Port of Call

Port of Call: A

Excellent Hong Kong drama based on a real murder case from 2008. Aaron Kwok was superb in this; he goes old, with grey hair and a mustache, and really vanishes into the role. It’s a tough part, full of damaged psyches grating against each other in an endless cycle. He plays it whimsical with a ton of pain showing right under the surface: comedy as defense mechanism.

The movie is set in seedy Hong Kong, where low-lives and desperate souls live. Occasionally we see glimpses of privilege and wealth. Christopher Doyle is the cinematographer, and he’s unsurprisingly perfect at showing us the contrast between those two places. It’s as if wealth was a source of light, and unwise phototropic souls reached out to it like a lifeline, only to find it was sterile. (Doyle always inspires me to clumsy light-based metaphors. Love his work.)

Other than Aaron Kwok making sad jokes which fail to dispel his pain, there’s very little humor in the movie. There are sequences of explicit death and violence. People are not nice to one another. It gets a lot of power from being unflinching.

The Ninja War of Torakage

The Ninja War of Torakage: B

This was the weirdest thing I saw at Fantasia. Underneath it all you’ll find a pretty standard historical ninja epic about Torakage, this poor guy who just wants to retire from ninjaing and raise a family, but there’s a lot of insanity between the surface of the movie and the core. I don’t know Yoshihiro Nishimura’s work but he’s a special effects/makeup dude who occasionally directs, I guess. This is perhaps obvious from the opening shot in which our protagonist cuts off a couple of heads and we center two spouting fountains of gore for a very long time.

Once we’ve gotten the sense that it’s going to be a reasonably violent action film, Nishimura proceeds to demonstrate that it’s going to be supremely weird by cutting to a Portugese scholar named Francisco who narrates the premise of the movie with the help of shadow puppets. Visually awesome, by the by, once you get over the Japanese actor in Euroface. Francisco shows up to explain the movie all the time, although he doesn’t explain any of the weird stuff.

Other awesome things: the weird creature with wings made of hands and eyes everywhere; the bamboo mecha; the way Torakage’s wife Tsukikage also kicks ass; the Greek chorus in jars. I appreciated this one a lot.

Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween: B+

This review is maybe a bit of a placeholder; I did not take notes during the movie and I’d like to come back to it when I can find some better data on who directed what. For now, I will note that this was a totally fun horror anthology with ten segments. They’re very loosely linked insofar as they all take place in one town during Halloween. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a place you’d want to live. Neil Marshall’s closing segment ties together some of the other bits, but otherwise they’re just related by theme and locale.

If I had to bet, I’d say one of the thematic elements the creators decided to work with was revenge. There’s a lot of that going on. Also trick or treating, which is kind of a gimmie for Halloween. Also gore — this is probably going to win my personal Best Gore award for Fantasia — but that’s just because it’s a total love letter to 80s horror.

Which, let me tell you, this movie wears its heart on its sleeve. Lots of horror character actors you’ll recognize, a couple of even more amusing cameos, and so on. The Neil Marshall segment plays like a John Carpenter tribute in the most loving of ways.

I think this will roll into theaters around Halloween this year and if you like gory horror you should see it.

Full Strike

Full Strike: B

This was pretty much OK. Very broad Hong Kong sports comedy with all the usual bits. There’s a drunken master, there’s an evil magistrate, there’s familial tension, and so on. Oh, and a random alien who lands in a UFO that looks like a badminton shuttlecock. Don’t pay too much attention to him, since he’s not actually part of the movie.

Right — the sport is badminton. Serious business! The producer, Andrew Ooi, introduced the movie and explained that they’re all big fans of badminton so why not make a movie about it? Fair enough.

Josie Ho was a standout; her transitions from washed up ex-champion to fierce competitor were a nice bit of acting. That’s the extra effort that you don’t always see in a farce.

Cash Only

Cash Only: B

Cash Only is a competent movie. I’m reluctant to call it a crime movie, since it’s not really about a crime per se, but it’s certainly about criminals. Mostly it’s about a repeat loser, Elvis Martini, and the variety of scams and desperate measures he uses to get by. One day, in a fit of bad decision making, he overreaches. Things get worse.

The movie is set in the Albanian community of Detroit, which is what I liked most about it. I don’t think I learned a ton about Albanian immigrant culture but I did get a distinct sense of a community living mostly on the edge of failure with both deep and painful ties holding them together. One of the minor characters is a cop; he doesn’t judge the criminal enterprises of his friends, and they don’t much care that he’s supposed to arrest them.

If it wasn’t for the grand guignol of the climatic scene, it’d almost be a slice of life movie. I kept thinking of Michael Moore, perhaps because of the Detroit connection. One of the reasons I didn’t rate this one an A is because that climax didn’t totally pay off — the threat was there, as was the horror of the circumstances, but I wanted more from the antagonist.

So, hm. Held my attention but didn’t earn my passion. Worth watching if you get a chance.


Anguish: A

Sonny Mallhi’s Anguish was excellent. There’s a teenage girl, Tess, with serious mental issues. Her mom is raising her alone while her dad is serving overseas. The question in this taut rural gothic is pretty simple: mental issues, or more?

The movie reaches a conclusion on that one but the journey is good enough not to spoil. In fact, I want to see it again soon for the sake of one relevant cinematographic decision that Susan pointed out to me. It’s not perfect. There’s a subplot that distracts from the main narrative and I think ultimately casts a bit of unnecessary confusion on various motivations, but the movie is strong enough so that it doesn’t detract significantly.

Without a really spectacular performance by Ryan Simpkins as Tess, the movie wouldn’t have had much of a center. She’s got a really tough job playing a quiet, conflict-adverse teenager. Tess hides behind thick hair and silence; Simpkins reveals with her eyes and reactions. The whole cast is strong, but Simpkins is amazing.

I also thought the realist indie aesthetic was great. It’s filmed like one of those documentaries about the death of the heartland, all long shots of cars and pickup trucks and close shots of people struggling with debt and each other. When Mallhi permits himself a horror jump scare, it’s way more effective because of the realist aesthetic.

Definitely worth seeking out if/when it hits theaters.


Jeruzalem: D.

This was a lot of wasted potential. You’ve got a promising if somewhat goofy presence — American backpackers trapped in Jerusalem during the apocalypse. The found footage twist is pretty good: everything’s being filmed on Google Glass by Sarah, our viewpoint character. It’s a nice way to explain why she doesn’t just drop the camera and run away, plus the Paz brothers added some really clever moments around facial recognition and other wearable features.

Unfortunately the acting was really, really bad. I’m not going to pick on anyone in particular, because everyone was fairly wooden. If you’re doing helpless Americans abroad, you’ve got to have sympathetic characters and none of the main foursome was up to that task.

The writing didn’t help. Towards the beginning of the movie there’s an excellent chase scene which uses the Glass conceit to full advantage. You get disoriented right along with Sarah as she runs, you get a real feel for her lack of perspective, and it’s easy to understand how she gets lost in the warren of back alleys. Excellent stuff. It’s undermined by the ceaseless repetition of “hey, stop, hey, you, stop, hey, come back, hey, stop!” It’s as if the filmmakers were afraid of silence.

I could go on. The prelude, which is not presented as found footage, winds up being played for Sarah later. So if you’re going to present it within the found footage context anyway, why start the movie outside the frame? Hold it for later, don’t repeat it, and as a bonus you get to save your demon reveal rather than giving it up in the first five minutes.

Whoops, I went on. Done now. Don’t watch this on cable if you happen to trip over it some day.

Another Thursday Night

San Francisco Fielding This is what I did with my evening. To be precise, I had a small part in creating the conditions that made this possible. We did not execute perfectly for various and sundry reasons, but that’s what the human ability to learn and improve is for.

For non-Ingress players: the primary means of scoring points in the game is creating fields. Bigger fields are more points. Fields are always triangles. You create fields by generating links between portals. You make a link between two portals by going to the source portal and using up a key to the destination portal.

Thus, you could make a big triangle like that by creating a link between a portal in Oakland and a portal in Marin Highlands; then between the same portal in Oakland and a portal in Half Moon Bay; and then between the Half Moon Bay and Marin portals. Boom, lots of green.

Oh, yeah. The tricky part is that links can’t cross. So if there was already a link between, say, Candlestick Park and Alameda, you couldn’t create the link between Oakland and Half Moon Bay. This makes life tricky.

The coordination aspect of this is really the fun part, particularly since the other team will try and stop you from scoring via various methods if they notice. It’s like a much lower pressure version of moving your servers between data centers: plenty of planning, lots of moving parts, and a good team of people.

Apple Music

I’ve bought into the Apple ecosystem, so obviously.

In the interests of testing the scope of music available, I travelled back to the best music critic on the Internet, glenn mcdonald. His final formal music review post is an eloquent exploration of the best music of 2012, ranging from Taylor Swift to European avant garde death metal. It finishes up with a Ylvis song, years before you wondered what the fox says. Bona fides enough.

He has 123 songs on his list. At the time, he constructed playlists on both Spotify and Rdio. Spotify had 93 songs; Rdio had 94. My Apple Music playlist has 96. Pretty much no difference.

It’s seven hours of great music, by the by.

Fantasia 2015

Still not the singer or Disney movie. Man, has it really been nine years since I went to the best genre film festival in North America? Too long! Thus I am going this year, for sure, because Susan and I have plane tickets and a hotel. Directly thereafter we’re going to Gencon. If we seem delirious at the latter, you’ll know why.

Fantasia just announced the initial wave of films. I want to see all of these, of course, but some of them look particularly interesting. In no particular order: Jeruzalem looks potentially insane and cool; Big Match could be the kind of high-gloss South Korean action film I dig; Deathgasm um we’ll see; The Demolisher seems like it has potential; I’m all over anything to do with Milgram, more for the myth of the experiment than the reality, so Experimenter yes (plus nice cast); The Golden Cane Warrior looks awesome; and They Look Like People has gotten very good reviews.

Booyah! Very excited. And as you know, Montreal is within driving range of Boston.

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