The Rental

by Dave Franco
Specifics
USA [2020] - 88m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Rental poster

A decent thriller that does pretty much everything right, but still fails to make a real impression. It's a little hard to pinpoint where exactly Franco could've done better, it's probably a bit of everything. In the end though, I was never on the egde of my seat, nor did I ever experience the tension this film was so eagerly chasing.

Two couples go to a secluded vacation home to spend the weekend. It's a simple premise and Franco doesn't do a lot to spruce it up. Instead, he goes for a slow but deliberate build-up that gradually reveals what tricks are being played. It's a tried and tested setup and it works well enough, except that the payoff just isn't that thrilling. And the little twist at the end isn't as disturbing as it is presented.

Performances are decent but though out of the ordinary. The cinematography is clean and slick, but not quite tense enough. The same can be said about the soundtrack. It's a nice bit of filler and it never gets dull or bland, in the end it just fails to stand out from all its peers and since this genre has been done to death already, that's a little disappointing.

NiNoKuni

by Yoshiyuki Momose
Also known as
Ni no Kuni
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 106m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
NiNoKuni poster

I waited with this film until I finished the first game, it turns out that wasn't necessary at all as the link between both is pretty much nonexistent. The film takes the general concept of the games (two interconnected worlds) and builds its own story on top of that. A promising premise, but the execution falters.

The first game was animated by Ghibli, which gave it plenty of charm. The film feels like a cheap imitation. The animation itself is rather poor, the art style lacks detail and looks flat. It comes of as extremely generic, which is a bit surprising considering the studio behind it proved its worth with Modest Heroes just a year earlier.

The plot is also very basic, run-of-the-mill JRPG stuff that struggled to hold my attention. The characters are rather generic and the runtime is a little too long, especially considering how predictable everything is. It was nice to see some minor references to the game, but this should've been a lot better. Pretty disappointing.

Backdraft

Specifics
USA [1991] - 137m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Backdraft poster

Ron Howard's ode to the firefighters, Hollywood-style. That means you can expect some pretty big and expensive action scenes, mixed with some very cringeworthy drama. Sadly the balance is a little off and the wait between the action set pieces is a little too long to keep the film interesting.

Performances are quite poor, with Kurt Russell and William Baldwin playing two bickering brothers. Russell is the older brother, while Baldwin is a fresh recruit that joins the firefighter squad. This doesn't sit well with Russell etc. It's all very predictable and with a cast of second grade actors it doesn't make much of an impression.

But at least the fires are impressive and Howard does a decent job milking these scenes for adrenaline. There just aren't enough of them and the film runs 140 minutes long, which is ridiculous for a simple story like this. It's all supposed to be very epic and heroic, but it would've been a lot better if someone had realized this is really just cheesy action flick material.

The Day of Destruction

by Toshiaki Toyoda
Also known as
Hakai no Hi
Specifics
Japan [2020] - 57m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
4.5*/5.0*
The Day of Destruction poster

Toshiaki Toyoda is back. The renegade director returns with a film that tackles the current epidemic, though not without some broader stabs at humankind's greed and egocentricity. While there is a rough narrative, The Day of Destruction is a mood piece first and foremost, hammering home its message. This is the Toyoda I love.

Inferno of Torture

by Teruo Ishii
Also known as
Tokugawa Irezumi-shi: Seme Jigoku
Specifics
Japan [1969] - 94m
Genre
Horror, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Inferno of Torture poster

A classic Teruo Ishii feature. Torture and tattoos, featured in equal measures. Ishii made a name for himself directing films with rather taboo subjects and Inferno of Torture fits the bill. The nice thing is that Ishii is actually a rather gifted director, so his films are never truly cheap or sleazy.

The film highlights the "industry" of tattooed virgins and a professional feud between two tattoo masters, as they try to come up with the most unique tattoo set on the fairest skin. The contrast between their skill and aristry and the abuse of their human canvases is pretty effective and keeps the film interesting.

Performances are decent but a little overdone, the cinematography is nice though and aptly captures the beauty of the tattoos. It's a pretty impressive spectacle, though it probably should've been a little shorter as the story isn't really beefy enough to support the 90-minute runtime.

Attraction

by Fedor Bondarchuk
Also known as
Prityazhenie
Specifics
Russia [2017] - 117m
Genre
Sci-fi, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Attraction poster

Russian sci-fi meets young adult. It's a weird premise, but the film is actually better than it sounds. The sci-fi elements were well executed and the young adult romance isn't quite as pervasive or juvenile as usually the case in the American counterparts. The result is a film that entertains.

The first twenty minutes or so are quite impressive, with an alien spaceship crashing down in Moscow (while causing quite a bit of destruction). The film slows down after that and focuses on a human/alien bond that is used extensively to provide some (critical) comments on the human race.

Performances are decent, the effects and designs look impressive, the cinematography is modern and snappy and the score is fitting, though a little too poppy at times. It's nice to see Russia isn't skimping on making big budget genre cinema. It's a bit long though and Bondarchuk can't match the impressive beginning, but I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Polder

by Julian M. Grünthal, Samuel Schwarz
Specifics
Switzerland, Germany [2015] - 90m
Genre
Sci-fi, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Polder poster

An odd, but enjoyable mess. Polder is a weird mix of Swiss and Japanese culture (due to the interest of writer/director Samuel Schwarz I assume, as the connection is never properly explained). An intriguing match-up and the sole reason I was drawn to this film, luckily that's not all Polder has to offer.

The story is going to be a challenge to keep up with and I think most people will need multiple viewings to get all the finer details. I know I will. The structure is disorienting by design, but you can easily ignore all the weird reveals and simply enjoy the film for its atmosphere, as Schwarz and Grünthal made that a clear priority.

The cinematography, editing and score are all pretty intriguing, but they're not quite edgy enough to carry the film. It lacks the grit, craziness and cool of the films (and other cultural elements) it's trying to reference, which keeps Polder from becoming a masterpiece itself. But if you like odd, unique and perplexing films, it's definitely worth a try.

Snowy Love Fall in Spring

Also known as
Haru no Yuki
Specifics
Japan [2005] - 150m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Snowy Love Fall in Spring poster

Yukisada is best known for making contemporary drama/romance cinema, but 2005 was the year that he wanted to do something different. Year One in the North and Snowy Love Fall in Spring are two films that feature a more historic setting. While not Yukisada's biggest strength, Snowy Love Fall in Spring is clearly the better of the two.

The film takes a while to get up to speed, which isn't too surprising considering the rather uptight and formal early 20th century setting. It's not really an ideal era for sprawling romance, but the second half makes up for that, when the story finally takes a turn for the tragic and Yukisada feels visibly more at ease.

Performances are strong, with Tsumabuki sticking out in a stand-out role. The rest of the cast is good too, but not quite as notable. The cinematography is classic but refined, the same can be said about the soundtrack. The film's a bit long-winding and the intro a bit long, apart from that this was a fine romantic tragedy.

The Beach House

by Jeffrey A. Brown
Specifics
USA [2019] - 88m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Beach House poster

A small and inconspicuous looking horror film that starts off somewhat tepid and doubty, but builds up surprisingly well. The first 30 minutes are quite slow and the actors aren't really A-grade, which doesn't muster up too much confidence in the rest of the film, but stick with it and you might be surprised.

There's a feeling of dread from the very beginning, but because of the slow start it never feels like it's going to materialize into something tangible. That quickly changes once the film starts revealing its true nature during the middle part. Things get weird really fast and because the intro didn't reveal anything of note, you'll be struggling to keep up.

Brown really drives up the tension during the second half and keeps it alive until the very end. A mix of sci-fi, body horror and nature's revenge blends together to create a very creepy and disorienting atmosphere. Actors are pushed to the background and what remains is a moody and freaky horror film. Pretty good.

The Son

by Sebastián Schindel
Also known as
El Hijo
Specifics
Argentina [2019] - 92m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Son poster

Argentinian thriller that turned out to be a little too predictable for its own good. Director Schindel tries to spice things up by messing around with the chronology of the narrative, the problem is that it's too transparent and it takes away some of the tension. Not really what you want from a good thriller.

The setup is nice enough. A painter and his wife are trying really hard to get a child, but when luck is finally on their side, the mom gets extremely protective of her newborn. That's the story of the painter at least, after he gets apprehended by the police for hitting his wife. Of course the film is keeping those pivotal scenes to itself until late in the second half.

Performances are decent but nothing exceptional. The cinematography isn't anything special either and a thriller could really use a better soundtrack. The film is short and the pacing is decent, it never really drags either, but without tangible tension it just isn't a great success. Simple filler.

The Cowards Who Looked to the Sky

by Yuki Tanada
Also known as
Fugainai Boku wa Sora wo Mita
Specifics
Japan [2012] - 141m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Cowards Who Looked to the Sky poster

Interesting drama that starts off pretty well, but begins to wander the moment it tries to juggle too many characters and plot lines. There's a lot of drama that needs to be covered, a lot of characters that are dealing with issues of their own, and I feel a tighter focus might've done the film some good.

Tanada's direction is frank and to the point, but not as refined as I'd hoped. A little extra attention to the camera work and soundtrack could've helped to create a bigger dramatic impact. While the film doesn't look cheap or uninviting, the styling is pretty functional and by the numbers.

Performances are great though and there is definitely some interesting drama to dig through, I just had a little trouble with the shifting focus of the narrative, that often abandons characters for long stretches of time. A solid film that is sure to please fans of Japanese drama, but a little too uneven to be truly great.

Little Women

by Greta Gerwig
Specifics
USA [2019] - 135m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Little Women poster

I'm not familiar with the book and only saw the '94 remake, of which I remember virtually nothing. After seeing Gerwig's version, I find comfort in the idea that I'll have forgotten all about this version too in just a few days. What a lifeless, dull and uninspired remake, a film that feels completely lost in 2019.

The story about four young women growing up after the American Civil War was once revolutionary, nowadays it feels dated and stuffy. Gerwig's attempt to infuse the story with a bit more girl power by focusing on the Jo character doesn't really work, probably because the rest of the film remains incredibly old-fashioned.

Gerwig's direction is poor, performances are mediocre across the board and there's no reason this story should've been dragged out to span 135 minutes, especially because the focus mostly rests on just one character anyway. There was a lot of hype surrounding this film, not a clue what that was about. This was corny, tired and outdated.

Archive

by Gavin Rothery
Specifics
UK, Hungary [2020] - 105m
Genre
Sci-fi
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Archive poster

Fine sci-fi that offers a pretty straight-forward and familiar story, but impresses with its execution. The plot offers nothing new and hardcore sci-fi fans will feel right at home among the themes and subjects that Archive raises, luckily Rothery keeps a tight focus and doesn't let his film stray from genre territory.

Black Mirror fans may be disappointed not more time is spent on social critique, drama and dystopian concepts, I'm glad there's finally light on the end of the tunnel, and we seem to be moving away from that type of sci-fi again. Archive is good old-fashioned genre fun, where you're allowed to oggle at all the robots and tech.

There are a few nods to Ghost in the Shell here (the making of a robot sequence more specifically), apart from that Archive tries hard to build its own universe. It does a good job at that too, with strong cinematography, a fine soundtrack and solid performances. While it lacks something truly unique and it's no certified masterpiece, it's a much better sci-fi that most make it out to be.

The New Shaolin Boxers

by Cheh Chang, Wu Ma
Also known as
Cai Li Fa Xiao Zi
Specifics
Taiwan, Hong Kong [1976] - 96m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The New Shaolin Boxers poster

It's a mix of the old and the new, but ultimately little more than basic Cheh Chang filler. The training sequences really feel like classic Chang, but the setting is a bit more modern. Not exactly contemporary, but clearly not the rural, historical setting we usually see in the Shaw Bros films.

There's plenty of martial arts action in New Shaolin Boxers, which is always a plus. The synchronized training sequences in particular jump out, but the fights themselves are nicely choreographed too. Add to that some familiar faces and most Cheng/Shaw Bros fans will have plenty to look forward to.

The romance and bits of drama in between though are of much lower quality, and slow the film down. Like many of Chang's films, the middle part drags a little, luckily it's a short film and it doesn't take too long before the finale kicks in. A pretty typical Cheh Chang film in other words, not bad, but not all that remarkable either.

Thunderdome Never Dies

by Ted Alkemade, Vera Holland
Specifics
Netherlands [2019] - 82m
Genre
Documentary, Music
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Thunderdome Never Dies poster

Not sure how well this documentary will travel, but if you have an interest in the harder styles of dance music (or you've actually lived through the whole Thunderdome era) it's definitely worth a watch. Production values are pretty high and while the structure is very classic, there's a disarming honesty that gives it some extra flair.

Hardcore still isn't socially accepted, in the sense that you still won't hear any of it on the radio, even though the style is 30 years old. It's not that uncommon for a culture that's mostly associated with young people and rebellion, all the weirder to see a bunch of old dudes fronting this documentary. But even young and reckless people grow old, and they started all this after all.

It's a very nice, compact but comprehensive recount of the way Thunderdome came to be. The interviewees talk candidly about the early days, their failures, the sudden successes and the cultural impact of the label and the parties. There's nothing new here for most oldskool fans, but it's still a very cool trip down memory lane nonetheless. And sporting a killer soundtrack of course.

The Space Between Us

by Peter Chelsom
Specifics
USA [2017] - 120m
Genre
Sci-fi, Romance
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Space Between Us poster

A teen romance with some sci-fi bits tacked on to make things a little more interesting. Whether effective really depends on one's ability to go along with the romance, personally I didn't think it worked all that well. While Chelsom's film is promising in places, the overall impression is one of missed potential.

The story revolves around the first boy born on Mars, somewhat of a medical mishap that wasn't supposed to happen. He is awfully lonely there and all he wants is to go back to Earth. Sadly his body isn't built to survive Earth's gravity. Sounds very sci-fi, but that's just the setup, so don't expect too much of it.

The bulk of the film is set on Earth and is little more than a young adult romance story. While the cinematography is decent, the soundtrack is a little disappointing and the actors aren't all that convincing either. Not even Oldman manages to make a good impression. I had better hopes for this one, but it wasn't terrible either.

Legend

by Brian Helgeland
Specifics
UK, France [2015] - 132m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Legend poster

A solid but typical crime film. Tom Hardy takes on the roles of Ron and Reggie Kray, two infamous London crime lords who established themselves during the 60s. Helgeland doesn't really stray too far away from the beaten path, delivering a fairly simple rise and fall story that starts off rather quirky and fun, but turns more dramatic towards the end.

Hardy does a good job, though at times it feels like he's trying too hard to differentiate between the two brothers. Browning is decent too, but she fails to make a real impression. Luckily the secondary cast is on point, with fine actors like Paul Anderson and David Thewlis providing the necessary support.

The first hour is by far the most interesting, with small nods to Ritchie that help to brighten the mood. 135 minutes is a bit long though and once the inevitable fall starts, the film begins to lose some of its appeal. It's definitely not a bad option when you're in the mood for some crime cinema, just don't expect anything extraordinary.