The Cremator

Spalovac Mrtvol
1969 / 95m - Czechoslovakia
The Cremator poster

A film with an interesting premise, but it never quite fulfilled its promise. A cremator gone mad during WWII and a director with an eye for styling sounds like a perfect mix for an off-kilter horror flick, but somewhat I'd hoped for something a bit weirder and more explicit, instead, the film offers a slower and more subdued experience.

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Karl Kopfrkingl manages a big crematorium in Prague during the Second World War. He loves to talk about his job and often loses himself in monologues, which isn't entirely healthy. The more he thinks about it, the more he believes that cremation sets the souls of the dead free.

Hrušínský is pretty great in the lead role, the rest of the cast is also decent, but not half as memorable. The black-and-white cinematography is nice, and the premise of the film is promising, but then the film itself is a tad slow and the finale isn't half as impressive as I'd hoped it would be. Intriguing, but ultimately a tad disappointing.

The Wandering Earth II

Liu Lang Di Qiu 2
2023 / 173m - China
The Wandering Earth II poster

The inevitable sequel. The first film was China's biggest sci-fi film ever, so of course a second one would follow. What could and should've been a massive blockbuster, turned into a somewhat bloated and drama-heavy follow-up. The middle part in particular really holds up the film.

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Humankind is trying to escape the dying sun, its best bet is moving the Earth out of our galaxy. Not everyone agrees as a huge part of the world has more faith in a digital continuation of our species' existence. The construction of 10.000 engines !s essential for humankind's survival, but the project becomes the target of the rebels.

The first hour is pretty spectacular, and so is the final one. If this had been a 2-hour film it would've been perfect blockbuster material. Sadly, there's a middle part that is mostly bad drama and sentiment. It's nice to see Andy Lau make an appearance, but he really wasn't needed here. Sci-fi and special effects are what this series is all about, and only 2/3th of the film delivers that.


2019 / 106m - Senegal
Romance, Mystery
Atlantics poster

An interesting film. Mati Dop swings Senegalese cinema in a European arthouse direction. With some fantastical elements that find their footing during the second half of the film, she steers clear of a purer drama, but the genre elements end up feeling a bit underwhelming and don't do enough to really set Atlantics apart from its peers.

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Fleeing Dakar, hoping for a better future, Souleiman and a few others take the boat to Spain. The bodies of his companions wash ashore some time later, but Souleiman's corpse isn't among them. Ada, his lover, keeps faith that her man is still alive, even though she is arranged to marry an older gentleman.

The soundtrack and the ghostly apparitions that creep up in the second half of the film add an otherworldly feel, which I hadn't really seen before in an African film. The drama isn't all that interesting though and the mystery is never quite as enveloping as it could've been. It's a decent enough attempt, but the execution needed to be better for it to be fully successful.

Triangle of Sadness

2022 / 147m - Sweden
Triangle of Sadness poster

Östlund's latest came with a lot of buzz, but like his previous films, it's a bit hard to pinpoint why exactly this film stands out for so many. It does feature the popular "rich people are bastards" theme, which seems to be a shortcut to success, but the film doesn't really do much with it.

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Two young lovers are invited on a luxury cruise, a little influencer gift. They don't really blend in with the other people on board, but soon they'll have bigger trouble to worry about. A storm is coming, aligning with the customary captain's dinner. The cruise won't be the same after that night.

If you like 150 minutes of looking at rich people being jerks, then this is a real blast. I got bored of it after a while though. The characters felt a little flat, the decadence doesn't translate to the styling of the film and 150 minutes is simply too long. It's not a bad film, but far from good enough to truly win me over.

Summer of 85

Été 85
2020 / 101m - France
Drama, Romance
Summer of 85 poster

I'm not quite sure why I lost track of Ozon's work, but he used to be a director who I kept a close eye on two decades ago. Maybe because his dramas started to feel a bit too pedestrian, even though the base quality is definitely still present, as that is exactly how I'd describe Summer of 85.

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Alex and David are teens who first encounter each other during a little boating accident. They quickly become (more than) friends. The somewhat timid and green Alex is swept away by the charm of David, but he isn't ready for a steady relationship just yet. Their romance is short-lived, then disaster strikes.

The performances are solid but nothing special, the drama is a little predictable, and the styling isn't very memorable. It's an okay drama, that passes the time quite easily, but there's not much here that made a real or lasting impression on me. That said, I should probably catch up with Ozon's remaining films.

While the City Sleeps

1956 / 100m - USA
Thriller, Crime
While the City Sleeps poster

One of Fritz Lang's final films. Lang isn't my favorite 20s German director, but he certainly was a man with talent and vision. A lot of that went missing when he moved to America, where he ended up doing mediocre genre fluff. Point in case, this generic film-noir, which feels much older than it is.

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A serial killer is targeting young women in New York, the son of a media mogul who just took over his father's empire sees it as an opportunity to grow his business. He pressures his three senior executives into getting him scoops, promising them a high-ranking function when they succeed.

The static camera work and the basic black-and-white cinematography make it look like a film from the 40s. The plot is rather generic, the characters are one-dimensional and dreary, and the runtime is too long. I'm sure genre fans will find proper filler here, for me, there's just not enough appeal in these films.


2012 / 131m - USA
Action, Crime
Savages poster

Oliver Stone is going for a fairly simple and commercial crime flick. It's a bit of a random film for Stone but after a bunch of engaged biopics, it feels like a breath of fresh air. I didn't mind Savages so much, at the same time, it's not really a film I'll fondly remember if I remember it at all.

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Two guys hit it big when they become local weed Gods. Their business runs smoothly, but the threat of legalization looms around the corner, so when a Mexican gang wants to buy up their business, it sounds like a pretty good deal. They mess up their chance and find themselves in over their heads.

Some flashy styling choices and a certain self-awareness help to give the film a bit of flair, but the excessive runtime and a basic crime plot keep the film from soaring. Stone is a peculiar director who combines highs and lows, Savages, on the other hand, is a bit more middle-of-the-road. Pretty fun, but unremarkable.

Tale of the Mural

by Yuxi Li
Liao Zhai Zhi Hua Bi
2023 / 79m - China
Fantasy, Action
Tale of the Mural poster

Chinese streamer films keep getting better, though the gains are marginal and there's still some way to go before I could start calling them personal favorites. Tale of the Mural contains some exceptional scenes, but overall it's too formulaic and not all genre elements work as well as they should (the comedy in particular is rather distracting and ill-fitting).

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Two demons are sealed into a magical world hidden behind a mural. The phoenix is taking on the sparrow, a demon with malicious intent. The phoenix sacrifices herself, the key to freeing her lies with a young painter, who has a big crush on the phoenix without actively remembering her. When he visits the mural, he is sucked into the world of the two demons.

The film is a typical mix of fantasy and action, with a romantic back story and some comedy to try and please just about everyone. The colorful cinematography and costumes are amazing, the CG still isn't quite there yet, but it's a clear improvement over most of its peers. Lovely, concise entertainment, if only these films could find a way to be a bit more distinctive they'd be perfect core genre cinema.

Spirit of Wonder: Miss China's Ring

Spirit of Wonder: China-san no Yûutsu
1992 / 42m - Japan
Comedy, Sci-fi - Animation
Spirit of Wonder: Miss China's Ring poster

This was a very nice surprise. Miss China's Ring is a lo-fi sci-fi tale with some pretty cool animation and an attractive art style. I hadn't heard about the film before, which is a tad surprising considering its relatively broader appeal, but it's always cool to bump into a hidden gem. It's not grand enough to be a true anime classic, but that's about the only negative I can come up with.

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Miss China is the owner of a small tavern, she also rents out one of her rooms to an old inventor. The inventor is often late with the rent and his inventions are so outrageous that he can't get proper funding for them. Miss China has a crunch on his apprentice though, and she decides to give the inventors a chance to prove their worth.

The plot is pretty simple and the comedy a little crass, then again this is a short 90s OAV, so what did you expect? I did like the detailed art style and the love that went into the animation, a clear step up from similar projects of the time. The slight sci-fi elements are a nice touch and there's a sweetness and lightness to the film that makes it a very easy watch. Fun.

Smoking Causes Coughing

Fumer Fait Tousser
2022 / 76m - France
Comedy, Sci-fi
Smoking Causes Coughing poster

Where to even begin? The absurdist comedy of Dupieux has found its way to both genre and arthouse fans, a rare feat indeed. Smoking Causes Coughing is a dry parody of the Tokusatsu niche (think Power Rangers), but that doesn't even begin to describe what Dupieux has in store for his audience. A mix of monster cheese, wonky sci-fi, and horror rambles on, often reminiscent of the statement he made so eloquently in his breakthrough film Rubber: no reason. It's a small miracle his films find funding these days, it's a complete mystery how they find praise, but I'm not complaining. I love every single on of them.


1973 / 88m - USA
Sci-fi, Thriller
Westworld poster

I never watched the series, but I was already familiar with the concept of this film, so the discovery phase was pretty much wasted on me. It sounded like a bit of generic tech doom and that is exactly what I got. It's not a film that aged very well, but the pacing is pretty decent and the runtime is short enough to keep my interest.

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A new kind of amusement park. Three areas (the Roman era, the Medieval era, and the Western era) offer the most immersive experience for its visitors. Apart from its human visitors, the place is teeming with Robots who are virtually indistinguishable from their fellow men. Things get hairy when the park loses control over its robot employees.

Robots running amok isn't the most exciting premise in 2023, the three eras didn't do it for me either (not in the least because the main focus lies on the Western era). The performances and effects were somewhat decent though, and the tension does build up properly during the final act. I get why this was once a respected film, but little of its initial appeal remains.

The Unheard

2023 / 125m - USA
The Unheard poster

Familiar territory. Blind people regaining their sight or deaf people regaining their hearing: it's a perfect recipe for mysterious hauntings. The Unheard goes down this very route, the only real issue is that it takes more than two hours to get to the end of it. Way too long for this type of film.

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Chloe undergoes an experimental treatment, hoping she'll be able to hear again. She stays in the summer house of her dad for the time being. The experiment is a big success, but the remoteness of the area starts to get to Chloe and she hears voices that appear to belong to her lost mother.

The performances are decent, but the drama is light, the film isn't quite scary enough and the plot is spread too thin in order to reach the ridiculous runtime. If they'd managed to wrap it up in 90 minutes it would've been fairly pleasant genre filler. It's not a terrible film though, just a bit deluded.

The Stranger by the Beach

Umibe no Étranger
2020 / 59m - Japan
Drama, Romance - Animation
The Stranger by the Beach poster

A typical Japanese island film, only executed as animation. It's not something I've really encountered before, but in the wake of Shinkai's success, it's not all that weird to see films like this emerge. It works pretty well too, especially with the added LGBTQ+ angle, the only problem is that it gets a little too dramatic during the second half.

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Suzu has a tough time growing up as a gay boy on a small island. His family loves him, but the other people on the island don't really understand his feelings. Things change when he meets Mio, a young boy whose mother just died. Suzu fancies him and Mio seems to like him back, but before anything can happen, Mio is forced to move to the main island as he is still a minor.

The animation is decent and the island mood is translated very well. It's also nice seeing a gay-themed animated drama (that goes beyond the usual yaoi appeal), the extra drama added in the second half was completely unnecessary though, and muddles the film. It's not a bad film, but it lacks a defining quality to really set it apart, and it never felt quite confident enough in its core drama.


2022 / 114m - Norway
Comedy, Sci-fi
Blasted poster

Fun, but not quite as funny as it tries to be. Films like Blasted can be a little crummy and cheesy by design in the name of comedy, but they can never cross over into full-on lazy and/or cheap. It never does, but it gets uncomfortably close sometimes, and that takes away from the amusement.

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Sebastian is a nerdy workaholic who has lost the ability to have fun. He drums up some old friends for his bachelor party. Things don't quite as planned when they end up in the middle of an alien invasion. Sebastian and his old friends will have to band together if they want to come out alive.

The film is quite ambitious, doing a mix of sci-fi, comedy (and some light horror) isn't easy on a budget, certainly not for a Norwegian film. The result is pretty solid though. It's never quite as funny, with too many nerdy running gags I could've done without, but if you're looking for a bit of foreign genre fun, it's a pretty nice find.

Fifty Shades Darker

2017 / 118m - USA
Romance, Thriller
Fifty Shades Darker poster

The sequel. While I could understand the first film making a good buck (the book was immensely popular after all), I was way more surprised this sequel actually landed on its legs. The first film was pretty bland, yet people still turned up for this equally uninteresting follow-up. Remarkable indeed.

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Anna and Christian are separated, but not for long. Christian can't live without her and he vows to break with his old life. It will take time and some adjusting, but Anna is willing to give him a second chance. Things get tricky when demons of Christian's past return and complicate his relationship with Anna.

This is like watching a Takashi Ishii film for American housewives. It tries to be a kinky romance, but it's all very cheesy and dull, the leads in particular. Anna and Christian are truly dumb characters, and their relationship is laughable. That's now something a romantic film can survive. Not good.

Lesson in Murder

Shikei ni Itaru Yamai
2022 / 128m - Japan
Lesson in Murder poster

Kazuya Shiraishi doing what he does best: digging into the creepy crevices of the human mind. Regardless of genre, Shiraishi always finds characters that are deeply unrooted and struggling to fit in, and Lesson in Murder is no exception. I kinda like his approach, so it's no surprise I ended up liking this film.

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Masaya returns home for the funeral of his grandma. He receives a letter from a former baker who is spending his time on death row, convicted for 8 murders of minors. Masaya used to frequent his bakery and is intrigued by the letter, what he learns from the man piques his interest even more.

The performances are great, Sadao Abe in particular is really creepy. The plot kept my interest, Shiraishi's style is very fitting and there's a tangible darkness that runs throughout the film. What Lesson in Murder lacks is something that makes it stand out from the crowd, it's a bit too familiar in places. Overall though, I had a pretty good time with it.

Little Big Man

1970 / 139m - USA
Little Big Man poster

Bit of a cheesy Cowboys and Indians flick, but at least it's not quite as wannabe tough and/or cool as some of its more illustrious peers. That makes it much easier to sit through, even though the runtime does its best to get in the way of any enjoyment. Not sure who thought it a good idea to turn this into a 140-minute film.

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Indians take in a young boy, and he grows up learning about their ways and culture. Later, he returns to live with white folk, where he's taught a different way of living. He feels torn in a world where whites and Indians are at constant war with each other, especially when he has to join the fighting.

The film isn't quite as serious as it sounds, which is a good thing, since the sentiment weighs pretty heavy. I didn't really care for Hoffman's characters, nor the drama he is facing during the film, but compared to other Westerns I found this one a relatively easy watch. Far from great, but I'd expected worse.

Purple Noon

Plein Soleil
1960 / 118m - France
Thriller, Crime
Purple Noon poster

One of Delon's first big roles and a story that's a spin-off from The Talented Mr. Ripley, there are your two main reasons a film like Purple Noon has somehow remained relevant after all these years. Other than that, it's just a very basic crime thriller that overstays its welcome and doesn't have too much on offer.

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Ripley is hired by the rich Mr. Greenleaf to call on his son Philippe in Italy and convince him to return home, in order to take over the family business. Philippe isn't very keen to return home, and Ripley falls in love with the lifestyle of his target. So much in fact that he devises a little plan to turn the tables.

The performances aren't great, the cinematography is rather plain, and two hours is way too long for a simple story like the one on display here. It's not that the film is utterly boring, just a bit too generic. It's not a film I'll fondly remember. If I remember it at all that is. Then again, there's not much that I found actively irritating, so there's at least that.