Fear Street Part 1: 1994

by Leigh Janiak
Specifics
USA [2021] - 105m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Fear Street Part 1: 1994 poster

I'm not familiar with the books of R. L. Stine, but I am aware of their reputation. Apart from some obvious references, I'm not too sure if this first film in the Fear Street trilogy is even all that connected to the books. Though it's supposed to be set in '94 it feels a bit too contemporary, and the horror itself is just a cut-and-paste job from a million other horror films (with a strong focus on slashers).

The people in Shadyside have a bad reputation, which is attributed to a curse of a witch who died a good 300 years ago. When some kids desecrate her grave, the witch will do everything in her power to get revenge. For that, she summons some of her previous victims and she sends them after the youngsters.

There are way too many gratuitous 90s references, even then the film didn't really have a typical 90s atmosphere. The kids were a bit irritating and the horror is a little tame, though the latter was probably to be expected. There are some solid moments here and the killers look pretty decent, but unless you're a major slasher fan, keep your expectations low.

Edge of Darkness

by Martin Campbell
Specifics
UK, USA [2010] - 117m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Edge of Darkness poster

Martin Campbell adapts his own miniseries into a feature film. I never watched the original, but it doesn't look like there was any reason to revisit this story. Edge of Darkness is set up like an extremely simple revenge flick, hinging everything on the performance of Mel Gibson. Not a smart bet.

Detective Craven doesn't have the best relationship with his daughter, but when she's brutally murdered right in front of him his world crumbles. He starts digging into her past and hits a cover-up that links the company she worked for to a government operation. That's when Craven starts fearing for his own life.

The action is rather tepid, there's way too much (uninteresting) dialogue and the cast does a mediocre job. It's almost as if Gibson tries to compensate, with a performance that is way over the top. The cinematography and score are also of little consequence. The finale almost redeemed the film, but that final scene was the final blow.

Blue Kids

by Andrea Tagliaferri
Specifics
Italy [2017] - 75m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Blue Kids poster

A somewhat inconspicuous but well executed mix of thriller and drama elements. Blue Kids is maybe a little too short and noncommittal to leave a really big impression, at the same time it's a film without any obvious weaknesses that kept the intrigue high from start to finish.

Claire and Gianmaria are brother and sister. They have a strong bond, but don't quite fit in with the rest of the world. Rather than settle for a simple life, they prefer to steal and deceive in order to earn money. When their mother dies their inheritance goes to her husband, it comes as no surprise that the two siblings had something else in mind.

The performances are solid, the cinematography is clean (with several stand-out moments) and the soundtrack is moody. The characters are a little flimsy though and while the pacing is perfect, the story itself lacks direction. It's a fine film, quality filler that is easy to slot in because of its short runtime, but too light to be truly memorable.

Sir Arne's Treasure

by Mauritz Stiller
Also known as
Herr Arnes Pengar
Specifics
Sweden [1919] - 122m
Genre
Romance, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Sir Arne's Treasure poster

Another Swedish silent classic. I've seen quite a few of them these past months, Sir Arne's Treasure is one of the better ones. For such an old film, I was surprised to find so much narrative cohesion. The runtime is still a bit excessive and there are some scenes that could've used some extra edits, but compared to other films from the 1910s, this is pretty slick.

Three Scottish officers murder Sir Arne and his family for his treasure. The only survivor of the attack is Elsalill, who moves to Marstrand to live with her family. The three officers try to plan their escape, but winter is coming, and their way out is frozen shut. They end up in Marstrand too, where one of them hooks up with Marstrand.

The plot isn't all that special and the cinematography is basic, but performances are decent, and the setting adds a lot of atmosphere. The film could and should've been 30 minutes shorter, but there are enough moments where the story picks up again, so it never got too dull to watch.

I Are You, You Am Me

Also known as
Tenkôsei
Specifics
Japan [1982] - 113m
Genre
Drama, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
I Are You, You Am Me poster

Think Shinkai's Your Name, only without the more fantastical bits. A sweet coming of age story about two kids who switch bodies. It's a typical Ôbayashi film, set in a small, charming port town, featuring the usual kids banter and coming of age drama, without overcomplicating things too much.

Kazumi is a transfer student who recognizes Kazuo right away. The two grew up when they were younger. Kazumi wants to pick up their friendship, Kazuo seems a bit more reluctant. After an unfortunate scuffle, they both roll down some temple stairs. When they wake up, they've switched bodies.

The two lead actors do a great job, the light tone of the drama is pleasant, and the setting is very idyllic. Ôbayashi's visual playfulness is kept to a minimum, though there are a few moments where he couldn't help himself. Not a very remarkable or memorable film, but a sweet and enjoyable bit of filler that works well within his oeuvre.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

by Cristi Puiu
Also known as
Moartea Domnului Lazarescu
Specifics
Romania [2005] - 153m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu poster

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu thrives on a simple idea that is stretched out well beyond its breaking point. It's somewhat appropriate, since the film takes inspiration from (and makes direct references to) Dante's Inferno, but I'm not sure putting the audience smack in the middle of that Inferno makes for good cinema.

Mr. Lazarescu is a poor old alcoholic who isn't feeling too well. He calls an ambulance just to be safe, but then his hellish trip starts. None of the hospitals will take him, the doctors and other hospital personnel don't really care for his well-being and as he's driven from hospital to hospital, his condition is gradually getting worse.

You can read this as a realistic drama or a very dark comedy, I just saw a very (very) ugly film that is built on repetition and tragic clichés. I didn't care for the characters, the film keeps reiterating the same point and the presentation is absolutely drab. I'm not surprised this was a Cannes favorite, personally I prefer a different kind of drama/black comedy.

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

by Keishi Ohtomo
Also known as
Rurôni Kenshin: Kyôto Taika-hen
Specifics
Japan [2014] - 138m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno poster

It's been years since I watched the first entry in the live action trilogy, but now that they are continuing the series I figured it was time to get back on board. I'm certainly not the biggest Kenshin fan, but I've seen bits and pieces of the TV series and appreciated the OAVs, so I didn't come in blank.

Even though I couldn't remember much from the first film, the intro quickly refreshed my memory. The film is basically one big trek, with Kenshin setting out to find Shishio, the big adversary of the series. There are some stops along the way and some time spent with people helping him out on his journey, but it's really just getting from A to B with a bunch of fights in the middle.

Ohtomo feels well at ease with the material. The fight scenes are impressive, the sets are lush and expensive and Shishio is a pretty bad-ass villain. It's no real surprise that the film doesn't stray too much from conventions, that's what you get with insanely popular IP like Kenshin, but all in all this was a very capable live action adaptation. On to part three.

G Affairs

by Cheuk Pan Lee
Also known as
G Saat
Specifics
Hong Kong [2018] - 105m
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info on
rating
4.5*/5.0*
G Affairs poster

A very candid, fresh and ballsy Hong Kong flick. Cheuk Pan Lee made quite an entry with this one. G Affairs is a visually arresting crime film that puts a couple of students in the middle of a violent crime scene. Two officers are trying to find out what happened, but the fickle medical conditions of the youngsters makes it hard to figure out what exactly went on there. G Affairs shifts between slick, poetic, raw, youthful and stylish at will, making this one of the strongest Hong Kong films of the past decade. Comes highly recommended.

Coded Bias

by Shalini Kantayya
Specifics
USA, China [2020] - 86m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Coded Bias poster

A documentary about artificial intelligence, machine learning, the inherent biases that seep into these tools and the dangers they present when combined with the surveillance state. That's a lot to cover in a 90-minute documentary, and it's no surprise that Kantayya keeps things rather superficial.

While I think the subject is very interesting (it's something I already encountered on a professional level), the actual complexity is a lot bigger than presented here. Coded Bias isn't too interested in complexity and context, instead it focuses on the issue of bias in isolation. While defendable, I feel this approach would be more suitable for a deep dive rather than the introductory documentary it tries to be.

If you're clueless about algorithms and the dangers of blindly relying on them, Coded Bias is not a terrible place to start. If, on the other hand, you're interested in how pressing these issues are and how these methods compare against other approaches, there's very little here. Instead, we get some poorly fleshed out narrative about two women trying to fight Big Tech. Documentary makers really need to up their game.

Once

by John Carney
Specifics
Ireland [2007] - 86m
Genre
Drama, Music
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Once poster

A sing-songwriter's wet dream. I guess this is about as lo-fi as a film can get, which is kind of appropriate considering the characters and the music that Carney puts forward. This is really a collection of everything music-related I dislike, kudos to Carney for still managing to inject a bit of charm into the relationship between the leads.

Glen works in the hoover repair shop of his dad, but he's mostly out and about, making music on the street. One day he meets Markéta, a single mom who loves the piano. It clicks between the two, but they both have unfinished business that keeps them from hooking up. It doesn't stop them from making music together though.

Two tortured artists in an uplifting romance, though stuck in a film crammed to the rim with whiny singer-songwriter music. The cinematography is ugly as can be, the music is terrible, and the characters are dim, but when they are together there is some chemistry. 200% not my type of film, but Carney is better at this than the Coen brothers (cfr. Inside Llewyn Davis).

Death Duel

Also known as
San Shao Ye De Jian
Specifics
Hong Kong [1977] - 90m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Death Duel poster

A typical, solid Yuen Chor/Shaw Bros production. Death Duel is an ideal introduction for people who aren't familiar with either or neither. It's a classic 70s Hong Kong martial arts film that showcases Chor's typical strengths and weaknesses, and does so neatly within the 90-minute timeframe.

Every century, a battle is staged between the best Chinese and Japanese martial artists, to decide which one can claim the ultimate title. The reigning Chinese representative isn't too interested in this showy spectacle and decides to stage his own death, hoping to avoid all the hassle.

Chor's martial arts scenes are no match for those of Cheh Chang or Chia-Liang Liu, but he's easily the most capable of all the Shaw Bros directors. Impressive set designs and smart use of color and lighting give Chor's films some extra shine. The rest is pretty basic Shaw Bros material. Amusing, but quite repetitive.

Say Anything...

by Cameron Crowe
Specifics
USA [1989] - 100m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Say Anything... poster

A pretty simple 80s romcom slash coming-of-age drama centered around a bunch of teens. In all honesty, that's probably all you need to know to decide whether this film is for you. It's a basic genre film that will appeal to people who like this kind of 80s stuff, others will find very little here.

Lloyd is a free-spirited boy who isn't too interested in doing well at school, Diane is top of her class and won a prestigious grant. The two appear to be exact opposites, but when they meet each other something clicks and before long they become a couple. Diana's father isn't happy with their relationship.

The characters are bland, performances are mediocre, and the plot is extremely predictable. It's all very much by the numbers and my appreciation for this type of American teen drama has been declining dramatically in the past decade. I didn't care for any of it, but the film itself is competently made.

Good on Paper

by Kimmy Gatewood
Specifics
USA [2021] - 92m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Good on Paper poster

What's in a name. Iliza Shlesinger used her own life as a source of inspiration for this one, cleverly assigning herself a lead role. The premise of Good on Paper is clever, but that's where the good news ends. The lack of romance isn't a big problem, the lack of funny material on the other hand is damning.

Andrea is a semi-famous comedian with a decent career, but she can't land a breakthrough role. Her romantic life is pretty lackluster, until she runs into Dennis. He may look like a stiff, but he's attentive, witty and confident. Andrea enjoys his company, but doesn't consider him dating material. Yet.

The plot is extremely obvious, so it's a bit annoying that it takes ages for the characters to catch on. Performances are mediocre, the comedy is predictable and often feels forced and the critique on the male/female friction is way too obvious. It's a brave attempt, but the execution is really poor.

Vanished: Age 7

by Ryûta Miyake
Also known as
Nanatsu Made wa Kami no Uchi
Specifics
Japan [2011] - 82m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Vanished: Age 7 poster

Vanished: Age 7 is a rather typical Japanese horror film, except that it is set up as a thriller with a conscience. It starts off by stating the number of people disappearing each year in Japan as an introduction to the plot, but as things move along it become increasingly clear the film chases a more typical horror narrative.

The 7-year-old Sakura disappears right under the nose of her mother Mana. She is desparate to find her, but nobody knows where her daughter vanished to. Years later, two young girl disappear without a trace in a nearby forest. Mana sets out to investigate if maybe the forest holds answers about her daughter's disappearance.

The limited budget doesn't really work in Miyaki's favor here, some of the CG is so bad you wonder why they even bothered. Even so, Miyaki manages to build up a decent atmosphere and the finale isn't too bad. It just takes the film a while to get there and with relatively poor performances and a lack of stylistic polish, this isn't really a highlight of the genre.

Cherry Blossoms in Spring

Also known as
Seijun Sakura Hensou
Specifics
Japan [1983] - 80m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Cherry Blossoms in Spring poster

I felt bad for Suzuki watching this film. I'm not his biggest fan and he has made his share of misfires, but even then his skills and vision have always been unmistakable. This TV film really is below Suzuki's standards. There are traces of his usual quirkiness here, but the execution is simply atrocious.

The premise is pretty bare bones. A man is driving through Japan, chasing the cherry blossoms. On his trip he runs into a mysterious blind woman, who joins him on his trip. Add some folklore and the usual Suzuki oddness and you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this one.

Suzuki clearly didn't have the budget to execute, so maybe he shouldn't even have tried. The film has potential and if you look through the cheap execution that you can see glimpses of what this could've been, but that never came to be and what remains is a real stinker of a film. Poor Suzuki.

Sing Street

by John Carney
Specifics
Ireland, UK [2016] - 106m
Genre
Drama, Music
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Sing Street poster

A sweet coming of age story, though one that lacks a bit of punch. It felt like I'd seen this film before. Young romance, some Britpop from the 80s, a gang of losers forming a band and overcoming adversities. It's really just a mix of popular elements that offers little or no suprise at all. But at least the execution was on point.

Conor is a young kid whose parents are short on cash. He has to switch school and ends up in a world that isn't really his. To get his mind off of things, he starts a band to impress a band. He recruits some guys from his new school and invites the girl to perform in a music video. For that, they'll have to write a song first.

Performances are solid, the comedy is pleasant, and the characters are charming. The music/retro angle isn't very original though and both the drama and the romance feel a little too flimsy to leave a real impression. It's certainly not a bad film just not quite distinctive enough to set itself apart.

The Dream Factory

Also known as
Jia Fang Yi Fang
Specifics
China [1997] - 90m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Dream Factory poster

One of Xiaogang Feng's earliest films. Feng has been a crucial element in the rebranding of Chinese cinema. He was one of the first directors to move away from the countryside, introducing more uplifting urban stories and more contemporary characters. The Dream Factory is a good example of this evolution.

Four friends start a little company, where they help people act out their dreams. The four do a little intake of their client's wishes, after which they start writing scenarios and perform them together with the client. It's a job that won't make them rich, but as their company grows they learn a lot about the people they help out.

You Ge is no doubt the star of the film, but it's nice to see Feng himself in a supporting role. The performances are solid, the assignments are fun and the pacing is solid. It does get a little repetitive after a while and Feng's direction isn't that remarkable, but it's a decent film that serves as an important milestone for Chinese cinema.