Atlantic City

1980 / 104m - Canada
Crime
1.5*/5.0*
Atlantic City poster

Louis Malle's little trip to the US isn't very exciting. Usually it's pretty interesting when a foreign director shows his take on a country not his own, but Atlantic City felt like a pretty basic US 70s crime flick to me. Draw colors and dreary, unappealing characters sleaze their way through the titular city.

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Susan moves away from her drug-dealing husband to start a new life in Atlantic City. She finds a job in a casino, but her husband tracks her down and weasels his way back into her life, hoping to make a big score. Susan gets help from an old neighbor, an old, petty criminal who pretends to be a big shot.

Sarandon and Lancaster are rather poor leads, the drab cinematography doesn't do the film any favors and the plot isn't much to look at. If you're into this type of grayish 70s crime then it's probably a film worth seeking out, personally I think it's a pretty big step back from the other Malle film I've seen.

Twisted Justice

Nihon De Ichiban Warui Yatsura
2016 / 135m - Japan
Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Twisted Justice poster

You can't really pin Shiraishi down to a single genre, but the man clearly love a good, gritty crime flick. Twisted Justice is another decade-spanning crime epic about a crooked cop in the Hokkaido police. It's not a very original film, the only real surprise is that Shiraishi put a modern spin on the soundtrack.

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Moroboshi is a young cop who just joined the Hokkaido police force, ready to make the world a better place. He'll quickly learn that things aren't that clear-cut out there. His colleagues cheat and bribe their way to success, and it doesn't take long before Moroboshi picks up a couple of their tricks.

Go Ayano's performance is great, the build-up of the film is strong, and the score is pretty interesting. It's still a very typical crooked cop/Yakuza crime flick, and it's not a film that is going to turn the genre upside down, but it's clear that Shiraishi has a real feel for the genre. So far, he hasn't disappointed me yet.

Ghost Lab

2021 / 117m - Thailand
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Ghost Lab poster

Not the best Thai horror film around, not all that scary either, but if you're looking for some easy filler than the film is a pretty decent option. There was a time when Thai cinema was not quite as slick and commercialized, but it seems that at least for the time being, this is the type of genre film we're going to see from them.

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Two medical students witness an apparition at their university. They decide to investigate the existence of ghosts for themselves and start an experiment. When the results aren't what they hoped for, they are willing to have last one go at it: one of the two will kill himself, hoping to return to the other as a ghost.

The performances are rather weak, and it takes a while before the film gets going. Once Ghost Lab finds its footing though, there are some pretty nifty horror scenes. Not the most scary or gruesome you've ever seen, but pretty nasty and entertaining nonetheless. Solid filler, nothing more, nothing less.

Get Carter

1971 / 112m - UK
Thriller, Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Get Carter poster

70s crime thriller. The era of drab colors and semi-gritty/realistic cinema, if that's your thing Get Carter's got you covered. It's certainly not my shtick, but Michael Caine's performance did make it a bit easier to sit through. That and a pretty decent ending. It's a shame the rest of the film couldn't have been more like that.

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Caine plays a London gangster, who travels to Newcastle for his brother's funeral. Once there, he starts to suspect that his brother might have been murdered, and so he throws himself into the local crime scene. Newcastle is a pretty grim and dangerous place, but Caine is no sweetheart either.

Caine is pretty badass, it's just that I don't really care for that bland 70s vibe. Everything looks so gray, desolate and drab, the characters aren't all that interesting and the plot isn't really a winner either. The last ten minutes are more stylized and show a different side, but not quite enough to save this film.

Tangerines

Mandarinebi
2013 / 87m - Georgia
Drama, War
2.0*/5.0*
Tangerines poster

A little Georgian film that caused quite a buzz. Tangerines turned out to be a pretty typical East-European drama, quite low on style, leaning heavily on a central concept and the drama flowing from that. It received high grades everywhere, so it's definitely vibing with a lot of people, just not me.

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Ivo and Margus are two Estonians who didn't flee for the war in Georgia (1990). Margus has a tangerine orchard, Ivo a small wood shop where he makes the crates to transport the tangerines. After a small scuffle near their homes, Margus takes in two wounded soldiers. Though the two soldiers are enemies, Margus forces them to bury the hatchet in return for his care.

Tangerines is not a bad film, it's just a bit uneventful, especially as the concept didn't really appeal to me. The anti-war message isn't very subtle, the conversations between the men not that interesting, and the lack of overt styling didn't do the film any good either. It's a short and gentle drama, but nothing very memorable.

Blank 13

2017 / 70m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Blank 13 poster

Takumi Saitoh's first feature film is a pretty interesting one. Probably best known for his acting work, it turns out Saitoh also has some directing chops. Though Blank 13 is a pretty basic drama in essence, there are some fun and notable directorial touches that help to set it apart from its peers.

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Masato Matsuda is addicted to mahjong. He neglects his family and his debt is mounting. 13 years after leaving his family behind, Matsuda dies. His two sons know very little about their father, but as the people attending his funeral start sharing stories, they finally get to know the man that abandoned them.

Saitoh's use of sound is remarkable. The slight (and dry) comedy touches are compelling, the way he cuts up the narrative and still makes it look effortless is also very worthwhile. The actors do a solid job, the drama is pleasant, and the film looks decent enough. Not the greatest Japanese drama out there, but a very solid film from a promising director.

Buy a Suit

Sûtsu wo Kau
2008 / 47m - Japan
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Buy a Suit poster

A little DIY project that marked Jun Ichikawa's sudden departure from this world. He died on the night he finished editing this film, a little indie drama shot with amateur actors (his friends, basically). It's not really the magnum opus you'd hope a man like Ichikawa would leave us with, but it's not a terrible film.

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The plot is pretty basic, it's more of an excuse to follow the main characters around. A woman receives a postcard with a rather cryptic message on it, vaguely revealing the location of her lost brother. She travels to Tokyo to track him down, and finds him living under a bridge as a homeless person.

Don't go in expecting a polished, stylized film, like Ichikawa's more commercial projects. It's really a more free-flowing indie drama. There are three characters that are loosely connected, each of them is given some time in the spotlight. The camera work is basic, the soundtrack does add a bit of atmosphere. There are moments of beauty here, but it's not really enough to stand out in such a densely populated genre.

Encanto

2021 / 99m - USA
Fantasy, Musical, Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Encanto poster

A true musical. Though Disney is known for stuffing their animated films with songs, the cinematography and (lack of) choreography never really matched any musical aspirations. That's not the case here. Encanto feels more like an animated Baz Lurhmann film, fully leaning into its musical number. And it's all the better for it.

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The Encanto is a small, magical place where the Madrigal family lives. Their house is alive and every member of the family has a special gift. Except for Maribel. When the time came for her to receive her blessing, the house rejected her, leaving her the odd one out. When the Encanto starts losing its magic, the members of the Madrigal family seem to think it is Maribel's doing.

Encanto is a technical wonder. The level of detail is incredible and a lot of attention was given to more traditional cinematic qualities (like the camerawork and editing), helping the film to attain a proper aesthetic. The characters are fun, there's no irritating sidekick, the hysterics are mostly absent, and the comedy is actually pretty decent. I'm still not the biggest musical fan and the songs are somewhat drab, other than that this was a very nice surprise. A very happy, colorful and charming film.

The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk 2

Fong Sai Yuk Juk Jaap
1993 / 95m - Hong Kong
Action
The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk 2 poster

If you liked the first Fong Sai-Yuk, there's really no reason why you wouldn't like this one. Filmed in succession, released in the same year, with pretty much the same primary cast. These films are a playground for Corey Yuen, who was able to work out some of the best martial arts routines of the 90s for these films. Other than that, you'll find the usual mix of comedy and action, with most of the attention going to martial arts scenes. True genre fare, but close to the best in its class.

I'm No Longer Here

Ya no Estoy Aquí
2019 / 112m - Mexico
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
I'm No Longer Here poster

A film about a niche Mexican counterculture calling itself Kolombia. It's an interesting enough premise about a slice of youth culture I knew next to nothing about, but the film is somewhat let down by the often meandering narrative. There's quality and value here, but I don't think Frias made the most of its potential.

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Ulises is the leader of the small gang in Monterrey. They spend their days listening and dancing to slowed-down Cumbia music. When his gang gets into trouble, Ulises is forced to leave the city. He crosses the border to try his luck in Queens, but he had trouble adapting to his new environment.

The lead performance is strong, the cinematography is appealing enough. The film keeps jumping back and forth in time to add a little intrigue to the plot, but there isn't really enough there to warrant the near 2-hour runtime. A slightly faster pacing or tighter styling would've made this a better film for me, but it's certainly worth a watch.

Tom Jones

1963 / 129m - UK
Comedy, Romance
1.0*/5.0*
Tom Jones poster

Another example that the American film prizes are worth jack. Not sure what made people fall in love with this film some 50 years ago, but this was just downright bland and annoying. Tom Jones is a light-hearted costume drama about a promiscuous boy, but lacks any skill or refinement to make it interesting.

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Tom Jones is suspect of being the bastard son of an English lord. He is brought up in good standing and is madly in love with Sophie, but he can't marry her because of his reputation. Sophie's suitor makes it so that Tom gets banished from his home, after which he sets out in search of his real father.

The comedy is drab, the pacing all over the place, the cinematography paltry. I didn't care much for the plot and the characters, nor for anything else to be honest. I'm not the biggest costume drama fan to begin with, but this was a notable low in the genre. It's a film that has slipped into obscurity after winning its big prizes, and that's where this one belongs.

That Is the Way

Korede Iinoda! Eiga Akatsuka Fujio
2011 / 111m - Japan
Comedy
3.0*/5.0*
That Is the Way poster

A biography about Akatsuka Fujio, pioneer of the gag manga. The film is in line with Fujio's style and vibe, so don't go in expecting a very solemn or factual biography. That Is the Way is a more typical Japanese comedy that just happens to detail one of the more colorful classical mangakas.

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While Fujio is central to the film, That Is the Way approaches him through his editor Hatsumi, a young girl who is assigned to work with Fujio on her first job. Hatsumi is a confident woman who dreams of working on mangas for girls, but after being assigned to Fujio she finds it quite hard to leave his team behind.

This is a film that no doubt benefits from knowing Fujio's work (which I do not), but the style of the film makes it abundantly clear what type of manga he drew. Asano and Horikita deliver solid performances and there are some fun, memorable scenes, but it's a bit too basic to really stand out from the crowd.

Is That You?

¿Eres tú, Papá?
2018 / 107m - Cuba
Drama, Horror
2.5*/5.0*
Is That You? poster

A very slow and trying horror film. Take away the soundtrack, and you're left with a pretty basic (arthouse-leaning) drama. Thanks to a moody score, many of the scenes are given a level of dread and unease that do nudge the film into the horrific. Just make sure you understand what you're about to watch, especially if you're craving a more digestible horror flick.

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Lili lives together with her parents in a modest house. Her father is a tyrannical figure who demands respect from his wife and daughter. When one day he disappears from their lives, it should've been a weight off of their shoulders, but Lili turns to an old ritual and tries to bring her father back.

There's a lot of potential here, but the pacing is just too slow, and the styling isn't quite intriguing enough. There are certainly moments that jump out, and the score deserves plenty of praise, but the colors are rather drab, performances are a little weak and the film fails to make a real impact. Still worth a watch, especially if you like more arthouse-oriented films with lighter genre influences.

The Feast

Gwledd
2021 / 93m - UK
Horror, Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
The Feast poster

Arthouse horror dowsed in Welsh culture. The Feast is a pretty peculiar film, and even though it can get pretty gruesome and gross, it's probably not one for hardcore horror fans. The film is too slow, too ambiguous and too minimalistic, but if you're looking for stylish, off-kilter horror, this one delivers the goods.

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Glenda is hosting a dinner party. To offload some work, she hires a help for the evening. Cadi arrives late, otherwise everything seems to be going according to plan. Glenda's family is a bit odd and Cadi's behavior seems a little off too, still Glenda only has one thing on her mind, and that's being the perfect host for the evening.

The build-up of the tension is skillful, the mystery is upheld until very late into the film and Elwy's performance is exquisite. The Welsh language takes a bit of getting used to (subtitles are a must), but adds to the unconventional atmosphere. There are some slight pacing issues though and the ending isn't quite as full-on as I'd hoped, but other than that a pretty great film.

The Boy and the World

O Menino e o Mundo
2013 / 80m - Brazil
Adventure, Animation
3.0*/5.0*
The Boy and the World poster

A quirky little Brazilian animation. The Boy and the World reminded me a little of Ohira's Wanwa (Genius Party Beyond), only lacking that film's technical mastery. The art style is somewhat similar though, and the structure of the film (basically a voyage of a little boy) very much alike.

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There isn't that much plot or cohesion here. A young boy is looking for his parents and sets off on a long trip, that takes him about the entire length of the film. It's more about the places he visits and the people he meets, a veritable road movie in that respect, only without dialogue and with more fantastical settings.

The art style is nice, with some nifty variations in techniques. The music is quirky, but gets a little repetitive over time and there isn't really enough plot to support the runtime. There are also moments with simplistic social critique that don't really fit in with the rest. Overall though, a film worth watching. There's a lot of imagination and wonder to discover here.

White Snake

Bai She: Yuan Qi
2019 / 99m - China
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
3.5*/5.0*
White Snake poster

A sprawling Chinese fantasy animation. It's nice to see China isn't just trying to mimic Hollywood success, foregoing the rather childish comedies that dominate the US animation market, instead turning to what they know best. White Snake is lovely fantasy lore handled with proper visual flair.

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The legend of the white snake has been featured many times before, this animated version is just another (loose) retelling. After battling an evil warlord who is using the snake's powers for his personal gain, the white snake demon loses her memory and is found by a young human boy. He is smitten by the girl and vows to join her on her travels, hoping they can find a way to regain her memory.

Apart from the dog (annoying comic relief), this is a pretty straightforward fantasy/adventure with some big action scenes to lighten the mood. The animation is decent, but the film's aesthetic qualities easily make it better than most of its CG peers. The plot and characters are fun enough, the pacing is perfect and the finale on point. A very welcome surprise.

The Wilding

2016 / 83m - USA
Horror
1.0*/5.0*
The Wilding poster

I feel pretty bad for Ciarán Foy that this creation made it out into the wild. Apparently it's a 2-hour pilot for a TV series that was never picked up. It was then recut into an 80-minute film, but it's really just a setup for the story. There's no obvious finale, no explanation, no nothing. Just some random characters having to deal with paranormal phenomenon.

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There are several storylines here, but none of them comes to a feasible conclusion. A girl who sees ghosts, people who hear voices (citing prime numbers), a man who can talk to the deceased. All these events seem to be happening in the same area, but if you want to know what is going on, you'll have to watch the series that was never made.

Performances are rather poor, the editing is random, there's no tension nor any decent scares. This doesn't even feel like an actual movie, more like a randomized TV series recap (which, in some ways, it was). I'm truly surprised they bothered to release this in its current form. I don't often advise against watching a film, but I will do so here.

Born Yesterday

1950 / 103m - USA
Comedy, Romance
1.5*/5.0*
Born Yesterday poster

A romcom that isn't very funny, nor very romantic. Instead, prepare for a rather feminist story about a squeaky-voiced girl who likes being dumb, but blossoms into a fully fledged individual after being challenged by a new guy in her life. Subtle this ain't, then again, back then subtlety probably wasn't the way to go with this message.

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Harry Brock is a bullish businessman. His girlfriend Billy is much younger and only cares about monetary gains, not minding she's being treated like a trophy wife. When Harry hires a man to educate her, she starts to see what she's been missing in life and decides to turn things around.

The film is based on a Broadway production and the writer of the dialogues is featured heavily on some posters, so don't expect a visual feast. All the yapping isn't very funny and gets annoying really fast. The plot has potential, but doesn't make much of an impact nowadays. A relic, but not the worst romcom of its time, even when it fails its primary genres.

Stuber

2019 / 93m - USA
Comedy, Action
2.5*/5.0*
Stuber poster

A rather basic cop buddy comedy. Stuber is a film that doesn't really set out to elevate or reinvent the genre, instead it tries to offer comfort and entertainment by giving people exactly what they expect. Whether it succeeds depends greatly on how much you can appreciate the chemistry between the two leads. For me it certainly wasn't the best genre effort, but it's far from the worst.

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Stu is a guy stuck in a rut. He has a lame job, tries to earn an extra buck as an Uber driver and he's being friend zoned by the girl he loves. His life is about to change when a half-blind cop seizes his vehicle and summons him to drive him around as he tries to find the criminals who murdered his partner. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

Bautista and Nanjiani are a decent enough duo, but there's no real spark between them. They stick to conventional humor and reactions, which isn't enough to make this film stand out from its peers. Neither is the plot or the direction, but at least the pacing is solid and it never gets slow or dull. Just simple genre fare that delivers exactly what it promises from the outset.

Blue Jasmine

2013 / 98m - USA
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
Blue Jasmine poster

I generally like (but rarely love) Allen's films, but for some reason he had a pretty bad spell during the mid 00s to early 10s. Blue Jasmine is part of that series of disappointing films, lacking the wit and comedy that makes his work stand out. The result is a mediocre drama that is plenty neurotic, but never funny.

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Jasmine is a New York socialite who sees her cushy life go up in smoke when her relationship with her husband goes sideways. She moves to California to live with her sister, who is her polar opposite. Jasmine needs time to adapt to her new life, but when she Dwight, things are finally looking up again.

I'm not quite sure whether it is Blanchet's performance or her character that failed to keep me interested, but I just didn't care about her situation. The dialogues are rather drab, the friction with her sister feels a bit too scripted and none of the secondary characters manage to add much. There's still a bit of Allen charm left, just not enough to save the film.

tick, tick...Boom!

2021 / 115m - USA
Musical
1.0*/5.0*
tick, tick...Boom! poster

Lin-Manuel Miranda is quickly making a name for himself in the musical business. Writing musical songs is very different from directing a film though, something that became abundantly clear with watching tick, tick ... Boom! The potential for a decent musical is here, but the direction is pedestrian.

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The film tells the story of Jonathan Larson (the man who wrote Rent but died before it opened). It's a classic story of an artist struggling to get recognition with material that is about to revolutionize the industry. Or so this film would want you to believe, I'm not knowledgeable enough about Broadway history, but I am aware that films like these love to overstate the importance of their leads.

Garfield is a pretty big miscast, the rest of the cast isn't notably better. The songs are pretty basic without any dazzling cinematography to complement them and two hours is way too long for the material. I just didn't care for any of it, I think Miranda would be better off focusing on the music and letting others care about directing the film.

Sweetie

1989 / 97m - Australia
Comedy, Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Sweetie poster

An early Campion. Not quite what I expected to see from her, but it was a happy surprise. Sweetie is a mix of quirky comedy and drama about a pretty dysfunctional family who try to make things work. It's certainly different from her more narrative/drama-based films, but it's not worse.

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Kay is a very introverted woman who has difficulties making connections with other people. When she meets Louis, she feels he is the one for her and manages to seduce him. Their lives are turned upside down when Kay's sister Dawn suddenly moves in with her and upsets the fickle balance in Kay's life.

Performances are solid, there are some dreamy scenes that stand out and Campion finds a lot of humor in things that aren't necessarily funny. It's a nice enough film, but as it pivots to drama in the second half, it became clearer with the minute that the characters weren't quite intriguing enough for me to carry a more serious film. Not a bad effort though, and definitely worth a watch.