Since I started this site I've been keeping myself to a bottom line of 4 out of 5 stars in order to review a film. It's a great way to determine whether a film is actually great (reviewing is time-consuming) or just plain old good. Still, there are always edge cases that are worth a look if you've nothing better planned. I'm going to list these films right here, providing a capsule review for each one of them.

the secret life of walter mitty

January 20, 2014
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty poster

For a while now, Ben Stiller has been growing on me. He's not a superb actor or first-class director, but there's obviously more to him that the quick and simple comedies he's usually known for. His previous directorial effort (Tropic Thunder) was one of the better American comedies of the past few years, which was all I needed to know when I went out to watch The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

If you see people comparing this film to Forest Gump, it's because there aren't too many other feel-good films featuring a simpleton going out into the world and meeting up with a cast of strange people. That's where the comparison ends though, as Stiller manages to make a film with a character of its own. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film that lives in a unique universe, not really bound to genres or conventions, though not too out there or alienating as to turn away the big crowds.

During the first part of the film Stiller's outlandish daydreams take center stage. They provide a fair few laughs, making it pretty easy to get into the flow of the film. Once Stiller starts his journey the daydreams lose importance and are replaced by some pleasant oddballs he meets along the way. The switch is a little sudden and while the comedy remains, the absurdity of the first hour never really returns. The film takes a small hit right there, but recovers quickly.

Stiller puts in a great performance, as does Adam Scott (the perfect bad guy you'll love to hate). Even though the film doesn't make any serious missteps, I did feel Stiller doesn't cash in on the film's full potential. His solutions and choices may work well enough within the context of the film, I still felt that at some points he should've taken a few more risks (the last scene for example, did we really need to see the photograph?). Nothing serious though, there's plenty to like here, there are no false notes and a few very neat touches that make this one of the most original films I've seen coming out of Hollywood for quite some time.

princess and seven kungfu masters

January 17, 2014
Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters poster

Saturation is a word that doesn't appear in Jing Wong's dictionary. The man simply doesn't seem able to stop making films. Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters is his latest feature, although I suspect Wong acted more as a mentor for Venus Keung Kwok-Man, who received co-direction credits. It wouldn't be the first time Wong launched someone's career like this.

The film is a throwback to the kung fu comedies of the early 90s. It's a mix of martial arts and outrageous comedy bits (not quite unlike Stephen Chow's Kung Fu), sporting typical Hong Kong (over)acting, simple but functional CG and some genuinely original gags. Add to that the more than competent action sequences (though they can't really compete with the best the martial arts genre has to offer) and you have a fun-filled yet rather basic film.

As always, Wong gathered a legion of familiar faces to fill out his cast. There are the older work horses, including Sammo Hung, Sandra Ng, Eric Tsang and Yuen Wah. Then there are some younger talents, like Jiang Lu-Xia, Dennis To and Philip Ng. On top of that, Wong is also apt at introducing new talent, as is the case with Kimmy Tong Fei, clearly one of Wong's rising stars.

Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters is entertainment in its purest form. It's a welcome update of the old classics, missing that little extra to turn it into a real gem (for that I'd recommend Tracing Shadows) but making up with sheer vigour, enthusiasm and pacing. Unless you're allergic to Hong Kong comedy or martial arts, it's a warm recommendation that's certain to put a smile on your face.


January 03, 2014
Antisocial poster

I've got to hand it to Calahan. Even though I'm completely done with virus/outbreak/zombie flicks, Antisocial worked for me. I've seen so many similar films these past few years (ever since the Dawn of the Dead remake rekindled people's interest) that calling it a genre of its own is almost an understatement.

So many directors have tried to come up with new angles and different spins that that in itself has become a cliché. Yet Calahan's approach still felt like a fresh take on the subject. Antisocial is definitely not a perfect film and while it's easy to critique the film for some of its weaker aspects, in the end the outbreak atmosphere simply hit all the right notes.

The acting is quite subpar at times and some of the plot points can be pretty far-fetched, but get over that (I'm sure some of you won't be able to, but that's okay) and underneath you'll find a film that plays around with conventions in a rather unique way. So much that I actually started to doubt some of the clichés that have been part of the genre for decades.

The social network spin on the outbreak theme feels a bit flimsy at first (like a doom scenario cocked up by an older generation that simply isn't capable of dealing with modern times), but in the end it proves to be a valid excuse for a much needed breath of fresh air, which is then explored quite aptly. Add to that a pretty gruesome finale and a spot on finish and what you have is an interesting little genre film, not too far out there to venture in author land, but nifty enough to circumvent many of the worn down clichés that are putting the genre in a slump.

lai li bu ming

November 19, 2013
Unidentified poster

If you're looking for cinematic novelty, China is the place to keep an eye on these days. Even though some patterns are slowly emerging, almost every new film coming out of China is a new adventure. Some good, some bad, but never stale or uninspired.

Lai Li Bu Ming (Unidentified) is part of a movement of Chinese films that combines a typical Chinese, rural setting with modern (urban) fantasy, romance and comedy elements. The first time I encountered this was when I watched Hu Guan's Cow, now it seems like more and more films are trying to follow in its footsteps.

The story of Unidentified is about a recluse living in the middle of nowhere. He has no money or worldly possession, apart from the home-made tools he uses to watch the skies. One day his peaceful live is turned upside down when a mute ends up on his doorstep. It's the start of a series of strange events, involving the mute, an archaeologist, a group of tree planters and a local triad gang.

Unidentified is weird mix of styles and genres, held together by impressive visuals, solid acting and the feeling you're watching a film that doesn't lets itself be easily compared to every other film you've seen. When put next to Cow Guan's film does a better job of balancing everything together, but Unidentified stands well on its own and leaves me hopeful for the immediate future of Chinese cinema. It may be a little hard to come by, but it's definitely worth checking out if you happen upon it.

figyua na anata

November 08, 2013
Figyua na Anata poster

Takashi Ishii is a unique force in Japanese cinema. Often focusing on the bizarre and the perverse, Ishii makes films that exist far outside the comfort zone of the normal. By all means his films should come off as cheap shlock, possibly interesting in concept only, but for some obscure reason Ishii has managed to produce a consistent track of high quality output throughout the years.

Figyua na Anata is his latest and pretty much fits the profile. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Video Girl Ai and Koreeda's Air Doll, the film's about a lone loser finding a doll that comes to life. It's actually a pretty popular setup in Japanese manga and anime, only Ishii's vision is a tad more perverse than usually the case. Instead of jolly encounters and fluffy awkwardness, expect dark allies, murdering yakuza and pinku influences.

But it doesn't really stop there. Ishii goes on to create a rather sad tale of loneliness and despair, hidden in a blur of fighting dolls. The film follows a young editor (Kentaro) who loses his job and goes out on a drinking spree. He ends up messing with the wrong people and while fleeing into an abandoned building, happens upon a strange, life-like doll. When his assailants finally catch up with him, the doll comes to life and saves his life. The next morning Kentaro wakes up and takes the doll home, acting as if she's become his girlfriend.

The final 20 minutes border on the absurd, giving Figyua na Anata that extra little boost to make it stand out from similar films. Takashi Ishii is a strange man, his films never really appealed to me that much but upon closer inspection there's a lot of quality hidden under their raunchy exteriors. Well worth a try if you're looking for something different.

the killing of john lennon

November 04, 2013
The Killing Of John Lennon poster

Not a fan of biopics, not a fan of The Beatles, didn't even know who killed Lennon before I sat down to watch this film. So yeah, I didn't expect much of Piddington's The Killing of John Lennon, but that never stopped me before. Once in a blue moon you run into a film that completely flips around your expectations, which is exactly what happened with this one.

Fans of The Beatles or John Lennon beware. This film is about Mark Chapman and Mark Chapman only. Lennon is featured for about a minute or so, the rest of The Beatles are completely absent. People hoping to find a best-of compilation of Lennon's music here will also be disappointed, Piddington opts for a more atmospheric soundtrack.

Chapman isn't a very likeable character, but Piddington and Jonas Bal do an amazing job shedding some light on his view of the world. There's very little to sympathize with, yet the film manages to really get under the skin and into the brain of Chapman. Instead of just running through the facts, Piddington focuses more on the way Chapman experiences life, the events and the people around him. This is more of a character piece than it is a mere recounting of Chapman's actions leading up to the fatal event.

The visuals combined with the soundtrack bring Chapman's confused visions to life. The film has a little dip right after Lennon's murder (where the plot takes over for a short while) but the film quickly recovers and dishes out a pretty strong ending.

Piddington really deserves credit for his approach here, instead of making a boring biopic he brings the world of a madman to life. It's probably a tough sell for people hoping to see a good guy/bad guy type of film, but if you're interested to find out what drives certain people to commit such foolish acts, this films places you right in the middle of the insanity.


October 31, 2013
Haunter poster

Vincenzo Natali is the guy behind the first Cube film, a somewhat troubled but fun movie that got by on a strong and enigmatic concept. I lost track of him ever since (though I did see his entry in Paris, Je t'Aime), but when I came across Haunter I was more than eager to give him a second chance. While still not a film that lives up to its true potential, Haunter is a pretty atmospheric trip down Natali's eerie visions and more than confirms Natali's talent.

Haunter is a pretty tough sell though. While it has many characteristics of a horror film (and thanks to its marketing it will undoubtedly draw large horror crowds), it's actually a dark, moody mystery that isn't really out to scare. Instead Natali unravels a tight and morbid secret that involves hauntings and serial killers embedded in a Groundhog Day-like loop. Little by little he drops hints and unveils smaller mysteries that all lead up to the big revelation.

Natali's Haunter is a visually pleasing film. While clearly not a big budget affair, he makes the most of his money with moody lighting, smart play of shadows and strong use of color. The soundtrack too is aptly used to further enhance the atmosphere. It sets the perfect mood for the story to unravel. Sadly the lead actress takes away from that. Abigail Breslin never really seems to get the hang of her character and comes off as a weak lead. McHattie shines as the film's villain, but he simply lacks screen time to make up for the lead's poor performance.

It's a shame because Natali does a great job setting everything up. The atmosphere is there, the plot is tight enough and opens itself up at the right times. Look past the lead actress and you have a neat little mystery.

tokyo marble chocolate

October 08, 2013
Tokyo Marble Chocolate poster

Production I.G used to be my favorite anime production house (not even Studio 4C could touch them in their prime). Grown out of the Headgear collaborative (the production team behind Patlabor 2 and Oshii's prior home), I.G produced classics like Kokaku Kidotai, Innocence and Dead Leaves. Once a synonym for quality Japanese animation features, nowadays they keep on spewing out mediocre series and movies just to keep their head above water.

Tokyo Marble Chocolate is a 2-part OAV from I.G's transition period (2005-2007). It's already a lot softer in tone and style than their previous output (more in line with the kind of series Gainax used to produce), yet the unique artstyle and the Shinkai-inspired romance (Kotonoha no Niwa, Byosoku 5 Senchimetoru) make for a sweet and amusing little diversion.

The story revolves around a boy and a girl hooking up. Both are not very successful when it comes to maintaining relationships. Even though they seem to like each other a lot, they can't really commit fully to their blossoming love. The OAV is split into 2 distinct segments, each segment following one character going through the one decisive day that will shape their future as a couple.

While mostly straight-up romance, there is at least one thing setting it apart from other, more typical romances. Shiotani includes an extra character: a rather unique and feisty looking mini-donkey. Through this character some extra comedy is brought into the OAV, while at the same time making it a bit more attractive to the regular anime crowd. I'm not really sure it helped the OAV as a whole though, as it does contrast rather strongly with the romantic atmosphere.

Clocking in at around 50 minutes in total, Tokyo Marble Chocolate is a pretty safe bet for people who're into Shinkai's romances. It may be a more commercial move for I.G, but the artstyle and soundtrack make sure that there is still plenty to enjoy.

you're next

October 02, 2013
You're Next poster

Adam Wingard has been struggling lately. While I thoroughly enjoyed Pop Skull and A Horrible Way To Die, his entries in ABC's of Death and both V/H/S anthologies came off as sloppy and lazy, too focused on getting cosy with his group of fellow directors (Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Simon Barrett) instead of producing good films. With the release of You're Next, things are looking up though.

Then again, You're Next was actually shot before he did the anthology projects, held back until now by a battle of rights between Lions Gate and Paramount. It's a small miracle that You're Next still ended up in theaters, especially when you consider the film isn't exactly megaplex material. At first sight it may look like a pretty typical house invasion flick (think Ils or The Strangers), but there's a bit more to Wingard's setup.

The film starts with a family reunion in a remote vacation house. Even though the family strains are obvious from the start, the quarrels and bickering between the brothers and sisters isn't all that out of the ordinary. It doesn't take too long before arrows are whizzing through the windows though, while the family feuds are quickly replaced by genuine panic and a renewed sense of survival instinct.

The killers are both deadly and creepy, but You're Next is actually a mixture of horror and dark comedy. Even though the score (pretty awesome) and visuals (atmospheric camera work) may suggest otherwise, the overly manic screams and blunt kills make it clear that this film isn't just about the scares and gore. It's a nice little twist, although Wingard never really goes 100% in, which weighs on both the horror and the comedy aspects of the film.

In the end You're Next shows a lot of potential, but is bogged down just a tad too much by its schizophrenic nature. It's a solid horror flick with some good smirks and creepy moments, but a feeling remains that Wingard could've made a better film if he'd just opted for a purer execution (either straight-up horror of unapologetic horror/comedy).

naam yi boon sik

September 23, 2013
Invisible Target poster

Naam Yi Boon Sik (Invisible Target) is what happens when all the stars align for director Benny Chan. While the film still can't quite match Hong Kong's best action cinema, it's more than perfect filler with plenty of sumptuous treats for action fans.

Chan brought together some interesting young talent to fill in the main roles. Nicholas Tse, Shawn Yue (Shamo) and Jaycee Chan (Jackie's son, amazing in Lee's Adventure and form a trio of good guys who are out to capture Wu Jing's band of criminals. This being a Hong Kong action film there is of course some (sub-par) personal drama to fill in the gaps, but for the greater part the action sequences dominate the film.

Naam Yi Boon Sik is a surprisingly violent film. While Benny Chan is known for his action cinema, usually his films tend to be a bit lighter in tone. Here he opts for darker colors, grittier characters and only a select few moments of comic relief. It's a choice that turns out to be surprisingly effective, giving the film a welcome edge over his other work.

From start to finish, the film is littered with various long-winding action sequences. There are some cool fights, some crazy chases (the rooftop chase is amazing) and a healthy selection of glass-shattering explosions. The breaks in between action scenes are few and far between and while the film is a little lengthy (128 minutes is a bit much for a film like this), it never really stalls or becomes boring.

Benny Chan finds the right balance between fun and grit. Naam Yi Boon Sik may well be his best film so to date. While no match for the best Hong Kong action films out there, it's a great diversion should you want a bit of brainless entertainment.