Caveat

by Damian Mc Carthy
Specifics
UK [2020] - 88m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Caveat poster

A dark and unsettling little horror film. With a very limited cast and a single location, Mc Carthy relies on a meticulous build-up, stellar sound design, a creepy location and some prime props to make his film stand out. And boy is he successful, if you like a good slowburner that is.

Isaac is short on cash, his landlord makes him a weird deal he cannot refuse. He is paid good money to take care of the man's niece, who lives in a remote house and suffers from a mental affliction. Isaac accepts the offer, but once they arrive at the house there happen to be a few other caveats.

The little bunny contraption is genius, the setting is uncanny and the lead actors do a great job. There are some unnecessary flashbacks in the middle and it might've been better if the film had left a few more things unexplained, but the superb score keeps the tension high and the film is creepy from start to finish. Good stuff.

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity

by Jingming Guo
Also known as
Qing Ya Ji
Specifics
China [2020] - 132m
Genre
Fantasy, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity poster

It's nice to see China is finally getting competent at CG, making films like The Yin-Yang master a lot easier to stomach. This elaborate mystery, set in a fantasy universe, is quite a spectacle. It's still not quite ready to compete with the better films in the genre (Legend of the Demon Cat comes to mind), but it's very welcome filler alright.

The plot is relatively intricate, following Qing Ming who goes to Tiandu to fulfill his master's last wish. Once there he gets involved in a pretty dark mystery involving the princess. At the same time, the structure of the film is pretty basic, with gradual reveals that uncover a lot of hidden drama between the main characters and leave no mystery behind.

The sets and costumes are lush, the cinematography is beautiful and the score has some excellent music. The problem here is that the drama is a little too heavy-handed and plentiful for a film like this, which creates some pacing issues. Other than that, a fine film, it's clear Guo feels at home in this genre.

The Transformers: The Movie

by Nelson Shin
Specifics
Japan, USA [1986] - 84m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Animation
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Transformers: The Movie poster

Transformers is one of those series is missed out on as a kid. I did enjoy the Bay adaptations (especially the later ones), but clearly that didn't prepare me for the chaos that is the 1986 animated film. It's like watching an entire series of content condensed into a single feature film.

The animation is actually pretty decent. Certainly not a top tier anime, but the action scene are richly animated, the designs are quite grotesque and there's a surprising amount of detail. It's not enough to save the film, but at least it prevents the film from turning into a complete failure.

The music is absolutely horrendous, the English dub is beyond terrible (tried looking for a Japanese one but no dice) and the plot is total chaos. It's fun for a while, but I got pretty bored halfway through, which still leaves about 45 minutes of high-paced nonsense. Not a great film, but I guess it's hard to argue with nostalgia.

Anything for Jackson

by Justin G. Dyck
Specifics
Canada [2020] - 97m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Anything for Jackson poster

Anything for Jackson sports two of the most unlikely people ever to commit a heinous crime. It's a solid premise that is handled with the proper comedy, gravitas and gore. Without a doubt a film genre fans can warm too, the only problem is that longtime Hallmark director Dyck peeks just a little too early.

Audrey and Henry have lost both their daughter and grandson. Unable to get past their grief, they come up with a pretty dark solution to their problems. To get their grandson back, they need the help of Becker, a young pregnant woman. They kidnap her, though with the solemn promise that they won't hurt her.

The performances of McCarthy and Richings are pretty great, there are some cool creature designs and a couple of very worthwhile scares. The best bits are in the middle part though, meaning that finale is just a tad underwhelming. Still, a solid film by Dyck, let's hope he gets another swing at horror and doesn't get stuck directing 20 more Hallmark films.

Hillbilly Elegy

Specifics
USA [2020] - 116m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Hillbilly Elegy poster

For those looking at the poster of Hillbilly Elegy and telling themselves it can't be as bad as it looks ... it's really that bad. Ron Howard is hardly the most subtle director and even though he can turn out a decent film if all the stars align, Hillbilly Elegy is the worst imaginable kind of Hollywood dreck.

The film serves family drama, following three generations of trashy hillbillies. It's a subject that has the potential to quickly dissolve into clichés, rather than try a more subtle approach Howard goes full in and exploits those clichés until the film becomes an absolute parody of itself. It's just a shame he never even seems to realize it, as it tries to keep a straight face from start to finish.

Not sure if the Razzies are on this year, but Close and Adams certainly deserve one. Howard and Zimmer too, just invite them all on stage at once and it'll be a short show. This was absolute drivel, the worst kind of drama stretched to reach the 120-minute mark. A real low point in Howard's career.

Sound of Violence

by Alex Noyer
Specifics
USA [2021] - 94m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Sound of Violence poster

Disappointing. I was really looking forward to a horror film that put sound front and center, even made it part of its premise, but the film itself doesn't live up to its potential. Noyer leaves too many possibilities unexplored and doesn't commit enough to the ones he tackles.

The sound design is the biggest problem, from a film like this I expected something snappier, darker and more daring. And with a lead character that is into experimental music, killing people to convert their misery into electronic dance music, the actual music is way too flat and uninspired. I understand I have a rather high bar when it comes to music, but this just wasn't raw and angry enough

Performances aren't great either (some secondary part in particular are below the norm), the police investigation is poor and while pretty original, the kills lack impact. While that sounds harsh, there is quite a bit to like too. The premise is original, the key scenes are well executed and the finale is pretty rad, it just wasn't enough to lift it past the disappointment.

The Invisible Man

by James Whale
Specifics
USA [1933] - 71m
Genre
Sci-fi, Horror
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Invisible Man poster

Classic horror cinema is never very horrific, so I was warned and prepared when I decided to give The Invisible Man a go. And sure enough, you better not watch this one hoping to find tension and dread. While there is some charm/atmosphere here, it mostly comes from the outmodish ideas and execution of classic horror cinema.

The only redeeming element of this film are its above average special effects. By modern standards its nothing special (and even for its time it wasn't exactly shocking), but at least they don't look completely out of place. Whale doesn't save them for a late finale either, which made it a little easier to sit through the ordeal that was the rest of the film.

The performances are very overstated and crummy, the invisible man himself is a parody of a villain and the plot is too simple even for the film's limited 70-minute runtime. It's only when objects are flying seemingly unaided through the air that the film retains its cheesy charm, otherwise this wasn't really worth my time.

American Pop

by Ralph Bakshi
Specifics
USA [1981] - 96m
Genre
Music, Animation
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
American Pop poster

Bakshi's ambitious attempt to capture the history of American pop music in a single film, using four generations of a single family to guide us through it. On the one hand it's a pretty impressive undertaking that deserves praise, on the other hand it was so excruciatingly boring that it's hard for me to say anything overtly positive about this film.

It's probably a lot more interesting for people with an active interest in American (pop) history/culture. Personally I don't care much either. The music is terrible, other historical references have been done so many times before that I really didn't have to see them summarized again.

The animation is pretty interesting, but the art style is ugly. Characters are dull, the background art is lifeless and the film is at least 45 minutes too long. It saddens me to say this about an animated film from the US that isn't squarely aimed at kids, but this pandering to the past is just too damn tiring.

Hotel Poseidon

by Stefan Lernous
Specifics
Belgium [2021] - 90m
Genre
Mystery, Experimental
More info on
rating
5.0*/5.0*
Hotel Poseidon poster

A modern-day Eraserhead. A film that defies description and simply has to be experienced to be believed. The symbolism is thick, the coherence can be fickle and the brain may protest in disgust, but the creativity, absurdity and humor that bursts from every single scene and character is simply breathtaking. Not the easiest recommend, but if you think you can handle weird, you owe it to yourself to give Hotel Poseidon a try. Mesmerizing cinema.

Every Day is Summer Vacation

Also known as
Mainichi ga Natsuyasumi
Specifics
Japan [1994] - 94m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Every Day is Summer Vacation poster

Light drama from Shusuke Kaneko. The film starts off like a somewhat simple and predictable family drama, but the second half has quite a few poignant moments that added a bit more depth than I initially gave it credit for. It's certainly a very easy film to dream away to, which makes it true to its title.

The Rinkaiji family looks like your average happy, suburban family, but as is often the case, drama hides behind their happy front. When daughter Sugina meets her stepfather in the park while skipping school, they decide to forgo society's expectations, starting a little company of their own.

Performances are decent, the cinematography is pleasant and the tone is light. The first half is a little too meandering though, as there is no real urgency and no obvious point to the film. Kaneko corrects that during the second half and the film did leave me with a rather pleasant feeling. Hardly a masterpiece, but very agreeable filler.

Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest

by Michel Ocelot
Also known as
Azur et Asmar
Specifics
USA, Belgium [2006] - 99m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest poster

Michel Ocelot is one of the most celebrated animation directors from Belgium, as a Belgian I have to confess I haven't seen too many films from the man (even after being charmed by Princes Et Princesses). And so Azur & Asmar seemed like a good choice to dig a bit deeper into Ocelot's oeuvre.

It's the first film where Ocelot experiments with 3D characters, which feels like a terrible mistake. While Ocelot's style is peculiar and unique, there's a point where animation becomes merely crummy and that line is being crossed here. Some of the background textures are nice and the colors pop, but the characters are simply disastrous.

The plot is pretty basic and quite moralistic. It offers plenty of opportunity for a fun adventure, but the lifeless character models are a big hindrance. It drags the entire film down (though the poor voice actor doesn't help either). What's left is a somewhat intriguing train wreck. It's difficult to pull your eyes away from the screen, but only because your brain keeps wondering how a thing like this came to be.

The Guest Room

by Stefano Lodovichi
Also known as
La Stanza
Specifics
Italy [2021] - 101m
Genre
Fantasy, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Guest Room poster

The Guest Room is a stylish and well-executed mystery. I will say that Lodovichi was probably a bit too eager to reveal the nature of the events we are witness to, which takes away some tension from the second half. Luckily, the execution is refined enough to overcome that minor oversight.

Stella is on the verge of killing herself, when someone rings the doorbell. It's a mysterious stranger who presents himself as a guest who made a reservation to spend the night in the spare guest room. Stella isn't very keen on inviting him in, but the invasive attitude of the man leaves her no other choice.

The setting is brilliant, the camera work stylish, the score on point. The performances are more than adequate too and the mystery is intriguing, it's just a shame that the halfway through most revelations are behind us and Lodovichi leans more on drama to fill in the remaining gaps. It's a pretty great film, but it had potential to be even better.

Signal 100

by Lisa Takeba
Also known as
Shigunaru 100
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 88m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Signal 100 poster

Lisa Takeba goes full horror. Comparisons with Battle Royale are easy to make, personally it reminded me more of Miike's Lesson of the Evil and As the Gods Will. A sunny day in an average Japanese classroom ends up a grim and bloody quest for survival, a perfect premise for 90 minutes of slick entertainment.

The kids find themselves at the mercy of their teacher. He has shown them a video that has hypnotized all of them, leaving them with 100 trigger actions that forces them to commit suicide when performed. The problem is that they have no clue what these actions are, and doing anything out of the ordinary may lead to their untimely death.

It's a fun premise, the performances are solid, the kills are bloody (though not every kill is quite as original) and the pacing is slick. It's a bit of an adjustment to see Takeba handle this type of material, but she does a good job. 100 Signals is a perfectly fine and enjoyable horror film, food for genre enthusiasts.

Monsters vs. Aliens

by Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon
Specifics
USA [2009] - 94m
Genre
Comedy, Sci-fi, Animation
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Monsters vs. Aliens poster

My goodness. I'm not a big Pixar fan, but I can see why they're generally considered the pinnacle of US CG animation: the competition is simply that much worse. Monsters vs. Aliens is supposed to be a comedy, but the jokes are so painfully bad that it feels disrespectful to other comedies to even call it that.

These films also don't age very well. Monsters vs. Aliens is a decade old and looks cheap. Ugly character designs, poor detail and generic camera work make for an unappealing-looking film. That the problem with films that hope to get by on technical chops alone, you really need aesthetics if you want to last.

But it's the atrocious and desperate attempts to be funny that completely ruin this film. The comedy is mostly just loud. The jokes are very predictable and the running gags are annoying, adding insult to injury. 90 minutes doesn't sound very long, but when every single minute of it is painful to watch, it's pretty damn excruciating.

Meander

by Mathieu Turi
Also known as
Méandre
Specifics
France [2020] - 87m
Genre
Sci-fi, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Meander poster

The straight-up genre version of Tsukamoto's Haze. That said, it's probably pointless to stretch that comparison, as both films were made with very different mindsets and intentions. Turi's Meander aims for juicy genre entertainment and delivers on that promise, which is fine by me.

After a short introduction, Lisa ends up in a tiny metal room, completely oblivious to how she got there. A hatch opens and a small crawlspace reveals itself. Lisa has no choice to go in, hoping she can find her way out of there, but the road to freedom is littered with traps and lethal pitfalls.

With a limited cast and locations, Tori can show his worth as a director. The setting is atmospheric and stylish and never loses its appeal, the film feels claustrophobic, the traps are slick, performances are solid and the mystery is kept alive until the very end. The film isn't terribly original, but that's hardly an issue if you can accept this for what it is. Prime genre fun.

Fighting for Love

by Joe Ma
Also known as
Tung Gui Mat Yau
Specifics
Hong Kong [2001] - 102m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Fighting for Love poster

A pretty typical Joe Ma/HK romcom. You take two popular leads, make sure their characters hate each other's guts, then you can watch them grow closer for the rest of the film (including some bumps along the road). It's really (really!) by the numbers, then again the HK film industry was scrambling to get back on their feet back then, so I'll forgive them the somewhat lazy setup.

Tung is a somewhat crude cook dating a famous actress, Deborah is a feisty woman who just got fired from her job. They meet each other when Deborah bumps her car into Tung's. Both are quite loud and headstrong, but after a couple of drinks they end up in bed. Romance ensues!

Tony Leung and Sammi Cheng work well as an onscreen couple, there are some funny bits and the pacing is decent, but after the halfway mark it gets a bit too predictable and once Tung starts doubting which girl to pick, the film does lose some steam. It's a pretty solid romcom though, just don't expect anything original.

Gorath

Also known as
Yôsei Gorasu
Specifics
Japan [1962] - 88m
Genre
Sci-fi
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Gorath poster

A lesser known Honda film. Gorath isn't the name of a giant monster, but of a star that is on a collision course with Earth. Don't worry though, it's a vintage Honda film that has everything you'd expect to see in his films. Yes, even a giant monster (no matter how random his appearance may be).

When scientists on Earth discover Gorath is racing towards Earth, they send a mission to investigate the mysterious planet. None of their attempts to stop the planet are successful, mankind's final desperate plan is to attach a ton of rockets to the South Pole, hoping to push Earth out of its trajectory.

The first half hour is a bit sluggish, but once Honda is allowed to go crazy with his trademark miniatures sets and vehicles, Gorath becomes a lot more interesting. Add to that a giant sea lion and some good old destruction fun (poor Tokyo) and what you have is a pretty cheesy yet entertaining film.

Happily

by BenDavid Grabinski
Specifics
USA [2021] - 96m
Genre
Comedy, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Happily poster

Originality is hard to come by these days, luckily the premise for Grabinski's Happily is anything but common. The film brings a mix of comedy, mystery and romance, sweeps the rug from under your feet at the very start and keeps you guessing throughout its entire runtime. That's worth quite a lot in my book.

Tom and Janet have been happily married for 14 years. So happily in fact that they've never had a serious fight, make up right away whenever there's some kind of disagreement and are still madly in love with each other. It drives their friends crazy, but then some strange guy shows up on their doorstep and tells them something is wrong.

Performances are solid, the film has visual flair, the soundtrack is fun, the comedy is pleasant and the mystery is kept alive until the very end. The finale lacks clear answers and isn't quite as imaginative as the film's premise, but that's just a small mishap in an otherwise fun and entertaining film.

Bombay Rose

by Gitanjali Rao
Specifics
France, UK [2019] - 97m
Genre
Drama, Romance, Animation
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Bombay Rose poster

Though India has a big, successful and renowned movie industry, animation is not something they are known for. I don't think Bombay Rose is going to change that anytime soon. While it's a brave attempt that shows quite a bit of dedication and goes for a unique, Indian vibe, the result is pretty underwhelming.

The art style is interesting (though not exactly pretty) and the paint technique they used is insane (every single frame is painted), the animation on the other hand is quite poor and while you can practically see how much effort went into this film, it doesn't translate to something that is very pleasing to the eye.

The characters are rather dim and the film lacks focus. None of the plot lines are very interesting and the meandering nature of Bombay Rose doesn't really make for an intriguing watch. It's a shame that all the technical effort isn't met with good direction, fleshed out characters and a more captivating plot.

Mr. Bug Goes to Town

by Dave Fleischer
Specifics
USA [1941] - 78m
Genre
Comedy, Animation
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Mr. Bug Goes to Town poster

One of the few feature length films legendary cartoon director Fleischer helmed. Mr. Bug Goes to Town is a pretty decent and capable alternative to the Disney School of animation, though it's not quite distinctive enough to really set itself apart from the mousy shadow that looms over it at all times.

The story is extremely basic. Hoppity needs to save the inhabitants of Bugsville when their little piece of heaven is on the verge of being destroyed by a giant skyscraper. How exactly that leads to bugs singing is still a bit of a mystery, but it's safe to say that the plot isn't carrying too many surprises.

The animation is decent and some of the character designs are pretty nice, but the film's a bit loud, some of the characters are plain obnoxious and the songs have no added value whatsoever. It's still a pretty standard children's animation that may have some technical chops, but doesn't accomplish much beyond that.