A modern day Falling Down. I expected very little from this film, yet it turned out to be pretty damn good. I didn't watch any trailers up front, nor did I read up on the plot, but based on the promo material it looked like a plain thriller. In this dire COVID-19 times, choice is limited, so we went for it anyway.
Russell Crowe plays a guy on the brink of insanity. After his wife left and divorced him, the only thing on his mind is revenge. When Rachel and her son Kyle tick him off while driving, he decides to teach the two of them a lesson. With nothing more to live for, his reaction gets pretty extreme.
I usually dislike Crowe, then again I don't think I've ever seen him play the bad guy. He's quite impressive here. The film is simple, but the build-up is solid, the violence is brutal and there were quite a few scenes that pushed me to the edge of my seat (the car chases mostly). Director Borte also seems very comfortable with this genre. This is pure blockbuster material, but perfectly executed.
May the Devil Take You Too
For the past 15 years, Timo Tjahjanto has worked pretty hard to become one of Indonesia's most revered genre directors. Shifting between action and horror, he built up an oeuvre of film that are characterized by a certain relentless darkness. Tjahjanto's sequel to May the Devil Take You fits right in.
Alfie is kidnapped by a group of orphans, who were once abused by their caretaker. They need Alfie's powers to keep him at bay, after they'd set him on fire several years ago. Alfie accepts the challenge, but soon finds there's a little more to the story than they are telling her. Of course, all will be revealed.
The setup is a bit long and some of the CG is a bit flaky, but once the film gets going it gets quite intense. There's nothing really original here in terms of horror, but the second half of the film features more than enough blood, kills and demons to make up for the slower first half. Had a lot of fun with this one.
Sandler and companion director Steven Brill cooked up a Halloween comedy together. Sandler is close to the only remaining comedy actor/producer in the US these days, so beggars can't be choosers. While I'm not the biggest fan of his work, it's nice to see some straight-up comedies once in a while.
Hubie is the town weirdo, the town being Salem. While Salem is getting ready to celebrate Halloween, an mean killer from a mental hospital nearby escapes and comes back to Salem to set things right. Meanwhile, Hubie is on patrol to keep everyone safe on his least favorite night of the year.
Sandler is being himself again, and he's brought a bucket load of regulars with him. The jokes range from cheap to quite funny, with a couple of well-meant smirks along the way. The pacing is nice, the film looks slick and it was over before I knew it. Not the greatest film in the world, but very easy and enjoyable entertainment.
The Asphalt Jungle
A film that is often regarded as one of the very first heist films, also the film that kick-started Marilyn Monroe's acting career. That's a lot of historic weight, no doubt part of the reason why it grew out to be one of the big classics. As someone not too big on noir films, I must say it wasn't the worst I've seen.
The premise is basic, with a big jewelry heist forming the main focus of the film. The heist itself is relatively short, with more time spent on introducing the characters and more room to cover the aftermath. It's both a curse and a blessing, but at least it sets the film apart from so many others.
The slightly slower pace takes some pressure away from the actors, who aren't forced to act all cool and mysterious all the time. On the other hand, it takes away from the tension, which dulls things down a bit. The cinematography is unremarkable, the story and characters rather plain, but at least the film felt a bit more natural than many of its peers. Still not a big fan though.
Quite a change of pace for Roystan Tan. I really liked his first two films, but he fell somewhat off the radar later on. After having seen 881, that's not really a big surprise. It's a film that is aimed squarely at a local market, which is pretty small considering Singapore is basically just a big city.
The film puts the spotlight on some local folklore, namely the Getai singers. The Papaya Sisters are a newly formed duo that wants to perform on stage. To realize their dream they seek help from their aunt, a former Getai singer. The Durians (another popular duo) isn't too happy with their quick rise to success, and they're doing everything to stop them in their path.
The Getai music is extremely kitsch, quite garish and unless you're into local pop music, a struggle for the ears. I'm sure every country has its pop scene that has no chance of crossing any borders, when you decide to make a musical out of it though, it's no surprise the rest of the world isn't very keen on picking it up. It's a colorful film, it's also pretty light and fun, but the musical bits make it hard to wholeheartedly enjoy.
Hello Mr. Billionaire
A full-blown Chinese comedy. It's nice to see the Chinese at least haven't forgotten about this genre, as pure comedies are pretty hard to come by nowadays. There's no drama, no tragedy, just a splash of romance on the side. The rest is just goofiness and setups for some silly laughs.
Wang Duo Yu is a third rate goalkeeper who dreams of making it big. One day his prayers are answered, when he's about to inherit 30 billion yuan. The only requirement is that he has to spend 1 billion yuan within a month (with some some additional dos and don'ts attached). It doesn't make a lot of sense, but that doesn't really matter as it's simply an excuse for some exuberant spending.
It's a typical Chinese blockbuster, meaning it looks pretty decent and no expenses were spared, but the music is pretty atrocious, the performances are well over-the-top and the film's a bit long. At long there are some decent gags and the atmosphere remains light and breeze in the second half. Not bad.
A film with some decent ideas, only the execution was incredibly flawed. It's a real skill to turn cheap into quality, but it's not a skill Brillante Mendoza possesses. The thoughts and intentions behind many of the choices here were obvious enough, but for the most part the effect simply wasn't there.
Peping is a young student who wants to earn an extra buck and signs up for a "special project". He gets more than what he's bargained for when he finds out they're kidnapping a prostitute with the intent of killing her. Peping tries to get out of his assignment, but when that seems impossible he has to make a tough choice between his conscience and the money.
The cinematography is terribly amateurish. The dark scenes in the middle somewhat hide that fact, but even then the camera work is simply atrocious. No doubt Mendoza hoped it would create some kind of voyeur effect, but that was a complete bust. The soundtrack comes off a bit overdone in combination with the images. It's not bad, but you can't make atmosphere with just the music alone. Performances are mediocre too and the pacing is sluggish. The potential was there, but the result isn't much to look at.
Dabbe 5: Zehr-i Cin
I'm familiar with the Dabbe series, but never watched an entry before. I wasn't sure whether it was a smart idea to start with the fifth film (ideally it's something I prefer not to do), but I'd read the individual entries aren't all that connected and availability was also an issue, so I just went for it.
This film feels like the Turkish equivalent of the past 15-20 years or Western horror. There's a bit of everything here, but it's mostly just another possession movie. The fact that we're talking Djinns here doesn't add a lot, but at least the setting and the religious angle give it a slightly fresher edge.
There are some decent and effective scenes, but overall the film's at least 45 minutes too long. The story isn't that interesting and the films keeps on going. The scares are also quite cheap, mostly relying on loud noises and flashy editing. It becomes too repetitive and after a while you feel the tension dropping. It's a shame, I think it would've been quite a bit better as a 90-minute film.
One of the pivotal films that moved Chinese cinema away from the countryside and into the cities. Suzhou River has aged quite a bit, which is normal for any film standing at the roots of a big revolution, but the core appeal is still there. Fine cinematography, strong performances and a mysterious romance. A must see.
The House I Live In
The House I Live In takes a peek at America's war on drugs, its political drive, the racism involved and the industries sustaining this war. And of course the personal tragedies it has caused. It's a subject that has been receiving growing attention, with several other documentaries in its wake detailing the same issues.
That was my main issue with the documentary. It's not Jarecki's fault I watched those other docs first, but The House I Live In didn't tell me anything new. The stories all sounded familiar, the critique is more commonly understood nowadays and I'd seen all the different angles covered elsewhere already.
Still, Jarecki's doc is worth seeing for its pointed direction. A nice mix of interviews, historical footage and critique that is aptly paced, presents its points with great clarity and doesn't feel overly pushy. For people still unaware of how the system works, this is the doc I'd recommend.
Dwayne Johnson and the skyscraper. Some films offer exactly what you expect from them, Skyscraper is such a film. That's not too surprising for a Johsnon-led blockbuster, but this modern Die Hard clone makes very little effort to add anything unique, except maybe its Hong Kong setting.
Johnson plays a security guy who gets to oversee one of the most hi-tech buildings in the world. Of course, it's a setup and terrorists have to get involved. They take over the tower, use all the fancy tech stuff to their advantage and force Johnson to be the action hero he's supposed to be.
The film is quite spectacular, Johnson is a decent lead and some of the hi-tech stuff helps to spruce up familiar action scenes. It's also extremely cheesy though and if you expect anything remotely serious, you're definitely picking the wrong film. It's solid blockbuster entertainment, but nothing more. They do deserve props for keeping it short.
A very strange Polanski. I still can't quite grasp what he was trying to accomplish with this film. In a way Bitter Moon tries very hard to be sensual and dark, at the same time it's so incredibly cheesy and daft that it was hard to take serious. That may be by design, somehow I don't really buy that though.
An uptight Hugh Grant meets a rather unique couple on a cruise. A slightly older man in a wheelchair is very keen on informing him on how he met his younger, quite dashing wife. So keen in fact that he keeps tricking Grant in listening to his story, where he spares no details, not even when it comes to his sexual affairs.
The film is relatively explicit, but Polanski fails terribly at the sensual scenes. It's almost a mockery, I just couldn't discover any explicit winks or nods, so I assume it was meant to be truly steamy. That kills the film, which is a shame as there was quite a lot of positive energy there to make something out of it.
Classic 80s anime. I knew of this franchise, but never really got around to watching it. I didn't really know what I was getting myself into either, except that it looked like a typical 80s sci-fi. And I have to say, I wasn't disappointed. Not quite my favorite kind of anime, but it turned out to be pretty enjoyable.
I never really got the appeal of sci-fi mixed with pop band drama in 80s anime, a combination that was popularized by Macross. It doesn't do much for me and it's easily the weakest element of Megazone 23, luckily it's only a small part of the film and the sci-fi/action dominates the narrative.
The plot is pretty decent, but it's the rather detailed art style and solid animation that gives this one an edge over the competition. It's still within the typical OAV range, but the action looks pretty sweet nonetheless. The pacing is good too and the short runtime makes sure the film doesn't overstay its welcome. Nothing too spectacular, but fun. Looking forward to the sequels already.
Lupin III: Voyage to Danger
I've watched quite a few of these 90s Lupin III films now, and they're all quite alike. The animation quality differs a bit, some stories are more outrageous than others and the genre balance shifts ever so slightly between the films, but in the end it always feels like a typical Lupin III film.
That in itself is quite an accomplishment, as the series went through a bunch of different directors. Voyage to Danger was lad by Ôsumi, not one of the most notable anime figures, but someone who had a hand in some of the older iterations of Lupin. It's no surprise then that he did a pretty decent job.
The cold war-like plot may not be the most exciting setup, but the animation is a step up from the other 90s Lupin III films I've seen. The rest is just vintage Lupin, with the entire crew present, some crazy action sequences in between and Lupin going about his goofy business. Not a very remarkable film, but good fun.
Teens. It's not often you see a film about flashy/cool teens. Usually it's about old souls who have trouble fitting in, Assassination Nation on the other hand takes four social media adepts who participate freely in the popularity contest that is high school. It's a bit like Coppola's The Bling Ring, but with slightly less bling and lots more attitude.
The town of Salem is a pretty basic suburban community, until a hacker starts leaking people's personal messages and photographs. Everyone's dirty secrets are getting out on the street and the community reacts like every self-respecting community would: with dishonest disgust and fake, aggressive outrage.
Assassination is quite in-your-face. Characters are slightly larger than life, the cinematography is all but subtle, the score is loud and bold. It's a film that feels young and contemporary, which is always a blessing. Things get a bit crazier in the second half, though I don't think Levinson went far enough to call this a true masterpiece, but it was a real blast alright.
El Romance del Aniceto y la Francisca
I'm not too familiar with Argentinian cinema, especially not their classic films. I happened upon this one by accident and decided to give it a go, mostly because it was rather short. Sometimes these wild guesses turn out great, this time it turned out to be one big disappointment.
Even though it's a film from the late 60s, it looked like some badly preserved film from the 40s. It's not just the image quality that made it hard to look at though, the cinematography is terrible, with horrible editing and poor framing. Add a lifeless soundtrack and middling performances and you're off to a pretty bad start.
The plot isn't very interesting either. Though the title references romance, director Favio is more interested in some poorly construed drama and the usual marital problems. There are also a few badly realized crime elements, which fail to make things better. A very disappointing effort across the board.
Quite a bit better than I expected up front. I'm not a big fan of zombie films, which may have been #Alive's saving grace. It's been a while since I last saw a real zombie flick, with Halloween closing in and this film appearing on Netflix, there was no reason not to give it a shot. I'm glad I did.
It's not even a very original film, though the first half hour offers a nice variation on the familiar formula. A guy wakes up to a city-wide pandemic, with the world outside being overrun by zombies. He lives alone in a flat and manages to survive by shutting himself off from the world. With nothing to do and food running out, he needs to plan his next move.
There's enough variation, the zombies look decent and the pacing is alright. Performances are good too and even though the film offers nothing new, director Cho manages to build up the necessary tension. Maybe not the most memorable horror film ever made, but pretty solid filler.
Dying to Survive
A somewhat messy film that jumps between different genres throughout the course of its runtime. Dying to Survive starts as a lighthearted crime flick, but turns into a "hero of the people" drama halfway through. The biggest problem is that both parts aren't equal in quality.
Cheng Yong needs money to keep custody over his kid, so he becomes a medicine smuggler. He travels to India and makes a deal with a local supplier. What he didn't anticipate was the need for this particular medicine. His business is a goldmine, but the government is onto him and wants to put a stop to the smuggling.
The first half of the film is pretty amusing. While the relevance of its themes is clear enough, the film isn't too pushy about it. That flips around during the second part, where the drama begins to feel a bit overdone and the heroism becomes slightly annoying. Not bad, but it would've been a lot better if the film had been a bit more consistent.
I've never been a big fan of Robin Williams, so it should come as no surprise that I skipped a lot of his films when I was younger. Still, it seems Williams was quite respected, and he made quite a few films with famous directors. Jack is one of those films, though you have wonder what Coppola was thinking when he made this one.
The film puts a fantasy spin on progeria, the disease where your body ages quicker than it is supposed to. Jack is a boy that suffers from such an affliction, by the time he is 10 years old he looks like a regular 40-year-old man. This makes him an outcast in school, until one of his classmates discovers Jack's mature appearance can come in handy.
The part is a perfect match for Williams, still I can't stand the way he acts. There are some notable cameos (Drescher, Cosby and Lopez), but none of them left a big impression. The film is terribly cheesy, the drama is unbearable, the ending simply stupefying. Poor Coppola, I hope he at least made a buck or two from this film.
Chizuko's Younger Sister
Another fine fantasy/drama from Nobuhiko Ôbayashi. It seems that during the late 80s/early 90s Ôbayashi made a couple of films geared at a younger audience. Luckily he never seemed to have lost his unique touch. Though Chizuko's Younger Sister feels like a kid's film, there's still plenty of trademark Ôbayashi here.
The story revolves around Mika, the younger sister of the deceased Chizuko. Mika has always lived in the shadow of her older sis and had a hard time growing up. Until one day, when her sister comes back from the dead to rescue her from a perv. From then on she keeps seeing Chizuko whenever she's struggling.
There's a little visual weirdness that is definitely appreciated and the film fares best when Ôbayashi keeps it light and breezy. It gets a bit too dramatic near the end and a little editing to get it closer to the 120-minute mark would've done the film some good, but overall this was a pretty warm, quirky and agreeable film.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
One of the big sci-fi classics. I'd already watched the remake with Keanu Reeves, which wasn't all that great. I didn't expect this one to be any better to be honest, but I did hope for a bit more oldskool sci-fi cheese. There's a little of that here, but not enough to entertain for the entire runtime.
The plot is pretty simple. Aliens are visiting our planet and making a grand entrance. Conveniently, they look exactly like regular people, and they speak our language. They come with a warning, telling us to stop fighting among ourselves. If not, they'll step in and take matters into their own hands.
The beginning and end of the film are quite cute, the middle part on the other hand is too dull and stretched out. The moralistic story is pretty childish, performances are weak and the film's too serious for its own good. Would've liked this a lot better if Wise had gone all in on the camp, sadly that wasn't in the cards.
Woodstock. I'd heard about it before, saw it pop up in some other documentaries and watched a couple of films featuring the event, but this was the first time I've seen a dedicated doc about the festival. That's not a coincidence mind, I've always pictured it as my personal hell.
After sitting through this four hour registration of the festival, I'm pretty certain I was right. The music alone would've driven me right back home, the people present would've sealed the deal. There's just too much wishy-washy hippie stuff for someone like me and there's really no escaping it here.
There are relatively few interviews, most of this documentary is spent watching and listening to the performances. That's nice if 60s rock is your thing, but it's a genre I feel nothing for. I'm sure that people longing back for those days will have a blast with the film, I will never ever come close to it again.
A solid, but predictable disaster flick. Dante's Peak does little to deviate from the template, instead it hopes that the appeal of Brosnan and some first-rate CG effects are enough to keep audiences glued to the screen. And for the most part that bet paid off, as Dante's Peak turned out to be an enjoyable flick.
As with most of these disaster films, I like the setup better than the actual disaster. Donaldson does a good job with that. He doesn't drag things out, still he takes time to create a feeling of unease. The second half is entirely dedicated to the eruption, which was a little less impressive than I remembered.
The best thing about this film is that it stayed below the 110-minute mark. The pacing is slick, the genre payoffs are decent and even though it gets a bit too cheesy, the film never stays too long at one single point for it to become a problem. Not exactly great cinema, but a pleasant film nonetheless.
The latest Italian Netflix film is somewhat of a mixed bag. It's nice to see some proper horror being released this time of year, especially with the pandemic messing up so many release schedules, but it's all too clear that The Binding doesn't have the chops to please the full-blown horror fans.
When all is said and done, this is little more than a basic possession horror. Some local South-Italian folklore was added to spruce things up, but it's simply not distinctive enough to set it apart from its peers. Especially not when the drama supporting the horror is textbook material.
Performances are decent and the setting is absolutely lovely. The setup is quite effective too, but once it's clear where this film is headed it quickly loses its appeal. The horror elements are rather dull and are dragged out. It's reminiscent of modern Spanish horror cinema, but the quality comes nowhere near.
About a Boy
Another typical Hugh Grant romcom. It's a bit surprising this film came from the guys who directed American Pie. Then again, if you take a closer look at their oeuvres you'll see there isn't much consistency there. The Weitz brothers are typical guns for hire, that's also 100% what About a Boy feels like.
Grant once again plays a manchild with exceptional charm. This time he even has an entire philosophy ready, explaining why he's willfully going through life without any attachments (and worries). All goes well until he meets Marcus, a young kid who's having a rough time at home and in school.
The film has a couple of funny moments and there's chemistry between Hoult and Grant, but it all feels very by the numbers. Collette and Weisz fail to make an impression, the plot is pretty cheesy and there's just a little too much drama for a comfortable comedy. Not terrible, but far from great.
I'd hoped to see another one of those crazy martial arts/horror/comedy/fantasy genre mix-ups that were made in the late 70s/early 80s, sadly this turned out to be a very cheap Taiwanese horror flick. All the elements were there for a fun film, but the execution was too poor to get much enjoyment out of it.
The story revolves around a bald female monk fighting off ghosts (and turning gold once in a while). I admit that sounds pleasantly bonkers, but in the end this is really just a plain old ghost story with way too much padding and only a handful of scenes that deliver the goods.
The films begins promising, with some hopping ghosts and a couple of other ghostly appearances, but the middle part is just dreadful. The cinematography is dull, performances are bad and there are even some musical scenes to sift through. The ending picks up again, but it's just too little to be any good.
Cold War is just 8 years old, but there's already some nostalgia involved watching the film. This type of Hong Kong crime/thriller has become increasingly rare over the years, with lots of the movie productions shifting to China, leaving Hong Kong with an absence of money and talent.
The story is nothing special. Five Hong Kong policemen vanish off the radar, after which a cat and mouse game starts between a gang of criminals and the HK police force, with some internal struggles to boot. It's a classic setup, but not much more is needed to keep a film like this entertaining.
It's all about the execution, which is where actors like Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung come in handy. The cinematography is pretty stylish, the few action scenes are explosive and things get pretty tense in the run up to the finale. Just don't expect a big action spectacle, Cold War is a more subdued and low-key crime thriller. Good stuff.
The Great Silence
I'm not big on westerns (neither the traditional kind, nor the spaghetti westerns), so my expectations were quite low for this film. And in many ways this is a pretty typical spaghetti western, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that The Great Silence didn't do that much for me. The few things that set it apart from its peers did leave a positive impression though.
The story is pretty bland. A group of bounty hunters is chasing a gang of outlaws, but when the leader of the bounty hunters kills Pauline's husband she vows to take revenge. She hires a mute gunslinger, who in his turn starts chasing the group of bounty hunters. It doesn't take long before guns start firing away.
Kinski's presence is a plus and Morricone's score is surprisingly decent, but it's the snowy landscapes and the mountains that make the biggest difference here. A very nice change of scenery for a western and one that gives this film a lot more atmosphere. It's a shame I couldn't care for the rest. The cinematography is horrible and the seriousness misplaced.
The Thin Blue Line
This feels like the mother of all true crime docs. Which is why this probably had a bigger impact back when it was first released. I'm not a big fan of all this true crime stuff, but from what I've seen The Thin Blue Line isn't all that distinctive anymore and these kinds of docs are a dime a dozen nowadays.
The story revolves around Adams, who supposedly shot a police officer in cold blood when he came up to him to check his car. The more you find out about the story, the more it seems law enforcers were looking for a scapegoat rather than the true culprit. No surprises there then.
There's a lot of talking heads here, which makes this a pretty static documentary. Reenactments aren't always an improvement, but they can help to visualize the story. The case itself is interesting enough, but one I've heard so many times before that it lacks the shock it would've had if I'd seen it 30 years ago. Not bad, but just not that remarkable anymore.
In a slightly surprising turn of events, Iwai decided to remake Last Letter, his first China-based film released just two years ago. This is pretty much exactly the same film, only shot in Japan with a Japanese cast. For that reason alone, it's probably best to leave some time between watching both films.
The story hasn't really changed (and is still a bit too convoluted). When Yuri returns from her sister's funeral, she goes to a reunion to inform her sister's classmates. Once there she's mistaken for her sister, and she finds herself incapable of telling the truth. When she meets her sister's first love, things get a bit complicated.
Performances are good, with a stand-out parts for Takako Matsu and Suzu Hirose, and a fun cameo from Hideaki Anno. The film looks pristine, with some trademark Iwai shots, the soundtrack is comfy and on point. It's just that the story gets in the way of the atmosphere sometimes, which messes up the pacing.
Bousman's latest is an exotic horror flick. Take a couple of Westerners, submit them to a bit of foreign folklore and the rest writes itself. Films like these can be pretty fun, even when exotism is somewhat frowned upon nowadays, and they sometimes border on xenophobia. That's the least of Bousman's worries though.
An American couple wakes up in their bedroom, clueless about what happened the night before. When they want to take the ferry they discover their passports are gone, so they're unable to leave the island. The man finds a two-hour-long video on his camera which confuses them even more. The video shows him killing his wife, even though she's sitting right beside him.
The folklore isn't quite as intruiging, performances are mediocre (Luke Hemsworth is by far the least talented of the brothers) and the horror feels somewhat predictable. The setting is nice though and Bousman makes good use of it, but apart from some gory moments Death of Me lacks bite.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit
A follow-up that is slightly better than its predecessor, not really what I was expecting after the first Sister Act. The lack of crime elements did this sequel a lot of good, turning it into a more coherent film. While it makes things a little cheesier, it's just easier to accept as it comes with the territory.
Back in the Habit plays like a Dangerous Minds avant-la-lettre. Goldberg is called back by the nuns in order to help them with a bunch of unruly children. The school's about to close and only a standout performance in the statewide choir competition can save their future. It's not a very original setup, but it does the job.
The actors seem to feel more at ease the second time around, there are some fun cameos (a young Lauryn Hill and Jennifer Love Hewitt), the pacing is decent and the feel-good scenes do their job. It's not first grade cinema and it's all rather predictable, but this could've been a lot worse.