The Absent

by Daniel Calparsoro
Also known as
Ausentes
Specifics
2005 / 91m - Spain
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Absent poster

An amusing Spanish mystery with strong thriller elements. It's a pretty typical mindfuck where one of the characters begins to question her own sanity as weird events start taking place. It's certainly not a beacon of originality, but if you're looking for a fun genre film then The Absent delivers.

Julia, Samuel and their two kids move to a gated community, where they'll try to start their lives anew. Julia can't really get used to the place, which appears to be completely deserted. Samuel and the kids don't seem to be bothered by any of it, which further angers Julia, who feels like nobody understands her.

Performances are decent, the presentation is solid, and the mystery is kept alive until late in the film. If you've seen a couple of these films before there won't be any big surprises here, but that okay. The execution is more important and director Calparsoro does a more than solid job. Good stuff.

Jungle Cruise

by Jaume Collet-Serra
Specifics
2021 / 127m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Adventure
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Jungle Cruise poster

A surprisingly fun and decent adventure flick. Disney making a film based on a theme park attraction didn't create high expectations for me personally, I didn't care much for their previous attempts, but Jungle Cruise is a nice exception to the rule. Don't expect anything thoroughly special or unique, just a well-executed (and expensive) genre flick.

Lily Houghton is a female adventurer who isn't taken seriously by her male colleagues. She steals an important artifact and travels to Brazil together with her best friend, where she'll try to find a mysterious tree whose petals are said to cure all disease. Together with a quirky skipper, she starts her journey on the Amazon.

The chemistry between Johnson and Blunt is amusing, the villains are cheeky, the setting is nice and though the CG can be a bit obvious, it's never really distracting. A bit long maybe and the music is a bit bland, Collet-Serra is also mostly absent as a director, other than that, a simple but fun blockbuster.

Cold War

by Pawel Pawlikowski
Also known as
Zimna Wojna
Specifics
2018 / 89m - Poland, UK
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Cold War poster

Pawlikowski's little arthouse romance. Cold War is a film with quite a bit of potential, though not everything meshes together well enough. Some of Pawlikowski's choices are a bit simple and mundane, which doesn't quite correspond with the grave and solemn atmosphere he chases.

Wiktor is the director of a folk troupe, a group of singers and dancers made up of local farmers. Among them is Zula, a feisty girl. It's clear from the very start the two are destined to be together. But practicalities get in the way, as Wiktor longs for the freedom of the Western world, while Zula prefers to stay in Poland.

The stark black and white cinematography is nice and the camera work surprisingly modern, the 4:3 ratio is a big disappointment though, and the folk music is an acquired taste (read: it was pretty grating). The structure of the film is interesting, but the short runtime makes it tough to care for the two. A shorter intro, a better soundtrack and a tighter focus on their relationship might have done wonders, but it's definitely worth a try.

La Soufrière - Warten auf eine Unausweichliche Katastrophe

Specifics
1977 / 30m - West Germany
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
La Soufrière - Warten auf eine Unausweichliche Katastrophe poster

Herzog's documentaries are always worth a shot. They don't always turn out great, but Herzog himself is such a peculiar figure that there's always a chance of some fun quotes or interesting angles. The same goes for La Soufrière, a somewhat haphazard doc about a volcano about to burst.

When Herzog hears a volcano is about to go off on Guadeloupe, threatening to destroy the island, he gathers a crew to document the event. He finds a deserted island, except for one man who decided to stay behind. That sounds like a great story, sadly, it turns out to be somewhat less exciting.

Not so much that in the end the crisis is averted (the volcano never erupts), but the guy they find isn't really all that interesting. He becomes the primary subject of the documentary, but he just goes on about God and whatnot. Still, Herzog shoots some very nice pictures of the island and the deserted towns are pretty haunting. Decent.

The Green Sea

by Randal Plunkett
Specifics
2021 / 104m - Ireland
Genre
Drama, Mystery
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Green Sea poster

A fine Irish genre/indie film. Somewhat customary for Irish genre work, the film has a very solid dramatic foundation with slimmer genre elements layered on top. It probably wouldn't be too hard to frame this as a full-on drama simply by tinkering with the styling, instead director Randal Plunkett goes for a darker, more mysterious approach and adds minor mystery and horror touches to his first full-length feature. The result is a rather stylish affair that heralds a promising career.

The film revolves around Simone, a bitter woman who lives alone in the countryside. She drinks a lot, listens to metal and spends her time trying to write her second novel. One night, driving home wasted, she hits a young girl on the side of the road. Reluctantly, she loads her into her car and lets her spend the night. The girl won't reveal where she's from and even though Simone isn't looking for company, she can't just kick her to the curb.

The Green Sea is a film that thrives on atmosphere. The soundtrack and soundscapes in particular stand out. Not even so much the metal tracks, which are more incidental and little more than background noise, but the haunting melodies and distorted rumbles that give the film a dense mood. Coupled with a grim and desaturated color palette, a lingering camera and sharply edited segments that drive up the tension, it makes for an impressively stylized film.

Plunkett does well to keep the mystery intact while revealing just enough to give the necessary context to the plot. The performances are solid, and the finale is memorable. The Green Sea loses a tiny bit of steam in the middle part, I guess a runtime closer to 90 minutes would've fitted the film a little better, other than that I had no real complaints about this one. I'm already looking forward to seeing what Plunkett will come up with next.

13 Going on 30

by Gary Winick
Specifics
2004 / 98m - USA
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
13 Going on 30 poster

A pretty typical romcom, that takes a slightly fantastical premise (a 13-year-old girl wakes up in the body of her 30-year-old future self) for some basic comedy and romance, with a little morality boosting to boot. It's up to Jennifer Garner to make this film work, but she's simply not a big comedic talent.

Jenna is 13, but doesn't really fit in with the rest of her classmates. The only person that really talks to her is Matt, but he's somewhat of an outcast himself. Jenna wishes she was grown up already, the next morning her dream comes true. Only then she realizes that she doesn't really like her future self.

Apart from some tedious life lessons that are probably best ignored altogether, the film tries to play up the romance between Jenny and Matt. Ruffalo does a decent job, but Garner just isn't all that likeable. The comedy is pretty poor, the soundtrack is cringe worthy and the film is hopelessly predictable. Not my cup of tea.

Baikonur. Earth

by Andrea Sorini
Also known as
Bajkonur, Terra
Specifics
2018 / 74m - Italy, Kazakhstan
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Baikonur. Earth poster

Part documentary, part mood piece. Director Andrea Sorini's intentions are laudable, but the execution is a bit too basic. For a project like this, the cinematography and score need to be exactly on point. Sadly, it came off quite generic and derivative, which made it quite a chore to sit through.

Sorini travels to Kazakhstan, where we find one of the first launch sites for space rockets ever built. It's here that the first Sputnik rockets left Earth in search of unexplored territories. It's a doc that explores lost glory amidst barren landscapes, white keeping an eye out for the people that were left behind.

There's very little dialogue or explanatory text, instead Sorini registers and lets the images speak for themselves. It's certainly a pleasant approach, but the lifeless framing and the predictable soundtrack don't have the intended effect. The first 15 minutes were quite intriguing, the rest of this doc turned out to be a pretty big slog.

They Say Nothing Stays the Same

by Joe Odagiri
Also known as
Aru Sendo no Hanashi
Specifics
2019 / 137m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Mystery
More info:
rating
4.5*/5.0*
They Say Nothing Stays the Same poster

Impressive second "debut" from Joe Odagari. Though he clearly benefited from his industry connections (Nagase, Aoi & Asano in the cast, Christopher Doyle behind the camera), it's equally obvious Odagari had a clear vision for his first feature. I hadn't expected such a slow and deliberate film, but the result is a tremendous mood piece that captivated me from the very start and didn't let go until the last credit had disappeared from the screen. I just hope this isn't Odagari's last film as a director.

Vice

by Adam McKay
Specifics
2018 / 132m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Vice poster

McKay repeats the little stunt he pulled with The Big Short, exchanging the 2008 crash with political figure Dick Cheney. It's a welcome update of the political biography, adding a little snark and sass to a genre that is generally pretty stale and predictable. McKay does well, but as he's repeating his own formula, it's not quite as novel as it could've been.

The film follows the political career of Cheney, as he rises through the ranks, fades back into the background and gets his time in the spotlight when he is asked to become vice president next to George W. Bush. There, he would claim a lot of the power that was usually reserved for presidents only.

McKay's sense of humor is what sets this film apart. The fake end credits and the restaurant scene in particular are real stand-outs. Performances are decent too, but it's not quite enough to keep an otherwise predictable film interesting from start to finish. Then again it certainly could've been a lot worse.

Eggs

by Bent Hamer
Also known as
Moe og Far
Specifics
1995 / 86m - Norway
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Eggs poster

For people who are used to Scandinavian comedy, this film will be pretty familiar. The comedy is slightly absurd and dry, then there's an equal amount of drama, often involving some marginalized characters. It's the ugly and the old, delivered with a dash of endearing empathy. At least, when done well.

Moe and Pa are two brothers who have lived together longer than they care to remember. Pa is the only one to have ever taken a short vacation, an event that is coming back to haunt the brothers when a boy appears on their doorstep, claiming Pa is his father. The boy moves in, but Moe and Pa have a hard time adjusting to their new roommate.

The bland setting, the boring characters and the predictable comedy don't really work in the film's favor. It's probably more fun if you're the precise target audience of this type of comedy, but I've seen quite a few of these films, and they're all pretty samey. Not funny and absurd enough, all that remains is a sluggish dullness.

The Bronze

by Bryan Buckley
Specifics
2015 / 100m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Sport
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Bronze poster

You could see this as Melissa Rauch's somewhat desperate attempt to break free from her Big Bang character (especially since she co-wrote the film), and it probably is exactly that. The thing is that the film actually works pretty well regardless. The Bronze could've ended up a somewhat predictable and dreary dramedy, instead, it was pretty fun.

Hope Ann was once the hero of the nation, winning a bronze medal after having injured one of her legs. She messed up her comeback and ever since her life has been going downhill, turning her into a downright bitch. Her father, desperate to get his daughter's life back on track, devises a nifty plan.

Though Rauch's part isn't all that different (apart from being quite foul-mouthed), she's pretty funny and plays well off the rest of the cast. The drama is limited, the comedy doesn't fade away, secondary parts bring the necessary diversity and the film isn't overly long. A solid, entertaining comedy.

Corpse Party

by Masafumi Yamada
Also known as
Côpusu Pâtî
Specifics
2015 / 93m - Japan
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Corpse Party poster

A Japanese horror film based on a game franchise doesn't immediately spark high expectations, but with Masafumi Yamada in the director chair, I was quite curious to see how this would pan out. Corpse Party was certainly a lot more graphic than I had expected it to be, other than that it's a pretty standard genre flick.

A couple of students are cleaning up their classroom. They realize they probably won't see each other again after this, and so they chant an incantation to keep their friendship alive. The incantation isn't as good-natured as they'd hoped, and before they know it they're stuck in an alternate reality where they're hunted down by some rather violent ghosts.

A couple of Japanese high school students trapped in a school building, if you've watched some Japanese horror films it's not something you haven't seen before. Luckily, the kills are pleasantly over-the-top and some shots are pretty awe-inspiring. Not enough to make this an instant classic, but if you're looking for some fun horror filler, Corpse Party does the trick.

Brutal

by Takashi Hirose
Specifics
2017 / 67m - Japan
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Brutal poster

Takashi Hirose's first feature-length film. It's been a while since I last watched a truly brutal horror flick, they've gone a bit out of fashion this past decade. That said, a lot of the actual horror happens off-screen and the flimsy grindhouse filters/effects are a poor substitute. The result was somewhat disappointing.

A violent serial killer is leaving behind a string of brutally disfigured corpses. He's looking for a girl that suits his needs, but no one seems to meet his requirements. Until he happens upon a female killer who is just as mad as he is. The two are made for each other, but their eagerness to kill leads them into a violent showdown.

For a film that is called Brutal and wants to be in-your-face and shocking, too much is left to the imagination of the audience. Hirose's frantic camera work and two sufficiently deplorable leads are the perfect ingredients for a real nasty splatter fest, but in the end you get a lot of off-camera stabbing and smeared-out blood. It's a good thing the film was relatively short, so at least it never became too boring or repetitive.

Threshold

by Powell Robinson, Patrick Robert Young
Specifics
2020 / 78m - USA
Genre
Drama, Mystery
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Threshold poster

When you're touting "shot on an iPhone", better make sure it's a surprise, not an explanation. Sadly, Threshold is the latter. A film that positively looks like it was shot on a phone. It's also structured like one, with a lot of dialogue and drama acting as filler for the minor mystery and horror elements that hope to draw in the crowds.

Thinking his sister Virginia is back to doing drugs, Leo sets out to find her. When the two are finally reunited, Virginia tells her brother she's been clean for 8 months straight, but a weird cult hexed here. Though Leo doesn't believe a word she says, he wants to support his sister, and they drive across the country to try and find the cult that tool a hold of Virginia.

There are three noteworthy horror/thriller moments, the rest is just two siblings reconnecting after not having seen each other for a long time. The performances are rather weak, the cinematography is shabby and even though the film is short, the middle part really drags. There are glimpses of quality if you look long and hard, but it's not enough to keep this film afloat.

Strike

by Sergei M. Eisenstein
Also known as
Stachka
Specifics
1925 / 82m - Soviet Union
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Strike poster

Early Eisenstein. The man is best known for The Battleship Potemkin, which he would later that same year, but Strike also turned a few heads. For me, it's very much a film in two parts. There's the cinematography and editing, which I appreciated quite a bit. Then there's the plot, which did absolutely nothing for me.

The film focuses on a group of factory workers. They are mistreated by their bosses, but they finally decide to band together and stop work until their demands are met. Eisenstein follows them around as they try to outsmart their masters, which leads to a pretty violent and shocking finale.

The black and white cinematography is rich in contrast and the flashy editing adds a lot of flair to the film. The finale is pretty impressive too. But the revolt of workers against their bosses is rather basic and the runtime too long. Not a terrible film, but I'm a bit bummed Eisenstein went for a more narrative film, whereas his style has so much more potential.

White Funeral

by Sari Raissa Lluch Dalena
Also known as
Puting Paalam
Specifics
1997 / 30m - Philippines
Genre
Experimental
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
White Funeral poster

A pretty interesting, experimental short film from the Philippines. White Funeral mixes modern dance with a little performance art. That's usually not really my cup of tea, but thanks to the pleasant presentation, the beautiful setting and the short runtime, it easily kept my attention from start to finish.

There are remnants of a plot here, personally I'm not familiar enough with local folklore (or simply experimental cinema) to make much of it. It's not difficult to follow the rough outline (a young bride turns dark, causes destruction, which then makes way for rebirth) but that's just me sticking bits and pieces together. Then again, with films like this, I care very little about plot and meaning.

Can't say much about the quality of the dance, but the mix of exotic locations with an atmospheric soundtrack made this a pretty easy watch. There's enough variation, there's a mysterious and fantastical mood that runs throughout, and the runtime is perfect. I didn't expect too much up front, but this film turned out to be pretty solid.

Sleeping with the Enemy

by Joseph Ruben
Specifics
1991 / 99m - USA
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Sleeping with the Enemy poster

Simple American thriller. This used to be a tremendous box office success, presumably because Julia Roberts took on one of the lead roles. Other than that, I could see no discernible reason why this film stood out to people. It's somewhat cheesy, basic and predictable, a B-flick in every way.

Laura and Martin have been married for four years, but Martin is an abusive and controlling husband. Laura lives in fear of him and sees only one way to escape her dire fate: she fakes her own death. Martin is clueless, until he gets a phone call from one of Laura's friends. He realizes that his wife may still be around after all.

The performances are rather bland, the plot is nothing spectacular. It's Ruben's direction that really fails the film though. For a thriller, it's just not very exciting. At least the pacing is decent, and it never becomes extremely boring, but it's one of those films that didn't really stand the test of time.

Suicide Forest Village

Also known as
Jukai Mura
Specifics
2021 / 117m - Japan
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Suicide Forest Village poster

Shimizu's recent films all suffer from the same thing: they are way too long. Suicide Forest Village is a pretty simple horror flock that shouldn't need to run past the 90-minute mark, but because the intro is excessively long and Shimizu wastes quite a bit of time on inconsequential drama, the film runs almost 120 minutes.

Hibiki and Mei are sisters with a dark past. Mei has been able to leave that past behind, Hibiki turned out to be an introverted girl who has trouble adapting to the world around her. When she finds an odd box below their house, connected to Fuji's suicide forest, strange things start to happen to Hibiki and her friends.

The finale is pretty spectacular, a fine mix of horror and fantasy elements, it just takes a long time before it actually starts. Performances are decent, and the setting is very atmospheric. Sadly, the drama is rather bland, and the first 90 minutes are pretty by the numbers. Shimizu can do better, if only he could bring his films back to 90 minutes.

Driving Miss Daisy

by Bruce Beresford
Specifics
1989 / 99m - USA
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Driving Miss Daisy poster

Typical American/Hollywood/Oscar schmaltz. It's actually quite remarkable how well-regarded some of these films still are, even though they're so extravagantly sentimental and 100% unsubtle about it. Unless you're really feeling like a gushy, kitsch drama, this is a film that has very little to offer.

Miss Daisy is a wealthy, older woman who finds it increasingly harder to do the things she used to do all by herself. And so, when she crashes her car, her son hires Miss Daisy a driver. She isn't too happy with the idea and gives the man a pretty hard time, but as they spend more time together, to grow to like each other.

Simple characters, boring cinematography, a sentimental score and predictable drama. Driving Miss Daisy is a typical tearjerker, the precursor to Green Book, but even less subtle. The film's only saving grace is that it is rather short, so at least the pacing is decent. Other than that, not a film that had anything to offer to me.

Fighting for the Motherland

by Zhe Zhang
Also known as
Xin Qiji 1162
Specifics
2020 / 110m - China
Genre
Action, War
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Fighting for the Motherland poster

With a title like that, you know you can expect another bout of Chinese propaganda. Then again, the film isn't all that different from the many historic war flicks that came before, picking one notable figure from China's long and war-ridden history and focusing both on action and strategy aspects of the battles he fought.

Xin Qiji is the titular hero. A young boy who rose up to fight the Jin Dynasty. They were ravaging his lands in an attempt to beat the Song Dynasty in the south. With an army of just 50.000 soldiers, Qiji manages to kill a large regiment of Jin soldiers, which immediately makes him a hero to his people.

The battles are decent enough and the focus on the strategic elements is nice, but there's a bit too much melodrama and the film slows down considerably during the second half. Performances are nothing special, and the film struggles to set itself apart from its peers. Not bad, but nothing you haven't seen before.

Eyvind of the Hills

by Victor Sjöström
Also known as
Berg-Ejvind och Hans Hustru
Specifics
1918 / 102m - Sweden
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Eyvind of the Hills poster

I've been watching quite a few Swedish silents this past year. Though some have been clearly better than others, they're mostly very sturdy films. Films that neatly plow through their narratives, caring less about aesthetics or other cinematic virtues. This early Sjöström is no exception.

Eyvind is a criminal on the run from his past. He stumbles upon a farm where Halla lives. The two grow fond of each other and decide to marry, but Eyvind can't escape his past. Eyvind has to come clean to his wife and the two leave the farm behind, fleeing into the mountains, where a life of poverty and hunger awaits.

Like most silent dramas, I feel that the exaggerated performances and constant interruptions of intertitles stand in the way of the enjoyment. Especially when little effort is made to make the film look good. There are a handful of decent nature shots here, other than that it's just a simple plot spread out over 100 minutes of film.