I'm usually not a big fan of stoner comedies, for some reason they tend to be more crass and vulgar than they are funny. But Araki's Smiley Face turns out to be a welcome exception, thanks to Faris' all-in performance and Araki's confident direction, which add plenty of laughs to an otherwise familiar concept.
Faris' adventures are pretty basic though. She's incredibly stoned and whatever she does, she fucks up pretty badly. After a series of initial misadventures she needs to go to Venice Beach to clear her debts with her dealer, which is a perfect set-up to meet some goof balls and weird characters along the way.
Araki's camera work, choice of music and writing makes the film a little weirder and quirkier than the norm. Some solid performances of the secondary cast add to the fun, but in the end this is really Faris' time to shine. Smiley Face isn't the greatest comedy ever, but it's a fun and entertaining little film.
The Deeper You Dig
The Adamses made a film. Usually, it's not a very good sign when a large part of the cast and production crew share a last name. It tends to indicate you're dealing with a well-meant piece of amateurish trash. But kudos to this family, they did a pretty decent job making a solid horror flick.
The Deeper You Dig isn't the most original horror film though, then again originality isn't really the strong suit of horror cinema. When a man hits a young girl with his car during a dark, snowy night, he decides to hide the body rather than call in the accident. What follows is a guilt-ridden trip with some occult elements thrown in for good measure.
The acting is pretty decent, the film is moody and the gritty and inhospitable setting adds a little extra grit. While the film is maybe 10 minutes too long, it never gets dulls and the intrigue remain intact until the very end. If you're starved for a good horror film, The Deeper You Dig is a pretty solid choice.
A very pleasant but not so much notable little drama/comedy, the premise of the film makes it sound a little goofier than it actually is. A dad and his some go on a short retreat and dress up in their deceased grandmother's tracksuits, there they can come to their senses and oversee the choices they made in their lives.
It's a somewhat typical "crazy urban to slow rural" setup that is easy to turn into a leisurely drama, luckily Nakamura's execution is quite dry and comedic, so it doesn't get too serious or overly dramatic. On the other hand, the characters could've used a bit more fleshing out, because they remain quite stereotypical.
The actors do a solid job, but none of them really stands out. Nakamura makes good use of the setting to shoot some pretty pictures, though the cinematography itself is pretty basic. And the mix of comedy and drama works, but both genres don't really reinforce each other either. This was more than solid filler, but nothing too memorable.
They Reach is a film that's a little too successful at trying to be an 80s kids horror. Dall doesn't even attempt to hide his influences and shoots for a full-on 80s atmosphere. Kids on bikes, cassette tapes and walks on train tracks included. If you've all seen it before, you either lived through the 80s or lived through last decade's 80s revival.
If these revival-type films are your thing, Dall does a pretty decent job, just don't expect too much from the horror itself. There's no real gore to speak of, the film isn't very tense and apart from some demonic looking arms, the evil presence remains safely off-screen. It's all very tame and expected.
The actors aren't that great either, the delivery of the comic relief in particular is cringeworthy. There are just a handful of moments where the film breaks out of its 80s stronghold and the film starts showing some real promise, but that's hardly enough to save the film. Add to that a terrible cop-out ending and you have a pretty big disappointment.
A very ambitious project that struggles to deliver. The art style is impressive though. The individual frames are beautifully painted, making for a very unique look. The animation on the other hand is disappointing. The rotoscoping is way too obvious and regularly clashes with the rawer style of painting.
The film has other issues too. It's puzzling that an art film set in France is played by British actors, you'd think the target group of this film would be able to handle subtitles and would appreciate a more truthful setting. The choice to turn this into a murder mystery is also rather strange and adds very little.
It makes Loving Vincent a somewhat dull and lifeless affair. The plot fails to find its footing, the animation is a little jarring and the pacing is bumpy. The art style kept me interested, which is fine for a 90-minute film, but this could've been so much better.
The friction between the Japanese and Koreans living in Japan has been broadly covered in cinema already, Break Through! fits in snugly with the rest of its peers. What sets this film apart is that it aims for a more accessible mix of drama and comedy, rather than turn things into a full-blown drama.
Whether that was the right way to go remains doubtful, but the result is a pretty amusing film that does get its point across. The first part is primarily focused on comedy, with an escalating fight between two school gangs. The well-meaning but ill-advised interventions of a teacher only makes things worse, a budding romance between both sides seems the only ray of hope for a good outcome.
Things get grittier as the film progresses, but Izutsu struggles to find a nice balance. Most actors seem stuck in comedy mode and the drama suffers because of it. The cinematography and score are decent enough, but nothing too exceptional. The result is a pretty decent film, but doesn't leave too much of an impression.
The number of films Wakamatsu made during the 60s feels endless. Though his style is quite consistent, the quality of these films is a bit hit-and-miss, depending on their level of experimentation, political focus and no doubt the mood of the day. In '69 alone Wakamatsu made 13 films, so having an off-day probably wasn't even an option for him.
Compared to his other films, Naked Bullet is a rather straightforward genre flick. While you get your fair share of vintage Wakamatsu (i.e. rape, crime elements and alternating sequences shot in black and white vs color), the overall tone of the film is a lot lighter, mostly playing like a funky, sometimes even comedic gangster film.
It's a somewhat surprising departure from most other Wakamatsu films I've seen so far, but when you're making so many films each year it's really no surprise you eventually end up trying something different. Wakamatsu handles himself pretty well too, the film looks stylish, sports some memorable scenes and offers some good genre fun.
Tokyo Ghoul: 'S'
A decent sequel, though familiarity with the franchise is definitely going to help here. The film moves away from the broader "ghoul" concept introduced in the first film and focuses on a couple of key characters. What follows is a pretty standard battle between good and evil, though the "gourmet" angle is pretty nifty.
This follow-up plays a bit like an alternative vampire story. It has a similar (but modernized) gothic vibe and the balance of horror and fantasy is also quite typical for films in the vampire genre, with more focus on the fantastical elements than on the actual horror (though it is never really absent).
The visual finish is quite nice, with fine cinematography and decent CG, but it's the semi-electronic soundtrack that leaves the biggest impression. A pretty cool soundtrack that hopefully influences others. The performances are decent, but nothing too special. All in all a very amusing film that has no problem standing out from the pack.
White Bird in a Blizzard
A decent film from Araki, though the mix of drama and mystery isn't quite ideal. The mystery elements make it harder for the drama to be fully effective, whereas the drama isn't quite strong enough to stand on its own. While the film has enough intrigue and the characters are interesting, neither ever seems to reach their full potential.
Araki is a fine director though, so the presentation at least is nice. The use of color is strong and the camera work gives the film a certain lightness that sets the mood for the rest of the film. Visually not as notable or in your face as some of Araki's other films, but that's not really an issue considering the type of film he's making.
The soundtrack is a little inconspicuous though and the acting feels a bit forced. Woodley's performance is mediocre, Green feels a little off and Meloni is maybe a bit too obvious. It all adds up to a film that entertains, intrigues, but never really fully cashes in on its promise. Solid filler, but nothing more than that.
Where Florence Sleeps
The quest for a lost gem. Though it's not much of a quest really, as the mystery of its location is already revealed in the very first scene, so if you are in the mood for some detective work, don't get your hopes up. Instead, this is more of a kidnapping/heist thriller, with some twists and turns along the way in an attempt to keep things interesting.
These attempts are largely successful, but I doubt they'll keep many people glued to their chairs. This is not a bad film, but it does struggle to rise above the pack. For that it relies too much on its narrative, which offers little more than what is expected from a film like this. It's never boring, but a little too safe.
The cinematography isn't too bad, but doesn't help to elevate the film, the soundtrack is fairly generic and fails to engage. The cast is overall decent, but apart from Sakurai nobody really stands out. It's one of those films that does a decent job all round, but never excels in anything. Just solid genre filler in other words.
I See You
Another promising film from Adam Randall. It's clear the man has talent for genre cinema, for now though his films seems to lack that final bit of finish to turn them into genuine gems. It's a shame because for at least half a film he seemed on the right track, the second part of I See You was somewhat of a letdown though.
The main problem here is the structure. The first half is all about building up a mysterious and creepy atmosphere, the second half is little more than revisiting earlier scenes and revealing their true nature. Randall leaves very little to the imagination and it's impossible to uphold the mystery when the plot is so set on killing it.
The soundtrack is bold and commanding, the cinematography sharp and atmospheric. The director clearly had a vision and the chops to execute. The cast is solid too, though both Tenney and Hunt could've done more with their characters. Everything is present to make this into a standout genre film, but it's not the first time an overeagerness to explain things away stands in the way of good genre cinema.
Herman Yau's sixth and final entry in the franchise, though it would go on for many more episodes (there's 19 in total). It's a bit odd because this 6th part does feel like a small but meaningful departure from the ones that came before. Either Yau's new direction wasn't appreciated by the fans, or Yau was simply done with it.
Where the first few films felt more like anthologies connected by only a tiny sliver of plot, this sixth instalment plays more like a straightforward narrative, broken down in chapters that aren't as clearly separated. It's also a much more serious film compared to the earlier ones, which suffered from bad acting and a complete failure to be scary.
Louis Koo is still around and takes up the lead, though his character is pretty basic, and he doesn't have much to work with. The color palette is moody, the soundtrack quite effective and there are a few memorable horror moments. While a clear upgrade from episodes 3 to 5, part 6 still struggles to impress as a real horror flick. It's decent filler, but nothing more.
If you've ever wanted to watch an animated Woody Allen film, this is probably as close as you'll get. It's a weird thing to say about a CG animation from Dreamworks, but apparently such is the effect of casting Allen as the lead voice actor. He can weigh on a film using just his voice, aptly illustrated by the opening monologue.
When he's not onscreen though, the film quickly devolves into a more typical US CG animation. Rudimentary characters, poor comedy and an adventure that feels lifeless and predictable. It's an awkward back and forth between two very different types of comedy that doesn't quite work, but at least makes Antz a bit more interesting compared to most of its peers.
There are also some elements that you wouldn't quite expect, like the rather gruesome battle scene and one of the secondary characters dying. This is hardly earth-shattering cinema, but US animation tends to be so docile and clean that it does feel somewhat refreshing. The film itself is not a big success, but at least there were some interesting bits to chew on.
Another Chinese blockbuster that gets dragged down by some horrendous CG. It's been a common theme with Chinese blockbusters this past decade, then again many of these films have had amazing box office success, so I doubt it's going to change any time soon. At least be warned when you decide to watch this film, your average console game has better CG.
It's a shame because the rest of the film is quite nice. A typical fantasy epic delivering a solid mix of comedy, action and fantasy in a historic setting. Production values are lush, the action looks cool enough and while the comedy is no doubt an acquired taste, the presence of actors like Eric Tsang and Sandra Kwan helps a lot.
The monster designs are terrible though. Appalling lumps of bad CG that stand in heavy contrast with everything else on screen. I did get used to them somewhat throughout the film, but it's really a missed opportunity for a film that is supposed to put these creatures front and center. Fans of Chinese fantasy epics are sure to get some kicks out of this one, but it's far from perfect.
The Hungry Lion
An impressive drama that deals with bullying head-on. It's the story of a young student who is mistaken for a girl in an erotic video filmed by her teacher. Regardless of Hitomi's claims that she's not the girl in the video, the bullying starts and takes up more grotesque forms by the day, completely alienating her from her environment.
The most pressing part isn't even the bullying, it's the aftermath of the events that I found the most shocking. People don't even try to acknowledge their part in the events and either want to move on with their lives, or present a different story that absolves them from any responsibility. This is where the true heart of the film lies.
The Hungry Lion is well acted, the presentation is quite dry but stark and to the point. The editing is probably the most noteworthy part as cuts are quite harsh and crude, but they add a level of realism to the film. It's not a personal favorite as I tend to prefer more cinematic films, but it is an impressive drama that drives its point home.
A decent romcom from Showalter. He leaves the pure comedy behind to mix it up with a little romance, luckily his goofy and somewhat corny sense of humor is still there. It's also nice to see him get support from his entourage again, but the focus of this film remains very much on Showalter himself.
A "Baxter" is code for the type of guy who is left standing at the altar, while the bride reunites with her perfect groom just before committing to the worst mistake of her life. Showalter is a perfect Baxter and reversing the typical romcom narrative gives this film a bit of an edge, though ultimately the impact was less than I'd hoped.
Showalter and Williams make for a nice couple. The secondary cast is a little underused, but there are some familiar faces who each get their 5 minutes in the spotlight. There are some decent laughs, the romance works too, it's just the direction that feels a little stale at times. Not a bad film, but I think it had the potential to be better.
I Just Didn't Do It
A pretty damning look at the Japanese judicial system (though other countries are no doubt dealing with similar problems). Prosecutors trying to save face, investigators and judges dealing with quotas, lawyers pushing plea bargains forward as the best way out of a precarious situation. A system where pleading innocent is almost equal to self-harm.
The presumption of innocence ideal is probably more relevant than ever, especially in this era of media (and social network) trials. And to make things even juicier, this is a film about a falsely accused groper, a topic that is sure to rustle some feathers in our post-MeToo era. It makes for some very uncomfortable scenes.
The film has a stellar cast and and Suo's direction is effective, though a little dry. There is hardly any stylistic adornment, visuals are functional and the soundtrack is sparse. It definitely helps to get the message across, but for a film this long I would've preferred something more than that. The finale is very strong though, so overall there's quite a bit to like here.
Wet Hot American Summer
A little cult comedy that deserves its reputation. I've seen some bits of the series that followed, but never got around to watching the film. It's not 100% up my alley, but I appreciate any comedy that does its best to be funny from start to finish, without feeling the need to smuggle in some drama and/or heartfelt whatnot.
A lot of familiar faces here, though few of them ended up making it as full-blown film stars. It's nice to see people like Poehler, Lo Truglio and Sussman doing their thing in secondary parts though. Others (Rudd, Cooper and Banks) had more luck, so it's also a fun trip down memory lane, especially if you love seeing actors at the beginning of their career.
Wet Hot American Summer is the kind of parody that is so aware of its own stupidity that it becomes pretty fun to watch. Not all the jokes land and a film like this should probably be a little shorter, but there are some memorable moments and the cast clearly had a lot of fun filming this. Not the best comedy ever, but good fun.
You don't go into a Mel Gibson film expecting nuance and subtlety, especially not when it's a war flick, but Hacksaw Ridge is as cheesy, patriotic and iffy as they come. No doubt Gibson is readying himself to take the crown from Eastwood as he just celebrated his 90th and can't go on forever. That said, this wasn't exactly the worst Gibson film either.
Mostly because his approach works pretty well during the battlefield scenes, which are brutal and in your face. Limbs and bodies fly all over the place, while our hero medic does his best to save as many people as possible without ever resorting to violence himself. The film is based on a true story, but no doubt there's plenty of Hollywood sauce to make it even juicier.
Garfield's performance is quite decent, he manages to grant his larger than life character some credibility, but even that can't save the terrible first hour, nor the moments of nasty grandeur and hero worshiping in the latter half. Cinematography and soundtrack are mostly in bad taste and the film is at least half an hour too long, but at least the gruesome bits were effective.