Doctor, Beware

by Vittorio De Sica
Teresa Venerdì
1941 / 92m - Italy
Romance
1.5*/5.0*
Doctor, Beware poster

A pretty loud and basic Italian romance. If you ever wondered where the cliché of the "loud Italian" came from, look no further than this film. Other than that, it's a very classic romance. Fans of the 40s Hollywood films who wouldn't mind an Italian take might like this film, personally I didn't care that much for this early De Sica.

Teresa is a young orphan who falls madly in love with a doctor who visits the orphanage. She tries hard to get him to notice her, but when she finally succeeds she finds out that the doctor isn't the dream man she imagined. Still, Teresa is determined to make a good, honest man of him.

The performances are very basic, the plot isn't anything special, and the characters are a bit too loud for my liking. But the pacing is fine, and it's nice to see a film that doesn't overstay its welcome. It's certainly not the worst of its kind, but unless you're a big fan of classic cinema, there's not much of note.

Character

by Akira Nagai
Kyarakutâ
2021 / 125m - Japan
Thriller,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Character poster

A considerably darker film from Akira Nagai. He does pretty well with it, but Character does lack that extra bit of edge to make it a real stand-out. It's a bit too formulaic maybe, and the short injections of horror aren't quite enough to lift it above the rest. Neither are the few twists at the end.

A young manga artist wants to go independent. He's very skilled, but he just isn't good at creating compelling characters. That changes when his boss sends him out on a mission, and he is accidentally witness to a gruesome murder. That gives him the power to finally draw a successful manga.

The cinematography looks slick, the actors do a solid job and the pacing is perfect. But the second half isn't really that special, and it feels like I'd seen all the twists before. It's not a bad film, certain if you like this type of gruesome serial killer thrillers. I was hoping for just that little extra, and that wasn't really here.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

by Kevin Reynolds
1991 / 143m - USA
Action,Adventure
1.0*/5.0*
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves poster

I haven't seen too many good Robin Hood adaptations yet, this blockbuster Hollywood attempt didn't do much to change that. It might've been decent in its day, but the film has lost almost all of its appeal, the only thing that remains are some garish performances and a dull story that's been done to death.

When Robin escapes from imprisonment in Turkey, he returns home, only to find that his father was killed by the sheriff of Nottingham. He becomes an outlaw and hides in the forest. There he starts to work on his plan to get back at the sheriff, while helping others who have been wronged.

The performances are terrible, the plot has been done to death and neither the setting, cinematography nor score are worth a second thought. This is the type of blockbuster pulp that is half forgotten even before the end credits start rolling. And of course, it lasts well over two hours. Very poor.

Knights of Sidonia: Love Woven in the Stars

by Hiroyuki Seshita
Sidonia no Kishi: Ai Tsumugu Hoshi
2021 / 110m - Japan
Sci-fi,Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Knights of Sidonia: Love Woven in the Stars poster

I'm a huge Tsutomu Nihei fan, but his Knights of Sidonia never quite pulled me in. I skipped the series even when I had easy access, and never really bothered with the manga. Maybe it's because it's one of his lighter/more commercial works, but when I heard Seshita was doing a film, I was willing to give it a go.

The setup reminded me of Gunbuster, though a bit more intricate and not as focused on the school part. The film revolves around a group of trained clones, who pilot heavy mechas against a race of space aliens. Humankind is aiming to colonize a planet, but the aliens aren't having it.

The animation quality is not up there with Seshita's more recent films, and the film's TV roots are a bit too apparent. There are still some very cool designs (the aliens in particular), and the plot won't disappoint sci-fi fans, it's just that I was hoping for more, after the Godzilla and Blame! films.

Welcome, or No Trespassing

by Elem Klimov
Dobro Pozhalovat, Ili Postoronnim Vkhod Vospreshchen
1964 / 74m - Soviet Union
Comedy
1.5*/5.0*
Welcome, or No Trespassing poster

A Russian comedy for kids. There are a few perks there, namely that the film is quite light (not very common for a Russian film) and that it is rather short. Other than that, this is really aimed at younger people, as the film features some pretty bland comedy that was pretty hard to stomach.

The plot revolves around a summer camp for Young Pioneers. The kids go there to have a good time, but the camp leader has some stringent rules that ruins it for the kids. When the popular Kostja swims to the other side of the river, the camp leader is furious and throws him out of the camp.

The performances are weak, the cinematography is bland, the comedy never funny. But at least it's not some dreary drama that stretches way beyond the 2-hour mark. It's not a total disaster either, I just never got the impression this was a film aimed at my age group, more something Russians might look at with the proper nostalgia.

Duyster

by Jordi Ostir, Thomas Vanbrabant
2021 / 81m - Belgium
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Duyster poster

Belgian found footage horror set in Antwerp. That certainly ups the appeal of Duyster, not too many projects shot here care to show off my hometown. The film itself is pretty basic though. It's certainly fun enough for people who love a faux doc horror, but it's not exactly a highlight of the genre.

Three students are making a documentary about Johannes Duyster for school. Duyster was an executioner who lived here four centuries ago, and got involved with witches. The students hit a dead end during their investigation, but then they discover that witch-style executions have continued well after his death.

The setup of the film is good, so is the build-up. Things get a littler ickier during the finale though. There are some pretty shoddy effects and poor performances that do bring the film down a little. It's a shame, I think a less-is-more approach would've worked better if the budget simply wasn't there, but kudos for trying.

The Green Knight

by David Lowery
2021 / 130m - UK
Fantasy,Adventure
2.5*/5.0*
The Green Knight poster

I think I expected something a bit more special. The Green Knight is certainly no ordinary costume drama or Medieval adventure, but it isn't quite as magical and/or mysterious as advertised. That didn't come as too big of a surprise (not a big fan of Lowery's previous film, and A24 certainly has its limits too), but I think I was hoping for a bigger improvement.

The film is a retelling of the story of Gawain, one of king Arthur's nephews. On Christmas day, the Green Knight is summoned and challenges the knights to land a blow on him. As a reward, they'll be given his axe, but in return to must travel to the Green Knight's chapel a year later and receive a similar blow.

Lowery chooses atmosphere over narrative, which is definitely appreciated, but neither the cinematography nor score is all that exceptional. The performances are decent, there are some memorable moments, but I wanted it to be bigger, bolder and gutsier. It seems that's just not something I should expect from Lowery in the future.

Cría Cuervos

by Carlos Saura
1976 / 105m - Spain
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
Cría Cuervos poster

A decent but somewhat uneventful Spanish drama. It all depends on how involved you are with the characters, those don't tend to be the dramas that pull me in. The film lacks the necessary visual flair, and the attempts to elevate it with the soundtrack were largely unsuccessful.

At the end of Franco's reign, the young Ana loses both her parents. She is orphaned and together with her two sisters she goes to live with an older aunt. Ana has a hard time adjusting to her new life, and she daydreams about her parents, so much that dream and reality start to converge.

The acting is decent and the drama pleasant, but the film doesn't really go beyond its premise. The cinematography felt a bit murky and the music wasn't really to my taste, even though director Saura made a clear effort. It's not a bad film, it just left me pretty cold, which isn't what I want from a drama.

Shanghai Triad

Yao a Yao Yao Dao Waipo Qiao
1995 / 108m - China
Drama,Romance,Thriller,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Shanghai Triad poster

Yimou Zhang's rather subdued crime drama. I really liked this film when I first watched it, I think I've seen this done better since. It's certainly not a bad one, with proper intrigue and sporting a very nice setting, but somehow it lacks Zhang's visual flourish, which left me a little disappointed.

Shuisheng is a young boy who is brought to Shanghai by his uncle. He works for Tang, an important gang boss. Shuisheng is given to Tang's mistress, who he needs to tend to. From the shadows, Shuisheng observes the lives of the wealthy, but he'll soon find out that this lifestyle comes with its own perils.

Gong Li is strong, as is the rest of the cast. I liked the inclusion of more prominent genre elements, and the mix of drama and crime works very well. I just remembered a more visually elaborate film. Maybe it was the restoration work that took away from the colors, but I was a little underwhelmed. A very good film, just not a personal favorite anymore.

Hierro

by Gabe Ibáñez
2009 / 94m - Spain
Mystery,Thriller
3.5*/5.0*
Hierro poster

A very neat mystery from Spain. Director Ibáñez delivers a nice mix of genres, adds just a touch of arthouse flair and drapes it over a solid drama. The result is a film that thrives on atmosphere and is gripping from start to finish. Maybe Ibáñez could've pushed it just a little further, but that's just nitpicking.

Maria travels with her son Diego to Hierro, a barren little island in the Canaries. When Diego goes missing, her world collapses. To make things worse, she is forced to stay on the island until the judge arrives to take some DNA samples. Not sure what to do with herself, Maria starts her own investigation.

The cinematography is classy, the score is present but not overwhelming, the performances are strong. The ending may not be the most original, nor are the events leading up to it, but Ibáñez makes sure the film is a slick and pointed experience with a proper dramatic impact. Recommended.

I Love You, Beth Cooper

by Chris Columbus
2009 / 102m - USA
Comedy
2.5*/5.0*
I Love You, Beth Cooper poster

A pretty standard American high school comedy, with slightly above average writing. The jokes are just a tad edgier and cruder (though not necessarily more vulgar) than most of its peers, which made this a somewhat easier watch. Not that this is suddenly a comedy highlight, but I don't think anyone was realistically expecting it to be.

Denis is the school nerd, he's always had a crush on Beth, the most popular girl in his year. During his graduation speech, he decides to come clean and tell the school how he feels. It's a desperate act that turns out better than expected. That night Beth comes to his door, hoping to get to know Denis a little better.

The budding romance is cheesy (and not very believable), the high school drama is dull and predictable and the performances aren't that great, but there are moments where the film is prominently meaner than expected. Knowing this is a Chris Columbus film makes it even more special. Not great, but certainly not the worst of its kind either.

Monster Heaven

by Macoto Tezuka
Youkai Tengoku: Ghost Hero
1990 / 75m - Japan
Horror
2.5*/5.0*
Monster Heaven poster

Though Macoto Tezuka will forever be "the son of legendary...", he did manage to grow out of the shadow of his illustrious father. At the start of his directorial career, he spent most of his time making quirky, anime-like features, Monster Heaven is a perfect example. It's far from his best work, but if you're looking for something short and kooky, this is a pretty good fit.

The plot is pretty nonsensical, but that hardly matters. We're following a head scientist who is working with his team on some kind of hyperrealistic 3D CG projection system. One day he gets a document that outlines his family history. He learns that he is part of a long line of yokai hunters. Cue a bunch of yokai who will be making his life quite a bit harder.

The characters are familiar caricatures, the horror is played for giggles, and Tezuka has some fun with the costumes and cinematography. The pacing is snappy, the runtime is short, it's just that the film feels a little too flimsy and inconsequential. Tezuka never goes all out, and films like this need that extra bit of commitment and enthusiasm to truly shine. It's decent enough, but only if you appreciate this type of cheese.

The Element of Crime

Forbrydelsens Element
1984 / 104m - Denmark
Thriller,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
The Element of Crime poster

Lars Von Trier's first full-length feature. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, but it surely wasn't one of the best-looking films of the 80s. The Element of Crime, with its hellishly red monochrome look, deserves more praise for its looks alone. I was a little less taken with its arthouse take on the noir genre, but that's just a side note really.

The plot revolves around a detective who meets up with his previous mentor. The two of them had written a book in the past, detailing a methodology for identifying criminals. Eager to prove his theories, the detective begins to put them into practice when he is hired to solve a murder case.

The cinematography is outrageous, the setting pleasantly vague and mysterious. I'm not joking when I say that on those strengths alone, the film was close to becoming a personal favorite. I just didn't care for the noirish elements, which didn't necessarily feel out of place, just poorly realized. A very interesting film nonetheless, Von Trier started his career with a bang.

Robert

by Andrew Jones
2015 / 94m - UK
Horror
1.0*/5.0*
Robert poster

Annabelle was enough of a success to spawn some cheap knock-offs, Robert is one of the most prominent ones. At least in name, as the film itself is utter shite. To the point where I couldn't help but wonder with what kind of aspirations a film like this is actually being made (if any, of course).

When Jenny and Paul fire their aging housemaid, she doesn't take the news well. Before she departs, she leaves Robert, her doll, with Gene, Jenny and Paul's son. Gene quickly takes to the doll, but soon enough strange things start happening in their house. His parents suspect Gene is acting out, but he points to Robert.

I'm no stranger to cheap and/or amateurish horror, but those film usually try to compensate with sheer enthusiasm. Robert is a dead serious film, and it actually looks like a genuine attempt at horror, it's just horrible, through and through. Even the low budget shouldn't be an excuse for such a dumb-looking doll, which is supposed to be the core scare element of the film. Unless you like bottom of the barrel cinema, it's better to just avoid this one.

White Lotus Cult

by Siu-Keung Cheng
Bai Lian Xie Shen
1993 / 96m - Hong Kong
Action
3.0*/5.0*
White Lotus Cult poster

A second rate martial arts film. It's from the blessed year 1993, which means there's a baseline quality present that keeps it fun to watch, but the derivative setting, the minor cast and the lack of memorable scenes don't work in the film's favor. You're probably better off watching Once Upon a Time in China once again.

China is under threat of foreign invasion, the White Lotus Clan makes handy use of that fear to get people to join their cult. San and Kuang try to stand up against the cult, but when Kuang joins them, San finds him myself stumped. Luckily, he gets some help from more experienced martial arts masters, so he has a fighting chance against the cult leader.

You can see there were some experienced people on board, as the camera work, cinematography, costumes are all on point. It's just that the film feels like a lazy copy of better (and older) films, with no intention to improve upon the established formula. It's fun filler, but I had hoped for something more.

Alexandria... Why?

by Youssef Chahine
Iskanderija... Lih?
1979 / 133m - Egypt
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
Alexandria... Why? poster

Even though I didn't connect with pretty much anything in this film, the title sure spoke to me. A visit to Alexandria was by far the worst bit of vacation I've experienced so far, but that's not really what this film is about. It's my fourth Chahine, also the worst of his I've seen so far.

The film is set in Alexandria, during WWII. Yehia is a young boy growing up in the city. He is smitten with American culture and media, and loves nothing more than to go to the cinema and watch American movies. So much in fact that he wants to become an actor, but his social stature doesn't really allow him to become one.

The performances are pretty weak, the cinematography felt bland and the story didn't really appeal to me. There was nothing to get me hooked, the overly long runtime only made it worse. Not that I was the biggest Chahine fan alive, but his other films felt more inspired to me.

All My Friends Hate Me

by Andrew Gaynord
2021 / 93m - UK
Comedy
4.0*/5.0*
All My Friends Hate Me poster

Too often, dark comedy and morbid humor are seen as the same thing. While there is definitely an overlap, I crave the rawness and meanness of a good dark comedy. Not too surprisingly, there aren't that many good ones around, but All My Friends Hate Me pushed all the right buttons. The hilariously tragic lead character finds himself trapped at a hellish birthday weekend with some old college friends, the audience is invited to see his entire weekend go to shit. Gaynord's direction is confident and pointed, the performances are superb, and the comedy has that razor sharp edge, right until the very end. Didn't expect much going in, but this film won me over.

Painted Skin

by Liu Chun
Hoa Bi
2022 / 83m - China
Romance,Fantasy
3.5*/5.0*
Painted Skin poster

A truly capable adaptation of the Painted Skin story. Expectations are generally tempered when watching one of these contemporary Chinese streamer films. While fun, they pretty much always lack a level of polish that keeps them from ever becoming personal favorites. I will say that this new Painted Skin came awfully close. Liu Chen is definitely one to watch.

Two demons want to infiltrate the human world, their hideous faces don't work in their favor, though. And so they seek out a spell that fixes their looks and turns them into alluring women. While the spell is effective enough, it's still not easy to conceal their true identities, certainly not when a demon hunter arrives in town and sniffs them out.

This new take reminded me quite a bit of Hark Tsui's Green Snake. The costumes and sets looks absolutely stunning, the cinematography is lovely, and the plot brings a fine mix of fantasy, horror and romance. The CG remains somewhat problematic and not all the actors offer an equally great performance, but give Chen a few more films and I wouldn't be surprised to see a true personal favorite from his hands.

Love in a Bottle

by Paula van der Oest
2021 / 79m - The Netherlands
Romance
1.5*/5.0*
Love in a Bottle poster

COVID lockdown was a weird period for many, I also understand this is a movie, which means you need about 90 minutes worth of material. The thing is, Hoekstra's character is so incredibly annoying that it's very difficult to believe anyone willing to communicate with her for more than 5 minutes. Which is the entire premise of this film.

Lucky and Miles bump into each other on the airport in Madrid, when they are back home, COVID hits. Lucky got the name tag from Miles' suitcase, so she decides to give him a call. It's the start of a screen relationship that sees the two growing closer together. But long distance relationships during pandemics aren't always easy.

Two people talking to each other over screens for 80 minutes is a very contemporary thing, but you better make sure those two characters are in some way lovable. Miles is pretty bland, Lucky irretrievably annoying, the film in other words sucked pretty bad. The relationship didn't feel genuine, I didn't care one bit for the characters, but at least it was short.

Fighting Darksider

by Kevin Huang
2022 / 69m - China
Fantasy,Action
3.0*/5.0*
Fighting Darksider poster

Chinese fantasy made for streamer platforms. They have their martial arts films figured out by now, the fantasy work is a little trickier, as the reliance on CG is quite a bit more pronounced. Fighting Darkside isn't too bad, but it comes with the usual caveats, so don't go in expecting some kind of major blockbuster production.

Zhang Ke is the son of the God of War. Twenty years ago, his father sacrificed himself to save humanity, Ke never really forgave his father, and he isn't willing to carry on the legacy of his name. But then the evil wizard reappears and together with his friends he seeks out the Heaven Heart, a magical trinket that can defeat the wizard for good.

The CG isn't great, but it is serviceable. The performances are mediocre too, but the sets and costumes are pretty lush, and the pacing is perfect. It's nice to see a story like this told in literally half the time of a regular blockbuster epic. It is a film for core genre fans, who are able to look past any budgetary limitations, but once you're past that, it's pretty fun.

This Gun for Hire

by Frank Tuttle
1942 / 81m - USA
Thriller,Crime
1.5*/5.0*
This Gun for Hire poster

Another archetypical noir. After more or less a year of getting myself acquainted with the noir genre, I'm starting to get a pretty decent idea of what to expect. Which isn't that hard really, since it's a pretty strict and well-defined genre, with a big selection of core films. This Gun for Hire is part of that genre core.

Raven is a gun for hire who is hired to kill a blackmailer. He's a skilled professional, after finishing the job he gets paid and goes on his way. What he doesn't know is that his employer paid him in marked bills. Soon enough the cops are on his tail, when he begins to suspect his employer set him up, he wants revenge.

There are some cool locations, other than that this film has little to offer (unless you're a big noir fan, of course). The plot is pretty standard, there's too much dialogue and the performances are mediocre. I don't really understand all the fuss, but at least these films tend to be pretty short.

The Twin

by Taneli Mustonen
2022 / 109m - Finland
Horror
2.0*/5.0*
The Twin poster

A somewhat lifeless cut-and-paste job. The Twin is like many other horror films you've seen before, but tries to be a bit more original by combining two different horror clichés into a single film. Not that director Mustonen gets away with it, and to make things worse, it only adds unnecessarily to the runtime.

A car crash turns the lives of a young family upside down. Nathan doesn't survive the crash, leaving his parents and brother to fend for themselves. They decide to start anew in Finland (that's where the director is from), but soon enough his brother starts to act as if Nathan was still around.

The Twin is a well-made film, but it's also pretty boring. Predictable twists, easy scares and derivative plot points are scattered throughout. The acting is decent, and the cinematography is appropriately grim, but even that seems to be copied from better film. Simple horror filler.