Metal Lords

by Peter Sollett
2022 / 97m - USA
Drama,Music
2.5*/5.0*
Metal Lords poster

It's 2022 and the US is still trying to sell metal as the ultimate in rebellious music. This time it is packaged as a prim and proper coming of age drama, as a 40-year-old with no interest in the music genre whatsoever that's a little hard to get into. It's not a terrible film, it just feels like a fantasy from some kid who lived 4 decades ago.

Kevin and Hunter are best friends, together they form Skullfucker. Hunter is a die-hard metal fan, Kevin a somewhat spineless guy who just tags along. When the Battle of the Bands comes up they enlist, but their friendship is tested when a girl appears and Kevin starts to drift from Hunter.

The young cast does a decent job, and there are a few cute jokes, other than that it's the usual coming of age issues and the typical metal vs (the most bland) pop contrasting to make metal look cool and edgy. Not quite sure who this film is for, but it's not the worst of its kind.

Legend of the Ancient Sword

Gu Jian Qi Tan Zhi Liu Yue Zhao Ming
2018 / 105m - China
Fantasy,Action
3.0*/5.0*
Legend of the Ancient Sword poster

Renny Harlin, the man who follows the money. The Finnish director spent a long time in Hollywood, but moved to China when he saw opportunities in their budding movie industry. He directed a handful of Chinese blockbusters so far, and like most of his films, they aren't the greatest, but offer decent blockbuster fun for those who care for such things.

Three warriors are looking for a unique ring, which supposedly leads the way to a lost martial arts master. When the ring is auctioned, they all show up, but they're not alone as an evil power also wants the ring for himself. The three vow to work together and learn that the ring is part of a legendary sword.

The CG is hit-and-miss, and the fantasy elements feel a bit random, other than that this was a fun and entertaining ride. The film's universe is creative enough, the action is pretty decent and the pacing hardly ever slows down. Exactly what you can expect from a Harlin blockbuster.

Act of Violence

by Fred Zinnemann
1948 / 82m - USA
Thriller,Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Act of Violence poster

Slightly above-average noir. It's not a complete game changer, but the premise is a tad more creative than most of its peers, and Zinnemann competently draws some tension from that. Genre cinema is always about the little details, and Act of Violence is another good example.

After the war, veteran Enley returns home to live a quiet life in a small town. Things are finally going his way, until private Parkson turns up in Enley's town. He wants to confront Enley, who has been carrying a secret with him. Enley isn't just going to let Parkson overthrow his comfortable life though.

The black and white cinematography is decent, performances are sufficient, and the runtime is relatively short, which makes that the pacing is on point. It's certainly not a tense of thrilling film, but Enley's secret is properly exploited and the cat-and-mouse game between the two is nice enough to follow.

Ride the Eagle

by Trent O'Donnell
2021 / 88m - USA
Comedy,Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Ride the Eagle poster

You can't be a proper comedian nowadays without headlining in your own, dedicated dramedy. These films are rarely anything special, but for some reason they keep making them. And so it's no real surprise to see Jake Johnson pop up in one. The result is rather unremarkable.

Leif's mom left him when he was still a kid, and they never reconnected. When she dies, Leif inherits her cabin, but only when he completes a list of tasks left behind by his mom. He travels to her cabin and reluctantly agrees, but the trip to the mountains turns out to be a life changer.

These dramedies are never very funny, nor is the drama particularly poignant. Johnson isn't quite strong enough to carry a film by himself either and the soundtrack is rather crummy, but the pacing is decent enough and there are some pleasant moments. It's not a horrible film, just a very unmemorable one.

Queen & Slim

by Melina Matsoukas
2019 / 132m - USA
Romance,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Queen & Slim poster

A fine surprise. I went in blank, not knowing what this film was about, but from what I'd picked up about it, I figured this might be something I could like. I was a bit bummed after the first 15 minutes, but then director Matsoukas proves that films like this can be about more than messages and points being driven home.

Slim and Queen are out on a not-so-successful Tinder date. When they go back home an officer stops their car and tells Slim to get out of the vehicle. The situation escalates and before anyone realizes what is happening, Queen is grazed by a bullet and the officer lies dead on the ground. The two decide to flee.

The two central performances are great, but it's really Matsoukas' direction that elevates this film well above its peers. There's a somewhat quiet, laid-back, stylish vibe that runs underneath the entire production. The cinematography is polished, the soundtrack notable, the pacing on point. Strong across the board.

The Herd

by Zeki Ökten
Sürü
1978 / 129m - Turkey
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
The Herd poster

Turkish cinema certainly is somewhat of an acquired taste. Revered in its homeland, I've been having quite a bit of trouble getting a feel for it. The older films in particular feel very crude and unpolished, The Herd is a perfect example. At more than two hours long, this wasn't a great watch.

The film follows a blood feud between two rivaling families. One family has enough and decides to sell their sheep, but they will do so across country, in Ankara. The road there isn't as easy as they imagined, to make things worse their sheep start dying on the journey over there.

If you like landscape photography, then you might get something out of this film, but the poor image quality and the somewhat cheesy shots don't really help. The drama isn't too interesting, the direction is purely functional, and the characters aren't too enjoyable. Not my kind of film.

Poupelle of Chimney Town

by Yusuke Hirota
Eiga Entotsumachi no Puperu
2020 / 100m - Japan
Fantasy,Adventure,Animation
Poupelle of Chimney Town poster

Studio 4°C's latest feature animation is a sprawling fantasy adventure that echoes Noiseman Sound Insect and Tekkonkinkreet, only targeted at a slightly younger audience. The animation is riveting, the art style imaginative and the pacing perfect. The plot is a bit basic and the soundtrack can get a little J-Pop centric, but these are just minor hiccups that didn't really get into the way of my overall enjoyment. Fans of animation (and 4°C in particular) will have a field day with this film.

Reflect On That Boys

1989 / 41m - Japan
Drama
0.5*/5.0*
Reflect On That Boys poster

Peculiar timing, but Sion Sono's early (and only) AV film became available just a few weeks ago. It's an extremely bare-bones affair, with virtually no plot and a limited runtime that spans four bouts of sex. There's little here for film fans, only Sono completists (and AV collectors) need to take an interest.

Two women are candidly talking about their sexual adventures. One girl loves the act and simply wants to have as much sex as possible, only the men don't always please her. Another girl tries to get over the loss of her brother by sleeping around. After each session, they give a short commentary on their experience.

The film looks atrocious, there isn't happening anything except two people having sex and the documentary bits surrounding these scenes add little to nothing. It's one of the worst films Sono has ever made, so thank God it was rather short. It's best to stay away from this altogether, unless you really want to watch everything Sono has ever put out.

I Love My Mum

by Alberto Sciamma
2018 / 86m - UK
Comedy
3.0*/5.0*
I Love My Mum poster

A truly daft British comedy that is good for a couple of laughs. Don't expect any highbrow comedy or sophisticated jokes, I Love My Mum revels in its nonsensical plot and milks its moronic characters until there is nothing left. And truth be told, the film does the job remarkably well.

Ron is fed up with his mom. When she has taken his cheese without asking, he drags her to the store to buy some new cheese. On the way there they have a fight, and they end up in a freight container. When they finally manage to get out, they are in Morocco, without any money or passports.

It's a film filled with caricatures, crude jokes and baffling plot twists, but all that is just part of the fun. It takes a little while to get going, but once the cringy duo arrives in Morocco the weirdness just keeps on piling up. Not a great film, but if you're looking for light filler this is a pretty solid option. If you care for this type of comedy that is.

Good Night Beijing

by Jaycee Chan, Zhang Xioalei
Beijing: Wan Jiu Zhao Wu
2021 / 95m - China
Romance
3.0*/5.0*
Good Night Beijing poster

A promising, though somewhat uneven debut of Jaycee Chan. Jackie's son has a pretty respectable acting career, it's no surprise he would eventually move on to direct his own films. It's not quite as daring as some of the films he headlined, but Chan does show quite a b it of promise.

The film follows three stories that are connected to a nightclub in Beijing. The first one follows a troubled romance between two people who work at the club, the second one shows the budding friendship between two of its clients and finally there's a story about a young boy who wants to make it big in the entertainment industry.

Flashy colors, slick camerawork and a contemporary score. This is clearly a film from a (somewhat) younger director. The stories don't quite connect enough, and the drama feels a little light. The cast is quite impressive though and the styling is nice. Chan is already working on his next film, based on this first attempt he deserves a few more chances.

The Warrior from Sky

by Tong Hui
2021 / 73m - China
Fantasy,Action
3.0*/5.0*
The Warrior from Sky poster

A bit of simple iQiyi filler. This is another one of those shorter fantasy epics that tackles a slice of Chinese folklore (or at least lends royally from it). While the quality of these releases has increased visibly over the years, most of them have trouble shaking off that filler vibe, no doubt because that's exactly what they are.

Chen Nan is a young boy with exceptional spiritual powers. He is cast down to Earth by an elder and loses his memory. He arrives in the Chu Court, where he is taken prisoner by a stuck up princess. The court of Chu is under attack as the Sima family wants to take over the reign, Nan decides to help them out, while trying to find out more about his past.

The mix of martial arts, fantasy and folklore is a staple of the Chinese film industry, the pacing is pleasant, the runtime short and the entertainment value is there, but the film lacks the necessary polish. Some subpar CG and lack of stand-out elements makes this decent but somewhat forgettable filler.

Ten

by Abbas Kiarostami
Dah
2002 / 94m - Iran
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
Ten poster

Kiarostami will test your patience, so this will be a pretty big hit-or-miss film for most. The documentary-like approach isn't new for him, but this is by far the most static, ugliest-looking film he's ever made. It all depends on whether you consider the characters interesting enough. For me that was a definite 'no'.

The film offers 10 scenes in a car. A mother is driving around with various people, Kiarostami documents their conversations. There are only two camera angles. One is looking at the driver, the other at the passenger. The underlying narrative outlines the position of women in a society dominated by men.

One thing that generally bugs me about Middle-Eastern films is the noisiness of the characters. The first scene has two people shouting for 10 minutes, where half the conversation is one person asking the other not to shout. The rest of the fragments didn't really do it for me either. The concept is interesting, the execution terrible.

Homebound

by Sebastian Godwin
2021 / 71m - UK
Horror
2.5*/5.0*
Homebound poster

A horror film built on a singular concept. It's basically one big build-up towards the ending, which explains the rather short runtime. I don't mind a shorter film, the premise has everything to make this a successful horror, but the execution isn't quite where it needs to be. Less can be more, but sometimes it's just less.

Holly and Richard are visiting Richard's kids for the first time as a couple. It's his daughter's birthday, and he wants to surprise them. When they get to the house Richard ex is nowhere to be found, but his kids are pretty self-sufficient, and they figure she didn't want to be there with them visiting.

The kids are plenty creepy, the location is nice, and the score is helpful building up the atmosphere. The film becomes increasingly tense as it nears the finale, but then it doesn't really deliver. The ending feels forced and does a poor job of hiding the film's limited budget. It's not a terrible horror flick, just a little unremarkable and underdeveloped.

Bad Taste

1987 / 91m - New Zealand
Comedy,Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Bad Taste poster

Peter Jackson's first film has undoubtedly aged a lot, but the sheer joy and energy keeps it from slipping completely. There's a lot to love here and gore fans will have a field day with Bad Taste, it's just a bit tougher to love when you can grab Braindead and have everything this film has to offer, times two.

Aliens have finally come to Earth. They've grown a taste for human meat, and they're setting up a little manufacturing plant before they get on with conquering our planet. A bunch of ragtag alien hunters are onto them and drive to Kaihoro, the village where the creatures are holed up.

The gore is insane, the performances are fun, the comedy hits the mark and the pacing is perfect. It's been ages since I last watched Bad Taste, but a lot of it was still fresh. Still, the execution is really bare-bones and even though Jackson's talent overcomes some budgetary limitations, it's just not quite a personal favorite anymore. Great fun though.

Daughter

by Pang-Chun Chan
Shuang Shen
2015 / 86m - Hong Kong
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Daughter poster

Hong Kong does exorcism. Asia is no stranger to ghost stories, but you don't often see classic Western exorcisms in their films. Daughter takes a stab at the subgenre. The overall execution is pretty slick, but the specific horror elements do feel a tad sloppy. It's decent enough for genre fans, but don't expect a niche highlight.

Sharon is a respected psychiatrist, as a mom she doesn't fare quite as well. When her daughter returns from Canada, their relationship is troubled, and Sharon's attempt to get closer to her daughter only seem to make matters worse. When her neighbor comes by, saying she's seeing ghosts trailing Sharon and her daughter, Sharon reluctantly hires a priest, hoping this may solve her familial troubles.

The cinematography is polished, the sets look posh and the soundtrack is on point. Kara Wai and Yanny Chan offer solid performances too, it's just that the whole ghost/exorcism thing isn't all that effective. This has been done countless times before, often better too. There's a bit of fun to be had for genre fans here, but the potential was there to do better.

Brighton Rock

by John Boulting
1948 / 92m - UK
Thriller,Crime
1.5*/5.0*
Brighton Rock poster

A pretty typical noir, but with a British twist. It's not a perfect match, as the British influences can get a little too prim and proper, but it's certainly not all bad. Boulting's direction is a bit more inspired compared to his American contemporaries and the film feels just a tad slicker. But it's still very much a typical noir.

Pinkie is the leader of a small gang in Brighton. When he kills an old rival, he makes it look like it was an accident. The police buys into the scheme, but Pinkie's girlfriend isn't so sure. She finds a witness that places Pinkie at the murder scene, so in order to shut her up, Pinkie proposes to his girlfriend.

I wasn't too impressed with Attenborough's performance and some characters don't really feel at home in the film. On the upside, the editing was better than usual and the pacing wasn't too bad either. It's certainly not the worst noir I've seen, but after making some inroads into the genre I'm pretty certain it's not really for me.

Cube

by Yasuhiko Shimizu
2021 / 108m - Japan
Sci-fi,Mystery
3.0*/5.0*
Cube poster

A Japanese remake of Natali's Cube, in the most basic sense of the word. It's the same film, 25 years later, with Japanese actors (and slightly longer). It's been ages since I watched the original, but the concept is so singular that it doesn't really need a remake, certainly not one that stick so closely to the original material.

A guy wakes up in an empty room with several other people. The room has 6 exits, some rooms have traps that kill swiftly and indiscriminately. The group starts moving around, learning more about the labyrinth through trial and error. Finding an exit proves quite tricky, as all the rooms like alike.

The film looks slick enough and people unfamiliar with the original will probably have a much better time with this remake. The extra runtime is unnecessary, and it all felt a bit too safe and predictable. It's not a terrible remake, not a bad one either, just a very redundant one.

And the Mud Ship Sails Away...

by Hirobumi Watanabe
Soshite Dorobune wa Yuku
2013 / 88m - Japan
Comedy
3.0*/5.0*
And the Mud Ship Sails Away... poster

A quirky Japanese slacker comedy with strong indie touches. The Foolish Piggies have had a pretty good decade, though it's tricky to get to their films in the West. While this wasn't entirely my type of film, there's enough quirkiness and oddness present to leave me with a pleasant feeling, and the incentive to watch the rest of their films.

Takashi is a deadbeat. He lives with his grandmother in a small house, tries to get by on his benefits every month, and just roams around town to kill time. Nobody really pushes him to do better, until his half-sister turns up out of the blue. She wants to connect with Takashi, which finally forces him to make an effort.

The black and white cinematography is decent, but feels a bit lazy. The soundtrack is a bit more notable, but not exactly subtle or well-integrated. Shibukawa is a perfect lead though, and the film gets progressively weirder, venturing into territory I didn't quite expect early on. Good fun, with the potential to be quite a bit better still.

Mandala

Mandara
1971 / 132m - Japan
Drama,Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Mandala poster

Jissoji's most Japanese New Wave-like film I've seen so far. The mix of sexuality, politics and brutality is reminiscent of the work of Wakamatsu, only Jissoji has a more controlled and deliberate signature, though no less experimental. It makes Mandala a very intriguing film.

A couple swap goes awry when one couple is attacked and raped by two savage men. Not phased by the event, the couple starts a search for the men and finds they are part of a strange cult that tries to capture mankind through the lens of rape and agriculture. As insane as that sounds, the couple joins the cult, albeit somewhat reluctantly.

The cinematography is splendid, with its odd angles and meticulous color work. The outside scenes aren't quite as striking, but still sport some interesting editing. The plot is a bit hazy, the soundtrack nerve wrecking and the performances are spirited, all adding to the unique experience. Not the easiest film, but worth a watch.

So Cold the River

by Paul Shoulberg
2022 / 95m - USA
Horror,Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
So Cold the River poster

A simple horror film, mixed with mystery elements. Shoulberg aims for atmosphere, so don't expect too much in the way of scares or gore, because you won't find it here. Instead, you get lush locations, moody lighting and a mystery that slowly unravels itself. All you need for a fun little horror film.

Erica is a washed up documentary maker who gets a new assignment from a peculiar woman. She wants Erica to make a portrait of her dying father. When Erica travels to his birth town, she discovers that he was a vile man who was feared by everyone in the community. But there is more than meets the eye.

Apart from the superb location, there are no real stand-out elements. The cinematography is solid, the score is appropriate, the story simple but effective. The editing is the only thing that stands out, but not so much as to define the film. So Cold the River offers nothing original, but executes the familiar very well. Good filler.

Virgin Snow

by Sang-hee Han
Hatsuyuki no Koi
2007 / 102m - Japan
Romance
3.0*/5.0*
Virgin Snow poster

A pretty typical, dedicated Japanese romance. Virgin Snow is a simple genre flick that has no real intention to color outside the lines. Instead, it banks its entire success on its two leads, and with Aoi Miyazaki's headlining, that probably wasn't such a bad call. It's certainly not the best of its kind, but you could do a lot worse.

Min is the son of a Korean potter, who is forced to move to Japan with his dad. Min doesn't speak a word of Japanese, which makes his stay in Kyoto quite difficult. His mood changes when he runs into Nanae, a young paintress with a smile to die for. She likes Min's outgoing character and the two hit it off. Nanae's unhealthy home situation might get in the way of their romance.

Miyazaki is perfect for a role like this, as she not only looks angelic, but she also has the chops to pull off the more dramatic parts. The story is a bit too sentimental though, and the score can get a little heavy-handed. Still, there are more than a handful of touching moments. Not a bad film, but one that plays it a little too safe.

The Lust of Angels

by Nagisa Isogai
Tenshi no Yokubou
2014 / 40m - Japan
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
The Lust of Angels poster

Nagisa Isogai comes up short. The subject is interesting enough, and it could've been a fun/gritty genre film, it's just that the execution isn't there. The direction is really poor, performances are amateurish, and the film has a rather cheap feel that drags it down. It's no surprise Isogai's direction career didn't really come off the ground.

Japan has a problem with gropers. Trains and metros are pretty packed, so certain men take advantage by edging up to girls and feeling them up. A couple of galls have had it with these men, and they decide to take matters into their own hands. Their revenge is pretty violent.

The camera work and score are basic, the characters are flat, and the actors not equipped to do anything to elevate them. The setup is interesting and perfect for a jolly/gruesome revenge flick (with a message if you want), but it has to work as a film to make enough of an impact, and that's where this one comes up short.

Child of Kamiari Month

by Takana Shirai
Kamiarizuki no Kodomo
2021 / 99m - Japan
Drama,Fantasy,Animation
2.5*/5.0*
Child of Kamiari Month poster

What could've been a fun and adventurous fantasy anime, gets bogged down by unnecessary melodrama. There's a lot of potential here, only in the hands of this director and studio, the film never blossoms. There are some inspired moments and the premise is solid, but that only gets you so far.

Kanna is still young when she loses her mother. She has a hard time getting over the loss, until she puts on a piece of her mom's jewelry. Suddenly time stops and gods and demons surround her. Kanna learns she is a descendant of a family tasked with delivering offerings to a yearly party of the gods.

The art style is a bit bland and the animation quality isn't what I expect from a feature film. There's way too much exposition during the first half hour, after that there are too many moments where everything grinds to a halt, only to insert some heavy drama. It's not all bad, there are some scenes where the potential shines through, but this should've been a lot better.

The Door Into Summer

by Takahiro Miki
Natsu E no Tobira: Kimi no Iru Mirai E
2021 / 118m - Japan
Sci-fi,Romance
2.5*/5.0*
The Door Into Summer poster

A rather bland romance with strong sci-fi/time travel influences. What could've been a promising mix of genre elements turned out to be a predictable and drawn-out drama that only occasionally serves inspired moments. I'm happy to see Netflix export more Japanese cinema, but they can do better than this.

Soichiro is a boy genius who has little luck in his personal life. People around him keep dying and his guardian cheats him out of the patents to his biggest invention yet. He decides to go into cryosleep and try his luck 30 years later, but when he wakes up in the future things didn't really pan out the way he expected.

The twists are very predictable, Miki spends way too much time on simple and ineffective drama and the performances aren't that great either. There's a base quality here that keeps the film watchable, it's certainly not a complete disaster, but I expect more from a film like this.