Dynamite Graffiti

Suteki na Dainamaito Sukyandaru
2018 / 138m - Japan
Dynamite Graffiti poster

A pretty standard biopic. Not only are they quite easy to construe, but they're also the perfect excuse to chase a bit of marketable retro charm, something that will get all the film fans giddy. There's some decent drama here, but it does get a little tiresome after a while, especially after the film passed the 2-hour mark.

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Akira Suei had a rather traumatic youth, but he got his life back on track after meeting his first girlfriend. He trained himself to become a graphic artist, a career choice that would steer him to the world of erotic magazines. Later on, Akira would become the chief editor of one of Japan's most infamous erotic publications.

The film's a little slow to get going, but the performances are quite strong and Suei's origin story is interesting. His life story is just that though, and there are better films handling Japan's adult industry. It's all a little too by the numbers, but if you're looking for decent filler drama, it's not the worst choice.

Yudo: The Way of the Bath

2022 / 126m - Japan
Comedy, Drama
Yudo: The Way of the Bath poster

A film for fans of somewhat sappy and nostalgia-ridden Japanese dramedies. Think Yamazaki's Always: Sunset on Third Street series, maybe with a dash of Koki Mitani. It makes for easy viewing, but I felt that after a while my tolerance for the feelgood started to slip a little (often when characters started singing older tunes).

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When an architect is close to bankruptcy, he moves back to his hometown, where he tries to reconnect with his estranged brother. He once left for Tokyo to make a better life for himself, his brother stayed behind to run the family bathhouse. He tries to convince his brother to sell the place, but he isn't willing to budge.

The outcome of the plot is pretty predictable, the performances are a little fluffy and the nostalgia was a bit hit-and-miss. The characters are cute though, and Japan's bathhouse culture is interesting. For a better film, I recommend Thermae Romae, but Yudo is decent enough filler.

Tales From The Occult 2: Body and Soul

Sat Hang Hung Gaan 2: Ji Jeui Yu Saat
2023 / 93m - Hong Kong
Horror - Anthology
Tales From The Occult 2: Body and Soul poster

Hong Kong loves a good horror trilogy, so it's no surprise the first Tales from the Occult film got a sequel. The concept is pretty simple: three different horror(adjacent) stories that bear little connection to each other, but explore different niches within the genre. And that this film does pretty well.

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The first short is about a barber who scouts and scalps women who need a late-night haircut. The second short follows a cat rescuer who gets herself into some serious trouble. And finally, the third short is about a woman who wants to take revenge on her dentist, as he harassed her.

Each short brings something different to the table. The presentation is nice, the performances are decent and the horror elements are properly executed (read, there's none of that wonky Hong Kong comedy to detract from the film). It's a solid anthology, nothing too spectacular, but easy filler for horror fans.

Mr. Arkadin

1955 / 93m - France
Thriller, Crime
Mr. Arkadin poster

Orson Welles was a better director than he was an actor, sadly he just loved to cast himself as the lead role of his films, actively cheapening the entire experience. Mr. Arkadin is a pretty tepid noir film, struggling to stand out, but Welles' terrible performance just made it that much worse.

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An eccentric banker can't remember much of his life before 1927. He hires a young American reporter and tasks him with the investigation of his mysterious past. The reporter starts his work but soon notices that the people he interrogates end up dead soon after he visits them.

Like most noirs, there's a lot of conversation to wade through, and most of it isn't all that interesting. The performances are poor and feel forced, the pacing is relatively slow and this certainly isn't Welles' most attractive-looking film. There wasn't a lot here I cared for, which seems to be the case for most classic noirs I've watched these past months.

Black Cat, White Cat

Crna Macka, Beli Macor
1998 / 127m - Yugoslavia
Comedy, Romance
Black Cat, White Cat poster

Quite a bit livelier than I remembered it to be. Black Cat, White Cat is a pretty entertaining film, full of zany characters, odd situations, and sporting a fair number of absurd moments, though never quite crossing over into complete madness. An uplifting Balkan comedy if there ever was one.

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Matko is a hustler, even though he isn't cut out to be one. When he combines forces with a notorious criminal, he gets scammed and has to give away his only son Zare in marriage to the criminal's sister. Zare is in love with another woman, luckily his grandfather is there to help him out.

Kusturica is fun as long as you don't expect a relaxing film. The characters are noisy, the music is ever-present and everything is well over-the-top. The comedy is borderline slapstick. Not always very refined, but there's a bit more to it than barebones physical comedy. A great way to waste two hours, if you have the energy for it.

Brother's Keeper

Okul Tirasi
2021 / 85m - Turkey
Brother's Keeper poster

Turkish cinema tends to be bleak, and Brother's Keeper continues that longstanding tradition. The setting is depressing, the characters are not very sympathetic, and the dreary styling doesn't add much appeal either. And like many other Middle-Eastern films, it feels less like a narrative and more like a point that needs to be made.

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When Yusuf's friend falls ill, the adults at a remote boarding school seem unable to put the boy's priorities first. Instead, they start a little investigation into what happened exactly and who is to blame for their current predicament. Meanwhile, Yusuf can only hope that his best friend survives.

The kids do a pretty solid job, but the miserable location, the bland camera work, and the blatant moralizing made for an unappealing film. There's a little twist at the end that felt tacked on, and it simply wasn't enough to make me care about anything that came before. Not for me.

Grand Guignol

2022 / 84m - Japan
Grand Guignol poster

Interesting horror flick. At first sight, it looks a lot like other, often game-based, Japanese high school fantasy horror films, where kids are locked in at night and strange things start happening to them. But Grand Guignol adds some unexpected slasher folklore and isn't stingy when it comes to blood and gore.

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A small, secluded school only takes on troubled students. There's a study group that tackles the Grand Guignol novel, and soon enough the school is facing a similar murder case. A masked demon is haunting the students and killing them in cold blood, The problem is that almost everyone is a suspect.

It's not often you see clear slasher influences in a Japanese horror. Add to that the overt violence, LGBTQ characters, and a pretty cool killer, and you have a film that is more than just another generic horror rip-off. Fans of (Japanese) horror cinema would do well to give this one a shot. Not for the faint of heart though.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

2001 / 95m - USA
Drama, Music
Hedwig and the Angry Inch poster

A pretty decent musical. It's easy to see how it got its cult status, especially considering how the core themes of the film have evolved since its release, and now resonate stronger than ever. The blending of genders, glam rock music, and visual tomfoolery only add to the film's appeal.

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Hedwig was born Hansel in East Berlin. He fell in love with an American soldier but was only able to leave the country after he changed genders. Once in the US, things don't go quite as planned and Hedwig starts touring the country with her rock band. Then she meets Tommy, a young pop star.

Mitchell's performance is captivating, the direction is interesting and the film is vibrant from start to finish. I didn't care much for the music, but it was still a lot better than I'd expected from a rock musical. People who love queer themes, a bit of experimentation, and/or musicals should give this one a go.