Yellow Earth

Also known as
Huang Tu Di
Specifics
China [1984] - 89m
Genre
Drama, Music
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Yellow Earth poster

Kaige Chen is a director whose career got off to a rough start. Part of China's 5th Generation, his early work lacks the finesse of fellow director Yimou Zhang and is easily categorized as a bland and depressing arthouse drama. Yellow Earth is another film about the Chinese revolutionaries, full of poverty-stricken rural vistas and shrill Chinese folk songs.

Yellow Earth is a widely celebrated film of course, everyone in the West loves it when China portrays itself as a nation full of country bumpkins who are trailing at least one century behind Western civilization. I've grown tired of these films and without the stylistic prowess of his contemporaries, there's just very little here for me.

Performances are mediocre, the soundtrack is a struggle and the landscape photography isn't as nice as it should've been. The entire film ends up being a test of patience, with only a handful moments that break free from its depressing reigns. At least it's not too long, but I prefer Chen's more recent output.

Samurai Kids

by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Also known as
Mizu no Tabibito: Samurai Kizzu
Specifics
Japan [1993] - 106m
Genre
Adventure
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Samurai Kids poster

Delve a bit deeper into Ôbayashi's oeuvre and you'll soon find out that he made quite a few films aimed at younger audiences. Samurai Kids is such a film, though luckily it retains Ôbayashi's distinctive style, so if you're a fan of his weirder output you shouldn't worry too much about this being a complete dud.

The film follows Satoru, a young kid who finds a miniature samurai along the river banks. The samurai isn't doing too well after being exposed to the polluted river water. Satoru decides to take care of him, but a pesky raven is tailing the samurai and keeping him hidden from his parents also proves to be quite a challenge.

Don't expect technical excellence, instead Ôbayashi aims for charm, with some fun stop motion scenes, plenty of odd camera angles and hyperactive camera work. It's a bit weird to see this in a children's film, but it does a good job of setting it apart from its peers. A fun an amusing diversion, though not his best work.

Special Actors

by Shin'ichirô Ueda
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 119m
Genre
Comedy, Mystery
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Special Actors poster

Ueda's One Cut of the Dead wasn't a personal favorite, but it was a spirited and original attempt to revitalize the zombie genre. It had one of the best reveals in recent years, which helped it overcome its no-budget roots. While its runaway success was definitely earned, it left Ueda with a serious challenge for his second film.

Repeat the same trick and it would feel derivative, make a more straightforward film and his limited cinematic prowess would get in the way. Special Actors tries to do a bit of both, but in the end the film's a bit too transparent and ends up a decent but middle-of-the-road attempt to repeat his earlier success.

Ueda can't hide the film's lack of budget and performances are mediocre across the board. The plot is pretty decent though, about a young kid who joins a company of actors who are deployed in real life in order to solve people's issues. Special Actors isn't terrible, but it's too long, too simple and it lacks distinctive qualities.

Mommy

by Xavier Dolan
Specifics
Canada [2014] - 139m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Mommy poster

My first Dolan is a disappointment. A lot has been said about the 1:1 ratio, personally I felt it didn't deliver on its promise (i.e. bringing the audience closer to the characters while making the film feel more claustrophobic), instead it just made it look uglier. It was a 130-minute distraction, but hardly the worst part of Mommy.

This was the kind of social drama that reminded me of the Dardenne films. Everything and everyone is made to appear as drab and unattractive as possible. The characters are in a constant shouting match with each other, drama is the norm and whenever the film allows for some pleasantness, you can be sure it ends up being a daydream.

The performances are extremely over-the-top, the characters are grating and annoying. The few moments Dolan forces them to shut up are by far the best scenes of the film. The soundtrack is also painfully bad, a worst off pop music that just adds insult to injury. Some consider Dolan to be the future of cinema, Mommy to me felt like a film made by some 50-year-old director.

Guns Akimbo

by Jason Lei Howden
Specifics
UK, New Zealand [2019] - 98m
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Guns Akimbo poster

Hilarious, zany and pleasantly over-the-top. Guns Akimbo isn't the most original of films and often wears its influences on its sleeves, but there aren't many action films like this, so it's really hard to fault the film for it when the execution is so precise and on point. Weaving and Radcliffe are awesome, the cinematography is insane and the pacing/runtime is perfect. A true adrenaline rush.

Annie

by John Huston
Specifics
USA [1982] - 127m
Genre
Musical, Family
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Annie poster

Pretty certain I'd seen this film before, at least parts of it. Maybe I just imagined it though, the film's theme song is so ubiquitous that it's almost impossible to go in fresh. Whatever the case, I didn't recognize many of the specifics, so apart from some familiar songs and a general idea of Annie's character, it was like seeing the film for the first time.

Aileen Quinn's Annie is the star of the show, at least if you can appreciate the smug, Hollywood-cheese that drips from her performance. It's not easy feeling for a character that appears fake as a cardboard and annoys from start to finish. And it's not like her singing voice is a saving grace either.

The music and songs are pretty terrible, the cinematography is poor for a musical and with a runtime over 2 hours it's a real test of patience. Not that I'm a big fan of Huston's older work, but at least he was visibly comfortable directing darker, noirish films. Annie turned out to be a pretty dire and unattractive musical.

Sorry to Bother You

by Boots Riley
Specifics
USA [2018] - 112m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Sorry to Bother You poster

Sorry to Bother You wasn't released that long ago, but it's already building up a healthy a cult reputation, deservedly so. Director Boots Riley had trouble getting his film proper distribution, luckily word-of-mouth advertising on the web made sure that this one didn't just slip through the cracks.

While it starts off relatively subtle, the film becomes increasingly weirder and the final half hour is pretty damn absurd (though often by being quite literal). Saying too much would spoil the surprise, but it's safe to say that Riley's vision is completely unique, the film industry could use more people like him.

Stanfield's performance is amazing, the social critique is abundantly present but doesn't bog the film down, there's some fun visual trickery and the soundtrack is on point. Even so, some small but vital part is missing to make this truly great, though I'm certain Riley will get there if he gets a second chance. While it stops just short of being a masterpiece, this is definitely worth a try if you like films that are different from the norm.

The Philadelphia Story

by George Cukor
Specifics
USA [1940] - 112m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Philadelphia Story poster

It took me a while before I realized this was the blueprint for High Society, one of the more decent classics I've seen so far. The story isn't all that unique of course (two guys fighting over a girl), but after some of the details were revealed it was obvious I was watching more or less the same film.

High Society was decent because of its charming cast. Sinatra, Crosby and to a lesser extent Kelly made the constant banter amusing and fun to follow. Grant, Stewart and Hepburn on the other hand are completely unfit for the task. Wooden performances, uncomfortable dialogues and complete lack of charm sink this film.

Though director Cukor also bears some of the responsibility, as the direction feels flat and lifeless. In the end I couldn't care less about these characters. The comedy doesn't shine through, the film looks way too functional and at 110 minutes it's at least half an hour too long. Not good, they made the right choice remaking this one.

The Fate of the Furious

by F. Gary Gray
Specifics
Japan, USA [2017] - 136m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Fate of the Furious poster

While I'm not the biggest fan of the series, I must give credit where due. The people behind the franchise have been pretty consistently besting themselves with each new entry in the series. That's not a given (just look at all those 80s horror franchises), especially when you're already 8 films in.

I will say that "besting" is pretty much limited to making the action bigger, crazier and more explosive. If you want serious character development, a solid plot or engrossing drama you better look elsewhere. If on the other hand you're content with some of the best action scenes ever put on screen, F8 has you covered.

The cast does a decent job, though mostly because their characters are tailored to their own personas. The introduction is a bit long and Theron is a disappointing villain, but once the car action begins that's all quickly forgotten. The film doesn't really slow down after that and the finale is one of the best in the series so far. Good fun.

Burning

by Chang-dong Lee
Also known as
Beoning
Specifics
Japan, South Korea [2018] - 148m
Genre
Drama, Mystery
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Burning poster

What could've been a decent mystery, is dragged down by its somewhat plain and unimaginative arthouse execution. The plot is interesting enough, but Lee drags out every scene to its breaking point. When it works the result is magical, more often it fails and the film becomes unbearable.

Jong-su, an aspiring writer working as a delivery guy, runs into Hae-mi, an old friend. The two hit it off, and he promises her to take care of her cat while she's away on holiday. When she returns she introduces him to Ben, a well off, confident guy who seems to share a special bond with Hae-mi. When Hae-mi suddenly disappears again, Jong-su suspects Ben.

There's an uneasy atmosphere that lingers from the very start. It's pretty clear that something is off, but it's hard to tell what it is exactly. The film itself is also sparse with information and the ending leaves plenty of loose ends. While that's all nice and interesting, the pacing is just too slow and neither the mystery nor the audiovisual qualities are strong enough to cover it up. A bit disappointing.

The Bling Ring

by Sofia Coppola
Specifics
Japan, USA [2013] - 90m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Bling Ring poster

I'm not a big Sofia Coppola fan, so this film was a pretty pleasant surprise. The Bling Ring is based on a true story about a group of Californian youngsters who invade celebrity houses when they're away from home. When they're there, they steal just the right amount of bling, so their victims won't even notice anyone's been in their home. Call it the nihilistic version of Robin Hood.

The film makes an interesting point on how the media idolizes both celebrity lifestyles and the people who rob from them for their own gain. As long as is it glitters, the media and the public will love it. It's also a coming of age story focused on the rich and the famous, the kids who are so pampered they grow up feeling they can get away with everything.

Coppola's direction is on point. The social media lifestyle, a soundtrack filled with appropriate party music and performances that perfectly capture the greed, nihilism, but also the rebellion and freedom of the characters. It's a tight, compact, fun and poignant little film, which sadly is a bit too contemporary to appeal to a large audience. I wouldn't be surprised if this film is going to be looked at with different eyes a few decades from now though.

Lady Bird

by Greta Gerwig
Specifics
USA [2017] - 94m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Lady Bird poster

Gerwig's coming of age drama garnered a lot of critical acclaim, for the most part I found it quite dull and predictable, sporting very unpleasant and uninteresting characters who simple go through the motions that are inherent to the genre. That is to say, it was exactly what I expected it to be.

The entire film hinges on Christine's character. She calls herself "Lady Bird" though, that and the fact she grows up in a rather traditional American family is probably all you need to know to fill in the remaining blanks. Some generic drama between Christine and her mom ensues, but I can't say I really cared.

Ronan at least tried her best to make something of it, but she can't rise above her character. The rest of the cast is pretty basic, the film feels timeless (which is extremely odd for a coming of age drama) and the styling is bland. The decent pacing and the short runtime are pretty much the only things saving this film from complete damnation.

Johnny Mnemonic

by Robert Longo
Specifics
Canada, USA [1995] - 96m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Johnny Mnemonic poster

I actually liked this film when I was younger. It was one of the first times I saw Kitano (though didn't really "know" him back then), and I remembered it as a pretty interesting cyberpunk flick with some surprising anime influences. One thing is certain: Johnny Mnemonic didn't preserve very well, watching it back now, it's an extremely cheap and dated affair.

It's not a big surprise that the director didn't make any more films after this one. The effects are absolutely ridiculous, the performances are beyond camp and the sets look like Longo himself made them in his backyard (or in MS Paint, for the digital ones). Add a wooden Reeves, a faltering Lundgren and Kitano who tries to mutter English dialogue and you have a recipe for disaster.

The film's only saving grace is that it goes all in. Longo clearly believed in this film and introduces some pretty far out ideas, including a cybernetic dolphin and a killer monk. It's a big mess and it's really not a good film, but it's so stupendously cheesy that I still had a bit of fun watching Johnny Mnemonic unfold.

Blazing Saddles

by Mel Brooks
Specifics
USA [1974] - 93m
Genre
Comedy, Western
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Blazing Saddles poster

One of the main reasons I don't like westerns is because they're so damn serious, so I figured a comedy western might be more up my alley. I'm not a big Mel Brooks fan though, on the other hand there aren't that many comedy westerns to choose from, so I figured I'd just give Blazing Saddles a chance.

Like most other Brooks films I've seen, the comedy just doesn't do enough for me. It's not that I don't like Brooks' style, he is after all a major influence on the likes of Naked Gun and Hot Shots, it's just that the jokes feel a bit simplistic, and they're too few and far between for this type of comedy.

There are a handful of funny moments here, mostly when they're breaching the fourth wall or just being completely daft, but the scenes in between the jokes are pretty dire and when they don't land, there's really very little that kept me interested. Blazing Saddles is slightly better than an average western, but that's not saying much.

Dear Ex

by Chih-Yen Hsu, Mag Hsu
Also known as
Shei Xian Ai Shang Ta De
Specifics
Taiwan [2018] - 100m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Dear Ex poster

A decent drama, though a bit too by the numbers. I don't necessarily mind gay-themed dramas and I'm also aware some countries are still struggling more than others with sexual preference, but the films tackling this particular subject always end up being very similar to each other.

The main selling point of Dear Ex is the cinematography, which is definitely a step up from its peers. The beautiful colors and strong camera work really stand out, then again this is a Taiwanese film, so I'm not that surprised. The soundtrack is pretty nice too, though not quite as distinguished.

The story revolves around the clash between a man's ex-wife and his gay lover. When the man dies his inheritance goes to his lover, not his son, which angers his ex-wife. Through a series of flashbacks, the entire backstory is revealed, though sadly it's all quite predictable and the dramatic impact isn't as big as I'd hoped. It's not a bad film, just a little too familiar.

Con Air

by Simon West
Specifics
USA [1997] - 115m
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Con Air poster

Con Air is one of the quintessential action films of the 90s. It's one of those films that most people have seen at one time or another, present company included, though that was well before I became serious about film. I didn't expect too much from this revision, turns out it's actually a pretty decent watch.

At least, when you're in the mood for some simple, over-the-top action antics. Con Air isn't to be taken serious, though that's hardly a big surprise with Nicolas Cage headlining the film. I would even go as far as to say it's exactly what makes this film bearable, a more serious approach would've sucked the fun right out of it.

Crazy characters, random explosions and a solid mix of action and thriller elements are the main ingredients here. The film's a bit long maybe, but West makes sure it never slows down too much. John Malkovich also deserves a bit of praise for his part as the bad guy, apart from that there's not much to say about Con Air. A decent action flick, nothing more, nothing less.

Anne of Green Gables: Road to Green Gables

by Isao Takahata
Also known as
Akage no An: Gurîn Gêburuzu E no Michi
Specifics
Japan [2010] - 100m
Genre
Drama, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Anne of Green Gables: Road to Green Gables poster

Not really a 2010 film, instead it's a compilation/rework of the first 6 episodes of the original TV series (1979), which lists Takahata as series director. Just to say that you shouldn't expect a modern Ghibli-like Takahata, but an early 80s TV anime with strong Western influences, recut to resemble a feature film.

I'm not familiar with the original Montgomery novel, nor with the original anime adaptation, but I've seen plenty of similar series on Dutch TV when I was younger. The style is very typical, charming but rather basic, with a clear love for rural environments and traditional values.

The animation is basic, but there are some dream-like sequences that rise well above expected TV quality. Anne is also a fun character. Quite chatty and a little exhausting, but her inquisitive outlook on life is refreshing. The film is a too slow though, with hardly anything happening within these 100 minutes. It's not bad, but it's clear the pacing is better suited for a TV series than a feature film.

Boy A

by John Crowley
Specifics
UK [2007] - 102m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Boy A poster

A solid British drama about a young kid who has to integrate back into society after spending time in jail. The nature of his crimes aren't immediately revealed, instead Crowley focuses on the steps he goes through to start his life anew. He takes on a new identity, moves to a new city and starts a new job.

Having spent a long time in prison comes with its own set of challenges. Jack lacks social skills, isn't up to speed on technological advancements and doesn't even know how to behave around girls. A woman at his job fancies him though, and she is willing to put in the extra effort.

Crowley delivers a decent drama. Performances are solid, the flashbacks to the jack's crime add some welcome tension and even though the plot is a little predictable (it's no spoiler that people will find out about his old identity), it doesn't really weaken the emotional impact. Nothing too exceptional, but good filler.

Tootsie

by Sydney Pollack
Specifics
USA [1982] - 116m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Tootsie poster

Cross-dressing comedies really aren't my favorite niche. It's not the cross-dressing itself that bugs me, rather the tired and predictable comedy that comes with it. Mix it with a basic romance and apparently you have one of the greatest films of all time. Not sure how and where Tootsie found its critical acclaim, but it's time for a revision.

Dustin Hoffman plays a talented but overly demanding actor who can't get a decent part anymore. Desperate as he is, he dresses up as a woman and lands a job in no time. He falls in love with the character he created, but when he starts making friends the situation becomes quite complicated.

There's some (rather obvious) subtext on how women are often treated as second rate citizens (both on the job and privately), but in the end Tootsie is little more than a basic romantic comedy. The film looks pretty bland, performances are unremarkable and the plot is very predictable, no idea why some people got so excited over this film.

Toss Me a Dime

by Fernando Birri
Also known as
Tire Dié
Specifics
Argentina [1960] - 33m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Toss Me a Dime poster

It seems many of the well-regarded, classic documentaries are mostly about the same thing: people in peril, people having to deal with poverty, social injustice and overall tough living conditions. Enter Toss Me a Dime, the Argentinian entry in this category. The title of the film says it all really.

After a short (somewhat pointless introduction) on Santa Fe - the city where this takes place - the documentary quickly shifts focus to the people living in the Tire Dié neighborhood (meaning 'throw me 10 cents'). It what they shout whenever a train passes in their quarters, as the people living there are all struggling with poverty.

Using a mix of voice over narration and interviews, the film gives a pretty decent insight into the lives of the people surviving there. The thing is that I've seen this subject done so many times before, that there's really little value in seeing it once again. Sure enough, this doc is about Argentina, but it could've been about anywhere else really.

Monster Hunt 2

by Raman Hui
Also known as
Zhuo Yao Ji 2
Specifics
China [2018] - 110m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Monster Hunt 2 poster

Considering the success of the first film, I'm not surprised the sequel didn't take too long to materialize. Raman Hui returns as director, so does the core of the primary cast. The only big surprise there is that they actually managed to convince Tony Leung Chiu-Wai to take up the lead role, that's quite an upgrade for a film of this stature.

The concept of the film hasn't changed a bit. Monster Hunt 2 is a pleasant mix of comedy, fantasy, action and adventure, blending whatever is popular and draws people to the movie theater. Hui keeps a pretty decent balance though, making sure that no genre drowns out another.

Sadly the biggest problem is still here. The monsters/creatures look like generic, unattractive big blobs of CG. It's definitely a stylistic choice, because technically the CG isn't all that bad, and they blend in with the real world well enough. It's just that design-wise they look like a toddler crafted them. Monster Hunt 2 is more of the same, which makes it a decent blockbuster, but nothing more.

Happy Ghost

by Clifton Ko
Also known as
Hoi Sam Gwai
Specifics
Hong Kong [1984] - 96m
Genre
Comedy, Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Happy Ghost poster

A typical but underperforming Clifton Ko comedy. The titular character may be an actual ghost, but don't expect any serious horror elements here. Happy Ghost (what's in a name) is a full-blown romantic comedy. It's not quite as crazy as I'd hoped, and when Ko doesn't go full in on the comedy his films tend to be a bit bland.

A group of young girls run into a ghost on a camping trip. Lucky for them it's a friendly ghost, who decides to help them with their everyday trials and tribulations. That means school dances, exams, bullying and of course, boys. Not really the most inspired plot and Ko tackles it with a straight face, which wasn't the best of ideas.

Performances are poor, the structure is rather fragmented and the wayward drama feels unnecessary. The film is fun for a while (the first 30 minutes or so), after that it becomes dull and repetitive. A somewhat disappointing Ko that needed to be a lot crazier to be actually funny. Quite the dud.

Backcountry

by Adam MacDonald
Specifics
Canada [2014] - 92m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Backcountry poster

When a film starts with people driving off for a weekend of camping, a few scenarios are possible. Either we'll be dealing with degenerate hillbillies, disgruntled and reclusive hunters or wild animals. Backcountry picks the latter, which inevitable means it's more of a thriller than a straight-up horror film.

I quite like the camping/animal attack niche. The better films in the genre tend to do a good job at getting that feeling or remoteness and helplessness across. In combination with some mad/dangerous animals, it usually makes for 90 minutes of simple but amusing entertainment.

Adam MacDonald does a pretty good job. The introduction is a tad long (and a little misleading, which doesn't leave that much time for the actual animal attacks) and the ending is a bit too convenient, but the setting is nice, actors are decent and there's more than enough tension to get through the 90 minutes without a hitch. Add a few gruesome injuries and you can't really go wrong with this one.

Stuart Little 2

by Rob Minkoff
Specifics
USA [2002] - 77m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Stuart Little 2 poster

Pretty much on par with the first film. That means it's a little better than most US CG animations of that time, but hardly worth recommending, unless you're looking for an age-appropriate film to show your toddlers. Apart from that, I think the target audience for this film is pretty narrow.

Stuart and his brother George are slowly growing apart. George has made friends of his own, which leaves Stuart without anyone to play with. Until he meets a bird (an actual one, though she's also female), who literally drops into his little car. The two hit it off, but the bird is hiding a secret.

The animation is cute, the designs and colorful and charming, but the rest of it is extremely safe, mushy and clean, to the point where it can get a little sickening. Characters are dull, Stuart's adventures are quite lame and the drama is way too geared at US morality. It's decent for the little ones, I like a bit more edge, even if it's just children's entertainment.

Cherry Blossoms

by Doris Dörrie
Also known as
Kirschblüten - Hanami
Specifics
Germany [2008] - 127m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Cherry Blossoms poster

A film with some serious ups and downs. Director Dörrie didn't make it easy on herself when she decides to mix a dramatic story on love and mourning with a Japanese travel vlog. The strict, rather dry German vibes don't gel too well with Japanese culture, which makes for a tricky blend of two worlds colliding.

The first part is spent in Germany, where Trudi finds out her husband suffers from an advanced stage of cancer. Unable to tell him directly, she pushes him it's time to take some time off together. They go to visit their children in Berlin, but they are living their own lives and don't quite understand this sudden visit of their parents.

The second part is set in Japan and is more focused on mourning. There are some very poignant and beautiful scenes hidden away here, but not everything works and some moments feel a bit too construed and emotionally dishonest. Nice performances, decent cinematography and a fine ending make sure the good prevails in the end though.

Replicas

by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Specifics
USA, China [2018] - 107m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Replicas poster

A Keanu Reeves vehicle that feels like it was released 20 years ago, rather than 2. It's a pretty ho-hum sci-fi flick that reiterates the moral issues around cloning and ends up being a rather basic thriller, simply because it doesn't have much interesting insights to add to the issues it brings up.

Reeves is back to his wooden self, though the rest of the cast isn't any better. The setup is very transparent and introduces a plot without any surprising revelations or novel twists and turns. There's a little action, some cheesy and borderline outdated sci-fi concepts and a bit of poorly executed drama, none of it very impressive.

Director Nachmanoff feels lost, Reeves was probably disappointed he didn't pick a better film and not even the holographic UI designer appeared to be out of fresh ideas. This might've been decent two decades ago, but nowadays the execution here simply doesn't cut it anymore. It's still somewhat amusing in a daft/cheesy kind of way, but it's not enough to safe this film.

The Island Closest to Heaven

by Nobuhiko Ôbayashi
Also known as
Tengoku ni Ichiban Chikai Shima
Specifics
Japan [1984] - 102m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Island Closest to Heaven poster

Not really the kind of film I'd expected from Obayashi. The Island Closest to Heaven is a rather chirpy and upbeat drama, a film that sometimes feels like a travel documentary/advertisement. Most of the film is set in New Caledonia, a group of French islands to the east of Australia which prove to be quite photogenic.

Keiko, a young woman, travels to the islands all by herself. It's the first big journey she undertakes on her own, as she's looking for a little white island that is supposedly the place where God descends if you want to talk to him. Keiko is part of a travel group, but she quickly separates from them and ventures off to explore on her own.

New Caledonia is a pretty pristine and idyllic place, Obayashi makes excellent use of the natural beauty to give his film some extra flair. The performances are rather weak though, the drama can get a little saccharine and Keiko's quest feels a little random. But most importantly, non of the Obayashi quirk that makes his film stand out. It's not bad, but it started to feel a little dated.

Les Vampires

by Louis Feuillade
Specifics
France [1915] - 421m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Les Vampires poster

Probably the oldest crime film I've seen so far. I say film, but it's really a serial as it consists of 10 episodes of various lengths. It's a welcome structure for those who want to break up this 7-hour long experience, 420 minutes really is a bit much (let's call that an understatement) for the material at hand.

I've seen other lengthy classics before (like Gance's Napoléon), but at least they made a real effort to stand out. Les Vampires is just a 7-hour long crime narrative, with few ups and down, little cinematic prowess and simply a ton of plot to wade through. Oh, and don't expect any Gothic horror creatures either, Les Vampires is merely the name of the criminal gang.

The runtime is simply ridiculous, then again I'm not a big fan of series either. Watching this from start to finish was quite a chore, especially because the story is way too basic (it's only epic in length) and the cinematic qualities are below par. No doubt the film has historic significance, but that's not enough considering the excessive runtime.

American Honey

by Andrea Arnold
Specifics
USA, UK [2016] - 163m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
American Honey poster

Arnold doing her thing in America. It's a bit weird maybe to see a British director tackling American youth culture so head-on, but Arnold has a real knack for this kind of material, and she once again sculpts a pretty interesting picture with at least a handful of memorable scenes.

Arnold follows Star, a young woman stuck with an abusive family and three younger siblings to take care of. One day she runs into a group of travelling kids who move around and sell magazines for a living. She decides it's time for her to pack her bags and start living her own life, so she joins the group, and they're off to Kansas.

The soundtrack is pretty decent but a little on the nose, the aspect ratio is distracting (I get the reasoning, it just doesn't work for me) and the film can't really sustain its runtime. But there are also plenty of moment with beauty. The cinematography is fine, characters feel realistic and there are a couple strong performances to enjoy. A solid film, though not the masterpiece some make it out to be.

Deep Dark

by Michael Medaglia
Specifics
USA [2015] - 79m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
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rating
2.0*/5.0*
Deep Dark poster

A film with potential, but writer/director Michael Medaglia doesn't make it easy for himself. The premise of the film is rather interesting, but it's one of those films where a lot hinges on the execution and Medaglia isn't skilled enough to hide Deep Dark's low-budget roots, which is its undoing.

A struggling artist finally gets a break when a hole in the wall becomes his muse. It's not just a regular hole though, it has its own voice, hopes and dreams. Quite mysterious indeed, but also rather silly, so you need a solid foundation of capable actors and strong audiovisual qualities to keep the mystery going.

That's where Deep Dark falls flat. Performances are rather poor and the film looks and sounds quite cheap. There are a couple of half-decent scenes and there's enough intrigue to reach the end of the film without too much trouble, but ultimately it's really not convincing enough to make it work.

Sputnik

by Egor Abramenko
Specifics
Russia [2020] - 113m
Genre
Sci-fi, Horror
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rating
3.5*/5.0*
Sputnik poster

A fine mix of horror and sci-fi, with a serious dash of oldskool Sovjet aesthetics. The Orbita 4 mission return home with an extra visitor, a creature that feeds on his host while growing more independent of him by the day. Renegade doctor Klimova is summoned to help out with the examination of this strange and hostile alien.

Russia is doing a good job pushing genre films nowadays. The horror and sci-fi genres are thriving and Egor Abramenko was smart enough to combine the two. There's a bit of Alien and Apollo 18 in there, though the film itself is a bit slower and slightly more focused on the psychological aspects.

Performances are fine (but please watch the original Russian dub), special effects are on point, the soundtrack is quite majestic and the stark, clean Sovjet architecture gives it a some extra flair. At times a bit too slow and the ending could've been slightly better, but overall a very good genre film.