The Hourglass Sanatorium

by Wojciech Has
Also known as
Sanatorium pod Klepsydra
Specifics
Poland [1973] - 124m
Genre
Fantasy, Mystery
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Hourglass Sanatorium poster

Polish classic that is booked as one of the weirdest films in its history. And it makes good on that promise, as it's a very colorful and confusing film that uses its mysterious and surreal setting to tackle some pretty dark themes. While it starts off pretty promising, I wasn't entirely convinced by the time the film had ended.

After a peculiar train ride, Jozéf arrives at a far off sanatorium to pay his dying father a visit. The reception is puzzling, but that's only a prelude to this mysterious place where time doesn't seem to behave as expected and where dreams, memories and fantasy all blend together to create one big, confusing experience.

The setting and cinematography are impressive, sadly the props and costumes come off a lot cheaper. Performances aren't that great either and the darker second half takes away some of the film's appeal. People with a soft spot for the weird and creative owe it to themselves to give this one a fair chance, others should tread carefully. Interesting, but not entirely successful.

The Mad Phoenix

by Clifton Ko
Also known as
Nan Hai Shi San Lang
Specifics
Hong Kong [1997] - 110m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Mad Phoenix poster

Clifton Ko is capable of delivering a decent comedy once in a while, but drama has never been his strong point. It's not really a big surprise then that The Mad Phoenix, a lengthy biography about a talented but deviant Chinese opera writer, doesn't come across as a very capable film.

Kiang Yu-Kou's intellect is apparent even at a very young age, but his arrogance doesn't make him very popular. He spends his time watching Chinese opera and even tries his hand at writing one himself, but his blossoming career is cut short when the Japanese invade Shanghai and the war starts.

The film's a bit oldskool for a '97 Hong Kong project but fails to revive its glory of just half a decade ago. Performances are weak, the cinematography is a little disappointing and overall the project feels rather cheap. Might be better for people who are more acquainted with the subject, though they might be bothered by Ko's inability to fully suppress his comedy background. Not great.

Z

by Costa-Gavras
Specifics
France, Algeria [1969] - 127m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Z poster

1969 must be one of the most political years in cinema. It's no surprise then that Z is a police thriller that deals with fascism, socialism and capitalism, though at its core it offers a pretty basic police investigation where some dedicated investigator goes to great lengths to solve a mysterious cover-up.

The death of a respected left-wing politician during a rather violent protest shocks the public. At first, it looks like an act of terrorism, but then stories start popping up that he was assassinated by his political rivals. More and more evidence points in that direction, but the investigator has to wiggle by some high-ranking officials to get to the truth.

Z is an amusing film, but that's about it. The political context is little more than dressing and the investigation is very by the numbers. More and more clues push the investigator into the right direction, who doesn't have to do much but wait until everything is thrown into his lap. It's not really a genre I'm very fond of and I didn't see anything too special here, but it was decent enough.

The Deserted City

Also known as
Haishi
Specifics
Japan [1984] - 105m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Deserted City poster

A surprisingly straightforward drama from Ôbayashi, set in Yanagawa (Japan's famous canal city - its demise was also captured in a documentary by Isao Takahata a few years later). While Ôbayashi tries to add some mystery and intrigue, it doesn't really stick and the result is a bit too cheesy for its own good.

Eguchi thinks back of the time he spent writing his thesis in Yanagawa. At the time he lived in with the Kaibara household. When he hears the sound of tears at night, he goes out to investigate and becomes part of the drama that tears the family apart. The rest of the city is in pretty bad shape too.

Performances are decent, but the intrigue simply doesn't work. Ôbayashi's style isn't very suited for serious films and when he tries to get poetic it just comes off silly. There are moments where his talent shines through and its certainly not a terrible film, just not on the same level as his other work.

Ballad of a Soldier

by Grigoriy Chukhray
Also known as
Ballada o Soldate
Specifics
Soviet Union [1959] - 88m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Ballad of a Soldier poster

Russian classic that felt a lot less remarkable than many of its peer. Not that I'm a big fan of Russian cinema, nor their classics, but even I can't deny they've made some very particular, often unique films throughout the years. In comparison, Ballad of a Solider came off rather plain and pedestrian, a simple war drama where the protagonists just happen to be Russian.

After destroying two German tanks, private Alyosha is branded a hero. Rather than accept a medal, he asks for leave so that he can visit his mom. His wish is granted, but his voyage home is not without trouble. He meets up with various people as he tries to get to his destination in time.

Performances are bland, the cinematography is rather dull and the drama is extremely predictable. I couldn't really find the appeal of this film, nor how it earned its status as one of the big classics. At least the film isn't too long, but after about 30 minutes I grew tired of it and it didn't get any better after that. Disappointing.

The Amityville Asylum

by Andrew Jones
Specifics
UK [2013] - 88m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Amityville Asylum poster

Cheaper than cheap. The Amityville Asylum has little to do with the Amityville franchise, it's just a film about a mental asylum that tries to lure a few extra viewers by referencing a famous brand. I guess it helped as I ended up watching the film, but the result is even poorer than most films in the actual franchise (and that's a pretty low bar).

So they tore the Amityville house down and put an asylum in its place. Lisa gets hired as a cleaner, but soon enough her job starts to take a serious toll on her mental health. The caretakers mistreat the patients, see sees apparitions and the ward with the criminally insane is a vile place to clean. Cue a sinister plot.

The film is just really amateurish. Performances are crap, the sound mix is hilarious (with much of the music fully drowning out the dialogues) and the cinematography is substandard. Some moments are moody, but they're completely overshadowed by the poor execution elsewhere. A bland and cheap attempt to cash in on a franchise that isn't very good to begin with.

Synchronic

by Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Specifics
USA [2019] - 102m
Genre
Sci-fi, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Synchronic poster

The new Benson & Moorhead is a solid film, no doubt a worthy choice for genre fans, but when they get too serious about their subject they start to lose me. Synchronic could've been a simple, fun genre film, but they clearly envisioned something bigger. And that's where things start to fall apart.

Dennis and Steve are two paramedics who stumble upon a new drug. When Dennis' daughter disappears after taking the drug, Steve starts an investigation on his own. The drugs acts as a time travel mechanism, but as it doesn't come with any explanation Steve has to figure out himself what the rules are.

It's a silly premise and even though the film tries to come up with an explanation, it still makes very little sense. The time travel scenes are also a bit too complex for a little genre film like this, which takes away from the impact. Performances are decent and the soundtrack is pretty great, visually it's also pretty solid, but it's just a little too serious for its own good.

Daughters

by Hajime Tsuda
Specifics
Japan [2020] - 105m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Daughters poster

A delicate, stylish and modern drama about two young women whose lives are about to be turned upside down. Stellar performances, stunning cinematography and a smart, wonderful score raise this film above the many Japanese dramas released each year. Hajime Tsuda is definitely a bright young talent to keep a close eye on.

The H-Man

Also known as
Bijo to Ekitainingen
Specifics
Japan [1958] - 79m
Genre
Horror, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The H-Man poster

A pretty disappointing Honda. I even had to double-check whether I got the right film, as it starts as a plain police/crime thriller. Not really what I expected from a Honda film, later on minor horror elements are added and his signature style starts to shine through a little, but overall it remained quite boring.

The police are trying to track down a gang of criminals who have the uncanny capability to disappear on the spot. The police is clueless, until one of the cops discovers they might have taken part in a nuclear test. Their bodies became unstable and they turn to goo whenever they're touched.

The effects are crummy, Honda isn't really suited to direct cop thrillers and the performances are quite poor. It's just a very sluggish and dull film. The finale quarter is slightly better as things heat up (quite literally), but watching transparent goo isn't as much fun as seeing someone prance around in a rubber suit. Not a fan.

Soul Hunter

by Wen Xu
Specifics
China [2020] - 96m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Soul Hunter poster

A rather messy mix of fantasy and romance. Wen Xu shoots for the moon with Soul Hunter, but doesn't really have the budget nor the technical and creative chops to pull it off. The result is a film that shows quite a bit of promise, but trips itself up one too many times and left me behind somewhat unfulfilled.

Yang Lie Xue is a soul hunter, a descendant from an alien race who help lost souls make their transition to the afterlife. She isn't very good at her job and because her family is famed for their immaculate track record, this results in quite a bit of friction. When Xue gets another chance to prove her worth, she decides to make a real effort.

The fantasy lore is interesting enough and there are moments when Xu shows he could one day be a capable director, but overall the film looks too cheap, the fantasy elements are poorly conceived and some misplaced comedy didn't help much either. It's certainly not a terrible film, it's just that the potential was there to be great, it just never really materialized.

L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties 2

by Jingming Guo
Also known as
Jue Ji 2
Specifics
China [2020] - 129m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties 2 poster

I didn't watch the first film (which I regret now), then again I didn't expect a lot from Guo's animated epic. China doesn't do CG that well and making a bold fantasy epic in 3D CG animation requires some solid technical capabilities. But lo and behold, while not a film without faults, Legend of Ravaging Dynasties 2 delivers the goods.

Qi Ling and Yin Chen embark on a journey to save Gilgamesh, the last wish of the former Duke. Their trip is made a lot harder when You Ming, Thalia and Qi La show up. They're hellbent on stopping our heroes from reaching their goal, and they've got some mean tricks up their sleeves to accomplish just that.

Guo is a young director, so it's no surprise that the film sometimes feels like an elongated cut scene from an unreleased Final Fantasy game. It's just not quite cinematic enough to be a real masterpiece, but the lore is compelling and intriguing, the action scenes are glorious and the film feels truly epic. The character models are a bit flimsy (faces can look very realistic, but the body language still feels off) and there are definitely some pacing issues, but the fantasy elements are more than sufficient to make me want to go back and watch the first film, while looking forward to the conclusion of this trilogy. Good stuff.

Wrath of Daimajin

by Kazuo Mori
Also known as
Daimajin Gyakushû
Specifics
Japan [1966] - 87m
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Wrath of Daimajin poster

The third and final part in the Daimajin trilogy. This one is a bit more adventurous compared to the first two, though the setup still remains the same. That means you won't be seeing Daimajin spring into action until the final 20 minutes, which is still a damn shame. At least the rest of the film's a bit more enjoyable.

Unsuspecting villagers are enslaved by Lord Arakawa to work in the sulfur pits. The children take it upon themselves to try and free their fathers, but the trek through the mountains is pretty treacherous. Luckily they get a little help from the big stone God, who ones again rises to fight for the fate of the innocent.

This was easily the best-looking entry in the series. The snowy scenes in the mountain were pretty great and the finale was by far the most impressive of the three films. It's a shame that there's not quite enough variation in structure between the films, as it all felt a little too predictable the third time around. This was good kaiju fun though, definitely recommended for fans of the genre.

Blue Hour

by Yuko Hakota
Also known as
Burûawâ ni Buttobasu
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 92m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Blue Hour poster

An odd but compelling little drama. Hakota shows a lot of promise, both in handling the characters and the themes of Blue Hour. While the presentation was just a bit too safe for my liking, there are flashes of true genius here. With just a little extra stability, a masterpiece is definitely within reach.

When Sunada and her friend have a little time to spare, they decide to visit Sunada's hometown for a visit to her family. Sunada isn't too proud of her rural roots, but being there unearths a lot of forgotten memories and emotions, some of which prompt her to reevaluate her current life.

The performances of Kaho and Shim Eun-kyung are stellar, the chemistry between the two is truly off the charts. Hakota aptly balances deeper and darker moments with light comedy and there are quite a few poignant moments. The soundtrack's a bit underused though and visually it's just a little too predictable. But the potential is clearly here, I'll be keeping a close eye on Hakota. Fans of Japanese drama should definitely give this one a go.

Kill!

by Kihachi Okamoto
Also known as
Kiru
Specifics
Japan [1968] - 115m
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Kill! poster

I'm not a big fan of chanbara (samurai films), which is somewhat required to get the most out of Kill!. It isn't entirely straight-faced and toys with genre conventions, but that's difficult to appreciate when you don't care much for the genre. Okamoto based Kill! on the same material as Kurosawa's Sanjuro, a film I've seen but hardly remember anything about.

A ronin arrives in a barren town, hoping to find a bit of work. The town looks deserted, not too long ago an uprising took place there, so the ronin appears to be dead out of luck. Desperate for food, he gets caught in a local feud that goes way above his head, but his will to survive is strong.

Kill! is just a smidgen over-the-top, which doesn't read as very funny when you're not too versed in rules of the genre. I mostly saw a very familiar setup with the usual elements I dislike about chanbara cinema. Crude characters, uninteresting drama and poor action scenes. Maybe I'll revisit it once I've seen more core genre efforts, but for now this was a big disappointment.

Sex, Love and Hate

Also known as
Wu Yi
Specifics
Hong Kong [1974] - 89m
Genre
Romance, Musical
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Sex, Love and Hate poster

Like Cheh Chang, famous Shaw Bros director Yuen Chor also loved to branch out once in a while. Unlike Chang, he had a penchant for romance. That sounds like a recipe for disaster (and sometimes it was), but Sex, Love and Hate is actually a pretty decent film. No doubt a bit sappy at times, but overall I liked it quite a bit more than I expected.

Three women in contemporary Hong Kong are sharing a house together. They each have a very different idea of what love is supposed to be. Pai Mei wants to marry rich and live a comfortable life, Chu Tai just wants to get married at all cost and Yao Yao is saving herself for the right man. But love isn't that straightforward.

The soundtrack isn't great and the drama is a bit much, but the cinematography elevates the film above the usual Shaw Bros fare and the film is actually quite atmospheric. Performances are decent and even though the characters are a little too stereotypical, Sex, Love and Hate succeeds in what it sets out to do. Not bad, just don't expect a typical Chor martial arts epic.

Embers

by Ramesh Sippy
Also known as
Sholay
Specifics
India [1975] - 194m
Genre
Action, Adventure, Western
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Embers poster

Embers feels a bit like a Tears of the Black Dragon avant la lettre. A very colorful, Asian reimagining of the western genre. That sounds like a lot of fun, and truth be told there are moments when it actually is. The problem is that they're hidden deep within an overly long and ill-focused film.

Gabbar is a mean criminal who made many enemies in his time. When he kills the family of an officer, the man decides it's time to get rid of Gabbar once and for all. He recruits two small-time criminals and tasks them with tracking Gabbar down and killing him before he can do any more harm.

The colorful cinematography and light tone are a pleasant departure from the norm, the plot is simple but leaves enough room for some genre fun. The problem is that the film gets way too serious, jumps from one genre to the next and grossly overstays its welcome. The usual Bollywood complaints in other words. A real shame, as with some serious trimming this could've been a pretty acceptable film.

Tomorrow Never Dies

by Roger Spottiswoode
Specifics
USA, UK [1997] - 119m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Tomorrow Never Dies poster

Brosnan's second Bond is a somewhat middling affair. Director Spottiswoode revisits some old settings/tricks and piles on a bunch of additional action. The problem is that Brosnan isn't the best action hero and with so many things blowing up, there isn't that much time left for him to be his most charming self.

Carver is a wealthy media mogul who plans to launch a worldwide news coverage agency. Behind the scenes he's staging and manipulating highly volatile political scuffles, in order to produce scoops for his network. Bond is sent in to investigate as he's had a past with Carver's wife.

Brosnan doesn't quite feel at home with so many bullets flying around, Yeoh's martial arts skills are underused and Pryce must be one of the blandest bad guys yet. There are some nifty action scenes and the film's a tad shorter than usual, but there's nothing really memorable about this Bond entry.

Promising Young Woman

by Emerald Fennell
Specifics
USA, UK [2020] - 113m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Promising Young Woman poster

Fennell's promising feature film debut is rightfully making some waves. There's quite a lot going on here, but Fennell juggles everything like a pro. It's one of those films that retains its mystery until the very end, though it lacks that little extra grit that could've turned it into a real masterpiece.

Cassie still lives with her parents and works a boring day job in a local coffee shop. She was well on her way to become a doctor, but she dropped out of school and lost all will to make something of her life. At night, she frequents bars and pretends to be drunk, trapping unsuspecting predatory men and giving them a good scare.

Promising Young Woman has everything to be a cynical, gutsy and relevant revenge thriller, but it feels like Fennell keeps pulling punches. There isn't really one identifiable thing that goes wrong, it's more like a series of missed opportunities that make it feel like the film didn't live up to its full potential. Still, some fine performances, strong cinematography and cheeky twists (not a big fan of the massacred pop songs though) make this a very worth debut.

The City of Kong Fu

by Majik Jingwei Zhou
Specifics
China [2019] - 90m
Genre
Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The City of Kong Fu poster

A simple but amusing martial arts film. It's one of those popular Chinese TV productions that are a bit hard to gauge up front, but this was one of the better ones. Some solid action scenes, goofy kung fu masters, a little comedy and a clear bad guy who may think he's winning, but is about to get his ass kicked.

Yi Li is a wannabe martial artist who roams Old Street, a tourist attraction that used to house a lot of martial arts schools. When he is hired by a wealthy group to help revive the glory of the street he gladly obliges, but little does he know that they are using him to get to the treasures of the former masters.

Performances aren't great and the comedy is a little questionable, but once the film starts to focus more on the action that's quickly forgotten. There's nothing exceptional here, it surely can't compete with the better films in the genre, but if you're starved for some decent martial arts fun than this is a pretty solid bet.

Tully

by Jason Reitman
Specifics
Canada, USA [2018] - 95m
Genre
Drama, Mystery
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Tully poster

Reitman has never been a full-on comedy director, but through the years it seems the fun and comedy has been slowly disappearing from his films. Tully is still booked as a comedy/drama, but I have to wonder if that it's just based on Reitman's profile or whether there's some sly comedy I simply didn't catch.

Marlo struggles with her responsibilities as a mom. She has two kids and a third one the way, her husband isn't helping much around the house and her oldest is having troubles in school. Marlo is at the end of her wits, but things change when she hires Tully, a night nanny who helps her out so she can get a decent rest.

It's not the most imaginative setting and even though Theron does her best, she'll still somewhat of a miscast. Once Davis hits the screen things get a little better, but some silly twists and questionably executed scenes in the second part don't do the film any good. Not a terrible film, just rather mediocre.

Django

by Sergio Corbucci
Specifics
Spain, Italy [1966] - 91m
Genre
Western
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Django poster

Slightly more amusing than its US counterparts. After seeing at least two contemporary films based on Django's character, it was time to get acquainted with the original. I'm not a big fan of westerns and probably never will be, but the original is at least a bit juicier compared to other films in the genre.

Django arrives in a little town close to the Mexican border. The town is overrun by members of the Klan and a group of Mexican bandits, turning the town into one big lawless battlefield. Django tries to keep out of their affairs, but inevitably gets drawn into their rivalries, with deadly consequences.

The characters are a bit livelier and there's a stronger focus on action, which makes it a little easier to sit through. I still don't care much for the setting and there's still too much posing and boring conversation to make it truly entertaining, but compared to its peers Django is a breath of fresh air.

Yakuza Law

Also known as
Yakuza Keibatsu-shi: Rinchi!
Specifics
Japan [1969] - 96m
Genre
Action, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Yakuza Law poster

Teruo Ishii's mini-anthology on the code of the Yakuza. Three shorts each handle a different aspect of the code, though the setup of each story is very much alike. I'm not the biggest fan of this format to be honest, I prefer more varied anthologies, but at least Ishii makes sure things never gets boring.

The first two shorts are set in ancient Japan (Edo and Taisho era) while the last one takes place in a more contemporary (and common Yakuza) setting. Though the title of the film focuses on the law part, Ishii has more interest in what happens when they are broken, which makes for some very gruesome punishments.

While the exploitation elements are definitely fun, Ishii seemed a little too confident in the technical side of his production. Paint-like blood and rubber body replacements don't work that well from up close. The pacing is high though and there are some very nasty kills that will no doubt please genre fans.