The Pledge

2001 / 124m - USA
Mystery, Crime
The Pledge poster

A pretty poor crime/mystery flick, one that is pretty typical for the 90s. There's a cast full of familiar faces (no doubt Penn called in a few favors for this film), but none of the actors do a particularly good job, the direction is bland and uninspired and the plot is as generic as can be.

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Jerry, an (almost) retired police officer promises the mother of a murdered child to find the killer. The local police seem to have found a likely suspect, but Jerry isn't convinced he's the culprit. Even though the case is closed, he continues his search and won't stop before he has found the real killer.

Nicholson, Eckhart, Del Toro ... famous names, but none of them does a decent job. The "Policeman's last case" plot is very generic, Sean Penn goes through the motions but adds nothing of value as a director, and two hours is way too long for a simplistic thriller like this one. Not great.


Suzume no Tojimari
2022 / 122m - Japan
Fantasy, Adventure - Animation
Suzume poster

The latest Shinkai is pretty much what you'd expect from Shinkai doing a more elaborate fantasy film. There's still some melodrama, but the focus shifts to adventure and fantasy, which some pretty grand and apocalyptic imagery. Suzume is a perfectly fine film, with superb animation, solid pacing, and an interesting premise that doesn't simply retread familiar fantasy tropes. The only critique I have is that it doesn't really push the boundaries like earlier Shinkai films did. Then again, anime features in general don't seem to be doing that nowadays, so Suzume still manages to stand out.

The Second Wind

Le Deuxième Souffle
2007 / 155m - France
Thriller, Crime
The Second Wind poster

A remake of a Melville classic. I'm not big on French Noirs, and even though Melville certainly isn't the worst of the bunch, his films never really spoke to me. I had a lot more fun with Corneau's remake, purely because of the cinematography. For me, visuals can compensate for a bland plot, and this film is just more proof of that.

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Gu is an infamous gangster, who manages to escape from prison. The entire police force is on his tail, so he decides to pick up his former girlfriend and flee the country. They do need a bit of pocket money to survive, so they plan one final hit. The police have a cunning countermove that will make Gu's life that much harder.

With Auteuil and Bellucci in the lead, and Nahon as a notable secondary character, the cast is on point. It's the colorful, sepia-toned cinematography that does most of the hard work, the rest of the film is by the numbers, but as there's always something nice to look at, it didn't bother me at all.


1914 / 148m - Italy
Cabiria poster

A classic Italian epic. The film is often cited as an inspiration for Griffith's Intolerance, though luckily it's a touch shorter. While no doubt a majestic film in its time, the abundance of intertitles, the very limited camera work and the simple plot make it quite a chore to sit through.

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When a volcano erupts, chaos ensues. At that moment, Cabiria is kidnapped by pirates and sold off to Carthage, where she'll be used as a human sacrifice. Her only hope is Fulvio, a Roman nobleman, who will try his hardest to save Cabiria. The looming war between Carthage and Rome isn't helping his mission.

The constant piano music is grating, the plot is full of repetition and the cinematography isn't very riveting. While this was still early days for cinema, way more interesting films would be released in the following years. Cabiria is mostly just a prelude to mediocre Hollywood epics, not something that excites me.


1964 / 138m - UK
Zulu poster

Hollywood kitsch, only from Britain. It also reminded me of the Chinese big-budget war flicks that are all the rage these days: films that show a nation's power, smarts, and resilience, even (or especially) when the odds are stacked against them. Not really my type of cinema, especially not when it's a classic film.

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The British Army is facing a grand Zulu force in South Africa. The Brits are greatly outnumbered and the Zulu warriors are disciplined fighters. Two British generals have very different ideas on how to take on the enemy forces. A 12-hour-long battle follows, with a pretty predictable victor.

The music is quite tiring, the film is colorful but very kitsch, and the big battle is rather dull. The film is just way too schmaltzy for my taste and with no decent presentation to keep my mind occupied in the meantime, the runtime is indefensible. Not a film I enjoyed, even when my expectations were pretty low.

Anonymous Animals

2020 / 64m - France
Fantasy, Thriller
Anonymous Animals poster

A peculiar film with a simple but gripping concept: what if animals treated humans like we treat them? Yes, this is a rather activist film with a clear and unmistakable message, but it's executed in such a way that it can be enjoyed regardless of its intent, and that makes all the difference.

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Three segments show the terrible ways some people treat animals: a dog comes across a stray person by the road and takes him home. A group of people is held on a farm like cattle, and a deer is standing guard by the side of the forest, waiting to start his hunt for a human on the run.

The cinematography is very stark and deliberate, the costumes are surprisingly effective for a low-budget film, and the sound design is the real star here. The presentation is stylish and moody, adding a tangible sense of dread, it's just that the message feels a bit too simplistic and one-sided for the film to be a real stand-out. The runtime is short, still, I feel more could've been done to elaborate on the concept. An interesting film though!

Treasure City

2020 / 92m - Hungary
Treasure City poster

Well-made, but not terribly original. It's one of those character dramas where seemingly unrelated people cross each other's paths in a limited time span. The cinematography is above average and there are some interesting narrative strands, but the runtime is a little limiting and safe for a select few moments, the film has trouble setting itself apart from its peers.

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One night in Budapest. People are living their lives, facing everyday drama. Parents are struggling to raise their kids, women feel forced they live a life they didn't ask for, while others are demonstrating for a better nation. All these lives will pass each other by, shortly connecting, only to drift off again to other destinations.

The warm and colorful cinematography is a plus, some slightly fantastical moments (like the ending) bring much-needed variation into the otherwise relatively mundane drama. The way the different stories connect isn't too special and with quite a few characters on display, a somewhat longer runtime would've been justified. It was better than I expected though.

Evil Dead Rise

2023 / 97m - USA
Evil Dead Rise poster

The best one so far. I'm not a big Evil Dead fan, the originals weren't very funny nor creepy (and cheaply made), so I didn't particularly look forward to whatever this was supposed to be (a prequel I guess). I was happily surprised, not in the least because brutal horror blockbusters are few and far between these days. And Evil Dead Rise delivers.

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An earthquake in LA uncovers a hidden chamber underneath a rundown building, where the Book of the Dead is buried, together with some records. Upon playing the records, a young kid unleashes mayhem upon the building he lives in. Evil possesses its inhabitant, with only one goal in mind: kill whoever crosses their path.

The kills are pretty gruesome, there's a welcome level of creativity to the horror and the execution is on point. It's not the scariest film ever, but it is rather brutal and relentless. Cronin has a knack for horror cinema, and while the connection with the original films may be a little thin, Rise is a lovely horror film in its own right. Good fun.

Roots Search: Shokushin Buttai X

1986 / 45m - Japan
Sci-fi, Horror - Animation
Roots Search: Shokushin Buttai X poster

A fun but extremely generic space sci-fi anime. With only 45 minutes on the clock, Roots Search doesn't have much time to elaborate on the plot and characters, but it would've been nice if it hadn't stuck so closely to its genre cliches. The limited animation and predictable outcome stand in the way of a more memorable experience.

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A space station finds itself in the warp path of a smaller vessel. A collision is barely averted, but as soon as the vessel appears, the station receives an SOS message. An expedition is sent out to explore the vessel, and all they find are corpses, and one single unconscious survivor. There is something else on board though, and it has some very unique powers.

The sci-fi elements are nice enough, but the art style is pretty limited, as is the quality of the animation. The plot is generic and the film charges through it with little conviction. If it weren't for the fact that I like this type of sci-fi there wouldn't have been much of note here, I still enjoyed it for what it was though. Just don't expect too much of it.

Babo 73

1964 / 57m - USA
Babo 73 poster

This is where it all started for Downey Sr's career as a director. A short and absurd little comedy that reminded me a bit of Soderbergh's Schizopolis. Wonky puns, random jokes, and some political stabs are the main pull of this film, which plays more like a mockumentary than an actual narrative.

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The newest president of the United Status lives in an old villa, from where he tries to govern his country. He is facing the growing threat of racial inequality, but he also has to navigate the ideological differences of his three most trusted advisors: a reactionary, a liberal, and a radical thinker.

This was a cute experiment, but a bit too repetitive to keep things fresh for an hour. There's definitely some fun to be had and some decent laugh along the way, it's just that halfway through the puns and jokes don't really go anywhere new, and the film becomes a bit too predictable. Better than expected though.

A Wounded Fawn

2022 / 91m - USA
A Wounded Fawn poster

An ambitious horror film, but the execution is subpar. There are some good ideas here but it felt like I was watching some 90s direct-to-video project that was only recently recovered. Apart from the soundtrack, which almost mimicked Kawai's work on Ghost in the Shell, it was just messy.

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Meredith has only recently recovered from a troubled relationship when she meets Bruce, a mysterious art dealer who invites her to spend the weekend at his cabin. Once there she feels ill at ease, and not without reason. Bruce is a serial killer who thinks a mythical figure is ordering him to kill women.

When horror is mixed with the art scene, kitsch is never far off. A Wounded Fawn was unable to escape that dreary fate. The performances are pretty bad, the effects almost comical, and while the soundtrack is cool, it's too unfitting to compensate for failures elsewhere. I appreciate the effort to do something different, but the execution just wasn't good enough.

Lupin III vs Cat's Eye

Rupan sansei vs Kyattsu ai
2023 / 92m - Japan
Comedy, Crime
Lupin III vs Cat's Eye poster

A franchise crossover between Lupin III and Cat's Eye. It's an easy way to introduce new people to unfamiliar franchises, and so I was the perfect target audience for this film. Except that based on this, I probably won't make a big effort to seek out Cat's Eye. Not that this was a bad film, but it's the Lupin cast that makes it fun.

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Lupin is eyeing three paintings, created by the father of the Cat's Eye ladies. He is a crafty thief and manages to steal them right from under their noses. The Cat's Eye women chase down Lupin, but of course, there's more to the theft than meets the eye. A big art organization also wants their hands on the paintings, for less lofty reasons.

I'm not sure if Seshita's 3D treatment was the best style to bring these two worlds together, but it does make for some rather dynamic action scenes. The plot is decent enough and it's a nice touch that they end up in Paris (Asian art heist films often do), it's just that I found the Cat's Eye cast a bit too dull and generic. Not bad, just not all that remarkable either.

The Red and the White

Csillagosok, Katonák
1967 / 90m - Hungary
The Red and the White poster

The atrocities of war, now shown through the eyes of Hungarian troops who fought together with the Red Army. It's a very popular theme in cinema and most films are pretty similar in their handling of the subject. The only thing that stands out here is the cinematography, though not by a lot.

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During the Russian Civil War, the region around Volga is home to many disputes between the Red and White Armies. Hungarian troops join the Bolsheviks, hoping to protect their land, but the reality of war is cruel, and no matter how noble people's intentions are for joining, the insanity of war always gets to them.

I appreciated the above-average cinematography, but the rest of the film didn't really appeal to me that much. I didn't think the film was all that effective, the performances were somewhat wooden and the music was a letdown. It's certainly not the worst of its kind, but I've seen better.


2015 / 85m - Japan
Stop poster

Ki-duk's peculiar excursion to Japan, and one of his most elusive films. I'm not really sure what prompted him to make this particular film, but it felt more like a fleeting experiment than a feature belonging to his core oeuvre. There are a few too many ideas and narrative twists here, which hurts the overall coherence.

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A young couple lives close to Fukushima when disaster strikes. They're quickly evacuated, but soon after the government contacts them as their baby is almost certain to be affected by the radiation. Abortion seems to be the only viable solution, but Miki's husband wants to keep the baby.

What looks like an abortion drama (Ki-duk style) morphs into a film about radicalization after a few halfway twists. And the ending ... well, I won't spoil anything, but it's certainly one of the strangest things I've seen in any Ki-duk. There are some solid ideas here, it's just a little too scatterbrained, other than that the styling and performances felt a tad cheap. Stop is far from his best work, but it's still pretty unique.

The second film in the Senritsu Kaiki series reboot. Also the final one (I think, because keeping track of Shiraishi's output is quite the challenge). It's decent enough, but I understand why they didn't continue this project. After the climax of the main series, these singular episodes feel a bit barren and simplistic, turning them into pretty generic J-horror films.

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Kudo receives another video from one of his fans. Sakurai is a recluse who runs into a strange girl when he's shooting a video close to the beach. Smitten by the woman he follows her home, where he discovers something quite peculiar is going on in her household. The girl turns out to be a yokai, so Sakurai calls on Kudo to help him out.

The lore here is pretty fun (snake women and UFOs), but the horror elements are too generic and it just isn't scary enough to leave a strong impression. That's nothing new of course, but at least the main series built up to an outrageous finale, this is just another very basic Yokai encounter. It's perfectly fine if you're after some decent Shiraishi horror filler, but the man can do better than this.


2023 / 93m - USA
Sci-fi, Adventure
65 poster

I went in completely blank, that might not have been the best idea. I was looking for a fun sci-fi flick, but what I got was Adam Driver battling hordes of dinosaurs. Yes, there are sci-fi elements, but I'm not quite sure what they even added to the film. The mix just didn't really work for me.

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Mills wakes up from his cryosleep when his spaceship is suddenly facing a meteor shower. He is too late to steer clear of the danger and the ship gets damaged. He has only option left, which is to crash land on a nearby planet. Of course, this is Earth, some 65 billion years ago, when dinosaurs still roamed our planet.

This is mostly just two people trying to escape some hungry dinosaurs, in a rather hostile environment. The build-up of tension is lacking, there's too much drama in between and the finale is lackluster. It's a semi-decent genre film with some thrills, but I expected more from these directors based on their previous efforts.

The Hole

1998 / 95m - Taiwan
Drama, Fantasy, Musical
The Hole poster

Watching back these older Tsai films, I'm amazed at how dryly absurd they are. They're not full-blown comedies, but they're certainly not just pure dramas either. I had quite a bit of fun revisiting The Hole, the biggest problem for me was the rather plain styling, which Tsai did better in some of his later films.

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A pandemic is holding Taiwan hostage, while the rain won't stop falling. People are struggling to survive, more specifically, two tenants are having a hard time when a hole in the floor inadvertently ties their lives together. It's a very uncomfortable situation, but the hole also creates the potential for a new friendship.

There isn't much dialogue, the pacing is pretty slow and the musical intermezzos are somewhat random (though the lyrics do match the state of the relationship between the two). The dry/sly sense of humor is delightful though and the mix of contrasting elements is quirky. If Tsai hadn't improved his very formula in The Wayward Cloud this might still be a personal favorite, now it just felt a little too much like a try-out for his ultimate masterpiece. It's still a very good film though.

Shadow Skill

1995 / 52m - Japan
Sci-fi, Action - Animation
Shadow Skill poster

A fun and short action anime, though one that might benefit from prior familiarity with the franchise. I had none, and while it was easy enough to get into and understand the basics of the Shadow Skill lore, it did feel like arriving late to the party. Then again, I don't think it was interesting enough to get through whatever preceded it just to watch this film.

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Gau is a young boy who lives to avenge his parents. He travels around with Elle, his adopted sister, a skilled fighter of the Karuda School of martial arts. Gau trains hard to become the ultimate fighter but to learn all the tricks of the Karuda, Gau will have to look beyond pure strength and power. Helping him out is Scarface, one of the most feared Karuda fighters.

Considering the short runtime, a bit too much time is spent on drama and sentimentality. It's clear that the film's strength lies in the action, both the choreography and the animation are pretty cool, as are the enemy designs. Other than that, this is fairly generic anime material. Fun filler, but hardly the most memorable of films.

Bleed with Me

2020 / 80m - Canada
Horror, Thriller
Bleed with Me poster

A very simple mix of thriller and horror elements that thrives on mood. The build-up is just a bit too slow and the finale too soft to make a lasting impression, but Moses shows promise and it's a nice touch that the film doesn't come with any easy answers. Decent horror filler in other words.

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Rowan is invited to spend the week together with Emily and her boyfriend in a remote cabin. It's the ideal opportunity to take a little breather from life. As they get to talking, it quickly becomes clear that Rowan hides a somewhat dark past, though she's not really willing to speak about her issues directly.

Moses plays a guessing game, with Rowan clearly struggling with mental issues, though unwilling to tell or show what exactly is wrong with her. The two other characters are drawn into the mystery and the audience is left to its own device to figure everything out. If the atmosphere had been a bit stronger and more oppressive this might've been an impressive film, but I appreciated its intentions.

Luminous Woman

Hikaru Onna
1987 / 118m - Japan
Luminous Woman poster

Somai is one of Japan's forgotten treasures. It took me long enough to (re)discover this interesting director, but I'm a fan now. Even his older films are still pretty appealing. Point in case: Luminous Woman. This underseen film is a challenging romance with some eye-popping beautiful scenes, right up my alley.

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A rugged mountain man travels from Hokkaido to Tokyo to reconnect with the woman he loves, once there things go differently than he expected. He discovers she has fallen for a shady club owner. Meanwhile, the man encounters a pop singer who wants to make it big into the opera scene.

Interesting characters, solid performances, and superb cinematography make Luminous Woman quite the treat. It's a tad too slow and long to be a true personal favorite, but some of the scenes are absolutely stunning and will be burnt on my retinas forever. This film puts me halfway through Somai's oeuvre, I'll be making sure to get through the other half too.