Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

by David Dobkin
Specifics
USA [2020] - 123 mins
Genre
Comedy, Music
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga poster

Pretty disappointed by this one. I'm not a big fan of the whole Eurovision circus, but it is perfect material for a crazy comedy/parody. Ferrell's involvement looked very promising and some random screens seemed to guarantee plenty of over-the-top cheese. Dobkin appeared to be on the right track for redemption.

The biggest problem is that the film isn't even half as camp as the real thing. Eurovision is an alternate universe that is a bit hard to explain when you haven't been subjected to it for most of your life, maybe that's where it went wrong with this mostly USA-led production? Ferrell's version of the festival is pretty dull.

Dobkin has a pretty bad track record as a director and surely can't rectify it with this film. Almost all the jokes fall flat, the characters are boring and the showmanship is pretty poor. Rather than a sprawling show, the Eurovision competition looks like a second-rate concert. Nah, very poor use of the potential.

Happy Family

Also known as
Fung Lau Ga Chuk
Specifics
Hong Kong [2002] - 100 mins
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Happy Family poster

A mediocre comedy from Herman Yau. The early '00s weren't Yau's best period and it shows. Happy Family is a basic comedy that just hobbles along without ever making a worthwhile impression. It lacks Yau's typical edge and comes off as commercial filler in between more challenging projects.

The lead actors do a decent job, but the rest of the cast is well below par. Loudness and overacting are often confused for comedy, the soundtrack feels like a complete afterthought and the cinematography is plain and uninteresting. If you ever wondered what Hong Kong filler looks like, look no further.

The plot itself is slightly amusing though. It's not great, but at least it kept my attention until the end of the film. It's definitely not enough to actively recommend Happy Family, but I've sat through worse films. At least it's short and mildly amusing, at the same time it's also wildly plain and forgettable.

Legends of the Fall

by Edward Zwick
Specifics
USA [1994] - 133 mins
Genre
Romance, Crime
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Legends of the Fall poster

Legends of the Fall is a bona fide childhood trauma. I remember my parents renting this one, and I was semi-forced to watch it with them. I've hated this film ever since. But one has to confront his fears, and so I figured I might as well give it another try. Turns out young me was very much right about this one.

The performances are extremely overdone, the romance and drama are overworked and never feel genuine and the film's many genre excursions all seem to be working against each other. And then there's the incredibly sappy, cheesy soundtrack that adds insult to injury and makes everything so much worse.

I can't say I was very surprised by all of this, it's pretty typical for Zwick's work. He's not my type of director and this film checks pretty much all the checkboxes of why I dislike many of his films. It's archetypical Hollywood sentiment, loud and demanding, but ultimately empty and extremely boring.

Trick the Movie: Last Stage

Specifics
Japan [2014] - 111 mins
Genre
Comedy, Mystery
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Trick the Movie: Last Stage poster

Pretty much in line with the other Trick movies. They start out pretty fun, but can't really keep the momentum going, and they always end up being too long to keep me fully engaged. It's a shame, because the potential to be something nicer is definitely there and it's not like Tsutsumi can't do better.

The cheap TV look is a big part of the problem. The film simply looks cheap, the special effects are pretty bad and the direction is mostly functional. Luckily the cast is on point, with solid performances by Yukie Nakama and Hiroshi Abe and the comedy is pretty noteworthy too, but it's not enough to elevate it above mediocrity.

When Trick gets pleasantly weird, its potential becomes clearly visible. Sadly these moments are quite rare and stand out compared to to the rest of the film. While it never gets truly bad or boring, I'm always a bit disappointed after seeing one of these films. I can never escape the feeling that this should've been much better.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel

by Betty Thomas
Specifics
USA [2009] - 88 mins
Genre
Comedy, Music
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel poster

What's worse than 3 singing chipmunks you say? Well, after seeing the sequel to Alvin and the Chipmunks, I'm fairly confident the answer is: 6 singing chipmunks. Three males, three females, double the headaches. And believe it or not, they'll be facing off against each other in exciting sing-offs.

As far as lazy sequels go, this one is pretty damn lazy. The plot is just a lame cut & paste job from a throwaway Glee episode, the characters are still the same old stereotypes that go through all the familiar motions once again, while the finale is utterly unimaginative and predictable. Or what did you expect.

The first film made plenty of money, so they made a sequel. Either you like this kind of comedy, or you're an enormous fan of billboard-type pop music (and you don't mind chipmunks butchering the songs), otherwise I don't see anyone liking this terrible piece of junk. A complete and utter waste of time.

Tremble All You Want

by Akiko Ohku
Also known as
Katte ni Furuetero
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 117 mins
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Tremble All You Want poster

A very fun and perky romance, with strong comedy overtones and a slightly more dramatic ending. The concept should be familiar enough, but Ohku's direction gives it some extra polish. It's the first film I see from her, but it's clear that she can take a simple idea and make it into something more.

There's something about the tone and rhythm of the film that makes it stand out. The introduction is a good example. Very soft and cute, but also a little strange and weary. It contrasts well with the quirky main character and her somewhat dry but ultimately upbeat romantic woes. Ohku alternates regularly between these two approaches, keeping the audience on their toes.

The cinematography is beautiful, performances are also on point. The first hour or so feels fresh and invigorating, the second half is just more of the same though and clocking in at almost 2 hours the film's a bit too long. Also, I didn't think the turn to drama at the very end was really that necessary. But otherwise well recommended.

Violence Jack: Hell's Wind

by Osamu Kamijô
Also known as
Baiorensu Jakku: Herusuuindo Hen
Specifics
Japan [1990] - 60 mins
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Horror, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Violence Jack: Hell's Wind poster

Not quite on par with the second entry in the trilogy, but definitely better than the first film. The animation quality is a small step up, yet the impact is rather limited. The series' home release roots are obvious and Violence Jack relies more on its art style plus over-the-top action to keep people glued to the screen.

It's not quite as insane and/or depraved as the middle entry, which is a little odd as the middle episodes in these types of trilogies are usually the tamest. The episodes here don't form a coherent story arc though and act more like stand-alone stories within the same universe. Probably the smart thing to do, considering that narrative and characters aren't really the series' biggest assets.

The story is pretty much negligible and the characters are pretty static. Whenever nobody is being ripped to shreds or blood isn't splattering across the screen, the overall quality quickly plunges. Luckily there's plenty of the aforementioned going on, but I felt a bit disappointed that Hell's Wind didn't push the boundaries just a little more.

Gigantic

by Matt Aselton
Specifics
USA [2008] - 98 mins
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Gigantic poster

A film headlining Dano and Deschanel, no surprise then that the result is a chilled, somewhat droopy romance. Quirky characters give it a small comedy edge, while romantic problems in the second half push it more towards the drama side. Nothing you haven't seen before, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Both Dano and Deschanel are fine actors, and they don't disappoint. There are also some very solid secondary parts, with a stand-out role for John Goodman and a fun cameo by Zach Galifianakis. It's more than enough to make this a decent film and that's exactly what Gigantic ends up being.

The romance is pretty basic but works well and there are some goofy moments that earn the film some indie points, what I missed though was something that truly sets it apart from the rest. It's a bit too safe, even the weirdness feels a bit too expected and by the numbers. Not a bad film, but it lacks flavor.

The App

by Elisa Fuksas
Specifics
Italy [2019] - 78 mins
Genre
Sci-fi, Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The App poster

The App was surprisingly nice. I'd read a lot of bad things about this film, which is puzzling because it feels like an elevated Black Mirror short (a show everyone seems to love). While the setup of The App isn't all that original, and the ending probably doesn't even deserve to be called a twist, the execution is well above the level of any and every Black Mirror episodes.

The story revolves around a young, wealthy guy who has everything going for him. He has a beautiful, dedicated girlfriend, a baby on the way, and he just moved to Italy to direct his first film. But when he downloads a dating app he gets infatuated with a mysterious caller. She seems so in tune with him that he is willing to risk everything he has, just for a meeting with her.

If you haven't figured out already where this is going, you probably haven't seen much recent sci-fi. The film is pretty predictable, but the execution is on point. The cinematography is dreamy, the soundtrack adds a lot of atmosphere and performances are overall strong. Nothing outstanding, but very solid, worthwhile genre filler.

Bakuman

by Hitoshi Ône
Specifics
Japan [2015] - 119 mins
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Bakuman poster

A rather simple but likeable and easily digestible drama. Bakuman offers a peak into the world of mangakas, though don't expect anything too serious. The presentation is light and focuses on familiar themes like chasing your dream, overcoming problems and valuing friendship. In that sense, it could've been about literally every other topic.

The film does touch upon some some less idyllic aspects of the job, like the pressure of serialization, the competition and the harsh working conditions, but none of that really makes a big impression. The characters are a bit too stereotypical and the drama a little too convenient for that. Then again, big drama and social critique is clearly not what this film set out to do.

The cast is likeable, the cinematography slick (with a couple of stand-out scenes) and the film flows well. Even though it's two hours long, it never drags or loses momentum. It's just a very warm, easy-going drama that has its heart in the right place, but doesn't really excel at anything particular. Premium filler in other words.

Violence Jack: Slum King

by Ichirô Itano
Also known as
Baiorensu Jakku: Haremu Bonba-hen
Specifics
Japan [1986] - 37 mins
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Horror, Animation
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Violence Jack: Slum King poster

A somewhat disappointing kick-off. I admit that I messed up by starting with the second entry in the series, but that shouldn't excuse the poorer quality of this first installment. The problem with Slum King is that it's a lot tamer than its follow-up. It's mostly just an introduction to the setting with some mild violence to fill in the gaps.

The art style is less detailed and the animation isn't quite as energetic. The characters aren't as crazy or over-the-top either, giving it an overall cheaper feel. While there is still some gore and weirdness, it never makes much of an impact. It's still amusing to watch though, but it's really hard not to compare it to the much better second part.

The comparison may be a bit unfair, on the other hand I'm not sure if I would've continued with this series if I'd seen Slum King first. It's not terrible, but it is quite underwhelming and apart from a handful of solid moments, it's too cheesy and forgettable to make a lasting impression. Persevere though, because it gets better after this.

Scare Package

by Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn
Specifics
USA [2019] - 107 mins
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Scare Package poster

An anthology film that wears its meta humor proudly on its sleeve. From the very beginning, it's made abundantly clear that Scare Package is by and for horror fans. If you're not too familiar with the tropes of the genre, it's best to just ignore this one for the time being, until you feel confident enough to pick up on all the horror geekiness.

The problem is that this isn't the first film to go so meta, in fact the meta itself has become a trope of horror/comedies. So as with most genre films, it's the execution that counts, and that's where things falter. Performances are rather poor and the overall quality is pretty uneven, though for an anthology featuring mostly unknown directors, that was to be expected.

The first two shorts are nice enough, so is the finale. They're not outstanding, but the comedy works and the horror is quite over-the-top. The middle shorts slow things down though and without any real standout material, the film at least one short too long. Overall it's not too bad, but it feels just a little lazy.

Alvin and the Chipmunks

by Tim Hill
Specifics
USA [2007] - 92 mins
Genre
Comedy, Music, Animation
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Alvin and the Chipmunks poster

As if it's not bad enough that most of these USA CG animations are overflowing with cheap pop music, Alvin adds insult to injury by having the songs performed by a bunch of actual chipmunks. Even worse, that's apparently the whole selling point of this movie. Best viewed with the volume all the way down in other words.

The plot is extremely trivial. Three talking chipmunks end up in some annoying guy's home. He turns out to be down on his last luck as a music writer, but lo and behold, the chipmunks can sing, and they become an overnight sensation. There's also a romantic subplot and an evil studio mogul, but who cares really.

The blend between the CG and live action footage is pretty decent, that's about the only good thing I can say about this film. The acting is terrible, the comedy is bland, the music simply deafening. But it's a successful film that spawned a bunch of sequels and spin-offs, so I guess there's an audience out there that digs these kinds of films.

Wood Job!

by Shinobu Yaguchi
Also known as
Wood Job!: Kamusari Nânâ Nichijô
Specifics
Japan [2014] - 116 mins
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Wood Job! poster

A very pleasant little drama. A bit predictable maybe, as it doesn't take long to figure out where Yaguchi is heading with this one, but the road there is well worth taking. I may have been a little weary at first, Yaguchi's earlier films never really appealed to me, but it seems that he's come a long way since then.

A city boy takes a leap of chance and goes off on a one-year course to become a lumberjack. He isn't really cut out for the job and when he ends up lodging with some boorish mountain folk, it doesn't look like he'll be sitting out his training. But, as is always the case in these films, people slowly learn to respect each other etc etc.

It's one of those films that would never work in real life for me, but is still invigorating to experience on film. The amazing setting has a big part in that, the overall solid performances of the cast only add to that. The direction is nice, but nothing too out of the ordinary. If you can appreciate films like Breathe In, Breathe Out or Only Yesterday, this is a fine recommend.

Winner Takes All

by Clifton Ko
Also known as
Da Ying Jia
Specifics
Hong Kong [2000] - 91 mins
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Winner Takes All poster

Clifton Ko makes a swindler comedy. A popular niche in Hong Kong that yielded some entertaining films, but Ko's attempt is pretty bland. The usual mix of genres (comedy, crime and action) is mostly absent and Ko turns this into a full-blown comedy. The problem is that the film is hardly ever funny.

Performances aren't up to par. There are some familiar faces here, but most of them fail to land their jokes. The soundtrack is absolutely dreadful and feels like an afterthought, while the film itself looks like something out of the 80s. It all feels very rushed and put together without putting too much thought into it.

It's a little odd because Ko is capable of making good comedies. Without the proper actors, a decent script and the necessary funding though, it seems he can't perform miracles. At least the pacing is decent and the film constantly propels itself forward, but unless you're absolutely starved for a Hong Kong comedy, I can't really recommend this.

Alone in the Dark

by Jack Sholder
Specifics
USA [1982] - 92 mins
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Alone in the Dark poster

This felt more like a remnant of the 70s than a front-runner of the 80s horror scene. Though it borrows openly from films like Halloween, Sholder's approach is more serious and committed. Sadly that doesn't necessarily translate into a better film, especially when working in the horror genre.

The problem with Alone in the Dark is that it goes for pure suspense, but never really gets there. The psychopaths on the loose are rather plain and fail to be menacing, while the main characters are too daft to care for. Add a very slow first half and few confrontations between both groups and you're left with a pretty dull film.

The intro was by far the most interesting scene here, it all goes downhill after that. Performances are pretty bad, the film looks dim and lifeless, the score fails to add atmosphere and the kills look terribly fake. Would've been better if Sholder had loosened up a bit, but that clearly wasn't what he was going for. Not good.

Cairo Station

by Youssef Chahine
Also known as
Bab el Hadid
Specifics
Egypt [1958] - 77 mins
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Cairo Station poster

I'm not too familiar with Egyptian cinema, this sounded like a good place to start. And the film showed some promise too, though you have to wait until the very end before it comes to full fruition. Sadly the road there is much closer to what I'd feared it would be, and isn't something I thoroughly enjoyed.

The introduction is mostly spent on capturing the mood and energy around a train station. It's a bustling environment and while the noise levels aren't that pleasant, they are an essential part of the setting. The problem is that once the film shifts its focus to the characters, the noise doesn't really go away. It makes for a tiring experience.

The dialogue and drama isn't that interesting either, luckily the cinematography is decent and there are a couple of scenes that stand out from the rest, but it wasn't until the finale that the film had truly grabbed my attention. That was a case of too little, too late though. Not a terrible film, but it left me rather cold.

The Drudgery Train

by Nobuhiro Yamashita
Also known as
Kueki Ressha
Specifics
Japan [2012] - 112 mins
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Drudgery Train poster

A very dry mix of comedy and drama, though don't expect too many overt laughs. The main character of the film is rather tragic, a loner whose family fell apart after his father was apprehended for a sex crime. Kanta is a dayworker, spends his money on booze and prostitutes and has no tangible goals in life.

Kanta's luck seems to be changing when he meets Shoji, a more composed character who moved to Tokyo to attend school there. Things are looking up, but Kanta's troubled past is going to prove hard to overcome. If that sounds pretty dramatic, nihilistic even, it's because it is, but Yamashita's execution makes it bearable.

Some colorful characters and slightly absurd situations give the film a somewhat lighter tone. The cinematography is decent but nothing too special, the same goes for the soundtrack. Performances are strong though and give the characters the necessary weight. All in all a pretty good film, but it lacks something that makes it truly stand out.

Violence Jack: Evil Town

by Ichirô Itano
Also known as
Baiorensu Jakku: Jigoku-gai-hen
Specifics
Japan [1988] - 58 mins
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Horror, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Violence Jack: Evil Town poster

A fine example of 80s post-apocalyptic anime weirdness. A mix of action, sci-fi and horror, a very colorful and eclectic cast and a hefty dose of explicit violence. If you don't like the kind of anime that gave Japanese animation its bad reputation, then it's probably best to skip this series altogether.

The art style is a little clunky and butch, but the character designs are distinctive and fun. The animation is fine, considering the limited budget. Some very nice-looking scenes, but if you're familiar with the typical anime cheats, it is clear where they cut some corners. For an 80s OAV though, it's not bad.

The plot is a pretty basic, nothing more than a solid setup for some very bloody, violent and gory fun. It's clearly not for everybody, but if you love over-the-top violence and depravity then there's plenty to like here. A film for a particular audience in other words, not my favorite kind of anime, but I do appreciate it from time to time.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

by John Krasinski
Specifics
USA [2009] - 80 mins
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men poster

Not quite what I expected from Krasinski's first to be honest. I wasn't surprised to find out this was a book adaptation, as the structure felt a bit overworked and the dialogues are anything but natural, but Krasinski keeps his film on the rails rather well. At least, if you're willing to put in the effort.

The start is a little hesitant though. The comedy is subtle and elaborate, lacking clear punch lines or quick payoffs. Because there's no real introduction and the film keeps jumping between random interviews and the main story thread, it takes a while to get on board with what Krasinski is trying to do.

Performances are good and the final half hour really drives its point home, sadly the film looks a little shabby and barren and the soundtrack feels like it's made up of left-over scraps from Woody Allen's films. The presentation is a bit of a let-down, but if you sit through the struggling first half, there's a neat little film here.

The Thousand Faces of Dunjia

by Hesheng Xiang, Qiuliang Xiang
Also known as
Qi Men Dun Jia
Specifics
China [2020] - 84 mins
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Thousand Faces of Dunjia poster

Expectations were quite low going into this one, but it was surprisingly well-made. There have been a lot of these Chinese fantasy/martial arts TV productions lately and while most are somewhat enjoyable, they rarely leave much of an impression. The short running time and slick poster design tricked me into thinking this was another one of those, but I was clearly mistaken.

This film is not to be confused with Woo-Ping Yuen's 2017 blockbuster version, which deals with pretty much the same story. While it's clear that the 2020 remake didn't have have quite the same means to its disposal, Hesheng and Qiuliang Xiang did their very best to make this just as enjoyable.

The CG is actually quite solid, the nifty creature designs and spell effects are also of great help. Actors are decent and the sets look pretty impressive. Nice action cinematography, perfect pacing and a fun story do the rest. It's not quite up there with the best Chinese martial arts/fantasy hybrids, but it was great fun nonetheless.