Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

by Brad Peyton
2012 / 94m - USA
Comedy,Adventure
2.5*/5.0*
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island poster

I haven't seen the first one, but I read this sequel was only tangentially connected. And sure enough, this is easy enough to watch as a stand-alone blockbuster. It's a fairly typical Johnson flick, mixing comedy and adventure with questionable CG. The result isn't anything special, but it's still quite entertaining.

When Sean finds an encrypted message, his stepdad helps him to crack the code. The message reveals the hidden location of the Mysterious Island described in Jules Verne's book. Together they take a trip to Palau to try and find the island, but the place is way more dangerous than they expected.

Dwayne Johnson is made for films like this, the film is quite self-aware, with the comedy making good use of that and the short runtime turned out to be a blessing. The CG is quite horrendous though and Peyton's suitable-for-all-ages directing sensibilities aren't that great, but other than that, this was decent entertainment.

Black Crab

by Adam Berg
Svart Krabba
2022 / 110m - Sweden
Action,War
3.0*/5.0*
Black Crab poster

A pretty solid film, but don't expect too much of its genre listings. Though sci-fi and post-apocalyptic in theory, Black Crab mixes war, action and adventure elements and pits them against a fictitious conflict. It's really the setting and the soldier's mission that give the film its identity.

Caroline Edh is enlisted as a soldier after enemy troops kidnap her daughter and sweep through Sweden. The Swedes are quickly losing terrain and see only one way out of the conflict. Edh and five others are assigned a suicide mission, where they have to deliver capsules to a research center. The only way to get there is to skate across the ice behind enemy lines.

Rapace is solid, the icy setting is superb and there are some tense moments, but director Berg never really manages to fuse all the different elements into a coherent whole. I think he could've done more with this material, and he could've done it in less time too. Fun, but not the greatest.

Baby

by Juanma Bajo Ulloa
2020 / 104m - Spain
Fantasy
Baby poster

A very peculiar film. It's not an easy one to pinpoint, mixing drama, horror and thriller elements, but never landing on a single genre. Ultimately, it felt more like a dark fairy tale to me, so I'm just filing it under fantasy. There is no dialogue here, Ulloa relies on slick cinematography and a haunting score to tell the tragic tale of a mother trying to reunite with her newborn child. The performances are great, the atmosphere is thick and the execution on point. A lovely little discovery.

The Last Seduction

by John Dahl
1994 / 110m - USA
Romance,Crime
2.0*/5.0*
The Last Seduction poster

A modern noir. The Last Seduction is a film that received quite a bit of praise, and it's easy to say why (though that doesn't mean it's necessarily a good film). If you dig that typical noir feel, and you're disappointed "they don't make 'em like they used to", then this is definitely a film for you.

Bridget is a killer chick. She wraps men around her fingers, involves them in her dirty little schemes, and then ditches them when she doesn't need them anymore. When her husband strikes it big in a shady deal, she steals his money and files for divorce. He's not willing to simply let her go like that.

Fiorentino does a decent job, but her character's just not as cunning as the plot needs her to be. It's difficult to root for her when the characters are pretty dumb and her plan isn't all that impressive. Not too taken with the styling either, the jazzy soundtrack feels lazy, and the cinematography is a bit dour. I expected more.

Distance

2001 / 132m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Distance poster

One of Koreeda's earlier feature length dramas, though by then he already had a few big arthouse hits under his belt. Distance never made it that big, maybe it is the somewhat more particular and elaborate setup that got in the way of the actual drama. Still, Koreeda fans will find a very nice film here.

Four people are getting together to remember the mass suicide of a little cult. They are all related to the victims, and they go to the place where the suicide happened. There they meet the only survivor of that fateful day, but since their transportation is suddenly missing, they are forced to spend the night inside the cult's former home.

A great cast (with Susumu Terajima and Tadanobu Asano as stand-outs), a lovely rural location and Koreeda's usual eye for subtlety and finesse make this a very pleasant drama. The setup feels a bit forced and underused, and the runtime is quite excessive. It's not quite a personal favorite anymore, but still a very fine, quality drama.

The Watcher in the Attic

by Noboru Tanaka
Edogawa Ranpo Ryôki-kan: Yaneura no Sanposha
1976 / 76m - Japan
Horror,Mystery
2.5*/5.0*
The Watcher in the Attic poster

A decent Rampo adaptation. The film is a little reminiscent of the Midori films, but not quite as weird or insane. Rampo isn't really known for extremities of course, but someone like Jissoji is a bit better suited to his overall style. Even so, Tanaka's The Watcher in the Attic is well worth a watch.

The title of the story is pretty self-explanatory. Gouda rents out rooms in his home and loves to go into the attic to spy on his tenants. One day he catches a prostitute who murders one of her clients. Rather than call in the murder, Gouda feels attracted to the woman, and soon after they become a lethal duo.

The film's pinku roots get in the way a little, but there was enough freakiness and perversion to keep me interested. The runtime is short, performances are decent (with a notable part for a young Renji Ishibashi) and there are a handful of memorable moments scattered throughout. Not the greatest, but fans of Rampo's tales won't be too disappointed.

The Power

by Corinna Faith
2021 / 92m - UK
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
The Power poster

A pleasant little horror film that fails to wow and impress, but offers more than enough genre appeal for fans to warm themselves on. It's not a film that stands out, unless you're invested in the underlying message. If you fancy a good hospital chiller though, Faith's first feature won't disappoint.

Val is a young nurse who starts working in a tightly run hospital. She's forbidden to talk with the doctors, when she does so anyway she is forced to work the night shift. Val doesn't feel comfortable in the dark and because of the power cuts, there is hardly any light in the hospital.

Dark and empty hospitals never fail as settings for a good horror flick, the build-up is solid, the cinematography polished, and the soundtrack has a positive impact. But the film is never quite scary enough and sticks a little too closely to genre conventions. It is nice genre filler, but it lacks distinctive qualities.

The Red Sparrow

by Ji Zhizhong
2022 / 78m - China
Sci-fi
3.0*/5.0*
The Red Sparrow poster

Chinese sci-fi isn't exactly booming. There have been some attempts to get it off the ground, but you can see by the meager numbers of simpler genre films released that the demand simply isn't there yet. The Red Sparrow is a fun little genre effort, but it isn't going to be the film that will spark a major rise in Chinese sci-fi.

The Guardian Angels are a group dedicated to the betterment of humankind. They have created the first bionic human, the Ron Group wants the technology for more evil purposes. Defending the newborn child, all the Guardian Angels die, but they do manage to keep the baby out of the hands of the Ron Group. Twenty years later, she is found again.

The design language isn't too original, there's a strong reliance on CG, and the plot is a cut-and-paste job from other genre efforts. On the positive side, there aren't many hardcore sci-fi films around nowadays, and the team did have quite a bit of fun with the purer genre element. Certainly not a terrible film, but not up to par with China's martial arts output quite yet.

Strawman

by Toon Wang
Dao Cao Ren
1987 / 94m - Taiwan
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
Strawman poster

A Taiwanese classic that rightfully sank into obscurity. It's not that Toon Wang can't direct a decent film, Strawman looks proper enough, but the lighter dramatic vibe, the poor performances and the bland plot simply don't add up to anything worthwhile. The result is rather forgettable.

The film follows the last days of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, at the end of WWII. The Japanese are losing the war, in some final desperate attempt they are recruiting villagers and farmers to join their army. There's none of the usual cruelty and war crimes though, apparently this was a pretty jolly time in Taiwanese history.

The story could've been interesting, if it had been told in a more natural way, more akin to the Taiwanese New Wave films. The cheery atmosphere here really felt off, especially with a cast that isn't really fit to carry the film. The cinematography is pretty decent, but not good enough to save this film.

Death Valley

by Matthew Ninaber
2021 / 91m - Canada
Action,Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Death Valley poster

A film that tries to be as cool and badass as possible. There is mercenary action, a biblical horror creature, martial arts and an underground bunker with experiments gone wrong. It's like a best-off of kick-ass genre elements, but when the execution isn't there, it's still not that impressive.

A band of mercenaries is called in to complete a risky assignment. They have to free a scientist who is locked up in an underground facility, with militia protecting the surrounding area and a mad creature on the loose. Two brothers take on the job, but they soon find themselves running for their lives.

The lead characters are farcical, the action scenes are crummy and the short bout of martial arts combat at the end is rather painful to watch. The underground bunker and the creature are pretty solid though. A tighter focus and a better understanding of what works and what doesn't could've made this into a decent film, but alas.

Moonlight Shadow

by Edmund Yeo
Mûnraito Shadou
2021 / 93m - Japan
Drama,Romance
3.5*/5.0*
Moonlight Shadow poster

Malaysian director Edward Yeo has found in Japan a very fitting place to produce his dramas. The country has a strong and respected tradition making drama cinema, on the other hand it does make it quite a bit harder to stand out from the crowd. Though Yeo makes a commendable effort, I think that's where he still struggles a bit.

Moonlight Shadow revolves around two couples who are also best friends. Their time spent together is lovely, but it is cut short when two of the four die in a traffic accident. The remaining two struggle to come to terms with their loss and remember a story about the moonlight shadow being able to reunite people with the dead.

Nana Komatsu is a perfect lead, the score and cinematography are very pleasant, and the plot creates ample opportunities for the drama to shine. The only thing missing is a level of finesse and/or nuance that makes the best Japanese dramas more palatable than the competition. It's all a bit too obvious at times, other than that a fine film.

Intimate Stories

by Carlos Sorin
Historias Mínimas
2002 / 92m - Argentina
Comedy,Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Intimate Stories poster

Foreign cinema can be a real adventure, at other times it's just mediocre films in a foreign language. Intimate Stories is the latter. On paper, it sounded like a fun and potentially exciting project, but the actual film is rather drab and expected, nothing like the dreamy voyage through Patagonia it promised to be.

Three people are traveling on the same road to the big city, they all have their own story to tell. An old man is looking for his runaway dog, a woman wants to be part of a TV game show and a father wants to surprise a kid with a fancy cake. The road and scenery binds their stories together.

It's a pretty typical drama, but it's clear the film wanted to be a bit lighter, more frivolous, poetic even. The lackluster direction, lack of polish and limited performances make sure Intimate Stories never makes good on that promise. It's not the worst film, it has its heart in the right place, but the execution is poor and forgettable.

Windfall

by Charlie McDowell
2022 / 92m - USA
Comedy,Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Windfall poster

Some genres are notoriously difficult to combine, so much that few films ever dared to take a stab. Dark comedy and thriller is one of those extremely tricky combinations, and while Windfall is a brave and laudable attempt at bringing the two together, the result ends up feeling a bit half-hearted.

A man raids a wealthy and famous person's vacation home, when his victim suddenly arrives with his wife. Unsure of what to do, he takes them hostage. He isn't a true criminal though and the power balance between assailant and victims is slightly off, certainly when the victims decide to help him start a new life.

The performances are solid and the start of the film is pretty funny, but as soon as McDowell tries to add a drama and thriller elements the tension starts to waver. There are too many dead moments and the film is a little too one-note. The ending is a nice touch, but it's a case of too little, too late. Not a terrible film, just not a resounding success.

Faithfully Yours

by Wah-Kei Wong
Jui Gaai Lui Sai
1988 / 91m - Hong Kong
Comedy
2.5*/5.0*
Faithfully Yours poster

Early Stephen Chow comedy, where he shared the stage with Jack Cheung, Richard Ng and Siu Cheung Mok. It's not a very exceptional film, but Chow's presence does elevate it ever so slightly. If you like an 80s Hong Kong comedy, this is a pretty solid choice, just don't expect too much.

Three friends have fallen for the charms of a hair stylist's daughter. They do their best to grab her attention, but her father is very protective of her. When they arrive at her house with a bottle of expensive alcohol, a wild party follows and the girl ends up pregnant. The problem is that nobody knows who the father of the baby is.

Hilarity ensues, although these Hong Kong comedies are never that funny. There are some inspired moments, and Chow truly is a rare talent. It makes that the film is pretty easy to sit through, providing some easy chuckles here and there, though never really excelling. Fun comedy filler, nothing more, nothing less.

The Night

by Michelangelo Antonioni
La Notte
1961 / 122m - Italy
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
The Night poster

Not as bad as I expected. I'm not a big Antonioni fan, and the idea of an Italian couple spending the night at a rowdy party didn't sound too appealing. But the film is surprisingly restrained and though the drama itself didn't really do anything for me, there are some memorable moments here.

Lidia and Giovanni are a married couple whose relationship is slowly deteriorating. They promised to attend a party, but when they visit a dying friend beforehand it is clear things are going to spiral out of control. As the evening progresses, the vibe between then becomes increasingly toxic.

I didn't care much for the characters, nor their marital troubles, but Antonioni keeps things pretty subtle (which isn't my experience with classic Italian drama). The black and white cinematography is solid and there are some beautiful shots, the dialogues feel somewhat forced though, and the runtime is a bit excessive. Not the worst though.

Dark Woods 2

by Pål Øie
Villmark 2
2015 / 93m - Norway
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Dark Woods 2 poster

A very loose sequel. The broader location of the film is the same as the first and the crashed German pilot lore returns, but Dark Woods 2 is a full-on haunted madhouse horror, with hardly any forest-action to speak of. Whether that warrants the use of the franchise name is debatable, but who cares when the quality is there.

A specialized team is hired to inspect an abandoned sanitarium, before it is demolished. When they arrive at the location things don't quite go as planned. They find a corpse hanging from the ceiling and the caretaker turns out to be a total creep, but they need the money, and so they decide to power through.

The setting is marvelous, Øie adds the usual thrills and then some, the horror elements are properly realized, and the ending is properly freaky without explaining too much. There's not an ounce of originality here, but if you love a good asylum horror, Dark Woods 2 won't disappoint.

Mutant Action

by Alex de la Iglesia
Acción Mutante
1993 / 93m - Spain
Comedy,Sci-fi,Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Mutant Action poster

What a fun way to start off a career. Mutant Action is a perfect illustration of de la Iglesia's skills. A blend of different genres that underlines the joy of cinema. It's not a very serious film and de la Iglesia's doesn't hold back, but people with a soft spot for genre films will find plenty to enjoy here. Others may get a bit overwhelmed.

In a world where everything is decided by looks and wealth, a group of disfigured men plans to fight for their rights. They get together and come up with the idea to kidnap the daughter of a wealthy businessman. The plan doesn't go as intended, but some of them do manage to get out with the girl. The leader of the gang has his own priorities though.

The film is pretty campy, but it never looks cheap or lazy. The performances are spirited, the blend of comedy, horror and sci-fi works well and the different settings add a lot of variety. The film is not as polished as de la Iglesia's later films, and it's not quite over-the-top enough to be a timeless classic, but it is prime entertainment.

La Chienne

by Jean Renoir
1931 / 95m - France
Drama,Crime
1.0*/5.0*
La Chienne poster

Early Renoir. Like most of these early 30s films, the ability to record sound shifted the focus from visual storytelling to dialogue-heavy stories. And so we get a film where characters are endlessly blabbering and chattering away, with a camera that mostly just registers people talking.

Maurice is a simple guy who married the wrong woman. He isn't happy in his marriage and when Lulu, a young and seductive woman, comes along, he falls for her charms immediately. Lulu isn't too interested in Maurice, but to please her pimp Dédé, she hooks up with him anyway.

The performances aren't great, the cinematography is pretty dull and the plot is basic and predictable. Looking at the history of cinema it's obvious why and how this was made, but watching the film now it's hard to derive any fun from it. I'm not a big Renoir fan to begin with, this one certainly didn't help.

The Cursed

by Sean Ellis
2021 / 111m - USA
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
The Cursed poster

Sean Ellis returns to the horror genre. By mixing werewolf lore and Gothic horror elements, he shoots for a more classic and atmospheric result, and that's exactly what he accomplished. The Cursed, much like its title, isn't anything too special or original, but execution is on point.

When a group of gypsies claims a piece of land, the landowners decide to fight back and murder the gypsies. Before the leader is killed, she curses the land and its inhabitants. Not much later, John McBride arrives in their town, looking for a formidable beast that wreaks havoc.

The setting is superb, the werewolf lore is given a neat twist and the cast is excellent. The creature's design could've been a bit better and the horror beats are a tad predictable, a slightly more spectacular finale wouldn't have hurt either, but if you're looking for a moody horror flick, look no further.