I tend to like Koreeda's feature films, his documentaries are a lot tougher to stomach. It's a bit surprising because Koreeda's best films are the ones where he draws very natural performances from his cast, even so his documentaries tend to feel somewhat forced and poorly constructed.
Ishibumi tackles the Hiroshima bombing, no doubt Japan's biggest scar of the past century. Koreeda decided to rework a classic TV program for this, but in order to keep thing intimate he has actress Haruka Ayase read the script. About 75% of the documentary is just that, the other quarter is filled with street interviews, though these are mostly situated near the end.
It's a baffling structure that doesn't work at all. The reading is actually quite entrancing, though is interrupted by people reorganizing the stage where Ayase is reading. The interviews intersect at poorly chosen moments and pierce through the meticulously built up atmosphere. Some parts are pretty effective, but as a whole it's quite awkward.
This could've been light, simple fun, sadly it's way too uptight for its own good. The film just tumbles from one annoying cliché into the next. From the frantically overworked moms to the brattish and crude women, from the controlling soccer moms to the flawed but perfect mothers. I liked none of the characters and none of their evolutions.
It's a shame, as the tone of the film is quite alright. It's pretty breezy, the pacing is solid and the film doesn't dwell too long on pretty much anything, especially not during the first half. In the second half it becomes more serious and dramatic, with some utterly cheesy and regrettable moments that completely ruin the vibe.
Performances are decent and the main trio is actually quite fun, regardless of their characters behaving like assholes. The soundtrack is pretty bad though and there are quite a few jokes that don't land, but overall everything was there to make this a decent comedy. Everything except the balls to cut out the drama and fully commit to the comedy.
A sprawling mix of comedy, fantasy and martial arts. It's one of the quintessential Hong Kong film of the 90s, one of Stephen Chow's clear highlights and one of Jeffrey Lau's best films. A hoot from start to finish, incredibly paced, full of bonkers comedy, insane creatures and nifty settings. Great fun.
Visconti's first. I'm not a big fan of Italian neo-realist cinema, but it's clear that Obsession was a key film in its rise, even when the real boom would only come in the next decade. All the trademark elements are already here and it's a big change from the kind of cinema that was popular at the time.
My biggest problem with the movement is the excessive/expressive acting, which stands in strong contrast with the realist overtones of the story and the cinematography. There are too many grand gestures, too many overt emotions, almost as if the actors were still used to doing silents. It takes me out of the drama and makes for rather annoying characters.
And that's a real problem, because Visconti leans quite heavily on the drama. The story is pretty basic, the crime elements are minimal and the pacing is slow. The cinematography is unremarkable, the soundtrack rather shrill, so aesthetically there's not much there either. Not my thing, but no doubt an important film.
A rather basic and typical costume drama, detailing the life of Queen Elizabeth (and the start of England's Golden Age). The only way that it sets itself apart from countless similar films is that it feels just a tad lighter in tone (Vincent Cassel in particular stands out), but it's not enough to make it something special.
The cinematography is decent, though it alternates beautiful moments with downright kitsch. Performances aren't that great and feel over-the-top, the soundtrack is cheesy and the drama didn't really interest me that much. That's usually my problem with this type of film though, so your mileage may vary.
It's obvious that director Shikhar Kanpur tried his best to add something extra to Elizabeth, but it never quite happens. At least it's nice to see someone try, it makes that it isn't a complete bore, even so the second half starts to drag and never really recovers with a rather poor finale. Not terrible, but hardly noteworthy.
A film that might be grouped with the oeuvres of Gakuryu Ishii and Shinya Tsukamoto. But instead of going for an overt punk aesthetic, Matsui's film is more subdued and poetic. In some weird, perverted way that is, as its gritty black and white aesthetic and nihilistic themes will limit the film's appeal to a niche audience.
There are plenty of uneasy scenes here. Crude and unlikable characters showcasing repulsive and misanthrope behavior for seemingly no apparent reason are what makes this film a rather tough experience, especially considering its long runtime. But it never started to drag and Matsui kept it intruiging from start to finish.
The only reason why it's not a masterpiece for me is that I simply prefer the more vital and dynamic approach of its contemporaries. Matsui's more poetic execution is nice, but not that spectacular, which made me think the film didn't reach its full potential. But if you like Japanese grit and nihilism, it's definitely worth a try.
I was a bit surprised to bump into this film. With names like Scorsese, Coppola and Woody Allen directing, you'd think the film would be better known. Honestly, I'd never heard of it before. Anthologies are rarely seen as worthwhile films though, so that's probably what's been holding this one back.
Scorsese's short is pretty decent for a Scorsese film, but his attempts to be a bit more artistic feel rather forced and Nolte's performance is too over the top (2.0*). Coppola's entry is probably the weirdest of the bunch as it seems to be targeted at kids (2.0*), luckily there's Allen's film to give this anthology a needed quality boost (3.5*).
Allen's short is by far the most interesting and funny of the bunch. It's also the film that feels the most like "New York". While not a terrible anthology, considering the names involved people would be excused for expecting a bit more. Apart from Allen, the other directors disappoint.
Fantômas: The False Magistrate
I don't think the work of Feuillade is meant for me. The False Magistrate is the second Feuillade film I've seen, I'm afraid it nearly bored me to death. While I think silent cinema works fairly well for comedy and horror (or any other type of film that relies on atmosphere), it's a real drag when it comes to purely narrative films.
The False Magistrate is a simple story told through intertitles and endless shots of people talking to each other (without sound). It's sluggish and uninteresting, even for a film that's barely 70 minutes long. There are just a handful of scenes that qualify as more action-oriented, but even these were pretty dim and uneventful.
Performances are formulaic, the cinematography is way too static and the plot and characters felt lazy. I just didn't care for any of it. I don't think I'll be watching the other episodes in the series anytime soon, no doubt Feuillade's work here was inspirational for directors who explored more narrative-focused cinema, but in this form it's painfully insufficient.
Chinese disaster flick that pays homage to firefighters. A big oil storage goes up in flames and threatens to destroy the entire city, several teams of firefighters try to keep the blazing inferno under control. Safe to say, not everyone is going to come out alive and sacrifice for the greater good is one of the main themes of the film.
If you think Hollywood films tend to be too patriotic and/or heroic, it's best to stay for away from The Bravest. It gets beyond ridiculous here, with lots of posed shots, cheesy music and bland drama piling up in an attempt to make every moment even more heroic than the previous one.
The action scenes are pretty decent, but there's simply too much false drama and the film slows down way too often to accentuate how brave these people really are. It's a cheap way to stretch a film to the 120-minute mark, it's no surprise then that the second half starts to drag. This could've been fun, but the result is highly uncomfortable.
A very simple but spectacular action film. Don't expect too much of the plot (the title explains everything you need to know), Hargrave cares more about the elaborate action scenes and spectacular gun fights than he cares about his characters. Not everyone will appreciate that, but hardened action fans can rest assured: Extraction delivers.
For the most part at least, as Hargrave can't quite keep the pacing going. The film slows down once or twice, which are by far its weakest moments. The poor attempts at introducing thriller (and even drama) elements feel forced and unnecessary, especially when the action stands out the way it does.
The extraction scene is clearly the highlight here. Cut to be one lengthy, continuous scene, it's action cinema the way I love to see it. Gritty, dynamic, made with a lot punch. It even trumps the finale, though only by a small margin. Good stuff for people looking for a great action film, others shouldn't even bother.
The Babysitter: Killer Queen
McG returns to his Babysitter franchise to try and repeat the success of the first film. The Babysitter became somewhat of a cult hit. I don't think Netflix expected anything much when they released it, but the surprisingly jolly mix of comedy and horror made it a very likeable film that was good for more than a handful of giggles and chuckles.
This is an ideal franchise for a platform like Netflix, since they don't get too involved in the creative process. It's obvious that McG had free rein here, which results in a comedy that blatantly references other films, throws in some outrageous gore, subverts genre clichés whenever it feels like it and isn't afraid to be utterly daft when called for. It's an oddball combination of horror and comedy elements, but that's why it works so well.
The sequel is a film that exudes fun. It might not be the most memorable of films, some actors look ill at ease (Lind is a miscast) and there are some technical hiccups, but that's easy to forgive when the rest is so utterly joyous. If they can keep up this level of quality, I wouldn't mind a third film.
Anything Can Happen
A documentary with a very simple concept. Take a 6-year-old boy, send him to the park and have him talk to some elderly people sitting on benches. Document these conversations from a distance, so they don't lose any of their charm and that's that. I can't say it sounded terribly appealing.
These conversations are supposed to highlight the difference between youthful inquisitiveness and seasoned experience, but too many of them ended up being quite empty and meandering. Not sure if that's due to the material they shot or because Lozinski wanted to keep it light, but it doesn't make for riveting cinema.
Lozinski mostly shoots from concealed places, making this a pretty static affair. Luckily the soundtrack (consisting of ambient park noises) creates a soothing atmosphere and some conversations turned out to be quite amusing, but in the end I wasn't that impressed by the result. A bit too light on content.
The Blood of Wolves
Shiraishi goes oldskool Yakuza. The Blood of Wolves is a film that will feel very familiar to fans of Japanese crime cinema, but to see it through Shiraishi's filter does give it a fresh and contemporary edge. Just don't expect a film that will reinvent the genre, as you won't find it there.
We're not just looking at a simple clan war though, Shiraishi focuses more on role of the police and how they try to uphold a muddy balance between the different clans, in order to avoid outright wars and public chaos. It's not the first Yakuza film to take this angle, but it is one of the better ones I've seen so far.
The cast is excellent (Kôji Yakusho, Renji Ishibashi, Tomorô Taguchi, just to name a few), the violence is raw, the cinematography gritty and vibrant. The film may lack something that truly sets it apart, but this is once again a quality project that underlines Shiraishi's talent and establishes him as one of the more interesting directors working in Japan today.
A simple but fun Jackie Chan martial arts adventure, helmed by Wei Lo. It's not a very remarkable film, but when you pit it against the myriad of Shaw Bros productions of that time there are some notable differences. One of the most notable ones is the use of outside locations rather than studio sets, which does give the film a different feel.
Main attraction (and no doubt the primary reason for the relative popularity of this film) is Chan's presence. It's the first time I see him collaborating with Wei Lo and while the result isn't too exceptional, it does make for an amusing martial arts spectacle, with a couple of dynamic and lengthy action sequences.
It lacks the inventive choreographies of someone like Yuen though, and I have no clue why they tried to copy the Star Wars soundtrack (which sounds absolutely ridiculous), but these are minor hiccups that don't really stand in the way of the overall enjoyment. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but if you're looking for decent martial arts filler, this is a prime choice.
I'm not really sure why Sabrina isn't part of Soraya's The Doll franchise (especially since he seems to be working on The Doll 3 right now), but it's not even distinctive enough to be considered a true spin-off. It's really just a carbon copy of the first two films, all traits and defects intact.
Sabrina is another ghost-infested Doll flick. This time the doll is even uglier compared to the ones in his previous films, to the point where you have to wonder who would actually buy these freakishly uncomfortable things. Not that it matters. The doll draws a ghost, a new family is being haunted and once again Laras is there to save the day.
Performances are a bit flaky, the CG is also far from perfect and the runtime is at least 20 minutes too long, but Soraya does know how to create tension and regardless of the film's faults, there are still a fair few good, effective horror scenes. Far from a great film and I hope Soraya reinvents this franchise with his next film (not getting my hopes up though), but this was decent enough horror filler.
My Octopus Teacher
I've always had a fascination for marine life. As noted in the beginning of this documentary, the creatures that live underwater are weirder than the maddest sci-fi or horror ever made up. Safe to say this doc about the friendship between a diver and an octopus was something that immediately appealed to me.
Octopuses have been gaining broader popularity since a couple of years now. Their intelligence is often highlighted, and they're simply incredible creatures to watch. The way they move about, change their colors and (learn to) catch their prey is just amazing. It's no surprise then to see a smart and inquisitive creature like that make friends with a human.
This documentary was slightly too poetic and manipulative to be truly blown away by it. It would've been nice to have had a more scientific voice weigh in, but the shots are absolutely amazing and to see this creature bond with another person is quite powerful. I'm just not entirely sure how accurate Foster's story really was.
Japan loves its police thrillers. They're not the most remarkable films and few of them make a splash overseas, but once you start paying attention to them it's obvious that every year there are at least a couple of high profile ones. Many of them can be traced back to literary works or TV series, but it seems Blind Witness is a stand-alone film.
Not that it matters that much, these films tend to follow a very rigid structure, the main difference is that you get to spend a bit more time on the introduction of the characters. Natsume is a detective who quit the police force when she went blind, but when one night she hears a voice calling for help, she decides to investigate the possible crime herself.
The production is extremely slick, the pacing is solid and the main character's disability makes for some interesting tweaks on its basic formula. The film is extremely predictable and by the numbers though, so don't expect any big genre twists or novel takes. Blind Witness is a very solid police thriller, nothing less, nothing more.
A film that is often described as Kafkaesque. While I'm not that familiar with the work of Kafka, the overly bureaucratic society with a slightly absurd/surreal twist that forms the center of Joseph Kilián doesn't leave much room for interpretation. While that sounds intriguing enough, I can't say I enjoyed it much.
The short follows a man on the lookout for Joseph Kilián. When he stumbles upon a place that rents out cats, he decides to try it out. Upon bringing the cat back the next day, the shop is gone. And then some more random scenes that vaguely connect, but don't seem to go any place specific. Apparently communist critics rallied against this film, so no doubt there's a bit of subtext I missed.
Performances are rather wooden and uninteresting, the soundtrack is quite plain and even though there are one or two impressive shots, the cinematography overall isn't that remarkable either. This could've been fun if it had been a bit more atmospheric, the dry delivery and seemingly pointless ending killed it for me.
A completely harmless comedy. Pretty much what you can expect from a Sandra Bullock film, the uncontested queen of harmless, middle-of-the-road cinema. Miss Congeniality is the kind of filler that is ideal for a low priority TV slot, for some reason I never caught this one on television though.
Bullock is a hardened tomboy cop who needs to turn into a pageant queen to complete an assignment. Bullock is fit for neither parts, luckily this isn't the film to take itself too serious. From there on out it follows a very predictable and familiar path, equal part comedy, action and drama, but none of it making a big impression.
The film's too long, something simple like this should last more than 90 minutes. But at least the atmosphere is light and the pacing is decent. Even though there's hardly anything positive to say about this film, it never really drags or irritates either. It's just very plain, safe, forgettable but comfortable entertainment.
The third and final entry in Yamazaki's Always series. A film that stays true to the previous episodes and repeats its shtick one more time. That's perfectly fine for those who liked the first two films, others should probably just skip this one as there's nothing new to gain from watching '64.
This is a series that shouldn't really appeal to me, on paper that is. I'm not a big fan of nostalgia and that's the main selling point of the Always films. But because it aligns rather well with Yamazaki's peculiar charm they're actually quite fun and easy to watch, even when their runtime's a bit excessive.
Japan is doing better, the Tokyo Olympics are right around the corner and the people living in Third Street are looking ahead with hope. Expect the necessary (light) drama, thick but amusing stereotypes and a very cozy, laid back atmosphere. It's not riveting cinema, but when you're looking for pleasant filler these films are just perfect.
I never really pegged Zeze as a horror director, so I was quite curious to see how Kokkuri would turn out. The Japanese horror wave had been budding since the early 90s, but wouldn't become an international success until the release of Ringu in '98. From that perspective, Kokkuri is pretty impressive.
Zeze's film differs in the sense that it doesn't follow the less-is-more approach that was gaining popularity around that time. Instead, Kokkuri plays more like a traditional drama, only with horror elements added. The curse that follows school kids is already present though, so is the creepy little girl that appears out of nowhere.
The pacing is deliberate, Zeze does a good job building up the tension and the underlying drama is strong, which is a bit unusual for a horror film. On the other hand, don't expect this to be very scary. It's mostly just very atmospheric, with a strong dramatic base and solid styling. Better than I expected it to be.
The Prince of Egypt
Not sure who thought it a good idea to turn Moses' story into an animated film, I wouldn't be surprised if it was a thinly veiled attempt to introduce kids into Christianity. This isn't the most interesting story to sit through as an atheist, not in the least because the film is quite pushy when it comes to its morality.
Technically speaking the animation is fine, though the character designs aren't what I call pretty and the overstated animation style isn't a personal favorite either. It's the incredibly loud, cheesy and obnoxious soundtrack that killed it for me though. It's omnipresent and 100% horrendous. I don't understand why it's so hard for most US animations to come with a half-decent soundtrack.
The Prince of Egypt runs just over 90 minutes, which isn't all that long, but the plot is terribly dull and the soundtrack absolutely grating, so it still ended up a rather tiring experience. At least the animation kept me occupied, even though it wasn't that aesthetically pleasing either. This film was basically just one big disappointment.
A film that offers a pretty amusing mix of thriller and comedy elements. The Owners may not be the most original of films, but the presentation is meticulous and it feels so incredibly British that you may get an instant craving for tea with scones. That is, if you aren't too squeamish.
A bunch of trashy British kids are planning to rob an old couple. They break into their mansion when the couple is out eating, but when they get to the safe they can't get it open. It sounds a lot like the intro of Snatch, but The Owners borrows more from films like Don't Breathe, where the roles are bound to be reversed.
The performances are pretty hilarious, the build-up of the tension is solid, the reversal halfway through is effective and even though the film never really ventures into horror territory, there are some pleasantly twisted scenes. Nothing I hadn't seen before, but fun and very well executed.
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron
A film with ups and downs. At the very least, it's nice to see a US animation film that dares to take minor risks. Nothing too overt or mind-blowing, but the fact that the animals can't talk is already a big plus. It would've been better if they'd taken it all the way (the main character has a voice over), but it's definitely something.
It makes for a much quieter, tranquil film. None of that ADHD stuff you find in just about every animal-led US CG animation, but a slightly more subdued tale about a wild stallion and his encounters with humankind. Truth be told, the plot is rather bland, but at least the presentation is a lot more agreeable.
That soundtrack though. No clue who thought it was a good idea to get Bryan Adams and Hans Zimmer on board, but the songs and music are so bad that it's simply ridiculous. It's a shame because a more stylish soundtrack definitely would've made this a better film, now it's just some decent animation and a calm atmosphere with a bunch of inappropriate cheesiness underneath.
A film that begins like a regular "island" drama, but turns into a murder mystery later on. While that came as somewhat of a surprise to me, by the time the film ended I suspected Midsummer's Equation was part of a larger franchise. I wasn't surprised to find out then that this is a book adaptation (from the Keigo's Galileo series).
The main character is the biggest giveaway. Manabu is a very methodical man, a scientist who believes in truth and facts as the ideal guidance for human choice. He's really the perfect lead for a murder mystery, though that also makes things pretty predictable. With a man like that on the case, you know everything will be neatly wrapped up by the time the film's finished.
The setting's a big plus, performances are on point and the cinematography is well above average, especially for a franchise film like this. The mystery takes up a little too much time though and I would've preferred a bit more island drama (like the water rocket scene), but all in all this was a pretty pleasant watch.
Baba Yaga: Terror of the Dark Forest
Podgaevskiy seems to be having a lot of fun turning Russian legends and folklore into horror films. I've been trying to keep up with his work and while his films are never truly exceptional, Podgaevskiy has a knack for entertaining, well-made horror cinema. Baba Yaga fits that description to a t.
The Baba Yaga is a pretty basic witch. She lives in the forest and steals children away from their parents. Once in her power, the children are forgotten by their families. When Egor's little sister has vanished though, he feels something isn't right and because his parents aren't willing to listen to him, he gathers a few of his friends to find out what happened.
Podgaevskiy's films aren't gory, nor are they very scary. Instead, he aims for mood and atmosphere, adding minor fantasy elements and putting a strong focus on lighting and cinematography. Performances are solid too and the score is also pretty decent. All in all a fun, stylish and entertaining horror film.
The New Mutants
Pretty decent, all things considering. For one, it's not tied in to any other Marvel (sub-)franchises (yet), which is an incredible relief. No doubt this is meant to be the start of something new, but for now, it can be seen as a stand-alone film. After almost 20 years of MCU, it's a blessing.
It's also just over 90 minutes long, which is more than enough to tell the rather basic story. No comic interludes, no random drama, no action filler, just a slick and stripped down plot that offers more than enough juicy bits. Again, after seeing so many Marvel film needlessly breaking through the 120-minute barrier, this feel truly refreshing.
The attempts at making this a bit darker are a little half-arsed though and the characters are a bit bland, still it's all pretty entertaining. Performances are decent, the mystery is sufficient and the finale is quite spectacular. One of the better Marvel films I've seen, that's not saying a lot, but at least it's something.