A Star Is Born

by George Cukor
Specifics
1954 / 181m -
Genre
Romance, Musical
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
A Star Is Born poster

A classic Judy Garland musical. It's certainly an epic undertaking, even though the plot can't support the 180-minute runtime. The result is a lot of stuffing and an endless struggle to end the film on a proper note. It's no surprise they ended up cutting 27 minutes for the regular release, a version I wish I'd seen.

Esther is a girl with a golden voice, but looks that don't really stand out. Norman Maine, an actor on his way back and struggling with an alcohol addiction, discovers Esther and does everything in his power to get her a job at the film studio. While her star is rising, Norman is going through some rough times.

The musical numbers aren't too great, the performances are a bit overdone (especially with the amount of drama present) and there are way too many "film in film" scenes to drive up the runtime. I think I might've enjoyed a 90-minute cut a lot better, this was just excruciating.

The Bitch Who Stole Christmas

by Don Scardino
Specifics
2021 / 86m - USA
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Bitch Who Stole Christmas poster

RuPaul's empire is forever growing. Rather than making a simple Christmas special, he went for a full-length feature. In his wake, several of his famous Drag Race queens are enjoying some time in the spotlight. The result is a cheesy but amusing comedy, at least if you can stand the Drag Race vibe.

A young workaholic reporter is sent to a small town to write an exposé about their annual Christmas competition. When she arrives there she gets a room in a dirty inn. She doesn't really feel at home, but once she starts bonding with the people there, she starts to question some of the choices she made in life.

The comedy is very niche (lots of puns, parodies and visual comedy), the performances are greatly overstated, and the plot is really just an excuse for some drag kitsch. Then again, that's exactly why people are going to watch a film like this. Not as bad as I'd feared, but hardly a future classic.

Coming Forth by Day

by Hala Lotfy
Also known as
Al-Khoroug lel-Nahar
Specifics
2012 / 100m - Egypt
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Coming Forth by Day poster

I haven't really found my way around Middle-Eastern cinema yet, the problem is that most films I see aren't really that inviting. Coming Forth by Day is pretty basic arthouse fare, a slow and contemplative film that offers little in the way of narrative and relies on characters and mood to make its mark.

We follow a day in the life of Soad, a young woman who lives on the edge of Cairo and has taken it upon herself to care for her mom and bedridden father. Her actions are noble, but the price she has to pay is considerable, as Soad has put her own life on hold to take care of her family.

The sepia glow is nice, and the camera work is decent enough, but visually it didn't feel quite as refined as it needed to be. The soundtrack is mostly absent as the ambient sounds of the city take preference, the performances are decent, though the characters never came to life. The mood just wasn't really there for me, neither did I care too much about the themes of the film.

30 Days of Night

by David Slade
Specifics
2007 / 113m - USA
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
30 Days of Night poster

David Slade's vampire chiller is poised to become a future horror classic. Though reactions were a little timid upon its original release, 30 Days of Night has garnered a solid cult following in the subsequent years and watching it again now, the film has lost none of its appeal. The setting is superb, performances are solid, the styling is impeccable, and the film is tense from start to finish. While the finale doesn't feel quite as spectacular as it could've been, the film oozes quality and left me even more impressed than the first time I watched it.

The Calculator

by Dmitriy Grachev
Also known as
Vychislitel
Specifics
2014 / 82m - Russia
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Calculator poster

Fun little Russian sci-fi flick. The Calculator may not have had the biggest budget to splurge on its sci-fi elements, it tries to make the best of things by levering its impressive setting, combined with some flashy CG and nifty alien designs. The result is pretty standard genre fare that had no trouble keeping me engaged throughout.

On a faraway planet, people live under an oppressive totalitarian regime. Rather than kill its prisoners right away, they get exiled into the barren swamps surrounding the prison. The swamps are teeming with alien monsters and survival rates are slim, but the promise of a distant refuge for these prisoners keeps them going.

The performances aren't great (neither is a Russian-dubbed Vinnie Jones) and the plot is little more than an excuse for the characters to explore the swamp, but the aliens and their planet looks pretty nice and there's enough genre fun to fly through the film's short runtime. Sci-fi on a budget is never easy, but The Calculator gave it a commendable shot.

Garo: Fang of God

Also known as
Garo: Kami no Kiba
Specifics
2017 / 98m - Japan
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Garo: Fang of God poster

Keita Amemiya is the creator of the Garo IP, so it's no surprise he also directed many of the live-action films and spin-offs. He doesn't really have the budget to do justice to his grotesque fantasy creations, but that has never stopped him to go as big and far as his imagination would take him.

When the Makai Knights armors are stolen, Ryuga Dogai returns to help solve the mystery. Together with some old friends he begins his investigation, which leads him to an enemy who was though to be defeated before. Dogai and his team will have to give it their 100% to retrieve the armors.

The demons, creatures and characters are brazen anime-like creations, the plot is pretty out there and the action is nothing less than stellar. The CG just isn't there though, giving the film is a fake and glossy look. Either you forgive Amemiya this poor presentation, and you enjoy the film for its wild fantasy elements, or you'll hate this one with a vengeance. I quite liked it.

Last Christmas

by Paul Feig
Specifics
2019 / 103m - UK
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Last Christmas poster

What if you took the famous Wham song and make an entire film out of its signature line? Well, that's exactly what Feig and Thompson did here. Last Christmas is a simple Christmas romcom that stick closely to conventions, and tries to win people over with its a healthy dose of British charm.

Kate is trying to make it as a singer, but her career is in a slump and her personal life isn't faring any better. Her luck changes when she meets Tom, a positive young man who sees the good in everything. He helps Kate to get her life back on track again, but when she starts to fall in love, Tom suddenly disappears.

The film has a fun cast, with Golding and Clarke having plenty of onscreen chemistry. It's a bit weird to see Yeoh as a Christmas-loving aunt instead of an ass-kicking heroine, but quirky casting choices like that add to the fun. The film can get pretty cheesy (though what did you expect, look at the genre/title), but the cast is solid, the comedy is nice enough and the pacing is pleasant. Fine filler.

Dead Run

Also known as
Shissô
Specifics
2005 / 124m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Dead Run poster

Dead Run was quite a change of direction for Hiroyuki Tanaka. Gone are the quirky characters, the free roaming narratives and the delightful coincidences, instead Dead Run serves relentless drama with a slice of Japanese nihilism. I still think it's a powerful and impressive film, but it does lack the visual rawness to make it work for the full 100%.

Shuji is a young kid who lives in the shadow of his more successful brother. He doesn't really mind, until he starts hanging out with a girl and a priest from a less favorable part of town. While Shuji finds comfort in their presence, his brother looks down on them and tries to break up their relationship.

The performances are solid, and the drama is gripping, though it does take a while for the film to find its footing. Visually the film hangs between more traditional dramas and their darker counterparts, but doesn't really dare to pick sides. The somewhat grim and washed out look just doesn't do Dead Run that many favors. The result is a fine Tanaka, but not one of his better films.

Steamboat Bill, Jr.

by Charles Reisner, Buster Keaton
Specifics
1928 / 70m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Steamboat Bill, Jr. poster

One of Keaton's weaker films, despite its strong reputation. It's a film that puts a bit more focus on the plot (which isn't much to look at) and the comedy (which is pretty basic), and keeps the spectacular tricks until very late in the second half. By then, I'd already lost most of my interest.

William Canfield owns an old boat, his biggest competitor just bought a state of the art one. William is waiting to see his son after graduating, hoping he might help him out on the boat. He is sorely disappointed when his son turns out to be a scrawny little fella. Even so, he takes him on board as part of his crew.

I like Keaton for his spectacular action sequences, and the finale delivers in that regard. Not quite up there with his most impressive work, but there are some inspired moments that come off pretty nifty. The comedy is very stale though and the pacing is pretty uneven too. I expected more from this one.

Abominable

by Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman
Specifics
2019 / 97m - USA
Genre
Adventure, Animation
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Abominable poster

An odd little collaboration between DreamWorks (USA) and Pearl (China), that feels like it doesn't really belong anywhere specific. The setting is decidedly Chinese, but the characters feel extremely American, so does the comedy. The result is a somewhat confused and often rushed film that never appears sure what it really wants to be.

Yi misses her father and fails to connect with her mom and grandma. When she finds an escaped Yeti on her roof, it doesn't take her long to decide she will join him in finding his home. Together with her two nephews she begins a perilous journey, as a rare animal collector is hoping to capture the Yeti and add him to his collection.

The characters are pretty irritating, the dub is poor and the classic CG art style is not all that attractive. The plot is also completely nonsensical, the fantastical elements in particular are only there to quickly get out of dire situations it seems. There are some interesting moments and the Yeti is pretty cute, but he can't save the film all by himself. Forgettable.

First Love: Litter on the Breeze

by Eric Kot
Also known as
Choh Chin Luen Hau Dik Yi Yan Sai Gaai
Specifics
1997 / 99m - Hong Kong
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
First Love: Litter on the Breeze poster

A film for people who love films about film. Litter on the Breeze is a pretty peculiar Jet Tone production. Quite self-referential, in line with Wong Kar-Wai's usual output, but still a very different beast altogether. It's certainly not their best work, but there's never a dull moment when these guys are making films.

Eric Kot plays himself, a young director looking for a breakthrough. He made two films about love and introduces them to the audience as if this was a documentary. The first film is about a garbageman who falls in love with a sleepwalking girl, the second film is about a store owner who bumps into an old girlfriend.

There's quite a bit of name-dropping and if you love Doyle's mid-90s vibe the raw cinematography is notable, though Kot makes sure to keep things light and breezy at all times. The short films themselves are nice (which is no surprise considering the talent involved), but they fail to really stand out. A fun film, but it's clear why Kot never made it to the big leagues.

Boxer Rebellion

Also known as
Ba Guo Lian Jun
Specifics
1976 / 137m - Hong Kong
Genre
Action
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Boxer Rebellion poster

No doubt one of Cheh Chang's most epic undertakings. It's not really his best film though, as the Shaw Bros style doesn't really lend itself to producing epic cinema. Their film traditionally thrive on pacing and impressive action cinematography, not elaborate characters and/or effective drama.

China is tearing at the seams and Western nations are readying themselves to increase their power in Chinese territories. Five martial artists join forces, thinking themselves untouchable by Western weapons. They inspire a group of young fighters to help them, but their first encounter with real guns is not what they'd hoped.

There are some truly impressive action scenes, it's just that there's way too much padding in between. The film is overflowing with familiar Shaw Bros faces and the quality of the production is pretty solid, but it's not good enough that it should be stretched beyond the 2-hour mark. Still, for fans of Chang's oeuvre this is a must-see.

Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant

by Sam Friedlander
Specifics
2015 / 99m - USA
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Larry Gaye: Renegade Male Flight Attendant poster

With Larry Gaye, Friedlander and Sikowitz did their very best to revive the heydays of the Zucker/Nielsen comedy. So much in fact that they blatantly rehashed one of the most iconic jokes from Airplane. A ballsy move, but a true highlight of the genre this is not. It is however a light and shameless comedy, a rare sight indeed.

Larry Gaye is a skilled and respected flight attendant, but his life-long dream was to become a pilot. As he suffers from narcolepsy that dream never realized and Larry retreated into the glitzy but unfulfilling life of shallow relationships and fleeting passion. Until he accidentally bumps into the only girl he ever loved.

Exaggerated situational comedy, the most awful puns, a happy-go-lucky lead and a penchant to kill every dramatic moment, so that comedy reigns supreme. The formula is there, the execution is solid enough, but the jokes are pretty hit-and-miss. Still, with the lack of 100% comedies nowadays, this was pretty welcome comedy filler.

Hong Xiguan: Demon Gate Witch

by Dicai Zhang
Specifics
2021 / 89m - China
Genre
Fantasy, Action
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Hong Xiguan: Demon Gate Witch poster

There's no lack of Chinese martial arts cinema lately, and their baseline quality has been increasing noticeably. Still, it isn't trivial trying to get a grip on this explosion of films. Demon Gate Witch is a film that clearly references the 90s Hong Kong films, but lacks the spectacular fight choreography and star power to be a true future classic.

Hong Xiguan is the new Wong Fei-Hung it seems. This historical figure is portrayed as a righteous monk with insane martial arts skills, impeccable morals, but less than stellar social skills (especially when it involves ladies). Hong is carrying a treasure map, which makes him an ideal target for wealth-craving bad guys.

The sets and costumes look lush, the cinematography is colorful, and the action scenes are captured with flair. The performances aren't quite there though, the comedy in particular doesn't really translate very well. These films are great filler for fans of the genre. Short, well-paced and beautiful to look at. If only they could make that final step, we'd have a new era of martial arts classics on our hands.

Marianne & Juliane

by Margarethe von Trotta
Also known as
Die Bleierne Zeit
Specifics
1981 / 106m - West Germany
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Marianne & Juliane poster

An extremely dreary German drama. It's (in my experience at least) one of the least cinematic countries, especially when looking at their more contemporary output. Marianne & Juliane is a film that wants to make a point and doesn't seem to care about anything else, the result is core ugliness.

Marianne and Juliane are two sisters with very different personalities. Both fight for improved women's rights, but Juliane does so as a reporter, while Marianne joins a terrorist organization. She ends up in jail, where she is heavily mistreated by the police. Juliane doesn't agree with Marianne's methods, but she won't let her sister down.

The performances are terrible, the cinematography atrocious and the soundtrack feels tacked on. The social critique may hit home harder for those with a better understanding of the material, but the film makes little effort to get its audience interested. As far removed from my preferred type of film as can be.

Amnesiac

by Michael Polish
Specifics
2014 / 90m - USA
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Amnesiac poster

Late 00 mystery/horror. Films back then loved to keep you guessing, even when the twist itself wasn't all that special. That's probably why Amnesiac received such bad grades, as the final third isn't half as upsetting as it hoped to be. That said, the film has other perks that make it worth a watch.

The life of a young family gets messed up when they are involved in a car crash. The man wakes up with his memory gone, his wife takes care of him. During his recovery he begins to remember a young girl, but there's no daughter to be seen. He starts to suspect his wife isn't telling him everything.

Amnesiac is a true slow burn, relying on stylish cinematography and a stone-cold performance of Bosworth to keep people engaged. It makes for a moody, tense and ultimately amusing film. The plot is basic and the twist a little underwhelming, but those aren't things that are high on my list of priorities anyway. Stylish fun.

Asakusa Kid

by Gekidan Hitori
Also known as
Asakusa Kiddo
Specifics
2021 / 122m - Japan
Genre
Drama
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Asakusa Kid poster

A Takeshi Kitano biography, focusing on his early years. It's more than a little ironic that biographies love to celebrate unique people, whilst the genre itself is probably one of the most generic and predictable around. Asakusa Kid is no exception. It's never good enough to pay true homage to Kitano, for that you're better off watching Kitano's Takeshis'.

A young Takeshi starts working in a strip joint, where he operates the elevator. When he finally gets a break from Fukami (his boss), he confesses that he hasn't any real performance skills. And so Fukami learns Takeshi the basics of comedy and tap dance, two skills he can use to fill in the spots in between the strip acts.

Kitano is a unique artist, but Asakusa Kid is primarily focused on telling a story, which just isn't all that interesting. It's a pretty basic rise to fame vehicle that tells you very little about the man behind the artist. The presentation is decent, so are the performances, but it's not exactly riveting cinema, let alone a film that comes close to Kitano's own oeuvre.

Monster Run

by Henri Wong
Also known as
Guai Wu Xian Sheng
Specifics
2020 / 104m - China
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Monster Run poster

A spectacular blockbuster. While the West is firmly focused on Marvel's cinema obese, China is happily cranking out it's own slew of blockbusters. They're (extremely) close to matching the technical prowess of Hollywood, creatively and artistically speaking they've already overtaken their biggest competitor.

Ji Mo sees monsters, but nobody believes her. She considers it a curse and tries to fit in with the rest, but she keeps getting into trouble because of the monsters who trail her. When she bumps into Meng, a monster hunter, she hopes he can make her life better, but what he has to tell her isn't very reassuring.

The CG is on point, the cinematography is flashy, the performances are solid, and the fantasy elements feel fresh and different. The monster designs are a bit too childish and the balance between action and drama isn't quite perfect, but there's lots to like here, especially for people who don't want to watch the same recycled nonsense over and over again.