Yankee Doodle Dandy

by Michael Curtiz
Specifics
USA [1942] - 126m
Genre
Drama, Musical
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Yankee Doodle Dandy poster

I read Cagney wanted to make this film to prove to his fellow Americans that he wasn't a communist, but a full-blown patriot. It sure sounds plausible, as this is no doubt one of the most patriotic/American films I've ever seen. And no, that's definitely not a compliment, unless you truly, deeply, wholeheartedly love the Stars and Stripes country, this is almost impossible to sit through.

A film about the life of George M. Cohan, a musical director, actor and dancer who, after going through his fair share of trouble, made it big and received a medal for his exceptional career. That's two full hours of song and dance with James Cagney, an actor who couldn't really sing or dance.

If it would've been Astaire and Crosby, it might've been a bit easier to swallow, these guys have charm and can actually do this kind of thing. Cagney is just completely terrible here. That and the fact that I got a little nauseous from so much love for a land that isn't mind made this one of the worst things I sat through in quite a while.

Two Weeks Notice

by Marc Lawrence
Specifics
USA, Australia [2002] - 101m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Two Weeks Notice poster

Let's put Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant in a film and the rest will work itself out. No doubt that's what the producers of this film imagined when they signed off on Two Weeks Notice. A bog-standard romcom that doesn't even try to do anything out of the ordinary. And so it really comes down to how much you like the leads.

Bullock is a little Goody Two-Shoes, Grant is the wealthy CEO of the company that wants to redevelop the neighborhood Bullock grew up in. He ends up hiring her, but because they're two very different characters they don't really get along. Though if you've seen a romcom or two, you'll know where this is headed.

There's a little chemistry between Bullock and Grant, but not really enough to carry the film. The plot is basic, the comedy is predictable and the film is so slick that you have to wonder how many committees were involved to make sure no people would be offended by this film. Oh, and there's also director Marc Lawrence. Not sure what he did.

Not Quite Dead Yet

by Shinji Hamasaki
Also known as
Ichido Shinde Mita
Specifics
Japan [2020] - 93m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Not Quite Dead Yet poster

Amusing, slightly absurd and star-studded Japanese comedy. It's a capable (and surprisingly high-profile) film from a first-time director, but I guess people weren't wrong when they let Hamasaki direct this film. While not an instant classic, Not Quite Dead Yet turned out to be a very enjoyable comedy.

Kei Nobata is a pharmacist obsessed with his job, so much in fact that it greatly influences the upbringing of his daughter (Nanase). He hopes she will follow in his footsteps, but when she goes through puberty she rebels against her dad and joins a death metal band. Then her father suddenly dies and Nanase will have to decide how to live the rest of her life.

With people like Shin'ichi Tsutsumi, Naoto Takenaka and Lily Franky on board, you don't have to worry about the performances. The cinematography is also very clean and polished, the gags are fun and the pacing is perfect. The whole death metal thing misses the mark though, but that's not too surprising. Japan doesn't do music very well. It's a small hiccup in an otherwise fun and entertaining film.

All the Wrong Spies

by Teddy Robin Kwan
Also known as
Wo Ai Ye Lai Xiang
Specifics
Hong Kong [1983] - 102m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
All the Wrong Spies poster

Tsui Hark, Karl Maka, Teddy Robin Kwan, they all belonged to the same early 80s clique. Combining action, crime and comedy was their shtick, Teddy Robin Kwan's first film as a director offers exactly that. It's a comedy first and foremost though, so better prepare yourself for a shot of goofy Hong Kong slapstick.

Set during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, private detective Yoyo and inspector Teddy Robin join a resistance group that aims to infiltrate the Japanese forces. Their goal is to steal the formula for the atomic bomb before it gets into the hands of the Japanese emperor. Don't expect historic accuracy, this is purely played for laughs.

Performances are good (if you can stand the typical Hong Kong overacting that is), the comedy is silly but fun, the pacing is perfect and there's quite a bit of variation to keep things interesting. The direction is mostly functional and it never reaches the heights of a Stephen Chow comedy, but if you're in the mood for light entertainment it's a solid choice.

Bright Star

by Jane Campion
Specifics
France, UK [2009] - 119m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Bright Star poster

I was relatively unfamiliar with the work of Jane Campion, Bright Star may not have been the best option to further delve into her oeuvre. It's a pretty basic costume drama, a familiar mix of drama and romance, not really the type of film that sits very well with me. She sticks neatly to genre conventions, so Bright Star didn't do much to change that.

The film focuses on the romance between poet John Keats and girl next door Fanny. Fanny's mom isn't a big fan of the relationship and tries to separate the two, but their love runs deep. But then Keats becomes ill and it looks like their love really isn't meant to be. It's a typical sob story.

Campion's direction is unremarkable, the performances are decent but rather restrained and safe a few beautiful scenes outside, there really isn't much of note here. The romance really didn't do it for me, the drama didn't hit the right marks and more than once it felt too much like cheap sentiment. Not very good.

Legend of the Eight Samurai

by Kinji Fukasaku
Also known as
Satomi Hakken-den
Specifics
Japan [1983] - 133m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Legend of the Eight Samurai poster

I'm not a big fan of Fukasaku's crime cinema, but I'd never seen a (blockbuster) samurai film from the man. The screenshots I found looked quite promising, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Turns out I should've given him more credit, as this was a pretty cool and entertaining (though campy) film.

Princess Shizu's family is completely annihilated, but she's the ultimate target. As she flees, she runs into Shinbei, a low-ranking and inexperienced samurai. He vows to protect her, to do that he has to find the eight dog-warriors before he can face Tamazusa, the leader of the gang that is after Shizu.

The sets look lush and expensive, the props (and monsters) on the other hand look rather fake. It makes for a weird mix of camp and blockbuster cinema that's pretty fun to watch. Performances are decent, the lore is pretty cool and even though the film is a bit too long, it never gets boring. Cool but cheesy.

Goldbuster

by Sandra Kwan Yue Ng
Also known as
Yao Ling Ling
Specifics
Hong Kong, China [2017] - 89m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Goldbuster poster

Sandra Ng is a powerhouse comedy actress. Her tireless work ethos has granted her an impressive oeuvre, but so far she hadn't really bothered directing a film. That's a bit of a surprise, as all the big Hong Kong movie stars like to combine multiple jobs. And so it's nice to see she finally got her shot.

Humble Grove is a dump amidst an area of expensive skyscrapers. The problem is that the residents don't want to move. The boss of a wealthy conglomerate has already tried everything, his final bet is hiring two guys to dress up as ghosts in an attempt to scare the tenants away. The tenants don't scare that easy though, and they hire a ghostbuster to help with their problem.

Goldbuster is a full-on Hong Kong comedy, which means it's knowingly daft, silly and over-the-top. A bit more surprising is the lush cinematography, not really what I expected from a film like this, but it really elevates the production. No doubt niche material, but if you're looking for a laugh and you can appreciate colorful and polished visuals, this comes warmly recommended.

Doctor Zhivago

by David Lean
Specifics
USA, Italy [1965] - 197m
Genre
Romance, War
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Doctor Zhivago poster

The most British film I've seen in quite a while. Which is a bit weird for a story that's supposed to be about the Russian Revolution. A cast of British actors prancing around in Spain just doesn't really read like Russia. It's a good thing Lean can fall back on some impressive visuals, otherwise this would've been a complete waste.

Zhivago, a promising young man, sees his life uprooted by World War I and the October Revolution. He marries and wants to dedicate his life to his family, but politics keep getting in the way of their plans to lead a peaceful life. A story quite epic in scope, though in the end it's really just a simple romance.

Performances are pretty poor, even ignoring the terrible casting choices for a moment. The story has its ups and down, but with more than 200 minutes to sit through there are too many parts that drag. The cinematography can be quite impressive, though it borders on kitsch. Let's call it a typical Lean film then.

Sonic the Hedgehog

by Jeff Fowler
Specifics
Japan, Canada [2020] - 99m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Sonic the Hedgehog poster

It's probably a good thing I never owned a Sega console or really got into the Sonic games, I can only imagine how fans of the creature felt when they sat through this Hollywood monstrosity. It's a cheap and lazy franchise installment, a film made only because there's a fanbase out there that has money to spend.

Sonic ends up on Earth after he's chased down by evil forces on his planet. He hides in the woods, but he feels lonely and yearns for a friend. When an outburst of anger causes a power outage, Dr Robotnik is put on the case. He's on Sonic's tail in no time, luckily Sonic gets help from a friendly police man who is willing to protect him.

The story is nonsensical, the comedy is terrible, Sonic looks cheap and the pop references are completely mundane. Very little is down with Sonic's video game origins, instead he's rocking to Queen, and we get to listen to Star Wars tunes. Why, I don't know. This was just a great, big, unattractive mess, here's to hoping they don't make a sequel.

The Mule

Specifics
Canada, USA [2018] - 116m
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Mule poster

Clint Eastwood plays another oldskool, slightly cynical, hardened by life, unpopular old man. It's a role that suits him, but after seeing quite a few Eastwood (directed) films I'm getting more than a bit fed up by it. Though it's probably the tepid and unadventurous direction that's the real mishap here.

Earl is an old man, abandoned by his family because he cares more for his plants than he cares for them. When his granddaughter is about to get married, Earl wants to redeem himself by chipping in to pay for the wedding. Having no money though, he starts working for a Mexican cartel, smuggling drugs with his truck.

The setup isn't too bad and similar to Gran Torino, there's some sly comedy where Eastwood seems to be having a little fun with his reputation. But the second half is way too sentimental, the plot gets dragged out and the film quickly loses steam. Not his worst feature, but I think it would be better if he'd just call it quits.

Tokyo Living Dead Idol

by Yûki Kumagai
Also known as
Tôkyô Ribingu Deddo Aidoru
Specifics
Japan [2018] - 83m
Genre
Action, Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Tokyo Living Dead Idol poster

The Sushi Typhoon days are long gone. Japanese directors aren't willing to give up on this weird little niche, but with limited talent, lacking budgets and cheap tie-ins it isn't easy to make something substantial. Tokyo Living Dead Idol does its best and it deserves credits for trying, but the execution isn't all that.

A budding teen idol gets bitten by a zombie. That gives her 72 hours to find a solution, before she turns into a zombie herself. She hires a private detective to help her look for a cure, but all they have to go on is a shady magazine. Meanwhile, she has an army of zombie hunters on her tail.

Don't expect to make much sense out of this film. Everything is played for laughs, director Kumagai's approach is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. There are some nice ideas here, but the actors are poor, the cinematography looks cheap and the effects are second rate. Makes me yearn for the good old day, but at least there's some solid fun to be had.

Mildred Pierce

by Michael Curtiz
Specifics
USA [1945] - 111m
Genre
Crime, Film-Noir
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Mildred Pierce poster

The film starts with a murder, the next shot you see shows a woman driving away from the murder scene. The setup is so obvious that you spend the next two hours waiting for the inevitable twist signaled in that very first scene. It's really not the best way to start a movie, though it's definitely not its only weakness.

Mildred flees her house after her husband is killed. She picks up an old friend, lures him to her house and tries to frame him for the murder. Once at the station, she finds out the police found another culprit. Overwhelmed by guilt, Mildred opens up to her interrogator and reveals what really happened that night.

Mildred Pierce is two hours of narrative. Just endless dialogues, mediocre performances, lazy writing and very little in the way of cinematic prowess. Just a handful of moments where the black & white cinematography makes a positive impression, otherwise this was a pretty boring film. Not my kind of cinema.

2067

by Seth Larney
Specifics
Australia [2020] - 114m
Genre
Sci-fi
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
2067 poster

Distant future sci-fi is something few directors dare to attempt nowadays. Maybe it's because budgets don't allow for such things anymore, maybe it's because near-future sci-fi is better suited for delivering convenient tech doom. Whatever the case, director Larney didn't care and throws us several hundred years into the future.

That isn't to say there's some relevant social critique here. The film starts in 2067, showing our planet (and humanity) on the verge of destruction due to the environmental stress that we put it through. Our only chance of survival is a contraption that acts as a time machine, chasing a mysterious message from the future.

The setup is pretty great, though I was a little disappointed it quickly devolved into another time loop mystery. That's not a spoiler mind, the film is eager to reveal this early on. Performances are decent and the CG is passable, the story is a bit bland though and the score is way too bombastic. The potential was there to be better, but because films like these are so rare nowadays I still had a lot of fun with it.

Possessor

by Brandon Cronenberg
Specifics
Canada, UK [2020] - 103m
Genre
Sci-fi, Horror
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Possessor poster

The reassuring confirmation of Brandon Cronenberg's talent. The family resemblance is still pretty obvious, but it's clear that Brandon's work isn't just a carbon copy of father David. Possessor is a relentless, dark, moody and grim sci-fi tale with strong horror influences, thriving on stylistic prowess and honoring its intriguing premise with a smart plot. Hopefully this opens the door to a successful (and slightly more active) career.

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

Specifics
USA [2006] - 255m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts poster

A Spike Lee documentary on the havoc Hurricane Katrina unleashed on New Orleans. Not just the physical destruction, Lee also looks for the broader impact on society, how several governmental institutions failed, what part race played in the unraveling and how failures from the past facilitated the disaster.

The first part is mostly focused on the actual disaster, the second part digs around in past failings and the long-lasting impact on the people who suffered through this event. Lee is smart enough to let different people give their version of the story, so it's not just endless complaining/blaming, though in my opinion the balance still felt a little off.

There's also an addendum for those who really love this doc, after four hours though I figured I had a pretty good idea of how this documentary framed the disaster. I would've preferred a slightly more balanced approach and the runtime really is quite excessive, but overall it was a pretty interesting film that is a must for people looking for a thorough look at Hurricane Katrina's history and its aftermath.

Take Aim at the Police Van

Also known as
'Jûsangô Taihisen' Yori: Sono Gosôsha o Nerae
Specifics
Japan [1960] - 79m
Genre
Mystery, Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Take Aim at the Police Van poster

One of the early Suzuki films. It took Suzuki a while to truly develop his kooky signature style, though shimmers of it are already visible here. For the most part though, Take Aim at the Police Van is just a stylish little noir where the setup proves more interesting than the way everything pans out.

Tamon is a security guard tasked with the protection of two prisoners while they're being transported. A sniper gets the better of him though and kills the prisoners. Tamon is fired from his job, but can't deal with the fact that the case was never cleared up. With nothing else to do, he decides to go out and investigate himself.

The stylish black and white cinematography is the clear highlight of this film. Performances are decent but nothing special, the soundtrack doesn't add much and the plot is rather mediocre. It's a good thing the film is short, so there's hardly any time for it to start dragging.

The Professor

by Wayne Roberts
Specifics
USA [2018] - 90m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Professor poster

Times have changed. Depp-led films used to draw in crowds regardless, The Professor in the other hand seems to have slipped under the radar for most. And that's a shame, as it's one of the better Depp films I've seen in quite a while. A rare and successful mix of comedy and drama, a though combination to do well.

Richard, a college professor, is told he has cancer. He's terminal, and he has only 6 months to live. That prompts him to make some pertinent changes. The masks come off and Richards decides that he'll spend the last months of his life doing as he pleases, even if that leads to confrontation.

What could've been a very sappy and sentimental film ends up being genuinely funny. Depp is perfect for the part, the sly humor works very well and the short bursts of drama give the film a little extra weight. The short runtime is also a blessing. Not quite as sharp as I'd hoped, but a very pleasant surprise.

The Mimic

by Jung Huh
Also known as
Jang-san-beom
Specifics
South Korea [2017] - 100m
Genre
Drama, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Mimic poster

A pretty traditional South-Korean horror film that balances drama and horror. It's nice to see they used a bit of local folklore for the film's premise, that makes things a little less predictable, but people familiar with South-Korean horror should have a pretty good idea of what to expect.

The Jangsan tiger is a mythological creature that roams the woods around Busan. He can mimic humans in order to lure its prey. Hee-yeon and her family moves to the area to get away from past trauma, but when her husband finds a dead body in a nearby cave, she becomes the target of the demon.

Performances are solid, the cinematography is clean and polished, sound design is good and the mix of drama and horror is just right. The folklore gives it a little edge, but it's not quite enough to make it a true masterpiece. Very nice horror filler though, though don't expect too many scares and gore, it's mostly about mood and atmosphere.

Primary

by Robert Drew
Specifics
USA [1960] - 60m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Primary poster

A documentary with historic significance (mostly technical), more interesting to see were the parallels with the current political apparatus. Though this happened 60 years ago and everything looked a lot more naive and simplistic, the bottom line doesn't seem to have changed all that much. Politics is still a cult of ego, that revolves around votes more so than about substance and values.

Documentary maker Robert Drew follows around Hubert H. Humphrey and John F. Kennedy during their primary campaign in Wisconsin. A battle between rural and urban democrats, between a man of the people and a more studious, worldly fella. It's a tight race that aptly foreshadows many of American's current political issues.

Primary is a rather pure documentary, not much context is given, the camera is simply there to register what happens. It's the kind of doc I like, but since the material isn't very unique anymore, its appeal has been limited to people with a strong liking for history. There just wasn't much here.

Triggered

by Alastair Orr
Specifics
South Africa [2020] - 94m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Triggered poster

Orr resurfaces with a new horror film. It's been a while since I last saw his name pass by, but he's made some interesting films in the past, and so I'm always happy to see him put out new work. Triggered isn't a masterpiece, in fact it's going to be a pretty hard sell, even among hardened horror fans, but there's something here.

A group of friend is having a post-graduation camping trip. What they don't realize is that there is someone out in the woods who has it out for them. When they wake up, everyone is wearing a vest sporting a countdown timer. This is Battle Royale meets Saw, so let the games begin.

The premise is cool, the presentation is fine too. The plot and character choices are completely nonsensical though and the acting is dead poor. So depending on what you care about the most, this will either be a fun and amusing genre flick, or a piece of irredeemable trash. There's not much middle ground I'm afraid, that said I had a pretty good time with it.

Top Knot Detective

by Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce
Specifics
Japan, Australia [2017] - 87m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Top Knot Detective poster

A very amusing mockumentary on a fictional 90s Japanese TV show. McCann and Pearce are clearly fans of the material they're spoofing, showcasing a good grasp of what makes Japanese entertainment stand out. On top of that, the documentary aspect of the film is well realized too.

Top Knot Detective is an infamous TV show that was cancelled after just a short period on air, garnering a strong cult following in the years after its cancellation. The star of the show is Takamoto, a self-professed artist who wanted to handle every aspect of the series himself, ultimately landing himself into a lot of trouble.

The presentation is appropriate, actors do a stellar job, the kitsch level of the production is right on point and most jokes hit the mark. It does get a little repetitive after a while and the mockumentary aspect of the film wears a little thin in the final 30 minutes, but otherwise it's pretty amusing and entertaining.

I'll Give a Million

by Mario Camerini
Also known as
Darò un Milione
Specifics
Italy [1935] - 79m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
I'll Give a Million poster

Early Italian comedies are surprisingly easy to digest. I wasn't even aware they existed until a couple of weeks ago, but the work of Mario Camerini is proving to be an ideal introduction to this mostly forgotten niche. I'll Give a Million may not be masterpiece material, at least it's a pretty enjoyable film.

Blim (a poor man) and Gold (a millionaire) switch places after spending a night on the beach. They set up a challenge where the first person to be friendly to Gold (disguised as a beggar) is granted a million franks. The city is in uproar, but it's the humble and selfless Anna who seems to be the front-runner.

Performances are jolly and energetic (which can be a bit much, especially when there are many people present), the plot is simple but amusing and the runtime is perfect. The cinematography is a little dull and the layer of social critique is razor thin, but Camerini kept me engaged all the way through, which isn't bad at all for a film this old.

Insanity

by Kwong-yiu Lee
Also known as
Bou Fung Yue
Specifics
Hong Kong, China [2014] - 96m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Insanity poster

A fine Hong Kong thriller. Now that the output of Hong Kong has dwindled, it's the perfect time to look back and dig up the films I've missed out on. Insanity is one of those films that slipped by and watching it now made me realize how much I miss the Hong Kong cinema of a decade ago.

Fan suffers from schizophrenia. After killing his wife he ends up in the hospital, where he is treated by doctor Chow. After three years of therapy Chow decides it's time to release Fan, assuming he is fully cured. Many people disagree with Chow's choice, but he is confident he made the right assessment.

Ching Wan Lau turns in a great performance, Xiaoming Huang comes off a little too polished. The cinematography is excellent (beautiful use of color and lighting), creating a pretty tense and moody atmosphere. The plot is a bit predictable though and the balance between thriller, mystery and drama elements could've been a bit tighter. Not perfect, but very entertaining.

Juliet, Naked

by Jesse Peretz
Specifics
USA, UK [2018] - 97m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Juliet, Naked poster

A solid romantic drama. The film is often labeled a romcom, not too surprising considering Chris O'Dowd's involvement, but apart from a slightly lighter tone there isn't much comedy here. The romance is the key element, padded out with some easy drama that gives the film a little extra weight.

Annie and Duncan have been a couple for ages, but their relationship isn't going too well. Duncan is too wrapped up in his obsession with the mysterious Tucker Crowe, a musician who dropped one perfect album and disappeared from the Earth after that. Their lives are shaken up when Tucker starts emailing Annie.

Juliet, Naked is a rather basic film, but decent performances, lighthearted drama and pleasant characters make this an fun watch. It's all quite predictable and the film doesn't have any clear highlights, neither is it very memorable or unique, but when in need of romantic filler it's certainly not a bad choice.