Clear and Present Danger

by Phillip Noyce
Specifics
USA, Mexico [1994] - 141 mins
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Clear and Present Danger poster

Harrison Ford as a 90s Jack Ryan isn't the most appealing sales pitch for a movie, but this was a pretty big box office hit back in the day. I have no idea why though, because it's a really bland and stale B-flick, made with an excessive budget. The worst part is, that excessive budget doesn't even show.

Ford isn't really suited to play Jack Ryan and these 90s action/thrillers haven't aged very well either. The action lacks adrenaline, the thriller elements aren't all that exciting and the only thing more over the top than the cheesy patriotism is the runtime of the film. They could've at least cut an hour without losing anything substantial.

At least the finale is slightly better than the rest, but you have to wait more than two hours to get there. The secondary cast is pretty poor too and Noyce's direction feels completely uninspired. A very forgettable and poorly executed film, let's hope time will bury this kind of nonsense, so future generations will be spared.

Cannonball Wedlock

by Kôji Maeda
Also known as
Konzen Tokkyû
Specifics
Japan [2011] - 107 mins
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Cannonball Wedlock poster

A somewhat comical take on the pressure society puts on getting wedded. A woman sets out to find her ideal partner, but she has a hard time finding anyone suitable. All her potential candidates turn out unworthy, and when the least likely of the bunch manages to dump/insult her, all she cares for is revenge.

The premise is promising enough, but the film doesn't really deliver. It's supposed to be a comedy and the situations offer plenty of potential for gags or snark, but Maeda makes poor use of them. The characters themselves aren't very likeable either, making the more dramatic second half moot.

Visually the film looks a bit drab, performances are a bit disappointing too and the soundtrack doesn't really add much either. There are some decent moments and at least it was interesting to see how the film panned out, but this wasn't as good as I hoped it would be. I don't think I'll be giving Maeda's other films priority.

Hot Gimmick: Girl Meets Boy

by Yûki Yamato
Also known as
Hotto Gimikku: Garu Mitsu Boi
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 119 mins
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
4.5*/5.0*
Hot Gimmick: Girl Meets Boy poster

If you read the manga, beware. Yamato didn't set out to make a simple manga adaption, instead she wanted to make cinema. The tropes of the genre are exaggerated, the cinematography is lush, the soundtrack an interesting update of classical pieces and the editing ... well, the editing is simply to die for. This was awesome.

Palm Springs

by Max Barbakow
Specifics
USA [2020] - 90 mins
Genre
Comedy, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Palm Springs poster

The Lonely Island crew makes a time loop film for contemporary audiences. Palm Springs put Samberg in the lead and lets him revisit the same day again and again. It's a familiar setup and this film doesn't wander too much from the beaten path, but they nailed the execution and that makes up for a lot.

There's a tighter focus on comedy (and a little romance) rather than on mystery, which was probably a smart decision as most people know how these types of films pan out by now. Samberg is doing his usual shtick, Milioti and Simmons are really fun additions to the cast and help to brighten things up.

The film looks nice enough, there are some memorable moments and the pacing is perfect. It may feel a little rushed if you've never seen one of these time loops before, but it's nice to see a film that doesn't spend too much time on concepts and ideas that have been done to death already. An entertaining, fun and cheery feature.

The Magnificent Ruffians

Also known as
Mai Ming Xiao Zi
Specifics
Hong Kong [1979] - 105 mins
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Magnificent Ruffians poster

An entertaining and action-packed Cheh Chang film, but when you're already familiar with his work you won't find anything new here. It's always nice to see Chang do what he's good at, on the other hand when you see too many of these films in a short time span, it can get a little too repetitive.

The Magnificent Ruffians is a somewhat inconspicuous entry in Chang's oeuvre. It plays like a sort of blueprint of Chang's work, sporting a rather basic setup, followed by a bunch of training scenes and pre-finale brawls that lead up to a long and excessive showdown at the end of the film.

Performances are a little weaker than usually the case, the variety in fight choreographies makes up for that though. At 105 minutes, the film is a bit too long (these Shaw Bros films work best when they stay within the 90-minute limit), but overall this is another fun and entertaining film that is sure to appeal to any Shaw Bros fans out there.

Almost Human

by Nan Zhang
Specifics
China [2020] - 91 mins
Genre
Sci-fi, Romance
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Almost Human poster

A slightly confused genre film, something I haven't seen from Chinese cinema in a while now. Nan Zhang tries to blend sci-fi/thriller elements with romance/drama, but that hill proves just a little too steep. The result is middling and somewhat disappointing, at the same time it's hard to miss the potential.

As a sci-fi/thriller, this film was pretty damn interesting. Some very cool visuals, a moody soundtrack and a somewhat basic but solid set-up kept me interested. The lair of the bad guys is awesome, the main character is ruthless and intriguing. Whenever this film turns dark, it's a real treat to watch.

But that's just half of the film. The other half is some sappy, cheesy romance that felt anything but sincere. The frequent switches between both parts were jarring, and they never really seemed to make sense together. It's a daring choice and if it would've worked this could've been a masterpiece, for now it's just a lot of potential squandered by poor choices and flawed execution.

The Blackout

by Egor Baranov, Nathalia Hencker
Also known as
Avanpost
Specifics
Russia [2019] - 127 mins
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Blackout poster

Straight-forward, but fun and entertaining sci-fi/invasion flick that does things just a little differently. The Blackout is pure genre work, but made with a bigger budget. That means that there isn't too much drama and/or pandering to all potential groups of cinema goers, but a purer focus on the sci-fi and action elements.

Even though the film doesn't look cheap, it's clear that they still had to cut some corners. The sci-fi elements are well executed, but not very consistent. When needed for world-building and effect they are given the necessary time in the spotlight, at the other times the film looks surprisingly mundane and contemporary.

The actors are decent enough, the reveal halfway through is interesting and the finale is explosive. There are moments when the film goes above and beyond mere genre expectations, but they are few and far between. The ending isn't entirely satisfactory either, but I'll be there for the sequel regardless.

Bastaard

by Mathieu Mortelmans
Specifics
Belgium [2019] - 104 mins
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Bastaard poster

A simple thriller. A little too simple really, as it's almost impossible to build up tension when the plot is so by the numbers that you can pretty much map the entire film out from the very start. Mortelmans doesn't make it easy on himself by sticking so closely to conventions and doesn't add enough as a director to make his film stand out.

He does get the basics right though. The performances are decent, even though it's mostly the younger actors who leave an impression. Visually it's decent but nothing too spectacular, the same goes for the soundtrack, though kudos for including some actual, normal rave music for the party scene, even when it's some 25 year old classic.

The middle part was too uneventful and predictable to hold my attention, luckily the ending does have a few surprises in store. Not the actual plot twists, but the way they are delivered does deserve some recognition. It isn't enough to fully redeem the film, but at least it gives the impression that Mortelmans can do better when given time to grow.

Björk!

by Tita von Hardenberg, Hannes Rossacher
Specifics
Germany [2015] - 52 mins
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Björk! poster

A decent but rather simplistic Björk documentary. I quite like her as an artist and there are some of her songs I really appreciate, though not everything she does is my cup of tea. I figured it would be interesting to watch this documentary, in the hope of learning something more about the person, as well as the artist.

The structure is really basic, as it simply follows the chronological events in Björk's career. Her rise from small, budding artist to fashion icon, performance artist and singer/producer is properly documented, but it's hardly unique or noteworthy. There are a select few people who comment on Björk's work as an artist, but most of those interviews offer little value.

It's still nice to get a concise overview of Björk's career, the documentary doesn't drag things out and offers a nice peak into the phenomenon that is this little Icelandic artist. But unless you've never heard of her before (or you're an immense fanboy that simply has to watch everything related to her), it's not a must-see.

The Promised Land

by Takahisa Zeze
Also known as
Rakuen
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 129 mins
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Promised Land poster

Why is it that films referring to promised lands (or Shangri-Las, or utopias, or whatever they call it) always use the reference in an ironic manner? I hadn't heard a thing about Zeze's latest, but at no point did I expect this film to be a pleasant, heartwarming drama about a place that feels like an actual promised land.

The titular promised land is a small community in rural Japan. A sunny village hidden between the mountains that does look like an idyllic place, at least from afar. Of course these communities hide a lot of toxicity too and when a young girl goes missing a long feud begins, one that will make its fair share of victims.

Performances are solid, the film looks pretty nice and the mix of drama and thriller elements works very well. There's little wrong with this film, but it also doesn't really set itself apart from many others. It's a solid, memorable and at times impressive drama that further underlines Zeze's talent, but never quite dazzles.

Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops

by Daigo Matsui
Also known as
Ice to Amaoto
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 74 mins
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops poster

Daigo Matsui takes a more serious approach with Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops. I know him as a comedy director, producing films that have goofy premises, but also harbor a slightly darker core. That darkness finally surfaces and dominates Matsui's latest, though it's not an easy puzzle to decipher.

The film follows a theater group that is preparing for their very first show. Then comes the news that nobody is buying any tickets and that their production has been cancelled. But the film deliberately blurs the lines between reality and play and it's hard to know what's real and what is staged.

The fact that it's a single take film and even switches between different locations only adds to the confusion, but it also increases the appeal. While it's a film that left me with more questions than answers, it's also a film that leaves a strong impression and won't be easily forgotten. Matsui deserves credit for his bravery and vision, the execution could've been a little tighter though.

Extra Ordinary

by Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman
Specifics
Belgium, UK [2019] - 94 mins
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Extra Ordinary poster

A comedy. Just that really. No drama, no serious bits, no takeaways, nothing to spoil the jolly and daft atmosphere that drives this film. Just a hilarious comedy. It's such a rarity nowadays that it's almost hard to believe you're actually watching one, it wasn't until the end credits started rolling that I actually believed there wasn't going to be a late genre twist.

There's also a small layer of horror underneath it all, but that's just there for the plot. The film never gets tense, creepy or gory, everything here is done with one single goal in mind: to make you smile, giggle and smirk. It's a good thing then the film is pretty good at it too, if dry comedy is your thing at least.

Higgins and Ward are pretty great, Forte and O'Doherty are good too, but in a more exaggerated way. Visually it's quite dry, though clearly a conscious decision, as there are a few moments that betray the broader skill of both directors. This was a very welcome surprise, just a little more polish and Ahern + Loughman are ready to deliver their masterpiece.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

by Mike Mitchell
Specifics
USA [2011] - 87 mins
Genre
Comedy, Music, Animation
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked poster

The kind of film where I'm pretty certain they came up with the pun first and only then built an entire film around it. This film is called "chipwrecked", so the chipmunks end up on a deserted island. Why? Who knows? I guess they just needed something to fill another 90 minutes of film.

Part three in the series is so lazy they hardly bothered to conceal the fact it's just a cash cow for them. The plot is completely nonsensical and ill-fitting, but kids love a good bounty hunt, so that's what we're getting here. Throw in some terrible pop songs in true chipmunk style and that's basically it.

The comedy is painfully unfunny, the characters are rehashed once again (there's only 1 new addition, and she's terrible too) and the music is just insulting. I'm clearly not the target audience for this franchise, even then one can expect a basic level of quality. Wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be an experiment just to see how blunt they could be without turning away people from the franchise. As there's also a fourth part, I think we haven't hit rock bottom just yet.

The Garden of Evening Mists

by Tom Lin
Specifics
UK, Malaysia [2019] - 120 mins
Genre
Romance, War
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Garden of Evening Mists poster

The new Tom Lin film is a Pan-Asian project, which is definitely new territory for the Taiwanese filmmaker. It's also the first time he handles a book adaptation, those two things combined probably help to explain why The Garden of Evening Mists feels a bit more traditional compared to Lin's other work.

The film is centered around the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, but highlights the unique relationship between a Japanese gardener and a young woman looking for her missing sister. It's a pretty classic and recognizable setup, not in the least because the story is told through a series of flashbacks.

With Hiroshi Abe and Jessica Lee on board, Lin had the proper acting talent secured. It's a bit of a bummer most of their dialogue happens in English, but that was to be expected. The cinematography is nice and polished, but not too challenging, while the soundtrack hinges between moody and sappy. Overall this was a fine film, but Lin's signature style doesn't really come through enough, which makes it his "worst" film to date.

Emotion

by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Also known as
Émotion
Specifics
Japan [1966] - 39 mins
Genre
Fantasy, Experimental
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Emotion poster

One of Obayashi's early shorts. The recently deceased madcap director clearly didn't miss his start. Emotion is quite experimental, but also just plain weird, a mix not uncommon in Obayashi's films. Where his feature films have narratives that are somewhat easier to follow though, Emotion is bonkers from start to finish.

Parts of the film are shot in color, others are monochrome. The editing is frantic, with jump cuts, repetitions, stop-motion and fast intertitles, happily referencing the era of silent film. There's lots of voice-over narration too though, some in English, some in Japanese. The film feels like a baffling fever dream, something I can definitely appreciate.

At just under 40 minutes, it's also not too long. The plot is really rather vague and the execution is quite crude, so 90 minutes of this would've been a bit much. At its current length though, Emotion is a fun, quirky, creative and appealing film that is sure to please those seeking out something different. A must for fans of Obayashi's work, a good starting point for all the rest.

FP2: Beats of Rage

by Jason Trost
Specifics
USA [2018] - 89 mins
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
FP2: Beats of Rage poster

Mad Max meets Dance Dance Revolution. If that sounds like an extremely unlikely combination, it's because this isn't the most professional of films. It truly feels a lot like a fanboy project. In all fairness though, these are some very dedicated fans, as the people behind this project already made a first film back in 2011.

The problem is that post-apocalyptic sci-fi isn't the easiest genre to do on a budget. It's no surprise then that it's all played for laughs, but the film isn't really funny enough to make that work. A lot of time and effort was spent on creating a futuristic world, but it never felt genuine or anything more than a Sunday afternoon project.

The dance scenes are incredibly lame, the actors are bland and the plot isn't very interesting. 80s references galore, but we've seen that done before too. What remains is genuine effort and enthusiasm. And in some ways it works too, but it's simply not enough to turn this into an enjoyable film.

The Occupant

by David Pastor, Àlex Pastor
Also known as
Hogar
Specifics
Spain [2020] - 103 mins
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Occupant poster

A solid thriller from the Pastor brothers. I've been keeping an eye on them ever since they released Carriers. While not modern day geniuses, they are young, talented directors who can deliver a fine genre film. The Last Days was a step up from them, so I was hopeful that The Occupant might continue the upwards trajectory.

While a fine thriller, don't expect too much from this one. It's one of those films that comes with a relatively ingenious setup, but gets a bit overconfident and can't quite deliver on its promise. When everything starts fitting together a little too well and the plan ends up being a bit too convenient, a lot of tension goes right out of the window.

Performances are good but not spectacular, the script is fine but a little expected. The cinematography and soundtrack are polished, but hardly eye/ear popping. It's a film that doesn't have any overt flaws, but fails to excel at anything in particular. Solid genre filler in other words. Not bad, but it didn't leave a big impression.

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A

by Steve Loveridge
Specifics
USA, UK [2018] - 96 mins
Genre
Documentary, Music
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Matangi/Maya/M.I.A poster

A pretty plain documentary on the woman behind M.I.A. I'm familiar with her music and even though I'm not really into pop, her style is quite different from the norm, which has resulted in some interesting tracks. M.I.A. is best known for using her career as a political platform though, which is what this film focuses on primarily.

The problem is that I don't really care about artists using their platform for politics. I'm fine with music, I'm fine with politics, but very few people are experts in both. It's no doubt admirable that she wants to make our world a better place, but there are people better suited and positioned to do that.

The doc itself is pretty standard. We get some footage of the time she wasn't famous yet, we get to see her rise as a star and the way the media reacts to her political statements. There's also some parts that explore Matangi's roots and the political situation of her home country, but it all fails to make an impression.

Elisa & Marcela

by Isabel Coixet
Also known as
Elisa y Marcela
Specifics
Spain [2019] - 118 mins
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Elisa & Marcela poster

A rather basic arthouse drama. The clean and crisp black and white cinematography is the star of the film and deserves some accolades, but beyond that, there isn't all that much here. It's a fairly standard story about a same-sex relationship that isn't accepted by the world our protagonists live in.

The film is based on a true story and there are some remarkable details that make the story stand out. But these footnotes never add much to the emotional weight of the film and the structure remains all too familiar. Two people meet, fall in love, but society won't have none of it and persecution follows.

The cast is decent but nothing more. The soundtrack is pretty standard arthouse fare too. A piano here, some string work there, but never truly present. And even though the film looks absolutely stunning, there is also some very cliché imagery (like the close-ups of flowers in the rain) that could've been left out. It's definitely not a bad film, but it's a little too expected and familiar.

Crime Hunter

by Toshimichi Okawa
Specifics
Japan [1989] - 60 mins
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Crime Hunter poster

A pretty simplistic action flick. The runtime is quite short, mostly because there's hardly any plot to speak of. The setup is extremely basic, after a short introduction the film jumps right into the action and doesn't really let down until the credits start rolling. If you want some firework filler, this film might be a decent bet.

I say "might", because the execution is pretty flaky too. Performances are dire and the film looks very cheap. Not much time was spent on the cinematography and I wouldn't be surprised if the soundtrack was made up from leftovers. If you're in the mood for something cinematic, don't watch this.

The only redeeming quality of Crime Hunter are the actual action scenes. Not that they're genre stand-outs, but they do deliver. Some heavy firepower, lots of loud noise and a few thrilling moments make this film semi-watchable. I wouldn't actively recommend the film, but if you're in the mood for something short, light and action-packed, there are worse options.

Broil

by E.J. Drake
Specifics
USA [2019] - 90 mins
Genre
Fantasy, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Broil poster

Interesting mix of horror and fantasy that takes an all too familiar horror niche and sprinkles it with some creative lore. While the result isn't something entirely novel, the new additions were enough to make me doubt the direction and outcome of the film. And that's a rare feat for any horror film nowadays.

The cast is solid, but not perfect. Neither are the visuals, which is probably the main reason why I didn't rate this even higher. While it looks decent enough, it lacks the polish and detail to be a true stand-out. The score on the other hand was impressive. Not the most subtle, but very leading and instrumental in dictating the atmosphere.

Not everything works, but for a film that tries to bring something new to the table that's easily forgiven. The first half hour is the weakest, after that everything slowly falls into place and the finale is pretty spot on. A fresh, entertaining, intruiging and pretty twisted horror flick. Liked this one a lot.

Delusion

Also known as
Wang Xiang Zheng
Specifics
Hong Kong, China [2016] - 90 mins
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Delusion poster

One of Danny Pang's more recent efforts. While both brothers are still quite active, their films are having a much harder time reaching the West nowadays. It's a shame, because they are a talented duo and I do like most of their films. On the other hand, if you look at a film like Delusion, it's not very surprising that international interest has faded.

Not that it's a bad film, but it feels like a film that should've been made a decade earlier. And even then, Danny Pang's films used to be better than Delusion. What you get is three short ghost stories, marginally connected to each other, with (by now) very predictable scares and plot twists.

Performances are a bit doubty too, but nothing too off-putting. The film looks nice, Danny is a good editor and the fact that you get three films for the price of one helps with the pacing, it's just a shame that I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd all seen it before, from the same director, only better. Delusion is good filler, but a little disappointing nonetheless.

The Gambling Ghost

by Clifton Ko
Also known as
Hong Fu Qi Tian
Specifics
Hong Kong [1991] - 93 mins
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Gambling Ghost poster

Sammo Hung times three. Don't expect too much action though, this is a Clifton Ko flick and Hung was hired for his comedic abilities. Sadly they're not quite as good as his action skills. While not a terrible film, it's not one of Ko's highlights and will appeal to fans of Hong Kong comedy only.

Hung plays a loser who turns to gambling to make it big. He's not very successful though and quickly squanders the little money he has. His grandfather, a deceased master gambler, takes pity on him and returns as a ghost to help his grandson. While things runs smoothly for a while, it doesn't take long before their little scheme is uncovered.

Hong Kong comedy is loud and zany and Ko's films are no exception. The soundtrack is pretty bad and the direction quite sloppy, but the story is goofy enough and there are some decent jokes scattered throughout. The ending is also a bit more action-packed, which suits Hung better. Not a great film, but okay filler.

Irresistible

by Jon Stewart
Specifics
USA [2020] - 101 mins
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Irresistible poster

A cynical political comedy by Jon Stewart. Stewart takes aim at the political circus and spares no one. The timing is a little odd maybe (America's first priority is to get rid of Trump, not fix their political system), on the other hand the film is a good reminder that the fight won't be over, no matter who wins the November election.

Steve Carell plays a political advisor who finds an unlikely candidate for the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, one of the swing states. Certain he can make an example of him and turn the entire state again, he travels there to meet the guy and help him become mayor of his small hometown. Of course the Republicans find out and decide to give the Democratic campaign a run for its money.

The comedy is decent but a little dry and not quite sharp enough. The film is also extremely targeted at American politics, even though Stewart makes a broader point. It's all a bit on the nose (that final speech was not okay), but overall it was a pretty funny, if somewhat inconspicuous film.

Ninja Assassin

by James McTeigue
Specifics
USA, Germany [2009] - 99 mins
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Ninja Assassin poster

Not as bad as it could have been. US films about ninjas (and samurai for that matter) tend be quite cheap and cheesy. Ninja Assassin doesn't fully escape that faith, but at least there are some kick-ass action scenes, which counts for something. That's pretty much the only reason to watch this film though.

The film starts off quite promising. A ninja assassination (hah) that is rather bloody and ruthless. Heads fly, bloods spurts and iron flies through the air. But then the plot starts and things start to slip real fast. The performances are weak, the characters are drab and the drama is pretty lame.

The entire middle part of the film is pretty much negligible. It just runs through the motions and spends a lot of time setting up the finale. Luckily it ends with some fine action scenes. The editing and camera work may not be up to par, but at least it's graphic and over-the-top. Decent, but not great.