2008 / 137m - Italy
Gomorrah poster

Italian Mafia flick, but with a more modern/realistic twist. I guess that's why this film made a name for itself, and it's exactly why it kept my interest during the first half. The appeal didn't last though, as the bottom line isn't that different from more traditional Mafia films, with some of the characters being just as irritating.

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The area between Naples and Caserta is home to one of the most influential Mafia organizations, a network of smaller clans that created the Camorra, a system that everyone involved has to obey. For the people living in the area, there's no escaping these criminal influences.

There are some more modern touches in the cinematography and score, but they aren't as prevalent as I'd hoped. The performances are decent, but the characters can get quite annoying (certainly the two wannabe crooks who go against the clans) and the film's a tad too long. Not all that bad, but I have no idea what all the fuzz was about and the second half lost my attention.


2022 / 136m - USA
Action, Crime
Ambulance poster

Bay's latest didn't make many waves. Not too surprising maybe, as it's a pretty basic action flick, sporting some of Bay's usual touches, but not at their most extreme. What rests is pretty decent Hollywood action fare, which is fine while watching, but isn't the most memorable or recommendable.

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When his insurance isn't coming through, Will has to find another way to pay for his wife's experimental surgery. He seeks out his brother, a professional criminal, and together they plan a heist. They get away with the money, but the police are right on their tail. To escape, they hijack an ambulance.

The camera work is dynamic, which helps the action scenes a lot, but that's a given with Bay. The scope of the film is rather small, yet it still ends up feeling pretty epic and grand. The thing is, this is just another heist flick with some cool action scenes and a couple of police chases. The execution is solid, but that's all there is.

The Big 4

2022 / 141m - Indonesia
Comedy, Action
The Big 4 poster

Timo Tjahjanto takes on the action/comedy genre and does so with plenty of glee. I'm not sure if it's the best niche for him, considering Tjahjanto's best films tend to be rawer and darker, but he had enough talent to turn this into an entertaining romp. If a tad long and maybe not all that memorable.

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When Dina's father is murdered, she uses her professional skills to track down the killers. The clues take her to a remote island, where she learns about her father's secretive life. His enemies quickly become her own, and she'll have to team up with her father's former team to keep them at bay.

There's plenty of action, the comedy keeps things light and Tjahjanto's horror background shines through from time to time, but somehow the film never quite reaches the level of cool it so desperately chases. 140 minutes is also way too long for this type of film, even though the pacing was solid. Fun, but I was hoping for more.

Avatar: The Way of Water

2022 / 192m - USA
Fantasy, Adventure
Avatar: The Way of Water poster

13 years after Cameron "gifted" us the first film, he returns with the first in a series of sequels. I'd forgotten most about the first one already, apart from the fact that it was incredibly long, gaudy, and cheesy. This second film is just more of the same, and that's not a good thing at all.

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Jake and Neytiri are still living on Pandora, where they created their own little family. The peace is only short-lived, as an old threat returns to Pandora, and Jake is forced to flee the forest and build a new home near a reef. The people there are quite hostile toward Jake, but he won't back down and he'll fight anything who tries to touch his family.

Technically it may be quite impressive, but it's such an aesthetic eyesore that I simply couldn't enjoy a single thing of it. The CG looks utterly ridiculous, Pandora is the worst kind of color barf and the creatures look like they were designed by old AI. Add to that some cheesy drama, a bland plot, a terrible score, and a runtime crossing the 3-hour mark, and you have yourself one pretty bad film.


2020 / 119m - Japan
Sakura poster

An odd little drama. The first half is very sweet, gentle, and heartwarming, but underneath that layer of happiness lurks a darkness that isn't so much evil or malignant, but still has a very severe impact on the characters involved. The second half hits pretty hard, also due to the contrast with the first part, well-played by director Yazaki. Other than that, you get a Japanese drama that is pretty much by the numbers, sporting polished cinematography, a pleasant score, and excellent performances. The interesting twist is what makes Sakura stand out, well worth watching for fans of the genre.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

1947 / 104m - USA
Drama, Fantasy
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir poster

A classic romance, with light fantasy touches. Don't expect too much from those though, one of the characters is a ghost (at least, the plot says he is, but the film doesn't make much of an effort to make him look like one), and that's about it. The romance then is extremely dull and proper, so disappointment all over.

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A widow moves to a cottage near the sea, where she plans to make something of her life. The house is haunted by the ghost of a sailor, but rather than deter the woman to stay, his presence is appreciated. She does meet another man, a livelier specimen, meaning that some tough choices lie in front of her.

The classic British vibe is quite dusty, the romance and the drama aren't too interesting and the fantasy elements are downright disappointing. At least the mood is quite light, and the drama isn't too pervasive, but a shorter, more concise, and somewhat more dynamic film would've been a lot easier to stomach.

High & Low: The Worst X

2022 / 119m - Japan
High & Low: The Worst X poster

Shigeaki Kubo is gone, three new directors take his place. The result is an entertaining high school brawler, that lacks the extravagant flair that Kubo brought to the franchise. It's a good film, certainly if you like this kind of poser action, but it's by far one of the worst in the franchise, which is a little disappointing.

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Three years after the events of the first film, the feud between Oya and Housen is still going strong. New gangs are on the horizon though, and when they team up to take on Oya, Oya is forced to revise its old bonds to make sure they come out victorious. Cue a big fight to determine who is the toughest gang in the neighborhood.

The characters are a fun bunch, the fights are chaotic and dynamic, and the pacing is pleasant. The cinematography isn't quite on the same level as the previous films though, and there's a bit too much drama, messing up the balance with the action scenes. I had a good time with it, but I was hoping for a bit more.

3ft Ball & Souls

Sanshaku Tamashii
2017 / 93m - Japan
Drama, Fantasy
3ft Ball & Souls poster

A bit of an oddity, this one. The film starts as a pretty straight-up genre flick, not too original, but a fun take on a familiar concept. Rather than stick with it, there's a big turnaround in the second half where the film goes full-on drama. I'm not sure if this was the best decision, to be honest, but here we are.

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Four people meet up after getting to know each other on an internet forum. They plan to commit suicide together, but their plan falters and the bomb goes off way too early. To the leader's surprise, he is transported back in time, repeating the same events until he can stop the bomb from going off.

The repeating day structure is nothing new, the small group of people "stuck" in a small room is pretty familiar territory too, though the spin on it is quite nice. The drama didn't work for me though, and it made the film look like a suicide hotline-sponsored warning video. A pretty interesting experiment, just not entirely successful.

The Savage Five

Wu Hu Jiang
1974 / 91m - Hong Kong
Action, Adventure
The Savage Five poster

It's a little hard to believe it took me more than 80 films into Cheh Chang's oeuvre to arrive at this film. It's a quintessential Shaw Bros martial arts production, featuring familiar faces, a pretty common setup, and plenty of action scenes to make sure the 90-minute runtime passes quickly and effortlessly. It doesn't get more genre than this.

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A gang of robbers plans a successful heist and gets away with the safe. They find shelter in a nearby village, where they terrorize the villagers and force a locksmith to help them get the safe open. Luckily, there's a group of noble heroes who is willing to stand up against the bandits, but it'll come to a battle to the end before the dispute is settled.

People who've seen a handful of Shaw Bros films should know what to expect. There's really nothing exceptional about The Savage Five, which is both good and bad. It's fun martial arts filler that won't disappoint fans of the studio, but it's not exactly memorable nor essential in any way. And if you have no idea about the whole Shaw Bros niche, there are better films to start with.


Hotel Leikeu
2020 / 101m - South Korea
Lingering poster

A rather straightforward South-Korean horror flick. A bit too basic maybe, because the film makes no real effort to bring anything new to the table. The bigger problem is that it isn't all that scary or thrilling. The base quality is there and the film still functions quite well as basic horror filler, but that's about it.

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Yoo-mi has no way to care for her younger sister, so she drops her off at the hotel of one of her mother's friends. It's either that or the orphanage. The woman convinces her to stay for a couple of days, and Yoo-mi obliges reluctantly. It doesn't take long before she starts seeing strange apparitions.

The setting is lovely and the cinematography is above par. The performances are solid too, but that's where the good critique ends. The story is rather dull, the scares are boring and the drama takes up too much space. It's just way too generic to leave any kind of mark. Not bad, but extremely forgettable.

California Crisis

California Crisis: Tsuigeki no Juuka
1986 / 45m - Japan
Action, Adventure - Animation
California Crisis poster

A fun and action-packed anime. It's a tad random and more than a little unfinished (the plot really just stops halfway through, leaving a bunch of core elements completely unexplained), but the animation is solid and the art style is pretty cool. It's also an amalgam of familiar genre elements, so even though the film lacks explanations, it's not too difficult to fill in the blanks.

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Noera is an aimless guy, Marcia a very carefree woman. They meet by accident when they pass each other on the freeway, only to be interrupted by a heist on a military truck. The situation spirals out of control, but they are able to leave unscathed, with a mysterious object to boot. This object puts a big target on their backs though.

The American comic book-like touches are an interesting stylistic choice, not in the least because they are part of the animation, giving the film a very detailed and lush look. The plot is trivial, simple, and unfinished, but it's a good hook for some cool action sequences. Certainly not the most memorable anime, but fun filler nonetheless.


2020 / 95m - New Zealand
Reunion poster

Elevated horror on the cheap. It's only a matter of time before B-horror productions would figure out the clichés of the elevated horror hype, and would try to mimic them on a budget. Reunion isn't even the worst attempt, but it's obvious that it's a bit of a half-hearted affair, that fails on both the drama and the horror side.

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When her mother decides to sell her house, Ellie returns to see it one last time. But once she's there, old traumas resurface and she starts seeing the ghost of her sister, who died there when she was still very young. Piece by piece the events that transpired all these years come back to Ellie.

The performances aren't that great, Mahaffy does his best to build up a mood, but never quite gets there, and the mystery elements are poor and derivative. It's a pretty short film and as pure filler, it's certainly not the worst, but I'm not the biggest fan of the niche to begin with, and even then I've seen this executed way better.

Ranma ½: The Movie 2, Nihao My Concubine

Ranma ½: Kessen Tôgenkyô! Hanayome o Torimodose!!
1992 / 60m - Japan
Comedy, Adventure - Animation
Ranma ½: The Movie 2, Nihao My Concubine poster

The second Ranma movie offers pretty much the same kind of entertainment as the rest of the franchise, though it does feel considerably more like filler. Rather than a movie, it's more of a spring or summer special, with the Ranma crew chilling on the beach. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but with only 60 minutes on the clock, it means it all feels very flimsy.

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Ranma et all are enjoying some time off at the beach. Enjoying might not be the best word though, because they love to argue among themselves. A little further down the shore, a sailor finds himself stranded with his women friends. There's also a prince who apprehends the entire lot and wants to marry one of the girls. Just another day in the Ranma universe in other words.

The characters are fun, the animation isn't anything special but not too bad for this type of thing and while the plot might be just a little too thin, it does provide ample opportunities for the usual Ranma weirdness. I did like the first film better, as it was a little more padded with oddness, but if you're looking for light filler, this is a pretty safe bet.

Goodbye Cruel World

Gubbai Kurueru Warudo
2022 / 126m - Japan
Goodbye Cruel World poster

Ohmori tackles the crime genre. It's a pretty good match for his grim style and the result is as good as expected. It's just that I know Ohmori can do better and Goodbye Cruel World sticks to the conventions a little too closely. Where it differs, it tries to mimic classic American gangster conventions, not something I really care for.

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Five people, not knowing who they are, come together for a heist. They rob some gangsters who are holed up in a love hotel, stealing a large sum of cash. They get away with it initially, but the Yakuza want their money back and a detective is brought in to figure out who planned the heist.

The cast is pretty cool, Ohmori mixes contemporary and classic gangster elements and the story has some solid twists and turns. It's all pretty damn good, but it never becomes great or outstanding. And there's no lack of gangster films in Japan, so this one simply didn't stand out enough for a higher score. Still, fans of the genre owe it to themselves to give it a whirl, they won't be disappointed.

Strange Stories: Book of Six Realms

2020 / 88m - China
Fantasy, Action
Strange Stories: Book of Six Realms poster

A fun little streamer epic. It's one of the many and people who've had their eye on the Chinese streamer market will certainly recognize the type of film they're dealing with here. Don't expect a blockbuster-type production, but a swift and genre-centric film that aims to please. If you're okay with that, Cong Zhao delivers a mighty fun flick.

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The plot is like an umpteenth mix of familiar elements from like-minded films. The monster realm and the human realm are in constant battles with each other. This time around we're dealing with a bad guy named Cheng Shang, and his plot to rule the world. Enter some heroes who are tasked to save the world, and that's about it really.

The CG is less than great, but it is often used in a rather aesthetically pleasing way, so it's definitely not as bad as some of its peers. The demon worlds are pretty fun, the action is solid and the pacing is perfect. It's another solid genre film, the kind China is producing en masse these days.

Cocaine Bear

2023 / 95m - USA
Comedy, Horror
Cocaine Bear poster

Based on true events. It's not a lie, but Cocaine Bear is a very straightforward horror/comedy that makes no attempt at being realistic in any common sense of the word. It takes a weird event and makes it even more absurd, and that's what makes it fun. It could've been funnier though.

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A bag full of cocaine lands in a forest, where it sits until a bear runs across it. The bear makes a great meal out of it and becomes addicted, if not violently mad. The people who just happen to be in the neighborhood are in for the fright of their life when they cross the bear, who is looking for his next hit.

The characters are pretty over-the-top, everything is played for laughs and the pacing makes sure that whatever joke doesn't hit doesn't linger too long. The weirdest thing though is that the film isn't quite as crazy as it sounds, and the second half felt a bit more pedestrian because of that. Still, good fun, as long as you don't expect the world from it.

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Quiet

El perro Que No Calla
2021 / 73m - Argentina
The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Quiet poster

A pretty typical arthouse affair. It's shot in black and white (because of conventions), and it has a meandering plot and some minor genre elements thrown in for good measure. It's a short film and I didn't really mind it, at the same time, I don't think it had anything remotely interesting to say.

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Sebastián tries to make ends meet as a graphic designer. The problem is that his dog misses him a lot when he's from home, and his neighbors complain about the constant howling. Sebastián takes his dog to work, but there he's given an ultimatum. Either the dog goes, or Sebastián goes. He picks the latter.

What you get are small vignettes, parts of Sebastián's life as he takes on the odd job, or just chills with his dog. There is an absurd streak here, which surfaces during a cataclysmic event, but it remains very understated. Not the worst of its kind and it's a difficult film to hate, it's just not all that memorable either.


2020 / 80m -
Shortcut poster

An Italian/German co-production with a British cast (so it has broader international appeal) and a horror/fantasy vibe. It's a pretty typical Italian thing to do, sadly these projects rarely deliver. There certainly is enough potential here, but when it comes down to the details, Shortcut falters.

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Five kids are on a school bus when the driver has to take a little detour because trees are blocking the road. A little further down the road a dead animal forces them to stop again. This time, the driver is overpowered by a serial killer on the loose. When the bus stops in a dimly lit tunnel for a third time, they have no idea what's waiting for them in the dark.

The cinematography is cool, the score is moody, and director Liguori's decision to go full-in on the atmosphere is one I wholeheartedly support. It's just that the film is a bit loud and messy, with makes it hard to build up tension, and the monster really looks pretty ridiculous. Other than that, I liked this quite a bit.


2022 / 99m - France
Action, Thriller
Athena poster

This was an experience. A film that starts with a bang and never really lets up until the very end. It's all Gavras' direction, who places his camera in the middle of the action and makes the audience part of the escalation. If visceral cinema is what you're after, this is a film that deserves your attention.

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When Abdel's younger brother dies, he is fed up. He riles up the people of the Athena district, robs a police station blind, and returns with weapons to turn the district into a fort. He finds himself at the heart of a stand-off between them and the police, but he won't just be facing outsiders.

The camerawork (lots of long takes) is impressive, the performances are great, the cinematography and score are well in sync and the pacing is excellent. Maybe it slows down just a tad too much in the middle, other than that I was fully immersed. Quite brutal and unsubtle, but those are positives in my book.