The Stylist

by Jill Gevargizian
Specifics
USA [2020] - 105m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Stylist poster

Pretty stylish horror film. After working on a bunch of shorts, director Gevargizian finally got her chance to turn one of them into a full-length feature. The result is a pretty accomplished film, coming from a director who has a clear idea of what she wants and knows how to execute it too.

The Stylist is a film that thrives on a riveting central performance, moody lighting and a very atmospheric score. At its best it has all the marks of a true masterpiece, the problem is that the rest of the cast isn't quite up to par and that the film has a few too many ups and downs to reach the consistency a true masterpiece needs.

But Gevargizian shows a lot of potential here. The main character is intriguing, the horror bits are gruesome and there's a level of mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end. The finale is pretty memorable too, so a job well done. Let's hope Gevargizian has officially launched herself with this film.

Shock Wave 2

Also known as
Caak Daan Zyun Gaa Ji
Specifics
Hong Kong, China [2020] - 120m
Genre
Action, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Shock Wave 2 poster

Keeping track of Herman Yau's career has been pretty interesting. He moved up from directing sleazy underground flicks to second-line commercial and genre films, and now that the big Hong Kong giants moved to China he simply took their place. And with all that experience under his belt, he's been able to deliver pretty commendable blockbusters too.

The first Shock Wave was a pretty solid bomb squad action thriller that did pretty well in theaters, so it's really no surprise that a sequel was on the way. Yau managed to secure an even bigger cast (Andy Lau is back, while Sean Lau and Ni Ni join the primary cast) and an even bigger budget to blow things up (even if just digitally).

The plot's a fraction better than your average blockbuster, thanks to Andy Lau's character who travels darker paths than usually the case, but once the finale gets closer the film folds back into a predictable good guy/bad guy structure and works up to a smashing finale, appropriate for this type of film. Good fun.

Typhoon Club

by Shinji Sômai
Also known as
Taifû Kurabu
Specifics
Japan [1985] - 115m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Typhoon Club poster

A somewhat meandering coming of age film by Somai. There's not much in the way of a real plot here, instead Somai creates a setting where his characters are allowed to blossom. The idea is pretty solid, but the execution feels a little too unfocused and some scenes drag on for too long.

The setting is a small rural school building. A typhoon is coming and everybody is asked to return home, but several kids get stuck at school and with the storm raging outside, they have no other choice to spend the night there. There's little else to do than loiter and get up to some good old-fashioned mischief.

Performances are pretty decent and I do appreciate the concept, but the film's a bit rowdy and the characters feel somewhat generic, which makes it exceedingly tough to spend two hours with them. There are some moments that stand out, but not enough to keep me engaged all the way through.

The Diamond Arm

by Leonid Gaidai
Also known as
Brilliantovaya Ruka
Specifics
Soviet Union [1969] - 100m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Diamond Arm poster

Russian comedy. Some films don't travel well but are insanely popular in their country of origin. Usually these films remain hidden from international scrutiny, but when your country is big enough and/or your citizens are enthusiastic enough, they may spill over into the global conscience after all.

I'm sure The Diamond Arm is held dear by many Russians, but the wacky mix of crime and slapstick was more than a little tough to stomach. The plot about a man who ends up smuggling diamonds simply because he fell down in the wrong spot isn't really first-rate material either.

Performances are very weak, the comedy didn't make me smile, but at least the cinematography is somewhat remarkable, with a handful of bright, colorful scenes that manage to stand out. I wouldn't really recommend this film unless you're interested in some Russian couleur locale, but it's certainly different.

Black Butler

by Kentarô Ohtani, Kei'ichi Sato
Also known as
Kuroshitsuji
Specifics
Japan [2014] - 119m
Genre
Fantasy, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Black Butler poster

Blatant manga adaptation. Unless you're completely oblivious of the manga/anime scene, it won't take you long to realize that there's an illustrated franchise backing this film. The styling, plot and reveals are all pretty outrageous, but that comes with the territory. The upside to all this is that Black Butler had a pretty sizeable budget to work with.

I wasn't familiar with the franchise, but no worries, the film gives you a short introduction that should get you up to speed. There's still a lot of nonsense you have to take for granted (demons, French maids, revenge ploys, ...), though that's also part of the appeal. It's nothing too original, but the lore is solid enough.

The action is surprisingly slick, the cinematography looks lush and the styling is on point. The film has some pacing issues, there's a bit too much dialog and there are moments when it takes itself just a little too seriously, but this was a pretty fun and well-made film. I'm a bit surprised this isn't better known, as this clearly wasn't a minor production.

Species

by Roger Donaldson
Specifics
USA [1995] - 108m
Genre
Action, Horror
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Species poster

Pointless rewatch. This is one of those films I watched well before I began tracking my ratings. The sole reason to watch this film was Giger's involvement in the creature design, but don't expect to find the next Alien. Species is a very bland mix of action and horror that does no justice to the designs of Giger.

What surprised me the most was the cast. I remembered Species as a full-blown (read cheap) B-flick, but the cast is actually pretty decent, hosting quite a few respectable names. Not that the performances are outstanding, but at the very least it indicates this wasn't made to be random shelf filler, even though the actual quality may suggest something different.

The police chase is bland, the 90s atmosphere is kitsch, the effects are atrocious and Henstridge clearly wasn't cast for of her acting talent. What could've been a fun, juicy B-flick turned out to be an uninspired, run-of-the-mill genre flick. A waste of potential, it's beyond how a film like this managed to get two more sequels.

The Wrath

by Young-sun Yoo
Also known as
Yeo-gok-seong
Specifics
South Korea [2018] - 94m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
The Wrath poster

A somewhat disappointing South-Korean horror flick. They've been producing some solid horror flicks lately, so I had some expectations going in. They weren't really met, as the film is way too preoccupied with the drama and fails whenever it tries to be scary and/or gripping.

The class/power struggles, the jealousy between concubines and the many hidden secrets within an old South-Korean household feel like tried and tested territory, still director Yoo Young-seon spends way too much time detailing them. The curse put on the family is supposed to streamline the horror elements, but poor editing and crummy sound design get into the way.

The visuals (color and lighting) are pretty slick and the performances are decent. The runtime is perfect too, but the pacing feels sluggish and the film fails to engage on just about every level. It's never tense, never gory, the characters feel flat and the drama is bland. I don't think Young-seon is fit for the horror genre.

Taoist Priest

by Ricky Lau
Specifics
China [2021] - 78m
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Taoist Priest poster

It seems Ricky Lau is back. Rather than copy other Hong Kong directors and go for the big bucks, he stayed true to his old self and has found a new home in China's explosive genre cinema niche. It's a perfect fit for him, and they can use a seasoned director like Lau to give them some pointers.

Lau on the other hand is allowed to do what he's good at. Taoist Priest brings his typical mix of Jiang Shi (the Chinese hopping vampires), comedy, fantasy and martial arts. It's a pleasant genre mix that goes for full-on entertainment. The plot is very basic, instead time and money was invested in making this film as fun as possible.

Props for Lau to not fall into the trap of easy CG. Most of the action appears to be oldskool, which is a big plus. The sets and styling are extremely lush, the action is great and the characters are a cool bunch (the bad guys in particular stand out). It's a simple genre film, but executed with a lot of flair and gusto. I'm ready for more.

Shinjuku Maria

Also known as
Baishunfu Maria
Specifics
Japan [1975] - 67m
Genre
Drama, Erotica
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Shinjuku Maria poster

A very mediocre Wakamatsu. The remnants of his 60s work are still clearly visible, but it's like looking at the remains of a burned-down house. Some passing references to his more rebellious work are completely overshadowed by endlessly repetitive sex scenes. I guess the pinku format finally got the better of Wakamatsu.

The plot is pretty bare bones, following a girl named Maria who prostitutes herself in Shinjuku. When she meets Hiroshi things are looking up for Maria, but her controlling nature brings them both on the edge of despair. With the police on their tales, there's really only one possible outcome.

The soundtrack is pretty distinctive and the finale, which tilts more towards crime and drama, is a step in the right direction. The first hour or so is pretty mind-numbing though, unless you get excited by uninterrupted moaning. This film felt like Wakamatsu in survival mode, a film unworthy of his status.

Age Of Monster

by Félix Sabroso
Also known as
El Tiempo de los Monstruos
Specifics
Spain [2015] - 97m
Genre
Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Age Of Monster poster

A very conceptual mindfuck. It's been a while since I last watched one of these, which probably means they've slowly gone out of fashion. At first Age of Monster looked as if it would neatly fit this niche, but a surprising twist halfway through adds another layer of puzzlement and makes the film quite hard to read.

A group of friends and familiars come together to shoot a film. Their get-together is the plot and they themselves are the characters, but they're also consciously aware of this setup, which turns all the conversations and events very meta. So far, so good, but things get really weird when the film starts to reference other films with similar construed setups (i.e. The Exterminating Angel).

I really appreciated that extra layer as it adds something novel, my biggest gripe with this film is that the presentation is a bit too basic. The cinematography is nice enough and the score is decent, but too much is communicated through plain dialog and the styling never reaches the heights you'd expect from a film like this. The result is a bit too labored and dialog-driven for my taste, but if you love a good mindfuck it comes well recommended.

Strange Stories of Liao Zhai - The Land of Lan Ruo

by Francis Nam
Specifics
China [2020] - 82m
Genre
Romance, Fantasy
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Strange Stories of Liao Zhai - The Land of Lan Ruo poster

More contemporary Chinese fantasy. And once again a film that shows clear signs of improvement. There are still some core issues that keep a film like this from competing with the big boys, but as substantial filler (and after all, that's why it was made in the first place) it's really delivering.

There's probably some Chinese folklore that escapes me (not having access to Chinese literature can be a burden), but the core plot is simple enough, with a guy having to close three gates in order to keep evil out of this world. He gets help from the Heavenly Maiden, who guides him along on his journey.

The CG can be a bit much, but there are also times when it's aesthetically pleasing. The sets and costumes look lush, the fantasy and lore are intriguing and the pacing/runtime is perfect. It's still virtually impossible to find your way in the literal downpour of similar-looking films, but at least the overall quality appears to be getting better every year.

The Truth

Also known as
Fa Nei Qing
Specifics
Hong Kong [1988] - 118m
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Truth poster

A bland courtroom thriller. Hong Kong has a film industry with strengths and weaknesses and serious drama isn't one of its strengths, certainly not when handled by one of its second-tier genre directors. Taylor Wong's The Truth is for completists and extreme fans of courtroom dramas only.

The pairing of Wong and Andy Lau looked promising on paper, but the dramatic backstory (Lau's an orphan who becomes a lawyer, reconnects with his birth mother and ends up defending her in court) is garish and Wong's execution is stale and lifeless, depriving the film of an emotional core.

At almost two hours the running time is excessive too. The court scenes are sluggish and uneventful, performances lack weight and the cinematography is comatose. It's a complete misfire, a surprisingly dim film from one of Hong Kong's more energetic and daring B-film directors. A big disappointment.

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

by Jacques Demy
Also known as
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg
Specifics
France, West Germany [1964] - 91m
Genre
Romance, Musical
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg poster

Pretty disappointing. Not that I'm a big fan of musicals, but throughout the years I've seen my fair share and I've learned to at least appreciate their particularities. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg isn't your average musical though and it comes with its own set of rules, which I found very hard to get used to.

No dance routines here, but more surprisingly no (actual) songs either. Instead, every line of dialogue is sung by the characters. It's quite awkward, quite grating too, and it didn't get better throughout. It felt forced and uncomfortable, even a bit lazy as the dialogue and music are poorly adjusted towards each other.

The plot/drama is extremely flimsy too. The excessive emotions displayed by the characters appear to come out of nowhere, tough decision come easily yet seem to leave deep traumas after all. It's as if crucial parts of the film are simply missing. At least the film is quite colorful, that's about the only positive I could find here. Not impressed at all.

Early Man

by Nick Park
Specifics
Japan, USA [2018] - 89m
Genre
Comedy, Sport, Animation
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Early Man poster

I'm quite partial to stop-motion animation, so I generally keep an eye out for the Aardman films. They rarely live up to the hype though. While the craft is definitely there, the comedy is usually not up to scratch. Such is the case with Early Man too, their latest full-length endeavor.

The main problem I had with the comedy is that it felt as if I'd seen every single joke a hundred times before. There's hardly any original joke, quip or funny situation here. Is there really anyone out there who is still amused by a character standing on an edge, getting excited and falling backwards? Early Man is basically just that stretched to 90 minutes.

It's a shame, because the stop-motion animation looks great and the premise could've made for a superbly entertaining animated take on Shaolin Soccer. You'd expect Brits to do more with a topic like football, alas it was not meant to be. What remains is a mildly entertaining film, which simply isn't enough.

Red Rock West

by John Dahl
Specifics
USA [1993] - 98m
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Red Rock West poster

Mediocre thriller. The kind of film that used to be made to fill the shelves in video rental stores, i.e. the equivalent of contemporary streaming filler. You take an established genre, mix some familiar plot elements around and throw a B-cast at it. What remains is a film that isn't terrible, but will start to fade from memory the moment the end credits hit the screen.

Nicolas Cage is desparate for a job. So desperate in fact that when he's mistaken for a contract killer, he decides to play along in order to scam the contractor. It gets him mixed up in a big old clusterfuck where several parties end up eying the inheritance of a not so harmless wife.

With Cage, Boyle and Hopper on board the cast is pretty solid, sadly the plot is rather dull and the direction isn't much to look at either. It's all rather predictable and even though the film isn't very long, it does start to drag after a while. I've definitely seen worse, but if you're looking for a cool Cage flick, better save this one for when you've seen all the good ones.

Deadtectives

by Tony West
Specifics
USA, Mexico [2018] - 92m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Deadtectives poster

A decent horror comedy that gets just a little too lazy when it really starts to matter. It's a typical problem for this niche, where some films tend to depend a little too much on the comedy bits and fall through the moment the film stops being funny. That's exactly the issue with the second half of Deadtectives.

West delivers a parody on the many Ghost Adventures-like rip-offs, looking back it's a small miracle that he's (one of) the first to do this. It's a horror niche that has had massive success this past decade, so it was only a matter of time before it became the target of some good old parody fun.

The introduction is pretty amusing, with some recognizable jokes that tackle the many clichés of its source material. The overacting is fun for a while and the somewhat cheap production values play into the cards of the parody, but once the hauntings start it becomes clear that incompetence and parody are hard to distinguish. There's some fun to be had here, but not quite enough for this to be a successful comedy.

Summer Blooms

by Ryûtarô Nakagawa
Also known as
Shigatsu no Nagai Yume
Specifics
Japan [2017] - 93m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Summer Blooms poster

Sweet and compact romantic drama. The kind of film Japan does well, but also the kind of film that feels a little stuck in its own clichés. There are no surprises here, all the dramatic beats are predictable and even the styling is by the numbers. The execution is on point though, and that's what matters the most.

The story revolves around a young woman who appears stuck in her life. It's not that she's unhappy, but her professional and romantic aspirations appear to have been put on hold indefinitely. There's some light trauma in her past that caused this situation, which is slowly revealed throughout the course of the film.

I'm quite fond of these films, so I didn't really mind how predictable everything turned out to be. The cinematography is nice, with several striking moments, the soundtrack pleasant without being overbearing and the performances are endearing. A very solid drama that has no obvious faults, except that it doesn't really set itself apart from its peers.

Roadracers

Specifics
USA [1994] - 95m
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Roadracers poster

Before Robert Rodriguez' career would take off with Desperado, he made a little-seen crime comedy called Roadracers. Its TV origins may be a little too obvious, but it made clear that Rodriguez could accomplish a lot on a tiny budget. It's certainly not his most remarkable film, even so it was better than I expected it to be.

Rock and roll in the 50s. Dude's a rebel with just one mission: find a way to leave the crummy little town he grew up in. Music's Dude's only passion, but rock isn't seen as a viable career. The crooked sheriff's on his tail and his feud with Teddy isn't dying down either. An ultimate showdown seems unavoidable. If you like 50s cool, then this is your film.

The characters are pretty typical, so is the plot and the setting. Rodriguez tries to set the film apart with slick cinematography, but the result's a bit middling. At least the pacing is good, performances are decent and the ending is surprisingly violent. It's solid filler, but the whole 50s vibe just didn't really do it for me.

Primeval

by Michael Katleman
Specifics
USA [2007] - 93m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Primeval poster

Croc horror. Based on a true story in the sense that the crocodile actually exists (footage on the web isn't hard to find), but that's about it really. The size of the thing is royally exaggerated and the characters are vintage horror fodder, so it's better to see this for what it truly is: a simple creature flick.

I don't mind me some giant animal horror once in a while, though these films rarely stick out. Primeval is pretty entertaining and once the crocodile makes its entrance it keeps the adrenaline flowing, but as a film it is quite flimsy and it doesn't really do enough to set itself apart from so many others in the genre.

The performances are mediocre, the intro is way too long and the war crime angle detracts rather than adds to the film. If you're looking for quality film making, Primeval is going to be a disappointment, but if you can settle for a fun horror with a giant croc mauling everything and everyone that crosses his path, this wasn't too bad.