Night and the City

by Jules Dassin
Specifics
1950 / 100m - UK, USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Night and the City poster

The only way to get a real feel for a genre is to watch many (many) niche films, and so I'm slowly catching up with all the film noir films I've ignored over the years. I can't say the genre is growing on me, but at least I'm finally getting a better idea of what defines a typical film noir feature.

Fabian is a small-time, ambitious crook who is looking for a way to move up in the underworld. When he encounters Gregorius, an ex wrestling champion, Fabian figures he can make a solid buck organizing fights. By doing so, he moves in on Kristo's territory, a crime boss who just happens to be Gregorius' son.

So far, shorter seems to be better for film noir films. Simple plots and tragic characters don't really gel well, the longer runtimes merely put extra focus on the mediocre performances and forgettable narratives. Dassin's direction isn't all that notable either, so there wasn't really anything that kept me hooked. Not a great film.

Koko-di Koko-da

by Johannes Nyholm
Specifics
2019 / 89m - Sweden, Denmark
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Koko-di Koko-da poster

Koko-di Koko-da isn't the first film to use horror as a metaphor for personal drama/illness, but it's certainly one of the most original ones to do so. While director Nyholm doesn't quite nail the balance between horror and drama, but there are so many memorable moments that it hardly matters.

On a trip to celebrate Maja's birthday, Elin (rather brutally) discovers she's allergic to shellfish. She can laugh it off, but after spending the night in the hospital with her family, their trip becomes even worse. When they awake, Maja has died. Three years later, Erin and her husband go on a camping trip that will force them to face the demons haunting them.

It's pretty much impossible to categorize Koko-di Koko-da. Not only does it cycle/combine several genres (mystery, horror, drama, comedy, fantasy), it also doesn't stick to conventional genre structures. There are surreal characters, beautifully animated scenes, some very crude and dark horror moments and more things I'd prefer not to spoil. If Nyholm could manage to bring everything together without it becoming too heavy-handed, I'm sure he can deliver a true masterpiece. He sure got close with this film.

Black Widow

by Bob Rafelson
Specifics
1987 / 102m - USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Black Widow poster

Black Widow feels like cheapish TV filler, the kind of thriller you might catch on a TV station in the 90s that had some open movie slots and didn't want to spend too much money on filling them. It's unremarkable in every way, no twists, no class, just a straight-up plot that takes you from A to B.

Catherine is a young woman who seeks out rich old men, marries them and runs off with the inheritance. She's very good at covering her tracks, until Alex, an eager cop, starts connecting the dots. Nobody believes her though, so she has to find a different way to bring the truth to the surface.

Black Widow is little more than a simple plot coupled with functional direction. The performances are mediocre, the cinematography is bland, the soundtrack a real snoozefest. The killer is pretty boring, the police investigation is formulaic, and the plot is a lazy copy/paste job. At least the pacing is decent, and the runtime is short, other than that this was forgettable genre filler.

I Do... Until I Don't

by Lake Bell
Specifics
2017 / 106m - USA
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
I Do... Until I Don't poster

Lake Bell went all in for this film. She collected acting, directing and writing credits, but that just makes it easier to pinpoint who to blame for this big old mess. I do respect what she tried to do here, but there's nothing more difficult to salvage than an unfunny comedy, and the chuckles were few and far between.

Vivian is a documentary maker who doesn't believe in marriage. For her next film, she hopes to gather three couples and use them as living proof that her theory about marriage is correct. She's willing to go through great lengths to make it work, even when it involves bribing people and staging certain situations.

There's quite a bit of snide and unfunny drama here, so the jokes have to be really on point to make the comedy work. Sadly they're not. The timing is off, the characters are ill-fitting, the plot's a mess and the actual jokes are spread thin. Bell certainly isn't the worst actress, her directorial work so far has been pretty disappointing though.

The Soul

by Wei-hao Cheng
Also known as
Ji Hun
Specifics
2021 / 130m - China, Taiwan
Genre
Sci-fi, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Soul poster

Cheng's latest is probably his biggest production to date, sadly the quality of his films isn't following the same trajectory. While not a bad film, The Soul is the type of mystery that renders itself irrelevant by slowly explaining everything away. Touches of crime, sci-fi and drama were added to keep things interesting, but in this case, less would've been more.

Liang is a prosecutor diagnosed with cancer. When Wang, the CEO of a major conglomerate, is brutally murdered in his own home, Liang is put on the case. The more Liang finds out about Wang's affairs, the more complex the case becomes. Of course, nothing is what it seems, which is explained through a series of twist in the second half of the film.

Performances and direction are decent, the sci-fi elements help to make things a bit more intriguing, but the film is too basic. I'm not a big fan of films that slowly unravel a mystery through some twists and endless explanations, and with 130 minutes on the clock, Cheng takes too much time getting to the end. With the material at hand, I'd hoped for something a bit more cinematic.

Tongues Untied

by Marlon Riggs
Specifics
1989 / 55m - USA
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Tongues Untied poster

A mix between essay, documentary and performance material. Untied Tongues is an indie film that no doubt spoke to a community that had no other big outlet at the time. It's a film from the black/gay community that offers a little insight into their lives, though never very explicitly.

The film is a mixture of (slam) poetry, documentary footage and more traditional performances, attempting to express the feelings and experiences of several black men, growing up in a world that didn't show them much love or kindness. Other than that, there doesn't seem to be too much of a structure present.

Though no doubt valuable, the low production values and woolly delivery made it quite hard for me to get into the film. I think I would've preferred a more straightforward documentary about this subject, then again I'm generally not big on poetry, nor am I the target audience. It's a fine attempt, but not something that left a big impression.

Iron Chain Fighter

Also known as
Cha Chi Nan Fei
Specifics
1980 / 96m - Hong Kong
Genre
Action
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Iron Chain Fighter poster

Yuen Chor doing what he does best. While Chor didn't mind jumping between different genres, few will contest that he made his best work when he stuck to doing martial arts cinema. Though there aren't any fantastical elements here, the atmospheric lighting immediately betrays Chor's hand.

The plot offers a rather basic revenge story. Teng Piao spends 15 years in jail after being framed for drugs trafficking. When he's finally out, he cares about only one thing: getting back at the guy who framed him. Piao knows he goes by the name Black Leopard, but he doesn't know what the guy looks like.

Iron Chain Fighter is a pretty typical Shaw Bros production, except that Chor adds tons of visual flair. The action scenes are cool, the sets look stylish, the plot is simple but fun. If you don't like Shaw Bros films this one won't change your mind, but fans of the studio will find a very accomplished film here.

Angel

by Koen Mortier
Also known as
Un Ange
Specifics
2018 / 105m - Belgium, Netherlands
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Angel poster

Mortier's latest is a seething story about two people from two very different worlds spending a life-changing night together. While there are obvious links to a certain famed Belgian cyclist, the story here is fictional, and it's better to not consider it anything close to a biography. Instead, Mortier uses this film to illustrate the crushing weight of fame, making superb use of Karakatsanis' cinematography, Leunen's editing skill and a majestic score by Soulsavers to turn Angel into a sweltering drama.

Goodbye

by Mohammad Rasoulof
Also known as
Bé Omid é Didar
Specifics
2011 / 105m - Iran
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Goodbye poster

Iranian drama that has quite a history, mostly due to the imprisonment of its directors. My track history with Middle-Eastern dramas isn't exactly great, Goodbye didn't do quite enough to change my mind, but there are some definite positives here. If only the drama itself had worked for me, I probably would've been able to give this a much higher rating.

Noura is a young woman whose attorney's license has been revoked by the Iranian government. Her husband, a political writer, is also on the run from the law. Noura is fed up with the situation, and she tries to apply for a visa. A pregnancy is her easiest ticket out, but even that doesn't go as planned.

I quite liked the stark cinematography, the color palette in particular was cold but beautiful. The framing too deserves a mention. The glacial pace, repetitive scenes and restrained acting make this a difficult drama to crack though. I didn't really care enough for Noura's trials and tribulations, but it's certainly a lot better than some other prominent Middle-Eastern drama's I've seen so far.

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

by Adam Robitel
Specifics
2021 / 95m - USA, South Africa
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions poster

There hasn't been a lack of escape room films these past years, but few were decent enough to receive a sequel. Robitel's film turned out to be the exception, though looking at the result, you have to wonder if it was worth it. At least it's not a lazy sequel, quite the contrary. Tournament of Champions is grossly overreaching here.

After escaping the first game, Zoey wants revenge on her captors. She travels with Ben to where she thinks their base is located, but once they arrive there they're captured again, and they end up participating in another game. This time with a bunch of players that all survived their respective first bouts.

There's an entire overarching plot that's way too convoluted for a film like this. It takes away a lot of time from the traps, which means that these scenes are just an endless barrage of quickly solved clues and false tension. Escape Room 2 would've been a lot better as a simple sequel, at least the film had a decent enough budget to dish out some impressive traps. Not really looking forward to the third part though, unless it goes back to basics.

Tezuka's Barbara

by Macoto Tezuka
Also known as
Barubora
Specifics
2019 / 100m - Japan, UK
Genre
Mystery
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Tezuka's Barbara poster

I won't lie, expectations were pretty immense going into this film. I liked Macoto's Tezuka's earlier work a lot, Christopher Doyle's an amazing cinematographer and Fumi Nikaido is one of the best actresses working in Japan today. And while the result is definitely intriguing, this wasn't the masterpiece I'd hoped it would be.

Mikura is a well-respected author. While the public adores him, he is starting to doubt his writing skills. Right then a mysterious woman shows up, unabashedly dishing out critiques about his work. Mikura finds himself uncontrollably drawn to her, as she slowly drags him into a destructive downwards spiral.

Macoto is adapting his father's manga here. I never read the comic, but I did find the "author doubts himself and hits lows to draw inspiration from them" thematic a bit underwhelming. The jazzy soundtrack doesn't really work, Doyle's cinematography isn't on point, and I've seen Nikaido do better work too. There are still some memorable scenes, the mystery is quite fun, and it's certainly not a dull film. It just can't live up to the potential that was clearly there. I'd still recommend it, only don't go in expecting to see a masterpiece.

Laika

by Akiyoshi Imazeki
Specifics
2017 / 94m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Laika poster

A rather novel take on the classic gay drama. Usually these films tend to be somewhat uncinematic, focusing heavily on drama, plot and characters. Laika tries to do things a little differently by introducing a character that isn't entirely of this world, giving the film a more dreamy and ethereal mood, without becoming overtly fantastical.

Laika is a young Japanese girl abandoned by her mother, who identifies with the famous dog who was sent into space. She lives together with Julie in Moscow. Julie is trying to become an actress, Laika on the other hand just lounges around, doing nothing much at all. This puts quite a bit of strain on their relationship.

Director Imazaki creates a nice contrast between the two characters and the worlds they live in, but somehow both actresses can't quite get the relationship to work. There's a lot to like here, especially for a film that isn't too focused on the sexual orientation of its characters. The cinematography is beautiful, the score is pleasant (though a bit predictable), it's just the two leads who fail to fully support the drama.

Lan Yu

by Stanley Kwan
Specifics
2001 / 86m - Hong Kong, China
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Lan Yu poster

I'm not Stanley Kwan's biggest fan, but I do appreciate most of his films. It's remarkable that even a director like Kwan seems to forgo his cinematic signature when doing a gay romance/drama. It appears to be some unwritten law that few directors dare to rebel against, it certainly explains why I'm generally not too taken with these films.

Lan Yu is a young country boy who moves to the big city to study. There he runs into Chen Handong, a rich businessman. The two have a steamy night, but when dawn comes Handong is facing a tough decision. Continue his comfy lifestyle and deny his love for Yu, or start a relationship and put his reputation on the line.

Lan Yu is a decent drama, but nothing more. If the romance and/or characters don't grasp you, there's really nothing here. The cinematography is bland, the soundtrack sparse, performances are middling. And the gay-themed romance is hardly anything that stands out these days. Pretty disappointing.

Vacation Friends

by Clay Tarver
Specifics
2021 / 103m - USA
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Vacation Friends poster

What used to be a staple of the Hollywood industry, is now throwaway streaming filler. The American comedy is all but dead, only from time to time a film pops up that tepidly tries to keep the genre afloat. Vacation Friends is one of these films, and if you're after some lighter fare, it turns out to be a pretty solid flick.

Marcus is a pretty wound up guy. When he invites his girlfriend Emily with him on vacation, he has everything planned out. Nothing goes according to plan though, and they end up staying with a pretty strange and free spirited couple. After a hesitant start, Marcus and Emily do start to warm up to their new friends.

Like most American comedies, the film goes slightly off the rails in the third act, as too much drama starts drowning out the comedy. The comedy itself is delightfully daft, Cena and Howery are a real treat and the pacing is pretty much perfect. It's a shame these films never quite fully commit to being just funny, other than that this was some pretty fun and light filler.

Being Good

by Mipo Oh
Also known as
Kimi wa Iiko
Specifics
2015 / 120m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Being Good poster

A typical Japanese drama, structured as an ensemble film. It's a bit of an odd mix, nothing something you see that often, but Oh handles it well and uses it to her advantage. Because of the many characters it takes a while before the film finds its footing, but the second half is sure to please all fans of Japanese drama.

The film follows a class of young kids in a mid-sized rural village. Some of them are bullied at school, others are beaten at home, some can't fit in with the others. A first-year teacher is finding out how difficult it is to keep all these young kids in check, while learning a thing or two about his own life in the process.

Some sites have this listed as a comedy, which is absolutely crazy. Sure enough Oh ends her film on a positive note and this isn't the most depressing drama ever, but there are some pretty harsh scenes here and there's no lack of adversity for the characters. Still, she handles it with style and never lets the film derail. A warm recommend.