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The Card Counter

Director – Paul Schrader – 2021 – US – Cert. 15 – 112m

**1/2

Tormented by internal demons relating to his activities in Abu Ghraib, for which he’s served a prison sentence, a card player bides his time on the professional gambling circuit – out in cinemas on Friday, November 5th

I’m an enormous admirer of Paul Schrader as critic, screenwriter and director. I could go through the component parts of this film and extol the virtues of most of them. And yet, somehow, adding all these elements together the end result here is less than satisfying. I left the preview theatre in shock trying to understand what had gone wrong. Was it the film or was it me?

You could have guessed it was Schrader directing one of his own screenplays from the opening shots. In American Gigolo (1980), it’s various angles on the gigolo’s car. In First Reformed (2017) , it’s various angles on the pastor’s church building. Here, it’s various angles on the card counter’s cards spread out on the green beige surface of a playing table.

Self-styled William Tell (Oscar Isaac) is travelling round the US making money from card games having taught himself to read cards whilst in military prison (the USDB in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas – it’s namechecked but not explained in the film and I had to look it up).… Read the rest

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Ròm

Director – Tran Thanh Huy – 2019 – Vietnam – Cert. 12a – 79m

*****

An urban street kid works as a lottery runner to survive while a slightly older boy attempts to steal his turf – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

Spending his nights alone in his slum rooftop shack under the stars shooting tin cans with a catapult, young teenager Ròm (Tran Ahn Khoa) must live by his wits. The tenants of his block, like all the city’s residents, are obsessed with the lottery, the only chance any of them have of getting out of poverty. He spends his days going around collecting bets, racing to place them with the bookies on time then racing back equally fast to deliver the results as soon as they’re announced.

If the numbers win, people collect their money and he’s a local hero. If they don’t his customers may beat him up. It’s a challenging and desperate lifestyle, right down at the bottom of the social pile, yet a part of him seems to thrive on it, almost like some indescribable, youthful affirmation of life.

In the course of trying to impress the local, pool playing gangster, older homeless teeenager Phúc (Nguyen Phuc Anh Tu) – who took his name from a Westerner he worked for some time back who used a simiar sounding word a lot – attempts to muscle in on Ròm’s customers and turf.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Lucky Grandma

Director – Sasie Sealy – 2019 – US – Cert. 15 – 87m

***1/2

An old woman in New York’s Chinatown happens upon a bag of mob money and hires a bodyguard from a rival gang to protect herself – on VoD including BFI Player from Monday, November 9th

Grandma Wong (Tsai Chin) goes to have her fortune read. “Carps jumping over the Dragon’s Gate”, says the lady fortune teller. “So auspicious”. But Grandma’s life doesn’t feel that way. Fiercely independent, she lives in a small flat in New York’s Chinatown. Yes, she wins the occasional bag of rice as the 88th customer of the bank. And she goes on a day trip with a bunch of like-minded old people to the casino, where she does okay.

And then, on the three hour coach journey back, she sits next to a man who quietly dies in his sleep, leaving a bag of money. Ignoring the dragon tattoo on his neck, she surreptitiously takes the bag home.

From then on, two Red Dragon gangsters Little Handsome and Pock-mark start showing up to ask about the money. So she approaches the rival Zhongliang Gang to hire a bodyguard, beating the boss down from $8 000 to first $5 000 then $2 000 for the services of gentle giant Big Pong (Ha Hsaio-yuan).… Read the rest