It’s only been half a year since I’ve watched a Johnnie To movie, but Throw Down left a lasting impression and this one flipped a switch and set me frantically into Johnnie To Mode. About 25 lead actors here, 19 of whom I’ve never seen before, in a complex duplicitous undercover plot, and it’s all still thrilling and comprehensible.

Police Captain Honglei Sun (star of A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop) and undercover cop Yi Huang bust a busload of drug mules, and while they’re dropping their loads, injured methmaster Louis Koo is fleeing the warehouse explosion that killed his family. Koo is busted, and facing the death penalty he cooperates. Most of the movie is their duplicitous dealings, intercepting meetings between drug traffickers who’d never met in person, pretending to be the one guy, then the other guy, the highlight of this being a laughing dealer named Haha. After the offscreen deaths in the prologue explosions, no shots are fired in the first hour of a movie called Drug War… then all of a sudden, very many shots are fired, as docile collaborator Koo violently switches sides. Raid on a drug factory run by deaf-mutes goes bad, Suet “Fatso” Lam turns out to be the mastermind. Don’t think I’ve quite seen an undercover cop movie with this trajectory before.

Koo:

Cops:

Fatso:

I am in my forties, so when am I gonna start making up my own mind about movies? Here’s a doomed-young-love-addiction story that looks and sounds unappealing, like not really my sort of thing, and it makes the year-end lists and I think oh that’s a good movie I should watch, but low priority, and then the sequel is announced for Cannes and suddenly I need to watch it right away, but it turns out somewhat unappealing, like not really my sort of thing. And then a week after I watch it, reviews are coming in for the sequel, a working-through-grief story that looks and sounds unappealing, and I am almost definitely gonna see it.

Me watching The Souvenir II next year:

I do appreciate watching cinema in which characters argue over what is cinema, and also hearing The Fall in a movie. Tilda Swinton’s daughter is charmingly Tilda-Swinton’s-daughter-like, and her mom plays her mom – a lovely moment where she sleeps over and cries with her unhappy daughter. I didn’t get the post-it trail to a car bomb, but maybe that was a typical British activity in the 80’s. Honor’s heroin boy (Tom Burke, just played Welles in Mank) once steals her stuff, then gets her to apologize for being mad about it after some vague excuse that he’s keeping civilization safe, so maybe he bombs cars for the queen. Richard Ayoade MVP.

Anthony Mackie (currently having a superhero moment on TV) and his partner Jamie Dornan (Barb & Star) are New Orleans paramedics investigating a bad drug scene in a crazy long take. Mackie has an unusual brain tumor, dreams of flooding coffins, and as they discover a wave of deaths from the titular drug which lets you “experience time as it actually is” (?), Dornan’s teen daughter takes it and vanishes. Since Mackie is dying anyway and has a suspiciously coincidental pineal gland abnormality, he sets off trying to rescue his friend’s daughter from a series of pasts. “The past fucking sucks,” he accurately reports after every few-minutes-long jump back attempts to kill him. He even World-of-Tomorrows to the ancient tundra, very exciting. Things work out for the girl, if not for Mackie. More conventional than Benson & Moorhead’s other features, but as long as they keep making time-loop thrillers, I will keep watching them.

Our dudes go to the fair:

Portrait of a NYC clinic that sticks pins in your ears to treat stress and addiction. Through interview and archive footage it delves into the history of how Black Panthers and other associated groups studied Chinese acupuncture and brought it back to help their community, then keeps returning from the archives to the present-day clinic and its patients. The founding leader was Mutulu Shakur (below) – I’m behind on the ol’ blog, no surprise, and now we’re watching the new Adam Curtis movie, following the story of Afeni Shakur, so really covering Tupac’s roots this year. The fatal armed car robbery that gets Mutulu imprisoned for life came out of nowhere in this story, and it’s not interested in explaining much about acupuncture itself, more of a history lesson and community portrait.

Every SHOCKtober you’ve gotta watch an anthology horror… this played at the Plaza this month, but I didn’t feel like going out during the apocalypse so I watched the blu-ray at home.

Three drug guys have heard that there’s a package for them at a funeral home, but before he’ll give them “the shit,” the mortician shows some bodies and tells how each met their demise. So far, so anthology-horror, but the difference here is that the framing story is the best part, due to an incredible performance by mortician Clarence Williams III (Prince’s dad in Purple Rain, a lead on The Mod Squad, and hey, this is my second movie in a row with an actor from The Cool World). He plays it big and campy, with a comic unpredictability without losing his menacing edge, and whenever the three guys ask for their shit, he repeats “the shit” in the craziest way.

Anyway, story one: Anthony Griffith (of Panther the same year) is a rookie Black cop whose white partners beat a Black political rival (Tom Wright, also star of an anthology segment in Creepshow 2) to death while “Strange Fruit” plays – so it’s gonna be an unsubtle social issues movie. Anthony can’t take the heat and leaves the force, but that’s not good enough. “Where were you when I needed you?” After hunting down and killing the three cops as brutally and ironically as possible, the vengeful ghost frames Anthony for their deaths. One of the white cops was in The Crow, another in Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.

The next story involves extreme domestic abuse mixed with It’s a Good Life. I dunno what made them cast David Alan Grier as a violent monster stepdad, but it works out. The writer/director plays a concerned teacher who comes to student Walter’s house, meets his hot mom (Paula Jai Parker of She Hate Me and Friday), and they all get tormented by wicked Grier until Walter (who later played Young Michael Jordan in Space Jam!) takes his psychic revenge.

A racist white southern politician named Duke (heh) is running on an anti-affirmative action platform while living in a house where a lot of bad historical shit went down, until a small army of stop-motion dolls imbued with the souls of murdered slaves take him out (this has better puppetry than the Puppet Master movies). Corbin Bernsen (between Major League II and The Dentist) is the main racist, and Roger Guenveur Smith (Do the Right Thing‘s Smiley) is his image consultant (who is also murdered).

Starting to bring things home for the framing-story boys, the fourth body is a guy they knew. Jerome (Lamont Bentley of TV’s Moesha) is a crazy murderous gangster paired up with a klansman in prison by “experimental” doctor Rosalind Cash (Buckaroo Banzai, The Omega Man) under the logic that they both killed a lotta Black people. Jerome is tormented, but won’t repent, and all this turns out to be a years-long dying fantasy as he’s killed in the street in the first, pre-prison scene.

Cash died of cancer just months after this film’s release:

Obviously at this point the three dudes are gonna discover coffins of their own in the funeral home, though I didn’t need the mortician to turn into a literal demon, he was fine as he was.

Rusty also directed Chappelle’s Show and made Fear of a Black Hat, which suddenly seems essential. One of his two belated sequels stars Keith David in the mortician role, which could work, and the other stars Tony Todd. Rusty’s cowriter on all three films is Darin Scott (also: Vincent Price anthology From a Whisper to a Scream, Danny Trejo anthology Mr. Malevolent, and he directed Jeffrey Combs in Dark House).

Albert Finney is a would-be comedian and general smartass, places an ad in the paper announcing himself as a private eye and immediately gets in over his head. It’s a good premise, because at no point is Finney an actual detective – when he finds a gun at a crime scene, he keeps playing with it and shows it off to everyone he sees.

Albert:

Finney’s brother William (Frank Finlay, one of Lester’s Musketeers) is the type of serious businessman who also knows how to dispose of a dead body, and the brother’s girl who used to be Finney’s girl is his Charlie Bubbles costar Billie Whitelaw. Clues lead to an occult bookstore lead to a heroin trade. There’s a hot library girl, some racism, and some unusually good dialogue.

Billie:

The lead cops, whose casting may be holdovers from when this was first planned as a Martin Scorsese picture, get first billing, but the film belongs to Mekhi Phifer as Strike, sort of the D’Angelo Barksdale of this story. He’s a mid-level drug dude with a stern and intense boss (Delroy Lindo) whose heart (and stomach) isn’t in his work. The poor guy either executes a rival or guilts his brother into doing it, and he’s such a harmless dude that even the cops help him get away in the end. Whoever called this a trial run for 25th Hour nailed it.

Keitel and “Chucky”:

Strike tries to get himself a protegee named Tyrone, but keeps getting yelled at by Tyrone’s mom. Some Spike Lee weirdness keeps you on your toes – the climactic murder by Tyrone is foreshadowed in a VR game, and what was up with that “No More Packing” billboard with the gun in a lunchbox? Best of all is when Harvey Keitel, terrible at his job, is telling Tyrone what he should say to get off for the killing, appearing by the kid’s side in alternate-flashback versions of the events.

Showdown:

Somebody was not careful when writing character names – with only a few lead roles, why would you name four of them Ronny and Rodney, Errol and Darryl? Also funny to hear an interviewee correct the cops’ pronunciation of his name “Jesus,” with John Turturro standing right behind him.

First movie watched on the New TV, and first time I’ve seen this in hi-def. The creature/typewriter effects hold up, as does the circular story blending the Burroughs stories with his own strange life, and the acting by Peter Weller and Judy Davis (same year as Barton Fink, wow).

“Rewriting is censorship.” Exterminator Bill is in trouble at work because his wife is shooting up his bug powder (“It’s a Kafka high; you feel like a bug”). “I am your case officer,” says the anus of the bug the cops leave him with, “Your wife is not really your wife.” After Bill catches writer Hank on top of his not-wife Joan, they do the ol’ William Tell act, then the bigger bug at the bar gives him a ticket to Interzone and says he’s to write a report.

Sands, Kiki, Eclectus:

Hitlery Hans (Cronenberg regular Robert Silverman) introduces him to Kiki, who introduces him to another Joan’s husband, typewriter aficionado Ian Holm (I forget how Julian Sands fits in, but he’s there, in a white suit of course). Sinister doctor Roy Scheider reappears as a lesbian mind-control druglord at the end, and the whole thing combines sex, drugs, death, literature and insects in ways that nothing else ever has.

A rapper named Sloppy moved with his friends to rural Colorado to grow weed and live in a utopian community. We missed the True/False premiere of this, so caught its online 4/20 screening. Katy thought it did not engender empathy… I thought there wasn’t much of interest going on, and the guys aren’t actors so you can hear in their voices the moment true turns into false. Sloppy hasn’t posted a new song in a year, and I forget the other guys’ handles, but maybe that Crestone bologna life hasn’t been good for productivity.