Sophie's Choice

by Alan J. Pakula
Specifics
USA, UK [1982] - 150m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Sophie's Choice poster

Though the film is quite famous for its central conundrum, it's really just the abstract notion of the impossible choice that stands out here. The film itself is a schmaltzy, insincere and badly directed tearjerker that outstays its welcome. The worst kind of Oscar bait really, no surprise it took me so long to catch up with it.

Stingo is a young writer who moves to New York to further his career. He ends up staying in a house with Sophie (a Holocaust survivor) and Nathan (an American Jew fascinated by the Holocaust). Stingo is infatuated with Sophie, who appreciates his attention and slowly opens up, baring her tragic past.

Apart from MacNicol's solid performance, there's very little to like here. Streep's atrocious Polish accent, the sentimental plot, the lyrical dialogues and the tepid pacing all drag the film down. Not even the famous scene managed to impress me, which just illustrates the overall poor showing of Pakula. Very drab.

Haruka, Nostalgia

Also known as
Haruka, Nosutarujii
Specifics
Japan [1993] - 165m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Haruka, Nostalgia poster

One of Ôbayashi's lesser films, coincidentally also one of his longer films. The film is a rather predictable drama that wallows in nostalgia (hence the title), but brings very little of Ôbayashi's trademark elements to set itself apart from its peers. The result was a bit too long and indistinct for me.

Ayase is a popular writer who produces "ice-cream" novels (sweet and simple stories that melt away into nothing). He decides to return to his old town. Once there he runs into the ghosts of his past (most notably a young girl who he once loved), which forces him to reflect on his life and the choices he made.

The setting is nice, the performances are decent. There are one or two more typical Ôbayashi moments, but for the most part it's a relatively basic drama that deals with predictable topics to which Ôbayashi can't all that much. It's not a terrible film, but I definitely prefer Ôbayashi's more unique films.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

by Pedro Almodóvar
Also known as
Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de "Nervios"
Specifics
Spain [1988] - 88m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown poster

By far the best Almodóvar film I've seen so far, maybe not too surprising when it's also the most outright comical one I've watched. I didn't even realize Almodóvar had this in him. It's a pretty farcical affair, with a cast of colorful characters and outrageous situations, but not without some original moments.

When Pepa is dumped over the phone by her lover, she wants to catch him before he leaves on vacation with another woman. But Pepa isn't the only one looking for Ivan, as his ex-wife is finally allowed to leave the psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, Pepa's best friend is having some troubles of her own when her ex-lover turns out to be a wanted terrorist.

The colorful cinematography, the remarkable camera work and the eccentric cast of characters makes this a very enjoyable comedy. The relatively short runtime and the constant surprises keep things interesting, the only thing holding the film back a little is the comical timing, which isn't always on point. Other than that, a neat surprise.

Platinum Data

by Keishi Ohtomo
Also known as
Purachina Dêta
Specifics
Japan [2013] - 133m
Genre
Sci-fi, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Platinum Data poster

A crime mystery spruced up with minor sci-fi elements. Though it seems to be an original film, it still felt like a feature episode of an existing TV series. Ohtomo does his best to elevate the material and there are some above average moments, but Platinum Data is not really up there with his best work.

The Japanese government has a DNA-mapping program that helps them solve crimes. Everybody is convinced this system will lead to a better society, until the inventor of the system is suddenly being accused of murder. Something is not right and detective Reiji is put on the cast to find out who is gaming the system.

Apart from the slightly futuristic elements, this is really just a police/crime flick with its share of twists and turns to keep things interesting. The cinematography is decent but basic, the plot is okay, and the performances are sufficient, but there's nothing here that really stands out.

Red River

by Howard Hawks, Arthur Rosson
Specifics
USA [1948] - 133m
Genre
Western
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Red River poster

A startlingly simple western stretched out to its limit, so much in fact that it passed the two-hour mark. Even after having watched the film I'm still not entirely sure how they actually managed to do it, though obviously the film did feel tepid and slow in places. Hawks really made a bad call there.

Tom and his adopted son Matthew are tasked to move a lot of cattle from Texas to Missouri. It's a treacherous journey regardless, the fact that the two of them are constantly bickering doesn't make it any easier. Matthew grows tired of Tom's tyrannical behavior and decides to take the cattle to a different destination.

Wayne is a really poor actor and the more dialogue there is, the less appealing his performance. While the setup could've worked for a simple, short genre flick, the excess dialogue and the prolonged scenes really screw with the pacing. The ending is pretty cringeworthy too, making this a pretty confusing western.

Madame Butterfly

Also known as
Hu Die Fu Ren
Specifics
France, Taiwan [2009] - 36m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Madame Butterfly poster

This was a really poor effort by Tsai. Madame Butterfly is a short film from around the time Tsai's feature films started to slip, as he seemed more and more interested in documentary film making and even art installations. It's not that I hate slow cinema by default, but there has to be more than a camera trailing someone for 30 minutes across two locations.

There isn't much in the way of a plot here. A woman finds herself stranded at a bus station and can't afford a ticket to get to her partner. She calls the guy, but he isn't very willing to come and pick her up. And so she walks around, hoping to find a solution to her problem.

The camera work is extremely plain, the performances weren't very convincing and the plot is virtually nonexistent. It's probably supposed to come off very lifelike and natural, but this simply didn't work for me, hence it became an extreme drag. Much like Tsai's other films from the past decade or so.

Held

by Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Specifics
USA [2020] - 94m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Held poster

A pretty solid thriller with slight horror influences that never quite reaches its full potential. The film tries a little too hard to be smart, the direction also isn't quite on the level that it needed to be, but the core mystery is pretty decent and the setting adds a bit of extra flavor to an otherwise decent but somewhat unremarkable genre film.

Henry and Emma are celebrating their anniversary, but it's clear their relationship has seen better times. They've rented a villa in the middle of nowhere, during their first night there they are drugged and held captive by a mysterious figure. If they want to get out alive, they're forced to obey this masked assailant.

It's a simple but effective setup, though Cluff and Lofing are a little too eager to spoil the surprise. The performances aren't great either, even so there are several tense scenes and the reveal is actually pretty funny. Certainly not the worst film if you're starved for a fun house invasion flick, just don't expect too much of it.

Six Days Seven Nights

by Ivan Reitman
Specifics
USA [1998] - 102m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Six Days Seven Nights poster

A pretty simplistic and basic romcom, sporting some big names who do little else beyond going through the motions. Reitman manages to keep things light though and while the plot is as predictable as can be, there are one or two memorable scenes that make this film somewhat bearable.

Frank and Robin are on a romantic vacation, when Robin suddenly has to return home for work. She hires Quinn to fly her back, but their plane crashes on a deserted island. They'll have to figure a way to get off the island, in the meantime Frank is getting pretty cozy with Quinn's friend Angelica.

The cast does a decent job and the exotic setting no doubt adds to the appeal. The plot is complete nonsense though (there are even pirates) and the comedy is rather weak and uninspired, but everything said and done it's still a relatively entertaining film, as long as you keep your expectations low.

The Dark and the Wicked

by Bryan Bertino
Specifics
USA [2020] - 95m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Dark and the Wicked poster

With The Dark and the Wicked Bryan Bertino proves that he is one of the modern masters of moody slow burn horror. It's not quite as good as his previous one, but if you're looking for a dark and uncomfortable film that continuously raises the tension without feeling the need to serve a lengthy, obvious reveal, this comes strongly recommended.

Louise and Michael come to visit their mom. She lives on a remote farm and takes care of their dad, who can't get out of bed anymore. She tells them she doesn't need the help, but the next day she cuts off her own fingers and hangs herself in the barn. Louise and Michael decide to stay at the farm to take care of their dad, but it doesn't take long before they come face to face with a dark evil.

It's a rather slow film and people looking for lots of noisy jump scares will probably be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're craving tense and freaky scenes that build up slowly to a dark climax then you're good to go. Performances are solid, the cinematography is excellent, and the score is appropriate. Prime horror filler.

Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani?

Also known as
Eri Eri Rema Sabakutani
Specifics
Japan [2005] - 107m
Genre
Sci-fi, Music
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachthani? poster

A very odd Aoyama feature. Part sci-fi, part music film, part drama. It's a full-on arthouse project though, so expect a very deliberate and slow film that isn't too interested in presenting a clear-cut narrative or enjoyable characters. Instead, we're getting harsh noize concerts and tragic cyphers who hardly open up during the course of the film. This won't be everybody's cup of tea, it's by far my favorite Aoyama film, with great performances by Asano and Miyazaki, a superb score and neat cinematography.

Rollerball

by John McTiernan
Specifics
Japan, USA [2002] - 98m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Rollerball poster

I never saw the original Rollerball, but this remake has a pretty bad reputation. Turns out its reputation is very much warranted, even so McTiernan's train wreck is still somewhat interesting, not in the least because it goes all-in on gritty kitsch, the fact that is fails so spectacularly only adds to the fun.

Jonathan is waiting to break through as an ice hockey player, from time to time earning a quick buck on the side. Ridley, an old friend, convinces him to join the rollerball league instead. It's a new and aggressive, televised sport where one can make a lot of money, but once you become popular the rules are stacked against you.

The rollerball sport makes no sense at all, the characters look dopey, the drama is hilarious, and the plot is a downright mess, but McTiernan powers through and serves 100 minutes off constant action. It's a pretty dumb film, but at least it never pretends to be anything more, which I appreciated.

Growing Up

by Kun-Hou Chen
Also known as
Xiao Bi De Gu Shi
Specifics
Taiwan [1983] - 100m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Growing Up poster

Taiwanese New Wave cinema that lacks a skilled director to elevate it. And so Growing Up becomes a pretty basic and expected film, a family drama about a young boy growing in a Taiwan, a setup that functions as an excuse to reflect on Taiwan and its people. The result is rather mediocre.

Shiao is a young boy who grows up in a reconstituted family, with a Chinese dad and Taiwanese mom. While his parents mean well and do their best to give him a proper education, generational hurdles, immigration conflicts and the usual issues with puberty all contribute to the way he is shaped as an adult.

The cinematography and score are rather bland, performances are decent but nothing exceptional and the drama is by the numbers. More talented directors like Hou and Tsai would take similar stories and create more distinctive films with them, Growing Up fails to rise above the field. Only recommended if you're really starved for Taiwanese New Wave films.

Knife in the Water

by Roman Polanski
Also known as
Nóz w Wodzie
Specifics
Poland [1962] - 94m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Knife in the Water poster

Polanski's first feature film. It's a bit clumsy and unsubtle, a conceptual film where the characters are extremely one-dimensional, and the narrative is purely functional. Everything is shaped around a rather simple premise: the battle between a young free spirit who has nothing and a frustrated older man who has everything.

Andrzej and Krystyna are on their way to spend the weekend on their boat. On the way there they almost run into a young hitchhiker. They decide to ask the young man along on their trip, but it doesn't take long before tensions start to flare up between the two men, with Krystyna stuck in the middle.

The black and white cinematography feels a bit obligatory, the soundtrack is tacked on, and the performances are pretty static. I wasn't too interested in the premise of the film either, but Polanski does know how to build up tension and because the film is relatively short, it was still somewhat entertaining.

Il Mare

by Hyun-seung Lee
Also known as
Siworae
Specifics
South Korea [2000] - 105m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Il Mare poster

Il Mare is a decent South-Korean romance with a slightly fantastical twist. It adds an extra layer of intrigue, though in the end it doesn't really change the fact that this is a pretty standard romance, with two star-crossed lovers who are pining for each other from an insurmountable distance.

When a woman moves out of her peculiar house near the coast she leaves behind a note for the following owner. What happens is that the previous owner of the house receives the note. As both are somewhat lonely, they continue their conversation even though they're not exactly sure what is going on.

Hyun-seung Lee does a decent job here, but his style often borders on kitsch. The cinematography is nice, performances are solid, and the score is decent, even so the romance never truly blossoms and the threat of cheap sentiment is never far off. Lee manages to keep his film on the rails, but only barely.

George of the Jungle

by Sam Weisman
Specifics
USA [1997] - 92m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
George of the Jungle poster

It doesn't get much worse than this, or at least I hope so. And yes, I realize this film is squarely aimed at kids, but I feel for the little ones who have to sit through this travesty of a film. It's basically a parody of what adults think kids are supposed to like, and even then it's not very fun.

George is just Tarzan really. He goes missing after an airplane crashes in the jungle and he's raised by a big ape. When Ursula takes a Safari she bumps into George, who rescues her from certain death. Ursula takes George back to the city, where he has trouble adapting to the way of man.

The performances are painful, the comedy is beyond childish and the special effects look dated. What annoyed me the most though was the unrelenting energy level of the film. As if being continuously loud and obnoxious would take people's mind off of how bad everything else is. This was not good.

Luna

by Dave McKean
Specifics
UK [2014] - 106m
Genre
Drama, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Luna poster

A spectacular film that tries to fuse a character drama with unfiltered fantasy. The result may be a bit uneven and the two sides never truly come together, but Dave McKean does everything in his power to make Luna as memorable as possible. And for the most part, he succeeds with flair.

Old friends are getting back together after having lost sight of each other. There's a lot of unspoken history between them and throughout the course of the weekend it will all come to the surface. It's certainly not the most original setup, but with McKean's films it's really about execution.

The budget may not have been entirely there, but McKean makes excellent use of the cinematography and score to create an otherworldly universe. The fantasy elements are extremely creative, the performances are on point and the score is pretty magical. The drama is a little too pedestrian, but this is definitely a film worth checking out, if only because it doesn't really compare to anything else.

La La La at Rock Bottom

Also known as
Misono Yunibasu
Specifics
Japan [2015] - 103m
Genre
Drama, Music
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
La La La at Rock Bottom poster

A decent but pretty standard drama from Nobuhiro Yamashita. Japanese music-based dramas generally aren't the most original ones, and Yamashita does little to bend that tradition. While his qualities do surface from time to time, there's not quite enough here to set itself apart from the many films that came before.

A man wakes up all battered, no memories of his former self. He wanders around until a sees a band performing on stage. He climbs up there, grabs a mic and starts singing. The crowds love him, but band manager Kasumi doesn't really know what to do with the guy. She takes pity on him and lets him stay at her house for the time being.

Nikaido and Shibutani put in solid performances, there are some small dramatic moments that stand out and the finale is on point, other than that though the music bits aren't that great, the story shoots off in different directions and the film fails to make a real mark. A somewhat inconspicuous entry in Yamashita oeuvre.

The Bloody Escape

by Cheh Chang, Chung Sun
Also known as
Tao Wang
Specifics
Hong Kong [1975] - 84m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Bloody Escape poster

Chung Sun is one of the lesser known Shaw Bros directors, even though his track record is quite impressive. Together with Cheh Chang he tackles The Bloody Escape, a rather simple but effective martial arts production that brings the goods if you're looking for a prime 70s action flick.

Hui is a member of a gang of ethical robbers. They don't kill their victims and only steal half their possessions. When the leader of the gang dies, new rules are established and their robberies are suddenly a lot more violent. Hui doesn't feel at home in the gang anymore and leaves them behind, but by doing so he made himself some new enemies.

It's not often that you see a Shaw Bros production shot on location, so that's a nice detail. Other than that, the somewhat stricter focus on action stands out, but in the end this is just another vintage Shaw Bros martial arts flick. It's fun and entertaining, not a minute too long, but it's also pretty expected and by the numbers.

The Djinn

by David Charbonier, Justin Powell
Specifics
USA [2021] - 82m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Djinn poster

A simple but amusing horror film. Charbonier and Powell make some feeble attempts to set their film apart from its peers, but in the end it's just another story about a person, locked inside a house, haunted by a demon they summoned themselves. In other words: genre cinema, where execution trumps originality.

Dylan is a mute boy who watched his mom commit suicide. Together with his dad he moves to a new house, where he finds a mysterious book that grants wishes. Dylan believes he could've stopped his mom killing herself if only he had been able to call out to her, so he wishes to get his voice back. But the book does more than just grant wishes (hence the title of the film).

The plot is extremely basic and there are no surprises here, but the performances are solid, and the direction is on point. Good use of the soundtrack plus fine cinematography are real perks, even so the film never becomes quite as tense as it needs to be. It's a pretty fun horror film, but Charbonier will need to find a way to ramp up the tension if he wants to do better next time.

The Man in the White Suit

by Alexander Mackendrick
Specifics
UK [1951] - 85m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Man in the White Suit poster

A slice of rather simplistic social critique. While the film hides behind its central plot for a good 30 minutes, it quickly becomes apparent that everything has to make way for an "important message", as director Mackendrick shuns every form of subtlety to get his warning across.

Stratton is an inventor who is looking for the perfect fabric: threads that don't break and repel dirt. He gets himself hired at various mills and does some lab work on the side in each of them, until he finally hit the jackpot. While this fabric sounds perfect, it has the potential to bring an entire industry down.

The performances are mediocre, characters are very one-dimensional, and the plot feels like a big setup. The film is often categorized as a comedy, but the whiny tone doesn't help its case. At least the plot was rather light, and the runtime was limited, other than that there wasn't too much to enjoy here.

Aura Battler Dunbine: The Tale of Neo Byston Well

by Toshifumi Takizawa
Also known as
Seisenshi Danbain
Specifics
Japan [1988] - 80m
Genre
Sci-fi, Fantasy, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Aura Battler Dunbine: The Tale of Neo Byston Well poster

I don't think it's possible to stuff more clichés into a single anime even if you tried. That doesn't mean the OAV sequel to the Aura Battler Dunbine series is terrible, just that it's extremely anime, including giant mech fight, fantasy creatures and creepy villains trying to destroy the world.

This OAV is set 700 years after the original series, sporting the lineage of the former cast. Shion Zaba and Reml Jilfried team up again to stop a giant nuclear missile from wiping out their entire realm. For that they need the help of their trusty mech, which they'll have to awake from its slumber first.

The designs of the mechs and creatures are pretty awesome, it's clear quite a bit of time when into getting them just right. The animation on the other hand is extremely basic and the 80s art style isn't too flattering either. The pacing is solid though and the adventure is pretty epic. Cheesy fun.

Phantom of the Opera

by Rupert Julian, Lon Chaney, Ernst Laemmle, Edward Sedgwick
Specifics
USA [1925] - 93m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Phantom of the Opera poster

The original film adaptation of Leroux' famous novel. The 1925 version is a pretty faithful retelling of the story. Not ideal for someone who has seen plenty of other adaptations already (including the stage play), but for a 100-minute silent it certainly wasn't as bad as I'd feared it would be.

The famous opera singer Carlotta is seeing some serious competition from her understudy Christine. The girl is a rising star, a pupil of the infamous phantom of the opera. The phantom threatens management to replace Carlotta with Christine, but as his demands become more stringent, Christine starts to doubt her loyalty to her mentor.

The decors of this film are quite impressive, especially the underground lair of the phantom. The plot is nice enough (but a little too familiar), the runtime is just a bit excessive for something that merely goes through the motions. Would've been better if it has been 20 minutes shorter, but for a narrative silent, I was pretty decent.

The Domestics

by Mike P. Nelson
Specifics
USA [2018] - 95m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Domestics poster

A very basic but perfectly decent and amusing post-apocalyptic thriller. The Domestics is not a film that's going to acquire too many passionate fans, but people looking to find some proper post-apocalyptic filler could do a lot worse. Just don't expect anything original and you're pretty much set with this one.

Humanity has reset itself. A poisonous gas has killed most people, the few survivors that are left have to make the best of it. Mark and Nina are a married couple who are on the road to visit Nina's parents. It's a dangerous trip, as the wastelands are rules by gangs who are keen to murder anyone who comes along.

The performances are mediocre and Nelson doesn't put too much effort into bringing his post-apocalyptic future to life. He borrows heavily from landmark films that came before. But there are some pretty fun action scenes and the usual deceit and betrayal. Simple but decent genre work, nothing more, nothing less.