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By Joe Bendel. Who would benefit from keeping America out of the war in Europe? It is a question that will preoccupy a former British secret agent all her life. She was supposed to be set-up in a manner that would badly discredit the British intelligence community with the American public. She was also supposed to be dead. However, the Russian exile has more lives than a cat in the Sundance Channel’s two part mini-series adaption of William Boyd’s Restless, which kicks off this Friday night.

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When professional Cambridge student Ruth Gilmartin pays a visit to her mother’s country home, she finds the woman in the throes of paranoia, or so she presumes. Sally Gilmartin claims there are people watching the house from the surrounding tree-line. It all has something to do with her service as a spy during WWII. At the time, she went by her real name, Eva Delectorskya. Initially, this is all too much for Gilmartin to accept, but the site of a shadowy figure in the woods gives her pause. Reading her mother’s file, she gets the gist of the story viewers see in periodic flashbacks.

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A former Russian aristocrat, Delectorskya is recruited by British intelligence in France after her brother is murdered by Fascist thugs. Lucas Romer will be her handler. Although he is not inclined towards any sort of emotional involvement, sparks will eventually fly between them. Delectorskya turns out to be a natural agent, but her missions are often rather dodgy. Yet somehow disaster always turns into success, at least within the agency bureaucracy.

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Transferring to New York, they both assume roles at a dubious wire service that specializes in releasing disinformation to mislead the Germans. From time to time, a little field work is required to plant an especially sensitive story. Delectorskya assumed that was all she was doing when she accepts her fateful assignment to Albuquerque. Unfortunately, she soon discovers someone at the agency sold her out. The consequences of that ill-fated mission will linger for decades.

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Hayley Atwell in "Restless."

What more can you ask of a miniseries that gives you Charlotte Rampling buying a shotgun? She plays Delectorskya/Gilmartin like the strong, intelligent woman she would have to be. Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery also looks the part of her daughter, but her shocked incredulity goes on far too long. In fact, the first installment does not lack for exposition, but the second part pays off with interest.

When the elements are all in place, Restless becomes quite a rich feast of skullduggery, helmed with a fair degree of style by Edward Hall. As young and old Romer respectively, Rufus Sewell and Michael Gambon might not exactly be the spitting image of each other, but they are definitely at home with the murky intrigue. A strong ensemble from top to bottom, character actor Adrian Scarborough makes a particularly strong impression as Delectorskya’s ally, Morris Devereux. However, as the resilient young Delectorskya, Hayley Atwell is a bit pedestrian, lacking the Mata Hari allure one would expect from her. Still, she becomes Charlotte Rampling, which is something.

While Boyd’s screen adaptation of his own novel is smart and tense down the stretch, his nondescript title never seems particular apt, but no matter.  Restless is a quality period production long on atmosphere that should satisfy for regular viewers of Masterpiece Mystery and BBC America’s mystery-thrillers. Recommended for fans of British television and espionage junkies, Restless begins this Friday (12/7) on the Sundance Channel and concludes one week later (12/14).

LFM GRADE: B

Posted on December 4th, 2012 at 2:49pm.

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By Joe Bendel. Every five hundred years or so, a prestigious martial arts tournament is held at the Taoist monastery on Wu Dang Mountain. It might sound like the perfect set up for a kung fu movie, but it is really just a pretext to allow its sponsor to hunt for seven mystical treasures hidden throughout the exotic environs. Call it distraction by Kumite. Prof. Tang Yunlong might be an adventurer, but he has a pressing need for the mythic treasures in former John Woo protégé Patrick Leung’s Wu Dang, which Well Go USA releases today on DVD, Blu-ray, and various digital platforms.

A western dressing, modern man, Prof. Tang could be considered Republican China’s Indiana Jones, except for his daughter Tang Ning, whom he has schooled in the martial arts. He does not need the treasures for financial reasons. Instead, he hopes their storied power can cure the rare genetic disease his daughter inherited from her late mother.

Tian Xin is also after the treasures, or at least one of them. An Excalibur-like sword forged from a meteorite once belonged to her father and she is honor-bound to reclaim it. Prof. Tang will not need it for long, so he is happy to make a deal with her (especially since she is played by Yang Mi). Unfortunately, there are others after the treasures, whose motives are far less noble.

Action choreographer Corey Yuen (director of the original Transporter) really ups the ante with some spectacular fight scenes. There are some nifty matches staged for the tournament’s ring, picturesquely perched precariously on the edge the mountaintop. Yet, when Prof. Tang and Tian Xin start fighting together, in a scorching sort of martial arts tango, Wu Dang really puts films like Mr. & Mrs. Smith to shame. These are sequences genre fans will immediately re-watch and enjoy just as much a second and third time around.

Yang Mi in "Wu Dang."

Stepping out for the first time as the co-lead of a martial arts film, Yang is fantastic as Tian Xin. Deceptively flirty and all kinds of lethal, she puts her stamp on the action heroine role. In the rare event a Hollywood actress takes on such a part, it is hyped to the heavens as something extraordinary, but every HK and Mainland star of note eventually gets an opportunity to flex their kung fu chops. That’s one of the reasons we like these movies.

Likewise, as Tang Ning, Jiao (Josie) Hu kicks butt pretty darn well too, at the youthful age of thirteen. So endearing in Tom Shu-yu Lin’s Starry Starry Night, she is definitely a movie star of the future. While she looks somewhat older than her limited years, the admittedly chaste pseudo-romantic relationship between her and Louis Fan’s doofus novice still seems a bit inappropriate. However, the father-daughter rapport between her and Wenzhuo (Vincent) Zhao’s Prof. Tang is surprisingly touching. A veteran of the Once Upon a Time in China franchise, Zhao knows how to conduct himself in a fight scene and also develops real chemistry with effervescent Yang.

Granted, Wu Dang ends in a smorgasbord of New Agey sentimentality, but that happens sometimes. Yuen’s fight choreography and the two appealing central relationships more than compensate. A kung fu film more or less suitable for family viewing, Wu Dang will still thoroughly satisfy genre connoisseurs. Recommended with surprising affection, it is now available in home viewing formats from Well Go USA.

LFM GRADE: B+

Posted on December 4th, 2012 at 2:49pm.

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