The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
Director: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto
Starring: Oka Antara, Kazuki Kitamura, Rin Takanashi
Running Time: 2 hrs, 17 mins
Unrated


Review by Daniel Stidham

Killers, a new crime drama from Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel (otherwise known as The Mo Brothers) follows two men – one in Tokyo and the other in Jakarta – who commit murder to film, uploading their victims’ final moments to the internet to the delight of onlookers. The image of a dying person’s face on a computer screen, coldly flanked by a stream of anonymous commenters, is the kind of bitter juxtaposition that the film likes to play with. A movie about snuff film can hardly escape engaging in some meta-commentary about our fascination with death and violence, a subject with a long cinematic history. Yet Killers is hardly the Mo Brothers’ attempt at Funny Games. Stylistically it follows in the footsteps of ultra-violent Asian crime thrillers like I Saw the Devil, though at some points it has more in common with movies like Saw or Untraceable – at least it recalls such flicks in its opening scene where a masked man kills a young woman on camera.

Departed-style, we have twin protagonists (if you can call them that) in Bayu and Nomura. Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura) is a stylish, single Japanese man, a sociopath and amateur murder enthusiast. Bayu (Oka Antara) is a frustrated journalist and family man with a daughter and estranged wife and a score to settle with a powerful Indonesian businessman. Though different sorts of people, they meet via chat room and develop the kind of uneasy relationship that I would assume comes with knowing your new friend is an amoral monster. Bayu experiences an “attraction of repulsion” to Nomura’s snuff films. He likes to ceremoniously slam his laptop shut in disgust, but he also finds himself awakening to his own latent bloodlust.

Read the full review on CutPrintFilm.com

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Dying of the Light (2014)
Director: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Anton Yelchin, Alexander Karim
Running Time: 1 hr, 34 mins
Rated: R


Review by Daniel Stidham

Early in Dying of the Light, the camera zooms in on a man’s hand which then begins to tremble uncontrollably. The hand belongs to Nicolas Cage, and this shot is the first best hope we have that the film we’re watching will be worthwhile. Though Cage has a notoriously uneven track record, many of his highest highs involve him playing disturbed, afflicted, or deeply neurotic characters. Leading Man Cage, National Treasure Cage, is fine as far as he goes; but what you really want is Matchstick Men Cage, Bad Lieutenant Cage. You want the guy who has unpredictable freak-outs, manic ticks and ridiculous hair. Sometimes it’s a thin line that separates “I want to take his face…off!” from “No, not the bees,” but we’re willing to take that risk because when it works it pays off big time; and for at least a few minutes of Dying of the Light, it looks as though we’re about to be treated to the next entry in the “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit” canon.

Read the full review on CutPrintFilm.com

The ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
Director: Various
Starring: Various
Running Time: 2 hrs, 5 mins
Rated: R


Review by Daniel Stidham

To say that The ABCs of Death 2 is a better movie than its predecessor is a lot like a chef telling you the meal you are about to eat is better than a Twinkie that was left on the counter for a year. It’s technically true but tells you almost nothing about the dish itself. After all a Twinkie is barely food and The ABCs of Death was barely a movie. For that project, 26 different directors from around the world were each given a letter of the alphabet and asked to choose a word starting with that letter. Using their word as inspiration they were to create a short film having to do with death. The resulting 26 shorts were compiled as The ABCs of Death. Now, that sounds like a premise rife with potential to unleash the creative instincts of cutting edge artists, who, when given complete control over the contents of their shorts, would in no way fill 2 hours with juvenile, lazy, disgusting crap.

But that’s not what happened.

Thankfully, The ABCs of Death 2 is a much better film than the stale, spongy log of preservatives that came before it. Dramatically better. While it follows the same format – 26 letters, words, and short films about death – the overall quality of the work is way up. It’s not exactly high art but there’s nothing in this swath of shorts as dismal as the first film’s “G for Gravity,” “M for Miscarriage” or “F for Fart.” Maybe the budget was raised, or the producers were pickier, or the directors were given more instruction. It’s hard to say. In any case, they’ve assembled a compulsively watchable anthology in which the misses are balanced out by interesting and imaginative vignettes.

Read the full review on CutPrintFilm.com