2047: Virtual Revolution

by Guy-Roger Duvert
Specifics
Canada, USA [2016] - 92m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
2047: Virtual Revolution poster

This made me think of what my favorite film would look like when it would've been made by a hack director. I got a pretty strong Avalon vibe from Virtual Revolution, but at no point did I get the feeling that either the crew, nor the cast had any belief in what they were making. The result is a film with potential, but little else.

I'm not even sure whether the cast actually understood half of what this film was about. The way they accentuated words like "database" or "server" reminded me of old people trying to deal with a world that left them behind years ago. For a sci-fi film, that's pretty problematic.

It's a shame, because the setting is actually quite decent and the camerawork, props and cinematography are nice too. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but a sci-fi like this isn't easy to make on a budget, and they did manage to get quite a few things right. A better director might've done more to save this film, but it's the cast that's the biggest letdown here.

Seven Years in Tibet

by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Specifics
USA, UK [1997] - 136m
Genre
Adventure
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Seven Years in Tibet poster

Not Annaud's worst film I've seen, but that doesn't really say all that much. Like most of his work, subtlety isn't really in the cards and there's a fair bit of exotism driving the film, but at least it makes for some pretty images and impressive settings along the way. That's where the appeal lies here.

Brad Pitt as the German Harrer isn't the most successful casting ever, luckily Thewlis is there to take some of the irritation away and together with Tsamchoe they make a pretty decent trio. The end up in a pretty decent adventure, sadly for a film that's based on true events it never feels all that convincing.

Annaud's direction is just too overworked and more often than not it feels like you're watching some random, kitschy Hollywood story. A more balanced film would've definitely made this a lot easier to bear, not in the least because of the lengthy runtime. I guess I would've preferred a decent documentary, rather than this sappy adventure.

The Man in White Part 2: Requiem for the Lion

Specifics
Japan [2003] - 107m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Man in White Part 2: Requiem for the Lion poster

One of Miike's final DTV releases. A sequel to The Man in White (released in the same year), which I remember liking a little better (although I'll be honest, I'm mostly going by my own ratings here, I don't remember that much from the first film). Not too surprising, because this is pretty basic Miike stuff.

Part 2 is also a full-blown Yakuza film. The usual themes of honor and revenge are abundantly present, you won't miss out on the usual Yakuza shouting, gun action, finger clipping and whatnot either. Miike is more than capable to make these types of films work and that's exactly what he does, without putting in excessive effort.

The film looks okay, but it's nothing special. From time to time Miike plays around with the cinematography and soundtrack to try out some new things, but overall it's a little too sloppy to leave a big impression. The actors do a decent job, the plot is never boring (unless you hate the usual Yakuza intrigue) and the pacing is on point. Nothing too spectacular, just a solid Miike Yakuza film.

Letters from the South

by Aditya Assarat, Sun Koh, Chui Mui Tan, Royston Tan, Ming-liang Tsai, Midi Z
Also known as
Nan Fang Lai Xin
Specifics
China, Thailand [2013] - 105m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Letters from the South poster

I'm quite partial to anthology films, as they allow directors to go a little crazy. Because they are comprised of several shorts, these projects allow for a little more risk. One or two failed entries don't necessarily mean a failed film. For the larger part, anthology films deliver, but only when the directors are willing to play.

Letters from the South was a bit disappointing though. For the larger part it's just run-of-the-mill arthouse shorts that don't offer anything unusual or memorable. Aditya Assarat, Sun Koh and Midi Z are interesting names on paper, but their entries felt muddled, unadventurous and a little lazy.

Royston Tan's execution is better, but not up to par with his feature films. Tsai on the other hand delivers the biggest disappointment of the bunch (a prelude to Journey to the West). The only one who rose above the pack here was Chui Mui Tan, delivering a challenging and beautiful little film that stands in shrill contrast with the other entries. I expected more from this film.

Run All Night

by Jaume Collet-Serra
Specifics
USA [2015] - 114m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Run All Night poster

Surprisingly well-made action film by Collet-Serra. I'm not a big fan of the man's work and Run All Night certainly isn't strong enough to change my mind about him, but it is a film that delivered what I'd hoped to get from it. A simple, fun and entertaining two hours sporting some rather impressive action scenes.

Neeson can do these kinds of roles with his eyes closed. There's a little drama between him and his son that doesn't really add much to the film, but at least Kinnaman and Neeson are decent enough actors to not botch it up. The rest is pure action cinema, within a classic crime setting.

The camera (work, because I assume there's quite a bit CG involved) is the biggest star of the film, as it flies through the sets and puts you right in there with the action. Some memorable moments and impressive set pieces, that's what I wanted from this film, and that's exactly what I got. Not bad at all.

Ten Years Thailand

by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Aditya Assarat, Wisit Sasanatieng, Chulayarnnon Siriphol
Specifics
Hong Kong, Thailand [2018] - 95m
Genre
Drama, Sci-fi, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Ten Years Thailand poster

Third entry in the Ten Years anthology franchise, also the best one. The problem with the Ten Years anthologies is that most of the entries don't care too much about the overarching concept. While artistic freedom is definitely welcomed, especially in anthology projects, some base level sci-fi (even when it's just near-future) would be dearly appreciated.

Assarat and Weerasethakul's shorts could just as well be about present-day Thailand. There are some conceptual ideas about the future here (though hardly related to any kind of realistic future), but there is no world building, no genre elements. It feels a bit lazy and cheap, but not totally unexpected considering the past work of both directors.

The films of Siriphol and Sasanatieng are polar opposites and cook up a completely fantastical future. While still a long way off from the core premise, at least these films are creative and fun, with Sasanatieng's creepy/weird cat-dystopia as the clear highlight of the anthology. By far the two best short across the entire Ten Years franchise, but still not quite what I'd like to see from this project. Maybe just hire some directors with an affinity for the genre next tim?

Adieu, Galaxy Express 999: Last Stop Andromeda

by Rintaro
Also known as
Sayônara, Ginga Tetsudô Surî-Nain: Andromeda Shûchakueki
Specifics
Japan, USA [1981] - 135m
Genre
Sci-fi, Fantasy, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Adieu, Galaxy Express 999: Last Stop Andromeda poster

Rintaro's sequel to the first Galaxy Express 999 is quite tricky. It's very different in tone, even though both films share quite a few similarities. It's almost a reimagining of the same source material. Hence, it's not going to be for everyone, especially not for those expecting a straight-forward sequel. Personally, I really liked the approach.

This second film is quite a bit darker and more dystopian. Online reviews are quick to link to to The Empire Strike Back (understandably so), but there are also traces of The Matrix here, and the work of René Laloux (Fantastic Planet) is never far off. In the end though, it's really just a core Rintaro project.

The film is epic in scope, a welcome surprise as older animations are usually a bit more singular. The art style betrays the film's age, but the animation itself is still pretty impressive and there's no lack of creativity here, so much in fact that it's as much fantasy as sci-fi. A bit long in the end, but it's easy to see how these films helped to build Rintaro's reputation. Good stuff.

The Dancing Warrior

Also known as
Pi Li Qing
Specifics
Hong Kong [1985] - 90m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Dancing Warrior poster

Cheh Chang tries to bring together dance and martial arts. And as I've said a couple of times before already, whenever Chang moves away from what he's known for, it tends to end badly. There are some good fight scenes here, but the combination with the dancing is done poorly and takes away from the action.

Performances aren't great, which is a problem when the action only makes up a small part of the film. The comedy isn't all that great either and the soundtrack is just plain terrible. Lame and cheesy songs that make the film a little too ridiculous (beyond what was intended to be funny).

I think a different director could've made something better of this film, as other films have shown that there is potential in mixing martial arts and dance. But Chang simply isn't the man for the job, especially not since he was nearing the end of his career when he made this film. There is some fun to be had, but overall it's not all that great.

Lupin III: The First

Specifics
Japan [2019] - 93m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Lupin III: The First poster

A failed experiment. This is the first full-CG Lupin film, hopefully it's a direction they won't further explore. This is not the first time people have experimented with the Lupin style, just recently Koike made an awesome trilogy that was pretty different from the usual Lupin fare, but at least that still had class.

While The First has managed to retain the quirky character animation, but the character models look off. They're terribly generic, and they lack any form of charisma. It's not that the film is disappointing on a technical level, but artistically it just lacks the spunk and flair that makes the Lupin franchise so much fun.

The story is also a little too epic, with micro black hole generation machines and a bunch of strange WWII lore. It's a bit too serious for the silly antics of Lupin and it feels tonally off compared to the rest of the film. It's not a total disaster though, but it's one of the worst Lupin films I've seen so far.

House of Voices

by Pascal Laugier
Also known as
Saint Ange
Specifics
France [2004] - 98m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
House of Voices poster

A fabulous start to Laugier's career. House of Voices starts of a little slow, lulls you to sleep, makes you believe you're just watching a simple haunted house flick, but there's a darker side to the film that start to reveal itself after the halfway mark. Cinematography, soundtrack and performances are all great, this is quality horror cinema.

The Remains of the Day

by James Ivory
Specifics
USA, UK [1993] - 134m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Remains of the Day poster

Hopkins and Thompson play servants and find each other working at a big estate. They are both extremely uptight and posh, as English servants tend to be, which makes for one of the most British romances ever put on film. It never crackles or sizzles, but right beneath the surface a lot is brewing.

Hopkins and Thompson are fine, but their mannerisms are a bit much. While there are some nice scenes between them, their characters never feel real enough to care for. Which is a problem, because besides the romance there's some political filler that slows things down unnecessarily.

Ivory's direction is dull and by the numbers. The cinematography is meager and a lot of time is spent on drawn out dialogues that aren't half as intriguing as they were meant to be. At least the score was pretty decent, keeping the film from becoming too sappy, but that hardly redeems the overly long runtime and poor overall quality.

Tigertail

by Alan Yang
Specifics
USA [2020] - 91m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Tigertail poster

Alan Yang follows in the footsteps of Ang Lee and makes a drama about Taiwanese immigrants, focusing on family and relationships rather than external immigration problems. It isn't the most appealing of setups to be honest. I didn't really like the early Lee films, sadly Yang doesn't add much to what Lee had to offer 30 years ago.

The presentation is okay, though it borders on cheesy. Rather static but clean camera work, good use of colors, sadly the indoor scenes tend to look a little bland. The soundtrack is somewhat disappointing too, and so are the performances. Tzi Ma is on point, but clearly outclasses the rest of the cast.

The drama simply wasn't strong enough to make me care. The melancholy of the flashbacks didn't really grab me and Ma's current problems were rather pedestrian. Yang doesn't do enough to add the necessary intrigue to the characters, which results in a decent, but derivative and forgettable drama.

Knockout

by Roy Hin Yeung Chow
Specifics
China [2020] - 119m
Genre
Drama, Sports
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Knockout poster

It's nice to see Roy Chow is still around. I lost track of him for a while, after he had a very promising start some 10 years ago. But Chow seems to be back on track, Knockout is one of his latest films. Not really the kind of material that will instantly relaunch him, but it's a solid film that shows his talent is still there.

The film is a pretty classic boxing drama, following the career of a promising boxing champ who sees his life slipping away when he gets mixed up in an escalated bar fight. After spending some years in prison, he tries to pick up the remains of his life and vows to stop boxing, but well ... you know how it goes in these films.

Performances are decent, the mix of drama and action works well and Chow's direction is crisp. The boxing scenes are nice and get the adrenaline flowing, but they're nothing you haven't seen before. Which is the film's biggest problem, not in the least because it's almost two hours long. It's not a bad film, just not a very remarkable one either.

The Sword of Alexander

Also known as
Taitei no Ken
Specifics
Japan [2007] - 110m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy, Action
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Sword of Alexander poster

Another one of Tsutsumi's crazier films. It feels like a Sushi Typhoon project, only without the excessive gore and made with a slightly larger budget. It's a samurai fantasy with sci-fi elements, aliens and nonsensical lore. And it's all played for laughs, so don't worry about things getting too serious. Tsutsumi was clearly having fun with this one.

Hiroshi Abe is a weird fella and fits perfectly in the role of long-sworded samurai hero. His accomplices are oddballs too, but they're nothing compared to the various creatures they face in their battle to stop an alien invasion. There's more to the story, but even the voice over doesn't seem too bothered with all the details.

The comedy is pretty mad, performances are over-the-top but funny and the cinematography is surprisingly snappy. The CG is quite limited of course, but the camerawork is interesting and the colorful visuals and designs are lovely. Not for everyone, this film, but if you love Japanese weirdness, make sure you give this film a go.

Don't Laugh at My Romance

by Nami Iguchi
Also known as
Hito no Sekkusu o Warauna
Specifics
Japan [2007] - 137m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Don't Laugh at My Romance poster

A small and pleasant Japanese drama, with likeable characters and some lighter notes to make the romantic squabbles easier to bear. The biggest problem with Don't Laugh at My Romance is that there are already so many similar films and that Nami Iguchi rarely attempts to rise above the rest.

A classic love triangle forms the core of the plot. A young art student is attracted to his free-spirited teacher, whereas his dependable but somewhat boring classmate doesn't seem to have a chance of capturing his romantic interest. No doubt you've seen this played out countless times before.

Fine cinematography, deliberate pacing, great performances and some poignant moments. There's really nothing to complain about, except maybe for the excessive runtime and the lack of truly memorable moments. It's a solid recommend for fans of Japanese drama, but unless you're relatively new to the genre there's little to get truly excited about.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

by Peter Weir
Specifics
USA [2003] - 138m
Genre
Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World poster

A drab and unexciting adventure film. The premise of Master and Commander is simple, but not bad. A long voyage on a ship, faraway lands and warmongering nations, everything is present for a fun-fulled and entertaining two hours of cinema. Except maybe a director who knew how to handle the material.

The film is quite serious, even though it's little more than three battles on the sea and some filler drama in between. The characters are cardboard and performances are uninspired, the soundtrack is misplaced and the cinematography fails to capture the excitement of the voyage and the battles.

It's the trip itself, the vastness of the sea and the short visit to the Galápagos Islands that make it bearable, but it's definitely not enough to warrant the 2+ hour runtime, let alone the many accolades this film has received over the years. Mediocre Hollywood nonsense that should best be forgotten.

Ride Along

by Tim Story
Specifics
USA [2014] - 99m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Ride Along poster

Very basic Hollywood fodder, but within its category definitely not the worst film I've seen. The match-up between Ice Cube and Kevin Hart is a typical one, with both actors immediately falling into their respective stereotypes. Once you're okay with that though, there's some decent fun to be had here.

The story is simple, coupling a loudmouth gamer to a hardened cop and sending them on a mission to capture the kingpin of the city. It's probably like most other cop/buddy films you've seen, the twist being that Hart isn't even an actual cop. But that's just a technicality, as it hardly has any impact on the film.

The banter between Hart and Ice Cube is fun and the action scenes are nice too. Nothing too spectacular, just solid entertainment. The pacing is also on point. The film doesn't feel sluggish and doesn't unnecessarily drag things out. It's a pretty inoffensive action/comedy, nothing new, but proper filler when you want something easily digestible.

Somebody's Xylophone

by Yôichi Higashi
Also known as
Dareka no Mokkin
Specifics
Japan [2016] - 112m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Somebody's Xylophone poster

A solid, but somewhat understated drama. Kaito is a hair stylist, Sayoko a housewife who just moved into the neighborhood with her family. When she goes to Kaito's salon for a haircut, something long dormant awakens in Sayoko. The both of them are in a relationship though, and neither is immediately willing to explore their feelings for each other.

Somebody's Xylophone isn't the first film about middle-age ennui, but Higashi's approach feels quite fresh and modern. The film mostly avoids the usual victimization that tends to dominate similar dramas, instead it creates a very warm and humane narrative that treats its characters with the proper respect.

Performances are good and Higashi makes good use of the soundtrack to either create short breathers, or accentuate certain dramatic moments. The cinematography is crisp and clean, though not quite up there with the better films in the genre. While the film lacks some true stand-out moments, it's a strong film with little to no weak points.

Summer Breeze of Love

by Joe Ma
Also known as
Che Goh Ha Tin Yau Yee Sing
Specifics
Hong Kong [2002] - 107m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Summer Breeze of Love poster

A surprisingly decent film from Joe Ma. A romantic comedy written around "the twins" doesn't sound too appealing on paper. Truth be told, you don't have to expect miracles from this film either, but Summer Breeze of Love turns out to be quite effective, offering light and easily digestible entertainment that never feels misplaced.

The film bathes in a warm summer glow, which is definitely part of the appeal. Some slick and attractive camera work certainly doesn't hurt either. Even Choi and Chung seem to be feeling at ease here. Not that Joe Ma asks a lot of their characters, the romance and the resulting drama is quite stereotypical, but they deliver on what they're asked to do.

The comedy is pretty typical for a Hong Kong film, which may put people off if they're not familiar with it, but even then the romance and light drama is probably enough to redeem this film. Summer Breeze of Love delivers exactly what it promises, and just as long as you don't expect anything too deep or serious that should be enough.

Haru's Journey

by Masahiro Kobayashi
Also known as
Haru Tono Tabi
Specifics
Japan [2010] - 134m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Haru's Journey poster

A solid and heartwarming Kobayashi. It's been a while since I watched one of his films, expectations were relatively low, but it turned out much better than I'd hoped. Which, if I'd been paying more attention, isn't really all that surprising, because I've liked almost all of Kobayashi's films so far.

The two main characters are truly golden. A grumpy grandfather (Tadao) and a submissive granddaughter (Haru) go on an improvised trip after Haru tells him she wants to go her own way in life. Finding a place for Tadao to stay proves harder than expected though, as the bonds with his direct family have soured over the years.

While the drama is quite overt and on the nose, the strong performances, subtle direction and delicate pacing make sure the film always feels genuine and pure. It's a bit long maybe and it might've benefited from some visual polish here and there, but overall this is another great film from Kobayashi. Well recommended for fans of Japanese drama.

The Golden Era

Also known as
Huang Jin Shi Dai
Specifics
Hong Kong, China [2014] - 177m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Golden Era poster

Ann Hui goes for the big guns here, but ends up making a rather cheesy and overly sentimental drama that fails to impress. It's as if she wanted to relive the heydays of Yimou Zhang's work, but lacked Zhang's talent to keep the sentiment under control. The result is an overly long film that drags things out unnecessarily.

The Golden Era ends up being China's answer to Hollywood kitsch. Slow and overstated camera work, overbearing drama that lacks subtlety, a score that is a tearjerker's dream and an epic story that spans half a lifetime. And a 3-hour running time, so even when you aren't impressed by the film itself, you'll be hard-pressed to forget about it afterwards.

It's not all bad though. The actors do a nice job and some stand-alone scenes do work well. The problem is that they're not highlights of climaxes within the film, put just part of the constant onslaught of drama. I'm not a big Hui fan to begin with, but at least her usual mix of character drama and genre cinema offers something unique, this film sadly doesn't.

Penguins of Madagascar

by Eric Darnell, Simon J. Smith
Specifics
USA [2014] - 92m
Genre
Comedy, Animation
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Penguins of Madagascar poster

Truth be told, I didn't expect a lot from this film. I've been going through DreamWorks' animation back catalog and most of these films are rather depressing. What makes Penguins of Madagascar even worse is that it takes the worst side characters of the Madagascar series and gives them their own spin-off.

What did surprise me was the shameless cheapness of the film. As much as I dislike US animation, at least most of these films have a certain standard when it comes to technical quality. Penguins of Madagascar pretty much looks like a TV project. There's little detail, the settings are crude and the animation is poor. And that leaves pretty much nothing to enjoy.

The comedy is so incredibly dumb and predictable, the plot is boring and inconsequential, the voice acting mostly just loud. That seems to be the standard modus operandi of most of these films in fact. Just make it loud and busy and people will laugh at it. Not really my kind of comedy I'm afraid.

Bandage

by Takeshi Kobayashi
Also known as
Bandeiji
Specifics
Japan [2010] - 119m
Genre
Drama, Music
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Bandage poster

A pretty standard, but decent and slightly above par Japanese band drama. There are quite a few of these though, and they never really seem to stand out much. Bandage was written by Iwai, which at least gives it some extra backing, but the result is still pretty much what you'd expect from a film like this.

The camera work and cinematography were nice though. A bit freer and less restrained than usually the case, which helps to give the drama a bit of an extra push. The characters feel also a little more realistic and grounded, but it's not really enough to elevate this film above its many peers.

The actual plot has been done countless times before. Record deals, band troubles, different visions on how to continue etc etc. It's really very basic. The music is also quite drab, which is another recurring problem. Uninteresting J-Pop/Rock that sounds like a million other songs and bands. It's a shame Kobayashi wasn't able to differentiate his film enough, because the potential for something better was clearly there.

The Shaolin Avengers

Also known as
Fang Shi Yu yu Hu Hui Qian
Specifics
Hong Kong, Taiwan [1976] - 97m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Shaolin Avengers poster

A fine Cheh Chang film. Chang does what he knows best and delivers a film with plenty of martial arts acrobatics. The Shaolin Avengers is exactly the type of film Chang got famous for, and with good reason. Martial arts is simply what Chang excels in, this film offers yet more proof of that.

Recently I've been watching some lesser known Chang films, films that often found Chang dabbling in different genres and settings. It's nice to return to his classic martial arts fare after that, because the different in quality is significant. There's a little drama here, but the majority of the film is spent on action scenes.

It's not just the classic martial arts stuff either, the ending has a bona fide pole fight, a personal favorite of mine. It's scenes like these that elevate this above about the countless other Shaw Bros offerings. While not a truly exceptional or spectacular film, The Shaolin Avengers is solid fun that is sure to appeal to fans of the Shaw Bros offerings.

Basic Instinct

by Paul Verhoeven
Specifics
USA, France [1992] - 127m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Basic Instinct poster

I'm pretty sure I'd seen this film before as a kid, but I didn't remember much of it, apart from the scenes that have become part of our cultural memory. It's a Verhoeven though, so I figured it would be nice to give this one another go and see if it was still worth something. The result was a little disappointing I'm afraid.

There's quite a bit of nudity and the murders are pretty direct (for a Hollywood film), but that's about it really. The film itself is a very basic cop thriller, with a rather plain "did she or didn't she" plot that Verhoeven drags out until the very end. I found it hard to care about the final twist, which is never a good sign.

Performances are rather weak (Douglas in particular is prone to some serious overacting) and the film has that rather cheap 90s cop thriller look. The soundtrack isn't very helpful either. The pacing is fine though and the film never gets too slow or boring, but in the end there's not all that much appeal left for a 2 hour film.

EGG.

Specifics
Japan [2005] - 73m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
EGG. poster

Sometimes I forget how crazy those early Tsutsumi films could be. Around the mid 00s his work became a lot more commercial and accessible, but apparently not without going completely mental one final time. EGG is a film for fans of Japanese weirdness, a little mindbender that defies easy description.

The setting is some nondescript future. A woman starts seeing an egg every time she closes her eyes. It's a little unsettling, but when she goes to a doctor nothing strange is found. But then the egg cracks open and a weird monster starts approaching her, and the woman slowly starts to go mad. But how do you escape a monster on the inside of your eyes?

There's some weird lore here that doesn't make too much sense, luckily the film is weird and intriguing enough to transcend its plot. The camera work is nifty, the effects rather cheap but effective and the mystery is upheld until the very end. EGG is short, quirky and unique, it's a shame Tsutsumi abandoned this type of film.

Heaven's Story

Also known as
Hevunzu Sutôrî
Specifics
Japan [2010] - 278m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Heaven's Story poster

No doubt one of Zeze's most ambitious works. A four and a half hour long drama that doesn't pull any punches. It's the kind of film that requires the right state of mind (and some familiarity with Japanese dramas will also come in handy). When those requirements are met though, there's a lot to like here.

The story is quite convoluted and hardly worth detailing, but it spans several years and a handful of main characters, centered around a plot of murder and revenge. It's not really a thriller or crime film though, Zeze focuses squarely on the characters and the emotions that they're trying to process.

The camera work is effective, the soundtrack is beautiful and the performances are top-notch. There are also quite a few stand-out scenes and a fair amount of memorable moments, but 270 minutes was a bit too much for my liking, especially for a film that is tonally consistent for its entire running time. A must for fans of Japanese drama, just make sure you're ready for it.

Dancing Mary

Specifics
Japan [2019] - 105m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Dancing Mary poster

Dancing Mary is a superb blend of so many genres that it's nearly impossible to categorize. Fantasy, horror, crime, comedy and drama seamlessly mix together to tell a beautiful story about a long-lost romance that ended in tragedy. The cinematography is beautiful, the editing is excellent. Add a great score and a fine cast and you have another Tanaka masterpiece.

Little Miss Period

by Shunsuke Shinada
Also known as
Seiri-chan
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 75m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Little Miss Period poster

It's not every day that you bump into a light comedy that focuses on women's periods. Little Miss Period does more than that though, it even brings them to life as physical characters. The fact that this film is directed by a man could lead to all kinds of trouble, so let's hope the West doesn't find out about this one anytime soon.

Believe it or not, as outrageous as the premise may sound, the film itself is actually quite subtle and sweet. The film follows several women whose everyday lives are hindered by their period. The film never gets preachy though, neither is the discomfort played down or ridiculed. And should any men feel left out, there's also a Mr Sex Drive character that is pretty fun.

If you're very sensitive or easily triggered by the whole men vs women debate than this might not be the film for you, otherwise it's just a harmless, pleasant and sweet romantic comedy that distinguishes itself with its unique premise. A solid cast, decent cinematography and a warm ending do the rest.

Hit Me Anyone One More Time!

by Koki Mitani
Also known as
Kioku ni Gozaimasen
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 127m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Hit Me Anyone One More Time! poster

Koki Mitani's latest film is a typical Mitani production. If you're not familiar with the man's work, it's probably a fun introduction into his oeuvre, others may have been expecting a little more. Not that Hit Me Anyone One More Time is a bad film, on the contrary, but it's not a stand-out Mitani either.

After suffering a blow to the head, Kuroda, the prime minister of Japan, wakes up in the hospital. He's lost all of his memories, which gives him a rare opportunity start from scratch. He grabs it with both hands, as he's known as the most hated prime minister in Japanese history (something tells me Mitani found his inspiration across the pond).

The film is kooky and fun, serving light, farce-like comedy. A large cast of exaggerated characters twirls around Kuroda while he tries to make things right again, for his family as well as his country. The presentation is nice, actors do a good job and the pacing is perfect. A fine film, the only problem is that I know Mitani can do better.

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

by J.J. Abrams
Specifics
USA [2019] - 142m
Genre
Sci-fi, Fantasy
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker poster

I've never been a big Star Wars fan, but the original trilogy was pretty decent and fun. The subsequent ones were anything but and this final episode seems hellbent on repeating all the mistakes of the previous entries. While on paper a film like this seems virtually impossible to fuck up, Abrams certainly gave it his best shot.

Rise of Skywalker tried to be dark, funny and emotional, and it failed miserable at all of these things. For example, it's clear that McDiarmid was supposed to come off as evil and menacing, but it's almost embarrassing to see him struggle. Then there's the obvious attempts at comic relief, but not a single one of the jokes land. And with so many nonsense floating around, it's nigh impossible to feel anything for anyone.

Some horrendous performances don't help either. Isaac is a fluke, Ridley is a poor Knightley stand-in and Boyega looks utterly lost. Ultimately though, it's Abrams who should shoulder most of the blame. With all that money and technical skill on display, it's shameful that there isn't a single impressive scene here. Badly paced, horribly cut up and completely unbalanced. Abrams has no place in cinema.

Pride & Prejudice

by Joe Wright
Specifics
USA, France [2005] - 129m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Pride & Prejudice poster

A typical Wright film. It's definitely classier than your average costume drama, but it's still very much a costume drama. Overtly posh and British, quite slow, an overload of drama and too sentimental for its own good. I'm not a big fan of the genre and this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice did little to change my mind.

Quite a few famous actors on the cast though, with a defining role for Knightley and a well-stuffed secondary roster. While they do their best make the most of it, the format hardly allows them to make something of their characters, meaning actors like Mulligan and Reilly are pretty much wasted on this film.

The setting looks rich and the outdoor shots are pretty nice, which turned out to be the main selling point for me. That's hardly enough for a 2+ hour film of course and the second hour in particular dragged quite a bit. Fans of costume dramas are sure to find something they like here, for me there wasn't much here.

We Are Little Zombies

by Makoto Nagahisa
Also known as
Wî Â Ritoru Zonbîzu
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 120m
Genre
Comedy, Music
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
We Are Little Zombies poster

This felt particularly fun and fresh. Makoto Nagahisa's first full-length feature is quite the calling card, overflowing with novel ideas and presented with plenty of flair and audacity. On paper this film is supposed to be right up my alley, somehow though it wasn't quite as good as the sum of its parts.

I can't quite recall any other film with a chiptune soundtrack. On the one hand it shows that We Are Little Zombies is quite forward-thinking, on the other hand it also illustrates how slow and backwards the medium of cinema is. Which is probably why this film never really got to me. I grew up in the 80s/90s and appreciate the whole 8-bit vibe here, but that's 30 years ago. I simply prefer a more modern approach.

The presentation is pretty slick though. Lots of visual gags, crazy cinematography, funny and interesting characters and a constant onslaught of twists and turns. The film's a tad too long and also a little fragmented, with certain parts working better than others, but overall Nagahisa succeeded in showing off his talent. Now let's bring him back to our time and let him make a film for the 2020s.

A Piece of Our Life

by Momoko Andô
Also known as
Kakera
Specifics
Japan [2009] - 107m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
A Piece of Our Life poster

A decent drama, though I expected a bit more from this one. I liked Ando's 0.5 mm and I'd heard good things about A Piece of Our Life, but it felt rather sterile and a little too by the numbers. As if I'd already seen this film a million times before, only with different actors and from a different director.

It is quite novel within the Japanese canon I guess, there aren't that many gay dramas, certainly not high-profile ones. The start of the film is pretty good too, but then it starts to falter a little. The romance never dazzles and the drama felt a bit overdone, especially the boorish boyfriend didn't add much.

Performances are nice though and the cinematography is pretty decent too. Nothing out of the ordinary, but some well-framed shots and nice camerawork. Add a decent score and you have a solid, though somewhat unremarkable drama. It's not a terrible introduction to Ando's work, I'd just hoped it'd be something more than that.

The Score

by Frank Oz
Specifics
Canada, USA [2001] - 124m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Score poster

A pretty basic heist film. I expected a film that was a little more distinctive from Oz, but apparently he was fine with plain old genre work and a little twist at the end, something that was practically required around the turn of the millennium. The result is a respectable, but rather boring feature.

Some big names were hired to draw in the audience. De Niro, Norton and Brando have enough charisma to carry a film by themselves, putting them together in a film means money in the bank. But with a dull and predictable plot, bland characterization and a lack of sparkle in the direction, not all that much comes of it.

If you like heist films, the film is quite entertaining. Apart from that, there's just very little to recommend here. A less predictable twist, 30 minutes cut from the runtime and some tighter editing might've helped to salvage this film, in its current state though, it's little more than random filler.