Casque d'Or

1952 / 98m - France
Romance, Crime
1.0*/5.0*
Casque d'Or poster

While the film noir genre is mostly linked to US cinema, the French also had their fair share of representatives. Casque d'Or is considered a noir by many, and its plot certainly fits the description. Stylistically though, I felt this was quite a different beast, especially because of the rural setting.

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Marie is a famous prostitute in Paris. She is quite popular with the local criminals, but she wants a better life for herself. When she meets Manda, a young carpenter, she sees a way out. She hooks up with Manda and the two get along fine, but the other men won't be letting her go so easily.

The film is quite light for a noir and the many rural settings don't really help with the tough exterior the genre is known for. The drama/romance elements don't really balance things out either. Simone Signoret is pretty decent, but the rest of the cast isn't on the same level. A pretty dull film.

Ocean Waves

Umi ga Kikoeru
1993 / 72m - Japan
Drama, Romance, Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Ocean Waves poster

One of the more inconspicuous Ghibli films. Its reputation is no big surprise, it lacks the magic of Takahata and Miyazaki's work, but there's a certain level of maturity here that is rarely seen in animation. I will say that the film didn't quite hold up on rewatch, but it's still a very worthy entry in the Ghibli catalogue.

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The film homes in on Taku's first love. Rikako, a transfer student, comes to Taku's school and turns his world upside down. He is immediately smitten by the girl, but she takes advantage of Taku's feelings. Rikako is a tough cookie and makes enemies wherever she goes. Still, Taku can't help but care for her.

It's funny to see a central character that is unsympathetic by design, while not being a total caricature. The relationship between the two (three in fact, since Taku's best friend also has feelings for the girl) is interesting and not too obvious, the animation is decent (but not Ghibli's best) and the score is fine. There's just something missing, in the end, I felt too much of an onlooker.

April Fish

Shigatsu no Sakana
1986 / 109m - Japan
Comedy
3.0*/5.0*
April Fish poster

A very quirky and outspoken comedy. It might help to read up a bit more about this film, as I never really got a handle on the vibe Obayashi was going for. There are so many French references that this might be a proper ode, but it could just as well be a parody of the arty-farty.

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A Japanese director with a passion for France cuisine learns that a respected chef is coming to visit him. His wife is out for the moment, and so he hires an actress to play his wife and impress the chef. He even decides to prepare dinner, but there are too many moving parts to his plan and he gets in way over his head.

The film offers a somewhat weird mix of situational comedy and slapstick, sprinkled with a few typical Obayashi details. It's a bit messy and definitely chaotic, but I also appreciated the madness and the uniqueness of April Fish. Not his best film, but fans of the director are sure to have a good time.

House of Wax

2005 / 113m - USA
Horror
2.0*/5.0*
House of Wax poster

I'm not sure why I never watched this film before, but it's one of the bigger horror titles of the 00s that had managed to escape me. Until now that is. I went in with relatively low expectations, which turned out to be the right mindset. It's not the worst film, there are some interesting elements, but overall it's just not that great.

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A group of friends goes away for the weekend, hoping to catch the biggest football game of the year. They take a shortcut driving there, but end up in the middle of nowhere. A strange figure stalks their campsite at night and the next morning, one of their cars won't start. Slowly, their little trip takes a turn for the worse.

The runtime is excessive for a simple horror flick, the characters are dim and the backstory of the villains is pretty lame. The wax house and statues on the other hand are pretty cool, and the finale is one to remember. It's not enough to save the entire film, but at least it wasn't a complete dud.

Machine

2019 / 86m - Australia
Documentary
2.0*/5.0*
Machine poster

A rather basic documentary on the advances and challenges of contemporary AI. Docs like this tend to age pretty quickly as progression in the field is rapid, but most of what is been talked about here is still relevant. My biggest issue was that the film didn't touch on anything too thought-provoking or original, so it mostly functioned as a recap.

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The doc is divided into several sections, including AI companionship (from chatbots to sexbots), autonomous warfare/vehicles, AI art, and journalism. The film sticks mostly to the opinions of the people interviewed, which aren't too nuanced and generally end up being either warnings about potential traps or ads for the potential of AI.

The presentation is rather decent, but not very novel. The ideas put forward aren't too challenging and the time frame where this is going to be relevant is narrow, but as a refresher, it's certainly not the worst film. For people unaware of the advances in AI it might be a decent enough introduction, just be critical of any easy takeaways presented here.

Naval Commandos

Hai Jun Tu Ji Dui
1977 / 112m - Hong Kong
Action, War
1.5*/5.0*
Naval Commandos poster

Not Cheh Chang's finest moment, but that was already obvious from the start of the film. When Chang strays from martial art cinema, it rarely goes well. To make things a little worse he entered a collaboration with two other Shaw Bros directors to direct a patriotic Chinese war flick, not unlike the ones we've been seeing these past couple of years.

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At the start of the Sino-Japanese war, a crew is sent out to stop a big Japanese warship from making inroads. Their mission is doomed to fail, but the crew is extremely determined to pull it off. Even when their ship is destroyed, they keep advancing by land, avoiding all enemy troops to get the job done.

There are some familiar faces here, but when there are no fists flying, most of the famous Shaw Bros actors can't really deliver. There's way too much drama, the cinematography is basic and it takes too long for the action to kick off. It's something different from Chang, but that's about all it is.

Homewrecker

2019 / 76m - Canada
Comedy, Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Homewrecker poster

This reminded me a little of 2LDK, only not half as competent. There are moments when the potential is obvious, and some shimmers of what this film could've been, but when push comes to shove, the quality simply isn't there. There's some fun to be had here, but you have to be pretty forgiving to get to it.

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Michelle is a young woman who is trying to start a family with her husband. She has a feeling he's slowly drifting away from her though. A suspicion that only grows stronger when she runs into Linda, an older woman who seems very eager to get close to Michelle. When she invites Michelle home, things are bound to spiral out of control.

The performances are a little crude, the cinematography is poor and the soundtrack is laughable. The film also doesn't get quite as weird or insane as it should've, but at least it's amusing when things start going sideways. The potential was there to do better, but it's not all bad, just poorly executed.

Ura Horror

Ura Horâ
2008 / 70m - Japan
Sci-fi, Horror
1.5*/5.0*
Ura Horror poster

A bit too basic for my taste. Ura Horror felt as if Shiraishi had a brainstorm with some writers, then decided to make something with all the leftovers. The result is an anthology that is little more than crude ideas and basic premises, failing to be intriguing or scary. That's not really what you want from a horror film.

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The segments are pretty short and are presented as found footage, recovered from TV stations and private sellers. Each video shows a supernatural or gruesome event. Shiraishi remains truthful to the setup, but maybe a bit too much, as few of the shorts have an actual build-up, nor a fitting pay-off.

It all felt a tad too cheap for my taste. I will say that there were some good ideas here for mid to feature-length projects, but as shorts that don't even cross the 5-minute mark, few, if any of the stories left a lasting impression. Shiraishi fans are sure to get something out of this one, for me it was one of his weaker efforts.

Dodsworth

1936 / 101m - USA
Drama
1.0*/5.0*
Dodsworth poster

Classic romance is never all that romantic. People in these films tended to be rather practical, they had little trouble flirting and cheating, and they could change partners in a matter of seconds. I always find it hard to root for them, or really care who ends up with who at the end, which is kind of the point.

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When Sam Dodsworth finally retires from the automobile industry, he plans to go on a trip to Europe with his wife, and see something of the world. It doesn't take long for the two to figure out that they don't fit well together after all, and they start seeing other people during their vacation.

The characters are rather annoying, there's tons of dialogue to wade through and the cinematography is mostly functional. We're not really seeing all that much of Europe either, so in the end, there wasn't much that appealed to me. I've said it before, but the transition from silent cinema to talkies was pretty damn rough, Dodsworth is just more proof of that.

House of Darkness

2022 / 88m - USA
Horror, Mystery
3.0*/5.0*
House of Darkness poster

Justin Long loves to talk. House of Darkness may be a horror film, but it's a very slow and talkative one. Don't expect too much excitement, LaBute relies on mystery and tension to create a creepy atmosphere, but only gets there occasionally. The premise was better than the execution.

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Hap meets an alluring woman in a bar and offers to bring her home. She invites him in and things are looking up for Hap. He's confident he can stay the night, but then strange things start to happen. The woman acts a little weird, faint noises can be heard inside the house and out of the blue, the woman's sister turns up.

It's fairly obvious where this film is going from the get-go, even so, Long's character remains clueless until the very end. LaBute tries to extract tension from this, but it's all a little too basic and predictable. The performances aren't quite strong enough either, and the characters are a little too flimsy. There's still some fun to be had though, the premise is a fun one, I just wish the execution could've been tighter.

The Florida Project

2017 / 111m - USA
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
The Florida Project poster

Slightly better than Baker's previous film. The Florida Project is an interesting attempt to deliver a social drama within a candy-colored world, but the execution isn't polished enough to pull it off. The setting and characters may be pretty colorful, but there's a big disconnect with the overall cinematography.

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We follow Moonee, a young girl who lives with her mom in a rundown hotel, close to Disneyland. The place looks happy and cheerful on the outside, but the people living there are scraping to get by just the same. Moonee's mom struggles to pay the rent, while Moonee tries to have a good time with the kids in the neighborhood.

The drama isn't too heavy, but there's also not happening too much in the first 90 minutes. That's not a big deal if you care for the characters, or if you think the contrast between the setting and the drama is big enough, but neither of that really worked for me. It's not a terrible film, just not a very successful one.

All about Love

Tsoi Suet Yuk Chi Ngo Oi Nei
2005 / 102m - Hong Kong
Drama, Romance
3.0*/5.0*
All about Love poster

A decent mix of romance and drama, with a bit too much plot mixed in to make a strong impact. All about Love relies quite heavily on plot twists and coincidences, so much in fact that the drama tends to suffer. If the story hasn't been so far-fetched, it might have made a bigger impact, though the direction probably wasn't subtle enough for that to work either.

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Ko and his wife are happily married, but then she dies and Ko is left by himself, feeling guilty he didn't spend more time with her. A few months later he runs into Sam, a teacher who got the heart of Ko's wife and was left by her boyfriend, who is the spitting image of Ko. He sees it as the ideal opportunity to redeem himself.

You're getting twice the Andy Lau for the price of one, the scenes with Choi in particular are pretty solid. The plot's a bit ridiculous though and the directors are a little too prone to dig for sentimentality. But at least they kept things rather short and to the point. It's a pretty decent film, but I'm not surprised it's not as popular as its cast would suggest.

Inexorable

2021 / 98m - Belgium
Thriller
Inexorable poster

The latest thriller from Fabrice du Welz exudes confidence. Inexorable is a pretty simple film that in no way tries to reinvent the genre. Instead, du Welz delivers a core genre film that relies purely on execution to make an impact. And he pulls it off. It would've been easy to add a little extra mystery to the story, but what we get is an excellent cast, a thrilling soundtrack, and polished cinematography. That's all you need to put people on the edge of their seats, and that's exactly what Inexorable accomplishes.

The Party

2017 / 71m - UK
Comedy
3.0*/5.0*
The Party poster

Another party gone wrong. This is certainly not the first film where a bunch of so-called friends (but very different personalities) get together, only for some secrets to be revealed, blowing up the informal gathering. The Party is a slightly more upscale version, but in the end, that doesn't really make for a better film. Just a more proper one.

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Janet has been trying to make inroads into national politics for ages. When she finally succeeds, so invites her friends for a little party. But people are eager to steal her thunder. A bomb is dropped when her husband tells everyone he is terminally ill, but that's just the beginning of a night full of revelations.

The cast is more than solid and there are some nice little twists. Nothing too unexpected or revealing though. The characters are also a bit one-dimensional and the dialogue can get a bit too haughty. The Party is a film that has its moments but isn't quite as memorable as it would like to be.

The Driver

1978 / 89m - USA
Action, Crime
2.5*/5.0*
The Driver poster

A film that was reportedly a big influence on Refn's Drive. I can't say I remember too many specifics from Refn's film, but this has a pretty similar setup and for a 70s flick, it hasn't aged as much compared to many of its contemporaries. It's a simple but nice action flick, nothing more though.

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An infamous getaway driver proves impossible for the police to catch. He's simply too good at what he does. After another successful heist, the cops decide to try something different. They approach the driver's team and promise reduced sentences for those who can help and apprehend the guy.

The tone is quite dry, with a solemn character who keeps the dialogue to a minimum. The action scenes are pretty dynamic though, and the car chases are on point. There's not a whole lot there beyond the basic premise and some decent action scenes, but it's enough to make it an entertaining genre flick.

Dinner in America

2020 / 106m - USA
Comedy
3.5*/5.0*
Dinner in America poster

A quirky little comedy. The setup, with two unlikely people coming together and forming a close bond, isn't all that original, but the particulars make it less obvious than it sounds. There's a little drama and romance in the background, but the dry comedy takes center stage and defines the tone of the film.

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Simon is a young delinquent on the run from the cops, and Patty is a young woman unable to fit in with society. The two run into each other in a back alley, and Patty takes Simon home, offering him a place to stay while he hides from the police. As they spend more time together, a friendship starts to blossom.

The performances are on point, the comedy is a little crude but funny. It takes a few stabs at American stereotypes, without being too stereotypical, which is a nice surprise. The soundtrack is pretty interesting and the pacing is solid, though the film could've been a tad shorter overall. Good stuff.

2.5*/5.0*
Cosmic Rescue: The Moonlight Generations poster

Early Sato. The ambition is clear, sadly the talent and budget weren't quite there yet. Not that Cosmic Rescue is a complete disaster, but this Cowboy Bebop-inspired tale struggles to bring its sci-fi setting to life. That's not an easy thing to do on a shoestring budget and many have failed before, even so, a slightly more serious approach would've worked better here.

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Cosmic Rescue is an organization that clears up space debris and goes on rescue missions when collisions are imminent. When a team receives a distress call they stand by to engage, but suddenly the ship disappears from their radar. When they arrive back at base, nobody is willing to listen to their story.

The CG is very basic and the space physics aren't taken too seriously (and that's an understatement). The plot is also very predictable, but the pacing is solid and Sato already shows promise when it comes to delivering entertainment value. Based on this film, it's no surprise he would grow to become one of Japan's better blockbuster directors. Cosmic Rescue is a little rough around the edges, but still somewhat amusing.

Beast

2022 / 93m - USA
Thriller, Adventure
2.0*/5.0*
Beast poster

A somewhat disappointing animal thriller from Kormákur. I tend to like his films, so I was hopeful when I heard he was doing something with a fearsome lion stalking his human prey. Not quite sure what went wrong, but the result is pretty bland and lacks the tension needed for this type of film to flourish.

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A family is going to South Africa. Their trip is part vacation, part ode to their mother, who died of cancer. When they're taking a little safari, they come to a village that is completely ravaged by a wild beast. On their way back, a lion attacks their car and leaves them stranded on the side of the road.

The setting is nice and the performances not too bad, it's just that the stand-off between lion and mankind often feels exaggerated and farfetched. The addition of poachers doesn't really add much either and the finale is pretty kitsch. Not Kormákur's best film, but if you're starved for animal thrillers, it's not the worst.

The Farewell

2019 / 100m - USA
Drama
2.5*/5.0*
The Farewell poster

A more serious version of Crazy Rich Asians, but the core of the film isn't all that different. This is (another) Asian-American take on the difference between Eastern and Western cultures. Slightly more upscale than the infamous romcom that preceded it, but that doesn't mean you should expect a more subtle film.

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Billi was brought up in the US, but when she hears her grandma is terminally ill, she decides to visit her in Beijing. The family doesn't want to tell her she is dying though, so they come up with a little white lie for the family to spend their final days together. Billi finds it very difficult to keep this from her grandma.

The performances are decent, Awkwafina in particular is a lot better than usual, but it's nothing too out of the ordinary. The comedy is bland, the drama passable but predictable, and the styling could've used some extra attention. It's not a terrible film, but there's not much here that makes it appealing either.