The Wailing

by Hong-jin Na
Also known as
Gokseong
Specifics
South Korea, USA [2016] - 156m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Wailing poster

Not bad, but a bit too basic. The Wailing serves a rather eclectic mix of genres, combining a police thriller core with horror elements and a little comedy. The result is a film that wanders from one genre to the next, though is largely stuck trying to get through its convoluted plot. A typical South-Korean flick in other words.

After a strange Japanese man arrives in town, people suddenly start dropping left and right. The police investigation is run by a second-rate policeman, who needs to step up his game when his daughter suddenly becomes the focus of the killer. The more he learns about the perpetrator, the more it looks like the case has a supernatural angle to it.

Performances are somewhat overdone, the direction is too functional, the mix of genres doesn't quite work and the runtime is excessive. All these things hold the film back from greatness. There are some interesting scenes and the plot is fun enough, I just don't understand where a film like this gets its reputation. Decent, but nothing more.

The Humpback Horse

by Aleksandra Snezhko-Blotskaya, Viktor Gromov, Ivan Ivanov-Vano
Also known as
Konyok-Gorbunok
Specifics
Soviet Union [1947] - 57m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Humpback Horse poster

One of the earliest Russian animated films. I expected some Eastern-European Vinnie Pukh style doodling, but was pretty surprised to find a Russian carbon copy of the Disney school. Fluent, exaggerated animation, local folklore and a couple of songs combine into a decent, though somewhat outdated film.

The plot serves a Russian variation on the ugly duckling story. When a simpleton catches a flying horse, only to set it free again right after, he receives two fine horses and a smaller humpbacked one in return. The smaller horse has magical powers though, which lands the boy a job with the Tzar.

The art style is rather stylish, though I'm not a big fan of this type of exaggerated animation. The songs aren't that great, the plot is somewhat drab and the characters are one-dimensional, but there are a few standout moments and the film is nice and short. Not great, but better than expected.

Honeydew

by Devereux Milburn
Specifics
USA [2020] - 106m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Honeydew poster

Delightfully off-kilter. Honeydew isn't a traditional horror flick. There is a tiny amount of gore, but nothing that will please the true gorehounds. Furthermore, the film's not very tense of scary. Instead, you get awkwardness, discomfort and perversion. Oh, and a director who knows very well what he's going for.

The plot is as simple as can be. A couple's car breaks down, they go to the nearest house where they get help from some local nut jobs. It's clear from the start that the sweet old lady is one sandwich short of a picnic, but the true extent of her deranged behavior won't be revealed until the very end.

I generally like these crazy family type horror film and Milburn's direction is perfect. A uneasy soundtrack, smart framing (he pulls the same trick - where someone is in the room but is kept out of frame until later in the scene - several times, but it's always effective) and stellar performances make this a real treat. The only problem is that the runtime's a bit too long, with a handful of scenes stretched just beyond their breaking point. But Milburn shows promise, fingers crossed his first film won't be his last.

Invention for Destruction

by Karel Zeman
Also known as
Vynález Zkázy
Specifics
Czechoslovakia [1958] - 83m
Genre
Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Invention for Destruction poster

Interesting mix of live action footage and cartoon-like sets and props. Though this film is often categorized as an animated feature, it's more of a trompe l'oeil that wants you to believe you're watching an animated film. Can't say it's entirely successful (the real actors are a dead giveaway), but it makes for some rather creative-looking scenes.

The plot is an amalgam of Jules Verne influences. The core story (about an evil scientist building a weapon inside a volcano) is based on Verne's Facing the Flag, but Zeman doesn't mind borrowing royally from other Verne novels. If you're familiar with Verne's writings it's all a bit too random, but it's good enough for an adventure film.

Not everything works and some parts are really outdated, but overall the film has retained a certain charm because of Zeman's unique approach. It's really like nothing I'd ever seen before, which at this stage has become a pretty big plus. It's still way too clumsy for me to love it unconditionally, performances are basic, the execution's pretty childish and the effects can be pretty crummy, but at least it was memorable.

The Adventures of Mark Twain

by Will Vinton
Specifics
USA [1985] - 86m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Adventures of Mark Twain poster

I'm always in for a bit of stop-motion animation, so I was quite interested to see what The Adventures of Mark Twain was all about. I'd never really heard about the film before, but similar experiences (I was probably thinking about Tom Thumb) had led to surprising discoveries before. No such luck with this one.

The story is promising enough, as we see famed writer Mark Twain board an airship that is destined for the Halley Comet. He is joined by Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher and Huck Finn, who try to convince Twain that his presence on Earth is needed and he cannot simply leave everyone behind.

The animation isn't terrible, but the character models are pretty ugly and the voice acting is just atrocious. The story is all over the place too. Some bits are interesting, others less so, which makes it harder than needed to keep focused. There surely is potential here, but overall the film is way too uneven to turn it into an enjoyable experience.

Ánimas

by Laura Alvea, José Ortuño
Specifics
Spain, Belgium [2018] - 83m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Ánimas poster

A very neat and stylish mindfuck. Not quite as complex or baffling as some make it out to be, but man is the execution on point here. The colors are livid, the cinematography splendid, the lead actors do an amazing job and the mystery is intriguing, even though the ending is far from original. A lovely little genre flick.

When the Wind Blows

by Jimmy T. Murakami
Specifics
UK [1986] - 84m
Genre
Drama, War, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
When the Wind Blows poster

A little cult favorite. It's easy to see where this film got its reputation from, but it didn't entirely work for me. While the film has a pretty powerful message and the execution is interesting (to say the least), it relies a little too much on plain repetition to warrant its 80+ minute runtime.

We follow an older couple living in the British countryside. When news breaks that the UK is on the verge of war once again, the man start to prepare for nuclear warfare, while his wife goes on with everyday life. Their bickering seems a little futile, until the day a nuclear bomb actually drops nearby.

The mix of animation and live action is interesting, but the animation itself is pretty outdated and the art style isn't all that appealing. The bigger problem is that even though the world for these two people changes from peaceful retirement to dire nuclear warfare in the blink of an eye, the characters themselves are very much stuck in their ways. Whatever happens around them, their reaction is always the same. Though the film has some poignant scenes, it's just not enough to make a big impression.

Indecent Proposal

by Adrian Lyne
Specifics
USA [1993] - 117m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Indecent Proposal poster

One of those films I watched a long, long time ago, well before I started seeing film as a serious hobby (I think my parents rented this one on VHS, back when that was still a thing). I didn't remember much, apart from the central moral dilemma, which is what made this film stand out back in the day.

Harrelson and Moore are a happy couple who get caught in some financial trouble. Along comes multi-millionaire Redford, who promptly offers a million bucks to spend one night with Moore. It's an interesting enough premise, though Lyne doesn't go through too much trouble to make it sound believable, instead he trusts the generic Hollywood romance to do most of the heavy lifting.

Harrelson and Moore are decent but they don't exactly sparkle, Redford is quite bleak. The premise is fun, but characters behave somewhat randomly and the film gets too cheesy at times when it should've been more daring. The film hasn't retained much of its original edge, what remains is a pretty basic Hollywood romance and unfulfilled potential.

The Wave

by Gille Klabin
Specifics
USA [2019] - 87m
Genre
Sci-fi, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Wave poster

Fun, albeit simple, sci-fi flick. It combines some familiar concepts (piecing things together post-party, drug trips and time travel) hoping to come out slightly more original than all of its peer. I don't think it's entirely successful at that, but at least the film itself is fun enough.

Frank has settled down. Even when he has a big breakthrough at work, he is unable to celebrate his accomplishments. Until he caves and accepts an invitation from one of his colleagues. They go for a wild night out, which ends with Frank taking some exotic drug. When he wakes up the next morning, without his wallet on him, he finds that his old life is completely messed up.

The presentation is light and breezy, Long and Vand do a good job and the pacing is perfect. But safe one or two scenes, there's nothing that truly stands out. It's all a bit too predictable, and I don't think it's a film I'll be remembering for long. But if you're looking for some fun filler, it certainly does the job.

The Black Cat

by Edgar G. Ulmer
Specifics
USA [1934] - 65m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Black Cat poster

An old Universal horror flick. The Black Cat is quite famous for having Karloff and Lugosi pitted against each other, the fact that the film was based on a short story by Edgar Allen Poe may also raise people's expectations, but the result was way too dialogue-driven for my taste. Even at 65 minutes it felt sluggish.

After suffering an accident on the road, a newly married couple find themselves in the mysterious house of Poelzig, an eerie man with some dark secrets. Poelzig's intentions are less than amiable, but he puts on a clever facade. The couple is unaware that they're being held captive, until it's already too late.

The camera work is static and the first half is just way too dialogue-driven. There's just endless conversation that stands in the way of building up a moody atmosphere. The second half is ever so slightly better, but by then the film had already lost me. Wasn't too impressed by the performances either and the horror elements are miniscule. This felt more like a bad stage play to me.

The Widow

by Ivan Minin
Also known as
Vdova
Specifics
Russia [2020] - 80m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Widow poster

Russian horror. They've been doing pretty well lately when it comes to horror cinema. It can be somewhat tricky to avoid the atrocious US dubs, but if you manage to find the subtitled versions then you're usually in for some solid genre entertainment. The Widow is no exception.

The Widow is basically Blair Witch in Russia. A local rescue team is trailed by a documentary team. When they get a distress call they venture into the woods near St. Petersburg hoping to find the missing people. A local legend about a witch doesn't really frighten them, but when they find the first survivor things are getting pretty creepy.

It's a proven formula, but the eerie Russian forests, great sound design and some smart scares make sure that there's plenty of genre fun to be had. Performances are also decent and the runtime is nice and short, just don't expect to see anything original or surprising. It's a bit too by the numbers to really stand out, but otherwise it's pretty cool filler.

Doors

by Saman Kesh, Jeff Desom, Dugan O'Neal
Specifics
USA [2021] - 81m
Genre
Sci-fi
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Doors poster

Intriguing sci-fi. Another anthology project that goes for tighter narrative cohesion, it seems to be a new trend these days. Not quite sure if I think it's a positive one, but at least it worked well for Doors. The film finds the right balance between thematic continuity and stylistic variation.

Mysterious doorways/portals are appearing all over the world. Four shorts each highlight a different stage of this mysterious event. It plays a bit like the Cloverfield franchise, only with everything wrapped into a single film (which I guess sounds a lot more like Eduardo Sánchez' Portals project).

The second short film is the clear highlight, very reminiscent of Memories' Magnetic Rose segment. The first and third are solid, only the fourth feels a little obsolete. Interesting effects, great sound design, solid performances and a superb central mystery make this a very cool project though. Don't listen to all the naysayers, just watch this when you're in the mood for a fun sci-fi project.

Pathfinder

by Nils Gaup
Also known as
Ofelas
Specifics
Norway [1987] - 86m
Genre
Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Pathfinder poster

A Norwegian adventure. It's a film mostly lauded for its setting. If you love snowy, treacherous environments then you probably should give this one a shot, personally I was a little disappointed by the meager adventure and the middling cinematography. Just snow doesn't really cut it for me.

A peaceful family is attacked by Scandinavian barbarians. The youngest son manages to escape, but other clans are unwilling to help him and though he vows to revenge his family, it doesn't take long before the barbarians take the boy hostage. He agrees to lead them to his fugitive family members, but not without forging a plan first.

Performances are pretty weak, but it's mostly the adventure that fails to engage. A barren trek through the wilderness sounded more than appealing enough, but somehow it doesn't feel half as epic or impressive as it should've been. Pacing issues, mediocre action scenes and some exceedingly cheesy moments make it hard to like this film.

The Banishing

by Christopher Smith
Specifics
UK [2020] - 97m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Banishing poster

Christopher Smith returns to the horror genre. The Banishing is pretty basic genre fare though, which is a shame as Smith has shown himself pretty apt at putting a unique spin on the genre in the past. Not that this is a bad film, anything but, it's just a bit too by numbers for its own good.

A house with a dark past, that's what you're getting here. People hear voices, mirrors show ghostly reflections and a local madman warns the new inhabitants that something is awry. By the time everybody is finally on board it's already too late, as the ghost has taken control of the family living there.

The Banishing is a solid slowburner, but it lacks the audiovisual finish to stand out. There are some very moody scenes, performances are good across the board and there are a few solid scares, but overall it's not enough to convince me this wasn't just another haunted house flick sporting a dramatic backstory. Quality filler, but I'd hoped for something more.

The Knight in the White Night

by Xuan Zhong
Also known as
Bai Ye Xia
Specifics
China [2018] - 94m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Knight in the White Night poster

Chinese genre fluff. One of the earlier films that fronted the explosion of Chinese genre pulp, and it shows. They learned an awful lot in a short period of time and the more recent films of this caliber are notably better, even so this wasn't such a terrible film, especially compared to some of its contemporaries.

When Japan invades China during the Ming dynasty, they bring guns with them. Martial artists can't defend themselves against the bullets, but there's a fabled book that is supposed to grant them immunity. Everyone is after the book, even the Japanese send a team of ninjas to try and grab it before the rest.

Performances are a little weak and the comedy doesn't work that well, but the martial arts scenes are on point and the sets/costumes look nice enough. Like most of these film, the short runtime and solid pacing are perks, apart from that it's just simple genre fare that will appeal to fans, but few others.

Mechanical Violator Hakaider

by Keita Amemiya
Also known as
Jinzô Ningen Hakaidâ
Specifics
Japan [1995] - 77m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Mechanical Violator Hakaider poster

Pretty decent sci-fi entertainment. I didn't expect too much when I started this film and sure enough, it gets pretty damn cheesy. At the same time Hakaider has a surprising cyberpunk vibe that puts it well apart from the tokusatsu superhero nonsense (you know, Ultraman and the likes) I had in mind.

Hakaider is a spin-off from the Kikaider franchise. Hakaider is in fact a villain in the original series, but when he is unleashed in an post-apocalyptic future he becomes a veritable antihero. And since villains are usually way cooler than your average hero, there's a lot more to enjoy here.

The effects are really cheap and the cast is clearly C-grade, but the designs are pretty cool and Amemiya does his best to put his limited budget to good use. It's no blockbuster material, nor is it a stylish, accomplished auteur film, but if you're in the mood for some badass genre cheese, this is one of the better films I've seen.

Dreamgirls

by Bill Condon
Specifics
USA [2006] - 130m
Genre
Musical
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Dreamgirls poster

Generic Hollywood musical. The most damning thing about Dreamgirls is that it actually sounds like a generic musical too, even though it's supposed to be about black music. Apparently there's something about that Broadway musical sound that's very hard to shake off, even when a film's all about soul and R&B.

The plot's a rather banal rise and fall story about a trio of girls who are discovered by a car salesman who wants to make it big in the music business. The man has a knack for spotting marketable formulas and within no time the girls are successful, but when he starts putting money before his artists things slowly go awry.

The performances are decent, but the music is pretty bland and the film lacks the glitz and glamour of a great musical. It feels a little like watching a basic biopic with some songs thrown in just because the film deals with recording artists. Not that I was expecting a lot from Dreamgirls, but this could've easily been much better.