Graveyard of Honor

Shin Jingi no Hakaba
2002 / 131m - Japan
Action, Thriller, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Graveyard of Honor poster

Miike's darkest take on the Yakuza genre. The first half of the film is a pretty standard Yakuza tale. A lot of characters are introduced, there's some muscle flexing and intrigue, and the rise and fall of a young recruit. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but Miike does well with that kind of material. It's the second half that makes this one stand out.

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When Ishimatsu saves the life of a Yakuza boss, he gets a big promotion. Ishimatsu is somewhat of a loose cannon though, which lands him in jail. When he finally gets out, he quickly settles back into his old habits, plus an extra drug addiction. This pushes him completely over the edge.

This film is Goro Kishitani's moment in the spotlights. His character is dark, depraved and impossible to like, yet Miike makes him the emotional centerpiece of the story. It's not a film for people who want to see a fun Yakuza flick, nor a film for people who want 2 hours of wacky Miike. It does lack the polish to be one of his all-time bests, but it's a very worthy film indeed.

My Night at Maud's

by Éric Rohmer
Ma Nuit chez Maud
1969 / 105m - France
Drama, Romance
1.0*/5.0*
My Night at Maud's poster

A very, very, very talkative film. The looseness of the Nouvelle Vague is there, but Rohmer spends way too much time on endless conversation that range from mundane and boring to forced and uninteresting. It would've been a lot nice if the characters hadn't been stuck in endless conversations.

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Jean-Louis is a Catholic man with rigid principles. Apart from a small fling when he was younger, he believes in finding the right one putting his sex life on hold until marriage. Those ideals are about to be challenged by Maud, a young and outgoing divorcee. The two end up spending the night together, and slowly Jean-Louis' outlook on life changes.

The performances are pretty decent, but that's about it really. The cinematography is very dull, the conversations feel like they're never going to stop, the pacing is sluggish and runtime too long. I like my Nouvelle Vague films with a bit more spirit and joy de vivre I guess, this wasn't for me.

Hi, Mom

by Ling Jia
Ni Hao, Li Huanying
2021 / 128m - China
Romance
2.0*/5.0*
Hi, Mom poster

Chinese sentimentality. The plot has minor sci-fi and fantasy elements, but these are just excuses to set up a romantic film with lighter drama and comedy influences. It's all very glossy, with a strong push for retro appeal, and a vibe that is construed to appeal to as many people as possible.

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When Jia's mother is involved in a near-fatal accident, Jia feels bad for never treating her mother the way she deserved. She is then magically transported back into time and lands in 1981, where she meets a younger version of her mom. Jia vows to help her mom attain a better life.

The cinematography is bright and colorful, but also very safe and predictable. The performances are a bit overdone, the romance doesn't really work, and two hours is a bit much. It is easy entertainment though, and it never got too boring, thanks to the somewhat unusual setup.

March Comes in Like a Lion

3-Gatsu no Raion Zenpen
2017 / 138m - Japan
Drama, Sport
3.0*/5.0*
March Comes in Like a Lion poster

Otomo comes with a sports drama. Go and Shogi are pretty popular in Japan, but they aren't the most cinematic of sports. Even someone like Toyoda burned his hands on the genre, Otomo too struggles to keep the matches interesting, but all in all he did a pretty commendable job.

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Kiriyama Rei is a young shogi prodigy, but his life takes a turn for the worse when his parents die. He has a difficult time adjusting to his foster family, it isn't until a finds a new home that he can finally put all his focus on becoming a better shogi player. From that moment on, Rei is unstoppable.

The performances are a little shaky, the overt manga influences don't work too well and the shogi games are slow and tactical, meaning there's a lot of heavy frowning and looking troubled at a shogi board. Otomo finds ways to make the drama a bit more interesting and some matches do get tense, but it's far from his best work.

Gigi

by Vincente Minnelli, Charles Walters
1958 / 115m - USA
Romance, Musical
1.0*/5.0*
Gigi poster

A very kitschy musical. Gigi's reputation has seemingly tanked over the years (and with good reason too), but once you've won that Oscar you've made your name forever. The only thing that stands out these days is the overly colorful cinematography, the rest isn't really worth watching.

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Gigi is a young girl growing up in Paris, learning how to be a proper lady. Gaston is a wealthy man who is bored with his life, and can't find anything good to do with his time. When he meets Gigi, something changes in Gaston. He falls in love with the girl, but she is set to become a courtesan.

The songs are bland and horrible, the plot is more than a little predictable and even though I do love a bit of color, the crass and oversaturated color story felt more like an attack on my eyes. Not a film I will remember fondly, then again that seems to be the case for most people these days. A relic.

Klute

by Alan J. Pakula
1971 / 114m - USA
Thriller, Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Klute poster

A typical 70s crime/thriller, almost saved by the slightly above average lead performances. The name of the film has always stood out to me, but I'm not a big fan of 70s grime and Pakula isn't really my kind of director, so it took me a while to get around to it. Maybe that's why I was somewhat pleasantly surprised this wasn't the complete disaster I was expecting.

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John Klute is a private detective looking for a man who went missing. As he follows his trail, he meets Bree, a New York prostitute who might know more about the case. Klute tries to scam her into helping him, but as the two spend more time together, a romance begins to develop between them.

The dreary cinematography is a turn-off and the pacing is pretty problematic. But Sutherland and Fonda do a pretty solid job, adding intrigue to their characters to offset some of the inherent boredom. The plot isn't too exciting either, but I've definitely seen worse from this genre/era.

Cryo

by Barrett Burgin
2022 / 118m - USA
Sci-fi, Mystery
3.0*/5.0*
Cryo poster

A pretty generic genre film. Going into Cryo, I pretty much knew what to expect, and in the end that's exactly what I got. Writer/director Burgin delivers a pleasant but somewhat basic sci-fi/mystery that never attempt to color outside the lines. That's both the appeal and the major shortcoming of the film.

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A group of people wakes up from their Cryo machines. They have lost their memory and find themselves locked up in an underground bunker. They suspect they were part of a scientific experiment that seemingly went haywire. As they try to figure out what happened to them, they begin to distrust each other.

Cryo is a single-location film with a sci-fi plot, but few visible sci-fi elements. The actors aren't too great, the cinematography is decent but predictable and the plot offers nothing new. But it's an amusing genre romp. A bit long in the tooth maybe, a snappier middle part wouldn't have hurt, but in the end it was pretty enjoyable.

Sexy Beast

by Jonathan Glazer
2000 / 89m - UK
Comedy, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Sexy Beast poster

Sexy Beast is one quirky crime flick, a film that put director Glazer on the map. I really loved it the first time I watched it, revisiting it was still a lot of fun, it just wasn't quite as special as I remembered. It's still an easy recommend for people who never watched the film though, as it's not like anything else you've seen.

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Gal is a retired gangster. He lives in a royal villa in Spain, together with his wife. He loves the sun, the pool and the eventfulness of retirement. All that changes when Don Logan pays him a visit. Logan's a pushy criminal who wants Gal to come out of retirement for one final job.

The deliberate pacing, the polished camera work and the over-the-top characterization are all things that add flair to the film. Take that away, and you get a pretty basic heist flick peppered with some thick British accents. A very fine first feature that betrays Glazer's talent, but it didn't quite have the lasting power I hoped it would.

Black Cat

by Stephen Shin
Hak Mau
1991 / 96m - Hong Kong
Action, Thriller
1.5*/5.0*
Black Cat poster

A rather dire Hong Kong action film. They've tried long and hard to cross over and work together with other markets, but those attempts have been mostly in vain. No doubt Simon Yam had his fingers crossed for international success when he joined this project, but the execution is lazy and the action scenes are pretty tame.

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Catherine is a feisty young woman who gets into trouble with the police. When she tries to escape, she is gunned down by a CIA agent. An experimental chip is implanted into her brain, and she becomes one of their best operatives. Catherine is a strong-willed woman though, and the chip isn't powerful enough to control all her emotions.

The lead actress lacks charisma, the international setting is poorly used (mostly country clichés), the action scenes are not very spectacular and the plot is a simple cut-and-paste job from similar films. It's a shorter film and the pacing is decent, but unless you're a huge Hong Kong action completist, there's not much reason to chase this one.

Perfect Strangers

by Alex de la Iglesia
Perfectos Desconocidos
2017 / 97m - Spain
Comedy, Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
Perfect Strangers poster

One of the endless remakes of Perfetti Sconosciuti (which I probably should've seen first). Not sure how they sold this film to so many countries in such a short time, but clearly something about this film clicked. It is a very good concept, and it is very easy to localize, which is why I ended up with de la Iglesia's version. I trust him to bring something extra to a film.

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Seven friends come together to spend an evening reconnecting with each other. When the conversation moves to keeping secrets from each other, they decide to play a little game with their cellphones. They place them in the middle of the table and promise to read aloud every message they receive.

I can't comment on how this version compares to the others (and the original), but de la Iglesia has plenty of fun with the concept and doesn't mind putting on a few extra layers. The mix of dark comedy with minor fantasy and mystery elements makes for an intriguing little film, only the ending felt like a cop out. Good fun though.

Ghost Master

by Paul Young
Gôsuto Masutâ
2019 / 88m - Japan
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Ghost Master poster

Japanese splatter with a surprisingly well-stacked cast. The film does get too caught up in its own narrative, which can get a bit geeky and too movie-centered. A tighter focus on horror and all-out weirdness would've made for a better film, but it's an amusing Japanese horror romp. Somewhat of a rarity these days, so it was a welcome diversion.

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A film crew is trying to finish a romantic drama, but nobody is really loving the film. The assistant director is the only one with a bit of drive, but he is more interested in filming his own script: a horror novel. When the lead actor consumes his script by accident, both movies start to converge and the film crew is caught in some weird film limbo.

The effects are decent, some famous faces add a bit of glamour to the cast and the horror bits do get quite grotesque. The film-centric focus feels a bit lazy though and the plot/characters get too much exposure, especially for a film that relies on weird body horror. Splatter fans won't be bored, but don't expect prime Sushi Typhoon-like material.

A Single Man

by Tom Ford
2009 / 99m - USA
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
A Single Man poster

Tom Ford's first is pretty much what I expected a Tom Ford film to be. A brooding romantic drama, leisurely narrated with lots of room for mood and atmosphere. I even got some slight In The Mood for Love vibes from it, except that it's not quite as stylish and delicate as Kar-Wai's films. Then again, that's quite a high bar for someone's first ever film.

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George is a gay professor living in Los Angeles. Ever since he lost his lover in a car accident, he's been looking for a reason to carry on. His job doesn't really give him satisfaction and an old friend is struggling with similar issues. But then George meets Kenny, a student of him who seems to be interested in George's personal life.

The production design is lush, the cinematography stylish, the score quite present but always an asset. Firth is at the top of his game here, Hoult is probably the weakest link. The final third didn't really hit me like the first hour did, but if you love an atmospheric drama, this film is well worth seeking out.

Demigod: The Legend Begins

by Chris Huang
Su Huan-jen
2022 / 103m - Taiwan
Fantasy, Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Demigod: The Legend Begins poster

Taiwanese puppet animation. I'm not sure if I'd call it a niche on the rise, but there seems at least one studio who is taking it seriously. And rightfully so, as their puppet work looks amazing. Demigod is clearly meant to be the start of a longer running franchise (with at least one sequel in the works), based on the quality of this first one I can't wait to see what's next.

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Su is a young prodigy. He is a very skilled martial artist and great physician, his only weakness is that he loves to read and learn so much that he has built up a pretty big debt. Su tries to work it off, but by doing so he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a clan dispute. He is charged with deliberately killing one of his patients.

The puppets and costumes look grand, the camera work and the sets are equally impressive. The plot is a pretty standard wuxia affair, to the point where it can feel like watching a classic Shaw Bros production, but that's not exactly a negative. A very accomplished film that lacks just a little extra polish to be a true masterpiece, but well recommended for fans of animation and martial arts cinema.

Spell

by Mark Tonderai
2020 / 91m - USA
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Spell poster

Voodoo horror. Though voodoo may be a very thankful subject for a horror flick, it's not a genre niche that is particularly stacked. Spell isn't a film to challenge any genre boundaries, and the film delivered exactly what I expected from it, but it does so with plenty of conviction. Sometimes, that's all you need from a horror film.

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Marquis and his family are well-off city folks. When Marquis' father dies, he flies his family to his hometown for the funeral. A storm hits their plane on the way over and when Marquis wakes up, he finds himself in a strange house, where an old couple holds him captive. Marquis tries to escape, but the couple have strange powers.

The cinematography is moody, the old couple is kitsch in the best way possible and the voodoo elements are interesting. The performances of the leads were a bit flaky and the finale could've been a bit edgier, but they don't detract too much from an otherwise solid horror film. Good fun.

And Your Bird Can Sing

by Shô Miyake
Kimi no Tori wa Utaeru
2018 / 106m - Japan
Drama
And Your Bird Can Sing poster

A fairly simple but loveable and well-executed drama. And Your Bird Can Sing offers a basic love triangle, but one that is quite a bit breezier and warmer than most of its peers. Superb performances, stylish but subtle cinematography and a lack of overly dramatic events make this film a joy to watch. It's an easy sell for fans of Japanese drama, the excruciating finale is merely the icing on the cake.

The Brave Archer 3

She Diao Ying Xiong Chuan San Ji
1981 / 92m - Hong Kong
Action
2.0*/5.0*
The Brave Archer 3 poster

This third instalment is shorter (which is good), but not necessarily better. I know the Brave Archer is a respected series, but I never quite understood the appeal. It's quite slow, overly sentimental, and it can get very wordy. Not what the Shaw Bros studios is best known for, and with reason.

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Kuo Tsing continues his journey. After beating the leader of the Iron Palm clan, he leaves the Beggars Clan behind to travel with his loved one. One of their paintings reveals a secret when it gets caught in the rain, showing the way to a hidden treasure. Kuo Tsing decides to investigate, even when it leads him into a sacred cave of the Iron Palm clan.

The fight scenes aren't that special, the plot is a little overbearing and the film feels more than a little drawn out. It's shorter than its companions, which makes it a little easier to sit through, but with so many better Shaw Bros films out there, I find these films a little hard to recommend.

Mara

by Clive Tonge
2018 / 98m - USA
Horror
2.5*/5.0*
Mara poster

Sleep paralysis horror. It's a popular and forgiving subject for a horror film, it's a shame then that Mara doesn't make full use of its potential. Botet's a real asset and some of the dream scares are cool, but the procedural that lies at the film's core isn't strong enough and detracts from the horror.

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Kate is a young police psychologist who gets called out for a special case. A woman brutally murdered her husband, but she claims he was killed by a sleep demon called Mara. Kate has no other option than to commit the woman to the hospital, but soon after she starts waking up in the middle of the night, unable to move.

There's a long intro where nobody believes the victims (apart from the audience, which knows better), then there's an endless middle part where Kate tries to piece all the clues together, after that a short finale that doesn't really deliver. Kudos for the soundtrack, which really commits, sadly, its dramatic highs don't feel entirely earned. Not a terrible film, just a bit too sloppy.

The Great Yokai War: Guardians

Yokai Daisenso Gâdianzu
2021 / 118m - Japan
Fantasy, Adventure
3.0*/5.0*
The Great Yokai War: Guardians poster

Not Miike's finest hour. I rewatched the first film not too long ago, and that one still held up pretty well. This sequel shares many of the same traits, but seems more exclusively targeted at a younger audience. There is still some fun to be had, but those typical Miike-only moments are missing, which just leaves a more kid-friendly version of the first part.

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Humanity is under threat of a yokaiju, a giant yokai who is headed right for Tokyo. He must be stopped, otherwise the entire city will be in shambles. Their former savior isn't alive anymore, luckily, he has two kids who will hopefully continue his legacy. They aren't quite as brave as their dad though, and they'll need some convincing first.

The CG is a bit iffy, the new yokai don't feel quite as distinct and the performances of the kids aren't all that great either. There's still some general wackiness and the "yokaiju" idea is pretty fun, I just expect more from a Miike film than mere throwaway entertainment. It's certainly not his worst film, just a tad disappointing.

Incantation

by Kevin Ko
Zhou
2022 / 110m - Taiwan
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Incantation poster

Taiwanese found-footage horror. For a while now, Taiwan has been producing decent quality horror flicks, Incantation neatly fits in with the rest of them. It doesn't really reinvent the genre and the introduction is a tad long, but once the curse starts to take effect, the tension doesn't let up.

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A desperate mother creates a video she hopes will help save her child. The child is cursed and beyond help from modern science, because of something the mother did six years ago. By making and spreading the video, she hopes someone will come forward and help her get the curse undone.

The Buddhist angle is relatively novel, other than that Incantation is a pretty typical found-footage horror. It does get pretty graphic as it nears the finale and there's a pretty dark twist at the end. It's also rather tense throughout, there's just isn't enough to set it apart from similar films to make it a true masterpiece. Still, a good recommend for fans of the genre.