Kindred

by Joe Marcantonio
Specifics
UK [2020] - 101m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Kindred poster

A fine little thriller. Kindred isn't the most original of films, after a short introduction and a rather sudden turn it should be clear in which direction this film is headed. Director and writer Marcantonio does his best to sow some doubt, he's pretty good at it too, but I don't think anyone will be surprised by the ending.

Charlotte and Ben are planning to move to Australia. Ben's mother, a conservative and family-oriented British women, isn't too pleased when she hears the news. When Charlotte gets pregnant it seems to increase their chance of staying in the UK, but the two aren't willing to let that stop their dream.

Performances are good, the mood is tense, the cinematography is very polished and the soundtrack is classy. There's nothing really wrong with Kindred, except that there's nothing truly exceptional either. It's a very effective, well-executed and pleasant film, it's just not extremely memorable.

All the King's Men

by King Hu
Also known as
Tian Xia Di Yi
Specifics
Hong Kong, Taiwan [1983] - 100m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
All the King's Men poster

A rather disappointing film from King Hu. I've been enjoying his later work, so I was quite hopeful when I sat down to watch this film. I didn't really expect a somewhat lengthy and rowdy mix of drama and farce set in the imperial court, but that's exactly what this is. And it turns out that's not really Hu's strong point.

The emperor is quite ill and his treatment isn't really working out for him. They're suspecting that the medicine he's been getting isn't doing much for his illness. Luckily he has heard of a famed doctor who lives in a nearby kingdom, but getting to him will prove a lot harder than imagined.

The premise is simple, but the actual story is pretty complex, with characters having to jump through plenty of hoops to get everything done. It's also quite lively and loud, which usually doesn't work in favor of Chinese comedies. The cinematography is decent enough, but the comedy is poor and the film started to drag during the second half.

The Sweet Hereafter

by Atom Egoyan
Specifics
Canada [1997] - 112m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Sweet Hereafter poster

I was pretty surprised to discover this film won a prestigious prize at the Cannes festival. It's the first feature-length Egoyan I watched and while not terrible, I felt it was little more than an elevated TV drama that dragged on just a little too long. Not really the kind of film you'd expect to win any big prizes.

One fateful morning, a school bus drives off the road and ends up in an icy lake below. Fourteen kids die, leaving the small community where it happened stunned. Stephens is a renowned lawyer who takes on the case, but when he talks to the families involved he finds it difficult to get a grasp what exactly went down that morning.

Performances are basic, the cinematography is rather dull (especially considering the amazing setting) and the music is a bit cheesy. The drama is also a little overstated and sentimental. There's enough intrigue there and Egoyan kept me interested until the end, but there's really nothing that stood out as particularly remarkable.

Gojoe

Also known as
Gojo Reisenki: Gojoe
Specifics
Japan [2000] - 138m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Gojoe poster

Maverick director Gakuryu Ishii takes on the jidaigeki genre and tries to find a way to inject a blockbuster project with his energetic signature style. It makes for a rather slow but meticulous start, ultimately building up to an epic showdown. Interesting characters, nicely shot and sporting an extremely satisfying ending. Not Ishii's best, but quality film making that is a lot of fun to watch.

Wolf

by Michael Jones
Specifics
Australia [2017] - 85m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Wolf poster

An Australian low-key thriller with minor horror elements. It takes a while before Wolf reveals which direction it's headed in (even prompting the film to be labeled a drama in certain places), but some light comedy and clear horror nods later on leave little to the imagination.

Kevin wants to get rid of the home that his father left him. When he gets a call from a potential buyer, he travels to the countryside hoping to seal the deal. He is held up by car trouble though and when he arrives the buyer is nowhere to be seen. The next morning a police offers pays a visit about a missing person case.

Mediocre performances and bare-bones cinematography betray the film's budgetary limitations. A decent score, proper build-up and some solid intrigue balance thing out. The biggest problem is the reveal at the end, which feels too cheap and really takes away some of the carefully crafted atmosphere. Decent potential, but in the end the film fails on execution.

Menendez: The Day of the Lord

by Santiago Alvarado Ilarri
Also known as
Menendez Parte 1: El Día del Señor
Specifics
Spain, Mexico [2020] - 93m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Menendez: The Day of the Lord poster

A Mexican exorcism movie hoping to turn itself into a franchise. I'm guessing they have a fair shot too, as Netflix is backing the film and their metrics are quite different from regular releases. Not that Menendez is a stand-out horror film, but it's solid enough to warrant a sequel or two.

Menendez is a priest with a dark history. After a failed exorcism he ends up in jail, when he is finally released the church expels him. But when an old friend comes knocking on his door, telling him his daughter is possibly possessed by the devil, Menendez decides to give it another go.

Alvarado doesn't deviate too much from the basic exorcism template, except that he casts some doubt on the possession by casting some dark shadows on Menendez. The mix of horror with light comedy is solid enough, the finale is pretty nasty and the pacing is smooth. Overall, a pretty decent horror film.

My Childhood

by Bill Douglas
Specifics
UK [1972] - 46m
Genre
Drama, Biography
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
My Childhood poster

Scottish social drama (read: poverty porn). As the title suggests, the film is based on the childhood memories of director Bill Douglas. It's not a documentary (though it often looks like one), but the start of a narrative trilogy where Douglas travels back in time and dredges up mementos of his youth.

Douglas grew up in a poor Scottish miner's village, the post-War situation there was pretty dreary and hopeless. He and his brother lived together with their grandma, their parents nowhere in sight. It's a textbook example of social drama, only with a slightly more personal angle.

Grim black and white cinematography, no stylistic polish and many depressing scenes. I will say that Douglas did well to stay clear from overt sentimentality. For such a personal document, he maintains a very dry and factual tone that gives the film some extra weight. I'm sure there's an audience for this, but I'm certainly not it.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

by Céline Sciamma
Also known as
Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu
Specifics
France [2019] - 122m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Portrait of a Lady on Fire poster

I didn't expect too much from this one. It looked like a very classic, by the numbers Cannes winner, and that's exactly what I got. In some way a relic of days long gone, hardly forward-looking cinema, but it hits all the sweet spots for a film that wants to become an arthouse favorite.

Marianne is called upon to paint a portrait of Héloïse, without her knowing. During the day the two spend time together, which Marianne uses to closely observes Héloïse's every move. During the nights she paints. Unsurprisingly, the two start to develop feelings for each other, a love that needs to be hidden from the public.

Sciamma does her best to deliver a restrained romance, but the actors simply aren't up to the task. Cinematography and soundtrack are pretty middling too, the romance never really thrives and as a result the drama falls flat. Might've been a bit edgier if it was released half a century ago, now it's just dull and lifeless.

His House

by Remi Weekes
Specifics
UK [2020] - 93m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
His House poster

A pretty basic haunted house film. The unique angle here is that instead of a typical well-off family moving into a new home, we're getting a family of refugees who have gone through hell to get there. It opens up the door for quite a bit of extra drama and social critique, an opportunity the film gladly embraces.

Bol and Rial arrive in the UK after a long trip from South Sudan. They are granted temporary asylum and are given a house until their trial is completed. During their voyage they've lost their daughter, a traumatic event that haunts them every day. When they begin hearing voices at night, they believe an evil spirit has followed them from Sudan.

It's no doubt an interesting take on a tired concept, but His House fails where so many of these films fail: they're so wrapped up in the drama that they forget to deliver the horror. Some decent scares early on, but overall it's pretty weak. It's a shame, as the premise looked quite promising.

I Don't Want to Be a Man

by Ernst Lubitsch
Also known as
Ich Möchte Kein Mann Sein
Specifics
Germany [1918] - 45m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
I Don't Want to Be a Man poster

An early Lubitsch comedy. It's the first silent I've seen of him and I have to say I preferred it over his later films. Increased pacing and reduced runtime make this much easier to digest, even though the comedy is still quite outdated and the plot's a little questionable, depending on how you look at it.

Ossi grows up in a rich family, but she's somewhat of a free spirit, something society doesn't really accept from girls. That doesn't stop her though, and she decides to dress up as a man in order to go out and enjoy life. But as she'll soon find out, being a man is a lot tougher than she expected it to be.

Performances are pretty energetic and overstated, which works well for this type of comedy. The laughs are extremely basic though and the "men have it tough too" morality only feels current if you're an incel. I Don't Want to Be a Man isn't all that remarkable, but at least it doesn't overstay its welcome.

The Phantom Carriage

by Victor Sjöström
Also known as
Körkarlen
Specifics
Sweden [1921] - 107m
Genre
Drama, Fantasy
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Phantom Carriage poster

One of the biggest classics in Swedish cinema, often cited as one of the all-time horror greats and almost always linked to German expressionist cinema. That raised my expectations, sadly I found a very melodramatic and overly sentimental film with some minor fantasy touches.

The last person who dies before New Year has to drive Death's carriage for an entire year and collect all the souls of the deceased. David Holm, a drunkard who once led a joyous life, gets hit on the head with a bottle right before the clock strikes 12, his old friend (and the one who led him astray) shops up and transfers the job of carriage driver to David.

Some characters are ghostly apparitions, that's about as horrific as it gets. They're not made to be scary though, so the film's categorization is more than a little deceptive. Performances are grossly overstated, the cinematography and sets are rather plain and the endless drama is tiring. Supposedly a big influence on the cinema of Bergman, if I'd known that up front I'd been a lot less excited. Disappointing.

Taro the Dragon Boy

by Kirio Urayama
Also known as
Tatsu no Ko Tarô
Specifics
Japan [1979] - 75m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Taro the Dragon Boy poster

Classic anime that is based on a Japanese folk story. It's a film that has disappeared from the spotlight since its original release, though I'm not entirely sure why. I hadn't even heard of this film before, though it's certainly not because it's lacking quality, the animation and art style are pretty impressive for a 70s anime.

Taro is a lazy boy who wastes his days eating and playing around with animals. One day a Tengu appears and gives him a special potion, granting him the strength of a hundred men. In return, Taro has to use his newfound powers to help out others. To keep his promise, Taro sets out on an adventure.

The background art is beautiful, the animation is detailed and stylish. Character designs are a little crude, but fit the style and blend in well with the backgrounds. The soundtrack and dub are also on point. The story isn't the most impressive maybe, but since I wasn't familiar with the original folk tale it didn't really bother me. A very pleasant surprise, no doubt a film that deserves broader praise.

Come Play

by Jacob Chase
Specifics
USA [2020] - 96m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Come Play poster

Not the first film to use modern technology as a mirror into another world, not the first film to use horror as a way to talk about mental illness. Certainly not the worst film to do this either, but in both cases Come Play feels like it's not quite doing enough to set itself apart from its peers.

Oliver is diagnosed with autism and doesn't really fit in at school. He is able to communicate with his parents through an app on his phone, but one day his device starts acting up and shows him a digital book about Larry, a creepy creature who prays on kids that suffer from loneliness.

Chase does his best to make it as creepy and freaky as possible, but the film keeps on repeating itself and the creature is revealed too quickly, which decreases its impact later on. The effect wears off even before the halfway point and even though it remains moody and atmospheric, it's not as tense as it wants to be. Not a bad film, but a little restraint could've made it more effective.

I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story

by Michael Arthur
Specifics
USA, Netherlands [2019] - 56m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
I, Pastafari: A Flying Spaghetti Monster Story poster

As someone just young enough to spend part of my youth on the internet, I was aware of the pastafari. A satirical religion that is the perfect internet joke, but grew out to become a tool to question reigning religious exemptions and privileges. This documentary is about just that.

The biggest problem is that the pastafari can't acknowledge they're a joke and/or satire religion, as that would actively undermine their mission. So you're looking at a bunch of grown-ups acting like genuine retards in order to prove a simple point. It's not that I personally disagree with their ideas, but I do find their methods incredibly tiresome and wasteful.

The fact that this documentary becomes incredibly preachy and anti-religious (even though they themselves don't claim to be) gives away the true intentions behind this so-called belief. In that sense it's a good doc, but I really can't stand the charades and insincere arguments put forward.

High & Low: The Movie 3 - Final Mission

by Shigeaki Kubo, Tsuyoshi Nakakuki
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 118m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
High & Low: The Movie 3 - Final Mission poster

Compared to the first two films, the third and final entry in the High & Low casino trilogy is a bit more serious. The story arc finally comes to an end and while not as energetic or boundary pushing as the earlier films, it's still a very worthy and satisfying finale to one of the more epic film series in recent history.

Wedding Bells for the Otaku?

by Chimura Toshimitsu
Also known as
Demo, Kekkon Shitai! ~BL Mangaka no Kojirase Konkatsuki~
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 67m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Wedding Bells for the Otaku? poster

From the outside, Japan appears to be a comic and animation paradise. Take a closer look at their local cinema though and every film about otaku/mangaka casts them as asocial weirdos and outcasts. Wedding Bells for the Otaku continues that tradition, making this a pretty typical nerdy romcom.

Haruko is a BL (Boys Love) mangaka in her thirties. She's pretty good at her job, but she doesn't really have a social life. Afraid she'll spend the rest of her life alone, she asks Kiriko, her friend and professional partner, for help. Dating is hard though and after a couple of flukes Haruko is willing to give up.

Chiaki Kuriyama and Hinako Sano are gifted actresses, but director Toshimitsu doesn't do them any favors. Wedding Bells for the Otaku is a TV film that never shows any ambition to go beyond its format. The presentation is poor, the comedy is derivative and the plot predictable. Disappointing.

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight

by Bartosz M. Kowalski
Also known as
W Lesie Dzis Nie Zasnie Nikt
Specifics
Poland [2020] - 102m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight poster

A typical film from a fanboy director whose country isn't know for producing horror films. I'm willing to bet Poland hasn't seen too many backwoods horror/slasher films yet, Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight is a conventional ode with just enough of a personal touch to keep it from turning into a lazy copy.

A camp for kids who need to detox from their online presence, a trek in the woods, a mutant boy who escapes from his hideout. You've seen it all before, Kowalski adds a couple of minor twists (mostly in the origin story), but in the end it doesn't change much to the core of the film. A fat Polish hillbilly is stalking the woods and killing whoever comes near his home.

The film is happy to throw around references to other horror films, but often in a smart way (like the slasher sounds that are mixed into a romantic soundtrack). Kowalski shows a keen awareness of the kind of film he's making and expects the same from his audience. Performances are fine, characters are goofy, the kills are pleasantly brutal and the presentation is slick. A very entertaining film indeed.

The War Game

by Peter Watkins
Specifics
UK [1966] - 48m
Genre
Documentary, War
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The War Game poster

An interesting mockumentary that documents the possible fallout of a nuclear war between the UK and Russia. Watkins applies learnings from other historical bombings (Dresden and Hiroshima among others) and shows what this would mean for the UK, should this happen to them.

There's a clear post-WWII/Cold War feel to the film that makes it appear a little outdated, the nuclear scare is still around but isn't as immediately pressing as it once was. This isn't helped by some rather cheap-looking graphs and overall poor production values, which makes the film a relic of its time.

There's still relevance here though, especially when Watkins takes to the street and asks people about the willingness to engage in such a war. A mockumentary like this feels like a perfect medicine against all the crude political opinions and statements shared by the public (and seen discussed on social media platforms), even today.

The Harvest

by John McNaughton
Specifics
USA [2013] - 104m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Harvest poster

Poor Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon. Two decent actors with a solid track record, I'm guessing that when they read the script for this film they were expecting quite a bit more. The potential was there for sure and both actors do a decent job, but director McNaughton didn't do them any favors.

Andy is a young kid suffering from a heart condition. He's cared for in his own house, as his mother is a doctor and his father is a nurse. When Maryann moves in next door he finally has someone to talk to, but Andy's mother doesn't really appreciate Maryann visiting her son. She shoos her away, but Maryann is willing to give up so easily.

The Harvest is a drama that turns thriller in the second half. Performances are nice all round, but that's about it. The cinematography is cheap, the soundtrack a failure and the twists at the end are just laughable. It feels like a made-for-TV film, sloppy and poorly produced shlock sold off as something poor. Very disappointing.

The Shining

Specifics
USA, UK [1980] - 146m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Shining poster

A film that has lost some of its shine since I last watched it. The Shining is one of the most iconic horror films and those stand-out scenes (the elevator, the twins, the "Here's Johnny" moment) still stand proud today. It's everything that comes in between that seems to have lost a little polish.

Maybe I should've gone for the shorter European release, but many scenes felt a little dragged out. Performances were surprisingly poor too. Tony's voice is irritating, Nicholson could've turned it down a notch and Duvall is simply terrible. The whole "shining" ability feels tagged on as well, which is a bit odd for a film called The Shining.

The location is magnificent though. The barren mountains, the kitschy interiors of the hotel, the many colorful rooms. The camera work is solid too and the soundtrack is moody, though Kubrick relies too much on volume levels to create tension. It's certainly not a terrible film, but the cracks are really starting to show.