The Tree of Wooden Clogs

by Ermanno Olmi
Also known as
L'Albero degli Zoccoli
Specifics
Italy [1978] - 186m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
The Tree of Wooden Clogs poster

A very typical Palme d'Or winner. Poor farmers going about their business for more than three hours on end. There's no real drama here, no pressing issues, no fancy cinematography, just a slice of life. Italian neo-realism at its best/worst, for me personally it was very much the latter.

Several families of farmers are living on the land of a rich landowner. They pay him a part of their produce, even so he likes to mingle in the lives of the farmers. When one of the farmer's kids turns out to be highly intelligent, they want to send him to a good school, but those are expensive and they'll need to make many sacrifices to get him there.

A cast of amateur actors does a decent enough job, but I simply don't care for the life of 19th century farmers. It's all very expected, characters are caricatures, their living conditions are dire and the lack of any real drama makes it a real chore to watch. The runtime just makes it twice as bad. Terrible.

The Message

by Moustapha Akkad
Also known as
Al-Risâlah
Specifics
Lebanon, Libya [1976] - 177m
Genre
Drama, War
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
The Message poster

The origin story of Islam, packaged as an overblown 180-minute epic. As someone who isn't religious, nor appreciates the classic epics, my expectations were very low and I pretty much got what I was expecting. It's dubious this film earned its reputation based on pure cinematic merit.

In 7th century Mecca, Mohammed is fighting against the moral decline. He claims to have received a vision from Gabriel and tries to convince the people to worship only one God. Mohammed decides to fight the rulers of Mecca, but after some scuffles, he chooses to negotiate a truce to spread the word of God.

The film is split between lengthy (and uninteresting) dialogues and epic battles, but neither managed to pique my interest. The performances are weak, the direction is uninspired and there are some serious pacing issues, which make the runtime an even bigger hurdle. Even if you're a dedicated Muslim, there must be much better sources to learn about Islam.

Tokyo Vampire Hotel - The Movie

Specifics
Japan [2017] - 142m
Genre
Fantasy, Horror
More info on
rating
4.5*/5.0*
Tokyo Vampire Hotel - The Movie poster

Absolutely batshit crazy vampire flick from Sono. This film is the condensed version of the TV series and it does show in places (the pacing and stylistic finish can be a bit wobbly), but man it this a blast. Colorful cinematography, colorful characters, gallons of blood, Sono's signature madness and an onslaught of memorable moments make this an absolute delight. I'm actually interested in watching the series now, though I'm glad I watched the film version first. A delight.

On Golden Pond

by Mark Rydell
Specifics
USA [1981] - 109m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
On Golden Pond poster

Somewhat shlocky drama about growing old. It's obvious Oscar bait material that did pretty well when it was released, but clearly didn't survive the test of time. I hadn't really heard of the film before, and it's no surprise the film failed to capture the hearts of film fans in the decades following its release.

Norman and Ethel go on their annual vacation to Golden Pond. Their daughter Chelsea visits them and brings her new boyfriend, who also has a 13-year-old sun. Chelsea wants to spend a quiet vacation herself and asks her parents if they can leave their boy with them. They reluctantly oblige, Norman in particular isn't too happy having a kid around again.

The setting is pretty nice and calming, so are the fishing trip in the second half of the film, but that's about it for the good news. The performances are weak, the dialogues are terrible, the drama is really cheesy. I didn't really care for any of it, it's a good thing the runtime didn't cross the 120-minute mark, or my rating would've gone down even further. American kitsch.

Focus

by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Specifics
USA, Argentina [2015] - 105m
Genre
Romance, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Focus poster

A slightly more stylish con flick, though one that couldn't quite get rid of all its Hollywood tendencies. It's no Johnnie To, but it's certainly better than the average Hollywood crime flick and even though the twists aren't too surprising or baffling, the film kept my attention for its entire runtime.

Jess is an amateur con artist with potential. When she runs into Nicky, a con veteran, she wants to become his pupil. The two hit it off and after a short trial, Nicky introduces Jess into his troupe of con artists. Together they plan to hit the Super Bowl, but Nicky has a gambling problem that may cost him all his earnings.

Smith and Robbie are clearly having a lot of fun here. The cinematography is nice, the pacing is fine, the plot has more than its share of twists and turns and though somewhat predictable, the ending is appropriate. It's a fun and entertaining film, but it's not really ballsy enough to go against the grain. Simple but solid fun.

Earth

by Aleksandr Dovzhenko
Also known as
Zemlya
Specifics
Soviet Union [1930] - 75m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Earth poster

Early Russia cinema is quite famous, especially with people like Eisenstein pushing the medium forward with their hyperediting antics. There is none of that here, Earth is a hardcore social drama, the kind of poverty porn I'm somewhat allergic too. The fact that it's a century old silent film didn't make things any easier.

The film documents the tension between Russian farmers and collectivists. All is peaceful in the countryside, until the Russian farmers are forced to share everything they make with the rich kulaks. Vassily tries to oppose their oppressors, but as is the rule in any rich vs poor story, he'll be fighting an uphill battle.

As someone who doesn't really like social drama because of its lack of subtlety, the extremely expressive acting only add insult to injury. The music is way too present, the plot is basic, and the characters are simplistic caricatures. Even though the film is quite short, it was almost impossible to get through.

Taste of Cherry

by Abbas Kiarostami
Also known as
Ta'm E Guilass
Specifics
Iran, France [1997] - 95m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Taste of Cherry poster

Kiarostami Palme d'Or winner. I'm not a big fan of Kiarostami's work, Taste of Cherry is one of the more intriguing projects I've seen from him so far. It's a very calm and deliberate film that gets a little too talkative at times and doesn't quite nail its ending, but I did enjoy the overall calming experience.

An Iranian man is driving around in his car, looking for someone who can help him out. He is struggling with life and ponders about killing himself, but he needs someone to bury him if he decides to go through with it. Nobody seems very keen on helping, until he runs into a taxidermist who can use the money to save his own kid.

It's a very interesting premise and the settings lends the film a very pensive, calming atmosphere. Kiarostami doesn't rush things, but the discussions the lead has with the passersby are quite bland, and the ending wasn't quite as thought-provoking as it was obviously intended to be. Fewer dialogues, more tracking shots is what would've made this a better film, but alas.

Lux Æterna

by Gaspar Noé
Specifics
France [2019] - 51m
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Lux Æterna poster

What originally started as an YSL commercial ended up becoming Lux Æterna, a fun little diversion for Noé. A short feature about a film (production) gone wrong, though like always it's not quite clear how serious Noé is when he starts quoting other famous directors. Fans of the man's work needn't worry, this is vintage Noé.

Gainsbourg and Dalle have been asked to participate in a film. After some back and forth between the two actresses, the shoot is finally about to start, but then everything starts falling apart. Annoying people on set, problems at home and faulty equipment turn the shoot into a real ordeal.

The performances are spirited, the visuals are aggressive (with confusing split screens and blinding strobes), the soundtrack is dark and menacing. Still, the short runtime takes away from the oppressive style and the focus on film production is generally one I don't really appreciate. It's a solid Noé, but far from his best work.

Super Me

by Zhang Chong
Also known as
Qi Huan Zhi Lv
Specifics
China [2019] - 102m
Genre
Fantasy, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Super Me poster

An interesting mix of styles and genres. Super Me is not the easiest film to coin. It's not unlike some of China's big budget romcoms of the past decade, but with stronger fantasy elements that take the film to darker places. The mix isn't entirely successful, but it does make for an intriguing film that could very well become a niche of its own.

Sang Yu is a writer who can't put anything on paper and suffers from insomnia. Whenever he falls asleep, a dark figure emerges in his dreams and tries to kill him. A generous street vendor gives Yu some welcome advice and the next time the creatures looms in his dreams, Yu manages to escape, though not without taking something from his dream world into our reality.

The film looks pretty lush, though the green screen usage can still be a bit too apparent. Performances are decent and the mix of romance and fantasy is certainly a lot of fun, though I never felt like both genres reinforced each other. Entertaining blockbuster material from China though, well worth a try.

Songbird

by Adam Mason
Specifics
USA [2020] - 84m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Songbird poster

Too soon? Not sure if people are ready to watch an apocalyptic COVID-19/lockdown film as we're just on the verge of lifting lockdown, the empty theater surely seemed to suggest Songbird jumped the gun. Personally, I think it's interesting to release it right now, as it lends the film some extra urgency.

We're in the fourth year of lockdown, people aren't allowed outside their homes, unless they're immune and have the bracelet to prove it. Nico is a courier who delivers packages to the rich, his girlfriend is locked inside with her aunt. When the aunt gets sick, Nico doesn't have much time to save his girlfriend.

Songbird is a pretty simple film, blending action, sci-fi and thriller elements with a topical setting. The cast is decent, the pacing is solid, the plot offers enough tension. Mason fails to really make it anything more than a simple genre film though, entertaining enough, but hardly a must-see.

It Came from the Desert

by Marko Mäkilaakso
Specifics
Finland, UK [2017] - 90m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
It Came from the Desert poster

Some horror/comedies are genuinely funny, others simply hide behind the comedy to cover their lack of budget and talent. It Came from the Desert is one of the latter. Add some obligatory 80s references and buckets of weak CG and you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this one.

Two boys are going to a party in the desert. When they stray from the party, they find a cave with a secret facility. Of course, they venture inside, what they find there is a deserted laboratory filled with giant ants. The ants haven't been able to breed since they lack ethanol (don't even ask), the party nearby turns out to be a disaster waiting to happen.

It Came from the Desert is one of those films that is clearly made by a horror fan, someone a little too eager to share his knowledge of the genre, while lacking the talent to make a genuinely good film. The comedy is bland, the performances are poor, and the gore is mostly absent and/or extremely cheap. Not great.

Mothra

Also known as
Mosura
Specifics
Japan [1961] - 101m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Mothra poster

Godzilla is by far Honda's most popular property, but Mothra may very well have an even bigger cult following. I've seen the creature before in several Godzilla films, but never managed to catch the original one. While it fits very well within Honda's oeuvre, Mothra has a slightly different focus that may suprised seasoned Godzilla fans.

The film is slightly more geared at adventure and spends quite a bit of time on the initial exploration of Mothra's island, including the tribal culture it houses, and in particular the two fairies. While there is room for the usual destruction, it doesn't come until very late into the film.

Mothra is probably one of Honda's cuter creatures, looking more like a cuddly teddy bear than a fearsome monster. It appears slightly more menacing in its caterpillar state, but it never measures up to Godzilla's angrier adversaries. The start is pretty slow and 100 minutes it's a bit long for a film like this, but once Mothra finally take center stage there's enough Honda magic for faithful fans. Not bad, but I prefer Honda's crazier films.

Mon Oncle

by Jacques Tati
Specifics
France, Italy [1958] - 116m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Mon Oncle poster

Tati has a very particular, unique and distinctive sense of humor. His films exist in a universe of their own, one that is explicitly comical, just a little tragic and very French. You can read that as extreme praise if you which, I freely admit it could've been just that. The problem is that I just don't find it funny.

Gérard is a young boy whose parents are rich and live in a futuristic mansion. It sounds like a great life, but Gérard is bored and prefers to hang around with his favorite uncle Hulot. Gérard's mom isn't too taken with her brother's lifestyle and tries to hook him up with her rich neighbor.

Tati plays with pacing, sound, adds many visuals gag and, doesn't fear a little slapstick, but none of it really works. The comedy feels predictable, flat, outdated and, regardless Tati's attempts to diversify, one-note. The soundtrack in particular is grating and the runtime makes it truly unbearable at times. A brave attempt by Tati, but it's not for me.

Man of Iron

by Cheh Chang, Hsueh Li Pao
Also known as
Chou Lian Huan
Specifics
Hong Kong [1972] - 99m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Man of Iron poster

Cheh Chang filler, though he got a little help from Hsueh Li Pao this time around. The plot is situated in a slightly more modern setting (at least, compared to most other Shaw Bros martial arts films), which usually doesn't pan out too well. But the film stays clear from too obvious contemporary influences, so it doesn't come off all that outdated.

Man of Iron is a sequel to The Boxer From Shantung, with Shaw Bros legend Kuan Tai Chen reprising the role of Wan. Wan has amassed a large group of followers, but he isn't the only bad boy in Shanghai. It doesn't take too long before he butts heads with some of the more established gangs. And they're not too happy with this new kid on the block.

The plot isn't too interesting, the film also takes a little too long to get going. The martial arts is decent, but not the best Chang has put on screen. But he compensates with plenty of martial arts scenes in the second half of the film. It gets a lot better from there on out, though I still wouldn't recommend this film unless you're dedicated to completing Chang's entire oeuvre.

Galveston

by Mélanie Laurent
Specifics
USA [2018] - 91m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Galveston poster

Galveston is Laurent's first American film. Seeing her do a crime drama may be a little odd, though by introducing some slightly unconventional touches, Laurent manages to put her stamp on this particular niche. It's certainly grittier than most of its peers, which is a real asset for this type of film.

Roy is a seasoned hitman who is set up by his own boss. He manages to avoid the trap and helps out a young escort who just happened to be at the place of the crime. They pick up her little sister and leave town, with no real place to go. Roy wants to get back at his boss, but his time is running out as he's been diagnosed with cancer.

Ben Foster's performance is amazing, Elle Fanning is a bit too over-the-top, especially in the emotional moments. The plot is basic, but the atmosphere is solid and some surprising twists (not so much the plot itself, but certain choices Laurent makes) add spice to the film. It's a shame the finale is so superfluous and Fanning isn't up to the task, otherwise it would've been a very nice film. Now it's just good.

Sexy Line

Also known as
Sekushî Chitai
Specifics
Japan [1961] - 82m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Sexy Line poster

Early Teruo Ishii film. Like most of his early work, Sexy Line isn't that remarkable and nothing like the films that made Ishii famous. It's a pretty basic Japanese noir, a crime story that sticks to the beaten path and only rises above itself in very select scenes. But even then, it's quite a bit better than some of its more famous US alternatives.

Sexy Line is a story about two individuals who find and need each other. Hiroshi is being wrongfully accused of murder, Mayumi is a pickpocket who's been forced to work for a gang of criminals. The both of them hook up to search for the real killer of Mayumi's lover, but the gang controlling Mayumi isn't too pleased with their plans.

The plot really isn't all that interesting, the jazzy soundtrack feels a bit too familiar, the actors are decent but nothing spectacular. The black and white cinematography knows a couple of remarkable spikes, especially the rich contrast and the camera work stand out. Not quite enough to save the film, but noir fans will find quite a bit to like here.

The Kitchen

by Andrea Berloff
Specifics
USA, Canada [2019] - 102m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Kitchen poster

DC's big gender battle movie. While the film doesn't have any obvious superhero motives, the simplistic characters, plot and themes betray the film's origin and source. At the same time, it brings a certain lightness that makes it more bearable than would it have been played dead serious.

Three Irish gangsters are apprehended by the police, their wives are left behind. The other gang members don't really feel like helping them out, so they take matters in their own hands and form their own gang. With a little help from former friends, they quickly take over the neighborhood.

The biggest problem here is the casting. McCarthy and Moss are totally unfit for their parts, Haddish really struggles and barely hits the mark. It also would've been better if the film had leaned in a little more on its simple setup, making more room for stylistic frivolities instead of dire plot points, but it certainly could've been a lot worse. Decent filler.

The Amusement Park

by George A. Romero
Specifics
USA [2019] - 54m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Amusement Park poster

The Amusement Park is an old Romero film, once considered lost. The film was found again in 2017 and was fully restored, released for the first time in 2019. It's an odd little project about neglect and abuse of the elderly, with an absurd twist and some rather distressing images. Good fun, in other words.

An old man walks into a waiting room, before entering an amusing park. Another man is already there, battered and disillusioned. He warns the first man not to enter the park, but he doesn't heed the warnings and wants to experience the park himself. And so he enters a hellish nightmare.

Though this isn't a typical horror film, people with an affinity for misanthropy will have no trouble recognizing the terror on display. Noisy crowds, crude people, inhuman behavior, all with a healthy dash of absurdity. It's a fun concept, not perfectly realized, but amusing and pretty effective.

Stranger on the Third Floor

by Boris Ingster
Specifics
USA [1940] - 64m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Stranger on the Third Floor poster

Often cited as the first ever film-noir. I'm not versed enough in the history of the genre, but the genre elements are clearly there, so it's definitely not a miscategorization. The positives are that the film is short, barely crossing the 60-minute barrier. The negatives ... pretty much everything else.

Ward is a reporter who witnessed a murder in a diner. It's his testimony that puts the culprit behind bars. Not much later, he has a dream where he learns he might have misinterpreted the situation. Ward feels terrible, but when his neighbor is murdered in exactly the same way, it's clear someone else is behind the killings.

The pacing is pretty decent, the runtime is short, but the film itself is pretty dim. The plot is very basic, performances are well exaggerated and stylistically there is very little there (except maybe one dream sequence). Fun if you're a noir fan and you care about the genre's origins, sadly I'm not and I don't.