Fury

by Fritz Lang
Specifics
1936 / 92m - USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Fury poster

After seeing Lang's Dr. Mabuse earlier this week, his American film-noir work does start to make a bit more sense to me. There's still somewhat of a disconnect, as they are films with very different vibes, but at least I understand now that his fascination with crime cinema has always been there.

Joe Wilson is a regular guy, trying to make an honest buck as he tries to fund his wedding with Katherine, the girl of his dreams. His life is suddenly disrupted when he is jailed on suspicion of kidnapping. Wilson is innocent, but the people of the town are certain he's the culprit and an angry mob lights a fire to the jail where he is locked up.

Lang's Fury is a pretty moralistic tale that's a bit too unsubtle and heavy-handed to make a real impression. The performances are mediocre, the plot not too convincing and the styling pretty average. The pacing is decent though and the finale is slightly better than the rest of it, but I think I prefer Lang's German films.

Lamb

by Valdimar Jóhannsson
Also known as
Dýrið
Specifics
2021 / 106m - Iceland
Genre
Fantasy, Mystery
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Lamb poster

Don't be fooled by the marketing, Lamb is not your typical horror flick. I'd put it down as a dark fantasy with minor mystery and horror elements, but clearly that would make it harder to sell the film. A24 fans probably won't mind, the rest should probably brace themselves for disappointment, unless they're willing to take the film as it is.

Maria and Ingvar mourn the loss of their child, when mother nature appears to be lending them a little hand. On their farm a rather special lamb is born, which the couple takes as their own. The lamb brings them happiness, but they'll soon find that the lamb wasn't really meant for them to raise.

Lamb's a pretty typical A24 production. A moody soundtrack, long takes, silent characters, an oddball concept. Director Jóhannsson does well, Rapace and Guðnason put in nice performances, there's just a bit too much filler, and the audiovisual styling isn't quite thorough enough. A slightly more genre-driven approach might've pushed it to be a true masterpiece, as it stands, it's still a pretty intriguing film.

Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment

by Jun Ichikawa
Also known as
Tokiwa-so no Seishun
Specifics
1996 / 110m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Tokiwa: The Manga Apartment poster

A slightly more mundane Ichikawa drama. Don't come here hoping to see his minimalist style, Tokiwa is more of a traditional Japanese drama, about a manga collective in the 50s. It's a quality production and there are scenes where Ichikawa's talent shines through, but it's not Ichikawa's most notable film.

Hiro Terada lives with Osamu Tezuka in an apartment building. When Tezuka leaves, other mangakas take his place and in no time the place has become a haven for up and coming artists. Terada is the leader of the group and tries to help the younger members, as they try to figure out how to make it in a cut-throat world.

The performances are fine, the cinematography is decent, the pacing a little slow and the narrative somewhat wandering, but that's expected from a Japanese drama. I personally didn't care too much for the setting, people with an interest in the Tokiwa collective might get more out of it. A fine drama, but I expect a bit more from Ichikawa.

Zokki

by Takumi Saitoh, Naoto Takenaka, Takayuki Yamada
Specifics
2020 / 113m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Zokki poster

Zokki is an adaptation of Hiroyuki Ohashi's cult manga. I never read it, I also wasn't immediately drawn to the film, but since Naoto Takenaka was one of the directors I figured I'd give it a go anyway. I'm glad I did. Together with Saitoh and Yamada (two famous Japanese actors turned directors) Takenaka pasted together some fun, sweet and warm vignettes.

There's not really a main plot here, just a little city by the sea and some slightly oddball characters who inhabit the place. The directors take on various smaller stories, sometimes working together, sometimes by themselves. It plays almost like an anthology, though the stories aren't entirely disconnected.

If you've seen some Japanese dramas than Zokki won't have too many surprises for you. The performances are strong, the cinematography is polished, and the soundtrack is fitting. It's a calm, calming, somewhat slow film, paying a lot of attention to smaller moments, little gestures, and some light comedy. Good fun, but nothing too extraordinary.

Quiz Show

by Robert Redford
Specifics
1994 / 133m - USA
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Quiz Show poster

A big Hollywood drama, tackling the corruption of a popular TV show (based on a true story of course). Directed by Robert Redford, it's a film with few surprises, but considering the cookie cutter template it's actually not a bad effort, thanks to some inspired performances and a decent pacing.

Herbie Stempel is doing well on the Twenty-One quiz show, until the producer approaches him and tells him to take a dive. The ratings have stabilized, and the makers want Van Doren, Stempel's opponent, to win the next game. Stempel resists, but the promise of a future talk show makes him change his mind. When that show never materializes, Stempel is furious.

If you need a film to tell you that TV is fake, then Quiz Show will provide you with all the material you need. The direction is somewhat expected, and the film doesn't take any real chances, but Fiennes and Turturro are both pretty good. Not a very remarkable film, but not quite as cheesy and pushy compared to similar Hollywood dramas.

Sorcerer

by William Friedkin
Specifics
1977 / 121m - USA
Genre
Thriller, Adventure
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Sorcerer poster

Friedkin's adaptation of Le Salaire de la Peur (the book). While the film shares quite a bit of material with Clouzot's adaptation, Friedkin made it his own thing. The biggest positive is that Sorcerer is quite a bit shorter, still it drags way too much in places, Friedkin's version also isn't quite as tense as Clouzot's.

A group of poor workers is promised a big sum of money when they agree to drive a delivery with highly explosive materials across the jungle. A perilous journey they'll have to finish with two ragged trucks. While they appear confident to finish the job, they have no idea of the dangers that lie ahead.

Just like the original, the trip is the main feature here, it's a shame then that it takes so long before they even get started. The drama isn't too interesting, Friendkin's direction is a bit murky too, but at least there are some nice scenes scattered throughout. Just not enough to make this a successful thriller.

A Stranger of Mine

by Kenji Uchida
Also known as
Unmei Janai Hito
Specifics
2005 / 98m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
A Stranger of Mine poster

An old favorite of mine that isn't quite as good as I remembered. It's clear enough why I liked it the first time, the novelty plot and cheeky execution are quite fun to watch, but the styling is somewhat subpar, and the narrative isn't that surprising the second time around, which does take away from the appeal.

Miyata is still sulking because his girlfriend left is six months ago. His friend feels sorry for him and sets him up with a nice lady who just got out of a relationship herself. The two seem to hit it off, but when Miyata's old girlfriend suddenly returns the magic is gone. What looks like a trivial meeting hides quite a bit of intrigue.

Director Uchida does well to hide parts of the story, only to reiterate the same scenes later on with added knowledge. It's a nice enough setup, but once the surprise is gone the somewhat dreary cinematography, the forgettable score and decent but basic performances can't pull the weight to make this a true future classic. Good fun, not a masterpiece.

Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler

by Fritz Lang
Also known as
Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler
Specifics
1922 / 268m - Germany
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler poster

Fritz Lang going all out. In this almost 5-hour lasting epic, Lang tried to cram in everything he figured would fit in a crime flick. The result is pretty bloated of course, and in dire need of an editor, but one has to commend Lang on creating one of the earliest blueprint of rise and fall crime cinema.

The titular Dr. Mabuse is a criminal mastermind (and he sure looks the part too). He has his eyes set on the Berlin underworld, most notably the gambling scene. The law is hot on his tail though, Norbert von Wenk won't rest until he has Mabuse locked up behind bars. Safe to say, that's going to require some effort.

Though the pacing isn't too bad, the plot and characters are pretty simplistic. There's certainly not enough material to fill more than 4 hours of film, I wouldn't be surprised if some shorter cuts were a bit easier to sit through. On the other hand, it's not quite as boring as I feared, so at least this wasn't a complete bust. Recommended if you like 20s German cinema and big crime epics, it's not really for me though.

The Man from Mallorca

by Bo Widerberg
Also known as
Mannen från Mallorca
Specifics
1984 / 106m - Sweden
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Man from Mallorca poster

80s Swedish procedural. I know there's been a serious boom of these during the past decade (though mostly in the miniseries format), I'm not really sure if The Man from Mallorca counts as a predecessor. I'm not a big fan to begin with, but his was remarkable dry and droopy, even for a Swedish film.

The plot revolves around a post office robbery. Two detectives are put on the case when two witnesses of the robbery are found dead the next day. Their leads take them to a member of the secret police, but once they're on his tail, previous accounts and witnesses start to fall through, making it very hard to build a case.

It's really a very basic setup, executed with almost no flair. The comedy is bland and doesn't work well, the investigation is a real bore, the cinematography is dreadful, and the soundtrack was probably just an afterthought. This feels very generic in every possible way, best to avoid unless you really love Scandinavian police thrillers.

Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight 2

by Bartosz M. Kowalski
Also known as
W Lesie Dzis Nie Zasnie Nikt 2
Specifics
2021 / 96m - Poland
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight 2 poster

An expected sequel, after the first one turned quite a few heads, and not just because it was the first-ever Polish slasher flick. Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight was gleefully self-aware, a trait that this sequel inherited. Don't expect another slasher pastiche though, Kowalski was smart enough to add some new twists and turns.

After the events of the first film, both Zosia and the killers end up in jail. The local police chief takes Zosia back to the scene of the crime, but there she turns into a gruesome killer and shreds him on the spot. It's up to Wanessa and Adas, two police constables, to locate Zosia before she murders even more people.

The gore is pretty brutal, the characters are pleasantly daft and Kowalski proves he's not just a slasher nut, but he knows about other horror niches too. The film becomes pretty unhinged in the second half, just adds to the appeal if you ask me. A worthy sequel, bring on part three.

Chu Liuxiang: The Beginning

by Wei Dong
Specifics
2021 / 77m - China
Genre
Fantasy, Action
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Chu Liuxiang: The Beginning poster

China is rapidly raiding all its literary sources to fulfill the rising demand for films and other consumable media. Chu Liuxiang is a familiar character that has popped up in numerous Chinese/Hong Kong martial arts films in the past, now he's receiving China's economic TV treatment, though I can't say they made much of an effort with this one.

As the title gives away, this film recounts one of Liuxiang's early adventures. Liuxiang is a grand thief who uses his skills to do good. One day he runs into Mu Qianyu, heir to the power of the Devine Water Palace. Qianyu is being targeted by a female ninja, who wants the power all to herself. Liuxiang decides Qianyu can use his help and joins her quest.

Though these films are swiftly and cheaply made filler productions by nature, their baseline quality has been steadily rising these past couple of years. Chu Liuxiang seems to be taking a step back again. Poor and unnecessary CG, mediocre performances and some unwelcome melodrama take away from the film's appeal. Not all is bad, but there are definitely better films in this niche.

The Fugitive

by Andrew Davis
Specifics
1993 / 130m - USA
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Fugitive poster

A simple but decent 90s thriller. Somewhat surprisingly, Tommy Lee Jones is the star of the film and not Harrison Ford, who once again proves he's really not much of an actor, even in simpler roles. Director Davis does a decent job building up the tension and there are some nice chase sequences, though it never quite comes together to create something truly memorable.

When Dr. Richard Kimble comes home one night, he finds a stranger in his house, his wife murdered. When the police comes down to investigate the murder scene, they arrest Kimble and place him under suspicion of murder. Kimble manages to escape, but he'll be forced to prove his innocence with an entire police force on his tail.

The Fugitive isn't a very complex film. After the initial setup, Ford spends the remainder of the film running around, inching closer and closer to the final reveal. There's never any doubt that the plot will be neatly wrapped up by the time the film has ended, even so, the road there is pretty amusing. Basic but decent filler.

Shanghai Affairs

by Donnie Yen
Also known as
San Tong San Daai Hing
Specifics
1998 / 85m - Hong Kong
Genre
Action, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Shanghai Affairs poster

A Donnie Yen vehicle. Though Yen never lacked screen presence, nor the chops for onscreen fighting, his ego got the better of him when his star was rising, which made working in Hong Kong a real challenge. Shanghai affairs is a late 90s film that feels like it was 5 years late to the party, a rather cheap looking and rushed action flick with a throwaway plot.

Tong is a doctor who studied Western medicine in the UK. When he returns to China he settles in a small town, where he hopes to help out the local villagers. When he arrives, it turns out the people there are threatened by the Axe Gang. To make matters more complicated, Tong falls in love with the sister of the Axe Gang's leader.

While this sounds pretty bland, the film has one important redeeming factor, which is Yen himself. As a director/lead he has every opportunity to let the action scenes shine, and shine it does. The rest is rather subpar (though a proper remaster could help, the camera work isn't that bad really), so if you feel like some kick-ass martial arts cinema, this is a pretty solid option.

High Sierra

by Raoul Walsh
Specifics
1941 / 100m - USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
High Sierra poster

A classic crime flick with Humphrey Bogart in the lead. The entire film is practically built around Bogart, so it really comes down to how much you can stand him. I don't think he's a very enigmatic actor, put him in a bare genre film like High Sierra and there's not much to look forward to.

Bogart plays Roy, a criminal just released from prison. He gets right back into the business, this time hooking up with Red and Babe, two younger criminals. Roy also meets Velma, a young girl he falls in love with. When the robbery goes bust, Roy and Velma have to run away together, as the police are right on their heels.

There's a lot of dialogue here, most of it isn't interesting at all. The premise is very simple, the performances are rather one-note and the few action scenes aren't very convincing either. I guess films like these are way more fun if you're a hardened film noir fan, personally I find them pretty dull and forgettable.

The Deep House

by Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Specifics
2021 / 85m - France
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Deep House poster

Bustillo and Maury's latest is a film about an underwater house. That's a pretty original setting, and the duo makes sure to milk it for all it's worth. Other than that, The Deep House is a pretty basic horror film, but just that novel setting is strong enough to make a difference in a genre that is flooded with copycat films.

Tina and Ben are a couple who hunt down unknown spots for their YouTube channel. Ben receives a lead about a lake that is supposedly great for diving, but when they arrive at the place it turns out to be a tourist hotspot. A friendly local is willing to take Ben and Tina to a more remote corner of the lake, where they can dive for a flooded house.

It's a pretty simple setup, which could've been a tiny bit shorter, then again the film is already quite economic as it is. The initial discovery of the house and its chambers is by far the best part of the film, the sets are insane, and the tension is built up pretty nicely. The actual horror elements are a bit disappointing in comparison, but overall this is a pretty nifty horror flick that is sure to please genre fans.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle

by Curtis Hanson
Specifics
1992 / 110m - USA
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Hand That Rocks the Cradle poster

Vintage 90s thriller, the kind you couldn't imagine would still be made today. The film spends the first 20 minutes detailing the entire plot, the rest is just going through the motions, without any kind of twist or upset along the way. It even takes out time to explain its own title. Needless to say, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a film in dire need of tension.

Not sure how much of the plot I can spoil, since the film gives it all away anyway, but I'll try to keep it at least a little exciting. Claire is looking for a nanny, as she has a tough time juggling works and two kids. Out of the blue, Peyton applies for the job. She looks perfect, but she is linked to Claire's past, and she is looking for revenge.

So the plot is a real bore, other elements of the film are completely unable to make up for it too. The cinematography is utterly bland, the score feels like something they found for free. It's almost as if you're watching a cheap TV production, not a 90s blockbuster hit. The performances are truly poor too, which leaves ... nothing really. Best to forget all about this film as quickly as possible.

The Invincible Fist

Also known as
Tie Shou Wu Qing
Specifics
1969 / 93m - Hong Kong
Genre
Action
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Invincible Fist poster

A film that feels like it was directed by someone who finally established his blueprint and is running through the formula to tweak things here and there, hoping to push it a little further. The Invincible Fist is vintage Shaw Bros martial arts cinema, a pure genre film that doesn't surprise, but sells itself on execution.

Lo Lieh is tasked with battling a criminal gang. Hoping to learn more about them, he infiltrates the gang. What he doesn't know is that they have moles too, and Lieh soon becomes their target. To make matters even more complex, Lieh falls in love with the blind daughter of the gang's boss.

The film is nothing more than a bunch of familiar scenes and plot points stringed together. But the fight scenes in the rain do look extraordinary, there is some very cool weaponry and there's an actual post-climax finale, a true rarity. Not the best Cheh Chang film out there, but Shaw Bros fans have plenty to look forward to.

Luz

by Tilman Singer
Specifics
2018 / 70m - Germany
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Luz poster

Luz is certainly a unique project, impossible to compare with any other film I've seen. Singer created a very mysterious feature, he isn't afraid to leave much of the narrative in the dark and the mood is extremely explicit. Sounds perfect really, but somehow I left the film somewhat underwhelmed.

Luz is a Chilean woman who stumbles into a police station. She doesn't make a lot of sense, so the police calls in the help of Dr. Rossini. When he arrives he hypnotizes Luz, taking her back to earlier in the day. Luz is a cab driver and picks up an old school friend. What follows defies description.

It's nice to see that Singer fully commit to the atmosphere, but the soundtrack is a bit simplistic and the drab 70s/80s vibe didn't really do it for me. It's the rather disappointing finale that left me wanting the most though, a film like this really need to go full out, but Singer keeps everything very restrained. In the end, the atmosphere isn't powerful enough to support the sluggish pacing, but the film deserves bonus points for doing something different.

Letter from an Unknown Woman

by Max Ophüls
Specifics
1948 / 87m - USA
Genre
Romance
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Letter from an Unknown Woman poster

My first Ophüls film, a little trivia that surprised me too, to be honest. I must have him mixed up with some other director, even though I'm not really sure which one. Letter from an Unknown Woman is unfiltered romance, built on a simple premise that squeezes out as much emotion as humanly possible.

Lisa is a young girl who falls madly in love with a pianist living next door. She is too shy to confront the man, and before she can, she has to go live in a different city. When she returns to Vienna, she wrestles her way back into his life. But they only have a short time together before fate pulls them apart again.

It's a nice enough setup and the film is decently paced. It's quite short, there's just the right amount of intrigue and the performances are decent too. The cinematography and soundtrack are pretty mediocre, but the biggest problem is that the end left me completely cold, even though it was clear this was supposed to be a real tearjerker.

Spiritual Trinity

by Min Kan Ng
Also known as
Ling Huan Zhi Zun
Specifics
1991 / 93m - Hong Kong
Genre
Comedy, Action, Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Spiritual Trinity poster

Hong Kong genre work from the early 90s. A traditional mix of comedy, action and horror elements, combined to serve 90 minutes of mindless entertainment. Spiritual Trinity certainly isn't the most original film, it doesn't even pretend to be anything more than genre filler, but it does deliver on its promise, which is sure to please genre fans.

A young boy gets his family into trouble when he plays around with some science gear. The device shoots a ghost from the sky, which lands at their house and begins to haunt the place. In the meantime, two vampire hunters are chasing a particularly malicious demon. The two parties meet up, which results in quite a bit of chaos.

I'm quite fond of films like this, so I'm always happy to bump into some lesser known ones. Spiritual Trinity is straight up genre fare, but the fights are pretty cool, the styling is on point and the comedy is pleasantly daft. Hard to recommend, but if you've seen and liked all the bigger films in the genre, it's a pretty safe bet.

Rocks in My Pockets

by Signe Baumane
Specifics
2014 / 88m - Latvia
Genre
Comedy, Drama, Animation
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Rocks in My Pockets poster

Signe Baumane tackles her troubled family history and her own mental health through the creation of an animated feature film. It's a highly personal story brought with a surprising level of wit, but the English narration is excruciating, and the animation quality is disappointing, undermining the entire film.

Anna is a young woman who falls in love with a businessman 30 years her senior. Their love runs deep, but Anna's husband gets jealous and moves her to the forest, where she gets 8 kids. Years later, Anna's granddaughter asks her father about Anna's death, suspecting that she killed herself.

I haven't found a trailer or excerpt from the Latvian version, but Baumane's English narration is simply horrendous. The animation is very bland too, it feels more like an afterthought, something that moves for people to look at while they listen to Baumane's story. It's a shame not more effort was put into the presentation, as it is now, it's better suited as a radio/podcast recording.

Epitaph

by Beom-sik Jeong, Sik Jung
Also known as
Gidam
Specifics
2007 / 98m - South Korea
Genre
Drama, Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Epitaph poster

A South-Korean horror flick that stands out because of its willfully confusing plot. It's as if Jung took three shorts from an anthology and mixed them all together, without worrying too much about focus or coherence. It's a good thing the horror scenes are well executed, otherwise this would've been quite the disaster.

The setting is 1941, a South-Korean hospital. Three largely unrelated events happen in the span of a year, all hinting at the existence of ghosts (or human souls, if you will). A girl is wedded to a student, a young girl is brought into the hospital after a car accident and a doctor returns after his visit to Japan.

The film offers a typical South-Korean mix of drama and horror. The build-up is pretty solid, the execution of the horror scenes is stylish and the film forces you to keep paying attention to what's going on. Ultimately though, a confusing plot isn't enough to make this a great film. Good and solid genre filler, nothing more.

Subway

Specifics
1985 / 104m - France
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Subway poster

Luc Besson's second feature film. A fun and whimsical crime story in the subway of Paris, that maintains a light vibe throughout. Some familiar faces (I never even new Christopher Lambert was French), a wayward narrative and an interesting blend of genres makes this a fun little diversion.

Fred it being chased by some hardened criminals, after blowing their boss' vault. He finally loses them in the Paris subway, but doesn't dare to come out again. In the underground tunnels he meets up with some of society's rejects and decides to stick around for a while. The only thing that gets Fred to leave his hideout is Héléna, an alluring woman.

The most interesting thing about Subway is that it doesn't have a set narrative or clear plot. It's basically just Fred being chased in the subway and meeting up with some weird fellas, while passing the time as he tries to figure out where to go with his life. The soundtrack is decent, the cinematography is playful, and the performances are pretty light and fun. A solid Besson.

Bob le Flambeur

by Jean-Pierre Melville
Specifics
1956 / 98m - France
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Bob le Flambeur poster

Early heist film from Melville. No doubt an inspiration for many that followed in its wake, it's also nice to see Melville make a shorter, more compact film, but the monotonous performances and the ill-fitting score turn this film into a chore rather than a riveting heist. Not his best work in other words.

Bob, a former criminal, switched careers and makes money gambling. When he falls in love with a younger girl and loses big during one of his games, he plans to rob a casino. He assembles a crew and comes up with an airtight plan, but casting himself as a casino gambler puts the entire operation in jeopardy.

Melville builds up the robbery quite meticulously, but because the characters are rather boring the film becomes terribly sluggish. The jazzy soundtrack is overly cheesy, even somewhat childish, and the heist itself isn't as tense as it should've been. At least the cinematography was slightly above par, but not enough to save this film. One of Melville's weakest films I've seen.