Spirited

2022 / 127m - USA
Comedy, Musical
2.5*/5.0*
Spirited poster

A modern take on Dickens' classic Christmas Carol. And that's a welcome premise, as Dickens' source has been adapted so many times that the story really is starting to wear. Spirited isn't a raging success and I definitely would've liked to see a few things differently, but I was glad that it at least try to deliver something new.

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The Ghost of Christmas Present is done trying to convert average grumps, he wants to take on a big fish. When he meets Clint he knows he's the ideal subject, but his file calls him unredeemable. Still, the ghost isn't willing to back down and convinces the rest of his team to take on the case.

The new take on a classic story is solid, Reynolds and Ferrell are pretty much their usual self but there's enough chemistry between the two. I didn't think making this a musical was the smartest idea (the songs weren't great and it does add to the runtime) and the comedy felt pretty safe (Apple Original, true to their brand I guess), but this was a pretty decent Christmas film.

An interesting little project, but not quite as good as it sounded on paper. Pixel Theory is a rather coherent anthology, centered around a single concept, but approached from different angles and helmed by a selection of different directors. The idea is grand, but the execution is a little too flakey.

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A mysterious man developed a computer program that created every possible image from a finite set of pixels and color choices. Every image that could ever be is being created as we speak. It's a program that will greatly upset world order and will leave one of the biggest marks on human history ever recorded.

There are some smart takes here (like the advent of AI art), but the execution is wildly inconsistent and some of the segments are pretty subpar. The animation sequences in particular are abysmal, which brings the overall level down. It's a shame, there's so much potential here and it does shine through quite regularly, but it's not enough to make this a great film.

3:10 to Yuma

1957 / 92m - USA
Western
1.0*/5.0*
3:10 to Yuma poster

A classic western, one that stuck with the black & white styling even though most of its contemporaries were in color by then. On paper, I didn't mind at all, since the drab and uninviting color scheme of your average western is one of the reasons I dislike the genre. The b&w cinematography didn't really help though.

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Ben Wade and his gang rob a coach and kill one of the guards. After the successful heist, they go to the nearest village, where they celebrate. Wade's gang moves on to Mexico, but Wade himself remains in the village with his girlfriend. A decision that he'll soon regret when he gets arrested.

This is the type of quintessential western I really don't care for. The characters are very dull, the plot is boring, the pacing is slow and the setting very uninviting. There's just nothing here that can hold my attention for longer than five minutes, which made it quite an ordeal to finish.

The People We Hate at the Wedding

2022 / 99m - USA
Comedy, Romance
3.0*/5.0*
The People We Hate at the Wedding poster

A pretty solid comedy with romantic notes. Scanlon doesn't deliver anything too original, but the characters are quirky and funny enough to make it work, and there's a dash of British flair that helps with the comedy. Considering the lack of dedicated comedies nowadays, that suffices.

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For Eloise's marriage, she invites her mother and her estranged stepbrother and stepsister. They don't quite like Eloise, as they consider her a stuck-up British twat who stands above them. The reunion doesn't go as planned, and their trip to London becomes an ever bigger hassle than they feared.

The cast is decent, there are some pleasant jokes, and the mix between comedy and romance feels balanced. There's a little drama, but never too intrusive. Don't expect anything too extraordinary from this film, it never colors outside the lines and it sticks to what is known to work, but I've seen plenty worse.

Once Upon a Time in China V

Huang Fei-hung Zhi Wu: Long Cheng Jian Ba
1994 / 101m - Hong Kong
Action
3.5*/5.0*
Once Upon a Time in China V poster

Wong Fei Hung and the pirates. This fifth entry in the Once Upon a Time in China franchise doesn't bring anything new to the table, except for its pirate villains. I loved the film when I first watched it, and a good two decades later I still like it a lot, but I don't think it can really measure up to the best (or even better) films in its genre.

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Wong Fei Hung and his ever-growing group of students and protectees undertake a journey. On their way, they get involved in a scuffle with pirates who are terrorizing the seas. Hung is a righteous man and decides to help the locals with their plight by getting rid of the pirates for them, which spells a lot of trouble for Hung and his companions.

The fight with the old pirate is great and what I expect to see from a film like this, the rest of part five never really reached that same level. The comedy has its moments and the action is nice enough, but the bar should be higher for Hark. There's also a bit too much padding, adding 15 pointless minutes to the runtime. Still good, just not as great as I remembered it to be.

Jackie

2016 / 100m - USA
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Jackie poster

Larrain's first big Hollywood project. The nice thing is that he didn't try to make a typical American film, even though the subject is as American as you can get. Jackie could've been a run-of-the-mill biography about one of the most famous presidential wives the US has seen, but Larrain makes it into something more.

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The film focuses on a very limited set of moments in Jackie Kennedy's life, with the main thread being an interview conducted right after the assassination of her husband. Even though the film is called Jackie, JFK is a looming presence who is felt in every scene, and in every action Jackie undertakes.

The soundtrack is notable, Portman's performance is strong and the film has a clear visual identity. Some parts are more interesting than others (I didn't care much for the White House tour) and the structure is a little predictable (though a nice variation on the more typical biopic), but all in all, a good film.

Zone of the Enders: 2167 Idolo

Z.O.E 2167 IDOLO
2001 / 55m - Japan
Sci-fi, Action, Animation
2.5*/5.0*
Zone of the Enders: 2167 Idolo poster

A pretty generic sci-fi anime. There are traces of Evangelion here, which is pretty understandable, considering the immense success of that franchise. But Zone of the Enders doesn't do a lot with its references and fails to add anything meaningful of its own. People looking for some mecha action won't be too disappointed though, just don't expect anything more.

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Earth looks down upon its space colonies, and slowly friction starts to build. When a group of Mars soldiers gets into trouble with some of Earth's troops, they are reassigned to a different project. What they don't know is that they'll be testing a new type of mech. One that supposedly syncs with its driver. It's a potentially formidable weapon, but it can also drive people insane.

The animation is pretty mediocre, the mech designs aren't the most inspired and the drama fueling the story is generic at best. But the pacing is alright and there are some proper action scenes. It's all pretty bare and basic, also very forgettable, but it's not the worst kind of filler and I still found a few things to enjoy here. Your mileage may vary.

The Tangs' Creed

by Lou Le
2021 / 85m - China
Fantasy, Action
3.5*/5.0*
The Tangs' Creed poster

More solid streamer filler. It seems that nowadays Chinese streamer films are a pretty safe bet if you're looking for dependable entertainment. The CG remains a little flaky and the film could've done without the comedy bits, but the fantasy part is properly realized, the action is on point and the sets and costumes are lush and colorful. What more could you want from genre filler?

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The plot is a historic take on Minority Report. The Tang clan possesses a unique device that tells them who is about to commit a crime before it actually happens. Things get tricky when the device suddenly yields the name of the clan leader. She is forced to flee her clan, but with the help of a young thief and his master she claws her way back in.

One of the best things about these films is how concise and to the point they are. They rarely go beyond the 90 minutes mark, and they kinda rush through the plot to get to the good parts as quickly as possible. There are some standout scenes (like the butterfly dance), enough originality to avoid being a complete carbon copy of other films, and a decent director who understands what is required of him and delivers. Good fun.

1.0*/5.0*
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song poster

In competition with Shaft for being the first blaxploitation movie. Its independent origin and the harshness of the film probably give it a little extra edge. I can't say I really cared for it though. It's certainly different, but the presentation and execution are pretty paltry, which made it boring to watch.

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Sweetback decides to help out the police when a dead body is found. He believes that the killer is a white man, the police on the other hand have a different suspect in mind. When they apprehend a young black boy for the crime, Sweetback intervenes and has to flee after setting the boy free.

The editing is different but incredibly messy and distracting. The plot is pretty nonsensical (but politically motivated) and the soundtrack is a complete disaster. No doubt this is a film with historic importance, and some people may appreciate the presentation, it just didn't do anything for me.

Pink Flamingos

1972 / 93m - USA
Comedy, Crime
2.5*/5.0*
Pink Flamingos poster

John Waters' cult film is worthy of the label. It's not a roaring success and some scenes leave a rather bad aftertaste, while others are funny, weird, or both. It's a pretty messy affair and the presentation leaves a little to be desired, but if you like oddball cinema, it's definitely worth a shot.

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Divine is branded the filthiest person in the world. Two aspiring filth-seekers are jealous and want to boycott her. They leave their own little baby-trafficking operation behind to rid themselves of Divine, but she has her own plans when she hears about the odd couple trying to sabotage her life.

Waters demonstrates he is smart enough to make a funny, grotesque film without becoming too crass or vulgar, so the scenes with animal cruelty and poo-eating feel pretty out of place, even in a film about people aspiring to be filthy. Take those away and you'd have had a better movie, but even with them included, there's still enough to enjoy.

Cobra

1986 / 87m - USA
Action
3.0*/5.0*
Cobra poster

Quite a bit better than expected. Maybe it's because this is one of the films that shows the influence of daddy George on the work of Panos Cosmatos, but for once I was actually able to stomach that archetypal 80s cheese. No doubt because everything is just a little extra here. It's still not a great film, but at its best, it was pretty damn fun and entertaining.

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Cobra is a renegade cop. He gets the job done, but in his wake, he leaves a trail of death and destruction. For his next job, he needs to protect a young woman from a serial killer. What Cobra doesn't know is that he is up against an entire secret society that is out to uproot civilization as we know it. Nothing is too much of a challenge for Cobra though.

Cosmatos sticks nicely to the template of the 80s action flick. There's a bit of neon, motorbike gangs, cheesy oneliners, a metal factory, exploding cars, and whatnot. It's just that everything is just a bit more stylish and in-your-face compared to similar films of its time. It's certainly not a timeless classic, but if you want a bit of exaggerated 80s kitsch, you can't go wrong with this one.

The Mystic Nine: Begonia from Qingshan

Qing Shan Hai Tang
2022 / 74m - China
Fantasy, Thriller
3.5*/5.0*
The Mystic Nine: Begonia from Qingshan poster

Something a bit different. China has been doing quite a few high-profile railroad thrillers in 2022, so it's not a big surprise to see the streamers go for a portion of that success. But The Mystic Nine throws in some extra fantasy elements that make a big difference. I didn't quite expect this going in, thinking I'd be getting more basic genre filler. I wish they'd take chances like this more often.

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The Zhang family contracted a strange affliction on one of their tomb-raiding adventures, which makes them extra strong. Lieutenant Zuo wants their power for himself and starts experimenting on them. Qishan is the only one to escape from his clutches, but a decade later they run into each other again. Qishan is out for revenge, Zuo is crafty though and he has the support of the higher-up officials.

The pacing is extremely tight, the action sequences are pretty fun, the CG isn't half bad and it's not overused as much compared to many of its peers. The film relies more on proper cinematography and styling to make an impact. And the fantasy elements help it to stand out from the crowd, making it more than just another thriller. Surprisingly good.

Disenchanted

2022 / 121m - USA
Fantasy, Adventure
1.5*/5.0*
Disenchanted poster

A good 15 years after the first film, we get a sequel. Disenchanted brings another contemporary update of classic Disney, which is good news for fans of classic Disney, not so good news for the rest of the world. I understand this film is supposed to be the ultimate cheese and saccharine Disney pastiche, but even then I think they could've done it a lot better.

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After Giselle and Robert's happily ever after, things aren't quite as happy as they hoped they would be. Gisella decides she wants to move to the suburbs, but her daughter Morgan isn't too happy with that plan. But Giselle pushes through, even though deep down she realizes it's not the answer to her problems.

The music and songs are way too much for me, Adams' performance is more than a little grating and the Disney polish makes everything way too bland and safe. The production values are there though and the mix between live-action and animation has potential, I'm just not the audience for this type of film.

Stolen Identity 2

Sumaho wo Otoshita Dake Na no Ni: Toraware no Satsujinki
2020 / 118m - Japan
Thriller
2.5*/5.0*
Stolen Identity 2 poster

More of the same, only less interesting. Nakata's Stolen Identity was a decent but somewhat bland techno-thriller, the second part is a bit blander still. It feels too much like an expanded TV series episode, void of cinematic qualities and only interested in serving a police investigation with mediocre twists and turns.

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Urano is safely locked behind bars, but new bodies turn up in the same place Urano ditched his victims. Detective Kagaya learns that somebody helped Urano, and the only way to get to him is by using Urano's dark web access. The police cut a deal with him and together they try to catch M, the mastermind behind the entire operation.

The cinematography is poor, the performances leave a lot to be desired and the plot is mediocre. The second half is a little better, as there are some proper reveals, but it's not enough to make this a worthwhile film. It's decent thriller filler, but Nakata can do so much better. Too lazy for its own good.