Ki-duk's breakthrough film may have aged gracefully, it has aged nonetheless. While not his best work, the intrigue and poetry mixed with ruthless characters and dark emotions would come to define the rest of his career, and that appeal is still very much there. The Isle is the perfect introduction for those who want to dig into Ki-duk's oeuvre.
I Lost My Body
A French animation that has been getting some positive critiques. It's not difficult to see why, though not everything here worked for me. Clapin's aspirations are sky-high and it's nice to find a director who isn't willing to settle for safe and predictable, but in the end the film just isn't quite as moody as it tried to be.
The art style is decent but not all that attractive. Luckily the animation is nice, with cool camera angles, good use of CG and some very impressive and memorable moments (the highway/umbrella scene for example). It's the soundtrack that jumps out though, very atmospheric and not afraid to take center stage.
The structure of the film is less successful, with a mediocre twist halfway through and some very heavy-handed (pun intended) symbolism. Clapin wants too much here, it would've been better if he'd simply given the story and his characters some room to breathe. He shows promise though, so looking forward to seeing what he does with his next film.
If there ever was a descriptive title for a film, it must've been Dark Story of a Japanese Rapist. You get exactly what the title promises, and with Koji Wakamatsu behind the camera you can rest assured it isn't just straight-forward horror or simple titillation. This was quite the effective drama.
The main character of this film may be a rapist, he's also an extremely tragic figure. That's not going to be a very popular take/angle, but there's definitely some merit in telling the story this way. While his victims remain empty shells for the most part, Wakamatsu takes his time to paint a strong picture of the perpetrator.
No colors this time around, apart from a handful of monochrome shots. The stark black and white cinematography is fitting though and weighs on the film. The soundtrack is fine too, the runtime perfect and the finale very fitting. A good film from Wakamatsu, but make sure you come prepared.
Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado
It's somewhat interesting to watch a documentary about a world-famous cult figure without having the faintest clue who that man is. Of course documentaries love to put their subjects on a pedestal, even so it's clear that Walter Mercado is more than just a local legend. And Mucho Mucho Amor gives a good, compact rundown of his life.
Mercado looks like a very sweet, well-meaning and endearing man, at the same time he's completely ridiculous and over-the-top. Not even so much because of his flamboyant appearance, but the crap he sells is not really something that warrants intercontinental fame. I think the world would be better off without this kind of baseless positivity and spirituality.
The documentary itself is nice enough. The talking heads aren't always that interesting, but there are enough fun interludes, the pacing is decent and overall it seems to give a pretty solid impression of the brand that is Mercado. Don't expect anything critical or in-depth, but it's a good introduction for those who've never heard of the man.
The Seashell and the Clergyman
An odd little film. First of all, make sure you get the restored version because it's about 13 minutes longer than earlier versions. And even though these extra minutes probably won't help to clear up the narrative, I don't think there's much that deserves to be cut, so it would be a real shame to miss out on the full experience.
Credited as a big inspiration for Buñuel's Un Chien Andalou, it's one of the earliest surrealist films out there. And Dulac's work is impressive. There's no lack of memorable scenes, intriguing stages and oddball moments here. Strong visuals help to set a perfect mood, that carries the film with ease.
The score is somewhat problematic though, as the longer version doesn't have the most fitting music. Earlier versions (like Luigi Morleo's work) are better, but they don't fit the longer runtime. It's no doubt the trickiest part of rating these classic silent shorts, but regardless of the quality of the soundtrack, there's plenty here that hasn't lost its charm.
Manchester by the Sea
A drama with a capital D. Manchester by the Sea is the kind of film that is sure to do well with arthouse and academy fans, as it neatly ticks off all the boxes a typical prize film needs. It's no doubt a fine recommend if that's your thing, but it's also more than little by the numbers and not really the kind of film I'm generally after.
Performances are good, but most of the characters are rather one-note. They're all struggling really hard with serious drama from their pasts, but none of it is very gripping and when the drama keeps piling up it becomes pretty numbing. In the end, the harder Lonergan tried to make me care, the less I actually did.
Visually it's very drab, with dull colors, a sullen setting and functional camera work. The soundtrack isn't very interesting either, the runtime is excessive and the pacing is pretty slow, which is okay if the drama works, but it really didn't for me. It's not a terrible film, but there's nothing here that made me glad I watched it.
Wotakoi: Love Is Hard for Otaku
Fukuda's latest is a rather typical look at otaku love. Every so often one of these films pops up, delving into otaku culture and detailing the social awkwardness these people have to deal with on a daily basis. It rarely turns out to be great cinema, not even Fukuda can do anything to change that.
It's not that he didn't give it a fair try, the pleasant mix of romance, musical and comedy shows a lot of promise, but that's par for the course. Quirky but loveable characters, fun (and surprisingly well done) musical interludes and a fair dosage of comedy give the film a perfect start.
Sadly, Fukuda can't quite keep it up. The romance is a little too basic and predictable, the comedy fades away during the second half and two hours is simply too long. Apart from cutting it a little shorter or turning it into a downright parody, there's not much Fukuda could've done I'm afraid. This niche simply doesn't allow for much leeway.
The 6th Day
A mediocre sci-fi thriller that deploys Schwarzenegger as if he had landed in a regular 80s action flick. The tone of the film is a bit messy and the action, sci-fi and thriller elements don't really work very well together, but separately there are some decent scenes that at least kept me interested.
Schwarzenegger is Schwarzenegger. He's a bulky dude that can't act very well, but he has presence and charm. He's a great action hero, but as a family man who has to discover the truth about a clone that has taken over his life, he inevitably struggles. His casting makes about as much sense as Bullock's casting in The Net.
The 6th Day is not a very good film, but at least the pacing is decent and there are some solid action scenes. Even though it's almost two hours long, it doesn't drag or get boring. It's just a shame they didn't put a little more effort into the sci-fi elements, because the setup was interesting enough. Spottiswoode just isn't a good enough director to do something nice with it.
The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes
Not sure I'd call it one of Brakhage's more accessible films, but it's definitely one of his least abstract ones. If you like Brakhage's style of filming and editing, but aren't taken with the abstract images that exemplify his work, you may want to give this film a chance. Be sure to read up about it up front though.
The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes is an unflinching autopsy documentary. There's a ton of dead bodies, often very mangled ones, that get examined. A lot of it involves cutting up the remains and cleaning up the mess afterwards. These are not pretty pictures and will probably be considered very shocking by many.
But, as the title of the film explains, that's pretty much the point. It's just a shame that Brakhage refuses to add a soundtrack to his work and that film simply can't substitute the real deal, which takes away some shock effect of this documentary. This comes from a longtime horror fan though, so make sure you know what you're getting yourself into.
Hell or High Water
A very run-of-the-mill and pedestrian modern western. Two brothers go on a bank robbing spree, two cops take it upon themselves to try and capture them. It's a story we've seen a million times already, so it was up to director Mackenzie to make it special. Instead, he just stuck to conventions.
There's a little drama to try and justify the robberies, a little action to create something that looks like a finale, but it's mostly just two cops trying to catch two criminals. The Texas setting is drab and unappealing, the characters that inhabit these places are little more than the usual stereotypes.
Visually boring, a fitting but unattractive soundtrack and performances that feel too sullen and heavy for this type of film. It just oozes mediocrity, apart from the performance of Jeff Bridges, which was just ridiculously bad. At least they didn't drag it out too long, but it's a very unmemorable affair that got way more attention than it deserved.
A short and classic documentary about the Mississippi River. It sounds like a somewhat dull subject (and it is), so this is probably only going to appeal to people who enjoy history and a little geography. It might've been a cool school doc once, but I guess the information is too outdated for that now.
So what can you say about rivers? That they flood the land once in a while, that they create jobs and are useful for farming, transportation and generating electricity. This documentary goes through all the usual angles, but doesn't offer many surprises along the way.
It also feels a bit like propaganda, probably because early human intervention aggravated the flooding, and they needed the people back on board for further work on the river. It's all a bit pointless now, apart from a glimpse in the past and some nice shots of the river.
A pretty straightforward film by Lee's standards. BlacKkKlansman is the story of a young but passionate black cop who infiltrates the KKK and uses a white (Jewish) stand-in for his face to face confrontations. Based on a biographical book, Lee sticks closely to the genre conventions.
That's a nice and easy way to honor the work of Stallworth, but it also makes for a slightly duller film. You don't need to know the history to predict how it all pans out and without Lee's stylistic flourish it's little more than a plot moving from beginning to end, at a pretty consistent pace.
Performances are nice though and while predictable, it's still quite fun to see how it all comes together. BlacKkKlansman isn't a bad film, it's just a little basic and by the numbers. The references to BLM and America's current political climate at the end of the film don't do much to change that.
It's not the first time I complain about a Cheh Chang film in a contemporary setting, I'm sure it won't be the last either. Though I will say, Four Riders feels a lot like heroic bloodshed avant-la-lettre, so Chang probably does deserve some credits there. Sadly the execution is pretty flat and not at all heroic.
It's almost too clean and neat, which isn't ideal for an action film. It's nice that Chang tries to incorporate some social critique for example, but it feels out of place and ends up slowing things down unnecessarily. The action scenes are decent, but nothing too spectacular and too far apart to keep the film interesting.
The bottom line is that Chang doesn't do serious very well. He's at his best when martial arts heroes are flying around while taking revenge on some illustrious bad guy. Four Riders is a film that tries to tackle a little extra, but ends up poorer for it. I wouldn't be surprised though if John Woo considers this one of his favorites.
Psychological horror film that transforms human suffering into actual demons. Not exactly a novel concept, a lot hinges on the execution in these films, so props to James for making it work as well as it does here. It's not a film without faults, but at its best it's one of the better horror films I've seen in a while.
It's no surprise that Relic is a slowburner, relying on atmosphere and tension to keep its audience engaged. The first half of the film doesn't have too much actual horror, but moody cinematography and a killer soundtrack make sure that there's a constant feeling of dread and unease.
Performances are solid, the build-up is perfect, the only problem is the pre-finale, which tries to ramp up the tension but doesn't quite get there. Luckily the ending sets things right again. Not a masterpiece, the film isn't quite distinguished enough for that, but a fine horror film that sits proudly next to peers like The Babadook.
Another early Sono short, where he once again features as the lead character. This time he's madly in love (hence the title), though I'm not sure if it matters all that much. These films seem to follow a pretty fixed structure, where Sono is basically filming his young, hyperactive self.
The technical qualities are poor and amateurish, the image quality is extremely grainy, the camera work is rough and the use of the soundtrack is very basic. Half of the time it's just Sono himself shouting things at the camera, the other half are some random scenes that hardly connect to the broader whole.
But there's a lot of energy and even though individual scenes don't really impress, the whole is vibrant and alive. It does offer an interesting window in Sono's mind and fans of the man's work will have an easy time connecting the dots, as a stand-alone work it isn't quite as interesting though.
This wasn't Wakamatsu's best. The subject (an exploration of the lineage of a serial rapist) is right up Wakamatsu's alley, but Abnormal Blood goes for a somewhat dramatic and narrative approach. Personally I prefer it when he takes a more experimental route, because that's where Wakamatsu's real strength lies.
Abnormal Blood is part of a trilogy, of which I haven't seen the other parts. Maybe things feel more like a whole after seeing the remaining entries, but as a stand-alone film it felt a bit aimless and disjointed. It's also quite short considering the scope of the undertaking, at just 75 minutes.
The usual switches between color and black and white are nice enough, Wakamatsu's camera work is interesting and even though it's a more narrative -focused film, the film still feels relatively vibrant and emotional. The ending is pretty cool, but not enough to redeem the entire film. This one is for Wakamatsu completists.
Somehow I'd never seen this film before, then again I was never really into rock/metal, so Wayne's World was never part of my scene. Seeing it now, that probably wouldn't have mattered much, because the level of metal is extremely Hollywood-safe and the film is really nothing more than a goofy comedy.
Myers and Carvey are two simpletons who host their own little TV-show. They do it just for fun, but when a big shot introduces himself they get suckered into a shady business deal. They guy isn't just after some quick bucks though, he also has an eye on Myers' girlfriend, who fronts her own rock band.
There are a few decent jokes, but the metal parody feels a bit lazy and timid. The drama that surfaces in the second half isn't really necessary either and even though the film has a limited runtime, it does start to drag after a while. It's not terrible, but nothing I'd want to see again or would wholeheartedly recommend.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
The fourth and (hopefully) final part in this dreadful franchise. Not much effort went into this one either and it's clear we've finally hit rock bottom. Some tired old plot about a looming marriage and two sets of "kids" who don't like the prospect of living together. They devise a plan to stop the wedding, but of course lots of things go wrong.
This is basically a road movie, because "road chip" was a pun they hadn't used yet. At least it allows for some change in scenery and characters, but it doesn't really help when everyone they meet up with is terribly annoying, including some haphazard bad guy who mistakes bad acting for comedy.
I won't spoil the ending (hah), but it's safe to say there aren't many surprises here. There's no growth in the characters, the pop music is still hideous and the chipmunks simply aren't funny. Might be good if you want to add to your kids ADD or when you're completely out of sugar, but as a film it's extremely dire.
University of Laughs
University of Laughs presents an epic battle between a grumpy censor and a spirited play writer. The censor doesn't understand comedy at all and wants to see a more upright play, while the play writer is working against a deadline and is doing his best to please the censor as well as his theater group.
Most of the film is set in a single, bleak and uninviting room, where the back and forth between these two characters happens. There are some scenes outside too, yet they are scarce. Hoshi really didn't make it easy on himself, but some cinematic tricks help him to keep the film from becoming stale, even though it still ends up being a little too long.
Yakusho and Inagaki both turn in very solid performances, Yakusho in particular is clearly having a lot of fun here. The pacing is slow but the film never really lags or gets boring, even when the story and outcome are quite predictable. If only it could've been a bit shorter, but as it is, it's still a solid, entertaining film.
Family Romance, LLC
Herzog goes to Japan to make a film about a company that hires out actors, who become hired friends and/or family members for a day. It's not really a novel concept, but Herzog's documentary-style offers a new approach and the fact that the lead actor is also doing this job in real life adds a little intrigue.
Sadly the film itself is quite poor. Herzog feels lost in Japan and apart from some template shots (like Shibuya Crossing) ends up giving off a very touristy vibe. The film looks quite ugly, the music is ill-fitting and because of the form I expected Herzog's voice to pop up and give commentary on the story.
The performances are quite poor too and the fragmented setup doesn't really add much. It's a failed experiment that might've worked better as an actual documentary rather than a feature film. It's weird that Herzog didn't see this himself, as he's quite fond of making documentaries. Not good at all.
I rarely watch mini-series, but since I've seen all the Ju-on films I figured I could handle six short episodes. The franchise is also pretty series-friendly, as the original films too were very fragmented and haphazard. That same structure is still here, though Origins isn't quite as episodic as I expected it to be.
They pretty much made a longer Ju-on film with more focus on story. Lately the franchise has been struggling, so some fresh ideas were definitely welcome, but I don't think more plot and fewer scares were really the kind of innovations I was looking for. But that's what happens when you go the mini-series route I guess.
Performances were okay and there were a couple of cool horror scenes, but they are few and far between. The rest feels like filler that doesn't really add much to the existing Ju-on universe. The biggest problem is that the series isn't even all that scary, it's just a little edgier. Not a terrible mini-series, but it didn't rekindle the Ju-on franchise.
A very typical Wahlberg vehicle. He plays another rough but just hero who is willing the save the day, even though the world he lives in isn't doing him any favors. The film is directed by Peter Berg, whose work tends to be pretty decent, but a little uneven and rarely hides something outstanding.
The story is very basic. Wahlberg is a former cop who took the fall when he tried to do the right thing. After 5 years in prison, he plans to reboot his life, but the secrets of his past are catching up with him before he manages to escape. Together with his buddies he goes after the people who put him in prison all these years ago.
It's nothing special and that's exactly how Berg directs the film. It looks inconspicuous, the music sounds bland, performances are rather plain and the plot is terribly predictable. As a thriller, the film fails to engage, luckily the ending is a bit more action-packed, thogh that's hardly enough to make this a stand-out.
The Confidence Man JP: Romance
Japanese series-based movies are rarely great, though there are a couple of exceptions. Sadly this isn't one of them. While the film starts off very promising and has a couple of things going for it, it completely falls apart during the second half and drags itself to a very unsatisfying finale.
The setup is nice enough though. A group of spirited con men are looking for a big fish to have some fun with. Their eye falls on a Hong Kong mogul, a mysterious person who pretty much controls every faction who has any power in Hong Kong. And thus starts their plan to steal a purple diamond from her.
There's a bit of overacting, but the colorful cinematography and upbeat atmosphere make for an amusing first part. But then the twists come ... and keep on coming. And then even more twists. And none of them are very good, they just feel forced and constructed. It makes for a rather dull second half that takes out all the fun.
Garrone has a way with fantasy and it shows in this latest adaptation of Pinocchio. This is far removed from the Disney adaptation and it's all the better for it. Garrone remains much closer to the original story, which means the film does get quite dark at times (like most original fairy tales), but I don't think most kids will have a problem with it.
The production design is very nice, reminiscent of 80s/90s fantasy, blending costumes and CG to create a weird and mysterious world that looks a bit like our own, but at the same this isn't anything like it. What the film sometimes lacks in technical prowess is made up for in creativity and practical effects.
Benigni returns as Pinocchio's father, a risky move after his own version flopped tremendously in 2002, but with a better director at the helm he fits in perfectly. The rest of the cast is nice too (but please watch this in Italian), the soundtrack is fine and while a little long and fragmented, the film never ceased to amaze. A very pleasant surprise.
A very early documentary from Sion Sono, where he turns the camera on himself. Don't expect to be informed though, it's really just Sono going crazy with a camera and experimenting away. It's as crazy as you'd expect an early Sono to be, though you have to wonder whether this was ever meant to be released.
Image and sound quality are absolutely terrible. The grainy cinematography, fuzzy image quality and haphazard camera work are no doubt due to the poor equipment and Sono's own inexperience, some will consider it part of the charm, but I'm not a big fan. It just comes off as very amateurish.
Still, Sono's potential is already clearly visible. There are some strange stop motion bits, exaggerated sound, a lot of random weirdness and Sono himself clowning around. It's an interesting film for fans of the man's work, or people who love crazy and experimental documentaries, just don't expect anything polished.