A brave attempt to marry social drama with religious body horror. It's a pretty unique combination, but not an easy one to pull off and Garai really struggles to find the right balance. The first half of the film is a little too slow and dreary, whereas the second half suddenly jumps into the horror head-on.
Tomaz is an immigrant in London who roams the streets. A friendly nun looks after him and knows a place where he can crash. She takes him to Magda, a woman who lives alone with her sick mother. Tomaz isn't to keen on moving in with her, but his situation doesn't leave him much choice, and so he accepts the offer.
Garai has trouble with setting the right tone. The music is quite special and leading, but it's not exactly thrilling. The effects are nothing less than impressive, but the cinematography leans too heavily on social drama aesthetics (like watching a Dardennes film), which again takes away from the atmosphere. In the end it feels like an intriguing film, but the potential remains unfulfilled.
Oliver Stone's Alexander is an ambitious film. It tackles the life of Alexander the Great, who took his army around the world to conquer kingdoms from Egypt to India. These historic epics are by nature quite cheesy and dramatic, but Oliver Stone really takes it the next level here. I'm not sure the rest of crew had any idea of what he was trying to accomplish though.
Not sure what the directions were for the actors, but even though the film is stocked with veterean A-listers, the performances are weak and over-the-top. Not just that, most of them are dressed as if they were participating in a local theater play. I don't think someone like Colin Farrell has ever looked so silly on camera.
The film as a whole doesn't look very realistic, almost fantasy-like in places. Especially the foreign kingdoms feel like they'd fit right in with the upcoming Avatar sequels. There are a handful of decent moments, in particularly the pink-colored fight at the end, but overall it's a disappointing mess that comes off surprisingly amateurish for a film this expensive.
Another milestone for Netflix. This is the first time they're dropping a big budget Chinese epic right onto their platform. Covid-19 is definitely offering them an advantage when directors like Teddy Chan are skipping theatrical releases and going directly to streaming. It's a brave new world indeed.
Double World is a pretty standard blockbuster fantasy. That means you should except a hefty dose of CG, some slightly confusing lore and a plot that is more focused on action set pieces and broad spectacle than on character development and smart plotting. It would be weird to except anything else.
My main gripe is that the creature designs felt a little lazy, a fantasy film like this could've more inspiring creatures rather than giant scorpions and a basic dragon. But the action scenes are solid and the ending was pretty impressive. Not enough to make this a true classic, but if you want some fun filler then Double Word delivers.
A pretty basic but amusing Jing Wong vehicle. A combination of action, comedy and of course, a handful of gambling scenes. It's not a big surprise I only caught this film so late in my quest to finish his oeuvre, as it's unremarkable in just about every way possible, at the same time it did end up being pretty entertaining.
Jing Wong teams up with Danny Lee and joins him in front of the camera. Not the best acting duo every put on screen, but the two have enough chemistry to guide you through the film. Because there are quite a few genre switches and because Wong had plenty of prior experience with all of them, the pacing is solid and there isn't really a dull moment in sight.
Visually it doesn't look too bad, but if you've seen a couple of these early 90s Hong Kong action/comedy flicks you'll know what to expect. The soundtrack is incredibly cheesy though, cheap and distracting. Though a little hard to recommend, people who can stand Wong's film and have seen the bigger projects in his oeuvre are sure to have a bit of fun with this one.
Au Hasard Balthazar
A typical Bresson. His cold, dry and wooden minimalism isn't really my cup of tea, the most amusing thing about Au Hasard Balthazar is watching Bresson struggle with his animal, a donkey who isn't susceptible to his directing tactics and is hell-bent on becoming the most natural and humane character in his entire oeuvre. Spoiler alert: I think he succeeded.
The donkey is the focus of the film, as he is passed around and ends up in all kinds of different predicaments. Most people mistreat the animal, but at least they're consistent in mistreating other people too. Bresson's vision of the French countryside is grim and misanthropic, which explains the stark black and white cinematography, stripping the film from whatever summery vibe the outside scenes offered him.
There's a lot of symbolism, referencing Christianity and society, but I didn't get the impression Bresson had anything valuable to say with it. The style of acting in his film is absolutely atrocious, the stuttery editing didn't really help either. Still, this is one of the better Bresson's I've seen so far, even though that doesn't say much.
Bad Boys for Life
El Arbi and Fallah made it big. The gap between directing local crime films and a big Hollywood action blockbuster is considerable, but they handled themselves remarkably well. While not as extravagant or lively as Bay's second film, Bad Boys for Life is a decent continuation of an entertaining franchise.
What's lacking is a personal signature, but I guess that's not too surprising considering this is their first big budget feature. This felt like a pretty basic action/comedy, with some expensive chase sequences, a little playful banter between the leads and a flashy set piece where the finale takes place. Without anything to really call their own though, it's hard not to compare this to Bay's superior second film.
Smith and Lawrence are solid, though they're basically just revisiting their earlier performances (with some ages jokes thrown in for good measure). The cinematography is decent, the soundtrack fitting and the action sequences adequate, but apart from the finale there isn't really a scene that is going to stick. A decent and entertaining sequel, but nothing more.
Tears of No Regret
Another Monkey King/Journey to the West adaptation, but of the B-grade fantasy kind that is currently flooding the Chinese market. Demand is bigger than what the big studios can offer, so smaller production houses are cranking out these films at breakneck speed. It's a bit of a minefield, quality-wise, but from time to time you can find a gem in the rough.
Tears of no Regret has so much CG it's practically an animated film. The actors are real humans, but they spend most of the time in CG-generated backgrounds, performing CG-assisted tricks. At least the art design is pretty interesting, very colorful, rather lush and well over the top. The CG isn't perfect, but aesthetically it's pretty cool.
The rest of the film isn't up to par though. Performances are flaky, the story feels incredibly rushed (then again, the film is only 70 minutes long) and there are some musical interludes that are completely out of place. Not a great film, but it was interesting enough to keep me entertained for as long as it lasted.
Mars and April
Interesting and unique little film. It's rare to find smaller films that try to blend sci-fi and fantasy. They require hefty budgets to do well, plus they require the necessary creativity to craft a world that is both futuristic and fantastical. Mars and April is based on a graphic novel, so luckily the source material was already there.
Martin Villeneuve does his best to make it a very visual experience, and succeeds surprisingly well. The world looks interesting, designs translate well to the big screen and even though the CG isn't always top-notch, the illusion of a fully fledged fantasy world is there. That's quite the accomplishment.
Sadly the rest of the film can't match the visuals. The music is disappointing, performances are rather weak and the dialogue feels forced and uncomfortable. Not sure how much of this is taken from the novels, but even though the fantasy world looks great it's just not a very fun and inviting place to spend time in. Worth a watch, but lacks the finesse to be truly great.
One of the early films that helped to give anime a bad name. Gruesome, crude and violent, with a bare-bones plot and a strong focus on style. It's vintage Kawajiri, with beefy character designs, crazy demon spawn and lots of torn limbs. It was an eyeopener back when I first watched it, nowadays it's still very entertaining. Delightfully violent.
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles
My first Akerman, which is pretty unforgivable since I'm a Belgian myself. Then again, Akerman is hardcore cinephile material and not really that known over here. Not too surprising either because her work doesn't seem very accessible. Jeanne Dielman is by far her most prestigious film, though I'm not sure it was the best place to start.
The mix of an extremely dry and down-to-earth presentation with a more conceptual structure didn't sit very well with me. On the one hand Akerman seems to chase realism and mundanity, but the film runs very much on rails, and isn't really subtle about it either. It's the worst of both worlds and with a 200+ minute runtime, that's not pleasant at all.
The success of minimalism lives in the details, but the contrast between Dielman's machine-like routines in the first half and the way she slowly falls apart in the second is too on the nose, not to say incredibly repetitive. I even tried to read up on the intentions of Akerman afterwards, but that only seemed to make it worse. Bland cinematography, no soundtrack to speak of and mediocre to terrible performances. Very disappointing.
The Speed Cubers
A short documentary on speed cubing, at least that's the premise of this film. 40 minutes isn't a lot to do justice to a subject, the problem is that only half of the time is spent on the actual speed cubing. Maybe because it's a pretty simple sport and there's really not that much to tell, but that's the reason I decided to watch this documentary.
Instead, Sue Kim finds a story about two rivals (Max and Feliks) who share a solid friendship, with Max being diagnosed as autistic. About half the doc is spent on Max' condition and how the speed cubing contests allowed him to better deal with the world around him. Instead of speed cubing, you get stuck with human interest material.
Autism is definitely a worthy subject for a documentary, but there are already so many documentaries out there that do a much better job detailing the ins and outs of this condition, that it just felt superfluous and distracting here. The two protagonists are pretty lovable characters, but that doesn't necessarily make for a good documentary.
I didn't expect too much from this Obayashi, TV films are rarely a showcase for a director's talents, but I'm quite impressed with the result. Cute Devil's TV roots are noticeable, at the same time this is unmistakably an Obayashi film. Bold, expressive and overwhelmingly cheesy, but also very effective.
Most "demon child" films opt for boys, Obayashi takes a cute, little Japanese girl and has her murder all who get in her way. It's a neat twist that pays off surprisingly well. It's almost impossible to guide child actors into becoming mean, evil beings (which is where most of these films fail), it's much easier to have them be charming little nuggets that do some killing on the side.
While not as outright crazy as House, Obayashi makes excellent use of the soundtrack and cinematography to create a vibrant yet disturbing atmosphere. The film could definitely benefit from a thorough restoration, but for a made-for-TV production this looked very solid. A fun and amusing horror film, which was more than I expected to find.
The Spiderwick Chronicles
A US fantasy film aimed at a younger audience. Not really my thing, even so there were some rather promising elements here. I tend to dislike fantasy that stick too closely to comfort and familiarity, and while The Spiderwick Chronicles isn't a true feast of creativity, at least some extra work had gone into the designs and styling of the fantasy elements.
The monster design was rather interesting, still familiar but not overtly lazy or derivative, which really helped to ground the fantasy atmosphere. The story was rather crude though, with a couple of kids going on a quest where they are meant to save the fantasy realm from a mean-looking ogre.
The problem with these American films is that there is very little room to revel in the fantasy world. Rather that enjoy the beauty and creativity on display, silence needs to be avoided at all cost, either by stupid comic relief, overbearing music, pointless dialogue and whatnot. This would've been so much better if they'd slowed it down a gear or two, now it's squarely aimed at kids who prefer things that appear busy.
Only my second feature-length Antonioni, this time in color and in English. Sadly it didn't make that much of a difference, while I understand the film's historic significance I found the actual result to be quite underwhelming. I do believe it did explain a thing or two about Antonioni's segment in Eros, which I felt was by far the weakest in that anthology.
It's always a bit of a gamble when directors make a film in a language that isn't their own. It's no surprise then that the performances felt very stiff and unnatural. Redgrave and Hemmings looked incredibly uncomfortable and uncertain of what they were supposed to be doing, which is not a good start for a film that spends so much time circling its main character.
Blow-Up is very much a mood piece though, a true relic of the 60s. That's pretty cool for people who like the 60s, personally I couldn't care less. The music was atrocious, the cinematography looked rather grim and the fashion and styling were ugly as can be. And even though there are a handful intruiging scenes, they are few and far between, and they get completely overshadowed by the ones that miss their target. Not impressed.
Andy Warhol may be a famous artist, not that many people know he also directed several films. Then again, watch a couple of them and it will all start to make sense. His work is rather experimental, the kind that tries to stretch the limits of cinema as far as possible, to the point where it's bordering on/crossing over into art installation territory.
Blow Job is definitely one of those projects. It's a 30-minute film comprised of a single shot (and some repeats) of a man's face who is supposedly receiving the titular treatment. I say supposedly because the camera never moves an inch, and we never get to see anything more than his facial expressions. That's it, just 30 minutes of that.
While I don't mind experimental cinema, I'm not a big fan of conceptual films. The kind that explore the medium itself, or the viewers' reaction to the medium. The length of this film is supposed to allow people to deep dive into these things, but I really don't need a film for that, especially not one as lazy and repetitive as this one. A lot of expensive words (and even books) have been written about Warhol's Blow Job, so it definitely got some people thinking, personally I think it's trash and a waste of time.
Aniara is the kind of sci-fi film that isn't too occupied with the future, instead it uses futuristic elements to have a good old moan about the present/society. It's been done countless times before, so it all comes down to execution and that's where directors Lilja and Kagerman could've done better.
The film follows a colonization ship on its way to Mars, when it is knocked out of its course with no means to get back on the right track. As this mini-society travels aimlessly through space, the structures that keep their commune together slowly starts to crumble and chaos inevitably ensues.
The budget is low, which is always a challenge for sci-fi, but I don't feel Lilja and Kagerman did enough to get the dread and hopelessness of the ship's situation across. The cinematography is decent but unadventurous, the soundtrack fell a little flat. And the performances couldn't save this either. It's not a terrible film, just a little underwhelming.
Summer Vacation 1999
An interesting early feature by Shûsuke Kaneko. He's a bit of a cult director who often takes on cheesy franchise projects, but Summer Vacation 1999 isn't as shlocky as most of his other films. It's a pretty moody and intriguing drama/mystery that proves he has more to offer than you'd wager at first glance.
The story begins with the suicide of Yu, a young boy attending a boarding school. Three classmates who bullied Yu remain at the school for the holidays and freak out when they meet the new kid: a boy who is the spitting image of Yu. The three believe Yu has come back to take revenge, but the boy has no idea what they're talking about.
The beginning is very atmospheric, with nice camera work, moody lighting and a solid soundtrack. Performances are pretty good too. The film loses some steam halfway through as it gets a bit too repetitive and the ending isn't as powerful as it could've been. Still, a worthy film from Kaneko that makes me curious about his older work.
One of the better Ozu films I've seen so far. I admit I'm not very far in the man's oeuvre yet, but his more famous films haven't been big hits with me so far. Late Spring gives me some hope for the rest of his work. It's not the ultimate classic I've been looking for, but at least I had a decent time with this one.
The drama is a bit outdated though, the titular Late Spring referring to the looming expiration date of Noriko, a young girl who is in the prime of her life, but doesn't have any tangible marriage prospects just yet. In between the lines there are some nice reflections on marriage, family and the need to break out of comfort zones, so at least there were some relatable elements there.
Chishû Ryû's performance is strong, Setsuko Hara is charming but her facial expressions feel a little contorted, which makes for some awkward moments. Ozu's visual style is stark, precise and calming, the soundtrack on the other hand feels a little bland and random, with some rather poor choices early on. While slow and quite uneventful, it never felt like the film dragged or lost my interest. But it didn't feel all that relevant anymore either. Even so, a decent watch.
Diving Into the Unknown
I didn't know anything about the story of this film going in, but it quickly became clear this wasn't just a fun trekking/diving documentary, where the audience is allowed to ogle the scenery. The dive of this Finnish company quickly turns sour (read deadly) and the first half hour is spent recounting this fateful event.
What follows is a bit more surprising. The survivors of the team organize an illegal rescue attempt, after local authorities sealed off the cave with no intentions of getting the bodies out. It's a pretty thrilling setup where the danger is glaringly obvious, further fuelled by the secretive nature of the operation.
The problem is that the footage isn't terribly exciting and no matter how thrilling the subject is, after an hour of very samey diving scenes my interest had waned a little. While I generally prefer documentaries to be as realistic as possible, the tough circumstances this was made were difficult to mask. Some subtle cinematic touch-ups might've helped to better get that across. Definitely worth a watch though.
A rather straight-forward sequel to Bondarchuk's Attraction. There are some reveals and twists in the first half that cast a different light on the ending of the first film, but that's little more than an excuse to redo the whole invasion thing with the same cast all over again. Plus a handful of novelties to keep things interesting.
Where the first film started with a bang, Invasion keeps its most impressive scenes for the finale. This may be a bit more traditional, but it also makes more sense this way. The only downside is that the middle part feels a little lost, as it's mostly just a plot transition between the reveals at the beginning and the big finale at the end.
The hefty budget is definitely a plus, the visual effects looked pretty impressive and it's always nice to have the proper level of destruction when an alien race invades Earth. The soundtrack is decent, though a little too poppy, performances are solid but nothing remarkable. Overall a fun and entertaining blockbuster, looking forward to the third (and possibly final?) part.
No idea who talked Vin Diesel into doing this film, probably (and hopefully) Disney offered him a bucket load of money for this part because this was absolute trash. While I realize I'm not at all the target audience for this kind of film, I do hope general standards for kids films are a bit higher than this.
It seems all brawny men must at least make one of these, The Pacifier fits right in with Johnson's Tooth Fairy or Schwarzenegger's Kindergarten Cop. Diesel is a Seal who needs to babysit a bunch of kids for an undercover assignment. He's not babysitter material and the kids aren't really taking to him either. Supposed hilarity ensues.
This is meant to be a comedy with some action/adventure bits thrown in for good measure, the problem is that the film is never funny, while the action is really childish and subpar. Somehow it made a lot of money at the box office, so I'm sure there's an audience for this, but it sure it ain't me. Ugh.
The Matsugane Potshot Affair
Yamashita likes it dry and just a little absurd, which isn't always the easiest sell. The Matsugane Potshot Affair is a film that illustrates his style very well. Essentially a comedy, mixed with some crime elements, but I wouldn't be surprised if some people mistake it for a drama (or are simply too confused to stick a genre to it).
The film follows the affairs of the people in a remote mountain town, where everyday life is just a little cruder and rudimentary compared to the city. When one morning the police are faced with a hit-and-run victim, the ball gets rolling and the townspeople's lives are set to get a bit more interesting, even though they seem mostly unfazed by the events.
Think of this as A Simple Plan in Japan and you might get a decent idea of where the film is headed. Performances are solid, the cinematography is decent, the score a little underwhelming. All in all it's a pretty good time, if you like dry/dark comedy and you don't mind some slight absurdities, though don't expect anything too weird or out there.
Old, silent and pro-socialist documentary about the plight of the miners in the Borinage, following their protests against the wasteful actions of the proletariat. They were willing to ruin their own stock, simply to drive up the price of the goods they wanted to sell. It's a classic rich vs poor story that shows some things haven't changed in the past century.
The stark black and white cinematography is nice, but also pretty convenient in making the miners' situation look extra dire and depressing. Not that they were to be envied, far from it, but it does give the documentary a certain hellish feel that doesn't really correspond with reality.
The documentary has no narration, no music either. It's an interesting window into Belgian history, but mostly for people who are naturally interested in that sort of thing. The story itself really isn't all that special and even though the film is only 30 minutes long, it struggled to hold my attention.
Eye for an Eye
Quite a change of pace for Paco Plaza. Best known as a full-blown horror director, Plaza slow things down and deliver a crime thriller with strong dramatic undertones. Not really the film I was expecting from him, it's equally clear he struggled with the genre switch in places, but overall this was a pretty solid film.
The story revolves around Mario, a nurse who works in a retirement home. Things go sour for him when he is paired with a senior drug lord responsible for the death of his brother. Mario struggles with his conscience, but decides he can't pass up this opportunity and start to slowly poison his patient.
Performances are decent but nothing out of the ordinary. The cinematography isn't all that either, looking a bit drab and lifeless. Luckily the soundtrack is on par and delivers oodles of atmosphere, while the story is interesting enough to hold the attention. I think Plaza is better suited for the horror genre, but this wasn't all that bad.
My second Visconti wasn't really a success either. After seeing Rocco and His Brothers ages ago, it was time to give the man another chance. It might not have been the best idea to go for a 3-hour film, on the other hand The Leopard is one of Visconti's most respected films, so what the heck.
I will admit that his films look much nicer in full color. I don't remember much of Rocco, but I do remember the dreary black and white cinematography. To see Italy in all its colorful glory is a relief. That goes for both the scenes inside and the ones outdoors, with the latter being the most impressive (thanks to Sicily, at least in part).
The story was less interesting, mixing Italian history with cheesy drama while having a go at the aging aristocrats. Though I have to say that the clumsy dialogues and overdone performances didn't help the story one bit. The soundtrack too is annoying, scraping away the atmosphere built up by the cinematography. The incredibly lengthy and pompous ball scene at the end was the final nail in The Leopard's coffin. I don't think I'm a big Visconti fan.
Don't ever wonder how many animal-based CG animations there are, unless you're dedicated enough to find out the answer. Rio is another franchise that I missed simply because there's so many of them, and they all look, sound and appear so similar. Rio isn't the worst of the bunch at least.
The whole selling point of the film is Brazil. That's pretty much it. A Brazilian bird gets poached, is raised in the US and returns to his homeland when it turns out he's the last male species of his race. If that sounds random, it's because these stories are rarely more than a hook for a little comedy, some songs and a bit of adventuring.
The jokes are terrible though and many of the secondary characters are absolutely annoying, but at least the film is not quite as loud and obnoxious as most of its peers. It's a minor perk and it doesn't really save the film, but at least it makes it easier to sit through than many of its contemporaries.
A fine Japanese drama with some quirky elements, but also one that feels a little too comfortable to really rise above its peers. I've seen my share of these film and while they're generally intriguing, effective and well-made, they sometimes lack a little boldness and vision to stand out.
Director Tanada attempts to stir things up by having the main character work as a love doll sculptor. A fact he tries to keep hidden from his wife, who served as an unbeknownst model for one of his designs. But in the end that doesn't really change the dynamics, nor the tone of the film. Apart from a handful of stand-alone scenes, Romance Doll will feel very familiar.
Performances are excellent, which isn't a big surprise with Yu Aoi and Issey Takahashi in the lead roles. The cinematography is good, but nothing out of the ordinary, the same goes for the soundtrack. All in all it's a fine film, I really haven't anything bad to say about it, it's just nothing I hadn't seen before.
Another entry in Wakamatsu's series on Japanese rapists. It's not the jolliest subject to make films about, but people familiar with Wakamatsu's work know it's a theme that suits him. What doesn't suit him is the classic/historic setting of the story, which takes a lot of vitality away from his films.
The Hateful Beast revolves around two criminals who lived during the Edo era. They both arrive at a same village, but one proves to be more successful than the other. While he enjoys the spoils of his criminal career, the other one rots away in prison, planning his revenge. It's hardly the most imaginative story, though that matters less, as it's rooted in reality.
The black and white cinematography is nice, but not all that remarkable. The editing and camera work feel a little plain and unimaginative though, especially for a Wakamatsu film. The presentation (including the soundtrack) is just too tame and safe. It's in line with other classic Japanese films, but it takes away from Wakamatsu's unique flavor. Not his best work.
When you've decided to see a horror film titled The Doll, you really shouldn't be expecting anything original. And honestly, there aren't any big surprises here, even the twist ending is by the numbers. There's a haunted doll, a bunch of classic horror scares and a little girl that turns out to be pretty creepy.
There's a little Conjuring and Annabelle in here, but it's really just a basic Asian horror film, steeped in drama and delivering plenty of chills and creepy moments along the way. The good thing is that Rocky Soraya does a commendable job, no matter how predictable the film is and how many times you've seen this exact same thing before.
Performances are decent but a little overdone during the creepier moments. The cinematography is nice and moody, the CG a bit flaky but functional. The soundtrack is above par though, quite loud but effective and atmospheric. The Doll isn't a true must-see, but if you're looking for some tasty horror filler, it's a surprisingly well-made film that is sure to please genre fans.
Don't Let Them In
An amusing little horror film, thanks to Aidan O'Neill. He brightens up an otherwise simple story about pagan/satanic rituals. It's not that director Dunkin did a bad job, but if this had been a straight-up horror film I don't think it would've been good enough to leave a positive impression. Luckily there's a little more to it.
Karl and Jenna are two social service workers. Jenna takes her job quite seriously, Karl is there for the decent hours and solid pension. He decides to join Jenna on an out-of-town assignment right before he kicks off the weekend, just to show her he's not a total moron. It's a trip he's going to remember for the rest of his life.
Take a secluded rural town, a nutter who believes people are out to kill him and some masked assailers hiding in the shadows, and you pretty much know where this is going. O'Neill's snarky comments and increasingly crude reactions make the trip worthwhile. Not the most original of horror films, but pretty funny nonetheless.