The Night House

by David Bruckner
Specifics
2020 / 107m - USA, UK
Genre
Horror, Mystery
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Night House poster

A slow burn that's a bit too slow and doesn't burn quite bright enough to be truly successful. Bruckner certainly has a knack for horror, that much is clear as there are some truly arresting scenes here. That said, I think he could use someone to trim and edit everything down to a more interesting film.

Beth mourns her recently deceased husband Owen. Seemingly out of nowhere Owen killed himself, leaving Beth behind with a lot of questions. When she is rummaging through his stuff, she finds a picture of a young woman on his phone. Beth starts to suspect Owen had a secret life she didn't know about.

The Night House felt like a collage of familiar horror elements that never really come together in a very coherent manner. There are some proper scares here, Hall is a decent enough actress and the mystery is upheld until the very end. Still, there are quite a few dead moments and too many unresolved horror elements to be considered a genre highlight. Solid filler.

Skeleton of Mrs. Morales

by Rogelio A. González
Also known as
El Esqueleto de la Señora Morales
Specifics
1960 / 85m - Mexico
Genre
Comedy, Crime
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Skeleton of Mrs. Morales poster

I'm not too familiar with Mexican cinema, except for their more recent horror wave, so it was nice to be able to watch one of their classics. Though some people have branded Skeleton of Mrs Morales a horror film, it's really more a crime film with dark comedic undertones. Yes, there is a skeleton, but that's about as scary as it gets.

Mr. Morales is a taxidermist. He loves his work and finds peace in what he does. His wife isn't too taken with his profession though. She complains, moans and whines. After a hellish marriage of 20 years, Mr. Morales is fed up with the situation, and he decides to kill her. All he needs is the perfect plan.

The clean black and white cinematography is nice enough and the lighter tone makes this a pretty easy watch. The story is pretty plain though and while the film is quite short, it still feels like it overstays its welcome. Not the most memorable of films I'm afraid, but not the worst classic either.

Limbo

Also known as
Ji Chi
Specifics
2021 / 118m - Hong Kong, China
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
4.5*/5.0*
Limbo poster

After a decade of mediocre blockbusters, Pou-Soi Cheang returns with a vengeance. Limbo is a gritty police thriller, a sprawling update of the film noir genre that thrills from start to finish. The stark black and white cinematography and the incredible visual density are the star of the show here, aided by Kenji Kawai's moody soundtrack. The plot is intriguing too, the performances are on point and the pacing is perfect. I had already given up on Cheang, but with Limbo he shows that he still has it in him. A truly magnificent genre flick.

My Blood & Bones in a Flowing Galaxy

Also known as
Kudakechiru Tokoro O Misete Ageru
Specifics
2020 / 127m - Japan, Germany
Genre
Drama, Thriller
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
My Blood & Bones in a Flowing Galaxy poster

Tanaka's latest is pretty peculiar, though also one of his lesser films. It starts off as a sweet but slow drama, only to take a drastic turn during the final half hour. Tanaka is known for the way he can quickly switch between different genres, so that's not really the issue. It's just that the (longer) drama segment is a bit pedestrian.

When Hamada arrives late to a school meeting, he sees how Hari, a freshman student, is bullied quite harshly by her classmates. The bullying grows worse and Hamada decides to protect the girl to the best of his ability. The two enjoy each other's company, but Hamada is about to find out that Hari hides a dark secret.

The performances are solid, the drama is decent, but decent isn't good enough for Tanaka. Maybe if the bullying part had been reduced a little the balance would've ended up more satisfactory. The ending is pretty great though, it's there that Tanaka's talents surface again, but it's too little, too late to make this a true masterpiece.

The Promised Neverland

by Yuichiro Hirakawa
Also known as
Yakusoku no Neverland
Specifics
2020 / 119m - Japan
Genre
Fantasy
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Promised Neverland poster

On the one hand, you have Haibane Renmei and Innocence, on the other The Maze Runner and Attack of the Titans. The Promised Neverland finds itself somewhere in the middle. A fantasy film about a group of foster kids stuck in a walled-in domain, not quite as action-based as its blockbuster peers, but not as stylish as its more artistic brethren.

Emma, Ray and Norman are best friends. They live in a remote orphanage and are forbidden to leave the premises. When Emma and Norman explore the gardens one evening, they discover the awful truth. The kids at the orphanage are live stock for demons, who feed on their brains.

The presentation is nice, the fantasy elements are creative enough, it's only the performances that drag the quality down. The kids are pretty annoying and there's no lack of overacting. The direction could've been a bit more distinctive too, other than that this was a pretty solid fantasy film.

Patton

by Franklin J. Schaffner
Specifics
1970 / 172m - USA
Genre
War
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Patton poster

Biography about a boorish US army general who made a name for himself during WWII. I'm not big on army films, in part due to the crude characters army films love to promote. Patton is 100% that, a glorification of a man who got things done by being as blunt and pigheaded as possible.

The film doesn't give a full overview of Patton's life, but hones in on his army accomplishments, as he flanks the Germans by fighting his way through North Africa. Through some speeches and several battle scenes we learn what kind of man he is, which is pretty much all there is to this film.

I'm not 100% sure if intended, but Schaffner's portrayal of Patton is somewhat comical. A simple-minded army nut with crass one-liners who tramples through war like an elephant in a china shop. That's amusing enough for a while, but it doesn't fill three hours of film. The second half really drags, making this quite an ordeal to finish.

Black Widow

by Cate Shortland
Specifics
2021 / 134m - USA
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Black Widow poster

Watching Black Widow, all I could think was how nice this Marvel-less time has been. This film was presented as "something new" in the MCU, but it's really just another Marvel flick, chasing that same mix of action, fantasy, sci-fi and light comedy. If you were hoping for some grittier spy elements, prepare to be disappointed.

Natasha Romanoff was trained by the Soviets to be the ultimate fighting weapon. Years passed and Natasha moved to the US, joining the Avenger squad. But then her past comes back to haunt her. She runs into her sister, reacquaints herself with her parents and together, they take on their former enemy.

Pugh and Johansson are poor action stars, the comedy bits don't come across at all and the fake Russian accents are quite painful. The villains and costumes are as cheesy as ever, so don't expect anything dark, grim or brooding. This is just another film that tries to throw every genre in the mix in order to appeal to the broadest audience possible. Bland and tasteless.

Free Willy

by Simon Wincer
Specifics
1993 / 112m - USA, Mexico
Genre
Family
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Free Willy poster

The one where a kid befriends a killer whale. Kids befriending animals was a bit of a thing in the late 80s/early 90s, though most series and films preferred to work with smaller animals. Willy on the other hand is a sizeable killer whale, not really man's best friend, then again realism was never this film's goal.

Jesse lives with a foster family, but he's somewhat unruly. He runs away and spray paints the local aquarium. He gets apprehended by the police, to teach him a lesson Jesse is forced to work in the aquarium. There he meets Willy, a killer whale who isn't too happy swimming around in his little prison.

A film that exemplifies USA kitsch for kids. Cheesy performances, a bland plot, dumb characters and a cringy ending make this quite the trial to sit through, not in the least because the film almost lasts two hours. I remember not liking this one as a kid either, so it's not just a matter of target audience. Kids deserve better entertainment than this, but at least it raised awareness about killer whales kept in captivity.

There's Someone Inside Your House

by Patrick Brice
Specifics
2021 / 96m - USA
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
2.5*/5.0*
There's Someone Inside Your House poster

Nowadays, there aren't too many slashers being made that benefit from a decent budget, so I was eager to see what director Brice would do in this niche. There surely are some enlightened moments here, but they are swamped by subpar drama and lazy plot cruft. Not what a good slasher needs.

Makani Young and her friends are shocked when one of their classmates is brutally murdered, right after his nasty secret is revealed. A masked killer is seeking out students who have a secret to hide, which is pretty much everyone. Makani too has a dark past, one her friends don't know about, so she fears the killer is coming after her next.

Annoying teens are a staple of the genre, but normally they die fast, and they don't get too much exposure beyond the time needed to set up the next kill. The kills themselves aren't too bad (though not very creative), there's just too much dead time between them and the characters, nor the final reveal are really worth it. Basic genre filler.

Terminal

by Vaughn Stein
Specifics
2018 / 95m - Hong Kong, USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Terminal poster

UK crime meets US noir. Terminal is a strange little beast, sporting a rather cartoonist setup mixed with very style-conscious direction. It's a film that forgoes a serious plot and character building in favor of grim glee and pure cinematic fun. Director Stein effort is laudable, but his film did end up feeling a little empty, lacking that bit of excess madcap that makes a film like this truly stand out.

Vince and Alf are two small-time crooks who love the mystery of the crime world. When they're given the number of a locker in a near-abandoned train station, it feels like a dream come through. There they meet Annie, a vampy waitress who runs the bar in the station. Alf is immediately smitten by the girl, but she hides a darker truth that might be their undoing.

The trashy, industrial and neon-drenched sets are no doubt the highlight of the film. The characters are a bit flakier. Fletchers's Vince is pretty great, Pegg is also on point, Robbie (too close to Harley Quinn) and Myers (a miscast) feel a little lost. The film also lacks a few more colorful characters who could've added some extra spark. As for the dialogue, there are early Ritchie vibes there, which is sure to divide audiences. All in all, there's a lot to love, Terminal just lacks a few finishing touches.

The Public Enemy

by William A. Wellman
Specifics
1931 / 84m - USA
Genre
Thriller, Crime
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
The Public Enemy poster

A classic crime film. It's really nothing special, then again that's probably because so many films in its wake followed a very similar template. I'm not at all surprised someone like Scorsese cites this as a film to watch, it's a crime landmark with Cagney as a rough model for Joe Pesci's most famous roles.

Tom and Matt are two friends who grew up in poor immigrant families. They hang out with Putty Nose and become low-ranking criminals. They have ambition, and they quickly rise through the ranks. When the Prohibition hits, they see their chance to make it big, but you don't become an important criminal without making a couple of enemies along the way.

Men in coats and hats, rainy settings and grubby black and white cinematography are the perfect ingredients for a crime noir, which will surely please the fans. I'm not one of them, so all I'm left with is a relatively short runtime and decent pacing. This one is for classic genre fans only.

A Prayer Before Dawn

by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
Specifics
2017 / 116m - USA, France
Genre
Action, Crime
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
A Prayer Before Dawn poster

A foreign prison drama with strong action and crime elements. The setup isn't too original, and the film is more than happy to indulge in all the inhuman practices that typically go along with foreign prison stories, but Sauvaire's more than decent stylistic choices make sure it's more than a weepy-eyed drama.

Billy Moore is a British citizen who ends up in one of Thailand's most infamous prisons. His drug addiction complicates his life there, and he has trouble fitting in, but his former boxing experience offers him a way out. He joins the Muay Thai club and is allowed to fight for his freedom.

Raw and gritty are the keyword here, and Sauvaire manages to translate that rather adequately through intense camera work and a brooding score. The performances are solid too, the biggest problem is that there isn't really enough material to fill two hours of film. The middle is a bit long in the tooth and the finale lacks punch. Other than that, a pretty nice discovery.

Spiral

by Jôji Iida
Also known as
Rasen
Specifics
1998 / 97m - Japan
Genre
Horror
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Spiral poster

The one Ringu film I hadn't seen yet. The series has been messy from the very start, with different adaptations and split narratives competing for attention. Spiral is an alternative sequel to the first Ringu, separate from Nakata's films, closer to the original novels. It's not a typical Sadako scare flick, but a slightly weirder and more fantastical take on Ringu lore.

After the events of the first film, an autopsy on Takayama's body reveals a paper in his stomach with a cryptic message on it. Ando is triggered by this message and decides to investigate by himself. It doesn't take long before he is confronted with the videotape myth. At first he doesn't believe, but when people around him start dying, Ando fears for his life.

The film starts off basic enough and the first half is pretty much what you'd expect from a Ringu film, though without some of the more obvious scares. The finale is quite something else though. A pretty radical switch not everyone will appreciate, I felt it was a welcome variation on a by now worn out formula. Performances are decent, the cinematography and score a little lackluster, but if you're looking for a more challenging take on Ringu, this one doesn't disappoint.

Nowhere to Run

by Robert Harmon
Specifics
1993 / 94m - USA
Genre
Action
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Nowhere to Run poster

90s JCVD. The man was a pretty terrible actor, he wasn't even a great action star, but somehow he had no trouble finding films to star in. He did headline in a couple of decent core action flicks, but he also tried to establish himself as an actor with broader capabilities. Which brings us to Nowhere to Run, a film with minor drama and romance elements to balance out the action.

Sam is a prisoner who gets lucky one day and sees a chance to escape. He ends up on a farm with Clydie and her two kids. He is allowed to stay, and he's very thankful to her. So much in fact that he decides to protect Clydie and her family when they are threatened by a local businessman.

JCVD is terrible, the drama is laughable, and the action scenes are pretty dim. You don't have to hope for a great story either, there's really not much there. It's one of those films that kinda survives on pacing alone. Things move forward fast enough so that it never becomes too boring, but I was hard-pressed to come up with anything positive once the film was finished.

Intrusion

by Adam Salky
Specifics
2021 / 92m - USA
Genre
Thriller
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Intrusion poster

A very plain and predictable thriller. The biggest twist when seeing a modern thriller like this is that there isn't an actual second twist. The film is so adamant on revealing its mystery early on that it's hard to believe director Salky was actually serious about it. It makes the entire second and third act flat and pointless.

Meera and Henry just moved into their new home. Henry is an architect and designed the house himself. Not long after, they come home to find someone has broken into their house. Henry installs an alarm system, but a couple of nights later the thieves return, hoping to find what they were looking for.

The presentation is actually pretty decent. Nothing spectacular, but the camera work and soundtrack have their moments. A film like this hinges on its mystery and suspense though and there's very little of that here. Way too predictable and nonsensical, something you might've gotten away with 40 years ago, nowadays, it's just silly.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes

by Ted Post
Specifics
1970 / 95m - USA
Genre
Sci-fi, Adventure
More info:
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Beneath the Planet of the Apes poster

The first sequel to the infamous sci-fi classic. The scope and ambition were clearly different for this cheesy follow-up, though quality-wise it doesn't even make that much of a difference. I never cared much for the carnivalesque originals, especially since they take themselves so very seriously. What should've been a celebration of camp ends up being a crude and misguided attempt at morality.

Brent is sent on a mission to find and rescue the astronauts that went missing in the first film. He too jumps forward into the future, arriving at the ape planet. When he overhears the apes wanting to kill all humans, Brent decides to flee deeper into the wilderness. He isn't really prepared for what he will find there though.

The costumes are terrible, performances are crummy and the plot is half rehash of the first film, half random nonsense. I wouldn't have minded that much had it all been for the sake of entertainment, but the film tries way too hard to say something meaningful about humanity. Apart from the short underground adventure segment in the middle, a real hassle to sit through.

Carnage: Swallowing the Past

by Simon Amstell
Specifics
2017 / 65m - UK
Genre
Comedy
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Carnage: Swallowing the Past poster

A rather novel way to try and push the vegan message. Instead of making a whiney documentary, comedian Simon Amstell made a jolly mockumentary. It's certainly a lot easier to sit through, though ultimately it does come down to the same thing, especially during the second half, when the comedy starts to dwindle.

The film imagines a near-distant future where everybody is vegan. The elderly are ashamed of their carnivore past, young people can't fathom that people used to kill and eat animals. A history of veganism takes us back and shows how the people of the past became more receptive to the idea, ultimately switching around completely.

I love deprecating comedy, but Amstell's attempts feel rather forced and not at all genuine. The first half has some decent jokes, but it becomes repetitive real fast and by the time the second half kicks off, the entertainment value has dropped below zero. That might've been the point, but since Amstell fails to make any original arguments, I didn't care for the second half at all. In the end, this felt a bit half-arsed, but bonus points for trying something new.

Bingo Hell

by Gigi Saul Guerrero
Specifics
2021 / 85m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Bingo Hell poster

One of the first films to come out of the Blumhouse/Amazon deal. I can't say it's a very promising start. It's nice that they're trying to go with a less predictable cast and a different setting, but when the horror bits are done this poorly, it's not really making much of a statement I'm afraid.

Lupita lives in Oak Springs, a small community that has been her home for years. Gentrification is becoming a problem, but the people of Oak Springs awaits a worse fate when a new Bingo hall opens its doors. A strange man offers big lump sums of money for people who come and play in his establishment. After they win, they all end up dead.

Blumhouse is used to working with lower budgets, director Guerrero not so much it seems. The film looks quite cheap, the horror is pretty bland and unimpressive and the performances are borderline acceptable. The jolly music isn't an asset either. Kudos for trying something different, but a concept like this needs a better director to succeed.

I Was Born, But...

by Yasujirô Ozu
Also known as
Otona no Miru Ehon - Umarete wa Mita Keredo
Specifics
1932 / 100m - Japan
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info:
rating
1.5*/5.0*
I Was Born, But... poster

I haven't seen too many Ozu films, certainly not his older/silent work, still this felt very much like a very typical Ozu production. The young protagonists, the focus on lighter slice of life segments and some smaller but poignant drama scenes seem to characterize his most famous work.

The film follows two young brothers around. They do the stuff young kids do, including looking up to their father, who likes to boast about his position in society. Their dream in shattered when one day they follow their father to his work, discovering that he is regularly made a fool of by his boss.

The lightness and the charm of the main characters makes this a pretty easy watch, on the other hand I didn't find a lot to actually care about. Stylistically it's very functional, the soundtrack is quite boring, while the drama isn't very memorable. Fans of silent cinema will get more out of this one, I on the other hand am pretty sure I prefer Ozu's later work, even though it's certainly not the worst silent I've seen.

Appleseed XIII: Ouranos

by Takayuki Hamana
Specifics
2011 / 84m - Japan
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Animation
More info:
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Appleseed XIII: Ouranos poster

Slightly better than the first part, though that's probably because Ouranos serves the conclusion to the Appleseed XIII story arc. There's no more need for a lengthy setup or mid-film filler, instead Ouranos offers a more straightforward path to the finale. And it does a pretty job too, considering the limitations and hurdles that come with it being a compilation film.

Poseidon, the pro-human terrorist organization, is still trying to get into the way of Olympus' plans. This time around, they're trying to stop the launch of a space craft. 10 individuals have been chosen to lead the mission, one by one they're being picked off. Deunan and Briareos are put on the case to keep the remaining ones alive.

The animation is still a little iffy, but since the second part is a bit more action-packed it is not that noticeable. The conclusion was pretty tense, the plot slightly better than the first film and the mix between action and politics/mythology/drama up to Appleseed standards. Certainly the weakest of all the Appleseed films, but Ouranos is a welcome step up from Tartaros.

Disneyland, My Old Homeland

by Arnaud des Pallières
Also known as
Disneyland, Mon Vieux Pays Natal
Specifics
2002 / 46m - France
Genre
Documentary
More info:
rating
0.5*/5.0*
Disneyland, My Old Homeland poster

My best guess is that Arnaud des Pallières doesn't like Disneyland. Not sure what else to make of this documentary. The man sets up an analogy between Disneyland and Pied Piper of Hamelin, then plans a visit to the amusement park to shoot some footage, making that appear as depressing as possible.

The doc clearly lacks an openness to experience this world many people love to visit, instead Pallières seems more interested in supporting his own ideas and talking about them endlessly. It really feels like this documentary was already "finished" before a single frame of footage was recorded.

It certainly doesn't help that Pallières' attempts to add dread are horrendous. The music is cheap, the sound effects are hilarious, the short bits of animation are grating. It certainly wants to be very deep and serious and people sharing Pallières' sentiments might get a kick out of it, personally I didn't see anything more than 45 minutes of misdirected whining.

American Beauty

by Sam Mendes
Specifics
1999 / 122m - USA
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info:
rating
4.0*/5.0*
toplist position
American Beauty poster

Mendes' debut is a film that count. The way he takes the piss out of adulthood and America's suburban facade is pretty striking, though I wouldn't go as far as to say the film is holding up a mirror. It's a lovely dark comedy though, with great performances, somewhat grotesque characters and a perfect balance between funny bits and heartfelt moments, some of them happening in the very same scenes. Mendes' career dwindled after this film, but at least he left us with one bona fide masterpiece.

A Family

by Michihito Fujii
Also known as
Yakuza to Kazoku: The Family
Specifics
2020 / 136m - Japan
Genre
Crime
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
A Family poster

Japan loves a good crime story, it's one of the genres that's had prominent representation since forever. A Family is a nice update of the typical Yakuza story, with some more contemporary visuals, a younger set of actors, but a very familiar and expected plot. If you like a good Yakuza flick, this is an easy recommend.

Kenji's live comes crashing down when his dad dies of a drug overdose. His life feels aimless, and he ends up joining a Yakuza gang. There he meets Hiroshi Shibasaki, the clan's boss. Shibasaki reaches out to Kenji and a father-son bond develops between the two, with Kenji slowly rising through the ranks.

I certainly don't mind a good Yakuza film, but A Family is a bit long for my taste, especially since it doesn't really stand out stylistically. It offers a typical crime plot, some nicely shot scenes, solid performances and a minimum of action, but it's nothing I hadn't seen before. Prime filler in other words.

Major Grom: Plague Doctor

by Oleg Trofim
Also known as
Mayor Grom: Chumnoy Doktor
Specifics
2021 / 136m - Russia
Genre
Sci-fi, Action
More info:
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Major Grom: Plague Doctor poster

Russia has been manifesting itself as a blockbuster-producing nation these past couple of years, Major Grom is another step in the right direction. Though the superhero genre has been stretched to its limits, it's still somewhat of a landmark to position yourself into the mainstream market.

Grom is somewhat of a rogue cop. Everywhere he goes, mayhem follows, but he does get cases solved. Until one day he finds himself opposite a figure wearing a cape and plague mask. He is chasing down rich folk who paid their way out of justice, killing them one by one. Grom is of course eager to stop him.

The effects are on point, Trofim's direction is appropriately flashy, the characters are fun, the film doesn't take itself too serious. In other words, Major Grom is everything I expect a good blockbuster to be. The film's maybe a tad too long, other than that, this was very entertaining, that's more than I can say about most Marvel productions.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

by Jack Arnold
Specifics
1957 / 81m - USA
Genre
Sci-fi, Horror
More info:
rating
2.0*/5.0*
The Incredible Shrinking Man poster

Like a good deal of classic sci-fi/horror films, this film is more about cheese and kitsch than it is about actual genre appeal. In that sense, The Incredible Shrinking Man surely delivers, but it's not something I'm particularly fond of. I'd rather watch some actual sci-fi/horror stuff.

During a sailing trip, Scott is caught be a mysterious cloud. He is covered in a shiny type of dust afterwards, but he's otherwise fine. Back home, he does feel something is off. His clothes don't fit like they used to, and it dawns on him that he is slowly shrinking. The doctors don't quite believe him, but even they can't ignore the facts.

The effects are pretty decent for an old film and there are some scenes that got a few giggles out of me, but that's about all there was to it. The horror scenes are flaky, the sci-fi elements are very limited, and the film is often too serious for its own good. At least it was pretty short, so boredom never set in.