Ripples

Hamon
2023 / 120m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
Ripples poster

The latest Ogigami isn't a true return to form, but at least she regained some of her former quirkiness. In a sense, it's a pretty typical Japanese family drama, only with more bite and a more dry comedy mixed in. That makes it a somewhat peculiar film that may not work for everybody (especially if you don't pick up on the comedy).

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After the Fukushima disaster, a family man freaks out and leaves his family behind. When he finally returns, the grandfather has passed away, his son has moved out of the house, his wife has joined a weird water cult and he is suffering from cancer. Even though his wife is somewhat reluctant to take him back in, her cult doesn't allow her to bear any grudges.

Ogigami finds comedy in the little things, though her signature dryness is given an extra dimension by a darker edge that I don't remember from her other films. The drama is solid, the presentation clean and the performances are on point (with some of her regulars returning). It's not a stand-out in her oeuvre but a step up from her previous films.

#Manhole

#Manhōru
2023 / 99m - Japan
Comedy, Thriller
#Manhole poster

Kumakiri's latest is a smart thriller with a devilish dark comedy streak. It's been a while since Kumakiri made a straightforward genre film, but he's clearly still capable enough. #Manhole is claustrophobic, full of twists and turns and it offers a pretty sarcastic take on social media. The production is slick, there is hardly any fat and whenever the film looks like it is about to settle down, the story is given yet another extra spin. It's not a film that transcends its genre roots, but if you're looking for some prime but simple genre fun, this is no doubt one of the better offerings this year.

Mountain Woman

Yama Onna
2022 / 100m - Japan
Fantasy
3.5*/5.0*
Mountain Woman poster

A stylish and polished Japanese period drama. It is somewhat reminiscent of Twilight Samurai, mixed with Tsukamoto's Killing, and an added touch of mysticism that gives the film its unique signature. Mountain Woman doesn't fall into the usual poverty porn traps, but a jolly film this is not. Something for the fans of arthouse cinema in other words.

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A young woman grows up in a family that is looked down upon for something their great-grandfather did. All the villagers live in poverty, and when she takes the blame for stealing a little rice from the storage room, she decides to leave the village and live her life on a nearby mountain, where spirit creatures supposedly roam the forest. There she meets a mysterious man.

The cinematography is moody, the performances are strong and the pacing is slow but deliberate. The film could've used a more prominent soundtrack, the plot is a little too predictable and the couleur locale isn't quite as intriguing as suggested. In the end, there's something missing to make this a real stand-out, but fans of Japanese period dramas should definitely give it a go.

Mukuro Trilogy

2015 / 70m - Japan
Horror - Anthology
3.5*/5.0*
Mukuro Trilogy poster

Three short films from Katsumi Sasaki, bundled into a neat little trilogy. They're all pretty gory and low-budget affairs, but they're no ordinary, run-of-the-mill splatter films. Sasaki's signature is more cinematic, not quite focused on the gore (though it is very much present), but with a keen eye (and ear) for atmosphere.

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The shorts all revolve around revenge, though the execution is slightly different for each short. The first one has a strong nihilistic finish, the second one has crazy cult vibes and the final one is a more classic female revenge narrative. You won't really be watching these films for the plot or characters though.

I expected something cheaper-looking, more akin to the straight-to-video horror we've seen from Japan this past decade. But the films are aptly styled (I noticed special thanks for Ken Ninomiya in the credits of the first short, I'm not surprised at all) and come with strong soundtracks. The gore is pretty in-your-face and each short has at least one truly gruesome moment. Good fun if you like your horror hardcore and stylized.

Breakout from Oppression

Zui Jia Bo Sha
1978 / 78m - Hong Kong
Action
2.0*/5.0*
Breakout from Oppression poster

One of the few Chia-Liang Liu films that had escaped me so far. While it's nice to finally catch up with it, the quality of the release was pretty dire and probably did have some effect on my overall impression. That said, it's clearly not one of Liu's best films, so while a restoration may help, it's not suddenly going to turn this into a martial arts classic.

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A young letter carrier roams the countryside and is troubled by some corrupt cops. When he enters a nearby village her sees three men darting off. He hears from a woman both her daughters were killed, so he assumes the men had something to do with their murder. He chases them down, but there's more to the story.

Gordon Liu still had hair, that's how old this film is. The martial arts scenes are pretty decent, but nothing quite as slick or polished compared to Liu's more prestigious films. The plot is pretty simple and the presentation could've used a little extra effort. Pure martial arts filler, that just happens to be directed by one of the most lauded directors in the business.

House of Games

1987 / 102m - USA
Thriller, Crime
1.0*/5.0*
House of Games poster

An 80s thriller that garnered some praise back when it was first released. Looking at it now, it's hard to see what people saw in this film. It felt like a very generic thriller, a poorly produced shelf filler with very little appeal beyond its obvious genre traits. And since I'm not that big on crime/thrillers as a genre, there was very little here to keep me entertained.

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Margaret is a famed psychiatrist, whose book did really well. One day a man approaches her, asking Margaret if she can help him conquer his gambling debts. She accepts and decides to join him on one of his nights out. What she doesn't realize is that it is a setup by some conmen in order to teach Margaret a lesson. But the deceit runs deeper still.

The crooked dialogues seem to be somewhat on purpose, but Crouse handles them particularly badly. Not sure why she was cast as the lead, but she does a terrible job. The styling is also subpar, and for a film about conmen, it's all rather predictable. People with a thing for '80s crime may still get something out of it, but this relic clearly wasn't for me.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

1965 / 83m - USA
Action, Crime
2.0*/5.0*
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! poster

A classic cult film. It's not hard to see why this film stood out, but a lot of its initial appeal has melted away. No matter how you look at it, by modern standards, the film is pretty mild, even dull I'd say. I guess Tarantino gave this one a little extra boost a decade or so ago, other than that, I'd hard to see why anyone would still get excited about a film like this.

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Three nightclub dancers want to break with their old life, and they go on a rampage. They take a girl hostage and they come across an old man who lives together with his sons in the middle of the desert. The man is supposed to be hiding a big stash of money, so the girls try to scheme him out of his fortune.

The actors are pretty bad, and what was clearly meant to be risqué and edgy back then, is hardly worthy of exploitation cinema by current standards. But the tone is light, the pacing is slick and it's all about the entertainment value. Far from the greatest film, but there's some fun to be had here.

Undertaker

Sôginin - Andâteikâ
2012 / 64m - Japan
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Undertaker poster

A zombie flick with some odd twists and turns. At times, I felt it was a little too generic, but then something would happen that would pull the film in a different direction. It's a low-budget affair for sure, and it's not a film that completely uproots the zombie genre, but it turned out better than I expected.

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A virus is turning people into zombies. Ryouichi is brought to safety, but the evacuation goes wrong and he is left out in the wilderness. There he meets The Undertaker, a man who is hired by the living to kill their undead family and lovers. Ryouichi joins him, and together they scour the ruins of Japan, in search of the undead.

The desaturated look works in the film's favor, the make-up is pretty effective and the camerawork has its moments, though overall it's a bit of a mixed bag. It's a pretty short film though, which means there's no time for any boredom to set in. Good zombie fun with some welcome tweaks.

Honey

Bal
2010 / 103m - Turkey
Drama
3.0*/5.0*
Honey poster

A slow, yet agreeable Turkish arthouse movie. So far, I haven't had too much luck with Turkish cinema, apart from a handful of random genre films. Their commercial and arthouse selection on the other hand left me wanting, the latter too wrapped up in poverty-drenched drama to get me hooked.

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Yusuf is a young boy whose father Yakup is a beekeeper. He loves to join his dad when he tends to the bees. When they all disappear one day, Yakup moves higher up into the mountains in search of his livelihood. Yusuf decides to stop talking until his father returns. The longer his father stays away, the more worried Yusuf and his mother get.

The cinematography is delicate, while the setting is also less barren than usually the case. The plot is minimal and the characters don't really come to life, but there's a pleasant, comfortable atmosphere that makes it easy to lose yourself in the atmosphere. A bit step up from most other Turkish films I've seen so far.

Money Maker

Ying Qian Zhuan Jia
1991 / 100m - Hong Kong
Comedy
2.5*/5.0*
Money Maker poster

An old Jing Wong comedy that resurfaced not too long ago. It's hardly a Hong Kong essential, but if you like their comedies then there's quite a bit to enjoy here. It almost feels like a best-of, with Wong serving a mix of exorcisms, ghosts, gambling, and crime. But it's really just a comedy.

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A master gambler is set up by her Thai counterpart, who employed a witch to make sure he wasn't going to lose. She returns as a ghost and finds two clumsy men, whom she forces to help her get her revenge. The two try to ignore her, but she knows how to get them to play along with her schemes.

Many familiar faces, many popular genres, all mixed together. The film is pretty cheap, and compared to some of the more prestigious Hong Kong films of that era, it looks second-rate. But it's been a while since I last watched a true Jing Wong comedy, and even though there's nothing that stands out, it is pretty amusing throughout.

What Women Want

2000 / 127m - USA
Comedy, Romance
1.0*/5.0*
What Women Want poster

When Hollywood tackles the male/female divide, it can't end well. Not even when a woman directs the film. Nancy Meyers delivers a 2-hour cringefest, filled with dry clichés and failures to make fun of them. The romance angle is also a complete misfire. It's crazy to think two decades ago this was a veritable blockbuster.

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An old-fashioned marketing guru finds himself cramped by a more female-dominated world. When he gets electrocuted, he is suddenly able to hear the inner thoughts of women. At first, he is annoyed and wants things to return to normal as quickly as possible, but then he begins to see the benefit of his skill.

Gibson and Hunt are a terrible duo, the characters are annoying, the tension simplistic and the comedy lacks any kind of edge. Don't watch this film for the cinematography or score either, apart from some token Sinatra songs there's nothing of note here. A very bad film, misguided and forgettable.