Kirin Mirage Town

by Cai Junfeng, Meng Qingsheng
Specifics
China [2021] - 85m
Genre
Fantasy, Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Kirin Mirage Town poster

Modern Chinese TV productions have reached that somewhat troublesome level of quality where they manage to be cinematic, but not consistently so. These films are mass-produced and while some are definitely worth a shot, you won't find any true masterpieces there. It is pleasant genre filler, sometimes showing a glimpse of wanting to be something more, but never quite realizing that potential.

Kirin Mirage Town is another one of these films. A crime/mystery story nested within a historic fantasy setting, alternating between competent and atmospheric on the one hand, cheap and flimsy on the other. Its TV roots are always apparent, but there are moments where the film goes beyond.

The first half is pretty basic, introducing two characters who can't really get along, but are still inexplicably attracted to each other, and who need each other to solve a murder case. Once they travel to the fantasy realm things gets a bit more interesting, though the less than stellar CG makes sure you won't ever mistake this for big screen production. I wish I'd get a better grip on this niche, but with an ever-changing roster of directors and a endless string of films that resemble each other just a bit too much, it's almost impossible to makes sense of it when you don't speak Chinese. For now, I'll limit myself to sampling what looks interesting. So far that has yielded some solid films, but nothing truly spectacular yet.

Hot Pursuit

by Anne Fletcher
Specifics
USA [2015] - 87m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Hot Pursuit poster

A cop and a witness have to stay alive on their trip to Dallas so they can testify against a drug baron, surely not the most original setup ever. It's really just an excuse to pair Witherspoon with Vergara and draw some comedy from that, the rest of the film is so incredibly basic that you have to wonder if anyone really cares about the minor crime and action elements here.

The chemistry between the two is pretty limited, Vergara simply repeats her role from Modern Family and Witherspoon tries, but isn't all that funny. Luckily there are some utterly weird and unexplainable moments in there (like the dear impersonation) that kept me on my toes and made sure I never truly tired of the film.

Fletcher's direction's a little unsure and I don't think Hot Pursuit really stands out amidst the legion of other films just like it. It's not all that memorable and because of that it's pretty hard to recommend, but it didn't really bore me either and for simple filler it didn't disappoint. Just keep your expectations low.

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City

by Walter Ruttmann
Specifics
Germany [1927] - 65m
Genre
Documentary
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Berlin: Symphony of a Great City poster

The city as a living, breathing organism. I've seen a couple of these films now and I find them quite tough to judge, not in the least because they don't come with a dedicated score. There's no narrative here, so for a film that only relies on audiovisual elements the score is even more key than usual.

The version I watched didn't have any kind of score at all, which appeared to be a pretty good compromise at first, but didn't work out that well either. Films like this are quite poetic in nature (they call them city symphonies for a reason) and without a score the appeal diminishes quite a bit.

It's still rather nice to see a film that documents a bygone era, even when the technical qualities of the film heavily distort the reality it tries to capture. The editing is decent but not all that remarkable and 60 minutes may be a bit too long, but Ruttmann did a pretty solid job bringing Berlin to life. Without some proper music though, the second half got pretty boring.

Grass Labyrinth

by Shûji Terayama
Also known as
Kusa-Meikyû
Specifics
Japan, France [1979] - 40m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Grass Labyrinth poster

Shûji Terayama gets full-on weird. I'm not really surprised that the short format suits Terayama's style. I'm slowly going through the man's work and while the films I've seen all contain moments of greatness, they're never quite consistent enough for a high rating. The Grass Labyrinth seems less worried at providing some kind of coherent narrative, and that makes a big difference.

There's an underlying plot about an adolescent chasing the lyrics of a lullaby his mother used to sing to him, but it's merely an excuse for some surreal scenes that appear to symbolize the boy's transition from boy into man. My advice is to let the dream-like wonder swoop over you and to not worry too much about what it all means (unless you really love to dissect films).

The film is beautifully stylized, with some memorable compositions, strong use of color and a fitting, surprisingly modern soundtrack. The actors surrendered to their performances, the runtime is perfect and Terayama manages to keep it interesting throughout. Some parts feel just a little too dated for an even higher rating, but this is by far the best film I've seen from Terayama. Well recommended.

Two Heads Creek

by Jesse O'Brien
Specifics
UK, Australia [2019] - 85m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Two Heads Creek poster

Horror comedy by the numbers. Throwing together some oddball characters, crude stereotypes and gory intermissions, Two Heads Creek feels familiar from start to finish. It's a good thing then that the film is pretty funny and gets quite gory where it needs to be, so it's at least pretty entertaining filler.

When two Polish siblings discover their recently deceased mum adopted them as babies, they leave England in search of their real mother. It's a trip that takes them to a little backwater village in Australia, where immigrants are dropped off and never seen again. Not the most original setup, then again this film has more fun toying around with stereotypes than subverting them.

O'Brien pokes fun at Australians, Brits and Polish people alike, the characters are well over the top, yet the comedy itself is actually quite deadpan. It's a bit too familiar to make a lasting impression and it did feel like I'd seen it all before, but if you're looking for a some amusing horror filler you could do much worse.

The Tantana

by Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Hoi Mang
Also known as
Mi Zong Wei Long
Specifics
Taiwan, Hong Kong [1991] - 91m
Genre
Comedy, Fantasy, Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Tantana poster

Though I love myself a bit of early 90s Hong Kong fantasy/martial arts, I'd never heard of this film before. Not too surprising maybe, since it's really just some second tier genre filler, but with someone like Sammo Hung involved both in front and behind the camera, you'd figure it would have at least has some kind of status.

Hong Kong was teaming with this type of fantasy/martial arts productions around that time, and The Tantana looks quite low-budget compared to some of the more infamous entries in the genre. It's not hard to see how this got snowed under, but that makes it an ideal film for rediscovery, especially for people like me who've already seen most other films in this niche.

The plot is as basic as can be (an unsuspecting guy turns out to be the big hero but must train with a master before he can take on the villain), but the comedy, action and fantasy bits are pretty amusing and the pacing is perfect. It's vintage filler cinema, but the kind genre fans will welcome at a time when they feel they've seen all there is to see.

A Man There Was

by Victor Sjöström
Also known as
Terje Vigen
Specifics
Sweden [1917] - 65m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
A Man There Was poster

Another Swedish classic from the earliest days of (feature-length) cinema. So far, these films haven't been a big success and A Man There Was seems to be continuing that disappointing tradition. For someone who likes a little subtlety to his dramas, most of these silent film turn out to be a real test of endurance.

Victor Sjöström's wide-eyed performance is the opposite of subtle. His character is all about grand gestures and big emotions, many of which you'll read about first in the numerous intertitles. Again there's too much reading to be done, especially for a film that isn't exactly difficult to follow.

The scenes at sea provide a nice little diversion and the length of the film is quite short, but the bland plot, over-the-top performances and poor pacing make it quite a chore to sit through. If I've learned one thing from watching these films though, it's that sound is actually quite crucial to good drama.

All the Money in the World

Specifics
USA, Italy [2017] - 132m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
All the Money in the World poster

Ridley Scott's attempt to shine some light on the kidnapping of Paul Getty, the grandson of the richest man in the world. I wasn't really familiar with the case and based on the framing by the film ("based on ..." etc) it's probably best to not see this as a very factual report of the events, then again who'd expect that from a Hollywood film.

That said, the actual plot still isn't all that exciting. The kidnapping ploy is pretty basic, the squabbles between the boy's mother and grandpa Getty feel a tad stale and the thriller elements never really succeed in raising the tension. While Scott goes for grandeur, the film fails to sell it.

Performances are decent but nothing special, the color palette's a bit grim and the soundtrack is too pompous. The film is also way too long, then again that's probably an attempt to give the project some extra weight. Can't say it worked, on the other hand it's not a terrible film either.

Space Sweepers

by Sung-hee Jo
Also known as
Seungriho
Specifics
South Korea [2021] - 136m
Genre
Sci-fi, Adventure
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Space Sweepers poster

Though South-Korea has been a popular cinema outlet for the past 20 years, they've produced surprisingly few sci-fi films. There have been a handful, but none that I can remember that went to space. Space Sweepers (what's in a name) sets out to fill that gaping hole and does a pretty solid job.

With a couple of nods to Star Wars and The Fifth Element, and more than a tip of hat to Cowboy Bebop and Battle Angel Alita, Sung-hee Jo sculpts a world that is well-equipped to host this sprawling, big budget space adventure. The plot about a crew of skilled garbage men saving the world may not be the most original, but that's not much of a hurdle for a film that relies on heavy action and impressive set pieces to win people over.

The film does suffer from the usual South-Korean blockbuster hiccups though. Space Sweeper's a bit too long, there are too many genres crammed into a single film and it does get a little too sentimental at times. But the entertainment value is high, the sci-fi designs are awesome and the action is thrilling. Good fun.