J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

13 Minutes: How Georg Elser Almost Changed History

Georg Elser did not look intimidating, nor did he sound particularly formidable. Yet, that is a major reason why he came so close to changing the course of world history. He nearly saved Germany from the continued waste of a destructive war and the profound dishonor of its crimes against humanity, but he missed his target by less than a quarter of an hour. The remarkable true story of his nearly successful attempt to assassinate Hitler is dramatized in Oliver Hirschbiegel's 13 Minutes (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Elser was a carpenter by training, but was competent in numerous forms of skilled labor and craftsmanship. He was decidedly not the heroic type, but he recognized how National Socialism was cannibalizing the civilian economy and encouraging open thuggery and prejudice in the streets. His growing resolve to take dramatic direct action compelled Elser to forego a life with his married lover, whom he accurately but honestly referred to as his “landlady,” for her own protection.

In flashbacks, we clearly see Elser is considerably less inclined to activism than his more radical social circle. Yet, he is not necessarily wrong to doubt the effectiveness of their street protests. To protect Elsa and his family, Elser resolves to work alone. Unfortunately, when his plot to bomb a National Socialist conference fails by the narrowest of margins, he is quickly rounded-up. Yet, his police and Gestapo interrogators cannot believe such a sophisticated plan was the sole work of one nebbish workingman.

Granted, we should all have a general idea of the shape of 13 Minutes’ narrative arc for reasons that hardly need belaboring. However, viewers will be surprised how many scenes reverberate with maddeningly tragic what-if’s. The interrogation sequences featuring Criminal Police (Kripo) Chief Arthur Nebe and Gestapo Chief Heinrich Müller are especially resonant. There have been attempts to rehabilitate Nebe’s image over the years, but screenwriters Léonie-Claire Breinersdorfer and Fred Breinersdorfer generally hold to largely accepted view that Nebe was far from a clandestine saint, but still not as vicious as his Gestapo (a low hurdle to clear if ever there was one).

Regardless, Burghart Klaußner (recently seen as Fritz Bauer) and Johann von Bülow are terrific conveying the frosty lack of chemistry between the awkwardly matched security chiefs. It is fascinating to witness the micro-Cold War unfolding between them. Likewise, Christian Friedel is so tightly wound as Elser, he is almost painful to watch. Yet, he convincingly portrays the complicated development of Elser’s formerly disengaged character.

Germany shortlisted 13 Minutes as their official foreign language submission for the 2016 Academy Awards, but Labyrinth of Lies got the nod instead. Frankly, 13 Minutes is emotionally deeper and considerably more powerful. Hirschbiegel is a talented filmmaker, who has a knack for wringing tension out of confined spaces and intimate situations. Everyone knows his work, thanks to the frequently meme’ed Hitler-in-the-bunker scene from Downfall, but 13 Minutes is leaner and more rigorously Spartan, like his under-appreciated Five Minutes of Heaven. Highly recommended for patrons of historical dramas and tragic fact-based thrillers, 13 Minutes opens this Friday (6/30), at the Lincoln Plaza.

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Limbo (short): Featuring the Voice of Sam Elliott

This is yet another reason why texting and driving is such a bad idea. When a man receives a troubling message, he pulls off the road to indulge the impulse to hurl away his phone. That will take him on a slightly surreal detour through the desert in Will Blank’s short film, Limbo (trailer here), which releases today on digital VOD platforms.

Limbo represents the sort of comic book/graphic novel adaptation that the major studios have largely foregone. It also might be the most faithful adaptation ever, considering how little Blank and co-screenwriter Richard Kaponas deviate from the words and spirit of Marion Churchland’s graphic novella, originally published in the Meathaüs anthology. Through interior monologue, the film and its source novella address themes of regret and compassion, making it ill-suited for a prospective tent-pole franchise, so unlike Green Lantern, Elektra, and Jonah Hex.

While we never learn the details, it seems clear the man has had a falling out with his girlfriend that was probably his fault entirely. He certainly regrets it now, just like he regrets throwing his cell phone at the strange, Gatsby-worthy billboard. Like a slightly mad Jodorowsky character, he ventures into the desert, where he stumbles across a dying dog. After mercifully slaking its thirst, the expiring canine offers to grant the man one wish.

Even though the poor dog is dying, we can hear the authority and character in his voice, because he is dubbed by Sam Elliott, the hero, Lee Hayden himself. The deep resonance of his voice is pitch-perfect for the fantastical beast—and should be good karma for The Hero during awards season, especially considering Limbo is kind of about karma.

Don’t worry, no animals were hurt during the making of Limbo. The eerie-looking dog was actually rendered through puppetry and practical effects. However, it looks real enough to send PETA off on a PR rampage. Visually, it is a really impressive production, well worth checking out when Limbo releases today on VOD including Vimeo on demand.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

NYAFF ’17: Bad Genius

As cheating scandals go, this one deserves credit for ambition. Unlike the rather pathetic Atlanta Pubic School scandal (involving teachers trying to cover up their sub-par performance), these Thai kids plan to make several million Baht and secure their futures by studying abroad. Lynn will be the brains of their operation and perhaps their conscience too in Nattawut Poonpiriya’s Bad Genius (trailer here), the opening film of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Lynn is a cute genius, but her father is a scrupulously honest school teacher and her mother pulled a disappearing act. Consequently, they do not have a lot of money, but her academic achievement earns her a full scholarship to a tony prep school. However, this is the sort of place where the incidentals can really add up. To cover those costs, she develops a method to signal multiple choice answers to her “tutoring” customers. It started with her pretty but ditzy new friend Grace, but it really starts to reach economies of scale when her well-heeled boyfriend Pat and his cronies get in on the deal.

Rather awkwardly, Bank, the school’s other, less socially skilled scholarship student blunderingly reveals the scam. Despite getting burned, the reluctant Lynn is convinced to take her game to the next level, targeting the STIC, the standardized test required for studying abroad in American universities. To pull it off, she will have to travel to Australia, the first time zone in which the test is administered—and she will also need Bank’s brain.

Bad Genius is a nifty caper film, employing elements that are cinematically fresh, but easy for viewers to relate to. Yet, it is also a surprisingly substantial examination of teen social peer pressure and societal corruption in general. The third act is totally serious, but ultimately quite richly satisfying in an unexpected way.

Of course, it is hard to overstate how terrific Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying is as Lynn. She is deservedly this year’s recipient of NYAFF’s Screen International Rising Star Award and in a more just world, you would start seeing her name lit up on extra-wide marquees. She is a fierce but fragile heroic anti-heroine like we’ve really never seen before. Likewise, Chanon Santinatornkul takes Bank on a dramatic but completely believable development arc. Eisaya Hosuwan is shockingly poignant as the popular but insecure Grace. Yet, it is Thaneth Warakulnukroh (who can be seen in Pop Aye, currently in theatrical release), who truly anchors the film and provides its moral polestar as Lynn’s decent plugger father.

Bad Genius clocks in at one-hundred thirty minutes, but it feels like Poonpiriya races us through it at record speed. It is tense, pacey, and wicked smart, featuring a ridiculously photogenic young ensemble, plotting and sneaking around like mad. Highly recommended for fans of capers or high school movies, Bad Genius kicks off the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival this Friday (6/30), at the Walter Reade.

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Darkness Rising: There’s No Place Like Home (Thankfully)

Surely, everyone has heard deaths come in three’s. Or perhaps you assumed things naturally came in four’s, like the Beatles and the Seinfeld cast. However, for some shadowy occult presence, it is all about five’s in Austin Reading’s Darkness Rising (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

We will have to piece together the full story over the course of the film, but it is pretty clear from the start Madison just barely survived a family massacre. Initially, it was her mother doing the killing, but her father was apparently institutionalized afterward, forcing her to live with her cousin Izzy for the rest of her formative years. The notorious house where it all went down is scheduled to be demolished so Madison convinces her fiancé Jake and Izzy to accompany her on a late-night salvage mission and trip down memory lane. Yes, that sounds like a lovely outing, doesn’t it? Especially considering how odd she has been acting lately, obsessing over the tally symbol for the number five.

It turns out all her family’s stuff is still there where they left it (any old LPs in there?). Of course, so is the evil entity or entities that drove her mother to madness. To their limit credit, the trio quickly decide it was a really bad idea to come. Unfortunately, whatever it is, won’t let them leave.

In terms of mechanics, Darkness Rising is a surprisingly eerie and claustrophobic haunted-all-the-way-to-Hell-and-back house horror film. Regrettably, it is marred by some spectacularly bad decision-making from its main characters. There’s not a lot of head’s-up play in Darkness. The wrap-around segments also make no sense in the context of the overall film, but they give us a chance to play hide-and-seek with cult favorite Ted Raimi, so, so be it.

Tara Holt, Bryce Johnson, and Katrina Law are all sufficiently credible as Madison and company. Christian Ganiere is also all kinds of creepy as a mystery child whose spectral presence will sort of be explained in due time. However, Darkness is defined more by its horror mise-en-scene than anything its cast can bring to it. The old shunned house and the abandoned bric-a-brac are indeed quite spooky.

Thematically, Vikram Weet’s screenplay bears some comparison to Darren Lynn Bousman’s Abattoir, but it is more narrowly focused (and less ambitious). Regardless, Reading keeps the tension ratcheted up and strikes some archetypal chords. It will not be remembered as a genre milestone, but for horror fans it serves up some nourishing red meat. Recommended accordingly, Darkness Rising opens this Friday (6/30) in New York, at the IFC Center.


Okja: Bong Joon-ho Hates Science

After Bong Joon-ho’s latest film, every little girl will want her own genetically modified pig—and why shouldn’t she? There is absolutely no scientific evidence of any danger stemming from GMO crops or livestock. Don’t tell that to Bong. He has no interest in what science has to say. His crusade against GMO’s is rooted in religious fervor. He believes they are wrong, therefore they must be. In an effort to promulgate the faith, he will introduce the world to an endearing little girl and her giant pig in the Netflix production, Okja (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday in New York.

When Lucy Mirando took over her father’s chemical and agricultural corporation, she took a page out of Google’s book, projecting an idealistic façade, while employing cutthroat tactics behind closed doors. The super-pig project is her piglet. Dozens of genetically enhance piggies like Okja were placed with traditional farmers around the world to track the impact of regional variables. Okja’s TLC-upbringing in the mountains of South Korea yielded the most impressive results. Now Mirando wants to showcase their poster-pig, so they have ripped him away from Mika, his beloved thirteen-year-old companion.

Of course, a plucky kid like Mija isn’t going to give up her pig without a fight. Her first attempt to rescue Okja causes such a media kerfuffle, Mirando tries to coopt her, on the wise counsel of corporate greybeard Frank Dawson. However, Mija knows when she is being used. That also applies to the animal rights activists who want to deliberately put Okja back in harm’s way for the good of their cause. Thanks to a bit of deliberate mistranslation, that is exactly what they do.

Wow, Bong Joon-ho hates science. Anyone wearing a lab coat in his films ranks somewhere between Richard Speck and John Wayne Gacy on the morality spectrum. He can also be a talented filmmaker when he isn’t hitting the audience over the head with his message. Mother and Memories of Murder are both terrific films. Unfortunately, Okja reflects the kneejerk anti-Americanism of The Host, but spiked with virulent anti-Capitalist rhetoric and marinated in a luddite contempt for technological development. The idyllic scenes of Mija and Okja look amazing and they do indeed pull our heartstrings. However, the manipulation throughout the film is so blatant and relentless, it just becomes a wearisome chore to endure.

Still, the Okja team made her remarkably expressive. Young Ahn Seo-hyun is also appealingly plucky as a Mija and she is clearly a natural working with the big pig effects. It is also good fun to watch the crafty veteran Giancarlo Esposito do his thing as the sly Dawson. However, Tilda Swinton’s shamelessly ridiculous turn as the Mirando sisters makes Snidely Whiplash look like a model of subtlety in comparison, even though he is literally a cartoon villain. However, nothing can compare to the pain of watching Jake Gyllenhaal mug and cavort as fallen-from-grace TV nature programming host, Dr. Johnny Wilcox. Ouch, that will leave a mark on your soul.

There are ethical implications to this film as well. Imagine how counter-productive it might have been if a leading genre filmmaker like George Pal released a film demonizing immunizations a few years before the rollout of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine. Granted, widespread famines are still largely deliberately caused by dictators to control or even decimate large population segments, but there is still a great deal of hunger and malnutrition in the world. GMO food could be a godsend to those suffering, but Bong is whipping up an irrational fervor against such scientific breakthroughs.

Make no mistake, this is a religiously motivated film. It is an article faith that just so happens to have a big, cute super-pig. Hopefully “corporate media” will eventually defang and rehabilitate Okja, turning her into the star of her own Saturday morning kids show. She is pretty much the only reason to see her eponymous film and you really don’t want to watch what Bong puts her through. Not recommended, Okja opens this Wednesday (6/28) at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Jacques Becker’s Le Trou

Granted, security technology has advanced tremendously over the last fifty odd years, but if you would like to break out of prison, you can probably still pick up some useful pointers from Jacques Becker’s final film. Inspired by a 1947 escape attempt from Santé Prison, the gritty caper film remained scrupulously accurate, thanks to Becker’s co-screenwriter José Giovanni (a.k.a. Joseph Damiani) and co-star Jean Keraudy, both of whom were participants in the notorious incident (and not as prison guards). Whether they know it or not, scores of subsequent prison-break movies owe a debt to Becker’s hardboiled Le Trou (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday in New York, at Film Forum.

This is a story of men among men. Whether Claude Gaspard belongs in their company is a debatable point. He formerly traveled in higher social circles than the rest of his inmates after marrying up. Gaspard can indeed be ingratiating, perhaps too much so. After catching him in a compromising position with her seventeen-year-old sister, his wife tried to administer some shotgun retribution, but instead she was the one inconveniently injured (not seriously) in the ensuing scuffle. At least that is Gaspard’s side of the story and he is sticking with it—for all the good it will do him.

Due to repairs in his wing of the prison, Gaspard is transferred to the cell holding Manu Borelli, Geo Cassid, Roland Darban, and Vossellin, affectionately known as the “Monsignor” due to his seniority. Gaspard is immediately impressed by their square-jawed toughness and their salty camaraderie. Eagerly desiring to fit in, Gaspard automatically joins in when his new cellmates reveal they are planning an escape. Since they have already laid the groundwork, they cannot afford to wait for Gaspard to be transferred back. Plus, they will now have an extra hand to help dig.

The general plan is to break through their concrete floor into the prison cellar, thereby gaining access to the service tunnels, where they will dig through to the Paris sewers—and then on to freedom. It sounds crazy, but it is amazing how smoothly they proceed through the early stages. However, the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” principle of game theory will inevitably rear its ugly head.

Again, for the sake of realism, Becker cast five non-professional actors, including Keraudy, as the fateful cellmates. The other four would continue to enjoy successful film and television careers, especially Philippe Leroy, who is indeed a flinty, hard-nosed standout as Borelli, whom Gaspard idolizes above all others. However, it is rather baffling Keraudy never made another picture because he is terrific as the brooding Darban. Michel Constantin and Raymond Meunier nicely balance them as the brutish mother’s boy Cassid and the comparatively garrulous Monsignor. Yet, Marc Michel gives perhaps the most cringily tragic performance as Gaspard, the desperate approval-seeker and borderline sociopath.

Crisply executed and taut with suspense, Le Trou is a dynamite caper film. After watching it, viewers will feel like they also have a prisoner or guard’s familiarity with Santé Prison. You can just sense the accuracy and attention to detail, even if you’ve never done time. Very highly recommended, the fresh, clean 4K restoration of Le Trou opens this Wednesday (6/28) at Film Forum.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

John Huston at UCLA: The List of Adrian Messenger

Think of it as the inverse opposite of Robert Altman’s The Player. The gimmick for this larky noir was the unrecognizable presence of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars playing minor roles under heavy make-up. It is the sort of in-joke that would appeal to its legendary director, John Huston. Best of all, the Hemingwayesque auteur had the chance to get in some fox-hunting during the production of The List of Adrian Messenger, which screens during the John Huston retrospective at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Sort of, but not really retired MI5 agent Anthony Gethryn is enjoying his new quasi-emeritus status with his friends, Lady Jocelyn Bruttenholm and her family, when her cousin, Adrian Messenger takes him into his confidence. He believes a sinister villain has been knocking off all the names on his titular list, for nefarious reasons he suspects, but does not care to reveal without proof. Tragically, before Gethryn can begin his inquiries regarding the individual names, Messenger is killed in plane bombing.

Obviously, Gethryn concludes Messenger was in fact the final name on his list of death. However, as luck would have it, there was a sole survivor of the bombing, who happened to hear Messenger’s dying words. Gethryn even knows him—at least his voice. He and Raoul Le Borg often communicated via shortwave during WWII as French Resistance and British Intelligence counterparts, so they inevitably team up to track down the killer.

Frankly, it is no secret who the killer is. It’s Kirk Douglas in various disguises. He even plays the nefarious George Brougham in his own, unaltered, cleft-jawed features. Playing against type, Douglas is an eerily charming sociopath, but his terrific villainous turn was overshadowed by the stunt cameos from Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, and Robert Mitchum (who really isn’t that hard to spot, possibly because he looked pretty much as he would in real life thirty years later).

George C. Scott is appealingly world-weary and cerebral as Gethryn, the spook-turned-sleuth. In fact, one of the greatest pleasures of the film is the sophisticated men-of-the-world buddy chemistry he forges with Jacques Roux’s Le Borg, who in turn develops some rather engagingly chaste romantic chemistry with the alluring yet ever so proper Lady Jocelyn, nicely played by Dana Wynter.

So yes, there is more than the gimmick to commend List to your attention. In fact, it boasts some of the best fox-hunting scenes ever shot. Old Man Huston wouldn’t settle for anything less. As it happens, those scenes were filmed in Ireland, where any subsequent remake would also probably be forced to go, due to the UK’s misconceived fox-hunting ban. As a further bonus, List also features one of Jerry Goldsmith’s best scores, which manages to be both zippy and upbeat, but somehow noirish as well. Recommended for fans of Huston’s wry capers, The List of Adrian Messenger fittingly screens with the complete restored print of Beat the Devil this coming Friday (6/30), at the Billy Wilder Theater.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

The Bad Batch: Ana Lily Amirpour’s Sophomore Slump

Social Justice Warriors are sure to chastise us for minimizing the contributions of Cannibal-Americans to society. For instance, nobody considers all the people Jeffrey Dahmer helped while he worked as a phlebotomist. Call us unreconstructed, but many Americans would just as soon be rid of flesh-eating serial killers. However, cannibals, violent psychopaths, and drugged-out sociopaths will be championed as the marginalized and dispossessed victims of a anthropophagusaphobic-normative society in Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

After receiving her “bad batch” verdict, Arlen is dumped outside the Texas border fence (fences, get it?) with a bottle of water and told to sod off. She is quickly picked up by a gang of cannibals who live in post-apocalyptic Venice Beach-ish trailer park commune known as “The Bridge,” led by the distinctively tattooed “Miami Man.” After seeing an arm and a leg get served up, Arlen manages to pull off an unlikely escape. Fortunately, when she collapses in the desert, a twitchy drifter (a stunt cameo by Jim Carrey, probably supplying his own wardrobe and hairstyling) drags her to a safe haven called Comfort.

The entire economy of Comfort seems to revolve around a flea market, but the charismatic leader, “The Dream” provides free drugs and a nightly rave DJed by Diego Luna for all residents. Yet, The Dream is a lecherous bigamist, whereas Miami Man is a good to his wastelander urchin daughter, therefore the Bridge was actually the more ethical community—or so Amirpour would have us believe.

The problems with Bad Batch run wide and deep. Even more fundamental than its iffy logical consistency is the personality-less lead. As Arlen, Suki Waterhouse displays zero screen presence. We have no sense of what goes on in her head, so when she makes highly dubious decisions during the third act, we can only conclude she is also a sociopath and therefore most likely deserves to be where she is. At least Jason Momoa is well-cast as the bulked-up Miami Man, but his dodgy Cuban accent adds a further note of off-key pitchiness.

Frankly, Bad Batch is like a late 1980s vision of near-future post-apocalyptic dystopia (analog media, Ace of Bass cranking on the soundtrack), filtered through a prism of 2016 politics. In scene after scene, Amirpour takes us out of the film and invites us to marvel at its relevancy. Border fences, xenophobia, sexual exploitative leaders, ooooh how daring.

Considering how terrific Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is, Bad Batch is arguably one of the worst, expectation-dashing sophomore slumps ever, right down there with Southland Tales, Elysium, and S1m0ne. It is just an ugly, heavy-handed mess. Not recommended under any circumstances, The Bad Batch opens today (6/23) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

LAFF ’17: Desolation

This camping trip was supposed to be cathartic, but the closure could be permanent. Abby, her young son Sam, and her best friend Jen set out to scatter her recently deceased husband’s ashes, but they could be toast if the hiker stalking them has his way in Sam Patton’s Desolation, which premiered last night at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival.

It was a long, agonizing illness that left Abby and Sam emotionally exhausted. This trip should be the start of the healing process, but the big creepy dude in reflector shades gives off massively bad vibes. Sam sees him first and then Abby and Jen come across ominous signs of his presence. They hope he will just get bored and go away, but this is a film from a former Blumhouse employee, so not likely.

Of course, when the situation turns dire, they will also have to manage dwindling water and food supplies. It will be a case of surviving in the wild as well as surviving a psycho killer, especially when they go “off trail.”

Desolation cleverly pays homage to 1970s exploitation films with its key art and opening credits, but it is actually a surprisingly tight and restrained character-driven psycho-stalker thriller. All three primaries have believably complicated relationships with each other as well as the dearly departed, which gives the film real stakes. Jaimi Paige, Alyshia Ochse, and Toby Nichols all give realistically grounded performances, completely eschewing flashy theatrics or phony sentiment. If there is a weak link, it would be the evil hiker, who is a somewhat pedestrian bogeyman by genre standards

Regardless, viewers will definitely care about these characters’ fates, which is too often not the case in slasher-stalker horror movies. In fact, Patton and screenwriters Matt Anderson & Michael Larson-Kangas devote more time to character development than a great many non-genre films. Patton also rather slyly plays with our horror movie expectations down the stretch. It is the sort of film Backcountry should have been, but wasn’t. Recommended for discerning horror fans, Desolation should find an appreciative audience after premiering at this year’s LAFF.

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LAFF ’17: The Song of Sway Lake

The record collector’s passion is all well and good, as long as they remember it is all about the music and not the object in and of itself. Many times, I have cracked open highly collectible LPs that were still sealed and never regretted it. Ollie Sway should know better too, but he will get caught up in the Sway family legend surrounding a one-of-a-kind never-been-play private pressing in Ari Gold’s The Song of Sway Lake (trailer here), which premiered last night at the 2017 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Sway Lake was once the exclusive vacation community of the privileged Northeast elite, including Ollie’s robber baron great-grandfather, who used to own the entire lake bearing his name. His grandmother Charlotte, a.k.a. Charlie, still largely thinks of it as her private reserve as well. For years, she summered there with her beloved war hero husband Hal. In fact, their lake home was immortalized in “The Song of Sway Lake,” a massive wartime hit for the Andrews-esque Eden Sisters. However, the composer Tweed McKay (reportedly a former lover of Cole Porter) privately recorded the original, hipper big band version as a personal gift for Hal and Charlie.

The couple never listened to the special 78, because they understood it would eventually be worth a pretty penny. Consequently, Charlie is quite annoyed to find it is now apparently missing. Presumably, Ollie’s record collecting father hid it somewhere for safe-keeping before his recent suicide. Both she and Ollie have come to Sway Lake hoping to find it, but Ollie will be distracted from the search by Isadora, an actual live girl working as a maid across the lake, who will talk to him, most times. Grandma Sway will also get sidetracked by Ollie’s Russian chum Nikolai, who goes out of his way to act like the grandson she always wanted.

Sway Lake has a terrific backstory, but it is overstuffed with intergenerational melodrama. Arguably, all the distractions crowd-out the father-grieving son storyline, which should be central to the story. Frankly, all of Nikolai’s Tom Ripley-like shenanigans should have been red-penciled-out during an early stage of the script development.

Nevertheless, Gold capitalizes on some highly evocative, era-appropriate music composed by his brother Ethan. The climatic version of the title song, featuring John Grant singing the vocals of Tweed McKay is particularly spot-on.

Nobody could possibly be more loserish than Rory Culkin’s Ollie. He is such miserable sad sack, it is hard to believe Isabelle McNally’s reasonably normal Isadora would give him the time of day. On the other hand, Mary Beth Peil clearly enjoys playing Charlie Sway as the drama queen she is cracked up to be. The late Elizabeth Peña really helps keep it all grounded as Charlie’s tough, down-to-earth cook-slash-companion, whereas there is just too much of Robert Sheehan doing Nikolai.

Gold really captures the role music plays in preserving our memories. Ultimately, the final cut should have been more focused, but its merits outweigh Nikolai’s indulgences. Recommended for collectors with a taste for both hot and sweet 1940s big band music and family dramas, The Song of Sway Lake should have many festival selections in its future, following its premiere at this year’s LAFF.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

FL41: Mansfield 66/67

Anton LaVey, the flamboyant founder of the Church of Satan shrewdly targeted celebrity converts for their publicity value, not unlike another cult we could mention, but the Satanists were considerably less sinister in their dealings. His greatest recruitment triumph may or may not have been Hollywood sex symbol Jayne Mansfield. Accounts vary—drastically. P. David Ebersole & Todd Hughes explore the unlikely relationship between the two very different icons in Mansfield 66/67 (trailer here), which screens during Frameline 41 in San Francisco.

We’ve largely forgotten now, but in 1957 Mansfield was one of the top box office draws in the nation. In 1963, she became the first big name movie star to do a nude scene in Promises…Promises! It is not hard to understand why fate chose her for such a distinction. Unfortunately, she was scuffling by 1966, thanks in part to some poor business decisions made by her lover-manager Sam Brody. In fact, Brody’s influence over Mansfield was so toxic, LaVey reportedly put a curse on the questionable attorney after befriending Mansfield.

Just how close they were and how deeply involved Mansfield was in the Church of Satan remains hotly debated. Regardless, they were clearly quite willing to pose for PR photos together. Indeed, several talking head commentators suggest the only true religion either held was a faith in publicity. Still, this a wild story, particularly with respects to the curse and other rituals LaVey supposedly conducted on her behalf.

Let’s be honest, it is impossible to make a boring film about Mansfield and LaVey. It really calls out for a lurid, candy-colored narrative treatment from a visual stylist like Love Witch helmer Anna Biller. Ill-advisedly, Ebersole & Hughes try to exploit the Mansfield camp factor with frequent song-and-dance numbers to represent various episodes under discussion. For these musical interludes to work, they must be slyly droll and impressively choreographed—but they just don’t land.

It is too bad they waste so much time on the production numbers, because there is some fascinating stuff in 66/67. It isn’t exactly Lincoln and Kennedy, but the assembled experts draw some intriguing parallels between the two very public figures (she lived in the “Pink Palace,” he lived in the “Black House”). The animated segments are also suitably irreverent. However, all bets are off when they establish an apostolic feline link to Teppi Hedren and the utterly insane lions-around-the-house movie Roar. Not surprisingly, none of the Hargitay family chose to participate, but cult film icons Mary Woronov and John Waters are present and accounted for, as well as her great rival, Mamie Van Doren.

A little less dancing and a few more lions and this film really would’ve been a contender. Still, there is plenty of true-enough dish to make anyone’s head spin. Recommended for adventurous TCM viewers who can patiently sit through the interpretive dance, Mansfield 66/67 screens this Saturday (6/24), as part of Frameline 41.

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The Recall: Wesley Snipes, Alien Abductee

If aliens were abducting people, you’d think they would opt for the best possible specimens or at least the representatively average. Instead, they seem to have a preference for moronic teenagers. The aliens are back again and they are perfectly welcome to take the five bickering teens spending a weekend by the lake in Mauro Borrelli’s The Recall (trailer here), which is now playing in New York and on iTunes.

Rob dragged mopey Charlie along on this weekend getaway hoping his girlfriend Kara’s best pal Annie will help take his mind off the now deceased love of his life. If things go according to plan, the vaguely metrosexual Brendan will be the fifth wheel, but he is obsessed with taking Bigfoot photos. He’ll be able to take UFO pictures instead.

As it turns out, the aliens chose this weekend to reappear and they are making no secret of it. There is even a War of the Worlds-looking tentacle ship hovering above their lake. However, it is probably not there for them. The twitchy former astronaut-abductee squatting in a nearby hunting cabin is more likely the one they are after. However, “the Hunter” is ready to take the fight to them. He might even help the obnoxious kids survive, just to spite the aliens.

The only reason to watch Recall is to take a gander at the crazy act Wesley Snipes perfected, presumably to safely survive his stint in Federal prison. As the Hunter, he is quite an impressive anti-social mess, but he still has the action chops. If the film were told from his POV, it would have been exponentially more interesting. Instead, we get the tedious manipulation of Charlie’s dead girlfriend (you can already guess what happened to her, right?) and slimy Rob’s ridiculously misplaced alpha male aggression.

In some markets, Recall is screening in the Barco Escape format, which utilizes three-screen projection techniques, sort of like Cinerama or the “Triptych” finale in Abel Gance’s 1927 silent masterpiece, Napoleon. Yet, this is such a derivative narrative, featuring such blockheaded characters, you would hardly want to immerse yourself in its world. It is nice to know Snipes can still mix it up, but his efforts are wasted in this parade of alien abduction clichés Not recommended, The Recall is currently playing in New York at the Village East.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Amar Akbar & Tony: Love and Life in Southall

It helps to know Amar Akbar Anthony was a smash hit 1970s Bollywood film about three brothers separated at birth, raised as a Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. These lads are brothers-from-a-different-mother, but if you swap Sikhism for Hinduism, you still have the same general deal. These three grown boyhood mates will be there for each other through thick and thin, whether they like it or not in Atul Makhotra’s Amar Akbar & Tony (trailer here), which releases today on DVD from Kino Lorber.

Initially, Amar had the best prospects (he would be the Sikh, so you should be able to figure out the other two by process of elimination). He had a job offer from a London law firm and a ring on the finger of his childhood sweetheart Richa, but it vanishes in a flash. To protect his mates, Amar stabs the unhinged brother of the cloistered beauty Tony had been trying to steal a conversation with.

At least Amar’s prison sentence goes by in a flash of on-screen time. Of course, the community isn’t so embracing of Amar now. It seems like the family mojo has shifted to Amar’s Uncle, judging from his beautiful but sad-eyed new wife Meera. Technically, she is now Amar’s aunt, but there is no denying their mutual attraction. However, Meera’s circumstances are far more complicated than Amar understands.

Although AAT is generally classified as a romantic comedy, the events that transpire are considerably more serious (and permanent) than standard rom-com fare. Yet, the inclusive friendship the film is constructed around is quite appealing.

As Amar, Rez Kempton broods like a champ and displays genuine leading man presence. He also develops some tragically romantic chemistry with both Karen David (probably the biggest star in the ensemble thanks to Gallivant and Once Upon a Time) and Amrita Acharia, as Meera and Richa, respectively. If things won’t work with one, viewers will definitely want to see him find happiness with the other. However, both Sam Vincenti and Martin Delaney really turn up the two extremes of shtick—smarmy ladies’ man confidence in the case of Akbar and klutzy sad sack loserdom for Tony.

We can see how Malhotra and his cast were trying to pull off a Southall Four Weddings and a Funeral. This film is nowhere near as droll, but the food looks way better. In fact, you have to give AAT credit for its unexpected depth. Recommended for those who enjoy a diverse relationship dramedy with Bollywood seasoning, Amar Akbar & Tony releases today on DVD and Netflix, from Kino Lorber.

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Death Pool: The San Fernando Valley’s Home-Grown Serial Killer

Due to a childhood trauma, Johnny Taylor has an aversion to all water, except bong-water. Unfortunately, he is about to have a breakthrough. Instead of fearing the water, it will bring out the latent woman-hating serial killer inside him in Jared Cohn’s Death Pool (trailer here), which releases today on DVD from MTI Home Video.

As a boy, Johnny Taylor (not to be confused with the vastly more talented Stax soul singer Johnnie Taylor) was nearly drowned for sport on several occasions by his pretty baby sitter. The experiences scarred him in ways the twentynothing has never recovered from. Living on handouts from his guilt-ridden parents, the porn actor washout accepts a part-time pool cleaning gig with his running mate Brandon. Returning with the intention of hooking up with a client, Taylor drowns her instead. Voila, water phobia gone. Of course, this process will repeat in numerous, unlikely ways.

Based on Death Pool, it is easy to see why so many San Fernando Valley residents wanted to secede from Los Angeles. Taylor’s killings are reckless, impulsive acts, during which time he takes absolutely no precautions to minimize physical evidence. Frankly, the LAPD is ridiculously tardy identifying him as the killer.

However, we get plenty of drug fueled porn parties to stoke Taylor’s predatory rage. There is no question Death Pool must be the most misogynistic horror film in many a moon. It also looks cheap and grubby. Heck, you would probably find better production values on a San Fernando porn shoot.

Therefore, it is rather sad to see emerging genre star Sara Malakul Lane (Sun Choke, Kickboxer: Vengeance, as well as half a dozen previous Cohn films) appearing in Death Pool as Scarlet, the ex who broke Taylor’s black heart. At least she lends a bit of professionalism to the otherwise depressing affair. Randy Wayne isn’t exactly a riveting presence as Taylor, but he seems to be enjoying himself to a problematic degree.

Cohn tries to throw in some eleventh-hour commentary regarding society’s vapid obsession with celebrities and serial killers, openly conflating the two, but it is too little, too late. What’s the deal with Cohn, anyway? The Horde was a fan-pleasing slice of B-Movie payback action that was followed by the lurid but somewhat distinctive Devil’s Domain. In contrast, Death Pool is just an ugly film in every way. Perhaps he should slow down his output three or four films a year? Regardless, Death Pool should be avoided now that it is available on DVD and VOD, from MTI Home Video.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Inversion: An Unmarried Iranian Woman

The city of Tehran is deadly. In this case, we are not referring to the morality police. It is the smog that is literally killing Niloofar’s mother Mahin. When the hospital releases her, she will have to move north, where the air is crisp and relatively clean. The family decides Niloofar will have to move with her, since she is unmarried, whether she likes it or not in Behnam Behzadi’s Inversion (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.

Niloofar’s life was just where she wanted it—and then poof, it was gone. Over the course of many years, she built up a seamstress workshop, employing about a dozen woman. She had been happy living with her mother, but the possibility of romance re-entered her life when an old flame (sort of) moves back to Tehran.

However, when Mahin collapses during a high pollution day, her embittered brother Farhad and severely judgmental sister Homa decide Niloofar will be the one to relocate north with her. Having decided that issue, they dispose of her workshop, by renting it out to Farhad’s creditor. Of course, this comes as a nasty surprise to Niloofar and her employees, older, economically marginalized women who really needed their jobs. When Niloofar protests, her whole family turns against her, except her mother, whom all parties try to keep in the dark, and her loyal niece, Saba.

Clearly, Behzadi has a great deal to say about the legal status and general level of respect women face in contemporary Iranian society. However, it is also a mini expose of Iran’s Beijing-like air pollution. Apparently, when school is cancelled on high pollution days, nobody finds it unusual anymore.

Regardless, it is still very definitely Niloofar’s story—and Sahar Dowlatshahi is masterful in the lead role. We can see the frustration she is not allowed to express as a smart, poised woman trying to live an independent life in a society that is actively working against her. Shirin Yazdanbakhsh looks frighteningly frail, yet she projects serious gravitas as the proud Mahin. Somewhat playing against type, Ali Mosaffa still broods with slow-burning intensity as the chauvinistic Farhad. Yet, the wonderfully (and quietly) expressive Setareh Hosseini is by the far the discovery of Inversion. In fact, the film becomes something of a coming-of-age story as she sympathetically watches her aunt’s plight unfold.

Obviously, Saba can easily envision herself in Niloofar’s place. Most Western viewers will have a harder time, but it is not so far-fetched a stretch, considering the in-roads Sharia law has made in Western European legal systems. Regardless, Behzadi gives viewers an achingly sensitive, multi-generational perspective on a woman’s place in Iran, through two wonderfully rich and subtle performances. Highly recommended, Inversion opens this Friday (6/23) at the Laemmle Music Hall and Town Center, in metro LA.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Simian Verite: The Mighty Peking Man

It is hard to believe Dino De Laurentiis’s 1976 King Kong remake was such a huge hit in its day, but apparently it was. Identifying an opportunity, the legendary Runme Shaw rushed a Mandarin language “riff” into production, sacrificing time-consuming luxuries such as logic and good sense. The result is a ludicrously politically incorrect throwback to Toho’s mid-1960s kaiju-style King Kong movies, but with a Mandarin speaking blonde jungle pin-up queen thrown in for good measure. With the passage of time, it sure looks like the Shaw Brothers Studio got more right in Ho Meng-hua’s The Might Peking Man (a.k.a. Goliathon, a.k.a. etc., etc.), which screens during Anthology Film Archive’s recently launched Simian Vérité film series (trailer here).

Carl Denham would be disgusted by a scumbag promoter like Lu Tien. He hires heartbroken adventurer Chen Zhengfeng to lead his Himalayan expedition in search of a fabled giant simian, but then leaves him stranded, presumably to die, when they clash over Lu Tien’s management techniques. However, Chen is rescued by Ah Wei, an animal-skin-bikini-donning orphan, who is the apple of Ah Wang’s gargantuan gorilla eye.

After a year developing a romantic relationship with Ah Wei, Chen convinces her to come back to civilization with him, with Ah Wang in tow. Of course, as soon as Lu Tien gets his claws into the Ahs, he returns to his exploitative ways. Eventually, Ah Wang will feel put out by such shabby treatment—and you know what that means. Look out Hong Kong.

There are scenes of Chen and his expedition-mates firing into packs of stampeding elephants that you just can’t do anymore. Likewise, the way Ah Wei schleps around compliant leopards suggests the animals must have been drugged into the Age of Aquarius. Plus, Joyce Carol Oates would surely be outraged at the way the giant monkey is treated in the third act.

Regardless, Ho and special effects supervisor Sadamasa Arikawa (a veteran of the Godzilla franchise) pick-up admirably where Toho left off, leveling some of prime commercial district real estate. Given the square footage of Hong Kong, Ah Wang’s rampage is particularly devastating. Fittingly, he makes his last stand on the former Connaught Centre (now known as Jardine House), whose metal circular grid pattern provided plenty of accommodating footholds. At the time, it was the tallest building in Hong Kong, but now it does even crack the top one hundred.

The acting in Peking Man is what it is, but Ku Feng certainly came to play as the dastardly Lu Tien. As Chen, Danny Lee also keeps charging ahead like a trooper. Of course, it is pretty clear in each of her scenes why Ho and the Shaw Brothers cast Swiss-born Evelyne Kraft as Ah Wei.

Mighty Peking Man is just a ton of shameless fun. Don’t call it camp, because it is pure spectacle to behold. Highly recommended for fans of cult cinema and killer apes, The Mighty Peking Man screens this Monday (6/19) and the following Monday (6/26), as part of Simian Vérité at Anthology Film Archives.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Simian Verite: Murders in the Rue Morgue

It basically started the time-honored tradition of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that bear at best a minimal resemblance to the stories whose titles they have appropriated (Roger Corman was slavishly faithful, by comparison). C. Auguste Dupin is considered the original template of the mercurial, ambiguously anti-social deductive genius that later spawned classic sleuths like Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Nero Wolfe. However, Universal turned him into a love-struck medical student. Clearly, the studio had little understanding of the story’s evergreen appeal, beyond the murderous orangutan. Yet that would be enough to assure classic status for Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (trailer here), which screens during Anthology Film Archive’s recently launched Simian Vérité film series.

The carnival has come to 1840s Paris, amid the turbulent era of the “July Monarchy,” but you wouldn’t know it from carefree Pierre Dupin, his sweetheart, Camille L’Espanaye, and their shallow friends. Dr. Mirakle causes a sensation with his trained gorilla Erik and his scandalous lectures in support of Darwinism. L’Espanaye also makes a strong impression on Mirakle, and an even more so with Erik. Dupin can tell there is something off about Mirakle, but he is distracted by the mysteriously murdered women, whose corpses start turning up in the morgue (his favorite late night hang) shortly after the arrival of the carny.

Typically, the lily-white romantic interests are the weakest link in vintage Universal monster movies, but Leon Ames (then billed as Leon Waycoff) and Sidney Fox are especially awkward as Dupin and L’Espanaye. Not for one second do we believe his foppish act and her childish state of arrested development could ever be remotely compatible.

On the other hand, Bela Lugosi and the killer monkey go together like love & marriage and a horse & carriage. King Bela was at the peak of his popularity at this point—and he gives fans the arched eye-brows and diabolical line-deliveries they craved. Yet, he also seems genuinely hurt inside when L’Espanaye stands him up.

Almost as important as Lugosi was the presence of cinematographer Karl Freund, who shot The Golem and Metropolis in Germany and would soon helm the original classic Mummy. He helps Florey decant some of the old German Expressionist magic. The Parisian rooftop scenes remain particularly evocative, in a dark fable-ish kind of way.

It is always a nostalgic joy to watch Lugosi at the peak of his scenery chewing powers. Despite the drippiness of its romantic leads, it remains a fascinating example of the homicidal ape sub-genre. Arguably, it has yet to receive proper due for its lasting influence. Frankly, we can see echoes of Erik dragging the swooned L’Espanaye as he scales walls and leaps from building to building in the mack daddy of all killer ape movies, King Kong, which released the following year—not to mention the iconic Robot Monster.

Nonetheless, as Poe non-adaptations go, the cult classic The Black Cat, also starring Lugosi, is far superior. Still, it is good clean fun watching the great Hungarian actor and a dude in a gorilla suit terrorize Paris. Recommended for old school Universal fans, the one-hour Murders in the Rue Morgue screens with the amusing but fannish short doc, I Created Lancelot Link, featuring a reunion of the chimp show’s creators this Monday (6/19) and the following Monday (6/26), as part of Simian Vérité at Anthology Film Archives.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

47 Meters Down: Mandy Moore vs. Sharks

Seriously, why didn’t they just go whale watching? They could have been safely drinking coffee and eating scones on-deck. However, Kate thought her sister Lisa needed to become more adventurous, so she cajoled her into some shark-cage-diving. She might just fix her permanently in Johannes Roberts’ 47 Meters Down (trailer here), which opens today nationwide.

Lisa has just been dumped by her longtime BF for being a fuddy-duddy, so Kate took his place on the vacation her sister had planned. Kate decides a little shark-cage-diving will be good for what ails her, especially since they will be joining two very single fellow tourists on the S.S. Rickety Barnacle, skippered by the Captain Ron-like Taylor. Shrewdly, he doesn’t waste money on extravagantly strong cable, allowing him to pass the savings on to you.

For about ten seconds, Lisa and Kate ooh and ah at fish. Then the cable slips a little and bam—47 meters down, baby. At this point they are in a world of hurt. Good old Taylor just chummed the water so its shark central out there. They only have about an hour of oxygen under the best of circumstances, but it is depleting more quickly due to panic and exertion. Plus, their scuba coms are only in range around the 40-meter mark, so someone will have to swim up seven meters to talk to the boat.

As set-ups go, Roberts and co-screenwriter Ernest Riera put the sisters in quite the pickle. This is definitely a B-movie, but it is still pretty compelling to watch the shark-bait siblings struggle to survive. Although a few scenes are a bit murky, most of Mark Silk’s underwater cinematography is rather spectacular. However, the ending is bound to be divisive. Viewers who manage to emotionally invest will most likely get angry, but those who are only there for the shark show will just say the heck with it.

Mandy Moore and Claire Holt do almost all of their acting wearing diving masks, but to their credit, they are convincingly freaked out. Frankly, as Captain Taylor, Matthew Modine spends so much time explaining the Bends and nitrogen narcosis, he could probably do safe-diving PSAs in his sleep. Roberts opts to keep him largely off-camera as the disembodied voice they hear, so we never see Taylor up-top, worrying about the scathing Yelp reviews the sisters will write if they survive. As for the sharks, they are big.

It is definitely sharks—plural. Unlike Jaws 4: The Revenge, there is nothing personal here. Lisa and Kate are just trapped (and eventually bleeding) amid a whole mess of jabber-jaws. Obviously, it is no accident 47 Meters is opening in mid-June. It is nothing fancy, but it delivers “beach read”-style suspense, without even scaring viewers away from the beaches. Recommended as a drive-in, bonehead-distraction kind of movie, 47 Meters Down opens today throughout the City, including the AMC Empire and the Regal Union Square.

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Once Upon a Time in Venice: It’s a Real Bummer, Dude

There were active oil wells on Venice Beach up through the 1970s. Granted, there is a mini-tech boomlet underway now, but the hipster colony’s primary industry has been scenesterism since the last wells were decommissioned in the early 1990s. Skateboarding private detective Steve Ford definitely considers himself a part of that funky scene. Yes, we will have to spend time with an annoying self-styled Bohemian in Mark Cullen’s alleged action-comedy Once Upon a Time in Venice (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Mark & Robb Cullen’s screenplay is so episodic, it could use a prescription for Ritalin, but eventually it decides its driving Macguffin will be Ford’s niece’s beloved terrier, who gets dognapped by junkies and bartered to Venice’s drug lord, Spyder, with whom Ford has some awkward history. Spyder offers him a deal. If he recovers the money and the drugs his girlfriend Lupe absconded with, he can exchange them for Fido. Of course, there are numerous intertwining cases and subplots, such as the spectacularly pornographic graffiti plaguing a real estate developer charmingly referred to as “Lou the Jew.”

This film is almost unwatchable. None of the jokes land, but some of them face-plant so hard we have to feel embarrassed for the big-name case, who have all appeared in vastly superior films, including Bruce Willis (Unbreakable) as Ford, John Goodman (Argo) as his surf shop buddie, Jason Momoa (Road to Paloma) as Spyder, Stephanie Sigman (Miss Bala) as Lupe, and Famke Janssen (Rounders) as Ford’s personality-less sister-in-law. They all find themselves in the unenviable position of trying to pull off gags involving sex addicts-anonymous support groups and transvestite hookers doing straight characters’ make-up at gun point.

Actually, a little politically incorrect humor would be fine, even healthy, but it has to be funny. Alas, that is not the case here. Ironically, the ending would be massively unsatisfying in nearly any other film, but in this case, it is largely what these characters deserve. Not recommended at all, Once Upon a Time in Venice opens tomorrow (6/16) in New York, at the Cinema Village and in LA at the Monica Film Center.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Kill Switch: Cousin Matthew in the Parallel Universe

It is sort of like cloning for the sake of organ harvesting, but on a cosmic scale. Through the magic of theoretical physics, Alterplex Corp have created a parallel universe, expressly so we can extract energy from it to power our world. The so-called “Echo” would be a reflection of our universe, but supposedly without any organic life forms. Instead, they succeeded too well, generating a perfect duplicate, including all the people. Thanks to an eco-terrorist attack, the creation process did not run as smoothly as planned. In fact, both universes are in danger imploding in Tim Smit’s Kill Switch (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Kill Switch is about as close to a first-person shooter video game as a film can get while still keeping some kind of plot. Former NASA pilot and egghead physicist Will Porter was hired by Alterplex to pilot a pod to the Echo and turn on the energy extractor. Apparently, he did so and now all Hell is breaking loose. When Alterplex started sucking power out of the Echo, the unstable mirror universe started sucked back large masses (ships and trains falling from the sky) to compensate.

It seems everyone has a doppelganger in the Echo, except Porter. His double died during the initial chaos. With his power levels declining, Porter will have to decide whether it is time to use the “Re-divider” or kill switch, the put a stop to the mutual Armageddon. However, that means one of the universes will be sacrificed.

Given the provocative premise, Kill Switch probably sounds headier than it is. In any event, you cannot accuse Smit of playing for small stakes. In fact, the Macguffin is quite clever, the slam-bang pacing races along like a high-performance sports car, and the apocalyptic effects are surprising well-realized. Arguably, it also treats the shadowy corporation and the fanatical environmentalist with roughly equivalent suspicion and disdain.

It is slightly ironic Dan Stevens, Cousin Matthew in Downton Abbey, plays Porter, the Yank who uproots his family (a widowed sister and her traumatized son), relocating to Europe. Nonetheless, he holds up his end rather well, especially consider we only really see him in the flashback scenes. Bérénice Marlohe is convincingly cool, smart, and dangerous as his colleague Abigail Vos (in both universes). For what it’s worth, Mike Libanon is also all kinds of sinister as the zealous spiritual leader of the eco-terrorists, but this isn’t exactly a film requiring classically-trained chops. It is more about running and dodging and weaving and more running.

Of course, that is not a bad thing. Far from it. Kill Switch takes pride in its action and delivers accordingly. Yet, it is still smarter than we would expect. Recommended for fans of shoot ‘em up dystopians, Kill Switch opens this Friday (6/16) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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