I'm actually quite surprised by the amount of non-martial arts films Cheh Chang directed. He's really only known for this martial arts cinema here, but once you dig deeper into his oeuvre all kinds of weird genre experiments pop up. Young People is a light-hearted sports flick. Like most "other" Chang films though, it isn't very good.
Several school clubs are caught up in minor feuds. Things get a bit more heated when several of the boys are interested in Princess, Ho Tai's girlfriend. The athletes, martial artists and performance club start to butt heads. After some back and forth, the rivalry comes to a conclusion during the school's cart racing competition.
Chang spends way too much time on uninteresting (and unrealistic-looking) games. Performances are pretty poor, at two hours the film is way too long and the comedy doesn't really work either. On the one hand it's a shame Chang wasted his time on films like this, on the other hand it's not like we're really lacking Shaw Bros martial arts features. This film is only for the real completists.
The first hour is a pretty inconspicuous drama. Quite light, passable but not great, 100% puzzling considering the many prizes it won. The second half clears up a lot. Out of the blue Terms of Endearment becomes a sappy and inelegant illness-based drama, the type of thick sentiment Hollywood loves to love.
Emma has a somewhat complicated relationship with her mom Aurora. When Aurora doesn't approve of her marriage, Emma decides to move away with her husband. It doesn't take long before Emma and her husband start growing apart, which strengthens the old bond with her mom. But then disaster strikes.
Performances are decent and the first hour is light, which makes it an easy watch. The drama doesn't really work too well as the characters are a bit draw and uninteresting, so when the film turns dark the emotional parts never really stick and the sentiment feel forced and misplaced. Not a good film.
The foundation for the masterpieces Oshii would serve in the two decades to follow. Together with Kenji Kawai and Kazunori Ito he would develop a style and tone that would fully materialize in films like Patlabor 2 and Ghost in the Shell, but the first glimpses are already visible here. A thoughtful sci-fi story sporting fun characters, a limited amount of top-notch action scenes and some very moody breathers. It can't compare to Oshii's greatest film, but it's still a blast.
My third Marx Brothers film and they start to get a little predictable. Only three brothers are present in this one, but that doesn't really shake things up. Each brother has his own particular style of comedy and the film switches between them, while in the background some uninteresting plot develops.
The Marx Brothers get mixed up in a ploy to get two lover together in an opera. The youngest isn't being accepted as a tenor as he's not given a fair chance to prove his worth. By humiliating the man's enemies and messing up their plans, Groucho, Chico and Harpo try to pave the way for his success.
Groucho's quips and puns have the biggest chance of drawing a few laughs, though there's an equal chance they'll miss target. Harpo's slapstick is terribly dated and Chico isn't particularly funny either. And so A Night at the Opera cycles between the brothers, flipping between passable and dreadful from start to finish. I would've preferred just Groucho minus the rest.
An odd little film indeed. What announced itself as a somewhat flimsy prequel/cross-over between the Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland franchises, is really a drama with fantasy touches in which the children's imagination reflects on their everyday troubles. I didn't really see that one coming.
Peter, Alice and David are living a simple but happy life. All that changes when David dies in a freak accident and their father gets himself into some gambling depths. Peter and Alice try to fix the situation on their own, but their well-intentioned intervention only makes things worse for the family.
The film is quite atmospheric, performances are fine and the pacing is solid. It's the balance between drama and fantasy, in combination with the somewhat unique premise, that makes Come Away film stand out. Let's hope Chapman leaves the world of animation behind her, she's clearly much better at live action cinema.
You better be loving the human body when you seek out this film, as Broughton and Sheets offer nothing else but people in various positions against a neutral background. I'm sure there's an audience for this type of thing, probably artists with a similar fascination for the human form, but for the accidental spectator there's not much here.
Like most of these conceptual shorts, there's an idea/concept and not much else. There's a little narration at the start of the short, with just the littlest hints of sarcasm, but as the rest of the film is carried out quite seriously and monotonously, it seems that was just my own wishful thinking.
So yes, people posing. Often nude, sometimes clothed. Then alone, at other times with two, three or four together. We see some famous poses, we see people lazily lounging around. There's some sexual poses too of course, unless you'd forget you're watching real art. Oh, and there are a few color filters, so very cinematic. Not my thing I'm afraid.
I'm not sure whether spectacular is the right word, with so much obvious model work involved, but Battle in Outer Space is of Honda's bigger undertakings. There are lots of space scenes and the film has a strong focus on action, sci-fi and adventure, keeping the drama and conversations to a minimum.
Earth is under attack. An alien race has settled itself on our moon and is trying to take over our planet from there. All nations on Earth unite and they devise a plan to drive the aliens back. That's easier said than done, as the aliens have a strong fleet and they are able to mind control some of our crew.
Battle in Outer Space looks surprisingly competent for a Honda film, that doesn't take away that you're clearly looking at small-scale models. Don't expect realistic-looking space battles here, but if you appreciate the charm of Honda's trademark model work then there's plenty to enjoy. After a somewhat slow start, the film really delivers a barrage of pleasant cheese.
Chipper. My expectations weren't that high for this one, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised. I'm usually not one for classic settings, nor posh British characters, but Hall managed to find the right tone for the material. Blithe Spirit is a cheeky comedy with a little fantasy and romance thrown in to spice things up.
Charles is suffering from writer's block. To clear his mind he accompanies his wife to a theater show of Madame Arcati, a famed spiritualist. After the show Charles invites the woman over for a private seance, which she agrees to. The seance is a fluke, but afterwards Charles' dead wife appears before him. She's not too pleased he remarried and is hellbent on winning him back.
The cinematography is slick, with vivid colors and nicely framed shots. Costumes are pretty great too, so are the performances and the fitting score. But it's the jolly sense of humor, begging the audience to please not take things too seriously, that won me over in the end. A very entertaining film.
A film that felt surprisingly modern, though for once it's not really meant as a 100% compliment. Mabuse isn't unlike a bunch of police thrillers from the 90s, with the cops chasing the case of a mysterious serial killer. I think I would've preferred a full-on German Expressionist film, but with the introduction of sound that era was clearly dying.
Mabuse is a master criminal. He is locked up in an institution, though his doctors were never able to figure out what exactly went on inside is head. When the police are confronted with a series of murders that happened exactly as Mabuse wrote them down, they are stumped and start an investigation.
Lang didn't forget his learnings from 20s silent cinema, but the introduction of sound puts more focus on the narrative, which ultimately made it a more tedious affair, certainly at 120 minutes. The case is quite interesting and the pacing is decent, it's just that the execution is rather basic. But if you like these kinds of police thrillers, then this is well ahead of its time.
The middle entry in the Daimajin franchise. Three films in one year is quite a lot, it's no surprise then that the makers have taken a couple of shortcuts. The setup is pretty much identical to the first film, including the perks, sadly also the warts. While the overall quality didn't really drop, the straightforward repetition was a little disappointing.
The story is virtually the same as the first film. A village is overrun by a malicious gang. The survivors retreat and pray to their God, hoping he'll rise to help them. After some back and forth, Daimajin finally awakes and gets ready to kick some ass. Cue 20 minutes of solid destruction and that's that.
Like the first film, there's not quite enough Daimajin to be truly satisfying. The Kaiju action is cool, but there simply isn't enough of it. The samurai elements feel a bit more tedious and even though it's a short film, the first three quarters are a bit slow, even dull. Luckily the cinematography is well above par, which pushes the film to a positive rating. Not bad, but could've been better.
Taylor Wong made a name for himself making grittier action flicks, but in true Hong Kong fashion he also branched out to other genres. Fantasy Romance is one of the most apt film titles ever, as it is in fact a fantasy/romance flick, with some comedy to boot. It's clearly not Wong's strong point, but it's entertaining enough.
Shing is a mangaka who draws fantasy novels. On his way to his publisher he nearly crashes his car, but instead of hitting a wall he crosses over into another dimension. There he meets a ghost who looks an awful lot like the woman from his comics. She follows him into the real world, but Shing isn't too pleased with her attention.
With Tony Leung and Joey Wang there's some solid acting talent present, but since this is a comedy they're not really able to show it. The comedy isn't great and the plot is pretty basic too, but the fantasy elements are executed quite well and the pacing is solid. Just a bit of mindless entertainment, certainly not Wong's best, but not bad for someone who usually does action films.
An odd little film. I'm not sure whether the typical soft-voiced, Japanese drama setup is really suitable for a film about depression, but director Sasabe took a stab at it anyway. The result is pretty much what I expected from it. It's a competent film that does its niche proud, but seems to lack the emotional weight you'd expect from a film about depression.
Tsure doesn't sleep well and has trouble motivating himself to go to work. When he goes in for a check-up, the diagnosis is clear: depression. His caring wife (and mangaka) forces him to quit his job and stands by him while Tsure tries to get better. Their journey turns into inspiration for a new comic series.
Performances are solid, the film looks crisp and the soundtrack is soothing. There are no mean characters, pretty much everyone is as supportive as they can be. It might be a comfort to people struggling with similar issues, but for me the tone and subject didn't really connect. Apart from that, a sweet, gentle and well-made drama.
Sakura Wars is part of a popular video game franchise that branched out into different media. Maybe this film makes more sense if you're familiar with the games, but from what I gather it's mostly just a bunch of random anime tropes thrown together, turning this film into a pretty incoherent mess.
In an alternate version of the past, steampunk-like mecha can only be controlled by young women. Hence, we're stuck with a bunch of pesky anime girls disguised as a theater group, who are called upon to save the world using their fancy mechs. It sounds like a premise made up by a couple of drunks, but maybe I'm just not too used anymore to the commercial anime franchises. Whatever the case, it didn't really work that well.
The character designs look rather plain, but the mechs are nifty and the cel-shaded animation is pretty cool. The music on the other hand is extremely cheesy and once the crew is out of battle, the comedy/drama is just unsightly. Lots of ups and downs in this film in other words, the animation saves it from being a complete failure.
Slow-moving sci-fi. It made me wonder whether Clooney was trying to make his own Solaris here, sadly his skills aren't really on par with Soderbergh's. While The Midnight Sky definitely has its moments, there are some rather cheesy twists and the two-films-into-one structure isn't entirely successful either.
Earth is ruined. Rather than go home and spend his last moments with others, Augustine decides to remain in his station on the North Pole. There he tries to contact Ether, a spaceship on its way back home. The people on it are unaware of the problems on Earth, Augustine does his best to warn them so they have a shot at survival.
The film looks nice enough and the performances are solid, but the harsh split between barren North Pole trek and space adventure (both with predictable challenges and outcomes) doesn't do the film any favors. It feels too rushed, which is pretty weird for a film that is otherwise quite glacial. Quite moody and mysterious, but it lacks finesse.
Rock. It seems to be cinema's ultimate (yet lazy) go-to source for a bit of rebellion, even though it's now very much a last century thing (the rebellious part that is). I don't have any affinity with the genre, so these films tend to be wasted on me, even when it's a director like Ôbayashi handling the film.
The Rocking Horsemen is a very basic coming of age drama, with a young high school student (Takeyoshi) being introduced to rock music for the first time. He's immediately sold and ditches his love for classical music. He takes on a job during the holidays and wants to start a band with some guys from school.
It was fun to see a very young Tadanobu Asano in one of his first big roles and the drama isn't that bad. There are small glimpses of Ôbayashi's wilder side too, but they are few and far between. It's just all very basic and with no enthusiasm for the music on display it does come off as one of Ôbayashi's weaker films.
An early Wakamatsu. He made countless films during the 60s, so it's virtually impossible to keep track of them, but the better ones came at the end of the decade. While some of his early work is interesting, Wakamatsu was still exploring his signature style and even though you can already see glimpses of his genius, the films are often a bit uneven.
A young girl is apprehended by the police as a murder suspect. Once at the station, she reveals her tragic story. After she got raped by some hoodlums in her hometown, the girl moved to Tokyo, hoping to find a better life there. But before long she ended up a prostitute, doing exactly what she ran away from.
Wakamatsu's experimental side rears its head from time to time, mostly during the first half hour. After that, the film becomes more focused on the narrative, as we learn about the young girl's past through a series of flashbacks. It's a slightly disappointing evolution as the plot and characters aren't that interesting, but Wakamatsu fans will no doubt find something to like.
The real start of Jissôji's career and the first in his Buddhist trilogy. This Transient Life feels like a typical film of a promising first-time director (though Jissôji had made some shorts before this), a film where its director does his utmost best to prove his worth and goes all in. That makes for a slightly uneven film, but it sure is interesting.
Masao has an affair with his sister Yuki. The two don't seem to mind their incestuous splurges, but they get into trouble when Yuki gets pregnant from his child. Masao leaves to work for a sculptor and Yuki marries a local handyman who has a thing for her. But the two can't forget about each other and when they get back together, chaos ensues.
Pinku meets arthouse, with a splash of Japanese New Wave. It's an interesting combination of elements. The stark black and white cinematography is very nice, the pacing of the film slow but deliberate and the intrigue is strong. The soundtrack is a letdown though and some scenes do go on too long. Still, Jissôji left his calling card with this one.
A documentary that still feels relevant today. That's not often the case for a doc that's more than 50 years old, especially when it tells such a specific story as The Night It Rained. But this film isn't so much about the specific events, as it is about people's beliefs and their willingness to fool themselves and/or cast doubt to uphold those beliefs.
A Gorgan boy is hailed as a hero when one night he manages to save an oncoming train from great calamity. It's a stormy night and the foundations of the bridge have washed away while the train with hundreds of passengers races forward. The boy lights his jacket on fire and warns the conductor for the looming disaster.
But the more people the documentary team interviews, the less plausible the boy's heroic deeds becomes. Different versions of the story surface, and it seems that the heroic nature of the story is more important than the factual truth. Confirmation bias, lies and belief are raging through this simple but poignant doc.
A return to form for Bond. After a short, 5-year hiatus the franchise returns with Brosnan in the lead and a lot more action to break up the crime/adventure elements. It's the first Bond film that feels like a true action flick, but it's also the first Bond where 007's often cheeky behavior is called into question. You can't have all the fun.
007 finds himself entangled into some good old Cold War nonsense again, having to fight the Russians for a weapon (the titular GoldenEye) that could destroy the world. It's a quest that takes him around the world and pits him against an enemy that has a personal grudge against Bond.
Brosnan is a perfect fit for the character, the bigger focus on action adds to the entertainment and there's enough goofy franchise drivel to make sure the film never gets too serious. It's newfound social consciousness is a bit ill-fitting though and Sean Bean is a dull bad guy, the Bond girls aren't great either. But after the Dalton Bonds, this was a breath of fresh air.