The Color of Money

Specifics
USA [1986] - 119m
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Color of Money poster

Scorsese's sequel to The Hustler. It's another crime flick, this time mixed with some drama and sports elements while taking on the snooker hustling business. As a non-fan of Scorsese, it's rather disheartening that all of his film look alike, regardless of setting and themes, making this another failure in my book.

Newman reprises his role of Eddie, only he's a lot older now. He has lost the taste for pool hustling, until he runs into Vincent. He's a young pool wizard who has all the skills, but lacks a mentor. Eddie decides to take Vincent under his wings and teach him the tricks of the trade, Vincent is only too happy to oblige.

It's sad to see Scorsese reigning in Cruise here. He's only a shadow of his usual flamboyant self. The soundtrack is pretty bland, performances are unremarkable, and the plot is stretched way too thin. It's not Scorsese's worst film and at "just" 120 minutes, not his longest either, but I doubt there's anything here that will stick with me.

The Taking of Deborah Logan

by Adam Robitel
Specifics
USA [2014] - 90m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Taking of Deborah Logan poster

A neat little faux documentary style horror film from the heydays of the genre. Not quite sure why I missed out on it back when it was released, I was (and still am) quite fond of this niche. It's never too late to catch up on these films of course, certainly not now that the hype has died down.

Deborah Logan is and old woman suffering from Alzheimer's. To improve her financial situation, she makes a deal with a documentary team, allowing them to follow her around, documenting her illness. Deborah's situation is deteriorating pretty quickly, but as the disease increasingly takes hold of her it seems she's not just suffering from Alzheimer's.

The setup is pretty creepy, Jill Larson puts in an impressive performance, there are a couple of truly tense scenes during the second half and the finale, though predictable, is effective. There's not quite enough here to distinguish is from other films in the genre, but if you're looking for some solid horror and you can stand the faux doc approach, be sure to give this one a shot.

Nomadland

by Chloé Zhao
Specifics
USA, Germany [2020] - 107m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Nomadland poster

The most remarkable thing about this film is its Oscar win. Nomadland is a pretty typical indie, a character-driven film that hobbles along to the sounds of a lonely piano and some sullen strings, not really the kind of film that typically dominates the Oscar race. That's quite an accomplishment for Zhao, sadly it doesn't really make her film any better.

McDormand plays Fern, a woman who is hit pretty hard by the financial crisis and finds herself forced to live in her van. As a neo-nomad, she travels around the US and meets up with people who are in the same situation as she is. During that time, she has to come to terms with her new life.

I found McDormand's performance to be pretty one-note, the nomad existence isn't something I'm naturally drawn to and the presentation is extremely expected, mixing slightly pimped documentary-style footage with a meandering score and a minimum of narrative. Not the worst in its genre, but not very noteworthy either.

My Uncle

Also known as
Boku no Ojisan
Specifics
Japan [2016] - 110m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
My Uncle poster

A light but fun and enjoyable Yamashita. It's certainly not his most distinctive film, nor his most memorable, but thanks to the deadpan comedy, the well-considered direction and a standout performance by Ryûhei Matsuda this turned out to be a very capable and charming little film.

When Yukio has to write an essay about one of his family members, his eye falls on his slacker uncle. A philosopher who just loafs around and spends his days in bed, thinking about random things. Yukio's parents are tired of his lazy behavior and send him on a blind date, which kick-starts an adventure that will take Yukio and his uncle to Hawaii.

Matsuda's character is a hoot. A calm, calculated and sneaky oddball who uses his philosophy learnings to trick people into getting what he wants. The rest of the cast is on point too, the cinematography is bright and colorful, the comedy has just the tiniest mean streak and there's a little drama to pad out the narrative. Prime filler.

The Pram

by Bo Widerberg
Also known as
Barnvagnen
Specifics
Sweden [1963] - 95m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Pram poster

It's nice to see some non-Bergman Swedish classics from time to time, especially when they're dealing with more contemporary people and problems, rather than age-old philosophical conundrums. In that regard The Pram delivers, though it's not half as frivolous and energetic as I'd hoped.

The story revolves around Britt, a young girl who loves her newfound independence and doesn't mind having a couple of flings at the same time. Things change when she finds out she's pregnant. Suddenly she is forced to choose what to do with the rest of her life, a commitment she's not quite ready to take.

Some snappy editing and a jazzy soundtrack give the film a more modern flair, but the stark camera work combined with black and white cinematography and the stern performances make it more rigid than needed. There are some fun stylistic touches here and there, but the focus of the film lies on the characters and I simply didn't care much for them.

Boogeyman 2

by Jeff Betancourt
Specifics
USA [2007] - 93m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Boogeyman 2 poster

I've seen the first Boogeyman before, but I'll be honest and admit I remember absolutely nothing of that film. Not even after watching this second one, so I'm not even sure how and if these two are really connected. Not that it matters a lot, this is a basic horror flick that could've been released under pretty much any other name.

Laura and Henry are both traumatized by a run-in with the Boogeyman at a young age. In an attempt to get rid of their trauma, they join an experimental program that helps people deal with their fear. It's not the most healthy environment and when the Boogeyman appears again before Laura, people are bound to die some gruesome deaths.

When you're getting Jigsaw (Saw) and Gabrielle (Xena) as doctors in a mental ward, it's immediately clear you're not dealing with a very serious film. The kills are pretty gruesome and effective, the rest is lame and derivative. Seeing as this is a core horror flick and the kills are plentiful, that's not such a bad trade-off.

Samurai Fiction

by Hiroyuki Nakano
Also known as
SF: Episode One
Specifics
Japan [1998] - 111m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Samurai Fiction poster

It's been ages since I last watched this film. It's easy to see why I liked it so much the first time around, but revisiting it now reveals it has lost quite a bit of its initial shine. Not that Samurai Fiction is a bad film, it's just that a lot of its standout elements don't feel quite as fresh anymore.

The film offers a modern take on the chambara genre (samurai/sword fighting). Three men are sent to trail Kazamatsuri, a ruthless samurai who stole an important sword from their clan. When they confront the thief, he kills one of them and holds off the other two. Heishiro is the only one willing to persevere and resumes his quest to get the sword back.

What makes Samurai Fiction fun are its anachronistic elements. Pops op color in the black and white cinematography, a more contemporary score and self-conscious performances make this a pretty amusing film. Nakano doesn't quite push it enough though, which is probably why it feels somewhat less distinctive now. A fun film, just a little less great the second time around.

Kiba: Dark Knight Side Story

by Keita Amemiya
Also known as
Kiba: Ankoku Kishi Gaiden
Specifics
Japan [2011] - 45m
Genre
Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Kiba: Dark Knight Side Story poster

One of the many entries in the Garo universe, a tokusatsu franchise that has been going strong for the past 15 years. I'm not too familiar with the particulars, I never watched the original series, even so these stories tend to be so generic that it's easy enough to cherry-pick some spin-offs without missing anything essential.

This spin-off deals with the backstory of Barago and Kiba, an old spirit who inhibits a Makai Armor. It ties in with the plot of the original series and it features some of its cast, but ultimately it's a pretty simple story of good vs evil, featuring a more than adequate amount of demonic battles. If you get lost, you simply need to watch more fantasy anime.

What stands out the most is the art style here. I'll readily admit that not everything works and some parts look really cheap, even so the mix of different animation styles and live action is intriguing and gives this film a unique vibe. There's quite a lot happening in the short runtime and if you're looking for a fun but cheesy diversion, this short spin-off has you covered. Just don't expect anything grand.

Bulbbul

by Anvita Dutt
Specifics
India [2020] - 94m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Bulbbul poster

For everyone who wants a taste of Indian genre cinema (that isn't Bollywood), Bulbbul is a prime recommend. A dark fantasy tale with strong romance elements, enriched with a little horror and drama. It's certainly not a perfect film, but with a little extra fine-tuning director Dutt should come close to delivering a bona fide masterpiece.

Bulbbul is married out to Indranil, a man much older than she is. She fancies Satya though, Indranil's younger brother. Indranil doesn't see any immediate harm in their relationship, but when they grow older Indranil starts to grow more and more jealous. So much that he sends Satya away to London to become a lawyer.

The soundtrack is a bit overbearing and cheesy, the performances aren't always on point and the film has some pacing issues, but you'll hardly notice if you keep your eyes open. The cinematography is rich and lush, bursting with bold colors and beautiful frames. The fantasy/horror elements are pretty nice too, giving the film a moody and mysterious vibe. I really liked this one a lot, well recommended.

Na Cha the Great

Also known as
Na Zha
Specifics
Hong Kong, Taiwan [1974] - 90m
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Na Cha the Great poster

With all the Ne Zha hype going on in China these days, I was a little surprised to learn there was already a Shaw Brow adaptation of the story (or at least, a story featuring the Ne Zha character. It's a bit weird they didn't get Yuen Chor for the job, I guess Cheh Chang just wanted to try a little fantasy martial arts for a change.

Ne Zha is a brat with his heart in the right place. Though he teases his teachers and angers his parents, he cannot stand injustice. It's a trait that will land him in a lot of trouble. When he kills one of the dragon people (who was harassing an innocent passerby), he is forced to take responsibility and end his own life.

Ne Zha is fantasy-based martial arts, clearly not Chang's strong point. The dragons look iffy, the effects in general aren't all that great and the cinematography can't quite cover it up. The rest of the film is pretty fun though. Decently paced, some nice fights and a handful of memorable scenes, the early Eric Tsang cameo is just the icing on the cake. Amusing Shaw Bros production, but far from Chang's best work.

Paradise Now

by Hany Abu-Assad
Specifics
France, Germany [2005] - 91m
Genre
Drama, War
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Paradise Now poster

I still remember how this film garnered quite a bit of attention upon its release, I just never got around to watching it back then. Watching it now, it's clear why this did so well. Though I didn't find it all that exceptional myself, the rather dry reproduction of two guys being radicalized as suicide bombers no doubt struck a cord.

Khaled and Saïd are two childhood friends who are living pretty decent lives, until they are recruited to commit a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. A friend of Saïd tries to dissuade them of joining in, but the recruiters really got through to the boys and they seem hellbent on finishing their assigned task.

The nice thing about Paradise Now is that it doesn't feel sensationalized. The presentation is decent but nothing spectacular, performances are solid, the pacing is fine. The ending is pretty predictable (both the conclusion and the execution) and the film does get a little talkative in places, on top of that the message feels a little light and obvious. Not a bad film, it just didn't really move me.

The Lure

by Agnieszka Smoczynska
Also known as
Córki Dancingu
Specifics
Poland [2015] - 92m
Genre
Fantasy, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Lure poster

A lovely little oddball film. The Lure is a Polish musical about mermaids, with strong horror overtones and some romcom elements to make absolutely sure there's nothing like it out there. While not everything works equally well, if you like something different, then you can't go wrong with this one.

Two young mermaids move out of the water and join the crew of a nightclub. They perform on stage together and they're quite a hit with the clients of the club, but when one of them falls in love with a human it drives a wedge between the two. While one of the mermaids goes on a rampage, the other wants to give up her life as a mermaid to become a true human being.

While the idea of a musical is fun, the Polish language isn't exactly elegant. Director Smoczynska also seems unable to fully commit to the musical part of her film, more explicit routines and a little extra kitsch would've pushed this film further over the top. Other than that, The Lure delivers. It's a weird mix of elements that's difficult to compare with anything else out there and is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Nobody

by Ilya Naishuller
Specifics
USA [2021] - 92m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Nobody poster

Naishuller arrived in Hollywood. I'm a big fan of Hardcore Henry, but was a bit apprehensive when I went into this film. The move to the US is tricky, and it wouldn't be the first time it would trip up a promising director. It seems history has repeated itself here. While there are flashes of Naishuller genius, they're pretty well hidden away in expensive mediocrity.

Bob Odenkirk plays Hutch, a tired, middle-aged man. His wife and son don't respect him, his work's a drag and when one night robbers force their way into his house, he can't even properly defend his family. There's more to Hutch that meets the eye though, a sleeping secret that is revealed once he gets tangled up with some Russian mobsters.

Odenkirk is a lazy casting. Sure enough, he fits the character at the start of the film, but his transformation is pretty miserable. More damning are the action scenes, which are quite dull and by the numbers. There's not much left of the hyper energetic camera work of Naishuller's former film, the soundtrack too is little more than a bunch of old, poppy tunes. It's not an overly terrible film, but coming from a man who made one of the most crazy action films of the past decade, it's more than a little disappointing.

Singapore Sling

Specifics
Japan, Australia [1993] - 104m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Singapore Sling poster

Japanese directors rarely fare well when they venture outside their home turf, the 80s and 90s weren't really Wakamatsu's best eras either. Just to say that expectations were pretty low when I started Singapore Sling. I wasn't really prepared for a film this bad though, it is no doubt one of the worst things I've seen from Wakamatsu up until this point.

Tatsuya is on a honeymoon in Australia. A couple of unfortunate encounters land him in jail, where he's imprisoned without a chance of ever getting out again. His wife tries her best to launch an appeal, but it's Tatsuya's inmates who are his best chance of escaping his current predicament.

The performances are terrible, the soundtrack is absolutely atrocious, the films looks dirt cheap and the action is bland (though it's still the best part of the film). I'm not quite sure what drove Wakamatsu to make this, it's just a poor mix of crime, thriller and action elements that doesn't even make sense as cheap shelf filler.

Chick Fight

by Paul Leyden
Specifics
USA [2020] - 97m
Genre
Comedy, Sport
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Chick Fight poster

There's a bit of Rocky, Fight Club and The Simpsons here, only with a big cast of women. Chick Fight is a pretty basic sports comedy, a film that goes through all the usual motions, only with an extra bit of vulgarity in lieu of real comedy. Oh, and some dialogue with words like "community" and "safe space", so you know the film was made in good faith.

Anna's life is slowly turning to shit. Her mom died not too long ago, her coffee bar is losing money, her car just got impounded and her love life's a mess. She needs a change of scenery, and that's exactly what her best friend is giving her when she takes Anna to an underground fight club.

Whoever believed Akerman would make a good Stallone should be fired, Thorne isn't very convincing either as the mean chick/bad guy. Secondary parts are there for the comedy, but none of them make a big impression. At least the camera work is somewhat fun and the tone of the film is light, other than that this was a pretty dull comedy.

Oh Bomb

by Kihachi Okamoto
Also known as
Aa Bakudan
Specifics
Japan [1964] - 95m
Genre
Comedy, Musical
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Oh Bomb poster

A high-energy comedy with strong musical and theatrical influences. It's very different from the other Okamoto films I've seen so far, it also made me realize I haven't seen too many overt classic Japanese comedies yet. Clearly I've been missing out, as this is way better than his more serious efforts.

After serving time in jail, Ona (an oldskool Yakuza boss) is finally allowed to rejoin society. The world has changed while he was away, nobody cared to inform Ona though. When he returns to his former gang, he discovers it was turned into a company, with no more room for him there.

The plot isn't too exciting, Okamoto's directorial interventions are. The way he plays with different styles and influences, alternates between different forms of comedy and keeps on reinventing his own film is simply wonderful. I didn't really care for the bland black and white cinematography, Yûnosuke Itô is a bit much and not everything works equally well, but Oh Bomb is definitely worth seeking out if you love a director who dares to take a risk.

Lady Snowblood

by Toshiya Fujita
Also known as
Shurayukihime
Specifics
Japan [1973] - 97m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Lady Snowblood poster

Infamous revenge flick, in part popularized by Tarantino's Kill Bill. And sure enough, Lady Snowblood's influences are clear enough. A lady in a colorful kimono and carrying a big, bold umbrella is on a mission for revenge. It's a simple enough concept, elevated by truly striking cinematography.

Yuki is a fierce woman who trained long and hard to become a ruthless assassin. Her goal is to avenge her family, which was ravaged by a band of swindlers before she was even born. Once she is ready to enact her revenge, her first goal is to track down the swindlers. For that she requests the help of a friendly clan.

Lady Snowblood is a film with two faces. The action scenes are lovely and the cinematography is awesome, with strong colors and nifty camera work. The plot structure on the other hand is disappointing (way too many flashbacks) and much time is wasted on inconsequential plot points. It's a shame, as at its best this film is really something. It's just not very consistent.

His Motorbike, Her Island

Also known as
Kare no Otobai, Kanojo no Shima
Specifics
Japan [1986] - 90m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
His Motorbike, Her Island poster

Obayashi goes full in on this youthful romance. After a short introduction in the city, he moves his film to the countryside and serves up a very idyllic, sweet and explosive romance. Fans of Hausu may be surprised, but dig deeper into the man's oeuvre and you'll find he made plenty of softer youth dramas.

A biker kid is threatened by his girlfriend's brother and decides to take a little road trip. He takes his favored bike and leaves everything behind. Not long after he runs into a mysterious young girl. When she invites him to her island, he decides to take a change and accepts her invitation.

I'm not entirely sure if the alternations between color and sepia made much sense here, but at least the cinematography was pretty impressive. Performances are fine, the energy of the film is great and there are a few memorable moments, the soundtracks pretty cheesy though and the film does have some pacing issues. But if you love Obayashi's work, it's definitely worth checking out.

Things Heard & Seen

by Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini
Specifics
USA [2021] - 119m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Things Heard & Seen poster

A typical made-for-TV thriller put together on a higher budget. That doesn't change the fact that its premise feels flat, the supernatural elements feel tacked on and the drama comes off quite forced. It also doesn't explain why a basic film like this needed an excessive 120-minute runtime.

Cat and George Claire leave the city to build up a new life in the countryside, where George landed a job at a college. The house they bought has a history, but George decides not to tell his wife. Yes, the film starts like a regular haunted house story, but Berman and Pulcini never really take it that far and turn it into an equally predictable thriller.

The setting looks dreary enough and the budget allowed for some A-grade actors, other than that this was just bad on all accounts. The twists are laughable, the tension is never there, even the grotesque ending didn't manage to impress. This was a pretty big dud, money can't fix everything.

The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea

by Jim Kammerud
Specifics
Japan, Hong Kong [2000] - 75m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea poster

One of the many low-key sequels to famous Disney classics. Handled by Disney's second-tier animation studios, these films tend to both suffer (lower animation quality, simple scripts) and benefit (shorter and less money to splurge on big musical numbers) from their limitations.

Ariel has a daughter, but the moment Ursula's sister (Morgana) finds out about her, she becomes the target of her evil plans. Ariel decides to keep her daughter away from the sea, but this of course ends badly. Morgana manages to capture Ariel's daughter and tries to use her to get the Trident.

Some simple songs, a simple plot and simplified animation. It doesn't look too bad though for a Disney sequel and the pacing is somewhat decent, but there's so little here that even the short runtime felt like a stretch. If, like me, you're not a fan of Disney's prime output, these sequels really won't cut it.