Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood

2022 / 97m - USA
Drama,Adventure,Animation
2.5*/5.0*
Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood poster

Linklater loves a bit of nostalgia. Apollo 10½ sees him returning to his childhood, recounting all the little details that made the world such a different place. I, on the other hand, care very little for nostalgia. The reason why I didn't think this was a complete disaster, was because the film is also very much about looking to the future.

Stan is the youngest of a family of 8. He lives in Houston Texas, in a neighborhood where everybody is involved in some way or another in NASA's big mission to land on the moon. Stan dreams of becoming an astronaut, but his family and childhood are a lot more mundane, so he makes up a past of his own.

A 90-minute voice-over blasts through trivia about the past, executed in Linklater's beloved animation style. I'm not really sure what the concept was, but because there is a light and breezy vibe it's somewhat entertaining to follow. Not that there was a lot to connect with for me, the time and place is very particular and nothing like my own childhood. At least it was relatively short.

Water Gate Bridge

Chang Jin Hu Zhi Shui Men Qiao
2022 / 153m - China
Action,War
2.5*/5.0*
Water Gate Bridge poster

More Chinese war propaganda. The Battle at Lake Changjin must've been quite the success, or this endeavor was simply so huge that they figured a second film would be necessary to recoup the effort. If you're looking for 150 minutes of action and sentimentality, Hark, Lam and Chen have you covered.

The plot is basic, we get another battlefield where the Chinese soldiers are allowed to show their bravery, their commitment and their selflessness. This time they're monitoring a bridge that is right on the escape route of the American troops. A strategic location that will form the center of another heated battle.

The action is pretty spectacular, but it does get quite messy, and the film doesn't really let up. And when it does stop, it's only to make room for some sentimental drama. It's a shame, as these directors are capable of making way better films. Let's just hope they're not turning this into a trilogy.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

by Jon Watts
2021 / 148m - USA
Fantasy,Action,Adventure
1.0*/5.0*
Spider-Man: No Way Home poster

While I've watched most Marvel films, I've stopped caring about any connection these films have. I'm sure they made quite an effort to link this new Spider-Man film to all the others (and Dr. Strange, for some weird reason), but I simply don't care enough for any of the characters, nor the plot. There are no stakes anyway, as Marvel will just reset whatever plot twist they introduce in the next couple of films.

Spider-Man has been outed, which makes his life quite a bit harder. He and his friends aren't accepted into their favored college, Peter is pretty bummed and wants to try and rectify that situation. He goes to Dr Strange for help, who messes up his magic spell, which disrupts the space-time continuum. Or something like that.

The comedy bits are horrendous, the high school stuff is annoying, the bad guys are dumb and unappealing. Dr Strange has some nifty tricks, which are all just expensive CG demos, and all of this is stretched to a full 140 minutes. As long as people keep praising crap like this, Marvel will just keep making it.

Seven Swords

Qi Jian
2005 / 153m - Hong Kong
Action,Adventure
Seven Swords poster

Hark Tsui puts out another sprawling martial arts epic. With a stellar cast, a sizeable budget and a commendable lack of CG, he made a film that is well able to stand the test of time. The action scenes are spectacular, the locations are grand, and the bad guy is a real hoot. Hark takes his time, but the film is never too slow or laggy. Seven Swords is easily one of his best films, and stands proud among the Chinese martial arts epics of the early 00s.

Death in Venice

by Luchino Visconti
Morte a Venezia
1971 / 130m - Italy
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Death in Venice poster

Visconti is best known as one of the cornerstones of the Italian Neo-Realist cinema, so I was quite surprised to find a film like Death in Venice. This one was all atmosphere and repressed emotion, a slow-moving drama about the quest for beauty that never really dulls, even at 130 minutes long.

A sick and aging composer goes to Venice to recover from his health issues. There he becomes fixated with a young boy on vacation. The boy represents pure beauty for the composer, something he has chased for his entire life. Though the plague is threatening to swoop Venice, he can't leave the place behind.

The music is soothing, the cinematography pretty delicate and moody, the performances subdued. It's really everything that Italian cinema is not, so this was a happy surprise. It's not quite as pretty as some make it out to be, but it's certainly my favorite Visconti so far. I guess I need to try his other end-of-career films next.

Wired Shut

by Alexander Sharp
2021 / 95m - Canada
Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Wired Shut poster

A slow burn thriller that was burning maybe a bit too slowly. Like many of these films, the problem isn't so much the genre elements, but the forced drama in between. Wired Shut has enough going for it, but the father-daughter relationship gets too much attention, slowly doing the film even more.

Reed is a washed-up writer. He lives separated from his ex-wife and daughter and just recently got into a car crash that smashed up his teeth. He is surprised when his daughter suddenly stands on his doorstep, seemingly wanting to give their relationship one more go. Which isn't easy with his mouth wired shut.

The soundtrack is menacing and the cinematography dark and eerie. The build-up is pretty solid too, but once it becomes clear what is going on the film starts stalling. The payoff isn't that great and the added drama felt out of place. It's not a bad film, but there's definitely potential to do better, with a bit of tweaking left and right.

Will I Be Single Forever?

by Momoko Fukuda
Zutto Dokushin de Iru Tsomori?
2021 / 94m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Will I Be Single Forever? poster

A contemporary (and considerably more accessible) successor to Tokyo.sora, just not quite as good as its predecessor. That's not saying too much though, as Ishikawa's first is one of my all-time favorite films. Will I Be Single Forever has plenty going for it, it's just a tad too poppy and leading for my personal taste.

Mami is a young writer who made her name writing a book about how great and empowering it is to be a single woman. Ten years later, she feels differently. She is lonely and wants someone to spend her life with, but finding a good guy is harder than expected. She's about to learn that being in a relationship doesn't necessarily rid people of their loneliness either.

The cinematography is polished, the performances strong (I was happy to see Miwako Ichikawa again, it's been a while) and there are some quirky details that help to set the film apart. The drama felt a bit forced at times though, which is what ultimately kept this film from greatness.

Happy We

by Lasse Hallström
Två Killar Och En Tjej
1983 / 111m - Sweden
Comedy,Romance
2.5*/5.0*
Happy We poster

One of Lasse Hallström's earlier features. I'm not a big fan of the director, and Happy We contains his particular brand of cheese, but there's a kind of gleeful joy present that is dearly missing from his USA work. The film is light and comfortable, even when the drama has the potential to darker and more introspective.

A trio of friends reunites after a very long time. Growing up, the three of them were inseparable, but through the years they lost track of each other. When they meet up again, they reminisce about the old days, but as they rekindle their friendship, new feeling start to brew between the old friends.

There's a goofiness and lightheartedness that is really quite endearing, though it does fade to the background once we get past the halfway mark. The performances are solid but not too remarkable, the drama remains light and the pacing is solid. Not the greatest film, but better than expected.

Lola Montès

by Max Ophüls
1955 / 116m - France
Drama,Romance
1.5*/5.0*
Lola Montès poster

My third Ophüls turns out to be his final film. Apparently, the production of Lola Montès was a terrible mess, with studios coming in and changing the film behind his back. It's no surprise then the director called it quits, at least history did him right and his final film got reinstated in its original form.

The plot revolves around the titular character, a famous woman who ends up as a literal circus attraction after having led an eventful and prosperous life. While working at the circus, she thinks back of all the lovers she's had and the drama she's been through. A pretty typical structure for a biography.

The circus bits are surprisingly fun and moody, the flashbacks (which make up most of the film) are not on the same level. The colors are a bit garish and the acting isn't really that great, but I was expecting worse. I'm not a big biography fan and Lola Montès certainly won't change my mind, but there are some minor highlights.

Beneath the Shadow

by Keishi Ohtomo
Eiri
2019 / 134m - Japan
Drama,Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
Beneath the Shadow poster

A surprisingly low-key and mysterious film from Ohtomo. I've got pretty used to him as a capable blockbuster director, I didn't quite expect this sullen drama with mystery elements driving it forward. He does pretty well in fact, though part of that is due to the very strong cast, who take some pressure off of Ohtomo's direction.

When Konno moves towns for his new job, he finds himself all alone. At work, he connects with Hiasa, a guy who's about the same age as Konno. They spend some time together, but then Hiasa suddenly quits his job and their relationship grinds to a halt. Some time later they meet up once more, but then Hiasa goes missing.

With guys like Ayano, Kunimura and Matsuda around, you know the cast is going to do its thing. The pacing is deliberate, the way the story unfolds smart, the cinematography stylish. There's no extra sparkle to make this a real stand-out feature, but Beneath the Shadow has no obvious weak points. Prime filler in other words.

The Ten Commandments

by Cecil B. DeMille
1956 / 220m - USA
Adventure
1.0*/5.0*
The Ten Commandments poster

A classic epic. Cecil B. DeMille set out to create the definite film adaptation of the story of Moses. With a huge cast (and even more extras), state of the art special effects and a runtime of nearly 4 hours, he certainly made a real effort. And yet, the result is utterly dull and boring. What a slog this was.

If you're Christian, the plot doesn't hold many surprises. My religious days are well in the past, but I'm still pretty familiar with the ins and outs of Moses trials and journey. DeMille walks through it rather slowly and remains close (enough) to the source, but it's hardly riveting material.

The performances are pretty weak and terribly overstated, there's way too much dialogue for a 4-hour film that relies on spectacle, and the effects didn't really hold up. Fans of classic epics might get something out of it, I'm just glad I somehow got through it and never have to look at this again.

Bubble

by Tetsurô Araki
2022 / 100m - Japan
Fantasy,Adventure,Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Bubble poster

A bold revisioning of the Little Mermaid story. In typical anime fashion, the story is moved to Tokyo and the lore is spruced up with lots of contemporary fantasy elements, but the core of the story remains intact. It's a film for a younger demographic, though animation fans will find lots to like here.

A mysterious event destroyed the center of Tokyo. Bubbles descended from heaven and formed one giant bubble, enveloping the entire center. Only orphaned kids remain, using the rundown city as a stage for their parkour battles. Five years later, a mysterious girl appears, who will influence the fate of everyone living inside the bubble.

The film is a bit too poppy at times (with branded J-Pop intros and such), the story is also pretty generic and the direction somewhat rushed, but the fantasy elements are well-developed, the pacing is high, and the animation lush. It's a very pleasant anime fantasy, not a future classic, but great filler nonetheless.

New Kung Fu Cult Master

Yi Tin To Lung Gei
2022 / 114m - Hong Kong
Fantasy,Action
3.5*/5.0*
New Kung Fu Cult Master poster

Jing Wong takes another stab at Kung Fu Cult Master. Though I appreciated the chaos of the original, the film didn't do particularly well. Now it comes with the backing of a wealthier industry, which gave Wong more room to create a film that could live up to its source material. I personally don't think this first half is better than Wong's original adaptation, but opinions may differ.

Even though the plot is now split into two separate parts, it's still pretty messy. Wu Ji is a young kid, orphaned when his dad gets entangled in a martial arts dispute and meets his death in an ambush. Ji fades into anonymity after that, but when he grows older he'll find that it is impossible to escape his fate, as he gets sucked into the drama between the different martial arts clans once more.

With people like Louis Koo and Donnie Yen on the poster, you may expect a new, grand Hong Kong spectacle, but their parts are rather minor. The film is a lot more serious too compared to the original, Wong can rely on decades worth of experience to turn this into an amusing reboot. A bit too long and not quite hectic enough for my taste, but I had a lot of fun with it and will be happy to tackle the second part when it arrives.

The Tall T

by Budd Boetticher
1957 / 78m - USA
Western
1.0*/5.0*
The Tall T poster

Vintage western. The kind that doesn't even want to pretend it's going to deliver anything beyond burly men with hats and guns in a barren setting. To say I'm not a fan of westerns is an understatement, so films like these really aren't for me. At least this one was short, which put a clearer deadline on the hurt.

A young, married couple is renting a postal coach. On the way they pick up Pat, who just lost his horse in a bet. Of course some outlaws have their eyes on the coach. When they find out that the young bride is in fact the daughter of a wealthy businessman, the fate of the people in the coach is sealed.

The plot is extremely basic, there's a ton of uninteresting dialogue, ruined even further by poor actors and the cinematography is disappointing. There's really nothing here that could excite me, it's a good thing then that the film is pretty short. Ah well, I'm sure there's some or other western out there that will surprise me one day.

Butchers

by Adrian Langley
2020 / 92m - Canada
Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Butchers poster

Basic. This type of hillbilly horror was pretty popular some 15 years ago. It's probably a bit too early to revive this niche, especially when the execution here feels cheaper and softer than those early 21st century horrors. Butchers is an okay film if you're low on horror fare, as long as you keep your expectations in check.

Four friends are driving home from a weekend trip. When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, they walk to the nearest gas station, looking for some help. There they find Owen, who lives together with his retarded brother. He calls a tow truck for the kids, but his actual plans are a lot more sinister.

The plot is pure genre fluff, the performances are weak, the horror somewhat soft, with too much happening off-screen. The cinematography and score aren't that remarkable either, but when you feel like some hillbilly horror fun, it's certainly not the worst film around. For genre fans only.

Round Trip Heart

by Yuki Tanada
Romansu
2015 / 97m - Japan
Romance
3.5*/5.0*
Round Trip Heart poster

A cute little drama with minor comedy elements. Tanada isn't reinventing the wheel here, if you've seen a couple of Japanese dramas, this will definitely feel familiar. At the same time, there are some interesting details that do set it apart from its peers. And unless you want lots of narrative action, I'm going to guess this is also a very accessible film.

When a young woman working on a train apprehends a thief, the man pleads not guilty. After a little scuffle and some back and forth, the two end up together on a little trip in search of Hachiko's mother. She sent Hachiko a somewhat disconcerting letter, and the man fears she might be planning on killing herself. Hachiko reluctantly joins the mysterious man.

This is one of those films where two unfamiliar characters get together by chance and work through their problems as they spend some time together. The performances are strong, the comedy elements are light and amusing, the drama subtle but effective. A very pleasant film that doesn't outstay its welcome, but isn't quite distinctive enough to truly stand out.

Bananas

1971 / 82m - USA
Comedy
3.0*/5.0*
Bananas poster

A pretty mixed bag. I quite like Allen's absurd comedy, I'm not such a big fan of his pandering to classic slapstick. A film like Bananas keeps going back and forth between the two styles, which gets a little tiring after a while. Especially when the soundtrack doesn't seem to know when to quit.

Allen plays Fielding, a somewhat kooky, uncertain loser whose girlfriend urges him to take an interest in the political situation of a small South-American state. Fielding thinks it is best to visit the place personally, but finds himself in the middle of a coup, in which he soon takes on a lead role.

The chaotic structure of the film is a definite plus, Allen's dedication to comedy is also nice and there are some pretty funny gags. But the slapstick moments are pretty annoying, and the score was pretty grating. A film with many ups and downs, though the good bits do tend to linger just a little longer.

Dead Dicks

by Chris Bavota, Lee Paula Springer
2019 / 83m - Canada
Horror,Mystery
3.0*/5.0*
Dead Dicks poster

A film that leans quite heavily on its premise. And I will admit that the premise is pretty strong, it's just that everything around it isn't quite up to par. Some things are a little easier to forgive than others, certainly keeping the film's low-budget in mind, but it does feel like there was the potential to do more.

Becca just landed a prestigious internship, but she hasn't managed to tell her brother. He's battling mental issues and Becca is worried about leaving him to fend for himself. When she finally finds the courage to tell him, she gets a series of odd messages from her brother that urge her to come visit him. Something very strange is going on in his apartment.

The cinematography is pretty bare bones, the performances aren't great and the feeble attempts to add some comedy and drama feel ill-advised. The core concept is strong though and when the film crosses over into horror territory it's pretty effective. The ending too is pretty cool. Dead Dicks is not as great as it could've been, but I'm certainly looking forward to their next project.

Over the Sky

by Yoshinobu Sena
Kimi wa Kanata
2020 / 95m - Japan
Romance,Fantasy,Animation
2.0*/5.0*
Over the Sky poster

Too many people in the anime scene want to be the next Shinkai or Hosoda. Without their skills to match and a sizeable budget to back some decent animation, the result is often extremely derivative. Over the Sky is a perfect example. I felt like I'd seen this film before, only executed with much more precision and way better skills.

Mio is secretly in love with Arata, her childhood friend. She doesn't dare to confess her feelings, fearing it might mess up their friendship. After a spat with Arata, Mio seeks him out to apologize, but a traffic accident gets in the way of her plans. Mio wakes up in a realm between our world and the afterlife. There she'll have to choose her future.

The animation quality is pretty poor and the art style quite dull. It really feels like a cut-and-paste job of more famous films and directors, with very little personality present to set the film apart. If you like a decent fantasy/romance, it's not the worst film ever made, but the bar is set quite high and Over the Sky never comes close.

Set Up

Xiong Nan Gua Nu
2005 / 94m - Hong Kong
Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Set Up poster

Jing Wong helped launch the careers of many famous Hong Kong directors, others never really found their way from underneath his wings. Siu-Hung Chung is such a long-time collaborator (though to be fair, Chung was already quite busy before teaming up with Wong). Set Up is a pretty decent film, with both directors clearly making an effort.

Moon is a writer of horror novels. The day before her wedding she goes in for eye surgery, that night she stays with her sister. The house where they sleep over isn't empty though. There are three criminals who are also hiding inside the house. With Moon's eyes still recovering, staying out of their grasp won't be easy.

The performances aren't too great, and the plot is pretty basic, but Wong and Chung do their best to give the film a little extra visual flair to compensate. And that works pretty well. The short runtime and decent pacing definitely help too. Not the greatest thriller, but pretty good filler nonetheless.

Tooth Fairy

by Michael Lembeck
2010 / 101m - USA
Comedy,Fantasy
2.0*/5.0*
Tooth Fairy poster

The Rock discovers his comedy talent. Not that this is a great film, Johnson isn't even the funniest guy on screen, but it is the type of film that would turn him into one of Hollywood's biggest stars. And if you don't care too much about the deplorable morality, Tooth Fairy certainly isn't the worst US comedy either.

Derek is a hockey player in the final stages of his career. Dreaming big has cost him dearly, and so he tries to be honest to the people around him. For crushing their dreams, he is summoned to come work as a tooth fairy. Derek isn't too happy with his new job, but he slowly warms up to it.

Seeing Stephen Merchant was a happy surprised, it also made the film more bearable. Johnson himself isn't terrible either, but it's clear he still had some way to go before he would be able to reach his current potential. The film is predictable and the CG hasn't aged too well, but at least it was short and well-paced.

Blitzkrieg Bop

by Kakuei Shimada
2006 / 101m - Japan
Comedy
3.5*/5.0*
Blitzkrieg Bop poster

100% certified bonkers. Blitzkrieg Bop is a mix of absurd comedy and low-budget punk. It falls somewhere in between the work of Sogo Ishii and Katsuhito Ishii, which should give you a good idea of what to expect. It's certainly not for everyone, but if you can stomach Japanese comedy, there's a big chance you won't want to miss out on this one.

The plot is completely inconsequential, but there is a simple thread that stitches everything together. A young punk is approached by his ex-girlfriend. She asks him to rescue her current beau, who is being held captive by a Yakuza boss. The punk obliges, but he is mistaken for a Yakuza himself by a mysterious Yakuza hunter. It gets progressively odder from that point on.

The black and white punk aesthetic fits the film (and is perfect to hide some of its low-budget limitations), the comedy is absolutely insane, coherence is at an all-time minimum. I had a blast with this, even though it never gets quite as good as its more prominent influences. But if you love weird cinema, this is a must-see.

The Twelve Gold Medallions

by Kang Cheng
Shi Er Jin Pai
1970 / 108m - Hong Kong
Action
3.0*/5.0*
The Twelve Gold Medallions poster

Hadn't seen too many Kang Sheng films (this is only my second), like most Shaw Bros directors he has a pretty expansive oeuvre. When one of his films landed on Prime here I didn't want to miss the opportunity, and so I took a little diversion from Cheh Chang & Yuen Chor's oeuvre, and I'm glad I did.

The plot is pretty typical. Yangtang is a kung fu master who holds supernatural powers. One of his best students has fallen for Yangtang's daughter, but when Yangtang sides with some bad men the two get in a heated battle. Yangtang gets the help of twelve warriors, each carrying a gold medallion.

The action is a bit more dynamic and the exterior scenes offer a welcome change of scenery. Other than that, this was a pretty stereotypical Shaw Bros film. With most of their work being very similar, these small directorial influences do make a difference, at least I now know there will be plenty more to explore once I'm finished with Chang/Chor.

You Won't Be Alone

by Goran Stolevski
2022 / 108m - Australia
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
You Won't Be Alone poster

Folk horror and arthouse seem to have found each other. You Won't Be Alone is the latest in a series of (often) Euro-centric folk horror films that stand out with more distinct direction styles, an aversion of straightforward narratives and familiar arthouse clichés. It's a pretty successful combination, but not quite as original as it pretends to be.

A mother makes a deal with a witch to come fetch her daughter when she is 16. The witch honors the deal. The girl is clueless about the world, but soon learns that she can take on the identities of the people she kills. She uses her powers to infiltrate the villages, learning what it is to be human.

You know you're watching arthouse when someone messed with the image ratio and the soundtrack has Arvo Pärt on it. I wish directors would try to be a bit more original, but when it comes down to it, they're just as predictable as their genre counterparts. The horror elements and lore are pretty cool, the atmosphere is on point and there are some memorable scenes, it's just a bit too cheesy at times to be a true personal favorite.

Man in Love

by Chen-Hao Yin
Dang Nan Ren Lian Ai Shi
2021 / 115m - Taiwan
Romance,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Man in Love poster

I never watched the original, but seeing how I generally prefer Taiwanese over South-Korean cinema, I wasn't too bothered by that. I knew very little about Man in Love going in, and came out pleasantly surprised by this sweet, and stylish mix of crime and romance. It's probably nothing you haven't seen before, but the execution was on point.

A Cheng is a debt collector with his heart in the right place. While collecting money for his boss, he meets Hao Ting, a young girl who tries to take care of her father. She is knee-deep in debt, so A Cheng comes up with a plan that will relieve of her monetary worries, hoping his plan might also bring them closer together.

The cinematography is predictably stylish, the score is pleasant, the plot familiar but effective. Roy Chiu is solid, but it's Hsu who really shines. The ending is a little long in the tooth and the film fails to truly rise above itself, but if you're looking for some prime crime filler, you really can't go wrong with Man in Love.