50 From 50

50 from 50 – 6WH Edition

Worlds are colliding! Or rather, interests are being arranged in parallel. Earlier this year, I made a resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries by the end of December (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 40 movies/countries and have covered 33 of them in previous posts. Naturally, since we are in the midst of the Six Weeks of Halloween, it makes sense that I would seek out a few movies that qualify for both subjects, hence this post. We’ll most likely cover a few more later in the 6WH (the horror genre seems to be popular choice for distribution to other countries, so there is certainly a lot of foreign horror to choose from), but here are three horror movies from three different countries. More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII]

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 2.5 – 50 from 50

Thailand Shutter – A young photographer and his girlfriend start to notice mysterious shadows in his photographs. When it seems his friends are also being similarly haunted, the girlfriend begins to suspect there’s more going on than her beau is telling her.


This is a Thai film, but it’s clearly influenced by the J-horror boom of the late 90s and early aughts. Ringu seems particularly influential, with some similar visual motifs and concepts reappearing here. Shutter does seem a bit less refined, but it manages to instill an effective amount of dread throughout the film. There is a bit of an overreliance on jump scares and stingers. There are several well done examples throughout the movie, but the effect can’t help but diminish the more the technique is used. The cycle of tension and release is also a little hampered by some revelations as the film progresses. When you start learning distressing things about certain characters, it’s hard to feel as much tension (or, at least, the same type of tension) even if presented with a nominally well crafted buildup.

The revelations themselves aren’t that much of a surprise either, though it’s not exactly treated as a shocking twist so much as a confirmation of what you probably expected. Nevertheless, the subject matter provides lots of opportunity for spooky photographs and urban legends, and they put the premise through its paces well enough. Lots of great ghostly photos are shown, ranging from obvious fakes, to photographs that look creepy but have reasonable explanations, to things that are more mysterious and harder to pin down. The movie is at its best when it embraces the premise, and it makes very effective use of a polaroid camera (on multiple occasions). The ending is surprisingly fitting, if a little wonky (but I was willing to go with it for sure). Definitely worth seeking out if you enjoy J-horror and have exhausted the usual suspects. ***

VenezuelaThe House at the End of Time – A woman goes to prison for murdering her husband under mysterious circumstances (while her child remains missing). Jump forward a few decades, and the woman has been released to live in her old home under supervised custody. As old memories begin to flood her mind, she works with the local priest to unravel the mystery of what really happened that fateful night so long ago.

The House at the End of Time

While clearly aping the structure of a ghost story, this turns out to be much more of a drama with some unexpected emotional resonance than I initially thought. At first, it felt like this was one of those horror movies that was almost embarrassed by its genre trappings, but the third act holds some surprises. It’s still a little light on the scares, but it veers into science fiction territory (though not particularly rigorous, it does fit), and I ended up coming away from it surprisingly satisfied. There are parts of the first two acts that are a bit of a slog, but it comports itself well in the end. **1/2

GreeceEntwined – A city doctor moves to a rural town to provide for the underserved community. The people are not especially welcome, but the doctor does encounter a woman that lives in the woods and suffers from a strange skin condition. He decides a house call is in order, only to discover that she may also be suffering from an abusive relationship. And yet, all is not what it seems.


An interesting little arthouse flick with some folk horror flare that perhaps touches on Greek myth or some other cultural touchstones that I’m not very familiar with (this sort of thing has come up fairly often in this 50 from 50 project, always interesting, if sometimes impenetrable). Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of meat on the bone here. Visually well captured, with lots of appealing shots and compositions (and also some rather effective sound design) that emphasize the isolation and emotion of the situation. It’s the sort of thing that you might love if you’re the type who loves movies that rely heavily on “vibes”, but unfortunately, that can be hit or miss for me, and it’s more miss here than I’d like. I like a nice composition of trees in a forest as much as the next guy, and they’re really well done here, but there’s an awful lot of that sort of thing here…

There’s certainly some interesting stuff going on, if you’re so inclined to go down the rabbit hole, I just didn’t really find my way down there. **

Next up on the 6WH front: Exorcisms (and exorcism adjacent movies, I guess). If you’re still in the mood for reviews of spooky flicks, Zack has been posting up a storm over at Film Thoughts (as per usual, he’s got new reviews nearly every day!)

50 From 50 – Part VII

Continuing my way through a resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries this year (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 37 movies, which exactly on track, but I’ve only covered 28 on the blog. The gap will continue to narrow with this post and one of the remainder will be covered during the 6 Weeks of Halloween (which will, naturally, have at least 6 of its own entries). Alrighty, let’s get to it! More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI]

Iceland Arctic – Mads Mikkelsen plays a man stranded in the arctic wilderness. Resourceful and clever, he has settled into a routine of survival. Things change when a potential rescue is spoiled and time becomes a factor. This nearly dialogue-free film is basically an acting showcase for Mikkelsen and fortunately, he’s up to the challenge. He carries this movie on his back, and most of what’s communicated to the audience happens wordlessly. Just a few flickers of emotion in Mikkelsen’s face are enough to sell whatever’s happening.

Mads Mikkelsen in Arctic

Early on, inured by his routine, there’s not much to see but a calm demeanor and competent actions. But there’s a moment when it looks like he might be rescued by a helicopter… which then succumbs to the windy arctic weather and crashes. The sequence of emotions rolling across Mikkelsen’s face are a sight to behold. Shock, surprise, dashed hopes, and something that could be indecision but could just as easily be a calm, level-headed recognition of what he’ll need to do next.

This is writer/director Joe Penna’s debut film, and he shows a steady hand. It’s clear he knows how to use Mikkelsen, and he does an excellent job depicting the desolation of the arctic landscape. It’s a gorgeous film with well composed images and movements. Of course, the strengths of the film also point to the one potential weakness: we don’t really know anything about the characters. Penna relies on the universally relatable premise of being stranded in the wilderness, amongst other dangers, to make you care for the characters. This was certainly enough for me, and Mikkelsen’s performance adds enough heft, but your mileage may vary. (Note: I swear when I looked at this initially, the country was listed solely as Iceland – but now it also shows USA. I guess this is a bit of a cheat, but it was clearly made in Iceland, so I’m going to keep it on the list. Who knows, I might hit 51 films to make up for this, but I figured it was an interesting enough movie to recap.) Available on Netflix. ***

Malaysia Wira – After a stint in the Army, a man returns to his hometown and vows to take on the local gangster in order to protect his family. Naturally, the gangster runs an underground MMA tournament, and our hero is uniquely suited to compete. Basically a bog standard plot that’s a thinly veiled excuse to cram a bunch of action sequences into the runtime.

As these things go, this is rock solid stuff. The fight choreography recalls films like The Raid or The Night Comes for Us, but without the blood, guts, and gore. Depending on what you’re looking for, this could be a good thing, but I’d also say those two films are better than Wira. Still, the action is perfectly cromulent, the pacing is solid, and the villain works well enough. Hairul Azreen plays the lead and has the martial arts chops to sell it, and Yayan Ruhian (best known as Mad Dog from The Raid movies, but also has a prominent role in John Wick 3) is a great villainous henchman.

It’s not breaking new ground and there are better examples of this sort of thing, but it’s a reasonably well executed version of the story that’s well worth watching if this is your type of thing. **1/2

Turkey Lionman (aka The Sword and the Claw) – When a king is betrayed and murdered, his infant son is hidden in a forest whereupon he is discovered and raised by a pride of lions, thus imbuing him with beastly lion-based powers. As an adult, he learns of his heritage and vows to take on the new king. A potent blend of exploitation tropes ranging from baffling music cues to chaotic, trampoline-based action to the requisite awful dubbing.

The action choreography doesn’t exactly compare with traditional martial arts stuff, and it does have a truly off-kilter feel to it, but it also doesn’t exactly make any sense. The plot has a flavor of old folklore that I’m not familiar with at all (so who knows), but which seems to provide enough of a backbone to story and keep the pace moving quickly and efficiently through several familiar tropes. There are obvious creative and budgetary limitations on display here, but that just makes it more endearing. The homemade low-fi aesthetic is perfectly matched to the silly story played completely straight.


It’s certainly an odd movie from the start, but it doesn’t really get bonkers until the finale, when our hero gets his trademark metal lion claw glove thingies and takes on an army. Pure schlock, almost accidentally charming; certainly not for everyone, but I found it quite entertaining. Available on Tubi. **1/2

Ukraine Once Upon a Time in Ukraine – A chaotic imitation of Tarantino imitating a Samurai/Western mashup. The plot is kinda beside the point, but it involves a plot to sell Ukrainian slaves to the Japanese. A Ukranian/Japanese samurai seeks revenge, and runs across a Ukrainian peasant whose wife was enslaved. Along the way, we’ve got samurai swordfights, six-shooters, and some light anti-semitism.

Once Upon a Time in Ukraine

Again there’s some cultural references that are probably lost on me. For instance, the Ukrainian peasant is named Taras Shevchenko, a reference to a famous poet, writer, artist, and political figure of the same name. Pretty sure the historical figure didn’t fight with samurai swords though. Treating the serious topics as a popcorn flick is a bit of a stretch, and there’s some questionable stuff thrown out there, but it’s a tight 90 minutes and pretty well paced.

Despite budgetary constraints, it’s visually energetic and the effects actually look pretty good. As a surface-level imitation of Tarantino, it’s not bad visually. But the writing certainly falls far short of Tarantino. Plus, I feel like Tarantino has always been more patient than this is. That being said, it’s an interesting, entertaining little film that I’m glad I watched. Available on Amazon Prime. **1/2

Chile Mandrill – A drug lord murders a child’s parents, but the child escapes. He grows up to become an assassin hellbent on revenge. But when he finally finds the killer, he falls in love with the killer’s daughter and starts to have conflicting emotions. Or something. It’s a silly, melodramatic plot that isn’t anywhere near as cool as it wants to be. Some of the “witty” dialogue comes off as laughable at best, and the hammy references to a Bond like action hero (named here “John Colt”) are almost embarrassingly bad.

That being said, the protagonist is played by Marko Zaror, a Chilean martial artist who seemingly specializes in aerial spin kicks of some sort that are actually quite impressive. The action choreography is quick and fluid and I appreciate the clarity, though it does come off as perhaps a bit rehearsed (or contrived to allow for Zaror’s acrobatics). Zaror has actually shown up in John Wick: Chapter 4; it’s like the Wick folks are just scouring the glob for martial artists to pit against Wick. Anyway, this isn’t a particularly good film because of the plot and dialogue (and there’s far, far too much of that stuff), but the action redeems it a bit and makes it watchable (and you get some unintentional comedy with the plot, for what that’s worth).

Director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza has had several collaborations with Zaror that seem to have better reputations than this one and I probably should have sought them out rather than jumping on the first one I found. This would only be worth it for obsessives or completists, but I don’t hate that I watched it. The Amazon Prime version is badly distorted (something wrong with the aspect ratio), but it’s also available on Tubi, Pluto TV, and Plex. **

So I’ve now covered 33 films. A few of the remaining will have to wait until after the 6 Weeks of Halloween (which starts next week!) and I’m probably on track to finish off the 50 films in early December…

50 From 50 – Part VI

Continuing my way through a resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries this year (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 33 movies, which exactly on track, but I’ve only covered 23 on the blog. We’ve been narrowing that gap and should be in good shape going into the 6 Weeks of Halloween (which will, no doubt, see at least 6 movies from previously unseen countries). Alrighty, let’s get to it! More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V]

NorwayNokas – This movie tells the story of “the greatest bank robbery in Norwegian history” and only that story. There are people in this movie, but the only real character is the bank robbery. From the outside, the way this movie is described makes it sound like the bank robbery scene from Heat stretched out to 90 minutes, but of course, that’s not what’s happening here. This is not a documentary, but the filmmakers employ cinéma vérité to an extreme level, almost like the world’s greatest reenactment. This makes for fascinating viewing, though the ultra-realism is nowhere near as bombastic or exciting as you might expect from descriptions (or general genre tropes).


The robbers had a decent plan and the pieces start to fall into place as events unfold onscreen (rather than through awkward exposition) in an almost real-time fashion. Not everything goes to plan, including, amusingly, the point of ingress at a stubbornly tough window. But other aspects of the plan are clever and effective. The realistic approach also takes advantage of a sorta fog-of-war effect, as viewers and characters alike don’t necessarily know what’s going on in all locations (or even the general layout of some areas). Indeed, there’s an air of mordant humor towards the end of the movie as oblivious pedestrians casually walk through the climactic gunfight as if nothing is happening.

Again, the vérité approach is effective and interesting, but there’s nothing thrilling or exciting about any of this (which is the point). I suppose there is a sort of tension created by the realism though, and it’s effective in a very specific way. A fascinating movie, but it’s not hard to see why it’s difficult to track down a copy (I had to source this through… methods.) If you’re of a certain mindset, this is worth the effort to track down a copy. ***

SwitzerlandMad Heidi – A strange updating of the famous Swiss novel Heidi, with the titular character being a little older and kicking way more ass. Billed as the first “Swissploitation” movie ever created, this has all the hallmarks of a self-conscious effort to be wacky and irreverent, to middling success. Taking a famous Swiss children’s story like Heidi and pitting her against fascists bent on world domination through cheese is a premise that has its charms, and if you are the type of person who can still enjoy cheese puns even after hearing 90 minutes of them, this is the movie for you.

This sort of crass production rides a few lines reasonably well, and if you’re a fan of (literal) cheesy puns, gory violence, and over-the-top performances, you’ll get a kick out of it, but it’s not exactly a new classic, and the self-conscious way in which this is all employed is noticeable and sometimes awkward. In any case, I actually managed to catch this one in the theater (in what turned out to be a Fathom events showing) and the pure luck involved in stumbling onto this meant I had to make the time to get to the one showing. I’m guessing this will be the only foreign film I’ll have the opportunity to see in the theater for this 50 from 50 resolution, and it was a fun time at the theater. (Available to rent in lots of places) **1/2

Bulgaria & KazakhstanBullets of Justice – This is probably the most batshit insane movie I will watch for 50 from 50, which is saying something after having just covered Mad Heidi. During World War III, Americans created hybrid humans/pigs in a project called “Army Bacon.” 25 years later, and these hybrid “Muzzles” have taken over the world and enslaved humanity. Naturally, our hero is part of the resistance, attempting to tear down the Muzzle empire. Or something. It’s all just an excuse of tasteless jokes, full frontal on both men and women, over-the-top gore, gross makeup, and lots of other nonsense. Again, this might be catnip for a very specific audience, and I had some fun with it, but it can’t quite keep momentum even during the blessedly short 76 minute runtime, and it ends with a bit of a copout (though it’s about as good as you could expect from a movie that’s aiming to be this trashy). Not without its charms, but its appeal is limited. Available on Tubi. **

NigeriaJuju Stories – An anthology film with three segments, all surrounding the nebulous concept of Juju magic. In Love Potion, a young woman uses the eponymous love potion to make a man fall in love with her, with no so great results. A concept we’ve all seen before and it’s a fine telling of the story, but it never really goes for the jugular and it doesn’t quite lean into the sense of irony the best love potion stories can invoke.

The second segment, titled Yam, is certainly the oddest and as a result, most memorable segment. It has something to do with young street urchins picking up money off the roadside… and turning into yams. Having discovered that someone turned into a yam, another person decides to cook and eat the yam, which is the obvious course of action. Naturally, he goes insane. Again, memorable, but probably quite divisive.

The third segment is called Suffer the Witch, and tells the story of a witch and her obsession with friendship and love and their cousin, jealousy. Again, nothing especially new here, but a reasonably well done telling of something you’ve probably seen before.

It’s clear the filmmakers love cinema, and make several cinematic references to filmmakers like Kubrick and Wong Kar Wai, but the script is heavy on exposition and could perhaps use another pass, and the budget is clearly too low to accomplish some of what they’re trying. With the exception of Yam’s unpredictable nature, the stories are pretty standard tellings of well trodden territory, but I enjoyed it well enough. Available on Amazon Prime. **

IranThis Is Not a Film – Jafar Panahi is one of the famous Iranian directors that film nerds praise to high heaven, and for whatever reason, I have never seen one of his films. This one always appealed to me though, as the story behind the film is the film. Panahi received a 6-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban from filmmaking and conducting interviews with foreign press due to his open support for the opposition party in Iran’s 2009 election. This non-film documents Panahi’s daily routine under house-arrest as he appeals his sentence. It was shot in secret by Panahi’s friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb and smuggled into France on a USB stick concealed inside a cake for a last-minute submission to the Cannes film festival (and eventually made its way to other festivals and releases).

We often talk about artists bravely exploring taboo subjects or controversial topics, but the sort of staggering defiance on display in this non-film (a self-described effort) is quite rare. The presence of Panahi’s friend Mojtaba Mirtahmasb cleverly exonerates Panahi from the Iranian government’s strictures, even if it’s clear that this film would not be made without Panahi’s direction.

The events of the film range from the mundane and presumably spontaneous (thrill to the sight of Panahi… eating breakfast! Talking on the phone! Watching DVDs!) to the more formal attempts to circumvent the rules, as when Panahi talks us through his most recent rejected screenplay, utilizing masking tape to establish the setting, and reading from the script to describe what’s going on. It’s a doomed effort from the start, but in trying to bring it to life, you get a real feel for Panahi’s restless frustration.

This is not a film

If the film sometimes bogs down into something superficially slow or boring, that’s actually not a problem because there’s so much to think about here, and the film puts you in the shoes of a stifled artist. This sort of suppression and censorship should be a clear warning to those who don’t appreciate our own country’s freedoms, but then, I suspect the people who most need to see this have not and/or will not. If you care about movies, indeed, if you care about artistic expression of any kind, you should watch This is Not a Film. Available on Kanopy. ***1/2

Only five films behind at this point, and I should be able to catch up in the next few weeks. Of course, by then, I will have watched a few more films, but it’ll all work out in the end. Stay tuned, we’ve got a lot of trashy genre fare coming in the next few recaps (which will take us through the 6 Weeks of Halloween)…

50 From 50 – Part V

Continuing my way through a resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries this year (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 30 movies, which is a little ahead of the game, but I’ve only covered 18 on the blog, so I am still behind on the reviews, which is why we’re all here now. More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV]

IndiaLagaan: Once Upon a Time in India – You wouldn’t think that a nearly four hour long Bollywood musical about cricket and the agricultural taxes imposed by colonialism could be this riveting, but this movie would prove you wrong. Sure, it is somewhat leisurely at times, but it’s never boring and it gets stronger as it builds towards a rousing climax.

I saw someone on Letterboxd describe it as Seven Samurai meets The Bad News Bears, which is surprisingly apt, though obviously a bit reductive. That said, the underdog sports tropes are all present and accounted for, even if I still don’t really know much of how Cricket functions. Recruiting the team, learning the sport, training montages, discovering talents, finding unexpected allies, experiencing cruel betrayals, and underhanded villains, it’s all there. And because it’s Bollywood, there are musical numbers sprinkled throughout. I’m not a huge musical fan, but something about this worked a lot better than usual.


I’m sure the Indian cast is full of stars, but my relative lack of exposure to Indian cinema prevents any detailed rundown. That said, Aamir Khan plays the lead well, both as the defiant kid challenging British colonials and as the clueless love interest for a rather odd love triangle (er, quadrangle?) Westerners like myself will no doubt recognize Paul Blackthorne, a consummate “that guy” you’ve probably seen in a dozen tv shows and movies. Here he plays the smarmy British captain who challenges the poor Indian farmers to a game of Cricket – if they win, no taxes for two years; if they lose, triple taxes (the title of the movie, Lagaan, essentially translates to “agricultural tax”). A suitable sports movie villain for sure. The movie looks great too, fantastic cinematography and landscapes, plus it captures the action of Cricket pretty well (even if you don’t know the sport, you can follow along pretty well).

It still a very long movie, but it genuinely doesn’t feel as long as it is (though I did end up having to watch in two sessions, as I didn’t realize it was going to be quite so long) and it’s a very well told story. Available on Netflix. ***1/2

Poland Ashes and Diamonds – On the eve of victory in World War II, various factions struggle to secure their vision for the future of Poland. We mostly follow a couple of rebels set to assassinate a local Communist leader. When their initial attempt fails, the leader becomes suspicious while our rebels try to figure out a backup plan. Along the way, they find themselves wrestling with their actions and potential futures.

An arthouse flick that certainly leans into that wrestling with morality and purpose more than the action or violence at the heart of the story. On the other hand, the aesthetics almost resemble film noir. Stark black and white photography, meticulous compositions, and crisp camera movements all contribute to that noir-esque feel. Of course, the subject matter and Polish origins are atypical for this sort of thing, and this film leans much more heavily into the crises-of-conscience and self-reflection of our heroes than the violence they inflict or the inevitable tragedy they endure.

Ashes and Diamonds

The symbolism is perhaps a little heavy handed (there’s a famous shot in an old bombed-out church involving an inverted crucifix) and the romance that prompts soul searching is perhaps a bit rushed and cliched, but it all comports itself well enough as these sorts of things go. Your mileage may vary, and it requires some context, but it’s quite well done for what it is. Available on Max and Criterion. **1/2

BelgiumMan Bites Dog – I distinctly remember visiting my brother’s dorm room in college once and seeing the poster for this movie. No idea if they still do this sort of thing now, but there was always a sorta decoration sale the first week of school where you could buy stuff to hang up in your dorm room, and a popular choice was movie posters or, in this case, post-card sized movie posters. No one had actually seen this movie, but it’s a striking and memorable poster for sure:

Man Bites Dog Poster

Now, decades later, I’m finally watching it… This movie takes the form of a mockumentary, with a film crew following around a professional serial killer named Ben. As things escalate, the film crew start to participate in the antics themselves. Made in 1992, it’s an early example of the form, and it’s going for an arthouse vibe with shock value thrown in for good measure.

Man Bites Dog

Alas, it comes off as insufferably smug, or, at least, the main subject of the film does. He’s almost immediately unlikeable, and not just because he’s murdering people left and right. Even when he’s eating dinner and quoting poetry, he’s just miserable to be around. This is the point, of course, and watching him drone on and on about banal subjects, you can’t help but wonder why he (or the film crew) thinks this is worthy of documenting. Indeed, you get the feeling that he thinks his inane musings are more important than the murder shenanigans. This sort of thing takes on added meaning in the age of social media, with everyone putting their narcissisms on full display all the time, so perhaps there is something a little prescient about this movie. (Naturally, there is some irony in the fact that I’m writing this here, and indeed, this blog is a testament to my banality, but I’m not a murderer and hopefully not that much of a bore either.)

The film crew’s complicity and participation in the mayhem also remains quite relevant, if not even moreso. Their actions start small, but gradually become more and more flagrant. So there’s plenty to sink your teeth into here and lots to talk about, but the actual process of watching it is a bit dull. There’s a few genuine surprises and shocks, but despite the short 96 minute runtime, it feels a lot longer. I don’t love this and find it hard to recommend, but it’s got interesting subtext and could be of interest to people with the right mindset. Available on Max and Criterion. **1/2

Brazil Elite Squad – When I went to Fantastic Fest (sheesh, well over a decade ago), I actually caught the sequel to this film, but never went back to watch the original. Like the sequel, this film is about police corruption in Brazil as told through the eyes of a burned out captain in BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion – basically the eponymous Elite Squad). He’s on the verge of starting a family and seeking a replacement that he can promote into the role, but the pickins are slim, and the intractable corruption of the various police and political institutions aren’t helping. Add in a visit by the Pope that will necessitate increased police presence in cartel-controlled slums, and a new recruit who gets mixed up in a charitable organization with ties to the cartel, and you’ve got a interesting soup of elements to sip from.

Like the sequel, this film might raise your political hackles at times. The film doesn’t leave anyone out of its crosshairs though. The liberal-coded students and charity workers are portrayed as hopelessly naive and ill-informed, while the police themselves are portrayed in the grip of a deeply corrosive corruption emerging from police leadership, government, and cartel influence. This is all a simplification and it does raise some suspicions (the film doesn’t truly present any solutions, though you could argue one way or the other), but it’s clear that this film is fed up with the status quo.

The film features stylistically effective use of handheld cameras during the action sequences, and well established geography of the various slums contributes to the effectiveness. The use of voiceover and intercut narratives is perhaps a bit less successful, and there are times when the tone feels a bit inconsistent, it ultimately manages to harness it all into an effective package.

Director José Padilha would go on to make his Hollywood debut with an ill-advised remake of RoboCop. After revisiting this Elite Squad series, I do find that Padilha is a rather interesting choice for the task, even if it was doomed to failure before it even started. This is certainly not a perfect film, but it’s thought provoking and well made nonetheless. Watched on Amazon Prime. ***

Finland Nokia Mobile: We Were Connecting People – This is a documentary about the rise and fall of Finish cell-phone maker Nokia. It’s mostly just a talking heads documentary with some archival footage mixed in, but the story is an interesting one that remains relevant to this day. A small technology company experiences sudden, massive success and struggles to maintain its success-creating culture in the shadow of growing pains and calcified leadership. As one of the commentators puts it, “no conspiracy, just business.”

The most eye-opening bit came when a Finnish inventor shows his touchscreen phone, made several years before the iPhone. The elements of the iPhone were all there years earlier, but never really caught on, perhaps due to Nokia being addicted to maintaining their success, or some such. Perfectly cromulent documentary that doesn’t exactly break new ground, but covers an interesting subject. There’s apparently a 60 minute cut that aired on the BBC, but the one on Tubi is the fill 91 minute cut. **1/2

So there you have it, I’m now only 7 movies behind in terms of reviews, and we should be able to close that gap soon enough…

50 From 50 – Part IV

Continuing my way through a resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 29 movies, which is a little ahead of the game, but I’ve only actually covered 13 on the blog, so I am way behind on the reviews. Let’s rectify that, shall we? More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II | Part III]

SpainWomen on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Pedro Almodóvar represents an embarrassing blind spot for me, so this was the perfect opportunity to rectify that situation. A woman, upset when her lover leaves her, whips up a batch of sleeping-pill-laced gazpacho and resolves to kill herself. It’s a comedy! And despite the dark premise (which is more subtext than I’m making it sound), it actually is funny.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

It takes some time setting up the various players and it doesn’t hit madcap levels until the midway point, it’s quite satisfying when the seemingly chaotic series of melodramatic events starts to converge. Excellent performances all around, including frequent Almodóvar collaborator Carmen Maura and a very young Antonio Banderas. The usage of the drugged gazpacho as a sorta Hitchockian time bomb (i.e. the audience knows about the sleeping pills, but most of the characters do not) is a neat trick.

Comedy is one of those things that sometimes doesn’t translate well across cultures, and there might be some of that lost-in-translation stuff here, but it actually worked pretty well for me. A nice balancing act going on here, and it gets stronger as it goes. Available on Freevee. ***

IsraelBig Bad Wolves – A police detective who doesn’t play by anyone’s rules but his own (and sometimes not even those) and a suspected child murderer cross paths with a grieving father of one of the victims out for revenge. It’s also a comedy! Indeed, this is one of those movies whose subject matter is so dark that it’s hard to believe how funny it becomes.

Big Bad Wolves

Another balancing act, this movie really rides the razor’s edge. The comedy keeps it from feeling oppressive while somehow not minimizing the tragedy at the heart of the story. Great performances from the three leads and careful framing and blocking certainly help maintain the tonal balance required to make a bleak farce like this work so well. It’s not for the faint of heart (especially with that ending), but it surprised the hell out of me and I loved it. Available on Amazon Prime. ***1/2

ChinaCliff Walkers – Director Zhang Yimou takes on a twisty espionage thriller about four Communist Party agents trained in the Soviet Union coming back to Japan-occupied China during World War II. It’s the sort of government-friendly story that allows for a bigger budget, but doesn’t feel entirely like slick propaganda either. Impeccably appointed, meticulously crafted, and incredibly convoluted, this isn’t a Bond-esque action flick, but it’s not quite a staid, talky John le Carré type story either. It has its lurid action or torture sequences, betrayals and double crosses, and so on, but it never feels over-the-top.

Cliff Walkers

You will need to pay attention and puzzle out some of the various plot machinations, but I like that sort of thing in a spy movie (your mileage may vary). The snowy backdrops provide plenty of contrast for Zhang’s visual prowess, which is on full display here, and the film looks gorgeous. It’s sometimes hard to track down Zhang Yimou movies, but they’ve been showing up again on various streaming rental services and this one is actually on Freevee (as is Raise the Red Lantern, which is also highly recommended). Someday one of those enterprising physical media companies will give his filmography a nice HD or 4K upgrade, and I’m here for that. ***

MexicoTigers Are Not Afraid – A modern fairy tale about street kids surviving amidst drug cartels and a generally unforgiving world. This is not a comedy! Which is not to say that there is no levity here, just that it’s mostly a bleak experience. Featured on The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder, I’m glad it got the added attention and Joe Bob’s commentary provides insightful background.

Tigers Are Not Afraid

A movie like this really depends heavily on child actors, which can sometimes be a kiss of death, but the kids are amazing here. Naturalistic and entirely believable, it’s not just the performances but also the writing, which is allegorical but sharp. Another deft balancing act going on here, this is recommended. Available on Shudder (with or without Joe Bob). ***

PhilippinesThe Muthers – The second part of a Last Drive-In double feature with Tigers Are Not Afraid, this blacksploitation flick about pirates rescuing women from a coffee plantation has some unusual qualities. Don’t get me wrong, this is totally trashy, lots of cheap action and silliness, but it feels like there’s at least something simmering underneath the surface. It’s hard to apply labels like “feminist” to this given its trashy nature, but there’s absolutely something transgressive about a group of black women rescuing their sisters from a plantation prison while consistently thwarting male advances from every direction.

The Muthers

I don’t know, maybe I’m making too much of that, because this is more exploitation than anything else. We’ve actually seen director Cirio Santiago before during the 1978 Project, as he directed a bonkers flick called Death Force. The Muthers perhaps has more subtext, but they’re both trashy exploitation to their core, and worth watching if that’s your thing. **1/2

Progress! Still far behind in reviews, but I should be able to catch up soon enough.

50 From 50 – Part III

Catching up on quick reviews of movies watched for my resolution to watch 50 movies from 50 different countries (lots of caveats and rules for what qualifies, as enumerated in that introductory post.) I’m currently at 21 movies watched, which is basically on track, but I’ve only reviewed the first 9 of those. More 50 From 50: [Intro | Part I | Part II]

Sweden Thriller: A Cruel Picture – Early art-house rape revenge flick that earns its subtitle. A young mute girl named Frigga (played by Christina Lindberg) endures abuse at a young age, gets tricked, kidnapped, and hooked on heroin by a suave business pimp who uses her addiction to force her into prostitution. She resists at first, so he pokes out one of her eyes. Weirdly, he’s a sorta hands-off pimp, relying on the heroin addiction to keep his girls in line, but mostly leaving them alone (I guess he thinks he’s clever, but while his approach is obviously cheap, it’s not exactly secure, as the rest of the film demonstrates). Once Frigga saves up enough tips, she goes out and takes classes in martial arts, shooting, and… rally driving!? Once she’s ready, she goes on a glorious revenge spree.

Thriller: A Cruel Picture

The film has a complicated history with multiple cuts available at this point. The original cut of 107 minutes was banned by the Swedish film censorship board, and several unapproved cuts later, it was finally released in an 82 minute cut. This cut came to be known as the “They Call Her One Eye” cut and is probably the source of the film’s reputation as an almost fun exploitation romp (and I’m assuming there’s a 20 minute Tarantino rant out there extolling the virtues of the film that also helps – he clearly references this in his work, particularly in Kill Bill). The original cut was released on 4K in 2022 by Vinegar Syndrome and the added footage ranges from interesting (lingering shots, arty slow motion violence) to the completely unnecessary (multiple hardcore sex inserts during the early part of the film – I get what they’re going for, but you don’t need to see that level of explicit violation to get the point, which the rest of the film amply establishes).

Look, this sort of movie isn’t really supposed to be fun, but there’s a visceral yet conflicted feel you get from the vengeance that works well. It’s rare that a revenge film can capture the catharsis of revenge but also the emptiness inherent in the act. I haven’t explored the other cuts on the Vinegar Syndrome release, but I suspect the shorter cuts are significantly more successful than the original Thriller: A Cruel Picture cut. Still, it’s a worthwhile early example of the genre. Watched on Vinegar Syndrome 4K ***

Uganda Bad Black – When I started this resolution, I knew I had to pick a film from Wakaliwood (a portmanteau of Hollywood and the town of Wakaliga, Uganda). Produced, written, and directed by Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey (aka Nabwana IGG), this is another in a long string of no-budget DIY action flicks that nonetheless manage to capture film dork hearts. And when I say “no-budget”, I mean it. We’re talking cheap nerf-knockoff guns (or guns made of sticks) and cardboard sets (or just shooting on location).

Bad Black

It’s all undeniably crude, but the sense of joy on screen is infectious, and Nabwana IGG has a good sense of action. Frenetic editing that remains clear, some actual martial arts, and of course, the greatest invention of Wakaliwood – the VJ track. When Uganda first began getting movies from the West, they didn’t come with subtitles… so they improvised. A local storyteller would narrate the film and explain what was going on for audiences. This eventually evolved from a “Video Jockey” type of experience into a “Video Joker”, who would inject a little of their own personality into things, resulting in a blend of straight narration, MST3K style jokes, and hype man bravado. So when Nabwana IGG started making his own action epics, he kept the tradition alive, and it’s glorious. Bad Black is narrated by VJ Emmie, who describes himself as a master of “tongue fu”, and he has several memorable one liners (most notably “This doctor needs borders!”) 

Look, this isn’t exactly high art and it’s impossible to rate this sort of thing, but it’s hard not to appreciate the sheer enthusiasm and glee on display here. Where else will you see a little kid wearing pink crocks named Wesley Snipes train a doctor from Doctors Without Borders in the arts of ass-kicking commando vengeance? Nowhere. Watched on Amazon Prime.

Senegal Saloum – Tense genre-mashup incorporating action, adventure, crime, revenge, neo-Western, political drama, and horror rooted in African mythology. A group of mercenaries rescue a drug lord, but need to hide out in a small region of Senegal. While they make preparations to fix their airplane, local mystical forces gather.


This is another low-budget African production, but this is much slicker and utterly gorgeous to look at. The acting is top notch and the genre mashup plot contains many unexpected twists and turns. It’s not perfect and the ending is a bit abrupt, but getting a bunch of disparate characters together and dropping them into a desperate situation that forces them to work together is an effective approach. Despite it’s many influences, it feels cohesive and whole, and well worth checking out if you’re looking for something new and interesting. Watched on Shudder. ***

France Beau travail – A guy in the French Foreign Legion gets jealous of one of the new recruits. Or something like that, as this is one of those plotless French arthouse flicks that is gorgeously photographed, but has almost no dialogue and is very slowly paced. Lots of angst, ennui, repression and while this was made in 1999, it touches on a bunch of topics that are quite in vogue right now (i.e. colonialism, toxic masculinity, repressed homosexuality, etc…) It’s hypnotically naturalistic and feels like visual poetry, with an enigmatic ending that is beautiful and sad. It’s also emphatically not my thing, and I was bored out of my mind for a good portion of the (blessedly short) runtime. It’s one of several movies I’ve seen in the past few years that feel like parodies of themselves. Like, if you ask someone to come up with a parody of French Arthouse movies, you would get something resembling this movie. Watched on HBO Max. **

And we’ll leave it there for now. I’m still quite a few movies behind, but we’ll catch up soon enough…