Waitress

by Adrienne Shelly
Specifics
USA [2007] - 108m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Waitress poster

Booked as a romantic comedy, but the dramatic overtones are severe enough to give a little warning to people who are hoping for some light entertainment. Not that this is hardcore drama, but there are some rather unpleasant scenes and darker themes here that are hard to ignore. It gives the film some extra character, at the same time it may not be the film that the poster promises.

A waitress with a knack for making pies is wasting away in a little town. Her husband is abusive, her boss doesn't respect her and her pregnancy stands in the way of her plans to leave everything and everyone behind. When she meets the new town doctor though, there's an instant connection and she starts an affair with him.

Russell's accent is a little awkward, but she fits her character. The pie motive is pretty original, the mix of drama, comedy and romance is effective and the poppy cinematography is cute. Not sure whether this will end up being a very memorable film, but it's definitely worth giving a shot.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: Beginnings

by Yukihiro Miyamoto, Akiyuki Shinbo
Also known as
Gekijou-ban Mahou Shoujo Madoka*Magica: [Zenpen] Hajimari no Monogatari
Specifics
Japan [2012] - 130m
Genre
Fantasy, Action, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie Part 1: Beginnings poster

While I'm pretty familiar with the oddities of anime, I don't think I've ever seen something as puzzling as this film. One half is uber cutesy chibi magic stuff, the other half the awakening of Akiyuki Shinbo. There's such a big contrast between these two sides that I still hadn't gotten used to it when the credits started rolling.

The first two films are a recap of the series, but I can't say it's all that obvious to people unfamiliar with the franchise. It feels like a pretty typical trilogy opener, a little heavy on information and a finale that is a genuine cliffhanger. Or maybe I was just too puzzled by this film that I didn't even notice the plot.

I'm not quite sure who the target audience for this film is supposed to be. The chibi drama is childish and simplistic, the characters are bland and derivative, but the art style is outlandish and completely original, especially when the characters are crossing over into parallel worlds. It's not for kids, it's not for adults, it just is. Not my favorite Shinbo, but it has some superb scenes that kept me intrigued until the end.

The World of Apu

by Satyajit Ray
Also known as
Apur Sansar
Specifics
India [1959] - 105m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The World of Apu poster

The final entry in Ray's Apu trilogy. One of the cornerstones of Indian (arthouse) cinema and a must for people who want to experience the absolute classics of world cinema. The first two films didn't really move me though and while there's again some slight progression here, this third film too left me rather cold.

Apu has finally come of age, but things aren't working out for him. He can't pay his rent and he's forced to quit his education. A chance meeting with a soon-to-be bride nudges him back on the right path, but this being a core arthouse drama means that his happiness will be short-lived. Each cinema niche has its own clichés.

Performances aren't very engaging and the soundtrack is a bit overbearing. The drama too left me cold, as it felt too much like a summary of tragic life events. The cinematography is decent but nothing too remarkable, but at least it's not 3+ hours long like so many of its commercial counterparts. Not really my cup of tea.

9 Souls

Also known as
Nain Souruzu
Specifics
Japan [2003] - 120m
Genre
Crime
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
9 Souls poster

An impressive road trip that combines strong crime elements with light comedy and drama. Toyoda's hand is ever present, the cast does an amazing job, the score is on point and there are plenty of memorable bits. Within Toyoda's oeuvre it may not be a stand-out, then again he's directed so many superb films it's hardly a point of critique. An underappreciated gem.

Suspension

by Jeffery Scott Lando
Specifics
Canada [2015] - 87m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Suspension poster

I'm usually pretty good at picking out the rotten apples, but once in a while a half-decent poster, some smart screencaps and a deceptive trailer manage to trick me into watching unfiltered amateurish crap. Or maybe I just looked at the wrong title. Welcome to Suspension, a film that even flubs one of the most basic horror niches: the slasher.

There's some potential in the plot I guess, with a girl drawing gruesome scenes that may or may not be coming to life and a backstory about her dad being a raving mad serial killer, but the execution is so bland end cheap that it's hardly worth bothering with. At best, this is decent potential gone to waste.

The performances are absolutely horrifying, the cinematography looks dirt cheap and the soundtrack is an insult. The kills are extremely boring, characters are flimsy and there is no suspense whatsoever. Unless you can appreciate DIY horror, it's probably best to stay clear of this film.

A Nail Clipper Romance

by Jason Kwan
Also known as
Zhi Jia Dao Ren Mo
Specifics
Hong Kong [2017] - 97m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
A Nail Clipper Romance poster

Quirky, sweet and modern romance with subverted fantasy touches. A Nail Clipper Romance is a film that's going to lose a lot of people with its goofy premise, for me it's a crucial element in the success of this film. I've seen quite a few romances already, Kwan's off-kilter approach to the genre feels like a breath of fresh air.

Central to the story stands Emily, a girl who believes she's part of a secret tribe who survive by eating nail clippers. When she meets Sean, a surfer who just got out of a painful break-up, she opens up to him and though Sean is hesitant at first, he decides to simply believe her and make the best of their relationship. It's an odd premise, not at all what you'd call realistic, but it's actually quite perfect for Kwan's romantic setup.

Two agreeable leads, some very nice visual touches, a beautiful setting (Honolulu) and a story that intrigues. The soundtrack is a bit disappointing, and the film could've been just that little dreamier overall, but Kwan delivered something very sweet and memorable, it saddens me to think this film will probably never get the respect it deserves.

Jennifer's Body

by Karyn Kusama
Specifics
Canada, USA [2009] - 102m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Jennifer's Body poster

Jennifer's Body is one of those films I deliberately avoided when it came out, but as it garnered somewhat of a cult status in the following decade I decided to gave it a shot after all. I can't say I regret it, but still don't really get what the fuss is all about. It's decent teen horror, nothing more, nothing less.

While the film does its best to add some unique touches, in the ends it's still about the usual tension between popular and nerdy kids in a basic US high school setting. The cast is pretty decent and the plot may have some fun surprises, but for people like me who had their fill of the usual US high school antics it's not going to be quite enough.

The start is a little slow, the "alternative" scene isn't entirely convincing and the high school tropes can get tedious, but once Jennifer's body shifts to horror it becomes a rather amusing film that manages to peaks during its finale. While I don't get the praise it's been receiving in some circles, it's still pretty solid filler.

Lupin III: Island of Assassins

by Hiroyuki Yano, Toshiya Shinohara
Also known as
Rupan Sansei: Walther P38
Specifics
Japan [1997] - 93m
Genre
Action, Adventure, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Lupin III: Island of Assassins poster

One of the darkest Lupin films I've seen so far. Lupin himself is still quite quirky and jolly, but the film is pretty heavy on gunfire, action and killings. It's remarkable though how little of an impact that makes overall, as it still registers as a pretty basic and formulaic entry in the franchise. And that's not such a bad thing.

This time around, Lupin ends up on an island where a gang of terrorists is hiding from the world. He soon finds out that the gang members are held hostage too, as leaving the island means certain death for them, unless they inhale a special gas. Needless to say, our resourceful master thief will come up with a solution to outsmart his adversaries.

The animation is quite simple and the art style isn't too impressive, but the action is fun and the look remains distinctive. The pacing is also on point and it's nice to have somewhat higher stakes for a change, on the other hand I did miss the comedy and the silliness. In the end it all evens out, which leaves amusing filler.

Erotikon

by Mauritz Stiller
Specifics
Sweden [1920] - 106m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Erotikon poster

A classic Swedish comedy. It's not a genre that immediately makes me think of Swedish cinema, but after a series of less than successful silent Swedish dramas, I welcomed a lighter film. The result isn't a marked improvement, but it's at least an easier watch and less of a drag to get trough.

What immediately jumps out is that the performances feel a lot more natural, a bonus since this isn't a true slapstick comedy. It's more of an extended love triangle with early traces of screwball and situational comedy. Not exactly preferred niches, but it's quite neat to stumble upon this in a film this old.

The long theater production in the middle is a small highlight, so are the soothing score and the rather calm vibe, but the film is at least 30 minutes too long and with little in the way of climaxes it becomes quite repetitive and monotone. But it's an interesting watch, certainly for people who love to trace influences down to their earliest appearances.

Rocky IV

by Sylvester Stallone
Specifics
USA [1985] - 91m
Genre
Sport
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Rocky IV poster

I never watched the Rocky series as a kid, nor am I a big fan of boxing. I've seen the first Rocky film, but didn't care much for it, so I skipped directly to the fourth one, which is notably shorter than the others and has a minor cult status. The quality of the film was nothing to write home about, though after seeing it I can kinda understand where it got that status.

There are so many things wrong with this one, that it's almost impossible to know where to start. There's the complete failure to add some drama, especially with Stallone tripping over himself in an excruciating attempt to act. Or the completely nonsensical fight at the end, with Stallone looking like a sack of potatoes but still winning because of script. There's also the laughable pageant queen speech at the end, the fact that Drago is actually more likeable than Stallone and the unbearable pro-USA sentiments, that reach surreal heights during the finale. Makes you wonder if Stallone maybe wrote the script after having taken part in an actual boxing match.

The film is utter garbage, what saves it from complete ruin are some silly training scenes and an extended finale with two walking forts beating the crap out of each other. That's hardly highbrow entertainment, but there's at least some fun to be had there. Other than that, this was just terrible.

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
Hong Kong, Taiwan [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, China [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.