J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

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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AFI Docs ’17: Waiting for the Sun

They are like children in a Dickens novel, but they live in contemporary Mainland China. Due to social prejudices, the children of convicted criminals are frequently shunned by their extended families and left at the mercy of the state. Thousands of these despised and dispossessed kids have found shelter in Sun Valley, a communal orphanage founded by Grandma Zheng, a former prison guard-turned social worker. We see life in Sun Valley through the eyes of several recently arrived and long-term residents in Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s Waiting for the Sun (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 AFI Docs Film Festival.

Evidently, the father of the Zhang Siblings (twin teen daughters and a younger son) really committed the murder he was convicted for. That is not always a given. There is no denying his remorse, at least with respect to his children. Since their mother deserted them at an early age, he has been the trio’s sole support. Sun Valley is pretty much their only option—and it will help that they will still have each other.

The triplets are largely in the same boat, but they are even younger. In their case, it was their long-abused mother who finally killed their violent father—again, there are several other such “Burning Bed” cases represented in Sun Valley. Yet, the most heart-breaking case has to be five or six-year-old Strawberrry, whom the police took into custody when they apprehended the human trafficker trying to sell her.

This film is beyond Dickensian. None of these kids deserves their fate, yet they are bearing the brunt of their parents’ sins. Of course, their victimization compounds with their inevitable issues of guilt and abandonment. Granted, Grandma Zheng and her senior staff seem to be on the side of the angels, but we still witness a fair amount of bullying in Sun Valley, as well as some shocking abuse committed by junior employees.

Frankly, Waiting could be the most devastating critique of both Mainland social attitudes and the Communist government ever filmed. AS far as the audience can see, the nation has virtually no safety net and precious little more compassion for its most vulnerable children. Any claims of solidarity and equity the legal and welfare systems might make wither in the face of Schröder’s vérité indictment. Wisely, he keeps himself completely out of the picture, opting instead to faithfully record reality for the Sun Valley residents unvarnished and unfiltered.

The result is riveting, soul-crushing human drama. It is a film that will stagger you, but it also makes you feel keenly. Easily one of the most emotionally overwhelming documentaries of the year, Waiting for the Sun is very highly recommended when it screens tomorrow (6/15) and Friday (6/16) as part of this year’s AFI Docs in DC/Silver Spring.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Abel & Gordon’s Lost in Paris

France and Canada have traditionally enjoyed close ties, but Fiona the librarian might fix that. She hails from an impossibly snowy English-speaking Canuckian burg, but she has longed to join her flamboyant Aunt Martha in the City of Lights. She will get her chance, but her lack of French fluency and spectacular clumsiness will lead to no end of complications in Dominique Abel & Fiona Gordon’s Lost in Paris (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Aunt Martha’s letter urgently summons her to Paris to prevent her from getting bustled off to a nursing home, but by the time she arrives, the former music hall dancer has already taken to the wind. Through an unlikely but highly cinematic chain of events (which are in fact quite common in Lost) Fiona also faces the prospect of living rough on the streets of Paris after losing her luggage and money. However, the embassy’s meal voucher takes her to a riverfront restaurant, where she starts tangoing with Dom, the vagrant who found her cash and clothes.

Dom is instantly smitten, whereas she is understandably resentful when she discovers the truth. Yet, Dom will constantly follow her like a faithful dog whenever she needs his dubious help. Naturally, he speaks French, but he is still the master of miscommunication. At least he has the balance of a mountain goat when chance forces them to scamper up the Eiffel Tower like Franchot Tone in Charles Laughton’s Maigret movie.

Abel & Gordon are regularly and deservedly compared to Jacques Tati, but they are about as close to unknown as you can be and still get reliable art-house distribution. They clown with the same grace as the master, but they also have an idiosyncratic visual sensibility somewhat akin to Aki Kaurismäki. In this case, their flair for physical comedy is infectious, inspiring the late grand dame Emmanuelle Riva in one of her final performances (as Aunt Martha) following her Oscar-nominated turn in Michael Haneke’s radically dissimilar Amour.

When Abel & Gordon perform, it is like watching a top-flight dance troupe, except funnier. In this case, the Parisian backdrop evokes a sense of noir romance that is rather intoxicating. Consider it their An American in Paris (he’s Belgian, she’s Australian, but whatever). Highly recommended for anyone who understands goofiness and sophistication are not mutually exclusive, Lost in Paris opens this Friday (6/16) in New York, at the Landmark Sunshine.

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The Journey: Northern Ireland’s Odd Couple

Despite their titles, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, UK have equal executive powers. It is all very fair & square and even-steven. It almost sounds ridiculous, but it sure beats shootings and bombings. Before the bitter rivals Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness could assume their historic power-sharing offices, they would have to agree to end the violence and start trusting each other. Their eventual meeting of the minds inspired Nick Hamm’s (mostly) fictionalized The Journey (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Obviously, an agreement was hashed out at St. Andrews that both sides would abide by. Frankly, if The Journey were about a peace-summit negotiator opting for bloodshed over peace it probably would have been called “Arafat at Taba” instead. Ian Paisley was the Democratic Unionist Party Nixon going to China, whereas McGuinness was the first to admit he was a more palatable public face of Sinn Féin than the radioactive Gerry Adams, but at this point in the negotiations, they were still rather standoffish towards each other.

Facing a potential deadlock, MI-5 ever so logically decides a long car ride will be just the thing to improve their dispositions. Opportunity presents itself when Paisley asks for one day’s leave to attend his 50th wedding anniversary party. McGuinness is willing to oblige, but he invites himself along for the ride. All the while Tony Blair and fictional (or is he?) MI-5 Northern Ireland specialist Harry Patterson monitor their discussions through the dash cam, relying instructions to the twelve-year-old looking livery driver, who is actually Patterson’s plant. The clock is ticking, because Paisley’s private flight has a narrow to beat an approaching storm.

Throughout the film, Hamm and screenwriter Colin Bateman consistently portray McGuinness as the more reasonable and willing to compromise of the two, whereas Paisley (whose DUP party is currently propping up Theresa May) is the more formidable, in a righteous Old Testament sort of way. Despite these biases, it is a pleasure to watch two old pros like Colm Meaney and Timothy Spall play off each other. They clearly relish the opportunity to spar together, but, unfortunately, Bateman is no Peter Morgan. For the most part, his dialogue is rather workaday and/or on the nose, except for the incisively written scene in which McGuinness sort of-kind of acknowledges his past complicity for supporting horrific acts of terror.

Of course, it is treat to watch the late Sir John Hurt liven up the proceedings with his crafty, charismatic presence. As usual, he is slyly understated as the MI-5 spook for peace. It should also be noted Ian Beattie is an eerie dead-ringer for Gerry Adams (seriously, has anyone ever seen them together in the same room?), whereas Toby Stephens does not look the slightest bit like Tony Blair, but it hardly matters, since he mostly just watches the dash cam and frets about.

There is something appealing about a film that celebrates political risk-taking and the start of a genuine odd couple friendship. Hamm’s approach is straight forward and conventional, but that rather makes sense, considering he had Spall, Meaney, and Hurt to showcase. Recommended for fans of recent vintage historical dramas, The Journey opens this Friday (6/16) in New York, at the IFC Center.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Moka: Tatiana de Rosnay’s Vigilante Thriller

France’s border with Switzerland has always been porous, but Lausanne and Evian are still two distinctly different jurisdictions. When a mocha colored Mercedes from France renders a Swiss mother’s teenage son Luc comatose, she quickly grows impatient waiting the two European bureaucracies to coordinate their investigations. Diane Kramer will take justice into her own hands in Frédéric Mermoud’s Moka (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday at Film Forum.

The bus driver was not a great witness, but his vague description of the car was enough for Kramer’s private investigator to generate a short list of suspects in the French region surrounding Lake Geneva. She quickly narrows it down to Marlene and her lover Michel. He does indeed own a mocha Mercedes that has had some recent repair work, which he just happened to put up for sale. Slowly, Kramer stalks her prey, presenting herself as a customer at Marlene’s make-up boutique and a potential buyer of the lethal luxury car.

Kramer is not about to turn the couple over to the police. Her notions of justice are strictly Biblical. However, she will need time to prepare. Fortuitously, she meets a young smuggler on the ferry, who will help procure a rather stylishly sleek, purse-sized automatic. As Kramer observes her targets, it becomes clear Michel is basically a dog, but she and Marlene seem to have a lot in common, but that is not likely to dissuade her.

Moka is a slow-burning, character-studying thriller, much in the tradition of late-career Claude Chabrol, but viewers might be surprised to learn it is based on a novel (not yet published in America) by Sarah’s Key author Tatiana de Rosnay. In Mermoud’s hands, it is a fine showcase for celebrated French actresses Emmanuelle Devos and Nathalie Baye. Devos just might give a career-defining performance, viscerally expressing all of Kramer’s barely contained rage. Baye nicely counter-balances her as the older Marlene, a former coquette hardened by life. It is clear she is a survivor. David Clavel just radiates sleaze as Michel, but Samuel Labarthe really brings home the emotional cost of the tragedy as Luc’s father, who also stands to lose his wife as well.

Arguably, Mermoud over-relies on Devos to keep us focused, allowing too much slack in some scenes. Still, she and Baye always bail him out. It is hugely moody, but cinematographer Irina Lubtchansky still makes the Lake Geneva setting sparkle. If you are hunting for private justice, this isn’t such a bad place to do it. Recommended for fans of French psychological dramas, Moka opens this Wednesday (6/14) in New York, at Film Forum.

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Contemporary Philippine Cinema at MoMA: Thy Womb

It is hard to believe we are talking about ancient practices like polygamy and dowries with respect to a nation as worldly and Roman Catholic as the Philippines, but this is Tawi-Tawi under discussion, the southern-most archipelago province of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Don’t worry, polygamy is only legal for Muslims and polyandry is safely verboten for everyone. An aging barren first-wife will try to make the best of circumstances by taking an active role in the selection of her husband’s second wife, but it is a bitter pill for her to swallow in Brillante Mendoza’s Thy Womb (trailer here) which screens during MoMA’s film series, A New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema.

To add irony to injury, the infertile Shaleha often serves as a midwife to the pregnant island women. After years of trying to conceive, Bengas-An is determined to try with a younger, healthier second wife. Sadly, his prejudices against adoption preclude that option. Given the importance of children as a source of support to the aged, Shaleha relents, but she assumes the primary responsibility for screening potential brides. She will also find herself scrimping and borrowing alongside Bangas-An to raise the necessary dowry.

During the course of Thy Womb (talk about a heavy-handed title), we see Shaleha care for Bangas-An when he is sick, toil like a yoked mule on his behalf, and even face a pirate attack while they are fishing in the open ocean. And how do you think Islam rewards such faithfulness?

Dear, of dear, this is a difficult film to watch, because it is so inevitably tragic. (Tellingly, Mendoza apparently couldn’t bring himself to administer the final indignity, but it is unambiguously implied.) Of course, Mendoza is culturally sensitive to a fault. He takes great pains to show how the islanders live in concert with nature and the seas. He also captures the color of their ceremonies with an ethnographer’s eye. That still doesn’t change the fact you clearly do not want to be an old disposable wife in the ARMM.

Nora Aunor is considered a Philippine national treasure—and it is easy to see why in Thy Womb, even though she completely disappears into the role of Shaleha. It is a courageous, openly vulnerable performance, with nothing that would appeal to a thesp’s vanity. Viewers will want to slap Bembol Roco’s Bangas-An, precisely because he is so believable. They really feel like a couple with decades of hardscrabble history together. It should also be noted Lovi Poe makes quite an entrance as Mersila, the prospective #2, who threatens to de-stabilize the equilibrium.

Thy Womb is often striking to look at—perhaps even too much so. There are considerable interludes in which Mendoza soaks up the local color and traditions rather than develop character or advance the narrative. However, the power of his intimate but extreme marital drama is undeniable. Recommended for those who are genuinely concerned about women’s rights internationally, Thy Womb screens tomorrow (6/13) and Thursday the 22nd, as part of MoMA’s Philippine film series.

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D.A. Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop

ABC just didn’t get it. When they saw the footage of Jimi Hendrix torching his guitar at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, they reverted their rights back to D.A. Pennebaker, taking a pass on what would become one of the most iconic concert films in documentary history. Remember that when anyone on the network lectures you about anything. Instead, the film released in theaters in late 1968, the watershed year for the counter-culture. On the fiftieth anniversary of the festival, music and film connoisseurs can revisit and re-evaluate Pennebaker’s Monterey Pop (trailer here) when Criterion’s new 4K restoration opens this Wednesday in New York at the IFC Center.

Much to the trepidation of local authorities, 8,500 eager young-ish folks crammed into the venue, over twenty percent more than were expected, but no harm was done—unless you happened to be a guitar. Many critics were struck by the way Pennebaker soaks up the scene and slyly incorporated ironic bites of audience chatter. However, hipper viewers will notice its aesthetic similarity to Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day, documenting the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival nine years earlier.

At the time, seeing all these acts together in one sitting was a treat. Remember, there was no youtube or itunes back in the day. However, some of the performances have comparatively depreciated with the passage of time and the proliferation of online media, whereas others have gained potency. Frankly, The Mamas & The Papas and The Who feel like they are just doing workaday sets, even if Pete Townsend smashed his guitar at the end of “My Generation.”

Eric Burdon & the Animals do a credible version of the Stones’ “Paint it Black,” but it seems odd to give a cover such prominent placement—of course, their greatest hit was also a cover, so maybe it makes sense in a weird way. Otis Redding certainly came to play and so did Canned Heat doing a very modern sounding take of Hambone Willie’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ [Blues],” but they would later generate much more buzz for their appearance in the 1970 Woodstock doc (with “Going Up the Country”). Technically, Hendrix’s “Wild Thing” is yet another cover, but it is undeniably history in the making when he immolates his guitar. Even though it is 1967, you can still see the WTF looks in the front rows (of course, you know all those folks will now boast to anyone who will listen: “I was at Monterey when Jimi set his guitar on fire—and it was awesome).

Ironically, the clear, hands-down, head-and-shoulders-above stand-outs in Pennebaker’s film would now be considered “world music” rather than “pop.” Hugh Masekela has a foot still very much in jazz when performing a stark, stirring rendition of Afropop-flavored “Bajabula Bonke (The Healing Song),” the B-side to hit smash hit single, “Grazing in the Grass.” Appropriately, Monterey Pop ends with an infectiously transcendent performance by Ravi Shankar, with Alla Rakha on tabla. Pennebaker further builds the inherent tension of “Dhun (Dadra and Fast Teental)” by focusing on the increasing ecstatic audience rather than the Indian musicians, until they reach the climaxing crescendo.  Yes, that was one that should still sell downloads.

There is still a good deal of groovy music in Monterey Pop, interspersed with some sardonic observational humor. There were some sad prints out there, but the restoration looks terrific. Frankly, it is more inconsistent than people probably remember, but it remains a cultural milestone. Recommended for fans of 1960s rock and world music, Monterey Pop opens this Wednesday (6/14) at the IFC Center.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

DWF ’17: Espionage Tonight

Reality television has become so toxic, the idea of weaponizing it sort of makes sense. However, the CIA has more of an exercise in soft power in mind. The plan is to show how transparent we are at being covert and dirty. Thomas Devlin, “the Swamp Fox,” is just the likable wet works operative to win back the trust of the American people in Rob Gordon Bralver’s broad satire, Espionage Tonight (clip here), which had its world premiere at the 2017 Dances with Films.

Obviously, the Swamp Fox will have to retire into witness protection with a new identity after the first season, but that is just fine with him. He is not crazy about the new focus-grouped “Swamp Fox” nick-name, but whatever. He will work reasonably well with Sebastian Young, the field producer and cameraman. He also still trusts his long-time handler, Sydney Greenstreet (let’s dearly hope they know they are making a reference). However, showrunner Sam Jacobson and network marketing liaison Elizabeth Geary are a different matter.

The show is on regardless, both for Devlin and Amanda Artemova, the Russian actress who will be playing French journalist Isabelle Fremaux, deliberately chosen for her resemblance to the pretty Russian woman executed for helping Swampy during his last mission. Like Devlin, she will also be improving. Supposedly, everyone else is who they are presented to be, but we know better. In any event, Mainland China is making a power play, proposing a transcontinental bullet train through Colombia to compete with the Panama Canal (of course, they would have to first permanently rout those pesky Communist terrorists first, but it would still be bad from a sphere of influence perspective).

Granted, spoofs are not typically what you would call narrative-driven, but the way ET careens from plot point to plot point, you would think it was scripted during a Mad Libs party. It would be a real challenge reverse engineering an outline from this movie. At least, there was some colorful casting at the front end.

Frankly, Joe Hursley is pretty good as the sad-eyed but still pretty crazy Devlin. He and Greg Davis Jr. also wisely refrain from over-playing the subject-cameraman buddy bromance. Lynn Whitfield has the right gravitas for Greenstreet, while Alexie Gilmore is drolly catty as Geary. Unfortunately, Saïd Taghamaoui and Chasty Ballesteros are grossly under-employed as the arms-dealing kingpin Iskandar Yasin and his lover Fei Song, but they certainly are a photogenic couple.

There are some amusing gags in ET, but the constant cynicism gets to be a drag. Even John le Carré finds more inherent honor in the western intelligence services than Bralver’s screenplay allows. The truth is, the more you like spy films, the less likely you are to enjoy this one. Mostly a misfire, Espionage Tonight premiered at the 2017 Dances With Films, which concludes tonight in Hollywood, CA.

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