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  • Ring of Bright Water 1969

    ★★★★ Watched 16 Jul, 2014

    My mustelid-loving heart skipped a beat or two, and I fell hard for this absolutely lovely movie. It is, unavoidably, otter-ly delightful! Big, goofy grins, all around!

  • Transcendence 2014

    ★★★ Watched 13 Jul, 2014

    I'm surprised by the level of vehement disdain cinematographer Wally Pfister's directorial debut has been met with, but then again, perhaps it explains its reception with a line a dialog: "People always fear what they don't understand." To be sure, Transcendence is not a great movie, but it's also not the awful failure word of mouth has proclaimed it as.

    A science fiction movie about ideas – a rare beast in this day and age of the genre mostly being…

  • Shark Hunter 2001

    ½ Watched 08 Jul, 2014

    If I cared about any of the characters, I'd say this cheapo shark flick was a pretty bleak affair. However, since I mostly wavered between outright hatred and complete indifference towards them, their various demises throughout Shark Hunter barely registered with me.

    Antonio Sabato Jr. "stars" as the scientist with a Batman-complex ("My parents are deeeeeeeeeeeeead!"), out for revenge against the megalodon who offed his parents and their sailboat a decade or two ago. With him in the hunt for…

  • Samurai Reincarnation 1981

    ★★½ Watched 29 Jun, 2014

    Sonny Chiba as the legendary Yagyū Jūbei, fighting the demonic reincarnations of his father, Christian rebel Amakusa Shirō, even Miyamoto Musashi himself, and others, sounds pretty spectacular on paper.

    In reality, Makai Tensho: Samurai Reincarnation is a bore, favoring endless monologuing and a sluggish pace over the full throttle filmmaking director Kinji Fukasaku was known for. My attention kept flagging throughout, and at over two hours, the movie was honestly a genuine chore to get through.

    The occasional strong image…

  • The Raid 2 2014

    ★★★½ Watched 24 Jun, 2014

    With two increasingly successful martial movies under his belt, Welsh director Gareth Evans is back with a third, improbably making even further inroads into the world of Indonesian action cinema.

    The Raid 2: Berandal picks up the thread shortly after the events of The Raid: Redemption. Ass-kicking cop Rama (the ever stone-faced Iko Uwais), hero and one of the few survivors of the first movie, is drafted by a covert section of the police to go undercover and root out…

  • Under the Skin 2013

    ★★★★ Watched 25 Jun, 2014

    Essentially Species for the arthouse crowd, Under the Skin is a tense and atmospheric thriller, light on plot, heavy on mood. Scarlett Johansson delivers an excellent, understated performance as the alien who cruises the streets of Scotland for single men – the victims she lures back to her death trap, for purposes beautifully abstracted and left up to the imagination by the movie (something apparently explained more explicitly in the source novel this is loosely adapted from).

    A handsome movie…

  • Yona Yona Penguin 2009

    ★½ Watched 25 Jun, 2014

    Yona Yona Penguin is a disappointment. Madhouse's first foray into the world of 3D CG animation has the look and feel of a console RPG, stripped of player control.

    Coco, a penguin-obsessed little girl, is spirited away by goblins, to help them overcome an ancient evil that has taken over their lands. Which she after a bit of plot deliberation unwittingly proceeds to do, of course.

    Milquetoast and simplistic in both message and execution, the movie is clearly aimed at…

  • The Story of Yanagawa's Canals 1987

    ★★★½ Watched 18 Jun, 2014

    An exhaustive and – frankly, clocking in at nearly three hours – exhausting documentary, The Story of Yanagawa’s Canals teaches us seemingly everything there is to know about the Kyūshū town of Yanagawa, and its city-spanning network of canals.

    Directed by Isao Takahata and executive produced by Hayao Miyazaki, inbetween production of Laputa and Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies, the movie progresses at a leisurely pace, much like the river and canals it documents. Opening with a tourist-friendly travelogue…

  • The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness 2013

    ★★★★ Watched 17 Jun, 2014

    By no means the first documentary to take on Studio Ghibli, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness is however one of the better ones. Ostensibly focusing on the powerful trio behind the studio – directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, and producer Toshio Suzuki – in reality it’s primarily a one-man show. Miyazaki is invariably the biggest draw for most audiences, and the movie puts him front and center, with Suzuki as the ever cheerful supporting cast, and Takahata relegated…

  • Lessons from a Calf 1991

    ★★★★ Watched 07 Jun, 2014

    The hour-long Lessons from a Calf marks the beginning of Hirokazu Koreeda’s career as a director. Made on the sly while he was toiling away as a lowly assistant director at TV Man Union, the observational doc tells the story of a class of fifth graders at Ina Elementary – an adventurous school in the Nagano prefecture – and their efforts to raise a calf from adolescence to adulthood.

    This hands-on approach to learning inspires the children organically to delve…

  • Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants 2013

    ★★★½ Watched 30 May, 2014

    The highly amusing Minuscule series makes the leap from the small screen to the big one, both gaining and losing something in the process. The basic concept is easily explained: caricatured cgi insects, arachnids and other small creatures are superimposed on live-action background plates, and embellished with humorously expressionistic foley effects. Short and fast-paced, the original series was a lot of fun in appropriate portions. Would the concept translate successfully to longform? Yes and no.

    Unlike its shorter predecessors, Minuscule:…

  • I, Frankenstein 2014

    ★★ Watched 19 May, 2014

    I don't remember there being quite so many exploding cgi demons in the Shelley novel...

    Opening with the unmistakable sound of Lisa Gerrard's voice, I was immediately interested – Dead Can Dance is by far my favorite band – but it quickly turned out to be a hollow promise. Gerrard is merely credited with "vocal performances", and did not write the entirely generic music, that surrounds this throwaway gothic superhero rewriting of the Shelley story. Perhaps it's for the best.…