Godmothered

by Sharon Maguire
Specifics
USA [2020] - 113m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Godmothered poster

Disney's latest feels like a direct-to-streaming project. While the film clearly has some money behind it, the direction is extremely meek and uninspired. Maybe it's because we never had anything like Disney Channel before, but seeing Disney going these kinds of places is definitely a bit disappointing.

Eleanor is one of the few remaining godmother students and the only one with heart for the job. To save the Motherland, she goes on an assignment to help out a little girl. When she arrives, it turns out that little girl has become a widowed woman with two children to take care of. But Eleanor persists and vows to turn her life around.

The comedy isn't very funny, performances are weak, the message feels incredibly forced and dishonest. There's simply not much joy in this Christmas film. I'm not a big Disney fan to begin with, but their live action films are usually better than this, hopefully this won't become the norm for their streaming exclusives.

Taped

by Diederik van Rooijen
Specifics
Netherlands [2012] - 90m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Taped poster

A pretty decent thriller about a married couple lost in a foreign country. It's an easy and familiar setup for a thriller, but it's nice to see The Netherlands put some actual effort into making bona fide genre films. Taped turned out pretty okay, though it lacks the touch of a gifted director to make it into something more.

Johan and Saar are having marital problems. They plan a holiday to Argentina to rekindle their love, but their trip takes a different direction when they accidentally videotape a policeman killing a man in cold blood. They run away from the scene of the crime, but the police is right on their tail.

I think van Rooijen spends a bit too much time on the marital drama, which adds absolutely nothing to the film. It was also weird to realize that the final scene was shot on an airport in Belgium rather than Argentina, but otherwise this was a pretty tense, well-paced film that doesn't overstay its welcome. Not bad.

Black Kiss

by Macoto Tezuka
Also known as
Shinkuronishiti
Specifics
Japan [2004] - 133m
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Black Kiss poster

A dark and mysterious thriller about a serial killer trailing a model with a hidden past. Tezuka's visual style is slick and colorful, the murders are gruesome and trippy, Ando and Hashimoto are great and the final reveal is quite something. Tezuka is a very stylish director, it's a shame he didn't direct more films.

Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself!: The Nouveau Riche

Also known as
Katte ni Shiyagare!! Narikin Keikaku
Specifics
Japan [1996] - 81m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself!: The Nouveau Riche poster

Fifth entry in Kurosawa's Suit Yourself series, the final one for me. One of the better ones too, with flashes of Miike and Kitano that bring some extra flair to the film. The setup and vibe should be familiar by now, Kurosawa doesn't change too much there, he just puts his main characters in a different situation.

Aikawa and Maeda run into a girl who just happened upon a trunk full of heroin. They come up with a plan to sell the drugs and in no time they have a couple of buyers lined up. They try to take advantage by driving up the price, but the people they're dealing with aren't really happy when they find out they're being played.

Aikawa and Maeda's schemes to get rich are pretty fun, the comedy is goofy and enjoyable, the pacing is slick and there are some memorable scenes. Its TV roots are still quite obvious, but a good cast, entertaining vibe and short runtime make sure that this never becomes a big problem. Good fun.

Ashes and Diamonds

by Andrzej Wajda
Also known as
Popiól i Diament
Specifics
Poland [1958] - 103m
Genre
Drama, War
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Ashes and Diamonds poster

One of Poland's biggest classics. I'll readily admit I'm not too familiar with Polish cinema (even though my all-time fav was shot there), its closeness to Russian and Eastern-European drama is something that deters me from having a real go at it. Ashes and Diamonds only seemed to underline my bias.

Right after WWII ends, Poland becomes a battlefield where the Polish resistance and Russian soldiers fight each other to take hold of the country. Maciek is tasked to kill a communist leader, but he turns out to be one of the soldiers Maciek fought with during WWII. This puts him in a very awkward position.

The cinematography is decent, though it isn't until the very end that it finally comes into its own. Performances are also decent, but not good enough for a film that relies so much on its characters. The plot is quite slow and there's not that much intrigue, which makes this quite a chore to sit through. Not my cup of tea.

Lord of War

by Andrew Niccol
Specifics
USA, France [2005] - 122m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Lord of War poster

It's been a while since I last watched Lord of War. I remembered it as a fun, smooth and cynical film about an arms dealer rising up from the slums to become one of the most influential dealers in the world. And that's pretty much what it is, it's just that Niccol's film isn't as cool anymore as it was 15 years ago.

Yuri Orlov is a nobody. When he sees two gangsters killed in a local gang war, he realizes that weapons are always going to be a necessary evil. The fact that Yuri is quite the smooth talker certainly helps him get around, and within no time he sets up a profitable business. His wife is smart enough not to ask too many questions, but it's only a matter of time before Orlov's job catches up with his private life.

Cage is perfect for the part, the dialogues are pleasantly cynical and Orlov's rise to the top is pure entertainment, without taking away from the more serious undertone. The film's a little long and repetitive though, and visually it's not quite as hip as it used to be. Still a good film, but no masterpiece.

Unknown Origins

by David Galán Galindo
Also known as
Orígenes Secretos
Specifics
Spain, Argentina [2020] - 96m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Unknown Origins poster

A fun, little crime comedy. Spain is one of the few European countries who manage to make respectable genre films with international appeal on a regular basis. While not quite on the same level as the films of Álex de la Iglesia, fans of Spanish genre cinema will no doubt have a good time with this one.

David is a young detective who is given a gruesome homicide case. It turns out the killer is putting his victims in origin stories of famous Marvel superheroes. Together with his cosplaying boss and the owner of a local comic book store David has to figure out who is behind these killings.

The film has the necessary visual flair, performances are good and the comic angle is pretty original for a serial killer setup. There's nothing particularly wrong with Unknown Origins, the only thing lacking is that extra bit of spice that would really set it apart. A good, entertaining film, it'll be interesting to see what director Galindo will come up with next.

The Dead

by John Huston
Specifics
UK, Ireland [1987] - 83m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Dead poster

John Huston's final film is an adaptation of a James Joyce short story. If that gets you giddy, you're probably the target audience of this film. If not, it might be good to check the trailer first before you subjects yourself to it. While it may be rather short, it's the kind of film that becomes quite the ordeal when you start to lose interest.

Three spinsters are throwing an Epiphany party. The year is 1906, the attendants are all upper class, with a background in the arts. There's some singing, some piano playing, people cite poetry and discuss the finer things in life. I don't think I've ever seen a party I'd rather not attend.

The performances are stiff, Huston's style is formal, the literary dialogues are pompous and the characters are absolutely horrendous. For kicks, someone should plan a double bill with Project X, just the shock effect alone would be worth the price of the admission. This simply wasn't my kind of cinema I'm afraid.

Home Again

by Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Specifics
USA [2017] - 97m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Home Again poster

A toothless romance that adds some light drama and comedy elements, in a weak attempt to flesh things out. In the end it's just a bunch of unsympathetic and well-off characters, leading very comfy lives while sobbing over their first-world problems. Clearly I'm not the target audience, even though I'm getting quite close to the age group this type of film is for.

Alice finds herself on the verge of a divorce and lives with her two kids in her deceased father's LA villa, while her husband is in NY, submerging himself in work. When going out with some friends, she runs into three aspiring filmmakers. Because her house is big enough, she decides to let them stay with her for a while.

There's something incredibly fake about the characters and none of the genres really stand out, the drama in particular feels well out of place, especially considering the luxury everybody's enjoying. It's just very formulaic, lazy and dishonest. The only fun to be had is to imagine the outrage if they'd gender-swapped the roles.

Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment

by Robert Drew
Specifics
USA [1963] - 52m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment poster

My second Drew documentary on Kennedy. I must say Drew made some real progress here, though it could also just be that the topic was a bit more interesting. Drew was allowed to document some behind the scenes moments during one of the more symbolic racial issues in the US' recent (relatively speaking) history.

George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, is actively prohibiting two Afro-American students of enlisting into an Alabama university. JFK and his brother Robert Kennedy take up the fight and start a political battle to make sure these two students are allowed in, which would become a significant victory in the US' long (and ongoing) journey to racial equality.

There's still too much mumbling and insignificant banter being shown, which takes the edge off, but it's interesting to see what happens in these rooms when a political/social/ethical issue is captivating the world outside. No doubt the footage we see is tailored to serve JFK's image, but it still comes off as genuine.

The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom

by Yutaka Mizuochi
Also known as
Idainaru, Shurarabon
Specifics
Japan [2014] - 114m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Great Shu Ra Ra Boom poster

A weird mix of fantasy and comedy that finds its roots in anime/manga culture, but doesn't seem based on any prior material. Maybe that's why it never really finds its footing. There's definitely potential here for something fun and outrageous, but it never feels like this universe was fully realized.

When Ryosuke is moving back to live with his family, he finds himself in the middle of a strange feud between the Hinode and Natsume dynasties. Both possess special powers that regular people can't pick on. Even so, the families will have to unite when they're facing an even bigger threat.

For a film that's all about special powers, over-the-top characters and lifelong feuds, it feels somewhat understated. Performances are nice, the effects are decent (enough) and it does get pretty crazy in parts, but overall the energy is lacking. The comedy aspect also never really hits the mark, except maybe for the post-credits joke. Not bad, but not as weird or insane as I'd hoped.

Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself!: The Gamble

Also known as
Katte ni Shiyagare!! Gyakuten Keikaku
Specifics
Japan [1996] - 80m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself!: The Gamble poster

The fourth entry in the Suit Yourself of Shoot Yourself series is another amusing crime romp. Kurosawa shot these six films in a period of two years time, so it's no surprise that the quality is pretty consistent. It's light entertainment that was able to rise above its humble origins thanks to a great cast.

Yûji likes a gamble from time to time, but his partner is infinitely more lucky than he is. It gets on Yûji's nerves, whenever he tries to outdo his partner luck isn't on his side. Things are looking up when he finds 10 million yen, what Yûji doesn't know is that the money belongs to the Yakuza.

Sho Aikawa and Koyo Maeda form a great pair, the brisk pacing is well appreciated and the light atmosphere makes the film extremely easy to digest. It probably won't make many people's best-of lists when they consider Kurosawa's oeuvre, but it's perfect filler material that easily succeeds in what it set out to accomplish.

The Island Tales

by Stanley Kwan
Also known as
You Shi Tiaowu
Specifics
Japan, Hong Kong [2000] - 103m
Genre
Drama, Mystery
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Island Tales poster

Hong Kong has never had many dedicated arthouse directors, its film industry is more targeted at producing genre films. Stanley Kwan never really made a big impact on the international stage, he mostly remained in the shadow of Wong Kar-Wai and looking at The Island Tales, that's really not such a big surprise.

Seven people are trapped on an island after the government suddenly decides to quarantine it. The island is suspected of being the source of a dangerous virus going around. The situation creates an otherworldly atmosphere that causes the seven to reflect on their lives and their mutual relationships.

I had a pretty hard time figuring out what Kwan was trying to accomplish here. The cinematography was solid, but the soundtrack felt off, the dialogues were pretty cheesy and the entire concept never seemed to find its footing. It's a bit of an oddball film, there are definitely some interesting ideas here, but overall it doesn't really work that well.

Birthplace

by Pawel Lozinski
Also known as
Miejsce Urodzenia
Specifics
Poland [1992] - 47m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Birthplace poster

A bare-bones documentary about Henryk Grynberg, a Holocaust survivor who returns to the village where he grew up (and was hiding from the Nazis). It's not just a mere vacation to dredge up memories from the past, Grynberg is hoping to get more information on the fate of his family.

Lozinski's style is functional to a fault. Endless conversations (horribly framed) make up most of the documentary, and that's all there is to it. Together with Grynberg he travels around town and interviews people hoping to find out more, which sounds exactly like the kind of TV shows I usually try to avoid.

The presentation is drab, the town is drab, the villagers don't have all that much to say. I have no idea what the appeal of this documentary is supposed to be, except maybe if you're truly interested in the Holocaust. Even then, there must be better documentaries than this one. Just terrible.

Mother

by Tatsushi Ohmori
Also known as
Mazâ
Specifics
Japan [2020] - 126m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Mother poster

A very solid but somewhat safe Japanese drama. Mother serves a story about bad parenting and neglect, which quickly draws parallels to Koreeda's Nobody Knows. The films would make a fine double bill, though Mother is slightly darker, entirely in line with Ohmori's other films.

Akiko is a single mom. She's lost the support of her family, she has terrible taste in men, and she has to raise a young boy named Shuhei. She often uses him as leverage to get money from others, but people are getting tired of her begging. Akiko's situation is bound to get worse when her latest lover leaves her behind pregnant with another kid.

Performances are great, especially since there are few sympathetic characters here. The cast makes sure that it's not so much a film about blame or good vs bad, but about tragic situations and their often inevitable outcomes. Stylistically Ohmori could've done more with Mother though. While not bad, it looks rather plain and expected. It's certainly not a bad film, but nothing too memorable.

Don't Listen

by Ángel Gómez Hernández
Also known as
Voces
Specifics
Spain [2020] - 97m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Don't Listen poster

A pretty typical Spanish horror flick. The first hour is dedicated to the paranormal behavior, the final 30 minutes is spent unraveling the mystery. Don't expect to see anything out of the ordinary, apart from a slight twist at the end this is 100% by the book. When the execution is on point though, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Daniel and Sara just moved into a new house, together with their young son Eric. Eric starts hearing voices and his parents seek out professional help. Eric's doctor isn't too worried and thinks its stress-related, but Eric is getting progressively worse and when he starts having night terrors, his parents get desperate.

Performances are good, the setting is nice, the film is relatively creepy and the pacing is solid. The horror is really basic though, one big pile of clichés that feels just a little lazy. The finale in particular could've used a little extra spice, but people looking for a solid horror flick won't be disappointed.

Histoire(s) du Cinéma

Specifics
France [1989] - 267m
Genre
Documentary, Experimental
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Histoire(s) du Cinéma poster

I wasn't aware this was a Godard-led project. I figured it was just a documentary series looking back at the history of cinema. Not my favorite topic, but no doubt interesting enough. Five minutes in I realized what I had gotten myself into. It's not that I hate Godard, it's just that my appreciation is mostly for his early work. Once he set off on his quest to find true cinema, the man kind of lost me.

This isn't a very traditional documentary, instead it's another one of Godard's crazy cut & paste jobs, sporting textual overlays, meandering voice-overs and very crude editing techniques. It's very low on factual content, it's hard to appreciate any of the references since they're so cut up and it gets a bit too artistic for its own good.

The problem for me is that I simply don't care for Godard's modern style. It looks sloppy, crude and cheap. The idea is nice enough, but the execution is substandard. At least the later episodes are a bit shorter and contain slightly more information, but overall this was a very disappointing series.

Tenet

Specifics
USA, UK [2020] - 150m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Tenet poster

It was only a matter of time before Christopher Nolan would do a real time travel flick. He's the king of modern blockbusters and a real sucker for twisty/serious narratives. Tenet is pretty much what I expected it to be, including all the things I don't like about Nolan's films. But coming from him, it's certainly not his worst.

A secret agent is recruited to prevent a third world war. While he presumes a nuclear threat, our world is actually under attack from the future. They devised a way to give objects negative entropy, effectively letting them go backwards in time. A fun plot device that runs through the remainder of the film.

Nolan is oldskool. It's probably why he's generally revered, but for a contemporary blockbuster director I don't think it's a plus. The action scenes look rather dull, the score feels outdated, the pompous and convoluted story telling slows things down and Tenet doesn't do anything spectacular with the time travel element. Just a mediocre blockbuster, at least the pacing was a better better compared to his other work.

Run

by Aneesh Chaganty
Specifics
USA [2020] - 90m
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Run poster

A very decent Munchausen by proxy inspired thriller. Run is certainly not the first of its kind, also not a film that is trying to push the boundaries of the genre, but if you're looking for quality filler thrillers this is exactly the kind of film that will disappoint few people, which is also worth something.

Chloe was born too early, because of that she suffers from several illnesses and conditions. Her mom takes good care of her, she even homeschools Chloe. When one day she comes home with a new medicine, Chloe begins to suspect something is off, and she launches an investigation to find out what the pills are for.

The first half is by far the most interesting. As long as the mystery remains intact, there's enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat. Once the twists and reveals start rolling in, the film loses steam, not in the least because there's nothing particularly original about the revelations. The presentation is pretty decent but nothing noteworthy, the same goes for the performances. Not a bad film, solid entertainment, but a bit light.

Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself!: The Escape

Also known as
Katte ni Shiyagare!! Dasshutsu Keikaku
Specifics
Japan [1995] - 80m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself!: The Escape poster

The second entry in one of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's lesser known franchises. It's not too surprising the Suit Yourself of Shoot Yourself films never became a big success, it is after all a series of Japanese TV films. The lighter tone, the excellent cast, consistent quality and short runtimes make this a franchise well worth exploring.

Yûji's latest assignment involves tailing the daughter of a Yakuza boss. He finds out the girl is hooking up with a boy in secret, something her father doesn't appreciate in the least. After this discovery, he offers Yûji a big lump sum of money if he captures the boy and brings him in.

Show Aikawa is a great lead, with actors like Sabu and Ren Osugi backing him up Kurosawa was able to assemble a great cast. The film isn't too serious, the story isn't dragged out unnecessarily and even though it lacks a little visual flair, the entertainment value is high. A solid entry in a solid series.

Moonraker

by Lewis Gilbert
Specifics
France, UK [1979] - 126m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Moonraker poster

The last 70s James Bond, also the last one directed by Lewis Gilbert. It feels a bit like a last hurrah, mostly because the first hour is one big repetition of scenes and tricks from earlier films. It isn't until Bond is sent into space that things start to become interesting and Moonraker comes into its own.

The US is sending one of their Moonraker rockets to the UK. Midway the journey the transport airplane is shot down, when they inspect the remains the Moonraker rocket is missing. The UK puts Bond on the case, who runs into some old enemies. After traveling half the world, it seems the real answer lies in space.

The first hour is a bit dull. Boat chases, fights on top of cable ways, various exotic locations. It's vintage Bond, but it's becoming a little repetitive. The scenes in space are way more fun though. Goofy and ridiculous, but that's when James Bond is at his best. Overall a pretty decent entry in the franchise, mostly thanks to the second half.

The Girls Rebel Force of Competitive Swimmers

by Kôji Kawano
Also known as
Joshikyôei Hanrangun
Specifics
Japan [2007] - 78m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Girls Rebel Force of Competitive Swimmers poster

A high school swim team, a virus outbreak and girls holding various weapons on the cover. Yes, this is another shlocky Japanese horror, and like most of these films, the only way to find out whether there's some fun to be had is to subject yourself to them. Sadly this is one is a pretty big fluke.

Sayaka, a gifted athlete, joins her school's swim team. No sooner has she started her training or a mysterious virus takes over the school. There's nobody who can help the girls, so it's up to them to stand up against the zombies that are after them. It's not the most gracious plot in the world, but what did you expect.

Films like these are all about the gore and the action, but it's all rather cheap. Director Kawano doesn't appear very talented either, the cast is weak and though the film is short, the pacing is a complete mess. People attacking each other with chainsaws is always fun, the rest of the film doesn't do these moments justice. Pretty disappointing.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

by David E. Talbert
Specifics
USA [2020] - 122m
Genre
Fantasy, Musical
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey poster

A black, steampunk-inspired Christmas musical, that's something I hadn't seen before. Netflix spared no expense bringing director Talbert's dream project to life, and there's quite a lot to be excited about, though I think it could've done without the musical bits. John Legend didn't do a great job there.

Jeronicus is a famous inventor/toy maker who comes up with the most magical inventions. When he manages to bring a puppet to life, he feels luck is finally smiling down on him. That night his apprentice steals his book of inventions and takes off to build his own toy emporium. Jeronicus is so disappointed he loses the will to invent.

The sets are gorgeous, the animated bits are amazing and the steampunk aesthetic really adds something unique to the film. Performances are decent and the Christmas vibe is quite effective. If only they could've killed the songs (which would've solved the excessive runtime too). Not bad.