The Commuter

by Jaume Collet-Serra
Specifics
Canada, USA [2018] - 104m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Commuter poster

Another typical Collet-Serra/Neeson collaboration. This is pretty much Non-Stop (at least, from what I can remember of it), only in a train. I'm not the biggest fan of these films, but they're pretty entertaining and even though Neeson's getting a bit old to play the action hero who saves the day, he can still pull it off (though barely).

When Michael is on his daily commute, a stranger sits down across him. She makes him a deal where he has to unmask a passenger on the train in return for a big, lump sum of money. Michael is a bit hesitant, but when it turns out his family is held hostage he has no choice but to comply with their demands.

Neeson can play these parts with his eyes closed, other performances are decent too, the limited set feels aptly claustrophobic and there are some solid action scenes. It's all a bit predictable and the ending could've used some extra spice, but overall this was pretty fun and well-made filler.

The Glory of Team Batista

Also known as
Chîmu Bachisuta no Eikô
Specifics
Japan [2008] - 120m
Genre
Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Glory of Team Batista poster

A decent, though somewhat unspectacular medical thriller that is slightly elevated by the joyous performance of Hiroshi Abe. Team Batista's TV roots are a bit too obvious at times, with Nakamura failing to make a true effort to hide them, but overall the whodunit aspects were pretty effective.

Team Batista is a lauded team of surgeons who have a perfect track record performing the Batista operation, a somewhat experimental procedure that has a mere 60% success rate. But when three procedures in a row fail, people are becoming suspicious and an investigation is launched to find out what is going on.

With Takeuchi and Abe in the lead the film has two serious assets, the rest is decidedly more pedestrian. These two actors manage to single-handedly drive up the tension and make the mystery elements work, other than that it's pretty decent, but a bit too long and not very cinematic. Solid filler in other words.

Akamoru: The Dark, Wild Yearning

Also known as
Chi Wa Taiyô Yori Akai
Specifics
Japan [1966] - 81m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Akamoru: The Dark, Wild Yearning poster

Early Wakamatsu, though with Wakamatsu that doesn't necessarily mean it's one of his first films. Merely three years into his career he already had 20+ films under his belt. Even so, it's obvious that Wakamatsu was still trying to find his style here. Many of his signature elements are already present, but the film still lacks what would set his more notable work apart.

The topic at least is vintage Wakamatsu. The film follows a high school student prepping for his exams. When he looks at the world that he's about to join, including its many social inequities, he's anything but excited. Malcontent with the future that lies ahead of him, he decides to take revenge on the adults.

Activism in other words. Some youthful revolt, a little nudity, stylish black and white cinematography with a splash of color and a jazzy soundtrack. But the film lacks that rawer edge that made Wakamatsu's best work stand out. Also, after 30+ Wakamatsu films, it does start to feel a bit repetitive, seeing the same subject handled over and over again. But for fans of his works, definitely worth seeking out.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

by Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Specifics
UK [1943] - 163m
Genre
Drama, War
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp poster

An old British favorite. Powell & Pressburger enjoy a reputation I really don't understand. This is the third collaboration between both directors I've seen and none of them has struck me as anything special. The same goes for this one. It's a long film, very long in fact, and that's about all there is to it really.

Colonel Blimp follows the life of Clive Candy as he rises through the ranks of the British army. It zooms in on the romances he had and picks out a strong friendship he upheld with a German officer. It's all a big stage for the run-up to WWII, where Candy realizes the world has changed for good and his time in it may be coming to an end.

There's a lot of British cheekiness that feels hopelessly outdated, apart from that it's just endless conversations about nothing much at all. Because it handles three periods in Candy's life the film ended up quite long, but that length adds surprisingly little to the characters and the narrative. I dozed off a couple of times, which at least made time pass quicker.

Visitors

by Lav Diaz, Sang-soo Hong, Naomi Kawase
Also known as
Eoddeon Bangmun
Specifics
South Korea [2009] - 108m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Visitors poster

I quite like anthology projects, as they offer an opportunity to directors to try something different, do something unexpected, to surprise. But then there are films like this, where each director just turns in a shorter version of what they regularly produce, only shot on a smaller budget.

In Kawase's short, Kang Jun-Il returns a sacred scroll to its ancestral home. In Hong's short we follow Mi-Sook as she drives off on a whim to visit an old classmate of hers. When she arrives, she finds out her friend is having an affair with a college professor. And in Diaz' short Carol returns home to the poor miner village where she grew up, only to become the target of a kidnapping ploy.

None of the short are anything special. They're pretty much what you'd expect from the directors, only less developed and visibly made with less money. Kawase's short is the nicest of the bunch, while Diaz' was the weakest for me. A waste of potential though, these tree established directors should've done a lot more with this chance.

Casino Royale

by Martin Campbell
Specifics
USA, UK [2006] - 144m
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Casino Royale poster

Ouch. By far the worst Bond in the series. Gone is the self-aware fun, the crazy, goofy elements, the over-the-top nonsense. In good old Hollywood '00 tradition and old franchise is revamped to be more serious and raw. Of course within the safe confines of marketable Hollywood entertainment, making for an extremely boring and glaringly nonsensical film.

This is a little reboot for James Bond. He's on his very first assignment and still has to learn the tricks of the trade. He chases down a bad guy called Le Chiffre, the famed banker of a global terrorist network, in order to stifle their operations. But Le Chiffre isn't just some office stiff, making Bond's life much harder than he had anticipated.

The action scenes are bland, Q is dearly missed, the extra time spent on the characterization of Bond is an utter waste of time and the poker game that grinds the film to a halt halfway through is one of the dullest scenes in any of the Bond films out there. A disgrace, sadly it did well and we seem to be stuck with this Bond for the time being.

Fear of Rain

by Castille Landon
Specifics
USA [2021] - 109m
Genre
Mystery, Thriller
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Fear of Rain poster

Fear of a mediocre thriller. Writer/director Castille Landon chewed off more than she could bite when she tried to spike a pretty basic thriller (think Suburbia or Vertigo) with a dash of mental illness drama. The result is something that falls in between two worlds and fails to deliver on both accounts.

Rain is diagnosed with schizophrenia. She suffers from hallucinations and she's on her last strike before she is sent to an institution to recover. When she hears screams in the house across the road nobody believes her, except a new friend she made at school. Together they set out to prove Rain isn't making things up again.

The entire film hinges on whether Rain's suspicions are correct, the fact that she's suffering from mental illness feels more like a lazy shortcut rather an actual attempt to add depth to her character. But the biggest problem is that even with all that Landon fails to cast doubt on the ending, making it all too predictable. Performances are decent and the cinematography is slightly above par, but that's not enough to make this a successful thriller.

The Beast

by Ludovico Di Martino
Also known as
La Belva
Specifics
Italy [2020] - 97m
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Beast poster

Decent genre flick, with some minor twists that help to set it apart from its peers, though ever so slightly. The Beast doesn't try to be anything special or extraordinary, but it does it best to bring you an entertaining mix of action and thriller elements without too much unnecessary cruft. And that it does well.

Leonida is a war veteran who suffers from mental illness when he returns home. He neglects his family and loses the respect of his son. When his daughter gets kidnapped though Leonida immediately chases behind the kidnappers. The police, looking at his record, treat Leonida as a possible suspect, but he only cares about getting his daughter to safety.

It's Neesan meets Rambo, which means its best to keep your expectations of the plot rather low. The (rather neat) twist is that Leonida is quite fallible. An impressive force to be reckoned with, but far from the killing machines I'm used to seeing in American productions. The presentation is decent and performances are okay, it's hardly a spectacular film, but solid enough filler for those looking to watch an entertaining action flick.

The African Queen

by John Huston
Specifics
USA, UK [1951] - 105m
Genre
Romance, Adventure
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The African Queen poster

A classic Huston adventure that hasn't aged all that well. The film was shot entirely on location, even so the special effects trickery for some of the more adventurous shots looks more like something you'd expect to see in a cheesy Honda flick. A very dashing film this is not (at least not anymore).

Samuel and Rose run a church in Africa, until they are raided by German troupes. Only Rose survives the attack, but she has no way of escape. Then she meets Charlie, a rugged fella who owns a boat. Traveling down the Ulonga-Bora is ill-advised, but Rose convinces Charlie there's no other way to escape their predicament.

The effects are crummy and the adventure is merely amusing, never tense. Bogart's performance is questionable at best, Hepburn isn't really on top her game either. At least the film doesn't take itself too seriously, other than that it's a decently paced, but hopelessly outdated film.

Cocolors

by Toshihisa Yokoshima
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 46m
Genre
Sci-fi
More info on
rating
4.5*/5.0*
Cocolors poster

Lovingly crafted indie animation that references quite a few other films, but still manages to stand on its own two feet. An atmospheric cyber/steampunk aesthetic, a beautifully realized art style and impressive cel shading lift this film far above the competition and immediately put Yokoshima on the map as a talent to look out for in the future.

Snow/Woman

by Mitsuru Meike
Also known as
Furinzuma: Jôen
Specifics
Japan [2000] - 60m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Snow/Woman poster

A small indie film that shows some potential, but doesn't really capitalize on it. The direction's a bit murky, the mix of genres never truly comes together and the technical qualities are rather poor. The premise is intriguing though and it does get quite atmospheric in places, but it's simply not enough.

A man is waiting for a woman in a snowed-in house, deep in the mountains. When the woman doesn't come the man gets a little suspicious, but the tricks himself into believing she's just held up. The longer he stays in the house, the crazier he gets and his imagination starts running wild.

Maybe with a little extra budget, some better actors, more professional gear and a talented cinematographer this could've ended up a much better film, then again that means replacing about 80% of the entire production. Fans of indie/cult cinema might get something out of it, but I wouldn't really recommend it unless you know what you're getting yourself into.

Mio on the Shore

by Ryûtarô Nakagawa
Also known as
Watashi wa Hikari wo Niggite Iru
Specifics
Japan [2019] - 96m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Mio on the Shore poster

A gentle coming of age drama that alternates between stylized and more naturalistic scenes. It's an accomplished film by a director who knows what he's doing, at the same time the film struggles to set itself apart from so many other Japanese dramas. Very solid filler in other words.

Mio is a young girl who grew up in the countryside, working in a local inn. When the inn closes down she is sent to a friend of the family who lives in Tokyo. It's time for Mio to see more of the world, but Tokyo isn't anything like home and she needs time to adapt to her new environment.

Performances are strong, the cinematography looks very polished, characters are intriguing and the drama is touching. Seeing the coming of age elements mixed with the redevelopment drama is a bit odd, but it gives the film some extra character it lacks elsewhere. Definitely not a bad film, just a little too expected for a true masterpiece.

The Cheat

by Cecil B. DeMille
Specifics
USA [1915] - 59m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Cheat poster

Early DeMille that fails to impress. I've said it before, but silent cinema doesn't work that well for straight drama/crime narratives. Unsubtle performances make it hard to care for the characters, while awkward alternations between scenes and intertitles slow the whole thing down unnecessarily.

Edith is a cheeky woman. She steals money from a charity in invest it in the stock market. What looked like a good deal turns out to be a disaster and Edith loses all her money. In order to pay back the charity she relies on the help of an Asian businessman. He is willing to aid Edith, but wants more than just money from her.

It's a pretty simple story that goes from A to B without too many surprises. Performances are well over-the-top, the cinematography is rather bland and characters are flimsy. In its time it might've been an interesting film, considering all the limitations directors had back then, but films like these just didn't age well at all. It's only an hour long, but it felt much longer.

Malu

by Edmund Yeo
Specifics
Japan, Malaysia [2020] - 112m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Malu poster

A solid drama that aims to be slightly more poetic than it can muster. Cinematography and score aren't quite strong enough to support the slow pacing and the drama gets a little overbearing because of that. There's quality here though and with a bit of fine-tuning I'm sure that over time Yeo could deliver a masterpiece.

Two sisters are reunited after their mother dies. It's clear from the start that there's a lot of unaddressed drama and anger in their past, caused by the erratic behavior of their mother. The sisters lose sight of each other once again and won't be in contact until one of them turns up dead in Japan.

Performances are good, the cinematography is decent and the score acceptable, but it all feels a bit too safe. Just a little too predictably arthouse, which made it harder than necessary to get really invested in the characters. The potential is there though, and I'm certain to give Yeo another shot, but I expected a tad more from this one.

Another 48 Hrs.

by Walter Hill
Specifics
USA [1990] - 93m
Genre
Comedy, Action
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Another 48 Hrs. poster

An apt title for a film that is really just more of the same. Ten years after the first film Walter Hill revisited his cop/con flick and redid it with a bit more action, slightly more seasoned actors and tighter pacing. Don't expect a world of difference, but I did find this sequel marginally more entertaining.

After some initial hoopla, Cates and Hammond team up again to finally catch The Iceman. Cates is on the brink of losing his badge, Hammond was just released out of jail but hasn't got his money back yet. Their unorthodox ways gets them very close, but somehow The Iceman is always one step ahead.

Another 48 Hrs is a decent buddy cop flick, nothing more, nothing less. The biggest difference is that the action scenes are a tad more impressive and that Murphy has come into his own, which is beneficial to the comedy. The rest is just simple and basic genre stuff, but it does a decent job passing the time.

Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic

Also known as
Mo Deng Ru Lai Shen Zhang
Specifics
Hong Kong [1990] - 99m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic poster

Taylor Wong by way of Jing Wong. Kung Fu vs. Acrobatic is a parody update of Buddha's Palm in true Jing Wong style. Don't expect classy film making or high brow comedy, but when you're in the mood for some goofy, nonsensical Hong Kong silliness then this film has you covered.

In an attempt to smuggle contraband into Hong Kong, Charles and Chi find themselves in a secret cave where they wake up a princess and a dark martial artist trapped there for centuries. The duo gets magical powers which they use gratuitously, but when the evil master follows them back to Hong Kong they need to step up and save their loved ones.

The effects are absolutely dire and performances are well over the top, but Andy Lau, Pak-Cheung Chan and Joey Wang have good chemistry and the comedy is delightfully daft. The pacing is insane and the film is completely unpredictable, which makes for 100 minutes of solid entertainment. A pleasant surprise.

Rokuroku: The Promise of the Witch

by Yudai Yamaguchi, Keita Amemiya
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 92m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Rokuroku: The Promise of the Witch poster

Yamaguchi's latest film is probably a good indication of the position Japanese underground horror finds itself in these days. Underfunded, without a dedicated international audience and straining to survive. With the proper talent and budgets backing this film this could've been a lot of fun, now it's mostly just unrealized potential.

Though they haven't seen each other in 10 years, Izumi and Mika decide to meet up again and catch up for old time's sake. Meanwhile, a string of seemingly unrelated hauntings is taking place. When Mika reveals a lingering trauma from their childhood days, everything appears to be coming together.

The film plays a little like a horror anthology, with one main thread bringing all the shorts together in the end. There are some fine ideas here, and it's not hard to see how this could've been a great Japanese horror film, but cheap production values, poor performances and icky CG don't really help Yamaguchi. It's a shame, because underneath that cheapness this was good fun.

Ingeborg Holm

by Victor Sjöström
Specifics
Sweden [1913] - 96m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Ingeborg Holm poster

A tough film to judge. My trip through Swedish classic cinema hasn't been very successful so far, and Ingeborg Holm suffers from the same traits that made me dislike the earlier films I tried. The biggest difference here is the score, which is really haunting and emotional. Very modern and tacked on too, making it extra tricky to judge the film.

Ingeborg and her husband open up a small grocery store. While it doesn't make them rich, it allows them to live a comfortable life. But then Ingeborg's husband falls ill and though she tries her best, the shop has to close after he passes on. Ingeborg is separated from her kids and has to stay in a poor house. All she wants is to see her kids one last time.

It's a very sentimental film that piles on the misery, but because the score is so beautiful and calming (a big contrast with most scores for silent films) it really balances out the drama. I'm sure that with a different soundtrack my score would be halved, but as it stands the restored version is not that bad.

The Stepford Wives

by Frank Oz
Specifics
USA [2004] - 93m
Genre
Comedy, Sci-fi
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Stepford Wives poster

Frank Oz updates a classic. I'd never read Levin's book, nor did I watch the prior film adaptations, but I still feel it's quite obvious where and how Oz' version deviates from the original. If I'd had to wager a bet, I'd say that Oz' version is the one I'm most likely to prefer, but I'll have to see the older ones first to be sure.

After Joanna's latest TV show flops, she and her husband move to Connecticut to start their lives anew. They arrive in the quaint town of Stepford, where it appears time has stood still. Everybody looks their best all the time, the wealth is extreme and nobody ever complains. It is obvious something weird is going on there.

The performances are gleefully over-the-top, the cinematography is bold and colorful and the comedy is just right. Oz doesn't even bother hiding the mystery of the village, instead he has a little fun with gender roles/reversals and twists the original story a bit further to come to a satisfying ending. A fun surprise.

Lock-On Love

Also known as
Kakugo wa Ii Ka Soko no Joshi
Specifics
Japan [2018] - 95m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Lock-On Love poster

What happened to Iguchi? At one time he was one of the prime representatives of gory splatter horror and crude, off-kilter comedy. With Lock-On Love he delivers a mushy and predictable high school romance. I get that the Sushi Typhoon hype is well behind us, but that's quite a stretch.

Furuya is an adoration boy. The kind of boy all the girls love to swoon over, but won't actually date. Furuya is tired of being alone, and he picks Misono as his romantic interest. She's known to be somewhat of an ice queen though, so Furuya will have to do his utmost best to win her over with his charms.

Lock-On Love is a cookie cutter romance that doesn't even try to venture outside its comfort zone. Performances are basic, the cinematography feels kinda cheap and the soundtrack is extremely poppy, but at least the pacing is decent and there's some chemistry between the leads. If you come for signature Iguchi though, it's best to avoid this one altogether.

Die Another Day

by Lee Tamahori
Specifics
USA, Spain [2002] - 133m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Die Another Day poster

Brosnan's final entry in the series is a slight step up from his two previous films. Not so much because of Brosnan himself, he still feels woefully out of place in this more action-packed version of James Bond, but at least the action scenes and set pieces are a bit more outrageous in this film.

Bond goes on a risky mission to North-Korea. He is captured and tortured, but his life his spared when it can be traded for a North-Korean spy. Bond's hellbent on unmasking the mole who betrayed him. His travels take him to Iceland, where he learns about a new weapon that threatens to start a new war.

Tamahori did well with the action scenes, which are a good step up from previous installments, while still offering enough kooky Bond nonsense (live him surfing the tsunami). Berry's a bland addition to the cast though and Stephens is a dull bad guy, Yune and Pike are slightly better. Certainly not the greatest Bond, but quite entertaining.

Galaxy Quest

by Dean Parisot
Specifics
USA [1999] - 102m
Genre
Comedy, Sci-fi
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Galaxy Quest poster

Spectacularly unfunny. I'm not a big Star Trek fan, nor do I particularly like nerd/fanboy culture, so a good parody on these things should be right up my alley. Emphasis on "good", as this was nothing more than a lazy, cheap and predictable attempt to have a little fun at the genre's expense.

Nesmith and his crew still frequent comic fairs, almost 20 years after their hit series disappeared from TV. Though they still have fans, nobody takes them seriously anymore. Until they're summonsed by actual aliens who think their show was the real thing. Suddenly they find themselves in the midst of a real space war.

Performances are bland, the sets and effects look cheap, the comedy is very predictable and lacks the edge of a good parody. I'm pretty sure US TV sci-fi fans will find something to laugh at here as in the end it's more and ode than a parody, I'm just glad they never bothered to make a sequel.

Satan's Slaves

by Joko Anwar
Also known as
Pengabdi Setan
Specifics
South Korea, Indonesia [2017] - 107m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Satan's Slaves poster

I guess the most disappointing thing about a film called Satan's Slaves is that it's really just another ghost/hauntings flick. In twenty years time, many Asian horror films still haven't really moved beyond Ringu. While the story itself tries to incorporate some novel influences, the horror is just shrouded ghosts and pale faces.

Rini lives with her family in a remote village, where they take care of their sick mom. When she dies strange things start happening around the house and Rini begins to suspect her mom has kept something important from them. When grandma suddenly dies and the youngest of the family becomes the target of violent hauntings, everyone's in a panic.

Satan's Slaves is a well-made film, the problem is that you've probably seen it many times before. Performances are solid and the cinematography is stylish, but the haunts aren't all that scary and the backstory never really comes into its own. Certainly not bad, but it could've done with more original lore.