East of Eden

1955 / 118m - USA
East of Eden poster

Classic US drama that doesn't hold back on the melodrama. Not sure if it's an age thing, or if it's just not for me, but I found this film excruciatingly kitsch. From the plot to the performances, everything is so incredibly overdone that I never managed to care one bit for all the drama on display.

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Cal grows up with his brother and father, a heavily religious man. His mother died when he was still young, but something doesn't sit right with Cal. He discovers his mother isn't dead after all, instead, she's running a brother in a nearby town. Cal doesn't tell his father and brother but tries to reconnect with his mom.

The performances are pretty cheesy, the colors and score are kitsch and all the drama is conveyed as if it's the end of the world. At two hours long, it's quite a chunk of film to wade through too. So far Kazan hasn't managed to impress me, but this is the worst of his films yet. Not my cup of tea.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

2022 / 161m - USA
Fantasy, Adventure
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever poster

Yet another Marvel film. The good thing is that general interest is starting to wane a little. Sure, these films still end up with pretty impressive box office stats (marketing is definitely a part of it), but the mind-numbing hype seems to be something from the past. Fingers crossed the frequency of releases will follow that trend.

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When King T'Challa comes to pass, Wakanda will need to look for a new ruler. It's not an easy task to follow in the footsteps of their renowned king, so finding a suitable follow-up is going to take time. Time Wakanda doesn't really have, as a neighboring state hidden deep below the ocean is planning to invade.

Typical Marvel nonsense. The film is way too serious for its own good, has gaudy and childish designs, a predictable and generic plot, and is overly long. The film is a solid 2.5 hours, for something that should've been handled in 90 minutes tops. A serious waste of money is what it is.

Set It Off

1996 / 123m - USA
Action, Crime
Set It Off poster

A simple cops and robbers flick, only with four women in the lead. It's quite ahead of its time if you look at it like that, but at the same time, the film is little more than a basic action/crime flick. That's not too big of a bother though, as genre filler it does its thing rather well and even though the film is a tad long, it never felt like it outstayed its welcome.

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Four young black women are strapped for cash. No matter how hard they try, society doesn't give them the proper chances they deserve, and so they have to get by on scraps. One of them works for a bank. When she gets fired for no good reason, the four come up with a plan to rob a couple of banks.

The performances are decent, the presentation is slick but pleasant and the plot is generic, but the female angle never feels forced and so it ends up adding something valuable. Two hours is a little long, but the pacing is fine and some well-spread-out action scenes keep the blood pumping. Solid.

The Sorrow and the Pity

Le Chagrin et la Pitié
1969 / 251m - France
Documentary, War
The Sorrow and the Pity poster

War documentaries are a dime a dozen, the longer they are the more critical acclaim they seem to garner. I knew what I was getting myself into in other words. The Sorrow and the Pity certainly isn't the worst of them, as it doesn't focus so much on the fighting. Instead, it hones in on how people coped with the everyday reality of occupation.

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There are some interesting stories here, mostly when people try to make excuses for siding with the Germans or not doing enough to resist the occupation. It paints a very different story from the usual victory morale, a more realistic and down-to-earth account of what it is to live through a war.

The thing is that 4+ hours is quite long and it does get pretty repetitive after a while. There are a lot of people talking and talking and talking, making similar points with different stories. A shortened version would've been a lot better for me, but I'll say that it ended up being better than expected.

Shrew's Nest

2014 / 91m -
Horror, Thriller
Shrew's Nest poster

A pretty classic Spanish horror film. The horror elements are pretty refined and are embedded in a strong drama and thriller base. It makes for a stylish and well-balanced film, at the same time, it's never all that thrilling or exciting. The quality is there, but the sparkle to turn it into something truly exceptional is often missing.

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Montse had to raise her younger sister all by herself after her mother died giving birth to her and her father fled the family. Montse became a recluse and can't leave her house anymore. When a stranger drops down injured in front of her door one day, she finds a new goal in life.

The performances are great, the presentation is stylish, and the pacing is perfect. It just lacks a bit of fire. It takes quite a long time before the real action starts and it never reaches a true climax. Not a bad film for sure, it's prime filler for genre fans, but it never seduced me enough to become a true favorite.

Dragon Quest: The Soul Coffin

Xun Long Zhen Hun Guan
2023 / 87m - China
Fantasy, Adventure
Dragon Quest: The Soul Coffin poster

A bit fancier than most streamer releases. Not by much, but the slightly longer runtime, the fancier CG, and the more elaborate set pieces betray the film's loftier ambitions. It's still a pretty standard tomb-raiding adventure flick, there's just more attention to detail and a more polished feel to it.

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A boy manages to escape from a tomb where soul/body replacement ceremonies are being held. Years later, he returns with a band of adventurers who all have their own reason to seek out the tomb. A map guides them to the place they need to be, but once inside, their trust starts to crumble.

Not that the CG is a marvel, but it's clearly better than most of its peers. The cinematography and set designs are nice too, the actors are decent (enough) and the extra 10 minutes of runtime allows for a bit of extra padding that gives the film a bit more weight. Good fun, and better than most of its kind.

Without Name

2016 / 93m - Ireland
Horror, Mystery
Without Name poster

Early Finnegan. Irish horror has established itself as a pretty safe bet. Their films are rarely great, but never bad, and if you're looking for a fun horror, you can't really go wrong with them. Without Name is a film that thrives mostly on mystery elements, but shoots off into horror territory at the very end.

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Eric is a land surveyor who is working a big job out in the middle of nowhere. He stays in a cabin formerly occupied by Devoy, a strange man who disappeared into thin air. Locals tell Eric that Devoy was into some weird stuff, believing the Earth itself had created its own unique language to communicate with people.

Without Name is a pretty mysterious film, that doesn't offer an easy conclusion. It gets weirder and more obtuse as the film progresses, with a superb finale to close everything down. Finnegan's direction isn't consistent enough to make this a personal favorite, but it was a damn fine film regardless.

Alexei and the Spring

Alexei to Izumi
2002 / 104m - Japan
Alexei and the Spring poster

Not a documentary I really cared for. The premise isn't too bad, but the result is what I feared it would be. It's a look at a small Russian village, where people live far away from civilization, going about their business. It's a very typical look at Russia (poverty porn warning) that I rarely care for.

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The village is called Budische, a small town not too far away from Chernobyl. When disaster strikes, people are asked to move away. The younger people oblige, but the old folks decide to stay because they believe in the power of their well. The only younger person who remains is Alexei.

The doc shows us how these people live, doing agricultural work, providing for themselves, with a minimum of modern tooling (though there is some). The setting is nice (and with a proper score underneath, it makes for some soothing scenes), but most of the doc focuses on the people who stayed behind, and they just didn't interest me all that much.

People on Sunday

Menschen am Sonntag
1930 / 73m - Germany
People on Sunday poster

A narrative film with amateur actors, set up as a passion project of the 5 directors involved. The story behind it is probably a bit more interesting than the final result, but it's not all bad and the more natural feel (some call it a semi-documentary, but that's stretching it a bit) is indeed quite novel for its time.

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The title of the film is spot on. After a week of hard work, people like to relax on their weekends. Two couples end up at a lake near Berlin, to escape the city's bustle. They get acquainted and have a blast together before they have to return to the city to face another 5 days of hellish pressure.

Talk about a film that is still relevant in this day and age. The thing is that not all that much happens, and while the acting is quite natural for its time, it's hardly realistic. It's a short film though and the pacing is pretty decent, the light tone certainly helps too. Not a great film, but like most German films of their time, better than many of the alternatives.

Who Killed Santa?

2022 / 52m - USA
Comedy, Crime
Who Killed Santa? poster

A TV series special. I had never heard of the IP before and I didn't have a clue what to expect. Truth be told, it is quite obvious that this is a TV special, it never quite feels like a mid-length feature film, but it does work remarkably well, so much in fact that I might even be pushed to check out the regular series.

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A police trainee finds himself in a lot of trouble on his first day on the job. During the mayor's party, Santa is killed with a candy cane, and now the orphans won't be getting their Christmas presents. A true PR disaster. It's up to him and a more seasoned PI to figure out who is the killer before the sun rises and Christmas is ruined.

This is a full-blown improv show, with Jason Bateman and Maya Rudolph being dropped into a murder script without any prior notice or script. They have to figure out everything along the way, while their characters are put through the wringer. It's a lovely setup and it creates enough genuine laughs. It's not very coherent though and both actors can't quite keep a straight face, but in a way that's just part of the fun. Enjoyable.

New Dream Hunter Rem: Massacre in the Phantasmic Labyrinth

New Dream Hunter Rem: Satsuriku no Labyrinth
1992 / 50m - Japan
New Dream Hunter Rem: Massacre in the Phantasmic Labyrinth poster

If the first episode was a direct reference to Snow White, this second one is an amalgam of references to various literary works and tales of folklore. It makes for a fun little oddity, but at the same time, it also makes it quite hard to pinpoint the series' identity. I'm still not quite sure what Dream Hunter Rem tries to be, or who it wants to appeal to.

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Victor Frankenstein is working hard to create the ultimate human. He succeeds when Julian awakens from his operating table, but then disaster strikes. Dr. Death takes a hold of Julian and bewitches him, creating the Frankenstein monster. It's up to Rem to enter Julian's dreams and free him from this evil.

The animation is pretty decent, the film can be surprisingly gruesome at times (only to alternate between overly cute scenes) and the short runtime makes sure it never gets boring. It's not the most memorable anime, it's a bit too random and referential for that, but if you're looking for something short and a tad stranger than the average franchise, it's not a bad bet.

Around the World in 80 Days poster

This could've been a lot more fun if it hadn't felt like it lasted about 80 days to finish this film. It's essentially a very simple adventure flick, based on the famous Jules Verne novel. With some trimming down this could've been just that, but at almost three hours long, there's just way too much cruft.

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The plot isn't any more complex than the film's title suggests. A wealthy adventurer makes a bet with some fellow club members that he can travel around the world in 80 days, using his ultramodern airship. With his trusted companion, he prepares his journey and off they go.

The film certainly looks the part and the various places they visit are fun enough, but all it that could've been done within a span of 90 minutes. The extra runtime is wasted on pointless dialogue and excess footage that should've remained on the editing floor. Not the worst classic though.

The Wandering Swordsman

You Xia Er
1970 / 103m - Hong Kong
The Wandering Swordsman poster

A relatively early Cheh Chang. Not sure how I missed this one before, or why this film isn't more famous, but The Wandering Swordsman deserves a bigger audience. The Robin Hood hook should make it easy to sell in the West, and the quality is definitely there. It's a film Shaw Bros fans are sure to appreciate.

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Da Wei is a local Robin Hood. He's a thief who steals from other robbers to give back to the poor. Of course, his little scheme doesn't go unnoticed and pretty quickly he has a bunch of fearsome criminals on his back, who want Wei to return what he stole from them. Wei won't back down though.

With David Chiang and Lily Li in the lead you get some familiar faces, the build-up of the film is solid, the action is nice and well spread out, and the presentation has the usual Shaw Bros charm. It's not a film that is going to convince Shaw Bros detractors to change their view on the studio, but Chang fans are sure to have a blast.

Pretty Persuasion

2005 / 104m - USA
Pretty Persuasion poster

One of those films I didn't really expect to like the second time around, but lo and behold. Pretty Persuasion is a film that has lost little of its original appeal, on the contrary. The crude and head-first assault on the human facade is refreshing in this day and age, springing a lot of politically incorrect humor on its audience, but always with enough wit and edge to rise above its inherent crudeness. A superb lead, unrelenting comedy, and a finale that turns the table on the audience one last time make this a film with strong rewatch potential. This is a solid recommendation for people who want a US high school movie with a bit more bite.

What Time Is It There?

Ni Na Bian Ji Dian
2001 / 116m - Taiwan
Drama, Romance
What Time Is It There? poster

I've been rewatching quite a few Tsai's these past years, the bottom line is that most of them don't really seem to hold up. What Time Is It There? is no exception. I can still see why I liked this so much the first time around, but the sloppier finish (certainly compared to someone like Hou) keeps me from 100% enjoying them.

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The day after his father dies, a young watch salesman meets a young woman. She tells him she is going to Paris, which breaks his heart. To commemorate their meeting, he keeps track of French time and watches French cinema. Meanwhile, his mother thinks her husband will come back to her.

There is quite a bit of humor here, the performances are good and the film has a pleasant flow, it's just that the visuals feel a bit too unpolished. I do like the long takes, but that means lighting, set design, and framing become even more important, and Tsai doesn't always deliver. Still, a worthwhile film, just not the personal favorite I remembered it to be.

Memories of Underdevelopment

Memorias del Subdesarrollo
1968 / 97m - Cuba
Memories of Underdevelopment poster

One of the first post-Revolution Cuban films. No doubt it garnered a reputation for that feat alone, people love a good 'first' after all. Add to that the strong political overtones and you have a film built for the ages. I can't say I was terribly impressed, though some above-average cinematography did make it somewhat bearable.

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Sergio is a wealthy writer backed by a rich family. His wife and friends all fled to Miami when they had the chance, but Sergio decides to remain in Cuba, the country where he grew up. He looks back at the country's history and reminisces about past events, while a foreign invasion seems more like by the minute.

The film isn't exactly subtle in its political and social message, but that was only to be expected. At least it's not a neo-realist drama, some nice black-and-white cinematography helps to offset some of the less interesting moments. It wasn't enough to let me breeze through the film, but it could've been a lot worse.


2022 / 96m - Ireland
Nocebo poster

A fine little horror film that loses itself a bit too much in its dramatic background story. It kills the tension in the run-up to the finale, which ultimately undermines the atmosphere meticulously built up during the first half of the film. It's a shame, as the potential for a stylish horror darling was definitely there.

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Christine is a respected fashion designer, but she struggles to combine her professional life with her family life. She has strange episodes where she blanks out and suffers from hallucinations. One day a Filipina housemaid shows up on her doorstep, taking a load off her shoulders while starting her healing process.

The horror elements are pretty scarce, but they're aided by an intriguing mystery that builds up purposefully. The performances are strong, the scares are solid (though the special effects could've used some work) and the styling is polished. The finale is pretty fun too, but the dull reveal leading up to it could've used a little extra refining. Good, but far from great.

Tomorrow's Dinner Table

Ashita no Shokutaku
2021 / 124m - Japan
Tomorrow's Dinner Table poster

It's nice to see Zeze go back to director darker dramas. After a tough start, Zeze had to work pretty hard to prove himself a worthy director, so I understand that he wants to enjoy the mainstream now that he finally has the chance. It's not really his strong suit though (or I just don't care enough for those slicker dramas). Tomorrow's Dinner Table is a step in the right direction.

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Yu Ishibashi is 10, but he's really three different kids, living in different parts of Japan. The boys are quite ordinary, but they'll soon face scorn from their parents when small irritations start to fester. Raising a kid while dealing with societal pressures isn't easy, and it's usually the kids that suffer the most.

The performances are strong, the styling is proper (though not too remarkable) and the premise is interesting. Zeze does well switching between three similar but different narratives to underline the core theme of the film. It's a strong and memorable drama, it just doesn't stand out quite enough in an already overcrowded niche to be a personal favorite.

My Beautiful Laundrette

1985 / 97m - UK
My Beautiful Laundrette poster

Somewhat pedestrian drama. I'm sure some of the themes were a bit more eye-opening back then (the culture shock, the LGBTQ angle), take that away and there's not all that much left. Frear's direction is way too functional and the performances are a bit too stilted for a drama, but it's not the worst classic either.

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Omar is a young Pakistani boy. His uncle is giving him the opportunity to run his laundrette. Omar is excited and hires Johnny to clean up the place. Johnny is somewhat of an outcast, who doesn't fit in with either the white and Asian communities in London. Omar doesn't care though, and he develops a crush on Johnny.

The characters are pretty nice, the pacing is decent and the film isn't too depressing. On the other hand, the drama didn't really move me, the direction is bland and the film lacks any truly memorable scenes. Not all that great, but it's better than Frear's American films I've seen, so that's at least something.

The Devil Conspiracy

2022 / 111m - Czech Republic
The Devil Conspiracy poster

Kitsch, for sure, but The Devil Conspiracy is a film that commits to its material, and that's worth something. There's no skimping on genre elements, no less is more excuses, nor a semi-finished plot to avoid some of the more complex scenes. That's not to say the film is without fault, far from it, but I appreciated the bold approach.

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Scientists have found a way to resurrect people from the past. They are after the Shroud of Turin, hoping to revive the ultimate being. They get their hands on the shroud, but the archangel Michael descends to Earth to stop this evil plan. A fierce battle awaits to stop the revival of evil.

While committed, the styling is a little weak, the performances are flakey and none of it is as dark, grotesque, or impressive as it was supposed to be. It's a daring and bold attempt at a religious good vs bad genre flick, but its ambition and pretensions were clearly bigger than the crew's skill.