The Spring River Flows East

by Chusheng Cai, Junli Zheng
Yi Jiang Chun Shui Xiang Dong Liu
1947 / 192m - China
Drama,War
0.5*/5.0*
The Spring River Flows East poster

A massive Chinese war drama epic. It's a whopping three hours long, time spent almost exclusively on narrative and melodrama. I can't say I've been really wowed by classic Chinese cinema so far, it's very different from the films I like and doesn't really do enough to set it apart from other films of that era.

The film is set in the 30s, when the Japanese army takes over a small Chinese village. We follow a poor family who try to survive the occupation. One son joins a medic group and leaves his family behind, whilst the other goes into hiding. It's a typical family chronicle that hinges its success almost entirely on its characters.

The cinematography and score are negligible, the films focuses entirely on the characters and the drama. It's way too sentimental for my liking though, and the three-hour runtime really is a big hurdle. By the time I was done with this film, there was more than half of it to wade through. Quite the ordeal.

Flic

by Masahiro Kobayashi
Huriku
2005 / 154m - Japan
Drama,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Flic poster

An intriguing film from Masahiro Kobayashi. What looks like a police procedural gets stripped down to the bones to reveal a thrilling, oppressive and mysterious drama. The slow pacing and excessive length are deliberate and functional, even so I think cutting 15-20 minutes could've made this into a personal favorite.

Detective Murata became a recluse after losing his wife. When a young girl gets brutally murdered with a chainsaw in a hotel room in Tokyo, Murata is brought back from retirement to take on the case. Together with his partner he travels to Hokkaido, where the girl was born, to unravel the mystery.

The performances are superb, with a career defining role for Teruyuki Kagawa. Stylistically the film is pretty unique, sporting a very minimalistic take on Takashi Zeze's gritty crime and drama vibe. It is quite slow and rather long though, so make sure you're in the right headspace if you want to take on this film. Very good, stops just short of being great.

Firefly

Hotaru
2000 / 164m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Firefly poster

One of Kawase's earliest feature films (though she already had a slew of documentaries behind her name), that has remained elusive for quite a while. I'm not sure why, as this is effectively one of her better dramas I've seen so far. It's a bit long (obviously), but it never felt forced or contrived.

After a rather tough period in her life, Ayako decides to go back to her hometown. She wants to see her grandma, but right before she gets there her grandma dies. Ayako's sister isn't doing too well either, she is suffering from cancer and has no real chance of survival. Ayako wants to stick around and give new meaning to her life.

The performances are strong, the drama is a little heavy but the slow pacing gives the audience time to come to grips with the characters and everything that is happening to them. The town and its local folklore makes for a beautiful setting. The final hour could've been a bit tighter, but I liked this one a lot.

Uncharted

by Ruben Fleischer
2022 / 116m - USA
Action,Adventure
2.5*/5.0*
Uncharted poster

A simple blockbuster adventure. The adventure genre made a big comeback these past couple of years, this is a more action-based version, which comes with a solid game franchise backing. For a film like that, just offering the basic blockbuster thrills is more than enough, and that's exactly what you're getting.

Nathan is a petty thief who works in a bar, where he robs his clients. A man turns up and offers him a much bigger job. He had a lead that will take them to the lost gold of Magellan. Nathan accepts, but his partners are not to be trusted and getting to the gold will prove a lot harder than expected.

The chemistry between Holland and Wahlberg is decent enough, the exotic locations work well for this type of film and the light tone is appropriate. The action scenes are a bit flaky though and the mystery isn't that well fleshed out. This is simple entertainment, and the film is fully aware of that. Decent filler.

Witness

by Peter Weir
1985 / 112m - USA
Romance,Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Witness poster

Better than I had expected. I can't say I heard of this title before, but I'm not a big fan of Ford and these late 80s/90s thrillers have aged considerably, so expectations were low. Not that Witness is a great film, but thanks to the very atmospheric score and above average cinematography it does manage to stand out.

John Book is a police detective. When he is called out to investigate a murder, a young Amish boy turns out to be the only witness of the crime. When the book identifies one of Book's colleagues, things begin to heat up and Book can only narrowly escape. He goes to stay with the Amish for a while.

The soundtrack is the biggest asset of the film. It gives it a bit of extra flair that similar films lack. Ford isn't too bad, the crime elements are basic but work well, and the romance is passable. It's a bit long maybe, and it's certainly not the most memorable film, but it's perfectly fine filler.

Floating Weeds

by Yasujirô Ozu
Ukikusa
1959 / 119m - Japan
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Floating Weeds poster

Asia loves a good theater troupe drama, so I'm not surprised to see Ozu also took a shot. Two shots in fact, as this is a remake of his own film. Though made 2 decades later, I can't say it's a noticeably better film, it's not really the type of film that could benefit greatly from a remake either.

Arashi is the leader of a theater troupe. One day he takes his troupe to a small coastal town, where he goes to visit Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi believes Arashi is his uncle, but Arashi is in fact his father. When Arashi's mistress understands what's going on, she becomes jealous. If Arashi isn't careful, the future of his entire troupe might be at stake.

The characters aren't too interesting, the drama is also rather basic. Ozu's signature gentle approach to the drama is only semi-successful, but that's largely because I didn't really care too much about the proceedings. The cinematography and score aren't too notable either. Not a terrible film, just not something I cared for very much.

The Girl from the Other Side

by Yutaro Kubo
Totsukuni no Shôjo
2022 / 70m - Japan
Fantasy,Mystery,Animation
The Girl from the Other Side poster

A stunning indie animation that is reminiscent of Studio 4°C's Comedy and Mamoru Oshii's Angel's Egg. Based on a manga, director Kubo sculpts a magical realm that slowly reveals its secrets. The animation is a little limited, but the art style is magnificent, and the score is entrancing. The characters are both mysterious and loveable, their relationship both simple and complex. After a somewhat slower start, the film really comes into its own during the second half, building up towards a beautiful finale. I really loved this one.

Plastic Little

by Kinji Yoshimoto
Purasuchikku Ritoru
1994 / 48m - Japan
Sci-fi,Thriller,Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Plastic Little poster

A fun 90s OAV. It's a very familiar title that I often ran into back in the day, but I never got around to actually watching Perfect Little. It's nothing too spectacular, a fun mix of sci-fi, action and some comedy, but the designs are pretty cool, the animation is proper and the pacing perfect.

Tita is the captain of a ship that seeks out exotic animals in the clouds of planet Ietta. One day she bumps into Elysse, a girl the same age as her. Elysse is being followed by armed rebels. Tita quickly realizes that they're up to no good, and she helps to protect Elysse, what she doesn't know is that the fate of the entire planet lies in this girl's hands.

The mecha designs are nice, the mix of genres works well and with a runtime of just under 45 minutes, there really is no time to waste on fluff. The animation is pretty solid too, but you're clearly dealing with an OAV, so don't expect the world from it. Good anime filler, though you're not missing too much if you decide to skip it.

Drive My Car

by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Doraibu Mai Kâ
2021 / 179m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Drive My Car poster

Good film, but it begs the question of how many Japanese dramas people have seen. It sticks to conventions pretty neatly and apart from weaving in a play (which wasn't very subtle), it's a very solid but textbook example of what Japanese dramas deliver and how they go about delivering it.

Kafuku is happily married to his wife. They have a good marriage, and they love to rehearse lines while driving. When Kafuku's trip is suddenly canceled, he returns home to find his wife in bed with another man. He leaves without them noticing. Before he can confront her though, she dies from a brain hemorrhage.

The lengthy conversations in pleasing settings, the slow pacing, the dramatic punch in the gut at the end, they're all staples of the genre. Hamaguchi handles them well, it's only the play that feels a bit too on nose and takes up too much time. Drive My Car is a perfectly fine film, but not worth the hype.

Drunken Monkey

Chui Ma Lau
2002 / 97m - China
Comedy,Action,Adventure
3.5*/5.0*
Drunken Monkey poster

Chia-Liang Liu's swan song. It's a very clear throwback to the heyday of the Shaw Bros studio, which is both a strength and a weakness. The film feels more than a bit dated for a 2003 project, but the focus on martial arts skills and choreography is tangible. With Liu both in front of and behind the camera, there's plenty to like for genre fans.

Bill Man is a respected teacher, but he is tough on his students. They set up a trap and nearly kill him. Man manages to escape and becomes a recluse. He finds some new students to teach, but then his old clan learns he is still alive, and they come back to try and finish the job.

Liu found some young talent and gave himself a sizeable role to show off he could still kick ass at his age. The action scenes are pretty great, the rest of the film isn't quite up to par though. The cinematography is lacking, the soundtrack isn't great, and the plot is really bland. Still, if you love Liu's older work, this is well worth checking out.

An Autumn Afternoon

by Yasujirô Ozu
Sanma no Aji
1962 / 113m - Japan
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
An Autumn Afternoon poster

Ozu's final film. It also feels like a film from a director who is nearing the end of his career, though Ozu died relatively young and his films were never the most dashing to begin with. Avid Ozu fans will surely find a lot to like here, the strong focus on aged characters and old-fashioned morality just wasn't really to my liking.

Shuhei is a widower who lives together with his daughter. He fears that his daughter is sticking around to take care of him, and that by doing that she will be missing her window of opportunity to find a husband. So Shuhei takes it upon himself to find his daughter a suitable suitor.

The static cinematography and elderly cast work against the film. This kind of minimalism isn't easy to pull off, when it gets a bit too sentimental and rowdy the effect simply isn't there. There are some decent moments and the drama is proper enough, I just didn't care enough about the theme, nor the characters.

How I Became a Super Hero

by Douglas Attal
Comment Je Suis Devenu Super-héros
2020 / 97m - France
Fantasy,Crime
3.0*/5.0*
How I Became a Super Hero poster

An interesting take on the superhero genre. That's not too difficult, considering everyone is simply trying to mimic Marvel and/or DC, but it's at least somewhat refreshing to see there are still people willing to make an effort. I don't think the potential was used to its fullest here, but it was a pleasant enough film.

Superheroes are part of everyday society, things get hairier when a gang leader finds a way to milk the powers of superheroes, selling the extracts on the street to minors. A detective and his new partner are put on the case, they know some superheroes from back in the day who might be willing to help out.

The police procedural elements are a bit dry and the film has some pacing issues. The mix of fantasy, crime and light comedy is interesting though, Poelvoorde is a delight and the special effects are pretty decent for a low-to-mid budget film of this caliber. A fun genre bender for people who are tired of the familiar superheroes.

A Watcher in the Attic

Yaneura no Sanposha
1993 / 74m - Japan
Mystery
3.0*/5.0*
A Watcher in the Attic poster

Jissoji adapts another Rampo story. The two are a great match, although with Jissoji it can be a little tricky to put a clear label on him. He's a director with some unique and varied sensibilities, handling auteur/arthouse productions and popular cheese with the same ease. The mix of the dark and the perverted, so typical for Rampo's stories, is another thing he really does well.

It's not the first adaption of this Rampo story, it's also not a very difficult story to adapt, so don't expect any wonders here. A man staying in a hotel discovers the open attic, which allows him to spy on the other guests. What starts as a voyeuristic adventure quickly turns into cold-blooded murder, others seem to be on to his little scheme.

Jissoji keeps it short and sweet, which is perfect for the simple premise. While the story remains basic, more effort was put into the mood. Thanks to the rather stylish cinematography and the pleasant score, Jissoji hits the right notes. It's not one of his more remarkable films, but an easy recommend for fans of both Jissoji and Rampo.

La Bête Humaine

by Jean Renoir
1938 / 100m - France
Thriller,Crime
1.5*/5.0*
La Bête Humaine poster

The film didn't start off too bad, but like too many films from the 30s, the narrative and dialogue get in the way of a decent watch. The cinematography is interesting and expressive, the narrative is pretty boring and the bland dialogues just slow things down even further. Not the worst of its kind though.

When Roubaud hears Séverine, his wife, is sleeping with her boss, he simply can't stand the idea, and he forces his wife to join his murderous plans. Their mission is a success, except that there is a witness who saw Séverine kill the man. To make sure he doesn't talk, she also starts an amorous relationship with the witness.

The stark black and white cinematography is nice enough, and it's clear that Renoir made an effort to elevate it. Sadly, the plot is boring, so are the characters, and the soundtrack feels terribly out of place. The film starts off pretty decent, but once the noir elements find their way into the film, the quality takes a dip.

The Addams Family 2

by Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon, Laura Brousseau
2021 / 93m - USA
Comedy,Adventure,Animation
0.5*/5.0*
The Addams Family 2 poster

Even worse than the first one. I don't even know anymore what they're trying to do with this franchise. The plot is completely inane, the dark humor has all but gone, the soundtrack is a collection of ill-fitting pop songs and the characters are only a shimmer of their former selves.

Wednesday feels like an outcast, Gomez makes an extra effort to get closer to his daughter and organizes a family vacation. Things get trickier when a man shows up claiming that Wednesday was swapped at birth. These stories begin to converge, but they never really manage to become a coherent whole.

I quite like The Addams Family, the classic Gothic vibe and the dark comedy are key elements of the appeal, but they're completely gone. Instead, you get a very random US animation with horrible characters, bland comedy and a laughable soundtrack. People deserve to get fired over this.

Devil in Dune

by Xia Banchang
2021 / 78m - China
Sci-fi
2.0*/5.0*
Devil in Dune poster

China does Dune mixed with Mad Max on a budget. While they're clearly nailing some genres, sci-fi is proving to be a tough nut to crack. We're not talking Asylum-level bad here, but there are moments that seem to reference the work of the infamous American knock-off studio. I wouldn't bother too much with this film, unless you're starved for sci-fi.

Earth has become little more than a wasteland, ruled by dangerous sand worms who consider people to be their primary source of food. A group of refugees is trying to reach the Oasis, one of the final strongholds of humanity. Their trip takes them right through the desert, and the hungry worms are on their tale. The worms aren't the only danger they'll have to face.

It all comes down to one thing: terrible CG. The worms look like drab blobs, which makes them dull enemies. The performances are somewhat decent, pacing and runtime are what they should be, but that's of little importance when the film itself doesn't really deliver. They really need to do better, but practice makes perfect.

Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo

by Sadao Yamanaka
Tange Sazen Yowa: Hyakuman Ryô no Tsubo
1935 / 92m - Japan
Comedy
2.0*/5.0*
Sazen Tange and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo poster

Somewhat better than expected. Then again, expectations were pretty low as we're talking a Japanese comedy from the '30s. It's not quite as stuffy or slow-paced as I'd feared, it's not exactly a roaring onslaught of laughs either. If you like the classic samurai fare, and you want something lighter, I doubt this one will disappoint.

Tange only has one arm and one eye, still he's given an import mission. There's a rumor going around that a pot with one million ryo has been buried somewhere. The map to the treasure is also stacked away in a pot. The more people who hear about this rumor, the trickier it becomes to find decent information.

The pacing is actually quite pleasant, there are different forms of comedy on display and the limited runtime is a blessing, though I can't say the film managed to keep my attention for the entire length. The plot is simply, but it's little more than an excuse for some comfortable entertainment.

Offseason

by Mickey Keating
2021 / 83m - USA
Horror,Mystery
3.0*/5.0*
Offseason poster

A horror film that thrives on atmosphere. The underlying mystery isn't too complex, but it is revealed slowly and without too much explicit dialogue. Keating does a lot of things right, it's just that the middle part is a tad tepid and the reveals aren't that exciting, which lessens the impact of the mystery.

Marie gets an odd letter, saying her mother's grave has been desecrated. She has to come as quickly as possible, but the cemetery is on a remote island. When they get there the guard won't let them through, as the bridge had been closed down until spring. When he reads Marie's letter, he changes his mind and lets her through.

The performances are more than solid, the build-up of the atmosphere is great, and the gradual reveals keep the mystery strong. But the mystery itself is a bit simple and not all too appealing, and it's not as visually striking or imaginative as it could've been. Still, props for making a slightly different type of horror, there's more than enough quality here to warrant it a fair shot.

Fatal Girl R

by Cong Zhao
2022 / 84m - China
Sci-fi
3.0*/5.0*
Fatal Girl R poster

China doing cyberpunk. It's a shame they're trying a little too hard to copy the modern Blade Runner vibe (though on a much smaller budget). It's both lacking in cyber and in punk, which results in a setting that isn't quite appealing enough to carry the film. Not that this was a terrible attempt, it's just that a lot more could've been done with it.

A group is experimenting with putting chips in humans, trying to unlock their full capabilities. When a scientist sees the danger, she sacrifices her own life to safe her daughter's. She can escape the facility and goes to live with her grandma in the slums, but the group wants her back and will do everything in their power to return her.

For a low-budget film the setting looks properly fleshed out, the plot is pretty fun and the short runtime plus strict pacing make sure things never get dull. It's just that nothing about this film feels very original or special. I guess China is still trying to find its own sci-fi signature. It might be awhile before they find it if they go about at this pace.

Work on the Grass

Kusa no Ue no Shigoto
1993 / 42m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Work on the Grass poster

A somewhat inconspicuous short to start off Shinohara's career, except that Work on the Grass is a perfect precursor to Breathe In, Breathe Out, arguably one of Shinohara's best films to date. The premise is very similar, so is the appeal, though the limited runtime keeps Shinohara from hitting the necessary dramatic notes.

Two boys are starting their work day together. Their job is to cut the grass of a large field. One is a seasoned professional who has been doing this work for quite a while, the other a first-day temp who missed the introduction classes. The start of their day is pretty rough, but as they get to talking, they slowly develop a bond.

The premise is simple, don't expect anything too profound from this little slice-of-life drama. It's just the boys spending their day together, talking on their breaks and cutting grass in a rather beautiful setting. It's not going to be for everyone, but I really appreciated this down-tempo drama.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

by Eric Brevig
2008 / 93m - USA
Fantasy,Adventure
1.0*/5.0*
Journey to the Center of the Earth poster

This must be one of the cheapest looking blockbusters out there. It's mind-boggling this film was made in 2008, it looks like a cheaper blockbuster from the early 90s. Maybe it's not so bad if you're watching this with your kids, otherwise I'd suggest staying away from it, unless you're a huge adventure addict.

When a scientist uncle is watching over his nephew, he makes a big scientific discovery. They travel to Iceland, chasing Jules Verne's famous fantasy novel. Once there, they soon begin to suspect that Verne's book might be more than just a novelist's imagination, so they take a guide to bring them to the infamous volcano described in the book.

There are some positives, like the pacing and the short runtime. But that doesn't amount to much when the rest of the film is depressingly bad. The performances are dire, the CG is atrocious and none of the sets make sense or inspire awe. Not a film I'll remember for long (I hope).

Jurassic World: Dominion

by Colin Trevorrow
2022 / 146m - USA
Sci-fi,Adventure
2.0*/5.0*
Jurassic World: Dominion poster

The latest instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise takes a while to get going. The first half feels like watching some butchered James Bond flick, it isn't until the second half that the Jurassic Park mood starts to surface. And then there's just a bit too much pandering to previous episodes.

A couple of years after the latest disaster, dinosaurs are living among us. Some are captured and are brought to wildlife reserves, but there's also a black market that thrives selling the ancient animals. In that world, a young girl will prove to be the savior of humankind, unless she falls into the hands of the wrong people.

The film is a bit of a mess, then again this is the sixth in the series, and I'm not too surprised they're trying new things to keep it somewhat fresh. The cast is a bit too big, the action not that exciting and the new dinosaurs not that memorable, but at least the second part of the film felt pretty fun, light and adventurous. It would've been a lot better if they had out the Malta part.

Things to Come

by William Cameron Menzies
1936 / 97m - UK
Sci-fi,War
1.5*/5.0*
Things to Come poster

An old sci-fi flick based on H.G. Wells' novel. I haven't read that, so I'm a bit unsure where to place the blame, but it's safe to say that the film is somewhat of a mess. The pacing is completely off, and it feels like you're watching 5 seasons worth of material rolled into a single film. Luckily there are some stand-alone scenes that still make it worth a watch.

People are going about their business, when suddenly a big war breaks out. Earth finds itself in serious trouble as the war continues to rage. To make matters worse, a deadly virus kills off most of the human population. But then a strange man appears from a flying vehicle, he promises to make society whole again.

The first half hour is like watching a recap, with a story that goes in all different kinds of directions. The rest of the film is a lot slower and more philosophical, though the ideology is pretty basic and hardly worth the runtime. Some spectacular scenes left and right add to the appeal, but almost a century later, that's about all that's left of this film.

Unhuman

by Marcus Dunstan
2022 / 87m - USA
Comedy,Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Unhuman poster

Dunstan returns with a fun take on classic premise. The film is written like a horror flick from the 80s, but the execution feels way more contemporary. Cue a bunch of disgruntled horror fans who can't handle the lack of 80s pandering, so don't be too worried if you read a series of negative reviews.

A group of kids who need extra credit go on a field trip. On their way the driver hits someone and slides his bus off the road. Seconds later a message plays over the intercom, warning everyone to find shelter. It seems the kids landed themselves in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, and they'll have to put their differences aside to survive.

The cast is pretty fun, the stylistic choices work well and the pacing is perfect. There's also a fun twist that makes the second half a bit easier to sit through, making sure you're not watching yet another basic zombie flick. It's no masterpiece, but Dunstan once again proves he's a very capable horror director.