Ambiguous Places

by Akira Ikeda
Also known as
Uron na Tokoro
Specifics
2017 / 93m - Japan
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
4.5*/5.0*
toplist position
Ambiguous Places poster

It's not often that I am at a loss for words, but Ambiguous Places left me completely speechless. This is what happens when you take a daft, absurd and silly comedy, and you dehydrate it until all the vitality has been drained from it. It's hard to discern logic, a sliver of coherence or a deeper meaning, but who needs any of that. This is an unapologetic comedy, a celebration of the absurd and deadpan that had me laughing out loud all the way through. A true delight.

Port of Shadows

by Marcel Carné
Also known as
Le Quai des Brumes
Specifics
1938 / 91m - France
Genre
Romance, Crime
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rating
1.5*/5.0*
Port of Shadows poster

A surprisingly modern-looking film. The camera work is rather energetic, and the performances feel quite naturalistic, especially compared to other films from that era. Sadly, Port of Shadows is a late-30s films, which means that there's a lot of dialogue to wade through, which greatly hampers the pacing.

Jean is a deserter who is trying to flee the country. When he arrives in Le Havre he decides to lie low for a while, before his attempt to cross the border. He finds refuge with a painter, but there he falls in love with Nelly. Jean is suddenly a lot less inclined to move away, but things aren't that easy.

If the film had introduced more explicit noir elements and put more effort in mood-building rather than dialogue, this would have been a much better film. I may have to dig a bit deeper into Carné's oeuvre, sadly, his later work hasn't really appealed to me so far. The potential for a good classic is definitely there, it's just a shame Carné didn't exploit it properly.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

by Mark Burton, Richard Starzak
Specifics
2015 / 85m - UK
Genre
Comedy, Adventure, Animation
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rating
3.5*/5.0*
Shaun the Sheep Movie poster

An archetypical Aardman animation. I never watched the series, but that's not exactly needed to keep track of this film. The setup is simple, the characters are caricatures, the plot is extremely basic. None of that really matters of course, since the film is all about light comedy and blistering stop-motion charm.

Shaun is tired of going through the same routine day in, day out. He devises a plan to get rid of his boss for a day, but he gets more than he bargained for. The farmer ends up in the city with memory loss, Shaun and his friends must go after them to save their hides (and the farm).

The animation is top-notch, the film is filled to the brim with cute little details and funny cultural references and the tone is pleasantly light and breezy. It may very well be aimed at kids, but as an adult there is plenty of wit to keep you occupied. One of the better Aardman films I've seen.

Thief Heroine

by Hu Guo
Specifics
2021 / 83m - China
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Thief Heroine poster

Another take on the tomb raiding adventure. For such a small and specific niche, it's pretty insane how many films China made this year in this genre alone. Thief Heroine sets itself apart with a more extended introduction and a better fleshed out plot, though this comes at the expense of the actual tomb raiding, which is the primary reason for watching these films.

The reason why it takes so long to get to the actual tomb adventuring is because the characters first need to get their hands on the map that leads them there. The treasure is said to be substantial, so several groups are eying that map, hoping it will help them seize control over the Ming Dynasty. The titular heroine finds herself in the middle of this power scuffle.

The action is decent but not top of the line, the sets are nice but nothing too creative, the extra plot is mostly just padding. Thief Heroine is still a pretty fun and well-paced flick for genre fans, but it's little more than platform filler. A good option for everyone in dire need of tomb raiding adventures, just don't expect anything more.

Farewell to a Warrior

Also known as
Ci Lang Zhou
Specifics
1976 / 91m - Hong Kong
Genre
Musical
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Farewell to a Warrior poster

Yuen Chor + Shaw Bros usually equals martial arts cinema with a strong fantasy injection. Those who've dug a little deeper into his oeuvre already know that Chor is more than just martial arts though. Still, I hadn't really expected to see a full-blown Chinese Teochew opera. Not really a very pleasant surprise I'm afraid.

Chinese opera is an acquired taste, one I haven't been able to get accustomed to. There's an early John Woo film I sat through some time ago that left quite some scars, this Chor film just adds to the trauma. Though it tells the story of the 13th century Sung Dynasty battle against the Mongols, action fans have nothing to look forward to.

It's really just a lot of singing on a decently decorated stage. That's where Chor's hand is mostly clearly visible, but it's hard to enjoy when the music and voices are that pervasive. The thing just drags for 90 minutes, the silence afterwards was a pure blessing. If you're a fan of Chinese opera, do give this film a shot, as Chor's decoration is sure to enhance the experience. If not, it's best to stay clear of this one.

Bloody Hell

by Alister Grierson
Specifics
2020 / 93m - Australia
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Bloody Hell poster

A film that goes through great lengths to appear cool and edgy, but doesn't get there. Grierson clearly made an effort and there are parts of it that are really fun. Sadly, the comedy isn't always on the mark and the visual polish is somewhat lacking. Still, if you're looking for a quirky horror/comedy, Bloody Hell is worth a try.

After spending 8 years in prison for going mental against a couple of bank robbers, Rex decides that he wants to move away and start his life anew. Of all the places he can go to, he picks Finland. When he arrives there, he becomes the target of a local family, who kidnap Rex and lock him up in their basement.

The editing isn't quite snappy enough, the gritty look comes off a little cheap and O'Toole isn't the best match for the main character. The song choices are fun (and funny) though and the finale ramps things up a notch or two. Bloody Hell is an amusing film, but the potential was there to do a lot better.

The Yinyang Master

by Weiran Li
Also known as
Shi Shen Ling
Specifics
2021 / 113m - China
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Yinyang Master poster

Not quite as good as that other Yinyang film. Both are based on the Onmyōji franchise, but where Guo's film was an adaptation of the book, Weiran's film is based on the game adaptation. The result is a slightly more childish and kitsch film, though fans of Chinese fantasy will still find quite a bit to enjoy here.

After the human and monster worlds are separated, a team of gatekeepers is formed to prevent anyone from crossing over. The Snow Queen is planning a coup, eying the Scaling Stone that will help her conquer the human world. One of her minions steals the stone, but loses it again on his way back.

There's too much CG here, and the quality isn't always first-grade, despite the film's budget. A bigger problem is that the fantasy designs aren't all that inspired. The action is pretty solid though and the pacing is on point. A decent enough Chinese fantasy film, but with the budget and talent available, they should've done better.

The Reckless Moment

by Max Ophüls
Specifics
1949 / 82m - USA
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Reckless Moment poster

It's a bit odd to peculiar that so many respected European directors ended up in the USA directing noirs. I guess Hollywood has always been the promised land for film people, sadly, their travels rarely resulted in better films or an upgraded oeuvre. Ophuls' The Reckless Moment is a prime example.

Lucia finds out her daughter Bea is dating a shady criminal. Behind her daughter's back she confronts him, but he demands money from Lucia. Lucia tells Bea ab out his deplorable proposition, but she doesn't believe her mother and sneaks out to see her lover. The next morning he is found dead.

The Reckless Moment is a pretty plain and unexciting noir, unless you're a big fan of the genre. The pacing is pretty snappy, but the plot is so simple and by the numbers that it doesn't really matter. The performances are lifeless, and the film lacks the gritty atmosphere that might've added some appeal. Very forgettable.

Last Train to Christmas

by Julian Kemp
Specifics
2021 / 109m - UK
Genre
Drama, Fantasy
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Last Train to Christmas poster

An odd little Christmas movie. From the outside it looked like a simple Christmas comedy, but there's a lot more going on under the hood. I hadn't expected a nifty time travel mechanic, nor did I expect a more dramatic plot. I'm not saying this will grow out to become a future Christmas classic, but it's a worthy gamble for people who want a slightly different Christmas flick.

Tony Towers is a local celebrity, who board a train to Nottingham. When he goes to the bar, he suddenly finds himself in the future, looking like a complete bum. He begins to piece things together and by moving up and down the train, he tries to get his life in order. That's easier said than done.

Michael Sheen's performance is rather overstated, but he pulls it off just fine. The direction is a little basic (not too surprising, since this is a TV project), but the writing is pretty nifty and the plot is surprisingly intricate, though still easy enough to keep track of. A pleasant surprise and a memorable film.

Wu Hai

by Ziyang Zhou
Specifics
2020 / 108m - China
Genre
Drama, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Wu Hai poster

A mix of arthouse and genre that is reminiscent of the later films of Zhangke Jia. I can't say I'm the biggest fan, but director Ziyang Zhou is clearly in control of the material, and it does result in some impressive scenes. Sadly, they're scattered around in an otherwise somewhat aimless film.

Yang Hua and his girlfriend are going through some rough times. They've grown apart, and Hua's financial worries only seem to make things worse. He has debt collectors chasing him, his business partner is unwilling to pay back a failed investment, while a looming pregnancy puts even more pressure on their relationship.

The cinematography is nice, the soundtrack is solid, and so are the performances. Wu Hai is a film without obvious weak points, but its meandering plot and relatively weak characterization make it difficult to get truly invested. It's not a bad film, just one that left me pretty cold, save a handful of standout moments.

Istanbul beneath My Wings

by Mustafa Altioklar
Also known as
Istanbul Kanatlarimin Altinda
Specifics
1996 / 119m - Turkey
Genre
Drama, Adventure
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Istanbul beneath My Wings poster

A Turkish genre bender. It's equal parts adventure, drama and comedy, though the latter may just be a result of its somewhat daft and flimsy presentation. It's an odd experience no doubt, one that feels like a semi-serious attempt to make something epic, but never quite gets there.

Four men are living in 17th century Istanbul, their ultimate dream is to fly. Their experiments aren't very successful though, and the people in Istanbul aren't all that supportive. Hezarfen, one of the four men, also tends to an Italian slave. The two fall in love with each other, and she becomes Hezarfen's biggest fan, cheering him on as he tries to realize his dream.

Altioklar clearly made an effort to make something unique, but the technical skills seem to be missing. The costumes and setting look very drab, the performances are poor, and the special effects are quite terrible. At least things get a bit funnier during the second half, but not enough to save this film.

Hostile

by Mathieu Turi
Specifics
2017 / 83m - France
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Hostile poster

A film with potential, but Turi fails to notice the good bits. The post-apocalyptic scenes are pretty solid, a nice mix of desolate sci-fi and nasty horror. The flashbacks on the other hands are dreary and kitsch. Turi keeps alternating between the two, which makes for a very uneven experience.

Juliette is driving home to camp, when her car hits a ditch and crashes. She wakes up in the middle of the night, in a desolate area surrounded by hungry creatures. As she tries to barricade herself, she remembers the events leading up to the destruction of the Earth as we know it.

The performances are quite poor. That's not a problem for the sci-fi/horror scenes, but the more dramatic flashbacks fail to engage and quickly become a real drag. The cinematography is decent enough, Botet looks creepy, and the horror scenes are pretty tense, it's just a shame that they get interrupted every 5 minutes.

Aesop's Game

by Naoya Asanuma, Yûya Nakaizumi, Shin'ichirô Ueda
Also known as
Isoppu no Omou Tsubo
Specifics
2019 / 87m - Japan
Genre
Fantasy, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Aesop's Game poster

Ueda continues to churn out twisty films, hoping to revisit the breakout success of One Cut of the Dead. Aesop's Game is another amusing and rather successful attempt to trick the audience, but unless Ueda also ups his directorial skills, his films will keep on struggling to rise above mediocrity.

Miwa is a young girl who fails to stand out. She fancies her new teacher, but a trio of popular girls have beaten her to him. She observes them from a distance, until one of the girls notices her, and they start talking. It looks like life is finally looking up for Miwa, but things are not what they seem.

There are quite a few twists and turns here, which are pretty fun, but the performances are mediocre, and the direction is a bit muddled. The anthology approach (the film is split in 3 parts, each part helmed by a different director) doesn't add much either. The result is decent filler, nothing more.