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Streaming Options: The Good, The Bad, And The Undead

Diao Yinan's "The Wild Goose Lake" serves up a neon-drenched neo-noir from China.
Film Movement
Diao Yinan's "The Wild Goose Lake" serves up a neon-drenched neo-noir from China.

Asian gangsters, trolls, and New York vampires

With cinemas closed, online streaming is the main source for new entertainment. This weekend you can choose among Asian gangsters, trolls and New York vampires.

The Good: 'The Wild Goose Lake'

This month, Pacific Arts Movement (Pac-Arts), which presents the San Diego Asian Film Festival, had to cancel its Spring Showcase. That not only means it cannot highlight new Asian films but also that it has no means of bringing in any money to keep its nonprofit organization running. So, as with the San Diego Latino Film Festival, it is testing out some streaming options in which people can buy virtual tickets to a film its sponsoring and then part of the ticket sales go back to the organization.


The first film Pac-Arts is offering through this virtual ticketing is Diao Yinan's "The Wild Goose Lake," which screened at last year's San Diego Asian Film Festival.

I always appreciate artistic director Brian Hu's programming choices because he doesn't go for the easy crowd-pleaser but rather the more creatively daring work. Diao's "Black Coal, Thin Ice" also played at a previous festival and both films display an Asian pop neo-noir sensibility.

"The Wild Goose Lake" begins with Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge), a gangster on the run who recounts what led to his current state to a young woman (Gwei Lun Mei) who may or may not be there to help him. The plot, which involves street gangs fighting over turf to steal motorbikes, doesn't really matter because this is a film that is more about style. This is noir infused with an Asian pop visual flair. Gorgeously surreal colors bathe rooms and make the images impossible to resist. There is also an almost deadpan comic sensibility as actors remain as stone-faced as Buster Keaton. Diao loves to contrast this seeming emotional flatness and the stillness of certain scenes with sudden outbursts of spectacular violence. His films are hard to describe and to convey the effect they have but they are simply intensely watchable because of the obvious devotion to style.

While the focus of the story is on the male characters, gangsters and cops both caught up in a brutal world, the women offer an interesting contrast in terms of choices and values. They may not be characters that drive the story but they prove surprisingly fascinatingly resilient.

If you want something that is not formulaic or by the book, then check out this bold, beautiful and brutal film. Plus you will be supporting Pac-Arts at a time when they need your help.

"Trolls World Tour" had the largest digital debut but is it worth seeing?
Universal Pictures
"Trolls World Tour" had the largest digital debut but is it worth seeing?

The Bad: 'Trolls World Tour'

I know I will be in the minority on this but I found "Trolls World Tour" pretty much unwatchable. I frequently find that American animation is technically top notch and often impressive. However, the storytelling is equally as often lame, formulaic, and ultimately condescending.

Maybe I have just been spoiled by Japanese anime where the storytelling, even in shows aimed at kids, is often far more complex.

"Trolls World Tour" aims squarely at kids with a message forward story in which you are told everything and nothing is left for you to discover or think about. It is a sequel to the 2016 film "Trolls," which felt designed to renew interest in the once popular troll toys. Everything feels calculated in a marketing sense.

This time the story involves Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake), from the first film, discovering that they are just one of six different Troll tribes scattered over six different lands and devoted to six different kinds of music: But Queen Barb ("My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's" Rachel Bloom) from the punk rock tribe wants to destroy all the other kinds of music so her tribe can rule.

I'm sorry, but this sounds like the plot of an old Elvis film where it's rock 'n roll is evil. Haven't we progressed beyond this scenario? And all these different types of music feel quite a bit homogenized so they all have a kind of similar bland sound.

The film assembles some strong vocal talent and yes it's message is a good one of can't we all get along and be accepting of all our differences. But knowing there are so many better animated films out there to show to kids and to adults that I just find "Trolls World Tour's" blandness and lack of creativity and originality a bit offensive.

Releasing now, while families are sheltering at home and desperate for new content for their kids, has turned the film into a quarantine hit. So nothing I say can change that. But if you show your kids this please consider also seeking out anything from Hiyao Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli ("Totoro," "Nausicaa," "Kiki's Delivery Service").

Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou and Kayvan Novak are vampires living in New York in season two of "What We Do in the Shadows."
Matt Berry, Natasia Demetriou and Kayvan Novak are vampires living in New York in season two of "What We Do in the Shadows."

The Undead: 'What We Do In The Shadows' Season 2

OK, I want to end on a positive and high note, so let me just sing the praises of the return of those wacky undead roommates of "What We Do in the Shadows." The series was inspired by a 2014 movie of the same name created by the brilliant Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi. The mockumentary-style movie, which also starred the two creators, looked to a household of vampires living in Wellington. In 2019, Clement created the TV series that employs a similar mockumentary style but looks to four vampires and their familiar who live in Staten Island.

The show is hilarious and its return is a most welcome gift for us sheltering at home where laughter is a highly prized commodity, right up there with toilet paper. The show maintains a consistent level of clever, character driven comedy that pays attention to humor at all levels. There is great verbal comedy, physical comedy, visual gags, and most importantly the show gives us great characters.

If you have not seen the film or the first season or could jump in with season two but I highly recommend seeing the film and the first season because you will be delighted by what you find and some jokes will play much better. Do yourself a favor and reserve Thursdays on FX for a visit with the most entertaining vampires in America. This show is pure comic bliss!