In a New York Minute (2019)

Amy Chen (Amy Chang) is a food critic haunted by a past breakup that has led to her developing an eating disorder as her co-worker Peter (Jae Shin) attempts to heal her stomach and get her to fall for him, which may happen when they have to act together in an ad for a pho restaurant.

Angel Li (Yi Liu) is in a loveless marriage with an American businessman named Howard (Erik Lochtefeld). She’s just scored the role of a lifetime, playing a spurned woman who jumps off a bridge, all while she falls for a writer named David (Ludi Lin).

Nina Wong (Celia Au) came to America thanks to her family paying a high cost which she must pay by selling her body as an escort. But can her relationship Ian (Roger Yeh) help her escape the constant toll of selling herself?

Based on a Chinese short story, In A New York Minute is an Asian and Asian American-led film that explores love in three different stories.

First-time writer/director Ximan Li — who co-wrote the script with Yilei Zhou — has created a great interconnected film that comes together quite well. It doesn’t get overly dramatic and allows you a window into lives and experiences that you wouldn’t get to have otherwise. Isn’t that what all great movies should do for their viewers?

In A New York Minute is available on digital from Gravitas Ventures.

Strega (2019)

20XX: The leaders of Japan have regulated superheroes using a system called the Vector Card, giving a villain the chance to take over. But he didn’t count on working class hero Strega (also known as Gun Caliber) to figure out to hack the cards and save Japan.

That said, the man who is under the mask, Soma Kusanagi, has to get drunk and figure out his love life first.

Bueno, who directed this, as well as stars as Soma, Bueno, studied for years under Seiji Takaiwa  — Kamen Rider! — to be a tokusatsu hero, even if the film is quite funny.

Where most heroes — like sentai rangers and Kamen Rider — are virtuous, even when the city is being turned into monsters, Soma is still looking to score. It’s wild because this looks like the real thing and is played like it, so I felt the laughs were earned.

I also really liked how trading cards activated the various weapons that Strega uses. I only have one bit of advice. If you have kids who love shows like this, maybe make sure they don’t get the chance to see this until they’re older because they could be fooled into thinking this is a real show until, you know, the multiple sex scenes.

The credit is due to VFX director Kiyoshi Hayashi and Singapore artist Gideon J Goh, who designed the costumes. This looks cool as it gets and with each movie, Bueno and Garage Hero seem to be getting better.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 15: The Precious Jade Calendar (2019)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Herbert P. Caine is the pseudonym of a frustrated academic and genre movie fan in Pennsylvania. You can read his blog at https://imaginaryuniverseshpc.blogspot.com.

When people think of religious scare films, they generally think of Christian productions such as Blood Freak, The Burning Hell or Unplanned. Those with more international tastes may remember Muslim works such as the anti-Salman Rushdie epic International Guerrillas, which ends with Rushdie being incinerated by lightning bolts from a flying Qur’an. However, thanks to a recent review in Shock Cinema magazine, I found a rare Buddhist entry in the genre. The Precious Jade Calendar is a Chinese-language animated TV series that offers viewers a lengthy tour of Buddhist hell. Even though the show appears to be intended for children, reportedly having run in a Saturday afternoon timeslot, it is as bloody as any adult-oriented anime.

This animated series is based off a Chinese text purportedly given to a monk by the rulers of hell in the eleventh century, although as Reed College Professor Ken Brashier notes, there are no known copies of it from prior to the nineteenth century. The Precious Jade Calendar, also known as the Jade Records and the Jade Guidebook, is essentially a tourist guide to hell. It describes the various subsections of hell – called small hells – and the sins that are punished in each one.

The series opens with two young boys at a Buddhist monastery talking. One feels guilty about having accidentally killed young birds in a bird’s nest he knocked down, so they go speak to the head of the monastery, who proceeds to describe hell in all its glory to them. From then on, each episode discusses a specific palace of hell where sinners from a particular category are judged and punished. Every so often, the children ask such cheerful questions as why do so many of the small hells feature tortures that involve tearing out someone’s guts.

The various small hells display an infernal division of labor that would make Dante seem creatively bankrupt. Among the hells the series warns of are “The Small Hell of Blood and Pus,” “The Small Hell Where Brain Is Taken Out to Feed Hedgehogs,” “The Small Hell Where People Are Eaten by Ants,” and “The Small Hell Where People Are Drilled by Purple Red Viper.” Although the series’ animation is limited, with figures remaining largely static other than moving their arms and blinking their eyes, the bloodshed is still quite graphic. Lots of blood splatters across the screen, and hearts and other organs are vividly torn from bodies.

Although Westerners often regard Buddhism as a more tolerant religion than many Judeo-Christian traditions, the variant on display here is as harsh and fear-based as anything preached by Jerry Falwell or Estus Pirkle. In one episode, making or distributing pornography is put on the same level as committing murder or raping teenagers. More troubling is the show’s assertion that disabilities or diseases are the outgrowths of wrongdoing in either this life or a previous life. At one point, the show asserts that infants born with missing limbs or other deformities were cannibals in a previous life. Similarly, one vignette depicts three siblings who mistreat their parents. One ends up getting struck by lightning, another dies of AIDS, and a third contracts cancer. This type of victim-blaming can result in the same type of ostracism that many people infected with HIV faced in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. Obviously, not all Buddhists would endorse this dark vision, but this series should serve as a footnote to Western stereotypes of Buddhism as necessarily a more forgiving religion.

The Precious Jade Calendar is available on YouTube broken up into parts on this channel.

APRIL MOVIE THON DAY 8: Bit (2019)

Prior to becoming an actor, Nicole Maines was the anonymous plaintiff in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court case Doe v. Regional School Unit 26. She argued her school district could not deny her access to the female bathroom for being transgender, with the court deciding that barring transgender students from school bathrooms consistent with their gender identity is unlawful. It was a landmark decision, in fact, the first by a state court.

She and her twin brother Jonas have also been the subject of several articles in regards to how one identical twin can be transgender and one can be cisgender. She also played Nia Nal, a distant relative of Legion of Superheroes member Dream Girl on Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow.

In Bit, she plays Laurel, an eighteen-year-old with a troubled past who has moved past it and is off to the big city to live with her brother Mark (James Paxton, son of Bill). On her very first night out, she meets music video director Izzy (Zolee Griggs) and a pack of bloodsuckers made up of Frog (Char Diaz) and Roya (Friday Chamberlain), led by Duke (Diana Hopper).

While this movie has queer and trans characters, it never shoves them in your face. Instead, it presents them as they are, you accept them and you simply enjoy the unique and fun spin that this puts on vampires, in particular the fact that all male vampires are destined to be cruel. If Vlad, the man who turned Duke is any indication, you can see why the female vampires at the beating heart of this movie work so hard to destroy predatory men.

Director and writer Brad Michael Elmore — who also worked with Paxton, MC Gainey and Greg Hill when making Boogeyman Pop and also directed The Wolfman’s Hammer — was able to surprise me by the choices that his characters make throughout the film. The entire section of the film with Duke’s origin is so well-staged and shot by Cristina Dunlap that it takes a moment that could have just been spoken by the actress and gives it bloody and brilliant life.

And I absolutely loved the music of Wolfmen Of Mars!

So how about that sequel that got teased?

Bite Me (2019)

Writer/director duo Naomi McDougall Jones and Meredith Edwards made 2014’s Imagine I’m Beautiful and this is the follow-up, with Jones starring as Sarah, a real-life vampire who finds herself getting audited.

I never saw that in any of the Hammer movies.

She’s soon helped by IRS agent James (Christian Coulson, who played Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and gets in a cute line about muggles in this), who is incredibly understanding of the secret world of bloodsuckers, who in this movie ave very ordinary origins, being born with a condition that requires regular blood consumption.

Sara once was married to a vampire king and the man who inked her face at age sixteen — and who claims to be the social media voice of vampires — and now lives in a house of female vamps that she hopes to turn into a church, the House of Twilight, with roommate Chrissy going on reality TV to explain how the vampires aren’t fiction. They also have another roommate named Lily, who as a Muslim vampire really breaks stereotypes.

Bite Me isn’t a horror movie, unless you’re afraid of romcoms. It’s a quick and breezy film, with much of its humor perhaps better done by What We Do in the Shadows, but the leads are so likable that this is a rewarding film. It’s not going to replace any of the vampire films that you love most — Near Dark remains the best vampire movie ever — but it’ll pass the time and may even make you laugh a few times.

Bite Me is available as a digital download from Adventure Kid and Blue Firefly Films.

Saul At Night (2019)

As a result of a bizarre experiment, Saul Capgras ihas become used to a life of isolation at night, while the rest of the city — and his family — all sleep under a mandated curfew. Saul is the only person left awake at night — perhaps by choice or sacrifice — and he yearns to experience the lives of his family, despite never seeing them awake ever.

Then, he meets Amalur, who avoids her family because she doesn’t want to know that life has gone on without her.

From 10 PM to 6 AM, the world sleeps while Saul and Amalur roam the world, the only connection left with others being the notes left in a basket for them. And, at times, a beeping monitor forces them to take pills and answer the questions of a computer.

Unfortunately, Saul and Amalur speak different languages and can’t understand one another, which is better than the life Saul has been leading, which finds him using large dolls to take the place of his loved ones.

The first full-length movie from director and writer Daniel Miska, Saul at Night uses science fiction to tell us all a story about being alone, about loss and about how our worlds can be so far apart. There’s a lot to try and understand here, with no easy answers, but I found it especially poignant given the trapped world that we’re all living in, then escaping briefly, then living in again.

Saul At Night is available on AppleTV, Amazon and Altavod from Utopia.

Sator (2019)

Jordan Graham took seven years to make this movie, thanks to the limits of its budget, but he also built the cabin that it takes place in, did nearly every job of making the film and cast his grandmother, June Peterson, who has been haunted by the demon Sator since 1968 in real life, automatically writing a lot of the words that are shown in the film. She spent time in a mental hospital, which makes you wonder if this movie was just exploiting her mental illness or could potentially be the story of a real demon that might, you know if you’re a Christian fundamentalist, be using this movie as a way to get into your mind.

Director, writer, editor, producer, cinematographer and editor Graham told Flickering Myth “In 1968, she brought home an ouija board and conjured up Sator. She then spent the next three months talking with him through something called automatic writings. She sat in a chair with a pen and let Sator speak through her. She wrote thousands and thousands of pages across the course of three months. And then, at the end of those three months, she ended up in a psychiatric hospital.”

Deciding to use her home as a location and having her act in a scene where she’d discuss Sator, she began sharing things she’d never told him. Over the shooting of the film, Peterson’s dementia got worse and she was taken to a care home, where Graham would visit and interview her, as well as study thousands of pages of her automatic writings and a diary where she explained how Sator guided her, using those interviews to write and then rewrite the movie based on what she told him.

In the film, her grandson has disappeared into the woods, obsessed with Sator. Perhaps his grandfather sacrificed himself to the demon, but definitely, there are other followers in the woods, wearing skulls and eventually, the protagonist becomes lost in the timeless world of the woods and the call of a demon.

It’s a slow build, but if there’s a movie that proves that folk horror doesn’t exist simply in the past. The truly frightening thing is that Sator itself is so powerful that even as the ravages of age made Graham’s grandmother forget her family, she didn’t forget the demonic spirit that dominated her life. It makes me wonder if mental illness is real or is demonology or both?

This isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a singular work by an auteur and there are times that it works perfectly and other times that it feels like it’s going nowhere slow and then it rewards your patience. I can see some loving it as equally as I can understand people hating it.

Sadly, June Peterson died before it was finished.

Howl from Beyond the Fog (2019)

Inspired by Ray Bradbury’s “The Fog Horn,” which was also made as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, this movie features a creature called Nebula, which was designed by Keizo Murase, who has sculpted everything from VaranMothraMatangoGameraYongary and numerous appearances of Godzilla. He’s still working, getting ready to direct a movie called Brush of the God about a magical brush that can save reality. It’s the first movie he’s ever directed and he’s had the idea ever since he worked on The MIghty Peking Man.

At some point in 1909, a boy named Eiji moves back home with his mother to Kyushu and must unravel the secrets of his family, including his blind cousin, Takiri, who is supposedly dead but appears to him and has the ability to bring Nebula up from the deep.

Meanwhile, some land developers don’t care that the family owns this land and threaten them with violence, even kicking Takiri into the lake. The monster’s rampage destroys most of the town, but opens the doorway to freedom for the young adults.

Howl from Beyond the Fog feels like a spiritual side movie to Yokai Monsters, as Nebula just wants his peaceful life and people to be left alone, as Japanese pushes itself into the modern era, one that wants to explain away the monsters that create the elements.

Here’s to Daisuke Sato, who was the director, director of special effects, writer, producer and cinematographer along with Murase, as well as the editor, art director, recording engineer, lighting technician, compositor and puppet creator.

Yes, every character in this movie is a puppet.

What a gorgeous movie and such an achievement in our era of computer animation. I’ve watched this several times and if it had been made in my youth, as I devoured every Japanese monster movie that made it to UHF TV, I would have yelled during every frame.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Repossession (2019)

Jim hits fifty and then is told that he can either quit or get fired from his high-end job in status-conscious Singapore, yet ego and pride cause him to keep the truth from his wife Linda (Amy Cheng, Crazy Rich Asians) and daughter Ashley (Rachel Win), only telling his best friend and clinging to the material goods that came from his past success. Yet as his life keeps falling apart, the bank attempts to take everything he has of value while a demonic force tries to take everything else.

Directed and written by GOH Ming Siu with Scott C. Hillyard, Repossession is sold like a horror movie. Yet while there are supernatural elements, the truly frightening things is that I know men like Jim. You do as well — if you ask any man to tell you about themselves, chances are the first thing they will do is tell you what they do for a living. So much of our identity is not who we truly are. Instead, we share what we do. Once that has been taken away, so many men just keep following the motions, going through the motions like a Romero zombie in a shopping mall, walking past their old jobs and unable to find their next story.

The film doesn’t easily explain the demon that is within Jim’s life. Is it a murderous side that always existed? Or is it a real demon that has cursed his family? Regardless, the central theme that your errors and hubris will corrupt the others in your life is one that cuts to the bone. You can see just how easily a life can fall apart, how a once proud man now hides in an Uber hoping he never has to pick up a friend or someone from his old job. The idea of that — and trust me, I went from running my own business to unloading trucks a few years ago, so I understand — is more horrifying than any mere monster.

Repossession is available from Gravitas Ventures and Kamikaze Dogfight.

Death to Metal (2019)

After a freak accident, an already disturbed priest is transformed into a mutated killing machine on a mission to wipe out anyone that loves heavy metal. I mean, with a concept like that, how can I not watch — much less not love — this movie?

The tagline is the nail in the upside down cross upon the coffin:

Director, co-writer and co-producer Tim Connery made Black Web in 2012, but that probably won’t prepare you for this blast of, well, blast beats and gore and blasphemy.

Zane (Alex Stein) has lost his girlfriend Tracy and his band Withered Christ  in the same day and basically wants to die. This was supposed to be his moment, singing for the local band opening a major festival in his hometown.

Meanwhile, toxic waste gets dumped outside of town just in time for the disgraced priest Father Kilborn (Andrew Jessop) drives into it and becomes something much darker and more willing to destroy everything in his path for the Word of the One True Lord.

So when Zane gets back into the band and takes the stage, maybe he should have listened to his friend Mariah (Grace Melon) about setting Bibles ablaze.

This movie has some great music too, as well as several band performances by Mutilated by Zombies, Telekinetic Yeti and Grandma Incinerator (who are really Allegaeon). There are also songs by Exmortus, Boar, Driftless Sisters, Inquiring Blood, Monolithe, Nethervoid and The Rising Plague. And the little ditty at the end is one of the funniest metal songs I’ve ever heard.

Look, any movie that ends with the line “I think I’m just going to keep running him over until the cops get here” is going to win me over.

If you love extreme metal and/or gore, which seems like something that goes together like whiskey and weed and Black Sabbath, you’re going to love this. It’s streaming now from the fine folks at Wild Eye.