Silent Night

by Camille Griffin
Specifics
2021 / 92m - UK
Genre
Comedy, Thriller
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Silent Night poster

One of the oddest Christmas films I've seen in a while. It's hard to pin a genre on Silent Night, it goes through several in its 90-minute runtime and doesn't seem to want to settle on a single one. But that's exactly what makes this film so interesting, it's one of those films that doesn't stick to a predictable structure.

Nell and Simon are having all their friends over to celebrate Christmas. Nobody is really looking forward to the gathering, but allusions to an unescapable necessity seem to giving them not much of a choice. Surprise pregnancies are met with disdain, presents are tossed aside and references to a pact seem to make the attendees nervous.

I really liked the way the film moved from a traditional Christmas film to something quite a bit more ominous. The only thing that ties everything together is the comedy, which is dark, and delightfully British. Performances are solid, the ending is spot on and the unpredictability is a real boon, even though halfway through it should be obvious what exactly is going on. A fun surprise.

Five Easy Pieces

by Bob Rafelson
Specifics
1970 / 98m - USA
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Five Easy Pieces poster

I didn't really know what to expect from this film, it turned out to be a basic regular road movie. A film that probably stands or falls by the likability of its characters. Personally, I didn't care for any of them, finding most of them either obnoxious or one-dimensional, both the leads and the secondary cast.

Bobby was raised a classical pianist, but now acts as a blue-collar worker. He hangs around with his girlfriend Rayette and his best friend Elton. When Elton gets arrested and Rayette turns out to be pregnant, Bobby quits his job and moves to Los Angeles to visit his sister. She tells him their dead suffered two strokes, urging Bobby to reconnect with him.

It's not that Nicholson does a bad job here, it's just that his character isn't very interesting. The direction is decent, but unremarkable and even though I generally like a good road trip flick, the film just doesn't do anything special with it. I just didn't care much for the drama, and since there's not much else here, the film wasn't a big success.

Mixtape

by Valerie Weiss
Specifics
2021 / 93m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Music
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Mixtape poster

So you want to make a movie about punk, but the market is more into 90s retro hip. Well, just let a 90s kid reassemble the broken mixtape of her deceased parents (who just happened to be into punk). The result is a bit basic, and a bit too childish for all its punk pandering, but it's not the worst in its genre.

Beverly is being raised by her grandmother, as her parents died in a car accident when she was two. One day she finds an old cassette left behind by her parents. She tries to play it, but the Walkman instantly ruins the tape. Beverly only has a track list to go on, but that's not going to stop her for reassembling the tape.

The characters are a bit cheesy, the comedy is very safe and prim and the music isn't really something that warms my heart. The kids aren't terrible though and there are some funnier bits scattered throughout. It's a shame the direction is quite dim, making this a pretty forgettable flick.

Corpse Party: Book of Shadows

by Masafumi Yamada
Also known as
Kôpusu Pâti: Book of Shadows
Specifics
2016 / 86m - Japan
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows poster

A direct sequel to Yamada's first film, based on a popular game that branched out to several other media. It's just more of the same really, which is a bit of a shame considering Yamada's earlier work. It's a far cry from Tsuburo no Gara, then again we should probably be happy Yamada is still around, making films.

Naomi survived the first trip to Heavenly Host Elementary, most of her classmates didn't. She finds a way to go back into the haunted world and save her friends, but the second trip reveals a much bigger evil haunting the school. While noble, Naomi's attempt to save the others might cost even more lives.

This second film is a bit too much like the first one, the setting and rules are already clear, there's just quite a bit of extra lore to work through. It gets a bit too convoluted at times, luckily the ending cranks up the horror elements and comes with a few nifty surprises. Decent filler, but little else.

Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters

by Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Also known as
Yôkai Hyaku Monogatari
Specifics
1968 / 80m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Yokai Monsters: 100 Monsters poster

When Miike made his Yokai film (a remake from another yokai horror, also from 1968), it dragged up some films that had long been forgotten. 100 Monsters is one of them. It's a surprisingly slow and somewhat sluggish samurai affair, in dire need of some actual yokai. Not the yokai fest the title promised.

Lord Tajimaya angers some local villagers when he decides to tear down their temple, only to replace it with a brothel. They revolt and try to stop Tajimaya, but he is ruthless and kills whoever gets in his way. The gods aren't too happy that their place of worship is destroyed, and they decide to help out the villagers.

The yokai scenes are pretty fun and amusing. The effects are cheesy, but charming. The problem is that there are surprisingly few of these moments, the rest of the film is extremely talkative, which really hurts the pacing. Some memorable moments here and there, but this was hardly what the title promised.

Why Don't You Just Die!

by Kirill Sokolov
Also known as
Papa, Sdokhni
Specifics
2018 / 99m - Russia
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Why Don't You Just Die! poster

You take a little Tarantino, add a bit of early Jeunet and you top it off with some light Wong Kar-Wai. Give it a good shake and that should give you an idea of what to expect from Sokolov's Why Don't You Just Die! It's a delightfully stylized dark comedy with plenty of giggles, liters of blood and just the right amount of class. It's a magnificent debut feature that shows Sokolov has ample love for genre cinema, but isn't afraid to add a signature of his own.

Drowning Love

by Yûki Yamato
Also known as
Oboreru Naifu
Specifics
2016 / 111m - Japan
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Drowning Love poster

One of Yuki Yamato's earlier films. Drowning Love is essentially a standard (rural) teen romance, even so, Yamato already shows promise in her direction. It's not quite at the level of her later work yet, but there are several scenes that jump out and help to elevate the film above its peers.

Natsume is a young fashion model on the rise, but the health of her grandfather forces her family to move to the countryside. Natsume has to put her career on hold and feels bummed, but when she meets the enigmatic Koh, son of the local Shinto priest, she lights up again. A traumatizing experience at the local festival drives the two apart.

Solid performances and an appealing setting are genre staples, it's Yamato's feel for pacing and editing that make this film stand out. It's not quite as elaborate or as distinct compared to her later work, but there are definitely a few scenes where Yamato's hand is clearly visible. A lovely film that lacks a little refinement to become a true personal favorite.

The Wrong Man

Specifics
1956 / 105m - USA
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Wrong Man poster

A Hitchcock film that comes with an introduction of the man himself, stating that this is a true story, yet crazier than most of the twisty thrillers he'd made. What you actually get is a pretty crude drama about a rather dull court case, the kind that wouldn't even make a headline (and rightfully so).

Manny and his wife are living a happy life, though money is scarce. When Manny goes to a bank to find the money for his wife's dental surgery, the clerk mistakes him for a bank robber. The police take Manny into custody and due to some unfortunate coincidences, they think Manny is in fact the real culprit.

Hitchcock isn't a very capable drama director. The pacing is sluggish, the performances lack nuance and the plot really isn't as interesting as Hitchcock would make you believe. This might've worked a little better at half the runtime, but even then it would've lacked something to make it stand out. Bland's the word.

In the Earth

by Ben Wheatley
Specifics
2021 / 107m - UK
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
In the Earth poster

Wheatley's latest feels like a return to his roots in some ways. In the Earth is a small, off-kilter horror film that isn't so much creepy, gory or scary, but still comes off pretty dark and unsettling. It's not his most accessible film though and people looking for a simple horror film would do better to skip this one.

After a long lockdown, Martin joins a research team for an assignment in the woods. Together with a ranger he starts his two-day trip towards the research camp. Before they arrive at their destination they are mugged by an unknown assailant, who steals their shoes and kills their communication.

The cast is solid, even though their characters are rather simplistic. In the Earth relies more on visceral elements to get the horror across. A superb soundtrack, some trippy visuals and excellent use of the setting make this a very worthwhile film. Maybe if Wheatley could've aced the more abstract scene this would've been a personal favorite, but it's still a very worthwhile film.

Murderer

by Roy Hin Yeung Chow
Also known as
Sha Ren Fan
Specifics
2009 / 120m - Hong Kong
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Murderer poster

A very solid Hong Kong police procedural with some mystery elements thrown in to make it a bit more puzzling. Roy Chow is a capable director, and he handles this type of material with grace, but the story does get a little too farfetched in the second half. If that's a dealbreaker, this is probably not the film for you.

Ling is a police detective tracking a serial killer. During his investigation he is seriously injured, leaving with severe short-term memory loss. Ling tries to pick up the trace again, but he feels he can't trust himself anymore. He does stumble upon some new leads, but they seem so implausible that he's losing the trust of the people around him.

The cinematography looks slick, Kwok and Ho are seasoned actors and the pacing is perfect, even though the film isn't exactly short. The result is typical Hong Kong genre fare, confidently built to be as entertaining as possible, but with a little extra edge. A fun watch, now that Hong Kong's output is just a fraction of what it used to be.

The Green Wall

by Armando Robles Godoy
Also known as
La Muralla Verde
Specifics
1969 / 110m - Peru
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Green Wall poster

One of the first Peruvian full-length feature films. With a little push from Ebert it became a minor arthouse cult hit, just not big enough to receive a digital release. The film could really use a proper restoration, though I don't think that would've made much of a difference in the end.

In part based on the life of the director, a man takes his wife and young kid out of the city and joins a government program to cultivate some land in the jungle. He builds a home for his family and leaves his old life behind. His son grows up never having seen the city, building a self-imagined replica in their garden.

I didn't care much for the characters, nor the presentation of the film. The narrative is pretty loose and unannounced flashbacks add to the poetic nature, but the cinematography is horrendous, and the soundtrack is amateurish. The good old contrast between urban vs rural life also didn't do much for me, so it ended up being a pretty big drag to sit through 110 minutes of this.

8-Bit Christmas

by Michael Dowse
Specifics
2021 / 97m - USA
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
8-Bit Christmas poster

An enjoyable Christmas film. Might've been sponsored by Nintendo, although the ending seems to suggest otherwise. The film is a bit too centered around reliving late-80s cultural phenomena and the ending is incredibly sappy (comes with the territory of course), the comedy on the other hand is pleasant enough.

When Jake's daughter keeps whining about getting a phone for Christmas, he tells her the story about how much he wanted a NES when he was younger. Jake's parents didn't want to give him a game console, so he and his friends had to come up with another way to fund the purchase.

The kids are well-cast, Zahn is pretty funny, and it's nice enough reliving the NES craze for 90 minutes (even though my parents just bought me one when I asked for it). The film does lose a little steam during the second half and some references are a bit too blatant. Simple but amusing Christmas fare.

The House That Never Dies II

by Joe Chien
Also known as
Jing Cheng 81 Hao 2
Specifics
2017 / 97m - China
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The House That Never Dies II poster

After the success of the first film, it's hardly a surprise a follow-up was made. The setup of the sequel isn't too original, then again neither was the setup of the first film. It's just another Asian horror flick reliant on past trauma, mixing scares and haunts with a little background drama.

The "most haunted house in China" has switched owners again. While starting the renovation, workers dig up an old vase with a baby's corpse inside. The wife of the new owner works in a hospital and one of her patients starts to see a little girl following her right around the same time.

The horror itself isn't all that spectacular, and can get bogged down by some subpar CG. But the rest of the film looks incredibly stylish. Lighting and use of color are excellent, the camera work is lush, and the performances are more than adequate. A very solid film, sticking a bit too closely to genre conventions, but otherwise delivering a pretty tight genre experience.

Wakey Wakey

by Adrian Goodman
Specifics
2012 / 63m - Australia
Genre
Mystery, Experimental
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Wakey Wakey poster

An Australian low-budget film that leans heavily on its soundtrack to create atmosphere. The film is supposed to be dark, unsettling and disorienting, but it's only when the drone-based music starts to rumble that the film is actually making good on its promise. The rest isn't quite on the same level.

Josie is a teen who lives together with her sister Samantha. She has a condition where she falls asleep quite often, while dream and reality inevitably begin to blend together. Samantha doesn't seem too bothered and even abuses Josie's condition to get what she wants out of their relationship.

The black and white cinematography can't hide the film's lack of budget, the performances are pretty weak and the experimental touches fail to add intrigue. The soundtrack is decent though and there are certainly some memorable moments, just not enough to make this a truly worthwhile film.

An Unremarkable Christmas

by Juan Camilo Pinzon
Also known as
Chichipatos: ¡Qué Chimba de Navidad!
Specifics
2020 / 82m - Colombia
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
An Unremarkable Christmas poster

Not quite sure what this was. Either it's a terrible, cheesy Colombian sitcom, or it's a straight-up parody of one. Apparently it's an offshoot of a Netflix series, but I never watched that. Whatever the case, An Unremarkable Christmas is quite over-the-top, but not enough to coin the parody angle.

The Morales family is preparing to celebrate Christmas. Father is having his new boss over, hoping to convince him he's a great magician, his children are bringing their new lovers and mom is being courted by her mom's new boyfriend. To make things worse, some criminals are trying to scam the family.

The visuals are super colorful and extra cheesy, which is quite amusing. The performances are terrible though. Maybe deliberately so, the problem is that it never becomes so excessive that it's actually funny. The plot is crap and the situation comedy is rather drab, but the energy and overly kitsch presentation do make it somewhat watchable.

The Demon

by Yoshitarô Nomura
Also known as
Kichiku
Specifics
1978 / 110m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Demon poster

Not the most subtle of films. It's pretty fascinating to see how Japanese dramas went from screamy characters and loud, overt sentiment to near-silent protagonists and stilted, subdued emotions, and that in less than 30 years. The Demon is a pretty oldskool drama, not really what I fell in love with.

When Sokichi breaks off the relationship with his mistress, she leaves her children behind with him and his wrathful wife. Sokichi's wife reluctantly accepts the situation, but doesn't treat the children well and keeps badgering Sokichi to find a solution. Sokichi is loyal to his wife, but he doesn't want to do wrong to his children either.

The core drama isn't all that bad really, but the performances are very overstated, the music is not quite fitting, and the film can be a bit too obvious. Ken Ogata's character is the only one with a little depth, but the core dilemma and the turnaround of his characters feel too scripted. There's potential here, but the execution just isn't on point.

The Kiddie Tomb

by Chen Ju Li
Specifics
2021 / 71m - China
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Kiddie Tomb poster

China really can't get enough of its tomb raiding films. Unless you dedicate yourself fully to these films it seems pretty much impossible to keep track of them all, so I'm still just sampling randomly. The Kiddie Tomb is pretty basic genre fare, but if you like a light fantasy adventure, and you're not too put off by bad CG, there's some good fun to be had with these films.

There's not much in the way of plot here, just some quick excuses to get a group of people into a decaying tomb. Villagers looking for money cross a band of regular looters when they are digging up a tomb. Once inside, they find the tomb is full of traps, with giant spiders and creepy-looking dolls making it excessively difficult to escape the tomb.

For a film that's really little more than quick & dirty content filler, the settling looks surprisingly decent. Performances are mediocre and the overreliance on shoddy CG in these films is still a bit of a letdown, but the pacing and runtime are perfect if you're looking for adequate genre filler. Certainly not the best of its kind, but entertaining nonetheless.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

by Thor Freudenthal
Specifics
2013 / 106m - USA
Genre
Fantasy, Adventure
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters poster

More Percy Jackson. This isn't too different from the first film, which isn't really a surprise since that one seems to have made quite a bit of money. Percy Jackson and his friends are going on another adventure here, and as the title already spoils, this time around they're traveling to the Sea of Monsters.

Their new quest sends them to the Bermuda triangle, where they need to retrieve the mythical Golden Fleece in order to save the half-bloods who are staying in their camp. Angry cyclops and big sea monsters stand in their way, so expect a pretty typical A to B adventure, with some surprising revelations in between.

These films are obviously aimed at younger teens, so I'm not really part of the target audience. I do however appreciate the level of creativity that went into the fantastical bits, including the neat animation in the middle. The rest is pretty crap, from the mediocre effects and poor performances to the bland cinematography and plot.

Father Christmas Is Back

by Mick Davis, Philippe Martinez
Specifics
2021 / 105m -
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Father Christmas Is Back poster

A pretty typical Christmas flick that takes a little detour with some harsher British comedy during the first hour. Not surprisingly, that is by far the best part of the film. Once everything slides back into classic Christmas mode the quality of the film takes a pretty big dip, but at least that's just the second part.

Caroline is inviting her three sisters to celebrate Christmas at her castle. The four of them don't really get along, and things are about to get a lot worse when their father, who left them 27 years ago, decides to return with his new girlfriend. And that's not the only thing that's messing up Caroline's Christmas.

There's quite a bit of bickering during the first hour, but the actors make it work. The British comedy is a plus and there are some genuinely fun gags. The film needs a mushy ending though, and it does lose its footing during the second half. Not the greatest Christmas movie, but far from the worst.

Planetist

Specifics
2018 / 166m - Japan
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Planetist poster

Toyoda's documentary about the Ogasawara islands. Toyoda spent 5 years on this documentary, speaking with the locals and bringing over fellow artists to create a documentary that isn't purely informational, but is more geared at capturing the spirit of this place. The result is rather long, but satisfying.

The central figure is Miyagawa Noritsugu, a 65-old man who made it his mission to preserve the natural beauty of the islands. He is a well-known surfer, swims with dolphins and manages a bird preservation, while taking people on little excursions to show them the beauty of the islands. In between, we get little concerts with some glamour shots of Ogasawaran nature.

The start of the documentary is a little slow, with maybe a bit too much human interest stories, but once Toyoda starts to focus more on mood and the natural beauty of the location it becomes an intriguing doc. In a way it feels like a precursor to Shiver, definitely worth a watch if you want to know more about Japanese island culture.