Hunted

by Vincent Paronnaud
Specifics
Belgium, France [2020] - 87m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Hunted poster

A bit of a surprise from director Paronnaud, especially for people like me who haven't keen track of his career and know him solely from Persepolis. I wouldn't have expected to see him do a horror/thriller revenge flick, but here we are. Even more surprising is that Paronnaud actually managed to deliver a film that is well above average.

Eve is going through a bit of a rough patch. Trying to escape the rut, she decides to go out for a night in the town. In a local bar she meets an intriguing guy who helps her to get rid of an annoying drunk. The two hit it off, but when they leave the bar, Eve is dragged into a car and finds herself at the mercy of two crazy guys.

Paronnaud's direction is well above par, the performances are strong, and the soundtrack is a big plus. The setups is rather basic though and the film goes a little off the rails at the end. If you're looking for a solid revenge flick with some standout moments, this comes recommended.

Dynasty Warriors

by Roy Hin Yeung Chow
Also known as
Zhen San Guo Wu Shuang
Specifics
Japan, Hong Kong [2021] - 117m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Dynasty Warriors poster

Roy Chow's latest is a pretty easy film. Dynasty Warriors is a big budget adaptation of a popular video game series. That's mean he was guaranteed a big budget, a seasoned cast and all the available talent in the right places. The result is what you'd expect. Full-on blockbuster entertainment that doesn't take too many risks.

The series originated as a spin-off from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a game based on the classic Chinese story. It's a hack & slash affair and you'll see that back in the film. Superpowered heroes are fighting off armies of faceless adversaries, with only the battles between the lead characters carrying any real weight.

Quite a few famous names in the cast, most notably Louis Koo and Lam Suet. Not really a film where actors make much of a different though, as it's the big battles that take center stage here. The action looks pretty impressive, the cinematography is nice, the pacing is solid. This type of film has been done better, but Chow has nothing to be ashamed of.

Motherless Brooklyn

by Edward Norton
Specifics
USA [2019] - 144m
Genre
Mystery, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Motherless Brooklyn poster

Edward Norton's second attempt at directing a film. Slightly better than the first one if you ask me, but Motherless Brooklyn still fails to leave a sizeable impression. It's not a terrible film and doesn't show any immediate weaknesses, at the same time it's quite pedestrian and there's hardly any reason to recommend it.

Lionel suffers from Tourette's Syndrome and doesn't have too many friends, except for the boss of the investigator firm where he is employed. When his boss gets killed, Lionel takes it upon himself to find out who was behind the murder, a quest that drags him down a big old rabbit hole.

Some solid performances, a fun lead (played by Norton himself) and a properly structured narrative made sure I didn't lose interest, even though the film is quite long. But as a director Norton colors a little too neatly inside the lines and unless you're a real big fan of these types of detective stories, there's really not much here. Decent but very safe entertainment.

Ride or Die

Also known as
Kanojo
Specifics
Japan [2021] - 142m
Genre
Romance, Thriller
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Ride or Die poster

Hiroki's adaptation of the Gunjō manga is a tricky project. It's quite long, it doesn't feature the most accessible leads, it's rather blunt and it's set up in such a way that the intensity of the film decreases. But the performances are superb, Hiroki's lens is perfect and the core relationship intrigues from start to finish. The reception has been rough, then again that's no surprise when you release a film like this on a global platform like Netflix.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

by Stanley Kramer
Specifics
USA [1967] - 108m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner poster

I guess if you're really generous, you could say this is one of those films that is still relevant today. On the other hand, the message here is so empathic and spelled out that it really starts to grate over the course of 110 minutes. The film starts out as a predictable but light drama, but goes completely off the rails in the second half.

John and Joanna are an interracial couple. They want to get married, but haven't told their parents yet they're dating someone with a different skin color. A dinner is supposed to clear everything up, but not everyone is on board with their plans, even those who have thought themselves to be pretty liberal.

Though the film is presented as a thematic exploration of race issues, it's just as much about gender, with both moms supporting the young couple, while both dads are firmly against the marriage. Performances are decent and I did enjoy the lighter tone at the start of the film, but it becomes so overly moralistic that the entire second half turned into one big cringe-fest. Hopelessly outdated.

Window of the Soul

by João Jardim, Walter Carvalho
Also known as
Janela da Alma
Specifics
Brazil [2001] - 73m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Window of the Soul poster

South-Americans sure seem to like making documentaries about art(ists). Window of the Soul is a little different in that this is not a documentary about a single artist, instead it brings together a slew of famous (and not so famous) people to take about a single concept: sight (hence the title).

It seems that most artists here have been given free rein to talk about whatever came to mind, as long as it was tangentially related to the central concept. Sadly, most of them didn't get any further than spew platitudes and/or wax philosophically about things that just happened to be occupying their brains at that time.

Wenders prefers glasses because they frame reality and dislikes modern cinema because he can't see between the frames, blind people can "see" with touch, perspective is important, images kill imagination etc. There was nothing here I hadn't heard before, also nothing I found interesting the first time around. Just people who clearly think they have something important and revelatory to tell, even though what they say is incredibly low on (f)actual wisdom. The word pretentious was invented for this film.

Tenure

by Mike Million
Specifics
USA [2008] - 89m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Tenure poster

A pleasant romcom with some slightly absurd touches. For the most part, Million's Tenure is decent yet predictable and formulaic, held upright by solid performances of Wilson and Koechner. But Million allows himself to get a little crazy without putting too much focus on these moments, which makes a sizeable difference.

Wilson plays Thurber, a talented teacher looking for tenure at a small college. He isn't very successful in academic circles though and he sees his chances diminish when the school hires a Yale teacher. Thurber gets help from his best friend, fellow teacher and president of the Sasquatch club, but it's clear his heart isn't really in it.

The cast does a pretty solid job, there are some genuinely funny moments and even though the romance is perfunctory, it's not entirely without charm. Tenure is not an extremely memorable or remarkable film, but if you're looking for some easy filler than Million has you covered.

Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry

by Tatsuma Minamikawa
Also known as
Gekijôban Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 85m
Genre
Fantasy, Action, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry poster

Fairly basic anime material. High on fantasy and action, sporting a large and varied cast of characters, each with their own capabilities (and sidekicks). Like most of these films you may miss some of the finer details when you haven't seen the series or read the mangas before, but it's hardly essential to follow what's going on.

Zash is eying the Dragon Cry, an ancient artifact that may help him destroy the world. A troupe of magicians isn't too happy with that prospect and will do everything in their power to stop him. Cue a series of increasingly destructive fights, but some basic fantasy lore thrown in between.

The art style is a bit crude and the animation certainly isn't up to feature film level, then again that's no surprise for these franchise-based feature-length films. It's a step up from TV anime and that's enough to please the fans. The fight sequences are quite fun and the film doesn't take itself too seriously, but if you're used to watching fantasy anime there's very little here that sets it apart from its peers. Decent fun, but not that remarkable.

The Parson's Widow

by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Also known as
Prästänkan
Specifics
Sweden [1920] - 94m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Parson's Widow poster

A surprisingly light Dreyer film. With Jeanne D'Arc in mind I expected a much darker, heavier film, but the tone of The Parson's Widow is actually quite chipper. The film isn't without its portion of drama of course, but there isn't too much wallowing or deep despair here, which was quite the relief.

A young man is traveling around with his fiance, looking for a suitable parish. When he finds a town that is looking for a parson, he has to compete against two other candidates for the job. A trial sermon will determine who is to be the chosen one, but even the positive outcome doesn't mean the end of this young couple's troubles.

Dreyer shows himself a rather competent director, though the film is rather slow. Especially for a true silent, meaning there's nothing in the way of music or dialogue to add flavor to the images. The quirkier moments are definitely a big plus here, but overall I found the film a bit too simple to be engaging.

Icarus XB 1

by Jindrich Polák
Also known as
Ikarie XB 1
Specifics
Czechoslovakia [1963] - 92m
Genre
Sci-fi
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Icarus XB 1 poster

A little-known Czech cult sci-fi. A film that looked quite interesting on paper, especially for who like a fine space exploration flick, but the awkward mix of cheesy and lo-fi sci-fi with a more pensive, slow atmosphere really doesn't do the film any favors. I feel it would've been a lot better if Polák had gone for one or the other and had stuck with it from start to finish.

A spaceship is carrying a group of settlers who are out to colonize another planet. It's a long trip with plenty of hazards, many of which the crew will have to overcome before they reach their destination. From abandoned spaceships and radioactive black stars to technical malfunctions and cabin fever, life in space turns out to be quite tough.

The visual effects reminded me of Ishirô Honda's films. That's not necessarily a bad thing, unless you're expected to take the film serious. The performances, the languid pacing and the general lack of fun seem to suggest that was indeed the point. It takes a lot of potential amusement out of a film like this, hence this wasn't a big success for me.

The Fantastic Magic Baby

Also known as
Hong Hai Er
Specifics
Taiwan [1975] - 62m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Fantastic Magic Baby poster

Cheh Chang's Shaw Bros adaptation of Journey to the West is an odd little beast. Rather than turn it into a conventional film, it feels a lot more like a recorded stage play. Now, the Shaw Bros films have mostly been shot in studio settings, but it seems they didn't even bother to try and camouflage it here.

I've seen so many adaptations of this book already, but I keep running into parts of the stories I'm unfamiliar with (I guess I'll have to bite the bullet and read it myself one day). In this film, the Monkey King and the Goddess of Mercy band together to fight the child god Hung Hai-erh, a nasty little bugger.

The effects, settings and costumes are all rather low-key, which is a shame for a fantasy/adventure film. I think Yuen Chor would've been a better match for this material, but Chang tries to make the best of it. Sadly, not even the martial arts scenes look very convincing. It's a short film and the pacing is decent, it's also rather amusing to watch, but it's far from Chang's best.

Mark of the Vampire

by Tod Browning
Specifics
USA [1935] - 60m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Mark of the Vampire poster

Oldskool horror director Tod Browning takes on the Dracula myth. I'm not the biggest fan of the vampire niche to begin with, but this dialogue-heavy film with a few Gothic sets and silly sound effects really didn't do it for me. It may be just an hour long, but it felt like at least twice that long.

An old castle in Czechoslovakia. Rumors say the old owner (count Mora) was killed there and still roams the premise, haunting everyone who dares to enter his former home. Borotyn, the new owner of the castle, isn't too impressed by all this folklore. But then one morning his dead body is found.

Instead of atmosphere, dread, tension or whatever, Mark of the Vampire delivers endless dialogues, as if the mystery here was really all that exciting. The performances are poor, the setting is dull, the horror is almost completely absent and the twist at the end is rather laughable. Clearly cinema wasn't quite ready for talkies just yet.

Howling Village

Also known as
Inunaki Mura
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 108m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Howling Village poster

Takashi Shimizu is returning to his roots with this film. Howling Village is a Japanese horror that could've easily been released 20 years ago. A horror film steeped in historic trauma, with ghostly apparitions reaching out from the realm of the dead to pester the living. For diehards only.

Inunaki Village is a ghost town, hidden deep inside the Japanese forests. When two kids go there to shoot a horror video, they are attacked by spirits. They get out alive, but Akina doesn't come out unscathed and not long after she commits suicide. Kaena, the sister of Akina's boyfriend, decides to investigate.

The film has its moments, but Shimizu messes up the balance between narrative and horror. There's simply too much backstory to wade through and since it's all so predictable, it slows down the film unnecessarily. The haunts aren't particularly scary either and though the second half is definitely better than the first one, this is hardly a standout film in Shimizu's oeuvre. Basic filler.

Four Sisters

Also known as
Shimaizaka
Specifics
Japan [1985] - 100m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Four Sisters poster

A sweet, little film that made me think of Koreeda's lighter dramas more than once, except that Ôbayashi's style is a lot more outgoing. Four Sisters may not be very slice-of-life or going for overt realism, the atmosphere is very cozy and though the drama can get a little heavy-handed, the film itself never drowns in sentiment.

Four sisters are on the verge of adulthood. They have a pretty nice life, but some pubescent love troubles uncover a pretty big secret. It turns out three of the four sisters were adopted at a young age. While this news hits home, it's just one of the elements that pushes their lives in different directions.

Performances are solid, the cinematography is pleasant (with some truly standout shots here and there) and the score is appropriate. Not everything works equally well (the romances feel a bit obligatory) and it's nothing you haven't seen before, but if you're looking for a fine Japanese drama with minor Ôbayashi touches, this one won't disappoint.

Doctor Dolittle

by Betty Thomas
Specifics
USA [1998] - 85m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Doctor Dolittle poster

The start of Eddie Murphy's Dolittle franchise. It's a far cry from Murphy's stand-up routines that made him famous, then again there was always more money in children's entertainment. I'm clearly not the intended audience for this film, on the other hand it's one of the most financially successful films out there, so I figured I could just give it a go.

Dolittle was able to talk to animals as a kid, his father wouldn't have any of it though and ordered Dolittle to stop with the nonsense. As an adult he forgot all about his childhood, until he nearly runs over a dog with his car. He hears the dog call out to him and from moment on he retrieves his old skill.

The CG is pretty basic, the animal dubs are simply terrible. The jokes aren't very funny, Murphy is annoying, and the plot is truly pedestrian. I know Downey Jr's update got a lot of flack last year, but it's miles ahead of this disaster. Unless you have some small kids at home, I wouldn't give this film any priority.

Oxygen

by Alexandre Aja
Also known as
Oxygène
Specifics
USA, France [2021] - 100m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Oxygen poster

Aja's latest isn't really a return to his roots, but it's definitely a film that limits his legroom. Rather than go full-out, Oxygen is set in a single, cramped location, with one principal actor and just a handful of flashbacks to escape the film's claustrophobic setting. One of those films where it's entirely up to the director to keep things interesting.

A woman wakes up in a small pod. A computer voice alerts her that something is wrong and that she is running out of oxygen at an alarming rate. The woman has no recollection of her past and she can only communicate with the AI. Little by little she starts piecing things together, but her time is running out very quickly.

I hoped Aja would've used this setup as an excuse for some audiovisual muscle flexing, and though he does his best I felt there was the potential to go a lot further still. Laurent does a good job and the plot was interesting enough, though not exactly very original. Oxygen is good, solid genre cinema with a little extra, but not quite masterpiece material.

Why Moths Fly to the Light?

by Zaur Dzhafarov
Specifics
France, Ukraine [2020] - 62m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Why Moths Fly to the Light? poster

Dzhafarov's first feature film is another short one, clocking in at around 60 minutes. It's not a bad first attempt after directing a handful of shorts, but it's clear that Dzhafarov has some ways to go before he reaches full maturity as a director, as some parts of this film simply didn't work that well.

Beatrice lives in Paris. She's about to go fully blind, before that happens she wants to take in as much of the city as possible. When she goes out one night, she bumps into a battered guy who lies on the street. She decides to help the boy, as he slowly comes to a sweet friendship blossoms between the two.

It's clear Dzhafarov envisioned a rather unrestrained and boundless film. Not so much a fixed narrative, but a poetic stage where two characters find each other. This contemporary take on the Nouvelle Vague turns out a bit forced and sterile though, with mediocre performances and some scrawny dialogs taking away from the atmosphere. There's definitely something here, but it needs to be nurtured some more before it becomes truly riveting cinema.

Señales de Ruta

by Tevo Díaz
Specifics
USA, Italy [2000] - 30m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Señales de Ruta poster

A short documentary exploring the work of Juan Luis Martinez. As someone who isn't familiar with the man's work (and who has a rather limited appreciation for poetry in general), this felt very much like a doc for insiders. If you're completely unaware of who Martinez is, you're not going to come out much wiser.

Thirty minutes isn't a lot to do justice to a person of course, so the decision to cut down on more contextual information is one I can definitely understand, it just didn't work very well for me in this case. The makers jump right into the work of Martinez, it just didn't really appeal to me.

The footage that goes with his poems isn't exactly impressive, interviews with his peers made me wonder whether they weren't just interested in making themselves look good and the random structure of the film made it quite messy. Fans of Martinez might get something out of this, others would do better to do a little digging of their own on the internet.

The Bastard

Specifics
Hong Kong [1973] - 102m
Genre
Romance, Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Bastard poster

Another trademark Yuen Chor film for the Shaw Bros studios. He's clearly one of their most skilled directors, though his tendency to mix in other genres (like drama and romance) sometimes backfires. The romance certainly isn't the strongest part of The Bastard, the rest of the film offers plenty of compensation.

The plot is very basic. We follow an orphan who was brought up in a monastery. When he is of age, the monk sends him on a quest to find his father. On his way he befriends a female beggar, who joins him on his quest. When he finally meets up with his father, he isn't the man he hoped he would be.

The cinematography is well above par for a Shaw Bros production, the action scenes are proper, and the finale doesn't disappoint. The romance never quite finds its footing though and the performances are borderline acceptable. Chor's martial arts films rarely disappoint though and they offer a nice diversion from the more standard Shaw Bros productions.

Joshua

by George Ratliff
Specifics
USA [2007] - 106m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Joshua poster

Props to Jacob Kogan. There's no lack of "evil kid" thrillers out there, but few of them are actually effective, usually because the kid fails to be sufficiently creepy and/or menacing. Kogan on the other hand is pretty hard to read, which makes his character all the more devious and intriguing.

The Cairn family are welcoming a new member of the family. While all the attention goes to Lily, Joshua feels neglected by his parents. He also doesn't fit in at school and starts behaving more oddly. His parent hardly notice though as Lily won't stop crying, which is driving them both insane.

Performances are solid and the duality of Joshua's character is fun, but that's where the positives end. The drama is a bit overdone, the pacing's a little too slow and the film should've been darker. It's a decent watch with a handful of memorable moments, but in the end it felt a bit flat and uninspired.