Silent Running

by Douglas Trumbull
1972 / 89m - USA
Sci-fi
2.0*/5.0*
Silent Running poster

A sci-fi that combines cheese with a clear environmental message. The result isn't quite as serious as the director hoped it would/could be and the slow pacing isn't all that appropriate, but the film has a few memorable moments and elements that make it worth a watch.

Freeman is a biologist who takes care of the gardens on a spaceship. The Earth has lost all its biodiversity and the plants on the ship are all that remain. When word arrives that the ship has to convert in a commercial vessel and the gardens have to go, Freeman takes matters into his own hands.

Dern isn't good enough for the part he has to play, the spaceship looks quite fake, the characters are pretty dumb and the soundtrack is hilariously bad, but the two drones are fun enough, and it's quite nice to see an older sci-fi that takes the space stuff serious. I just wish they'd done a better job.

The Hand of God

by Paolo Sorrentino
È Stata la Mano di Dio
2021 / 130m - Italy
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
The Hand of God poster

Paulo Sorrentino used to be the poster child of stylish, contemporary Italian cinema, but those times are long gone. He has aged visibly through his films, and with this latest (The Hand of God), a semi-autobiography about his teenage years, I think he's finally gone full old man.

Fabietto, a young guy growing up in Naples during the 80s, has trouble finding his calling in life. He can't seem to land a girlfriend, his family is certified crazy, and he has no clue what to do with his life. The only thing that inspires him is the town's love for football, certainly when they hear Maradona is coming to play for their home team.

The cinematography is decent, but not as exuberant as I'd hoped, the characters are somewhat funny, but also a little irritating, and once the drama takes hold of the film it becomes a bit sluggish. Probably because Sorrentino doesn't have much interesting to tell. Still better than many others in the genre, but Sorrentino is capable of more.

Till We Meet Again

by Giddens Ko
Yue Lao
2021 / 128m - Taiwan
Romance,Fantasy
Till We Meet Again poster

Giddens Ko finally makes good on his potential. He's been one of the most promising figures in Taiwanese cinema this past decade, but there were always minor details that kept his films from becoming personal favorites. This sprawling contemporary fantasy sees him taking the next step. The lovely cinematography, the solid performances, a creative plot and excellent direction turn this film into a real event. The minor flaws are still there, only now they're overshadowed by all the greatness. A lovely surprise, hopefully Ko can continue on this level.

Alley Cat

by Hideo Sakaki
Arî Kyatto
2017 / 129m - Japan
Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Alley Cat poster

A pretty cool crime flick. Alley Cat mixes in some drama and dry/quirky comedy, but the core of the film is a simple but fun crime tale that centers around a gang of kooky characters who get in well over their head. Though a bit long in the tooth, the film never really drags or slows down unnecessarily.

When a retired boxer's cat goes missing, he encounters a young punk who wants to befriend him. The two don't really get along, but when the punk helps him out with his part-time job, protecting a woman from a stalker, they do grow closer. The woman starts hanging out with them, she too has some secrets in her past that are coming back to haunt her.

The actors do a pretty good job, the pacing is pleasant, the comedy is fun without taking away from the crime story and the conclusion is satisfactory. If Sakaki's signature had been a tiny bit stronger, this might have turned out a personal favorite, but fans of Japanese crime/comedy should definitely give it a go.

Aristocrats

by Yukiko Sode
Anoko wa Kizoku
2020 / 124m - Japan
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Aristocrats poster

A minor disappointment. This appeared to be a great drama on paper, the result is a bit more generic than I imagined. The cast surely wasn't the problem, the film didn't look cheap or badly made either, it just lacks anything to set it apart from a slew of other Japanese dramas.

Hanako grew up in a rich family. When she breaks off the engagement with her fiancé her family tries to set her up with another man, Hanako doesn't really dare to refuse their requests. When she finally finds another man who is suited for her (and stands up to her family's scrutiny), he turns out to be taken.

Kadowaki and Mizuhara do a decent job, the different angles (the city rich and the rural bumpkins) should've been interesting enough and the cinematography certainly isn't bad, there's just nothing that stands out. For a relatively long film with a proper budget in a well-stacked genre, it's not enough.

How Green Was My Valley

by John Ford
1941 / 118m - USA
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
How Green Was My Valley poster

If you want to trace the history of Hollywood kitsch and sentiment, there's no way you can pass up the films of John Ford. This quintessential classics director revels in cheese and exaggerated drama, How Green Was My Valley is another perfect example. To each their own I guess.

Ford leaves America for a small miner's town in Wales. The film focuses on a big miner family in the early 1900s, as the young boys have their own ideas of what the world should look like, the father is stern and strict, and social turmoil plagues the country. And in true Hollywood fashion, there's also a bit of action at the end.

The finale isn't all that bad and would've made for a good thriller, but the drama that comes before is hard to watch and really drags the film down. The performances are poor, the soundtrack is bad, it's only the cinematography that manages to stand out when the plot gets a bit more exciting.

Joy

by David O. Russell
2015 / 124m - USA
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Joy poster

A pretty typical Russell film, especially with Lawrence and Cooper present. Joy is a basic Hollywood biography, romancing the rise of a (somewhat?) famous person through hard work and adversity. This could've been a pretty dull film, but Russell's pleasant direction adds a bit of much-needed flair.

Joy is a young woman who takes care of her family and kids. She's also somewhat of an inventor, and when she thinks up a self-wringing mop, she wants to turn that into a business. The world isn't too kind to female entrepreneurs and Joy has to create every single opportunity herself.

I'm not familiar with the true story, but when it feels like Hollywood mediocrity there's probably been some artistic liberty at work. The cast is solid though and Russell has a way to pace his films perfectly. The slightly above average cinematography certain helps to set the film apart further. Decent, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

Warrendale

by Allan King
1967 / 100m - Canada
Documentary
1.0*/5.0*
Warrendale poster

A documentary that documents misery (or at least situations I find completely miserable). It's interesting in the sense that it does show something true and essential, it's just that I find no joy or worth in watching something like this for 100 minutes straight. The experience was pretty grating.

The film follows 12 emotionally challenged kids and their caretakers in the Warrendale facility. Dr Fischer is the lead doctor who devised a special technique to treat the kids, but the results seem a little sketchy, and you don't really get too much insight into his practices, apart from what the camera registers.

The bottom line is that you're watching rowdy kids shouting for 100 minutes straight, while their caretakers try to calm them down with Fischer's approach. It's pretty harrowing and distressing, but it's also rather numbing and after a while I simply lost interest, which couldn't have been the point. Not my cup of tea.

Choose or Die

by Toby Meakins
2022 / 84m - UK
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Choose or Die poster

A fun horror film. The concept is simple enough, the styling is smart and there are some pretty memorable moments. The younger cast, the lack of explicit gore and the limited 80s pandering might throw off some people, but I don't think they really get in the way of the enjoyment here.

A collector of old 80s tech discovers a tape with a game on it. When the game is started, it prompts the player to choose between different scenarios. Those choices directly influence reality around the player, causing death and destruction whenever the game is summoned. And as the title explains, not choosing results in the death of the player.

Though the 80s are firmly present, the very contemporary soundtrack and cinematography, the young cast and the restraint to make this some 80s jerk fest keep the film in the now. A fun cameo by Englund and a small but terrific performance by Eddie Marsan further elevate the film. Good fun.

The Erlprince

by Kuba Czekaj
Królewicz Olch
2016 / 101m - Poland
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
The Erlprince poster

My second Kuba Czekaj film, providing solid proof that Baby Bump wasn't just a fluke. It's clear that Czekaj has a signature style he likes to push through, which is something I dearly appreciate. On the whole, The Erlprince isn't quite a personal favorite, but it's a very worthy film that is easy to recommend if you like things a little different.

A young, talented boy lives with his single mom. He's a genius and is currently looking into the unified field theory, his mother loves to prance him around and make a buck by entering him into competitions and award programs. The boy's life takes a turn when his father shows up out of nowhere.

Czekaj likes a good coming-of-age story, but stays as far away as possible from the classic genre formula. Symbolism, a more contemporary feel and a very stylized aesthetic make his films stand out. The Erlprince is a dark, enigmatic and slightly puzzling experience, be sure to give it a shot.

Smiles of a Summer Night

by Ingmar Bergman
Sommarnattens Leende
1955 / 109m - Sweden
Comedy,Romance
1.5*/5.0*
Smiles of a Summer Night poster

A film that is pretty intriguing, especially for dedicated fans of Bergman. The man is best known for his serious arthouse work, you wouldn't really expect him to do a certified romcom. People not really into Bergman shouldn't get their hopes up though, his signature is still very much present.

The film takes place in a single night. A courtesan's daughter throws a big party, hoping to ditch her current boyfriend, a respected general. She also invites her ex-husband and his son. People mingle, including the maids, and romances start blossoming between the various attendees.

Though this is a romcom on paper, the weighty dialogues and stiff characters don't really gel well with genre expectations. It's cute to see Bergman go beyond his comfort zone, but it merely shows that he's not fit to work within stricter genre conventions. There's little joy, passion and/or romance to be found, though it's also not the worst thing he made.

Umma

by Iris K. Shim
2022 / 83m - USA
Horror
1.5*/5.0*
Umma poster

South-Korea has developed a strong horror reputation these past two decades, it seems that Umma wants to deliver the Asian-American equivalent. I'm not certain if I would describe the film as well-meaning or just lazy, the fact of the matter is that the result is quite lackluster and dull.

Chris grew up with her mom on a remote farm. Her mother is allergic to electricity, their Korean descent didn't make things easier for Chris growing up. When word arrives that Chris' grandmother died, her mother begins to relive the traumas of her past and slowly becomes the woman she has hated for her entire life.

The strong dramatic core is no surprise for fans of South-Korean horror, but that's not really what draws people to the genre. The lack of tension, a couple of lazy jump scares, mediocre performances and a predictable plot work against the film. If you're craving a South-Korean horror film, just watch one instead.

Legend of Deification: King Li Jing

by Zhou Jingfeng
2021 / 79m - China
Fantasy,Adventure
3.5*/5.0*
Legend of Deification: King Li Jing poster

Another part of the Nezha story. It's a popular bit of folklore that has been featured endlessly these past couple of years. I have to admit though that I'm still not really on board with the broader storyline. Not that it matters an awful lot, apart from a short Nezha cameo in the end, this could've been a stand-alone film.

From what I gather, this is a prequel, with the titular Li Jing being on of Nezha's ancestors (maybe even his father?). He descends from Kunlun mountain to investigate increased demon activity in the human world. With a ragtag band of friends, he is supposed to stop the resurrection of the demon King, not an easy task for the inexperienced Jing.

This is more signature iQiyi streaming fare. The CG isn't that great, other than that it's a lot of fun. A short runtime, excellent pacing, lots of folklore and fantasy elements and quite a bit of action. It's simple genre cinema, that benefits from lessons learned from earlier films. It appears China was smart enough to copy the right bits from the Hong Kong film industry.

Poison

by Todd Haynes
1991 / 85m - USA
Drama,Romance,Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Poison poster

I've seen a couple of Todd Haynes' films already, all of them interesting in their own right, so I wasn't really surprised to see his very first feature was a bit oddball too. I'm not his biggest fan, but the man has some intriguing ideas about cinema, and even though Poison wasn't particularly great, it reinforces Haynes' reputation as a director with a unique vision.

The film is an anthology with three different stories cut up and shown alongside each other. In the first one a young boy murders his father, the second one follows a leper as he infects everyone he meets, the third and final short film is about a gay romance that develops in a prison cell.

Each short has a very distinct style (from faux-doc and classic horror to gritty drama), but I wasn't entirely sold on the structure of the film. I'm sure the hope was that these stories would somehow link together, but that never truly materialized. It makes for a somewhat messy film, but still interesting enough to give it a try.

The Northman

by Robert Eggers
2022 / 136m - USA
Fantasy,Adventure
1.5*/5.0*
The Northman poster

The Northman, a film from a director who clearly put a bit too much belief in all the praise he's been getting. The result is utterly ridiculous and kitsch, and the more serious and dramatic Eggers tried to be, the sillier and funnier his film became. It's only an inch away from parody, which would've been a much bolder and more original take to explore.

The son of a king escapes after his father has been killed by his bastard brother. He scours the land, until he learns the whereabouts of his father's killer. He disguises himself as a slave and travels to Iceland, with just one goal in mind. Avenge his father and save his mother from the hands of he who destroyed his family.

The bombastic soundtrack, the horrible accents, the bland revenge plot, the over-the-top performances, the kitschy folklore. Everything is pumped to the max, but nothing impresses and the harder Eggers commits, the dizzier I got from all the eye-rolling. Points for daring to make something different, but this was just plain bad.

Snipers

by Mo Zhang, Yimou Zhang
Ju Ji Shou
2022 / 96m - China
Action,War
1.5*/5.0*
Snipers poster

A surprisingly poor Yimou Zhang effort. Together with his daughter he takes on this rather generic war flick (and yes, it is about snipers). It's a new low in China patriotic cinema assault, with ridiculous bad guys (Westerners), heroic Chinese fellas and a very predictable outcome, highlighting the endless bravery and perseverance of the Chinese soldiers.

The film revolves around a single stand-off between two groups of soldiers during the Korean War. The Chinese are helping out the Koreans fight off the Western invaders, though the film focuses on a very minor conflict where two groups are trying to get their hands on some vital intel. The scope is really very limited, unlike other recent efforts.

The film looks rather cheap, the performances range from plain to ridiculous and the patriotic elements push away everything else. I think China has really reached American-level patriotism with this film, which is a sad landmark. It's hard to enjoy the little tension there is, which is a real shame if you consider what someone like Yimou Zhang is truly capable of.

A Human Murder Weapon

Ningen Kyôki: Ai to Ikari no Ringu
1992 / 71m - Japan
Action,Crime
1.5*/5.0*
A Human Murder Weapon poster

A very early Miike. It's not his first, and I was already familiar with some of his earlier films, so I had a good idea of what to expect. It's fair to say Miike didn't start with a bang, instead he worked himself up and learned the trade by making films. There are already flashes of Miike's genius present, but only if you know where to look.

The Karate Kid is captured by a gang and held to participate in an underground fight club for the wealthy. He doesn't want to participate in any of the matches, but the gang gets his girlfriend and uses her as leverage. He has no choice to fight, even though he promised his mentors not to use his lethal fighting skills gratuitously.

The performances are pretty poor and the film looks dirt cheap, even when it's just over 70 minutes long. There are moments where Miike manages to elevate the film, squeezing in some minor crazy and building up the atmosphere, but they are few are far between. For Miike completists only.

The Cellar

by Brendan Muldowney
2022 / 94m - Ireland
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
The Cellar poster

Irish horror film that seems eager to become the next A Dark Song. Muldowney does a pretty good job building up the tension, but much like its predecessor it somewhat falters in the final act. Horror fans will find plenty to love here, it's just a shame that it didn't fulfill its full potential.

The Woods family moves into their new home, a fancy mansion that they got cheap at an auction. It's a mysterious house that holds many secrets, the basement in particular is an odd place full of old symbols and weird math. When their daughter Ellie disappears, they try to uncover the meaning behind all the weird equations, hoping they might lead to their daughter.

The mansion is pretty cool and the build-up of the tension is effective. The performances are decent, the cinematography and score on par with what you'd expect from a film like this. It's the ending, where the fantasy elements take a slightly more prominent role, that doesn't really gel with the rest of the film. Certainly worth a watch, I just wish the finale had been a tad better.

Master Wong Vs Master Wong

Huang Fei Hong dui Huang Fei Hong
1993 / 88m - Hong Kong
Comedy,Action
3.0*/5.0*
Master Wong Vs Master Wong poster

Lik-Chi Lee makes good of the popularity of Wong Fei-hung. Together with a slew of respected Hong Kong actors (but without Stephan Chow) he provides a more comedy-focused take on the martial arts hero who dominated the Hong Kong action scene in the early 90s. The result is pretty fun, if a little on the simple side.

Wong Fei-hung travels to Canton with two disciples and his wife. He wants to help the refugees there, who are being scammed by a rich businessman, so he goes undercover. A couple of cases of mistaken identity later, Fei-hung is part of a major clusterfuck where he'll have to prove he is the actual martial arts master in court.

Anthony Wong is a perfect bad guy, actors like Man-tat Ng and Eric Tang are ideal for the comic relief. The comedy is a bit hit-and-miss, but that's par for the course. Not a film I'd recommend to Hong Kong comedy virgin, obviously, but if you know what you're getting yourself into, this is a lot of fun.

Lupin III: Da Capo of Love - Fujiko's Unlucky Days

by Setsuo Takase, Shinichi Watanabe
Rupan Sansei: Ai no Da Capo - Fujiko's Unlucky Days
1999 / 92m - Japan
Mystery,Adventure,Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Lupin III: Da Capo of Love - Fujiko's Unlucky Days poster

There certainly is no lack of Lupin III specials. I've seen more than a handful already, but I keep finding ones I haven't watched yet. Not that I mind, as these films tends to be a lot of fun, if a little interchangeable. Da Capo of Love is no different. A fun film, but a bit too much like a bunch of other Lupin III films I've seen.

Lupin and Fujiko are having a pleasant evening, but as always, the two are trying to deceive each other. They're not the only ones planning to ruin the evening. Fujiko has the Columbus files in her possession, documents that are said to reveal the location of the Columbus Egg.

The animation is pretty decent, most of the Lupin regulars are present, and the mystery is classic but amusing. The main bad guy here is a bit forgettable and there isn't really enough to make this film stand out from all the others, but if you can't get enough of the Lupin III films, you won't be disappointed.

Street Trash

by J. Michael Muro
1987 / 91m - USA
Comedy,Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Street Trash poster

Cult on delivery. If you don't have a decent budget, nor the access to proper talent, you can always try to be as zany and grotesque as possible and sell your film as cult. At its best, Street Trash is quite daft and funny, but those moments are quite rare, what lies in between isn't nearly as good.

There isn't much in the way of a plot. The film follows several men living on a trash site. The leader is a true tyrant and rules the place with an iron fist. Meanwhile, a nasty drink is spreading among the homeless drunks. Take one sip and you melt away completely. In this crazy world, Fred and his little brother try to survive.

The gore is nice and pretty much every character is outrageous and over-the-top. That leads to some very funny scenes, but those are mostly at the start and end of the film. In between there are rather long lulls where nothing interesting happens. Cult fans are sure to have a lot of fun with this, I just wish it was a bit better made.