Aftermath

by Peter Winther
Specifics
2021 / 114m - USA
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Aftermath poster

Films that advertise they are based on a true story rarely deliver. Aftermath is no exception. What could've been a solid thriller with half a foot in the horror genre, turns out to be a drawn out and predictable genre flick that flubs its finale and comes off as a slightly elevated TV production.

Natalie and Kevin are a young couple going through some marital problems. Hoping to reboot their life, they move into a new house. It doesn't take too long before strange things start happening. Doors open by themselves, objects are moved and Natalie hears strange noises. Kevin believes his wife is just making things up.

Performances are decent, but Winther fails to build up the tension and sticks to proven clichés that need better execution to be effective. There's also way too much pointless drama and the finale simply isn't all that exciting. What remains is a passable thriller that has some decent moments, but isn't all that convincing when it really matters.

Ghost Rider

by Mark Steven Johnson
Specifics
2007 / 110m - USA, Australia
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Ghost Rider poster

Not your average Marvel flick. I didn't even know this was a Marvel production until I saw their intro credit. It's certainly a pre-MCU film, as it doesn't really fit the current Marvel formula at all. Cage as a firey rage biker may sound like a match made in heaven, but the film itself is an absolute disaster.

Johnny tries to save his cancer-ridden dad by making a deal with the Devil. The next morning Johnny's father is cured, by noon he's dead after a big stunt crash. Johnny leaves his old life and girlfriend behind, becoming a world-famous stuntman himself. But then the Devil comes to collect Johnny's soul.

Cage looks a little lost in a production like this, the plot is incredibly kitsch, Johnson is a horrible director and the CG looks cheap as hell. Not that I'm a fan of the current MCU films, but at least they look somewhat professional. Ghost Rider is laughably bad, which is the only thing that makes it ever so slightly bearable. Not good.

Virus

by Kinji Fukasaku
Also known as
Fukkatsu no Hi
Specifics
1980 / 108m - Japan
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Virus poster

An ambitious Fukasaku film. It's rare to see a Japanese director pull off a global film project with local funds, but Fukasaku isn't your everyday director. His pandemic film is topical, though only during the first half. After that it turns into a post-apocalyptic affair that leaves little to the imagination.

A covert American research project toys with manipulated flu viruses. One of them is stolen and unleashed unto the world. The virus thrives in hotter condition, and before they fully well realize the scale of the problem, the human population is quickly dwindling. Only small settlement in Antarctica are safe from the deadly disease. The virus is just the start of humanity's problems though.

Fukasaku tries to put a little too much in a single film, but at least he is ambitious. The actors are somewhat flaky and the runtime's a bit excessive, the atmosphere is solid though and the finale is actually pretty impressive. It's a shame Fukasaku failed to make Virus feel just that little tighter, otherwise it would've been a pretty cool post-apocalyptic flick.

Fruitvale Station

by Ryan Coogler
Specifics
2013 / 85m - USA
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Fruitvale Station poster

The last day in the life of Oscar Grant, a young black man shot down by railway police in Fruitvale Station. It's a case that got a bit of media attention, so it's not too surprising to see a film based on these events. The film would be Coogler's big breakthrough, not too surprising since he adds his signature to this story.

Oscar is a young guy who is trying to make something of his life, trying to leave unfortunate past choices behind. After celebrating New Year's Eve, a scuffle on the metro ends badly for him. A couple of hours later, he succumbs from a gunshot wound after a violent police intervention.

Performances are good, and the drama is solid. Coogler gives his version of the facts and Oscar's character does feel a little too idyllic, but there have been so many similar cases that you can take the plot as an abstraction rather than a realistic account of Oscar's last day. Not quite as impactful as I'd hoped, but certainly not a bad film.

The Goldfish: Dreaming of the Sea

by Sara Ogawa
Also known as
Umibe no Kingyo
Specifics
2021 / 77m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Goldfish: Dreaming of the Sea poster

A decent but somewhat complacent Japanese drama. Copying Koreeda seems to be the easiest way to score points on the international scene for a Japanese director, but that's easier said than done. Ogawa delivers a solid drama, but keeps things a little too safe and predictable.

Hana is a high school girl who grew up in a foster home. She's the oldest there and helps to take care of the other kids. When Harumi is brought in, she immediately connects to the girl and takes her under her wing. Hana is just a kid though and her past has left her scarred, even so she tries to make the best of the situation she was put in.

Performances are solid and there are a few standout moments (namely the ones on the beach). The styling is a bit too pedestrian though and while the relationship between the two girls is delicate, it all felt a bit too familiar. Ogawa shows promise, but The Goldfish fails to stand out from its (many) peers.

Herod's Law

by Luis Estrada
Also known as
La Ley de Herodes
Specifics
1999 / 120m - Mexico
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Herod's Law poster

Expectations were pretty low when I started this film, but after a short introduction it quickly became clear that director Estrada was building up a pretty amusing narrative. The middle part of the film was by far the best, the quality does slip a little in the final third, but overall this was a nice find.

Somewhat out of the blue, Juan Vargas is promoted to major of a little desert town. He thinks life is finally looking up, until he arrives in the village and finds nothing but poverty. Meager attempts to engage the townspeople all fail. There's nothing left for Vargas to try out more rigorous tactics.

It's pretty amusing to see Vargas evolve from well-meaning major to villainous crook. There's a dash of dark comedy that keeps things entertaining, performances are solid and Estrada makes excellent use of the barren setting. Things maybe get a little too serious near the end and the film's a tad long, but I had some solid fun with this one.

Leave Her to Heaven

by John M. Stahl
Specifics
1945 / 110m - USA
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Leave Her to Heaven poster

What starts like a pretty slick and pleasantly paced romance quickly turns into a tepid, drawn-out thriller. Stahl overreaches when he tries to introduce tension into the film. Instead of a dark and gripping character study, the film ends up being a slow and overwrought noir that drags itself towards a bland ending.

Richard and Ellen meet each other on a train. It's a rather uneasy encounter, but there's clearly a spark between the two. Not much later, they're happily married. It doesn't take long before Ellen's rougher sides start showing up and before long, Richard is battling an overly jealous wife.

Performances are decent as long as the film remains light-hearted, but the actors fail the moment they're asked to show a darker, more serious side. The film lacks tension, the pacing is off, and the soundtrack is overbearing. It's just not a very balanced, capable film that completely fizzles out. Maybe it would've been better if it had been 30 minutes shorter.

Fudoh: The New Generation

Also known as
Gokudô Sengokushi: Fudô
Specifics
1996 / 98m - Japan
Genre
Crime
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Fudoh: The New Generation poster

The film that introduced international critics to the wonderful world of Takashi Miike. Fudoh is a Yakuza epic sprinkled with inventive ideas, weird characters and grotesque kills. It's one of Miike's earlier films, meaning the stylistic finish is quite rudimentary and the pacing is all over the pace. But there are so many memorable moments, so many scenes you won't see from any other director, that it still manages to amaze 25 years after its release.

Homecoming

by Ho Yim
Also known as
Si Shui Liu Nian
Specifics
1984 / 96m - Hong Kong, China
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Homecoming poster

Relatively generic arthouse drama. The basis for Homecoming is the usual rural vs urban friction that seems to permeate every single Chinese arthouse film. Yim's direction is pretty steadfast and the film does have its moments, but there's not a single scene that surprises, which is a real bummer.

Coral is a woman from lives in Hong Kong, but who feels lost in the city. Desperate for a change of scenery, she travels back to her hometown. She visits some old friends there, but then it transpires that her time away from home has changed her in such a way that going back to her old life is virtually impossible.

Performances are decent but nothing special, the cinematography is clean but a little dim and the score doesn't add much substantial. The drama is passable, and the film never becomes overly generic, it's just that I've seen the same thing so many times before that it just doesn't really work anymore.

Solaris

Specifics
2002 / 99m - USA
Genre
Sci-fi, Romance
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Solaris poster

This is Soderbergh's adaptation of Lem's novel, not Soderbergh's remake of Tarkovsky's film. And that's a good thing really, since I'm not a big fan of Tarkovsky's sci-fi. The first time I watched Solaris I was really blown away by it, watching it again it's still a strong film, but it clearly lost some of its charm over time.

Chris is a psychiatrist who is called to help out with a mission near the planet Solaris. A crew has gone haywire over there and missions to retrieve them have all failed. When Chris arrives at the space station, he finds only two survivors. After staying the night, it becomes clear what kind of dangers they're up against.

The atmosphere is thick and brooding, but also a little cold and detached. Stylistically, Solaris has lost a bit of its shine, the soundtrack in particular felt a bit too bombastic. Performances are good, the mystery is intriguing and the pacing is apt, it's just that little extra polish that lacks to make this a true personal favorite.

The Quiet Man

by John Ford
Specifics
1952 / 129m - USA, Ireland
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Quiet Man poster

John Ford didn't just direct westerns, apparently he also made some veritable dramas. Judging by The Quiet Man, he favored the type of drama that was about as subtle as your average western. I'm not really sure how Ford envisioned this romance to turn out, but if he purposely wanted to spend two hours with a dreadful couple, then this film was a big success.

Thornton returns to his home village after a long stay in the US. There he runs into Mary Kate, a fierce and headstrong woman who puts Thornton to work when he tries to court her. Thornton carries a dark secret with him though, a past he has been outrunning without too much success.

The performances are laughable. Wayne's contorted face is a hoot, Maureen O'Hara acts as if she was cast for a silent film. The plot is utterly simple, neither the drama, romance nor the comedy ever hit home and the runtime is ridiculous. The Quiet Man is a hopelessly outdated film, best to forget this one as quickly as possible.

Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop

by Kyohei Ishiguro
Also known as
Cider no Yô ni Kotoba ga Wakiagaru
Specifics
2020 / 87m - Japan
Genre
Romance, Animation
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop poster

A simple but pleasant anime. Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is a summery, light and predictable coming of age film that tries to stand out with a colorful art style and above -average animation. This type of breezy romantic drama has become very prevalent the past decade, it's rarely exceptional, but usually worth a shot.

Cherry is a young and bashful boy who likes to write haiku poems, Smile a young girl who has a vibrant social profile, but just got braces. Because of an incident at the mall their phones are switched, an event that will eventually bring the two together in a search for a lost LP. All of this against the charming backdrop of a local summer festival.

Anime tends to do these kinds of stories well, this film is no exception. It feels a little too comfortable at times and the romance is a tad too naive, but the warm, summery vibes and the relatively unique art style give the film some much-needed flavor of its own. This isn't going to be the next big anime masterpiece, instead, it's charming filler with broad appeal.

Behemoth

by Liang Zhao
Also known as
Bei Xi Mo Shou
Specifics
2015 / 95m - France, China
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Behemoth poster

Chinese arthouse is depressing, Behemoth is no exception. It may be a documentary, but the usual rural vs urban friction is there, coupled with some sullen musings, dreary-looking people and a lifeless voice-over. It's one big cliché, but at least there are some pretty shots to soften the blow.

Behemoth documents the Chinese mining industry and its effect on nature and the miners. The herdsmen have to leave the surrounding areas, dust replaces green meadows and the miners end up in hospitals. It's a barrage of misery and unhappiness, devoid of any hope or solace.

The fractured shots are a bit cheesy, but the camerawork and framing are nice. The cinematography isn't spectacular, but at least above par. The soundtrack is mostly absent, most of the doc relies on ambient sounds, a bit of a missed opportunity if you ask me. It's simply not something I particularly appreciate, but it's clearly how the West loves to see China.

Bye Bye Morons

by Albert Dupontel
Also known as
Adieu les Cons
Specifics
2020 / 87m - France
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Bye Bye Morons poster

A pleasant mix of magic realism and dark comedy. Bye Bye Morons is a nice reminder that I have some catching up to do, as I've missed all of Dupontel's films since his directorial debut. It's not a film without flaws, but they are minor and can't take away from the film's other qualities. And rest assured, they're plenty.

When Suze is told she's dying, she wants to right a past wrong by finding the boy she gave up for adoption. At the adoption agency they don't seem able to help her, but then she runs into Jean-Baptiste. He just failed to kill himself, hurting some of his colleagues in the process. Suze kidnaps him, hoping he can help her out.

The first hour could've been just that little darker and edgier, other than that I have no real complaints. Performances are solid, the styling is polished and there's an unpredictability that keeps things interesting. The ending is on point too. A very charming, memorable and fun film, that stops just short of excellence.

Jolt

by Tanya Wexler
Specifics
2021 / 91m - USA
Genre
Action
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Jolt poster

In the wake of films like Atomic Blonde (and in a lesser sense, Crank), it's no surprise to see a film like Jolt popping up. It's a slick action flick, based on a slightly surreal premise, sporting a kick-ass female lead. At least, that's what it was supposed to be on paper, the actual film doesn't quite get here.

Lindy has a rare medical condition where she can't keep her rage under control. The only one who managed to help her is Dr. Munchin, a psychiatrist who developed a vest that delivers electric shocks whenever Lindy's hormones get out of control. Munchin advises her to go out into the world and mingle, but when Lindy's first hookup is found dead the next morning, things are about to get rough.

Beckinsale spends a bit too much time trying to look pretty instead of badass, the styling is nice but not vibrant enough, the action is a bit tame. It looks like Wexler copied quite a bit from better films, without truly understanding what made these films tick. Jolt isn't bad, it's just a bit underwhelming for a film about a raging woman who has to administer electric shocks to keep herself in check.

Monster Heaven

by Macoto Tezuka
Also known as
Youkai Tengoku
Specifics
1986 / 51m - Japan
Genre
Horror
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Monster Heaven poster

A short horror anthology by Macoto Tezuka, son of the infamous mangaka. Tezuka has already proven himself a talented director, but doing horror on a TV budget isn't easy, and Monster Heaven occasionally struggles to make the best of its limited finances. Tezuka isn't one to let that stop him from going all-in though.

The shorts vary in length and don't always make a lot of sense, but people familiar with Japanese horror (and the yokai - ghosts and spirits - in particular) won't have too much trouble keeping track of the often strange and puzzling narratives. There are kappas, ghosts and disfigured folk inhabiting these stories, and their appearances tend to spell trouble.

Performances are rather weak, and the special effects are very bare-bones. But Tezuka's creative cinematography and a little well-placed comedy help to cover up some of the film's weaker points. It's short, there's more than enough variety and there's plenty of weirdness to keep things from becoming boring. It's certainly not his best film, but Tezuka fans won't be disappointed.

Vicious Fun

by Cody Calahan
Specifics
2020 / 101m - Canada
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Vicious Fun poster

A decent meta horror comedy, with some serious 80s vibes. In 2021, a film like this is anything but original, but Calahan is a decent horror director, so he deserved the benefit of the doubt. Vicious Fun has some very solid, memorable bits, but sadly loses quite a bit of steam during the second half.

Joel is a writer for a horror magazine. He fancies his roommate, but he's too much of a dork to do anything about it. When he follows home one of her dates, he ends up in a shady neon-lit bar. He gets shit-faced and sleeps it off in the janitor's closet. Waking up later that night, the bar is empty, apart from one group of complete wackos.

The first half of the film works best, as Calahan goes full for comedy. The circle meeting was no doubt the highlight of the entire film for me. The second half is more geared at horror, but Calahan fails to add much to the countless slasher flicks that came before. It's all a little too safe and "been there, done that", not exactly what you want from a horror comedy.

Gregory's Girl

by Bill Forsyth
Specifics
1980 / 91m - UK
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Gregory's Girl poster

The most remarkable thing about this film is that it grew out to be a classic. Gregory's Girl is bland and basic in just about every way. The director seemed to be aware of this and figured he still had a shot when he made his film as inoffensive as possible. I guess it worked, though don't ask me how.

Gregory is a rather dorky kid who falls in love with the Dorothy. She's a bold girl who joins the male football team and doesn't really care what others think of her. She's not really into Gregory, but even though he isn't good with girls, he's quite persistent and after a while Dorothy starts to fall for his charms.

Performances are dim, the film looks like it was made for TV, the score sounds like it was salvaged from a public domain database. It's as cinematic as an episode of Wheel of Fortune, but the characters are somewhat charming and the coming of age elements do come together rather well. Not the worst thing ever, but hardly worth recommending.

The Iron Bodyguard

by Cheh Chang, Hsueh-Li Pao
Also known as
Da Dao Wang Wu
Specifics
1973 / 94m - Hong Kong
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Iron Bodyguard poster

A middle of the road Cheh Chang film. The man has made so many films in such a short span of time, all within the same genre, that some of them are inevitably forgettable. The Iron Bodyguard is one of such films. Not that it's particularly bad or disappointing, it just doesn't excel at anything in particular.

Tan is trying to fight the corruption in the Chinese government, but they are on to him and manage to arrest him before he can do any real damage. Right before his arrest, Tan did get Wang on board, a skilled martial artist who will do his very best to keep Tan from becoming a martyr.

The Iron Bodyguard is a film with a slightly stronger focus on the narrative. There are still the usual Shaw Bros fights, but they are fewer and shorter. The story isn't all that exciting though and performances don't really stand out either. It's decent enough when you're pining for some Shaw Bros action, but only when you've seen all of their more prominent films.

The Ox-Bow Incident

by William A. Wellman
Specifics
1942 / 75m - USA
Genre
Western
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Ox-Bow Incident poster

A film with a message. I'd seen this one compared to 12 Angry Men before and after watching is, it's clear why people like to link the two together. The Ox-Bow Incident is a film where every element is geared at just one single thing: getting that message across as loud and clear as possible.

Two wanderers just happen to be in a saloon when news arrives that a nearby rancher has been killed, his cattle stolen. The townsfolk are angry, and it doesn't take long before they form a posse. The two wanderers join in, but it's clear that the need for revenge is bigger than the need for justice.

Just like 12 Angry Men, this film felt extremely forced, overly tailored to the message it needed to convey. Performances are static, the plot is far too obvious, and the dialogues are pretty cringe-worthy. The only positive here is that the film is short, though it still felt twice as long to me. Not my kind of cinema.

Capernaum

by Nadine Labaki
Also known as
Capharnaüm
Specifics
2018 / 126m - USA, France
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Capernaum poster

It's certainly not hard to see why this is such a popular film. A harrowing drama about a young boy living in very dire circumstances always scores well with critics and audiences alike. It's not unlike Koreeda's Nobody Knows, only the circumstances in which the lead character has to survive are that much bleaker.

Zain is a young kid who does his best to bring in some money for his family. He takes special care of his sister Sahar, but he can't prevent her from being given away once she has her first period. Zain refuses to stay with his family any longer, and he ventures off into the world all by himself.

Zain's performance is splendid, the cinematography is gripping and surprisingly stylish, the soundtrack is solid too. The drama's a little predictable and I wouldn't have minded a slightly shorter runtime, but Labaki stays clear from excessive sentimentality, which wasn't an easy thing to do considering the themes of this film. A solid film.

Mulan

by Niki Caro
Specifics
2020 / 115m - Hong Kong, Canada
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Mulan poster

Disney's live-action version of Mulan. I wouldn't really call it a remake of their animated film, since they've dropped the musical bits and comedy, going for a more straight-forward telling of Mulan's story. Oddly enough, that puts the film closer to the Chinese live-action films, giving them some tough competition.

The story of Mulan hasn't changed a lot. A young, tomboyish girl gets her parents into trouble when she won't settle down with a guy. To make matters worse, she takes her father's place when he's called into battle. Disguised as a boy, Mulan leaves her home, knowing fully well the disgrace she's about to entrust on her family's name.

There is some prime fighting talent present (Jet Li and Donnie Yen), but Caro is obviously clueless on how to use them well. The cinematography lacks the grandeur of its Chinese competitors, the soundtrack doesn't sit well, and the English dialogue isn't doing the actors any favors. It's certainly better than Disney's animated film, but there's no real reason to watch this when there are better versions out there already.