The Life of Oharu

by Kenji Mizoguchi
Saikaku Ichidai Onna
1952 / 133m - Japan
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
The Life of Oharu poster

I'm not a fan of Mizoguchi's samurai dramas. He's one of my least favorite classic Japanese directors so far, even trailing the likes of Kurosawa. The Life of Ohara is just another confirmation that his film don't really work for me, the excessive runtimes only add insult to injury.

Oharu is a 17th century woman, who ends up a prostitute. The film is a reflection on her life, from her childhood, to the various men she dated, the stigmas that were put upon her love and the way she was treated once her companions ditched her for someone else. A life full of precious moments, but also hardship.

Mizoguchi is very narrative-focused. The cinematography is plain, the endless dialogues are tiring, the drama is pretty bland and predictable. And yet, he just wades through it as if it is one of the most profound explorations of mankind. At more than two hours long, this was pretty bad.

Luz: The Flower of Evil

by Juan Diego Escobar Alzate
2019 / 104m - Colombia
Fantasy,Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Luz: The Flower of Evil poster

A dazzling, atmospheric genre effort from Colombia. It's nice to see films like this coming from smaller film nations, it's usually a good sign that something is brewing there. Though not quite as refined as I'd hoped, director Alzate isn't afraid to make some bold choices, and it really pays off.

El Señor runs a small cult, deep in the mountains of Colombia. He believes that Christ will come to save them, one day he takes home a boy and convinces the people living with him that the time has come. The more his daughters find out about their father, the more they begin to distrust him.

The cinematography really jumps out. The heavily oversaturated colors are eye-popping, not always very beautiful, but they do lend the film an idyllic, fantastical look. The soundtrack is just as leading though, adding tons of atmosphere. The plot isn't too original, and the runtime is a little too long, other than that this is a very promising debut.

Moonfall

2022 / 130m - USA
Sci-fi,Action
2.0*/5.0*
Moonfall poster

A film that starts as vintage Emmerich, then gets even more stupid. I say that with a certain level of respect, as Hollywood often takes itself too serious, Emmerich's films in particular tend to have disappointing second halves. That's not quite as bad here, but you have to be willing to accept the nonsense that is dished out.

The film begin like a regular Emmerich disaster film. Suddenly the moon's orbit starts to shift, some random amateur scientist figures it out but can't get anyone to believe him. Once the rest of the world realizes what is about to happen, it's already too late. But then there's an extra twist I really didn't see coming.

There's nothing particularly new or exciting about the disaster setup, not even the special effects are all that dazzling. It also takes quite a while for the film to get up to speed, but once the true nature of the disaster is revealed, Moonfall takes some crazy twists and turns. It's not a great film, not even close, but it could've been so much worse if Emmerich had gone for his usual, more dramatic approach.

The Midnight Maiden War

by Ken Ninomiya
Mayonaka Otome Sensô
2022 / 113m - Japan
Romance,Thriller
The Midnight Maiden War poster

Ninomiya strikes again. A slightly more narrative film this time, though he still finds plenty of time for mood building and dramatic character exploration. He hasn't lost his knack of stylistic excellence either, which all comes together in a majestic finale. Ninomiya is by far the most undervalued and neglected director working in Japan these days, probably because he does things just a little differently and writes characters that are a little outside the (cinematic) norm. The Midnight Maiden War is just more proof that he is overflowing with talent.

Arietta

Ijmete Kudasai Henrietta
1989 / 51m - Japan
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
Arietta poster

A more straightforward pinku from Jissoji. I'm not entirely surprised he directed a film like this, it's not all that far removed from some of his other work, but without the added appeal it feels quite bare bones and Jissoji doesn't really do that much to break outside the boundaries of the genre.

A middle-aged woman finds herself in quite a bit of trouble when she can't pay back the debt her husband accumulated. There are no good jobs for women like her, she can't even find work in a bar. As a final resort, she joins an SM club. After a short introduction, she has to make good on her own.

The setup of the film isn't too bad, but the production feels pretty cheap and none of Jissoji's usual traits manage to shine through. I guess the acting is above average for this type of production, the drama is mildly effective, and it's certainly not as sleazy as some others, but Jissoji is obviously capable of much better.

Angels with Dirty Faces

by Michael Curtiz
1938 / 97m - USA
Thriller,Crime
1.5*/5.0*
Angels with Dirty Faces poster

Curtiz, Cagney and crime. Another pretty typical noir from the 30s, though I will say that Cagney's spirited performance lifts this one slightly above its peer. Not by much, the premise is extremely basic, and the film hardly makes an effort to rise above it, but at least it's something.

Rocky is a small-time hoodlum who gets into trouble and has to serve time. He doesn't rat out his accomplice, but when he gets out after three years, he returns to his old gang to pick up where he left. The world has changed in his absence, still, Rocky feels confident that he can pick up his old life.

Angel's with Dirty Faces is a typical rise-and-fall story of a "cool" criminal. Cagney does add some intrigue to his role, but he has very little to play with and with guys like Bogart around him, his impact remains rather limited. Cinematography and score didn't do much for me, then again it's a 30s film, so what did you expect. Baisc noir for noir fans.

The Black Phone

by Scott Derrickson
2021 / 102m - USA
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
The Black Phone poster

Derrickson takes on one of Joe Hill's short stories. It's no real surprise then that the horror elements are relatively light, nor is it shocking that quite a few details were added to pad out this film. The result is pretty decent, but not something I'll remember for years to come.

A mysterious man is roaming the neighborhood and kidnapping kids. When he comes for Finney, he doesn't realize that Finney's sister Gwen has dreams that predict the future. With her brother gone and her father drowning in booze, Gwen tries hard to hone her special skill, hoping her dreams may tell her where her brother is held captive.

Hawke's masked kidnapper is the big star of the film, but he isn't quite as menacing as he could've been. The 70s setting feels a little random and the plot can be a little convenient, but Derrickson shows himself a very capable director who can do right to a film like this. Pretty fun horror filler.

The Crossing

by Xue Bai
Guo Chun Tian
2018 / 99m - China
Drama,Crime
3.5*/5.0*
The Crossing poster

A pleasant, contemporary urban drama from China, sporting minor crime elements. The Crossing isn't anything too out of the ordinary, apart from maybe the almost effortless blend of Chinese and Hong Kong sensibilities in a single film production. The only thing missing here is a slightly more definitive signature.

Two girls are planning a trip to Japan. The tickets are quite pricey, so they come up with ways to earn an extra buck. When one of the girls gets entangled in a smuggling scheme things are looking up, as the money starts pouring in. She keeps taking bigger and bigger risks though, the biggest spending more time with her best friend's boyfriend.

The soundtrack is poppy but stylish, the performances are great, the cinematography familiar bit slick (maybe even giving off some Taiwanese vibes). The plot and the drama are a little basic though and the crime elements feel a little tacked on. These are just minor complaints for an otherwise very sweet and capable film.

Denmark

by Adrian Shergold
2019 / 91m - UK
Comedy,Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Denmark poster

A dramedy ... that works. They are pretty rare, which is all the more reason to cherish this film. It might be because the comedy is pretty dry, or maybe because Rafe Spall manages an unpleasant character without being unsympathetic. Regardless, director Shergold hits all the right notes.

A depressed 34-year-old Welshman has nothing more to live for. But by sheer luck, he catches a TV program about Danish prison life, which appears to be a lot better than the Welsh healthcare system. And so he decides to go to Denmark, commit a crime and get himself locked up behind bars.

It's a daft enough premise and the comedy is definitely there, though it is pretty dry and deadpan. The performances are great and the dramatic/romantic threads never feel too forced or obtrusive. Denmark isn't the type of film that stands out too much, but it does everything remarkable well. Good stuff.

Rodan

1956 / 82m - Japan
Sci-fi,Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Rodan poster

Not too long after releasing the original Godzilla movie, Honda came with Rodan. It's a pretty classic Kaiju film that neatly sticks to genre conventions. Then again, Honda is the one who created half of these conventions, so that probably shouldn't come as a big surprise. The result is a little basic, but good fun nonetheless.

A small rural village gets swamped by creatures. When a team goes down in the tunnels that run underneath the town, they find more than they bargained for. Rodan is a prehistoric flying creature that, when set free, goes on a violent rampage throughout Japan. Things get even trickier when a second Rodan pops up.

Men in rubber suits, miniature sets that get trashed, a tiny bit of adventuring and some war tactics. The human vs nature theme is also very present, making this a very typical early Kaiju flick. It's not one of Honda's more inspired films, the monster itself is a bit too boring for that, but there's enough cheesy charm to fill the short runtime.

Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot!

by Giulio Questi
Se Sei Vivo Spara
1967 / 116m - Italy
Western
2.0*/5.0*
Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! poster

Quintessential spaghetti western. I'm not very big on westerns, nor on badly dubbed, cheap-looking Italian genre classics, but combine the two and the total seems at least to be slightly bigger than the sum of its parts. I'm not saying this film was great, but it is noticeably better than your average western.

Django is part of a gang who have their eye on some gold transported inside a carriage. Their heist goes according to plan, but once they have the gold Django's companions betray him and leave him for dead. Django survives and wants to have his revenge, but others are also looking to get their hands on the gold.

The performances are horrible, the film looks pretty crummy and the runtime is a bit of an issue, but at least the film never takes itself too seriously. There are quite a few daft characters and oddball situations, which keeps this at least somewhat interesting throughout. Not my thing, but I could appreciate some things it attempted to do.

A Tale of Two Sisters

by Jee-woon Kim
Janghwa, Hongryeon
2003 / 115m - South Korea
Horror,Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
A Tale of Two Sisters poster

Gone are the days of the Asian suspense hype. A film like A Tale of Two Sisters used to be quite grand and impressive, two decades later the base quality is still there, it's just not quite as special anymore. I still had fun revisiting this film, but I had a hard time recognizing the personal favorite I once knew.

Su-mi and her sister Su-yeon return to live with their father and stepmother. They have a pretty bad relationship with her, their father tries to distance himself from the feud. The situation slowly escalates, but then hints are dropped that the mental stability of some of the family members may not be as stable as first suggested.

The stylish setting, the deliberate pacing and the fine performance are timeless qualities, the simple twist and the everlasting finale (which tries way too hard to explain things) drag the film down. Even worse, the scares and tension aren't quite as effective as they used to be. Might be more fun if it's your first time watching, doesn't really hold up on multiple viewings.

The Visitor in the Eye

Hitomi no Naka no Houmonsha
1977 / 100m - Japan
Fantasy,Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
The Visitor in the Eye poster

Obayashi does Tezuka's Black Jack. I'm familiar with the character, not so much with the setup of the franchise, but it is safe to say that Obayashi's take is a pretty peculiar one. Black Jack is only a secondary character in this story, a mere catalyst and observer. Regardless the film's origins, Obayashi crafts another fun little genre bender.

Chiaki is a gifted tennis player, but she hurts her eye during a match. Chances are she'll never be able to see again through that eye, so her boyfriend comes up with a solution. He finds a donor eye, and together they go to Black Jack to get the operation done. Things get weird when Chiaki suddenly starts getting visions through her new eye.

There's no House-like kookiness here, but it's definitely an odd enough film. A mix of several genres, blending mystery and romance with a dedicated live action anime vibe. There are some memorable moments, the core mystery is fun and the pacing perfect. Fans of Obayashi would do well to seek this one out.

Underworld

by Josef von Sternberg, Arthur Rosson
1927 / 80m - USA
Thriller,Crime
1.0*/5.0*
Underworld poster

Another mother of all gangster films. There seem to be a couple of films around were given that badge of honor, I usually come to a very similar conclusion watching them: I'm not a huge fan of classic gangster films, so I'm not really all that impressed with the early blueprint of those films.

Underworld serves a very basic rise and fall story of Weed, your typical gangster. Together with his buddy Wensel he slowly rises to the top, until he gets caught in a feud with Mulligan. Mulligan ends up dead, Weed ends up in prison. Wensel is tasked to get Weed out, but he has fallen for Weed's girlfriend, which puts him in a difficult position.

Even though Underworld is a true silent, it already feels pretty focused on the narrative. Maybe it just comes with the genre? The cinematography was pretty bland, the score forgettable and the performances rather basic. The plot is a real bore and even though the film is quite short, having seen a trillion versions of this story already makes the 80-minute runtime at least 40 too long.

The Glass Coffin

by Haritz Zubillaga
El Ataúd de Cristal
2016 / 75m - Spain
Horror,Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
The Glass Coffin poster

Single location horror films are quite rare, good ones even rarer. They do offer a director a perfect opportunity to go wild with the styling, and that's exactly what Zubillaga did here. The inside of a limousine may sound like a rather dull location, the film still ended up being an audiovisual delight.

Amanda is an actress is on her way to receive a lifetime achievement award. When she enters the limousine she is ready for a night of celebrating herself, but the owner of the limousine has different plans. He drives her to a remote spot and locks her in. Something from Amanda's past is coming back to haunt her.

The twist may have been a little simple and the mind games not quite as nasty as needed, but the cinematography is stylish and colorful, the soundtrack extremely atmospheric and the performances on point. This results in a pretty moody and tense film, with some very fine climaxes and a worthy finale. Tighter editing and a slightly more daring narrative could've made this a solid personal favorite, not it stops just short of greatness.

The Wicked Wife

by Liu Xuandi
2022 / 92m - China
Fantasy,Horror
1.5*/5.0*
The Wicked Wife poster

Pretty disappointing. This film felt like one of those misguided 90s Hong Kong horror films. Even though there is some interesting mood building going on, gross overacting, a complete lack of tension and slightly too familiar folklore make this is rather sad attempt to create easy genre filler. When China tries to crawl out of its comfort zone, it's clear they have some ways to go.

You're getting three supernatural stories for the price of one, a familiar setup for fans of Hong Kong horror. A theater troupe is caught out in between two towns when bad weather hits them. They find shelter where they can spend the night, but the area is known for its fox folklore and when the troupe dredged up the old stories, people start to get frightened.

Building up tension is essential for this type of film, but Chinese horror often seems too focused on merely narrating the lore. The crummy CG and the terrible overacting certainly don't help either, but the problem with films like this feels more structural. I had relatively high hopes for The Wicked Wife, but they simply must do better.

Cunnamulla

by Dennis O'Rourke
2000 / 82m - Australia
Documentary
2.5*/5.0*
Cunnamulla poster

I had no clue at all what a Cunnamulla was, so I started this documentary with a healthy dose of anticipation. The first shot reveals it as the name of a town, which pretty much kills the mystery right away. At the very edge of human civilization, Cunnamulla is a little community where life is just a little different.

I find it difficult to gauge how much of this is genuine human interest, and how much of it is looking at oddball people as if they were monkeys in a zoo. Not much context is given and there's a wide range of characters, so don't expect too much depth or insights. On the other hand, the characters really are a colorful bunch, and they make for perfect documentary material.

Be warned that the characters can be pretty crude and offensive. They're not a very rural crowd, their little community at the end of civilization seems to be their entire world. This doc certainly wasn't the worst of its kind, and it didn't feel overly exploitative, but I can't say it was all that eye-opening either.

Darling

by Mickey Keating
2015 / 78m - USA
Horror,Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
Darling poster

A stylish horror flick. The stark styling, slow pacing and lack of clear narrative may be a bit challenging, certainly when you're not expecting a more arthouse-like approach to the genre. Keating isn't playing around though, he had a pretty clear game plan and his execution is top-notch.

Darling, a young girl, is hired to take care of an old house while the owner is away on vacation. Before the owner leaves, she discloses that the previous caretaker killed herself by jumping off a balcony. When Darling finds a neckless in her room and puts it on, strange visions begin to plague her.

The stark black and white cinematography works very well, the editing is snappy and bold, the soundtrack moody and unsettling. The performances are a bit wonkier and I wouldn't have minded had the horror elements been just that little more outspoken (though there is some gruesome onscreen stuff here), other than that a very cool horror flick.

Metal Skin Panic MADOX- 01

by Shinji Aramaki
1987 / 48m - Japan
Sci-fi,Action,Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Metal Skin Panic MADOX- 01 poster

This is where it all started for Shinji Aramaki. I'd seen this one before, back when VHS was still a thing. It's not the most memorable anime, but mecha fans are sure to have a good time with it and fans of Headgear/Oshii will no doubt recognize some ideas and shots used in anime landmarks like Patlabor.

Kouji is a young tech enthusiast who is about to get the surprise of his life. An accident on the highway above drops an experimental mecha in the middle of his car repair shop. Before he knows it, he's in the suit, and it won't let go of him. He's not going to let a detail like that stop him from making it to the date with his girlfriend.

The plot is a bit daft, and it escalates rather quickly, so don't expect anything too serious. It feels more like an excuse to try out some cool mecha ideas, but that's perfectly fine with me. The animation is pretty cool, the art style is pleasant, the action is downright crazy and the pacing slick. A perfectly amusing OAV for mech lovers.

The Innocents

by Eskil Vogt
De Uskyldige
2021 / 117m - Norway
Fantasy,Thriller
2.5*/5.0*
The Innocents poster

The Innocents delivers a mix of (light) thriller/fantasy and (light) arthouse elements. The result is a decent enough film, but one without a very clear or outspoken signature. If felt like the two halves were working against each other rather than reinforcing each other, leaving me somewhat unfulfilled at the end.

Ida is moving with her parents and autistic sister to a new neighborhood. It's summer vacation and most kids are on holiday. The few that remain turn out to possess special powers. At first, it's all fun and games, but when one of the kids discovers the destructive effects of his powers, their games become dangerous.

The performances are solid, and the premise is interesting. The slow pacing feels a tad forced, the genre elements are a bit too light to be interesting and the runtime a little long for the meager plot. The cinematography and score aren't that distinctive either. It's not like this is a bad film, just too tepid for my taste.