Odd Man Out

1947 / 116m - UK
Thriller, Crime
1.5*/5.0*
Odd Man Out poster

This is only my second Reed. And though it's been ages since I watched The Third Man, the atmospheric night scenes are instantly recognizable. It's a shame the runtime, the basic plot, and the endless dialogues get in the way of a moody thriller, then again those are the tropes of the genre, so they come with the territory.

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Johnny is an IRA leader who is wounded during a robbery. The authorities are on to him and they close down the city. Johnny has to hide, but he can't stay long in one place, as the police are vigilantly combing down the city. Meanwhile, his girlfriend goes looking for him after she hears Johnny is still around.

The acting is pretty poor, the plot isn't all that interesting and two hours is simply too long for a film like this. The contrast-heavy black-and-white cinematography is pleasant though, which at least kept me interested throughout. It just wasn't enough to turn this isn't a pleasant experience.

Man on the Edge

Bin Yun Haang Ze
2022 / 113m - Hong Kong
Thriller, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Man on the Edge poster

A somewhat feeble attempt to revive the Triad/police thrillers. It's clear that these films aren't purely Hong Kong anymore, even though they are presented as such. There's a lot of Chinese power backing these films nowadays, which explains the somewhat laughable ending (where the English are portrayed as the ultimate evil).

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Lok is an undercover policeman. He has infiltrated a Triad gang in order to investigate the surge in drug trafficking, but the closer he gets to his goal, the more apparent it becomes that the Triads are getting help from someone inside the police force. Lok will have to be careful if he wants to blow open the entire operation.

There are many familiar faces, and the film is eager to relive past successes (like the Young and Dangerous series, the Internal Affairs films, and Election), but Man on the Edge never really reaches that same level. There are some proper action scenes and all the tropes are present, but it simply wasn't the lean package you'd expect from a Hong Kong crime flick.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

2019 / 104m - USA
Fantasy, Adventure, Animation
1.0*/5.0*
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World poster

The third film in the popular Dragon tamer series. It's just more of the same really, a film made because it was ensured a big audience, regardless of its quality. I didn't care much for the first two films, this didn't add anything new or substantial to the franchise, but I didn't really expect it to either.

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Hiccup is well on his way to building his own dragon utopia, but when word gets out about his village, some shady people start planning to take advantage. Meanwhile, Toothless has found a partner that may save his species. Hiccup plans to move his dragon utopia to a new location, but that is easier said than done.

The animation is technically proficient, but three years after its release that doesn't amount to much. The aesthetic is horrible, the comedy is painfully unfunny and the dub is terrible. I'm glad they laid the series to rest after this third part, it's just empty, boring, and unimaginative pulp.

Hotel Iris

2021 / 100m - Japan
Drama
Hotel Iris poster

My kind of Japanese drama. Broken characters, a beautiful setting, intricate relationships, and sometimes undecipherable actions. It all blends into a very stylish, deliberate, and delicate film. There's a dark edge that's forever lingering right outside of view and I probably need another go at it to make more sense of the plot, but ultimately it's the atmosphere that drew me in. Lovely cinematography, superb performances, and an elegant soundtrack make this a very worthy film.

Vesper

2022 / 114m - Lithuania
Sci-fi, Adventure
3.5*/5.0*
Vesper poster

A worthy sci-fi. It's not often that films make a real effort to come up with a creative and unique vision of the future while having a proper budget to translate it to the screen. It's a real bummer then that Vesper spends a bit too much time on human drama, sometimes neglecting its superb universe featured in the background.

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Vesper is a young girl who cares for her bedridden father in a post-apocalyptic world. Genetics have ruined the world as we know it, the rich live in secluded citadels, while the poor have to survive on their own in the wastelands and forests. When a plane crashes nearby, Vesper goes out to investigate and finds a woman desperate for help.

The effects look amazing, the designs are inspired and the styling is classy. Atmosphere cinematography and a moody score add a lot of appeal. It's just that the futuristic concepts don't get quite enough airtime, and we're seeing too much human betrayal and power struggles. I wish they could've found a better balance, but Buozyte and Samper deserve another shot at the genre.

Henry V

1944 / 136m - UK
Drama
0.5*/5.0*
Henry V poster

This felt like watching a stuffy old stage play for two hours straight. Maybe because parts of the film are in fact stuffy old stage plays and because the film is based on a Shakespeare play. The result is pretty dull and uncinematic, not the kind of film I was hoping for in a genre that isn't my favorite to begin with.

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The story is a retelling of how a young King Henry V vows to invade France and take it for his own. He rallies his troops, delivers a few famous speeches, and pushes through until he finally reaches his goal. If you want a real history lesson though, I suggest you pick a different film.

The costumes and settings are bland, the colors atrocious, the performances overly theatrical and the plot a true bore. The long runtime doesn't help the film either. Unless you're a big Shakespeare fan and you're aiming to see all the films based on his work, I wouldn't recommend this one.

The House

2022 / 97m - UK
Comedy, Thriller, Animation
3.5*/5.0*
The House poster

A very cool animated trilogy. While different directors handled the three shorts, there's a surprising consistency between the films, in setting, themes, and visual style. That's maybe a little disappointing, as I tend to prefer variety over consistency, but the stop-motion animation is well impressive, so I wasn't too bothered.

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All three shorts are about the misgivings a single house is bringing its inhabitants. The first family is moving into a bigger house, which slowly drives them mad. The second house drives a salesman to insanity, and the final house holds a young woman captive while she tries to restore the building to its former glory.

The first short is by far the best. Very moody, very stylish, and sporting a perfect build-up. The two remaining shorts are good too, but comparatively weaker. The atmosphere is less tangible and the pent-up irritation gets a bit too predictable. The charming animation and novel concept are a boon though. A lovely and loving Netflix project.

Wonderland Recoil

2022 / 98m - Denmark
Sci-fi, Fantasy
3.5*/5.0*
Wonderland Recoil poster

Alice in Wonderland, the cybergoth edition. This is clearly a passion project from director Shaun Rana (just look at the credits, he holds the majority of the creative and technical credits himself). The potential is overflowing and there's quite a lot to enjoy here, but the budgetary limitations show and the execution is a bit too flakey to be truly impressive.

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There isn't much in the way of an actual plot here. A girl is looking for a pleasant way to spend the evening, and she decides to try out a new drug. After acquiring the materials and printing the drug, she ends up in a hallucinogenic Wonderland. The link with Alice in Wonderland is obvious, but only skin deep.

The maximalist styling is fun, the contemporary/niche take on a classic story works well enough and Rana shows that he has talent. Only the actual technical skillset is sometimes lacking. The blurry images give the film a cheap feel, the performances are dire and the editing could use some work. I do applaud the audacity of this project and I did have plenty of fun with it, I just wish it was a bit more polished.

Rambo: Last Blood

2019 / 100m - USA
Action, Crime
2.5*/5.0*
Rambo: Last Blood poster

The latest Rambo film is a strange little beast. It starts as a crime drama, it ends like Home Alone on steroids. The Rambo angle is negligible and hardly makes any sense, but I guess this is just Stallone trying to bank on former glory. I'm not sure he was very successful, but at least you get a fun and over-the-top finale out of it.

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Rambo has finally settled down, after taking custody of a young Latina girl. She is aching to meet her biological father and when Rambo isn't very cooperative she takes off on her own. She meets up with her dad in Mexico, but the encounter isn't a big success. To make things worse, she is kidnapped by a gang that drugs and pimps out young women.

The intro is way too long and dramatic, Stallone still can't act even if his life depended on it and the plot moves in mysterious ways. The setup of the finale is incredibly silly too, but I will admit that the finale itself was a lot of fun. Blunt and ridiculous, but that's exactly what I expect from a film like this. It's a shame the rest of Last Blood didn't really deliver.

Mr. Harrigan's Phone

2022 / 104m - USA
Drama, Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Mr. Harrigan's Phone poster

A pretty decent Stephen King adaptation, but like many of the films based on his books and stories, it sorely lacks a director with a more unique vision. The plot is interesting enough and the actors do a solid job, but the film itself is a little stale and fails to stand out in any meaningful way.

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Craig is a young boy who is scouted by Mr. Harrigan, a wealthy wretch, to read him stories three times a week. Craig sticks around and through the years a bond develops between the two. When Harrigan dies, Craig buries his phone with him, after which he starts getting unintelligible messages from Harrigan's phone.

Martell and Sutherland are both solid and the film has an interesting premise, though you can't help but wonder why they felt the need to turn a short story into a 105-minute feature film. The extra padding is blatant and Hancock's direction is too basic to justify it. Not bad, but I wish they would dare to take bigger risks with King's stories.

The Treasure Code

2022 / 76m - China
Action
3.5*/5.0*
The Treasure Code poster

More Chinese streaming filler. The good news is that they still seem to be progressing, the bad news is that old issues appear difficult to resolve, and so these films struggle to truly transform into personal favorites. They are short and incredibly entertaining though, so I won't complain too much. Sometimes it's better to just be happy with what you've got.

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Qi Ling has spent the last 12 years in prison, for crimes his father supposedly committed. When the emperor falls critically ill, Ling is the only person who can solve the mystery, and so he is given 24 hours to try and cure the emperor. The Nine-Dragon Pen seems to be the artifact that lies at the core of all the trouble, so that's Ling's obvious first lead.

There's quite a bit of plot that needs to be crammed into the limited runtime, and the mix of fantasy and action puts a big strain on the CG, though these are challenges that have been conquered already. Neither the plot nor CG is top-notch, but they suffice and act as fuel for some prime entertainment. I like these short and sweet streamer snacks, and The Treasure Code didn't disappoint.

Carnival in Moscow

Karnavalnaya Noch
1956 / 78m - Soviet Union
Comedy, Musical
1.5*/5.0*
Carnival in Moscow poster

Russians aren't really known to be joyous, happy people, so to see them do a jolly musical comedy is a bit jarring, regardless of the quality of the film. Once I got past that, I found that the film wasn't all that great either, but at least it's a curious little project that had me raise my eyebrows more than once.

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Ogurtsov is the new chief of the Cultural Bureau in Moscow. His first assignment is to organize a New Year's concert, and he takes his job very seriously. The problem is that the festivities are bound to be incredibly dull with him in charge, so a group of young entertainers tries to salvage what they can.

If you ever wondered what a plainer MGM musical in Russian would look like, look no further. There's novelty value in that for sure, but it doesn't really make for a pleasant or agreeable film, and the quality of the song and dance is pretty paltry. The short runtime is a blessing, but that's about it.

I Want to Be Killed by a High School Girl

Joshi Kousei ni Korosaretai
2022 / 110m - Japan
Thriller
3.5*/5.0*
I Want to Be Killed by a High School Girl poster

A film that screams book (or manga) adaptation. The presentation is pleasant, but the story takes too much precedence and the constant voice-overs mixed with the convoluted plot make it difficult to get truly invested in the film. It betrays the film's more commercial goals.

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When a new, young teacher is enlisted, all the students fall for his charms. He seems like a stand-up guy, but it is slowly revealed that he wasn't just hired by chance. The guy has been brooding on his master plan for years: create a situation where he'll be killed by a high school girl.

If the plot sounds a bit odd, is because it is. There's a proper explanation for all of it of course, but it's not that convincing and the many subplots detract from the main story. The performances aren't too great, but the cinematography is lovely and the contemporary score is a nice touch. It's a perfectly fine film, I just wish a better director could've handled it.

Peppermint

2018 / 102m - USA
Action, Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Peppermint poster

A woman scorned. Peppermint is a simple but decent enough action/revenge flick, held back only by its lead. Jennifer Garner is a horrible casting choice, who fails both as the angelic mom and the kick-ass vigilante. Her role is pretty essential to the success of the film, luckily Morel doesn't overreach in other departments, so it still works as a generic genre filler.

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Riley has a plain but pleasant life, dedicating herself to her family. When her child and husband are killed in a violent drug-related incident, her world collapses. The culprits aren't even convicted for their crimes, instead, Riley is committed to a mental hospital. Before she gets there she escapes and disappears from the grid, only to re-emerge as a ruthless killer out for revenge.

It's pretty difficult to take Garner seriously in this role, which means you're just trailing a glorified soccer mom taking on a squad of hardened gang members for most of the film. The action itself is solid though, the rest of the cast isn't too bad and the pacing is OK, safe a somewhat slow start. Not bad, but pretty forgettable.

Vietnamese Horror Story

Chuyen Ma Gan Nhà
2022 / 108m - Vietnam
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Vietnamese Horror Story poster

A Vietnamese horror anthology from director Tran Huu Tan. It's certainly not a perfect film, nor a perfect example of how to use the format best, but Tan shows that he can do horror very well. There are some superb scenes and moments scattered throughout, hopefully, we'll see Tan applying his talent in a regular horror feature next.

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Some friends get together and decide to tell each other some scary tales. The first story is about an actress who disappears after being assaulted by an angry fan, the second story is about an aspiring magician whose father won't let him do his hobby, and the final short film is about a young woman who tries to get past the death of her sister.

The wraparound short is negligible and I prefer anthologies that take a bit more risk, but the main shorts are strong and there are some genuinely freaky scenes. The atmosphere is solid, performances are decent and each short ends on a high note. Quite a bit better than I expected it to be.

The Quiet Earth

1985 / 91m - New Zealand
Sci-fi, Mystery
2.5*/5.0*
The Quiet Earth poster

A pretty decent sci-fi flick. The premise is one of those situations that most people have pondered about at some point in their lives: what would I do if I was alone on this Earth? The Quiet Earth doesn't really take that premise any place interesting, but it is fun to tag along for the ride regardless.

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Zac wakes up one morning to find all the other people have disappeared. He ventures outside and looks around the neighborhood, he leaves messages for others to find, but it appears he is all alone. Until one day he runs into Joanne, a young woman who has been going through the same thing as Zac. They continue their search for other survivors, only now together.

It's a nice enough premise, though I don't believe it needed an actual explanation. The film goes through the motions and there's certainly some appeal to the empty Earth lifestyle, I just wish there was a bit more meat to the film. The styling is pretty plain, the characters are a little bland and the plot isn't all that exciting. Not the worst though.

Run of the Arrow

1957 / 86m - USA
Western
0.5*/5.0*
Run of the Arrow poster

Cowboys and Indians. Run of the Arrow turned out to be a pretty pure western, which means it was always going to be a hard sell. Some pretty painful performances and horrible camera work don't help the appeal of the film either, making this one of the worst westerns I've seen so far.

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O'Meara, a soldier with the Confederates, can't accept the loss in the war and decides to join the Sioux Indians. After surviving a dangerous trial, he becomes part of their clan. But then the Sioux get wrapped up in their own war with the US Army, and O'Meara will be forced to pick sides once again.

There are some parallels with Dances with Wolves (but that's not exactly a positive), so fans of that film might get something extra out of it. Other than that, I simply don't see what the appeal of this film could be, but since there are plenty of western fans out there it's no doubt just a matter of personal taste. Unless you're a hardcore western fanatic though, I wouldn't give this one priority.

In isolation

2022 / 87m - USA
Thriller
1.5*/5.0*
In isolation poster

I'm a little tired of being confronted with dubbed films in 2022. It seems Russian (or of Russian descent, as seems to be the case here) horror is one of the worst offenders, and it really hurts the quality of these films. Sadly, I also believe it raises their broader appeal, at least when talking about people wanting to give them a try.

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Jane suffers from panic attacks. She's seeing a psychiatrist, but the looming health crisis and talks about isolation are not helping her healing process. Then two shady men turn up on her doorstep and try to break into her house, luckily Jane has a couple of friends around who help her defend the premises.

The dubbing is atrocious and it's a constant distraction. The plot isn't all that interesting either (and the twist is really predictable), the finale could've been better too. The cinematography is pretty decent though and there are in fact some standout scenes. It's a shame they fade in an otherwise plain film.

Little Dragon Maiden

Xia Long Nu
2022 / 77m - China
Fantasy, Action
3.5*/5.0*
Little Dragon Maiden poster

Sometimes cheap is just cheap, at other times it can be a great indicator of talent. Little Dragon Maiden is another one of those cheap and short direct-to-streamer projects that serve a mix of fantasy, action, and romance, but the execution is commendable and while there are some obvious technical hiccups, the bold aesthetic easily makes up for it.

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Bai Xi is a young dragon maiden who travels to the human realm to get her sister back. After an initial scuffle, she ends up in a temple, where she forces the caretaker to join her on her trip to the city. There she hopes to convince her sister to return with her. On her journey, Bai Xi will learn about the human world and what it means to fall in love.

The CG is pretty basic, but the lush colors, costumes and sets more than make up for that. The actors are actually pretty decent, the action scenes are fun and the pacing is perfect. There's a fleetingness that keeps these films from becoming true personal favorites, but the good ones make for some lovely filler. I thoroughly enjoyed myself with this one.

Jezebel

1938 / 104m - USA
Drama, Romance
1.0*/5.0*
Jezebel poster

An old Bette Davis classic. It's another one of these overly talkative 30s drama/romances, where people just drone on forever about the most inconsequential things. The levels of sentimentality and the lack of anything visceral make this a very tough sell for me, but I can't say I was really surprised.

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Julie is a headstrong woman who doesn't really care about people's expectations and opinions. When she arrives at a ball in a bright red dress, she shocks everyone there, including her fiancé. He wants nothing to do with Julie after this, but she's very determined to win him back.

Davis' performance is decent, but her character isn't all that interesting, and neither are the challenges she faces. There's not much depth to the film, the dialogue is predominant and the sentimentality takes away from the dramatic impact. The 30s are one of the weakest film decades out there, not my kind of cinema.

Hell Baby

2013 / 93m - USA
Comedy, Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Hell Baby poster

Silly but amusing horror comedy. The focus is clearly on the comedy here, which is almost refreshing in this era of comedic drought. The parodies and pastiches aren't even all that original, but the commitment to the jokes and the amusing performances help the film to stand out from the crowd.

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A couple moves into a house with a history. It doesn't take long before strange things start happening, Jack's pregnant wife Vanessa seems to be the main target of the evil presence. With the help of Vanessa's sister and two priests from the Vatican, they try to expel the evil from the house.

The main focus truly is comedy here. The cast has some familiar faces, but the film looks incredibly cheap, the effects are crummy and the wink wink nudge nudge level is almost reminiscent of TV work. But the comedy does work, the pacing is fine and it's just nice to have a film that cares about nothing else than making people smile. Pleasant filler.