Once one of the prime front-runners of the Nouvelle Vague, Varda ended her career making documentaries. I haven't seen many of her films yet, but based on this one and Cleo from 5 to 7, I think I like her narrative films a lot better. I found this to be quite self-indulging, pretentious and dull.
Varda teams up with JR, a younger artist who blows up photographs and plasters them against walls. The both of them travel through France in the hope that they can be inspired by random people they meet and to create art based on their stories. That's pretty much all there is to it.
Too many moments seem (and no doubt are) scripted and inauthentic, the relationship between Varda and JR feels forced and the resulting art from their travels is bland. In the end I didn't care for these people, didn't care for the people they met and didn't care for their creative process nor output. But they sure seemed to love the camera.
Kevin Hart teams up again for a crime comedy, this time with Dwayne Johnson. The result is a bit disappointing. Not that my expectations were all that high, but I'd hoped for something a bit more entertaining. The movie plays it safe though and director Thurber fails to put his stamp on the film.
Hart is the high school prom king, whose live didn't really turn out the way he wanted it to be. Johnson was the high school clown, the kid everyone bullied. He grew up to be all muscles and a heart of gold, so when Hart meets up with him before a high school reunion, he can't believe his own eyes.
What follows is a dumb story about a terrorist who stole launch codes, with Hart and Johnson teaming up to save the world from harm. The chemistry between both isn't fully there, the comedy is a little too simplistic and the action scenes are pretty basic too. It's not terrible as simple entertainment goes, but it's just not very memorable.
A sprawling Russian fantasy film. There's definitely a trend going on there, lately more and more big budget Russian genre films are finding their way to the West. It's a big move away from the downtrodden rural arthouse that we usually get to see, but it's a trend I'm gladly embracing.
The plot of Coma isn't the most interesting, but it's a solid premise that allows the director to go crazy with the fantasy elements, which is the main focus of the film. An architect in a coma arrives in a strange, Escher-esque world where he finds other victims battling dark and evil creatures. He architects out to have special powers and is quickly recruited by a team of survivors.
A lot of time and effort went into the design and execution of the fantasy world, which is a real blessing. Argunov takes his time to explore this world and keeps the plot to a minimum. No doubt a choice that is going to annoy some people, but personally this is how I prefer my fantasy. A pretty nifty discovery.
This film is about Steve. Steve is about to have the worst birthday of his life. It's going to take a while before the full extent of Alexandra's secret project is revealed, as Rolf de Heer takes his time to set up Steve's birthday party, but from the very first scene it's obvious that something is well off.
There is a constant struggle to keep things interesting, but in the end de Heer comes out the winner. I think a tighter runtime might've done the film some good. It would've given him a chance to eliminate some forced pauses that sometimes take the urgency out of the film, but overall there are a few interesting twists that ramp the intrigue while keeping you guessing about what is to follow.
Performances are decent, but nothing too out of the ordinary. The cinematography is meticulous, but not quite attractive. Alexandra's Project could've used a little extra polish, but in the end the film is twisted and surprising enough to rise above that. A great build-up, some fun twists and turns and a few genuine what-the-fucks. Good fun.
An American Pickle
A mediocre Rogen comedy. Most comedies go for a very simple, pedestrian setup and sneak in as many jokes as possible, An American Pickle guns for a more original and creative setup, but forgot to make it actually funny. It's a real bummer because the premise really did have a lot of potential.
Polish immigrant Hershel gets trapped in a pickle barrel and remains locked in for 100 years. When they find him he is still alive, but the world has changed a lot and Hershel only has his great-grandson Ben to take care of him. The two don't really get along and soon they become each other's worst enemies.
The loose narrative is actually quite fun and Rogen (who plays both Hershel and Ben) isn't bad either, but the jokes (and feeble social commentary) are pretty weak and the "time travel" bits are way too predictable. The direction too feels indifferent. The film just hobbles along without any real highlights, a missed opportunity.
Earthquake Bird is an odd little thriller with pretty extreme shifts in quality. The premise of the film is terribly weak, as if you're watching a cheap, 90s B-thriller. The intrigue is completely missing and the twists and turns along the way reminded me more of disappointing video rentals than good cinema.
Part of that is due to poor performances of the lead characters. It seems like Kobayashi was chosen only for his decent grasp of the English language (which I agree, is a bit of a problem for Japanese actors), Vikander is completely unconvincing as the mysterious and brooding Lucy. She's a pretty decent actress, but she simply couldn't pull off this role.
It looks as if Westmoreland realized this at some point and inserted several scenes that ramp up the atmosphere. The quality of the cinematography and the soundtrack suddenly soar and these moments are pretty great, sadly there's nothing underneath them to keep the tension alive. Whenever these scenes are over, the film defaults back to its bland self and carries on until the next great scene. Not terrible, but very uneven.
The Untold Story 2
The first and third film are pretty decent, no doubt because Herman Yau was involved as a director. This second part was directed by Yiu-Kuen Ng and takes a pretty serious nosedive. Though the setup of the film isn't that different from the others, the direction feels weak and the thriller/horror elements are pretty ineffective.
A pretty demure and timid girl turns out to be a lot less restrained than initially apparent. When she sees her crush being mistreated by his girlfriend, she invades their lives and takes her place in the most horrific way possible. The highlight of this film are the gruesome killings, even though they are still quite tame compared to the first film.
The drama and thriller elements simply don't work. Performances are weak (except Anthony Wong's, but he has a smaller part), the cinematography is basic and there's no real tension to speak of. The film feels flimsy and disjointed and apart from some individual moments, there nothing that hints at quality film making. Pretty disappointing.
What a lovely surprise. A dark comedy about a disjointed family who receive a surprise visit from a strange little man who claims he is God. Quirky from the beginning until the very end, wonderful performances, charming cinematography and an original take on an amusing subject. It's as if Álex de la Iglesia and Jean-Pierre Jeunet had a baby.
La Morte Rouge
Victor Erice revisits the experience of his first ever film, a rather insignificant Sherlock Holmes feature (The Scarlet Claw) that nonetheless left a deep impression on him. With 32 minutes to fill though, Erice also elaborates on a couple of related topics, like the theater where he watched the film.
Rather than watch Erice walk us through his recollections, he merely narrates La Morte Rouge and shows a series of (mostly) static, black and white images coupled to the music of Arvo Pärt, to create a more poetic impression. While this could've been interesting, it ends up making the film feel very distant and impersonal.
Erice's narration is way too labored. When empty buildings become "refuges for the shadows", I quickly start to lose interest and 30 minutes of that starts to feel like 3 hours. I don't think the presentation fit the theme very well, an unless you're a big fan of more classical arts, then I don't think there's much here.
The latest in Shigeaki Kubo's High & Low series. Availability is a real problem here, with several installments lacking international distribution, but people familiar with the Japanese high school brawler won't have too much trouble finding their way. Big gangs of colorful characters, lots of posing, some crazy fights and a little drama to glue everything together. I have a soft spot for this niche and Kubo (who is on his fifth film now) has proven to have mastered the genre.
This was vintage Fellini. I've seen quite a few of his films over the years and even though we haven't gotten along very well, I do have to compliment Fellini on crafting a very unique and recognizable style. Amarcord is everything I expected it to be, for better or for worse. In my case, that's very much for worse.
On paper, I could've been a fan of his work. It's bustling, dynamic, lively and colorful. Fellini pays attention to the cinematography and cooks ups films that feel very deliberate, very cohesive (in tone at least) and complex. These are all things I appreciate, but the reality is that I find his films extremely ugly and I simply cannot stand the characters.
It's like joining a family gathering you didn't want to attend in the first place. People are exuberant, loud and jolly, everyone seems to be having a good time, but the more fun they're having, the more irritated you get. And that lasts for about 2 hours, which is at least shorter than most family gatherings I have to attend. Not my cup of tea.
In a rather interesting twist, Peter Jackson (the man best known for either his shlocky horror or huge blockbusters films) turned in a documentary focusing on World War I. There have been hundreds of those already and it's fair to wonder where the added value of this documentary lies, but it wouldn't be Jackson without a trick or two up his sleeve.
The big sell here is the restored footage. We're so used to seeing crummy, sped up black and white footage of the past that it's almost a shock to see real, historical footage in full color and without all the jittery decay. It's a nice reminder that our history was actually in color instead of grainy black and white.
While this restored footage is impressive, it's not there for the entire runtime and the rest of the documentary is made up of personal recollections on top of regular black and while historic recordings. While impressive in its own right, I've heard these stories so many times before that they do feel somewhat superfluous. This would've been better if it was half the length.
Shape of Red
A fine romantic drama by Yukiko Mishima. Mishima is quickly becoming one of the more notable female directors in Japan, marrying interesting topics with a strong stylistic signature. Shape of Red fits the description, though I did have some problems with the premise of the film. Luckily the second half adds some necessary intrigue.
Toko is a demure wife, stuck in a loveless marriage. She takes care of their daughter, assists her husband whenever needed and endures her mother-in-law. But her life changes when one day she bumps into Kurata, an old college boyfriend. He convinces her to take a job, which stirs up a long dormant emotional volcano within Toko.
The "woman breaking free of her reigns" setup feels a little too simplistic, though the characters do get properly fleshed out later on. Visually there are some stunning scenes and the second half has some truly emotionally poignant scenes. There is more than enough greatness here, sadly it takes a little too long to reveal itself.
This is one for the hardcore Hong Kong comedy fan only. Vincent Kok is well known for his over-the-top comedy antics, Dragon Reloaded seems to be taken the old formula to new extremes. I'm pretty used to Hong Kong comedy by now, but even I was gasping for air by the time the film had ended.
I think Ronald Cheng shouted every single line he was given. The rest of the cast is equally loud and hyperactive. Calling it overacting is a gross understatement. On top of that, the film's pacing is excruciating. There's nothing that resembles a coherent plot, so Kok simply dashes from joke to joke at breakneck speed. And while some of it is probably offensive by modern standards, it's clear that it's just for laughs.
Now that pure comedies are increasingly rare, there's definitely value in that. There are more misses than hits here, but because Kok moves so fast the good jokes tend to stick, while the bad ones are quickly forgotten. And because Kok goes at it like a loose canon, he's able to slip in a good few original jokes. Now, this won't be everyone's cup of tea and it sure is somewhat of a strain, but it's also extremely goofy and entertaining. Not a great film, but good fun.
The Doll 2
Not quite as good as the first film. The Doll 2 is noticeable longer, which is rarely a good sign for a horror sequel. Director Soraya got a little overconfident and devoted more time to the actual story and drama, but that's not what made the first film such a charming little horror flick, on the contrary.
There's nothing wrong with drama in horror films, it's basically a given in Asian horror, but if you want to put it front and center you need better actors and a director who can do proper drama. The Doll 2 has neither, which just makes it soapy. The setup is nice enough and the ending is pretty cool, but the middle part just drags and is hell to sit through.
Performances are good enough for a horror flick, but not for a drama. The visual effects are overall solid, though there is some flaky CG here and there. As for the doll design, that could've used a little extra attention too (even though the credits showed there was an actual doll designer). Could've been another decent horror film, if only Soraya had cut 20 minutes from the middle.
Mediocre children's fodder with at least some charm present. Especially compared to more recent films, Stuart Little isn't all that bad, though I wouldn't really recommend it either. It's just that after a gazillion ADD US CG vehicles, I was happy to find a film that's at least a little easier on the ears and brain.
Stuart's a little mouse who gets adopted into a human family. If that makes no sense, don't worry, it's not meant to. It's just a silly premise that launches a story about Stuart trying to adapt to his new family. A process that isn't helped by the fact that his new family have a cat roaming around the house.
The story is rather bare bones, the comedy is questionable and performances are mediocre, but at least the film is colorful and short and the animation is pretty okay, especially for its age. A decent option if you have kids and you want to give them something light, though I'd dread having to see this film multiple times.
A bleak and dark drama that deals with childhood trauma. Zeze takes a less typical approach by zooming in on the perpetrators, kids who screwed up at a young age and are forced to live their lives knowing they've committed irreparable damage not only the victims, but also their own families and friends.
Masuda is an aspiring journalist who isn't really cut out for the job. He goes to work in a small factory where he meets Suzuki, a silent and reclusive kid who shies away from his colleagues. Masuda and Suzuki grow close, but Masuda is a little too intrigued by Suzuki's past and starts digging for information, which puts a strain on their friendship.
Performances are strong, the cinematography is fitting and the film has several gripping moments. It's just a little too safe. Zeze's films tend to miss that little extra polish, that tiny bit of personal signature that would elevate them to real masterpieces. Even so, well recommended for fan of grim Japanese dramas, but not quite best in class.
A fun and quirky black comedy, about a contract killer who becomes enamoured with his target. It's not a very original premise and the film sticks pretty closely to what is know to work, but lively performances and a knack for dry and silly comedy make sure this film distinguishes itself from its peers.
Bill Nighy is perfect as the posh, gentleman-like killer, while Blunt is surprisingly good as joyous swindler and romantic interest of Nighy. Grint acts as comic relief, but can't quite find the right vibe for his character. On the villainous side, Everett, Freeman and Bell were clearly having lots of fun as they all put in solid performances.
The direction is light and sometimes a little too basic, but it adequately supports the dry comedy. The film is relatively short and doesn't drag things out endlessly, which is only for the best as the plot is quite rudimentary and predictable. Far from masterpiece material, but it's amusing filler that offers a slightly different take on a familiar genre.
Love Is Five, Seven, Five
I wouldn't be surprised if every traditional Japanese after school club got its own movie during the 00s. It became a pretty popular genre, driven by a rigid narrative structure that didn't seem to leave the directors much freedom to add something of their own. Ogigami struggles too, but overall she did a pretty solid job.
The 5-7-5 refers to the haiku pattern, which is the main theme of the film. Some familiarity with the Japanese language and haiku dos and don'ts will definitely come in handy, no doubt some of the finer points went right by me, but by the end of the film I did begin to get a feel for the nuances and appeal. That's not to say I became the biggest haiku fan in the world, but at least I got a decent grasp of the directives.
Ogigami's quirkiness is present, but not as much as in her better work. She's too restricted by the classic setup and the predictable direction of the story. The cinematography is decent and performances are nice, though nothing too exceptional. This is just a fun, breezy and pleasant little film, but a bit too by the numbers for my liking.
Journey to Italy
It is said that Rossellini was only interested in making a film about the Napoli region, the drama between Bergman and Sanders was merely an excuse to do some sightseeing at the major hotspots. Now, I've been to Napoli and the region is indeed a sight to behold, sadly Rossellini fails to do it justice.
A big part of that is the grim and bleak black and white cinematography. It takes out all the life out of the area, a truly baffling choice. The camera work and editing are pretty poor too and the 4:3 ratio feels suffocating, especially when capturing a region that has such beautiful vistas. Based on this film, Napoli would be the last place I'd want to visit.
The drama is pretty dire too, with wooden performances, a lot of spiteful back-and-forths and a weird ending that feels incredibly forced and random. There's a lot of talk about history, death and memories, if that's your thing you might get something out of this, but that's just not my cup of tea. This was probably the worst vacation ad every shot.
Statues also Die
What starts as a short documentary on African art and culture becomes a call to do away with racism. It's a noble cause and it may have been a bit more mind-blowing back in the day, but a good 70 years later I think most of us will agree that a documentary like this didn't make the difference it hoped to make.
The first part of the documentary is presented like a more old-fashioned take on African culture, throughout the documentary new insights are added to the point where the narrator finally comes to his conclusion: black and white aren't that different from each other, no matter what some people have been claiming.
It could've been a smart setup to convince the naysayers, but the rambling and often cheesy narration, the godawful soundtrack and the short runtime don't really help to get the point across, and the road to this obvious conclusion feels too labored and random to make a big impression. At least the directors deserve credit for trying.
Takashi Yamazaki is one of a handful Japanese directors who can make a proper blockbuster. While his films fall short of being true masterpieces, they offer solid entertainment while staying clear from being too generic. Parasyte fits right in with the rest of his work, making it perfect filler.
The film is clearly based on a manga/anime, though you don't need any prior knowledge to watch it. The setup is very simple, with a weird species of parasites on a mission to dominate mankind. One of the creatures fails to take over his host's brain and ends up as his right hand (literally). The two of them learn to live together and become the unlikely heroes of the story.
The monster design is pretty outrageous, but hilarious. The film is also quite gruesome for a blockbuster, but nothing a regular horror fan can't handle. Performances are solid, with Shôta Sometani as the charismatic lead, the cinematography is slick and the visual effects on point. I really had a lot of fun with this one, it won't be long before I give part 2 a whirl.
A short OAV from Kôichi Ôhata, the director behind Genocyber. If you're familiar with Japanese sci-fi/horror anime, then I'm sure the name Genocyber rings a bell. It's a somewhat mythical 90s anime that only cares about being as badass as possible. Cybernetics Guardian is quite similar, but more compact (and a little older).
While nothing too original, the mishmash of influences does give this film its own, unique identity. The dystopian, futuristic setting, the mecha and pseudoscience mixed with a bit of demonology and the raw action are nothing new, but thrown together it makes for a pretty explosive combination.
Because of the limited runtime Ôhata doesn't have much time to do proper world building, at the same time the no frills approach and extreme pacing add to the charm of this production. The animation is limited, but the designs are pretty cool and if you like excessive violence there's plenty of that here. Short and entertaining.
Selfie from Hell
Horror and modern tech are a convenient combination. There's so much tech doom already, and so few people knowing the ins and outs of their devices that it's extremely easy to conjure up a little dread with tech going wrong. It's no surprise then that there's an entire niche of smartphone/streaming horror films.
That said, the lore behind Selfie from Hell feels a little flaky. There's a bit of everything, with stalking ghosts, the dark web and asylum videos, but it never really comes together and some of it feels downright random. Maybe it's because the film is only 70s minutes long, then again this isn't the most serious of horror films, so it didn't really bother me.
Luckily Ceylan does a pretty decent job building up the atmosphere. As a whole it may not make too much sense, individual scenes are quite moody and effective. It's a shame the ending is a little too bold and stumbles when the ghost makes its final appearance, but overall I had a decent amount of fun.
Like many Hong Kong directors in the late 80s/early 90s, Ronny Yu traded in the Hong Kong backdrop for a European one. For China White, he landed on Amsterdam (also Paris and Rotterdam) to unfold his little crime/action epic. The result is pretty poor though, with only a few above average action scenes to save it from complete disaster.
Expect a plethora of horrible accents, some misplaced drama and romance and a very generic plot that deals with several gangs wrapped up in a bloody turf wars. Yu brought in some famous actors (Andy Lau among others), but they only show up in smaller secondary parts, so their impact is limited.
The rest of the cast is pretty terrible, including cult icon Billy Drago. I'm not quite sure what Yu was trying to do with this film, but his talents lie elsewhere (fantasy and horror are his thing) and this weak attempt to follow in the footsteps of John Woo and Ringo Lam feels like a big misstep.
Not what I expected from Zeze. The 8-Year Engagement is the kind of film that got very popular in the second half of the 00s. Suddenly every Japanese drama was about a romance tripped up by disease. While these films proved to be solid crowd pleasers, the cinematic quality of this niche was rather limited.
Zeze does his best, but he too gets stuck in some of the genre's pitfalls. While performances are solid and the cinematography is decent, the film ends up being a bit too sappy and there's very little to balance out the sentimentality of the story. It's also quite long for a film that spoils its entire plot in the title.
That's not to say it's a terrible film. Takeru Satoh has some nice scenes and the easy-going pace of the film allows for a few nice breathers in between. The story itself (based on a true story, with credit-pics to prove it) is sweet too, but I've seen too many of these films to be truly touched by them.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
A Ford western that tries to break out of its typical genre mold. Instead of focusing on tough guys, gun fights and robberies, Ford adds a more historical/political angle to the film. At least that's what he tries to do, because many of the typical western elements are still present, and they don't mix very well with the more serious subject.
Everyone is a walking cliché, down to the most insignificant character. From the upright, studious and stiff James Stewart and boorish, macho John Wayne, to the villainous and crude Lee Marvin, none of them manage to bring any kind of humanity to their performance. The whole cast is just terrible across the board.
The first hour it's almost like watching a farce, with simplistic comedy and crummy banter. The second hour tries to squeeze in the shift from the Wild West to a more democratic society, but everything is so unsubtle and on the nose that you have to wonder why Ford even bothered. Hopelessly outdated.