The To Do List

by Maggie Carey
Specifics
USA [2013] - 104m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The To Do List poster

A simple sex comedy that gets saved by a solid cast and some smart genre reversal tricks. Usually I'm not too impressed by US high school teen/sex comedies and the beginning didn't inspire much hope, but once all the characters are introduced and the film finds its footing, things improve a lot.

Brandy is a typical nerd who spent all her time studying in order to get the best possible grades. When her high school life is over, she has zero experience with boys, which is setting her up for a dire time in college. She turns her quest to get deflowered into a school project and doesn't back down from using her friends to finish her assignments.

Having actors like Plaza and Hader there definitely helps with the comedy, the supporting cast is also pretty cool (with fun cameos of Andy Samberg, Donald Glover and Nolan Gould). The rest is all pretty basic stuff. Light fluff, occassionally funny and nicely paced, but nothing too memorable or out of the ordinary.

No Sleep Till PRSPCT

by Adriaan De Koning
Specifics
The Netherlands [2018] - 33m
Genre
Documentary, Music
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
No Sleep Till PRSPCT poster

An ode to the PRSPCT music label. It's only a short documentary and no doubt commissioned, but since it documents a tiny underground niche of the music scene that doesn't get too much attention otherwise there's definitely value in it. Some affinity with the scene is definitely handy, though adventurous music fans are sure to get something out of this too.

The film follows Gareth de Wijk, aka Trasher, the man behind the PRSPCT label. It details how he evolved from punk and drum 'n bass to the crossbreed/hardcore sound that now defines the label. Some of its most prominent resident artists get a little screen time, and we follow how they prepare for their big 15 years of PRSPCT celebration.

The short runtime makes it difficult to really delve into things, but it's nice to learn about the faces behind the label, its rebellious origins and the drive/love for the scene. On the other hand, the "one big happy family" narrative isn't all that original and their claims to fame are pretty standard too. Still, I'm happy this was made, informative and fun.

The Butterfly Chalice

by Cheh Chang, Chiu Feng Yuan
Also known as
Hu Die Bei
Specifics
Hong Kong [1965] - 88m
Genre
Romance, Musical
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Butterfly Chalice poster

This is where it all started for the infamous Cheh Chang/Shaw Bros collaboration. Don't expect a typical Chang film though, The Butterfly Chalice is a mix of musical elements (which is why they also brought in Chiu Feng Yuan) and revenge/action scenes, which don't make a lot of sense when put together.

As Yu Quan notices an old fisherman being attacked by a rude official, he jumps in and inadvertently kills the fisherman's assailant. The district officials chase Yu Quan, but with the help of the fisherman's daughter he manages to escape. To commemorate her good deed and their eternal friendship, Yu Quan gifts her a butterfly chalice.

What's nice about these older Shaw Bros film is that they're not all studio work, which generally makes for better-looking films. Chang's potential for action already shines through, but that's only a small part of the film. I'm not a big fan of Chinese opera and that really stands in the way of enjoying The Butterfly Chalice. Still, it's interesting to see how Chang got started.

Syndromes and a Century

by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Also known as
Sang Sattawat
Specifics
France, Thailand [2006] - 105m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Syndromes and a Century poster

It's been quite a while since I last watched a Weerasethakul film. While there's clear potential there, Weerasethakul's style is quite specific and appeals to a very particular niche of film fans. There's an overlap with my taste, but it's fickle and it seems to be diminishing over time. Syndromes and a Century is one of Weerasethakul's earlier films, so I figured I could give it a shot.

The film is split in two distinct parts. One is set in an old, rural and homely hospital, the other in a very modern, urban hospital facility. There seems to be an overlap in characters, stories and events, with each setting having a slightly different effect on the scenes that play out. That's just not the premise, that's the entire plot right there.

Weerasethakul is all about mood and whenever there's a soundtrack present he nails it. The score is amazing and works well with the slow, meandering visuals, but whenever the music fades away, so does the atmosphere. The cinematography feels too unpolished to carry the film by itself, which is my biggest complaint. The plot and characters aren't very interesting either, then again that's not really what Weerasethakul's films are about. There are some very strong and captivating scene here, it just isn't very consistent.

Love Undercover 3

by Joe Ma
Also known as
Sun Jaat Si Mui 3
Specifics
Hong Kong [2006] - 101m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Love Undercover 3 poster

The third and final entry in the Love Undercover series. The second film was somewhat of a letdown, luckily Joe Ma manages to shake things up a little. Not that this film is a true return to form (and to be clear, the first film wasn't that great to begin with), but at least is doesn't feel quite as uninspired.

Wao is a new recruit in Chung's team. She's young and inexperienced, but she's also eager to learn and has a way to get luck on her side. Wao is spoiled by her teammates and before long Chung's team gets a bad reputation. So much in fact that another police team introduces a mole in order to document their misbehavior.

It's not that Miriam Yeung was a miscast, but Fiona Sit brings some much-needed spark to the franchise. The comedy is still pretty mediocre and the story really isn't anything to write home about, but the atmosphere is light and the pacing is solid. Not a great film, but it's pretty decent filler.

Out of the Past

by Jacques Tourneur
Specifics
USA [1947] - 97m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Out of the Past poster

Another very typical film noir. I've seen quite a few these past couple of months, and they pretty much all pan out the same way. Out of the Past has a few things going for it, but ultimately the film falls prey to the usual pitfalls of the genre and ends with a whimper. I'm not a big noir fan I'm afraid.

Bailey, a former private detective, switches jobs and opens a garage. He can't escape his criminal past though and not long after his former boss (Sterling) summons him. He was robbed by his girlfriend, who immediately bailed. Bailey has to trace the money and get Sterling's girlfriend back.

As always, the first part is promising, but then the endless conversations start and things slow down to a crawl. Performances are mediocre, the plot is far from interesting and some meager twists and turns can't turn things around. The stark black and white cinematography is a plus, but it's not enough to make a big difference.

The Pilgrim

by Charles Chaplin
Specifics
USA [1923] - 47m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
The Pilgrim poster

A very typical Chaplin production, only shorter. It's a purer comedy compared to most of his feature length films, but in the end that didn't make all that big of a difference to me. I simply can't stand Chaplin's most famous character (the Tramp), which makes his films very difficult to sit through.

Chaplin plays a convict who just escaped from prison. He arrives in a small, God-loving town, people there mistake him for a pastor. Because he has nowhere else to go, he decides to play along, but he really has no experience and of course it doesn't take long before he starts messing up.

I'm not a big slapstick fan to begin with, but there's just something about Chaplin that irks me. I don't think he's funny at all, the jokes are dire, the film is slow and feels like a selection of random sketches and there's way too much repetition. It's simply unpleasant from start to finish.

A Gentle Breeze in the Village

by Nobuhiro Yamashita
Also known as
Tennen Kokekkô
Specifics
Japan [2007] - 121m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
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A Gentle Breeze in the Village poster

A very warm and gentle Yamashita film. Turbulent teenage emotions shine through in small gestures and meaningful stares, held in check by the idyllic charm of a peaceful, rural town. It's a pretty typical Japanese coming of age drama, but executed with such finesse that I loved every single minute of it.

Love Undercover 2: Love Mission

by Joe Ma
Also known as
Sun Jaat Si Mui 2
Specifics
Hong Kong [2003] - 100m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Love Undercover 2: Love Mission poster

While the first Love Undercover film wasn't that bad, I don't think it really needed a sequel (let alone two). No doubt the popularity of the first one demanded it to be turned into a franchise, so here we are. Love Undercover 2 is a bog standard sequel that rehashes its own formula, but fails to add anything substantial.

Kuen is still enjoying her promotion when she's given a new assignment. She needs to protect a VIP and give her a tour of Hong Kong. The assignment goes horribly wrong that and Kuen nearly gets her kicked off the force. It's the beginning of another undercover mission in which Kuen's future husband gets a part too.

The main cast is there again, director Joe Ma also returns. Other than that this comes off like a simple cash-in. The story is plain, the direction feels rushed and the comedy is subpar. The tone is light and the pacing is decent so it's definitely an easy watch, there just isn't much quality to turn it into something more.

After Death

by Yevgeny Bauer
Also known as
Posle Smerti
Specifics
Russia [1915] - 46m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
After Death poster

A very early Russian silent film. I was already familiar with the work of Eisenstein, but hadn't seen any Russian films older than his. That's probably why After Death stunned me a little, I guess I was expecting a more experimental, hectic and/or sullen film, instead Yevgeny Bauer delivers a surprisingly mature drama.

Andrei is somewhat of a recluse who lives together with his aunt. When his pal Tsenin finally gets Andrei to go out with him, he meets Kadmina and the two immediately hit it off. When three months later word reaches Andrei that Kadmina has come to pass, his love turns into obsession.

The most remarkable thing about After Death is how composed and calm it is. There's no rushed editing, no extreme acting and no rattling soundtrack, instead we get a well-constructed drama that build up towards a tragic ending. It's one of the few silents I've seen that actually got me to care about its characters, though sadly Bauer can't quite keep it together during the finale. An interesting discovery nonetheless.

Come On Irene

by Keisuke Yoshida
Also known as
Itoshi no Irene
Specifics
Japan [2018] - 137m
Genre
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Come On Irene poster

A neat little surprise. The film reminded me a little of the gritty Japanese dramadies that were in fashion ten years ago. Come On Irene offers a weird blend of genres that's pretty much impossible to pin down. The fact that it's so unpredictable is both a blessing and a curse, but in the end the balance is positive.

Iwao is a deadbeat who still lives with his parents. He has a crummy job in a pachinko parlor, and he has no outlook on finding a proper soulmate. One day he decides to pack up and go to the Philippines to buy himself a wife. When he returns, his father is deceased and his mother isn't too pleased with Iwao's choices in life.

Performances are strong, the film looks rather polished and even though it's quite long, it never really drags. The main reason is that director Yoshida keeps jumping between comedy, crime and drama, which makes it difficult to see where it is all leading. The film comes quite close to greatness, but stops short of making it all the way.

Backroads

by Phillip Noyce
Specifics
Australia [1977] - 60m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Backroads poster

Phillip Noyce's first feature film. I'm not a big Noyce fan and this film certainly isn't going to change my mind. It's a very raw, crude and unpolished flick that probably does a good job capturing a specific place, time and scene, but Noyce never managed to get me interested in his characters and their ramblings.

Gary is a nobody who just wanders about. One day he runs into Jack, a minor criminal who steals a car in order to travels the back roads of Australia. Gary joins him, on the way several other hitchhikers join them on their journey. And so we're watching a road trip that doesn't lead anywhere interesting.

Performances are poor, the dialogues are trivial and the characters are invariable irritating. I don't think Noyce cared much about the cinematography and the soundtrack is a serious drag. People with a love for the 70s might find something interesting here, I was glad the film was just an hour long.

Just Another Christmas

by Roberto Santucci
Also known as
Tudo Bem No Natal Que Vem
Specifics
Brazil [2020] - 100m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Just Another Christmas poster

Interesting Christmas flick that, as it turns out, isn't really about Christmas at all. I'm not a big fan of Christmas celebrations myself, though that doesn't necessarily mean I enjoy watching grouches ruin other people's festivities. The introduction of Just Another Christmas was a bit much, but once the film reveals its true face it becomes a very enjoyable comedy with its heart in the right place.

Jorge doesn't like Christmas, his life becomes hell on Earth when he starts suffering from partial amnesia. One half of him lives a regular life, the other half only surfaces on Christmas Eve. Jorge feels terrible about having to live through the same day over an over again, but soon realizes that seeing his life slip by is actually much worse.

Leandro Hassum is energetic and extremely present. It took me a while to get used to him, but in the end I did appreciate his performance. The comedy is rather silly and predictable, but the delivery is amusing and actors clearly had a lot of fun with it. Overall the film is amusing and light, but its tragic core lies right below the surface and when it surfaces it really hits the mark. Not a big Christmas fan, not a Groundhog Day fan either, but this was surprisingly good.

The Three-Sided Mirror

by Jean Epstein
Also known as
La Glace à Trois Faces
Specifics
France [1927] - 40m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Three-Sided Mirror poster

My second Epstein, and it's clear that he's a director I would've loved if I'd been born 100 years ago. His films still feel pretty unique and distinctive, which is quite something for a director who made his name during the 1920s and 30s. The Three-Sided Mirror may not be his best work, but it was certainly interesting.

A young and wealthy businessman is profiled through his relationships with three different women. The first is a high-class dame, the second an artist and the third a working-class girl. When the relationships get too serious though, the man bolts and ditches the woman without giving them a proper explanation.

Epstein has a very remarkable visual style. The pacing of the editing is interesting, the shots betray a affinity for aesthetic beauty and the settings look lush. The drama is not quite as gripping though and the performances are decent, but nothing too remarkable. The man was clearly born too early.

The Mysteries of a Hairdresser's Shop

by Bertolt Brecht, Erich Engel
Also known as
Die Mysterien Eines Frisiersalons
Specifics
Germany [1923] - 32m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Mysteries of a Hairdresser's Shop poster

I was aware of the German Expressionist of the '20s, but I don't think I've ever seen a German comedy from that era before. It's quite a bit different from the usual slapstick antics people like Chaplin or Keaton would come up with at that time, so there was definitely value in giving this film a shot.

The plot is extremely basic and the title is quite self-explanatory. We follow a barber shop where the barber isn't too worried about doing a decent job. He cuts people bald, chops their heads off and get himself into all kinds of trouble. It's basically just one big series of sketches.

The comedy is quite dark though and the actors don't really adhere to the classic slapstick mold. It's not extremely funny, but at least it's a welcome change from people falling over and/or bumping in to each other. An interesting curiosity, not too long and decently paced, but not that funny.

Regeneration

by Gillies MacKinnon
Specifics
Canada, UK [1997] - 96m
Genre
War
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Regeneration poster

A highbrow war flick. Be sure to not expect any big battle scenes, gory action or stories of epic comradery, this is a slow and well-articulated reflection on war. It was a bit too uptight for my liking, but since I'm not that big a fan of war cinema, this turned out to be a welcome change of pace.

After World War I, two soldiers are sent to a mental hospital to recover. They struggle with survivor's guilt, and they find it hard to deal with the atrocities they have witnessed during the war. In order to get better, they are urged to write about their feelings. The both of them turn out to be very adept poets.

The performances are solid, the soundtrack is nice and the lack of standard war heroics is refreshing. The pacing is quite slow though and the dialogues are a bit overworked. Even though the film tries very hard to be deep and introspective, the drama feels a bit cheap at times. Interesting film, but overall not that successful.

Freaky

by Christopher Landon
Specifics
USA [2020] - 102m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Freaky poster

Landon's latest Blumhouse project. That means teeny horror with a small twist and some light comedy to keep things breezy and fun. Landon's films aren't masterpiece material, but they're perfect cinema/date night movies that are easy watches, while making a real effort to be as entertaining as possible.

The Butcher is an urban legend who turns very real one weekend. He invades a small town, steals a dagger and starts killing people. When he meets Millie, a somewhat reclusive girl, he stabs her with the dagger, and they swap bodies. When The Butcher can survive in his new body for 24 hours, the swap becomes definitive.

Performances are solid, with a stand-out part for Vince Vaughn. The comedy is decent, the horror references are fun and the kills are quite brutal, though the film remains light on actual gore. The core twist is fun enough, the pacing is solid and the film doesn't outstay its welcome. Another solid Landon, no doubt we'll see a sequel next year.

The Century of the Self

by Adam Curtis
Specifics
UK [2002] - 235m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Century of the Self poster

I was quite hopeful for this documentary. The topic sounded pretty interesting and I'd seen and liked Curtis' Politics of Fear. It ended up being quite a disappointment though. Rather than uncover part of the human psyche, it's a documentary that's more interested in the who's, when's and why's of group psychology.

Curtis explores how the individual became the center of attention in the 20th century. Rather than focus on the media and consumer behavior, and try to bare the underlying mechanics at play, Curtis takes a more political angle and dredges up wars and political left/right mind games. Not really what I was hoping for.

There are some interesting anecdotes scattered around this documentary, but they are few and far between. Instead, this is a pretty dry history lesson, with little cinematic value. It also doesn't help that the film is 20 years old and a lot of extremely relevant things happened in those 20 years. Not the eyeopener I was expecting to see.

For Your Eyes Only

by John Glen
Specifics
UK [1981] - 127m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
For Your Eyes Only poster

James Bond arrives in the 80s, a decade that would be reserved for director John Glen. These actor/director switches have always been a bit tough on the franchise, but this particular film felt like a real struggle. This was by far the weakest Bond film I've seen so far, hopefully not a sign for what is to come.

A British ship with a highly classified load is sunk near the coast of Greece. James Bond is sent on a mission to make sure nobody else gets to the load before the Brits, but there are quite a few others who would like to make sure Bond never makes it. Luckily Bond gets help from the mysterious Melina.

Maybe it's because Moonraker was a tough act to follow up, but I was a bit bummed we're back to the skiing and underwater tricks for this one. The action isn't very spectacular, the soundtrack was way too cheesy and Glen makes poor use of the settings. Fingers crossed this was just Glen having some trouble settling in, as it was by far the least entertaining Bond.

Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

by Jon Foy
Specifics
USA [2011] - 86m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles poster

A documentary on the Toynbee Tiles mystery. Or the construed mystery if you will, as the story never feels all that substantial, let alone worthy of a documentary. It's one of those film that hopes to take you through the rabbit hole, but for that you really have to buy into its premise.

Some typical geeks start fawning over a series of tiles spotted throughout the US. The tiles contain a cryptic message, information on the internet is sparse and nobody is claiming the tiles as their work. And so an improvised investigation starts, as the forum dwellers try to find out who is behind the creation of these tiles.

This is little more than oldskool conspiracy theories combined with internet niche obsession. The mystery really didn't grab me, the time spent on off-topic nonsense (like a profile on the guy who started the investigation) is a complete waste of time and any cinematic attempts to make it more mysterious fall flat. The film simply failed to grab my attention.

The Christmas Chronicles 2

by Chris Columbus
Specifics
Canada [2020] - 112m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Christmas Chronicles 2 poster

I can't say I remembered too much from the first film, apart from not liking it very much. Some of the characters returned for this sequel, though Chronicles 2 feels more like a typical Christmas film, whereas the first was somewhat of an oddball film that tried to give a new twist to the whole Christmas vibe. That's what you get when you get Chris Columbus involved I guess.

Belsnickel was once one of Santa's favorite elves. He turned bad though and was banned from Santa's Village. Belsnickel devises a plan to get back in, for that he seeks out Kate, one of Sant's True Believers. His plans succeeds and Santa will need the help of Kate again to save Christmas.

The animation is mediocre, the kids are extremely cringy and Russell is a rather poor Santa. For all its cheep cheese though, Chronicles 2 is slightly more palatable than the first film. While it doesn't even try to do anything different, it at least brings some standard Christmas atmosphere. I hope this is the last in the series though.

Gang vs Gang

by Teruo Ishii
Also known as
Gang Tai Gang
Specifics
Japan [1962] - 91m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Gang vs Gang poster

An early Teruo Ishii film. It was released just 5 years after his debut, though he already had 20+ films behind his name by then. People expecting vintage Ishii (i.e. the edgier films he's best known far) will be a little disappointed, Gang vs Gang is a pretty standard crime flick, albeit with a cooler ending.

Mizuhara served five years in jail to protect his boss. On the day he is released, his car is shot to shreds. Mizuhara discovers his former gang is behind the attack, clearly trying to get rid of any loose threads. He also learns his old boss is dealing drugs for a living, which gives him a good idea for revenge.

Gang vs Gang is a pretty basic Japanese noir, sporting sullen men in long coats and hats, doing shady business in lively bars. The first hour is a little slow, very dialogue-driven and not all that exciting, the final 30 minutes is a lot more fun, with some welcome action in a somewhat surprising setting. Not terrible, but I prefer Ishii's more extravagant films.

The Awful Truth

by Leo McCarey
Specifics
USA [1937] - 90m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Awful Truth poster

Another simple, classic comedy from Leo McCarey. It hinges its bets on the Grant/Dunne combination and hopes for the best, which is nice if you're a fan of this type of screwball comedy I guess. Personally, I could do without the endless quips and somewhat annoying situational humor.

Jerry and Lucy are a couple destined for divorce. There's no trust between them and all they ever do is fight with each other. While they're waiting for their divorce to get finalized, they already start making new wedding plans, but neither one is willing to let the other get their life back on track so soon.

Soon to be divorced people trying to mess with each other's lives isn't a very funny premise, Grant and Dunne are quite stiff and the dialogue-driven comedy simply isn't all that funny. At least the pacing is decent and the runtime is short, but there's nothing memorable here and I'm sure I'll have forgotten all about it by tomorrow.