France

by Bruno Dumont
2021 / 133m - France
Comedy,Drama
2.5*/5.0*
France poster

Only my first Bruno Dumont film, I guess I expected a bit more. Seydoux is hot property nowadays and the film received some proper accolades, but the result is a predictably cynical take on the media. Not that such an approach is unwarranted, only to have a real impact it needs to be a lot sharper.

France is a TV reporter/talk show host who is quickly rising to the top. Her reports are spectacular, and her candid presentation is loved by many. But the glory is fake and when she accidentally hits a boy on a scooter with her car, she starts to understand that her fame is only paper thin.

Seydoux does well, the film looks slick enough, but the critique on the media feels half-arsed and France's character simply isn't interesting enough. The runtime is also a bit excessive, but I guess that's simply an attempt to give the film a little extra weight. It's not a terrible film, just a bit toothless.

Gothic Lolita Battle Bear

Nuigulumar Z
2013 / 100m - Japan
Comedy,Fantasy,Action
3.0*/5.0*
Gothic Lolita Battle Bear poster

Noboru Iguchi is no doubt one of the most notable Japanese camp directors of the past two decades. He's not a great or accomplished director, but he finds the craziest stuff and turns it into pure entertainment, even when the budget isn't there. Need proof? Watch Gothic Lolita Battle Bear.

A young lolita girl and a pink teddy bear are able to fuse into Nuigulumar Z, a veritable superhero. When the Earth is under attack, they are the only ones who can save humanity. An extraterrestrial is coming to our planet hoping to turn everyone into zombies, Nuigulumar Z is our last hope of stopping him.

The plot is bonkers, the effects are makeshift, the styling is hyper cute. It's completely nonsensical, but if you like the Sushi Typhoon style then you're pretty much set with this film. It's not as over-the-top or out there as some others in the genre, but that's a pretty high bar to begin with. Fun stuff, but don't expect quality film making.

All Around Us

by Ryosuke Hashiguchi
Gururi no Koto
2008 / 140m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
All Around Us poster

A fine Hashiguchi that lacks a little finesse to make it really stand out. The setup is pretty simple, showing moments in a regular couple's marriage through the years. As they grow older you see them overcome troubles, but you also see their relationship strengthen.

Kanao and Shoko are both graduated art students. They are awaiting a baby and are planning to get married, even though their parents don't really approve of their relationship. Life won't be easy for the two, but through all the adversities their relationship is what keeps them going.

The setup is nice for a drama, the lead performances are superb (with standout roles for Lily Franky and Tae Kimura) and the drama is subtle enough, but Hashiguchi's direction is a little too plain to justify the 140-minute runtime. It's a pleasant drama that won't disappoint fans of the genre, but it's nothing you haven't seen before.

On the Silver Globe

by Andrzej Zulawski
Na Srebrnym Globie
1988 / 166m - Poland
Fantasy,Adventure
3.5*/5.0*
On the Silver Globe poster

A very peculiar film. I'm surprised this one isn't better known among film fans, but the fact that it was never fully completed probably hindered its popularity. Zulawski's solution (adding narration and unfitting footage) isn't ideal either, but that doesn't take too much away from the talent on display.

The film is split in three different parts, focussing on astronauts who left Earth for a new place to live. The first chapter is about their arrival, the middle part about their integration with a different species and the final part offers a flashback that explains why they chose to leave Earth behind.

The fantasy/sci-fi elements are extremely well realized, the cinematography and performances are intense and the film clearly influenced a bunch of others (Oshii cited it as an influence on Avalon, I also felt The Land of Cards vibes from it). If Zulawski could have found a better way to complete it, it might have been a personal favorite, but definitely worth checking out.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

1976 / 135m - USA
Western
1.5*/5.0*
The Outlaw Josey Wales poster

Eastwood had a chance to do something a little different with this film. The introduction makes it look like a western take on the Civil War, but Eastwood is too married to his roots to commit, and slowly but surely more and more western elements find their way back into the film.

Josey Wales lives a quiet life, until a gang of guerrilla fighters murders his family and leaves him for death. Josey joins a rebel gang, hoping to get his revenge that way. At the end of the war the rebels are granted amnesty, but it's a setup that kills all of Josey's friends. Again, he is dying to revenge the fallen ones.

Not that I'm a big fan of the Civil War setting, but it sure beats western villages and Indian tribes. Eastwood plays the character he always plays, and it works quite well during the first half of the film, but as it pivots more and more to straightforward western territory, I started to lose interest. Certainly not the worst western I've seen, but this could've been a lot better.

Walkabout

by Nicolas Roeg
1971 / 100m - Australia
Drama,Adventure
2.5*/5.0*
Walkabout poster

An ambitious film by Nicolas Roeg, but it didn't quite work for me. It's clear the film is supposed to be magical and ethereal, but Roeg's attempts often come off a little too labored and imprecise. I appreciated the effort Roeg put in the audiovisual elements, I just wish the execution was better.

Two city kids end up alone in the Australian outback, after their father commits suicide. They aren't used to surviving in the wilderness and their fate looks dim. Then an aboriginal boy appears and tags along with them. Though they don't speak each other's language, they do have a level of understanding.

The setting is great and Roeg really tries to set his film apart. He also succeeds I guess, I just didn't care too much for the soundtrack and the somewhat crude editing. The finale is also somewhat disappointing, but at least Walkabout is a pretty memorable, well-paced film, so it certainly wasn't all bad.

Dark Woods

by Pål Øie
Villmark
2003 / 85m - Norway
Horror,Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Dark Woods poster

The most basic of horror films, but sometimes that's all you really need. Dark Woods is as generic as its title suggests, but director Øie manages to create a grim and eerie atmosphere, the location and dark cinematography do the rest. An easy recommend for people who are looking for fun horror filler.

For Gunnar's latest TV show, he plans to send contestants into the wild. Before he starts, he wants his crew to have the same experiences as the contestants. They go to stay in the cabin Gunnar grew up in, where they undertake various missions. What they don't know is that someone else is also running around in the woods.

Something is clearly amiss, but the audience won't get the answers until the end of the film. The characters are awkward enough to arouse suspicion, the dark woods and creaky cabin make for a perfect setting and the grungy camerawork is fitting. It's all very predictable and the film fails to stand out, but I had a pretty good time with it.

Zack Snyder's Justice League

2021 / 242m - USA
Fantasy,Action
1.5*/5.0*
Zack Snyder's Justice League poster

Snyder got a second chance at Justice League. Not a sequel, but a much longer cut and way more directorial input. The result is a slightly better film, though that's not saying much, remembering what a fluke the original was. That said, people who have seen the original and don't care too much about all this superhero nonsense don't need to make a big effort, as Snyder's cut is still well below average.

Earth is in danger. Again! Some or other villain is planning to wipe up out in order to rule the galaxy, so a bunch of superheroes come together to protect our planet. They realize they have no chance of winning without Superman present, so their first job is reanimating the good man.

Snyder is Snyder. When all the stars align, that's a good thing, but for a film like Justice League, his super serious and over-the-top style doesn't really work. The soundtrack is hilarious, the performances are dreadful, the plot overflowing with cheese and misplaced sentiment. At least the visual bravura is back in full force, but he really shot himself in the foot with that 4:3 business. An utterly stupid and misguided film, but not quite as dumb as the original.

The Beautiful Troublemaker

by Jacques Rivette
La Belle Noiseuse
1991 / 238m - France
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
The Beautiful Troublemaker poster

Am I tempted? Sure? Was it deliberate? Maybe. Will I do it? Nah. Kudos to Rivette for making a 4-hour-long film about a guy painting a woman, but I'm not going to make that pun, no matter how accurate it may be. I'm just not giving him the satisfaction after 240 minutes of this.

Frenhofer is a painter who has lost his inspiration. His last painting is unfinished as he lost the love for his model. When he gets together with his pupil, he suggests using his girlfriend as a model to reignite Frenhofer's passion. He reluctantly agrees, but something inside him stirs when he watches her.

It's a four-hour film about an artist trying to regain his passion for his artistry. A lot of the film is actual painting (and not the cool speed-painting you can find on YT), though the real core of the film lies in the conversations between the model and the painter and the relationship that develops between them. I didn't care for either of them, so tough luck for me.

Shrill Cries: Reshuffle

by Ataru Oikawa
Higurashi no naku koro ni: Chikai
2009 / 108m - Japan
Drama,Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Shrill Cries: Reshuffle poster

A follow-up that takes a little time to figure out. It's part sequel, part reboot. Or, as the title already indicates: a reshuffle. The first film was interesting, but it lacked a confident director and/or a slightly bigger budget. This second film hasn't solved either problem, so the conclusion is the same: fascinating, but imperfect.

Rena's dad is getting mixed up with a shady woman. When Rena finds out that she is hooking up with some junkie gangster, she tries to warn her dad, but he won't listen to Rena, telling her he is going to marry the woman. When she confronts Rena, things spiral out of control and Rena kills her.

The film jumps from drama to horror quite briskly, and the setting is nice. Performances aren't that great and the pacing does have some issues, but the horror elements are fun enough and the film does manage to keep you on your toes. An easy recommend for fans of off-kilter Japanese horror, but not a highlight of the genre.

Dear John

by Lars-Magnus Lindgren
Käre John
1964 / 115m - Sweden
Drama,Romance
1.5*/5.0*
Dear John poster

A rather tepid romance that hides behind an arthouse facade, but can't really disguise its somewhat mushy (and cheesy) interior. The result is a very slow film with bland characters, that royally outstays its welcome, while relying on slightly above average cinematography to keep it from becoming a complete waste of time.

John is a captain on a small transportation boat. He has a thing for Anita, and the feelings are mutual. Flashback elaborate on their history together, but the film takes its merry time to explore the slow evolution of their relationship, as they grow closer and fonder of each other.

The drama is very light and uneventful (though not necessarily in a bad way), while the slick black and white cinematography lends the film a little extra class. But the romance angle is poorly realized, and the performances are cold and unpleasant. The result is a clumsy romance I never really cared for.

Save Yourselves!

by Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson
2020 / 93m - USA
Comedy,Sci-fi
3.0*/5.0*
Save Yourselves! poster

A daft sci-fi comedy that examines what happens when two post-hipsters try to disconnect from the world and miss out on an alien invasion. It's a funny setup and the directors draw some good comedy from the premise, but they clearly struggled to keep the film funny and surprising.

Jack and Su are trying to be a modern couple, but they're simply too wrapped up in their digital lives. They decide to leave all the tech behind and spend a week in a cabin upstate. The moment they leave civilization behind, furry aliens land on Earth and start taking over the planet.

Reynolds and Mani are a fun duo, but their characters are a little too one-note. The premise is fun, the effects are surprisingly decent and the first half of the film does feel original, but the second part is a bit too aimless, and the comedy becomes too repetitive. Not a bad effort, but the potential was there to do better.

Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko

by Kunihiko Yuyama
Genmu Senki Leda
1985 / 70m - Japan
Sci-fi,Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Leda: The Fantastic Adventure of Yohko poster

A very entertaining mix of fantasy and sci-fi anime with a strong 80s aesthetic. Leda is one of those shorter anime projects I'd never heard about before, but that's probably because I was never too invested in 80s anime (and because distribution was simply terrible back in the 90s). It's fun enough to be rediscovering them now.

Yohko is a normal schoolgirl who is writing a love song for her romantic crush. The day she wants to present the song to him, she is suddenly transported to a different world. Her Walkman is the key to getting back to her world, but there's a gang who wants the device to themselves. Yohko will have to save this world before she can return to her own.

The animation quality is surprisingly decent, and the fantasy/sci-fi designs have a unique flair to them. Leda definitely isn't the most original anime, the plot is very basic for one, but it's distinct enough to stand out amongst a bunch of similar films. It's a very pleasant discovery and a simple, yet clear recommend for fans of 80s anime.

Key Largo

1948 / 100m - USA
Thriller,Crime
1.0*/5.0*
Key Largo poster

A noir film that is very focused on what it thinks its qualities are. I generally appreciate films like that, unless those assumed qualities are the exact things that push me away from the film. This character and dialogue driven noir may think it is very intense, but when it turns out to be the opposite, there's not much else there.

Frank is a war veteran who decides to pay the family of an old buddy living in Key Largo a visit. When he arrives at their hotel, it turns out a gangster is holding them hostage. Frank is the only one capable of standing up against the gangster, but the war has left his largely indifferent, and he isn't willing to give up his life.

This is a film where gangsters bark and Bogart does his best to play it cool. The setup in the hotel (with a hurricane raging outside) is tailored to be tense and nervous, but the effect is never really there. I got bored by uninteresting characters and a plain narrative. Visually the film has very little to offer, the soundtrack is also an afterthought and the ending left me completely cold. Not good.

Coffin Homes

Gwai Tung Nei Jyu
2021 / 107m - Hong Kong
Comedy,Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Coffin Homes poster

Fruit Chan's latest is a bonkers horror/comedy. Like Pang's Dream Home a decade ago, Chan is out to tackle the Hong Kong housing market through the horror genre (no doubt a testament to the limited impact of cinema), but he struggles considerably harder to combine excellent genre cinema with social critique.

The film follows a slumlord and a young realtor who both try to make money from the housing market. Most people can't afford to buy houses anymore, and so they're willing to live in haunted buildings and small homes that hold shrines for the deceased. But the ghosts are out to haunt the people making money off of their homes.

The idea is pretty solid and Chan makes a real effort to go well over-the-top, but it's just not his style. The gore isn't impressive, the ghosts look a little silly and the critique on the housing situation in Hong Kong has been done countless times before. It's good fun and there are some memorable moments, but I'd hoped for more, considering the film's illustrious predecessor.

Bounty Dog

by Hiroshi Negishi
Baunti Doggu
1994 / 60m - Japan
Sci-fi,Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Bounty Dog poster

A fun, short sci-fi anime. This limited 2-part OAV is a collection of overly familiar anime clichés, but the execution is pretty stylish. You don't often see this kind of hardcore sci-fi anymore, which makes it extra interesting to revisit these often forgotten productions of the 90s. Anime/sci-fi fans are sure to have a good time with this one.

Yoshiyuki is part of a commercial investigation group. One year after the death of his wife, he is sent to the moon to look into project Kaguya. Once there, he bumps into Ines, the spitting image of his deceased wife. The more Yoshiyuki finds out about Project Kaguya and Ines, the clearer it becomes that the future of humankind is at stake.

The often monochrome visuals are pretty stylish and the mech designs are simply yummy. The animation quality isn't that great though and the plot is dense and somewhat nonsensical, but if you like sci-fi tropes that shouldn't be a bother. If you want something short, sweet and highly futuristic, Bounty Dog won't disappoint.

Winter Days

by Isao Takahata, Mark Baker, Jacques Drouin, Taku Furukawa, Co Hoederman, Kihachiro Kawamoto, Yôichi Kotabe, Yuri Norstein, Bretislav Pojar, Raoul Servais, Shinichi Suzuki, Koji Yamamura, Fumio Oi, Tatsutoshi Nomura, Haru Fukushima, Tatsuya Ishida, Noriko Morita, Tatsuo Shimamura, Reiko Okuyama, Aleksandr Petrov, Maya Yonesho, Yoji Kuri, Uruma Delvi, Seiichi Hayashi, Azuru Isshiki, Katsushi Boda, Masahiro Katayama, Yuichi Ito, Keita Kurosaka, Reiko Yokosuka, Yuko Asano, IKIF, Bairong Wang, Nori Hikone, Masaaki Mori, Taku Furukawa, Fusako Yusaki
Fuyu no Hi
2003 / 39m - Japan
Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Winter Days poster

A very peculiar anthology. It's not like many other anthologies, where the link between each short film is frail and negligible, and yet many of the shorts couldn't have been more different from each other. A wealth of directors were given a chance to add their entry, with quite a few international names on the roster too.

The film is set up around the renku poetry of Basho. There's a little documentary that comes with the film that gives some insights into the how, why and what of this film, but basically each director was assigned a short poem, which then served as inspiration of the animation piece. Most of them are under 1 minute.

There's a huge range of styles on display and the overarching concept is pretty interesting, but too many shorts fell flat, and the impressive ones are few and far between. Someone like Isao Takahata stands out among the rest, but with only one minute on the clock, he too struggles to impress. Certainly worth a watch, but there's some untapped potential here.

The Ledge

by Howard J. Ford
2022 / 86m - UK
Thriller
3.5*/5.0*
The Ledge poster

One of those genre films where the title tells the entire story (close enough at least). Take one look at the poster, and you know what to expect, but that's part of the fun. I was craving a bit of rock climbing fun, with some thriller elements thrown in to drive up the tension. And that's exactly what this film delivers.

Two girls are about to climb one of the toughest mountains in the Dolomites, when they run into four boys. Their evening together goes well, until Joshua gets worked up and tries to rape one of the girls. The situation escalates, and before they know it the girl is dead. The other girl caught everything on tape, and escapes up the mountain. Guess where she gets stuck.

Not everything is equally believable, but there are some superb sights, director Ford does manage to get you on the edge of your seat and the film is pretty harsh and nasty when needed. There's hardly any padding, the pacing is perfect and people with vertigo might have to think twice before watching this one. Great genre fun.

Cinderella Game

by Hayato Kanô
Shinderera Gêmu
2016 / 77m - Japan
Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Cinderella Game poster

I assume that during some or other brainstorm session, someone went "let's do a Battle Royale with idols" and rather than see it as some broader premise, they simply made exactly that. Cinderella Game is a very straightforward rip-off of Fukasaku's famous film, only with the harsher elements toned down to match the target audience.

A group of young, discarded idols find themselves waking up on a beach. Their agencies enlisted them in some game show to determine who will become the next big thing in showbiz. They are forced to play a card game to determine who will win. If they don't obey the rules of the game, a poisonous necklace kills them on the spot.

It's a familiar premise, so it was smart to keep the film short and punchy. Performances were a little better than expected (but let's be honest, expectations were pretty low to begin with), the cinematography is decent and there are some small variations to the game that make things a tad more interesting. It's not a remarkable film by any means, but I did have quite a bit of fun with it. Solid filler.

Victim

by Basil Dearden
1961 / 100m - UK
Thriller,Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Victim poster

Not quite as bad as I'd feared. And that was truly a bit of a surprise, as the film pretty much followed the exact outline I'd imagined. There's a lot (and I mean a lot) of talking here, which generally doesn't bode well for classic films, but somehow the drama was quite gripping.

Melville is a successful lawyer, but he hides a dark secret. He is a closeted gay and his former partner is being blackmailed with a picture that shows them both in a compromising situation. Melville is married to the daughter of a judge and is about to receive a big promotion, so the picture puts him in a tricky situation.

The performances aren't all that great and the plot is pretty simplistic, but even then the film does get pretty tense towards the end. I probably would've liked it better if I cared more about purely narrative films, as a whole I still think it was pretty basic and dull, but at least some scenes did get to me.

Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy

by Jazz Boon
Shi Tu Xing Zhe 2: Die Ying Xing Dong
2019 / 98m - Hong Kong
Action,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Line Walker 2: Invisible Spy poster

Trademark Hong Kong action flick. There used to be a time when every other week a film like this was released, now it's just a handful of films each year. And so it's pretty nice to see them executed well. Jazz Boon is one of the new kids on the block, but he's already proven himself a very capable action/crime director.

Three police offers are assigned to a case in Thailand, where they are trying to unmask a criminal organization. There are rumors that their unit has a mole, and so they're all vigilant not to trust anyone. The operation goes sideways, which just strengthen the rumors that someone is playing a game.

With Louis Koo, Nick Cheung and Francis Ng headlining the film, you can rest assured that the characters are properly portrayed. The action is loud and slick, the cinematography flashy and the pacing swift. It's not the most refined film, but if you're looking for some kick-ass Hong Kong gun action, look no further.

Nowhere Girl

Tôkyô Mukokuseki Shôjo
2015 / 85m - Japan
Mystery,Thriller
Nowhere Girl poster

Though Nowhere Girl carries many of Oshii's usual traits, it doesn't quite feel like anything else he's made. Or anything any other director made for that matter. It's a film that starts off slow, gives ample hints that something is off, starts to feel like a pressure cooker halfway through and then goes from 0 to 11 in less than two minutes, offering a sprawling finale. It's not the easiest sell, but if you don't mind a film that's a little different, be sure to give this one a go. Even if you don't end up loving it, I guarantee the finale will be memorable.

Taoist Master

by Wu Ying Xiang
Longhushan Zhang Tian Shi
2020 / 91m - China
Fantasy,Action
3.5*/5.0*
Taoist Master poster

One of the better films if you want to break into China's major genre boom. At 90 minutes it is in fact one of the longer films in its niche, but it's clear the extra minutes were granted because of the competence of the director and crew. It feels a lot like the early 90s Hong Kong work, which is always a blessing.

The plot is simple but effective, ideal for a genre film like this. The leader of an evil cult wants to revive the 8 ghostly generals. To do that he has to find their reincarnated souls. The final one is a disciple of Master Zhang, a famous Taoist master who isn't willing to simply give up on his pupil. And so he sets out to clear up the mystery of the disappearances.

The sets look great, the action scenes are stylishly executed and the performances are well above average. There's still a little subpar CG, that feels even more out of place when the rest is done so well. But fans of oldskool martial arts films are sure to have a lot of fun with this one. One of the best coming out of China so far.

Anarchy in JaPanty

Anâkî in Japansuke: Mirarete Iku Onna
1999 / 68m - Japan
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Anarchy in JaPanty poster

Another pinku film not really worthy of its genre. Zeze clearly didn't care much for the erotic elements, instead he created this rather chaotic drama around a dysfunctional family. It's certainly a step up from your average pinku, on the other hand this would've been a lot better as a straightforward drama.

Mizuki can't have any children, so when she sees an opportunity she kidnaps a little boy left behind in a car. She names the boy Yoshiki and decides to raise him by herself. Plans change when she meets Tatsutoshi, and she falls in love with him. The three form a wayward family that live by their own rules.

These nihilistic Japanese dramas are always tons of fun, but the pinku elements do take away from the impact. Zeze doesn't take them too seriously, but they still get in the way and mess with the rhythm of the film. If you like an edgy drama there's still plenty of fun to be had with this one, but Zeze made better ones.

Studio 666

by BJ McDonnell
2022 / 106m - USA
Comedy,Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Studio 666 poster

So, the Foo Fighters made a horror film. I'm not familiar enough with Grohl and his band, so I'm not sure whether this is the realization of some lifelong dream, or just a quick buck for a band that burned out on making music, but the result is pretty much what you expect of it. Very camp, only with a slightly higher budget.

The Foo Fighters and readying themselves for their 10th album. They want to shake things up a little and ask their manager to get them a new studio. He finds them a house, what they don't know is that the band who previously tried to record their album there went insane, murdering each other.

Grohl and the others aren't the best actors, the plot is pretty basic and the campy setup feels a little lazy. The horror bits aren't that bad though, and it was fun seeing Carpenter make a little cameo, but it wasn't quite enough to make this a success. Not the worst film, but I wouldn't expect them to make another film.