Big

by Penny Marshall
Specifics
USA [1988] - 104m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Big poster

Schmaltzy fantasy/romance about a kid who wishes to be big (hence the title). His wish is granted, but his mom thinks he's a burglar and as a 13-year-old, he's not really equipped to deal with the adult world. At least, that's what he thinks, as this is the type of film that twists things around until they fit the moral of the story.

I've never liked Tom Hanks much, his role as an annoying manchild here won't do much to change that. The only good thing is that they didn't cast Robin Williams for the part. Hanks' romantic interest is pretty dull too, as is the rest of the cast to be honest. Then again, it wouldn't be fair to blame everything on them.

It's no surprise almost everyone in this "always keep your childlike wonder" tale falls for the charm of Hanks, I can't say I could really go along with that. Marshall's bland direction is definitely a reason, so is the languid plot, the poor casting and the drab styling. Hollywood cheese with few redeeming qualities.

In This World

by Michael Winterbottom
Specifics
UK [2002] - 88m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
In This World poster

A fine Winterbottom film. At first, I was a bit hesitant about the subject matter. Films like this have a tendency to be quite heavy-handed, the film's list of accolades didn't look too promising either (as film fests tend to be drawn to that same type of film), but it's nice to see Winterbottom managed to keep it genuine.

In This World follows two refugees on their trip from Pakistan to the UK. It's not a jolly journey and there's quite a bit of drama to wade though, some of is quite confrontational, but it never feels overly cinematic or dishonest. It's simply a trip many try to make in search of a better life.

The semi-documentary style really does wonders for this film. It gives it a more natural feel and puts you right into the action. The soundtrack is also an asset, making the experience that tiny bit more polished. The actors do a good job too and even though the film is somewhat repetitive, it never loses impact. Very good.

Her Name Is Cat

by Clarence Yiu-leung Fok
Also known as
Pau Mui
Specifics
Hong Kong [1998] - 86m
Genre
Romance, Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Her Name Is Cat poster

Clarence Fok doing what he always does. Her Name Is Cat is bog standard Hong Kong action work, with a few raunchier scenes that are tailored to stay right below the Cat III rating. That's when you know a film is made to please a specific audience rather than chase any artistic aspirations.

Don't expect anything great or remarkable, but within its shelf filler context the film isn't all that bad really. I'm not a big Michael Wong fan, but this is actually one of his more decent performances, the pacing is pretty solid and Fok's direction get points for trying. That's more than I'd expected.

The action scenes in particular stand out. Nicely edited, shot with the necessary flair and not lacking in numbers. In between the quality takes an expected nose dive, but it's never too cheap or cringeworthy. If you've seen all the notorious and stand out Hong Kong action flicks, this is decent filler when you need a fix.

Den of Thieves

by Christian Gudegast
Specifics
USA [2018] - 140m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Den of Thieves poster

A decent but standard heist flick. Two crews take each other on. One is a group of master thieves who are known for planning elaborate heists, the other a group of wayward cops known for playing light and loose with the rules. Caught in the middle sits a simple barman who acts as the driver.

Den of Thieves goes for the grittier action. Tough, pumped up men do a lot of grunting, posing and love acting rough with each other. And when the guns get out, it's the type of heavy machinery that can win wars. While director Gudegast clearly has the chops for this work, he fails to add something of his own.

140 minutes is too long for a film that brings nothing new to the table. Performances are solid, the action scenes are good and the heist is pretty fun, but some personal drama feels misplaced and some scenes are dragged out too long. If Gudegast had managed to cut 30 minutes or so, this would've been a lot better.

Thesis

by Alejandro Amenábar
Also known as
Tesis
Specifics
Spain [1996] - 125m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Thesis poster

I expected more of this film. Not that I'm a big Amenábar fan, but the premise sounded interesting enough and the film has often been praised as one of the highlights of Spanish cinema. It hasn't aged all that well though, what remains is a somewhat sluggish version of 8MM (with no Cage in sight).

The plot revolves around a student who is interested in onscreen violence and wants to write her thesis about the subject. Looking for gruesome and shocking films, she gets mixed up with some shady people and ends up caught in the middle of a snuff operation. Most of the film is spent on figuring out the culprits.

Though Thesis is often booked as a horror film, it's really just a thriller with a darker subject matter. Maybe this was tense or scary in '96, but nowadays it's pretty tame, not in the least because Amenábar makes sure not to show the most disturbing footage. Performances are mediocre, the direction is rather plain and the whodunit too basic. It's not terrible, just nothing special.

Console Wars

by Blake J. Harris, Jonah Tulis
Specifics
USA [2020] - 92m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Console Wars poster

A terrible documentary. I'm old enough to have lived through the old "console wars", so I know a thing or two about the subject. Just leave it up to the Americans to make a documentary on three Japanese companies with an almost exclusively US-centric point of view. This doc basically describes what happened between these companies on US soil, nothing more.

The interviewees are terrible people (every single one of them), the focus lies on marketing strategies and petty rivalries instead of actual competition and the documentary seems more interested in juicy narratives and bold claims rather than facts and reality. The result isn't pretty.

At least you get some fun footage of classic games, a couple of gaudy commercials and a few hilarious takes on "the gaming industry ruining our children". The problem is that all this footage has little to do with the subject of the documentary. Just skip this one, I'm sure there are better sources on this topic.

Mr. Coconut

by Clifton Ko
Also known as
Hap Ga Foon
Specifics
Hong Kong [1989] - 100m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Mr. Coconut poster

Clifton Ko is one of Hong Kong's comedy legends, but most of his films have little international appeal. Mr. Coconut is such a film. Though presented as a comedy, Michael Hui and Raymond Wong really aren't all that funny the without solid comedians doing the heavy lifting, Ko lacks the skills to make something of this film.

For a comedy, way too much attention goes to the plot, which isn't all that interesting to begin with. The story about a country bumpkin who ends up in the big city isn't exactly new, and Mr. Coconut fails to add anything substantial to the many films that came before.

There's a lot of nervous banter, characters being loud and actors overacting, but it never amounts to anything funny. I'm really not surprised these films never made it big outside of Hong Kong. Ko is very hit-and-miss, if you want to make an educated guess before picking one of his films, it's probably best to just check whether you can stand the cast.

A Night in Nude: Salvation

Also known as
Nûdo no Yoru: Ai wa Oshiminaku Ubau
Specifics
Japan [2010] - 127m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
A Night in Nude: Salvation poster

One of the few remaining Ishii films I'd yet to see. Salvation is a loose follow up to Ishii's own A Night in Nude, though it seems more of a conceptual series than a film set in the same universe as the first one. You can expect a very similar setup though, and Naoto Takenaka returns as the lead actor, which is always a plus.

Contrary to what the title suggests, there isn't that much nudity here. A Night in Nude seems more interested in crime and thriller elements, though the setting still allows for showing a little skin here and there. In that sense, it's closer to Gonin than it is to Flower and Snake.

Performances are pretty good, the film is very moody and the detective plot is intriguing enough. While the first part is pretty solid, Ishii goes into overdrive the final 30 minutes and delivers a gripping finale that is by far the best I've seen from him. It's a shame the rest wasn't on the same level, otherwise this could've been Ishii's definite masterpiece.

Thunderball

by Terence Young
Specifics
UK [1965] - 130m
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Thunderball poster

A decent entry in the 007 franchise. Not quite as crazy as Goldfinger, but still daft and silly enough to be enjoyable. The main problem with Thunderball is that it crosses the 120-minute barrier, which is a bit excessive for a simple film like this. Some tighter editing would've done this film a lot of good.

Connery is a decent Bond. Not too serious, but no goof either. The rest of the cast isn't quite up to par I'm afraid. The bad guy is pretty lame and the Bond girl clearly wasn't chosen for her acting skills. Add a low quality plot which is a little too prevalent and get you get a film that struggles where it shouldn't.

At least the action is fun and there's still plenty of silliness. The many scenes with the sharks stand out, but the finale is also pretty hilarious. It makes for decent entertainment, but it should've lost at least 30 minutes. Not good enough to be consistently fun, hopefully the next films manage to trim some of that excess fat.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

by Curt Geda
Specifics
USA [2000] - 76m
Genre
Action, Crime, Animation
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker poster

I've never seen the Batman Beyond series, but that's not really required to watch this film. You'll catch on quickly enough and when all is said and done, this is just another face-off between Batman and the Joker. It feels like the hundredth iteration of the same thing, then again I'm not a Batman fan to begin with.

The film's TV roots are painfully obvious. Character designs are very plain, the animation looks cheap and unappealing. It feels like two episodes stuck together, with little extra budget to make it into something more. All that's left then is the plot, but that's just the usual mishmash of cartoonish nonsense and dim drama.

You really have to be a big Batman fan to get anything out of this film. It's TV-level cheap, with atrocious dubbing, lame animation and uninspired direction. That seems to be a returning issue with many of the animated Batman films, then again they get pretty decent ratings so someone must like them.

The City of Betrayal

by Daisuke Miura
Also known as
Uragiri no Machi
Specifics
Japan [2016] - 132m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The City of Betrayal poster

A very decent drama from Miura. The City of Betrayal sounds like a great title for a crime thriller, but in fact Miura's talking about betrayal in the romantic sense. The film follows two couples (one younger, one middle-aged) where the younger man and the middle-aged woman start an affair together.

The film explores the three relationships up close, but doesn't seem very willing to give clear reasons for the adultery (which is a good thing). A certain restlessness and ennui seems to lie at the basis, but the individuality of the characters and the general complexity of human relations are never taken for granted.

Performances are great, with Terajima and Ikematsu doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Stylistically the film's a bit more basic, which kept me from giving it a higher rating. It's not bad, just very by the numbers. A more than solid drama though, that handles its subject with great care and respect.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

by Jon Turteltaub
Specifics
USA [2007] - 124m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
National Treasure: Book of Secrets poster

Very simple sequel that merely replicates the first film. I bet that's what makes these franchises so appealing to film studios, with a film like National Treasure there's always some new and bigger treasure to be found, so you don't have to work hard to come up with a sequel. Just reuse the same cast, throw a different treasure hunt at them and you're done.

I wasn't a big fan of the first film. It felt like an Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider knock-off wrapped in a Disney jacket, meaning it was too polished, too neat, too PG to be any fun. The sequel doesn't deviate from that at all, so once again it feels like the fun was sucked right out of the film.

Cage is way too restrained, the action scenes are dull, the mystery is somewhat childish and the effects are poor. No deaths, no real bad guys, not an ounce of grit of edginess. It's a good thing they stopped after this second film, but it's one of those franchises that could be revived with a single snap of a finger.

Code 46

by Michael Winterbottom
Specifics
UK [2003] - 93m
Genre
Sci-fi, Romance
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Code 46 poster

A lo-fi, but lively and strangely realistic sci-fi film from Winterbottom. It's a very willful mix of sci-fi, romance and drama where no single genre takes a strong lead. The cinematography is slick, the score is moody and performances are solid. An experience more so than a clear narrative, but that's what makes it so interesting.

G-Force

by Hoyt Yeatman
Specifics
USA [2009] - 88m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
G-Force poster

I guess there was a time when animated rodents mixed with live action was considered the next big thing. After a hefty dose of Alvin & the Chipmunk and Stuart Little, G-Force brings a team of spy-hungry guinea pigs to the table. I can't say I get the appeal, even less so after watching this one.

It's probably a combination of being easy enough to animate and cuddly enough to like, personally I'm not a big fan of animated rodents. Especially not when they're trying to act all cool, which just makes things worse. Add the atrocious dub work and you're got a certified recipe for disaster.

The plot is dumb, the music is of the shlocky pop kind and the comedy is certified unfunny. Probably fun for very young kids who want to see an age-appropriate Mission Impossible, I can't see this doing much for anyone else. At least it was short and decently paced, but that's not much of a comfort when the rest is terrible.

Gods of Egypt

by Alex Proyas
Specifics
Hong Kong, USA [2016] - 127m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Gods of Egypt poster

Beyond kitsch. The film's saving grace is that it doesn't take itself too serious. Gods of Egypt is an expensive Hollywood fantasy/adventure set in Ancient Egypt. The kind of film where every scene needs to be bigger and more explosive than the previous one and CG appears to be the answer to everything.

And truth be told, there are quite a few scenes where it works. The CG isn't flawless, but the monsters and sets are impressive enough and the strict pacing makes sure you rarely have enough time to get irritated by technical defects. The downside is that it gets a little too cheesy at times.

Designs are also a little uninspired. The actors try to make do, but it's clear they're struggling to keep up the illusion, dressed up in silly costumes and acting against green screens. Oh well, as long as you don't expect serious film making, it's a film that passes the time quite nicely. Far from great, but not as bad as I feared.

Unfriended: Dark Web

by Stephen Susco
Specifics
USA, Russia [2018] - 92m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Unfriended: Dark Web poster

Sequel time. They did well to wait a few years with this second film. There was a time when it looked like screen-only horror films would be the next big thing. Turns out the niche was too limited to sustain a sizeable amount of films, not to mention quite hard to pull off (lethal for a healthy genre niche).

It's been a while since I last saw one of these films, which is probably why I was a bit more lenient. I'm still a big fan of the setup and its potential for creepiness, but if Dark Web proves anything, it's that it's quite difficult to create and sustain tension this way. The film has its moments, but they're sparse.

Performances are decent, there are some mean kills and the pacing is excellent. I wouldn't expect too much realism and tech-doom levels are through the roof, but since we're talking straight-forward horror cinema it's not that irritating. A pretty solid horror film, though in the end it was unable to rise above its limitations.

The Temptation of Office Ladies

by Ricky Lau
Specifics
Hong Kong [2000] - 87m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Temptation of Office Ladies poster

A pretty awkward genre blender. Ricky Lau is famed for his vampire-themed martial arts comedies, so when he tried his hand at romance with some drama and thriller elements it was a bit of a gamble. Too much of a gamble I guess, as the result is a muddled mess that comes off rather tone-deaf.

Three 20-something women are sharing a flat, looking to get their lives on the rails. That translates to finding a good job and a (wealthy) husband. Easier said than done though, as the men they date invariably turn out to be lechers. Throw in some random drama (a child dies) and a surprisingly jolly rape scene and you'll begin to understand what we're dealing with here.

Lau seems to have no control whatsoever. The film is quite light, the first part is a basic romantic comedy even, but then he throws in some pretty heavy drama without even trying to change the tone. The drama has no impact, performances are mediocre and the atmosphere is terribly inconsistent. Not exactly Lau's best work.

Primal Rage

by Patrick Magee
Specifics
USA [2018] - 106m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Primal Rage poster

A peculiar creature flick. Generally speaking, these films tend to be quite predictable. Depending on the creature we're dealing with, we get a film with its own particular set of rules. Director Magee wanted to do something different with Primal Rage. The result may be a bit hit-and-miss, but the intention is definitely appreciated.

Primal Rage is a Bigfoot film, only our Bigfoot behaves like a veritable Predator and takes a few cues from King Kong. This means it's not a very elusive creature that only pops up at the very end, instead we're seeing a hunter that relentlessly kills people and doesn't mind showing his face early on.

Creature effects are decent and there's plenty of gore for the horror fans. Sadly performances are mediocre and the lore isn't all that convincing. The creature is supposed to be incredibly menacing, but in certain scenes it's borderline silly. Magee had some trouble finding the right tone for his film, it's still pretty decent filler though.

Breakup Buddies

by Hao Ning
Also known as
Xin Hua Lu Fang
Specifics
China [2014] - 116m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Breakup Buddies poster

A decent romantic road movie by Hao Ning, sporting a solid comedy foundation. That's not a big surprise knowing Bo Huang was cast for the lead role. Together with Zheng Xu he forms a nice duo, as they undertake a haphazard road trip to take Huang's mind off of his messy divorce.

It's not unlike Zhi's Love Speaks released just a year earlier, which also featured two people stuck in the Chinese countryside. Breakup Buddies focuses more on male bonding and trying to get over a busted relationship though, not so much on forming a new one, which makes for a slightly different dynamic (though less than you might expect).

The comedy is only so-so and the film's a bit long, especially since the material isn't all that special or deep. But the cinematography is very slick and Ning made excellent use of the setting. Performances are also pretty decent. This isn't one of Ning's best films, but it's solid filler that passes the time quite effortlessly.

102 Dalmatians

by Kevin Lima
Specifics
USA, UK [2000] - 100m
Genre
Adventure, Family
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
102 Dalmatians poster

The first live action adaptation was surprisingly solid. It was a polished and cute little film that charmed its way from start to finish. Kevin Lima tries to replicate that success in this sequel, but he's clearly a worse director than Herek. The result feels derivative and sloppy, which is a real shame.

For one, it feels a lot less British. The leads are less agreeable, Depardieu is somewhat of a miscast (one completely over the top villain was more than plenty) and the cozy, warm atmosphere seems to be replaced by a harsher American vibe. That's not really what I was hoping to see here.

At least the sets are still pretty nice looking, but that's about the only positive thing to say (well, apart from the decent pacing maybe). It's just not as fun and quirky the second time around. Worse cast, worse plot, worse comedy. It's worse in just about every way and I blame Lima's input.

Goldfinger

by Guy Hamilton
Specifics
UK [1964] - 110m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Goldfinger poster

After seeing From Russia with Love, a more serious Bond rendition, I was a bit afraid that the franchise wasn't going to revisit the goofier tone of its first part anymore. Luckily I was wrong. Goldfinger harks back to James Bond's silly roots and even adds some nonsense of its own.

Goldfinger brings back the underground bases, the lasers and the goofy gadgets. Then there's the larger than life characters like Goldfinger and Pussy Galore, who leave very little to the imagination. Sure enough this is a suave spy flick, but please don't take it too seriously.

The effects are pretty crud though and the action isn't very dynamic. In a way it adds to the charm, on the other hand it takes away some of the fun. Performances are decent though and the tone is pleasantly light. Goldfinger is decent and amusing enough to keep exploring the Bond franchise, but great cinema this is not.

Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Dragon King

by Shuchen Wang, Jingda Xu, Ding Xian Yan
Also known as
Nezha Nao Hai
Specifics
China [1979] - 65m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Prince Nezha's Triumph Against Dragon King poster

Animated film based on a famed Chinese folk hero. Just last year a new CG animation was made about the same mythological figure. Both films tell a different story, so there's very little overlap apart from the main character. Not that it matters much, 40 years is a lifetime, especially in the world of animation, so there's really no point in comparing these films.

In this version Nezha takes on the five Dragon Kings. There's a very short origin story, quickly followed by a pretty action-packed adventure. For a film that's only 65 minutes long, there's quite a bit of plot to go through, so expect a fast-paced (maybe even rushed) film.

The animation is pretty basic, luckily the art style is rather beautiful and kept my eyes glued to the screen. Very colorful, with typical Chinese designs, giving this film the necessary flair. The dub is decent, the soundtrack a bit loud and overbearing. Not a bad film, but a little too cheap/old to be truly impressive.

Mrs. Doubtfire

by Chris Columbus
Specifics
USA [1993] - 125m
Genre
Comedy, Family
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Mrs. Doubtfire poster

One of those films I never finished as a kid. I've never been a big fan of Robin Williams, neither of cross-dressing comedies. The combination of both was pretty excruciating, not in the least because the film lasts a whopping 120 minutes. But I was willing to give it one last shot.

It seems not much has changed over the years. I still dislike Williams in comedy roles, I simply don't think he's very funny. He does mediocre impressions and relies on his energy, that's about it. The cross-dressing element isn't very convincing either and the situational comedy is beyond irritating.

But it's not just Williams. The rest of the cast is poor too, the plot is lame and predictable and Columbus is virtually invisible as a director. It's just drab Hollywood comedy stretched out to match an excessive runtime. At least I watched it in full now, so I can safely never watch it again.

Iron Sky: The Coming Race

by Timo Vuorensola
Specifics
Belgium, Finland [2019] - 90m
Genre
Comedy, Sci-fi
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Iron Sky: The Coming Race poster

A bizarre, weird and occasionally hilarious comedy. The sequel is pretty much on the same level as the first film, though the long waiting time (it took 8 years to be released) might've inflated expectations just a little too much. The Coming Race was trashed by fans and critics alike, but it's really not that bad.

The plot is absolutely pointless though, it's just there to bring together everything from Nazis, dinosaurs, moon bases and an Apple/Steve Jobs cult. I'd forgotten already what the first film was about, but you could just as easily see this as a stand-alone film, the comedy is what matters here.

Effects aren't great, but still much better than I expected. The film doesn't look overly cheap and doesn't use its comedy hook as an excuse for poor execution. Performances on the other hand were pretty poor, some actual comedic talent would've done the film some good. Far from a masterpiece, but I still had quite a bit of fun with this one.