The Snowman

by Tomas Alfredson
Specifics
2017 / 119m - USA, UK
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Snowman poster

Basic Scandinavian police thriller, only with UK/USA actors. It's a pretty well-respected niche, though I never really got into it myself. Most of these films (and series for that matter) suffer from the same shortcomings. The Snowman doesn't even try to stand out from its peers and ends up being a forgettable thriller.

Harry Hole is a police detective suffering from a serious burnout. A new case, featuring several women who have disappeared without a clear motive catches his attention. Together with a new recruit he starts an investigation, which puts them on the trail of a mysterious serial killer who leaves behind snowmen wherever he goes.

Performances aren't bad, and the setting is a real treat, other than that this film has little to offer. The plot is boring, the reveals are lame, the runtime isn't really justifiable, and the direction is way too cliché. The first hour, when the film is busy setting up all the pieces, is kind of okay, things quickly go downhill after that.

Xtreme

by Daniel Benmayor
Also known as
Xtremo
Specifics
2021 / 111m - Spain
Genre
Action, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Xtreme poster

A Spanish action film with minor Japanese influences. It's almost like watching a US 80s action flick through a Spanish lens. Somewhat odd combination for sure, but I got used to it quickly enough. Benmayor delivers a decent, contemporary update of this niche, but lacks the flair to make this a hard hitting action film.

Max is Lucero's trusted muscle, but after helping him get rid of a rival gang, Lucero turns on Max and gets him and his son assassinated. At least, that's what Lucero thinks. Max survives the attack and together with Lucero's sister, Max plans his revenge. But getting to Lucero is easier said than done.

The action is pretty brutal and there's plenty of it, but something in the camera work and editing keeps these scenes from becoming truly impressive. It all feels a bit slow, even clumsy. The Yakuza influences don't add much and the plot's a bit meager for a film that lasts almost 2 hours, but solid performances and slick styling make this pretty entertaining filler.

Ichi the Killer

Also known as
Koroshiya 1
Specifics
2001 / 129m - Japan, Hong Kong
Genre
Comedy, Horror, Crime
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Ichi the Killer poster

Ichi the Killer is one of Miike's most monumental films and a true landmark in his oeuvre. Its qualities are unmistakable, for me though, it's never been a top tier film. There are undeniable moments of greatness here, scenes and characters that are extremely memorable, even helped define the 00s, there's just a little too much filler for my liking.

Ichi is a pure sadist, product of a trauma that never evaporated. He's used as a formidable killing machine by his mentor, but finds his equal in Kakihara. Kakihara leads a Yakuza gang and loves torture and mutilation. He dreams of facing off against Ichi, but he's not that easy to find. Kakihara won't let anyone come between him and his dream though.

The cast is superb, but it's Tadanobu Asano who stands out as Kakihara, no doubt one of the pivotal roles in his career. The film is quite extreme, very graphic and well over-the-top, that said that it's never quite as crazy or surprising as some of Miike's other films. It also slows down too much in the middle, which hurts the overall pacing. That said, there's no way around this one if you care for Japanese cinema. Regardless of it's minor faults, this is still an insane film and a true must-see in Miike's oeuvre.

My Man Godfrey

by Gregory La Cava
Specifics
1936 / 94m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
My Man Godfrey poster

A pretty basic 30s romcom. There's a lot of whining and fast banter, a simple plot and a ton of dramatics. But the tone is light, emotions are fleeting, and though people can't stop talking, the lack of meaningful communication makes things a lot harder than they need to be. Genre fare in other words.

Trying to beat her sister in a lowbrow socialite game, Irene drags Godfrey, a vagrant she met on the street, with her to a party. Afterwards she feels bad for Godfrey, and she hires him as her personal butler. The two get along well and their relationship develops beyond their professional bond, but Godfrey hides a complex past.

Performances are decent, so is the pacing, but you have to be a big fan of the spitfire dialogues so typical for screwball comedies to enjoy this film. It all feels pretty expected and by the numbers. It's not as grating as some other films in the genre, but I don't think I'll remember much of this one in a couple of days time.

Hard to Kill

by Bruce Malmuth
Specifics
1990 / 96m - USA
Genre
Action
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Hard to Kill poster

Hard to Kill is clear shelf-filler. An action film featuring B-actors, a cookie cutter plot, mediocre action scenes and a director who appears to have gone missing in action. It's not really meant to be good, it's meant to be picked up by hardcore action fans who need something to waste their time between bigger releases.

Mason Storm is a cop who knows too much. He and his family are assaulted in their home and left for dead. Storm is still alive, and he's brought to a hospital in secret, where he spends several years in a coma. When he finally awakes, he plans his revenge on his killers, but when they find out he's not dead he becomes their target once again.

Steven Seagal is truly crap, both as an action hero and a dramatic actor, but this is actually one of his more palatable films. The quality isn't really there, but at least the pacing is somewhat decent, and it didn't feel like a complete waste of time. Faint praise for a film I wouldn't recommend, unless you're a huge fan of 80s action cinema.

Rundfunk: Jachterwachter

by Rob Lücker
Specifics
2020 / 89m - Netherlands
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Rundfunk: Jachterwachter poster

Jachterwachter is a celebration of excessively crude, absurd comedy. It's rare to see films commit so forcefully to comedy, especially these days, which makes it all the more fun when they come out swinging and hit the mark on their first try. Not sure how well this film translates for those unfamiliar with Dutch comedy/stereotypes, it's certainly not a film for people who dislike dark, random and crude jokes, but it sure made me laugh. Think New Kids, but darker and weirder.

All Aboard!

by Seiichi Hishikawa
Also known as
Shin Seishun
Specifics
2020 / 90m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Drama
rating
3.0*/5.0*
All Aboard! poster

All Aboard is a rather quirky and chirpy comedy that slowly evolves into a more typical dramedy. Director Hishikawa tried to add some personal touches and partially succeeded, though in the end All Aboard doesn't quite stand out enough to rise about the barrage of Japanese dramas that are released every year.

Haruka is a young girl who lives together with her dad, uncle and cousin in a small port town. Three men who are wholly unfit to face life head-on. They rely on Haruka to keep their lives on the rails, but that's about to change when it transpires that Haruka is slowly turning blind.

The comedy is somewhat blunt, but the tone is pretty original, with some good jokes in the first half of the film. The drama's a bit more expected, which means the second half of the film fails to keep the momentum going. It never becomes dull or tedious, there's just not enough here to set itself apart from its peers.

Fish, Underground

Specifics
2001 / 30m - Taiwan
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Fish, Underground poster

In between his feature films, Tsai has always liked doing documentaries too. They tend to be somewhat rough and unpolished, but they're early indicators of the direction Tsai would come to take in more recent years. Fish, Underground perfectly fits that mold, so it wasn't really for me.

Without much background information or context, this isn't really a very coherent doc. It's broadly divided into three equal parts, events or scenes that Tsai simply captures on camera. The middle part, with the dead fish in the ground, is the most captivating one, though only in a very abstract way.

The footage too rough for what could've been an atmospheric slice of life, the lack of coherence is too grand for any obvious themes to transpire. What you get is Tsai's lingering camera focusing on three scenes he deemed interesting for some reason or another. I clearly prefer his feature films, this is a bit too meandering and amateurish for my taste.

The Lady from Shanghai

by Orson Welles
Specifics
1947 / 87m - USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Lady from Shanghai poster

A simple noir, which got a little extra popularity push because Welles directed it I assume. It's the only reason I can think of why this one stood out to people, as the film itself is very basic and neatly sticks to genre conventions. Unless you're a big noir fan, there's not all that much here.

Michael partakes in a boat trip, organized by the wealthy Mr. Bannister. Michael's ulterior motive is getting closer to Mr. Bannister's wife Elsa, who on her part seems to be enjoying Michael's presence too. What Michael doesn't realize is that he's the one who is played for a sucker when Elsa involves him in a tricky murder plot.

Performances are rather weak and overstated, the story is bland and predictable. The black and white cinematography is somewhat decent, but Welles did a lot better in the past. He simply rolls through the simplistic narrative here, which is not something I particularly care for. Very forgettable.

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan

Also known as
Nakimushi Shottan no Kiseki
Specifics
2018 / 127m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan poster

The irony of biopics is that they're usually about people who achieved something unique, stood out from the crowd, challenged reigning ideas, while the genre itself is one of the most rigid and cliché-ridden there is. Don't expect Toyoda to fight those clichés, Crybaby Shottan is a film that colors safely inside the lines.

The film documents the life of Shottan, a shogi player who failed to qualify as a pro before the age of 26 (which is the latest one is allowed to turn pro). He was urged by friends and relatives to challenge this tradition, as he regularly played and beat pro players as an amateur. Guess how that story ends.

Apart from the soundtrack, Toyoda's signature is completely absent, to the point where I wonder if he made this film just to be able to finance more personal projects. The cast is impressive though and the base quality is there. This is not a terrible drama, but it's predictable and doesn't even attempt to stand out. One of shogi fans and/or Toyoda completists.

A Beast in Love

Also known as
Koisuru Kedamono
Specifics
2020 / 85m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Thriller
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
A Beast in Love poster

Shiraishi, best known for his horror work, comes with something a little different. A Beast in Love is tricky to describe, but at heart it's a dark (even vile) comedy with thriller, horror and light romance elements to flesh things out. The result's a bit of a mess, but if you can appreciate Shiraishi's sense of humor, there's a lot of fun to be had.

In an unnamed town, deplorables gather to escape from their dark past. One particularly shy-looking guy stands out between all the crazies, when pushed even he turns into a manic serial killer. Several people are out to get him, but it's a creepy cross dresser who appears to be the most interested.

There are no heroes, no likeable characters. The film does come with a big trigger warning since one of them is a cross dresser and there's only room for negative stereotypes here. If that doesn't bother you than you can brace yourself for a bit of excessive Japanese weirdness. The technical qualities aren't quite up to par, but the comedy hit the mark for me and the runtime is pretty short. Very fun and entertaining filler.

Glory

by Edward Zwick
Specifics
1989 / 122m - USA
Genre
War
More info:
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Glory poster

Zwick doing what Zwick does best. Glory is a grandiose, pompous Hollywood flick. A barrage of sentimental kitsch that once again reiterates America's racist past and all its lingering traumas. As a war film, it's quite tedious. As a drama, it's just a load of drivel. Based on Zwick's track record, I can't say this outcome really surprised me.

The film focuses on Robert Shaw, an idealist whose first assignment is very sobering. He returns home after a bloody battle and is assigned the 54th infantry, which consists exclusively of black people. Shaw accepts his mission and recruits an old classmate to help him train these soldiers.

Performances are bad, but I can't even fault the actors when the direction is so dreary and overbearing. I didn't care about any of the characters or emotions, didn't care about the outcome of the film, not was I impressed by any aesthetic qualities. Glory is the equivalent of selling a Big Mac in a three-star restaurant. Well overpriced and just the thought alone makes you queasy.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

Also known as
Bom Yeoreum Gaeul Gyeoul Geurigo Bom
Specifics
2003 / 103m - Germany, South Korea
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring poster

One of Ki-duk's most accessible works. The film is devoid of his usual misanthropy and is presented as a peaceful, meditative experience. A stunning setting, a subtle but majestic score and easily relatable themes ease you in and make this a pleasant watch. The film does not eschew the darker corners of human behavior, but handles them with dignity and respect. Recommended for people who want to get acquainted with Ki-duk's oeuvre.

Eyes Without a Face

by Georges Franju
Also known as
Les Yeux Sans Visage
Specifics
1960 / 90m - France, Italy
Genre
Drama, Horror
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Eyes Without a Face poster

I expected more from this one. From the outside, it looked like a pretty stylish and moody affair. I did in fact find traces of that exact film, it's just that I had to look very hard and had to wait a really long time for them to surface. And when Eyes Without a Face finally gets going, the end credits appeared.

A lauded plastic surgeon houses a dark secret. After his daughter becomes disfigured in a car accident, the man kidnaps young women, transplanting parts of their face in an attempt to recreate his daughter's face. His victims aren't too keen to join his experiments, but fleeing is near impossible.

The masks are eerie, the surgery scene is somewhat effective and the final 5 or 10 minutes are pretty atmospheric, but that's about it. The run-up is long and tedious, performances are mediocre, the soundtrack is ill-fitting and the cinematography simply isn't up to the task. It's a pretty forgettable film really.

Rocky II

by Sylvester Stallone
Specifics
1979 / 119m - USA
Genre
Drama, Sport
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Rocky II poster

Stallone directs the sequel to what will forever by his biggest legacy. He's certainly quite full of himself, as he doesn't merely aim to repeat the success of the first film, he seems to believe he can pull off a Scorsese and add a serious dash of drama to an otherwise simple boxing film. Well, he fails, and not exactly gracefully.

After his fight against Creed, Rocky is the talk of the town. He gets lucrative deals thrown at him, but as he tries to cash in on his success, he quickly learns that he isn't really cut out to do much else. When his wife gets pregnant, it seems that Rocky will have to face Creed once again in order to secure the boxing title for real.

There isn't that much boxing here, apart from the final 20 minutes. The rest is a mix of drama and comedy that is almost too painful to watch. Stallone is a horrendous actor, none of the jokes land and the drama is so saccharine that you have to wonder why he even bothered. A complete fluke, even the fight at the end fails to raise the adrenaline.

Dance with Me

by Shinobu Yaguchi
Also known as
Dansu Wizu Mî
Specifics
2019 / 103m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Musical
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Dance with Me poster

Yaguchi's latest is a musical comedy, not exactly a genre mix that's very popular in Japan (or contemporary cinema in general really). Dance with Me's premise is certainly amusing enough, but Yaguchi doesn't really commit enough to the musical bits, which makes it feel a little half-arsed. And musicals really need to be big and extravagant to work.

Suzuki hates musicals, but when she goes to see a magician she gets hypnotized by accident, forcing her to sing and dance every time she hears music. This really messes up her chances to land a job at a prestigious firm, so Suzuki is forced to go back to the magician to undo the hypnosis. Sadly, he's already packed his bags, seeking out his next gig.

The comedy is expected but daft enough and the first couple of musical bits are fine, the latter ones aren't quite as bold and rely on simplistic dance routines (the hip-hop one), sometimes not even that (the street performances). It's a shame, as Yaguchi nails the tone of the film, he just needed some skilled musical choreographers. Still works as a basic comedy though.

The Headless Woman

by Lucrecia Martel
Also known as
La Mujer Sin Cabeza
Specifics
2008 / 87m - France, Spain
Genre
Drama, Mystery
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Headless Woman poster

Martel didn't make it easy on herself when she directed The Headless Woman. She takes a very basic and predictable movie plot and tries to make it relatable on a realistic level. For that to work, the characters have to transcend the film. That never quite happened, so instead, we're stuck with an artsy flick that reiterates a very standard plot.

Driving home, Vero is distracted for just a second. Right at that moment she hits something. Looking back she sees the contours of a dog lying on the road, but once home she starts to doubt herself. The more time passes, the more Vero is convinced that she might have hit an actual person.

The film is very slow and most scenes are pretty banal, but since we're experiencing Vero's uncertainty as she tries to move on with her life, that pacing is warranted. It works up until a certain point, but the artsy (though surprisingly unattractive) camera work and the tight focus kept reminding me I was watching a film. This could've been pretty interesting, Martel's gamble just doesn't pay off. The result is quite mediocre.

All the Things We Never Said

Specifics
2020 / 91m - Japan, Hong Kong
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
All the Things We Never Said poster

Ishii tackles Japan's problems with communication, doing so with Hong Kong money. The film is part of the Back 2 Basics program that yielded six films in total. And it does feel like a smaller film for Ishii, even when he never really made anything grand or epic. The quality is still there though.

Atsuhisa is a pretty ordinary guy, living together with his wife and 5-year-old daughter. Nothing seems off, until Atsuhisa comes home one day and finds his wife in bed with another man. Atsuhisa is overflowing with emotions, but he can't talk to his wife and not much later, they're divorced.

Japan is known for its more silent, reticent dramas, which generally work very well for me. This introverted behavior and lack of communication comes with its own set of issues, and it's nice to see Ishii addressing these head on. Performances are great, the drama feels genuine and even though the limit budget shines through, it doesn't affect the quality of the film too much. Another solid Ishii.

Black Narcissus

by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Specifics
1947 / 101m - United Kingdom
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Black Narcissus poster

Black Narcissus is revered for its Technicolor visuals, personally I can't stand the shrill, cold, somewhat lifeless color scheme. I really like bold, colorful films, but Technicolor just doesn't do it for me. Neither did the painted backgrounds by the way, they looked cheesy and borderline ridiculous.

The film follows a nunnery built in the Himalayas, where the Brits are hoping to educate the local people. A lovely setting, but the harsh living conditions in the mountains are starting to get to the nuns. What starts as the usual irritation and envy slowly escalates into a much darker conflict.

I didn't care for the visuals, but that wasn't the only problem. The performances are very weak and exaggerated, the soundtrack is pure kitsch, the characters are very one-dimensional, and the plot is slow and basic. I've seen a couple of Powell and Pressburger films now, none of them left a solid impact. Black Narcissus could be the most memorable of the bunch, but only because of the ugly colors.

Sea of Revival

by Kazuya Shiraishi
Also known as
Nagi Machi
Specifics
2019 / 124m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Sea of Revival poster

A trademark Kazuya Shiraishi film. Dark, gritty, strong crime elements mixed with drama and severely unlikable characters. It's not for everybody, but Shiraishi has a way to bring these films to life. Sea of Revival may not be his most notable film to date, it's certainly one of his most recognizable.

Ikuo and Ayumi return to Ayumi's hometown as Ikuo landed a job there, working for a printing company. Ikuo has a gambling addiction and though he promised Ayumi to better his life, when two of his colleagues invite him along Ikuo can't decline. It's the start of a negative spiral that is going to have far-reaching consequences.

Ikuo may be a troubled character and the film loves to dish out tragedy, still, there's a crude and fundamental warmth running underneath that kept me engaged. Performances are strong, the cinematography is fitting, and the plot supports the drama well. The only problem is that the film's is a bit long, it really didn't need to last 2+ hours. Other than that, a very solid Shiraishi.

Rurouni Kenshin: Final Chapter Part I - The Final

by Keishi Ohtomo
Also known as
Rurôni Kenshin: Sai shûshô - The Final
Specifics
2021 / 138m - Japan
Genre
Action
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Rurouni Kenshin: Final Chapter Part I - The Final poster

Several years after concluding his Kenshin trilogy, Ohtomo returns with an extra encore. Two films to add some extra lore to the Kenshin universe, one sequel and one prequel that are tied together. If you've seen the trilogy you should have a good idea what to expect, if you liked the trilogy then make these films a priority, as Ohtomo added a layer of extra polish.

Kenshin is enjoying a period of peace with his friends, but trouble is coming his way. An old enemy has worked himself up in the Chinese mafia and is finally strong enough to avenge the death of his sister. Together with an army of dangerous foes, he seeks out Kenshin and challenges him for a battle.

There's still a bit too much inconsequential drama for my liking, which also bloats the runtime, other than that this is a near-perfect blockbuster. The film looks lush, the action sequences are thrilling and the pacing is perfect. Ohtomo handles these types of films really well, looking forward to the second part already.