Another Heaven

by Jôji Iida
Also known as
Anaza Hevun
Specifics
Japan [2000] - 132m
Genre
Sci-fi, Horror, Crime
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Another Heaven poster

While the premise of Another Heaven sounds interesting enough (a police thriller with supernatural overtones), the film itself comes off a little uninspired. Iida spends too much time on a setup that doesn't deliver anything original, while skipping through the supernatural elements without too much conviction.

Detective Manabu finds a man with his brains removed in a little apartment. It's the start of a tricky cat and mouse game with a killer that seems to have superhuman capabilities. Manabu isn't discouraged though and what the help of his partner and a girl who has fallen in love with him, he slowly closes in on the killer.

The film takes too long to get going, the cinematography is a little basic and Eguchi makes a pretty boring lead. Luckily Miwako Ichikawa adds some spice to the film and the ending turns it up a notch, but it's not enough to turn a 130-minute police thriller into a riveting film.

Asia Strikes Back

Also known as
Ajia no Gyakushu
Specifics
Japan [1983] - 30m
Genre
Sci-fi, Music
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Asia Strikes Back poster

One of Gakuryu Ishii's early cyberpunk shorts. It's not really a typical narrative, instead Ishii shot the footage to use it as backing video for the concerts of one of his punk bands. That makes the short a little disjointed, on the other hand Japanese cyberpunk isn't really known for coherent narratives, so who cares.

There's an underlying plot about psychic soldiers who fight wars from an underground bunker. They start a revolt and manage to make their way to the surface. Bits and pieces that work well within the setting of the film, but in the end it's all pretty garbled and messy, with Ishii paying more attention to mood and atmosphere.

Ishii's punk aesthetic is already well-developed here. The soundtrack is raw and loud, the setting is grungy and dirty and the camera work explosive and intense. If Japanese cyberpunk is your thing then Asia Strikes Back delivers in spades, if not then there's probably nothing here for you. Not quite up there with Ishii's best, but a lovely treat for cyberpunk fans either way.

Hidden Figures

by Theodore Melfi
Specifics
USA [2016] - 127m
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Hidden Figures poster

Crappy Hollywood schmaltz. How ironic is it that a movie that tries to honor the accomplishments of Johnson, deems those accomplishments so benign that it has to smother them with a scripted fight against social injustices. And what was the deal with Johnson's moment supreme being little more than a piggyback on a white man's solution?

Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women who played an important part in getting the first American man in orbit around the Earth. Rather than focus on their careers at NASA though, the film is more about their fight against prejudice, misogyny and racism. Elements that Hollywood added because who wants to see a film about smart, black women, right?

Regardless of all the above, the film is just terribly kitsch. The performances are bland, the soundtrack is atrocious, the script is laughable, emotions are fake and overly sentimental. I think even Spielberg would describe this film as "a bit much". In between all the standard Hollywood nonsense there is an interesting story hidden, but it's buried under a load of hot garbage.

Yurigokoro

by Naoto Kumazawa
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 128m
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Yurigokoro poster

A weird and somewhat disturbing mix of drama, thriller and mystery elements. The vibe of the film is rather idyllic, but the subject matter is dark and relentless. There are flashes of Tetsuya Nakashima's work here, though Yurigokoro is slightly more focused on the mystery and narrative elements. A neat little surprise that should do well with people who love a few plot twists elevated by a stylish presentation.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

by Jirí Trnka
Also known as
Sen Noci Svatojánské
Specifics
Czechoslovakia [1959] - 76m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy, Animation
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
A Midsummer Night's Dream poster

Old puppet animation based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Adapting Shakespeare isn't the most original of ideas, but I will admit that it fits the style, especially with all the fantasy elements presents. Still, I would've preferred to see an original story rather than the umpteenth version of this story.

Unless you've never seen or read A Midsummer Night's Dream before, there are few surprises here. In classic Shakespeare fashion, tragic romances are littered throughout, as people are paired with the wrong partner and are pining for unattainable love. The plot isn't really the main draw here though.

Some of the puppet designs are nice and the more fantastical sets are cute, but the pacing is slow, the voice-over sounds somewhat indifferent and the animation is very basic, at least by modern standards. There are some stand-out moments here, but they are few and far between and most of the film was a bit too simplistic to keep me engaged throughout.

How to Build a Girl

by Coky Giedroyc
Specifics
UK [2019] - 102m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
How to Build a Girl poster

Didn't like Booksmart much so I nearly passed on watching this film. It's a good thing I didn't in the end, as How to Build a Girl is way wittier, classier and more imaginative than Feldstein's USA escapades. I was pretty surprised (and impressed) by the range she puts on display here.

Feldstein plays Johanna, a young girl with a knack for writing, growing up in Wolverhampton. Her life changes when she applies for a job as a music reviewer. She's a natural, but it's a tough world out there and as she pushes for success, she has to make some difficult decisions along the way.

Feldstein is a delight, the dialogues are clever, Giedroyc switches between comedy and drama with deceptive ease and the presentation is pleasant. There's really nothing specifically wrong with this film, except that this has been done many times before and How to Build a Girl stick a little too closely to its biopic roots.

On-Gaku: Our Sound

by Kenji Iwaisawa
Also known as
Ongaku
Specifics
Japan, USA [2019] - 71m
Genre
Comedy, Music, Animation
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
On-Gaku: Our Sound poster

Disappointing. Japan has a pretty sketchy track record when it comes to films about bands and pop/rock music, On-Gaku seems all to content to continue that trend. Apart from the differentiating art style and the dry comedy, it's really just a rather bland and by-the-numbers film with a horrible soundtrack.

A group of high school delinquents is so bored, they decide to form a band. While rivaling gangs are trying to settle scores with them, the three boys get some instruments and without any formal training try to find a sound of their own. When they score a gig at a local festival, it becomes a race to perform.

The crude and simplistic art style is what jumps out right away. It isn't very pretty to look at and the animation itself is quite poor, but there are some nice style variations throughout the film. The soundtrack is crummy, the comedy not at all that funny and the plot is of the cookie cutter variety. Many people seem to like this film, not sure what the deal with that is really. It's all very "been there, done that".

9 to 5

by Colin Higgins
Specifics
USA [1980] - 109m
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
9 to 5 poster

Didn't really have high hopes for this one, especially not with Dolly Parton being part of the main cast, but in some circles it's considered a classic USA comedy. I guess at one time this must've been the definition of funny, luckily those times are long gone. All that remains now is an endless succession of predictable and poorly executed jokes.

Three working women are tired of their bigot boss. On a little get together they dream up ways to humiliate and retaliate against him, but when one of their dreams becomes reality (their boss gets poisoned) they panic. Afraid someone will find out about their plans, they kidnap the body.

The main cast isn't very funny, the jokes are lame and lazy, the soundtrack is absolutely drab, the cinematography purely functional. Apart from the dream sequences, which at least stand out, there's nothing here really. Just a dire piece of mainstream comedy that didn't stand the test of time.

Closet Monster

by Stephen Dunn
Specifics
Canada [2015] - 90m
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Closet Monster poster

A rather brave attempt to spruce up a basic coming out drama, but writer/director Stephen Dunn doesn't quite get his film where it needs to be. For too long Closet Monster is just a simple drama like there have been so many before, it's only nearing the finale that the film gets something mysterious and uncomfortable.

Oscar is a young boy scarred by the divorce of his parents. The separation of his mom and the fickle mental state of his father make his childhood harder than it should've been. Oscar is also coming to terms with the fact that he is gay, though signals from his surroundings denote that as a bad thing.

The performances are decent but barely sufficient for this type of drama, the minor fantastical elements don't leave much of an impression, the soundtrack is borderline acceptable and the drama feels way too familiar. The moody ending redeems the film somewhat, but I expected more from this one.

The Sword Stained with Royal Blood

by Hoi-Ching Cheung
Also known as
Xin Bi Xue Jian
Specifics
Hong Kong [1993] - 96m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy, Action
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Sword Stained with Royal Blood poster

Every time I watch one of these films (early 90s Hong Kong martial arts with strong fantasy/comedy elements) I feel it might be the last one. And every time I find a new one I'm elated that there are more to discover. The Sword Stained with Royal Blood may not be one of the absolute highlights of the genre, it's perfect fan material.

I wasn't too impressed with Cheh Chang's Shaw Bros adaptation, this version resolves most of that film's issues. The story is pretty basic, then again you're probably not watching this for the intricate plot. Heroes and bad guys fight it out, with some mistaken identities and volatile relations thrown into the mix to keep things interesting.

The action is great, the comedy is fun (RIP Man-Tat Ng though) and the fantasy elements add the necessary flair. What draws me to these films is the insane pacing, giving you absolutely no room to breathe, and this one definitely delivers. Fun from start to finish, perfect genre filler, well recommended if you haven't seen it already.

Turner & Hooch

by Roger Spottiswoode
Specifics
USA [1989] - 97m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Turner & Hooch poster

80s buddy cop film. Only someone thought it would make sense if Tom Hanks was a cop and his buddy cop was a dog. It's really as lame as it sounds and time hasn't done this film any favors. It's really just generic shelf filler that goes through the motions simply because Hanks is a bankable actor.

The plot isn't much to look at. Turner takes on one last job before he is transferred to the big city. He has to try and catch a killer, but his best lead turns out to be Hooch. A dog. Turner isn't a big fan of the animal, but believe it or not, after some awkwardly scripted scenes they become best friends and as a team they're ready to go and catch the bad guy.

I'm not a big Hanks fan, so there's that. I'm also not a big fan of 80s buddy cop movies, nor of movie dogs. The bland attempts to mix in romance and even some drama fail horribly, the action is dim, the crime elements are lazy and the ending is so sappy it's almost embarrassing to watch. Not a great film.

The Closet

by Kwang-bin Kim
Also known as
Keulrojet
Specifics
South Korea [2020] - 97m
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Closet poster

A South-Korean horror film called The Closet. That's really all you need to know. Whatever clichés are popping up in your head right now, you can be sure this film has them. The Closet is the definition of by-the-numbers, luckily the execution is on point, which makes that this film is at least pretty watchable.

A dad and his daughter move into a new house (yup). There's a creepy closet (hah), footsteps are heard on the second floor while nobody is there (heh) and sure enough, eerie drawings of ghosts pop up not much later (woo-hoo). That the film moves from horror to tragedy later on should come as no surprise.

The performances are decent, the cinematography is polished and the build-up is solid. The second half get a bit too dramatic for my taste and the lack of originality (read: none whatsoever) is a bit grating at times, but if you're looking for decent horror filler this film has you covered. Just don't expect to see anything you haven't seen before.

68 Kill

by Trent Haaga
Specifics
USA [2017] - 93m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
68 Kill poster

A brave attempt to make an edgy dark comedy, even though the film isn't quite as zany as it tries to be. Haaga struggles with the structure of the film and tries to hold back for too long, possibly because the finale isn't quite as over-the-top as it should've been. That said, there's quite a bit to like here.

Chip is a well-meaning guy who keeps falling for the wrong women. Liza, his somewhat deranged girlfriend, has him on a short leash and convinces Chip they need to rob one of Liza's clients to finally get ahead in life. Chip reluctantly agrees, but finds himself way in over his head when Liza kills the couple in cold blood.

The presentation is pretty decent, the actors are well in on the joke and the introduction/finale deliver. The problem is the middle part, where Haaga fails to build up to a crescendo. The entire segment with Violet probably should've been cut (though through no fault of Boe, who plays her part well). Still, decent, fun and entertaining filler, just not as mad as it pretends to be.

Sex Crimes

Also known as
Seihanzai
Specifics
Japan [1967] - 74m
Genre
Drama, Erotica
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Sex Crimes poster

One of the weaker Wakamatsu films I've seen in a while. Not that it is so different from his other work, but somehow it lacks the urgency and the vigor that made his other films jump out. Without it, there's little more than a mix of unsexy erotica and endless monologues, few of them very interesting.

Though I'm not 100% certain, I think Sex Crimes is part of a series of films Wakamatsu made about deranged individuals that ended up becoming sex criminals. Either that or it's just a very recurring theme in his films. You pretty much get the same setup here, though with a slightly dull lead.

The performances didn't really appeal to me, the camera work felt a bit obligatory and there were some serious pacing issues. Maybe I'm getting a bit too used to these 60s Wakamatsu films, or maybe this is just a lesser film in his oeuvre. Time will tell I guess, as I still have a good 60 more to go. For now, I would say this is for completists only.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

by Ana Lily Amirpour
Specifics
USA [2014] - 101m
Genre
Romance, Thriller
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night poster

An incredibly messy feature. I have to give it to Amirpour, she certainly created something unique. It's as if she feared she'd never make a film again and put every genre she ever wanted to work in, in a single film. There's really no baseline here, except that everything is shot in stark black and white.

The story revolves around a vampire girl and a young boy who is forced to deal with his father's drug addiction. They both roam the streets of the fictitious Bad City, where they inevitably bump into each other. A strange romance ensues, which only becomes more complicated as the film progresses.

From crime to western, from horror to comedy, from romance to drama, the film rolls from one genre into the next. The cinematography is pretty nice, the camera work and editing aren't on the same level though and the soundtrack is a big letdown for a film like this. Performances are good and it's certainly quite different from anything I've ever seen, but in the end it left me rather cold. An interesting failure.

10 Things I Hate About You

by Gil Junger
Specifics
USA [1999] - 97m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
10 Things I Hate About You poster

A pretty basic high school romcom with some above average performances that make it stand out, if only just a little. I'll readily admit that I don't care at all about these US high school flicks, they have practically no chance of winning me over, so the fact that I found this bearable might mean it's actually pretty decent.

In order to get to Bianca, the girl of his dreams, Cameron needs to find a date for Bianca's asocial sister, as her dad won't let her go out before that. Cameron's eye lands on Patrick, the school criminal who has no interest in any of his classmates whatsoever. I hope you can guess how it goes from there.

It's the banter between Ledger and Stiles that makes this film rather fun. The plot is bland, the music is terrible and the high school setting has been done to death, but at least there a somewhat sarcastic undertone that gives it a novel twist. Not a great film, but considering the type of film this is, it could've been a lot worse.

Queen of Triads 2

by Jing Wong, Kwok-Man Keung
Specifics
China [2021] - 78m
Genre
Action
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Queen of Triads 2 poster

Not sure if I'm surprised to see Jing Wong resurface in the recent boom of Chinese genre cinema. He may be getting a little order, but it's a work ethic that suits his perfectly. Filling shelves with popular genre cinema is Wong's shtick and since he'll probably be making films until he's actually physically uncapable, it's a match made in heaven.

The story is a simple one. A man solicits at a restaurant known for giving unjustly imprisoned people a second chance. Things go well until an old enemy resurfaces. The people at the restaurant decide to help him out, but the secret deals between the police and the Triads make it hard to get a proper revenge.

Though Wong should be able to make this type of film with his eyes closed, he can't fall back on seasoned actors and cinematographers to elevate his film, which is a bit of a problem. Queen of Triads 2 pales in comparison to most of his other work, there are a few decent action scenes (and of course some gambling action), but it's hardly a film worth pursuing. Filler for the needy.

The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi

Also known as
Kindaichi Kosuke no Boken
Specifics
Japan [1979] - 113m
Genre
Comedy, Mystery
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi poster

Kosuke Kindaichi is one of the most famous detectives in Japan, made popular by the films of Kon Ichikawa (but originating from a long line of novels). Madcap director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi also had a swing at it and delivers what could've been a fun live action Lupin film, only with a different set of characters.

The plot is pretty negligible and little more than an excuse for some insanity along the way. Kindaichi is summoned to recapture the missing head of statue. What starts off as a very simple assignment, quickly escalates into a mad search for the head. Again, the comparisons with Lupin are never far off.

I'm not familiar with the original series so it's difficult to compare, but the elements that stick out bear the clear signature of Ôbayashi. The tone is extremely light, even bordering on outright comedy, there are some truly wacky moments and the hand of Ôbayashi is always present. Probably more fun for people already familiar with the series, but still worth a watch even if you've never heard of Kindaichi before.

Homunculus

Specifics
Japan [2021] - 115m
Genre
Fantasy, Mystery
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Homunculus poster

Takashi Shimizu's latest film is quite a bit different from his usual output. Best known for directing trademark Japanese horror films, Shimizu has been branching out in recent years. Homunculus is a clear step away from the horror genre, though where he ended up exactly isn't as easy to explain.

Homunculus is a mystery with strong supernatural elements. Go Ayano plays Nokoshi, a strange man who is dead wealthy, but lives in his car and goes through life as a homeless person. One day he is approached by a medical student who wants to drill a hole in his skull. Nokoshi isn't interested, but the boy persuades him and before he knows it, he can see personifications of people's traumas.

Shimizu has a little trouble establishing the tone of Homunculus, and he spends a little too much time on the drama at the end. Other than that, this was pretty great. Pretty rad effects, an original plot, unpredictable until the very end and a great central performance. Don't go in expecting a typical Shimizu film, just sit down and enjoy what Shimizu throws at you.