Horror anthologies are usually a good way to discover new talent, but when the talent isn't there they can turn bad real fast. Maniac Tales makes a genuine effort to deliver something worthwhile, but none of the shorts manage to leave an impression, and the wraparound segment is wholly incompetent.

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A Mexican refugee (Juan) is rescued by an older man, and given a job as a concierge in a small building. The people living there are pretty peculiar, but a screenwriter for a popular horror series takes the cake. Juan investigates her disappearance and finds a video with the films she wrote.

The horror is pretty scarce, the tension is disappointing, the cinematography and score are well below the norm and the performances are weak. There are some nice ideas, but the execution simply isn't there and at nearly two hours long, the film overstays its welcome. A pretty weak horror anthology.

Cold Pursuit

2019 / 119m - USA
Comedy, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Cold Pursuit poster

Moland remakes his own original for a global audience. And what better actor to front a revenge flick than Liam Neeson? That means you pretty much know what to expect from Cold Pursuit, except maybe the dark comedy that pops up from time to time. Probably because of Moland's Norwegian roots.

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Nels is a simple man who loves his family and his job. When his son is reported dead, presumably because of an overdose, he refuses to believe his son was a drug addict. Not much later he finds out a local drug cartel was responsible for his death, so Nels starts to plan his revenge.

The plot isn't too original, but Moland's another-man-down setup is pretty funny and some dry and deadpan comedy interludes contrast nicely with the usual revenge/thriller motives. The cast is pretty decent, the snowy setting pleasant, and the pacing on point. Nothing too remarkable, but pretty good filler.

Nope

2022 / 135m - USA
Sci-fi, Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
Nope poster

Jordan Peele's latest is his best to date. Maybe it's because he finally abandoned the horror genre, or maybe he's become just a bit more confident as a director, but this mix of mystery, sci-fi, and self-aware comedy was a lot tighter than his previous films. Nope is the first Peele I thoroughly enjoyed.

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OJ helps out his dad on their ranch, where they train horses to be used in Hollywood productions. One day a freak accident kills his father and all the weight lands on OJ's shoulders. When his sister comes to visit the strange events start anew, and OJ confesses that he might have seen a UFO circling above.

There are some nifty ideas and cool designs that help the film stand out, but it's Peele's peculiar and focused direction that set it apart from other alien invasion flicks. The length never got in the way and the mystery is maintained until pretty late in the film. Also, the comedic moments worked well for a change. Better than expected.

Laurent Garnier: Off the Record

2021 / 90m - UK
Documentary, Music
3.5*/5.0*
Laurent Garnier: Off the Record poster

Techno isn't my musical homecoming, but it is a nice holiday vacation, and so I was pretty interested to see that one of the biggest names in the scene got his own documentary. Certainly when I noticed the people being interviewed. There are the usual suspects of course, but also much more underground artists like Manu le Malin and Lenny Dee. Luckily, this portrait of Garnier (and the rise of techno in Europe in general) didn't disappoint.

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Like most of these docs, it does become quite clear that it's impossible to cover the various European scenes in the span of a single feature-length film. They are each so different, with their own local myths, legends, and history, that it just doesn't fit. I was still happy to see nods to the Dutch, Belgian and German scenes, but the main focus is Garnier's own techno niche.

The film does manage to touch on various core electronic concepts (club culture, faceless artists, societal stigma) while showing a bit more of the person that is Lauren Garnier, even when he keeps his family life very private. Off the Record is a pretty balanced, respectful, and well-made doc, and I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more of this, covering similarly influential artists from different scenes. Good stuff.

Death by Death

Je Me Tue à le Dire
2015 / 86m - Belgium
Comedy
Death by Death poster

This felt like a spiritual successor to Man Bites Dog, even though the comedy isn't as black and/or biting. Death by Death goes for a more absurd take on a dramatic subject, and boy does it deliver. The deadpan delivery starkly contrasts with the oddball characters, the absurd setups, and some random, nonsensical intermissions. Add grainy black and white cinematography, a quirky soundtrack, and a dash of Wallon charm, and you have a film that is sure to puzzle (and no doubt annoy) people who aren't cruising the same comedy wavelength as the director. Pretty hilarious, but also very niche.

20th Century Nostalgia

20-Seiki Nosutarujia
1997 / 93m - Japan
Drama
3.5*/5.0*
20th Century Nostalgia poster

An interesting time capsule experiment. It's funny to watch this film a quarter of a century after its initial release when its nostalgia appeal is finally in full effect. 20th Century Nostalgia isn't a film about looking back at the past, it is a film about documenting the now, so people could feel nostalgic about it later. It's also a cute little video diary about love, where both aspects live happily together.

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Anzu and Toru spend the summer together working on a film. But then Toru suddenly leaves for Australia and Anzu is left to finish the film alone. She struggles to end the project and is on the verge of abandoning it altogether, when looking through all the tapes they shot finally reveals some hidden truths about their relationship.

What appeared to be a Hirosue vanity project is actually a very sweet and touching film that documents the summer of two kids finding themselves through the shoot of a daft little amateur film. The acting is fine, the pacing solid and even though the start is a bit rocky, the film really grew on me. 90s nostalgia isn't even necessary to appreciate this one, but it does help. A fine discovery.

No One's Ark

Baka no Hakobune
2003 / 111m - Japan
Comedy, Drama
3.5*/5.0*
No One's Ark poster

Early Yamashita. If you're familiar with his other films, you'll easily see some of his trademark elements popping up. No One's Ark is a deadpan drama with some absurd moments scattered throughout. It's a bit raw and unpolished still, but fans of Yamashita's later films should give this one a shot.

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A young couple commits to starting a business. They've got a health drink to sell, but their attempts in Tokyo failed miserably. So they move to the countryside to try their luck there. The problem is that the drink tastes horrible, and they don't really have a proper game plan to get their business off the ground.

Odd characters, weird turns, twists, and some completely bonkers moments add some comedy to the drama but don't expect to laugh out loud. The pacing is slow, the performances dry and the drama a little hermetic. It's a tough little cookie, but knowing what to expect, I had good fun with it.

Pure Japanese

Pyua Japanizu
2022 / 88m - Japan
Drama, Action
3.0*/5.0*
Pure Japanese poster

A peculiar little film, mixing action with a quest for a Japanese identity. I'm not entirely sure if the film was very successful in what it set out to do, but the result is pretty interesting regardless. Don't go in expecting a straightforward genre film though, it's more like a slightly overambitious blend of different styles and approaches.

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Tateushi is a young Japanese actor who returns from the US after he causes an accident on set. He goes to work in a samurai-themed village where he becomes a show fighter in a play. His past still haunts him and when he tries to help a local family who is being bullied by some local Yakuza he just makes things harder on himself.

The film works towards a showdown between Tateushi and the Yakuza, but also digs deeper into his US roots, even introducing some (semi)medical test that is supposed to tell someone how pure his Japanese roots are. The two elements never really come together that well, but there are some memorable scenes and the pacing is on point. Not bad, just oddly convoluted for what could and should have been a simpler film.

Cape Fear

1962 / 106m - USA
Thriller, Crime
1.0*/5.0*
Cape Fear poster

The problem with seeing more and more noirs, especially with most of them failing to make any kind of impression, is that they start to feel like parodies of what they are supposed to be. Cape Fear is a good example. What should be a tense and dark crime/thriller, is really just a tepid and spun-out revenge plot.

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When Max Cady is released from prison, he has just one thing on his mind: take revenge on Bowden, the lawyer who put him behind bars. He starts to stalk Bowden and his family, who calls on the police to protect himself. But as long as Cady doesn't pose a physical threat, there is nothing they can do.

It's a pretty simple setup, followed by a lot of dialogue and postponing the inevitable finale. I was a bit surprised to see the big finale on the boat wasn't even present in the original (the most iconic scene from Scorsese's remake), but truth be told, it wouldn't have made much of a difference. Pretty dull.

Allegoria

2022 / 69m - USA
Horror
2.5*/5.0*
Allegoria poster

Directed by Spider One, the younger sibling of Rob Zombie. Allegoria is a horror film consisting of five vignettes, which are loosely coupled. There are some good ideas here, and it's a fun idea for a first film (as it allows the director to play around with different styles and ideas), but the result is a bit messy.

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An aspiring actress goes to an acting class helmed by a renowned actor, a painter is looking for his muse, a writer becomes haunted by his own creation, a sculptor sources human bodies for her art and a musician discovers the notes to call evil. Those stories are then glued together by crossing over various characters.

The vignettes are pretty witty and the different styles of horror keep it interesting, but the way the stories are tied together is pretty lame and the film isn't quite as original as it presumes to be. I felt as if I'd seen most of these stories before, and the same goes for the execution of each segment. There's potential here though, I'm looking forward to seeing what the director comes up with next.

Furie

Hai Phuong
2019 / 98m - Vietnam
Action, Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Furie poster

A pretty decent action flick from Vietnam, but the new Ong-Bak this is not. Veronica Ngo does well as an ass-kicking mom and the pacing is perfectly pleasant, it's just that the film fails to raise any bars. The neon-drenched second half doesn't really make much of a difference in that, though it does raise the overall appeal ever so slightly.

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Hai Phuong has to raise her child all by herself. Jobs are scarce, so she collects money for some low-ranking scalpers. One day, her daughter supposedly stole someone's wallet. After an argument, the girl takes off and is promptly kidnapped. Phuong chases behind her daughter, but the kidnappers escape to Saigon. Phuong is determined to track them down and rescue her daughter.

Ngo does well and comes off as a formidable force, without appearing too overpowered. The action choreography is rather basic though and the editing/camera work could've been a bit tighter. This keeps the film from standing out, turning it into a pleasant but somewhat inconspicuous action brawler. Not bad, but nothing too memorable.

Two-Lane Blacktop

1971 / 102m - USA
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Two-Lane Blacktop poster

A very literal road movie. If you like the 70s and classic American sports cars, this is a film for you. If not, you might be left wondering what the fuss is about. There isn't much plot, the characters are cardboard and the film fizzles out towards the finale, but the slacker vibe is at least somewhat interesting.

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Two car freaks cruise through America. All that binds them is their passion for cars, other than that they don't have much to tell each other. They pick up a girl along the way and bump into another man, who challenges them to a race. They oblige, but before they reach their destination they've already moved on to other things.

Two-Lane Blacktop is more about the characters hanging out together and driving through 70s America than anything else. I'm not big on the 70s, so I can't see I really cared for the time capsule this film offers. I can see the appeal though, and the sluggish, slow mood isn't the worst, it's just not very appealing.

Perfect Skin

2018 / 102m - UK
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Perfect Skin poster

Tattoos as art. Not quite as inventive as writer/director Kevin Chicken imagined it would be, but there's quite a bit to like here. From the pumping score and a creepy lead performance to some moody visuals, Chicken has the basics down. It's a shame the film runs out of steam towards the finale.

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Bob is a tattoo artist suffering from Parkinson's. After his recent divorce, he has only one more dream, which is to find a girl and turn her into his final masterpiece. When he meets Katia, he immediately knows she's the one. Katia isn't into tattoos, so Bob kidnaps her and starts transforming her against her will.

The industrial-based soundtrack is a hoot, Richard Brake is creepy as hell and Katia's transformation is impressive. Once all the pieces are in place and the direction of the plot is clear, the film struggles to keep the energy going, even though there are still some interesting scenes scattered throughout. An interesting film, but shorter would've been better.

The fifth in the series continues where the last one left off. Slowly a bigger story is weaving itself through the individual cases, but the core hasn't changed all that much. It's not a very remarkable horror series, but each new episode feels snappy and to the point, making it extremely easy to return to the franchise to catch a new entry. Even five episodes in.

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A new case presents itself to our team of paranormal investigators, but the previous story still lingers. Their last film is seen as proof that another realm exists, which is a perfect excuse to bring the crew together again for a new project. This time they're checking out the Oiwa legend, while past events are about to catch up with the TV crew once more.

The compounding lore is fun, though it doesn't change all that much about the setup of the film. It's still all about ghostly apparitions caught on crummy HD camcorders. The exorcism is pretty cool and the Oiwa legend is interesting enough, the film has no extra fat and dives right into the action, but unless you're really new to the found footage genre, there's nothing here you haven't seen before. Easy filler.

High Anxiety

1977 / 94m - USA
Comedy
1.5*/5.0*
High Anxiety poster

Mel Brooks takes on Hitchcock. You don't have to be a tremendous Hitchcock fan to get the jokes though, Brooks goes for the familiar bits (bird chases, shower scenes, etc) and layers some of his typical punny/daft comedy on top. It's a shame it's never really all that funny, not even for a simple parody.

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Dr. Thorndyke goes to work in a mental asylum. When he gets there, he discovers the doctors are probably more insane than the patients who reside there. They're also hiding some nasty secrets, and to make things worse, Thorndyke is suffering from a nasty case of acrophobia.

Brooks is front and center in this production (he's directing, writing, and acting), but he's just not funny enough. It's a plus that the film goes all in on the comedy, which makes it somewhat watchable, even when the successful jokes are few and far between. I'm just not a big Brooks fan.

What's Love Got to Do with It

1993 / 118m - USA
Drama, Music
2.0*/5.0*
What's Love Got to Do with It poster

The Tina Turner biopic. I wasn't very familiar with Turner's older work or her relationship with Ike, so in that regard, it was an interesting enough film. The film itself is pretty basic though, a very classic and predictable biopic that piles on the drama and tells a typical artist's story.

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Anna Mae is abandoned by her mother and left for her grandmother to raise. When they finally reunite, Anna Mae joins her sister in the bar she works and promptly falls in love with Ike, a young performer. When Ike hears Anna Mae sing he immediately understands he struck gold, and the two go on tour together.

Bassett and Fishburne do well, but they don't have too much room to shine. While tragic, the plot doesn't offer anything particularly exciting and the rise and fall structure of the film is tried and tested. I wasn't really bored, but it's not a film I'll fondly remember. A problem I have with most biopics.

Twilight of the Yakuza

2013 / 127m - Japan
Documentary
2.5*/5.0*
Twilight of the Yakuza poster

A documentary that takes a closer look at the current state of the Yakuza. After the crackdown on the infamous Japanese crime syndicate, the Yakuza have a hard time surviving. The doc looks at the impact on the members of the clans, but also how this affects the police and the rise of other criminal gangs.

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Crucial here is the way the Yakuza see themselves. Not just ordinary criminals, but people who live on the fringe, living by the Yakuza code and actually performing a public service. With the Yakuza gone, other Mafias are slowly taking their place, and they are less friendly and/or disciplined.

The subjects who are interviewed aren't too interesting though and some of the segments are pretty random (like the inclusion of the Tsunami). I understand getting access to more key figures might have been tough, but a shorter/more concise docu would've been better as an alternative. It's not bad, there just isn't enough there for 2 hours of film.