My Fair Lady

by George Cukor
Specifics
USA [1964] - 170m
Genre
Romance, Musical
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
My Fair Lady poster

One of the few big musicals I hadn't seen yet. It's not my favorite genre, so the 3-hour runtime was the main reason I'd been avoiding it. But musical are pretty solid Christmas fodder, so I figured this was a good time to give it a try. I'm glad to say it wasn't as bad as I'd feared, though it's far from a perfect film.

Eliza Doolittle is a poor girl who sells flowers on the street. Her life changes when she meets an elite professor who vows he can turn Eliza into a lady in less than 6 months time. She accepts the challenge and moves in with the professor. While progress is slow, Eliza isn't willing to let this opportunity slip by.

There's a surprising amount of comedy here I didn't expect. The characters are quite crude, which is actually pretty entertaining, and the plot is also rather amusing. The only thing holding this film back is the extravagant runtime. If they'd cut back the entire final hour to 5 minutes, this would've been a much better film.

Once Upon a Time in China II

Also known as
Wong Fei Hung Ji Yi: Naam Yi Dong Ji Keung
Specifics
Hong Kong [1992] - 113m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Once Upon a Time in China II poster

Hark Tsui's sequel is every bit as good as the first film. While the first hour divides its time between comedy, drama and action, the second part is a grandiose action spectacle with some of the best martial arts Hong Kong cinema has ever brought forth. When you have Jet Li facing off against Donnie Yen, with Woo-ping Yuen directing the action scenes, magic happens.

Black Rain

by Shôhei Imamura
Also known as
Kuroi Ame
Specifics
Japan [1989] - 123m
Genre
Drama, War
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Black Rain poster

Imamura's Hiroshima-based drama deals with some dark and tough topics, but it would've benefited greatly from more subdued performances. For a drama, it's way too loud and heavy-handed. It seems to be a returning factor in Imamura's films, so maybe he's just not my kind of director.

Yasuko is present on the day of the Hiroshima bombing. She witnesses the event from afar, but gets exposed to the "black rain", which is heavily contaminated. She returns to her village, where she is shunned by the other villagers. Her guardians try to set up a marriage for Yasuko, but they have trouble finding any men who are interested.

The stark black and white cinematography is definitely appropriate, but it makes the film look older than it really is. The village drama isn't all that interesting and the performances are too over-the-top, making it hard to get really into the film. There's definitely potential here, but Imamura's direction doesn't really do the topic any justice.

A View to a Kill

by John Glen
Specifics
USA, UK [1985] - 131m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
A View to a Kill poster

Roger Moore's final Bond film. Long overdue if you ask me, Moore's really too old here, which doesn't do A View to a Kill any favors. It's definitely not the film's only problem, but if you want to do a suave secret agent adventure then you need a charismatic lead, not someone who looks like he'd need a stunt double for scenes that involve running around.

Bond is after a microchip manufacturer. The latest chips are shielded from electromagnetic influence, which gives them a key advantage, but somehow the Russians have gotten their hands on the exact same technology. Bond assumes the manufacturer is behind the leak and starts his investigation by tracking him.

Walken is a mediocre bad guy and Grace Jones is a little awkward, but the pacing is solid, the set pieces are fun and there are some neat/funny action scenes (the horse race is pretty hilarious). It's a bit long at 130 minutes, but overall, it's a decent though somewhat inconspicuous Bond film.

The Assassin

Also known as
Da Ci Ke
Specifics
Hong Kong [1967] - 121m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Assassin poster

One of Cheh Chang's earliest films. They're usually a bit slower and more elaborate than his later work. That tends to translate in nicer cinematography, often featuring scenes shot in the actual outdoors. On the other hand, the stories are rarely engaging enough to support the longer runtimes, so it becomes a double-edged sword.

Nie Zheng comes from a poor family, but he performs well in school, and he's an excellent sword fighter. He wants to live a simple life with his girlfriend Xia Ying, but fate decides otherwise. His school becomes the setting for a big bloodbath, only Zheng and his best friend manage to escape. They decide to move far away, but not before bringing the one who caused the bloodbath to justice.

The cinematography is pretty stylish, performances are also well above the Shaw Bros norm. The action isn't quite as vibrant though and for a simple story like this, the 110-minute plus runtime is a bit excessive. These early Chang films are well worth exploring, even when they can be a bit long-winded.

Let Them All Talk

Specifics
USA [2020] - 113m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Let Them All Talk poster

Soderbergh's latest is a streaming exclusive. That's a little disappointing maybe, but I'm glad he's at least back to directing films. While he hasn't lost his flair as a director, Let Them All Talk felt a bit overripe. It's probably the topic that didn't really appeal to me, still I was hoping for something a little livelier.

Alice is a renowned writer who has been selected to receive a rare literary prize. The only problem is that she won't fly, so she has to take the boat from the US to England to receive the prize. She invites two of her old friends, and her younger nephew for support. During the trip the three women catch up with each other, while Alice's nephew becomes infatuated with Alice's literary agent.

Performances are a bit colorless, the conversations are rather dry and the drama feels a bit highbrow. The cinematography is nice enough and there's definitely some of Soderbergh oldskool playfulness present in his direction, but that wasn't enough to keep me engaged for the entire runtime.

The Eight Rangers

Also known as
Eito Renjâ
Specifics
Japan [2012] - 110m
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Eight Rangers poster

Tsutsumi goes a little crazy. He's a peculiar director with a rich oeuvre, but it's not always easy to predict what he's going to come up with next. The Eight Rangers is a parody on popular Japanese sentai series (think Power Rangers) that comes off a little childish, but is actually quite fun.

A group of eight rejects come together and form a team of masked rangers, trying to stand up for themselves. They'll quickly learn that there's more to it than just just putting on a colored suit though, as their first attempts to fight crime don't end too well. But of course, as time passes, they learn to back each other and fend off the enemies that threaten them.

Don't come into this film hoping to see a real sentai flick, Tsutsumi plays it for laughs, turning it into a full-blown comedy. The performances are decent, the gags are quite funny and the pacing is solid. It's not an outstanding flick, it's a bit too cheap for that, but it's good fun, especially for people familiar with the sentai shows it parodies.

Qlimax - The Source

by Daan Jansen, Stijn Verlinde
Specifics
Netherlands [2020] - 56m
Genre
Musical
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Qlimax - The Source poster

A weird promo-like video for the Qlimax festival (a yearly festival in The Netherlands focusing on harder dance/electronic music). Not quite sure what they want wanted to accomplish with The Source, but I assume they needed something to do when the festival was canceled (because of COVID-19).

While the festival line-up branches off into different niches, this movie focuses on its most popular style of music: hardstyle. I'm not a big fan myself, despite its name it's actually quite mellow and cheesy, with rather weak kicks and a strong focus on melodies, but that's why it is the most popular subgenre I guess.

They put a lot of effort into the visuals, but they don't always mix that well with the music, and the footage of the artists/DJs feels out of place. It's also a bit too dark and edgy for this type of music, but that's probably the image they want to project. This could've been quite cool and interesting, but if just comes off a little desperate.

Skylines

by Liam O'Donnell
Specifics
France [2020] - 110m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Skylines poster

It took me 30 minutes to realize Skylines was part of a bigger franchise, to make things worse I'd already seen the first two films. That's definitely not a good sign, after sitting through this film it's clear why I didn't really remember much of the earlier ones. This isn't really the kind of cheese I appreciate.

Rose Corley was born with supernatural powers, powers she'll need to save the Earth from a looming alien invasion. She travels with a squad to the home planet of the aliens to steal a device that will help them to ward off the aliens. Once there, she learns that the briefing of her mission wasn't entirely truthful (big surprise!).

Skylines is a rather CG-heavy film that's padded with a lot of bad one-liners, mediocre action and lazy comedy. The designs are kitsch, the 80s/90s vibe is pretty annoying and the performances are weak. I welcome any big and bold alien-based sci-fi flicks though, so there was at least something to enjoy here.

Cries & Whispers

by Ingmar Bergman
Also known as
Viskningar och Rop
Specifics
Sweden [1972] - 91m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Cries & Whispers poster

So far, the films of Ingmar Bergman haven't really impressed me much. Cries & Whispers is one of his better efforts I've seen so far, though my core complaints remain. While I don't mind a good drama film, I really can't deal with the overstated drama and the extremely expressive performances of the actors in Bergman's work.

Karin and Maria have come to take care of their sister Agnes, who is extremely ill and bedridden. While they appear very concerned about Agnes' condition, flashbacks show a history of deceit, lies and jealousy. As Agnes' condition grows worse, the cracks in the relationships between the sisters start to show.

The cinematography is pretty solid for a Bergman film, it's also the first of his films I see that isn't black and white. The performances are terrible though and the drama is completely overdone. I'm sure this film has the potential to come off very deep and emotional, but I prefer a bit more subtlety when I'm required to take characters and their issues serious.

The Little Shop of Horrors

by Roger Corman
Specifics
USA [1960] - 72m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Little Shop of Horrors poster

I really liked Frank Oz' remake of this film, but I had never watched the original. While I'm not a big fan of classic horror, this turned out to be a rather short film. It would also be my first Corman, so I figured it wouldn't hurt to give it a go. It's a good thing I did, as I was happily surprised to find an amusing and entertaining film here.

Seymour is a clumsy guy who can't do right by his boss. He's on the verge of getting fired from the flower shop, but he gets one more chance to prove himself worthy. Seymour grew a special plant and by putting it on display in the shop he hopes to attract a lot of clients. While his plan seems to work, the plant poses a couple of practical problems.

The film is a goofy, almost slapstick-like comedy enriched with some dark humor and amusing special effects. The film feels a bit rushed (it was shot in only two days, so no surprises there) and the performances are well over-the-top, but it's pretty funny and the short runtime makes sure it doesn't overstay its welcome. Quite fun.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation

by Brian Yuzna
Specifics
USA [1990] - 90m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation poster

After having seen the first one, I immediately skipped to the fourth entry in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series, mainly because it was directed by Brian Yuzna. Not that I'm the biggest Yuzna fan, but he usually manages to add something unique to his films. He certainly succeeded here.

What started out as a slasher series becomes a weird, occult creature flick. Ricky (from the first film) still hangs around, but part 4 is about a cult of women who are all about being reborn and getting rid of men. The cult's latest victim is Kim, an aspiring journalist who struggles to land a serious job.

The performances are really bad and the plot makes no sense at all, but the effects are quite gruesome and the body horror is a pleasant surprise. This is not by any means a great flick, but the second half has some pretty freaky scenes, and it doesn't take too long before the madness starts. Fans of body horror and/or creepy crawlers should definitely check it out.

Lupin III: Prison of the Past

by Hatsuki Tsuji
Also known as
Rupan Sansei: Purizun Obu Za Pasuto
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 92m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Lupin III: Prison of the Past poster

I can't say I really like the more polished version of Lupin that has been popping up in his later films. While the Koike-directed OAVs are pretty damn cool, the film version of Lupin is turning a bit gray and boring. Prison of the Past bears all the superficial traits of a typical Lupin III film, but lacks its joyous vibe.

Lupin and his usual team infiltrate the Kingdom of Dorrente in order to save one of Lupin's most infamous competitors. Once there, he discovers he's not the only master thief who has come to Dorrente. Something weird is going on and Lupin is hellbent on discovering the secret of the Dorrente kingdom.

The art style looks a bit cleaner, but the animation itself feels less vibrant. Lupin is back to doing his usual tricks, only the plot is a tad more serious and there isn't that much creativity here. The film comes off as conscientious, even a little stale. It's a shame, as I believe there's still plenty of potential left in the Lupin formula. They just need to do better than this.

Daisies

by Vera Chytilová
Also known as
Sedmikrásky
Specifics
Czechoslovakia [1966] - 74m
Genre
Comedy, Experimental
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Daisies poster

An extremely pleasant surprise. I didn't expect too much going into this one, Czech films are usually a bit grim and grimy, but Daisies is 70 minutes of pure experimental joy. It's definitely an oddity, as it doesn't rely on a strict narrative or obvious character development to keep people invested, but that just makes it more fun.

The film follows two young girls who consider the world to be a rotten place. They imagine the best way to fit in is to misbehave, so they go out and make a big spectacle of themselves. The film is little more than a sequence of scenes where the two get increasingly crazier and more obnoxious.

The two leads are charming, the cinematography is very playful, colorful and experimental and the atmosphere is light and liberating, even though the two constantly behave like irritating brats. Because the film lacks a clear narrative it might be a little demanding for some, but if you're looking for something crazy and fun, this is a pretty solid bet.

The Blue and the Black (Part 2)

by Ching Doe
Also known as
Lan Yu Hei (Xia)
Specifics
Hong Kong [1966] - 116m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Blue and the Black (Part 2) poster

Not quite as good as the first part. While that one left me intrigued to see more, going through a second two-hour film clearly proved to be a little much. There's just too much melodrama and pining characters, not enough genuine emotion and/or plot to keep this going for its extended runtime.

The production was seriously hampered by the sudden death of Lin Dai, which left the director and writers to fill in some big plot gaps. Through the use of body doubles and some creative stitching Ching tried to maintain a sense of continuity, but he didn't really succeed. The continuation of the story is just one big mess.

The cinematography is also less noteworthy, which was probably the least of Ching's worries. It all adds up to a pretty big disappointment. Not that the first film was amazing, but at least it had potential, and it showed a different side of the Shaw Bros studios. It probably would've been better if they'd scrapped the project altogether.

Carol

by Todd Haynes
Specifics
USA, UK [2015] - 118m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Carol poster

I quite like the films of Todd Haynes, though in general they're a bit too lethargic for my taste. I think Carol illustrates that quite well. While it's a more than solid drama with some stand-out moments, I felt that it was also a bit too sluggish, too steeped in the cinema of the past, which isn't really what I'm looking for.

Therese Belivet is a young girl trying to find her way in life. When she meets Carol, a dignified woman, she immediately falls for her charms. The 50s didn't react too kindly to lesbian couples though and Carol is wrapped up in a divorce, so it's not very easy for the two to enjoy each other's company.

The performances are strong and the 50s really come to life. The film's a bit too focused on the narrative and the characters, when its best moments are those when the score and cinematography take over to create some very atmospheric scenes. Definitely not a bad film, just not entirely my kind of thing.

Leap

Also known as
Duo Guan
Specifics
China [2020] - 135m
Genre
Sport
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Leap poster

Peter Chan's latest film is part sports feel-good, part Chinese propaganda. It's a little disappointing to see that's the direction he's been going in lately, then again he's hardly the only director who has chosen this path. For what it's worth though, considering the sentimental mess Leap could've been, it's not all that bad.

The film focuses on China's women volleyball team, more particularly the role Lang Ping played in its success. From being one of the players that brought them their first international success, to ending up coaching them back to former glory years later, Leap picks out the key moments in Ping's career.

Li Gong plays is a surprising choice for the lead, but she does a commendable job. The games are pretty exciting and Chan doesn't always go with the most obvious choices, but the film's underlying motives are a little too obvious and 2 hours is quite long, even though there's quite a lot of ground to cover. It's certainly not as bad as it could've been, but Peter Chan can do so much better.

Lupin III: Return of Pycal

by Mamoru Hamatsu
Also known as
Rupan Sansei: Ikiteita Majutsushi
Specifics
Japan [2002] - 50m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Lupin III: Return of Pycal poster

A shorter entry in the Lupin franchise. Even though it's only half the length of a normal Lupin film, it actually looks cheaper than most of the ones I've seen so far. Some cheap CG was used to try and spice things up a bit, but that didn't age too well. Luckily the rest of the film is pretty decent.

Lupin is chasing the Celestial Crystals all the way to Greece, but he's beaten to them by Pycal, an old adversary of his. Pycal is a so-called magician, but the crystals seem to be giving him some actual magical powers. Lupin and his gang will need all their tricks to prevent Pycal from using the crystals for his evil plans.

The animation quality isn't that great and the CG really is subpar, but Pycal is a pretty cool adversary and some of the more psychedelic scenes later on are really quite effective. The short runtime is a blessing, the pacing is crazy and Lupin's tricks are fun as always. Not the greatest in the series, but still pretty solid filler.

Breach

by John Suits
Specifics
Canada [2020] - 92m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Breach poster

This felt like a throwback to the sci-fi cinema of the 80s/90s. Bruce Willis getting stuck on a spaceship where an alien life form takes over its human hosts sure sounds a lot like an Alien franchise extension. Director Suits was smart enough though to diversify its homage material, so at least it feels like more like a revival than a rip-off.

Noah is a stowaway on the last flight out of Earth. Our planet is doomed and humanity has found a new home in outer space, but not everyone can make the jump. Noah works as a janitor, but then a parasite escapes and starts killing people and Noah will have to defend the ship with his life if he wants mankind to have a chance to survive.

Performances are mediocre, the ship looks a bit shabby and the plot is very basic, but it's been a long time since I've seen one of these aliens in space flicks. It's surely not the best in its class, but it's enjoyable enough and the pacing is pretty solid, so it's over before you know it. Not great, but entertaining.

Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo

by Sôji Yoshikawa, Yasuo Ôtsuka
Also known as
Rupan Sansei: Mamo Karano Chousen
Specifics
Japan [1978] - 102m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Lupin III: The Mystery of Mamo poster

Funky Lupin III flick. The overall quality of these films is pretty consistent, even though the technical qualities and plot influences can vary quite a bit between different entries. The quirky characters, the unflinching focus on fun and the freedom to go to a little mad from time to time are what defines these films.

The Mystery of Mamo has one of those larger than life plots that are quite prevalent in anime. It starts with Lupin stealing the Philosopher's Stone, but before he knows it he's dealing with a crazy adversary who is trying to collect all the great minds that ever lived. Apparently that includes Fujiko. Just another day in the life of the master thief.

The art style is pretty cool, the animation is well over the top and the pacing is quite crazy. By the end, I felt I'd watched three separate Lupin III films rolled into one. Not that I'm complaining, I like these zany films that start in 6th gear and don't slow down, but it's probably not the best entry in the genre for those unfamiliar with the Lupin III franchise. Good fun.

Marty

by Delbert Mann
Specifics
USA [1955] - 90m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Marty poster

The biggest accomplishment of this classic feel-good drama was winning the Cannes festival. I'm not sure how the festival started out, but I found this film to be surprisingly simple, schmaltzy even. Certainly not the type of arthouse drama that is celebrated in Cannes nowadays. That was something of a relief.

Marty is a good guy, but not very attractive. He still lives with his mom, with no outlook on a future relationship. That changes when he meets Clara, a demure teacher who finds herself in a very similar situation as Marty. The two are definitely attracted to each other, but their lack of experience with dating poses some challenges.

No doubt a story that is going to appeal to cinephiles. Performances are decent, but the plot's a little simple and the characters are quite over the top. The drama is also a little too predictable, but the pacing is decent, there are some charming moments and the ending is on point. Not as bad as I'd feared.

If Beale Street Could Talk

by Barry Jenkins
Specifics
USA [2018] - 119m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
If Beale Street Could Talk poster

A nice step up from Moonlight. I wasn't that impressed with Jenkins' Oscar winner, for all the positivity that surrounded that film it ended up being a pretty basic Oscar winner. With If Beale Street Could Talk Jenkins shows that if he continues to refine his style though, there's definitely potential for a true masterpiece.

The film follows Tish and Fonny, two lifetime friends who end up in a loving relationship. Fate hits when Fonny is jailed for raping a woman and Tish turns out to be pregnant. Tish and her family do their best to prove Fonny's innocence, at the same time she has to try and survive as a single mom.

Stylistically this was pretty nice, though it stops short of being great. The cinematography looked very polished, the soundtrack was solid but a bit inconspicuous. Performances are solid and the romance felt warm and sweet, sadly Fonny's subplot doesn't add a lot and detracts from the film's strong points. Still, Jenkins is moving in the right direction.

The Mystery of Rampo

by Rintaro Mayuzumi, Kazuyoshi Okuyama
Specifics
Japan [1994] - 100m
Genre
Mystery
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
The Mystery of Rampo poster

A dark and mysterious film that pays homage to (the work of) Edogawa Rampo (Japan's answer to Edgar Allan Poe). This is no doubt one of Naoto Takenaka's standout performances, the story is intriguing, the cinematography is stylish and the soundtrack is stunning. The film is starting to show its age, but so far that hasn't taken away from the beautiful atmosphere Mayuzumi and Okuyama cooked up. Great film.