With the advent of my writing being concentrated on other efforts but the desire to still keep some sort of record of the films I've watched, I present the living list. Some may come with a very brief reason, many may just be listed according to the rating I gave them.
You can skip to a particular rating simply by searching for the correct number of asterisks.
Moebius - Experimental Drama, Japanese - Full Review
Vulgaria - Comedy, Hong Kong - Oh where to begin. It's the story of an aspiring CatIII (read: porn) producer who is desperately trying to get a film made following a lengthy stint of inactivity, failed ideas and no income. Involving bestiality, fried duck heads, Triad bosses, reviving the porn career of an 70 year old woman, and a use for popping candy that I don't think I'll ever be able to shake from my mind, Vulgaria had me laughing harder than I have done for a long time. Seriously. You need to watch this.
The Raid 2 - Action, Indonesian - After the rollercoaster that was the first I knew it was one that I couldn't let slip by, and boy did it not disappoint. The first was rightly hailed for its unrelenting pace, delivering blow after blow of gun battles and martial arts mastery. Building on that, this sequel takes place immediately after and rapidly descends into a sordid tale that shows he's not out of the woods yet. Rather, it's only just begun; the death of the crime kingpin unveiling a far larger picture which is only just beginning to get messy—a web of corruption that travels to the very top, and to the people who truly control the country he's within. The pacing may not be quite as frenetic as the first, but the world feels that much more vast and fleshed out. No longer is this the mere tale of one man fighting the criminals within a building, but one of crime syndicates, corrupt police and backdoor dealings. It delivers the back story for fan favourite "Mad Dog" and yet still manages to find the time to for the claustrophobic set pieces for which he gained his fame. Broken bones and bloodbaths abound; he returns to familiar restaurant and "one man, one building" settings whilst expanding to the likes of a disco dance decimation and a high speed car chase mixed with martial arts; we meet the new wave of psychopaths and iconic assassins—and in particular, one deaf woman with a fondness for hammers whom I became fond of. This is much a crime epic as the best the Koreans have to offer mixed in with almost Tarantino-esque vivid characters, and a few more quiet tense moments within the longer run time seems like a small price to pay.
Gintama: Final Chapter - Action, Sci-Fi, Japanese - Yes! It's the Final Chapter in the Gintama saga; the second film and the tearful goodbye to our silver haired hero. Or probably not, seeing as they've pulled this stunt about three times now and the show's still pretty damn popular. But yes, the film—actually featuring new material and not slapping an old story arc together, this flick sees us travelling through time to see what the future holds for our cast. Filled with jokes old and new, action and excitement, it's a glorious two hour episode that demonstrates the very best the series has to offer. It also requires you to actually be familiar—if not necessarily up to date—with the series.
Harakiri - Drama, Japanese - I'll admit, I prefer the film he followed this up with, Kwaiden, though there can be little doubt that even with a smaller vision this mans work never fails to be absolutely mesmerising. Starting out so simply, with the request of a Ronin named Hanshiro - A samurai without a master - to honourably kill himself in the presence of an existing clan minister, rather than continue his life of poverty. Where many other samurai films seem to get carried away with endless characters and epic plotlines spanning multiple years, that this film remains so confined to just the handful of characters permits us to come to understand them, and in particular become enchanted by the events that led Hanshiro to this point, and precisely why he has nothing left to live for. More than just a Shakespearean tragedy told to a Japanese tune, it raises questions of those tropes often assumed; the idea of honour amongst Samurai; the idea of manliness that doesn't simply resort to macho displays of violence, and of the contrast between those with the power and the wealth who remain ignorant of those outside their castle walls.
Cloud Atlas - Sci-Fi/Drama - I tend to be pretty damn pessimistic about most major releases, but this was a blockbuster I loved. It's one of the most expensive independent films ever made, directed by the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix), and it's vision couldn't be more ambitious. A three hour epic telling interwoven tales throughout the ages; past, present and future showcase the different settings but it is humanity itself that most often is on display. It's a film with more dimensions than any comparisons would do justice to, nor is it one that you can put on and forget. There are connections to be made but they are for you to make. They won't hold your hand or tell you if you "get it right," and the less you know of the plot going in the better. Tom Hanks shows what he's capable of once again, Hugo Weaving delivers a performance beyond what I thought he was capable of, Doona Bae (whose work I don't know well) surprised me (though I admit that could just be the writing for her "Somni" plotline) and Halle Berry doesn't fuck it all up. Through their eyes we journey through humour, hope and despair and are reminded of the importance of companionship. Quite frankly, I haven't been this impressed by a mainstream flick for years.
Wreck-it Ralph - Comedy/Animation - Loved Wall-E, couldn't stand Toy Story. Pixar has always been a mixed bag for me, but this is definitely one of their better works. Especially if you have any slight hint of old-school gamer geekiness about you.
Jupiter Ascending - Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller - Fuck the haters, I thought Jupiter Ascending was fun. Sure, it manages to be both unoriginal (stealing from various films) and convoluted (meshing aforementioned films into a coherent storyline), but were you seriously expecting something that wasn't a bit silly? A film with a family vying for power over the galaxy with an earthling caught up due to her royal genetics, it's only through the affection of her wolfman on flying rollerskates that she manages to survive. WOLFMAN ON ROLLERSKATES.
And yes, the required love-angle comes so suddenly even the wolfman looked confused, the family feud reeks of Dune, the two leads interact like something out of The Fifth Element, the bureaucracy plays out like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the cities scream of Chronicles of Riddick with all the jaggedy gothic greyscale, and there are enough random aliens floating about to make Star Wars raise an eyebrow; suffice to say originality is not necessarily this films strongest point, and yet by playing on the familiar it removes the requirement for tedious exposition. "The Aegis are coming" "Who are the Aegis" "Cops." Two seconds it took to explain who the Aegis are and you're done. Let's get back to 'splodin.
And it's this rapid pace that keeps our protagonist in Jupiter bouncing around the houses like a pinball, struggling to make sense of the world she's suddenly being thrust into. Eddie Redmayne pulls off an over the top breathy mothers boy, there's dragon-men and certainly no shortage of lines that make you giggle at the sheer absurdity of it all, and yet the film is never difficult to follow. A Sci-fi B-Movie with an 80s attitude and a $200mill budget, leave your brain at the door and grab the popcorn.
Guardians of the Galaxy - Action, Sci-Fi - It's not often I buy into the Marvel films these days—too repetitive, too predictable, too many saturating a market—but with James Gunn (Slither, Super) at the helm, I couldn't help but have my interest piqued. Because this isn't just another Marvel flick but one that takes relatively unknown characters and the dynamic that comes with that and places it into another world; it's Marvel-gone-Firefly with the leader Star-Lord mimicking Capn. Reynolds in his quips and quirks, and the sultry assassin Gamora bringing about an uncanny comparison to Summer Glau's character River. The back-stories admittedly feel a bit rushed at times—but unlike the Avengers, they don't have the luxury of feature length films to introduce our cast—but no single member steals the show. Rather, it's the way they work together and interact. There's a coherency between them as they call each other morons and then work as a team, each one with apparent personality flaws that give them a sense of realism that the stereotypical 'infallible superhero' trope can't match. Sadly, this is of course still a Marvel film, and so in the final act all the humour seems to give way to a frantic sky battle with explosions, enemies becoming allies and other plot elements that have at this point gone beyond mere cliché. One of Marvel's finest, but sadly let down at the end.
Snowpiercer - Action, Thriller, Sci-Fi - After the sort-of success of Chan-Wook Park's English debut "Stoker" (a success of a film, if not at the box office) comes a Chan-Wook Park produced, Joon-Ho Bong directorial debut! And quite frankly, it's the most successful conversion to date. Forget your Korean remakes, the Koreans have come to Hollywood to show you folks how it's done. Based on a French novel but with a unmistakeably Korean-esque style it's an odd film that combines the post-apocalyptic atmosphere of "The Road," the high pace of "The Raid," insanity of Gilliam's works, cramped fight sequences reminiscent of "Oldboy" and wraps it all up in a sci-fi wrapper, but the odd thing is just how well it works. It's unique, certainly, but it never comes across as ridiculous. In fact, it reflects on society and class division in such a way that it seems to reflect earth as it is now—with perhaps a couple of not so subtle nods to North Korea in there too—albeit in a somewhat more extreme setting. Starring Kang-Ho Song (I'll admit to preferring him in "The Face Reader," but nonetheless he still doesn't fail to deliver the goods) and something of a breakout performance for Chris Evans, it eschews the atypical heroic figures for a far more broad representation of humanity. No, it's not as good as his Korean work, but as a blend between Hollywood and more artsy Korean, it works surprisingly well.
Inequality For All - Documentary - A film hosted by the charismatic and inherently difficult to dislike Robert Reisch, a US economist who has worked for Clinton and as a lecturer at UC Berkley (amongst others) shedding some light on the growing inequality gap in the US, the ramifications and consequences of that gap, the historical precedence for such an event, and the future direction of the country. As the film progresses the usual Republican/Democrat, Socialist/Capitalist divide seems to disappear. If anything it's PRO-capitalism, simply not in it's current form. I didn't exactly think I was an idiot on the subject but there's a lot more—a LOT more—to the issue than I initially considered (and whilst it's obviously US-centric, a lot of it felt applicable to the UK as well, cos... yeah I've just looked it up and we really aren't doing a whole lot better).
The Face Reader - Period Drama, Korean - Full review
Maniac (Remake) - Exploitation Horror - Look, I tend to hate all these remakes that float about as much as the next person, but this one simply looked too good to ignore. A remake of the film that still causes controversy today for its unrelenting scenes of ultraviolence, mixed in with just enough psychological mindfuckery to prevent it from simply being considered gore porn? And just who would be daring enough to thrust it forward to the modern day? The double team of Frank Khalfoun (P2) whose underrated debut focussed on the gritty realism of an abduction, and Alexandro Aja (High Tension, Hills Have Eyes remake) handling the script. I don't know if I can think of anyone more appropriate, and much like the original they manage to nail that same tone; that disconcerting sensation as our protagonist goes on his murderous rampage, scalping his victims, stapling them onto the mannequins littering his room and imagining them all coming to life. There is no gentle easing into this tale as we are immediately thrust behind the eyes of the timid and seemingly harmless Elijah Wood, stalking his victims and muttering to himself; arguing with himself over his irrational compulsion to kill and his desperate desire for companionship. Forced to watch through his own eyes for the vast majority of the film, there is no chance for the camera to shy away, always fixated on his objective as though his bloodstained hands are our own. Banned in New Zealand, this film couldn't have wished for a more positive review; the remake of one of the most controversial flicks ever made does nothing to let the side down.
Deadball - Horror/Comedy, Japanese - You may wonder why I'm watching a film about baseball, a sport I know nothing about. The truth is, I don't think the director really did either, but after all, that's not why anyone would choose to pick this up. Directed by the man who brought us "Meatball Machine" and "Yakuza Weapon" and starring the dude from Versus and Tokyo Gore Police, this is less about sport and more about killing; this is the Battle Royale of baseball complete with neo-nazi's, Kim Jong-Il, mecha, nuclear pitches, a dozen high school girls and an awful lot of fake blood. Ok, so the lead man is trying to play a juvenile teen despite being well into his 30s, and I'm pretty sure his male cell-mate was actually just a woman with her hair cut short, but what did you expect from a low-budget gore flick? This is a showcase of the insanity of one mans warped vision, complete with all the bizarre fights and amusing death sequences he can muster.
DPRK: The Land Of Whispers - Documentary - At only an hour long and currently available right here, I can't see why anyone with an interest in North Korea would skip it. In terms of documentary style, if you took the Michael Moore or "Supersize Me" style of American documentary and then flipped it around, this would be it. It goes in with no agenda to push, no preconceived notions that he wasn't willing to have challenged, acting - insofar as he was permitted - as a fly on the wall. And yes, so much of it seems like an Orwellian dystopia, stuck in the 30s where cars seemed uncommon, computers non-existent, and propaganda was everywhere. And yet, at the same time, it humanises them in a manner we don't see on Western media. It's not even all about North Korea, reflecting back on our own media and the manner it distorts events to show them in the manner they want people to see, albeit to a far lesser extent as much of what I know appears to be true (one thing that struck me was on the discussion of the bombing of South Korea in 2010; the West portrayed it as an attack on the homes of the South, but the North said it was a counter attack. The truth? It does, in fact, look as though the South intentionally attempted to provoke them). It is probably the closest I've seen to a completely unbiased documentary on the subject. Expect it to be followed by this Ted Speech from one North Korean defector and another documentary about Danny.
Captain Phillips - Biographical Drama/Thriller - We all know the kind of films where it almost seems they're making something out of a very thin plot; the likes of "Open Water" and "Life of Pi" where very few actors are involved and the plot revolves around a difficult situation. Well, this is an example of how to get it done right. Whilst perhaps not Hanks finest moment, what he brings to the table is a complex and realistic character which is precisely what this film required. As his antithesis stands the no less impressive Muse, the man who leads the pirates in their pursuit of enough coin to take back to his boss. Both sides are humanised to the point we feel sympathy for both sides forced into this predicament, with no alternative agenda at play. Captain Phillips was a brave man to endure what he did, but he was a man; the US Navy are shown as disciplined and trained, but they aren't supermen going gung-ho on the enemy; and the pirates aren't the evil villains to be vanquished, but those struggling to feed themselves being coerced by an unseen kingpin. The plot may seem relatively slow, but it steadily unfolds without ever getting stagnant, spending too long on any one point.
Ip Man - Action/Drama/Martial Arts, Chinese - Well it's got Donnie Yen in it so you could probably figure out that there wouldn't be any shortage of Kung Fu within the two hour run time, but what separates this from a lot of the other films I've seen in this genre is the plot. All about a period in this mans life, he is depicted as a Master of his own style of Kung Fu, and yet reluctant to demonstrate it or use it where it can be avoided. This provides a stark contrast between him and many of the others we see in the film, making use of it to their own advantage. There are numerous sub-plots and characters that all find themselves in need of his help, and rather than push an opinion on you, seems to simply show a realistic portrayal of those that find themselves under pressure.
Hard Revenge Milly + Bloody Battle - Exploitation Action/Horror, Japanese - Despite a lack of gratuitous nudity (in fact, she was made to look fairly masculine in the first part of this double feature) you can't fault the special effects work of Yoshihiro Nishimura who delivers the goods once again. Packed with sword-slicing action and no shortage of gore cam, this budget affair only slows down enough to explain the important plot points and give life to the many characters before they're sliced and diced. I wanted a flick full of gore and Hard Revenge Milly delivered.
Star Trek: Into Darkness - Action/Sci Fi - Late to the party, I'll admit, I took the trip to what is fast becoming one of my favourite places, Leicester square (four cinemas and a lot of Chinese girls) for the small theatre experience with maybe a dozen other people in the screening, hopes held high. Despite my doubts at Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as khan, he proved to be a very different kind of villain, albeit one that seemed to over annunciate every word in a way that grew tiring. That said, it was his performance as a manipulator that became the films greatest strength, having me question everything I thought I knew about the man. Yes, there was still the geeky references (huzzah for the obligatory yell of KHAAAN!) and the crew still found themselves with moments to shine, but it felt less balanced. It felt as though there was less time for them; less action and climactic moments; less emotion; less everything. There, too, was a fair number of plot holes and bits that you had to simply accept in order for the next action sequence to make sense. This is not a film you really want to spend a whole lot of time thinking about. Matching his last was a tall order, but overall it only just falls short of the mark.
The Bounty - Action/Comedy, Hong Kong - I wasn't really expecting a lot, but the flick came with plenty of comic moments to keep me interested. Starring both Chapman To and Fiona Sit (of Vulgaria) it's perhaps not that surprising on reflection, and particularly in Chapman I'm thinking I might have a new favourite comedian.
Stoker - Horror/Drama - Chan-Wook Park's (Oldboy) English language debut, and it ranks right up there with his best. Whilst many of his films have a lot going on, this one remains beautiful for it's simplicity. Certainly, it's a slow burner, but he constantly manages to keep you on the edge, delivering little bits of information and making you rack your brain as you try to answer the question: just who the fuck is Stoker?
Looper - Action/Drama/Sci-Fi - Yeah alright, it has the usual paradox-induced time travel issues, but I thought it was a pretty engaging flick.
The Dark Knight Rises - Action/Adventure - Catwoman was integrated better than expected, but Bane was slightly disappointing. Voice was annoying but I got used to it, but I think he's a hard character to portray properly. Isn't the most frightening thing about him not that he's a huge steroid junkie but the fact that he preaches anarchy in a way that frighteningly seems to make sense? That he's both super-strong AND freakishly intelligent? Good film, roughly on par with the last. Villain wasn't as good, but at least we didn't get lengthy pseudo-intelligent pretentious monologues.
The Four - Action/Fantasy, Hong Kong - Chinese X-Men in the 10th Century. Cheesy as hell, but once it got going I really began to enjoy the almost video-game like quality to it.
Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtues of Ignorance) - Drama/Comedy - So I just finished Birdman and—if you haven't watched the trailer—I was expecting something a bit unusual but damn, this film was downright weird. Telling the tale of a washed up actor trying to make it on broadway, kudos needs to really go to the director (who I only otherwise know from his film "Babel") because he had the balls to present a style unlike any other. Like the theatre it's set in, there's a theatrical sense to every scene; a heightened melodrama that runs through it all.
With camera shots that get so close to the cast you can see the wrinkles, the claustrophobic set gets used to full effect as the career of our protagonist hangs in the balance, never able to escape the franticism of his last run up into opening night. There is no introduction, racing straight into the meat of the film, and the pacing never relents. Action films are slower paced than this, so much so that it becomes tiring at points. Scenes don't ever stop, they just pan right into the next one, or follow a cast member as he rushes through the narrow corridors underneath the stage until his next inevitable encounter. There is no respite, no moment where people can simply take a deep breath and prepare for the next challenge, and the pressure of it all manifests as his past work—the Birdman—growing with intensity and coming across with enough realism that there are times where you wonder if he genuinely does possess supernatural powers.
And throughout it all is the satirical context, looking on at Hollywood and the ego of those in theatre (praising it as "high art" that others wouldn't understand); the critic who is willing to lie and destroy a career because of her hatred for the film medium in which the protagonist got his name, the egotistical method actor who acts like he can do anything he wants, the self-centered drug addict and the insecure and borderline psychotic actress; they all become caricatures of the personalities that exist behind closed doors.
There is an irony that it got an Oscar nomination; a film about a washed up actor trying (and successfully) restarting his career, starring an actor who hasn't been in a major film for years who receives a nomination for his work. I can't help but wonder if they planned it that way. It's bold, unique and original and nobody could take that away from it, but the sheer intensity of it all turns it into a tiring affair.
Zero Theorum - Drama, Sci-Fi - Terry Gilliam is not a director known for doing films normally. Between the likes of "Brazil" and "Twelve Monkeys" there's plenty of room for his specific brand of vivid peculiarity, and as the man gets religiously contemplative and philosophical on all of us, things get... well pretty darn weird. Following our protagonist, Qohen Leth, an eccentric man who thrusts himself headfirst into his work, unable to feel joy, perpetually waiting for the phone call that he missed years ago that will speak to him and give his life meaning. It isn't long before he finds himself commissioned to work on the Zero Theorum project, a long-term soul crushing mathematical proof that confirms what we already suspect: that all life is essentially without purpose. To help him cope with the stress of such a project, management offer him assistants in the form of seductress, Bainsley, and boy genius, Bob—both undeniably damaged in their own way—and it is through their interactions that the point of the film becomes apparent; that either by waiting for God to give you purpose or dwelling on the fact that there likely is none, no joy can be found in either case. It is only when we stop asking the question that we can find our own meaning for existence. Let down by the constant bombardment of imagery and symbolism representative of not only this core query, but of the technological path we're currently heading down of both instantaneous communication and isolation, of constant surveillance and of corporations treating us as tools for their own purposes, there is so much information packed into the run time that it becomes overwhelming and difficult to decipher, obfuscating the point being made. There can be no doubt that this is one of those rarer films that dares to question the big questions, but I couldn't help but feel just a little bit disappointed in the result.
Lesson of the Evil - Horror/Thriller, Japanese - Full Review
Tom Yum Goong 2 / Warrior King 2 - Action, Martial Arts, Thai - It's hard not to have your impression of a film remain unbiased when in a movie theatre filled with giggling Chinese women yelling "bad man, bad... asshole" every time the coloured dude came on the screen. Not so much racism—he really was an asshole—but in such an environment filled with all the 'oohs' that come with a knee once again hitting someone's face; all the laughter as bikes get thrown off rooftops and people get rammed head first into an unrelenting assortment of objects, it's hard to remain neutral. The film is simply too damn fun, and as the epic martial arts battles commence it becomes clear once that Tony Jaa is perhaps the only man capable of the torch from the classics of the Hong Kong era. Whilst essentially a simple story about one mans love for his elephant "brother", it quickly descends into a cliche, "Dead or Alive" inspired cheesy plot of martial arts masters in the queue to have their ass kicked. Doubling the dose of madness with the addition of Jeeja Yanin (Chocolat, Raging Phoenix), after seeing her in starring roles her inclusion felt like a sad after thought, consistently pushed to one side when she inevitably was out of her depth (there are no classic moments like the fight with the autistic warrior in Chocolat). Yet, personal grievances aside (I do still love Yanin) it's hard to fault the choreography that is at the film's core. Cliche, predictable, cheesy and the same old story we've seen countless times before? Absolutely. But it's still damn fun to watch.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi - Documentary - What if I said that there was a man who had specialised in his sushi making craft for 75 years? Nuts right? And yet here he is, working with his two sons in the smallest 3 Michelin star restaurant in the world, seating just 10 customers at a time. The care they attend to their craft from the purchasing stage to the gruelling training the apprentices are required to endure, this makes hells kitchen look like a breeze. It is meticulous beyond imagination, and incredible to watch in action. And failing that, food porn. Everybody likes food porn.
The Woodsman and the Rain - Drama/Comedy, Japanese - There probably isn't an awful lot to write about in this one, following fairly closely to the idea of "slice of life" in that it doesn't really seem to have an end destination in mind, content to gently meander in and around the life of our protagonist, the initially somewhat apathetic woodsmen. When a film crew comes to town he soon finds himself reluctantly convinced into helping them out with their budget zombie flick, each time asked to just one more task. Gradually he comes to become more and more involved in the script, assisting in overcoming the problems faced and befriending the young film director; a shy man of his mid-20s with an issue with confidence and making decisions, steadily coming to trust our woodsman in their films creation. It's slow moving, and takes the better part of the first act to really gain any momentum, but with the picturesque setting and the unforced pace it never feels anything but a genuine snapshot of their unlikely relationship.
The Hobbit 2: The Desolation of Smaug - Action, Fantasy, Adventure - Right, so excuse the first bit as it'll be a rant about the "technology" aspect of the cinematography as I watched it with all the 3D and HFR bells and whistles (don't). The 3D wasn't the worst I've seen, but it still feels like a gimmick that's distracting more than anything else. And from the occasional rubbing of the eyes, it seems that half the film didn't use 3D anyway. But, no, the real problem I have here is with the "48fps" camera's used. They suck. It makes every tiny detail that would have been glossed over more apparent, and whilst in certain films this could be to the films benefit, here it seems to just give an amateurish sheen as all the imperfections come to light. It reminded me of those budget British TV shows - Merlin, Atlantis, Robin Hood and so on - and it looked cheap. Furthermore, it highlighted the odd smoothness of the CGI making it stick out like a sore thumb. At a time when we're finally approaching the level of detail to blend CGI into the background, this effectively sets us back ten years. So bravo.
But yes, the actual film. No more fucking flashbacks makes things feel a little less drawn out than the first part, but instead it was so mind-numbingly predictable it loses all sense of that "what will happen next." Predictable isn't even the right word, they flat out tell you what's coming next like in-film spoilers. "Don't stray from the path" so they stray from the path. "Don't enter the mountain" so they enter the mountain. "What if it's a trap" oh it's a trap. God damnit, shut the fuck up. Fuck, you've already told me half of how the NEXT film is going to end. There is a handful of comedic moments in keeping with the tone of the original novel, but it's never really more than a subtle nod to the original with everything going for the epic tone of LotR. It doesn't work, and is disappointing. Most of the dwarves are completely forgettable and seem incompetent for most of the film, being outmatched by the fighting abilities of...err... Bilbo who saves their asses twice (really?) including one involving a solo killing spree. The Elves are a highlight whenever they enter the fray with their fight sequences, prancing around like untouchable figure skaters and seeming to have fun wreaking havoc on anything that aren't them or key characters, and Benedict Cumberbatch and his ridiculous over annunciation of every word seemed oddly fitting for Smaug, and the pacing was quick enough that I didn't find myself watch-gazing despite the run time, even if some scenes seemed pointless (here say hi to a new character. Now say bye to him). Fortunately Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) wasn't one of them. Rawr.
Evil Dead (remake) - Exploitation Horror - People will always bitch about the remakes but I didn't think this one was too bad. In fact, I'd probably put it up there as being damn close as good to the original, because it takes the basic premise (alone in the woods with a book you shouldn't read but oh looky, someone does anyway) and runs with it in new directions. No, the acting isn't particularly good and is sorely lacking this generations version of Bruce Campbell, and as a result there is almost none of the humour that made the original such a cult success, but to compensate they use every modern trick that's been learned since and put it towards some good ol' fashioned gore. Face shredding, nail-gun toting, head 'splodin, body burnin' violence in all its glory. Now that's what I call entertainment!
Dead Sushi - Splatter Horror, Comedy, Japanese - Full Review
Pacific Rim - Action/Sci-Fi - Well wasn't this a surprise. Del Toro is always one of those unusual directors capable of doing more than just deliver on the standard "oh look it's got a lot of explosions in it" blockbusters, and here he wears his influences on his sleeve. Yes, it's basically Neon Genesis Evangelion Vs. Godzilla (and the whole Kaiju genre). Fuck, he even calls the monsters Kaiju in their honour, can you get more obvious a reference? And yet, he takes more than just that; he takes the idea that these Mecha take a hefty toll on the human body and much of the film deals with the psychological side of things much to the films benefit. This is not a transformers clone; it's not merely big battles with machines, though they certainly play their part (complete with the random assortment of weapons coming out of every part of the mechanical body). It was sadly let down by the cast who - outside of Charlie Day's scientist and Idris Elba as the head honcho - did little to breathe life into the characters during the down time, and perhaps were never truly given the chance to explore how deep their memories truly went. Original? Nah. Does it require suspense of disbelief? Well of course, but there's definitely more substance here than you'd usually expect, even if it doesn't quite work as well as it could have.
Eden - Drama - A flick about a Korean American who gets abducted so she can be sold into the dodgy world of sex slavery. Escape attempt, discovery she ain't underage - but all Asians look young eh? - so finds her knowledge of book keeping and accounts useful in helping the man who imprisoned her keep track of his finances. It sounds a bit cheesy, but for the most part it was well performed with our two leads never playing their roles of handler and slave in a melodramatic fashion. He may be cold to the trade in which he works, but not without care entirely and eventually we see the cracks; and too, she ends up becoming accustomed to her situation resolving to make the best of the hand she's been dealt whilst looking for an escape. It never quite manages to sucker you into her plight and coming off a touch predictable at times, but not a bad exploration of a topic ordinarily swept under the carpet.
Funuke: Show Me Some Love You Losers! - Drama, Japanese - I was expecting something akin to a light drama/comedy about a dysfunctional family (nothing out of the ordinary there) but "light" is the last thing I would use to describe this. Perhaps "Visitor Q" would make the most apt comparison to this tale, as this is about as thematically dark a film can get without straying into horror territory. Yes, it's a dysfunctional family and they're set in the middle of nowhere - no distractions from the trials that come with living under the same roof - but what a hell of a dysfunctional one it is. This is a film that pushes things well beyond what you would normally come to expect; everyone is mentally worn down and broken, and whilst not your stereotypical version of insanity, make no mistake that not one of them is right in the head. Sadly, I never quite got the impression that the gravity of the situation was ever given adequate weight, prevented from becoming too overbearing to watch by use of slight comedic situations which are less amusing as they are used as a technique to lighten the mood. Much of this stems from the overly happy wife of the elder brother, who I kept waiting to see behind the curtain and into her frightening world, but it never happened. That said, given a little more presence and her performance may have stolen the show altogether, turning it into a tale of a distant wife trying to gain acceptance from her new family, and she certainly never caused it to descend into mockery, and thus it never quite feels an implausible situation but merely a fucked up one. They'd pushed the themes thus far, it seems a shame they couldn't be bold enough to push things one step further and remove those points that contradicted the severity of the situation. Oh, and Eriko Sato, hot damn I'd forgotten how freakin hawt she is.
John Dies at the End - Horror/Comedy - A film based on the book written by one of the more interesting "Cracked" columnists, this film is... well it's definitely interesting. All about a couple of guys who take some really messed up drug which turns out to be from another dimension and forms a gateway between worlds using these guys as the portal. Or something like that. It kinda makes sense, and then also doesn't. At all. It removes all problems of predictability by being so outlandishly impossible to predict; by presenting a world where Occam's Razor, that idea that the simplest answer is the correct one, works in reverse. The most absurd and ridiculous solution to the problems tend to be the ones presented, and at times it can feel a little bit too much. Too often the narrative will toss out inexplicable elements at the last moment for the sake of being weird, or introduce plot points in a sudden matter of fact manner as opposed to letting the film do the talking. There is a point where they just mention in passing "my girlfriend Amy," only to explain right at the end that "oh, and by the way, Amy's my girlfriend now." And that's a direct quote. Definitely a good film, and there's no question it's entertaining and original, but it ain't quite the return of Bill and Ted.
Fudoh: The New Generation - Action/Crime/Exploitation, Japanese - One of Miike's earliest works, it certainly shows off a lot of his ultraviolent style which would garner him international recognition. Despite the quite evident low budget, he manages to pull it off simply by coming up with original ideas, the most prominent one here being the use of children as hitmen. That said, I can't help but think that his best ideas are, at this point, still as yet to come. Parts felt confused, characters coming out of nowhere whilst others disappear - one even makes a return for what seems to be absolutely no reason whatsoever - so no, it's not another "Ichi the Killer" or "Gozu," but it's definitely still got that trademark style. Perhaps one for Miike fans and those who never tire of Yakuza flicks.
Penny Pinchers - Comedy/Romance, Korean - The tale of a young man who doesn't want to work, leeching off his mother, until she finds out at least, and soon finds himself on the streets. His saviour comes in the unusual form of a woman who makes a living by being cheap. This "cheapness" lends the film a very different tone from many others, and whilst there are still some cliché elements, it actually works out fairly well.
Spring Breakers - Action/Comedy - Harmony Korine is not one known for subtlety, and this isn't his time to start. Bludgeoning you over the head - he makes his point, and then flashes back to re-make it, and this does get tiring - with his satirical take on the Spring Break phenomenon; girls and guys getting wasted in the sun and fucking. Enter Jay Franco, clearly the best thing in the whole film, and his fetish for money and guns and suddenly we find ourselves in a Spring Break rampage of death and destruction. Huffington Post called it "Scarface meets Britney Spears." I can't think of a better way to describe it.
The Bullet Vanishes - Crime/Mystery, Hong Kong - Very Sherlock or Poirot-esque murder mystery set in the 30s. Lots of twists, but it got a little confusing and annoying when they were obviously trying to point the finger at one character when you knew it wasn't him. My early guess was almost correct, just one connection out.
Robot and Frank - Comedy/Drama - I was hoping for a typical Sundance Comedy/Drama with a twist. I got a typical Sundance flick. It wasn't bad, but felt oddly well trodden.
Seven Psychopaths - Comedy/Crime - Pretty good, though I spent the whole film wondering what the point was, and it felt the whole "story within a story" angle could have held more potential. And as usual, Sam Rockwell was the best thing in it.
The Gene Generation - Action/Sci-Fi - Despite appearances, this was not a film from the 90s but one released in 2007. Yep, the budget really does tend to show on this one with CGI that looks like something worse than most video games of the time and that "cheap sheen" to the filmography that often seems to accompany straight-to-DVD flicks. But it wasn't actually all that bad; there was a plot which whilst with the odd hole, for the most part made sense and kept moving along nicely. The romantic element was thrown in almost in an obligatory fashion and didn't get in the way—I suspect it was mostly an excuse to get Bai Ling's tits out—and the dystopian setting, whilst obviously influenced by Blade Runner, gave the backdrop that same dingy atmosphere. No, it's not one of the classics of the genre. It's not going to do battle with Blade Runner, Dark City or Equilibrium, but nor is it the dreck of —*shudder*—Ultraviolet. For an action film, it needed more action; more high kicks and people flung off buildings. That's the big down side. The up side? Bai Ling. God damnit, no woman in her 40s should be this freakin' hawt.
Goon - Comedy - I had zero expectations for this film. The fact that I actually enjoyed it, even in some mild manner proves that it went beyond those expectations. Then again, I was hardly paying close attention which no doubt worked in its favour. Cheesy, generic romantic element and the whole finale that could be figured out a mile off, it does, at the very least, manage to include a couple of half decent gags around the basic premise of a guy punching people in the face.
Sister Street Fighter - Martial Arts/Action, Japanese - A classic 70s spin-off of the Street Fighter line of films with Sonny Chiba. For the most part it does what it says on the tin, with some good to mediocre action sequences and a plot that doesn't slow down. Whilst I'm reminded of how much I like the lack of shaky cam and the fact that the actors have to do all of their own stunts, the realistic and non-stylised form of action at times felt lacking in choreography and bloodshed. The plot is pretty damn cheesy - I'm talking "Dead or Alive" level of cheesy - and whilst I have no issue with this, the plot-holes are simply too difficult to ignore. Randomly appearing roses, teleporting from one location to another based on what I can only assume is to give the next fight a better looking backdrop, teleporting out of a danger and escaping the evil villain, not to mention a death sequence which seems to have no impact whatsoever, her turning up again a few minutes later as though nothing had happened. And yet, it's not quite so bad as to be accidentally hilarious (e.g. "Turkish Star Wars"). Flawed would be an understatement.
Ender's Game - Drama/Sci-Fi - A film I never thought would be made, anticipated and dreaded in the years the followed it's initial announcement. I worried they were going to turn it into an action film, but they didn't. I thought they were going to cock up the casting decisions, but they didn't. But all the best bits were never going to find their way into a PG-13 flick, surely. Except, they mostly did. I am impressed by his dedication to the original source material and the fanboy in me is relieved by what he managed to accomplish, but this isn't a "LotR" moment; he hasn't done the impossible, and the end result still comes with it's issues. In particular, the pacing is completely off. It should never have been a fast moving affair with much of the book diving into the psychological torment Ender is put through; the singling out and resentment from those surrounding him; the gradual and steady manner he has to prove himself time and time again, earning the respect of those surrounding him. He is broken down, crushed, abused and relentlessly tested, and it's only when a trust is formed between him and those that surround him that he's able to persevere. The minor characters thus play an important role, and instead we are given brief caricatures - ignoring all the characters that didn't even make it all; the Fly Molo's and Crazy Tom's - of otherwise detailed and complex relationships. Petra can aim; Bean's small; Peter's angry; Alai is Indian; Bonzo is arrogant; the list goes on. In order to try and cram everything in, so much is lost simply due to time constraints, relegated to small throwaway lines which is infuriating to watch as a fan, and must be downright nonsensical to those new. The standard toon formations never seen making his tactic without impact; the "special toon" he develops with Bean at the helm ignored with the only reference tossing a guy out on a rope coming out of the blue; the complete psychological meltdown he suffers from in command school squashed into a five second "argh." With all the hints at the events of the sequel thrown in, it teases that this is only the beginning of Ender's saga, and it just makes me wonder all the more, why the fuck wasn't this split into two films?
High School Girl Rika: Zombie Hunter - Action/Horror/Comedy, Japanese - With a name that long you know it's gonna be low budget trash but it was still surprisingly entertaining, involving death monologues about ice cream and the ultimate comeback to the heroines cries of "I'll kill you," the zombie pointing out that he's kinda already dead. Was hoping for a little more exploitation in the form of gore and gratuitous random nudity but all I got was a load of blood spurts and one scene where three maids randomly decided to get their tits out. Ah well.
Tai Chi 0 / Tai Chi Hero - Action/Sci-Fi, Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts flick in Steampunk land. Basically. First part was better than the second, but get over the cheesiness and it's surprisingly fun.
Total Recall (remake) - Action - Shit weren't that bad, people are just whining. I mean what were you expecting?
Hit and Run - Action/Comedy - Reminded me a little of a Starsky and Hutch type flick. Jokes were mostly tired and old, but it had some pretty cool moments.
End of Watch - Action/Crime/Drama - Training Day using "found footage" style film-making. With less of a point. I get he was trying to make a fictional documentary, but I kept waiting for something to kick off, and I was waiting a VERY long time.
Raze - Action/Horror - It doesn't take a genius to figure out the plot for this one: a bunch of women get abducted and are forced to kill each other for the amusement of spectators, the prize being their freedom. A film that revolves around attractive women punching each others faces until all that's left is a bloody pulp? Sweet, sign me up. Except, the fights are by and large really freakin' dull. Outside of the opening fight and the finalé that kicks off with a match-up we were waiting for from the start, there's maybe an hour of watching women cry and strangle each other. That's it. No plot, no variation, no character development, no twist ending. I gave not one shit for a single character. There's more character development and story to wrestling. This is a film billing itself as an exploitation flick filled with ultraviolence, and on that simple expectation it fails to deliver.
Dead Girl - Thriller/Horror - I'm not entirely sure what I expected from this film on reflection. It seemed like an interesting enough concept; the mystery of the biological experiment left forgotten in the remnants of a decaying hospital and the ensuing gradual unveiling of who she was; the delicate relationship between the two friends who discovered her and their opposing views battling one another as each tries to make the other see reason. None of that happened. We still have no idea who she is, except that she can't die, and their relationship ended up about a cliche as they come. But the icing on the cake? Never did it quite manage to rid itself of that immature teen tone, and whatever way you spin it, this is a film about kids fucking a dead girl.
Land of Hope - Drama, Japanese - Takeshi Miike can craft a masterpiece on a shoestring budget. Sion Sono, apparently, cannot. Hot on the heels of his success in "Himizu," he continues along similar lines to displaying the tragedy of post-tsunami Japan with the tragedy of post-Fukushima Japan; the infamous near-meltdown of the nuclear power station that occurred and the tragic consequences of the radiation that would be emitted. Unfortunately, everything about this film felt rushed and improperly thought out. Telling the tales of three couples in their plight; we have the young man evacuated with his girlfriend, travelling back despite the government quarantine to look for her parents amidst the post-tsunami rubble, as if to say "remember when I did this before and it was cool?" Then there's the middle-aged couple whose wife falls pregnant, evacuated once again, but falling prey to a fear of radiation when they learn that it's everywhere. Why yes it is, and it was there before us and will be there after us as well. And no, wearing a face mask and hanging up some bubble wrap isn't going to stop it. Then there's the elderly couple who refuse to move; the husband looking after his wife who hasn't formed a memory in forty years and is now quite positively nuts - the caring and patient manner he cares for her starts out subtle but builds as we learn more of their relationship and remains the one truly touching part of this film - but is continually pressured against his decision. He tries to bludgeon us with the message of "radiation is bad," but really ends up yelling "tsunami's are bad, paranoid obsessive phobia's are bad, and government forcing you to do shit is bad." Missing his mark quite thoroughly, this is probably one of his worst efforts.
Life of Pi - Adventure/Drama - Before watching this, I wondered how on earth they could make a film about a boy on a boat with a tiger interesting for an entire film. Answer? They don't. It's not dreadful, but you can tell so much of the book was philosophical in nature and the film... well it isn't. At all. Unless you count the occasional bit where the narrator goes "but what do you think? I think you should have left it the fuck alone Mr. Director man.
The Watch - Comedy/Sci-Fi - Looked a hell of a lot more amusing than it was. Commendations to the man who edited the trailer. The film director, not so much.
Horny House of Horror - Exploitation Horror, Japanese - I wasn't really expecting much from this low budget flick, and I didn't really get much from it either. Yeah, there was no shortage of nudity which is one half of the exploitation down, but the violence and gore was almost entirely left off camera with just the occasional bit of fake blood. It was kinda disappointing on that front. There is a plot, but there's not really much to it and it never gets in the way.
Fast Five - Action - I wanted a cheap and entertaining flick to turn my mind off to. This didn't exactly do the trick. The acting was nothing short of appalling, with screen time devoted to a plethora of new characters who, except for Ludacris who actually managed to inject a little humour to the deadpan serious one-dimensional typecast roles, do nothing. At all. I mean who am I meant to care about? Vince who is told to fuck off then comes back and all is suddenly forgiven? How about the beautiful woman whose personality is that... errr... she can flirt with guys to get them to do things? Oh, I know, the Japanese guy whose specialty is to "blend in," because... y'know... all Asians look alike? When professional actors are being outdone by ex-wrestlers, there's a problem. Even though the characters have the personalities of a fruit salad, the premise still spends far too long to really set up. It takes the better part of an hour before you really see where it's all heading for all the bro-union crap going on. Oh look! Vince and Paul Walker still don't like each other and start shit like children on a school playground! I mean really? Then there's the plot-holes; Dom using the power of his mind to break steel, magically appearing safe vaults and small cars somehow being capable of moving said vault (which I think they said was meant to be 10 tonnes or something?) But at least for a film about cars, there are- wait, what happened to all the cars?
Ted - Comedy - Well wasn't this a huge disappointment. The joke is that a teddy bear does stuff you wouldn't expect - which very quickly wears off - filled out to 90 minutes with a bland romantic element. Ridiculously clichéd and only one joke does not make for a good film.
This is The End - Comedy - For a film with such a name, the whole thing sure does drag on like a bitch. I suppose I'd have to call it a comedy but in reality it doesn't contain anything that could really be called a joke. This is a film with the promise of an apocalyptic theme that actually translates to an eternity spent with James Franco and three ordinary guys who seem to be considered comedy gods for being utterly benign, all locked in a house telling anecdotes that open with "remember when" (no, I don't fucktard because I wasn't there) and smoking the occasional joint. Calling them actors feels like a kindness. They got stoned and recorded their conversation. If I had to guess, I'd say it took two hours before anything really happened with the whole "end of the world" thing, which is strange as the film only lasted 1hr45. Nonetheless, after an eternity we see some shitty CGI and find out they need to be nice guys to be offered salvation and go to heaven. Alright, so it redeems itself little here because something actually fucking happens, but I stopped caring by this point. This had to be a personal project because I can't imagine a studio actually green lighting a script that mostly involved some friends sitting around and talking about events the viewer cant share in. Call up some buddies to have an "all star cast" and bam. Shitty cash cow.
BBS: The Silent Code - Drama, Hong Kong - Dear God. What a load of shite this was. It was worse than Painted Skin 2; it's awful on a near-incomprehensible level. You know you're in for trouble when they first decide to jazz up forum flame wars with badly animated Mecha battles; when they show a giant "Iron Man" as the moderator and so on. And then there's the laughable "hacking" scenes and the plot revolving a board mod who gets so depressed when they call her ugly that she ends up trying to off herself. I mean, just... wow.
Painted Skin: The Resurrection - Fantasy/Mystery/Romance, Hong Kong - Was expecting some sort of Crouching Tiger type Action flick. Ended up being more of a Romantic Drama with demons. The Sparrow demon and the incompetent Demon Hunter side-story was pretty cute, but otherwise fairly bad.
With the advent of my writing being concentrated on other efforts but the desire to still keep some sort of record of the films I've watched, I present the living list. Some may come with a very brief reason, many may just be listed according to the rating I gave them.
An offshoot from the Lifer Review Room, this is a place for the film critics to congregate.
All reviews are handled by resident Lifers, and credit is given on all posts.
1/5 - This is really bloody awful
2/5 - This was below average
3/5 - This was above average
4/5 - This was pretty darn good.
5/5 - I cannot fault this epitome of perfection.
- ► 2012 (42)
- ► 2011 (105)
- ► 2010 (121)