The Guilty

Specifics
2021 / 90m - USA
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Guilty poster

A straight-up remake of the Danish original, with some extra (but unnecessary) Hollywood touches here and there. It's actually quite interesting to watch them close together, as it becomes easier to pinpoint what exactly constitutes an "American remake". Not too surprisingly, the result is worse than the original.

Joe is a demoted officer on call duty. In between more pedestrian 911 calls, he receives a message of a woman who is being kidnapped by her husband. Joe tries his best to save the woman, but when the HCP stop the wrong van it seems the two are lost. Joe goes above and beyond to solve the case from his station.

Most of the plot and the dialogue are copied from the original. There is a bit more padding (to clear up certain plot points) and some slight changes that take some edge off. Gyllenhaal isn't at his best and the film does leave the call station for a single scene, which was pretty unnecessary. Not terrible, but make sure you watch the original first.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

by Destin Daniel Cretton
Specifics
2021 / 132m - USA
Genre
Fantasy, Action, Adventure
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings poster

Marvel goes Asian-American. Apparently, Shang-chi is a lesser known Marvel hero, but since I'm largely unaware of anything Marvel outside the film sphere, it didn't matter much for me. My only real interest in this film was to see how Tony Leung would do, though it's a good thing I kept my hopes low.

The story starts with two loafers, one of them turns out to be the son of a mythical crime syndicate boss. He left his old life behind years ago, of course it's coming back to haunt him. His father sent some men to get the jade pendant given to him by his deceased mom. His sister has the same one, so Shang-chi will have to find her as quickly as possible.

Shang-chi is a typical "USA does China" film, stuck in uncanny valley. There are quite a few parallels with the cheesy Chinese CG fests that have plagued Chinese movie screen though. The CG's a bit better, the aesthetics are a bit worse, the result is pretty much the same. Very mediocre film making that will be quickly forgotten.

Winter's Bone

by Debra Granik
Specifics
2010 / 100m - USA
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Winter's Bone poster

A somewhat basic and predictable blend of drama and crime, but because of Granik's dedication to style and story it does end up a pretty decent film. The rough and inhospitable setting is perfect for this type of story, and even though it starts off rather slow, the film never lost my attention.

Ree has been given the care of her two younger siblings and her sick mother. Her father is out doing some shady business, but doesn't seem to be coming back this time. When the money runs out and there's a chance they'll be evicted, Ree sets out to find her dad, but wherever she goes she is met with defiance and indifference.

The muted color palette adds to the dramatic tension, performances are fine and the slow unraveling of the mystery was aptly paced. The film isn't exactly subtle though and even though the intrigue is there, Granik never takes it anywhere surprising or truly exciting. Solid genre work, but nothing more.

Sleepers

by Barry Levinson
Specifics
1996 / 147m - USA
Genre
Crime
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Sleepers poster

It's at least 20 years since I last saw this one, way before I started tracking films I watched. I remembered it as a solid flick, but was in no real hurry to see it again, as I've since lost my interest in these types of elongated crime stories. It's certainly not as bad as some others, but it's not all that special either.

Four kids grow up in Hell's Kitchen, a notorious neighborhood in New York. They're rascals who scour the edge of the law, until one fated day they steal a hot dog cart and nearly kill a man doing so. They're all sent to a correctional facility, where they are severely mistreated by the guards.

2.5 hours is a lot, then again the film covers a lot of ground. Performances are decent, and somehow I do like Levinson a tad more than most of his Hollywood contemporaries, even though his directorial style isn't all that defined. The plot is pretty standard though and the film has few surprises, nor does it dare to get very graphic. Just decent.

Office Royale

by Kazuaki Seki
Also known as
Jigoku no Hanazono
Specifics
2021 / 102m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
Office Royale poster

If you thought high school Yakuza warfare was weird, just wait until you see this strange office lady take on the genre. It's clear that the delivery of the material is extremely tongue-in-cheek, mixed with director Seki's dry wit, it makes for a pretty hilarious film. The performances are fun, the visual style is flashy and attractive and there are some fun twists and turns that play around with established genre clichés. It certainly helps to be familiar with franchises like Crows Zero or High & Low, if you like that kind of thing than this is an easy recommend.

Salaam Bombay!

by Mira Nair
Specifics
1988 / 113m - India
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Salaam Bombay! poster

Not a Bollywood film, though that doesn't mean it's better or more interesting. Salaam Bombay is a pretty basic drama about a kid that lives on the streets in a city that doesn't really care for his fate. You can pretty much fill in all the blanks from that meager description, Nair doesn't really add much beyond.

Krishna is a young boy loving on the streets of Bombay. He is doing odd jobs to save up money, money that will buy him a ticket out of the city. Life is tough though and around every corner are people who want to take advantage of Krishna. When he becomes involved with a drug courier, Krishna's life takes a dive.

It's a tragic story no doubt, but Nair's direction is pretty bland. The performances aren't always great either, the drama is a bit too predictable, and the conclusion felt a bit random. People who love this kind of social drama will certainly get more from this film, for me, it lacked cinematic quality.

The Guilty

by Gustav Möller
Also known as
Den Skyldige
Specifics
2018 / 85m - Denmark
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Guilty poster

A pretty minimalistic thriller. The Guilty is one of those single-location films that shows none of the action. It's an interesting concept that has been done before, but never really became a niche of its own, so whenever a director takes a swing at it, it still feels quite fresh and different.

Asger is working the emergency calls, when he gets a call from a woman who is being kidnapped. Her assailant is setting next to her in the car, and she addresses Asger as if she was speaking to her daughter. Asger immediately understands that the situation is critical, and will do anything to rescue the woman.

It's clear from the start that the film is about to stick with Asger throughout the entire runtime. Not knowing what exactly is going on the other end of the line is what drives the tension, still director Asger could've done more with it. Performances are decent but nothing special, the added drama feels a tad too much like filler and the ending is a bit silly, but the foundation is pretty solid and the short runtime makes sure the film never drags on for too long. Decent.

Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty

by Leni Riefenstahl
Also known as
Olympia 2. Teil - Fest der Schönheit
Specifics
1938 / 103m - Germany
Genre
Documentary, Sport
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty poster

Part 2 of Riefenstahl's big Olympic documentary. It's more of the same really, so don't expect any big turnarounds. The closing ceremony is the most cinematic part of the documentary (also the shortest), the rest of the time is spent on filming a series of different sporting events.

There's historic value here, as Riefenstahl's techniques are ahead of its time. By modern standards it isn't all that special though, so I didn't really get much out of it. Don't expect any exciting sporting matches or built up tension, the registration of the games themselves is actually pretty subpar, instead Riefenstahl seems more interested in the aesthetic beauty.

What will stay with me the most though is how amateurish the games were back then. Of course, the original Olympic Games were set up for amateurs only, but if you compare the events (the gymnast disciplines in particular) with today's athletes, this is complete amateur hour. Not completely uninteresting, but hardly worth the runtime.

Powder

by Victor Salva
Specifics
1995 / 111m - USA
Genre
Drama, Fantasy
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Powder poster

I know Victor Silva primarily as a horror director, but apparently he also branched out a bit to different genres. Powder is a rather odd mix of drama and fantasy, an ugly duckling story with minor fantasy elements that slowly take over the film. I can't say it was a big success, but at least it was somewhat interesting.

One day, an adolescent boy is found in the basement, with his father lying dead elsewhere in the house. It's clear the boy has never seen the light of day. A caretaker takes him under her wings, but the people in town down really like the odd-looking boy. When he turns out to have special powers, it just makes things worse for him.

The premise is neat and Flanery's performance is on point. The drama is vintage Hollywood though. Quite cheesy, with dumb bad guys, predictable hurdles and a downright kitsch ending. The film keeps on alternating the good with the bad, so it never becomes a true disaster, but Silva isn't really the man for this type of thing.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

by Shane Black
Specifics
2005 / 103m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang poster

A classic film noir through the lens of a comedy. Take out Downey Jr. and his cheeky narration, and it's not hard to imagine this film in black and white, with a bit more rain and a grittier conclusion. That novel spin is what makes Kiss Kiss Bang Bang stand out though, just not quite as much as it used to.

Harry is a petty thief who finds himself in Los Angeles after barging in on a casting call while fleeing from the police. There he bumps into Harmony, a wannabe actress who struggles to keep her head above water. Harry is completely smitten by the girl, but she spells trouble, and before he knows it his life is filled with corpses.

Downey is the heart of the film. His typical delivery makes the comedy and narration stick. With a little help from Black (some fun editing and nice visual touches), that's well enough to make this an entertaining film. It's just not quite as special and original anymore as it was the last time I watched it. I still like the film a lot, but the genius is gone.

The Ascent

by Larisa Shepitko
Also known as
Voskhozhdenie
Specifics
1977 / 111m - Soviet Union
Genre
Drama, War
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Ascent poster

Russian war flick that cares more about philosophical and interhuman issues than bullets and explosions. It's an arthouse cult film that is sure to appeal to people who appreciate Eastern-Europe dreariness and unfiltered, abstract philosophical pondering, I'm clearly not that guy.

Two Soviet partisans are traversing occupied Russia, trying to keep out of the hand of the Germans. The barren landscape and cold winter setting makes their trip excruciating. When they are finally caught, the difference between the two is immediately clear. One will do anything to survive, the other stands by his principles.

The first half of the film is passable. The snowy setting and stark black and white cinematography go well together. The second half becomes a lot more dialogue-heavy and the blunt, almost screamy philosophical claptrap really didn't do it for me. Not that I expected the world from this film, but I did expect it to be better than this.

Happy Ghost IV

Also known as
Kai Xin Gui Jiu Kai Xin Gui
Specifics
1990 / 88m - Hong Kong
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Happy Ghost IV poster

Clifton Ko's fourth entry in the Happy Ghost series. This is just more of the same, so if you hated the previous films there's probably not much here for you. Not that I'm the biggest fan myself, but I do enjoy myself some Hong Kong comedy from time to time, and I actually thought this was the funniest one of the bunch so far.

Raymond Wong is back in full effect. He landed a teaching job at a new school, and he's planning to get married to his girlfriend. The kids at the school are making his life harder than it needs to be though, to make matters worse his old self is still hanging around and the ghost of an evil warlord is chasing his girlfriend for past-life mistakes.

The film starts out pretty tame, the first half hour offers little more than simple Raymond Wong comedy sketches. The film does pick up steam during the second half. The comedy gets crazier, the pacing is excruciating, and the finale is pretty wild. You probably don't need to see the earlier films to enjoy part IV, but some prior experience with Hong Kong comedy is an absolute must.

Sand

Specifics
2018 / 80m - Taiwan
Genre
Experimental
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Sand poster

The latest entry in Tsai's Buddhist walker series. I will say I wasn't too impressed with his previous entries, nor with anything he did in the past decade. Tsai has gone more in the direction of ego-documentaries and art installations, and while Sand fits the description of the latter, the longer runtime works in its favor (something surprisingly).

There is no plot, none whatsoever. This is just Lee Kang-sheng dressed as a monk, walking very (very) slowly. The film consists of 16 static shots with just that. There is no dialogue, no apparent goal or destination, no camera movement. Just a guy walking around at a snail's pace. If that sounds like hell, don't even go near this film.

The shorts left me pretty cold, mostly because they weren't long enough to get me in the mood. This is the kind of film that transfixes, but it actually needs a certain run-in period to get you in that mood. The aesthetic quality of the film also seems higher, the ambient sounds are soothing, and the length is just right. Pretty hard to recommend, but this film like Tsai making a real effort again.

The Cleansing Hour

by Damien LeVeck
Specifics
2019 / 94m - USA
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Cleansing Hour poster

At first glance, this looked like it was going to be a simple streaming horror. The kind of film that plays off the found footage hype as an excuse to do horror on the cheap. It turned out to be a pretty clever disguise. As the plot thickens, it starts to shine through that director/writer LeVeck is slightly more ambitious.

Max and Drew are the creators of a streaming show that specializes in exorcisms. Max is the producer, Drew plays a priest hungry for (social) followers. When one of their victims fails to turn up, Max' girlfriend takes her place. When she becomes possessed by a real demon, subscriber counts go through the roof, but Max and Drew find themselves at a loss.

The start of the film is a bit basic, not in the least because the streaming thing is becoming a little overused. But the film more self-conscious than most of its peers and the execution is actually pretty nice. The effects aren't top-notch, even so LeVeck transcends that and delivers a pretty amusing horror flick. Good fun for genre fans.

Master of the Flying Guillotine

by Jimmy Wang Yu
Also known as
Du Bi Quan Wang Da Po Xue Di Zi
Specifics
1976 / 81m - Hong Kong
Genre
Action
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Master of the Flying Guillotine poster

Having seen mostly Shaw Bros martial arts films from the 70s, it's sometimes nice to break out and see what else is out there. Not that Master of the Flying Guillotine is terribly obscure, it did become a somewhat unlikely cult hit in the West. It's certainly not as polished or accomplished as the Shaw Bros stuff, but it's a tad grittier and more aimed at delivering pure genre fun, which ain't a bad thing.

The film pitches the one-armed boxer against the master of the flying guillotine. After the former killed two disciples of the latter, a showdown is inevitable. The master is a very powerful and ruthless man, he sets off on a veritable killing spree, picking up some other martial artists along the way. The one-armed boxer will have to be cunning if he wants to get rid of his opponent.

There's a lot of fighting going on here. The story advances through rather short bursts of dialogue, the rest is just extended fight sequences, tournaments and trap building. The choreography is a bit mixed, but there are some cool weapons and a pleasant level of creativity. You really have to love martial arts flicks, other than that there's really not much here, but if you do, you can't really go wrong with this film.

Lilies of the Field

by Ralph Nelson
Specifics
1963 / 94m - USA
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Lilies of the Field poster

A complete cheese bomb. I'm pretty sure even someone like Walt Disney would've thought the film was maybe a bit much. The characters are full-on, one-dimensional caricatures, there's hardly any drama (the worst thing that happens is a shipment of bricks being late) and the plot is silly as can be. But at least the film as an overall pleasant vibe, which is quite rare.

Homer Smith, a black baptist, is crossing the desert when his car suddenly fails him. Luckily, there's a farm close by. When he gets there he is greeted by 5 nuns. They are quite pushy, and they talk him into doing some chores for them. Before he knows it, he's staying with the nuns and building them a church.

All characters are inherently good here, and when their vanity pops up it is immediately remedied with some wise words from the rest of the cast. The plot is completely saccharine, the styling is bland, but the pacing is decent, and it's also somewhat refreshing to spend some time with characters that aren't total douchebags. Some redeeming qualities, but not a great film.

Dinosaur

by Eric Leighton, Ralph Zondag
Specifics
2000 / 82m - USA
Genre
Adventure, Animation
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Dinosaur poster

Less a film, more a CG spectacle that was banking on the 90s popularity of dinosaurs. There are shimmers of a plot, with some obvious morality lessons thrown in for goof measure, but ultimately we're just meant to ogle at the astounding realism of the dinosaurs. Twenty years down the line, it just isn't all that spectacular anymore.

Aladar is a dinosaur adopted by a group of lemurs. They find his egg on their island and decide to raise him as one of their own. Aladar lives a good life, but then a meteor shower hits Earth and destroys their home. They're forced to look elsewhere for a place to live, which marks the start of a long and perilous trip that will require much sacrifice.

Dinosaur is all tech, no aesthetic. Twenty years down the line that means that visually, it's a very unattractive film. The story isn't much to look at either, the characters are pretty annoying and Disney's magical life lessons are best soon forgotten. At least the film is pretty compact, that's about the only positive here really.

As White as in Snow

by Jan Troell
Also known as
Så Vit Som En Snö
Specifics
2001 / 154m - Sweden
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
As White as in Snow poster

A biography that is mostly fictional. It's certainly not the first film to pull that trick, but I never quite get the point of these films. Generally speaking documentaries are better suited to learn about a person, still, if you opt to make a feature film, why would you adapt the life of a person and add a bunch of scripted stuff that never happened?

The film tells the life of Elsa Andersson, a young girl who grows up on a farm, but dreams of becoming an aviator. Her parents, nor the people in her village really understand Elsa's fascination with the sky, but she is determined to follow her dreams, even though her father would prefer if she stayed on the farm.

There are some flashes of quality here, mostly some dreamier moments in between the more traditional drama parts. Performances are decent, but the plot is awfully dull, the styling feels a bit bland and the runtime is inexcusable. It might've been a better film if they'd gone full fiction, this felt like a contrived and lazy attempt to pay homage to Elsa Andersson.

Nixon

Specifics
1995 / 192m - USA
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Nixon poster

Another political epic from Oliver Stone, this time focusing on Nixon. The film isn't just the Watergate scandal though, but span's Nixon's entire career. While it starts off pretty decent, the rise part of the story is by far the most interesting. The second half is way more dramatic and starts to drag quite a bit.

Nixon is a successful lawyer who sides with the Conservatives and wants to unite his country. A first attempt to become president fails, but after Kennedy is assassinated and the US finds itself stuck in the Vietnam War, Nixon sees his chance to try again. This time with more success, though he'll find that being a president isn't as easy as he'd hoped.

Stone has quite a bit of fun with the rise of Nixon. The pacing is solid, there's some (limited) visual prowess and some memorable scenes. Once things go downhill for Nixon the film grinds to a halt. Hopkins is too much of a caricature, the drama doesn't really register, and the film goes on for way too long. If you're really interested in Nixon, it's probably better to watch a good documentary.

Zone 414

by Andrew Baird
Specifics
2021 / 98m - Ireland
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Zone 414 poster

Pretty basic genre fare. Zone 414 is a film that royally borrows from Blade Runner, but doesn't really have the budget to do its sci-fi world justice. And so, there are many drawn-out conversations and some copycat world building that drag the film down. There are still some interesting bits though, so sci-fi fans should probably give it a go anyway.

David is a former cop who gets hired by the CEO of an android-producing company to retrieve his daughter. She fled to Zone 414, a place where humans and androids live together. The first thing David needs to do is to seek out Jane, an android who doesn't quite restrict herself to her programmed routines.

Pearce is surprisingly weak, Lutz is better but isn't given all that much to work with. Some settings are moody, Baird does his best to bring the place to life and the second half does add some intrigue, but the film never really escapes the shadow of its big brothers. Decent sci-fi filler, but I'd hoped for a bit more.

Hell

by Luis Estrada
Also known as
El Infierno
Specifics
2010 / 149m - Mexico
Genre
Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Hell poster

Mexican crime epic, that starts quite light and amusing, but ends on a much more serious note. I wouldn't go as far as to call it a comedy, instead the film seems to contrast the outwardly flashy appeal of criminal life with the harder truths that lurk beneath. Estrada's film is just a little too safe to make a big impact.

After Benny is extradited from the US, he ends up back in Mexico, where his life feels somewhat bleak and pointless. When his brother, a local criminal, dies in a drug feud, Benny takes over his brother's life and becomes a dealer himself. At first it seems like an easy way towards a comfortable life, but when Benny's boss gets into a conflict with another drug lord, people start falling like flies.

Performances are nice enough and the yellow glow gives the film some welcome flair. The first half of the film is pretty fun, when things get more serious though it quickly becomes clear that there's simply not enough meat here to warrant the epic scale and runtime of the film. Not bad, just a bit overblown in places.

Camille Claudel

by Bruno Nuytten
Specifics
1988 / 175m - France
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Camille Claudel poster

French drama about Camille Claudel, a famous (?) French sculptor who rose to fame in the early 20th century. I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to the classic arts, so it's no surprise I was entirely unaware of her background and story. Nuytten makes a decent effort to capture her character, but seems to get lost a bit too much in Claudel's relationship with Rodin.

Camille is a talented artist who gets noticed by Auguste Rodin. She impresses him so much that he takes her as his apprentice. Camille is smitten by Rodin, but finds it hard to be nothing more than his mistress. As she starts to understand that she'll never be more than Rodin, she tries to get out from under his wings.

For a film celebrating a female artist, Claudel is a surprisingly weak and dependent character. Adjani and Depardieu both put in commendable performances, the film sports a pleasantly warm, romantic look, only three hours is a bit much. Nuytten could've cut at least 60 minutes of material, and he would've ended up with a better film.

The Long Goodbye

by Robert Altman
Specifics
1973 / 112m - USA
Genre
Mystery, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Long Goodbye poster

So far Altman's film haven't really impressed me. My expectations of The Long Goodbye were pretty dim, as it's one of his earlier films and I generally don't take well to 70s crime. But lo and behold, Altman laid-back style and Gould's fine performance made this a pretty fun flick after all.

Marlowe is a private detective who helps Terry, a friend of him, escape to Mexico. The next day the police appear on Marlowe's doorstep, as Terry's wife has killed herself. The police take him in, once it's clear that this is a suicide case Marlowe is released again. He doesn't trust the story and starts an investigation on his own.

The recurring musical theme (in different executions) is fun, the lead character is charismatic and Altman doesn't take the story too serious, which is always a plus. The plot itself is pretty basic and the film could've been a bit shorter, other than that it's one of the better USA 70s classics I've seen to date.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

by David Yates
Specifics
2018 / 134m - UK
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald poster

A predictable sequel. I can't say I remember an awful lot of the first film, except that like the Harry Potter films, it was all a bit too childish for me. They certainly didn't fix that in the second part (and why would they, these films make quite a bit of money), but somehow I did manage to enjoy the setting slightly more.

Grindelwald escapes from his prison and sets out to rule the world. He tries to convince other wizards to join him, as he promises him a world where they will be elevated above all other creatures. Dumbledore and his former student Newt aren't going to just let this happen, and so they set out to stop Grindelwald.

A simple plot that pits the same characters against each other once again. The characters are pretty silly, so is their feud, but the world they inhabit is quite interesting and Yates doesn't skimp on the fantasy. It's not a great film by all means, but it is a slight step up from its predecessor.

Stepmom

by Chris Columbus
Specifics
1998 / 125m - USA
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Stepmom poster

Sentimental Hollywood nonsense. A film like this could be interesting, if it had some lifelike characters, fitting direction or some genuine emotion. Instead, you get Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, an extremely sentimental score and some kitschy drama. Then again, what would you expect from a Chris Columbus film.

Luke and Jackie are divorced, but Luke already has a new love in his life: Isabel. His kids don't really like Isabel as they see her as a replacement for Jackie. There's quite a bit of tension between them, until Jackie hears she has cancer. This changes their relationship, as time is running out for her.

Though the film is called Stepmom and there's plenty of potential drama there already, it wasn't quite enough for Columbus, so he introduced a character with cancer. It's a really odd turn of events that puts the film on an entirely different track, which just seems to underline that Columbus had no idea how to fill two hours of film with genuine, human drama. A very poor effort.