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Review: Malcolm Clarke's wayward documentary 'Better Angels' suggests path for U.S.-China relations

Review: Malcolm Clarke's wayward documentary 'Better Angels' suggests path for U.S.-China relations
Li Mianjun in the documentary "Better Angels." (Better Angels)

Current tariff war aside, the relationship between the U.S. and China has always been turbulent at best, but a mutually beneficial way forward is proposed by “Better Angels,” a timely if frustratingly scattershot documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker Malcolm Clarke.

Kicking off with a warning from now 95-year-old Henry Kissinger looking directly into the camera and declaring, “If we are to clash, it would be a disaster for the whole world,” the film suggests the two superpowers could learn a thing or two about bi-lateral alliances from a number of its cross-cultural case studies spanning four continents.

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Unfortunately, like the international co-production itself, they go all over the map and not in a good way.

While some of the profiles — including those of Wanda founder Wang Jianlin and Li Mianjun, whose Shenmo Education Group has been introducing the world to abacus-based mental arithmetic make sense; others, especially a prolonged look at 2014’s “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which partly took place in Hong Kong, feel like promotional studio featurettes.

Equally questionable is the decision to allot extensive talking-head screen time to the likes of American Apparel founder and former CEO Dov Charney at the expense of blink-and-you-miss-them Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and James Baker.

Factoring in the flat narration by Clarke and some awfully hokey visual effects, “Better Angels” would have benefited from better angles.

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‘Better Angels’

In English and Chinese with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 2, Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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