The Mask of Zorro
Though I watched a fair number of Zorro episodes as a kid, it was far from my favorite series. Safe to say that I didn't expect too much from this film, not in the least because director Campbell has a pretty poor resume. The film turned out to be pretty much what I thought it would be, but with a few silver linings.
Zorro was never very serious and it seems Campbell understood that very well. Especially during the first half there's a certain cheesy mood that makes the film a lot easier to sit through. Not that it was particularly great, but at least the pacing was decent and it never felt like it tried to be too serious.
The action sequences (apart from the explosive finale) are rather dull though and it's criminal to let a simple film like this cross the two-hour mark. The second half also loses some of its lightheartedness and the build-up toward the finale did drag, but I expected a lot worse. That said, I won't be seeing the sequel any time soon.
Much like Zigeunerweisen, this is a Suzuki film that holds a lot of potential, but is way too long and gets a bit sluggish after a while. If Suzuki had managed to cut this back to 90-100 minutes it would've been a much better film, now it took me quite a bit of effort and stamina to reach the end.
That's not to say nothing interesting happens. Suzuki remains his old self and quirky, weird and goofy ideas are littered throughout the film. The biggest problem is the moments in between, the sometimes endless conversations and theater performances that seem to suck much of the energy out of Heat-haze Theatre.
The cinematography is interesting, often very colorful and well-framed. The soundtrack is a bit too dependent on classic Japanese songs and the plot a bit too sparse to fill 140 minutes, but at least Suzuki kept it interesting until the end. It's just a shame that there are too many generic intermissions.
My Darling Clementine
The most remarkable thing about My Darling Clementine is how unremarkable a film it is, especially considering its stellar reputation. It's little more than a simple genre flick, a western with all the usual ingredients (though a bit low on action and tilting more to the drama side) that simply goes through the motions.
I'm not a fan of westerns, so I didn't get much out of it, not in the least because Ford takes it very slow and spends oodles of time on uninteresting characters and a tepid plot. That did give me some more time to look for other elements that might've set this one apart from its peers, but I found nothing.
Performances are pretty over-the-top, the cinematography is drab (the framing in particular felt very cramped) and the music sounded horrible. At the very end we get a shoot-out, but even that felt basic. I'm sure it's a solid film for fans of the genre, but apart from the US' cultural dominance over the film business I can see no reason why people make such a big deal of this film.
A simple but jolly and amusing Irish horror comedy. Grabbers is a film with few pretensions, a film that sticks closely to formulas that are known to work. It's a smart entry-level film for a young director, someone who wants to be judged on execution rather than wits and originality.
Some Irish fishermen pick up a creepy sea creature and bring it up to land. It attacks one of the men, but he's able to pry himself loose and knock it unconscious. He takes the thing to a marine ecologist, who is stumped when he examines the creature. Before he gets to contact the proper authorities though, a storm messes up his plans and a much bigger specimen holds the island hostage.
The effects are decent but not spectacular, the cast is pretty hilarious and the remote Irish island provides a beautiful setting for a bit of horror and comedy fun. The pacing is solid, the runtime quite short and Grabbers is over before you know it. Not the most remarkable film, but perfect filler.
Capturing the Friedmans
I wouldn't be surprised if this documentary was used as a template for the current true crime hype. Though Capturing the Friedmans seems less interested in finding out the truth than looking at the different ways that truth gets distorted, the build-up, subjectivity and use of different perspectives feels very current.
That some pretty shady things went on in the Friedman family seems obvious, but the trial by media, the mass hysteria and overall incompetence of justice and law make it impossible to uncover the factual truth. This distortion of reality only amplifies the misery, which is obvious from the testimonies of the Friedmans.
The only problem is that the documentary's trial by media warning seems to have had little effect, not to mention that nowadays better illustrations can be found almost on a monthly basis. Because the message of the doc is too obvious and the impact turned out be so minimal, it kinda makes you wonder whether there's a real point to these films.
A 75-minute, one take, no cuts, sword fighting action scene lies at the heart of this film, where Tak Sakaguchi takes on between 400 and 600 (because who's counting) adversaries with only a single sword. This is a film that deliberately seeks out the audience's breaking point, but if you manage to withstand the all-out assault it's an amazing experience. One of a kind, crazy Musashi indeed.
A Whisker Away
Just a little too on the nose I guess. A Whisker Away feels like a calculated mix of Ghibli (The Cat Returns) and Shinkai (She and her Cat), trying to appease as many people as possible. And if that wasn't enough, they even made it about cats, because everybody loves cats, especially the Japanese (let's throw in some Miyazawa too).
It wouldn't be so bad if the animation had been on the same level, but that's where they cut corners. Character designs are a tad bland and the animation itself isn't all that spectacular. At least the colors pop and the fantasy elements look interesting enough, but because it compares itself so explicitly to the big names in anime, it's difficult not to feel a little disappointed.
That's not to say it's a terrible film though. The atmosphere is light and breezy, there's a beautiful fantasy world hiding in the second part and the pacing is pretty solid, making sure the film never drags. It's a solid anime, but it would've been nice if it had at least tried to set itself apart more.
A Fistful of Dollars
Back when I first got serious about cinema, people practically forced me to give Leone's films a chance. I never really cared for westerns before, but that's probably the point where I started hating them. After four attempts (including his most famed westerns), I simply gave up and left it at that.
I'm still not a fan of westerns, but I'm slowly playing catch up with some high profile films I've missed and there's no escaping the rest of Leone's oeuvre. A Fistful of Dollars was the first to cross my path and it didn't to anything to change my mind, it merely reminded me of why I don't like his films.
Very poor performances, drab and colorless settings, long and uninteresting dialogues, bland action and a terrible score. At least the film stays well below the 120-minute mark, but that's a meager comfort when there's nothing to like. Leone and I simply don't match, this was another major letdown.
The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear
An interesting documentary on the politics of fear. Director Curtis explores the last 30 years of politics for signs of fearmongering and finds quite a number of disturbing examples that, put together, weave an interesting story on how politicians are trying to control and guide society with lies and fear.
It's particularly nice to see the focus shift between the US, Russia and the Muslim countries, each applying very similar techniques to reach very similar goals. It opens up a broader perspective that doesn't pit these countries as very different from each other, which goes well with the actual message of the documentary.
The form is a bit basic though and three hours is quite long, a bit of editing and some smart graphs and/or animations might have helped to make it a bit more attractive, not to mention a little easier to consume. But the core message is strong, the doc is informative and the point is clear. And kudos for ending on a positive note, again, quite in line with the core message.
éX-Driver the Movie
I wasn't familiar with the eX-Driver series, but that's not a prerequisite when watching this film. The concept is simple enough and you won't have much trouble catching on, though I'm pretty certain I missed out on some of the finer nuances. That said, the drama isn't really the film's strong point.
eX-Driver is built around the action/race scenes. At times, it felt like a tech demo for the cel shaded racing sequences, which don't look that bad considering the film's age. It's not exactly seamless, but the effect is already there and the races themselves can be quite thrilling.
The rest of the film is just filler. The art style is bland, the animation is simplistic and the plot is just dull. Luckily the film is short, meaning the time between races passes quickly and is easy enough to bridge. As a bit of mindless filler eX-Driver isn't the worst, but I wouldn't recommend it otherwise.
I never really bothered with Scooby-Doo when I was young, I knew just about enough to switch the channel whenever it was on. I remember it as a rather cheap and drab-looking cartoon, which means this film is quite the departure from the original. It's still pretty cheap mind, but it's also a loud and shameless explosion of color and zest.
Director Raja Gosnell is known for his cheery renditions of kid-friendly, animal-driven material (especially when you consider the Smurfs to be animals), personally I can't stand the man's work. It's never funny, it's terribly garish and it seems hellbent on catering to only the youngest of audiences.
Scooby-Doo fit perfectly into his body of work, but I will say that the film fully commits to its own silliness. It's daft from the very first moment until the very last frame, and everything from sets to costumes to gags is delivered with the same, excessive amount of cheese. It's a small silver lining in an otherwise horrible film.
The Polygamous Wazzou
Africa is a pretty big blank for me when it comes to film (not counting South-Africa that is). I've tried one or two Nollywood films and a handful from North-African territories, but so far I can't say they've been able to win me over. The Polygamous Wazzou didn't do a lot to change that, on the contrary.
It's a very basic relationship drama, about a man who returns from Mecca and claims a third wife. The problem is that she's already engaged, plus his second wife isn't too keen on being replaced by a younger woman either. There's a small amount of intrigue, but even this short summary makes it sound way more interesting than it really is.
Performances are very weak and the direction is archaic. It's difficult to talk about cinematography when the camera work is so basic, there's no real score to speak of either. The main draw are the cultural elements, which are very different from ours, but that's hardly enough to turn this into an enjoyable film.
A very peculiar film. It's not completely unique to see live action and animation combined, but most films prefer to mix both styles. The Congress is one half animation, one half live action and keeps the two neatly separated. The less you know about this film up front though, the neater the effect.
Somewhat surprisingly, I liked the live action part best. Folman has the eye of an animator, which often makes for beautiful live action cinema. The cinematography is stylish, the sets are lush and even though I didn't quite care for the "film about the film business" motives, the dramatic weight was perfect.
The animation tries to be a bit more psychedelic, but in a very 60s/70s kind of way, mixed with character designs that looked like they drew inspiration for the 20s/30s. The effect is a bit underwhelming, at the same time the plot starts to spiral out of control with no real interesting places to go. Still, there's plenty to unpack here, so I never got bored. I'd just hoped for a little more.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that Yoshiaki Kawajiri helped write the script of Bio Hunter. The characters, the monsters, even the lore is very reminiscent of Kawajiri's films. But directors matter more than writers, which is why Bio Hunter is still a minor disappointment, regardless its potential.
Even though the film is only 60 minutes long, it tends to drag a little. There's too much dialogue, not enough horror, not enough action. This may very well be a budgetary problem, but that doesn't make it more entertaining to watch. No doubt Sato could've cut another 15 minutes for a better overall result.
The animation quality is also relatively low, but at least the monster designs are fun and the few horror/action scenes that are present do manage to deliver. Bio Hunter isn't the greatest anime, but for people craving a late 80s/early 90s anime horror fix, it's not the worst option out there either.
Bonkers hip-hop comedy set in the Scottish Highlands. Ninian Doff is young director with a background in music videos, it's not all that surprising then that he tries to make inroads into the film business though the comedy/horror genre, a very welcome genre for ambitious youngster with something to prove.
The film reminded me of a UK version of New Kids, with a bunch of degenerate teens setting off on a hiking trip. The comedy is daft and dry, often quite random and drawing from a myriad of influences. Doff isn't afraid to mix in other genres, with some horror, thriller and action elements adding to the fun, not the mention a veritable music video halfway through.
At its best this was a small masterpiece, but there are a few too many moments where the comedy felt a bit forced with little else to fall back on. These moments never last long and there's enough craziness to get you swiftly through the film, so with a bit of extra polish I have no doubt Doff's could be a certified masterpiece. Great fun.
Lupin III: Dead or Alive
A decidedly darker Lupin III film. While the action is still pretty goofy and over-the-top, the setting is rather ominous. I never linked Lupin to post-apocalyptic, futuristic landscapes, but that's exactly what you're getting here. Apart from that, the formula is pretty much the same.
It's nice to see Lupin in a different setting though, it's what keeps these films fresh, especially when watching a couple of them so closely together. Lupin is chasing some treasure again, this time it lands him on a remote island governed by biotech weaponry. Not quite the kind of enemy he is used to battling, though it doesn't really faze him.
The whole crew is there of course, the stakes are high and the action is pretty hectic. While I quite like these films, the somewhat subpar animation quality and repetitive formula keep me from giving a higher rating. It's prime entertainment and Dead or Alive is another solid entry in the franchise, but I keep hoping for more.
A complete mess of a movie, but ironically that's also its saving grace. It falls into the category of contemporary fantasy that digs up old horror legends and pits them in a more action-oriented setting. It's no surprise then that I, Frankenstein was developed by the same team that did Underworld.
There's a lot of silly lore to go through, but with only 90 minutes on the clock director Beattie flies through it without much care for consistency or logic. The plot and characters are absolutely ridiculous (no doubt they'd hoped to expand on it in sequels that never materialized), but because of the intense pacing that's ever really an issue.
The doubty CG doesn't do the film any favors and the overly serious tone was the wrong choice, but the stupendous set pieces, constant action and crazy ending made sure this was never boring. Don't expect to watch a decent film, but if you're looking for 90 minutes of silly entertainment, it's not a bad option.
Marquis de Sade's Prosperities of Vice
I guess I have no more excuses to ignore Akio Jissôji's oeuvre. Prosperities of Vice is the fifth Jissôji film I've seen and none of them have disappointed me so far. They've been mostly random watches (including two accidental anthology entries), but every single time I've been positively surprised.
This film too went far above my expectations. I'd expected a pinku with some artistic intentions, but describing it like that is doing Prosperities of Vice a big disservice. While the Sade mythology leaves plenty of room for debauchery, Jissôji delivers a very stylish and relatively restrained film.
For a film from the 80s it looks absolutely stunning, sporting superb camera work, neat and colorful styling and excellent use of lighting. The soundtrack too is distinctive and moody. The plot is a bit of a puzzle, but it was intriguing enough to keep me glued to the screen. A very interesting film, Jissôji deserves to be rediscovered.
Harold and Maude
I'm not very familiar with the work of Hal Ashby. Apart from seeing Being There years ago, I never really bumped into his, work with most of his oeuvre being a complete blank. Harold and Maude is a film with quite a legacy though, so I figured it was time to give Ashby another go. Much like Being There, I found a decent film that left me relatively cold.
At least Harold's character is pretty fun, with his gruesome fake suicide attempts lending the film a darker streak. This includes the deadpan reactions of his mother, who seems largely unfazed by Harold's cries for attention. The film takes a more dramatic turn when Harold meets Maude, an older lady where he finds the warmth and attention he's craving.
I liked the dark comedy elements, but they are rather few and far between. The dramatic portion of the film is less interesting, with a somewhat tepid relationship directing the plot, let down by the rather dull and unattractive cinematography and a middling soundtrack. At least it was short and good for a couple of chuckles, but that's about it.
Fritz the Cat
This is probably fun if you're a big fan of the (late) 60s, preferably the Jewish/NY scene. Fritz the Cat was my first Bakshi, so I didn't really know what to expect. What I know I didn't expect was a pretty explicit and adult-oriented film, but for once that wasn't a very pleasant surprise.
There's a lot of political/activist/anti-establishment dialogue to wade through, already touching upon subjects like white guilt. I guess you could say the film still has relevance. But these instances seems rather incidental, as Bakshi races through most of the political issues of that time and does so with little care for subtlety.
The animation is functional, the art style ugly, the music horrendous (but again, if you're a fan of the 60s, you'll probably love it), the voice acting grating and the comedy not that funny. And for a film that tries to be controversial, it has lost a lot, if not all of its impact. Fritz the Cat is a relic from a time period I don't really care for.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Another film that tries to blur the lines between reality and fiction. Only Assayas doesn't bet on atmosphere (and when he does, he fails horribly), instead he turns Sils Maria in a very dialogue-heavy drama that drags itself through the motions, as if Assayas himself got bored by his own idea halfway through.
Stewart is pretty decent, but Moretz appears to be ill at ease and Binoche looks like she didn't even want to be there. With only one of three leads trying to have a little fun, the dialogues quickly turn sour and the film starts to drag itself along. It also doesn't help that I've grown a little tired of films about actors getting lost in their work, it's all a bit too self-indulgent.
At least the setting (the Alps) is quite nice, with some decent landscape photography. Even there Assayas underperforms though, a shoddy nighttime ride being a painful reminder that scenes like these are crucial to ground a film like Sils Maria. When they don't end up working, a lot of the appeal is lost. It's all a bit underwhelming and expected, I'd hoped for more.
Lupin III: Burning Memory - Tokyo Crisis
Not the best Lupin film out there, even though on paper it's quite the typical Lupin project, with all the usual ingredients present. Lupin takes on some bad guys in search of an important item and ends up saving the day, with a slew of familiars either helping him or getting in his way, just like in every other film.
It's a pretty successful setup, but it's also rather basic. Most Lupin films counter this by being extremely silly and over-the-top, that's exactly where Tokyo Crisis disappoints (though it's far from straight-faced). It's just a bit tamer compared to the other films in the franchise, which takes away part of the fun.
The animation too looks cheaper, but that may just be due to the slightlier slower pacing (leaving fewer opportunities for hyperactive animation). It's not a terrible film mind, Lupin is a great lead and there's still plenty of silliness to go around, it's just not as lively and amusing as the other ones I've seen.
A pretty derivative horror flick. I've already seen the exact same story countless times before, which is a problem when a film is presented as a mystery. Five minutes in and I had a pretty good idea of what was going on, even though the characters didn't find out until the very end.
This is a pretty straight-forward genre flick though, so execution is key. Sadly Kingdom Come doesn't score any points there either. Performances are really drab, the film looks dead cheap and the kills are poor and unoriginal. Sager simply goes through the motions, seemingly content with delivering bottom shelf genre filler.
The film's only redeeming element is the creature design. Maybe not 100% convincing, but at least the monsters looked pretty freaky. That's hardly enough to warrant a recommendation, so unless you're really starved for horror films there's not much reason to give this film a try. Pretty poor.
A BBC short film that adapts one of Dickens' classic horror stories. Sadly it's a bit too obvious that we're dealing with a TV production here, as the film fares pretty well as a mystery/horror. That's more than I expected when I decided to watch this one, but not enough to make it a solid recommend.
The story revolves around a signalman (someone who controls the train traffic) who is getting distressing warning signs only he can hear. Whenever such a signal arrives, it is followed by a grave disaster and the appearance of a specter. When one day a traveler passes by, the man is so on edge that he has to tell his story.
Even for a short film the pacing is a little sluggish, especially the first 20 minutes. It gets a lot moodier in the second half, where Clark makes excellent use of the grim, foggy setting and the ominous tunnel. It's solid filler, though its status is a bit overrated, as it's little more than a decent TV mystery.
A sprawling adventure from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki. Laputa hasn't lost much of its charm over the years. The flying islands, mystical robots and bickering pirates are still as fun to discover as the first time I watched Laputa. Combined with top-notch animation, a slightly darker edge and perfect pacing, it makes for a lovely film.
Golgo 13: Queen Bee
Slightly better than the original, but only by a small margin. The animation is a step up from the first one, then again there are 15 years between the two films, so it would've been really bad if that hadn't been the case. Apart from that, these films are pretty much on the same level.
The plot is extremely basic and hardly worth bothering with. Golgo isn't a very interesting character, neither is Queen Bee. They're just simple stereotypes who lack personality. You'd expect the action to make up for that in a film like this, but even the action scenes are very static and lifeless.
It just comes off as very cheap and derivative, with little to no redeeming qualities. At least the film is short and while it's clear corners were cut wherever possible, the animation shows at least a small glimpse of the talent hiding behind this film. That's not enough to make it an enjoyable experience though.
Frank & Lola
A very pleasant discovery. I'd never heard of this film before, but Shannon and Poots have been building up impressive oeuvres and the combination of mystery and romance isn't exactly very common nowadays. So I figured it would be a worth a shot, turns out that was the right call.
Shannon (Frank) plays a skilled but reclusive chef, Poots (Lola) plays a young and careless woman who knocks him off his boots. While they look like the perfect couple, things turn sour when Lola cheats on Frank and drags him into a web of lies and deceit. The more Frank tries to figure out what's going on, the deeper he falls.
Performances are strong, but it's Matthew Ross' direction that gives the film the necessary polish. The cinematography is stylish, together with the soundtrack it creates a mysterious, sultry atmosphere that forms the basis of the film's success. And while the third act feels like it could slip into cheap thriller territory, Ross keeps the film on the rails and delivers a perfect finale. Very nice.
Yamazaki's latest is quite the surprise. He leaves behind the big budget fantasy worlds and focuses a on a bit of Japanese War history. Don't expect a typical war film though, while there two or three action scenes, this film is really about math, budgets and political meetings. Not the most glamorous subjects.
The film revolves around the production of a new battle ship. In order to get it made, a budget has to be approved, but the opponents suspect that the proposed budget is an incredible underestimation. They hire a young but skilled mathematician to help them figure out the actual cost of the ship, but he has no idea about ships, nor politics.
It's a small miracle that Yamazaki actually manages a couple of tense scenes, because the subject matter is just incredibly dry. The film relies quite heavily on dialogues and the important meeting where everything is decided spans almost half the film. It's hardly Yamazaki's best film and I doubt there's a big market for this, but considering the circumstances, he still did a pretty decent job.
No doubt an interesting film to see back to back with David Lean's version. Cuarón's approach is very different, focusing more on the romance and mystery between Finn and Estella, the latter who has a much more prominent role here. While I liked it better than Lean's very rigid rendition, Cuarón's version isn't exactly perfect either.
Dickens' story might be at fault too, as it relies on big emotions and silly twists, making it harder to take the film (and the romance) serious. But it's also Cuarón's cheesy direction, as he tries to fully commit to the romantic/Gothic setting but ends up looking a little lost. It can be beautiful to look at, but it can turn garish in the blink of an eye.
The overstated performances of Hawke and Paltrow don't help, neither does the appearance of De Niro. Maybe if Cuarón had focused more on the relationship rather than the silly plot that drives the story of Finn and Estella, things might've turned out better. As it turned out though, it's a film with too many defects to work well.
Ivan the Terrible, Part I
Eisenstein is best known for his early innovation, with a strong focus on the visual side of things. I had no idea what to expect from Ivan the Terrible, but I figured I would see back some of that experimentation here. Turns out this is a very classic, strict and unadventurous biography, a pretty big bummer.
To be honest, I'm not particularly interested in Russian history, especially not when it is served as a pretty dry, political film that heavily relies on dialogue and comes with a hefty slice of propaganda. Even though it's relatively short, it dragged from the very start and never picked up steam.
Performances are poor, though that could've also been due to the second-rate costumes. The sets at least are pretty nice, but the rigid camera work and basic framing didn't do them any justice. What remains is a sluggish, dull and drab black and white biography, not the kind of thing I'd expected Eisenstein to make.