The Travelling Players

by Theodoros Angelopoulos
O Thiasos
1975 / 230m - Greece
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
The Travelling Players poster

Greece may be a sunny paradise to many, leave it to filmmakers to turn it into a gray and sullen place. Apparently Angelopoulos wanted to explore why it took Greece so long to become a democratic nation, I'm probably missing the proper background to get that from The Travelling Players.

Angelopoulos focuses on a family of travelling actors. As they go from place to place to perform their play, the audience is given a look at Greece during the Fascist, Nazi and Communist conflict. That doesn't sound too bad, only at almost 4 hours long and moving along at a snail's pace, it's a real tribulation.

I've never seen Greece look so uninviting. The cinematography is stark and sluggish, the soundtrack isn't very atmospheric and the performances are poor. The film lost me pretty early on, which made the runtime an even bigger obstacle. I think I'm going to wait a bit before trying another one of Angelopoulos' films.

The Last Duel

2021 / 152m - USA
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
The Last Duel poster

Ridley Scott tries to score with another Medieval drama. There's not a lot of interest in this particular niche these days, the 150-minute runtime is more than a bit off-putting and a UK/USA cast for a France-based story isn't exactly a smart choice either. It's no surprise this film bombed, though Scott clearly found other excuses.

Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris go way back, but their relationship deteriorates. When de Carrouges returns from a battle in Scotland, his wife tells him Le Gris entered their home and raped her. Jean is furious and challenges Le Gris to a duel (supposedly the last ever official duel in history).

Scott clearly things he's making great cinema, but the bland plot, the horrible casting choices and the old-fashioned cinematic language make this is a film of the past. It's pretty obvious why this film got such a lukewarm response at the box office. Looking at The Last Duel and House of Gucci, I think it's time for Scott to consider retirement.

The Falls

by Mong-Hong Chung
Pu Bu
2021 / 129m - Taiwan
Drama
The Falls poster

Mong-Hong Chung's latest is another striking drama. Since his Golden Horse win it's been a lot easier to keep track of Chung's work, which I'm truly grateful for. The Falls isn't his best film, but the cinematography is beautiful, the score is on point, the performances are great, and the drama is very effective. The film offers a balanced look at a daughter taking care of her mom as she is diagnosed with psychosis. Gripping from start to finish, this is an easy recommend for all those who enjoyed his previous films.

Serpico

by Sidney Lumet
1973 / 130m - USA
Drama,Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Serpico poster

What I've come to expect from a popular 70s Hollywood films. It's a bit dark, it's a bit gritty, it's mostly a genre film bogged down by a lot of pointless drama and an excessive runtime. If it works, I'm sure it's all the more impressive, if it doesn't, you can't help but wonder why they even bothered.

Serpico is an honest cop, which makes him somewhat of a pariah. None of his colleagues want to work with him, some even go further by putting Serpico in direct danger on purpose. But Serpico stands by what he believes, and when he discovers some of his fellow policemen are stealing cash from the busts they're doing, he can't keep the info to himself.

Pacino is decent, though I prefer him when he was a bit older. The plot isn't all that interesting and the extra characterization feels flat and uninspired. I'm not a big fan of that grayish (read dull) 70s cinematography either, the score was also pretty tame. That said, I've seen worse and at just over two hours long, it's not impossible to get through.

Adam by Eve: A live in Animation

by Nobutaka Yoda, Waboku, Hibiki Yoshizaki, Yuichiro Saeki
2022 / 58m - Japan
Music,Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Adam by Eve: A live in Animation poster

If you're not familiar with Eve (the artist behind this project), like I was, prepare yourself for a somewhat puzzling experience. This 1-hour film acts as a gateway into his work, mixing live action with animation footage and exploring many of the recurring themes and characters from earlier songs. But you kind of have to piece everything together yourself while watching.

There are remnants of a plot here, but don't expect to make too much sense of it. The film follows two friends who are inseparable. It turns out they have been having the same dreams, about a one-eyed creature following them around. The film constantly drifts between reality and dreamworld, with Eve's music providing a little extra guidance.

I'm sure it's all a bit easier to follow if you're already familiar with Eve's career/persona. I can't say I was a big fan of the J-Pop/Rock-like music though, it's also a bummer that there's quite a lot of footage of Eve performing. There's potential here, the animation is exciting, and I love the concept of these album films, but I've seen better.

Shadows

by John Cassavetes
1958 / 82m - USA
Drama,Romance
1.5*/5.0*
Shadows poster

Cassavetes is best known for his later work, but he already made a splash with his very first film. Shadows feels more modern than its production year suggests, probably because of its improvisational nature. It makes it slightly more impressive, though I never quite got into the drama.

Benny is a dark boy who lives in Manhattan. He is a talented musician, but still runs into prejudice from time to time. His sister Lelia has a lighter skin tone and finds it easier to mix with white people. She falls in love with a white boy, but mixed relationships are still quite troublesome.

Cassavetes' film offers a nice peek into the beat scene of that time. Sadly, some performances are pretty weak and the music didn't really appeal to me either. The film is rather short, and it does feel less constricted and less fake than many of its contemporaries, but it wasn't a roaring success for me.

Beats

by Brian Welsh
2019 / 101m - UK
Drama,Music
3.5*/5.0*
Beats poster

A coming of age film set against the Scottish illegal raves of the 90s. It's a bit odd that a similar film has never been made in Belgium or The Netherlands, as that particular scene was even more thriving over here. But as someone who lived through those times and the rise of these styles of music, I'll gladly go for the Scottish take instead.

Johnno and Spanner are best mates, even though Johnno's parents aren't too happy with him seeing Spanner so much. Spanner's brother is a bit of a lowlife criminal, and they fear it's a bad influence on their son. To get away from the grip of his parents, Johnno agrees to join Spanner in his quest to attend an illegal rave.

The soundtrack is pretty damn cute (even though a tad too soft still), the performances are solid, and the climax is solid. The drama felt a little tried and tested though. It's nice they're finally starting to highlight some 90s niche music scenes, but that's not enough to turn this into a masterpiece.

Lucky Number Slevin

by Paul McGuigan
2006 / 110m - USA
Mystery,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Lucky Number Slevin poster

A slick and stylish crime flick. Not the oldskool kind, but a more contemporary take, in line with the type of films we saw coming out of the USA around the start of the new millennium. It's a film I liked quite a bit the first time I watched it, a good 15 years later it has lost some of its initial charm.

Slevin goes to visit an acquaintance (Nick) in New York, when he arrives the guy is nowhere to be found. Slevin settles down in his apartment, but soon after two burly men come knocking to pick him up. They mistake him for Nick and Slevin gets mixed up in some very shady business. All he can do is play along.

The dialogs are pretty witty, the cinematography is polished, and the characters are daft but amusing. It's fast-paced from start to finish and there are fun details scattered throughout the film, it's just that there have been similar films since that have improved on the formula. It's still a good film, just not a personal favorite anymore.

Baoh the Visitor

by Hiroyuki Yokoyama
Baô Raihôsha
1989 / 50m - Japan
Action,Horror,Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Baoh the Visitor poster

A pretty typical mix of action and horror. It was a successful combination for 80s anime, and a lot of cheap cruft was made to meet demand back then, but once in a while you discover a little gem. Not that Baoh is anything too out of the ordinary, but the detailed art style and solid animation quality do give it an edge over many similar films.

The Doress group collects humans with special abilities, hoping to weaponize them and sell them for loads of cash. They've captured Sumire and Ikurou, the latter is a particularly dangerous specimen as he houses a unique parasitic worm that grants him special powers. They manage to escape and seek out the Doress group to make them pay.

The art style is decidedly 80s, but the level of detail is well above par. The film gets quite horrific at times, but the action dominates. The plot and characters are pretty basic, 45 minutes also is a short time to do much in that regard, but ultimately that's not why I seek out films like this. Lots of fun, a nice recommend for people who love themselves some gory animated action.

Wandering

2021 / 34m - Taiwan
Experimental
2.5*/5.0*
Wandering poster

Most people have lost track of Tsai's work long ago, only a few dedicated arthouse fans know what the man's been up to lately. I can't say I've had too much interest in the things he's been doing this past decade, though they haven't been all bad. Wandering could be interpreted as closure for this period in his career, though that may be just my wishful thinking.

You're excused to think there's a bit too much navel-gazing going on here. Tsai and Lee have been doing the Walker shorts for a while now, this time we're not watching the walker, but a woman visiting Tsai's exhibition of the Walker shorts. And so we are watching her watching Tsai's shorts. And then finally, Tsai himself is also there, watching the shorts with her.

As she leaves the exhibition she finds herself in the middle of nature, looking content. That's exactly how I felt after watching Wandering. Tsai delivers some fine shots and the soundtrack is nice, but it's good to see him bring this project to an end. This is for a very niche audience of which I'm not truly a part of. I do appreciate bits and pieces of it, but only to a certain point. Not the strongest, but also not the weakest in the series.

Morbius

by Daniel Espinosa
2022 / 108m - USA
Fantasy,Action
2.0*/5.0*
Morbius poster

Apparently Sony still has broader access rights to the Marvel catalog. I've stopped caring about the ins and outs of the MCU (and DCU for that matter) long ago, so I have no clue how Morbius is supposed to fit (apart some off-the-cut references to Spider-Man property), but does it actually matter? This was just another superhero flick, nothing more, nothing less.

Morbius is a genius kid who suffers from a destructive blood disease. He vows to find a cure for him and his best mate, but when he finally finds a possible solution and injects it into himself, something goes horribly wrong. Morbius tries to fight his newfound disease, but his best friend gives in to the evil.

There's a bat motive, medical experiments gone wrong and good guys battling bad guys. Oh, and a pointless love interest. Yet another origin story for a forgettable character that will be slotted into a bigger whole at some point in time. Espinosa's direction isn't too bad though and the darker setting is pretty fun, but it's wasted on an inferior character.

Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist

by Pascal-Alex Vincent
Satoshi Kon, l'Illusionniste
2021 / 81m - France
Documentary
2.5*/5.0*
Satoshi Kon: The Illusionist poster

I'm not the most hardcore Satoshi Kon fan around, but the man has directed some of my all-time favorite films, and he has been a major influence in the anime industry, so I am pleased to see him get the recognition he deserves. That said, this documentary doesn't really do justice to Kon and his artistic legacy, which definitely feels like a missed opportunity.

The setup is pretty simple, as the documentary runs through his most famous works in chronological order. We get quotes and insights from industry veterans and people who actively worked with Kon, but also some Western film critics and others artists inspired by his work. As such, it's more of an introduction to Kon than it is the deep dive I was hoping for.

Certain aspects of his career (his involvement in Magnetic Rose) and work (the tremendous importance of the soundtracks in his films) are completely neglected, the strong difference between Japanese and Western interviewees didn't sit too well with me either. It's certainly nice to fly through Kon's career a decade after his passing, but the man deserves a better remembrance than this doc hoped to give him.

Father of the Bride

by Charles Shyer
1991 / 105m - USA
Comedy
1.5*/5.0*
Father of the Bride poster

One of those US comedies which thinks that playing it safe is a virtue. There's nothing really too offensive about this film, except maybe the gross and intolerable stereotypes and their uninteresting problems that have to carry us from start to finish. I sure don't enjoy watching that.

George's life is turned upside down when his daughter tells him she is going to marry. He doesn't really like the guy, the boy's parents are intimidating and worst of all: George isn't ready to let go of his little girl. But he'll have to, and he'll have to pay a lot of money for the wedding too.

Martin is saltless, the script and comedy are bland and none of the characters deserves sympathy. It's never too grating though and the pacing is pretty decent. The runtime isn't too excessive either, so getting to the end isn't that big of an ordeal. It's just a shame that there's nothing really remarkable going on.

You Are Not My Mother

by Kate Dolan
2021 / 93m - Ireland
Drama,Horror
3.0*/5.0*
You Are Not My Mother poster

A pretty basic horror film, mixing drama and mental illness with folklore horror elements. It's certainly not the first horror film to do so and it didn't seem You Are Not My Mother was too bothered challenging any of the reigning tropes. The result is pretty decent, but also somewhat forgettable.

Char is a bright young girl who just skipped a grade. As if things weren't difficult enough at school, her mother suffers from mental illness. Her uncle and grandma are around to help Char, but when her mom's condition worsens even they can't cope. Then Char's grandma reveals a dark secret.

The performances are more than solid and the horror elements are decently executed, but the build-up is relatively slow, and the film doesn't stand out enough. A predictable score and meek drama work against the atmosphere, though the base quality of the film does remain pretty consistent throughout. Solid filler, just nothing too memorable.

The Glorious Asuka Gang!

by Yôichi Sai
Hana no Asuka Gumi!
1988 / 100m - Japan
Action,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
The Glorious Asuka Gang! poster

Not what I expected from Yoichi Sai, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Not that I dislike Sai's work, I just didn't know he used to make badass punk films in the vein of Sogo Ishii. The Glorious Asuka Gang is a sprawling genre flick that doesn't fully deliver on its punk premise, but certainly doesn't skimp on the entertainment value.

Asuka is by far the coolest chick in school, but she's looking for a new challenge. She looks up to Yoko, a member of the Hibari gang. When she tries to get involved with Yoko's gang, things turn sour and Asuka suddenly finds herself with tons of drugs, a big stash of money and an angry punk gang on her tail. Not exactly what she had in mind.

Sai has a lot of fun with the punk elements. The sets look surprisingly accomplished, Asuka comes off as a female Akira, and the film is teeming with peculiar characters. It's nothing you haven't seen before and the true anarchic punk spirit is missing from this film, instead Sai offers lots of genre fun in a neat little package. A lovely find.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

by Charles Barton, Walter Lantz
1948 / 83m - USA
Comedy
1.0*/5.0*
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein poster

My first Abbott and Costello film. It's a comedy that really bets on the audience finding the lead duo hilarious. It's a pretty simple spoof on the monster universe movies (not just Frankenstein, but he's there too), sporting what I assume is Abbott & Costello's typical style of comedy. I didn't laugh a single time.

The bodies of Frankenstein and Dracula arrive from Europe. The plan is to use them in a haunted house attraction, but as the caretakers plant them there, they are taken by surprise when the monsters suddenly wake up from their slumber. They get the help from a wolf man, who came all the way from London to stop the monstrous duo.

The horror elements are negligible, everything is played for laughs. Most of the comedy is dialogue-based, and I assume that people who love the 30s/40s-style quips will have a good time with it, but that just isn't for me. The physical comedy is equally dire, which leaves pretty much nothing, except a relatively short runtime and some very cheesy costumes.

Fried Barry

by Ryan Kruger
2020 / 99m - South Africa
Comedy,Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Fried Barry poster

South-Africa gets a little crazy. Fried Barry is one of those films that checks all the boxes for me, but for various reasons never quite manages to fully nail it. I really wanted to like this more, love this even, and yet I found myself unable to. That isn't to say I disliked the film. There's plenty to like here, it just never comes together like it should.

Barry is a selfish addict who leaves his family to spend some time with his druggy friends. After scoring a hit, he is abducted by aliens and is given an alien passenger who hitches a ride inside his body. He spends the next couple of days roaming the city, getting into all sorts of trouble.

Gary Green is tremendous as Barry, the cinematography is flashy, and the sound design is superb. The soundtrack is cool too, much cooler than most other films I know, but because it approaches the music I usually listen to it actually falls flat. If Kruger had taken it up a notch or two, this would've been an instant personal favorite, but whenever things are about to get really freaky he dials back the intensity. In the end, the film's a little too meandering and not quite bonkers enough to be a masterpiece. But Kruger deserves another chance. Or two. Because the potential and talent are clearly present.

Enbalming

Enbamingu
1999 / 96m - Japan
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Enbalming poster

A more straightforward horror film from Shinji Aoyama, that clearly shows the influence from mentor Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Like many of these late 20th century Japanese horror films, there are strong police procedural elements, mixed with psychological horror and some twisted human behavior. The film is certainly effective, but doesn't really manage to stand out.

Miyako is an embalmer. When she is working on the body of Yoshiki, a young boy who presumably committed suicide, she notices some strange needle marks in his face. Things get weirder when someone breaks into her work place and steals Yoshiki's head. Miyako joins the police investigation and hits a mysterious body parts trafficking group.

Don't expect too much straight-up horror, instead Aoyama shoots for a disturbing and alienating atmosphere. It's all rather expected and the police case isn't quite as exciting as intended, but there are some memorable moments that are sure to stick in your brain. Not one of Aoyama's most remarkable films, but a solid addition to his oeuvre.

All the King's Men

by Robert Rossen
1949 / 110m - USA
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
All the King's Men poster

A highly moralistic political drama. It's no surprise this is an Oscar winner, as it is another film taking it up for "the little man", while criticizing those in power. It's an easy win, but like most of these films, the complete lack of nuance isn't too impressive. The dialogue-heavy nature of the film only makes things worse.

Willie Stark is a local politician who stands out because he takes it up for the regular folk. The established politicians fear him and try to stop him with all their power. At first, they succeed, but Stark takes up law and tries to better himself before he takes another stab at politics. The more Stark learns, the more he becomes what he used to rally against.

The performances are plain, the story is as predictable as they come, and the runtime is a bit excessive, though mostly because there are few twists and turns. This is one of those obvious Hollywood chest-thumpers, maybe it was more impressive in its time (though I doubt it), it's just not for me.

The Guns of Navarone

by J. Lee Thompson
1961 / 158m - UK
Action,Adventure
2.0*/5.0*
The Guns of Navarone poster

A war film that plays like an adventure, albeit a very talkative one. I expected it to be worse, I'm not big on classic war cinema after all, but the film certainly has its moments. It's a shame they dragged it out to stretch beyond the 150-minute mark, that really brought down the overall quality.

A group of six soldiers is sent on a suicide mission. Their job is to get rid of German canons stationed in Navarone. The canons are strategically significant and while they are active the Brits have no chance of getting the upper hand on the Germans. While nobody expects the men to succeed, they go above and beyond to complete their mission.

There are some great set pieces and the action scenes do get pretty tense. The characters are pretty drab though and there is way too much dialogue. The moral dilemmas aren't that interesting either, they just drag out the film even further. A slimmed down version would've been preferable, as it is now there were too many dead moments.