Brian and Charles

by Jim Archer
2022 / 91m - UK
Brian and Charles poster

David Earl is being David Earl. He's pretty much the same character as in Gervais' recent series, though not as crude and/or foul-mouthed. The comedy itself is pretty different though, quite a bit drier and more absurd, yet with a strong human touch and never too alienating.

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Brian is a recluse who lives alone on a farm, making strange trinkets he calls inventions. When he finds a mannequin's head one day, he decides to build an AI/robot. He fails in his task, but during a thunderstorm the unlikely happens and the robot comes to life. Brian is elated, only he doesn't realize that bringing up an AI is a lot harder than expected.

The Welsh setting is lovely, Earl is a real treat and the comedy is pleasantly daft. I'm not quite sure if this type of comedy works best as a film, 90 minutes is quite long and the film is rather one-note, but it kept me engaged throughout, while the premise is unique enough to stand out from the crowd. Lovely.

Veronika Decides to Die

by Kei Horie
Veronika wa Shinu Koto ni Shita
2005 / 105m - Japan
Veronika Decides to Die poster

A fine mix of arthouse and gentle kookiness. I'd expected a more serious drama going in, and it's not as if the film doesn't have any dramatic climaxes, but there's also a lot of time spent exploring the weirder side of its premise. It shares some DNA with Koreeda's After Life, but in the end the films are quite different from each other.

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Veronika is a young woman who can't find any joy in life. She hates her job and her relationships feel empty. She decides to commit suicide, but her attempt fails, and she wakes up in an institution for people just like her. On the verge between life and death, her fellow patients will help her regain the will to live.

I'm a bit surprised I had never heard about this film before. The concept is interesting enough, the performances are solid, and the styling is top-notch. The balance between the lighter elements and the drama isn't quite perfect, and the film does get a little predictable after a while, but fans of Japanese dramas with a slight fantastical edge will find a lot to love here.

The Sitter

by Simon Richardson
2017 / 97m - UK
The Sitter poster

Low budget horror that starts out well enough, but has quite a bit of trouble to get its conclusion right. For the first two thirds of the film director Richardson does a decent job hiding the budgetary limitations of this production, but the finale feels aimless and poorly realized.

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Charlotte is hired to house-sit a British cottage over the weekend, while the couple who lives there goes out of town. It's an eerie building and Charlotte doesn't feel at ease, as if someone is watching her from a distance. She hears strange noises and her dreams are haunted by a terrifying monster.

The performances are a bit all over the place (Kilgour in particular is odd as hell) and the cinematography is a bit murky, but the necessary tension is present and there are some pretty promising scenes early on. I just wish Richardson would have had a clearer idea how to finish his film. Not terrible, but the potential was there to do better.

Invaders from Mars

by William Cameron Menzies
1953 / 82m -
Sci-fi, Horror
Invaders from Mars poster

A poster child for cheesy 50s sci-fi. The special effects are horrendous, the little science lessons hopelessly outdated and the sci-fi bits are kept until the very end. There is something pleasantly uncomplicated about a film like this though, and the cheese is more than cheesy enough to carry at least some appeal.

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A young boy looks out his window at night and sees an unidentified object crashing nearby. His dad goes out to take a look and doesn't come back until the next morning, a changed man. The boy believes that something has taken over his dad, but nobody wants to believe him. Until he meets a nice lady at the police office.

The middle part of the film is fairly long and uneventful, which is a tad odd as the sci-fi elements looked very practical and not at all expensive to pull off. The aliens are basically just people in an ugly tracksuit wearing masks. But once the film gets up to speed there's some fun to be had. Not what I'd call good cinema, but not terrible to sit through either.

Children of Heaven

by Majid Majidi
Bacheha-Ye Aseman
1997 / 89m - Iran
Drama, Sport
Children of Heaven poster

A pretty bland and barren feelgood drama. Not sure exactly what made this film stand out, but it seems to have amassed a broad range of fans over time. It's certainly an inoffensive film, one that stays clear from anything too enervating. Instead, you get a predictable and easily digestible story with doe-eyed kids.

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A young boy loses his sister's freshly repaired shoes on his way home. He doesn't dare inform his parents, and gives his own shoes to his sis. At school his sister sees another girl walking around with her shoes, but when they follow her home, they discover she's even worse off than they are.

Stylistically it's all very dry and functional. The performances aren't terrible, but nothing too special, the plot is just dire. At least the film is relatively short, but that's just a minor positive, as the direction and the outcome are all very much by the numbers. Not a film I'll fondly remember.

Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe

by John Rice, Albert Calleros
2022 / 87m - USA
Comedy, Animation
Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe poster

I didn't care for the first film (never really watched the show) and I'm not sure if anyone still needed this after so many years of silence, but here we are. There's a Beavis and Butt-Head sequel that, once again, delivers 90 minutes of the exact same thing these two characters are known for.

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After destroying the science fair, the two are sent to space camp, where their silly jokes are misunderstood as acts of genius. Before they know it they're off into space, thinking they have a shot of having sex with the mission commander. They completely screw up the mission and reemerge in the year ... 2022.

The art style and animation are still crude and simplistic, the jokes are very one note and the plot is an extremely basic collage of sci-fi clich├ęs. The only thing that makes it remotely funny is the dedication to the banality of it all, but that's not enough to make this a decent flick. Not even close.


Kinyu Fushoku Retto: Jubaku
1999 / 114m - Japan
Spellbound poster

Harada is the ideal man to bring a somewhat stale and dry subject to life. This financial/political drama/thriller could've easily turned out to be a stuffy and unimaginative recount of true events, instead, we get a relatively riveting and captivating film that entertains from start to finish. It's far from his best work, but it is definitely worth seeking out.

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The capture of a high-ranking Yakuza criminal opens up a can of worms. He reveals a connection between the Yakuza and one of Japan's biggest banks. Once the cat is out of the bag, a large-scale investigation is launched. Kitano is one of the lead investigators, a righteous Pitbull who'll leave no stone unturned to find out the truth.

Harada's direction is animated, and the cast is superb. It's still not quite enough to get it close to a personal favorite, but making a 2-hour financial thriller somewhat thrilling is already a pretty big feat in an of itself. Harada is one of those directors who deliver quality no matter the genre he works in, Spellbound is no exception.

Go Away, Ultramarine

by Akina Yanagi
Inakunare Gunjo
2019 / 105m - Japan
Drama, Fantasy
Go Away, Ultramarine poster

A peculiar drama, with strong yet subtle fantasy elements. I wouldn't be surprised if this was based on a manga, it also took me a while to understand how everything fitted together, but that seemed to be by design. I did appreciate the novel approach here, though the drama itself was maybe a bit too slick and polished to truly impress.

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Nanakusa lives on an island for people who are lacking something in life. They live comfortable lives, but their confinement makes it difficult for them to truly enjoy that comfort. Then Yu reappears on the island. Nanakusa and Yu have a history, together with their classmates they'll have to figure out the secret of the island, if they ever want to escape their fate.

The cinematography is beautiful, the setting majestic and the mystery/fantasy elements support the drama very well. The performances are a tad flat though and the score can get a little too sentimental. In the hands of a more seasoned director this could've been a personal favorite, but still worth checking out for fans of Japanese dramas.


by Sian Heder
2021 / 111m - USA
Drama, Music
CODA poster

It's hard to believe this film was voted the best film of the year by the Academy. It's not a very offensive film (at least, to most) and it surely succeeds in its chase of cheesy sentiment, but boy is it plain and lackluster is just about every department possible. You could almost call it a feat.

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Ruby grows up in a family of deaf people. She's the only one who can hear/speak, so she is vital to her family's survival. When Ruby joins a singing club, she turns out to have a beautiful voice. Ruby wants to pursue her talent, but she is torn between choosing her own path and leaving her family behind.

The plot is pretty boring and predictable, the music is dull (not even Ruby's singing voice is anything special), the characters and acting are bland, the comedy utterly trivial. There is no edge, not the tiniest piece of grit or unevenness. It's simply a stale and listless drama where nothing stands. Yuck.

Lost in Hong Kong

by Zheng Xu
Gang jiong
2015 / 114m - China
Comedy, Action
Lost in Hong Kong poster

A flashy Chinese comedy, cleverly set in Hong Kong. It's an easy fix to combine some of China's and Hong Kong's bigger film stars in a single film. Though it has to be said, the Hong Kong crew is mostly dealt some smaller cameos, with the bigger parts reserved for their Chinese counterparts. Symbolic.

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The plot is pretty basic, then again that's par for the course for a light-hearted blockbuster comedy. A couple is trying to have a baby, but somehow the magic isn't happening. The man suspects an unfulfilled love from his past might be the cause, and so he travels to Hong Kong to reconnect with his old flame. Once there, things don't really go as planned.

Director Zheng Xu is a smart man, casting himself in between Zhao Wei and Juan Du. The film looks slick and stylish, there are some proper jokes, a couple of fun cameos and the pacing is pretty fast, propelling you through 2 hours of pleasant chaos without too many bumps in the road. Hardly the best film ever made, but for blockbuster entertainment it's quite a bit better than the norm.

The Age of Beauty

by Fernando Trueba
Belle Epoque
1992 / 109m - Spain
Comedy, Romance
The Age of Beauty poster

A Spanish classic that isn't really all that great. The Age of Beauty is a somewhat farcical comedy about a boy who finds himself the center of attention when he shacks up with a farmer and his four daughters. It's just not very funny. Nor very attractive or romantic. It's just a bit slow and predictable.

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Fernando is a peaceful deserter who travels the land. When he meets Manolo, a rich farmer, he finally finds a place to stay. Manolo and Fernando share a political ideology, but it's only when Fernando finds out about Manolo's daughters that he decides to stay for a little while longer.

The cinematography is relatively colorful, but dull. The soundtrack is atrocious, and the performances are rather overstated. The plot isn't all that original either. It's never too boring, and the drama is never heavy or burdensome, I'm still a bit surprised a film like this did so well back in the days.

Devil in the Dark

by Tim Brown
2017 / 82m - Canada
Horror, Thriller
Devil in the Dark poster

A disappointing horror film. All the elements are there for a fun and moody genre flick, instead director Brown focuses way too much on the uninteresting and overwrought relationship between two estranged brothers. You need good actors and intriguing drama for that, two things completely lacking here.

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Clint and Adam haven't seen each other for 15 years. To reconnect, they plan a hunting trip in the mountains. When they reach their destination, they find a strange den that looks very menacing. Something is out there with them on the mountain, and the two brothers are about to become its prey.

The actual horror elements are interesting, but they're executed pretty poorly. The creature looks rather silly, the scares are too plain, and the setting could've been used a lot better. Instead of spending so much time on the textbook drama between the brothers, Brown should've put more effort into making a better horror flick.

Sorrow of the Gentry

Zhu Men Yuan
1974 / 97m - Hong Kong
Drama, Romance
Sorrow of the Gentry poster

A Shaw Bros melodrama. That means we're finding ourselves in Yuen Chor territory once again. Chor is probably the only Shaw Bros director with some talent for the genre, but that doesn't mean a lot for a studio specialized in martial arts cinema. The result is pretty blah, though slightly better than other wayward attempts from the studio.

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When a son returns home, after being sent away to study and learn from the world, old friendships and romances are rekindled. The son seeks out one of the servants he grew up with, but she keeps him at a distance. She claims it is because of their different societal status, but the servant also seems to be more taken by the son's friend.

There's quite a bit of drama to wade through, it's almost a bit grotesque and soap-like during the finale, but somehow that made the film a little better. Performances aren't good enough for a bona fide drama, the Shaw Bros decors are cheesy, and the romance is extremely overdone. Not Chor's best film, but I expected even worse.

Behind the Wall

by Krzysztof Zanussi
Za Sciana
1971 / 56m - Poland
Behind the Wall poster

One of Zanussi's earliest films, made for TV. It's a very (very) basic affair, so it's a good thing it's pretty short. Even then, it feels the film is stretched well beyond its breaking point. The black and white cinematography doesn't really work either, adding pretenses the film can't make good on.

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Jan is a young, ambitious assistant professor, who only cares about his work. Anna is a writer who has taken an interest in Jan, but he doesn't really have eyes for her. Anna isn't willing to give up that easily, and she forces a situation where they can spend more time together.

The setup could've been endearing, but the bland characters and grim cinematography don't really do much for the film. The endless dialogues aren't very exciting either. It's all just very plain and lifeless. It might be interesting for those who appreciate Eastern-European dramas and/or Zanussi completists.

The Nest

by Roberto De Feo
Il Nido
2019 / 107m - Italy
Mystery, Thriller
The Nest poster

A very stylish Italian genre film. While technically part of the horror genre (and a pretty popular horror niche at that), the film doesn't really play like a horror flick, apart from the final minute. The mystery and thriller elements are more prevalent, so keep your expectations in check.

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Samuel grows up on a closed off estate. His mother doesn't want him to go outside and teaches him everything he has to know at home. When a young servant arrives at the house, Samuel falls madly in love with her. He becomes defiant and wants to taste life outside the manor.

The lovely cinematography and moody score are the real stars of the film. They make for a very atmospheric film. The performances are pretty great too, the pacing is a tad slow though and the film can be somewhat uneventful. Still, director De Feo shows what he's capable of, a very promising first feature.