01. 5.0 - Hotel Poseidon by Stefan Lernous (2021)
A modern-day Eraserhead. A film that defies description and simply has to be experienced to be believed. The symbolism is thick, the coherence can be fickle and the brain may protest in disgust, but the creativity, absurdity and humor that bursts from every single scene and character is simply breathtaking. Not the easiest recommend, but if you think you can handle weird, you owe it to yourself to give Hotel Poseidon a try. Mesmerizing cinema.
02. 3.5* - Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
by Junta Yamaguchi (2020)
A very cute and original take on the whole time travel business. Films like these have been quite common lately and rut is certainly setting in, but Yamaguchi found a way to give this premise a fresh and interesting spin. And that's even without counting the single shot setup of the film. After closing up his bar, the owner goes home to rest. When he gets there, he sees himself in the bar, talking to him. Apparently there's a 2-minute time warp between the two spots. When his friends come over, things get a bit trickier as they try to find way to look further ahead into the future. The film offers a nice blend of comedy and sci-fi. It's never too serious, at the same time the plot is pretty intricate and there are some very neat twists along the way. Performances are decent and the single shot approach is creative. Its low budget roots are a little too apparent at times, but otherwise a short, fun and entertaining little gem. Well recommended.
03. 3.5* - Shadows
by Glenn Chan (2020)
A fine psychological thriller with some pretty gruesome imagery. Not really the kind of film you'd expect to see coming out of Hong Kong. Maybe that's one of the perks of an industry in shambles, maybe it's because director Glenn Chan is actually from Singapore, but the result is pretty cool regardless. The plot revolves around Ching, a psychiatrist with the peculiar skill to dive into people's unconsciousness. When she is called to evaluate a lauded social worker who just killed his entire family and tried to commit suicide afterwards, she starts suspecting a fellow psychiatrist of messing with this patient's minds. The police investigation is a little plain, but solid performances by Stephy Tang and Philip Keung are a big plus, some gruesome kills pull the film straight into horror territory and the neat score and cinematography give it some extra shine. It may lack the excellence of a true masterpiece, but it's prime filler for genre fans.
04. 3.5* - Hunter Hunter
by Shawn Linden (2020)
Hunter Hunter is a somewhat tricky thriller. Starts off well enough, then gets lost in its own twist, only to resurface with a big bang during the finale. I'm still not entirely sure whether it was worth the hassle, that said Shawn Linden shows he has the talent to deliver a mean little thriller/horror crossover. Joseph and his family live in the woods, far away from the civilized world. With winter closing in they need food and hides, but the arrival of a wolf disturbs their efforts to prepare for the coming season. Joseph wants to get rid of the animal as quickly as possible, yet soon finds himself battling a fierce enemy. The performances are solid and the setting is pretty atmospheric. The tension drops a little in the middle and the change of direction feels unnecessary, on the other hand the sprawling finale convinced me it might have been the right choice after all. A fine mix of thriller and horror elements, well recommended for genre fans.
05. 3.5* - Forbidden Martial Arts: The Nine Mysterious Candle Dragons
by Dai Yilin (2020)
A fine mix of fantasy and martial arts. The more I see of these recent Chinese genre films, the more I feel lost in the endless maze of releases. They all feel like they're part of bigger franchises (and I guess many are based on fantasy novels), but for an outsider like me there's just no way to tie everything together without guidance. Luckily, most of them are pretty basic fantasy tales. Take a dragon that threatens the neighborhood, a haunted general who protects the people from the dragon and an inn where most of the action takes place, and you have all the ingredients for a solid action film with strong fantasy elements. The cinematography is beautiful, sets and costumes are lush and the action choreography is pretty impressive. The dragon lair is a bit of a bummer though, relying quite heavily on subpar CG to create a high fantasy setting. Performances are pretty decent and the short runtime is a definite plus. All in all this is great genre fare, the kind I can keep watching. It's a good thing then the market is being flooded with these films.
06. 3.5* - Duel for Gold [Huo Bing]
by Yuen Chor (1971)
One of Yuen Chor's finer martial arts films. A film that feels at least 10 years ahead of its time, as it would've worked quite well as a bridge between the typical Shaw Bros productions and the early martial arts work of Jackie Chan. That's quite something for a project made during the early years of the Shaw Bros boom. The plot is basic, but what did you expect with a title like Duel for Gold. A safe house houses a big stash of gold, which attracts a few interested parties. They all want to get their hands on the gold, but the house is guarded by a pretty capable martial artist. They'll have to work together to get by him, but splitting up the loot afterwards may prove to be just as treacherous. The fight choreography is pretty imaginative for its time, performances are solid, there's a lot of backstabbing and changing dynamics that keeps the plot interesting, and he sets have that typical Shaw Bros charm. Solid genre fun with some standout moments that make this a worthy Shaw Bros classic. Oh, and one of the best Shaw Bros endings ever.
07. 3.0* - Misty
by Kenki Saegusa (1996)
A retelling of the infamous Rashomon story. The concept has been done to death by now, the difference here is that Misty remains quite close to its source, rather than simply nicking the idea and making a more contemporary version of it. There are some obvious pros and cons tied to that setup though. Knowing up front this was a take on Rashomon meant the story became quite predictable. It might've been more fun going in blank, sadly that part was already spoiled for me. Even then, the middle part of the plot would've remained pretty by the numbers once the cat was out of the bag. Luckily, Saegusa put a lot of effort into the cinematography and setting, which kept things interesting even when the plot was merely chugging along. Performances are solid too and the soundtrack is an asset. I liked this quite a bit better than Kurosawa's version, then again that's probably my general lack of interest in classic cinema talking.
08. 3.0* - Love and Monsters
by Michael Matthews (2020)
Big budget adventure that plays like a PG version of Zombieland. On the one hand, it's nice to see more creative monster designs and less predictable world building, on the other hand the film's a bit tame and could've used some extra spice, especially during the rather kitschy finale. After being holed up for 7 years, Joel decides it times to man up and face the monsters as he travels towards the colony where his former girlfriend escaped to. The world is overrun by giant monsters (mutated insects), which makes his trip quite dangerous, especially since he's a pretty clumsy guy. The comedy isn't quite sharp enough, the horror elements are very light and the ending is a bit too Power Rangers, but the effects and designs are pretty cool, performances are decent, the world is quite intriguing and the adventure elements are solid. Love and Monsters is light but amusing entertainment, just don't expect it to be very badass.
09. 3.0* - Crest of Betrayal [Chûshingura Gaiden: Yotsuya Kaidan]
by Kinji Fukasaku (1994)
Though Kinji Fukasaku is best known for making Battle Royale and a series of 70s/80s Yakuza films, he's actually pretty competent at directing samurai films with a darker edge. Sadly, he didn't produce too many in his career, so Crest of Betrayal is a film that needs to be treasured and cherished. The plot focuses on Tamiya Iyemon, one of the 47 ronin who wandered the land when their master died. He falls in love with Oiwa, a prostitute who earns an extra buck working in local bathhouses. It's all pretty basic samurai stuff, though the second half of the film does have a darker/more fantastical edge to it. The first half is a little dull. A bit too much time is spent on the setup, but once all the pawns are in place and the darker and weirder second half kicks off, it's clear that Fukasaku really feels at home in this genre. Some stark, colorful imagery, decent performances and a solid ending make this another noteworthy Fukasaku flick.
10. 3.0* - Digging Up the Marrow
by Adam Green (2014)
A fun and quirky project by Adam Green. Found footage meets mockumentary, with Green and his team playing themselves. Add some horror legends, a madman who may or may not be telling the truth and some freakish monsters and you have all the ingredients for a fun horror flick. Green decides to shoot a documentary on William Dekker, a fan who wrote him about an underground world inhabited by freaks and monsters. Dekker says he knows the entrance to this realm and is willing to let Green tag along, but when not everything about Dekker checks out, things take a turn for the worse. Green playing himself really was a smart move, casting Ray Wise opposite of him is also a stroke of genius. Green pokes some fun at himself and the found footage hype, but stays a little too true to the genre, which results in a somewhat tedious middle part. It picks up near the end again though, so fans of Green and/or horror films needn't worry. A neat twist on a formulaic film.
11. 2.5* - The Night Sitter
by Abiel Bruhn, John Rocco (2018)
Some horror films try just a little too hard, The Night Sitter is one of them. No doubt the directors are big horror fans and love their late 70s/80s classics, but film is more than just references and while there are some decent bits and pieces here, overall it lacks the detail and polish of a true horror marvel. Amber gets more than she bargained for when she is invited to sit on Ted Hooper's kid. The boy has crazy nightmares and Hooper has a mad taste for the occult. Meanwhile, Amber's plan is to rob Ted dry, but a mysterious book made of actual witches is bound to mess up her plans (and her evening). The use of bold colors can't hide the relatively poor camera work, performances are mediocre and the balance between horror and comedy is slightly off. There are definitely some good ideas here, but the project comes off a little cheap and the directors seem unable to transcends that on skill alone. Not a terrible film, but for horror enthusiasts only.
12. 2.5* - Missing Link
by Chris Butler (2019)
Laika's latest project shows promise, but as their stop-motion work has become more intricate, the charm in their films has slowly diminished. It's still a big step up from your average animal-led US CG animation, even so it's a shame to see Laika's more or less chasing the same audience. Missing Link follows Lionel Frost, a brave adventurer who wants to be recognized by his peers. He travels to the US, hoping to find Sasquatch in order to prove his worth, but he's taken by surprise when he discovers that Sasquatch himself has been leaving clues behind, wanting to be found. While the stop-motion animation is technically proficient (and probably the very best in the business), the art style is a little dull and unadventurous. Sasquatch is also slightly annoying, which is a bummer since he's the film's titular character. There are still some decent laughs, but overall it just isn't quite funny, beautiful or surprising enough to stand out.
13. 2.5* - Not a Game
by Jose Gomez (2020)
A pretty basic gamer doc that seems squarely aimed at parents who have no idea what to make of their kids' digital hobby. If you're a bit familiar with the gaming world or the world of esports, this documentary will tell you nothing new, if on the other hand you have parents who are clueless about what you're doing all day behind the computer, it's a decent enough intro for them. There's a bit too much focus on the positives (of course) and even though the doc does touch on some negative aspects of gaming, they're easily put aside as extremes or just part of life. A bit more nuance and scientific fact checking wouldn't have hurt, even though the message itself isn't necessarily wrong. Instead, we see quite a few sob stories about how gaming made the life of the sick and unfortunate better, how people growing up in small towns became big esports stars and other from rags to to riches stories. As an introductory doc it isn't terrible, but it's hardly the comprehensive overview of the gaming world it tries to be.
14. 1.5* - Species II
by Peter Medak (1998)
Cheap sequel to a cheap film. I never really understood the appeal of the first Species film, this second one is clearly a quick cash-in, exploiting the success of the first one. In many ways it's even worse than the original, except maybe where it matters the most: the horror bits are actually quite juicy. When a team of astronauts returns from Mars, they bring back some concealed guests. They treat their hosts nicely, but the women they hook up with aren't so lucky. An investigator figures out what's happening and tries to locate the astronauts before the alien threat takes over our world. Performances are absolute crap, the film looks dirt cheap (especially the sci-fi elements) and the police investigation is dull at best. The horror effects look pretty cool though and there are quite a few exploding bodies and tentacles to keep things interesting. It's not enough to redeem this film, but it does make it bearable.
15. 1.0* - Fire and Ice
by Ralph Bakshi, Tom Tataranowicz (1983)
I guess I should be happy with Bakshi making animated films that are aimed at non-kiddie audiences, but their excessive 80s kitsch, godawful art styles and bland characters/writing don't really get me all that excited. Fire and Ice was my third Bakshi and once again a pretty big disappointment. The plot is as basic as you can get, with an age-old good guys (fire) vs bad guys (ice) face-off in a rather boring and unimaginative fantasy setting. It felt like a lazy cut-and-paste job from generic fantasy canon. The intro failed to grab my attention and the film never truly recovered from that. While the animation itself is pretty fluid, the art style is such an eyesore that I didn't care for any of it. The dub is atrocious, characters are dumb and off-putting and the story is a complete snooze. I felt like I was watching bad 80s TV again, only with better animation. Not for me.
16. 1.0* - It's a Gift
by Norman Z. McLeod (1934)
W.C. Fields used to be a pretty hip comedian, nowadays, few people even recall his name. Where actors like Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Keaton are still remembered for their comedy, W.C. Fields is material for the hardened classic cinema fan. After watching It's A Gift, it's not hard to see why. There isn't much in the way of a plot here, the film plays like a series of extended sketches. Fields plays Harold Bissonette, a grumpy old man who is tired of his family and decides to chase his dream: own an orange plantation. All of that is just an excuse for running through a series of gags. The comedy hasn't aged very well though. Predictable jokes, many of which outstay their welcome, poor timing, not much variation. And since there isn't anything else, it's a pretty tough film to like. At least the runtime is relatively short, I would've given it an even lower score if they'd stretched it to 90 minutes.
17. 1.0* - The Lady Vanishes
by Alfred Hitchcock (1938)
One of Hitchcock's final pre-Hollywood projects. I can usually stomach them just a little better compared to his USA films, but The Lady Vanishes didn't do it for me at all. It's extremely one-note, setting up a rather simple mystery, then dragging it out for an entire film in typical Hitchcock fashion. When the Trans Europ Express stops because of bad weather, Iris gets to talking with misses Froy in a small hotel alongside the tracks. Once the train is back on its way, Iris notices Mrs Froy is absent from the train. She sounds alarm, but people pay little attention to her claims that and old lady is missing. A missing old woman and endless conversations that ponder the mystery of her disappearance. The train isn't a very exciting setting either, not in the least because Hitchcock loves working with cheap projections. There are some twists in the final part, but even that was a given 5 minutes in. I found this incredibly dull, par for the course for my journey through Hitchcock's oeuvre I'm afraid.
18. 1.0* - Way Out West
by James W. Horne (1937)
Long form Laurel & Hardy. Like most early comedies, it relies entirely on its main protagonists. If you think L&H are funny you'll probably like this film, if you can't stand their antics, there's really nothing for you here. The film is as generic as they come, it's just the comic duo doing their thing. The plot is an excuse for some comedy, nothing more. Laurel & Hardy are on their way to notify a girl whose father passed away. Along with the sad news, they also have a deed to a gold man to hand over. Of course, they let the cat out of the bag before they meet the girl, which triggers the interest of a bunch of scammers. I don't like Laurel & Hardy and I don't like their comedy. The jokes are absolutely dire and predictable and there's really nothing else. The same facial expressions, the same dynamic, the same gags, over and over again. Oh, and some musical bits, that added absolutely nothing at all. At least the film was short.
19. 0.5* - Law of the Border [Hudutlarin Kanunu]
by Lütfi Akad (1966)
Once considered lost, but restored based on a single remaining print. Stuff of legends that tends to transcend the actual quality of the film, which is definitely the case here. Law of the Border is poorly put together, sluggish and static. It even made me wonder if this was really worth saving. The film plays like a Turkish western, which should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect plot wise. A very simple story about a poor man trying to smuggle a flock of sheep across the border. Border patrol isn't too happy with his plans and a cat and mouse game begins. The camera work is excruciatingly static, conversations and performances are wooden, the soundtrack is unfitting and the editing appears haphazard. There's a bit more action near the end of the film, but even that feels fake and crummy. Pretty dull and amateurish, the 70-minute runtime felt at least twice as long.