Tag Archives: 2021


立方体一度 は言ったら、 最後 ; Cube: Ichido haittara, saigo

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DIRECTED BY: Yasuhiko Shimizu

FEATURING: , Masaki Okada, , Hikaru Tashiro, Kôtarô Yoshida, Anne Watanabe

PLOT: Six strangers awake in a cubical maze filled with deadly traps and work to find a way out.

Still from "Cube" (2021)

COMMENTS: In most ways, this movie has already been reviewed here. Twice, actually. So the question is, what does Yasuhiko Shimizu’s version bring to the table? There’s the same aesthetic, the same deadliness, the same mystery—indeed, as far as can be seen, there’s the same titular construct. The original director is on the production team. But as retreads go, this film holds its own, and even features a denouement justifying further installments of what the Cube does best: provide a ropes-course-from-Hell to explore social dynamics.

This Cube‘s main thrust is dissecting inter-generational tensions. The six (seven, if you include the requisite doomed rando in the introduction) people assembled this time around come in three age groups. At one end is Kazumasa Ando, the eldest of the troupe, an unspecified businessman type. At the other is Chiharu Uno, a boy with a knack for mathematics. In between are a young engineer, a grizzled guy, a ne’er-do-well store clerk, and a young woman. Kazumasa’s assemblage goes through all the Cube-y motions, with all the same schematic shenanigans, but this assemblage allows the filmmaker to wonder about the burdens and responsibilities each generation owes toward the other. Maintaining a low profile amidst this pointed drama is the one woman in the film, who kept my curiosity through her seeming superfluousness.

No new ground is broken here, at least not plotwise. But I was entertained enough to feel new-Cube is worth the time. The traps remain a delight to gawk at—particularly the opening bit of grisliness in which, instead of dicing the nameless wanderer, a bladed mechanical arm cuts out a square-shaped section of his torso. And aside from some heavy-handed melodramatic musical cues, the emotional tension is believable. But there isn’t much to say beyond that. If you liked the first Cube, and recognize it as a legitimate plot playground in which to square different archetypes against each other, Kazumasa did no bad thing in putting that sinister facility to use once more.


“… if you expect a crazy J-Horror version of the 1997 Canadian cult classic horror movie, you should consider yourself warned…. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just appreciate and honor it, which is exactly what this remake from Japan does.” — Karina Adelgaard, Heaven of Horror (contemporaneous)


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Once Upon a Time in Uganda can currently be rented on VOD.


DIRECTED BY: Cathryne Czubek

FEATURING, Alan Hofmanis, Harriet Nabwana

PLOT: A disillusioned American film programmer travels to Uganda to find Nabwana I.G.G., the director whose trailers for homemade action movies like Who Killed Captain Alex? have recently gone viral.

Still from Once Upon a Time in Uganda (2021)

COMMENTS: Wakaliwood seeped into the West’s collective consciousness slowly. The earliest fans boarded the train after seeing the viral Who Killed Captain Alex? trailer on YouTube in 2010 (five years before the finished movie would see the light of day). The first time I can clearly remember hearing about Nabwana I.G.G. was reading the description of Bad Black in the Fantasia Festival’s 2017 program (a screening subsequently given a brief-but-enthusiastic writeup by Giles Edwards).

As it turns out, my interest was indirectly sparked by Alan Hofmanis, Once Upon a Time in Uganda‘s NYC film programmer who, reeling from a devastating breakup and fascinated by Who Killed Captain Alex?, spirited himself away to the slums of Kampala in search of Nabwana. Hofmanis devoted the next several years to helping Nabwana promote his Wakaliwood output to film festivals around the world, while occasionally appearing in front of the camera in the recurring role of the muzungu [white man] who gets beat up—or in the case of one cannibal movie, who gets feasted on.

Creating a story from this material, instead of a mere talking heads doc, requires devoting a good deal of time to Alan and his struggles. (The heroic opening shot of Alan standing on a mountaintop cost more by itself than three or four Nabwana feature films). The focus on Alan is a bit unfortunate, because honestly, although basically a good guy, he isn’t the most compelling character. That honor doesn’t even go to Nabwana, the ex-bricklayer who is much more grounded in reality than his crazy-ass filmic output would lead one to believe, or to his appealingly supportive wife and collaborator Harriet. No, the real stars here are the movies themselves, lightning-paced barrages of kung fu, over-the-top firefights, model helicopters wrecking CGI skyscrapers, and a narrator constantly screaming and pumping up the movie in the background. (In fact, the one crew member whom we should have seen much more of is VJ Emmie, who provides the most unique element of Wakaliwood films: the running narration. Emmie’s commentary is the film’s own pre-supplied MST3K track: during one desperate scene, he moans, “I just want some good news.” A character immediately enters the scene: “Sir, I have some bad news.” Emmie gets a short interview and does his spiel over the opening credits, but deserved more coverage).

Despite its best efforts, though, Uganda is a talking-heads/behind-the-scenes doc, with only a thin story arc (which you might have already guessed). There are a couple of humorously inventive moments early on: director Czubek recreates Alan’s first encounter with a Wakaliwood actor as chase scene, and a fight scene suddenly breaks out in the background of one interview. But most of the time, this professionally put-together doc approaches the material from a conventional angle—so that Wakaliwood’s more delirious approach to moviemaking stands out in relief. Uganda serves as a perfect appetizer for those considering pigging out on a Wakaliwood banquet, or as a treasure trove of context for those who already have a seat at the trough. Either way, you’ll come away believing that this unassuming Kampala ghetto does indeed produce da best of da best action movies!!!!

For low-budget filmmakers, Uganda is simultaneously inspiring, intimidating, and depressing. Inspiring for how easy Nabwana makes it look to create a movie from scratch; intimidating because of just how much better he is at it than you will ever be; and depressing because, despite making 20+ movies and racking up millions of YouTube views, he hasn’t made a dime (at least, not at the time this doc was released; I’d wager he’s turned a small profit since).

You can catch Nabwana’s most popular films (and other goodies) on YouTube via the official Wakaliwood channel.

Legendary producer Ben Barenholz had directed a short and currently unavailable Wakaliwood documentary profiling Nabwana, simply entitled Wakaliwood, in 2012 (before Captain Alex was even completed!) Hofmanis co-produced.


“Director Cathryne Czubek and co-director Hugo Perez present this unlikely creative inspiration for Nabwana’s work with real depth, shedding more light on what some may dismiss as explosion-laden nonsense… Once Upon a Time In Uganda recognizes both the personal importance and creative passion that lie within even the most ridiculous art.”–Lisa Laman, The Spool (contemporaneous)


Jiao ma tang hui


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A New Old Play is currently available for VOD rental.


DIRECTED BY: Qiu Jiongjiong

FEATURING: Yi Sicheng, Guan Nan, Qiu Zhimin, Xue Xuchun, Gu Tao

PLOT: Two affable demons come for the soul of Qui, a famous Chinese opera clown; on his way to the afterlife, he reminisces about his life’s experiences.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE APOCRYPHA: The saga unfurls on stage-like sets using theater tricks and practical effects, with an easygoing charm bubbling throughout. The mindless catastrophes besetting the Chinese from the 1930s through 1980s batter fruitlessly against a quiet resolution to survive. Demons, symbolism, wit, and magic realism co-mingle with the tragedy, creating an experience unlike anything this reviewer has ever seen.

COMMENTS: This is a daunting prospect: stage-theater style, a deep-dive into Chinese cultural politics, and an epic length. The day before watching A New Old Play, I quipped that I was certain that this three-hour film would be sooo good, I’d want it four hours long. But I can admit when I’m mistaken. Its theatrical nature gives Qiu Jiongjiong’s film a stylish and deeply cultural resonance; the deep-dive into the darkest times of the People’s Republic of China is tempered throughout by playful humanity; and when the film wrapped up, I could have happily sat through another hour—or more. From the protagonist’s friendly acquisition at the hands of two neophyte demons (they had just taken over from their recently retired fathers), during the long reminiscences at the Netherworld inn, and up through Qui’s final, memory-washing meal at the river to Hell, A New Old Play is a jaunty, enlightening ride.

Old Qui learns that his fame as an opera clown performer transcends the Earthly plane. The King of Hell himself has sent his death invitation in the care of two escorts—demons whom Qui recollects from his childhood days during China’s “Great Leap Forward” and Cultural Revolution, when they come to collect the soul of his briefly adopted sister. As Qui travels from our world to the next, he makes a stop at a wayside inn established by a fellow Sichuan who owned an inn topside, and staffed by the handyman for Qui’s troupe. The “New New Players” were an elite band of performers founded by Commander Pocky to maintain the morale of the troops: first the anti-Japanese rebels, then the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalists, and then the Maoist People’s Liberation Army. Always the same troupe, shuffling to and fro as factional powers ebb and flow.

Qiu Jiongjiong sets the stage with humor from the get-go. One demon laboriously employs a bicycle pump to inflate the front tire of the faerielight-lined rickshaw on which he and his fellow demon travel. The opening memory corrects the demon’s information about when Qui joined the acting ensemble (they admit that certain records have been lost), introducing the concept of “New New Players” via a committee-style exploration of the merits of the repetitive term. The war against Japan is framed as a competition for theater funds and an irritating lack of flour for steamed buns. The civil war is nearly reduced to the swapping-out of a poster on the theater building: first anti-communist, then anti-nationalist.

The bulk of the melodrama (if I might even to call it that) occurs during the famine and cultural destruction unleashed by Mao as he sought to maintain his grip on the fledgling new (new) country. But the focus is on the the actors, and how the downtrodden manage to cock a snook at the gun-toting thugs. As happened to nearly all those caught in the vortex of the “Cultural Revolution”, Commander Pocky falls out of favor, and his actors are forced into self-abasement; Qui, the clown, stands amongst the troupe, dressed shabbily, wearing ridiculous makeup, and wearing a sign advertising his transgression. But as he is a clown, he manages to gather a small adoring crowd with a near-immobile performance, turning those who came to shun and gawk back into human beings through the power of his performance. Qiu Jiongjiong has nothing good to say about the evils of the Maoist regime, but refuses to grant that blood-soaked tyrant even a semblance of power over him. Like his film, all of time is a new-old play, as we stumble forward with a trip and a laugh, forever escaping from the inhumanity which the evil among us would subject us to.


“… filmed as theatrical tableaux, complete with blatantly contrived sets and supernatural fantasy sequences, which virtually shout at viewers not to take the depicted events as literal truth.”–Richard Brody, The New Yorker (contemporaneous)