Separation

by William Brent Bell
Specifics
USA [2021] - 107m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Separation poster

Bell finally moved on from The Boy franchise and comes with something new. Of course, new is relative when you're talking horror films, Separation is just another attempt to turn personal tragedy into horror. That's okay though, genre cinema hinges on execution and Bell proves himself a capable director.

The marriage between Maggie and Jeff runs on its last legs. Maggie wants to gain custody of their daughter, but Jeff isn't willing to go down without a fight. Maggie looks to be on the winning hand, but out of nowhere, a car runs her over and leaves her for death. It's a bittersweet victory for Jeff.

There's a bit too much time spent on the drama, which is only borderline acceptable. Luckily, the creature designs are awesome, and the horror bits are moody and tense. The little twist at the end is quite unnecessary, but Bell is smart enough to keep the ending open-ended. Certainly not the greatest horror flick around, but quite entertaining nonetheless.

Death Wish

by Eli Roth
Specifics
Canada, USA [2018] - 107m
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Death Wish poster

Eli Roth reboots the Death Wish franchise. As you might have guessed, it's a bit of a marketing stunt, not in the least because the series was mostly built around Charles Bronson's persona. This film does stick to the premise of the original film, but it could've been just really any other revenge story.

Paul Kersey is a successful doctor whose happy life is suddenly turned upside down when his wife is murdered and his daughter is left for dead during a home invasion. The police isn't making much progress and when he finds a gun one day, Kersey decides it might be time to take matter into his own hands.

Bruce Willis is pretty decent and there are a couple of nice, brutal action scenes, but you can't help but wonder why they decided to revive this franchise. The plot is pretty bland, Roth adapts it as if it was a 90s video rental, and there's quite a bit of fat that should've been trimmed. Not terrible, but I sure hope we won't be seeing a sequel.

The Thirteenth Floor

by Josef Rusnak
Specifics
USA, Germany [1999] - 100m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Thirteenth Floor poster

This one was a bit of an unknown for me. I'd never heard of the film before, but it received some decent feedback, and it was just a click away on Netflix. Not quite sure what people were thinking, The Thirteenth Floor is a poorly realized sci-fi flick that fails on pretty much every level.

Douglas' colleague Fuller leaves an important message behind in a digital world that is made to resemble the '30s. With Fuller gone, Douglas has no other choice than to enter this world and start his own investigation. It doesn't take long before he realizes this world and its secrets run deeper than he could ever have imagined.

Bullshit story aside, the choice to go for a '30s universe is ridiculous and takes away from the overall sci-fi feel. The performances are absolute crap, the film looks dirt cheap, the pacing is all over the place. Add to that a disappointing finale, and all that's left is some very basic, bland genre filler. Not good.

Forbidden Games

by René Clément
Also known as
Jeux Interdits
Specifics
France [1952] - 86m
Genre
Drama, War
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Forbidden Games poster

A classic war drama. Not the most familiar title, but once you've gotten past the biggest classics, Forbidden Games is one of the first films that is bound to pop up. It has a reputation for having a young cast that delivers stellar performances, and for once, I can't really disagree.

Paulette's parents die during a sudden air raid. It leaves her stranded, wandering around with her dead puppy, hoping to find a new home. That's when she bumps into Michel, a young boy who invites her to live with him and his family. The death of her dog inspires Paulette to starts a cemetery for animals.

Brigitte Fossey's performance is powerful indeed. The cinematography is solid too and the start, with her wandering around the countryside, looks very promising. Once she arrives at her new home, things settle down and the drama gets a little less interesting. It's a shame that the second half fizzles out, this would've worked better as a road movie.

Quartet

by Joe Hisaishi
Specifics
Japan [2001] - 113m
Genre
Drama, Music
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Quartet poster

I consider myself relatively knowledgeable when it comes to Japanese cinema, still I was completely baffled when I learned Joe Hisaishi (the famous composer) had also directed a film of his own. Quartet turned out to be quite alright, at the same time it's pretty obvious why Hisaishi didn't choose to pursue a career in directing.

Hisaishi really embraces his musical background and delivers a drama that has its roots in the world of music. Four young musicians start a quartet, but they soon find that playing together is more difficult than they originally suspected. By facing their own personal issues, they'll learn how to get better as a group.

Hisaishi spends a bit too much time on the music itself (some of it taken from his former films). The performances are decent, the drama is nice enough, but at times it feels like filler in between the musical bits. It's certainly not a bad film, but the balance is a little off and if you care so much about Hisaishi's music, it's probably better to just catch one of his concerts.

Zama

by Lucrecia Martel
Specifics
Argentina, Brazil [2017] - 115m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Zama poster

I haven't seen too many Argentinian period pieces/costume dramas yet, so I was quite interested to see how Zama would pan out. It's not a genre I tend to respond well to. Zama certainly wasn't the worst I've seen so far, but the film does very little to stray from the template and offers little more than dry character drama.

Zama is a Spanish officer who is stationed in Asunción. He is tired of the place and wants a transfer to Buenos Aires, but for that he has to get approval from the king. A letter should be under way, but as long as the letter isn't in his hands, he has to make sure he doesn't make any mistakes.

It's nice to see a different setting for a costume drama for a change, but other than that, there wasn't much here that caught my attention. The cinematography is crisp but unadventurous, the soundtrack is mediocre and the characters too plain. Very basic drama that doesn't engage and overstays its welcome.

The Great K & A Train Robbery

by Lewis Seiler
Specifics
USA [1926] - 53m
Genre
Western
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Great K & A Train Robbery poster

One of the oldest western films I've seen. It's not my genre, nor am I a big fan of silent cinema, but I was pleasantly surprised by the pacing of this film. I'd expected a more tepid and/or labored film, instead this was a lightning fast action film that managed to wrap everything up within the hour.

Cullen is trying to protect his railroad from robbers, so he hires Tom. Knowing fully well that there's a mole in his organization who tips of the gangs, he asks Tom to go undercover as a highwayman. Tom can't quite manage on his own, so he decides to hire DeLuxe Harry in order to stop the robberies.

The Great K & A Train Robbery isn't a particularly great film and it did very little to change my idea about westerns and silents, but at least it wasn't boring. There was lots going on, all the fat had been cut away and there was no unnecessary padding just to inflate the runtime. Not great, but better than expected.

This Means War

by McG
Specifics
USA [2012] - 103m
Genre
Comedy, Romance, Action
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
This Means War poster

I guess this is what you get when you try to make a blockbuster for "him and her". This Means War does its best to blend an action flick with a romcom, trying to please everyone, but the result is some odd contraption that feels forced and at odds with itself, neither very funny nor very exciting.

FDR and Tuck are best buddies who just happen to be CIA agents too. They fall for the same woman and as neither of them wants to bow out, they each try their best to win her over. But an old case is coming back for revenge, catching up with them at a time when they least expect it.

The performances of Pine and Witherspoon are rather plain, Hardy is slightly better but he looks painfully out of place. The mix of action, comedy and romance feels rather convoluted, the execution of the genres is basic, the ending is lame. This was a pretty unnecessary film, that said, I've seen way worse.

Hail the Judge

Also known as
Jiu Pin Zhi Ma Guan: Bai Mian Bao Qing Tian
Specifics
Hong Kong [1994] - 106m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Hail the Judge poster

A slightly deceptive Jing Wong film. With Stephen Chow and Man-Tat Ng headlining the project and Wong directing, you would probably expect a roaring comedy. While that's definitely part of Hail the Judge, it's surprisingly more straight-faced, especially during the first half of the film.

Chow plays Pao Lung-Sing, a corrupt magistrate, who inadvertently sentences a woman to death. He vows to better his life, but that is easier said than done. Until one day his luck changes. He catches the prince in a brothel and, by helping him, gets one final chance to save the woman's life.

There's a lot of wordplay here, which went pretty much all over my head. It's kind of obvious that the translation strained to do justice to all the puns. But even then, the first hour is surprisingly serious. The sillier and more visual comedy is kept for the finale, which is more in line with other Wong/Chow collaborations. Certainly not a bad film, but not the all-out craziness you might expect it to be.

The Fang in the Hole

Also known as
Ana no Kiba
Specifics
Japan [1979] - 46m
Genre
Mystery, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Fang in the Hole poster

An interesting and short TV film/special from the hands of Seijun Suzuki. It's remarkable how much freedom he received to make this film. The production value is relatively low, but Suzuki was allowed to experiment with form as well as narrative here, which is when he's at his best.

The film revolves around the shooting of Shida, a local criminal. After being trapped in a bar, a policeman shoots him right in the head. The autopsy can't find the bullet and the only explanation is that it ricocheted inside is head and came out the same way again. Not long after, the policeman who shot him is being haunted by the ghost of Shida.

The budget may have been limited, Suzuki made excellent use of the cinematography and the soundtrack to create a quirky and off-kilter atmosphere. The plot is fun, performances are decent, and the short runtime definitely plays in the film's favor. An entertaining entry in Suzuki's unpredictable oeuvre.

Hard Boiled

Also known as
Lat Sau San Taam
Specifics
Hong Kong [1992] - 128m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Hard Boiled poster

John Woo's gun-fu/heroic bloodshed masterpiece. The balance between the melodrama and action is perfect here (read very little of the former, tons of the latter), the acting talent is tremendous, the action scenes are simply baffling. The second hour is an almost endless barrage of superbly shot and choreographed gun fights, by far one of the best pieces of film in Woo's rich and varied oeuvre. An epic film, even 30 years later.

Level Up

by Adam Randall
Specifics
UK [2016] - 84m
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Level Up poster

A basic but pleasant little genre film from Adam Randall. He's slowly establishing himself as a capable genre director. His films aren't top of the line, but they're fun diversions that thrive on interesting ideas and are executed appropriately. Unless you're expecting some Hollywood blockbuster.

Matt is a bit of a slob, Anna runs their household. When one morning she leaves for work, Matt hears tires screeching outside. A minute later, masked men are entering his apartment. When he wakes up, a device is strapped to his chest. Matt has to follow their orders if he wants to save Anna's life.

It's not the most original premise, but it adds enough mystery to the film to get through the first half. Once things start to clear up, the action and thriller elements keep it going. Performances are solid, the pacing and runtime are perfect, the ending fitting. A fun and amusing film, nothing more, nothing less.

Execution in Autumn

by Hsing Lee
Also known as
Qiu Jue
Specifics
Taiwan [1972] - 99m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Execution in Autumn poster

A classic Taiwanese drama. Like Hong Kong, Taiwan used to a be a nation specialized in genre cinema. It's not that there weren't any dramas being made, but the lack of subtlety made them into an acquired taste and difficult to export. A film like Execution is Autumn is a pretty good example of this.

Pei Gang has been sentenced to death for murdering three people. He claims lawful self-defense, but his pleas are ignored, and his sentence will be carried out. Pei Gang's grandma is a respected villager and she tried to overturn the verdict. She buys her grandson another year, which becomes his deadline to try and get out of his thorny situation.

The performances are decent, but not very spectacular. The cinematography is rather basic and the drama quite slow. It's the music that is extremely overdone and makes this film overly sentimental. It becomes difficult to care for the characters and since that's really all there is to this film, it's not a big success.

The Woman in the Window

by Joe Wright
Specifics
USA [2021] - 100m
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Woman in the Window poster

One of those movies where knowing the runtime works against the film. Not because it's too long, but because it's an actual spoiler. After the first climax, about 70 minutes in, it's clear that there's still about 30 minutes of film left and sure enough, that half hour houses quite a few more twists. Surprise (but not really)!

Anna suffers from agoraphobia. Her husband and daughter have left her, she doesn't have any friends and all she ever is does is keep tabs on the neighbors. Her life changes when the Russell family moves into the house across the street. She suspects the father of abusing his wife and son, but her condition doesn't help her case.

Performances are solid and the build-up of the mystery is effective. The problem is that the reveals are rather bland and keep getting worse as the film continues. The bits of action at the end feels forced, but up until three quarters in this was a pretty solid effort from Wright. It's a shame the film slowly slips away from him after that.

Happy Ghost II

by Clifton Ko
Also known as
Kai Xin Gui: Fang Shu Jia
Specifics
Hong Kong [1985] - 100m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Happy Ghost II poster

A surprisingly decent sequel. I'm not a big fan of the Happy Ghost series, and this second entries has its fair share of flaws. But where the first and third film were actively annoying, this one has a basic charm that easily carries it from start to finish. It's certainly not Ko's best work, but it's perfectly decent filler.

The ghost is back, now reincarnated into the body of a high school teacher. When he is assigned a new class, he has his work cut out for him. The kids are unruly and their favorite pastime is messing with the teacher. Luckily, he has a couple of tricks up his sleeve that can help him outwit his students.

The film is little more than a constant battle between teacher and students, that said it's not all snide and pestering. Performances are decent, though for a comedy, most actors do lack comic timing. The solid pacing and light atmosphere carry this one through, not bad if you're looking for some HK comedy filler.

Somersault in a Coffin

by Dervis Zaim
Also known as
Tabutta Rövasata
Specifics
Turkey [1996] - 76m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Somersault in a Coffin poster

An inconspicuous little Turkish drama. I'm not too familiar with Turkish cinema yet, so I don't really know where a film like this fits into their industry, but it comes off like a pretty typical social, neorealistic drama, sporting a cast of tragic characters trying to survive in the margins of society.

Mahsun is a skilled thief who lives Rumelihisari, one of the oldest quarters of Istanbul. He is known for nicking cars to escape from the cold nights, returning them to their owners all cleaned and proper. The police is tired of dealing with Mahsun, luckily he gets help from some local fishermen.

The lead actor isn't too bad, the rest of the cast is decidedly worse. The cinematography is bland, the soundtrack is almost complete absent and the drama is rather predictable. It's not a very remarkable film, but if social drama is your thing you should give this one a chance. If not, it's probably best to ignore this one.

Crash Pad

by Kevin Tent
Specifics
Canada, USA [2017] - 91m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Crash Pad poster

Sometimes, being wholly unfit to play a part can be a true godsend. Domhnall Gleeson is a spectacularly awkward fit for the Stensland character, certainly when you're used to seeing him as a rather stiff, posh English bloke. Turns out he's a lot funnier when he's playing against that particular stereotype.

Stensland is looking for a partner to settle down with. He thinks he has found true love when he hooks up with Morgan, but it turns out she's just looking for a one-night stand to get back at her husband. Frustrated, Stensland tries to blackmail Morgan, but then her husband turns up on Stensland's doorstep, looking for revenge.

Gleeson and Church have tremendous chemistry together, Applegate and Dobrev are decent, but clearly playing second fiddle. The writing is smart, there are plenty of funny details/side characters and even though the film sticks quite neatly to the romcom template, Crash Pad never feels obsolete. A nice surprise.

The Palm Beach Story

by Preston Sturges
Specifics
USA [1942] - 88m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Palm Beach Story poster

90 minutes of rapid-fire conversation, that's what this film has to offer. The comedy is mostly based on stereotypical male/female clichés stretched to their breaking point, whether you think that is funny or not will probably depend on whether you like this type of screwball comedy. Personally, I'm not a big fan.

Gerry and Tom are a married couple who keep getting into fights about money. Tom is an inventor, but can't produce a profitable invention, Gerry wants to enjoy life and feels like she's holding Gerry back. And so Gerry concocts a plan that will hopefully save her marriage, or at least make her own life a little more enjoyable.

Performances are decent but nothing special. The plot is basic and the comedy not all that funny. The one big positive here is that the film stays clear from introducing too much drama. The tone is light from start to finish and the film doesn't take itself too seriously. Certainly not the worst screwball comedy, still not really worth it though.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway

by Shûkô Murase
Also known as
Kidô Senshi Gandamu: Senkô no Hasauei
Specifics
Japan [2021] - 95m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway poster

I've seen a couple of Gundam films before, but this franchise is so overwhelmingly extensive that it's impossible for a non-fan to be entirely up-to-date. I recognized a couple of names and characters, other than that I experienced this film as just another story set in the broader Gundam universe. In that sense, it wasn't all that difficult to follow.

This film tells the story of Hathaway Noa, who joins a terrorist organization called Mafti. They want everyone on Earth to leave the planet, and support is slowly growing for their organization. When Noa bumps into an enemy officer and a mysterious woman, his outlook slowly starts to change.

The art style is a little odd (very detailed, still the characters look a bit plain), the animation looks slick in places, a bit pedestrian in others. The story is simple, and the politics weren't too interesting for someone not embedded into the Gundam world, but once the mecha actions picks up, that part of the film is quickly forgotten. Pretty decent.

Marked for Death

by Dwight H. Little
Specifics
USA [1990] - 93m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Marked for Death poster

Cheap 90s action cinema. Marked for Death is a clear continuation of the 80s, with one of its worst action stars leading the dance. Steven Seagal is a joke and instead of carrying the film, he's its biggest downfall. Not that there was much to salvage here, director Little is equally incapable.

Seagal is Hatcher, an officer who just came back from Colombia where his partner was killed by a drug baron. Hatcher wants to quit the force and build a new life for himself, but it doesn't take long before he gets caught up in a new case. This time, his sister and her daughter become the main targets of a dealer.

Seagal is Seagal. I simply can't stand the man, but he has his fans. The rest of the cast is equally poor, the direction is incredibly cheesy, and the plot is some bad copy-paste job from a bunch of other action flicks. The action itself isn't all that great either, but at least heads fly and people die. That's about as good as this films gets.

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

by Will Gluck
Specifics
Canada, USA [2021] - 93m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway poster

After the success of the first film, a sequel was simply inevitable. I wasn't a big fan, but there was a certain charm to the predecessor which they managed to uphold in this second film. Of course everything's a bit bigger and bolder, something the film is quite happy to reference, but it's well within the limits of the acceptable.

Bea's book about Peter and his adventures is a hit. It catches the attention of Nigel, a large publisher who wants to help Bea turn her book into a full-on franchise. Bea accepts, only Peter isn't too happy with the changes that are being made, especially not when he suddenly becomes the villain of the story.

Some of the jokes are a bit too on the nose and the plot's pretty cookie-cutter for a sequel, but I'm pretty sure Gluck and his team were well aware of this. The self-referential moments don't quite redeem this, but the film's charm does. The animation is solid, the performances are nice and when the comedy does hit, it's all very sweet and quirky. Not the Paddington competitor it wants to be, but it's not that far behind either.