A fantasy film for younger audiences, not too surprising when it's Kenny Ortega directing the film. Hocus Pocus is one of those classics from my own childhood that I never saw. Probably because I was getting into more "serious" horror around that time, so some kiddy witch flick wasn't really on my radar.
Hocus Pocus has retained some of its original charm, but it's clearly aimed at younger audiences. The acting is incredibly over the top, the "horror" elements are very light and comical and the musical elements make it a typical Disney/Ortega film. Skipping it was probably the best choice back then.
While I look at these films in a slightly different light now, I'm still not a fan. The film looks a bit too cheap, the kids are insufferable and the plot is way too predictable. It's clear I wasn't ever part of the target audience of this film, but they didn't put in much effort to appeal to people beyond that.
7 Plus Seven
The second entry in the 7 Up series. The kids are now 14 years old, which means they're at a more interesting age already. While the concept of the docs is very intriguing, the first part was held back by somewhat boring subjects who didn't have much to say beyond the typical childish babble. Normal when you're dealing with regular kids, but that doesn't make it fun to watch.
Now that they're a bit older and a bit wiser to the world, most of the kids have more interesting things to say. Their opinions are still quite crass and unrefined, but that's what you can expect from kids their age. It was a pretty good choice to keep this entry quite short too, though it's already a good 10 minutes longer than the first one.
The documentary is at its best when it confronts the kids with earlier answers, especially when they've made serious U-turns, or when they've simply grown up and show a better understand of the world they live in. It's all a bit expected, also not that insightful, but still quite fun to watch.
A film that aimed to kick-start the next Indiana Jones franchise. Nicolas Cage is a skilled treasure hunter on a quest for a fortune his forefathers have been eyeing for generations. When he's finally making some headway, two of his best friends betray him, leaving him behind empty-handed.
This could've been fun enough. While it rarely leads to amazing cinema, films like these tend to be pretty entertaining. Some crypts, pitfalls, crazy hints and mysterious locations. And this one has the benefit of Cage in the lead. Sadly the film turned out to be extremely PG, which clearly limited its potential.
Apart from Cage, the performances are rather bland. The action isn't too exciting either and the mystery isn't all that gripping. At least the pacing is decent, but a shorter runtime would've been appreciated, especially since it's been done so many times before. I'm surprised they made a sequel to this one.
City of Life and Death
A Chinese war film about the Nanjing bloodbath. Not the first film that was made about this dire event, but by far one of the least pompous ones. While there is a small layer of patriotism present, director Chuan Lu goes for a more realistic approach and places the audience right inside the action.
Don't expect a very pleasant or entertaining film though, City of Life and Death puts its focus squarely on the war atrocities that happened back then. It's a film without a real lead, without too much narrative, but with lots of on-screen massacres that don't leave much to the imagination.
Still, the emotional impact of the film is rather limited. The black and white cinematography comes off a little forced, the repetition of the killings has an almost dulling effect and while the performances are pretty decent, the lack of a lead ultimately hurts the film. It's not a bad film, it just didn't succeed at what it set out to do.
A pretty charming live action adaptation of Disney's own animation. I'm not a huge fan of the original, but it's still one of the better Disney animations I've come across. I'd actually seen the live action version before, but that was way back, at a time when I disliked whatever carried the Disney mark.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered a rather charming film. The London setting certainly helps, not in the least because it allowed Mark Williams to join the cast, but it's more than just that. The elaborate designs, the cozy decors and the overall chirpiness work well together and create a very agreeable film.
Performances are decent (including the animals), the comedy is light but effective and the film doesn't overstay its welcome. I wouldn't call it a masterpiece and its overly schmaltzy disposition can be a bit much, but overall I had a pretty decent time with this one. A lot better than I expected.
The concept of this documentary series has always fascinated me. Every 7 years they released a new entry in the Up series, detailing the lives of a fixed cast of characters. In other words, you'll be following these people their entire lives, in sprints of 7 years. It's quite genius really.
The first entry is somewhat of an introduction. It follows a bunch of kids from different walks of life and asks them what they think their future will look like and how they look at select adult issues. It's the shortest entry in the series, which was probably a smart choice as the potential for greatness here was pretty limited.
You're mostly just getting to know the characters, but because they're still so young their answers aren't that interesting. There were even moments where it reminded me more of some crappy TV show, but I'm quite hopeful it will pick up in later episodes. A pretty poor start, but that was only to be expected.
A simple, light and ultimately harmless comedy. I'd seen this one before a long time ago, in what almost feels like a previous life. I couldn't remember much of it besides Whoopi Goldberg being a nun, turns out that's exactly what you'll be getting from this film. Whether that's enough to call this a great film? Doubtful.
Goldberg plays a saucy nightclub singer who is the (unbeknownst) mistress of a crime lord. When she walks in on him killing a man, she runs to the police and confesses everything. In order to protect her until the trial, she is stashed away in a convent, the last place they'll come looking for her.
The formula for this film is tried and tested. I can't say it did much for me, luckily Goldberg is really in her element here and be herself she makes this a pretty easy watch. The film isn't overtly funny, but I've smiled more than once and that's more than I expected when I started this film. Not great, but watchable.
Halfway through the film, a character utters "if this is (what emotions are about), I'd rather feel nothing". Doremus' sci-fi romance explores humanity's fear to break loose of the status qua through a lovingly shot, perfectly scored and strongly acted parable. Easily the best film he's directed so far.
The Secret of NIMH
A slightly darker version of Disney's The Rescuers. Not sure if there was a pressing need to have a more serious film about a mommy mouse trying to save her child, but apparently Don Bluth thought it would be a good idea to go for it anyway. The result is a bit lackluster though.
The film follows Mrs. Brisby, a timid mouse who lives in a farm field. The farmer is about to start plowing his field, so Mrs. Brisby has to find their family a new home. The problem is that her little boy is sick and can't be moved for the next three weeks. Desperate, Mrs. Brisby sets out to find Nicodemus, the mysterious but all-knowing leader of the rats.
The animation is decent, the art style a bit bland, the soundtrack and dub pretty poor. It's a decent film for young kids who are ready for a slighter darker tale, apart from that the appeal is very small. Not the worst US animation I've seen, but I can't say it did too much for me.
A pretty solid action film enhanced with some fantasy/sci-fi elements. A new pill is giving people superhuman (or, according to the plot, animal) powers. The problem is that some users are literally exploding after taking the pill, so in order to do some extra tests they bring it onto the market as a new drug.
While not really the film's fault, it's not easy watching it without thinking of possible franchise implications. I sincerely hope they're not thinking of producing sequels, spin-offs and whatnot, Project Power isn't specifically set up for that either, but it's always a possibility with this type of material. And even though I did like the film, I simply don't feel the need to revisit its universe any time soon.
The camera work is pretty decent, the effects look nice enough, the soundtrack works (for the most part) and performances are good. The teen character is a bit annoying and the film never gives the impression of wanting to be anything more than a fun diversion, but sometimes that's enough. Pretty good.
Another found footage film that goes on a search for Bigfoot. The found footage hype has ebbed away in recent years, but apparently I've still missed a couple of them along the way. Now that very few are being released, it's nice to backtrack a bit and pick up the remaining ones, as I do like the style.
The centerpiece of the film is a 20-minute-long static shot inside a tent, where you need to listen intently to the noises that are popping up outside. It's probably one of the cheapest horror scenes I've ever seen, even so it's pretty effective. Not the most original setup (copied almost entirely from The Blair Witch), but a lot of fun nonetheless.
The two leads are pretty decent. The build-up is a tad long maybe, but it's fun, light and not too long. It's a good thing though Willow Creek has a pretty tense second half, so it still delivers as a horror flick. Goldthwait clearly knew what he was doing and while it doesn't really distinguish itself from its many peers, it's a decent enough watch.
Asterix and Cleopatra
I've seen my fair share of Asterix animations when I was younger, but I don't remember many specifics. It could very well be that I saw this film before, but it's a bit too generic to tell. If you need an introduction into the world of Asterix it's probably a decent starting point, but as a film it's just poor.
The story is extremely basic and taken directly from one of the comics. Asterix and Obelix get mixed up in an argument between Caesar and Cleopatra. They end up helping one of Cleopatra's architects to build her newest palace in record time. There's even some time for a couple of random musical bits in between, just to get to an acceptable runtime.
The animation is very limited (the camera for example is either complete static, panning or zooming, that is it), the character designs are typical but lack detail. It all comes off rather lazy and cheap, like a quick cash-in built on top of the success of the comics. It worked of course, but I felt this film wasn't worth revisiting.
A sweet but rather familiar romance by Yukisada. In recent years Yukisada's been exploring some different genre niches, with Theater: A Love Story he seems to return to what he knows best: a solid combination of romance and drama. It works well enough, but at this point I expect more (or something different).
Nagata is a play writer for an underground theater group. He's somewhat of a recluse, but when he meets Saki he has finally found someone he can open up to. He's finally able to write a popular play and the relationship between the two seems to be going into the right direction, until Nagata starts sabotaging himself.
Performances are great, the film looks nice and the score is very pleasant. There's really nothing wrong with this film, except that I've seen Yukisada do the exact same thing better in the past. His latest is just very safe and by the numbers. It's perfect filler when you're looking for quality drama, but it didn't get to me the way his best work can.
Not quite as out there as Visitor Q, but Crazy Lips offers some hardcore Japanese weirdness that is sure to appeal to the same group of fans. A messed up mix of comedy, action, pinku and horror, there's even a musical number to make the madness complete. Don't expect this film to make any sense, Sasaki aims for full-on crazy and perverted entertainment.
A sister tries to protect her brother, who is a suspect in a murder case. She hires a couple of clairvoyants to help solve the case, but when they arrive on the scene things start to spin out of control. What follows is a accumulation of depraved hilarity that gets weirder (and better) by the minute.
Even though Crazy Lips is extreme niche material, it's nice to see actors like Hiroshi Abe and Ren Osugi make notable appearances (not to mention, make a complete fool of themselves). The presentation is quite cheap and it's a bit too random to make a big impression, but if you're looking for something utterly insane, you won't be disappointed.
Freaks: You're One of Us
A low-key, German variation on The X-Men. It's a pretty simple selling point and maybe the film doesn't do quite enough to offer anything beyond that, but the premise works wonders and it makes for a welcome alternative to all the big budget Marvel and DC franchise films.
Wendy's family is struggling to make ends meet. They're about to lose their house, Wendy's job gives her no hope of promotion and her husband isn't really going to extra mile to save their family either. Things are looking dire, until she meets a strange homeless guy who tells her to stop taking her pills.
From there on out the film follows a pretty straight-forward superhero origin story setup. It's pretty nice to see the film lacks the annoying bombast of most modern superhero films, but the presentation could've been slicker and the story is a bit too safe. The potential is there, it's a shame Blinder couldn't work around the usual pitfalls of the genre.
A very sweet and agreeable film. It's a modern type of coming-of-age drama. Not with teens becoming adults, but with adults trying to find their way in life. After some initial experimenting (and - usually - failing at life), a big event will put them on the right track. Cue Eriko, Pretended, a very archetypical example.
Eriko is a country girl who moved to Tokyo to make it as an actress. Apart from appearing in one beer commercial, her career isn't really taking off. She's a fake it until you make it kinda girl though, so she powers through in the hope of landing that one role that will make her famous. But when her sister suddenly dies, she puts her career on hold and returns to her hometown.
Performances are very solid, the drama is light with some room for dry comedy and the setting is quiet and peaceful. It's a rather simple film, but Eriko's path to self-discovery is rather subtle and the character really grew on me. Well recommended for fans of Japanese dramas.
City Hunter: Death of the Vicious Criminal Ryo Saeba
On the same level as most other feature-length City Hunter films. My main critique is also exactly the same: 90 minutes is too long for this type of material. The mix of comedy and action is pretty effective, but it's too repetitive to entertain from start to finish and the film inevitably starts to drag during the second half.
The premise is a carbon copy of earlier films. Some woman seeks out Ryo with a special mission, Ryo accepts but is seemingly more interested in the girl. Cue some ecchi comedy and an arsenal of hammers to keep Ryo focused on the case. In the second half, things get a bit more serious. If you're familiar with the City Hunter franchise, you've seen it all before.
The animation is too static, character designs are a little bland and the soundtrack isn't exactly inspired either. Compare it to the Lupin III series and City Hunter is worse on just about every level. It's still quite light and entertaining, it's just not consistent enough to keep it up for 90 minutes straight.
Devil's Road: The True Story of Ed and Lorraine Warren
Cheap and shlocky documentary on the lives of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The infamous duo got back into the spotlight when James Wan rediscovered them and built a veritable horror franchise around their work. This documentary makes good use of that renewed popularity and sets up a simple TV doc around these two ghost hunters.
There is no room for critical thought here, which makes it a tough watch if you don't believe in ghosts. Everything is taken at face value and the Warren's are presented as pioneers. That's what you get when you only interview family and some of their students I guess, but it doesn't make for an interesting doc.
The presentation is also incredibly cheesy, with near-constant loud music and flashy cuts trying to reveal badly edited photos and lame ghost animations. This film was released under the "shock doc" label, which is exactly what you're getting here. A high willingness to shock, with little attention to facts and objectivity.
The Social Dilemma
Social media is invading our lives and the companies that are behind these platforms are increasingly looking at their users as revenue generators/milk cows, showing absolutely no respect for our well-being. This message is nothing new, but this documentary seems hellbent on repeating it one more time.
It's interesting to get some people who actually worked on these platforms in front of the camera, at the same time it makes for a somewhat biased documentary. There's a bit too much tech doom here, especially with the hilariously fake family reenactments in between. These scenes aren't just poorly made, they are in part responsible for undermining the message of The Social Dilemma.
The focus on tech/social media as the sole culprit is a bit simplistic and the idea that society will (over time) adapt to this evolution is too easily dismissed. It would've been nicer if this doc had spent a bit more time on building its actual case, rather than falling for its own propaganda warnings. You've got to love the irony that this was made for Netflix though, one of the unnamed culprits.
Fun and dynamic gangster comedy. It's a bit of a departure from El Arbi and Fallah's earlier films, which took a more serious approach to the crime/gangster genre. For Gangsta, they threw out the grit and drama and replaced it with goofy characters, funny dialogues and some over-the-top action.
In that sense Gangsta would prove to be a perfect stepping stone for Bad Boys 3. It's one of those films that is slick and accessible enough to have plenty of international appeal, but is also still distinctive and different enough to highlight the skills of its directors. And this duo really went for it.
While the film is very eager to reference American influences, it reminded me more of the British gangster cinema of Ritchie. Gangsta is a film with lots of visual flair, characters that try their hardest to be as cool as possible but don't quite get there and a banging, well integrated soundtrack. Just a tad too long maybe, but otherwise a very slick and entertaining film.
An odd little film that fully deserves its cult status. I went in blind, so I had absolutely no clue what to expect, though I'm quite certain that is the best way to approach this film. The first half is rather tame, but power through and you'll find it's merely a setup for a very strange and surprising second half.
The film follows Otto, a young punk who gets fired from his day job and ends up working as a repo man. The world of repo men turns out to be quite peculiar and it takes Otto some time to get adjusted to his new colleagues. The draw of a strange, 20.000 dollar car with a lethal package in its trunk proves to be more than enough motivation to keep at it.
Even though Repo Man is somehow grounded in a gritty realism, there's an uncomfortable and creepy atmosphere that runs underneath. There are some supernatural elements, but they are few and far between. Between that and the weird characters tough, there's plenty of weirdness to go around.
Bhavesh Joshi Superhero
India's attempt to launch its own superhero. Bhavesh Joshi was meant to be the origin story or our savior, but because the film was a financial flop I don't think we can expect any sequels in the near future. Not that I mind, even though this was slightly better than the usual Marvel nonsense, it's not a world worth revisiting.
Most notable difference is that it's quite a bit more serious that its American counterparts. No big alien threats or mad scientists, but corrupt cops and politicians who feature as the prime villains here. The hero rises from a group of vigilantes in order to stop them and save the Indian people.
The action is a little bland though and the hero isn't all that impressive either. Though not hardcore Bollywood, the film does have a couple of musical numbers and easily brushes past 120 minutes for no good reason at all. It's just a bit too drab, political and serious for a good superhero flick, but way too nonsensical to be a solid, meaningful drama.
Cannot Live Without You
A pretty disappointing film. I appreciate Taiwanese cinema for its attention to style and presentation. Most Taiwanese film look slick and polished, Cannot Live Without You on the other hand feels more like a documentary-style film that went black and white just to give it some extra cachet.
Seems it worked too, because the film was voted as one of the best Chinese-Language films by the Golden Horse festival. I wasn't really impressed myself. It reminded me of the early Ann Hui films, heavy on social drama and reveling in the inescapable injustices its main characters have to undergo.
The film looks quite cheap, performances are poor and the drama is slow and predictable. It does get a little better during the second half, especially when the story takes a jump forward in time, but by then I'd already given up on the film. The decent ending saves it from worse, but I expected a lot more.
Lupin III: The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure
A Lupin III film by Osamu Dezaki, not a director I'd immediately consider for the Lupin franchise. Then again, this series has always attracted odd and atypical directors (remember Miyazaki, Suzuki, Koike), so it's not that big of a surprise. Don't expect a typical Dezaki film though, this is just another Lupin episode.
The Lupin films all follow a very similar setup. Lupin is chasing yet another high-profile treasure, working with and against the usual crew of familiars, plus a couple of random bad guys. It's a weird and animated bunch who all get entangled in a complicated quest to find the treasure.
The film holds a perfect balance between adventure, action and oddball comedy. It's a shame that once again the animation is quite poor. Monkey Punch's style doesn't really demand complex detail, but it would benefit from more intricate animation (as Miyazaki and Koike proved). Still, good fun, much like most other films in the series.
From Russia with Love
The second Bond film seems more in line with what the series represents nowadays, which is a shame. The first film was cheesy and goofy fun, this second one is a bit more serious. It's not without a wink and there's still some fun to be had, but no silly underground lairs in From Russia with Love.
Sean Connery is a decent James Bond, though it does look like he's one of those actors whose best work came at a later age. He's suave enough for the part, but he's not a very convincing master spy. His adversaries aren't the most impressive either and the Bond girl lacks charisma.
The plot is simple, but amusing. The pacing is solid, there's enough action and the classy setting works in the film's favor. It's not bad, quite watchable even, at the same time it's also been superseded by hundreds of similar films. Based on the first two Bond films, it's obvious why this franchise became such a big success, but the films themselves feel a bit outdated.
The Lady Without Camelias
An early Antonioni. I was glad to see his work is a bit different from the typical neo-realist films that were all the rage in Italy at the time, on the other hand I'm not really a big fan of films about the film business either, as they tend to get a little too self-indulgent (and whiny). For the most part, Antonioni seems to avoid that pitfall.
The cinematography is stark and clean, but a little uneventful. The same can be said about the soundtrack. For someone who's described by many as a "mood director", I'm not quite convinced of Antonioni's skills yet and The Lady Without Camelias didn't do much to change that feeling.
Performances are decent (and surprisingly subdued) though and the plot was interesting enough to keep my attention. I can't say I was completely intrigued, but it never started to drag and it even managed to get a little better near the end. It makes for a solid, though rather basic drama. If I'm honest though, I expected worse.
Albert Hughes' return to the big screen. Alpha is one of those primeval times films that seem to pop up from time to time. Oldskool adventure films that love to exploit the hardships and barren conditions people had to face back then. Hughes' attempt isn't half bad, but it's not quite perfect either.
The plot is simple, though that's perfectly fine for a film like this. A group of hunters leave their village to find meat before winter sets in. It's the first time the son of the leader joins in, but during a fateful buffalo hunt he falls off a cliff and is left for dead. The boy befriends a wolf and both try to find their way back to camp.
The film is incredibly post-production heavy, not too surprising when you've seen Hughes' Book of Eli. It makes for some beautiful shots, but just as often it looks rather fake and kitsch. It's a shame as it pulled me into the film just as much as it drove me out again. If you're looking for some fun and short adventure filler though, this is not a bad option.
Spider-Man: Far from Home
I usually berate superhero film for being too serious, that doesn't mean I want them to appeal more to tweens. That's exactly what the new Spider-Man films seem to be doing though. Some terrible high school nonsense with a bit of Marvel superhero stuff thrown in for good measure.
At least Far from Home makes the most of its "trip to Europe" plot, even when the depiction of the European setting is full of horrible clichés. The different cities make for a nice change of pace, even when the all the rest remains pretty much the same, bland romance included.
Far from Home's biggest problem is that its villain is quite feeble and childish and never poses a serious threat. The light tone, decent pacing and expensive effect keep it watchable, but it's really not a good film and the high school antics give it an almost sitcom-like vibe. That's not a desired result when you spend so much money on a single film.