The Empty Man

by David Prior
Specifics
USA, South Africa [2020] - 137m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Empty Man poster

A decent horror flick, but director Prior overplays his hand. He starts the film off nice enough, but after a superb introduction, there are too many ill-considered genre twists. The film quickly turns into a detective story and tilts to cult nonsense later on, all the while burying the horror deeper and deeper. Prior clearly lacked a critical editor, someone who could've cut out a good 30 minutes.

James is an ex-cop who receives a phone call from his distressed neighbor. Her daughter just ran away from home, but an ominous message written in blood suggests there's something darker going on here. James promises to investigate her disappearance on his own and quickly stumbles upon a local legend passed down around school.

The intro is pretty creepy, the monster design is stunning, and the setting is impressive. But then the film switches back to a US setting and a more dire story starts. There's too much focus on (poorly executed) drama and even though Prior's story is ambitious, the mystery itself feels rather bland, taking away from the horror. There's clearly potential here, but the film itself is a bit too muddled to make a real impression.

Breaking the Waves

Specifics
Denmark, Sweden [1996] - 159m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Breaking the Waves poster

This was the big breakthrough film for Lars von Trier. A dark, relentless drama with strong religious overtones. While undoubtably impressive in some ways, the drama here is pretty hit or miss, and if you fail to care about the two leads then the 160-minute runtime is going to be quite the challenge.

Bess is a somewhat simple-minded religious girl, Jan a man of the world. The two find each other and get married, but when Jan needs to leave again to pick up his job at an oil rig, Bess struggles to let him go. She prays to God to return Jan to her, then Jan suffers a near-lethal accident that leaves him disabled in bed.

The once so unique "handheld"/dogme camera work has become a staple of the genre, performances are strong, but the characters lack depth and the ever-spiraling drama gets a little tedious. I never really cared enough about the characters and their tribulations to make the drama work, so in the end this was just a mediocre von Trier for me.

2LDK

Specifics
Japan [2003] - 70m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
2LDK poster

A 70-minute crescendo. Tsutsumi pitches two women against each other. They live in the same house, they don't get along, and they're both after the same acting job. What starts with a little snide and backstabbing quickly escalates into physical violence and rampant madness. A one of a kind film that lost nothing of its appeal since I first watched it.

Rio 2

by Carlos Saldanha
Specifics
USA, Canada [2014] - 106m
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Rio 2 poster

Is there any better animal than a macaw to lead a US animation flick? They're loud, they're obnoxious, they live in jungles among many (many) other animals. It's a small miracle the first film didn't exploit that to the fullest, but in this sequel, all bets are off. Let's hope they never bother with a third one.

Our little family of macaws has settled into their new lives, until they see a news program that shows there are still survivors of their species. They decide to seek them out, but not everybody is on board with returning to the jungle. Blu wants to get back to his easy life in the city, Jewel on the other hand loves the outdoors.

An endless succession of atrocious pop songs, a lifetime of bad jokes, a cliché plot and not a funny character in sight. It's nothing more than the umpteenth formulaic attempt at animated comedy, then again there's clearly a market for it. It's equally clear I'm not their target audience, even then I've seen much better ones. A horrible film.

Breaking News in Yuba County

by Tate Taylor
Specifics
UK, USA [2021] - 96m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Breaking News in Yuba County poster

A good, old-fashioned dark comedy. Take a cast full of goofs and fuck-ups, add an accidental crime, and let things spiral out of control as people keep digging deeper graves for themselves. It's a common setup, Taylor does well with it, but he lacks that little nasty edge that makes a film like this truly worthwhile.

Sue Buttons is a ghost. Nobody notices her, people forget about her all the time, and her husband is cheating on her. When she catches him in the act, he dies from the shock. Sue buries him and decides to make the most of it, so she calls the local news station and offers them her story.

The cast is solid, and the plot keeps getting more and more complex by the minute, but the somewhat chirpy and subdued vibe keeps it from going all in. It's just a bit too soft and nice, apart from just a handful of moments near the end. There are a couple of laughs here, I just wish Taylor had committed just a bit more to the dark side of his film. Not bad, but could've been so much better.

Hard Eight

by Paul Thomas Anderson
Specifics
USA [1996] - 101m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Hard Eight poster

PT Anderson's first real feature film. Though I was quite the Anderson fan in the past, this film has always escaped me. My opinion of his work's a bit more nuanced nowadays, but it was pretty fun catching up with Hard Eight. It's a film that shows plenty of glimpses of Anderson's talent, though ultimately lacks the refinement of his best work.

John is a gambler down on his luck. Sydney, a master conman, feels sorry for John and decides to help him out. Sydney wants to pass on his knowledge and gives him some lessons, but he'll soon discover why things tend to go south for John. Still, he's dedicated to getting his pupil's life back on track, even when John kidnaps the guy that harassed his overnight wife.

A few minor, quirky details and a superb cast keep this film on the rails. Anderson already shows off a couple of shorter long takes, the plot and dialogues are playful and the actors give it their best, other than that it's all rather expected and not very distinctive. Just a fun crime flick made by a director who would go on to much bigger things in his career.

Deep

by Sita Likitvanichkul, Jetarin Ratanaserikiat, Apirak Samudkidpisan, Thanabodee Uawithya, Adirek Wattaleela
Specifics
Thailand [2021] - 101m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Deep poster

It's been a while since I've watched a Thai film. The premise of Deep sounded interesting enough, and it was readily available, so it was an easy choice to make. Sadly, the result was a little disappointing. While there's a lot of potential here, the somewhat weak and juvenile vibe doesn't work in the film's favor.

Jane is a medical student who takes care of her little sister and her grandma. She's short on cash, which prompts her to enter an experimental study in exchange for a payout. The goal is to stay awake until a chip implanted in her neck gathers enough qratonin. The experiment is not without danger and together with three other students, she tries to reach the goal.

What might've been a fun sci-fi thriller, gets bogged down by childish characters, some rather nonsensical twist and a seemingly poor portrayal of Thai youth culture. One has to wonder why a film like this needed 5 directors, then again that aptly explains the uneven direction. It's a shame, because there's definitely potential here, if only we could've seen more of it.

Old

Specifics
USA [2021] - 108m
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Old poster

Shyamalan's latest is another dark mystery, elevated by some light fantastical and horror touches. It's nice to see him put his own cinematic universe in the freezer again, instead chasing something more original and conceptual. The result is a very peculiar film that keeps its mystery alive until the very end.

While on a tropical holiday, a family is offered a chance to visit a majestic cove. Together with a few other couples, they arrive at what looks to be a forgotten bit of paradise. When a corpse washes up on the shores and their way back appears mysteriously blocked, they start to suspect the cove is housing a deadly secret.

While the premise is interesting enough, Shyamalan put a lot of effort into the cinematography and soundtrack to enhance the mystery. The free-roaming camera in particular is a real treat, as it often traverses the cove with seemingly no regard to the actors' positions. Performances are a little odd and the finale may not be entirely satisfactory, but I had a lot of fun with this one. One of Shyamalan's better films.

The Tomorrow War

by Chris McKay
Specifics
USA [2021] - 140m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Tomorrow War poster

Terminator meets The Thing meets Alien. The Tomorrow War is a haphazard mix of elements that barely fit together. I generally don't care much about plot and all that, but the writing here is by far some of the worst I've ever seen. Luckily for McKay, films like these don't get made that often, so I still got some enjoyment out of it.

During the WC football, a team of soldiers from the future land on the pitch. They have come to tell us that humanity is about to die out, thanks to a race of aliens. A time portal connects both worlds, and people from our time are drafted to help fight off the aliens. Humanity is losing, until ex-military guy Dan Forester is sent into the future.

The biggest problem is that the humans are really too puny to win the fight, so the writers have to resort to all sorts of tricks and excuses to give us half a fighting chance. The alien/sci-fi designs are pretty cool, but a bit of a blur since McKay is too wrapped up in the plot. Performances and drama are weak, the film makes no sense at all, but as blockbuster sci-fi entertainment, it still offers some fun. This could and should've been so much better though.

L-O-V-E... Love

by Matt Chow
Also known as
Chao Ji Wu Di Zhui Nu Zai
Specifics
Hong Kong [1997] - 96m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
L-O-V-E... Love poster

This is Matt Chow's attempt to revive the Hong Kong vacation romcom of yonder. This type of comedy was pretty big in the 80s, which people like Jing Wong and Pak-Cheung Chan spearheading the niche. It's no surprise then that Chow brought Chan back to help out with this film, sadly, that wasn't enough to make this worthwhile.

Four men are trying to run a sushi restaurant in Hong Kong, but nobody seems to turn up at their place. They are bored, until they nearly hit a group of young girls on their way to Thailand to participate in a pageant. With nothing better to do, they decide to follow the girls, hoping to find suitable girlfriends among them.

It's noticeable this is Chow's first film. The direction feels aimless, the comedy is pretty weak and the performances are extremely basic. Other than that, it's a near carbon copy of older films, only with a slightly younger cast. It's not the worst Hong Kong comedy out there, but it's really for diehards only.

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

by Jake Szymanski
Specifics
United States [2016] - 98m
Genre
Comedy
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates poster

Semi-decent comedy. It's one of those films that takes a couple of famous comedy faces and relies on their improvisation skills to make sure the jokes are funny. Even with the best comedic talent, these films tend to be pretty hit-and-miss, with second tier stars like here it's more a matter of getting lucky.

Mike and Dave are bachelor brothers. They think themselves the life of the party, but others see them as total fuckups. When their sister Jeanie is getting married in Hawaii, they are required to bring nice dates to the wedding. Alice and Tatiana hear about this deal and fancy themselves a free vacation.

Some jokes are fun, others are terrible. The film constantly alternates between the two, which makes it a decent enough watch, but also keeps it from becoming a truly fun film. The plot and characters aren't too interesting, the structure pretty predictable, but I did chuckle a couple of times, which means this certainly wasn't the worst comedy I've seen. Passable.

Flashback

by Christopher MacBride
Specifics
Canada [2020] - 97m
Genre
Mystery
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Flashback poster

MacBride is ambitious. Flashback is a pretty typical mindfuck mystery, one of those films where the main characters falls deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. MacBride wanted more though, and tries to inject the film with a little extra drama. He probably shouldn't have, but at least he deserves kudos for trying.

When Frederick's mom is given only a few more days to live, he digs into his past and hits a past trauma. In his year book, he finds a picture of an old friend he can't seem to remember. He seeks out his other high school buddies, and they too seem to have forgotten about her. The more Frederick tries to remember, the more he loses grip on reality.

Films like these tend to rely heavily on audiovisual elements, and MacBride delivers. Slick color and lighting, flashy camera effects, sharp editing and an atmospheric, boosted score make this a very visceral experience. The film peaks too early though and MacBride seems to lose touch with the plot during the final 20 minutes, but that's only a minor quirk. A very nice film, looking forward to MacBride's future projects.

Fluffy Rhapsody

by Mi-sen Wu
Also known as
Qi Mao Qiu Le
Specifics
Taiwan [2000] - 60m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Fluffy Rhapsody poster

Mi-sen Wu's debut film starts off promising, but slowly loses its way as Wu tries to work in an actual plot. The film works best as a meandering slice-of-life, the moments it plays like a visual poem. When the characters and plot start to take over during the second half, my interest started to wane.

Wan is a medical school dropout who doesn't really know what to do with his life. Even though he's a slouch with no solid future prospects, he manages to combine two relationships. One with a stewardess, the other with a high school girl who claims to be a lesbian. Still, these relationships don't seem to make Wan happy.

Wu has lots of visual flair, combined with a beautiful soundtrack and slick editing tricks, it makes for some impressive moments. The first 20 minutes or so were riveting. Sadly, Wu's attempts to add a narrative fall flat. Solid performances and the short runtime save the film from total collapse, Wu shows definite promise, but there's too much untapped potential here.

Dark Spell

by Svyatoslav Podgaevskiy
Also known as
Privorot. Chernoe Venchanie
Specifics
Russia [2021] - 92m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Dark Spell poster

Podgaevskiy is working hard to establish himself as the tsar of modern Russian horror cinema. And it must be said, he's doing a pretty swell job. Dark Spell is his latest film and while core genre fare, Podgaevskiy gives his film the right amount of polish and flair to make it rise above its many peers.

When Zhenya finds the father of her child cheating with another woman, she has no clue how to go on. Out of desperation, she consults a local witch, who teaches her a love spell. Zhenya casts the spell on her ex-boyfriend, unaware that she's about to destroy the lives of everybody involved.

Podgaevskiy's use of local folklore is always interesting, mixed with elements that reminded me of Nacho Cerdà's Genesis, it makes for a solid premise. Performances are decent, the horror elements are well executed, Podgaevskiy's direction is slick, the finale is pretty cool. A short runtime and perfect pacing make this prime horror filler.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

by Alain Resnais
Specifics
France, Japan [1959] - 90m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Hiroshima Mon Amour poster

Resnais is no doubt one of the more interesting classic French directors. He has a poetic style that seems to be running through many of his films, even when working in different genres and trying out different approaches. Sadly, he doesn't seem very well at easy directing romances, all the more apparent here.

After a small introduction that focuses on the terrors Hiroshima faced during the bombing, the film explores the relationship between a French actress and a Japanese architect who reminds her of a former lover. The two are both married, but they are passionately drawn to each other and can't help but seen out each other's company.

The film looks nice enough and there's a stylish vibe running underneath, sadly the dialogue feels forced and the relationship between the two is almost literary. It never feels like you're watching human beings, instead you see two hollow vehicles that are forced to deliver the lines of a somewhat pompous writer. It's a real shame.

The Accidental Spy

by Teddy Chan
Also known as
Dak Mo Mai Sing
Specifics
Hong Kong [2001] - 107m
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Accidental Spy poster

A pretty standard Jackie Chan flick, which for some reason has escaped me all these years. I had some expectations going in, since Teddy Chan has proven himself a capable director in the past, but apart from the usual Chan antics there really isn't all that much here. Even a mediocre Chan flicks is still pretty decent though.

When Buck stops a robbery on a jeweler, a private detective sees in him the perfect sucker to solve a difficult case. He delves into Buck's past and convinces him he's the long-lost son of a Korean spy. Buck travels to South-Korea to seek out his father, and gets mixed up in a very dangerous international conflict.

It's nice to see Eric Tsang and Vivian Hsu next to Chan, but this is really just the big Jackie Chan show. Whatever happens in between the action scenes is quite dull and unexciting, but once Chan start hopping around, doing his typical acrobatics mixed with a little comedy, the film redeems itself. Simple but decent entertainment.

Pandora's Box

by Georg Wilhelm Pabst
Also known as
Die Büchse der Pandora
Specifics
Germany [1929] - 133m
Genre
Romance, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Pandora's Box poster

Rather impressive German classic. From all the silent films, the German ones tend to be the most accomplished and stylish ones. Pandora's Box is no exception, even though the topic didn't really appeal to me at first. The romance is by far the least interesting aspect of the film, but man does it look great.

Pandora's Box tells the story of Lulu, a pretty young thing with high aspirations. She has her mind set on the wealthy Doctor Schön, but he catches her messing around with another man and decides to marry another woman. Lulu won't leave it at that and when she gets the chance, she gives it her all to convince Schön he made the wrong choice.

For a film from the 20s, the cinematography looks absolutely lush. It's by far the film's main appeal, though it must be said the performances are pretty decent too. The score is less impressive, the plot is a little dull and the runtime somewhat excessive. Certainly not the worst silent classic.

Rust Creek

by Jen McGowan
Specifics
USA [2018] - 108m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Rust Creek poster

A mix of several thriller niches. The result is pretty decent, but don't watch this film if you're hoping for any grand surprises. Rust Creek sticks to genre conventions and bets on execution. The direction isn't flawless, and the film doesn't quite live up to its full potential, but it's a pretty solid genre film nonetheless.

Sawyer is a talented student who follows her GPS to avoid a major traffic jam. It lands her in no man's land, where two local boys find her asking for directions. They decide to have a little fun with her, but the encounter gets out of hand and after a scuffle, Sawyer runs into the woods with the boys following her.

It sounds like a simple rural survival thriller, there's a bit more to it though, especially once Sawyer reaches a guy who runs a local meth lab. Performances are solid, the tension remains present from start to finish and even though the runtime is quite for a film like this, it never started to drag. The biggest problem is that Rust Creek doesn't really excel in anything. It's just a decent genre flick.