The King's Man

by Matthew Vaughn
2021 / 131m - UK
Action,Thriller
2.5*/5.0*
The King's Man poster

The third and let's hope final entry in the Kingsman series. This time we're getting a prequel/origin story, but it's clear the franchise is running out of steam. While there are some decent moments that help to set the film apart from the average blockbuster, it's not enough to keep up with the earlier films.

When Orlando's wife is shot down in front of his little boy Conrad, he promises her he'll protect him from the terrors of war. Conrad grows up a fine man, but when another war breaks out he wants to serve his country. Orlando won't have it, and takes the boy on a covert mission to save Britain.

There are some decent action scenes and the cast of campy characters is fun enough, but this ended up being a pretty simple film with way too much padding that overstays its welcome. A shorter and punchier version would've been quite a bit better. Not a horrible film, but Vaughn can do so much better.

Red Notice

by Rawson Marshall Thurber
2021 / 118m - USA
Comedy,Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Red Notice poster

With the Hong Kong movie industry in a pickle, it's nice to see the West take over the art heist/conman genre. Red Notice is a pretty typical blockbuster, with its signature cast and familiar set pieces, but that's pretty much the entire reason for watching this film. And in that sense, it's not too bad.

Hartley is an FBI agent who is looking for Nolan Booth, a notorious art thief. Booth has his eyes on Cleopatra's eggs, of which a third one is rumored to exist. When Hartley is close to apprehending Booth, he is conned and the only way to clear his name is to join Booth in gathering all three eggs.

Reynolds is Reynolds, The Rock is The Rock, Gadot is Gadot. They're not so much typecast as the roles were specifically written for them. The action looks decent, the comedy is passable, the varied locations give the film some extra flair. It's nothing too noteworthy, but it's pleasant enough filler.

Darkness and Light

by Tso-chi Chang
Hei An Zhi Guang
1999 / 104m - Taiwan
Drama,Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Darkness and Light poster

A film that tries very hard to be part of the Taiwanese New Wave. It is reminiscent of Tsai's early work, but because of that the film feels older than its year of release suggests. If you're looking for a slice of understated Taiwanese crime cinema the film won't disappoint, I hoped for more and didn't really get it.

Kang-Yi is a young girl helping out the people in her apartment building. Most of them are blind and are working in a massage parlor. When Ah Ping moves into her building the two fall in love and start dating. One of Kang-Yi's classmates is jealous and gathers some friends to bully Ah Ping.

There are some decent shots, but they are few and far between. The performances aren't that great, the plot is very basic and the pacing is a little too slow. It's just not a very original or remarkable film, especially when compared to its contemporaries. Taiwan can do some much better.

Turning Red

by Domee Shi
2022 / 107m - USA
Comedy,Fantasy,Animation
1.0*/5.0*
Turning Red poster

Pixar has gone through some changes in recent years. They've dropped their favored premise, they're trying out different styles, and they've gone from blockbuster kings to streaming bait. Turning Red is another good example of this shift, it's a shame the film itself is pretty flawed.

Meilin is a young girl who does everything to appease her overbearing mother. She finds herself in a constant struggle, as she also loves hanging out with her friends. When the stress gets the best of her, she turns into a giant red panda. It's a family trait that nobody told her about.

The usual Asian-American themes (overbearing families, the friction between modern and traditional values) and the typical coming-of-age elements feel generic, what really got to me though was Meilin's extremely annoying presence. She is loud and obnoxious, made worse by hyperactive animation and her interest in some or other horrible boy band. Ugh.

Junk Mail

by Pål Sletaune
Budbringeren
1997 / 83m - Norway
Comedy,Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Junk Mail poster

A cute, somewhat inconspicuous and forgotten Norwegian dark comedy that probably isn't quite as fun and/or impressive as on the day it was first released, but if you're looking for something funny with a darker/grittier edge, then you can't really go wrong with Junk Mail.

Roy is an extremely unpleasant individual. He's a mailman who loves to snoop into other people's lives, because he doesn't really have a life on his own. When he meets Line, he falls in love with her, but he is unable to express his feelings directly, so he starts stalking her. This lands him into quite a bit of trouble.

The grim setting and unpleasant characters don't immediately scream comedy, but as Roy gets himself into more and more trouble it's obvious that we're supposed to have a laugh with his misfortunes. The performances are decent, the film is short and the plot spins nicely out of control. Good, but nothing too remarkable.

Shrill Cries of Summer

by Ataru Oikawa
Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni
2008 / 105m - Japan
Horror,Mystery
3.0*/5.0*
Shrill Cries of Summer poster

I never watched the anime/read the manga this film was based on, which usually pans out pretty well. Going in with no expectation and seeing where the plot takes you is favorable for a film like Shrill Cries of Summer. The result is a pretty fun mystery with darker/horror-leaning details.

Keiichi moves from Tokyo to a small mountain village. The kids love him and it doesn't take him long to make new friends. The village is idyllic, but it also harbors some darker mysteries. When Keiichi hears about the local folklore he can't seem to get any straight answers from his friends.

The location is perfect and the actors do a decent enough job. The film starts off rather slow, but that's part of the setup. It does get progressively freakier and the finale has some pretty memorable imagery, but it never quite nails the contrast it set out to accomplish. Fun filler, but nothing more.

Kes

by Ken Loach
1969 / 111m - UK
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Kes poster

Early Ken Loach film on which he built his career. I'm not too familiar with his work yet, but from the looks of it there isn't too much for me there. If you like kids growing up in rather dire circumstances than this might be for you, I grew tired pretty quickly of the uninteresting lead and the grim and noisy environment that surrounds him.

Billy Casper comes from the poor side of Barnsley. His brother likes to beat him up, he can't really concentrate when he's at school and his father doesn't treat him that well. Things change for Billy when he finds a bird, which he trains to be his friend. This relationship changes Billy's life.

Bradley does well enough in the lead, but his character simply isn't all that interesting. The drama is predictable, Loach's visual style isn't very attractive, the soundtrack is terrible and there's little room for anything else but drama. It's not difficult to see why this became popular, it just isn't for me.

Shiva Baby

by Emma Seligman
2020 / 77m - USA
Comedy,Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Shiva Baby poster

Like its faraway cousin Uncut Gems, Shiva Baby makes a real effort to be as nerve wrecking as possible. And just like Uncut Gems, it fails horribly. It leans way too hard on Jewish shatter, the somewhat aggravating soundtrack simply wasn't effective enough to pull all the weight.

Danielle doesn't really fit in with her family, so she makes up stories to impress them. When she goes to a Jewish funeral she bumps into the guy she's screwing for money, who is there with his wife and kid. If that wasn't stressfull enough, her old girlfriend is there too, and everybody wants to know how she's doing.

Shiva Baby tries to be tense and uncomfortable, but its attempts are just too weak. The comedy never crosses the line, the characters aren't quite as edgy as they are made out to be, the soundtrack is underwhelming, and the single setting is dull. It pales in comparison to films like Happiness or even American Beauty, pretty disappointing.

Howl from Beyond the Fog

by Daisuke Sato
Sagiri no Kuni
2019 / 35m - Japan
Fantasy,Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Howl from Beyond the Fog poster

A beautiful indie animation that wears the marks of its low budget roots, but managed to overcome most of its biggest hurdles. It's an interesting take on the Kaiju genre, with a more stylish and oldskool style to set it apart from other Kaiju films. The fact that we're talking full puppet animation certainly helped too.

Eiji is a boy who returns to his hometown after the death of his brother. Kyushu is a small city hidden in the mountains, when he arrives at his old home he finds his mother there together with a mysterious woman. She introduces herself as his niece, but when Eiji sees her walking around at night, he discovers she shares a special connection with a giant monster.

The animation and puppet work look solid enough, especially for a small indie project, but the illusion isn't always there. The soundtrack is the most defining element and is by far its strongest quality. The plot is fun enough, and the classic take on Kaiju material adds a little extra intrigue. Give these guys a bigger budget, and I'm certain a masterpiece is there for the taking.

Attack of the Eye Creatures

by Larry Buchanan
1967 / 80m - USA
Sci-fi,Horror
0.5*/5.0*
Attack of the Eye Creatures poster

It is one thing to lack the money to make a decent film, but at least figure that out up front. I strongly suspect Buchanan only realized when he started shooting and had to improvise how to round the 80-minute runtime. The result is an incredible drag, made worse by the horrendous cast.

So aliens are invading our planet. A flying saucer lands on Earth and a young couple is witness of the event. The police doesn't believe their story and so half of the film is the two of them trying to convince the cops what they saw was real. Because that's what people want to see when picking out a sci-fi/horror.

The actors truly are terrible, the plot is trite and hardly supports a 30-minute short film and the aliens aren't menacing at all. The silly suits are worth a chuckle, but that's about 5 seconds of fun and a quick Google will give you a similar enough experience without all the extra cruft. Horrible.

Fresh

by Mimi Cave
2022 / 114m - USA
Horror
1.5*/5.0*
Fresh poster

Incompetent film. The first half hour is so blatantly obvious that it would've been tough recovering from it regardless, but once the cat is out of the bag things only gets worse. With Fresh's premise it should've been easy enough to deliver a solid genre flick, but somehow Cave fails to nail even the simplest things.

Nao hates dating, whenever she gives in to the urge she always ends up disappointed by the men she picks. Right when she's ready to give up, she bumps into Steve. He's charming and funny and doesn't come on too strong, so when he invites her on a weekend out of town she's happy to oblige.

The characters are annoying, the actors do a poor job and the writing is way too on the nose. It takes a long time before the film finally gets moving, and though there are some solid ideas here, Cave's direction is insufficient. A drab soundtrack, visual incompetence and drab execution of genre elements make this a drawn-out drag to sit through. Disappointing.

Murder on D Street

D-Zaka no Satsujin Jiken
1998 / 95m - Japan
Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
Murder on D Street poster

When someone like Jissoji takes on Rampo, there's a good chance something great will come of it. Murder on D Street isn't Rampo's most familiar work, but this dark tale of death and debauchery is clearly from his hand. Jissoji's direct and dynamic style is a perfect fit, making this a fine precursor to his entry in the Rampo Noir anthology.

Fukiya is an artist who specializes in the restoration of artworks. He's also great at making forgeries. When a woman walks into his shop and shows him lost scrolls, he is immediately intrigued. He discovers the woman actually modelled for the paintings, and develops a sickening fascination for her.

When it comes to adapting Rampo stories, it's really about bringing out that lurid, slumbering darkness that hides in people. Jissoji truly is the ideal man for the job. The cinematography looks stylish, the performances are restrained, and the score adds to the atmosphere. A remarkable film from a remarkable director.

Shoeshine

by Vittorio De Sica
Sciuscià
1946 / 87m - Italy
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Shoeshine poster

Early De Sica that already sports many of the typical Italian neorealism traits. It's certainly not my favored type of film, but the above-average cinematography does add a tiny bit of extra flair to Shoeshine. Not enough to make it a pleasant or easy watch, but I've struggled harder with certain other films in the genre.

Two kids are doing odd jobs to save up for a horse. A couple of older boys involve them in a scheme to rob a fortune-teller, though they only find out when the robbery is already taking place. Things take a turn for the worse when the fortune-teller identifies the boys as the culprits, after which they are sent to juvenile prison.

An excess of drama and highly evocative performances aren't the best premise for a touching film, at least not in my book. I prefer a more subtle approach to drama. The high-contrast black and white cinematography is a bonus and the short runtime a blessing, but it's not enough to turn me into a believer.

Belfast

by Kenneth Branagh
2021 / 98m - UK
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
Belfast poster

Branagh's style is suited for a bit of retro charm with a wink and a nudge, but doing half a Schindler's List really isn't something he can pull off. Belfast is a hopelessly outdated film, with a fake arthouse look, a random score and a set of unlovable characters. Putting it like that, it's a perfect Oscar contender.

Buddy is a young kid growing up in Belfast. Protestants are targeting Christians, his dad works in England to pay off their debt, and he isn't able to talk to his favorite girl in school. As the civil unrest grows, his parents are contemplating moving to a different city, something Buddy can't even fathom.

The black and white cinematography appears to have been an afterthought, the city looks like a bad movie set, characters are bland and Buddy is a pretty annoying kid. It's just a very cheesy and sentimental drama where the drama never feels earned or sincere. Branagh should stick to Poirot.

Maelstrom

by Denis Villeneuve
Maelström
2000 / 87m - Canada
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Maelstrom poster

Early Villeneuve, that helped to establish his reputation. The mix of drama, arthouse and mild fantasy feels a little forced and construed, probably because the execution wasn't quite there. There are some interesting ideas, but they never really combine to make a good film, and the result is pretty forgettable.

Bibiane is a young and seemingly successful businesswoman. She's the daughter of an influential man and because of that, she doubts her worth. When she gets fired and is involved in a hit-and-run in the span of a single day, her entire world comes crumbling down. She spirals downwards even further when she finds out the victim died.

There's a talking fish to make the film a touch more distinct and the structure of the plot is quite messy, which at least brightens up a coincidence-ridden narrative. The performances are decent too, but the film looks pretty glum and the soundtrack is rather boring and expected. Like most of his films, Villeneuve comes off a little too uncertain about his own signature.

Toi

by Mamoru Hamatsu
To-Y
1987 / 55m - Japan
Music,Animation
2.0*/5.0*
Toi poster

A very odd and random music anime. This felt like an addendum to a TV series, or maybe even a season recap. It's a pretty short film and there's a lot of focus on the music (which isn't very good at all), which leaves very little time for plot or character development. I usually don't mind, but it just didn't work here.

To-Y is the lead singer of GASP, an alternative rock band. He's a pretty popular (and bankable) guy, so it's no surprise that the record company wants to see him in a more commercial setting. They make him an offer, but if he accepts he has to leave his old band members behind. A pretty classic setup.

The art style is pretty interesting and the animation isn't bad, but it's not anything out of the ordinary either. The short runtime makes it very flimsy, the music is horrible, and the characters are dull. It's clear filler, but the worst kind. Easy to skip, unless you're a big fan of 80s J-Rock.

77 Heartwarmings

Gan Dong Ta 77 Ci
2021 / 94m - Hong Kong
Romance
3.0*/5.0*
77 Heartwarmings poster

A sequel to Yau's 77 Heartbreaks. Though a direct sequel plotwise, the vibe of this film was a bit different. A bit closer to your average romcom, with a slightly stronger focus on the comedy and more room for a happy ending. Though Yau still doesn't give the audience what they want from a film like this. Maybe that's for the inevitable third part.

Pak-ho Chau and Charlene Choi return as Adam and Eve, a couple that separated after a 10-year relationship. Adam wants Eve back, but she isn't sure that he really became a different man. When Adam receives a link to a website that helps with wooing girls, he figures there's no harm in trying.

The comedy is pretty dreadful and the soundtrack is way too cheesy. Performances are decent (with Chau still being a stand-out) and the drama isn't that bad, the little twists at the end were appreciated too, but this did feel less distinct than the first film. Maybe he should give part 3 to someone who is a bit more skilled in doing a straight-forward romcom.

L'Amant

2004 / 92m - Japan
Drama
L'Amant poster

It's probably a good thing Hiroki was able to make this film 20 years ago, it's difficult to imagine he'd get away with it nowadays. And that's a real shame, as his unabashed take on a tricky/taboo subject is what makes this film stand out. Great performances, an intriguing premise and a splendid blend of hard and soft turn this into a unique and accomplished drama. If you're easily triggered it's probably best to approach this film with caution, more mature audiences will find a drama where there's a lot to unpack.

Sakuya: Slayer of Demons

by Tomoo Haraguchi
Sakuya: Yôkaiden
2000 / 88m - Japan
Fantasy,Adventure
3.5*/5.0*
Sakuya: Slayer of Demons poster

A surprisingly fun and accomplished yokai/fantasy adventure. I hadn't expected that much from this film and the oldskool effects may find some detractors, but there's a lot of charm here and the film does manage to be quite impressive when needed. It's not quite up there with Miike's film, but notably better than some of its predecessors.

Sakuya is the daughter of a famous Samurai. When Mount Fuji erupts in the 17th century, it releases a bunch of yokai. Sakuya's father is killed trying to stop the yokai from invading the human world. He gifts his famous sword to his daughter, who inherits his mission. Together with a young kappa, she sets out to fight the evil yokai.

The effects are mostly traditional, but sleek camerawork and impressive sets do make a big difference. The result isn't unlike Chow's A Chinese Odyssey films. The performances aren't great, and the plot is very minimal, but that doesn't really stand in the way of the amusement. I had a lot of fun with this one, surprised it's still relatively unknown.

The Sea Is Watching

by Kei Kumai
Umi wa Miteita
2002 / 119m - Japan
Drama,Romance
3.0*/5.0*
The Sea Is Watching poster

A basic but nicely shot drama about a Japanese brothel. It's a film that thanks its broader exposure to the fact the plot was written by Akira Kurosawa. It's not something that stands out for me, though it sure looks nice on a poster, and it clearly helped the film find an audience outside of Japan.

The film focuses on four women who work in a brothel and try to help each other when possible. When one day a samurai enters the brothel, running from the law, one of the four hides him in her room. She falls in love with and hopes he can rescue her from the predicament, but he is already engaged to marry another woman.

The cinematography is above average, performances are decent, and the score is pleasant too, but it feels like I've seen this story many times before and the film does seem to drag out the drama unnecessarily. It's a solid enough film, just nothing that truly stands out. Decent filler in other words.

Being the Ricardos

by Aaron Sorkin
2021 / 131m - USA
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Being the Ricardos poster

Maybe I don't know enough about Lucille Ball and this particular period in her life, but Sorkin's choice to feature a single week on the set of her most successful show doesn't really pay off. The basic premise is utterly boring and the additional drama plus the narrative digressions feel forced.

At the height of her career, a story about Ball being a communist finds its way into the press. That's not the only thing she has to worry about though. Her marriage with her husband and co-star Desi isn't going as she wants, she is pregnant with another kid and the guest director is lousy with comedy.

There's little chemistry between Kidman and Bardem, the cinematography is stuffy, and the life of Ball and Desi is simply not interesting enough, unless you care about fame and gossip. All the extra narrative padding brings the film to a 130-minute+ runtime, which is excessive. A pretty big bore.

Li-hsiang's Heart Line

Lixaing De Ganqing Xian
1991 / 51m - Taiwan
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Li-hsiang's Heart Line poster

I've seen a bunch of Tsai's pre-cinema films now and though somewhat relevant to the filmmaker he would become, these TV dramas aren't all that great. You see flashes of Tsai's later self, but the poor production values and lacking cinematic appeal really hamper the enjoyment for me.

With only 50 minutes on the counter, Tsai sticks with a very simple narrative. The film follows a budding love story between a factory worker and a widowed factory manager. Tsai documents the highs and lows at the start of their relationship, and that's all you're getting from this film.

The performances aren't great, the cinematography is mostly functional, the soundtrack feels tacked on, and the romance never truly grabbed me. It's nice to see traces of Tsai's lingering style, and it's a touch better than your average TV drama, but it doesn't begin to compare to his later films.