2022 / 158m - USA
Drama, Music
Tár poster

This was not my kind of film. I can see the appeal, certainly for those who like the classical arts, but that's just not me. The navel-gazing, the clinical setting, and the unattractive characters all put me off. The endless conversations about classical music didn't make things better either.

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Lydia Tár is a famous composer/conductor. She is one of the most renowned people in her field, but she lives in a bubble and her success requires her to have a cut-throat mentality. Her past comes back to haunt her when news breaks that one of her former protégés committed suicide.

Blanchett's performance is okay and the direction has a few inspired moments, but the better part of the film is pretty basic and expected. I didn't care much for the characters, the drama, or the self-aggrandizing scene this story takes place in. The 2.5+ hour runtime just made it that much worse.

I like a good anthology, but when there are too many directors and the project is a little too vague or open-ended, it's difficult to turn it into something coherent (not just a random bunch of shorts bunched together). Visions of Europe is a miss in that regard, but it's still worth checking out.

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The title is pretty self-explanatory. 25 directors from 25 different European countries were given the chance to direct a short film about Europe. They were given free rein, which means you'll find many different ideas and approaches here, though few are actual straightforward narratives.

There are some pretty familiar and respected names (Tarr, Boe, Greenaway), but most of the directors are pretty niche and have limited appeal outside of their bubbles. There's a handful of memorable shorts, the rest is pretty forgettable, but it's at least quite varied and the shorts are well short, so it never gets too dull.

Death Wish II

1982 / 89m - USA
Action, Crime
Death Wish II poster

A very basic sequel. Bronson moves cities, tries to get his life back on the rails, and then the whole thing starts anew. Bronson is a pathetic action hero and the production quality is pretty horrible, but at least the film moves through the genre clichés quite rapidly, making it somewhat amusing to watch.

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Paul's daughter is still in therapy after what happened to her in New York, but when some lowly muggers nick Paul's wallet and decide to visit his home address, she gets kidnapped once again. While trying to flee she accidentally kills herself, so Paul has no choice but to retreat into vigilante mode a second time.

Bronson is an old man, who lacks the agility, posture, and even charisma to make his part work. The rest of the cast is on the same level, the presentation is bland and the plot is generic. At least the setup is efficient, and the revenge feels warranted, so that part of the film kinda works. Slim pickings though.

Memory Box

2021 / 102m - Lebanon
Memory Box poster

A nostalgic look at the past, sporting some playful cinematography and solid performances, but little more. The dramatic elements felt somewhat underwhelming to me and I didn't care much for the film's need to revisit the 80s. We've had a decade of that already, I believe it's finally time to move on.

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Maia lives in Montreal and raises her daughter as a single mother. Right before Christmas, a mysterious box arrives at her doorstep. it contains memories of her past she'd rather not revisit, but her daughter wants to know more about her mom's history. Through notes, recordings, and pictures, she travels back in time.

I liked the first half of the film, as it was slightly lighter in tone and a bit more frivolous in its presentation. The second half focuses more on drama and things get more sullen as time passes. Overall, it's not a bad film, just not one I won't remember for long, there's just not enough that grabbed my attention.

The Draughtsman's Contract

1982 / 108m - UK
Drama, Mystery
The Draughtsman's Contract poster

Despite his fascination with the classical arts, Greenaway is a pretty interesting director. While The Draughtsman's Contrast may take the form of a costume drama, it's not a film that adheres to strict genre conventions. Greenaway's direction is always playful and different, and even though it doesn't always align with my tastes, it's never boring.

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Neville is a young artist who is commissioned by a wealthy landowner's wife to make some drawings of the real estate. Her husband is away and besides a hefty payslip, Neville also serves as a sexual toy for the misses. He feels like he has the situation under control, but he still gets caught in a web of intrigue.

The film isn't too serious (though I wouldn't call it an outright comedy), the cinematography is pretty remarkable and while there are still many typical elements of the costume drama present, the film never feels stuffy or outmodish. It's far from a personal favorite, but a lot better than the norm.

The Boy and the Heron

Kimitachi wa Dô Ikiru Ka
2023 / 124m - Japan
Fantasy, Adventure - Animation
The Boy and the Heron poster

Miyazaki's second farewell movie. While I was happy to get a new Miyazaki film, I must admit that The Wind Rises was more suitable as a career finale. The Boy and the Heron feels like an amalgam of Miyazaki's oeuvre, taking cues from many of his previous films. While interesting in its own right, it also makes it one of his most redundant films, as it doesn't add anything substantial to Miyazaki's existing oeuvre. The animation is sublime, the fantasy elements are wondrous and the film is extremely polished, but in the end, it's quintessential Miyazaki. Word is he's already considering a new film, so maybe he'll surprise us with a second encore.


2020 / 96m - France
Cuties poster

A nice little drama about a topic most people obviously weren't ready for. It's nothing too shocking though, it's not even all that new or specific to a time or place. Young girls get inspired by what they see, they want to explore their sexuality and they want to get attention from boys older than them.

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Amy grows up in a traditional African family, taking care of her brother. When she sees some of her classmates rehearsing for a dance competition, she becomes infatuated with their world. She wants to be a part of their group, and she becomes friends with one of the girls who lives in her building.

The girls are great, the setting is perfect for the story and Doucouré's direction is playful and honest, without ever feeling exploitative. The conservative pushback this film has gotten (mostly after this film was released on Netflix US) is completely underserved. It's not a very remarkable film otherwise, but it does justice to its central theme.

When It Melts

Het Smelt
2023 / 111m - Belgium
When It Melts poster

Adaptation of a book I never read. While the plot is pretty promising, it's the direction that ultimately fails the film. Veerle Baetens is a decent actress, but that doesn't make her a great director. The film is too basic and sticks to genre conventions a little too neatly, depriving it of any firm signature.

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Eva returns to her hometown when a party is set up in memory of one of her old friends. Going back isn't easy, as the town left her with deep scars, but Eva feels ready to face her traumas. The town harbors dark secrets, as neglect and outward appearance were deemed more important than justice.

The performances are solid, and that particular small-town Flemish vibe is present, but Baetens never reaches beyond the expected. I didn't care much for the Festen-like speech at the end (which was added for the film apparently) and the big traumatic finale lacks cinematic prowess. It's not a bad film, just a little plain and basic.

The Strays

2023 / 97m - UK
Mystery, Thriller
The Strays poster

A fun little mystery/thriller. It's a film that keeps its cards close to the chest, changing the dynamic with every twist it introduces. It's nothing too new and/or original, but the execution is on point and the pent-up stress of the lead character helped to push me to the edge of my seat.

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Neve is a black woman living in a wealthy rural village. She has done her best to adapt to her white neighborhood, and she is quite content with her life. Still, she fears something might upset the life she has fought so hard for. When two black kids appear in town, Neve's life is about to take a turn for the worse.

It's clear from the start that the lead character is hiding something, and her lingering fear and frustration make for an antsy experience. The twists are good, the ending is fitting and the presentation is slick. I had a lot of fun with this film. Not sure why it has such a bad rep, but if you like a film with high-strung nerves, just give it a go.

Legend of the Cat Monster

Reibyo Densetsu
1983 / 95m - Japan
Legend of the Cat Monster poster

An older TV movie from Obayashi. It's obvious the budget nor the time was there to make a full-fledged Obayashi experience, but he did a pretty decent job considering these limitations. It's never going to be one of his all-time classics, but fans of the director will no doubt find something to appreciate here.

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An aged, reclusive movie star is thought to be dead. But wants to find her way back into the spotlight. She entices a movie producer to hire a writer and send him to the island she lives on to work on her comeback movie. As the two spend some time together, it quickly dawns on the writer that nothing is what it seems.

It's an ambitious film, which many parallels to draw to other films and genres, but in the end its TV roots keep it from achieving anything too out of the ordinary. The meta element is fun, there are some funky visual experiments and the pacing is slick, I just wish Obayashi had more time and resources to do justice to the material.


2023 / 120m - Japan
Drama, Thriller
Village poster

Rural Japan is struggling. Village would make an excellent double bill with Follow the Light, though Fujii's take is quite a bit darker. It's the tale of a small village trying to keep itself afloat by relying on a big recycling plant that towers over the town. The mix of traditional Japanese culture (Noh), dark thriller elements, and hefty drama is balanced remarkably well. The performances are strong, the styling is meticulous and the finale is impressive. A strong Japanese film, though not one to color outside the lines too much.