Horizon Line

by Mikael Marcimain
Specifics
USA, Sweden [2020] - 92m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Horizon Line poster

A pretty entertaining thriller. One of those "people get stuck in a dire situation" flicks where the main characters spend most of the film trying to recover from their predicament. It's rarely masterpiece material, but more often than it makes for prime filler and Horizon Line isn't the exception to the rule.

This time the characters find themselves stuck in the air in the middle of the ocean. The pilot of the plane just died and the two passengers have little experience flying these pesky things. A storm is closing in on them, fuel is leaking and the radio is broken. Still, they're not giving up and they'll do their best to reach land as quickly as possible.

The intro is a bit too long, but once disaster hits the tension doesn't let off. Performances are variable (Williams is solid, Dreymon is questionable) and you'll need a fair bit of suspension of disbelief, but the pacing is slick, it never gets boring and there are some pretty exciting moments. Good fun.

And Then There Was Light

by Tatsushi Ohmori
Also known as
Hikari
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 137m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
And Then There Was Light poster

A raw and relentless drama with deeply rooted thriller elements. It feels like a cross between Rage and The Light Shines Only There. If that's a bit hard to grasp, that's perfectly okay since Ohmori delivers a strange and uncomfortable film, with stellar performances and a completely bonkers soundtrack. A neat little masterpiece.

Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue

Also known as
Yi Zhi You Dao Hai Shui Bian Lan
Specifics
China [2020] - 112m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue poster

Jia pumps out another documentary. He's quite skilled at it too, but Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue was a pretty big misfire for me. Unless you're really interested in the topic (a local literary festival in Shanxi) or you really (really) love to hear people talk, there's not that much here.

Jia seeks out a varied roster of writers and interviews them about their life, though most of them end up talking about their younger years. These are rather lengthy interviews with a strong human interest character, not really the type of documentary I prefer. It's no surprise then that I felt the second hour really started to drag.

The intermezzos of the city (Shanxi) are by far the most interesting. They show that Jia has a knack for documentaries, as long as he doesn't focus too much on people and their (benign) stories. But I'm sure there's an audience for this, so if you want to hear Chinese writers reminisce, this documentary should be well worth your time.

My People, My Homeland

by Hao Ning, Sicheng Chen, Chao Deng, Da-Mo Peng, Ao Shen, Zheng Xu, Fei Yan, Baimei Yu
Also known as
Wo He Wo De Jia Xiang
Specifics
China [2020] - 153m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
My People, My Homeland poster

Chinese pep talk. I think this is the second Chinese blockbuster anthology made with a single goal in mind: make China look good on the silver screen. It's no surprise these film have started to pop up over there now that their local market is booming, they're simply copying Hollywood's playbook.

It's a bit of a bummer though, as these project tend to usurp quality directors (like Hao Ning here), forcing them to put out subpar films. The five shorts on display here aren't terrible, but their intentions are a bit too obvious and the film is so polished that it gets a little nauseating after a while.

China's most familiar actors (Bo Huang, You Ge, Baoqiang Wang, ...) are all present, the cinematography is nice and colorful and there are some quirky stories, but there's not enough variation, there's no grit and all the film offer the same self-boasting fuzzy feelgood nonsense. I hope this will be the end of it, but since these films are doing pretty well at the box office I doubt it very much.

The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese

Also known as
Kyuso Wa Chizu No Yume Wo Miru
Specifics
Japan [2020] - 131m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese poster

Yukisada being Yukisada. The biggest difference is that he plays around with LGBTQ elements, I don't think I've ever seen him do that before. Not that it changes a lot, it's still a very typical romantic drama with the usual woes and worries, but it's nice to see the Japanese mainstream is getting a bit more accepting of these topics.

Kyoichi's life is about to get turned upside down when Wataru, a private detective, uncovers his infidelity. Wataru is an old classmate of Kyoichi, and has always had a thing for him. Rather than come clean to his spouse, Kyoichi promises to spend a night with Wataru, a night that will unleash a lot of conflicting feelings.

It's nice to see something different from the usual coming out stories, sadly there's a bit too much back and forth between Kyoichi and various partners, which puts a little strain on the second half. The performances are decent but not exceptional, the cinematography and score are polished but expected. It's a very solid drama, but having seen so much of Yukisada already it's not a film that stands out from his other work.

Army of Shadows

by Jean-Pierre Melville
Also known as
L'Armée des Ombres
Specifics
France, Italy [1969] - 145m
Genre
Drama, War
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Army of Shadows poster

Melville's famed war drama. Though I've never actively liked one of Melville's films, I do respect his take on cinema. He clearly cares for atmosphere and even though the narrative always has a clear place in his films, it's never just about telling a story. I just wish I could appreciate his stylistic choices more.

Army of Shadows is a film about the French resistance during WWII. Not a simple good guy vs bad guy adventure-type story, but a rather sullen take that documents the internal distrust and harsh realities of keeping the organization out of sight. Don't expect it to be very action-packed either, Melville keeps things subtle and small.

The nicest scenes are when Melville takes a little break from the plot. Sights of a city, set to moody music, characters staring. It's not unlike some of my favorite Oshii moments. Didn't care much for the cinematography though, the soundtrack was a bit too classic the performances weren't great either and the runtime is problematic. Not a great film, but Melville does show moments of greatness.

Trouble in Paradise

by Ernst Lubitsch
Specifics
USA [1932] - 83m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Trouble in Paradise poster

One of Lubitsch' early sound films and one of his most lauded classics. While slightly better than the average screwball comedy, this type of work really isn't doing it for me. I simply fail to see the edgy writing, the witty dialogues and roaring romances. Instead, I see a film that's quite safe and predictable.

A couple of swindlers go after a wealthy widow, owner of a perfume empire. He becomes her secretary, while she becomes her maid. The plan is working, until he falls madly in love with their prey. The result is a lot of back and forth between characters who do their best to scam their opponents.

Performances are decent and the tone is light, but the plot is pretty bland, the film is never really all that funny and even though it's quite short, Trouble in Paradise so predictable that the pacing still feels a little off. It's not a complete disaster, it's just not all the remarkable or even entertaining.

Possum

by Matthew Holness
Specifics
UK [2018] - 85m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Possum poster

Creepy and uncomfortable. Possum isn't the kind of horror film that is going to please gorehounds or scare hunters. It's a film that aims for atmosphere and dares to play all or nothing. And Holness nearly pulls off a masterpiece, but for a film like this everything has to be just right and that isn't the case here.

The plot revolves around Philip, a troubled man who lugs around a bag with a puppet inside. That's about all the context you'll get and Holness isn't eager to reveal too much, but if you pay attention it won't be too hard to paste most things together. Even so, the film retains its mystery even after some of the more obtuse plot points are revealed.

Sean Harris is the star of the film and delivers a standout performance. The puppet design is another highlight, so is the soundtrack. Sadly the cinematography is just a little too plain, which kept the film from truly crawling underneath my skin. But it's clear that Holness has talent. If you like your horror weird and eerie, make sure to give Possum a chance.

Amazing Nuts!

by Yasuhiro Aoki, Yoshiharu Ashino, Takashi Yamashita, Daisuke Nakayama
Specifics
Japan [2006] - 36m
Genre
Sci-fi, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Amazing Nuts! poster

Another typical Studio 4°C anthology. Though I have to say this feels a bit like a collection of B-sides. The first and third short are up to 4°C's standard (though still a fair ways from their top tier output), the second and fourth one feel a bit unfinished. It's clearly not one of their tent pole projects, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't give it a go.

Each of the shorts is heavily tied to its soundtrack. They aren't 100% music videos, but they come awfully close. That means the traditional narrative is often pushed backwards, but for experimental animation shorts like these that's not necessarily a bad thing. Just let yourself be swept away by their atmosphere.

Cool art styles, slick editing and CG experimentation are the main ingredients here. The first short felt a bit like Dead Leaves light, the third one was definitely more inspired by Morimoto's work, while the fourth one stumbles in its attempts to go full CG. The tampered live action footage of the second film wasn't entirely successful either. Still, there are moments of genius here, just don't expect another Genius Party or Memories.

Yes Day

by Miguel Arteta
Specifics
USA [2021] - 86m
Genre
Comedy, Family
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Yes Day poster

A bland comedy. Not sure if it's just me getting older, but it's getting progressively harder for me to enjoy Hollywood's vision of the ideal kids, the ideal parents and their bullshit little hang-ups. It feels so overly sanitized that it sucks all the joy and fun out of these movies, which is problematic for a comedy.

An adventurous couple turns into overprotective parents once their first kid arrives. So much in fact that their children are starting to disrespect them. To turn the tide, they decide to organize a yes-day. A single day when the kids are allowed to make all the decisions, while their parents are prohibited from saying no to their requests.

It could've been a good premise for a little naughty chaos, but we're getting ice cream breakfasts, water balloon fights and one of the most dire-looking festivals ever instead. The kids are annoying, the comedy is lame and the finale is disappointing. This could and should've been so much better.

The Fortune Code

by Kent Cheng
Also known as
Fu Gui Bing Tuan
Specifics
Hong Kong [1990] - 89m
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Fortune Code poster

Kent Cheng channels Jing Wong. It's no surprise to see Wong receiving writing credits here, it's a film he could've directed himself. At least in spirit, as he had a hand in so many films back then that it would've been physically impossible to direct them all. But if you're craving some Jing Wong, this is a pretty safe bet.

The Fortune Code offers prison camp folly. Think Stalag 17, only sprinkled with typical Hong Kong comedy (and Jing Wong hangups - yes there are gambling scenes). A legion of Chinese spies are trying to protect a code that gives access to a Swiss bank account, money intended for the Chinese resistance who are fighting against the Japanese invaders.

The cast is pretty stellar (Andy Lau, Anita Mui, Sammo Hung, Eric Tsang are all present), the comedy is silly but amusing and the pacing is perfect. Add a few solid martial arts scenes and some lovely randomness (the play at the end is comedy gold) and you have a pretty likeable comedy. A nice little surprise.

I Am Not a Hero

by Pablo Diaz Crutzen, Stijn Deconinck, Robin Smit
Also known as
Je Ne Suis Pas un Héros
Specifics
Belgium [2020] - 73m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
I Am Not a Hero poster

Poignant doc. It's a little weird to look back at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown while we're still in the middle of the pandemic, even so it almost feels like a different era. We've come a long way in just a year's time, so this was an interesting flashback, a look back at what our world looked like just one year ago.

The film follows around the nurses of the Erasmus hospital in Brussels as they try to deal with the situation. It's a very candid, sobering documentary where people talk freely about the way they cope. It's not half as fatalistic or depressing as I figured it would be, at the same time the film doesn't shy away from addressing some harsh truths.

The scope is rather small, which it creates a certain intimacy that you don't often find in documentaries. It offers a very different angle than the one you'd get from following the more traditional media, reducing this pandemic to what it actually is for most people: an unpleasant reality they've learned to deal with. Recommended.

Ruthless People

by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Specifics
USA [1986] - 93m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Ruthless People poster

A rather unpleasant comedy. The script has clear potential though, but it's one of those films that's mostly carried by its cast and they aren't up to the task. There are quite a few moments where I got the feeling the film had finally found its footing, but every single time it stalled again, failing to cash in on its setups.

The plot revolves around a man who is planning to kill his wife. When she gets kidnapped it looks like he's been given an easier way out, what he doesn't know is that his mistress is trying to set him up. Chaos ensues as everybody is trying to double-cross someone else, even though they're all equally incompetent.

DeVito and Midler are letting this film down. Rather than being funny, they're just loud and obnoxious. The rest isn't all that much better, but at least they're not actively irritating. With a better cast I'm certain this could've been a fun film, now it's just a decently paced comedy with a solid premise, suffering from poor execution.

Elling

by Petter Næss
Specifics
Norway [2001] - 89m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Elling poster

A pretty basic dramady. Back in the day Elling made quite an impact, though 20 years later it's hard to pinpoint why exactly that was. The film colors neatly inside the lines, serving two quirky characters who are let loose into the world and have to learn to live by themselves. Funny/dramatic situations ensue.

Elling is a shut-in who spent most of his life living with his mom, Kjell Bjarne is a 40-year-old virgin. After a short stay in an institute the two are sent to Oslo where they'll be challenged to overcome their insecurities. It's a pretty simple setup where actors and director are supposed to shoulder the weight of the film.

The performances are decent but nothing special. Both characters are a bit too dependent on their little quirks, which gets tired real quick. The direction is also pretty bland, with less-than-stellar cinematography and a mediocre soundtrack. It's not a bad film, there are some funny moments, but overall it's not enough to set itself apart from its peers.

Tadaima, Jacqueline

by Akiko Ohku
Specifics
Japan [2013] - 39m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Tadaima, Jacqueline poster

Short drama that never really finds its footing. Tadaima Jacqueline certainly doesn't suffer from a case of too little, there's enough material here to fill at least two or three separate films, it's just that it never quite gels together. The result is a film that isn't unpleasant, just very uninvolved.

Two young kids are orphaned by a bus accident. At the site of the accident they find a doll, which becomes their treasure. The film is told from the perspective of the doll, who constantly comments on people around her, even though nobody can hear her. There are also minor romance elements, but they're never truly explored.

Performances are decent, except the dub of the doll, which is pretty awkward. The cinematography is rather plain though and while the film has quite an original premise, it never feels like you're watching something remarkable. It didn't bore me, nor was it badly made, just a bit too inconspicuous.

The Heiress

by Chris Bell
Specifics
UK [2021] - 83m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Heiress poster

A run-of-the-mill horror flick. Chris Bell's first isn't all that special. Witchcraft, a curse passed down through various generations and hauntings combined with mental illness. You've seen it all before, if you like a bit of horror you can no doubt fill in the gaps yourself. But as filler goes, it isn't all bad.

The plot revolves around Claire, a woman who is suffering from depression and starts seeing ghosts roaming around the house. You may think Bell would try to create a bit of ambiguity with that setup, but the film never really casts any doubt on what's real and what's not and just plays it straight.

Performances aren't all that great, the plot is basic and the hauntings aren't that scary. But the soundtrack is pretty solid and once the film nears the finale it ramps up the pacing and it becomes a pretty decent horror flick, though probably not one you'll remember for long afterwards. Just solid, short filler.

The Back of Beyond

by John Heyer
Specifics
Australia [1954] - 66m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Back of Beyond poster

Documentary that sports some slight dramatizations along the way. The film follows the long trip of a postman (incidentally named Tom Kruse) in Australia as he travels the Birdsville Track. It's a bit like Jianqi Huo's Postman in the Mountains, only with more Outback and fewer mountains.

While most of the film is pure documentary footage (at least, I assume it is), there are some local tales that get a little screen time too, which were reconstructed especially for this film. Not sure if they added a lot, on the other hand Heyer probably wanted to spruce up a trip that is otherwise quite low on tension.

The challenges mister Kruse faces are quite interesting though and it's difficult to imagine a job like this still existing today. I assume traveling the Outback became quite a bit easier since this was filmed. The documentary is a tad long maybe, especially since most of the trip is rather uneventful, but it was an interesting enough watch.

Cry

by Hirobumi Watanabe
Also known as
Sakebigoe
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 75m
Genre
Experimental
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Cry poster

Hirobumi Watanabe's latest film. Watanabe has been making a name for himself lately, though this is only the first film I've seen from him. His films aren't that easy to come by, not too surprising probably as this is hardcore film festival material. Casual film watchers be warned.

Cry doesn't have much in the way of a narrative. It follows the daily routines of a guy who works in a pig pen, and that's all there is to it really. There's a purposefully grating soundtrack, no dialogue and no dramatic events. If that sounds dull, better stay away from this one as that's literally all you'll be getting.

The stark black and white cinematography is a definite plus though and the soundtrack combined with the repetitiveness of the imagery does make for an interesting watch. It's a bit long for my taste, also a little too documentary-like, but if you love yourself some experimental/off-kilter cinema then it's definitely worth a shot.

Pathfinder

by Marcus Nispel
Specifics
Canada, USA [2007] - 99m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Pathfinder poster

Vikings vs Indians. This isn't what you call a historically correct film, instead Marcus Nispel created something more in line with 300. An action-filled adventure that's all about looking as bad-ass as possible. Approach it like that and Pathfinder isn't such a bad film, despite what you may read elsewhere.

The plot is basic. A young Viking boy is adopted by an Indian tribe. 16 years later a new batch of Viking conquerors appear on their shores. The boy will have to prove his worth by fighting off the invaders, with a little help of his newfound family. And so the cat and mouse game starts.

Nispel relies on mean-looking costumes and heavy post-production color grading to give the film some extra flair, and he's pretty successful at it too. The action relies a little too much on CG and the performances are mediocre, but the action scenes are cool and the pacing is perfect. Fun filler.

Fox in Fuso

by Pan Ting
Specifics
China [2020] - 98m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Fox in Fuso poster

A fine mix of fantasy, folklore and romance. It's not an uncommon setup in Chinese/Hong Kong cinema, just think of Hark Tsui's Green Snake. Fox in Fuso is the contemporary Chinese take on the genre. A core genre flick that doesn't have too much budget to spare, but delivers on the rapidly booming experience of Chinese genre directors.

No snakes this time around (though the film does reference them), but foxes. Another popular mythological creature in Chinese folklore. The plot revolves around three sisters (black, white and red fox) looking for the Golden Lotus in the human realm, after losing it while fighting over a man.

Lush sets and costumes are the main appeal of Fox in Fuso. While the film focuses on fantasy and romance, there's also a little action and comedy to make it a more rounded film. Some mediocre CG and unstable performances keep it from being truly great, but these films are definitely started to come through as prime filler options.

Rocky III

by Sylvester Stallone
Specifics
Canada, USA [1982] - 99m
Genre
Sport
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Rocky III poster

The third entry in Stallone's Rocky series. A pretty basic sports/boxing flick, brought down by Stallone's bland direction and ridiculous performance. He does a pretty decent job when he's in the ring, but whenever he has to deliver his dialogue it becomes a complete fluke. Even a parody wouldn't be this silly.

The plot is as predictable as you'd expect it to be, but at least Stallone's adversaries are pretty fun this time around. Hulk Hogan is given a little screen time and is allowed to show some of his signature wrestling tricks, but it's Mr T. who gets to play the ultimate bad guy. A real nasty piece of work and a fine opponent for Stallone.

The drama is painful to watch, the training sessions aren't much fun either (mostly because Stallone is pretty down) and the pacing is a little off. The boxing matches are pretty decent, but that's just two scenes really. All the rest is padding of questionable repute. It's really hard to see why this series ever became so popular.

The Infernal Walker

by Ka-Fai Wong
Also known as
Mou Gaan Hang Ze
Specifics
China [2020] - 89m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Infernal Walker poster

A modern take on Infernal Affairs. The film went through a couple of other titles first, but it's not difficult to see why they ended up settling for this one. With two moles on competing sides, a good old-fashioned police/Triad cat and mouse game and quite a few action scenes Andrew Lau's trilogy was the obvious inspiration for this one.

It's been a bit too long since I watched the Infernal Affairs trilogy, but the premise felt almost like an exact copy. The only major difference (from what I could remember) is that we're dealing with two separate Triad factions here. Not that it matters much, if you've seen a couple of these Hong Kong crime flicks you should know what to expect.

The camera work's a bit flashier, the cast is quite a bit younger and the soundtrack is a little thumpier. Just little things that give the film a more contemporary feel. It's clear that Hong Kong is struggling to find its groove though, The Infernal Walker is pretty entertaining, but it's hardly the future of Hong Kong cinema. For that it's too rooted in its own past.