Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Fantasia 2019.18: Full Contact, Homewrecker, Moon in the Hidden Woods, Circo Animato 2019, Freaks, and American Fighter

10am for the first show. Ten. Ay. Em! Doesn't seem like much, but some in the audience might have been at the midnight "Fantasia Retro" show the night before, and I'm guessing that the people looking to watch these older movies like Full Contact don't necessarily sleep as fast as we used to. King-Wei Chu apologized, sheepishly saying that they found themselves with too many movies. He then asked if we'd like to hvae the festival make 10am shows a regular thing, and I think the answer can be summed up as "no, but (heavy sigh) we'll come anyway".

The 35mm print they got hold of was nice, though, which is good because it came from the Academy archives in Los Angeles and is apparently the only one in circulation. That presumably means it's the same one I saw in New York during the February Hong-Kong-a-thon, which is kind of neat on the one hand, although being the only print also makes the archive very reluctant to let it out and I don't know if there's a decent DCP available for those who can't sweet-talk the Academy. Fortunately, it was just reissued on Blu-ray in Hong Kong as part of the trickle of Ringo Lam discs that have been coming out since his death.

After this, every show had someone show up:

Next up in the same room was director Zach Gayne and Precious Chong of Homewrecker (with Justine Smith), which packed DeSeve a couple of times in part based on how Canadian a film it is. It's frequently very funny even if I don't love the direction it winds up going, but it is very much their (and co-star/co-writer Alex Essoe's) film. The basic idea had been kicking around Gayne's head for a while since reading an old news story, eventually resurrected when the group started looking around for a way to work together on something bigger than the Funny or Die videos Chong and Gayne were making. They wound up shooting it in Chong's house the week her husband and son were on vacation, right before a remodel - an important consideration, since the script involves a sledgehammer, which gave her husband some pause in the lead-up.

They got the "how much was improvised?" question, and had to be really insistent about having shot the script (which Chong & Essoe co-wrote). It's pretty hard to mess around when you're paying crew by the hour and have a hard deadline for being out of the house.

Next up, director Takahiro Umehara of Moon in the Hidden Woods, which was a last-minute detour from me because I went for the more fantastical flick rather than the The Island of Cats, which just looked eccentric, apparently forgetting entirely that one of my favorite movies at the festival last year was a cute Japanese thing with kitties. It was maybe not the best choice; this movie might play better to kids or otherwise seem like a really nifty semi-steampunk reimagining if you've got a better background in South Korean folklore than I do, but it wound up not being a great mid-day film for me. The director was a quite likable fellow, though, seemingly a journeyman getting a chance to direct a feature by going to Korea and eager to embrace its culture in creating the film. He also seemed to dig Montreal, heading down to the old city and only making it back a couple minutes before he was supposed to introduce this one.

The animation program used to have a lot more local filmmakers showing up, but it seems as though those movies wound up at Fantastique Week-Ends this year. Or maybe it's just a blip. This year's guests were Neil Christoper & Daniel Gies of "The Giant Bear", Cristina Sitja Rubio of "Strange Creatures", Kim Myung-eun of "The First Class", and Han Seong-heun of "Barchestra". As with the previous day's Science Fiction Showcase, the filmmakers for the package were, if not an even male-female split, pretty close, and good on 'em for that.

Christopher & Gies were especially up-front about how "The Giant Bear" took a lot of work, reconceptualizing it a few times, figuring out music, working with the descendants of the First Nations man whose recorded telling of a folktale served as the basis of their film. Getting it just so was very important. Rubio mentioned that "Strange Creatures" was based upon a children's book, but they opted to make the designs something close to the complete opposite. Kim Myung-eun's "The First Class" is another really nifty one, although she seemed a bit dismayed that the movie she made about the issues with the Korean education system is fairly universal.

Next up (across the street) was Zach Lipovsky and Adam Stein of Freaks, who made a nifty little movie and one that I'm really glad that I saw cold, barely even having skimmed the description in the program, because it's possible to get a ways into it without knowing just exactly what it's about that way, while the preview I would see a week or two later more or less lays everything right out. Par for the course these days, I guess.

Without saying too much, they did talk about how there are ideas kicking around in their head for more, because it is the kind of scenario that immediately feels too big for just one movie or point of view.

Finally, I went back across the street for American Fighter, which was supposed to be in Hall but got bumped so that the big screen could have a second show of The Cop, the Gangster, and the Devil, pushing Harpoon to the new Cinema de Musee. Guests were production coordinator Brian Kennedy (not 100% sure on the name), director Shaun Paul Piccinino, and co-star Sean Patrick Flannery, who despite having played young Indiana Jones way back when didn't quite grow up to be Harrison Ford. Apparently he got into martial arts, though, and runs schools in Hollywood and elsewhere when he's not in front of the camera. I had no idea - has this ever been part of his acting career before? Maybe he's done a bunch of straight-to-VOD fare where this figures in, or maybe he's better at actual sparring than choreographed work.

The folks involved all seemed pretty enthusiastic about the stuff they were making together, cranking out small-scale flicks that aim to be pretty decent rather than pushing any envelopes. Love your job, right?

As expected, writing up a day with a dozen short films took a while, plus I finished up my IFFBoston posts before getting back to Fantasia, so here's hoping that it doesn't take until April to give everything the full review it deserves.

Xia dao Gao Fei (Full Contact)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève(Fantasia International Film Festival: Fantasia Retro, 35mm)

I wonder, idly, how much chance I'd have to see Full Contact right now if not for director Ringo Lam's recent death. I'm not sure if ever heard of it before a couple folks mentioned it in tweets about his best movies, and then two events play it as a tribute and a new Blu-ray comes out as part of a steady re-release of his catalog in Hong Kong. You've got to wish there were better reasons, but I'll take the movie anyway.

After all, it's a great deal of fun, a double-barreled crime movie with an absurdly good cast - Chow Yun-fat, Anthony Wong, and Simon Yam being the big names - intense action, and a level of style one doesn't automatically associate with Lam. In a lot of ways, it's a simple action script, but the way that the filmmakers set the two crews up as mirror images of one another, from Chow and his righteous cool the being the absolute opposite of the flamboyant psycho Yam plays on down, and then have Wrong as the wild card, is a great example of how these guys knew how to make them resonate at a gut level so that the operatic action fits. It's not complicated, but it pulls you in just enough for the violence to mean something.

And it's great, fun action, from how a flirty coat flip reveals a weapon in the opening to the bullet's-eye-view Lam uses in the finale to make a shootout feel as personal as a fistfight. It's bloody and nasty and mean, but also thrilling and exciting, with blackly comic beats keeping things from getting exhausting. Ringo Lam was a damn master, and is a crying shame he won't be giving us the likes of this any more.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, digital)

Science fiction film has a tendency to extrapolate one thing forward but assume the rest will stay the same with a more future-y paint job, and the way that filmmaker Steve Yager sees the increasing use of digital assistants and America's ever-messy health-care situation converging deserves at least a little credit for focusing on convergence, even if it's of the pessimistic variety. Heck, on first blush, I was kind of tempted to nit-pick an Alexa (here given the non-infringing name "Nova") having the apparent capabilities of a medical tricorder from Star Trek, although I've come around to thinking that these things having heat/infrared scanners fine enough to spot appendicitis and the like that are always passively observing and recording (along with a couple of the other alarmingly powerful tools) probably is the future.

Hopefully that doesn't mean that the situation brought up here - Nova can detect an appendix about to rupture but everything outside one's convenient bubble is so awful that do-it-yourself HomeCare™ is the best option. As a sketch, though, it's pretty darn funny, especially since it's often able to find a way to tell a joke so that Mason & Emma are both kind of with the audience in terms of being shocked and appalled but also kind of weird future people who take what's still mostly unthinkable to us in stride. It's big and broad but also filled with fine comic timing, and let's all hope it doesn't come to this.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

Beware being too drawn in by descriptions, because while the way this movie was listed as being a lesson about being too polite and accommodating, that's actually just the hook; eventually, other things have to push the movie forward, and it never works quite so well as a story driven by specific intent than a riff on a lunatic who preys on good intentions. The less random it becomes, the harder it has to work.

It seems to start out pretty random, with two women crossing paths in various fitness classes often enough to recognize each other. It gives middle-aged Linda (Precious Chong) just enough familiarity to sit across from Michelle (Alex Essoe), who is having one of those "so this isn't the month we find out we're starting a family" moments. Linda notices that Michelle is an interior designer, something she's been looking for, and gets the younger woman to come look at her house. Once there, it becomes difficult for Michelle to politely extricate herself as Linda makes more and more demands on her time disguised as hospitality.

This seems more like the premise for a short film than a feature, even the filmmakers seem to work their tails off to make it to 75 minutes. They're nevertheless able to start strong, immediately butting Linda's long-arrested development against Michelle's accommodating but sensible nature, and while that gives Precious Chong a lot to work with. She's kind of generally intrusive and Chong (who co-writes with director Zach Gayne and co-star Alex Essoe) gets most of the big comedic moments and milks the heck out of them, initially making Linda big and crazy enough to unnerve but seeming just lonely enough to earn some sympathy and make it easy enough to see why Michelle doesn't just bolt. She's an intriguingly modern take on the old trope of the deranged spinster, one that plays differently in the current nostalgia-choked age where the old pop culture never goes away and there's so much pressure (and ability) to push the aging process back.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Sup-e Sum-eun Da (The Moon in the Hidden Woods)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: AXIS, DCP)

South Korea has been a spot where the frame-by-frame grinding out of animation is done for a long time, but has seldom been a place where notable animation is initiated; I cannot remember a Korean animated feature getting much notice since Wonderful Days (aka "Sky Blue") fifteen years ago. The Moon in the Hidden Woods probably won't be the one that remedies this; it looks rougher than theatrical animation from other countries and while imaginative, the storytelling leaves something to be desired.

It follows Nabilera, a princess of sorts, but one who is not interested in being a child bride for Count Tar at all, despite being told that this may be the only way to return the moon to the sky from which it has disappeared, replaced by Muju, the red night sky. She flees and meets Jang-goo, a meteor hunter from a small village, as well as rival Guntheir from a neighborhood village. She is right not to want any part of Tar - he is in league with Muju in a plan to plunge the world into darkness - but it may be too late to rally the mystic forces necessary to stop their plan.

Visually, The Moon in the Hidden Woods takes most of its cues from Japanese animation, but looks like a theatrical anime from twenty or thirty years ago, or perhaps a lower-budgeted television show (where director Takahiro Umehara has done most of his work), with flat colors and broad shots where you can see scads of background characters standing dead still. The character designs feel like a similar sort of throwback in their bold simplicity and with their oversized accessories. They are still interesting for coming from a different cultural place, though far enough removed to not necessarily feel specifically Korean to a foreign audience. It often seems as if they are hoarding their resources, saving their best work for the climax and mostly able to allow the creativity, from making street music a game to moon fairies appearing as mammoths, to make up for what it doesn't have technically.

Full review on EFilmCritic

"The First Class"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

The neat thing Kim Myung-eun pulls off in "The First Class is how charmingly bouncy it feels at first, letters from the Korean alphabet dancing to suggest the joy of learning, only to have the more serious concepts start to sneak it. First it's almost a joke - the different shapes allow some to catch more of what drops from above than others - but it's not long before one sees how serious she is about it, as these things are sorted and judged and reassigned seemingly based upon things they have no control over, the animation eventually becoming more overwhelming and detailed but never losing the plot.

It's an impressive work of satire all around, not just for how it sort of sneaks its point in without initially seeming too eager but for how broad-ranging it turns out to be: Kim made it to specifically reflect the South Korean educational system but it fits issues students and parents have in the United States just as well, and anyone stuck in a system that values specific metrics over individual experience can probably relate. It's quite an impressive debut.

"Strange Creatures"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

At some point, "Strange Creatures" will be translated into English to play to viewers too young to deal with subtitles, and it will only be 80% as good because the narration by Álvaro Morales is a huge part of what makes it great, even if one is following it via subtitles. It's such a warm, charming voice that it easily balances how Cristina Sitja's and Cristobal León's take on the material can be a bit unnerving. According to Sitja in the Q&A, they went in the complete opposite direction of the original children's book visually, and while it works - the papier-mache models shot in flickering black-and-white look great - it's almost a bit too sinister, and can really use Morales's comforting tones.

It's good that it all balances like that, because Sitja & León walk an interesting line, telling a story of deforestation from the point of view of the animals, with a cynical underpinning that nevertheless seems to turn optimistic by the finish. There's fun whimsy in how they present the forest animals' "houses", and if maybe the film seems a little too optimistic in how it ends, there's something kind of lovely in that sense of hope in a film at least partly made for kids.

"Mofumofikushon" ("Fluffiction")

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

There are worse ways to spend seven or so minutes than in the world of Imazu Yoshiki's "World of Fluffy Animals", which presents a world where cute, fluffier versions of animals from our world wander throughout the countryside and the cities; it's a thoroughly charming ecosystem and his approach to it does not limit the audience to a single story, instead presenting it as an educational film but making it feel like open-world gameplay in some ways as Imazu leaps from one to another, changing scale effortlessly without creating the sense of a break.

It's a charming piece all around, introducing something new and fun every twenty seconds or so and nice narration, which is chipper and entirely suited to its elementary-school lecture style without seeming patronizing or the like. It feels like it could go on a little longer, or be developed into something big and elaborate like Detective Pikachu, but which is also quite satisfying on its own.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

What's nice about Lisa Fukaya's "Mimi" is that it's not particularly charming; it's got soft colors and pictures made up almost entirely of round shapes, but it's unsentimental and serious, a movie where the discovery of a pimple makes the title character sour rather than panicky. It grows surreal as it goes on, naturally, and does a fine job of getting into how terrible this is for a kid but also playing on how dismissive kids at the age for pimples get.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Han Seong-heun's short is about a minute long, but it's great use of that little time, building itself a musical identity, letting shapes morph and show personality to the rhythm, and letting the visuals play on how a lot of bartenders are would-be performers. Neat stuff.

"Giant Bear"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Sometimes, you can find yourself being a little too precious about something like "Giant Bear", based on an Inuit legend with dialogue in Inuktitut and a bit of emphasis in the Q&A on making sure that the source material was respected. It's the sort of thing that marks it as good for you and lets you feel proud that you've learned a bit about another culture's mythology. And, yes, it has its moments where you can feel the importance of it, where you're feeling more proud of the filmmakers (and yourself) than pulled in.

Fortunately, there are more times when it's stunning to look at, a visual treat as the filmmakers create a dazzling skyover a barren land, an iconic hunter taking his place and a bear so massive that it becomes a monster. They create a stunning underwater world and the revelation of the bear underwater is terrific and eye-popping. The music is rousing ,and the sparse narration by sets a tone even with subtitles.

And, by the time it ends, the viewers find themselves surprisingly engrossed. It's the sort that has a key moment where something is maybe about to happen, and one may be surprised just how close one has gotten to the edge of the seat.

"Le Vol" ("The Flight")

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Alain Bidard's Battledream Chronicle was a nifty curiosity as an animated feature from Martinique mostly created by one guy, but in some ways you've got to be a little more interested in "Le Vol". It's four minutes long, but it creates a space that clearly represents something and is intriguing to look at without context, and tells an emotional story in a compact, near-worldless manner. It's important to him and you can feel that.

A bit at the end mentions that it's based on Hurricane Maria, and that tracks. It's an impressive, solidly built short film, and I hope Bidard brings some of the earnest emotion he gave this to his to his next larger project.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Frédéric Doazan's "Hurlevent" initially seems like it's mostly a neat bit of visual trickery and while that's not nothing - the animated book pages in the middle of a live-action world are a thing you've seen before but which usually impresses - it's familiar. It's still fun and done well and you get the feeling that Doazan is going somewhere with it, and the text changing to 1s and 0s at spots sort of gives you an idea, although it feels kind of late to be raging against that.

It is, nevertheless, one that keeps building up well - the animation spills the bounds of the page, there's a Tower of Babel, the rain smears everything and makes one wonder about just how permanent these written words will be. It's not new, but it's playful and does have something to say.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Science fiction, baseball, and animation in a single short film? Chiara Sgatti made this thing just for me.

It's not a particularly triumphant take on the material, though - the former ballplayer has MS and she isn't taking her diminished capability well, watching video of her glory days and only having her caretaker robot for company. It's sometimes melancholy at best and despairing at worst, with even the more upbeat moments having an element of the temporary to them, the rain is unceasing, and the city outside her apartment is sketchy, almost unreal. The different style for the memories and video of the games is effective, not sketchy like the outside but lacking detail.

And it's also kind of a horror movie, not with the traditional malevolence but with a scary thought of what the autonomous AI caretaker is doing out of well-intentioned programming, either because it's got poorly balanced priorities or because it does have just enough humanity to only think of the short term when seeing its charge suffering. It's genuinely creepy at moments and delivers a bit of food for thought.

"Love Me, Fear Me"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Veronica Solomon's "Love Me, Fear Me" is one of those entirely visual animations that just drops an idea on the audience in such pure fashion that it can handle being almost completely detached from a story. Here it's the multiplicity of personae that a single person can assume over time, shown via its clay-animated avatar sloughing off layers and reshaping itself several times over five or six minutes. Eventually, she walks off a stage arguably herself in her final form, not quite winking about how it's a bit of a relief to not be those other things on demand right now.

What's really impressive here is how smooth and casual it seems to be - you can often see the filmmaker's fingerprints in a short like this, literally as well as figuratively when clay is the medium, but there's a flow to how the changes blend in with the motion to keep one's eye on the art rather than the craft, and a recurrence of dance and performance to underscore the themes without defining this character as some sort of performer. It's a genuinely impressive job of expressing something abstract visually.

"My Moon"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Ah, the joys of coming full circle - humanity starts out seeing the heavenly bodies as personified gods, eventually learns about them, and then eventually depicts them as people as art, in part to help visualize what we know scientifically. Lee Eusong's "My Moon" is the latest to present the motion of the Sun, Earth, and Moon as a courtship and a dance, although it's clever enough to see that it works both ways - we best understand the motions of celestial bodies in human terms while human relationships can often seem to fly in pre-ordained orbits. Humanity and the gods reflect each other.

Lee puts it together nicely, too - the characters start out geometric and retain those rounded shapes even as they become human, and there's a smoothness to how they move that suggests a vacuum, like they pull at each other with gravity but not friction. It's an interesting choice to have them seem to speak with recordings of human voices rather than their own, with an eclipse leading to the traditional madness down below. The film stumbles a bit there, like it had been fine communicating without words up until that point but needed something else when the characters start talking.

Still, it's another striking, entertaining short with appealing pastel colors and all sorts of other charm.


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Circo Animato, digital)

Yves Paradis describes "M52" as an improvised, animated experiment, each segment animated in a week with relatively little long-term planning, so it's perhaps appropriate that it feels like a film about the learning process. Its fish-eyed characters explore, experiment, and solve puzzles, splitting in two and recombining, discovering more about their strange world in much the same way their creator is finding out about them.

A little math will tell you that a ten-minute short with 52 shots has them each running ten or twelve seconds, so Paradis is seldom letting the grass grow under his feet; he's making a fast-paced cartoon that could suffer for not having any one moment given more attention than others but never actually does as he jumps from one idea to the next without ever forgetting where he left off or what he did before. The presumably after-the-fact music by Alexander Hohaus ties everything together and the simple but surreal design ties everything together: The greens that dominate tend to be vibrant rather than sickly, and the impossibly wide eyes give the impression of there being more to see.

It's not quite as straight-ahead as its characters are after an enormously powerful energy drink, but it certainly drives them forward and never actually feels like the unconventional production it's eventually revealed to be in the credits.

Watch at the director's website


* * * (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Auditorium des Diplômés de la SGWU (Fantasia International Film Festival, DCP)

As much as I do like previews even beyond the way that they give one a heads-up that certain movies even exist, there's a real delight to be found in going into certain movies cold. The one for Freaks, for instance, probably needs to show as much as it does in order to draw its potential audience in, especially in an environment when similar-sounding but much larger things have huge studios behind them to suck up all of the oxygen in the room, but I'm glad I didn't see it until after I saw the movie. I kind of figured it eventually had to go a certain way, but it was thrilling to never be sure which way the movie would jump.

It centers on Chloe (Lexy Kolker), eight years old and living with her father (Emile Hirsch) in what are clearly not the best conditions - squatting in a run-down house, windows covered in newspaper, eating canned goods and being vigilant about outsiders. He drills her on a cover story and doesn't let her watch TV, but she's a clever and curious girl, and has started sneaking out during the rare hours when he lets himself sleep. That's how she meets "Mr. Snowcone" (Bruce Dern), who seems to have positioned his ice-cream truck on this quiet corner just to find her.

The nifty trick here is that filmmakers Zach Lipovsky & Adam B. Stein don't create an idyllic or "normal" setting that they can later reveal as hiding something darker, but instead decide to set off alarm bells from the very start, and then make the audience a little more nervous or queasy with every new piece of information: None of this seems healthy and even once new information starts coming out, there's still a lot of question as to whether it's necessarily unhealthy or compounded bad decisions. They create more uncertainty by telling the story from the point of view of an eight-year-old girl, keeping details out of sight and maybe part of an active imagination. Eventually, it's all out, and audiences will have seen a fair amount of what the filmmakers do before, but the details can still be surprising, and it's built to make knowing who to trust difficult all the way through. It's a layer cake of not being quite sure how to feel next.

Full review at EFilmCritic

American Fighter

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 28 July 2019 in Salle J.A. DeSève (Fantasia International Film Festival: Action!, DCP)

American Wrestler is, I'm told, a more or less autobiographical story of an immigrant who came to America in the 1970s and integrated through sports, but this sequel isn't what happened next. It's what could have happened, if things had gone a bit differently, and for all that this particular alternate history is capably produced and enjoyable enough if you go for this particular genre, I kind of wonder why you'd stay so close to such a standard template if free to make up a whole new set of circumstances.

It picks up the story of Ali "Al" Jahani (George Kosturos) some time after the first film, now a freshman at Northeastern California University, looking to prove himself on a new wrestling team. He's got more to worry about than most of his teammates; though he has spent the last few years in California with his Uncle Hafez, his parents were just leaving Iran when they were taken off the plane and his father shot. A guy Hafez knows says he can get his ailing mother to America, but it will cost $30,000, an amount that seems impossible for them to raise. Ali's teammate Ryan (Bryan Craig) may know a way, though - there's a guy, McClellen (Tommy Flanagan) who runs underground fight clubs, and though this is the sort of thing that gets you booted off the team if anyone finds out and even cutman Duke (Sean Patrick Flannery) says not to trust the guy, what other options are there?

There is, I suppose, some impressive craft in how everything fits together smoothly enough to have come out of a particularly well-calibrated machine: Yes, there's a super-likable roommate who has an uncle who is just the right amount of shady to be running underground fighting matches, employing a cut-man who is just the right amount of disillusioned but sympathetic, but director Shaun Paul Piccinino and co-writer Carl Morris are good at presenting this sequence as the natural order of things rather than something that should shock viewers who have, more than likely, been watching movies like this since its early-1980s setting. The betrayal comes at the exact moment you expect, and that's the point at which things get a little more strained, as school almost vanishes and the scale of McClellen's operation becomes fuzzier. There are girlfriends who serve little purpose other than making sure one doesn't read too much into how readily Ali's friend is putting his body and place at school on the line for him and some of the most polite and downright apologetic coyotes you'll ever meet.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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