Sun, Moon and Star: Part 1

by Wen Yi
Also known as
For Xing Xing Yue Liang Tai Yang: Shang
Specifics
1961 / 99m - Hong Kong
Genre
Romance, War
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Sun, Moon and Star: Part 1 poster

Yuen Chor didn't just direct a boatload of films, he also wrote a fair few. I'm not even all that surprised that he has writing credits for this rather sentimental romance, just don't expect any of Chor's usual director perks. This is mostly just kitsch without the nice sets, moody lighting and fun mystery/action elements.

Against the backdrop of WWII, Jianbai will meet three different women who will all play a substantial part in his life. There's Lan, a proud village girl (the star), his cousin Qiuming, who is sweet and tender (the moon), and Yan, a passionate woman (the sun) who compels Jianbai to join the war.

The film offers sentimentality galore, and makes little or not effort to offset any of it. The cinematography is bland and functional, the soundtrack is poor, and the performances aren't very subtle either. At least the film isn't too long (though there is a second part), but unless you really love classic sentiment, I wouldn't actively recommend this film to anyone.

Antlers

by Scott Cooper
Specifics
2021 / 99m - USA
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Antlers poster

A good horror film doesn't really need a big budget to shine, but sometimes it can be nice to see a creature flick where "less is more" isn't a disguised necessity. Antlers is a wendigo film that isn't afraid to showcase its monster (and its victims for that matter), and it's all the better for it.

Julia reunites with her brother Paul after being apart for almost 20 years. She takes up a job in the local school, and takes up an interest in Lucas, a young boy who looks like he has a lot going on at home. Julia, who is an abuse victim herself, recognizes the signs and wants to help the kid.

It's not that there's too much drama, but it does get heavy-handed really fast. Other than that, the creature effects are great, the actors do a solid job and the finale is spectacular. Antlers isn't the most original film, it's really just a simple creature horror, but the execution is on point and for once, the budget isn't lacking.

Silence and Sunset

by Kazufumi Umemura
Specifics
2020 / 136m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
Silence and Sunset poster

Silence and Sunset is a good reminder that Japan hasn't been doing much core arthouse cinema (not just international drama) this past decade. Umemura's film more than qualifies though. The film is slow, contemplative, minimalist and somewhat puzzling. It's a very calming feature that foregoes clear narratives or added genre elements, and simply observes as time slows down and characters go about their business. A fine score, polished cinematography and solid performances all help to get you in the right mood. A very pleasant surprise.

Daybreak

by Marcel Carné
Also known as
Le Jour Se Leve
Specifics
1939 / 93m - France
Genre
Romance, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Daybreak poster

Film-noir is often seen as a very US-centric genre, but the French also created a fair share of films that fit the description. Daybreak is a very early example and only roughly meets the criteria, coming from a director who was obviously still trying to find out the best ways to incorporate sound.

After committing murder, François retreats to his apartment and locks himself in. The police are hot on his tail, but after a failed attempt to enter his room they decide to retreat and regroup. During that night François thinks back on the love affair that would ultimately result in the murder.

The biggest difference with US films of that era is that the film isn't overflowing with dialogue. Gabin doesn't appear at ease though, as he seems to be shouting most of his lines. It's a very awkward delivery that makes it virtually impossible to take the drama serious. The rest of the film isn't much to look at either, which results in a pretty poor classic.

Side Effect

by Aleksey Kazakov
Also known as
Pobochnyi Effekt
Specifics
2020 / 93m - Russia
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Side Effect poster

It's no secret that I've been keeping a close eye on contemporary Russian horror films. Most of them are pure genre fodder, but the mix with local folklore makes that most of them have something extra to offer. Side Effect is a pretty basic horror tale, the Russian take on witchcraft helps it to stand out from the crowd.

Andrey and Olya are happily married, until a crude break-in ruptures their marriage. Olya loses their baby and Andrey feels guilty about running out for help rather than sticking around to save his wife. Not knowing how to fix the situation, Andrey visits a mysterious woman who promises him she can get rid of his troubles.

The setup is pretty basic, meaning it takes a while for the film to get up to steam. Once everything is in place, Kazakov starts introducing more interesting elements, which leads to a pretty worthwhile finale. Appealing cinematography, moody sets, a good score and a thrilling finale make this a fun little horror flick.

Violence Voyager

by Ujicha
Specifics
2018 / 83m - Japan
Genre
Horror, Adventure, Animation
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Violence Voyager poster

The second Ujicha film I've seen. Not quite as good as Burning Buddha Man I'm afraid, even though the films are pretty similar. The biggest difference for me was that Violence Voyager takes a lot longer to get started and isn't quite as crazy or insane. Meaning that any reservations I had about Ujicha's Gekimation style are just more prevalent here.

Bobby and his friend are playing in the mountains, where they find a sign that points them to a hidden amusement park. When they arrive at the spot the place looks abandoned, until a guy comes forward and invites them to join his role play adventure. Bobby and his friend put on their suits, pick their weapons and set out to kick some alien butt.

The first half of the film is very basic. Ujicha's art style is decent, and the animation has its charm, but it's hardly revolutionary and not that suited to tell a simple story. Things definitely improve during the second half, when the creep and crazy finally surfaces, but by then it's a case of too little, too late. I'm a little surprised Violence Voyager is actually the newer of the two films, it certainly felt the other way around. It's still a cool film, just not as good as Burning Buddha Man.

S He

by Shengwei Zhou
Specifics
2018 / 95m - China
Genre
Animation, Experimental
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
S He poster

A pretty unique stop-motion film. I would say it's an odd thing to come out of China, but I don't think director Shengwei is going to kick-start a niche with this film. It comes off as a very singular, personal film that has little to do with the Chinese movie industry, instead it has everything to do with the artist Shengwei.

A female shoe is born into a world where only male shoes are allowed. She is quickly transformed and disguised as a male shoe and starts working in a cigarette factory. She doesn't really fit in, and it doesn't take long before her true gender is revealed. At that moment, she decides it's time to fight back.

The stop-motion animation is a little crude, but the style is certainly very imaginative. The editing and sound design are great, and the plot is intriguing, the only thing I wasn't a big fan of was the use of common household objects to create the film's fantasy world. Pretty bizarre, very layered and truly unique, with a little extra polish Shengwei's next could be a true masterpiece.

Sexy Killer: You'll Die for Her

by Miguel Martí
Also known as
Sexykiller, Morirás Por Ella
Specifics
2008 / 100m - Spain
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Sexy Killer: You'll Die for Her poster

A horror comedy that doesn't take itself too serious. The film reminded me a little of Edgar Wright's early work, filled to the brim with references to other horror films. The execution isn't quite there though, which makes the film feel a bit rushed and unpolished. Still, most horror/comedy fans will find plenty to like here.

Barbara looks like a sweet, innocent girl, but she is in fact a ruthless killer. Tired of the cliché of the male serial killer, she figures she could become one herself. At first, she targets only the lechers and assholes bugging her, but she quickly gets used to the sweet taste of murder and her excuses for killing people get increasingly flimsier.

Sexy Killer has some solid ideas, and it's quite madcap in places, but it never really committed enough to be truly great. The comedy is rather predictable, the film is not quite as outrageous as it could've been, and the performances are somewhat flat. I still had fun with it, but I feel it could've been a lot better.

Dark Victory

by Edmund Goulding
Specifics
1939 / 104m - USA
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Dark Victory poster

The advent of sound is probably one of the biggest game changers in the film business. It's not just the added soundtrack and its impact on the total experience, but also the shift from visual storytelling to literal dialogues that really turned things around. Pick a film from the 30s, and it's hard to miss. Characters just blabber on from start to finish.

Judith is a feisty woman, but more and more she is haunted by nasty migraines and loss of vision. Her doctor finds a brain tumor and Judith undergoes an operation. The two fall in love with each other and get married, what Judith doesn't know is that the tumor is certain to return.

With a story like this, things are bound to get a little sentimental. The performances are decent but nothing great. The romance is a little daft and the drama in the second half isn't quite subtle enough to leave a big impression. It's a pretty basic classic drama, not something that excites me.

Pompo: The Cinéphile

by Takayuki Hirao
Also known as
Eiga Daisuki Pompo-san
Specifics
2021 / 94m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Drama, Animation
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Pompo: The Cinéphile poster

A rather strange anime about loving and making films. It's not necessarily a niche I like (certainly not like most other cinephiles seem to do), but director Hirao made it quite light, without trying to mystify the profession too much. The result is a fun and rather easily digestible film.

Gene is the young assistant of Pomponette, the granddaughter of a famous film studio owner. She produces shlocky B-films, but her ambition is to produce more classy work. One day she writes a script and hires Gene to direct. Besides his love for film, Gene has no directing experience, but he has the will to learn and to make something great for Pomponette.

The film offers some reflections on cinema, some I agreed with, others quite removed from my personal experiences. The film in the film looked absolutely crap, so there's certainly that, but the characters are fun, the animation is solid, and the overall vibe is pretty easy-going. A very charming film.

Yakuza Graveyard

by Kinji Fukasaku
Also known as
Yakuza no Hakaba: Kuchinashi no Hana
Specifics
1976 / 97m - Japan
Genre
Action, Crime
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Yakuza Graveyard poster

So far, I've mostly avoided Kinji Fukasaku's 70s Yakuza films. It's not really a preferred niche and the films I did sample didn't really do it for me. After a couple more positive experiences with Fukasaku's classic work, I was willing to give it another go. Yakuza Graveyard was a name I recognized, so I simply went with that one.

The story is a pretty basic tale of Yakuza and their dealings with the local police. When a young cop is transferred, he is eager to make a good impression, and he isn't scared to get a little rough to get the desired results. When faced with his corrupt colleagues and his love for an ill-reputed woman, the young transfer starts to question his ethics.

What stands out the most is Fukasaku's dynamic cinematography. The camera jerks and twirls, giving the action scenes quite a bit of flair. The Yakuza/police drama on the other hands feels not as well-developed, which sometimes slows the film down unnecessarily. Not as bad as I'd feared, but I prefer the more contemporary Yakuza films.

Two

by Mar Targarona
Also known as
Dos
Specifics
2021 / 70m - Spain
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Two poster

A film built on an outrageous premise. If you decide to accept it though, there's quite a bit of fun to be had with Two. The predicament of the two lead is pretty extreme, and there's more than enough potential for entertaining what if/how questions while the story slowly reveals itself.

Two people wake up in a bed together. They don't know each other and can't remember how they got there. When they want to get up, they discover someone has sewn them together. After the initial scare, they start exploring the room for clues, but their action radius is quite limited.

It's certainly a fun idea, but once the novelty wears off director Targarona struggles to keep the film going. The performances are mediocre, the film isn't graphic enough, and the second half slowly fizzles out. It's a good thing the runtime is short, and the concept is pretty original, but I expected a bit more from this one.

Hand Rolled Cigarette

by Kin Long Chan
Also known as
Sau Gyun Yin
Specifics
2020 / 101m - Hong Kong
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Hand Rolled Cigarette poster

A pretty decent Hong Kong crime drama, that tries to stray away from stringent genre conventions, but finds itself held back by similarly predictable drama elements. The result is a film that shows promise, but can't quite deliver on its potential. For a first film, it's certainly not bad though.

A tight group of Hong Kong soldiers find themselves in a pickle when they're not granted British citizenship. Their friendship takes another blow when Kwan convinces Winston to play the markets, and he loses all his money, pushing him towards suicide. Years later Kwan is still trying to take amends, working off Winston's debt for some minor crime bosses.

Gordon Lam is a solid lead and the cinematography is rather polished, but the film lacks urgency. The crime scenes are a bit derivative, and the drama elements feel tacked on. Even though the film tries to get away from the beaten path, I never got the idea I was watching something new or refreshing. There are signs of quality here though, so fans of Hong Kong crime should definitely give this a go.

Pursuit of a Killer

Also known as
Kong Woo Liu Duen
Specifics
1985 / 89m - Hong Kong
Genre
Action, Crime
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Pursuit of a Killer poster

One of Taylor Wong's earlier films. Not the most famous Hong Kong director around, probably because he directed some Cat III work that kept him out of the eye of the mainstream. But like Herman Yau, Wong's films offered a nice alternative to the clean, prim entertainment that dominated the Hong Kong market.

The story revolves around a couple of Mainland Chinese folk who come to Hong Kong, hoping to find a better life there. A very popular subject among directors who want to stray from the beaten path. When they can't land a job, it's no surprise they end up trying making a living by working a local crime boss.

The performances are pretty basic, the cinematography is crude, and the plot is extremely predictable. It's a pretty generic Hong Kong crime flick in many ways, except that Wong doesn't shy away from blood and nudity. These grittier moments stand out, but they can't really save the film.

A Dozen Summers

by Kenton Hall
Specifics
2015 / 82m - UK
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
A Dozen Summers poster

A Dozen Summers doesn't seem too bothered about its indie roots. Kenton Hall not only wrote and directed the film, he also funded part of the project on Indiegogo and cast his daughters for the lead roles. What the film lacks in technical qualities, it makes up for with wit and astute observations.

There's not really much of a plot, instead the film offers a slightly cynical take on the family genre. We follow two 12-year-old girls for a few short days, as they command the film and invite us into their lives. There are some subplots, but they're largely inconsequential, it's the characters that demand the most of our attention.

The cinematography is dead cheap, I don't even remember whether there even was a soundtrack. The characters are lovely though, especially the two rather cynical and perpetually disinterested twins who take over this film project. The writing is witty, some references are bonkers (Bergman's The Seventh Seal, I kid you not) and the short length is perfect. My rating is slightly generous considering the film's shortcomings, but it's such a charming project that I don't really mind.

Locke

by Steven Knight
Specifics
2013 / 85m - UK
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Locke poster

Single-location films aren't that novel anymore, but I don't think I've ever seen a straightforward drama executed like this. There's a sliver of mystery present in Locke, mostly during the first hour when you're still trying to figure out what is going on. Once all the cards are on the table, it's pure drama with only one actor in a car and several others on the phone.

Ivan Locke is a construction manager. He's terrific at his work, but on the night before his biggest job ever, he is sitting his his car, driving to London. He is doing his best to brief his next in command while trying to reach his family. There's also another woman calling him from the hospital, who seems to be the reason for Locke's sudden change of plans.

Tom Hardy gives a great performance, which was needed too as he's the only one you'll be watching for the entire runtime. The camera remains in the car at all times, others are just heard through the phone. The cinematography is solid considering the limited space, but the drama feels a bit too forced to make a real big impact. A solid film, but not quite the future classic I'd hoped to see.

Crazy Love

by Dominique Deruddere
Specifics
1987 / 90m - Belgium
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Crazy Love poster

For the longest time, Belgian cinema was mostly a collection of book adaptations. Films that took popular novels and converted them to the screen, with as little directorial freedom as possible. Crazy Love sees Deruddere make more of an effort, though the result still feels a bit underwhelming.

The plot is pretty light, the main focus rests on a couple of guys wanting to score with the ladies. Harry is a young boy exploring his budding sexuality, Stan helps him out by teaching him a thing or two. When he is older, Harry suffers from extreme acne, making it very hard to find a girl willing to go out with him.

The setting is pretty pedestrian and the coming of age elements aren't exactly the most original. Deruddere's direction is a tad more playful than usual, but it's hardly remarkable, and the second half (after the time jump) simply doesn't work as well. Not the worst Belgian classic, but still too close to the type of film that deterred me from watching Belgian cinema.

Trading Places

Specifics
1983 / 116m - USA
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Trading Places poster

A classic 80s comedy from John Landis. It's little more than a pairing of Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, who are both allowed to perform their usual tricks. The film gets a bit grim and unpleasant in places and the plot is very basic, but the film does have a couple of memorable moments.

Two power-hungry misers are having a wager after a short nature versus nurture discussion. To see who is right, they pick up a petty thief from the street and make him manager of their company, whilst demoting the current manager and getting him jailed for stealing and selling drugs.

Aykroyd and Murphy are decent, though the latter has the best scenes. The plot is predictable, Landis isn't the most gifted director and the runtime is a bit excessive, but the premise is solid enough and there were a couple of funny moments. Hardly the comedy some make it out to be, but it's not the worst film either.

Yol

by Serif Gören
Specifics
1982 / 114m - Turkey
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Yol poster

Cannes may be one of the most prestigious festivals around, I rarely vibe with their top picks. Case in point: Yol. It's a film that relies on topical drama more so than anything else. If you're looking for a film that is critical of the Turkish regime you'll have a field day, if you want something cinematic, better try something else.

Five Kurdish prisoners who are locked up in a Turkish prison get leave for a week, so they can pay their family and friends a rare visit. The five start their trip home, but outside the prison they are faced with even more oppression and rejection, from the government as well their family.

The cinematography is bland, the soundtrack feels out of place and the editing is amateurish. The film tries to draw some appeal from its various settings, but with such poor technical skills these attempts are just moot. I didn't care much for the social critique, which is about all there is to this film. Disappointing.