Lost in the Stars

Xiao Shi De Ta
2022 / 121m - China
Mystery, Crime
Lost in the Stars poster

A pretty fun and slick Chinese mystery. Plenty of twists and turns help to bridge the two-hour runtime, but it's the lush production and the lovely setting that provides the biggest payoff. Apart from some small details that cheapened the film, this is a film that should do well internationally (if it gets the chance).

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He Fei can't find his wife, and the police aren't very helpful. When he wakes up the next day, a woman lies beside him, claiming to be his wife. He doesn't recognize her though, but nobody is willing to believe him. Until he finds a lawyer who goes above and beyond to help her clients. With her help, he hopes to unravel the mystery.

The cast is top-notch (happy to see Ni Ni is still around), the exotic setting adds to the appeal, and the plot is pleasantly twisted (though not all that clever). Add some slick cinematography and you have a perfectly fine genre flick that kept me interested from start to finish.


1968 / 130m - USA
Faces poster

A pretty tough Cassavetes. I liked the setup, in theory, but the characters never really came to life and though it felt as if they were supposed to be lived-in and lifelike, I found the performances forced and awkward. The excessive runtime certainly didn't help either, making this a slog to sit through.

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Forst is an elderly, wealthy man, but his life feels empty. He wants to stir things up, so he leaves his wife for a younger woman, hoping this will make him feel something again. Meanwhile, his wife also hooks up with someone younger. These new relationships prove to be quite superficial though.

The empty lives of the rich and wealthy is a subject that has made quite a comeback these past couple of years, but it has the tendency to be a little shallow. What bothered me the most were the exaggerated performances though, especially as most of the film is spent on conversations between the different characters. Not for me.

Fifty Shades Freed

2018 / 105m - USA
Romance, Thriller
Fifty Shades Freed poster

The final part in the Fifty Shades trilogy. It's better than part 2 and on par with the first film. Great cinema this is not, but as thriller filler, it does a pretty solid job. Bonus points for shaving about 15 minutes off of the runtime, so it doesn't drag as much compared to the first two films.

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Our lovely couple is married now, and they're going through some classic marital issues. Less typical is the fact that someone from their past is out to hurt them. Grey becomes very protective of Ana, but she doesn't want to be caged in. The more Grey tries to clip her wings, the more resistant Ana becomes.

The performances are a bit flakey, the plot is generic and a tad ridiculous and I really didn't care too much about the outcome, but the production is decent and the pacing is okay. Not a film I'll be remembering for long, and I'm glad I'm done with the trilogy now, but I've seen much worse.

Panic in the Streets

1950 / 96m - USA
Thriller, Crime
Panic in the Streets poster

I'm not the biggest Kazan fan, nor the biggest fan of noirs, so my expectations were pretty limited going into this film. The result still wasn't great, but it sure was a lot better than I'd figured. Maybe because it is a rather simple narrative without too much padding, but it never dragged as I feared it would.

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When a body washes up on the shore, the police quickly determine the man has been killed. The case becomes a lot more urgent when they find out the victim is infected with the pneumonic plague. They fear his killer may also be infected, so time is of the essence to safeguard the city from further harm.

The medical danger adds a little extra urgency to the film. It's still a little too dialogue-driven for my liking, but at least the pacing was solid and the chase for the killer keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. Thanks to the slightly more original premise, it's a film I might remember a bit more vividly than most other noirs I've watched.

The Exorcist: Believer

2023 / 121m - USA
The Exorcist: Believer poster

Pretty dull. That's what you get when you try to make an elevated horror flick that isn't all that elevated. The build-up is slow, the drama is tepid and the payoff is insufficient. In the end, Believer is nothing more than an extremely basic exorcism film that can't justify its two-hour runtime.

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Two girls plan a seance, as one of the girls wants to connect with her mother who died giving birth to her. They are found three days later, with little recollections of what had happened to them. At first, the town is happy they've returned safe and sound, but it quickly dawns that something is wrong with both girls.

There are some references to the original film, but they feel forced and pandering. The introduction is way too long (shortening it could've cut 30 minutes without losing anything substantial), the performances aren't that great and most of the horror is bland and derivative. Things do pick up during the finale, but by then it was too late to salvage this film.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins poster

There's no doubt some cult appeal here, but I'd never heard of this film before, and I'm not big on cheesy 80s cinema, so whatever appeal there is went completely past me. All I could see was a terribly acted, ridiculously scripted action film that never felt like it was deliberately funny.

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A capable cop disappears from view and is reborn as Remo Williams. A special operative who operates in secret and is sent out on missions to get rid of the most hardened criminals. This low-budget Bond may lack the sass and swagger of his British counterpart, but he is just as lethal.

It's hard to explain how bad Fred Ward is in this film, but it comes very close to Tommy Wiseau levels of shame. It's also crazy they managed to stretch a simple flick like this beyond the two-hour mark, as to make matters worse, the action scenes aren't even any good. Unless you love bad cinema, it's probably best to just skip this one.


1981 / 117m - France
Thriller, Crime
Diva poster

A surprisingly fun noir, though afterward this was clearly a film that was more tailored to my sensibilities. I generally don't care much for noir cinema, as it is quite a dialogue and character-focused genre. Diva on the other hand has an outspoken aesthetic that is carried through until the very end.

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A young fan goes to the opera and secretly records the singer's performance. When others realize he has her performance on tape, they want to steal it from him to sell it on the black market. They're not the only ones after the tape though, another group of criminals believe the tape has incriminating evidence. And so the young fan finds himself in quite a bit of trouble.

The styling is what sets this film apart. Stylish camera and color work, moody lighting, and an atmospheric score kept me interested in what was otherwise a rather basic crime story. It could've been a tad shorter, but some well-placed action scenes made sure the pacing never dipped too low. A cool surprise.


Chikyû de Tatta Futari
2008 / 108m - Japan
Drama, Crime
Sisterhood poster

Early Uchida that showcases the man's talent. Sisterhood is a nice mix of drama and crime cinema, not meant to change either genre forever, but offering a solid dose of appeal for fans of both niches. It earns bonus points for harboring some of that 00s grit, but overall it doesn't quite stand out enough for a higher rating.

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Yui and Ai become sisters when their parents marry. They get along very well, in part because neither one of their parents is very interested in raising them. When the marriage derails seven years later, they decide to run away from home. They end up in Tokyo, where they mess things up when they steal a briefcase from the Yakuza.

The performances are strong, the styling is on point (sporting a sepia-colored hue throughout) and the drama comes with a pleasant edge. If you've seen your share of Japanese dramas it might be a little too familiar, but it's an easy recommendation for people who haven't seen this little gem before.

Landscape with Invisible Hand

2023 / 105m - USA
Comedy, Sci-fi
Landscape with Invisible Hand poster

A quirky little sci-fi. It's not an outright comedy, but Finley leans into the weirdness and absurdity of the story and the result is a remarkable film. It's a peculiar mix of genres that makes it difficult to compare to any other film I've seen. If not for the lack of urgency, this could've been a true gem.

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It's been five years since first contact. We've learned a lot from the aliens, but society has been split in two. The rich live in fancy floating housing projects, the poor live on Earth. Adam is a young artist whose life is about to change when the aliens are impressed by the artwork he creates.

The aliens are strange little creatures, weird, square blobs of meat speaking an unintelligible language and sporting a few key cultural differences. The effects can be a tad too crummy and the plot is somewhat meandering, but the performances are strong and the film kept me on my toes until the very end. A fun surprise.

The Life of Emile Zola

1937 / 116m - USA
The Life of Emile Zola poster

A biography from the 30s. I honestly didn't expect too much, 30s cinema is generally very dialogue-focused and the biopic is one of the least adventurous genres out there. Combine the two and you get the kind of cinema that really isn't for me. And indeed, this wasn't really my type of film.

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Émile Zola is a struggling writer who lives for his craft, even if that means forgoing decent pay. When he notices all the injustices happening in Paris, he decides to use it as fuel for his novels. It makes him a rich man and he can finally marry his girlfriend, but the critique of the establishment also puts a target on his back.

It's an old film, so even though it is set in Paris, don't expect to hear any French. And you'll get plenty of chances to verify, as this film is all talk. The first half of the film focuses mostly on Zola's writing career, while the second half is dedicated to his part in the Dreyfus affair (a piece of history I was unaware of). I didn't really for either though.

Mercy Falls

2023 / 103m - UK
Horror, Thriller
Mercy Falls poster

A pretty simple but amusing thriller/horror. It's a retread of the "people go hiking in the woods" premise, nothing very original, and Hendrick doesn't even make a real effort to hide the fact he's going for core genre work here, but with Halloween right around the corner, it's a decent enough film to warm up to the horror season.

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Rhona's father left her a small cabin deep in the woods. With some friends, she decides to hike up there and see what exactly she inherited. The group isn't too tight and there is some tension between the friends. One wrong decision sets a series of events in motion that will have disastrous consequences.

The performances are decent enough, the characters are slightly less annoying simply on account of them not being American teens, and the slow rise of the tension is proficient. The film is a tad long though and with nothing there to set it apart from so many other films, it's just simple genre filler.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One poster

It's been a while since I've watched a blockbuster this bad. Cruise seems to be banking on oldskool action appeal, the result is that the newest Mission: Impossible film feels like a cheesy relic of the past. Its worst offense is that it takes itself way too seriously, even though it's clearly all nonsense.

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A new AI superweapon goes missing, the key to the AI is literally a key that is split into two parts. Everyone is after the little trinket, as it will grant the owner unimaginable power. And so various people are trying to outwit each other, with Ethan Hunt and his gang thrown into the mix.

The stunts are rather dull, Cruise is an absolute eyesore, the music is ridiculous, and the 2+ hour runtime is a big mistake. But what did you expect from a film that starts on a Russian sub, with the first line morphing from actual Russian to English spoken with a thick Russian accent? Not my cup of tea, I'm disappointed there will be a second part.