2023 / 180m - USA
Oppenheimer poster

Nolan's latest is a 3-hour biopic, and that's about all there is to it. The biopic is one of the most generic and stuffy genres out there, and Nolan does very little to update or even reinvent it. It's a little disappointing that films like this are still being made in 2023, it's even sadder that they end up being one of the biggest-grossing hits of the year.

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Oppenheimer is the guy who led the project that created the atomic bomb, a weapon that gave Japan its biggest trauma of the century. Part of the film deals with the creation and the bomb, though most of the runtime is spent on the background of Oppenheimer and the political fallout of his creation.

The performances are decent, but other than that it's a pretty bland film. There's nothing too bad or out of line, but also nothing that stands out or makes this a memorable experience. Apart from the finale maybe, which peaks around the 120-minute mark. The final hour is just one big outro that made me think Nolan should watch some Shaw Brow movies before he starts a new film. I'd be disappointed, but I didn't expect too much from this film to begin with.

Bus Stop

Bus, Jeong Ryu-jang
2002 / 90m - South Korea
Drama, Romance
Bus Stop poster

A lovely little South Korean drama. It's surprisingly pure and elemental, much closer to the drama film you'd expect to see coming out of Japan. You could also link it to Ki-duk's work, but even though Bus Stop tackles a taboo subject, it does so without being too confrontational. The performances are strong, the characters are intriguing, the dialogue is smart and pointed, and the presentation is stylish. It's also pretty compact, and while some might scoff at the romance presented, I felt it was handled with the proper respect. I liked it even better than the first time I watched it.

The Peony Pavilion

Wo De Mei Li Yu Ai Chou
1995 / 95m - Taiwan
The Peony Pavilion poster

A pleasant, but small and somewhat limited drama. The dream sequences are what set this film apart, but they're not quite extravagant enough to carry the film by themselves. The drama feels a tad too light in contrast, even though it's meant to be pretty deep and harrowing.

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A young student is feeling the pressure of the exams she is about to take. She prefers to lose herself in a dream world, where she has fallen in love with a scholar. A pop singer is visiting that same dream world, as she is escaping from the pressure of delivering her next hit album.

The performances are solid enough, and the setup of the drama is interesting. The cinematography's a tad too pedestrian though and while the dream sequences look good, the potential was there to do even more. I was engaged throughout and the film has no real weak points, it's just not that distinctive.

The Man Who Laughs

1928 / 110m - USA
The Man Who Laughs poster

An interesting silent, that seems to reference German Expressionist cinema. It's not quite as captivating and the lead character is a little iffy, but the setting is pretty atmospheric, and even though the film is almost two hours long, it never felt as if things were stretched too thin.

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Gwynplaine has to live with a permanent grin on his face. It's the result of his father's deceit, a crime Gwynplaine had to pay for. He travels with a circus, together with some other freaks, and despite his popularity, he lives an unfulfilling life. Things change when he falls in love with Dea, a blind girl.

Gwynplaine looks more goofy than he looks scary or tragic, which hurts his character and the tragedy that befalls him, but other than that the story was decent enough. It's a long film if you're not used to silent cinema, but the pacing is proper, the cinematography is moody and the romance is proper.

Mars Attacks!

1996 / 106m - USA
Comedy, Sci-fi
Mars Attacks! poster

Tim Burton does old sci-fi with a strong dose of self-awareness. I love it when respected actors dare to make a downright fool of themselves, so the film has that going for it. It's just that some of the touches to make it more modern feel quite dated by current standards; which was a little confusing.

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One day, the Martians leave their planet and pay us a visit. They don't come in peace though and they act like absolute brats when they arrive here. Various attempts to make peace falter, but humanity doesn't give up that easily. The Martians have a weakness, and the brave actions of a young kid might just save our planet.

There are some solid gags, the actors are visibly having fun with their parts and there's a goofiness spread throughout that makes it an endearing watch. The special effects are a bit disappointing though (even when they are meant to look cheap) and I'm used to much weirder and crazier films these days, so it's not quite as distinctive as it was the last time I watched this one. Good fun, just not a true favorite anymore.

Blood Stained Shoes

Xiu Hua Xie
2012 / 86m - China
Blood Stained Shoes poster

Wai-Man Yip was among the first batch of directors to trade Hong Kong for China, so it's no surprise to see this film pop up in 2012. It's a pretty simple horror story, but it's executed with the proper flair and doesn't overstay its welcome. One for the more seasoned horror fan in other words.

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When a man turns back from the war, his wife is delighted to see she didn't end up a widow. Her life changes drastically though, and life isn't quite as rosy with him around. The villagers don't take too kindly to them. When a dead body is found in the nearby river, things take a turn for the worse.

The cinematography is stylish, the story is condensed and to the point and the short runtime makes sure that you won't be too bothered by the fact that you've probably seen this exact thing before. It's typical genre fare, but Yip is the ideal director to drive a film like this home. Good fun.

The Prowler

1951 / 92m - USA
Thriller, Crime
The Prowler poster

Noirs are a dime a dozen, and The Prowler is a film that does extremely little to try and differentiate itself from the others. That's not a bad thing if you're into noir cinema, it's pretty damning if you don't. It's another film I never really cared for, and apart from it being quite short, there's nothing much positive to say.

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Webb is a cynical officer who is called to Susan's house to investigate a stalker case. He falls in love with her on the spot, Susan seems to like Webb too, but she is quite loyal to her husband. Webb decides to fix that problem for her, though he makes sure to leave Susan out of the loop.

Like most noirs, there's a tiny bit of action and tons of stuffy dialogue to fill the gaps in between. The performances are pretty bad, the pacing is jumpy and the presentation is bland. It's not too demanding or too ambitious, which saves it from being a complete crapfest, but it's not a genre/era that brings me much joy.

The Book and the Sword

Shu Jian En Chou Lu
2023 / 82m - China
The Book and the Sword poster

I've been cutting back on Chinese streamer films because I was slowly starting to overdose (Shaw Bros flashbacks). I'm not ignoring them completely though, as they continue to provide slick genre entertainment. The Book and The Sword is one of Liu Binjie's latest films, and as I liked some of his previous ones, a good bet for a quick sample of the current state of the genre.

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Chen Jialuo takes over the position of chief of the Red Flower Society when their old leader dies of illness. He learns that the society is under attack and that their fourth leader has gone missing. Together with a local dancer and two more members of the society Jialuo goes on a journey to find out what happened to their fourth leader.

There's nothing here you haven't seen before (unless you're completely unaware of these films). There's a little political intrigue, a couple of good action scenes, cool settings and costumes, but iffy CG. The film is short and punchy, but there's nothing here that is too memorable. Very good genre fluff in other words.

Sound of Freedom

2023 / 131m - USA
Thriller, Crime
Sound of Freedom poster

It's crazy to think a film like this can cause such a ruckus. it's a pretty plain, generic human trafficking flick, tackling a pretty serious subject in the most American way imaginable. It's not a horrible film, but if you're after subtlety and realism it's probably best to look elsewhere. If you're looking for cinematic prowess, no luck either.

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Tim is a CIA agent tasked with weeding out pedophiles. When he manages to rescue a little boy from the hands of a big criminal organization, he learns that his sister is still held captive. As a CIA agent, he can't do much, but as a vigilante, he can still make a difference for the little girl.

Big, brawny American man takes on a South American trafficking ring. The presentation is slick and the first hour can get pretty tense, the second half is cheesier and more over-the-top. Performances aren't great, it's all a bit too sentimental and two hours is too long. Not a very remarkable film, but not a terrible one either.