Cool Runnings

by Jon Turteltaub
Specifics
USA [1993] - 98m
Genre
Comedy, Sport
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Cool Runnings poster

One of those films I watched as a kid but have never revisited since. It was a popular film back then, though looking back it's difficult to see why. It's not the worst Disney around, but it's a pretty cheesy and even though it's based on a true story, it feels like a vintage Hollywood bullshit story.

When a successful sprinter fails to quality for the Olympics, he isn't willing to let go just yet. He finds an opportunity to qualify as a bobsledder. The problem is that he doesn't have a coach, he doesn't have any teammates, and he's never even seen a bobsled before. But you know how it'll pan out.

Turteltaub's direction is pretty decent, with the help of four jolly Jamaicans and John Candy as their coach the atmosphere remains light and agreeable, even when there's the occasional drama to get past. The film is relatively short, the pacing is fine and there are some giggles along the way. The ending it trite though, but on the whole it could've been a lot worse.

Tristana

by Luis Buñuel
Specifics
France, Spain [1970] - 99m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Tristana poster

A more straightforward film from Buñuel. That's not a bad thing mind, I'm not that big a big fan of Buñuel's more surreal films. Somehow they come off a bit too preachy and on the nose, though there's quite a bit of that here too. But at least characters just come out and say what they think, rather than having to peer at thinly veiled symbolism for an entire film.

The story revolves around Tristana, a young girl who is taken in by an old (and rather shabby) aristocrat. She is thankful for his help, but doesn't really appreciate his romantic advances. Even though she complies, there's a part of her that wants a different life, which she hopes to find with a local painter.

The cinematography is pretty dim, characters are rather stoic and the film seems void of any emotion. Characters are very talkative though and mostly express what they're feeling, which isn't really something I appreciate. The second half's a little better and the short runtime makes it bearable, but otherwise not a very interesting film.

The Doorman

Specifics
USA [2020] - 97m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Doorman poster

Kitamura makes Die Hard on a budget. No doubt he's happy to work in the US, but as a fan of his older films it's not always pleasant to see him struggle with these underfunded, tightly controlled shelf fillers. If you look closely, you'll see Kitamura's talent shine through, but he's capable of so much more.

After a short prelude that introduces us to the lethal skills of Ali, we see her take on a job as doorman in New York. It's easy money, as the building is closing for renovations. Only a few residents remain, but when a crew of criminals take over the building Ali is going to need all her wits to get out of there alive.

Performances are mediocre, even Jean Reno has trouble lending his character the necessary flair. Ruby Rose is a decent fighter but doesn't really have the charisma to lead an action film. The action itself is pretty decent though and the pacing is solid, but the film never rises above the level of decent action filler. I expect more from Kitamura.

The Flying Guillotine

by Meng Hua Ho
Also known as
Xue Di Zi
Specifics
Hong Kong [1975] - 111m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Flying Guillotine poster

A pretty decent but predictable Shaw Bros production. Except for one thing, which is the titular weapon. The flying guillotine is the star of the film. It's pretty gruesome, adds a new dynamic to the fights and offers something unique. All things that matter, especially when watching a film that is extremely by the numbers.

The flying guillotine is a crucial tool in the arsenal of the emperor. He trains his best men to handle the weapon and sends them on a mission to kill his adversaries. One of the soldiers finds out the targets are innocent, but he is branded a rebel and expelled from the team. Revenge you say? Of course.

The presentation is solid, but nothing too exceptional, especially when you're familiar with the Shaw Bros films. The typical sets and characters (/actors) are present, fight choreographies are decent but nothing you haven't seen before and the plot is just an excuse for some battles. So yeah, a flying guillotine, pretty cool. The rest is merely decent.

The Big Heat

by Fritz Lang
Specifics
USA [1953] - 89m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Big Heat poster

Fritz Lang goes noir. This is only my third Lang film, so it was a bit disheartening to see he went from directing sprawling mood pieces to dialogue-based narratives. I'm not a big noir fan, too many needless dialogues, twist-based narratives and samey characters. Lang's film did nothing to change that perception.

On the contrary, The Big Heat is a pretty standard noir flick. When a respected police man kills himself, there are no clues as to why he did it. Inspector Dave Bannion is put on the case and it's no surprise that he discovers it isn't just a regular suicide. A typical noir plot in other words.

The films rarely goes beyond living rooms and bars, people jabber on endlessly and from time to time someone gets killed. The performances are terribly wooden though, the atmosphere is very minimal and I really didn't care for any of the twists. At least the film was rather short, but with nothing there to keep my attention, that didn't offer much consolation.

Blind Shaft

by Yang Li
Also known as
Mang Jing
Specifics
Hong Kong, China [2003] - 92m
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Blind Shaft poster

While China was extremely busy reinventing its cinematic identity, figuring out what type of genre and blockbuster films there were going to produce, a handful of directors struggled to leave the classic Chinese arthouse scene behind. With international backing, directors like Yang Li were able to survive.

Blind Shaft is a film that neatly fits this niche. The focus lies on rural China, the plight of its people and their struggles with the industrialization of their land. In this case, a mining outfit that can hardly keep its head above water and treats its workers like animals. If you're in the mood for a hefty dose of social critique, better strap in.

The film looks pretty bland (which comes with the territory), performances are mediocre and the pacing is slow. There are some crime elements that try to liven things up, but they're only mildly successful. If you like the films of Zhangke Jia this comes recommended, personally I grew tired of this type of cinema years ago.

High & Low: The Movie 2 - End of Sky

by Shigeaki Kubo, Tsuyoshi Nakakuki
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 124m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
4.5*/5.0*
High & Low: The Movie 2 - End of Sky poster

Don't expect a mandatory/lazy mid-trilogy film, the second entry in the High & Low series feels like Kubo was gunning to make his ultimate masterpiece. The energy levels in this film are absolute madness. The pacing is unparalleled, the fights are bonkers and the styling so bold that two hours later I couldn't help but feel completely overwhelmed. Exhausting, but impressive.

The English Patient

by Anthony Minghella
Specifics
USA, UK [1996] - 162m
Genre
Romance, War
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The English Patient poster

Pure and unfiltered Oscar bait. If you ever had to teach a class about Hollywood schmaltz, The English Patient would no doubt be a perfect subject. It's sentimental to the bone, it feels manipulative and dishonest and it drags in the hope that a longer runtime means a bigger impact.

The plot revolves around a soldier who crashes his plane and ends up in a hospital, unable to remember his identity. The nurse that takes care of him is interested in his case and slowly the patient starts to piece together the history that landed him in the hospital. It's a familiar setup and one that could offer the necessary intrigue, but director Minghella fails to deliver.

It's hard to pick the film's worst characteristic, but it's either the score or the performances. The music is hellish and utter kitsch, performances are wooden and clumsy. The cinematography isn't much to look at either and the romance is a dud. All of that makes that the sluggish pacing is the final nail in the coffin.

Antebellum

by Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz
Specifics
USA [2020] - 105m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Antebellum poster

Some films are a little on the nose, others are openly opinionated, and then there are the ones that are obnoxiously preachy. Antebellum belongs to the latter category. The film is about as nuanced as a political discussion on Twitter, not exactly what I want from a theater experience/horror film.

That is to say, a film that tries to sell itself as a horror film. The setup is endless and lasts almost a full hour. There are two effective twists to break up the monotony, but that was hardly enough to keep my attention. And when the horror part starts, it turns out this is really just a badly filmed thriller.

Performances are mediocre, the camera work is bland and the plot will trample your suspension of disbelief. What bugged me the most though was the constant repetition and hammering on political arguments that have been the subject of online culture wars for years now. I left the theater utterly annoyed, which is pretty rare even for me.

21st Century Girl

by Yûka Eda, Aya Igashi, Ayaka Katô, Lisa Takeuchi, Yûki Yamato, Hana Matsumoto, Momoko Fukuda, Aimi Natsuto, Yukari Sakamoto, Rin Shutô, Yoko Yamanaka, Yuka Yasukawa
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 94m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
21st Century Girl poster

Welcome to a new generation of directors. 21st Century Girl is an anthology featuring only young, female directors, tasked to make a film for 21st century girls (hence the name of the project). Apart from Yuki Yamato, I wasn't familiar with any of the chosen creators, so I was looking forward to the result.

Lack of consistency is often seen as a weak point of anthologies, personally I love the versatility they bring. That's my only real critique here. While there are a few highlights and no real disappointments, I expected a bit more variation in themes and styles. It too often feels like there's just one typical 21st century girl, which is highly doubtful.

My main takeaway from this film is that Yuki Yamato is by far one of the most promising young directors working in Japan today. I instantly recognized her short and it's easily the stand-out of the bunch. The rest of the women deliver solid films, and they all deserve their shot at a full-length feature. For an anthology though, I expected a tad more creativity.

Melancholic

by Seiji Tanaka
Also known as
Merankorikku
Specifics
Japan [2018] - 113m
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Melancholic poster

A decent but somewhat inconspicuous mix of drama and crime. Melancholic is a film that's been building up a very solid reputation ever since it was released, maybe that's why I expected something more. At least something more distinctive, I just couldn't figure out what was supposed to be so special about this one.

Kazuhiko has just graduated from one of the top universities in Japan, but lands himself a job at a local bath house where he sits behind the counter and cleans the bath area. Until one evening, when he discovers that the bath house is used as a place to kill people and get rid of their corpses.

Performances are decent and the premise is interesting enough. The styling is rather plain though and the film's a little long-winded. It seems director Tanaka relied a bit too much on the fun setup and got a little lazy with the execution. It's not bad for a first film, it's just not all that remarkable.

Sunnyside

by Charles Chaplin
Specifics
USA [1919] - 34m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Sunnyside poster

I don't think I've ever encountered a director who is as one-note as Charlie Chaplin. All his films are alike, all his performances are virtually identical. Chaplin offers basic slapstick comedy and that's it. If you're lucky you get an overarching plot, if not it's just a collection of sketches.

Chaplin plays a help at the Evergreen Hotel in the idyllic town of Sunnyside. Safe to say, Chaplin isn't all that helpful. He's lazy, he messes up his chores and annoys the customers. The only thing that keeps him going is Edna, but when a city boy arrives in the town Edna quickly falls for his charms.

The bottom line is that I'm simply not a slapstick fan. I can stomach it combined with some action and stunt work, but when it's just slapping gags and expressive gestures, I get annoyed in no time. The fact that Chaplin keeps recycling gags and characters only makes it worse.

Silver Medallist

by Hao Ning
Also known as
Feng Kuang De Sai Che
Specifics
China [2009] - 104m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Silver Medallist poster

Entertaining crime comedy with a solid dark edge that adds plenty of fun. Hao Ning would go on to perfect this style in No Man's Land, Silver Medalist was a clear stepping stone to get there. It's one of those film I might have given a higher rating if I'd seen it upon release, 10 years down the line it's just difficult not to compare this with the director's other films.

The film follows Geng Hao, a cyclist with notorious bad luck. After winning the silver medal in a race, a sleazy businessman exploits him and Hao gets banned from cycling for use amphetamines. It's the start of a series of unfortunate events that involves serial killers, drug dealers and a couple with serious marital problems.

The film looks very slick and stylish, Bo Huang is perfect for his role here and even though quite a few people die, there's plenty of comedy to keep it light. I really have nothing bad to say about this film, except that Ning did everything just that little better in No Man's Land. Recommended if you like dark comedies.

The Vast of Night

by Andrew Patterson
Specifics
USA [2019] - 91m
Genre
Sci-fi, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Vast of Night poster

Interesting sci-fi that reminded me of Pontypool. The Vast of Night is pure and refined, but also very low-key and subdued. A film that thrives on atmosphere, yet it's afraid to leave the audience wanting. That's a tricky combination and director Andrew Patterson manages to pull it out, but not without a hitch or two.

Something weird is going on in '50s New Mexico. On a cool summer night, with half the town cheering for a local basketball game, a telephone station starts receiving weird calls and signals. Is it aliens, or are the town folk just freaking themselves out over nothing? You'll just have to watch the film to find out.

Because we're following a radio host and telephone operator, most of the information we're getting is second hand. It's a pretty cheap solution when you want to skimp on special effects, but it's also a great way to build up tension. There are some very moody scenes here, personally I think Patterson could've gone even further with it, but it makes for a fun and entertaining sci-fi flick.

Let the Corpses Tan

by Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani
Also known as
Laissez Bronzer les Cadavres
Specifics
Belgium, France [2017] - 92m
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Let the Corpses Tan poster

The latest Cattet/Forzani is probably one of the most conflicted films I've ever seen. It's both one of the worst and one of the best films I know, and it's like that from start to finish. It speaks for the talent of the directorial duo that they got me this far and it makes me wonder if they could push it even further.

My problem with Let the Corpses Tan is that I feel nothing for the film's influences. Cattet/Forzani are known for paying homage to cult/pulp of the 60s, 70s and 80s (think grindhouse, spaghetti westerns, Giallo), genres and eras I dislike with a vengeance. They don't really modernize these influences, but instead of tipping a hat or two, every single scene, every single moment is a hyper-stylized reference.

Cattet and Forzani take the ugliest cinema I know and do the coolest things with it. It's the weirdest feeling, I'm used to liking/disliking certain aspects of a film, but never at the same time and for the entire length of the film. It's cinema that deserves to be watched though. Completely unique, insanely stylized and impossible to compare with anything else out there. One of the most memorable films I've ever seen, but not a personal favorite.

The Bride from Hell

by Hsu-Chiang Chou
Also known as
Gui Xin Niang
Specifics
Hong Kong, Taiwan [1972] - 75m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Bride from Hell poster

The Shaw Bros are primarily known for their martial arts films, but in between they tried their hand at other genres too. The Bride from Hell is one of their early attempts at horror cinema, though it's clear they still had a lot to learn in that department. While not terrible, the film stumbles when it matters the most.

The Bride from Hell is basically an exercise in making horror on a martial arts foundation. The sets, setting, characters, plot ... they're all vintage Shaw Bros. The only difference is that one of the characters is a ghost and that they added some green lights for effect. That's really not enough.

The setup is pretty decent, but when it comes to the horror elements it's simply not convincing. Later Shaw Bros films would do more with effects and gore, but even Chor's fantasy work looks creepier than this. It's a good thing the film is rather short, but the finale leaves something to be desired.

Woman of the Photographs

by Takeshi Kushida
Specifics
Japan [2020] - 89m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Woman of the Photographs poster

Quirky and intriguing drama. The film is part (dark) romance, part reflection on the impact of modern photography on people's lives. I say modern photography, as nowadays taking a picture is probably the easiest part of the process, most of the effort goes to touching up pics in various apps.

If that sounds like some quick/cheap critique on the Instagram generation, rest assured that director Kushida's approach is way more nuanced than that. There are roughly four stories here, each of them showing the power and possibilities of modern photography, but also the pitfalls of losing yourself in your own enhanced reality.

Performances are great, with Otaki and Nagai in stand-out roles. The styling is interesting too, but a little inconsistent. Kushida makes a real effort to spruce up the audiovisual experience, it's just a little too confined to individual scenes. Still, a very promising first feature, I'm pretty confident Kushida is bound to direct a masterpiece if he perseveres.

Let It Snow

by Stanislav Kapralov
Specifics
Georgia, Ukraine [2020] - 86m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Let It Snow poster

A very solid survival horror. Autumn has landed here and the days are shortening. The ideal moment to huddle up on the couch and look at people who are braving worse weather conditions still. Not sure why, but I love a good winter survival horror in autumn, Let It Snow is perfect for that.

A young American couple plans a trip to Georgia for some prime snowboarding action. When they arrive at their hotel, they are notified the black ridge is closed for public. Unfazed by this news, they hire a chopper and take on the adventure anyway. Safe to say that wasn't the smartest thing to do.

The setup is perfect for a film like this. Snowy mountain ranges, two people in the wilderness on the other side of the planet and no help in sight. Add some creepy locals and you have everything you need for an amusing horror film. Proper styling, solid performances and a moody setting make this perfect filler.

Paradise Next

by Yoshihiro Hanno
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 100m
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Paradise Next poster

Composer turned director Yoshihiro Hanno shows great promise with Paradise Next. It's not his first feature, but it is the first one that catches the eye of international audiences. There are traces of a true masterpiece here, sadly the film is just a little too inconsistent to give it a higher mark.

The film offers a pretty basic crime story, with two criminals trying to flee their destiny. They end up in Taiwan together and meet up with a local waitress. The three of them take a little road trip that becomes a transformative journey, but in the end they can't escape their own demons.

Performances are amazing, with Tsumabuki, Toyokawa and Nikki Hsieh (glad to see she's still around) doing stellar work. Hanno makes great use of the Taiwanese setting and the pacing is pleasantly lazy. Somewhat surprisingly it's the soundtrack that doesn't quite fit and trips up the otherwise great atmosphere. You'd think Hanno would've nailed that part, but in the end that's what keeps this film from becoming a true masterpiece. The potential is definitely there, so looking forward to his next film.

The Nazis Strike

by Frank Capra, Anatole Litvak
Specifics
USA [1943] - 41m
Genre
Documentary, War
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Nazis Strike poster

One of the many short docs the USA made to "inform" the people about World War II. Some of them are extremely patriotic, others even cross over into pure propaganda, but a few of them also offer a more factual take on the war. The Nazis Strike is the latter, which is the approach I personally prefer.

There have been countless war docs since, what I appreciate about Capra's take is that it's very short and to the point. It's one of the best recaps detailing the start of World War II I've come across, which makes it an excellent introduction for people unfamiliar with the details of the war.

On the other hand, for someone my age, who has seen more than his fair share of WWII documentaries, there isn't that much here. Some cute animations, clear language and solid pacing make sure it's watchable, but content-wise it's all very basic. Not bad, but hard to recommend unless you're clueless about WWII.

Hell Girl

Also known as
Jigoko Shojo
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 107m
Genre
Fantasy, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Hell Girl poster

Koji Shiraishi is one of those faithful horror directors. Even though the international interest in Japanese horror has waned over the past decade, Shiraishi's love for the genre clearly hasn't. It's nice to see though that Shiraishi isn't married to a single style of horror, Hell Girl shows a different side of Japanese horror cinema.

The film isn't your typical less is more, black-haired ghost horror, instead it's a more fantastical kind of horror that offers a mix of modern and traditional Japanese horror elements. The story about an ongoing curse feels contemporary, but the characters and moody kills hark back to the classier horror of the past.

The film looks pretty nice (safe some poor CG moments), performances are solid and the mix of fantasy and horror offers a nice change of pace. I wasn't a big fan of the setting (the Japanese pop scene isn't all that interesting), but it hardly affected the film. One of Shiraishi's better films.

The Devil All the Time

by Antonio Campos
Specifics
USA [2020] - 138m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Devil All the Time poster

Antonio Campos comes with an interesting mix of styles and moods. In a way, The Devil All The Time is a very dark, dramatic and heavy-handed film. At the same time there's also an unexpected lightness, a playfulness that brings it much closer to genre territory. It makes for a rather unique experience.

The film follows the hardships of Arvin Russell, a young boy who got more than his fair share of bad luck. His family is struck by poverty and disease, whatever good thing he has going for himself gets destroyed by people with ill intentions. But Arvin is a tough kid and whenever the world lets him down, he fights back.

There's a lot of drama and sadness here, but in the end it's not a very depressing film. The characters are all slightly larger than life, the thriller/revenge elements are rather juicy and the pacing is quite strict. The film may be 140 minutes long, but it never drags. An interesting film, the 60s rural US setting may not be my favorite but I had a pretty good time with this one.

Have a Nice Day

by Jian Liu
Also known as
Hao Jile
Specifics
China [2017] - 77m
Genre
Crime, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Have a Nice Day poster

Chinese arthouse animation. Don't expect cuddly animals or CG superheroes, director Jian Liu take on a very down to earth crime story that could've just as well been a live action film. It's a bold move for sure, but I'm not sure it was the correct one. Fans of animation better lower their hopes.

The art style is quite nice, also very different, which gives the film a unique look. The animation though is almost nonexistent. The camera is extremely static, pretty much every action shot is a cheap effect (or is simply cut from the film) and character animations are chunky. I assume it's made to be like this for a reason, but if it's a matter of skill, then they shouldn't even have considered doing it as an animated film. It's just painful to watch.

The plot is decent, but nothing special. A typical crime tale where different parties are trying to get a bag of money. The dub is okay, but not spectacular, the soundtrack is moody but limited. It's a good thing that the film is quite short, it's certainly a novel experience, but please get some decent animators next time.

Dragon Fist

by Wei Lo
Also known as
Long Quan
Specifics
Hong Kong, Taiwan [1979] - 97m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Dragon Fist poster

A decent Wei Lo/Jackie Chan combo, though it's clear there were more capable directors at the time, especially when it comes to highlighting the specific traits of Chan (Woo-Ping Yuen comes to mind). While Dragon Fist is a decent enough martial arts film, it feels like Lo didn't make the most of the talent he was handed.

There's nothing wrong with the action scenes. There's plenty of them, they're pretty dynamic and Chan is allowed to shine whenever he's featured. They're not quite as creative as Chan's best work, and they don't really set themselves apart for the Shaw Bros work, but the action was more than adequate.

The problem is that the filler in between is way too serious. Chan's known for combining action and comedy, but the plot is pretty grave and Lo has no time for comedic interludes. It drags the film down, as the actors aren't that capable and the plot is extremely thin. This should've been a lot more fun, it's a shame Lo didn't see that.

The Edge of Seventeen

by Kelly Fremon Craig
Specifics
USA, China [2016] - 104m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Edge of Seventeen poster

Another coming of age story about an "old soul". It's almost a niche within a niche, though when I come to think of it, there might be more coming of age films about these kinds of characters than there are about regular kids. It's not that big of surprise really, cinema is an art form that loves looking back at the past.

The Edge of Seventeen doesn't bring anything new to the table. Nadine looks like any regular teen who has a hard time growing up. The situation at home isn't perfect, she feels ill at ease with herself and while the world around her moves forward, she doesn't have a particular goal in life.

The direction is okay, but hardly remarkable. Performances are decent, but nothing noteworthy. There's a little comedy to take the edge of the drama and the ending is quite hopeful, but these are all things you could've guessed without having seen the film. It's not bad, just extremely by the numbers.