The Killing of a Chinese Bookie

1976 / 135m - USA
Thriller, Crime
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie poster

Slightly better than I'd expected. I'm not big on these gritty 70s crime flicks and so far John Cassavetes' films haven't left a great impression. It's not that Killing of Chinese Bookie is a major step forward, but for a film crossing the 2-hour mark, it never bored me, which is quite something.

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Cosmo is a nightclub owner with a heart for his business, but his gambling addiction gets him into trouble. He owns the mob some money, which he cannot pay back. They offer him another option to clear his debt. For that, he has to kill a no-name bookmaker. There's more to the story though.

Gazzara does a solid job and Cassavetes paints a thorough picture of the man. The styling is classic 70s cinema (dark and gritty, but not very pretty or memorable) and the plot is relatively basic, but there's enough going on here. Fans of 70s crime should definitely give this a go, but I'm not sure if the film has major appeal beyond that.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

2021 / 107m - Canada
Action, Horror
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City poster

One of Roberts' weaker efforts. It's not always easy working in an existing franchise, certainly not when rebooting one that had a pretty decent run a decade or two ago. This may be more fun for die-hard fans of the games, who could probably pick up on some extra references (I did notice some were there, I just couldn't place them as I've never played any of the games).

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During one fateful night in 1998, a deadly virus gets out of containment and infects the people of Raccoon City. They quickly turn into zombies and begin to terrorize the city. A group of survivors band together and try to find out where the virus came from, hoping they might find answers there on how to stop it.

The build-up is rather long-winded, and it's not that different from every other zombie flick out there. Once Roberts gets to the finale the tension ramps up, but the CG isn't all that great and some of the monster designs end up looking a little silly. Some decent scenes at the end, but the film takes way too long to get there.

The Golem

Der Golem, Wie Er in die Welt Kam
1920 / 76m - Germany
Fantasy, Horror
The Golem poster

The Golem isn't quite as popular nowadays, but in the early days of cinema, it was a treasured horror creature. This version is one of the most infamous ones. Being part of the German expressionist niche definitely helped give it that extra push, but unless you're a big fan of silent films, it's not a must-see.

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In 16th-century Prague, a Rabbi creates a fearsome golem to protect the Jews from a malicious emperor, who tries to persecute them. The creature doesn't disappoint, but an unexpected romance creates a lot of difficulties. The golem escapes and threatens to demolish the entire neighborhood.

I do like German expressionist films, they are quite visually oriented, they tend to have quite a few fantastical elements and they're rather fast-paced tales. The plot is pretty bare bones though, and the effects are basic, but it's still a lot more fun than many other films of that era. Not too shabby.

Lamb Game

Gao Yang You Xi
2023 / 88m - China
Action, Crime
Lamb Game poster

They finally succeeded. Lamb Game is the first Chinese streamer flick I watched that rises above its roots and delivers something with more lasting appeal. It feels like a classic Hong Kong crime flick, only with a strong Chinese streamer aesthetic. That means extremely bold colors, flashy camerawork, and snappy editing. The film feels slightly less rushed compared to its peers (it's 15 minutes longer than most), it commits to a single genre and there's little to no CG to ruin the film. It's pure genre delight, a small-scale Die Hard with some kick-ass martial arts scenes, a nasty villain, and a beautifully lit setting. It's a simple film, but that never hurt a good genre effort. Fingers crossed that others will follow in Yi Huang's footsteps.

Slam Dunk: The Movie

1994 / 30m - Japan
Sport - Animation
Slam Dunk: The Movie poster

After having seen the recent Slam Dunk film, I was quite curious to watch some of the older ones, just to see how they compared. The first film is just 30 minutes long though, meaning it's little more than a glorified episode. It's not terrible, but it feels pretty random and can't begin to compare to the 2022 version.

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The film covers a single match, between Shohoko and Takezono. It's only Sakuragi's second match, but already he is facing Oda, a former classmate of his. There is still some tension between the two players, which will turn into motivation when they're facing each other on the court.

The plot is negligible, there really isn't enough time to do the drama any justice, and even the match isn't all that exciting, as there's little time to build up the tension. The art style is surprisingly detailed, but the animation is pretty poor. It's not too dull, and it's definitely short, but hardly worth the effort.


2006 / 93m - Denmark
Offscreen poster

Even though I used to be a major Christoffer Boe fan, the poor availability of Offscreen got in the way of me actually catching the film. After a while, I forgot about it and it never crossed my path again. It's never too late to catch up with films you missed out on though, and so, a good 15 years after it was released, I sat down to give Offscreen a go.

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Nicolas Bro plays himself. A successful actor who contacts director Boe because he wants to make a documentary film. He gets a camera and he starts filming his life. The camera becomes an obsession and instead of making a wholesome romantic doc, it records the downward spiral he finds himself in.

It's a fun meta project that has a bit of extra appeal when you're familiar with Boe and Bro. The idea is solid, the performances are great and the film ends with a big bang. It's just that the DV setup isn't the nicest to look at, which is a shame as Boe's films are known for having glorious cinematography. Still a pretty cool flick, though not up there with his best work.

Dangerous Liaisons

1988 / 119m - USA
Dangerous Liaisons poster

A pretty popular costume drama, with a star-studded cast, lots of romance (at least, sex and relationships, not sure how much actual romance there was), but very little beyond that. Of course, I don't really care for the setting, illustrated by the fact that I'd never even seen this film before.

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Vicomte de Valmont is a charming man, so much so that a countess challenges him to mess up the upcoming marriage of her ex-husband. Vicomte obliges, but he gets distracted when he meets Madame de Tourvel, a married woman. The countess doesn't believe he can, which only makes him more determined.

Some familiar faces here, who do a pretty decent job. But I didn't care much for the characters, I wasn't really impressed with all the easy flirting and I have little love for the classic setting. Things move along quite swiftly and it wasn't that the film was too longwinded, it's just that 120 minutes is quite long if there's nothing of note.

The Samurai That Night

Sono Yoru no Samurai
2012 / 119m - Japan
The Samurai That Night poster

A pretty solid drama, that thrives on a single conflict. It's a film I might've liked a little better if I'd watched it ten years ago. It's a fine Japanese drama, with great performances, a gritty premise, and some memorable moments, but there's nothing that truly stands out. With so many similar films under my belt, there's just something missing to make it a certified gem.

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Nakamura's wife is killed in a hit-and-run. The perpetrator is caught and sent to prison for five years. Nakamura lives a sober life, but he was never able to forgive the man who took his wife away from him. Every day, he sends him a message, saying he will kill him the moment he gets out of prison.

The premise is clear, and the drama isn't too complex, but on an emotional level, there is still quite a bit to unpack. The cinematography is appropriately gritty, Yamada and Ando are great, and the film works up to a pretty gripping finale. I have nothing bad to say about The Samurai That Night, except that it doesn't do quite enough to differentiate itself.

Hong Xiguan: The Devildom Elephant Man

Hong Xi Guan: Xian Luo Xiang Ren
2023 / 73m - China
Fantasy, Action
Hong Xiguan: The Devildom Elephant Man poster

Not my first Hong Xiguan film, but if I'm honest, I couldn't tell you what the previous one was about. These Chinese streamer fantasy flicks are fun enough, but they're not exactly memorable and they all look alike. Apart from the elephant man featured here, it's just another fantasy adventure.

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The princess of Siam is assassinated. Hong Xiguan wants to take revenge on her killers, but he finds himself imprisoned. He won't be stopped that easily though, and while he continues to work on the case, he unravels a much bigger injustice. The Demon King Xiangren seems to be at the source of an evil plan.

Some good action scenes, a fun fantasy-fueled setup, nice cinematography, and lush settings, but mediocre comedy and subpar CG. There's always a little variance between films, but the bottom line is usually the same. I had a pretty good time, especially as it's not even 75 minutes long, but it's not exactly a stand-out film.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Saules Aveugles, Femme Endormie
2022 / 108m - France
Drama, Fantasy - Animation
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman poster

A European co-production that tackles 6 short stories by Haruki Murakami and blends them into a semi-coherent narrative. I'm not sure if this was the best way to adapt Murakami, the fantasy elements in his books (the ones I've read anyway) always felt richer to me, but it's not a bad attempt.

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In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, several people are still shaken by the disaster that hit the city. Three people join forces to save Tokyo from further harm, guided by a talking frog, a lost cat, and a mysterious black box. Their enemy: a giant worm that lives underneath the city.

The art style is a tad depressing, while the animation is rather lifeless, but it's hard to deny the film has a certain visual appeal. The French dub is quite distracting (I wish they'd just gone with Japanese voice actors) and some of the references (the ones by the frog in particular) are a bit too direct, but I liked the magic realism and the film did keep me on my toes, even though my attention slipped from time to time. Not bad.

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero

Doragon Bôru Chô: Sūpā Hîrô
2022 / 100m - Japan
Fantasy, Action - Animation
Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero poster

The most recent Dragon Ball film, which means I made it until the end (apart from some TV specials). I was quite impressed with the first Super film, this second one is a big step backward. The art style has undergone another change, with a stronger focus on CG, which never feels quite right.

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The plot is pretty unadventurous too. The Red Army is back. One of their descendants, Hedo, is brought back to create new androids in order to defeat the Dragon Ball crew. He creates two new adversaries, Gamma 1 & 2, that will help them bring Gohan down. To make sure he takes the bite, they also kidnap his daughter.

The art style isn't spectacular, the fights feel a tad underwhelming (even though they are pretty epic again), and the 100-minute runtime is a bit of a stretch. No matter how I look at it, the original three Dragon Ball films are still the best in the series, which is a disappointing conclusion after having sat through 21 films.

Empire of the Sun

1987 / 153m - USA
Drama, War
Empire of the Sun poster

One of the films I watched on a school trip, and one of the films that would end up setting back my love for cinema. I didn't care for it then and don't care for it now. It's a typical Spielberg project, overly cheesy and sentimental, with some misplaced exotic appeal, and at least 45 minutes too long.

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James is a spoiled little brat living in Shanghai. When the Japanese invade the city, chaos ensues and he gets separated from his parents. He stays behind in the city and he has to get by on his own. Eventually, he is taken to a Chinese camp, where he has to adapt to his new life.

Bale's performance isn't great, the soundtrack is annoying and the plot isn't all that interesting, especially since the characters aren't all that likable. There's no reason why the film runs almost 150 minutes long, except to create a fake feeling of grandeur. The cinematography isn't the worst, but not classy enough to be anything but a band-aid. Not good.

The Little Mermaid

2023 / 135m - USA
Romance, Fantasy
The Little Mermaid poster

Another live-action remake of one of Disney's treasured animated classics. There was a lot of buzz about this one, as a black girl (Halle Bailey) was cast to play Ariel. That turned out to be the perfect lightning rod to cover up the subpar quality of the film. I'm not sure what Disney is doing, but they need someone to spend their money a bit more responsibly.

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The story hasn't changed too much. It's still the tale of a young mermaid who falls in love with a prince and trades her mermaid traits to become a human. Her friends (a crab, and a seagull) remain with her during her transformation, but life as a human is not as easy as she'd imagined.

Bailey can sing, but she's not a great actress. The bigger problem here though is the ugly CG and the atrociously designed underwater scenes. Hollywood really needs to do better. The rest of the cast isn't great either, the voice acting is terrible and the film is way too long. I can't imagine this doing justice to people's childhood memories, regardless of the skin color of the lead actress.