woodsman deduces it is hung up on the treetops somewhere to the east. Naturally, they set out to free it, unless the “Rabbit of the Moon” does so first. Apparently, that is exactly what happened, except he is a squirrel, not a rabbit (as he explains repeatedly to the boy and his mother)—and he has rather negligently let himself get left behind.

The following day refuses to give way to night, because the squirrel-less moon is presumably stuck beyond the horizon. That has rather real world implications for the boy’s family, because his father might not know when to come home from his fishing expedition, so the boy heads off with the squirrel to right the situation.

Moon is a wonderfully gentle and captivating tale, whose charms are equally endearing for viewers of all ages. It is certainly fantastical and furry, thanks to the talking squirrel, but it also functions as a thoughtful coming-of-age story. The deliberately woody, rough-hewn look of Yashiro’s people are still oddly expressive and well-serve the film’s rustic woodland vibe. Yet, the forest world they inhabit is rich in detail and lushly realized.

Frankly, Moon just leaves viewers with a contented glow. That combined with its nocturnal sleepytime themes could well make it staple evening viewing for families. Regardless, it is a lovely piece of filmmaking, very highly recommended when it screens this Friday (2/24) and next Monday (2/27), as part of this year’s Winter Film Awards.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

FCS ’17: Bitter Money

Even prior to the Ming Dynastic Era, Huzhou was known as a center of the silk trade and for the production of ink brushes. Somewhat logically, it is now a regional hub of the Chinese textile industry, but that does not necessarily make it a fun place to live and work—quite the contrary, in fact. Wang Bing documents the hardscrabble lives of a number of migrant workers laboring away in Huzhou’s sweatshop-like workshops in Bitter Money, which screens as part of this year’s Film Comment Selects.

There is more “reality” in Wang Bing’s body of work than the entire reality television genre, in toto. Yet, Bitter Money could almost be considered his Real World, given how much of it is confined to the dilapidated dormitory provided by the workshop owner for his employees. Initially, we meet two teen cousins as they take the long rail passage from Yunnan to Huzhou in search of work, but Wang will only follow them for so long. Like Linklater’s Slacker, he will hop from one textile worker to another that might happen to cross their paths. It looks random, but he seems to have inside info telling him when to jump. As a result, he captures a nasty confrontation between twenty-five-year-old Ling Ling and her defiantly unsupportive (and physically violent) husband Erzi.

By far, Ling Ling and Erzi represents the most extreme case in Bitter Money. Most of the dormitory residents are reasonably healthy, undeniably hardworking, and in some instances maybe even somewhat happy. Two teenage sisters certainly look and sound like teens you might meet anywhere else in the world, but it is a shame they aren’t in high school, where they could better enjoy gossiping about boys. However, hard-drinking Huang Lei is another hard case. Whether the boss’s refusal to pay him until he sobers up is protective or exploitative is a highly debatable question.

Frankly, there is more such ambiguity in Bitter Money than most of Wang’s uncompromisingly soul-crushing documentaries. Nobody appears to be making much money out of textiles, unless it is the “big factories” that factor so prominently in rumors throughout the film. From what the audience can pick up on, the margins just sound punishing. Yet people keep coming and they keep finding work, albeit at wages not far above subsistence level.

Once again, Wang is fleet of foot and handy enough with the handheld to capture some telling moments. Arguably, this is the most engaging group of subjects he has filmed since Three Sisters. We feel sympathy for nearly all of them, but we only despair for a select few, which gives it a considerably less downcast tone than most of his films. There is a lot of life going on in Bitter Money, as everyone tries to get by as best they can. Recommended for admirers of Wang’s intense examination of the human condition in contemporary China, Bitter Money screens this Thursday (2/23), as part of the 2017 edition of Film Comment Selects.

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FCS ’17: Dogs

How do you keep 550 hectacres of strategically located land undeveloped for years, even during Romania’s Communist era? You have to be one bad cat, like Roman’s late grandfather, whom he hardly knew. Perhaps not surprisingly, the town’s terminally ill police chief and various low life thugs are less than welcoming when Roman takes possession of his property (with the intent to sell) in Bogdan Mirică’s Dogs (trailer here), which screens as part of this year’s Film Comment Selects.

“Uncle Alecu’s” property comes with a cranky caretaker, a snarling guard dog ironically named “Police” and a drafty old farmhouse with a shotgun prominently displayed. Soon after his arrival Police the dog alerts him to two strange cars secretly meeting in the middle of Old Alecu’s barren scrub grass. A few days later, Roman and his sales agent Sebi Voicu interrupt another such nocturnal rendezvous. Rather ominously, Voicu’s car was discovered abandoned shortly thereafter.

Voicu’s disappearance is one of two cases Chief Hogas is trying to clear. The other involves a severed foot discovered floating in a nearby pond. Unfortunately, two serious complications have imposed artificial time constraints on Hogas. His precinct is imminently due to be replaced by a roving mobile unit and his body is fatally riddled with cancer. Before he goes, Hogas desperately hopes to take down his nemesis, Samir, the local drug trafficking kingpin.

Dogs could indeed be considered the Romanian No Country for Old Men or Hell or High Water. It definitely has a contemporary western vibe, but it is still a Romanian film, so it should come as no surprise Dogs is a bit of a slow-starting slow-builder. Yet, Mirică organically develops the tension out of the moody, frontier-like setting. While the title is somewhat metaphorical, Police the junkyard dog still gets plenty of screen time. If you liked A Dog’s Purpose, you would probably be utterly horrified by Mirică’s Dogs, but it is still features some impressive canine screen work.

Dragos Bucur is actually a rather big fellow, but he manages to make Roman convincingly gawky and passive. Gheorghe Visu is quite salty and wry, playing Hogas much like a Romanian Jeff Bridges, except more emaciated. Constantin Cojocaru adds plenty of sinister local color as the caretaker, Epure, but Police’s constantly barking presence really makes the film.

Dogs steadily works towards some legit genre mayhem, while still staying true to its Romanian New Wave heritage. Mirică shows tremendous patience and a careful command of mise-en-scene, but it is still one of the more easily watchable Romanian films you are likely to see on the festival circuit. It really is a thriller and not just a film that inherits the category label, because it includes cops and guns. Recommended with enthusiasm for discriminating viewers, Dogs screens this Thursday night (2/23), as the conclusion of the 2017 edition of Film Comment Selects.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

FCS ’17: Harmonium

Japanese cinema has brought us gracefully humanistic masterworks of domestic drama from the like of Yasujiro Ozu, Yasujiro Shimazu, and Yoji Yamada. This is not one of them. The Toshio Suzuoka and his family are not exactly happy, but they are essentially in a state of equilibrium until the arrival of an associate from his past in Kôji Fukada’s Harmonium (trailer here), which screens as part of this year’s Film Comment Selects.

In all honesty, Suzuoka is not an especially loving husband or father, but he provides well enough with his garage-based metal-working shop. In fact, business is brisk enough, he can hallway justify bringing on Kusataro Yasaka as his assistant. Unbeknownst to his wife Akie, Suzuoka was the accomplice Yasaka never named for his role in the murder he has just finished serving a prison sentence for. Obviously, Suzuoka is acting out of guilt, but his wife and daughter Hotaru take a genuine liking to the new member of the household, even when Yasaka partially confides in Akie (diplomatically leaving out her husband involvement).

At first, Harmonium seems to follow the general trajectory of Down and Out in Beverly Hills, with Akie fighting to deny her sexual attraction to Yasaka, and ten-year-ish Hotaru looking up to him as a supplemental parent-figure (especially when he starts giving her lessons on the titular pump organ). However, the film takes a shockingly disturbing turn late in the second act that frankly might be too much for many viewers.

Regardless, the effects of the now missing Yasaka’s actions will remain ever present for his former employers. Yet, fate takes an almost Biblical turn when the grown son Yasaka never knew is unknowingly hired by Suzuoka to succeed him.

Harmonium is a taut, claustrophobic film, but it never observes traditional thriller conventions. In fact, it has a pronounced habit of zagging whenever you expect it to zig. Although certainly not a genre film per se, it is still something of a domestic horror story. In many ways, it compares quite directly with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata.

All four starting principals give impressively assured, stringently restrained performances, but it is especially harrowing to see Mariko Tsutsui go slightly, but not completely nuts as Akie Suzuoka. It is also rather remarkable how Tadanobu Asano can shift Yasaka from quietly world weary to fiercely ominous with almost imperceptible alterations in body language and tone of voice. Yet it is Momone Shinokawa and Kana Mahiro who really tear up viewers as the younger and older incarnations of Hotaru.

Arguably, the ending is maybe a bit too indeterminate for such an otherwise uncompromising film. Regardless, it is definitely the work of an assured stylist of distinctly Japanese sensibilities. Highly recommended for the unsentimental, Harmonium screens this Tuesday (2/21) as part of the 2017 edition of Film Comment Selects.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tales of Our Time: Terra Nullius or: How to Be a Nationalist

Thanks to his preparation for this film, James T. Hong is now a licensed fisherman in Taiwan. That would give him a trade to fall back on, if he were not so prone to seasickness. Nevertheless, his is determined to reach the disputed Senkaku no man’s land islands, with whichever nationalist group can reach its shores. Fitting in chameleon-like with each faction, Hong follows their demonstrations and high seas hijinks in Terra Nullius or: How to Be a Nationalist (trailer here), which screens today at the Guggenheim, in conjunction with the Tales of Our Time exhibition.

After WWII, the Senkaku Islands were covered under the American administration of Okinawa. Basically, the U.S. military just used it for bombing practice until returning it to Japanese control in 1971. Subsequently, both Taiwan and Mainland China claimed the remote islands. However, the ROC no longer formally disputes Japanese possession, whereas the PRC is cagey on the subject. It hardly matters. Nationalist groups from all three nations are more than willing to press the claims that inspire such circumspect caution in their governments.

Somewhat ironically, the People’s Republic activists now sail out of Hong Kong, because the Mainland authorities will just automatically chuck Diaoyu (as they call the Senkaku Islands) activists in prison. Of all the fake fisherman Hong spends time with, the Mainlanders probably get the most screen time, possibly due to their ability to cuss a blue streak when confronting various maritime authorities.

Oh by the way, a 1968 survey suggested there could be oil under them there islands. Yet, the activists seem oblivious to any strategic value the Senkaku Islands, or Diaoyutai as they call them in Taiwan, might hold. It all seems to be about land and blood for them, sort of like a Frenchman discussing Algeria.

Frankly, it is pretty amazing how easily Hong fell in with such disparate groups. Seriously, they do not seem to be the compromising types. Granted, the energy level of Terra Nullius rises and falls, but he captures some pretty nutty behavior. He also contributes to the lunacy with climatic gesture of grand futility worthy of Mads “The Ambassador” Brügger.

Presumably, Terra Nullius is intended as a cautionary critique of nationalism, but it is hard not to think a lot of trouble could have been saved if the U.S. military had just kept occupying the islands. We would still just be shelling the shellac out of them, so maybe we could have avoided the Vieques controversy too. It is somewhat inconsistent, even at a mere seventy-nine minutes, but its strongest sequences successfully marry the sensibilities of gonzo journalism and video installation art. Recommended for curious vérité fans, Terra Nullius or: How to Be a Nationalist screens again this afternoon (2/18) at the Guggenheim, free with Museum admission.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

The Great Wall: A Monster Co-Production

They first crawled out of the earth centuries ago, yet somehow the swarms of Taotie lizard-beasts represent modern commercial values sweeping across China. Only collective action can stand against them—and perhaps a hotdogging Western adventurer. Or maybe they are just monsters who need killing. If you can work with it on that level, Zhang Yimou’s mega-budget co-production The Great Wall (trailer here) is rather enjoyable viewing when it opens today nationwide.

Evidently, the Taotie first spewed forth as punishment for a venal emperor’s greed. Every sixty years they return, strewing havoc in their wake. That is why subsequent emperors built that large wall thingy and it is probably why they also invented gunpowder before the West. They were highly motivated. A group of blundering Western mercenaries came to China hoping to acquire game-changing quantities of the “black powder,” but they have been much abused by the indigenous Khitan of the north. Yet, somehow the two survivors, Irishman William Garin and Spaniard Pero Tovar, manage to dispatch a Taotie scout.

In most respects, the Westerners’ timing is pretty terrible. They are about to be capture by the Nameless Order, the elite corps that stands guard on the Great Wall, just as the Taotie attack—six weeks early. Both will distinguish themselves during the initial battle, but Tovar is biding his time, hoping to score some black powder and make a break for it, whereas Garin’s long dormant idealism starts to stir, like a Medieval Rick Blaine.

There is no getting around the film’s greatest weakness. That is obviously Matt O’Damon flailing around as Garin. The bad news is his Irish accent is what you might call mushy (seriously, isn’t he from Boston?). The good news is he only uses it about half the time. In contrast, Jing Tian once again proves she can be a flat-out fierce action star, despite her supermodel looks (for further proof checkout how she redeems the conspicuously flawed Special I.D. with her barn-burner fight scene facing off against Andy On). As Commander Lin Mae, she throws down with authority and generally anchors the film with her no-nonsense intensity.

Although movie stars do not get any bigger than Andy Lau, he takes a supporting role in Zhang’s 3D spectacle, but he rather seems to be enjoying the erudite sagaciousness of Strategist Wang, which rubs off on viewers. When the kaiju hordes (or whatever) rampage, you would definitely want his wise counsel. Teen heartthrob Lu Han also helps humanize the rumble as Peng Yong, the sensitive soldier. However, it is always rather confusing whenever Eddie Peng’s Commander Wu pops up. His role is not exactly clear, but he seems to be the Song Dynasty equivalent of a Communist political officer, given his arrogance and authority to insist on unsound military tactics.

Zhang brings quite a bit to the party himself with his visual flash and dazzle. The awesome vistas of the Wall and the teeming throngs of Taotie are perfect for his sensibilities. Plus, Commander Lin’s bungee-jumping shock troops are undeniably cool to behold. That is why the 3D is so frustrating: it definitely makes the film look artificially dark and murky.

So, apparently, the takeaways from Great Wall are walls and gunpowder are both darned useful when you are living in a dangerous world. The notion that Westerners are only out for themselves is not so subtly sewn into its fabric, but at least there is a meeting-of-the-minds between Lin and Garin—chastely so, thanks to Chinese censors. Regardless, it is always fun to watch Zhang, Jing, and Lau do their thing. Recommended for fans of big, noisy special effects movies and fans of the all-star cast, The Great Wall opens today (2/17) in theaters across the City, including the AMC Empire.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fabricated City: Gamer Gets Played

It takes a real piece of scum to make a lay-about millennial slacker look sympathetic, but an attorney should do the trick. Min Chun-sang will do in spades. He is no mere crooked mouthpiece. The supposed public defender is really the mastermind of a shadowy organization that frames the unemployed and marginalized for murders committed by their powerful clients. Kwon Yoo is their latest victim, but the gamer has more game than they anticipate in Park Kwang-hyun’s Fabricated City (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles and the Tri-State Area.

It all proceeded according to Min’s usual playbook. A cell phone was left for Kwon Yoo to find, which he readily agrees to return to the owner’s hotel room for a reward, but finds himself framed for murder instead. Kwon Yoo is referred to Min, who does a bang-up job defending him. Nobody was supposed to hear from him once he was safely buried in prison, but the former Taekwondo junior champion has more fight in him then they bargain for. First, he will stand up to the beatings meted out by gangster Ma Deok-soo and his men and then he pulls off an unlikely escape.

Once at-large, he will finally meet-up offline with his online gaming team, Resurrection. Together with their help, especially that of socially awkward hacker Yeo-wool, he investigates his notorious case. When they figure out Min’s culpability, they start taking the fight to his network, so he temporarily springs Ma to do his dirty work.

As Min, Oh Jung-se makes one of the creepiest, clammiest sociopaths (bordering on outright psychopath) you will see in many moons of movies. He is just a vile, oily dog. In short, he is a convincing trial lawyer. TV heartthrob Ji Chang-wook is actually pretty impressive in his first film role, dialing up plenty of righteous outrage as the wronged Kwon Yoo. Shim Eun-kyung (the original Miss Granny) plays effectively against type as shy, reclusive Yeo-wool. Kim Sang-ho also takes a bit of a departure from the shlubby figures he frequently plays, but he records mixed results as the thuggish Ma.

Park stages some nifty car chases and enough explosions to keep even the snobbiest film critic awake, but the best sequences involve Resurrection’s sneaking and scheming. It is a super-slick thriller that never feels its running time (just over two hours, which isn’t as excessive as it sounds, by Korean cinema standards). Recommended for fans of Korean and “wrong man” thrillers, Fabricated City opens tomorrow (2/17) at the LA and Buena Park CGV Cinemas and the Edgewater Multiplex in New Jersey.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hollywood Reel Independent ’17: Seppuku (short)

She goes by Marie, but her parents call her Mari. That gives you an idea of the generational divide separating them. Frankly, the prospective Olympian is not inclined to deal with her family or her heritage, but a possibly career-ending injury sparks a fantastically-charged journey into her subconscious that may very well change everything (one way or another) in Daryn Wakasa’s short film Seppuku, which screens as part of the Shorts 18g program at this year’s Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.

Mari/Marie holds the record for the 400 meter, but she will probably miss the Olympics due to a torn hamstring. Surgery would be the logical course of action, but Mari is acting on emotion, lashing out at her parents and defiantly training anyway. Her workout looks painful even before she crashes and blackouts.

Suddenly, Mari finds herself in the desert, accompanied by Bettari, a Ghost of Christmas Future-like figure, who also bears some resemblance to the nurse she encountered earlier in the day. Mari will dutifully follow Bettari (presumably a reference to the bridal kimono-wearing “nothing but blackened teeth” Ohaguro Bettari Yokai spirits) to the Manzanar internment camp, where she will face an increasingly strange series of challenges.

Seppuku was shot on-location at Manzanar and a medical office, both of which look like really depressing places to spend Purgatory. However, Seppuku boasts an impressive, feature worthy cast, including emerging star Akemi Look, a former member of the U.S. Rhythmic Gymnastics team, who has the appropriate athleticism and stubborn intensity to convincingly portray Mari.

Tamlyn Tomita (Look’s co-star in the ridiculously underseen Unbidden) is totally believable and ultimately quite touching as Mari’s long-suffering mother Linda and Tomita’s Karate Kid II co-star Yuji Okumoto buttresses the film with his solid, dignified presence as her father, Thomas. It is always great to see them, but in this case, their grounded performances really help anchor the symbolically-charged Seppuku.

Short film-making is usually an adventure in scarce resource allocation, but cinematographer Ernesto Lomeli really makes the desert scenes look cinematically surreal. This is definitely a feature-quality short and the twenty-five-minute running time should be sufficiently long enough for most viewers to emotionally engage with it. Recommended for psychologically expressive, socially-conscious cinema, Seppuku screens this Saturday (2/18) during the 2017 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival.

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Suffering of Ninko: Sex and Buddhism

Ninko wants to know the sacred, not the profane. Unfortunately, he finds himself in the Edo-era monastic Buddhist Carry On movie Gerald Thomas never made. It is hard out there for a monk with inconveniently potent animal magnetism, but he will take an ominous detour through Kwaidan territory in Norihiro Niwatsukino’s terrifically inventive Suffering of Ninko (trailer here), which is available for a limited time only on Festivalscope’s public-facing VOD platform.

Ninko’s spirit is earnest and chaste, but his flesh is too darned tempting for women (and also some men). Whenever he begs for alms, it creates bedlam on the streets. That might sound great to some guys, but it is a nightmare for a novice monk trying to hold up his end of the monastic duties. Eventually, things get so chaotic, the abbot sends him away on a journey to level his sexually charged karma.

To cleanse himself, Ninko tries to avoid people, but he is still visited by erotically charged dreams and visions. Disheartened and somewhat disoriented, the novice starts to doubt his purpose. However, fate will bring him to a cursed village terrorized by Yama-onno, a succubus-like goddess who seduces men, draining them of their life force in the manner of a sexual vampire. A notorious ronin thinks he has her number, but Ninko and his mojo would seem to match up better against her.

Suffering is no mere bawdy comedy, though it certainly never lacks for bare breasts. It is also rather shockingly learned when it comes to Buddhist traditions. Visually, it is rich and distinctive, augmenting the live action with animated segments stylistically derived for woodblock prints and mandala paintings. Naturally, there are hat-tips to classic Japanese ghost movies, but Niwatsukino clearly aims more for caustic irony than horror, per se.

It is hard to believe this is his first full-length feature. The animated sequences are wildly cool and his initially naughty narrative holds some real surprises for unsuspecting viewers. Masato Tsujioka is a good sport enduring all sorts humiliations and slapstick travails as Ninko. Credit also goes to Miho Wakabayashi, who never holds back as Yama-onno. In contradiction of its title, Suffering of Ninko is a total blast, so fans of Kwaidan films or smart (goofy) movie spoofs are strongly encouraged to check it on while it is still available to the public via Festivalscope (especially now that the Dollar and the Euro are so close to parity). Very highly recommended, it plays through the weekend (until 2/20).

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