Sex and the City

by Michael Patrick King
Specifics
USA [2008] - 145m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Sex and the City poster

I wasn't entirely oblivious of the Sex and the City series. I don't think I ever watched a full episode, but I saw bits and pieces back when it first aired. It wasn't really surprising they ended up making a film sequel, but how they ever imagined they could draw it out to 150 minutes is completely beyond me.

Carrie is finally getting married. It's not the most daring or exciting topic, especially not for a film based on a series about a woman obsessing over finding the perfect man, but what did you expect. From there on out the maker go back in series mode and basically ramble on for a good two and half hours.

The character feels milked and unexciting, the comedy is absolutely terrible, the endless male vs female bickering is tiresome and the runtime is a big joke. Maybe if they'd manage to condense it into 90 minutes, maybe if they'd got some better writer, more familiar with the movie format, who knows. Hard to sit through.

The Little Girl Who Conquered Time

Also known as
Toki o Kakeru Shôjo
Specifics
Japan [1983] - 104m
Genre
Sci-fi, Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Little Girl Who Conquered Time poster

The more Obayashi films I see, the more I realize there are two very distinct sides to the man. He's mostly famous for his zany, weird and over-the-top films, but throughout he's oeuvre he also directed plenty of subdued, more commercially-oriented movies. This is one of those, with just a little Obayashi magic on top to make it stand out.

Yoshiyama is on cleanup duty. When she's done cleaning the lab a canister falls and the fumes that get released make her faint. The next day an earthquake hits the town she lives in. But then something weird happens to her, and she travels back a day in time. Knowing what is about to happen, so tries to warn the people she loves.

The Little Girl Who Conquered Time is a very gentle, sweet and loveable little film. The sci-fi elements are minimalistic, the drama is light, performances are good and there's a little pre-finale sequence that gives the film that bit of extra flair it needed. Obayashi was a talented man, I'm happy I still have quite a ways to go.

Love Undercover

by Joe Ma
Also known as
Sun Jaat Si Mui
Specifics
Hong Kong [2002] - 103m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Love Undercover poster

A very simple romcom with a crime-based background story. It's right up Joe Ma's alley, and he doesn't disappoint. More than that, this film was so successful that it spawned two more sequels. Not sure if this film really warranted such an honor, but it's certainly not bad for what it is.

Agent Keun is sent on an undercover mission. She has to befriend Hoi, son of a retired Triad boss. Hoi is suspected of being in the Triad business himself, but there's no concrete evidence, which Keun has to deliver. He turns out to be a total gentleman though and in no time romantic feelings are starting to develop between the two.

Don't expect anything original from Love Undercover, this is pure genre fluff. But there's chemistry between Miriam Yeung and Daniel Wu, the film's moderately funny and the pacing is decent. It's a perfect time waster and a fun filler once you've gone through all the better films in the genre.

Pickup on South Street

by Samuel Fuller
Specifics
USA [1953] - 80m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Pickup on South Street poster

A pretty basic noir. Detectives with hats, shady characters doing shady things, a femme fatale and a crime-based plot. And lots and lots of talking. Endless conversations between mediocre actors that feel quite forced. Then again, the few action scenes there are just as uncomfortable.

Skip McCoy is a pickpocket who picked the wrong wallet to steal. The woman he stole it from, Candy, had a microfilm tucked in her wallet that she was supposed to give to a communist spy. The FBI and police were on Candy's back, but now that McCoy has the chip he has to deal with all the unwanted attention.

I'm just not a big fan of these classic noirs. The stories are interesting enough, but the execution is usually pretty boring. Bland cinematography, poor performances and static action scenes don't do a lot of justice to the premise. At least these films tend to be rather short, but that's not much of a comfort when there's so little there.

The Blade of Wind

by Zhou Zhong
Specifics
China [2020] - 87m
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Blade of Wind poster

It's nice to see China is making great progress with fantasy/martial arts genre cinema. Their movie industry is booming, they've built a viable blockbuster business while making sure to keep their arthouse scene alive. Genre films still had them struggling though, but looking at the quality of The Blade of Wind, it seems there's hope for the future.

Ya Qing is chosen to deliver an important message, but this gets her mixed up in quite a scheme. Together with two travelers she picks up along the way, she has to unravel the mystery of the Snake Man, an evil presence who has a strong hold on all the neighboring kingdoms.

Performances are mediocre and the overreliance on CG is still there, but the action scenes are looking pretty good, the cinematography is great, pacing and length is also perfect. They're getting close to the Hong Kong scene of the 90s, fingers crossed they can improve just a little more because I've really missed these films.

Ode to Joy

by Jason Winer
Specifics
USA [2019] - 97m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Ode to Joy poster

A rarity. A romcom that sticks to the familiar formula (warts and all), but is actually so balanced and well executed that it doesn't really matter in the end. I'm not a big fan of the genre and have an active dislike for the 'oh no, it looks like it's not happening' third act present in every single one of these film, and even though it's still here in full effect, it didn't bother me at all.

Charlie suffers from cataplexy, a disease that makes him faint whenever he's exposed to strong emotions. In his case, happiness is the main trigger. It's a very peculiar premise that has some serious consequences, especially for a romcom. Because how do you fall in love with someone when you can't feel happy being around them?

Martin Freeman is perfect for his part. His dry demeanor mixes very well with the slightly darker comedy that Winer chases. The rest of the cast is also on point, the comedy is smart and actually funny, the romance feels effortless and some minor drama gives the film that little extra weight it needs. There's nothing that truly stands out, but it's a very sweet, pleasant and sneaky little film that makes great use of its unique premise.

Mortal

by André Øvredal
Also known as
Torden
Specifics
USA, UK [2020] - 104m
Genre
Fantasy, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Mortal poster

A breath of fresh air compared to Marvel's Thor. Rather than cheesy Hollywood fantasy Øvredal serves European urban fantasy. That might be a bit of a shock for some, as it's not quite as flashy and epic, instead we get a more grounded, grittier version of Thor's rebirth. I know what I prefer.

Eric Bergland's trip to Norway turns out into a real disaster when his body starts to change. Anxiety triggers extreme responses, allowing Eric to set things on fire, spark electricity and even control the weather. Together with a friendly social worker he travels back to the place the changes set in, but the police is on their tails, and they're not very eager to let him just walk around unchecked.

The Norwegian setting leads the gritty color palette and muted soundtrack. The special effects are pretty decent, performances are well above average and the mystery is pretty effective, even though it's pretty obvious where the film is headed. Øvredal created something pretty special, well recommended.

Simon of the Desert

by Luis Buñuel
Also known as
Simón del Desierto
Specifics
Mexico [1965] - 43m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Simon of the Desert poster

A peculiar Buñuel project. Simon of the Desert was supposed to be a full-length feature, but it needed to be cut down to 45 minutes because the budget simply wasn't there. Even so, it feels like a 15-minute short stretched to trice its length. It also looks a lot older than its '65 production year suggests.

Simon is a very religious man who climbs a pillar to be able to live closer to God. There he spends his days being as devout as possible. The devil isn't really impressed by Simon's actions and with his many disguises he tries to get Simon down from his pillar. This proves a lot harder than expected though.

Simon of the Desert looks scruffy, like some low-budget late 30s/early 40s film. Performances are rather poor, the cinematography is drab and the music is simply horrible. But the mood is light and there are a few laughs that surprised me, as this is a side I hadn't seen from Buñuel before. Not a great film.

Hero

by Masayuki Suzuki
Specifics
Japan [2015] - 120m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Hero poster

A Koki Mitani-like comedy romp by a slightly less talented director. Masayuki Suzuki does his best to make his crime investigation light and pleasantly chaotic, but the second part of the film falls into the trap of focusing a little too much on the plot, which is not where the quality of this film lies.

Asagi and Kuryu are two public prosecutors who used to have a thing. They've since parted ways, but a mysterious accident puts them back together again. It's a tough case though, as the crime happened right next to the embassy of Neustria (a nondescript European country that looks like a mix between Germany and France).

A star-studded cast and a very agreeable first hour set the bar for Hero, but Suzuki can't quite keep it up. The film start slacking during the second part, the comedy slips to the background and the investigation becomes more prominent. Not a bad film though, but Suzuki should've been a little smarter with the balance.

Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood

by Gilbert Adler
Specifics
USA [1996] - 87m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood poster

The second Tales from the Crypt film. You pretty much know what you're getting when you choose to sit down for this franchise. A remnant of the 80s horror scene, with kitschy horror effects, a barrage of puns and a slew of bad actors. It's a good thing the film doesn't even try to be serious.

A mortuary disguised as a whore house is the primary setting of Bordello of Blood. Some money-hungry priests revived Lilith, an age-old vampire, and recruited her into their business. She runs the whorehouse where unsuspecting clients find their untimely death. A private investigator is put on the case after Katherine's brother goes missing, it doesn't take him long before he finds out about the hidden bordello.

The setup of the film is a little awkward, the crypt keeper's part doesn't make much sense at all, but you can't have a Tales of the Crypt film without him. Performances are also quite horrible and the comedy is very limited, but there's enough cheese to make it entertaining and the short runtime certainly helps. Not a great film, not the worst horror film either.

Eternity

by Anh Hung Tran
Also known as
Éternité
Specifics
Belgium, France [2016] - 115m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Eternity poster

Tran Anh Hung's latest film shows life as an endless string of births and deaths. It's a unique family chronicle that spans multiple generations, jumping between moods and characters without forming a clear narrative. It's really one of those films that you just have to see for yourself.

The film starts with Valentine and her marriage with Jules. From there on out, it's just an enumeration of children, marriages and deaths. There's virtually no dialogue, a voice-over gives us the necessary details and Hung serves us short scenes of all the key moments in this long lineage of people.

It sounds incredibly dull and for some people it will no doubt be, but it's certainly not as dry as it sounds. The cinematography is lush, the soundtrack soothing and Hung still has an eye for small gestures and expression that are more pronounced than any dialogue ever could be. It's really a very poetic, symphonic film, people wanting a more narrative experience should probably look elsewhere.

Blind

by Marcel Walz
Specifics
USA [2019] - 88m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Blind poster

I wasn't familiar with the work of Walz, though from what I've read Blind is somewhat of a novel direction for the man. After making heaps of horror shlock, Blind tries to offer a more stylish approach. The film is somewhat successful, showing definite potential, though you can somehow feel something is slightly off.

Faye is a Hollywood actress on the brink of a breakthrough. Fate strikes when her eye surgery goes wrong, and she turns blind. She has a hard time adapting to her new life, but finds support in a mute friend. What she doesn't realize is that she also attracted the attention of a stalker, a nasty guy who comes and goes as he pleases (not quite unlike Flanagan's Hush).

The masked stalker looks pretty cool, the use of color and lighting are also quite notable. The camera work is a little off though and the performances are quite poor. But it's the soundtrack that feels really out of place. There's a real disconnect with the visuals, which underlines Walz isn't working within his comfort zone. Even so, there are some pretty decent scares and some genuinely creepy scenes, the execution just isn't all there.

Nothing But Time

by Alberto Cavalcanti
Also known as
Rien Que les Heures
Specifics
France [1926] - 45m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Nothing But Time poster

Nothing But Time is considered the first city symphony, an avant-garde/essay/documentary niche that tries to capture the soul of an entire city. Cavalcanti took Paris as his big inspiration and made a film in which the city and its people are followed as they go through their daily business.

It's an interesting look at Paris as it was almost a century ago. Cavalcanti gives a little context here and there (saying he prefers to portray reality rather than give an idealized view of the city), but it's mostly just his camera focusing on people and cityscapes throughout various moments in the day.

I can't say I was really impressed with Cavalcanti's style, as he gets a bit too cheesy/artistic(closeups of flower and such). The somewhat iffy soundtrack didn't really help either, though I did like the overall concept of the film. No doubt a milestone, it's a shame the form itself was a bit off-putting.

Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina

by Shinji Aramaki
Also known as
Ekusu Makina
Specifics
Japan [2007] - 105m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Animation
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina poster

I was a bit weary revisiting this film. This type of CG animation generally doesn't well, but I was surprised to find a film with a lot of flair, a decent sci-fi plot, superb designs and more than its share of spectacular action sequences. The character animation has clearly aged, the rest was still pretty impressive.

Commando

by Mark L. Lester
Specifics
USA [1985] - 90m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Commando poster

As a kid I never really cared much for US action cinema (I was more of a horror fan), that's why I never watched many of the now famous 80s and 90s action flicks. Commando is one of the big names that I never caught up on, I figured it was about time to remedy that. Can't say I enjoyed it much though.

John Matrix is an old army guy who retired to take care of his daughter. Of course, he gets a visit of one of his old army pals, who tells him his old squad is getting decimated. Not much later Matrix gets a visit himself. The terrorists kidnap his daughter and want Matrix to do a job for them.

I didn't expect much in the way of acting and direction, with Schwarzenegger in the lead you know what you get. I was more surprised that the action was mostly absent, it isn't until the final 15 minutes that things really start moving. There are some cheesy one-liners and some stilted fights in the first part of the film, but they are just embarrassing. A rather dull film, for nostalgia and irony fans only.

Buddy Games

by Josh Duhamel
Specifics
Canada, USA [2019] - 90m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Buddy Games poster

Josh Duhamel directs and stars in this simple but enjoyable comedy. It's not a first feature that's going to raise a lot of heads, except maybe because it's a pure and uncompromising comedy, something we don't see that often nowadays. It's all laughs from start to finish, minimal to no drama to mess things up.

Bob and his friends organize the Buddy Games on a yearly basis. It's an Olympics for bro-certified tomfoolery. It's great fun, until things run out of control, and each of them goes his own way. Five years later, it's time for a reunion. The gang gets back together and the games are back on.

Josh Duhamel may be the man running this project, it's a vintage Nick Swardson comedy. He steals every scene he's in, the film really is a textbook example of his crude and often obscene sense of humor. Sure enough not everyone is going to appreciate this, but there are some fun scenes, the film is refreshingly light and it doesn't outstay its welcome. Not bad, but somewhat forgettable.

Near Death

by Frederick Wiseman
Specifics
USA [1989] - 358m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Near Death poster

My first Wiseman. He's a lauded documentary maker and after seeing Near Death it's not hard to see why he garnered so much critical acclaim. Wiseman directs with respect and patience, keeping his distance and not really forcing himself upon his subjects. It's a good match for the topic at hand.

Wiseman follows a crew of doctors and nurses tending to patients who are nearing the end of their lives. Tough conversations with the patients and their family members are documented in full, debriefs and more practical meetings between the staff weren't off limits for Wiseman either. He alternates between the two for nearly six hours.

While I understand the reason to limit the editing, six hours really is a bit excessive. The choice to shoot in black and white also feels a little cheap. There's quite a bit of repetition as the doctors spend their time explaining the situation to their clients to the best of their abilities, but I lost interest after a while. It's a shame, as the subject itself was pretty interesting and the form worked very well.

The Man with the Golden Gun

by Guy Hamilton
Specifics
UK [1974] - 125m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Man with the Golden Gun poster

A fun Bond flick that fully leans into the silliness. This is pretty much what I expect a good Bond film to deliver. Goofy characters, shabby underground lairs, strange lasers and a handful of explosive action scenes. It also helps that the exotic locations give the film that little extra flair.

Bond takes on a more personal assignment. He's being challenged by Scaramanga, a man who kills for pleasure. Locating him won't be so easy, but it doesn't take too long before Bond has a good lead on where he can find him. His journey will eventually take him to Thailand, where he also has to take Hai Fat, a wealthy businessman.

Moore looks a lot more comfortable playing Bond, Hamilton directs as if it was the last Bond he'd ever make (and it was), the villains are fun, the different locations keep it interesting and the camp levels spike through the roof. Even the relatively long runtime wasn't a bother, with so much going on. Good fun.

The 3rd Eye 2

by Rocky Soraya
Also known as
Mata Batin 2
Specifics
Indonesia [2019] - 116m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The 3rd Eye 2 poster

Rocky Soraya is quickly establishing himself as one of the primary horror directors of Indonesia. He set up two horror franchises and with a little help of Netflix he's meticulously developing them into international successes. While his Doll series seems Soraya's main priority, this second 3rd Eye film looks to diversify his oeuvre.

After Alia's sister Abel is killed by a ghost, she applies to work in an orphanage. There she meets Nadia, a girl who also has an opened third eye (i.e. she can see ghosts). Together they seek out the ghost that's been pestering Nadia at the orphanage, when they find her though they're unprepared for the great secret they're about to uncover.

The setting is spectacular and Soraya creates some moody horror moments. The problem with his films is that they are simply too long. There's nothing original here and two hours is too much for the material at hand. If he could just cut 20 to 30 minutes, I'm sure he'd end up a lot closer to the horror masterpiece he's dying to make.

Vanguard

by Stanley Tong
Specifics
China [2020] - 108m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Vanguard poster

A very messy action flick. Stanley Tong is part of the old guard of Hong Kong action directors, like so many of his generation he's been struggling with the shift to China as well as the introduction of CG action. No doubt a lot of money went into this film, but it doesn't always look like it.

Vanguard is an elite security company. When one of their clients is kidnapped, they put their best team on the case. It takes them to Africa and the Middle-East, where they have to deal with a wealthy criminal. He needs their client as he's the only one who knows the location of a great stash of gold.

Performances are all over the place (lots of English dialogue by non-native speakers), the CG is pretty shabby and some of the stunts are absolutely ridiculous. It's a shame, because the hand-to-hand combat looked pretty impressive. It's obvious Tong wasn't fully in control of his film, could've been a lot better if he hadn't tried to make it so flashy.

Poem

by Akio Jissoji
Also known as
Uta
Specifics
Japan [1972] - 138m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Poem poster

A slightly disappointing film from Jissôji. So far I've been very impressed by his work, even his slightly older films. Poem was the first pre-80s film I watched from him and it's the first one that didn't really captivate me. Maybe because it was too grounded in the arthouse scene, where his later films have stronger genre elements.

The film follows the demise of the Moriyama family, a notable and wealthy house. Ihee, the head of the family, is worried about his legacy, as none of his sons seem worthy to follow in his footsteps. He gets suspicious when Toru (his second son) weasels his way back into their lives and starts asking questions about his family's wealth.

The stark black & white cinematography is interesting, so is the way Jissôji plays with the soundtrack, but the pacing is quite slow and by itself the styling isn't remarkable enough to carry the film. There's definitely beauty here and Jissôji shows he's a talented director, but it's not quite enough to justify the runtime and the pacing.

Richard Jewell

Specifics
USA [2019] - 131m
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Richard Jewell poster

One of the better Eastwood films I've seen in quite a while. It's an ideal topic for him of course, an all-American hero attacked by justice and the media and left to defend for himself. But he handles it remarkably well, and after a slew of media-hailing dramas it offers some much-needed pushback.

Jewell is a bit of an outcast, an aspiring law enforcer who takes his job a little too serious. Until one fateful day when he discovers a bomb package and urges people to leave a concert, saving many lives in the process. Jewell is declared a hero, but it doesn't take long before the FBI begins to suspect Jewell planted the bomb himself.

The cast is quite something, but it's the relatively unknown Hauser as Jewell who impresses the most. The story is quite predictable and Eastwood neatly sticks to genre conventions, while making sure to stay away from excessive sentiment and too much overt patriotism. Not a great cinematic masterpiece, but solid nonetheless.

Faust

by F.W. Murnau
Also known as
Faust: Eine Deutsche Volkssage
Specifics
Germany [1926] - 107m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Faust poster

One of the most expensive films of its time, and it shows. Murnau made great use of the budget to create an outlandish looking world. Impressive special effects and smart camera work create a mysterious and intriguing atmosphere, once again affirming my respect for the German Expressionists. But man that middle part was a downer.

Murnau adapts Goethe's Faust, the tale of a righteous man who gets challenged by the devil in order to see whether he could succumb to the evil side. The devil sends a plague to the village where Faust lives, hoping to destroy his faith in God. At first, he seems to be succeeding, but then Faust finds a book that can help him summon the devil.

The first and final 30 minutes are really something else, but the middle part is quite cheesy. Murnau struggles with the stark switch in styles and the somewhat tepid romance that makes up the middle half really doesn't help. It's a shame, because there are some impressive scenes here. Just not enough to keep me glued to the screen for the entire runtime.

The Ex-File 3: The Return of The Exes

by Yu-sheng Tian
Also known as
Qian Ren 3: Zai Jian Qian Ren
Specifics
China [2017] - 120m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Ex-File 3: The Return of The Exes poster

Third part in the Ex-File series. I didn't see the first two films, primarily because I didn't have much trust in its quality, but director Tian proved me wrong. This reminded me a lot of the Love in a Puff films, not quite as well-made but well worth the investment. Guess I'll have to watch the first two films now.

Two befriended couples break up at the same time. The men go back to enjoying their bachelor life, while the women pine and wonder what to do next with their lives. After that short rebound phase, they all have to face reality, and they begin to question whether breaking up was really such a good idea.

There's a classic male/female dynamic and the plot really isn't that original (though kudos for the surprisingly mature ending), but performances are solid, the cinematography looks polished and throughout the film the characters did grow on me. No future classic, but I can see why this most so many people in China.