The Ultimate Teacher

by Toyoo Ashida
Kyofun no Byoningen Saishu Kyoshi
1988 / 60m - Japan
Comedy,Animation
3.0*/5.0*
The Ultimate Teacher poster

A pretty random anime comedy. Based on a manga of course, although I wonder if reading that would make this more sensible. The randomness is in fact part of its charm. It's a pretty short film, full of batshit crazy ideas, which it doesn't mind committing to. It's perfect filler, but only if you like this kind of zany stuff.

Ganpachi is a teacher who enlists himself in the worst school in the neighborhood, hoping to turn it into a better place. The students won't have it, but Ganpachi outsmarts them every time. Until he has to face Hinako, a girl who draws superpowers from her special panties. Yups, you read that right.

Takenaka is great as Ganpachi, the animation is basic but well over-the-top and the jokes are pretty fun. There's a pleasant 80s vibe and at 60 minutes, there's no time to get bored. In the end, this is a pretty forgettable anime and certainly nothing too unique, but if you're looking for daft amusement, this one ticks all the boxes.

Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania

by Derek Drymon, Jennifer Kluska
2022 / 98m - USA
Comedy,Adventure,Animation
2.5*/5.0*
Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania poster

Transformania is already the fourth entry in the Hotel Transylvania franchise. It's a bit of an unlikely success, much of the original cast has moved on to work on other projects and the sequels don't add too much to the original, but it's also not the worst thing US animation has on offer.

Dracula is planning to retire and leave the hotel to his daughter and son-in-law, but right before the big moment he chickens out and comes up with an excuse. The hotel can't be transferred as Johnny isn't a monster. Johnny asks Van Helsing for help, but his device has some unintended consequences.

Johnny's character is a bit annoying and the plot is completely inconsequential, but there are some decent enough jokes, and it's nice to see a film with a slightly different art style. The pacing is solid, and the runtime isn't too long. Pretty decent filler in other words, but I do think it's time to end this series.

The Matrix Resurrections

by Lana Wachowski
2021 / 148m - USA
Sci-fi,Action
1.0*/5.0*
The Matrix Resurrections poster

Almost 20 years after the first trilogy, a new Matrix film arrives. It's mostly a commissioned film, a sequel made because that's what you do with popular IP. I never cared much for the franchise, so it didn't really pain me to see it mistreated like this, but I do feel for the many people who do loved the originals, as Resurrections is a truly poor effort.

Neo is comfortably back inside the Matrix, living the life of a computer programmer who designed the first three Matrix games. Of course his stay there is limited, as a young rebel team yanks him out again and brings him back to the real world. A lot has changed since his last visit to reality.

Everything here screams redundant sequel. Too many lazy references, not enough novel ideas, actors who appear old and tired, bland action sequences. The entire film feels contractual and corporate, very different from the first one. Maybe that was Wachowski's way of getting back at her bosses, but she didn't have to punish us for that.

Hoffa

by Danny DeVito
1992 / 140m - USA
Drama,Crime
1.5*/5.0*
Hoffa poster

An alternate take on James R. Hoffa. It took me a little while to remember where I knew this story from, then I remembered Scorsese's The Irishman. I think DeVito's film turned out just a bit better, though that's mostly the shorter runtime and Nicholson's strong performances. Other than that, it wasn't that great.

James Hoffa is famous for unionizing the truck laborers during the 30s. They were being exploited by the companies they worked for, Hoffa wanted to give them a better life. He wasn't a saint though, as he had strong ties with criminal figures who helped him get what he wanted.

Hoffa is a pretty typical US crime film, that tries hard to recreate the appeal of its predecessors. Apart from Nicholson's performance, there wasn't really that much that I liked. The pacing is rather slow, the runtime is excessive and DeVito doesn't really add much to the many films that came before. Nice for fans of the genre, not so much for me.

The Battle at Lake Changjin

Chang Jin Hu
2021 / 176m - China
Action,War
3.0*/5.0*
The Battle at Lake Changjin poster

So, China found out that people love a good war flick. In recent years, there's been a notable rise of blockbuster war films, with big-name directors tied to them. The Battle of Lake Changing did even better and tied no less than three of the biggest directors in China to its production, just to manage its scope.

The plot isn't all that interesting, except that for Westerners it might be somewhat novel to see the US army as the bad guys, whereas The Chinese soldiers are the heroes. You basically get three battles round and about Lake Changing, highlighting the bravery, perseverance and comradery of the Chinese army.

You can't escape propaganda in a film like this, and if that triggers you, it's probably best to ignore this film altogether. If on the other hand you just see good guys smashing up bad guys, the film certainly delivers in spades. The scenes with the tank in the little village are superb, the rest of the action is on point too, but three hours is a little much. It's not a great film, certainly not up to the level of the names attached, but I had fun with it.

Battlestar Galactica

by Michael Rymer
2003 / 183m - USA
Sci-fi,Adventure
1.0*/5.0*
Battlestar Galactica poster

My introduction to the Battlestar Galactica franchise. I was never a fan of these sci-fi TV series growing up, the cheap decors and schmaltzy plots were pretty off-putting. I was hoping for something extra, seeing as this is basically two feature films stuck together, but that turned out to be idle hope.

Mankind is fleeing from the Cylons, a race of robots they created themselves and are now annihilating the human race. The last remaining humans manage to escape out into space and set off on a quest to find Earth, not knowing that the Cylons have evolved quite a bit without them realizing it.

The sets are cheap, the CG is hideous, and the cast is C-grade. It's clear that on-screen action had to be avoided as much as possible, the characters are bland and unsympathetic though and the plot is as basic as it gets. They could've told this story in two TV episodes, it's a shame they dragged it out to a 3-hour crapfest.

The Thief of Bagdad

by Raoul Walsh
1924 / 155m - USA
Fantasy,Adventure
2.0*/5.0*
The Thief of Bagdad poster

A classic epic. It's quite long for a silent film, and there are some segments that could've used a bit of editing, but the lush sets and fun fantasy elements make sure it never becomes too big of a slog. It's not quite up there with its German counterparts, but it was better than I'd expected it to be.

The film is a loose adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights (think Aladdin) and tells the story of Ahmed, a lowly thief who falls in love with the daughter of the ruler of the city. When three princes arrive to ask for her hand, Ahmed disguises himself as a rich nobleman and joins the challenge.

The start of the film is a little rough, and it takes a while before the story gets interesting, but the decent performances, moody cinematography and grand sets managed to hold my attention. There's still about 45 minutes of cruft that probably shouldn't be there, other than that it's a pretty worthy classic.

First Myth: The Clash of Gods

by Boxun Li
Feng Shen Bang: Jue Zhan Wan Xian Zhen
2021 / 92m - China
Fantasy,Action
3.0*/5.0*
First Myth: The Clash of Gods poster

A big fantasy epic that holds the middle between live action and animation. So much is done with CG here that it's really just a bunch of actors walking around in front of green screens. Which can be cool, sadly, the budget didn't really seem to be there for First Myth, and 90 minutes of subpar CG does weigh on a film like this.

The story doesn't come with a big introduction, which made me think this might be part of a bigger franchise (or just well-known Chinese folklore). Whatever the case, you're watching a big battle between gods here, one faction trying to open the gates between the human and the deity worlds, the other trying to protect the human world from malicious gods.

What saves this film is the mad pacing. Though the CG isn't great, there's happening so much that you'll hardly find the time to get annoyed by any technical hiccups. There's plenty of action, a series of familiar gods (Ne Zha is part of the team of heroes) and the film does feel pretty epic. The ambitions clearly outgrew the budget, but nonetheless a pretty amusing film.

The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot

by Robert D. Krzykowski
2018 / 98m - USA
Adventure
3.0*/5.0*
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot poster

A very peculiar genre film. The plot sounds like juicy pulp (and it truly is), but that's just a guise to tell a more intimate story about a character you usually only see in B-flicks. It's a pretty tough balancing act and the film doesn't always get it right, but it's quite a bit better than I expected.

Calvin is a soldier who served in WWII and became famous for killing Hitler. He doesn't consider himself much of a hero, and he retreats to the Canadian wilderness, where he hunts for Bigfoot. Years later, the FBI seek him out, with a peculiar proposition to hunt and kill Bigfoot using their help.

The cinematography is slick, the performances are strong, and the film does a great job combining its pulpy elements with a more lavish execution. The film's a bit too slow and the more action-oriented scenes don't fit well with the rest, but if you're looking for something different, this one won't disappoint.

Mother/Android

by Mattson Tomlin
2021 / 110m - USA
Drama,Sci-fi
2.5*/5.0*
Mother/Android poster

Mother/Android is an attempt to make a more serious sci-fi production. And while it certainly is slower and more emotional than your average sci-fi flick, the messy plot and doubty sentiment doesn't really make this a very successful attempt. Writer/director Mattson Tomlin really needs to do better.

Georgia and Sam are expecting a baby, but Georgia's pregnancy becomes a lot trickier when androids take over and set out to annihilate the human race. Their last hope is to get to Boston, where they might be able to leave the country by boat. Getting there is no easy feat, with androids circling the city.

The plot makes some weird jumps and fails to cover some pretty big holes, the action scenes aren't too great and Moretz isn't really fit to handle a dramatic role like this. The budget was clearly there to make something of this film, but the result is a very basic and cheesy sci-fi/drama, that goes wildly off the rails in the final half hour.

The Woman Who Ran

by Hong Sang-soo
Domangchin Yeoja
2020 / 77m - South Korea
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
The Woman Who Ran poster

My first Sang-soo Hong. I wasn't too sure what to expect, though his arthouse/cinephile status predicted a more serious film. I'm also not certain how well The Woman Who Ran represents Hong's usual style, though looking at this film and the praise it received, I'm going to assume it's well in line with his other work.

The plot is very thin, with three friends getting together for a drink and catching up on their past. Hong focuses more on the characters and the dialogue, as masks slowly start to slip and the conversations between the women gets a bit more intense. Don't expect any big narrative swings, in other words.

I can't say I ended up really caring for any of the characters, nor for their little troubles. The cinematography was depressing (those random zooms in particular) and I can't even remember if there was an actual soundtrack. The performances are decent, and the film does have a few moments that stand out, but hardly enough to call it a good film.

A Room with a View

by James Ivory
1985 / 117m - UK
Drama,Romance
1.0*/5.0*
A Room with a View poster

Some films caused quite a big fuss upon initial release, then faded into obscurity. Often with reason. A Room with a View is such a film. Not that I'm overly familiar with costume dramas, but I do know the bigger titles in most niches. I'd never heard of this film before, and ultimately, I wish I'd never had.

The story revolves around Lucy Honeychurch, a young woman who rejects the strict and prim world she grows up in. She's travelling through Italy with a rather fussy chaperone, who doesn't appreciate Lucy's more rebellious behavior. Things don't improve when Lucy hooks up with George Emerson.

A woman's fight to be slightly less prude in an overly prudish world isn't that exciting. The cinematography is utter kitsch, the soundtrack is poorly used and sentimental and the performances don't add much intrigue to the dull characters. Stretched to 120 minutes, this film turned out to be quite the ordeal.

A Very Long Engagement

by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Un Long Dimanche de Fiançailles
2004 / 133m - France
Romance,War
A Very Long Engagement poster

Jeunet had a lot to prove with this film, coming right after the success of Amélie. A Very Long Engagement isn't quite at the same level, not as joyous or creative as his most famous work, but it is a lovely film that combines war and romance in the best way possible. The cinematography is warm and polished, the soundtrack is moody and stylish, and the cast is a real who's who of the French acting world. Jeunet's quirky style gives the film a welcome dose of flair, and even though it's a tad long, there is so much beauty here that I didn't mind the extra padding. A Very Long Engagement hasn't aged a bit, still as fine as the first time I watched it.

Black Sheep

by Jonathan King
2006 / 87m - New Zealand
Comedy,Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Black Sheep poster

New Zealand likes a good horror comedy, so when they make a film about killer sheep, you know it's not going to be a straight-faced production. As someone who grew up around sheep, I'm fully aware of their complete incapability to be scary, which is exactly what King loves exploiting here.

Henry and Angus both grew up on a sheep farm, but Henry moves to the city after a traumatic event. When he returns years later, Angus has changed the operations of the farm to include genetically modified research. The research isn't very sound, and when one of the changed sheep escapes, nobody is safe.

The idea is utterly daft, and the execution mimics that perfectly. The performances aren't quite on the same level, and the horror elements do come off a little underdeveloped. Black Sheep is still a pretty fun film and an easy recommend for fans of horror/comedies, it's just not quite good enough to remain a personal favorite.

The Boy from Hell

by Mari Asato
Jigoku Kozô
2004 / 50m - Japan
Horror
2.0*/5.0*
The Boy from Hell poster

A lesser film in the Hideshi Hino series. A bit surprising maybe, as Mari Asato is a pretty decent horror director, and should've been capable enough to handle a film like this. Some effects are really too poor though (not to mention utterly pointless, like the car ride in the beginning of the film), which makes it a lot harder to enjoy this one.

Daio is a young boy growing up in a loving family. A carefree car ride turns into a nightmare when the boy sticks his head out of the window and is decapitated by an oncoming truck. The mother is devastated, when she's given the chance to resurrect her son, she leaps at it right away. The boy who returns isn't quite the son she remembered.

If properly executed, it could've been pretty interesting, but this felt more like a poor Teruo Ishii clone with bad CG. The effects are truly poor, the performances are awkward and the horror never really impresses. The film is pretty weird and out there, so there's at least some appeal, but not enough to save The Boy from Hell.

Scream

by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett
2022 / 114m - USA
Horror,Mystery
2.5*/5.0*
Scream poster

The latest Scream is just more Scream. Being the fifth in the franchise, it's becoming easier and easier for the films to be self-referential, though the writers make sure there are plenty of nods to other horror franchises and directors. Many are a bit too obvious, then again it's probably good to remember a lot of younger people might not even pick up on them.

After a little hiatus, the ghost face killer returns to Woodsboro, and he starts killing people right away. This time, he focuses on victims who are in some way linked to the main characters of the first film. Enter the requel/legacyquel, a new kind of franchise continuation that has its own set of rules.

It's a solid entry in the series, with plenty of internal and external references, jokes for horror fans and some meta-commentary on the horror scene itself. Bettinelli-Olpin and Gillett are a little wasted as their directorial style is swallowed by the strict format, but they do the Scream franchise justice. I prefer more visceral horror cinema, but this was decent fun nonetheless.

Soul Mate

by Kwok Cheung Tsang
Qi Yue Yu An Sheng
2016 / 110m - China
Drama,Romance
3.5*/5.0*
Soul Mate poster

Derek Tsang is a talented director, that much is certain. It's a shame his films have a tendency to get a bit too sentimental. Soulmate is a film driven by drama that keeps on piling up. A more considerate pacing and a less convoluted narrative would've greatly improved the film, if only he could edit himself down a little.

When Ansheng and Qiyue meet each other for the first time, they immediately feel they're going to be best friends for life. Their friendship is tested when Jiaming joins them. The two girls are attracted to the boy, and even when their lives starts to diverge, Jiaming continues to stress their relationship.

The cinematography is beautiful, and the performances are great. Zhou Dongyu is by far one of the biggest talents to have come out of China this past decade. The music is a bit too poppy and overbearing, whereas the plot is just too dramatic for my liking. The potential and quality is there, some of Tsang's films have already illustrated that, but Soul Mate was just a tad too dramatic for me.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World

Fu Gui Bi Ren
1987 / 100m - Hong Kong
Comedy
2.0*/5.0*
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World poster

A typical Clifton Ko comedy. I'm not a great fan of Ko 80s work, which isn't necessarily all that funny, just very loud and very chaotic. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World is a textbook example. Immense overacting, a nonsensical plot and sketchy comedy really test the nerves, luckily there are also a few laughs.

Bill is a mediocre news reporter who does his very best to support his family. He loves to be the sole provider, but things change when his wife wins the lottery. All of a sudden, she holds all the power. When word gets out that the family is rich, others are looking for ways to capitalize on their luck.

Some of the more random, sketch-like scenes can be pretty fun and I do appreciate the rowdy and chaotic mess in short bursts, but 100 minutes of straight-up noise is just a bit too much. The performances are well over-the-top and there aren't too many explicit jokes, which makes this a pretty mediocre comedy.

Nirvana Island: The Last 47 Days

by Takeshi Watanabe
Higanjima: Derakkusu
2016 / 117m - Japan
Fantasy,Action
3.0*/5.0*
Nirvana Island: The Last 47 Days poster

A pretty random anime adaptation, that may be a little tough to get into for those who are unfamiliar with the franchise. The setup isn't too complex though and there's enough oddball appeal to make this a fun watch for any unsuspecting cult fan, as long as you don't worry too much about the plot and characters.

Akira finds himself on Nirvana Island, a place that is teeming with vampires and other dark creatures. His brother is also on the island, so is the cure for the condition that has turned most of the inhabitants into monsters. Together with his friends, Akira sets out to save the island from the vampires.

Samurai zombies, giants, vampire soldiers, a giant worm with a woman's face on its side ... there's plenty of fun to be had with the creatures, Watanabe also gives the action scenes some extra flair. The performances are pretty poor though and the CG is dead cheap, but this is a film that compensates its limitations with weird creatures, fast pacing and outrageous action. Good fun, but very pulpy.

Magic Lotus Lantern

by Ryan He
Tian Di Bao Lian Deng
2021 / 71m - China
Fantasy
3.0*/5.0*
Magic Lotus Lantern poster

Though China has been consistently improving its genre output, reliance on CG remains a weak spot. For a film like Magic Lotus Lantern, that goes for a more fantasy-led story, that's still a bit of an issue. There's simply too much in the way of poor computer graphics to enjoy a simple genre film without being constantly reminded of its low-budget roots.

The story is a pretty familiar one, with Yang Jian (a demigod) being banished from the realm of the gods, after he is suspected of trying to steal the magic lotus lantern. He has to continue his life on Earth as a mere mortal, all he can do is try to retrieve the lantern, but malicious forces are also chasing the magic item, as it can free them from their imprisonment.

The plot allows for quite a bit of fantasy/action fun, and the basic appeal is definitely there. It's just that the green screen CG is an eyesore, which means both the realm of the gods and the main bad guy look trite. Other than that, the film is short and well-paced, so genre fans would do well to give it a go. Just don't expect the world of it.

Limit

by Mario Peixoto
Limite
1931 / 114m - Brazil
Drama,Experimental
2.5*/5.0*
Limit poster

An early Brazilian silent. Peixoto was still only in his early 20s when he made this film, inspired by the German expressionists of that era. It's no surprise then that there's hardly any dialogue and that the film is quite poetic/experimental in nature. That makes Limit one of the true grandfathers of arthouse cinema.

The limited use of intertitles and the lack of a clear narrative mean that you do have to piece part of the story together yourself, but the main premise (three people - two women and one man) endlessly drifting in a boat and remembering events from their past) is simple enough to discern.

It's clear Peixoto didn't mind experimenting a bit with the art form, there are some pretty cool scenes here that do stand out for a film from the early 30s. Two hours is a bit long though and the soundtrack was a bit too classical for my taste, not really in line with the mood of the film. This was an interesting watch, I just would've preferred it 30 minutes shorter.

Infinite

2021 / 106m - USA
Fantasy,Action
3.5*/5.0*
Infinite poster

A big blockbuster that never made it to the big screen (for some or other reason). It's a film that wouldn't look out of place next to a random Marvel flick or the latest Bond, except that it is much shorter and punchier. And for that reason alone, it deserves a fair bit of praise, I certainly wouldn't have liked a 2+ hour version of this quite as much.

When Evan tries to sell a sword for a bag of pills, he is taken in by the police. An odd guy comes in to question him, telling Evan he's known him for hundreds of years. Evan doesn't remember him, but he'll soon find himself in a century-spanning battle between two factions of Infinites, people who reincarnate after they die.

The action scenes are pretty cool and Wahlberg is perfect for his part. The lore here is somewhat basic, not dragging it out as if it was something that actually warrants a lot of attention is genius though. This is just a bit of expensive action/fantasy fun and does a great job at that. It also has a perfect premise for doing some Cloverfield-like sequels, though I don't think we'll be that lucky.