Smokin' Aces

by Joe Carnahan
2006 / 108m - USA
Action,Crime
Smokin' Aces poster

A very amusing mid-00s action flick. It's a film that has aged considerably, and one that will no doubt continue to do so in the coming years, but Carnahan's bold approach saves it from oblivion. Some well over-the-top characters, a couple of explosive action scenes and flashy visuals lend the film the necessary flair. The plot's a bit silly and the acting all over the place, but the film refuses to take itself too seriously, which was clearly the way to go with this kind of material. Good fun.

A Ghost Waits

by Adam Stovall
2020 / 80m - USA
Comedy,Horror
2.0*/5.0*
A Ghost Waits poster

DIY cinema. Shooting your film in black and white doesn't make it automatically more stylish, though I guess you have to cut these no-budget efforts at least some slack. There are some interesting ideas on display here, which is something, they just needed a better director and more capable crew to bring them to fruition.

Jack is hired to fix up a house before the new inhabitants move in. When he arrives he quickly notices something is off. The house is haunted, and the ghost wants him out, seeing him as her natural enemy. Jack has a job to do, and even though the ghost frightens him at first, he won't let her come between him and the job he has to finish.

The cinematography feels cheap, the performances are poor and none of the genre elements really work. The premise is fun though, and there are some novel elements to the haunted house lore you won't find elsewhere. If you can look past the poor finish it's a decent enough film, but it's not quite enough for me.

Euphoria

by Ivan Vyrypaev
Eyforiya
2006 / 74m - Russia
Drama,Romance
2.5*/5.0*
Euphoria poster

Decent Russian arthouse cinema, but far from great. Take a very simple premise, then make it very cinematic. Or at least, try to do so. The result is a bit middling, as the cinematography and score aren't quite strong enough to warrant the slow pacing, neither is the limited intrigue from the character's predicament.

In a small town, surrounded by a whole lot of nothing, two people find love when they least expected to. Their existence didn't really prepare them for the passion they're experiencing, and they struggle to make sense of it. When the passion turn destructive, they need to fight to keep their relationship alive.

There are some nice shots, helped by the pleasant setting, but it's not really enough to establish the dreamy atmosphere the film is obviously chasing. The mediocre soundtrack doesn't really help either, the performances are decent but hardly outstanding. It's a nice enough film, just nothing too out of the ordinary.

Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break

by Nick Gillespie
2021 / 95m - UK
Comedy
3.5*/5.0*
Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break poster

Funny. Which, on average, seems an easier accomplishment for British comedies when compared to their US counterparts. Paul Dood's Deadly Lunch Break offers a mix of different flavors, but they all work pretty well and the variety of comedy styles makes sure that it never gets too predictable or boring.

Paul Dood still lives with his mom. Together they have worked out a musical routine that will hopefully make him famous one day. Paul enters a talent competition, but he has a terrible time getting there and when he and his mom finally arrive, the audition is over. And his day is about to get worse still.

It's nice to see a comedy go from goofy to offensive, or from dramedy to black in just a manner of minutes. The actors do a great job, the premise is amusing, the jokes are more hit than miss. It's a very easy watch, never too demanding, well-paced and funny throughout. Very fine comedy filler.

Chasing My Girl

Ôarai Ni Mo Hoshi wa Furu Nari
2009 / 103m - Japan
Comedy
3.0*/5.0*
Chasing My Girl poster

A simple but fun comedy from Fukuda. I didn't read up about the film's origins, but I wouldn't be surprised if this turned out to be an adapted stage play. The single location, fixed set of characters and manic dialogues are all tailored for the stage. Not quite as mad or out there as it could've been, but it's a pleasant enough comedy.

The people who worked together in a summer beach club all get the same letter from Eriko, telling them to meet her at the club. All the men turn up, hoping for a romantic adventure. When they realize they're all dreaming of the same thing, a tactical battle commences to decide who has the biggest claim to Erik's love.

The performances are decent (but quite over the top), the comedy is light and breezy (with some funny reveals halfway through) and the pacing is pleasant, even though the setup is simple, and the film doesn't really go beyond its premise. Fukuda has made better comedies, but that's not a knock on this film. Perfectly fine comedy filler.

A Banquet

by Ruth Paxton
2021 / 97m - UK
Horror,Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
A Banquet poster

A rather peculiar mix of mystery, horror and drama. It's not uncommon to see mental health issues and horror combined these days, but Paxton keeps things explicitly vague until the very end. It gives the film an extra bit of flair that helps to distinguish it from a slew of similar ones.

Holly raises her two daughters by herself after her husband died. Betsey does her best to support her mom, but after a strange episode at a party she isn't the same anymore. She has lost the will to eat, and she believes she is the chosen one. Holly has no idea how to deal with Betsey's sudden change.

The performances are good, the cinematography stylish, the score on point. The film keeps swaying between different genres, never settling on a clear goal or outcome. Even the finale itself is pretty puzzling, but at least it keeps the mystery fresh. Not something everyone will appreciate, but it worked well enough for me. Paxton certainly deserves another chance.

The Weathering Continent

by Kôichi Mashimo
Kaze no Tairiku
1992 / 54m - Japan
Fantasy,Adventure,Animation
3.0*/5.0*
The Weathering Continent poster

A pretty typical fantasy anime. It probably bit off a bit more than it could chew, trying to establish an entire fantasy realm with very specific lore in less than 60 minutes, but in a way that also adds to this film's charm. It offers a glimpse in a realm far greater, it just lacks the franchise that would ultimately reveal its lack of inspiration.

Three figures are walking through a desolate landscape, looking for food and water. What was once a very prosperous continent is now a barren desert full of dangers. When they happen upon a mysterious city, they find themselves trapped within its walls, with a group of bandits looking for the city's rumored treasures.

The animation is pretty basic and the characters are rather stereotypical (though they're still an odd bunch). The fantasy setting isn't all that unique either, but there are enough details to keep things interesting, and the short runtime makes sur it never slows down too much or gets downright boring. Solid anime fantasy filler.

Elvis

by Baz Luhrmann
2022 / 159m - USA
Drama,Music
3.5*/5.0*
Elvis poster

I didn't care for Elvis going into this film, I still don't care for him now. But I have seen a pretty great film, and that's what a good biopic should be about. This film is the big Baz Luhrmann show, with Elvis Presley being there as a most honored guest. That might suck for hardcore Elvis fans, it sure was a blessing for me.

The plot and structure of the film are pretty basic. We follow the rise and fall of Elvis through his agent. How he was discovered, the impact he had on American pop culture and the struggles he went through to remain relevant, especially when his agent doesn't turn out to be all that trustworthy.

Luhrmann has a way with music. The way he incorporates it, remixes it and enhances it is spectacular. Elvis is one big maximalist audiovisual spectacle from start to finish, and that's exactly what makes this film work so well. You get to feel the artist and the vibe of the culture he grew up in, not just watch it from afar. Good stuff, I wish at least half of the biopics I watched were half as good as this film.

Weekend Lover

by Ye Lou
Zhou Mo Qing Ren
1993 / 98m - China
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Weekend Lover poster

This is where it all started for Ye Lou, which means Weekend Lover is also at the source of contemporary Chinese cinema. While still very unpolished and rough around the edges, it's already clear this is quite different from what the 6th Generation stood for, even though they were still doing very well around that time.

Weekend Lover serves a pretty basic urban love triangle. A battle for the hand of a young woman, between a rebellious type and the singer of a band. The two are madly in love with Xi Ling and unwilling to back down. The rivalry slowly escalates, with Ling caught between two passionate men who promise her the world.

The urban setting, the contemporary soundtrack and the focus on a more genre-based narrative (over social drama) signal the future of Chinese cinema. The film could do with a restoration, the performances aren't that great and the romantic woes are a little basic, but Lou's talent is already visible and there are a few poignant, memorable moments.

The Brave Archer Part II

She Diao Ying Xiong Chuan Xu Ji
1978 / 110m - Hong Kong
Action
2.5*/5.0*
The Brave Archer Part II poster

The Brave Archer saga continues. This second film offers more of the same, but that shouldn't come as a big surprise, as that goes for more than half of Cheh Chang's oeuvre. It might've been a mistake to watch these films out of order, then again I don't think it would've impacted my overall appreciation that much.

The story felt pretty messy, but maybe that's because I didn't remember much from the first film. Kuo Tsing, who knows the contents of a much coveted book, wants to marry Ying. Fung also wants to learn what is written inside the book, so he kidnaps Ying and hopes to use her as bait.

The plot takes a bit too much focus here, and with almost two hours on the clock, the plot starts weighing down what is essentially just basic martial arts entertainment. It's probably because I didn't care much about the characters and their fates, that's just not what makes these Shaw Bros films stand out for me. There are some fun fights and decent sets, but I prefer my Cheh Chang films a bit shorter and snappier.

Where the Scary Things Are

by B. Harrison Smith
2022 / 93m - USA
Horror
1.5*/5.0*
Where the Scary Things Are poster

Another attempt to revive the horror of the 80s. Take a bunch of high school kids, give them a school project, drop in a monster, and you have all the ingredients for typical horror fluff. It's a simple formula, but writer/director Smith adds some odd ingredients that mess up the entire balance of the film.

A group of bored kids love to hang out at an abandoned horror amusement part. There they run into an actual monster, which they manage to capture. When school gives them an assignment to create their own urban legend, they decide to taunt the monster and film it, hoping the project will go viral.

The premise is promising, the film itself struggles to get itself off the ground. Biggest problem are the kids, who are overly dramatic and completely horrible. Not sure why they're all such annoying characters, but whatever the effect needed to be, it doesn't work, and it just gets in the way of the horror. Which is also quite tame, to be honest. Apart from a decent soundtrack, there's not much of note here.

Open Your Mind

Mezame no Hakobune
2005 / 36m - Japan
Fantasy,Music
3.0*/5.0*
Open Your Mind poster

A rather experimental short from Mamoru Oshii. It's far from his most popular work, it's certainly not his most accomplished either, but dedicated Oshii fans will find something to like here, not to mention something to snicker at. The man has some clear hangups he simply can't get rid of, no matter how random they appear.

While there is supposed to be a premise, I don't feel it translates very well. The film is about alien life settling on Earth, but it's probably better to take it as a more "standard" abstract art project. The three segments feel rather disconnected from each other and unless you want to really "open your mind", I don't think there's a lot of meaning or wisdom to be gained from this film.

The CG feels outdated, and it's not even up to par with Oshii's older films, no doubt due to some budgetary issues. Kenji Kawai's soundtrack on the other hand kills it, giving the film that typical moody Oshii vibe I crave. Add some very weird dog lore (the morphing babies are particularly disturbing/funny) and you have an interesting experiment.

The Miracle Worker

by Arthur Penn
1962 / 106m - USA
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
The Miracle Worker poster

A pretty intense drama that becomes a bit too formal and theatrical in the final act. It's a shame the film couldn't muster a more appropriate ending, but the drama leading up to it was pretty good. A bit heavy-handed still, and it's certainly not an easy watch, but worth the investment.

Helen is a deaf mute, which makes it pretty much impossible for her to communicate with the world and people around her. This frustrates her no end, and as she gets older she starts to act out. Her family doesn't want to put her in an asylum, and so they hire a specialized teacher.

Duke is great in her role, so is Bancroft. The two have some very intense scenes together during the first half, though Bancroft goes slightly off the rails in the second part. Not all the drama feels relevant and a tighter focus on the characters might've made this a better film. Still, a lot better than I expected it to be.

Jerry and Marge Go Large

by David Frankel
2022 / 95m - USA
Comedy
2.0*/5.0*
Jerry and Marge Go Large poster

A very prim and proper feel-good comedy. It was a bit too safe and unadventurous for my liking, with a slew of well-meaning people and a ridiculously bland "villain", but Cranston's performance saves the film from worse. It kinda works, but barely, and far from well enough to make this a great film.

When Jerry is forced to retire, he feels like his life has ended. When he discovers a flaw in the lottery odds math, he and his wife see it as the perfect opportunity to rekindle their love. They build an entire business around their little scheme, but when some Harvard kids discover the same loophole, they get caught in a strange little feud.

There is no edge whatsoever to the comedy, the characters are all docile and well-meaning, the cinematography and score are safe and a little too pleasant. The lack of comedy films nowadays makes this slightly passable filler, but it's hard to recommend to anybody under 70.