Ticks

by Tony Randel
Specifics
1993 / 85m - USA
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Ticks poster

A minor creature flick from the 90s that's found its way into the spotlight again. Not really too surprising since the 90s reevaluation is slowly picking up steam, then again it's a rather random obscurity that isn't really overflowing with quality. Not the worst horror film in the world, but you better be in the mood for a bucket load of cheese.

Illegal weed farmers are using chemical substances to enhance their crop. When the substance leeks on some tick eggs, we have a minor Godzilla disaster on our hands. In no time, the area is swarming with bloodthirsty ticks, attacking the locals and a group of city kids hoping to find some peace and quiet in the wilderness.

The actors do a pretty poor job and the story is complete nonsense, the creature effects on the other hand are pretty fun and there's some juicy gore that keeps things interesting. Ticks is a non-essential 90s flicks, but if you're looking for a short and easily digestible horror film, it's pretty decent.

The Harder They Fall

by Jeymes Samuel
Specifics
2021 / 139m - USA
Genre
Western
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rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Harder They Fall poster

Ignore all the woke discussion surrounding this film. Yes, The Harder They Fall is very well aware of what it is and does take its moments to make that abundantly clear, but that is just a very small portion of the film. The rest is just a very typical western that cares more about style and entertainment than anything else.

When Nat's parents are murdered by a local outlaw, he becomes a gunslinger himself, though one who keeps certain values. One by one he seeks out and kills the people responsible for his family's death. Except for the leader, who is behind bars. When he gets pardoned, Nat knows he has one last job to do.

I'm not a big western fan, a black cast with some hip-hop and gospel music doesn't really change that. Deadwyler and Stanfield are the only real badasses here, the rest of the cast isn't that convincing. The film is also way too long for its meager plot, but at least the action is decent, and the film has more flair than your average western. Decent entertainment, but nothing more.

The Big Combo

by Joseph H. Lewis
Specifics
1955 / 87m - USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Big Combo poster

There's no lack of film-noir films, and the more I watch, the more they start to look alike. That is no doubt a blessing for fans of the genre, not so much for someone like me, who doesn't really care for classic cinema and isn't too taken with the US crime genre. In other words, The Big Combo was fighting an uphill battle.

The story is basic noir fare, about a police detective trailing Mr Brown, a crime boss. When he fails to get close to him, his next bet is to go after the boss' girlfriend Susan. Meanwhile, Mr Brown suspects Susan of wanting to leave him, so he asks two of his trusted companions to keep an eye on her.

The Big Combo is true genre fodder. Men in raincoats and hats yapping away for half the runtime, a dame messing things up, and a gritty crime setting, so we can have some pistols in there too. It's just way too focused on characters and narrative for me, too slow and too uneventful. Not my cup of tea.

The Burmese Harp

by Kon Ichikawa
Also known as
Biruma no Tategoto
Specifics
1956 / 116m - Japan
Genre
Drama, War
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Burmese Harp poster

Kon Ichikawa is one of the famed classic Japanese directors I haven't really explored yet. I've seen two of his post-2000 films, other than his oeuvre was still a blank for me. The Burmese Harp is one of his most popular films, so that seemed like a pretty good place to start. And indeed it was.

The story revolves around Mizushima, a soldier stationed in Burma near the end of WWII. He is sent up the mountain to convince a regiment to surrender itself. He fails his mission and the entire regiment is killed, Mizushima is the only survivor. A Buddhist monk finds him and decides to take care of him.

There's an ease to Ichikawa's films that is quite timeless. The pacing is deliberate, the soundtrack is soothing, the characters aren't too rowdy. The setting is also a big plus and adds plenty to the atmosphere. Could've been a tad shorter and the ending was a bit too overstated, other than that a worthy classic.

Alexandria, Again and Forever

by Youssef Chahine, Khairiya A-Mansour
Also known as
Iskanderija, Kaman oue Kaman
Specifics
1989 / 100m - Egypt
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Alexandria, Again and Forever poster

My experience with Middle-Eastern cinema is pretty limited. I do know that Egypt has a relatively rich cinematic history, but I haven't seen many films from that area in general. Chahine is a name that keeps popping up though, so when I got the chance to sample some of his work, I took the jump.

Yehia is an Egyptian filmmaker. When Egyptian film crews are going on a strike, it triggers him to revisit his career. He ponders why he lost contact with Amr, the star of his first films. Was it the commercialization of cinema that pulled them apart, or was it the beautiful Nadia that drove a wedge between them?

It's nice to see a Middle-Eastern film that isn't pure drama. There's a lighter vibe to the film, especially when Yehia revisits some of more commercial efforts. The film is nicely shot and there are some striking moment, still, the overarching drama didn't do much for me and the film ended up being a bit too long to be truly enjoyable.

Amy

by Asif Kapadia
Specifics
2015 / 128m - UK
Genre
Documentary, Music
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Amy poster

Like most people, I'd heard about Amy Winehouse, knew a couple of her songs and was aware of her troubled reputation, but I never really went beyond that. I generally don't care much for music documentaries, as they're more about glorifying their subjects than giving a proper insight, luckily there's none of that here.

There's a lot of amateur footage and raw material that shows a less polished, more honest look at the person behind the artist. Enough to get some kind of idea who she was, but also leaving plenty untouched to not reduce her to a simple narrative. Kapadia found a really nice balance there.

There are also many interviews with people directly involved in Winehouse' downfall, adding another level of validity. The story itself isn't too original, creativity, vulnerability and fame have never gelled well together, but it's one of the more insightful and respectful documentaries I've seen about the subject so far. A welcome surprise.

Overboard

by Garry Marshall
Specifics
1987 / 112m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Overboard poster

I watched the remake not too long ago, that wasn't a great film. This earlier version with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell is worse still, but not by much. It's a sappy romcom with slightly annoying leads, a very predictable plot and no redeeming aesthetic qualities, but it's also not as bad as it could've been.

Joanna is a wealthy woman who acts like a spoiled brat. After a spat with a carpenter, she gets into an accident and loses her memory. To get back at her, the carpenter picks up her, pretending to be her husband. Joanna ends up with him, cleaning his house and taking care of his kids.

Hawn and Russell have no chemistry, most of the characters are unlikable, and a near 2-hour runtime is well excessive for a simple flick like this. The pacing is somewhat decent though and while there are no laugh-out-loud moments, the vibe is pretty light and agreeable. Overall though, very forgettable.

Black as Night

by Maritte Lee Go
Specifics
2021 / 87m - USA
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Black as Night poster

Prime's collaborations with Blumhouse haven't been too successful so far. Their horror films come off pretty juvenile and rushed, sporting some interesting ideas but lacking the proper talent and execution to make them stand out. Black as Night is no exception, there's a fun horror film in here somewhere, but it struggles to come out.

Shawna is a young girl living in New Orleans. She likes to hang around with her friend Pedro during the summer holidays, but this summer's going to be different. There are vampires in town, and when they get to Shawna's mom, she's out for revenge. Together with a bunch of other kids, she's ready to take on a local vampire coven.

Black as Night is pleasantly self-aware and there are some compelling alternate takes on vampire lore, but the film's a bit too childish and doesn't really deliver on its horror premise. The vampires are a bit dull, the gore is largely absent and having a bunch of kids take on vampires isn't all that exciting either. It's not a horrible film, just a bit too mediocre and safe.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

by Vittorio De Sica
Also known as
Il Giardino dei Finzi Contini
Specifics
1970 / 94m - Italy
Genre
Romance, War
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis poster

Italian melodrama, that starts off as a teen romance and evolves into a dreary war drama. In the background we see the rise of fascism, ignored by a wealthy Jewish family who retreats to their private domain. De Sica bets on quite a few horses, but the result is a bit of a jumbled mess.

The Finzi-Contini family is dead rich. When the Jews in a nearby village are banned from the local tennis club, they open up part of their estate to accommodate the victims. That's how Giorgio meets Micòl, the daughter of the Finzi-Continis. The two develop feelings for each other, but their different social standings make their relationship impossible.

The film appears a little cheesy, with soft-focus visuals, idyllic colors and a wannabe romantic score. It's all a bit much, so I never ended up caring for the two leads, nor their predicament. The contrast with the background of the story also doesn't work well, the fascist threat comes off forced, and the darker second half fails to make an impression. Not great.

The French Dispatch

Specifics
2021 / 108m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
The French Dispatch poster

This feels like the last film in a cycle. The French Dispatch is pure, unfiltered Wes Anderson, probably at his most aesthetic and precise. At the same time, it's difficult to image what else Anderson can do with this style, as it did get a little repetitive over time. The insane pacing and different stories eat up a lot of energy, still, by the end it felt like Anderson didn't bring quite enough. It's a pretty uneven film that starts to fray once you look too closely at individual elements, on the other hand there's no one else like Anderson and the film is full-on cinematic fun. Not his best work, but if you love Anderson, it's almost impossible not to love this film.

Creed II

by Steven Caple Jr.
Specifics
2018 / 130m - USA
Genre
Sport
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Creed II poster

More of the same. After the success of the first film, a sequel was pretty much inevitable. It didn't take them long to come up with a story, they kept the Rocky kids theme going, the rest of the film is vintage boxing cinema too. If that's your thing, Creed II won't disappoint, for me, it just wasn't enough.

After winning the heavy-weight belt in the first film, Creed will have to defend his title against Viktor Drago, son of Ivan Drago. Meanwhile, he is having a baby with his girlfriend, which puts some extra pressure on him. The first match against Drago goes horribly wrong, so Creed seeks out Rocky for the decisive bout.

The performances are decent enough, the film also looks a bit nicer compared to most of its peers, but not quite enough to really elevate it. The plot is pretty bland, the fights are extremely predictable and 2+ hours is way too long for a simple flick like this. Just basic genre fodder.

Clifford the Big Red Dog

by Walt Becker
Specifics
2021 / 97m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy, Adventure
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Clifford the Big Red Dog poster

The title says it all really. I wasn't familiar with the franchise at all, but apparently the Clifford stories have been going strong for a good 50 years. It's an unflinching kids film, the kind that doesn't even try to appeal to moms and dads, then again kids are the film's primary target audience.

Emily feels like an outcast. She doesn't fit in with the kids at school and her home situation isn't exactly stable either. Her life changes when she finds a little red dog who changes overnight in the biggest dog the world has ever seen. Emily is finally happy, but others want the dog for monetary gain.

Whitehall's American accent is a bit disappointing (and unnecessary), the CG could've been better and the message of the film is really cheesy, but there's some British charm that makes you wonder how much better the film would've been if it had been set in London. Nice if you have kids, borderline if you don't.