Jar City

You can’t escape the past.

Wandering through an unforgiving Icelandic landscape, a cop who’s seen too much finds he can still be surprised — though not necessarily in a good way — in this fairly-unique mystery thriller.

The complex case sprawling out in from him stretches back decades, hitting on murder most foul, rape, corrupt cops, and a rare disease wreaking havoc on multiple lives.

So, not exactly a laugh-a-minute comedy, is what I’m saying, I guess.

But, if you like your foreign detective flicks to be gorgeously downbeat and moody as all get out, this is a trip worth taking.

Save the Green Planet

The truth will set you free.

You just might not have all your body parts left when that happens, however.

Things get gnarly when a deeply-disturbed young man unleashes a vendetta, kidnapping and torturing a business leader who he believes is secretly a reptilian ET bent on world domination.

Grisly, yet also giggle-inducing at times, this loopy South Korean treat starts bizarre, then jams the gas pedal through the floor on its way to full-on demented status.

Not for those who get panicky at the sight of gore, maybe, but a worthy trip for those who embrace the surreal.

Battle Royale

Taboo to mainstream.

What a long, strange trip for this tale of Japanese schoolkids forced to fight to the death on a far-flung island.

The final film from a 40-year career for director Kinji Fukasaku, it predates The Hunger Games novels by almost a decade, and originally could only be seen on often-fuzzy bootleg tapes.

Nowadays, I can just fire up my Roku and find this ripe slice of the ol’ ultraviolence on any of a hundred streaming channels.

Either way, it was, and is, a punch to the gut in a way no PG-13 blockbuster ripoff/homage can ever be.


Have sword, will annihilate.

In the later Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns based on this Japanese samurai film, the human killing machine could do his work from a distance, thanks to the power of guns.

Here, Toshiro Mifune, one of the great bad-ass warriors in cinema history, has to get in close to let his blade do its full damage.

Slicing ‘n dicing, twirling ‘n whirling, his rōnin is a hack-happy avenging angel, out to wash the stench of evil warlords from the land. One body at a time.

Hugely influential, it continues to inspire action films to this day.


The Plagues of Breslau

Hidden gold.

I went into this serial killer thriller knowing one thing — it was foreign — but even then didn’t have a clue what language would be pouring out of the TV.

Turns out it’s from Poland, and stars the bristling Małgorzata Kożuchowska, who reminds me a lot of Cate Blanchett.

Here, she’s a deeply-grieving cop whose life is upended by a series of bizarre murders, all tied to local history, and all with the departed being major a-holes.

The twists and turns are frequent, the atmosphere is grim times 100, and Kożuchowska is first-rate.

This one stings, in a good way.