The Bloody Man

by Daniel Benedict
2020 / 133m - USA
Horror
0.5*/5.0*
The Bloody Man poster

80s mania, on the cheap. No doubt director Benedict had a vision for his film. Not a very original one, but at least there was a vision. But then the quality of execution simply wasn't there. Whether it was a lacking budget or simply a void of talent isn't even that important, the film turned out horrible.

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When his mother dies, Sam struggles to move on. It doesn't help that his dad remarries rather quickly. Sam loves comic books, and he adores the last comic his mother gave him. There's something about the story of the Bloody Man that speaks to Sam, but then the characters in the comic suddenly come to life.

It takes quite a long time before the horror elements arrive (and they're even worse than the drama), the performances are poor, the cinematography dire and the constant 80s pandering gets a bit annoying. To add insult to injury, the film takes over 130 minutes to finish. No doubt Benedict tried to enjoy being a director as long as he could, but it just made a bad film even worse.

Crazy Alien

by Hao Ning
Feng Kuang De Wai Xing Ren
2019 / 116m - China
Comedy, Sci-fi
3.0*/5.0*
Crazy Alien poster

Decent Hao Ning blockbuster, but not his best work. It's another Chinese film trying to find an audience oversees (some semi-famous American actors were hired), these rarely turn out too well. Some cheesy CG and questionable jokes keep the film from its best form, but it's still quirky and weird enough to make it worth a try.

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Aliens are trying to make contact with us humans, but the American delegation makes a mess of things. The alien crashes down on Earth and ends up in China, next to an amusement park. A monkey trainer and his pal take the alien in, which is not really the welcome he was hoping for.

This is a pretty typical Bo Huang comedy, meaning it's all very overstated and farcical. The American delegation is a bit annoying though, and the jokes are rarely funny. It's the concept that makes this film stand out, and while there are some funny ideas and neat departures, it's never quite as out there as it could've been.

Written on the Wind

by Douglas Sirk
1956 / 99m - USA
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Written on the Wind poster

My first Douglas Sirk. I'm actually a bit surprised, I could've sworn I've watched some of his films before, but I've clearly mistaken him for someone else. Not that I've missed out on much, it seems Sirk's work is very much in line with other bombastic Hollywood melodrama of that era.

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Two friends fall in love with the same woman (Lucy). Kyle has a bad reputation and uses his money to impress women, Mitch is a hard-working fella who is a bit shy around the ladies. Even before Mitch is able to profess his love, Kyle convinces Lucy to marry him. Meanwhile, Kyle's sister takes an interest in Mitch.

Big drama and emotions from start to finish. I will say that Sirk handles it pretty well under the circumstances, but it's not the kind of cinema I care for. The cinematography is bland, the performances are not too subtle and the pacing a bit sluggish. Just one of the many American classics that failed to leave an impression, but it's not the worst of the bunch.

Lucy in the Sky

by Noah Hawley
2019 / 124m - USA
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Lucy in the Sky poster

Hawley's first attempt at a feature film is pretty tragic. It's not exactly a dull or uninspired film, Hawley clearly tries to put his stamp on the finished product, it's just that most of the choices he makes are ill-fitting and misguided. It's been a while since I've seen a deliberately stylized film fail this badly.

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Lucy Cola is a female astronaut whose life changes after spending some time in space. When she gets back to Earth, she pines for her time floating above our planet. Her life on Earth feels pointless and boring in comparison, and slowly Lucy's mental health starts to slip. Her family tries to be there for her, but they can't comprehend the loss Lucy feels.

The 4:3 resolution is annoying, the performances are well overdone, the film is extremely sentimental, but the sentiment never feels earned. The theme could've been pretty interesting and it's nice to see Hawley at least make an honest attempt at doing something a little different, it just doesn't pay off.

The Lovers of the Arctic Circle

by Julio Medem
Los Amantes del Círculo Polar
1998 / 112m - Spain
Romance, Mystery
The Lovers of the Arctic Circle poster

One of Julio Medem's earlier successes. The Lovers of the Arctic Circle is a hopelessly romantic film. The plot may be a succession of weird coincidences and farfetched twists, and the amount of factual drama is quite high, but the soothing soundtrack, the lovely performances and the tragic romance kept me glued to the screen. It's a film that has lost little (if any) of its original shine, it's also a great reminder that I should give Medem's other films a fair shot sooner rather than later.

Echoes of the Rainbow

by Alex Law
Sui Yuet San Tau
2010 / 117m - Hong Kong
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
Echoes of the Rainbow poster

Hong Kong jumping on the schmaltz train. They've been trying this several times for the past decade, it's just that it's not really their strong suit. Echoes of the Rainbow tries hard, but in the end that only adds to the cringe. It's not a complete disaster and if you like films that chase retro-charm it's probably worth a shot, just don't expect too much.

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The film follows the lives of a poor family of cobblers in '69. They don't have much money, but their oldest son shows lots of promise, so they do their best to give him the best education possible. Their youngest is more of a free spirit and runs through Hong Kong with a fishbowl on his head, pretending to be an astronaut.

The film feels like a HK version of Always, Sunset on Third Street. People like Sandra Ng or Simon Yam aren't really fit for such sentiment though and while the film does feature a pleasant sepia glow, it gets quite kitsch. The same can be said about the plot, which goes all-in on sentiment in the second half. There are some decent moments here, it's just not enough for someone who prefers the future over the past.

She Will

by Charlotte Colbert
2021 / 95m - UK
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
She Will poster

A very moody and stylish witch-themed horror. But beware, this is another one of those allegorical horror films that is really just a trauma in disguise. It's one of the best ones I've seen so far, but don't go in expecting a full-on horror film, or you will be disappointing with what's on offer here.

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Veronica is an aging actress is recovering from breast surgery. Together with her medical assistant she travels to a remote retreat, where he hopes to find peace and quiet. The area was famous for its witch persecutions, once there Veronica feels a strange power emanating from the land.

The cinematography is stylish and deliberate, the score is moody, and the performances are on point. She Will is a very atmospheric, mysterious film that holds few surprises, but delivers its themes with the proper gravitas. It's maybe a bit too solemn for my taste, but I really don't have any other negative things to say about this one.

Spiderhead

by Joseph Kosinski
2022 / 106m - USA
Sci-fi
3.0*/5.0*
Spiderhead poster

A decent, but very clean and polished sci-fi film. Don't expect anything too grand or futuristic, this is near-future sci-fi about a new drug being tested on inmates. Modern interiors and a nonexistent drug are all you're getting here, but it's enough for an amusing film, just not one that'll leave a big impression.

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Tests are being carried out with a drug that is supposed to eradicate all bad human behavior. The tests are looking promising, but to make sure there are no nasty side effects, the drugs (and the test subjects) are pushed to their limits. Boundaries are crossed, and extreme risks are being taken.

Hemsworth and Teller are decent picks, but not ideal for their parts. The film looks slick enough and the pacing is decent, there's just nothing that really stands out. It's one of those films that passes the time perfectly fine, without trying something new or exciting. Decent sci-fi filler in other words.

Wagon Master

1950 / 86m - USA
Western
0.5*/5.0*
Wagon Master poster

An archetypical John Ford western. As you probably know by now, I'm not a western, nor a John Ford fan, but somehow these films keep popping up on leading recommendation lists. If you ever needed proof of a male/Western bias steering these lists, look no further than a film like Wagon Master.

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The story is as basic as it gets. A convoy is traveling from point A to B. The road is perilous and all kinds of nefarious people and gangs are looking to mess up their travel plans. So the convoy hires some protection, two young drifters who are willing to safeguard them for a price.

The songs and music are horrendous, the black and white cinematography looks drab, performances are very bland, and I simply don't care much for the western setting. The film is little more than a stack of clichés, which is nice if you're able to appreciate the genre. Personally, I found it a terrible waste of time.

Martyrs Lane

by Ruth Platt
2021 / 96m - UK
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Martyrs Lane poster

Drama presented as horror. Martyrs Lane isn't reinventing the wheel, there have been plenty of films doing very similar things this past decade. The horror elements here are even slighter than usual, often bordering on the fantastical, but the presentation is stylish and the atmosphere gripping.

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Leah's bond with her mother is a little troubled. Leah has no idea why they don't get along too well, until she gets a visit of a young girl late at night. The girl claims to be an angel and gives Leah things to do and collect. In return, she asks Leah to figure out her name. The more trinkets Leah collects, the closer she comes to her mom's secret.

The performances of the kids are great, the soundtrack is moody, the cinematography pretty dreamy. There's a dark undertone, but it doesn't really overshadow the drama. The mystery is kept intact until late in the film and the horror/fantasy elements are done really well. A fine film, just don't expect a core horror flick.

Ninth Happiness

Gau Sing Bou Hei
1998 / 86m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Romance, Musical
2.0*/5.0*
Ninth Happiness poster

Clifton Ko with a rather nondescript comedy. Ko is one of those directors who mostly speak to local audiences, it's no surprise then that many of his films are a little tougher to track down. Ninth Happiness is a mix of popular themes and comical styles that generally do well in Hong Kong, what it isn't is a very coherent or funny film.

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Ko focuses on a little town where everyone is living carefree lives. Whatever drama there is, is faced with a shrug and a smile. That changes when a new magistrate joins the town. He is appalled there is nobody to corrupt, so he starts a little plan to mess up the happy lives of the villagers and have them eating out of his hand.

The musical numbers are horrible, the comedy is pretty tame, overacting is the norm and the plot is a jumbled mess. All those things are also part of the charm I guess, still, the film isn't as fast-paced, daft, or silly as many of its peers. Fans of Hong Kong comedy or Clifton Ko should give it a go, I don't think it's a big priority for others.

Thor: Love and Thunder

by Taika Waititi
2022 / 125m - USA
Comedy, Fantasy
3.5*/5.0*
Thor: Love and Thunder poster

Waititi's fourth Thor film hits my sweet spot. This is what I want from my superhero flicks: pure silliness and entertainment. Is there room for other things? Sure, but always in the margin. Waititi keeps it light, fun and daft from start to finish. Not quite original, he also pulled this off in the third Thor film, I'm just glad to see him repeat it.

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After Thor was abandoned by Jane, he feels empty inside. He wanders around, saving people from evil, but he's mostly putting on a show. Jane from her side is suffering from stage 4 cancer. Out of options, she seeks out Mjolnir, hoping the hammer can make her healthy again.

It's always lovely to see famous actors make a fool of themselves, there are some pretty hilarious (and devious) jokes (like those horrible, horrible goats), and the pacing is nigh perfect, making those two hours fly by. There's still a bit too much blockbuster sauce and the soundtrack is a bust, but other than that, great film.

To Walk Beside You

Kimi to Arukou
2009 / 91m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
To Walk Beside You poster

A quirky drama by Yuya Ishii. Entirely on brand in other words. Ishii is known for mixing drama and comedy in various ways, To Walk Beside You is structured as a more traditional drama, but it gets interspersed with funny coincidences and some random moments of silliness. The result is pretty endearing.

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A 30-something teacher and her 17-year-old student feel stuck in the small rural town they grew up in. They decide to elope to Tokyo and live as a couple. Once there they switch to survival mode, as money is sparse and work hard to come by. When they meet a young couple who are planning to elope, they decide to help them.

The drama can get a little heavy, but Ishii's approach makes sure it never becomes overbearing or depressing. His films tend to be feel-good without the excessive sentiment, this one fits in just perfectly. The pleasant cinematography, fine performances and inoffensive score only add to the good-natured vibes. Another solid Ishii.

The Dare

by Giles Alderson
2019 / 97m - UK
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
The Dare poster

The Dare is a film that rehashes some of the more popular horror clichés of the 00s. It does so with conviction, but somehow fails to be truly engaging. Don't get me wrong, it's more than solid horror filler/fodder and fans won't be disappointed by all it has to offer, it just fails to stand out.

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When Jay finally enjoys an evening with his family, an intruder breaks into his home and kidnaps him. Jay wakes up in a room with three others. They're being held captive by a stranger wearing a mask, who doesn't mind torturing them when they misbehave. Together, the four will have to figure out why they were captured.

There's plenty of gore, there's an enigmatic killer and there's the mystery of why four seemingly random people are locked up. The rundown setting adds to the atmosphere and the performances are passable. But it's nothing you haven't seen done better before. Good horror filler.

More traditional Japanese horror fare. Shiraishi was smart to turn this into a series of films. These types of features are pretty quick and cheap to produce, and horror fans will eat them up regardless of the quality. Not that these films are bad, they pretty much accomplish what they set out to do, they're just not terribly original.

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Two investigators of the paranormal get a video that shows a shivering ghost in an abandoned building. They jump on the case and go out ghost hunting themselves, with the help of the people who shot the original video. The mystery runs deeper than initially suspected, as one of the original four seeing the ghost turns out to have special powers.

Expect lots of handy cam footage, dark abandoned buildings, messy shots of ghosts and replays that don't really make things that much clearer. It's a pretty established genre by now and Shiraishi doesn't seem too pressed to do anything new with it. It's short and well-paced, it has some decent scares along the way, but beyond that it's the definition of horror filler.

Obayashi directs Kurosawa's Dream's making of. And he goes a bit beyond, by adding several interviews with the director. Those were by far the most interesting parts for me. I really disliked Dreams, and I'm not a big fan of Kurosawa in general, but the conversations between these two men were pretty nice.

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Most of the documentary is just behind the scenes footage though. Some prominent figures come to visit the sets, we get to see some actors talk about their experiences, Obayashi also focuses on the more technical parts of film making. I assume it's all very interesting when you're an aspiring filmmaker, others might find this a bit tougher to watch.

Obayashi is clearly a fan of Kurosawa, and it's nice to see him ask more personal questions, rather than the usual nonsense journalists come up with. These inserts break up the documentary and kept me watching, even when there was way too much filler for my taste. One for fans of Kurosawa and Dreams, others might not find too much here.

The Reason

Riyû
2004 / 160m - Japan
Mystery, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
The Reason poster

Obayashi dishes out an epic murder mystery. In what seems like an endless amount of chapters, he explores the mysterious murders in that plague a high-rise flat. Obayashi manages to put his unique stamp on the film, but it's still an extremely narrative affair, and with almost three hours on the clock, it did start to drag in some places.

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Four people are murdered in a fancy neighborhood. At first, it looks like the victims are all related, but after further investigation it turns out one of them doesn't belong with the others. Through interviews with neighbors and familiars, the story behind the murders is fully revealed.

The chapter setup works well and between chapters, Obayashi finds time to be a tiny bit more experimental. The cast is splendid, the story mysterious and the pacing pretty decent. The only problem is the runtime, which is excessive. A pretty solid Obayashi though, fans of his work won't be disappointed.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

2022 / 126m - USA
Fantasy, Adventure
1.5*/5.0*
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness poster

I saw a lot of talk about Raimi putting a horror stamp on this film, I can't say I noticed when I was watching. Maybe there were hints in some of the creature designs, but the CG was so gaudy that I didn't really care for any of it. Other than that, this was just another typical Marvel production, warts and all.

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Doctor Strange rescues a multiverse jumper, which kick-starts another adventure. The girl can't control her powers and whenever she gets really frightened, she moves between universes. Things get confusing when Strange finds out that you can't really trust your friends from a different universe.

The first half of the film isn't that bad, though it's a shame so little is done with the crazy powers of Strange. One of the multiverse jumps sports an endless array of interesting-looking worlds, yet in the end they always end up in a world that looks a bit too much like our own. The second half of the film is a complete disaster. A waste of potential.

News of the World

by Paul Greengrass
2020 / 118m - USA
Drama, Adventure
2.5*/5.0*
News of the World poster

Quite a bit better than I expected it to be, then again my expectations were pretty low to begin with. I'm not a fan of westerns, I don't care much for Hanks and Greengrass is hardly my favorite director. But somehow the sum here is more than its parts, possibly thanks to the inclusion of Zengel.

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Kidd is a traveling news reporter. He goes from town to town and spreads the news among the people who can't read. On his travels he finds a young orphaned girl. He decides to take her with him to the next town, but there they don't want to keep her. Kidd has no other option than to find her family and reunite her with them.

There isn't much action and the level of machismo is really low, which are definite pluses. It plays more like a road trip through the Wild West, with Kidd and the girl slowly bonding. There's always a whiff of Hollywood kitsch present, and it's far from the most memorable film around, but it turned out to be decent enough filler.

Ribbon

by Non
2021 / 115m - Japan
Drama
Ribbon poster

Non clearly knows her brand. She directs herself in a film that fits her brand to the smallest detail. Ribbon is a sweet, breezy and innocent Japanese drama with some ever so slightly fantastical elements to give it some extra spice. Non really carries the film, the secondary cast is fun, the light cinematography (think morning sunshine) perfect for the atmosphere. It might not turn out to be a timeless classic, but it's a more than capable and heartwarming first full-length feature from one of Japan's up-and-coming talents.

Gunpowder Milkshake

by Navot Papushado
2021 / 114m - USA
Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Gunpowder Milkshake poster

Navot Papushado tries very hard to turn this into a stylish, cartooney, over-the-top action film. He has the cartooney part down, but the action is somewhat disappointing, and the film isn't quite as stylish as it pretends to be. It's an amusing action flick, but not up there with the best in the genre.

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The day Sam finds out her mother is really a killer for hire, she disappears from Sam's life. Sam is left in the care of The Firm, her mother's employer, who do their best to make Sam follow in her mother's footsteps. Sam turns out to be a natural, but then she discovers The Firm has been lying to her.

Nothing wrong with a women-led action flick, as long as the action doesn't suffer. And Gillan is simply a poor cast for the part (though the rest isn't that much better). The color cinematography and fun camerawork help to set the film apart, the bland soundtrack, mediocre action and somewhat predictable plot twists keep it from becoming a genre classic.