Hellbender

by John Adams, Zelda Adams, Toby Poser
2021 / 86m - USA
Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Hellbender poster

The Adams Family strikes again, this time with triple director credits. They're a peculiar family alright, and in some ways it's quite impressive what they've accomplished. It's just that Hellbender isn't really at the level where it should be. That doesn't bode too well for the future of their careers.

Izzy lives with her mother high up a mountain. She has an immune disease and can't have any contact with other people. Her mother homeschooled Izzy and tries to keep her occupied, but Izzy wants friends her own age. She also begins to suspect her mother hasn't been entirely honest with her.

Take some random stills and this probably looks like a worthy, stylish horror flick. But the direction and the performances make it feel a lot cheaper. There are some interesting/memorable moments and the hellbender lore is cool enough, the execution is just not that great.

Pom Poko

Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko
1994 / 119m - Japan
Comedy,Adventure,Animation
Pom Poko poster

Isao Takahata's Pom Poko is a delight. It's been way too long since I last watched the film, I'd forgotten most things about it (apart that one thing everyone remembers), but it hasn't lost any of its original appeal. The film offers a familiar story (animals battling humans as their homes are being destroyed), Takahata takes a more down-to-earth approach compared to his Western peers. At least, if you look at how the battle plays out. Don't expect a very depressing or dark film, there's quite a bit of wonky Japanese folklore and the characters are fun and charming. Add a touch of Ghibli magic, and you have another winner.

Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion

by Elio Petri
Indagine su un Cittadino al di Sopra di Ogni Sospetto
1970 / 115m - Italy
Drama,Crime
1.5*/5.0*
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion poster

An Italian classic that even won the Oscar for best foreign film. It's probably because I don't care too much about the Oscars, but I have to admit that I had never heard of this one before. The premise looked pretty interesting on paper, the film itself isn't as juicy and intriguing as I had hoped.

A recently promoted police detective kills his mistress. He plants some evidence to fool the other investigators, but as he follows the proceedings, he believes himself to be above suspicion. To prove his point, he helps with the investigation and actually puts the detectives on his tail.

The performances aren't what you'd call subtle, neither is the plot. There's quite a lot of shouting and everything looks quite theatrical. The cinematography is pretty dull, the soundtrack a little silly and the runtime way too long. This could've been a pretty fun film, but very few things clicked for me.

The Killer

Dip Huet Seung Hung
1989 / 111m - Hong Kong
Drama,Action,Thriller,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
The Killer poster

The Killer is no doubt one of John Woo's most iconic films. It's the poster child of his bullet ballet aesthetic and the heroic bloodshed niche. The first time I'd watched the film, I did love it quite a bit, but the balance between impressive action and somewhat cheesy drama was already a small issue. Rewatching it now, that certainly hasn't improved.

Jeff is a contract killer with a conscience. He wants to get out of the job, but during his last hit, a nightclub singer is accidentally injured by his doing. She loses her sight, Jeff feels responsible for her and wants to help out. To pay for a corona transplant, he decides to take on one final job.

Fat is solid, and the action scenes are still a hoot. It's just that everything that surround it is not that great. The other actors lack charisma, the soundtrack is pretty dim, and the overzealous drama really gets in the way of the action. Woo would further improve his formula, and a film like Hard-Boiled still stands proud today. The Killer, on the other hand, has inevitably lost some of its original shine.

Days of the Bagnold Summer

by Simon Bird
2019 / 86m - UK
Comedy
3.5*/5.0*
Days of the Bagnold Summer poster

A cute little comedy from Simon Bird, the lead of The Inbetweeners. The comedy is somewhat recognizable, though not quite as teen/sex-focused and not always as explicitly funny either. It's not a full-on dramedy though, Bird keeps it light and amusing enough to avoid that trap.

Daniel is an introvert teen who listens to heavy metal, his mother is a librarian who has mostly given up on her social life. Daniel is set to visit his dad in Florida for the summer vacation, but when his trip is cancelled he's stuck with his mom in this boring little village. The next six weeks are going to be grueling.

The comedy is pleasantly dry, the performances are strong, and there's a nice balance between drama and comedy without ever losing sight of the film's main genre. Also, the heavy metal actually sounds heavy for a change. The plot is meandering, and the film is a bit on the short side (not a critique I often use), but overall this was a very neat little surprise.

The Beta Test

by Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
2021 / 93m - USA
Comedy,Mystery
3.0*/5.0*
The Beta Test poster

Jim Cummings is a pretty unique guy, a reputation that becomes more pronounced with each film he directs. Not everything he does is outstanding, but it sure stands out and whenever I see his name pop up, it's an assurance that something out of the ordinary is waiting for me. The Beta Test isn't his best work, but it sure is something.

Jordan is a slick Hollywood agent who is about to get married. One day, he receives a mysterious envelope is his mailbox. It's an anonymous invitation to spend an erotic night in a hotel room. Jordan is intrigued and accepts the deal, though he isn't quite prepared for the effect this night is going to have on his life.

Cummings is an acquired taste and the character he portrays here is an ultimate douchebag, but somehow he gets away with it. Not that he's charming, but he inspires a level of pity he doesn't really deserve. The film is a bit odd, a bit mysterious, a little funny in places. It's an easy watch that kept me intrigued from start to finish, but it does lack a finer finish. Interesting, it's just that the potential is there to do better.

The Gleaners & I

by Agnès Varda
Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse
2000 / 82m - France
Documentary
0.5*/5.0*
The Gleaners & I poster

I haven't seen too many Varda documentaries yet, but I don't think I'm a very big fan. She's an interesting and peculiar lady, but I don't seem to care for anything she does or has to say out of fiction. The Gleaners and I was another painful reminder that this type of human interest films are by far the worst thing cinema has to offer.

Varda was inspired by a painting of "gleaners", people who pick up leftovers after the harvest and are permitted to do with the goods what they want. What you get is interviews with these people, and some digressions when Varda explores themes and subjects linked to the concept of gleaning.

The documentary looks terribly cheap, I didn't care for any of the people featured, nor for Varda's digressions. And that's it really. The doc reminded me of horrible TV interviews in human interest programs, the exact thing that has driven me to abandon TV and embrace cinema. A big nope for me.

Wyrmwood: Apocalypse

by Kiah Roache-Turner
2021 / 88m - Australia
Action,Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Wyrmwood: Apocalypse poster

A pretty straightforward sequel by a director who got better at his job over the years. What this sequel gained in professionalism, it has lost in enthusiasm though. It's not an unusual trade-off, and it doesn't really affect the overall quality of the film, but it is a missed opportunity as I had secretly hoped to find something slightly better.

The plot continues where the first film left off, though we are getting some new characters to make things a bit more interesting. A military man is catching targets for a research lab, where they try to find a cure. As he brings more and more people to the lab, he begins to suspect something else is going on there.

The cinematography is better, the effects look way tastier and the film hasn't lost its Oceanian sense of humor. The pacing is also very brisk, but doesn't really go into overdrive. A bit more insanity and over-the-top madness could've been the cherry on top, regardless, it's still a highly entertaining and very successful horror flick. Great fun, but not quite as great as it could've been.

Darkside Blues

by Nobuyasu Furukawa
Dâkusaido Burûsu
1994 / 83m - Japan
Action,Crime,Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Darkside Blues poster

A very nice find. I bumped into this film completely by accident. Though I've used to be a big anime fan and this was released during a period when the anime boom wasn't as big as it was now, I never even heard about Darkside Blues. A real shame, as fans of darker films like Demon City Shinjuku are certain to have a good time with his one.

The future of Earth isn't looking too good. Persona Century is an organizational that owns 90% of Earth's real estate. Smaller groups of revolutionaries are holed up in rundown cities, hoping to fight back against this superpower. Darkside is a mysterious figure who ends up in what used to be Tokyo, and decides to help out the revolutionaries.

The animation is very decent, the art style pretty lush and detailed. It's not an A-grade anime feature, but it's a lot better than most B-grade productions of that time. The characters are fun, the lore interesting enough, and the short runtime/brisk pacing a blessing. It's not a true classic, but certainly a hidden gem for fans of darker 90s anime.

The Ice Demon

by Ivan Kapitonov
Ledyanoy Demon
2021 / 92m - Russia
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
The Ice Demon poster

A decent Russian horror, but not quite as good as its recent peers. These films often managed to stand out with local folklore and couleur locale, but that's lacking from The Ice Demon. What you get here is a simple haunting, much in line with its Western counterparts. An actual Ice Demon would've made the film a lot better.

Tanya's husband goes missing, after which she builds up a new life with Misha and her daughter. Ten years later she gets a call from the hospital, with the message her husband was found. He's in a coma and his brain shows no signs of activity, but somehow his body is unwilling to die.

While pretty simple, the structure of the film is still a little confusing. There are some tense moments and the setting is moody, but it's never quite as scary as it could've been, and the demonic presence is just a little dull. It's not a bad film, perfectly decent filler, but I expected a bit more going in.

Amon Saga

by Shunji Ôga
1986 / 80m - Japan
Fantasy,Adventure,Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Amon Saga poster

There aren't too many famous character designers, certainly not when it comes to drawing a crowd. Takashi Koike is a good example, but Yoshitaka Amano is by far one of the absolute greatest. He has a unique style that is difficult to translate to animation, but that hasn't kept people from trying over the years. Amon Saga is another fun but somewhat limited attempt.

Don't expect too much of the plot. It's a very simple tale of a hero wanting to take revenge on the villain who murdered his mother. There's also a princess who needs saving, so the guy has his work cut out for him. The villain has surrounded him with some strong cronies, they have to be conquered first before we finally get to the expected showdown.

The animation quality is relatively low and there are only echoes of Amano's signature style here, but the mix of fantasy, action and a little horror is pretty entertaining. The finale does up the ante, and the short runtime and stark pacing make that it never gets boring. Not a classic in the genre, but perfectly fine filler.

The Legend of Kunlun

by Hai Tao
2022 / 80m - China
Fantasy,Adventure
3.0*/5.0*
The Legend of Kunlun poster

I feel like I'm repeating myself whenever I see one of these films, but China really can't get enough of their tomb raiding adventures. The Legend of Kunlun is pretty standard fare and if you don't pay close attention you may be forgiven for wondering whether you've seen this film before. It's a good thing then that these films are fairly amusing.

The story isn't much to look at, then again that's not why you're watching a film like this. Zang Wenfeng is the son of a famous historian who went missing 17 years ago. Together with a Japanese expedition that aims to raid the Chinese treasures he goes to Kunlun mountain to find the hidden tomb. There he hopes to discover what happened to his father.

The characters are pretty fun and there are some cool action scenes early on. The problem, as always, is the shoddy CG. Especially for a film like this, which relies on CG for most of its core moments, it's a bit of a bother. Look past that, and you get an amusing fantasy adventure, I just wish they'd rely a bit more on practical effects (how tricky that may be).

Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol

by Jim Drake
1987 / 88m - USA
Comedy
2.5*/5.0*
Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol poster

The fourth entry in this 80s comedy franchise finally shakes things up a bit. Not that they changed much about the formula, but they do introduce a gang of new characters (on top of the old favorites). It was a much-needed change that adds a new dynamic, though if you hated the earlier films there's no reason to return to this series.

A new program is launched. The police academy becomes home to a bunch of eager citizens who get a crash course in police training. This way they can be put on the street in order to make more efficient citizen arrests. It's a bold idea that has some detractors, but the team of Lassard will do everything in their power to help them.

Police Academy is a basic comedy series that relies on simplistic caricatures, but it's pretty devoted to its genre and there are no failed attempts to add some misdirected drama. The new additions to the cast are pretty decent and there are some fun and memorable moments. Not great, but it's an easy watch.

Breaking In

by James McTeigue
2018 / 88m - USA
Thriller
2.5*/5.0*
Breaking In poster

A simple home invasion flick. Everything about Breaking In felt safe and calculated, which truth be told, is exactly what you could expect from a James McTeague film. It's decent enough filler, thanks to the relatively short runtime and the decent pacing, but don't be surprised if you've forgotten all about the film the next day.

Shaun and her two kids drive up to the house where she grew up, after her father suddenly died. Their relationship wasn't great and Shaun plans to sell the house. Once there it looks as if someone has already entered the place, not much later a gang of four is holding her kids captive inside. Shaun will do everything in her power to get them out again.

The cast is decent, though the bad guys aren't quite mean enough and Union isn't that convincing as super mom. The cat and mouse game is 100% by the book, the film has no proper twists or successful surprises and McTeague never gets you to the edge of your seat. Decent filler fluff, nothing more.

The Delightful Forest

by Cheh Chang, Hsueh-Li Pao
Kuai Huo Lin
1972 / 93m - Hong Kong
Action
3.0*/5.0*
The Delightful Forest poster

The by then typical Shaw Bros/Cheh Chang formula in full effect, only executed well enough to make this an enjoyable film. It's been a while since I watched a Shaw Bros feature, that always helps. Since their films are so much alike, watching many of them in close succession always leads to saturation.

This film revolves around Wu Sung, a sword fighter who is exiled after he was found guilty of murdering his adulterous sister-in-law. When he arrives at the prison camp one of the guards decides to cut him some slack. When the guard get swindled by a local brute a little later, Wu Sung wants to return the favor.

The film is a bit bloodier than usual, it's always nice when the action is shot on location and there are some fun action choreographies, other than that this was a pretty regular Cheh Chang martial arts flick. Revenge is the keyword, the cast feels familiar and the pacing is solid. Generic but fun.

La Terra Trema

by Luchino Visconti
1948 / 160m - Italy
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
La Terra Trema poster

I'm not a big fan of the Italian Neo-Realist films, so my expectations were quite low when I started La Terra Trema. I will say that the first hour or so was a very pleasant surprise, mostly because of its doc-like nature. Not that it was great, but it was certainly a lot better than I had expected.

Visconti points his camera on a small Sicilian village, where the poor people spend their time fishing. They are exploited by the wholesale sellers, so the young boys in the village come up with a plan to buy their own boat, trying to go independent. That's a lot easier said than done.

The grim black and white cinematography doesn't do justice to the beauty of Sicily, but it does fit the bleak nature of the film. The first half is by far the best I've seen in the niche, the length does become quite problematic though, and I lost interest during the second half, also because the drama became more prominent. A shame, as the potential was there to be better.

Alexander Nevsky

by Dmitriy Vasilev, Sergei M. Eisenstein
Aleksandr Nevskiy
1938 / 112m - Soviet Union
Drama,War
1.0*/5.0*
Alexander Nevsky poster

As much as I see sound as an almost essential part of great cinema nowadays, the introduction really killed the medium for at least a decade (maybe even two). Even visual innovators like Eisenstein were completely lost after its introduction, which a film like Alexander Nevsky perfectly illustrates.

The film itself is a bit of basic propaganda, celebrating Russian war efforts of the past. The attempted invasion of the Germans (led by the Teutonic Knights) was halted by Alexander and his army. The film tells of the 13th century battle between the two camps, the winner shouldn't really come as a surprise (for those not familiar with the history).

There's a lot of conversation, the overacting of silent cinema is still very much present and the editing is toned down compared to Eisenstein's earlier work. The battles are long and uneventful and the characters dull and caricatural. Not a great film, Eisenstein made better ones.

The Cloud in Her Room

by Xinyuan Zheng Lu
Ta Fang Jian Li De Yun
2020 / 101m - China
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
The Cloud in Her Room poster

A pleasant, though somewhat typical Chinese arthouse drama. The meandering pace, the black and white cinematography and the subtle soundtrack are all pretty expected, at the same time there are nicely executed, and director Lu does manage to sculpt a nice portrait about a girl struggling with her past.

The old and rundown apartment of Muzi's parents is a stark memento of their failed relationship. Muzi's father went off to make a new family, her mother loves to hang around with people from all around the globe. The broken marriage makes it difficult for Muzi to truly commit herself in her own relationships.

The cinematography isn't too original, but there are some very beautiful shots here that add a bit of class. The soundtrack is decent, performances are solid and the slow pacing helps to anchor the mood. It's definitely not a bad film, there just isn't enough that set it apart for me personally.