An American in Rome
A film I found by accident on Prime. I didn't expect too much of it, classic Italian cinema isn't really my niche, but I hadn't really seen an older Italian comedy before and the film was held in high esteem by some, so I figured I could just as well give it a go. Isn't that what streaming is for?
An American in Rome reminded me a little of a Roberto Benigni film. The entire film revolves around Alberto Sordi, a loud and wildly gesticulating Italian bumpkin who loves everything that has to do with America. Sordi is so extremely present that there's no way to escape him, which is a problem if you end up disliking him as much as I did.
This just isn't my kind of comedy and Sordi really got on my nerves. He shouts a lot and is very busy, all the time, and that's about all there is to it. The situations are dumb and farcical, characters are annoying and the comedy is virtually nonexistent. It'll be awhile before I get close to a Sordi film again.
Every Day a Good Day
I don't think dramas can get any more Japanese than this. A film centered around tea ceremonies, with some very light drama on the side. The most surprising thing is that it comes from director Tatsushi Ohmori, a man who started his careers with one of the darkest dramas I've ever seen.
I'm not extremely familiar with the Japanese tea ceremony, but I do know it's a very delicate and elaborate set of operations that has meaning beyond simple explanations and reasoning. With a powerhouse like Kirin Kiki in front of the camera, flanked by younger talents like Haru Kuroki and Mikako Tabe, the film has more than enough dramatic weight, even when the plot remains very light.
Ohmori's direction is solid. The camera moves slowly and deliberately, framing is clean and the music is gentle. It doesn't really stand out from its peers, but it sets a perfect tone for this slightly meandering film. No masterpiece, but a very warm, rich and subtle drama that is more than just the sum of its parts.
I'd seen two James Bond films before, pretty much by accident (by tagging along with some friends to the movies). It's a rather long series though and it's the kind I prefer to watch from the start. Since I'm not big on classic cinema, it took me a while to get around to it. But today it finally happened. I was ready to sit down for Dr. No.
Even though I'm hardly a Bond connoisseur, the series is so engrained into our pop culture that I instantly recognized many familiar elements. I was actually quite surprised to see so many trademark Bond things were already part of the first film. Of course, when this was filmed there were already some novels to fall back on.
While quite cheesy by modern standards, the film is nicely paced and pleasantly over-the-top. I actually expected a slightly more serious and boring film, but it's almost like watching a bigger budget Ishirô Honda flick (only without the monsters). Not terrible and I'm sure it won't be long before I'll get around to the first couple of sequels.
Not so much a narrative film or a typical documentary, but more of a film essay. The kind you'd rather expect to see in a museum. It comes with high acclaim and from what I'd read Marker kept a rather strong focus on Japan, but even then this film failed to capture my attention, let alone sustain it.
Visually it's rather poor. Rather grainy footage that feels quite random and haphazard. Some very crude filters here and there are supposed to make the visuals a bit more abstract, but just made them look cheaper. That's half of the film, the other half is a droning voice-over that does its best to be pensive and philosophical.
The insights in Japanese culture (and a few others) range from rather simplistic too construed and farfetched. The form was absolutely bland and didn't get me in the right mood for this and with a runtime of more than 100 minutes and even some repetition, I got quite annoyed by the end of it.
While I'm pretty aware of who Doraemon is and the enormous franchise power it represents, I don't think I've ever watched a Doraemon film or TV episode in full. But the little blue cat robot is so ubiquitous in Japanese media that it already felt quite familiar. The fact that it's aimed at kids and isn't very complex also made things a little easier.
That said, the film is a bit of mess. Doraemon travels back from the future to help Nobita get the girl he loves, but the plot was surprisingly fragmented. It's a constant repetition of Nobita getting an idea, Doraemon providing some sci-fi gadget to help, only to result in inevitable failure.
The art style is nice enough, especially since it's the first time they used CG. It's a pretty simple style, but cute and pleasing to the eye. There are a few decent gags and the jolly tone makes for an easy watch, but overall it felt too much like a collection of 10-minute episodes strung together to make a feature-length film.
A very mysterious and sensual look at a small, Japanese mountain town. Miki is a spinster whose life gets turned upside down when a young teacher is hired from outside the village. With a strong soundtrack and cinematography, some neat twists and a couple of baffling moments, Harada delivers something really special.
A clumsy and bland thriller. When a young family moves to a small town in France to start their life anew, it's easy enough to imagine the initial discomfort, especially since they don't speak the language very well. But then it turns out that the village is overrun by Dutch people and it's really just a predictable story about a poorly concealed con job.
Performances are weak, with Haverkort in particular looking very uncomfortable and lost. The plot is too transparent, the attempts to add some sensuality are weak and the entire soundtrack is stuffed with Stromae songs, possibly because those are the only French-language songs known to the film's core audience.
The only thing that jumps out is the ending. Not because the twist is so amazing, but because it makes so little sense. It also felt emotionally dishonest, which made me wonder what the director actually hoped to accomplish. Maybe the book made more sense, but this film really wasn't worth the hassle.
Maid-Droid 2: Maidroid vs Hostroids
A completely ridiculous and pointless sequel. Where Tomomatsu at least tried to make an effort with the first film, this second one feels lazy and cheap. I assume this sequel is nothing more than a mindless cash grab, no doubt after the first film performed well based on its premise alone.
The maid droid is back to its usual business, which conveniently adheres to the classic pinku structure. In between there are a few attempt at slapstick comedy, though extremely poorly executed, some nonsensical plot lines and a few horrendous action scenes, with effects that look like they were leftovers from the 80s.
I've already put too much effort into this review, as this is clearly just pinku filler and these films aren't primarily made for broader entertainment. But even then this film is terribly weak and uninviting. There's a very limited amount of fun to be had with the crummy execution, but that's hardly worth the 60 minutes of your time.
Witches in the Woods
A bunch of 20-somethings, together in a van, on their way to a weekend away from civilization. Sure enough, they make a little pit stop where they meet some local folk and learn about a witchcraft legend. They take a shortcut (well duh) and get their car stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no cellphone reception to get them out of there.
It's a film that's been done a million times before, then again director Barker is hardly shy about it. He puts all of his money on execution and gets away with it. Between the witchcraft legends, roaming bears and interpersonal tension, there's more than enough material to keep the suspense alive.
The cinematography is nice and Barker makes excellent use of the remote setting. The soundtrack is apt, performances are on point and the film never slumps, though considering how predictable everything is, it could've been 5 or 10 minutes shorter still. Overall a very pleasant, tense and effective little horror fun.
Meet the Censors
This could've been interesting, but the form of the documentary ruins it completely. Director Fossum takes center stage here, wondering to himself whether there might be a positive side to censorship. The setup feels so fake and transparent that the conclusion is clear from the very start, the rest of the doc feels like kicking in open doors.
Fossum visits various countries and talks to several bodies directly and indirectly related to censorship. The Chinese media, German social media control, the Indian film board etc etc. I'm not entirely certain how much of it is edited, but it's overall very clear that not much good can come of these bodies, even though Fossum tries (but does he rally?) to keep an open mind.
There's too much theater here, especially Fossum's final trip to the US feels like staged outrage. Meanwhile, there's not much interesting content or things to chew on, so it's basically 100 minutes of lip service to something that's already glaringly obvious, while lacking the persuasiveness to convince people who aren't already on board with the message. Documentaries need to do better than this.
Yamazaki's Always series is a bit of an oddity in Japanese cinema. It's pure 50s/60s cinema schmaltz, a smugly exaggerated look at an era long gone that thrives on nostalgia. What's more surprising though is that the film is actually pretty successful, even for people like me who are somewhat immune to nostalgia.
The story continues where the first film left off. The people living in Third Street are still dealing with all sorts of problems, big and small, but eventually the film settles on Chagawa, who is facing increasing pressure to provide for his young ward Junnosuke. Chagawa doesn't have the money to give him a good education, so he decides to take up writing again, in the hope of winning a cash prize for his work.
Performances are nice, Yamazaki's direction is on point and the sets look charming, though the use of CG is quite apparent. It's a sweet, jolly and endearing film, only the runtime is a little excessive. This should've at least been a half hour shorter, now some parts drag a little too much. Apart from that, a fun and charming film.
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome
This is one of the better Anger films I've seen so far. He's no doubt an interesting director, with a strong, audiovisual focus, but not always very clean and polished, sometimes crossing into the realm of cheese. While Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome doesn't fully escape this pitfall, there are some moments where the film truly shines.
There are several versions of the film (with different soundtracks), but for home viewing the original version isn't ideal, since it needs to be projected onto three separate screens. Later Anger reedited his film by overlapping the footage, which creates a pretty magical effect and no doubt added a lot to the film's appeal.
Based on the poem "Kubla Khan", the plot itself didn't make too much sense to me. Then again, the poem was said to be written after an opium-influenced dream, so I don't think it matters that much. The mix of extremely strange and colorful imagery and heroic opera music makes for an interesting film, at least if you like that kind of thing. Quite interesting.
My fourth Dreyer, and they seem to be getting progressively worse. While Jeanne D'Arc and Vampyr had some appeal, Ordet and this Getrud turned out to be extremely dry, formal dramas that seemed to a chase purely intellectual explorations of their themes. This is not something I'm particularly interested in.
Getrud is looking for the right man, but her ideal of love doesn't seem to be very realistic. In relationships with working, providing men she craves passion, when she seeks out more creative types they can't seem to offer her the stability she needs. And so she remains alone, not wanting to compromise on her ideal.
Conversations are very formal, with characters hardly looking at each other and citing precise dialogues detailing their feelings. It's dry as a bone and it's all there is, two hours long. The interior sets are pretty dull too, but at least the crisp black and white cinematography makes for some interesting shots. Hardly enough to save this film though.
The French maid. Of French descent, but happily adopted by the Japanese. It's no surprise then they made a film about French maid robots, combining two of their biggest fetishes in one single film. The result is pretty cheesy and cheap, but because it's such a mess it's also pretty amusing.
While a typical pinku in structure, Tomomatsu mixed it with every genre imaginable. There's a bit of comedy, drama, sci-fi, fantasy and romance, they even stole some material from Ghost in the Shell in a weak attempt to give the film extra weight. None of it is very effective, but it does keep you on your toes.
Performances are weak, the sci-fi looks pretty cheap, but at least there are some decent robots designs. That and the short runtime make this film somewhat bearable. It's not a lot and I wouldn't recommend it unless you're on some kind of pinku marathon, but it's not the worst I've seen in the genre.
Black Water: Abyss
Andrew Traucki is known for his animal-based horror films. Sharks, leopards and crocodiles usually terrorize a small group of people, some of which will escape, others will suffer a more grisly fate. Abyss is Traucki's first sequel though, where he revisits the crocodile terror, a niche that hasn't seen too many new entries of late.
Originality isn't one of the genre's strong points, the only thing Traucki adds is a little cave action. A group of people stuck in a cave is popular material in itself, but with a giant crocodile on the hunt for tasty snacks things gets a lot hairier. When the cave is flooded and everybody's stuck inside, the countdown can begin.
Abyss isn't a terrible film, but it lacks the tension and engagement to put you on the edge of your seat. It's a little too predictable, and when it's not it becomes a little too silly. There's also some pointless drama that drags the film out longer than necessary. If you're looking for some crocodile action though, there are worse options out there.
Minions (one of the more successful answers to Ice Age's Scrat). The byproduct of the Despicable Me franchise that would eventually outgrow its source material. It's no surprise then that they quickly capitalized on their success and produced a stand-alone film for these yellow blobs.
They were the worst thing about Despicable Me, and they're by far the worst thing in their own movie. The Minions are mostly just noisy and annoying, babbling the entire time while leaning on some simple slapstick to provide the humor. I don't think I laughed a single time though, which is lethal for a comedy.
Visually there's not much here either, apart from a very short cartoony sequence detailing an evil plot, which at least looked different from the norm. The rest of the characters are pretty bland (including poor dubbing) and the plot is as plain and predictable as can be. As bad as I feared it would be.
A pretty straight-forward follow-up. The finale of the first film set up the story for the sequel, so it's best to watch both Parasyte films in order. I guess it's not impossible to jump right into the second part, after all these films aren't that complex to figure out, but you're sure to miss some finer details.
Yamazaki picks up where he left off, which is with half-human, half-parasite Izumi on his quest to stop an alien invasion. With Goto (played by Asano, introduced at the end of the first film) there's a new and stronger adversary for Izumi, who in his turn gets help from Uragami, a questionable serial killer able to single out infested humans.
Like the first part, part 2 can get surprisingly gory and twisted, though never in a very sleazy way. Monster designs are interesting, the CG is decent and the cinematography looks polished. Yamazaki is a capable blockbuster director, even when the material is not all that blockbuster-friendly. Had a lot of fun with one.
A solid but basic action film. Maria has very little pretensions and doesn't even try to hide it. The first half hour is the setup for the 60-minute revenge that follows. Very little time is wasted on character development and plot, instead we get a simple cut-and-paste job that mimics a million other films.
The first half hour is a bit slow. The drama that is supposed to trigger the revenge just isn't very successful though, cast and director lacked the skills to pull it off. Luckily things get a lot better after that and once the action starts, the actors are finally able to show their skills.
The action scenes are solid, with some cool moves and decent choreography, but don't expect too much. While entertaining and appropriately brutal at times, there's nothing here you haven't seen before. Pure genre filler, action fans are going to have a good time with it, others will have to look past the film's defects.
Kazuya Shiraishi is quickly establishing himself as one of the leading directors of dark, Japanese dramas. While most of his films balance on the edge between extremely solid filler and minor masterpiece, they never disappoint and always bring something interesting to the table. One Night is no exception.
It tells the story of a mother who kills her husband in order to safeguard her three children from his abuse. Regardless of her sacrifice, the three are left behind with serious traumas. When they reunite 15 years later, it's obvious that the events of that one night have influenced their lives to a large degree.
It's the kind of setup you'd expect from a Shiraishi film, and he handles it appropriately. Performances are strong, the cinematography is grim but not unpleasant and the drama is allowed to thrive. It just lacks that tiny bit of polish to turn it into a certified masterpiece. Well recommended for fans of Japanese drama.
A Dog's Life
And so my quest continues. Chaplin is no doubt my least favorite actor/director ever, but it's hard to believe he never made something that could at least spark a little joy or admiration in me. I keep giving his films a chance, but no luck so far. A Dog's Life looked at least somewhat promising, but not even a cute dog couldn't save this one.
The problem with Chaplin's films is that it is 90% Chaplin, so if you can't stand his signature Tramp character, there's extremely little left to enjoy. Chaplin's pure slapstick isn't really my thing either. I can appreciate it in combination with stunts (like Keaton did), not so much when it's just physical comedy.
The story is as simple as can be, with Chaplin and his dog slumming while dreaming of wooing girls. He steals some food, tries to sneak in a bar and when his dog finally digs up some money, he has to escape two criminals who want to rob him. That's pretty much it. At least the dog was cute, he deserved a better companion.
Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend
It doesn't get any more cult than this. Legend of the Overfiend is the poster child for anime sex and violence, putting the work of Kawajiri and others to shame. At least, if you seek out the uncut 3-part OAV rather than the sanitized movie version, which, when you do decide to watch this film, is definitely the way to go.
It's a film that feels right at home between franchises like Violence Jack and Devilman, but goes the extra mile to be as nasty as possible. While the manga was lighter in tone (with more high school comedy thrown in - only minor traces remain in the film), the anime puts all of its focus on the apocalyptic battle between the human and the demon worlds.
The animation is actually pretty decent, though the insane monster designs do help to neatly mask some cheaper bits. The mix of sex and violence is taken to its extreme so be warned, more surprisingly though Takayama still manages to get some actual plot in there that isn't half bad for this type of film. Crazy, violent and over-the-top, but one of the best in its genre.
Rich and Famous
This was a pretty basic but decent Hong Kong crime flick. Filmed back to back with its sequel, the film is basically a setup for the more explosive (and better) second part. Still, with actors like Yun-Fat Chow and Andy Lau running around and Taylor Wong behind the camera, I expected a bit more.
I had already seen the sequel (not knowing it was a sequel, for some reason the English title is Tragic Hero), but that rarely matters with films like these. The plot and stories are pretty much always the same anyway. Crime bosses fighting for survival, young kids rising through the ranks, a bit of betrayal and some hefty shootouts.
Performances are solid, though Lau steals the show. The action is decent but there isn't too much of it. And Taylor Wong plays nice, keeping his tendency to go over-the-top under wraps. The film's a bit long maybe, especially as it doesn't offer much in the way of originality, overall though it was pretty solid filler.
Once Upon a Time in London
Simon Rumley is a pretty cool and headstrong director, but even though he isn't quite bound to a single genre, I didn't really see him doing a typical British crime flick. The genre is one of the pillars of British cinema and has enough stretch for directors to show their worth, but somehow Rumley's more psychological and individualistic style didn't feel like an immediate match.
What surprised me the most though was that so little of his typical elements survived in Once Upon a Time in London. It's really just a bog-standard crime flick that details the rivalry between an established crime boss and the new guy on the rise. No doubt you've seen this a hundred time before.
Performances are decent and there are a couple of memorable scenes, but overall the film lacks stand-out moments and the direction simply feels a bit flat and uninspired. It's not a terrible film and it's decent filler, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rumley was simple doing this to keep busy, until he can find/fund another project closer to his heart.
A Woman Under the Influence
My first ever Cassavetes. A director who I haven't been actively avoiding, still I had a feeling his films might not be quite what I was looking for. A Woman Under the Influence confirmed my expectations, though it could've been a lot worse, considering the type of film Cassavetes tried to make.
While I'm not a big fan of it, the almost documentary-like approach worked well and fitted the tone of the film. It's incredibly ugly and unattractive and just more proof that I don't handle that grim, gray and dire 70s look very well, but at least it did get me a little closer to the characters, which is what this film is all about.
What I absolutely couldn't stomach was the constant conflict. Every bit of dialogue is a shouting match, even the simplest interaction is fraught with tension and irritation. Sadly Falk and Rowlands weren't capable enough to pull it off, so after about half an hour the film really started to get on my nerves. Not a success.