The Sorcerer's Apprentice

by Jon Turteltaub
Specifics
2010 / 109m - USA
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Sorcerer's Apprentice poster

A film that tries to be a lot, but ends up being nothing much of anything. I'm still not sure whether this was supposed to be a cooler, darker film for 10-year-olds, or a flaccid Disney attempt to start a new fantasy franchise. Was this a young adult film maybe? At least you can't fault Turteltaub for trying to do all of these things at once.

Dave is a geeky guy who spends his free time in his underground laboratory, experimenting with coils and electricity. His life takes a different turn when he meets Balthazar, a decedent from Merlin who sees in Dave an ideal subject to become his successor. Dave isn't too sure about that, but how can he reject becoming a sorcerer?

I don't think Nicolas Cage was a very smart cast, the rest of the actors aren't much better. The comedy is lame, the soundtrack is horrendous, and the action isn't too impressive. A few scenes stand out, but mostly because of the budget. I think we can all be happy the no doubt planned sequel never got made.

Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast

Also known as
Noyuki Yamayuki Umibe Yuki
Specifics
1986 / 135m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast poster

Another great Ôbayashi comedy. It's really unfortunate to see how such a rich and varied oeuvre remained under the radar for so long, especially when Ôbayashi did make several cult films that made the rounds. It's never too late to discover great films though, so I'm glad he's received some renewed attention these past couple of years.

Bound for the Fields is set in pre-WWII Japan. The country is starting to ready itself for the coming war, but the children in a small rural town don't understand what all the fuss is about. Two young bullies are forced to work together when the sister of one of them is about to be sold to a brothel.

Ôbayashi does what he does best. A light rural drama is mixes with quirky comedy and light fantasy elements. It's a fun, lively film that never bores despite it's rather long runtime. The lush black and white cinematography certainly plays a part in that (beware, there's also a color version), but it's really Ôbayashi's splendid direction that ties everything together. Very nice.

I Am Cuba

by Mikhail Kalatozov
Also known as
Soy Cuba
Specifics
1964 / 141m - Soviet Union, Cuba
Genre
Drama, War
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
I Am Cuba poster

From all the classic directors, Mikhail Kalatozov is one of the few who actually managed to impress me. He struggles with drama and structure, but the visuals in his films more than make up for that. It took me a while to watch I Am Cuba, mostly because of the length, but I'm glad I finally got around to it.

The film plays like a mini-anthology, focusing on four different stories in pre-revolution Cuba. The first about a woman prostitute, the second about a farmer losing his house, the third about students championing Castro and the final one about a family forced to leave their house when it is bombarded.

Performances are a little flaky, the film could've been shorter and the anthology setup doesn't really add that much. But man does it look beautiful again. Lovely contrasting black and white cinematography mixed with dynamic camera work and superb angles make this a true looker. Not quite as consistent as I'd hoped, but certainly worth a watch.

Outbreak

by Wolfgang Petersen
Specifics
1995 / 127m - USA
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Outbreak poster

I remembered this as a rather serious take on the outbreak of a dangerous pandemic, clearly I was wrong. Petersen's film is a kitsch mix of action, deceit and just-in-time saves. It's really the battle of one asshole virologist against the American army, with the outbreak being little more than a footnote.

The US is keeping a lethal virus strain behind closed doors, hoping to weaponize it when the time is right. A monkey shipped from Africa to the US is about to mess up their plans. It carries the virus and infects the people of Cedar Creek. Within no time, the little village is a hotbed for the virus.

Hoffman is more than a little annoying, though part of that is just his character. The action scenes are too cheesy, the Hollywood bloat is considerable, and the second half is a bit of a disappointment. That said, the spread of the epidemic is well covered and COVID-19 still plaguing our planet does give this film an extra dimension. Not great, somewhat amusing.

Rebel Without a Cause

by Nicholas Ray
Specifics
1955 / 111m - USA
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Rebel Without a Cause poster

Legendary James Dean film. I don't think I had ever seen a film with Dean before, while watching all I could think is that he looked an awful lot like a beefier version of James Franco. It's not hard to see why he got such a big following, though acting talent probably didn't play a big part in Dean's success.

Jim Stark has trouble fitting in, no matter where he goes. After moving to yet another town, he meets July. Jim vows to make a real effort this time, but trouble with his parents and some local gangs make it very hard to stay out of trouble. When a car race goes terribly wrong, Jim gets himself into a way bigger mess than he bargained for.

The rebellious side of the film isn't great, but it's at least somewhat entertaining, with the cliff scene being a clear standout. The dramatic side is pretty poor though. Performances are weak, characters are one-dimensional, and two hours is a bit much for a simple film like this. Far from good, but I guess its reputation is deserved.

Out

by Hideyuki Hirayama
Specifics
2002 / 119m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Thriller
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Out poster

A quirky dark comedy that isn't quite dark and funny enough to really stand out from the crowd. The film has some good ideas, commits to them and executes them adequately, but doesn't take its premise far enough. The result is a bit too muddled and too long for this type of film, but there's still some fun to be had.

Four women work the night shift, making lunch boxes day in day out. It's mentally tiring, especially when their home situation isn't all that great either. The youngest of the bunch cracks and kills her abusive husband. She calls in the help of the other three to help her with her predicament, but that just gets her further into trouble.

Performances are solid and seeing these rather dull housewives trying to handle an unfortunate murder is amusing. The cinematography is pretty grim and the score just a little too dramatic, the film also tilts a bit too much to the drama side, but Hirayama keeps it interesting throughout and the film never bored me. It just wasn't as edgy as I'd hoped.

Fantastic Fungi

by Louie Schwartzberg
Specifics
2019 / 81m - USA
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Fantastic Fungi poster

I'm vaguely aware of the wonderful world of fungi and mushrooms, but never really took the time to explore it. When this doc crossed my path it sounded like a great place to start. A short warning at the start of the doc made me a little suspicious though. Why was there a health warning at the start of a fungi documentary?

Half an hour in, it became clear this wasn't really a documentary about fungi. Sure enough, they form the basis of the content, but the makers seem way more interested in their medicinal (and other) powers. After a short introduction (which was quite interesting), it quickly devolves into some wishy-washy pro-hallucinogens bullshit.

Ecstatic accounts of flaky subjects, ethereal background music and broad statements seem to underline the need for the health warning at the start. Ultimately, this was a very disappointing film. Apart from some pretty photography, there's really nothing of interest here. Guess I'll have to commit and watch The Creeping Garden now.

Grosse Pointe Blank

by George Armitage
Specifics
1997 / 107m - USA
Genre
Romance, Crime
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Grosse Pointe Blank poster

I'm not sure what to make of a film like this. Grosse Pointe Blank throws a bunch of different genres together, which suggests that it's a relatively original, surprising experience, but the contrary seems true. It's a bland, lifeless narrative where nothing stands out and everything feels derivative.

Martin Blank is a professional killer who has had it with his job. He executes one last kill and returns to his hometown to rekindle an old love. He stood up Debi on their prom night and still feels bad about the situation, an upcoming class reunion is the perfect excuse to right the wrongs of the past. Others won't just let Blank quit his job though.

I'm not a John Cusack fan, which may have something to do with my apathetic reaction to this film. He's annoying, has no charm, no chemistry with Driver either. The crime and action elements are bland and negligible, the romance is a complete dud and the comedy rarely hits the mark. As for the direction, Armitage is completely invisible. A pretty bad film.

The Unholy

by Evan Spiliotopoulos
Specifics
2021 / 99m - USA
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Unholy poster

It's not often you see horror films with a budget to spend, The Unholy is a welcome exception. Sadly, it doesn't really do much with all that money. While it checks off all the boxes and goes through the motions just fine, the film lacks the passion, joy and heart that makes a genre film tick.

Fenn is a has-been journalist who writes crappy stories about the supernatural. A trip to a small village in Massachusetts is turning out to be another bust, until Fenn nearly runs over a young girl. He follows her and finds her praying in front of a true. When he finds out the girl has been deaf and mute all her life, the town starts to believe they're witnessing a miracle.

The Unholy is a pretty simple religious horror film. Performances are decent, the visual effects are solid, and the technical qualities are on point. The film simply isn't very scary, tense or moody though. It's just a predictable narrative that lacks highs and lows, stand-out moments and memorable scenes. Basic but expensive filler.

Creed

by Ryan Coogler
Specifics
2015 / 133m - USA
Genre
Sport
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Creed poster

Going into this film, I didn't even know it was an official Rocky spin-off, just that it was a contemporary, often lauded boxing film by Ryan Coogler. What you're getting here is simply Rocky 2.0, a reboot of the original franchise in a more modern and black setting, warts and all.

Adonis Creed never knew his father, but he inherited his taste for boxing. Quitting a well-paid job and a cushy life, Adonis sets out to make it in the ring. He seeks out Rocky Balboa, hoping he will guide him to the top. Rocky isn't part of the boxing world anymore, but upon seeing Apollo's boy he's willing to give it another try.

Jordan is pretty decent, Stallone is passable (which is a big win). Other than that, there's really not much to say about this film. If you've seen one boxing film you've seen them all, and apart from a more hip-hop inspired soundtrack and a slightly blacker cast, Coogler does very little with the material. Creed is way too long, doesn't offer enough excitement and chokes on the more dramatic parts, but boxing fans should be happy that this contemporary update is on the same level as the original.

The Naked Spur

by Anthony Mann
Specifics
1953 / 91m - USA
Genre
Western
More info:
rating
0.5*/5.0*
The Naked Spur poster

As someone with a thorough dislike for western cinema, I sometimes forget that so far I've been primarily exposed to the stand-out, notable films in the genre. Festering below that is a pool of purer genre films that don't even bother to try and stand out. It seems that with The Naked Spur, I've finally hit that niche.

Kemp is trailing Vandergroat, a killer worth 5.000 dollars, all the way through the Rockies. Two more men join the hunt, though unaware of the price on Vandergroat's head. When they finally catch the man, he tries to save himself by trying to set up the bounty hunters against each other. That turns out to be a lot easier than expected.

Stewart is a terrible actor, he didn't magically get any better here. At least he fits in with the rest of the cast, who are equally disappointing. The soundtrack is terrible, the cinematography is bland and the plot is predictable. Add some cliché characters and a sluggish pace, and you have something that is hell to sit through. Unless you love westerns I guess.

A Writer's Odyssey

by Yang Lu
Also known as
Ci Sha Xiao Shuo Jia
Specifics
2021 / 130m - China
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
A Writer's Odyssey poster

An exciting blend of urban and high fantasy. A Writer's Odyssey is an exemplary fantasy film, unburdened by decades of cultural baggage, where every character and setting is as much an exploration for the audience as it is for the lead characters. There is no lack of visual splendor, technical excellence and epic proportions here. The biggest difference with Hollywood blockbusters is that this actually feels fresh and contemporary, rather than stale and expected. A standard for global blockbusters.

Bounce Ko Gals

Also known as
Baunsu Ko Gaurusu
Specifics
1997 / 110m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Bounce Ko Gals poster

The ideal film to watch back to back with Anno's Love & Pop. In Bounce Ko Gals, Harada presents his take on Japanese Kogal/engo-kosei culture. Young school girls selling themselves to lechers were a big thing in the 90s, it's not surprising then that several directors took this as inspiration for their films.

Lisa is a girl on her way to the US. She saved up some money, but right before her plane ticket expires she hopes to make a quick buck in Harajuku. During a video shoot she is robbed by the Yakuza, leaving her stranded with just the ticket. Raku and Jonko, two regulars, decide to help Lisa out and call in some favors to earn Lisa's money back.

Harada proves himself a capable director. The film isn't as experimental as Anno's, but the overall quality is higher. The performances are strong, the camera work is vibrant, and the characters are an interesting bunch. Harada blends the culture exploration well with the narrative and delivers a warm, captivating, slight disturbing drama.

Anonymous Venetian

by Enrico Maria Salerno
Also known as
Anonimo Veneziano
Specifics
1970 / 91m - Italy
Genre
Romance
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Anonymous Venetian poster

Classic Italian drama. These films tend to be quite kitsch and unsubtle, Anonymous Venetian is no exception. With a gaudy soundtrack and ridiculous performances, it's hard to really care for the characters, whose romantic woes merely seem to exist to draw tears from sobby moms when they're in between soap operas.

Enrico hasn't been living with his wife for ages, but out of the blue he invites her to come visit him in Venice. Enrico is terminally ill, even so he decides not to break the news to his wife just yet. They spend a couple of days in Venice, rekindling the past and reliving their romance, but Enrico's days are numbered.

The overbearing soundtrack is a real nuisance, the plot is basic, and the characters aren't very likeable. I really didn't feel for them, which is tough for a romance. On the upside, it's nice to see them traversing Venice, a lovely setting for a film like this. Other than that, not a very successful film.

The Swarm

by Just Philippot
Also known as
La Nuée
Specifics
2020 / 101m - France
Genre
Drama, Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Swarm poster

One of those films I'd rather not tag with the horror label (even though it 100% is a horror flick), only because it's going to attract the wrong crowd. The Swarm is very much a film about killer locusts, it's just not a typical rabid animal flick, focusing more on characters who are losing their grip on their humanity, while conjuring up a sinister atmosphere.

Virginie is running a locust farm, hoping she can support her family with the proceeds. The locusts aren't really breeding though and selling them is tougher than expected. An unfortunate accident ends up becoming Virginie's savior, as she realizes that the locusts thrive on blood. Getting enough blood to support the farm is easier said than done.

The build-up is slow but deliberate, the shift from family drama to horror is subtle but noticeable and around halfway through the film's true intentions should be clear for all to see. Performances were solid, the mood was dark and uneasy, the finale pretty cool. An impressive horror film, but not for everybody.

The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8

Also known as
Yoka de Shinda Kaiju no Juninichi no Monogatari
Specifics
2020 / 88m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 poster

Iwai's take on screenlife cinema. Some parts of The 12 Day Tale of the Monster that Died in 8 were exactly what I was expecting from this odd combo, but Iwai has a few surprises up his sleeve. The biggest one being that this is effectively a core comedy, built on a slightly fantastical premise. Made up of Zoom calls, YouTube videos and moody black and white segments in the near-empty streets of Tokyo, the COVID-19 atmosphere is tangible.

Japan is in lockdown, people are bored. Actor Takumi Saitoh figures he should do his part to combat the virus and orders a "capsule kaiju", a small monster egg that's supposed to grow into a real kaiju and help humanity fight the virus. While tending to the egg, he checks in with friends for help and pointers.

It's a rather absurd premise, especially for people not familiar with Japan's kaiju history. Iwai's deadpan approach is delightful though and the DIY vibe works in favor of the film. There are some more arthouse-like moments (the modern dance sequences - beautifully realized) and the message at the end is a bit heavy-handed, but overall this was a very light, fun and inventive little film. Comes well recommended for fans of Iwai's work, but some familiarity with kaiju culture is necessary to enjoy this film to its fullest.

Runner Runner

by Brad Furman
Specifics
2013 / 88m - USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Runner Runner poster

Runner Runner is one of those films that starts off slick and easy, but loses steam once all the pawns are in their place and all that's left is seeing things play out as expected. Furman simply doesn't have the necessary flair to pull off a film like this, the result is somewhat decent, but forgettable.

Richie is a poor college student. He's also a math wizard and hoping to make a buck with gambling. When he finds out the site he plays on is cheating him out of his money, he sets out to contact the owner, hoping he might put Richie's skills to good use. Everything goes according to plan, but Richie soon finds that nobody can be trusted.

The plot is pretty bland and the performances aren't strong enough to carry the film. Furman tries to add some glitz and cool, but it's all pretty superficial. The pacing is solid though and while the film is extremely predictable, it's not the worst way to spend 90 minutes of your time. Simple filler in other words.

Red Screening

by Maximiliano Contenti
Also known as
Al Morir la Matinée
Specifics
2020 / 88m - Uruguay
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Red Screening poster

A slasher from Uruguay, now there's something you don't see every day. That's about as exotic as it gets though, as the film itself is really just another slasher flick, set in a shoddy movie theater. A hooded killer, some canon fodder and a bad horror flick playing in the background. It may not sound like much, but the execution was on point.

When it rains outside, movie theaters are perfect getaways for people who want to get off the streets. Ana is tending to the theater as her father needs rest, what she doesn't know is that a killer has entered the premises and is hunting for people's eyeballs. Once he's inside, the body count goes up pretty fast.

The first half hour is a little stiff. The characters aren't that interesting and the extended introduction of the setting is rather pointless, since we've seen this thing so many times before. The killer is pretty cool though and the murders are pleasantly violent. Contenti knows what makes these films tick, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the finale is a blast. No masterpiece, but good stuff nonetheless.

Moonstruck

by Norman Jewison
Specifics
1987 / 102m - USA
Genre
Romance
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Moonstruck poster

I had no clue what I was getting myself into, but when I noticed Cher and Cage in the opening credits I got strangely excited. Turns out I'd fooled myself immensely, this is by far one of the most irritating romcoms I've seen in a long time. If Jewison wanted this to be an exercise in being grating, he absolutely nailed it.

Loretta is marrying Johnny, though it's clear her heart isn't really in it. Johnny is staying with his dying mom and asks Loretta to visit his brother Ronny to clear the bad blood between them. Loretta obliges, but after spending a little time with Ronny, they've fallen madly in love with each other. A tricky situation.

How schmaltzy drama and a cast of irritating Italian-American stereotypes are to combine into a fun romcom is beyond me, but that's what Jewison attempted here. The performances are terrible, the drama is overdone, and the soundtrack is simply grotesque. Either this is the thickest pastiche I've ever laid eyes on, or it's just plain crap. I'm betting on the latter.

Storage 24

by Johannes Roberts
Specifics
2012 / 87m - UK
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Storage 24 poster

Pretty simple genre work from Johannes Roberts. Of course, that's what he's known for, though his later films do seem to have a bit more quality to them. Storage 24 is really baseline, sticking to a couple of familiar clichés and adding very little to them. If you're looking for some creature flick filler though, it's not the worst film out there.

When a plane crashes down in central London, a mysterious cargo falls next to a Storage 24 facility. The facility goes into lockdown, trapping a handful of people inside. While tensions between the group are already quite high, things are about to get a lot worse when they find out what escaped from the plane.

Roberts does a fairly decent job building up the tension. The creature effects/design are pretty crummy though, which makes it difficult to really get into the film. Performances are basic, and the plot is really thin, but the film does have a handful of decent moments. Not great, but not entirely worthless either.

Light the Fuse... Sartana Is Coming

by Giuliano Carnimeo
Also known as
Una Nuvola di Polvere... un Grido di Morte... Arriva Sartana
Specifics
1970 / 99m - Spain, Italy
Genre
Western
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Light the Fuse... Sartana Is Coming poster

I haven't seen too many spaghetti westerns beyond the Leone ones, so it's actually quite interesting to be able to dig beyond the obvious names. I think it's fair to say that I'll never turn into a big western fan, but Carnimeo did have some nice surprises, which made the finale more bearable.

Sartana helps out a gambler who has been wrongfully accused. He breaks him out of prison, and together they escape to Mansfield, chasing a lost treasure. The people in Mansfield aren't very friendly though and Sartana feels something isn't quite right, but the money calls to him.

For the most part, this is a pretty basic western, only everyone is speaking Italian. It's a bit odd at first, but I got used to it soon enough. The finale had some quirkier elements, not something I'd expected, but they certainly brightened up the film. Not enough to make it a truly enjoyable experience, but it certainly made it less boring than other westerns I've seen.

Cliff Walkers

Also known as
Xuan Ya Zhi Shang
Specifics
2021 / 120m - China
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Cliff Walkers poster

Yimou Zhang's latest is a typical spy thriller set in the snow-covered China of the '30s. Not a genre that is often tackled in Chinese cinema, but it's prevalent in the US and UK and Zhang doesn't really add a lot of flavor of his own. It's certainly not a bad attempt, it's just not a very notable film.

Four Chinese secret agents are sent on a mission to Manchukuo. When they arrive there, they discover there's a mole in their midst. Between completing their mission and trying to figure out who is selling them out, the four have a tough time staying alive, as everyone seems to be on their tail.

The cinematography is nice, though not up to Zhang's usual standard. The plot and acting are decent enough too, but the film's a bit slow. There's really no reason why this couldn't have been finished 30 minutes sooner, even so Zhang draws it out to hit the two-hour mark. If you love a good spy thriller though, this film has you covered.

The Suicide Squad

by James Gunn
Specifics
2021 / 132m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Suicide Squad poster

A nice return to form for James Gunn. Far away from Marvel's tight control, Gunn is allowed to combine horror and comedy elements to brighten an overworked superhero concept. And he actually pulls it off. The Suicide Squad is far from perfect, but it's a lot better than most of its peers.

A team of criminals is assembled to carry out a mission in Corto Maltese, a small island where a secret facility houses a terrifying weapon. Once there, it quickly transpires that their lives aren't worth all that much and that they haven't been given full security clearance. Even so, they have no other option than to carry out the mission.

Gunn's comedy is pleasantly blunt and stupid, which goes perfectly well with the comic book vibe. There are several stand-out scenes (Quinn's flower battle is amazing) and some very cool jokes, the action scenes are a tad dull though and there's a bit too much empty filler to keep it engaging all the way through. Still, I hope Gunn can have another go as this was so much better than the first one.

Against All Odds

by Taylor Hackford
Specifics
1984 / 128m - USA
Genre
Romance, Thriller
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Against All Odds poster

One of Hackford's earlier films. Can't say I'm a big fan of the man, but he's managed to direct some notable films in his career, which does account for something. Against All Odds is one of his lesser known films, and it's not that difficult to see why. It's all quite cheesy and predictable, not a film that sticks out.

Brogan is a football player at the end of his career. He needs money, and decides to take on a job offered by Jake, one of his shadier friends. Brogan is tasked to find Jake's girlfriend, whose father owns the club where Brogan is employed. When he finds her, the two hit it off and decide to leave Jake behind.

Performances are rather poor, the soundtrack is beyond cheesy, the plot far too pedestrian. It's a pretty run-of-the-mill and unambitious film that overstays its welcome, but at least the pacing is somewhat decent. Hard to recommend and easy to skip, unless you're a fan of 80s American B-thrillers.