Lam Suet of every Johnnie To movie finally gets a major role as a bully fuckup cop – or so it seems, until the more capable Simon Yam takes over the movie, in search of the gun Lam lost while getting beaten by street kids. Not that Yam is so upstanding – his guys brutalize the youths, being careful to cover their tracks, and beat a red-haired asthmatic to death in an alley then manage to revive him. Suet steals evidence, makes a deal with the warring gangs, finds his gun (which it turns out he dropped in the scuffle and nobody picked up), the gang guys slaughter each other and the cops cover everything up. This more than compensates for Heroic Trio‘s portrayal of noble policemen with super abilities. Most importantly, this is on the early side of To’s spectacular run of great-looking movies – realism be damned, the actors glow as perfectly on the night streets as they do in neon-lit restaurants. Looks like Yam starred in a flurry of belated sequels.

A trap:

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I pulled out the earliest Johnnie To movie I could find, thinking “surely his visual and character quirks and his tendency to upend expected narrative weren’t fully developed yet,” but yup, they were. These movies are so stylish and unpredictable, and I could watch them forever.

Boss alliance:

Jack (Leon Lai of Fallen Angels) and cowboy Martin (Ching Wan Lau, the Mad Detective himself) are rival enforcers for crime lords, and when their bosses team up and go straight, their men are left crippled, unemployed and forgotten. After a wheelchair-improvement montage they take righteous revenge on their former organization(s).

Jack up high, Martin down low:

50 sword deaths in first couple minutes, a good sign, as unstoppable mustache man slays all his rivals then returns home to slay his hot girlfriend. He turns out to be our narrator Kageyama’s boss. We know he’s gonna gradually introduce K to his elite life, glimpsed when the two visit the boss’s bar, where the blood bartender runs a basement prison forcibly teaching captured yakuza to abandon their tough-guy ways – but the boss comes to an untimely end when a cowboy-hat coffin-backpack outsider shoots him with a chintzy lightning gun then kickboxer Kyoken beheads him.

The badly wounded K is revived by a bite from his vampire boss’s severed head, and not knowing how his new hunger works, he bites a townsperson which quickly unleashes a vampire plague on the town – the vamps act like yakuza and band together to torment (but not bite) the mortal yakuza. Meanwhile, kickboxer and coffin-backpack are joined by a kappa goblin and a frog furry with its own theme song. This is one of Miike’s high-energy crazypants movies, and it’s extremely fun, up there with Blade of the Immortal and Zebraman 2.

Let’s see… there’s also a tough woman named Captain whose head fills with water… K loves a hospitalized blind girl who turns out not to be blind… a sad kid whose father died turns into an enraged revenge-vampire… and there’s a bloody showdown between K and the kickboxer at the end as the frog furry grows city-sized and threatens to destroy the world.

K is Hayato Ichihara, lead/bullied boy in All About Lily Chou-Chou, has grown up to have a cool, severe face. The unblind Riko Narumi was a teen in The Great Yokai War, is also in notably bonkers movies Why Don’t You Play In Hell and Labyrinth of Cinema. The late boss has starred in a few Kore-eda films and Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain. The kickboxer is from Java, and The Raid movies.

Opens with a lot of text about a lot of people in 1980 that I’m not gonna remember, but fortunately the rest is easy to follow. After an absolute slaughter of various gang members, including Tommaso’s two sons, Tommaso does the unthinkable and testifies. He’s tortured in prison, hides in witness protection in the USA, testifies in two major trials, sending friends and enemies to prison. The action spans from 1980 to 2000, and with nonstop event and dialogue for two and a half hours, it’d take me longer to unwind and recount it than it took to watch it. It’s no American Made, but it passed the time on a weekend afternoon.

Such a talky movie, it’s hard to find screenshots without subtitles:

Best period detail: in New Hampshire the grocery store sells AR-15 rifles. Our (anti)hero is Pierfrancesco Favino, star of a movie called ACAB. His enemy/friend Judge Falcone is Bellocchio regular Fausto Russo Alesi, and his wife is TV star Maria Fernanda Cândido. This played the stacked competition at Cannes along with Portrait, Parasite, Bacurau, Atlantics, Hidden, Joe, and Hollywood.

Not sure if this guy was real or just a story, but it’s a good story:

Intersection of a Japanese gang, a Chinese gang, a drug-addicted girl who sees ghosts, a crooked cop, a traitorous thief, a gangster’s girl out for revenge, and a floppy-haired boxer who wrongfully believes he has a fatal brain tumor, on one crazy night. Not as crazily awesome as I was led to believe, just a solid gangster action flick with one especially successful performance (the traitor).

Julie/Becky:

Traitor/villain Kase is Shota Sometani (tortured to death with a soldering iron in Lesson of Evil, maybe the narrator in Tokyo Tribe). Boxer Leo is Masataka Kubota of 13 Assassins. Revenge-girl Julie is “Becky” of a trio of Pokemon movies, and her late boyfriend Yazu is Takahiro Miura of Harmonium. The crooked cop: Nao Omori (Ichi the Killer himself, star of R100).

Leo with his girl Monica, freaking out on the subway:

This remake of Howard Hawks’s Ball of Fire is very scripty – so much screenwriting that there’s no room for anything else. Maybe a powerful performance could break through the scriptiness, but Virginia Mayo (ah, who?) is no Stanwyck, and Danny Kaye (I can never remember who he is exactly, and think of him as “Fake Donald O’Connor”) is no Gary Cooper (and I don’t even like Gary Cooper), so we’re boned. Mayo and her gangster boyfriend “Tony Crow” get in some real good slang, at least, while Kaye avoids Mayo because of her distracting body and the demoralizing effect of her presence, and hides out with his music scholar buddies, none of whom are Cuddles Sakall (but one of whom is Benny Goodman). Popular musicians Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong look on as Kaye finally gets the girl, and picking up the second half of this movie a day later, we forgot why we’d ever started it, until we saw the Hawks name again – he remade his own pretty-good movie as a pretty-bad movie in the same decade.

Nice to see this at the Landmark before it disappeared onto the small screen (bragging). Quiet movie – there are long stretches with low conversations and no background music. I don’t want to say it’s too quiet, but its epic length and contemplative air didn’t resonate as much with me as others – I didn’t feel a great sadness that the hit man’s family wouldn’t talk to him and he ended up friendless, puttering around a retirement home and choosing his own casket. Still, from scene to scene, undeniably a heck of a movie. Scorsese with his Gangs of New York screenwriter. Starring all the actors I recognize, plus a few I almost do (The Captain from USS Callister as Hoffa’s foster son).

It’s nearing the end of the year, so time to catch up on all the best films of 2019 that we’ve missed so far, but sometimes on a Friday night after a long week you just want to watch Liam Neeson take bloody revenge after a member of his family gets taken.

In the beginning, Liam is being honored at a nice dinner for driving the snowplow in a Denver suburb, his loving wife Laura Dern in attendance, but meanwhile their son is killed by some drug dudes who probably meant to kill his coworker instead, and Neeson finds the first guy he suspects to be involved (Michael Eklund, a Canadian who recently played Eadweard Muybridge), beats him until he gives up the name of the next guy up the ladder (Bradley Stryker of an upcoming Kevin Costner movie), and so on.

Love to see Major Rawls of The Wire tell his rookie partner Emmy Rossum (Shameless) about the importance of balanced community policing. The Major’s Wire costar Herc is bodyguard to the big bad Viking (Tom Bateman, star of a Jekyll & Hyde series), who is trying to figure out who’s killing his men, takes out a hitman called Eskimo and Neeson’s brother (William Forsythe, who plays J. Edgar Hoover on TV), then accidentally goes to war with his Indian rivals led by White Bull (Tom Jackson, a Shining Time Station regular), which significantly ups the body count.

Herc and Viking:

It’s not a good movie for wives! Neeson’s wife Laura Dern leaves early and never returns, Viking’s wife is fighting for custody of their kid, and Neeson’s brother’s wife spits on her husband’s grave. The kid survives, as does Neeson and White Bull, and the movie ends on a typically black-comic note, accidentally running over a lost parasailing Indian with a snowblower, before cutting to the credits listing actors “in order of disappearance”. That was the English title of Molland’s own 2014 film starring Stellan Skarsgård, which he’s remaking here. IMDB says this will be Neeson’s final action movie role, also says he has three action movies in development.

The Brother and his wife:

Katie Rife in AV Club:

The film, first and foremost, is rolling its eyes at swaggering machismo, giggling at the hyper-masculine phallic symbol literally plowing its way across the screen with man’s man Neeson behind the wheel … The female characters in the film are uniformly fed up and uninterested in whatever dick-measuring contest these men have gotten themselves into this time. Cold Pursuit knows that killing a man with a snow plow is a ridiculous macho fantasy, and it’s going to give it to you anyway — but not without a wink and a smile.

Japanese gang-war rap musical, opens with an epic long take, then blonde gang boss Mera (Ryôhei Suzuki of Kurosawa’s Seventh Code) explains the local gangs and neighborhoods to a noob cop he has stripped and threatened with a knife, and we already know what the movie is like: it’s gross and loud and sexist, and kinda fun as hell.

Mera ambushes his hated rivals, the peaceful gang Musashino led by Kai, and kills a guy, and his body is wheeled back home with a new girl in tow (Nana Seino). Meanwhile, Mera ally Lord Buppa (played by a pop-eyed Riki Takeuchi, a classic Miike star I haven’t seen since Battle Royale 2) is sent two elite fighters by the High Priest to recover HP’s missing daughter Erika (the new girl, obvs), and previously unknown gang the Waru is activated.

A holographic message from the wise High Priest:

Kai bands together all the Tokyo tribes, including the Gira Gira Girls and Neri Muthafuckaz and probably a couple more, to fight this new threat. It all looks impressively choreographed and real, neon lights and stunt fights, then a super-fake CG tank comes along and blows it. Still, for a full two hours of rap mayhem, this doesn’t lose steam. I’d been avoiding Sion Sono since Noriko’s Dinner Table, but this and Why Don’t You Play In Hell were fun, so maybe I should watch his four-hour masterpiece Love Exposure sometime.