They Have Escaped

He Ovat Paenneet
2014 / 102m - Finland
Drama, Thriller
They Have Escaped poster

An interesting mix of du Welz's Adoration (though this one predates it) and Les Amants Criminels. At its best, it's a really powerful and atmospheric film, it's just a little too inconsistent to be a true masterpiece. A bit more attention to the cinematography and the soundtrack could've pushed it over the edge.

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Raisa lives in a halfway house, Joni is one of her caretakers. The two get on well together and decide to move off on their own. Raisa tells Joni she has hidden a treasure somewhere, but it doesn't take long before the police are on their tails. They can't trust anyone, not even their own family.

The performances are solid, there are some powerful scenes and the road trip structure works well. Other scenes are a little underdeveloped, and the ending felt tacked on. It's a pretty big twist that comes a little too late. I wish the film wasn't quite as uneven, still, there's plenty to like here.

The Sacrifice

1986 / 149m - Sweden
The Sacrifice poster

A famous Tarkovsky classic. The man can shoot a pretty picture, but when the focus shifts to dialogue and drama, he loses me completely. The characters are often vessels for Tarkovsky's own inner voice, his last film is no exception. I'm afraid that's just not my kind of cinema.

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Alexander celebrates his birthday with some close friends in a remote house. But then the unimaginable happens: an atomic attack shocks the world. Alexander and his friends contemplate the consequences, and Alexander is adamant to restore world peace. He realizes he will have to give something in return.

When Tarkovsky aims for atmosphere, The Sacrifice is an interesting film. There's just not enough of that, and the rest really drags things down. The characters are dull, their conversations are didactic and the drama piles up. The runtime didn't really help either, but it's not his worst film either.


2021 / 124m - Japan
Drama, Crime
Missing poster

A neat little drama that reveals some nifty crime elements throughout. The balance of genres is delicate but well-executed and the film has some proper highlights, but it does lose a little steam during the second half. I was intrigued by what Katayama showed us here though, so I'm eager to see what he does next.

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Kaede's father is stuck in a depression after his wife died. One day Kaede wakes up and he is gone, not long after she receives a text saying he's doing fine, and that she shouldn't come looking for him. Kaede ignores his advice and starts her own investigation, as the police are unwilling to put in the effort.

The film holds quite a few surprises and takes a couple of interesting turns, the performances are very good and the cinematography felt modern and appropriate. It just lacks that little extra something to truly set it apart and make a lasting impact. Good film though, and worth a watch if you like a good mix of drama and crime elements.

You've Got a Friend

Yugata no Otomodachi
2022 / 115m - Japan
Drama, Romance
You've Got a Friend poster

Hiroki's latest drama harks back to his early days, back when the subjects for his films were riskier and more taboo. It's good to see that he hasn't forgotten about his past, at the same time I'm not sure if the blend of old and new is really the best way to handle films like these. While a fine drama, I did miss the edge that made his early work stand out.

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Yoshida is a masochist, who finds solace in a local S&M club. He got hooked after seeking out a club in Tokyo and has been hoping to revisit that initial pleasure ever since. A local election is hoping to close down the existing clubs in an attempt to clean up the city, meanwhile, Yoshida is starting a relationship with his mistress outside of the club.

The drama is solid, the subject matter adds an extra dimension and the characters are pleasant, warts and all. The cinematography felt a bit basic though and Hiroki usually gets a bit more out of his actors. Small details keep this film from becoming the next gem in Hiroki's oeuvre, but fans won't be too disappointed watching this.

The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer

Ningen no Jôken
1961 / 190m - Japan
Drama, War
The Human Condition III: A Soldier's Prayer poster

Quite a bit better than the first two films. It's been a while since I watched those, so it's not easy to compare them directly, but I was a lot more invested in this third part. The cinematography was way more impressive, the drama worked a lot better and there seemed to be a stronger focus on the atmosphere.

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Kaji, his comrades, and a group of regular people try to keep themselves out of the hands of the Soviets. Kaji is tired of fighting the war and tries to lead everybody to safety, but when they get lost in a forest they start to fight amongst themselves. They eventually find their way out, but wherever they go, war follows them.

The cinematography is really the highlight here, with some very impressive vistas and lovely black-and-white contrasts. The drama is decent but combined with the title of the film things do get a bit pompous toward the ending. At least, it was a lot easier to get through, even though the film is more than three hours long. Best of the bunch.

The Harbinger

2022 / 87m - USA
The Harbinger poster

A decent horror film, that lacks a bit of punch to truly excel. The COVID/lockdown scenes felt a little preachy, the tension during the nightmares wasn't really there and the creature simply wasn't as menacing as it should've been. It's not all bad, it's just those finishing touches that were missing.

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When Monique gets a distressing call from an old friend, she breaks her bubble and goes to see her. Mavis is suffering from nightmares that feature an eerie figure. When Monique stays over the same figure begins to haunt her dreams. They seek the help of a demonologist, but she has terrible news for them.

The soundtrack is effective, there are some strong images here and the lore is pretty interesting. The performances are solid too, but it's just not as tense or creepy as I'd expected it to be. It's still decent post-Halloween horror filler, it's just that the potential was there to do better.

The Legend of the Charming Fox

2019 / 78m - China
Fantasy, Action
The Legend of the Charming Fox poster

Another fox spirit tale. It seems Asian folklore is littered with them, and the Chinese streamers are happy enough to adapt them to the screen. These are pretty simple stories with enough potential to work in all the necessary genre elements to make entertaining filler, so it's obvious why they are so popular. There's a solid fantasy foundation, rounded out with a little romance, action, and comedy.

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White Lotus is a fox spirit who wants to find the man who rescued her as a young cub. What she doesn't know is that he's a monster hunter. She finally tracks him down, but in order to get close to him she has to join his monster hunter community. Meanwhile, a fire spirit is targeting them to get the magic water bead that can turn him back to his old self.

This film is only 3 years old but in terms of Chinese streamer films that makes quite a difference. The sets and costumes are lush as always, and the cinematography is nice too, but the CG is terrible and the performances feel flimsy. It's a short and well-paced little genre film that delivers the goods, it's just that nowadays they do a better job with this type of material.

Eat Wheaties!

2020 / 88m - Canada
Eat Wheaties! poster

A decent but somewhat simple and predictable comedy. The lone, awkward loser who threw away his youth makes a fool of himself trying to reclaim his younger self, and we as an audience follow him along, so we can laugh at his expense. It can work, but then the film has to be a little smarter and wittier.

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Sid is a lonely man, his only claim to fame is that he went to school with Elizabeth Banks. To surprise his brother for his birthday, he tries to score a signed photo of Banks, but nobody believes he actually knew her, certainly not her management, who put out a restraining order. Sid makes a public fool of himself and destroys the little that he accomplished in his life.

Tony Hale isn't too bad, but I felt his character was pretty derivative and he didn't manage to add much of his own. There are some decent jokes, but not quite enough, and there's a little drama at the end that didn't feel entirely earned. It's not all bad though, just a bit tepid and basic.

Capricious Robot

Kimagure Robotto
2007 / 40m - Japan
Capricious Robot poster

A funny, quirky and charming little film. I was a bit surprised to discover a mid-00s Japanese film headlined by Tadanobu Asano I hadn't seen yet, but apparently, this one is pretty obscure. It's probably due to its short length (and possibly because of the b&w cinematography), but that's no reason to avoid Capricious Robot as it is quite delightful.

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N is a pretty particular mangaka. He lives alone with his mother, a woman who pampers him way too much. When she suddenly dies N is unable to live by himself. He sees a newspaper ad for robot help, and after a quick trip to the robot lab, he comes home with a special model that fits his needs. The robot isn't quite what N imagined though.

Tadanobu Asano is perfect for his part, the CG is a little basic, and yet, the effects lend the film a pleasant charm. The premise is simple and the few plot twists are predictable, but the deadpan delivery is on point and nothing is dragged out too long. Capricious Robot was a lovely find. Not a true personal favorite, but the kind of quirky filer you only get from Japan.

Body Heat

1981 / 113m - USA
Romance, Thriller
Body Heat poster

A classic 80s thriller. It's an update of an age-old narrative that rarely appeals to me, in part because it has been done to death in various media. The film isn't the worst of its kind, but overall it's a pretty forgettable affair and little more than a relic of its time. I'd hoped to get a bit more out of it.

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Ned is a small-time lawyer and a natural charmer. One night he bumps into Matty and instantly becomes infatuated with her. The two have a steamy affair, but it's clear that there's more brewing than just a one-night stand. The only problem is Matty's husband, who stands between their happiness.

The plot has few surprises, the direction makes an effort but fails to have a real impact and the performances aren't that memorable. There's nothing particularly terrible about Body Heat, it's just all very generic and unexciting. I'm sure this was better in the 80s, those times are long though.

A Few Less Men

2017 / 92m - Australia
A Few Less Men poster

A pretty straightforward sequel to A Few Best Men. Craig likes a good wedding story it seems, but here we're dealing with the aftermath, which is a tad weirder and outrageous than his usual stuff. Not the greatest comedy around, but there are enough laughs to make it an easy recommendation for people craving some comedy filler.

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When Luke falls down from a cliff, he doesn't survive the ordeal. His friends need to bring his body back to the UK, but their plane crashes and leaves them stranded in the middle of the outback. Getting the body back to the civilized world is going to be a lot trickier than they could have ever imagined.

The comedy's a little crude, but the delivery is witty enough. The road trip structure works well, the episodic nature keeps things interesting and the fact that everything's just a little extra adds to the comedy. It's not the most memorable film, but I did have a pretty good time with it.

Happy Hour

Huan Le Shi Guang
1995 / 101m - Hong Kong
Happy Hour poster

The final Benny Chan film I still had to see. And it's not a surprise this was the last one on my list. Happy Hour is anything but happy, it's a dreary Hong Kong courtroom drama that doesn't treat its subject with the proper respect. Unless you're a dedicated completist like I am, this is the type of film you'd want to skip to not damage your trust in a certain director.

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Three friends are out clubbing when they meet Angel, a young and alluring woman. They go to her house, but a series of unfortunate events leads to an accident, which leaves Angel in a coma. When she finally wakes up, she accuses the three of rape. The boys don't know what they're facing, so they find a scammy lawyer who they believe can protect them in court.

The performances are way too exaggerated for a courtroom drama, the plot is crude and the few twists are mostly in bad taste. It's always nice to see Jordan Chan and Ching Wan Lau, but they're not the kind of actors who can carry a film like this. Neither is Benny Chan the best director to helm a film like this. Happy Hour is pretty bad, but at least its runtime was kept close to the 90-minute mark.

Love Wedding Repeat

2020 / 100m - UK
Comedy, Romance
Love Wedding Repeat poster

A pleasant rom-com. Dean Craig had already proven himself a capable writer, as a director he has a bit more control over the comedy, which results in a slightly funnier film. He likes to stick to proven formulas though, and so you have to look past the usual rom-com clichés to fully enjoy this one.

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Jack's sister is finally marrying, and Jack has the sole mission to make sure her wedding goes flawlessly. But things quickly spiral out of control when a stalker suddenly appears and Jack is too occupied trying to woo a lost love. Everything comes down to a single seating arrangement, one that is bound to determine the fate of everyone attending the wedding.

The jokes are pretty basic, but the actors do a solid job and Craig finds a nice balance between wit and crassness. The location is perfect, the pacing is solid and the cringe factor is appropriate. Not the best comedy in the world, but if you're looking for decent rom-com filler, it does the job.

Ghost Story

by Yin Bo
Liao Zhai Xin Chuan Zhi Hau Pi Ren
2022 / 89m - China
Romance, Fantasy
Ghost Story poster

I've seen better lately. Ghost Story offers a pretty basic kitsune tale, mixing fantasy, romance, and action elements in a typical Chinese blend. It's not a bad film and it's a perfectly serviceable filler, but there's not enough here to set it apart from similar films, and there have been a lot lately. The bar for this type of streamer filler is simply higher nowadays.

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Xiang is a fox spirit who falls into the hands of a much more powerful demon. While he is fighting with a Taoist priest, Xiang finally manages to escape. When she reaches the land of humans, she bumps into Wang, who is kind enough to take her in. Xiang and Wang are immediately attracted to each other, but he doesn't know that Xiang is really a demon.

Ghost Story offers a very basic plot with literally no surprises. The setting and costumes are lush, but the CG is lacking and the performances are pretty dim. I've also come to appreciate the shorter run times associated with these films, 90 minutes feels a bit too long for what it has to offer. Not bad, but there's better out there.

The Earrings of Madame De...

1953 / 105m - France
Drama, Romance
The Earrings of Madame De... poster

My least favorite Ophuls so far. The Earrings of Madame De ... is a very straightforward costume drama draped with some romance. It's quite stuffy and oldskool, the setting and direction fully mimic that. I'm certain there's an audience for films like these, but I'm pretty certain I'm not it.

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Louise is a wealthy woman, but her gambling habits are putting her in debt. To cover some of that debt, she sells the earrings that she got from her husband on her wedding day. She pretends to have lost them so he doesn't find out, but the more she tries to cover things up, the bigger her problems become.

The cinematography was dull and lifeless, the performances were quite wooden, and the setting and plot didn't appeal to me at all. The pacing is also glacial, though that's probably a direct result of the critiques I already highlighted. Just not my type of film, at all, I'll be leaving Ophuls alone for a while.

The Estate

2022 / 96m - USA
The Estate poster

A solid comedy. The Estate isn't the most original film, and once the setup is clear there aren't too many surprises left. Except maybe the lack of comedy-ruining drama in the second half of the film. Craig keeps a strong focus on the comedy, which makes a big difference overall.

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When aunt Hilda is diagnosed with cancer, her nieces and nephews hope to inherit Hilda's estate. She never really got along with her family, but suddenly she finds herself surrounded by concerned family members. They all try to make a good impression, only not all of their plans are well thought out.

Duchovny is the real star here, but the rest of the cast is decent too. There are some good jokes, the comedy is pretty consistent and the pacing is on point. The ending (both in fact) is a bit too predictable and Craig could've taken things a little further even, but with so few comedies around, I'm not complaining.

Mighty Space Miners

Oira Uchû no Tankôfu
1994 / 60m - Japan
Sci-fi, Adventure - Animation
Mighty Space Miners poster

A fun little oddity, but not recommended for completists. Mighty Space Miners was projected to be a 6-part OAV, only two episodes were made, and the series stops mid-plot. I'm not sure why this was discontinued as there is plenty to like here (the whiney lead character might have had something to do with it), but it's clear by now we'll never know how this story would've ended.

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Nanbu is a skilled 12-year-old who lives on an artificial satellite of Earth. He can't wait to become a real astronaut, but when he is going through his tests disaster strikes and he fails. Things are about to get worse when the satellite is floating off course and Earth sees no other option than to evacuate and destroy the satellite before our home planet is put in actual danger.

The animation is proper and detailed, and the sci-fi elements are well-realized too. It's somewhat of a shame that we're dealing with a childish 12-year-old in the lead, making things a bit more kiddy than they needed to be, other than that I have little to complain about. Just a fun and capable sci-fi anime. A shame they never managed to finish this.

Noiseman Sound Insect

Onkyô Seimeitai Noizuman
1997 / 15m - Japan
Fantasy, Action - Animation
Noiseman Sound Insect poster

Koji Morimoto's masterpiece. And that's high praise for a man who has consistently pushed the boundaries, making some of the most impressive, innovative animated films from Japan. Noiseman Sound Insect is indescribable, sporting a highly imaginative world, insane animation that still stands proudly today, beautiful character design and wildly creative settings, a perfectly tailored score, and a plot like none you've ever seen. Every single second of its 15-minute runtime is polished and meaningful, a trip like no other.

The Eye

Gin Gwai
2002 / 99m - Hong Kong
Horror, Thriller
The Eye poster

One of the pivotal Asian horror films of the early 21st century. It was a landmark film for the Pangs, whose career got a big boost after releasing The Eye. I loved the film when I first watched it, but a lot has changed since, and the niche's repetitiveness somewhat devaluated its earlier highlights.

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Mun has been blind for most of her life, a cornea transplantation will allow her to see again. The operation goes well, but Mun soon realizes that she sees more than she is supposed to. Her new eyes allow her to see ghosts, and they try to contact Mun, hoping she can bring them relief.

The scares aren't quite as tense or scary as they used to be, and the second half (which is mostly dedicated to uncovering the back story) feels a little dull and by the numbers. The Pang's visual prowess is also lacking here, the soundtrack on the other hand is still pretty effective. Not a bad film, but far from the masterpiece it used to be.