The Outside

2022 / 64m - USA
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
The Outside poster

Amirpour's Cabinet of Curiosities entry is a delightful one. It's not a horror film in the traditional sense, but a smart mix of social critique, dark comedy, and some juicy nastiness. Very solid performances, colorful cinematography, and a healthy dose of kitsch all help to add extra appeal to the film.

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Stacey doesn't fit in at work. She isn't as flashy or modish as the other women, so she feels left out. Then she spots an advert on TV praising a new skin lotion. It gives her an incredible rash, but the TV presenter assures her that means the lotion is working. Stacey is adamant in her attempts to transform herself and fit in with the rest.

Kate Micucci is a perfect match, Martin Starr deserves accolades too. The premise is quite original, the ending uncertain until the final minutes and the pacing is fitting. Amirpour could've pushed a little harder in places to make the comedy stand out just a tiny bit more, but that's just nitpicking. Good fun.

Detective vs. Sleuths

San Taam Daai Zin
2022 / 101m - Hong Kong
Action, Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
Detective vs. Sleuths poster

The new Ka-Fai Wai is completely unhinged, but good fun. A spiritual successor to Mad Detective, though without Johnnie To around to add that sprinkle of style and class that is missing from the film. Detective vs. Sleuths isn't very subtle, but it's good to see Wai lean into the madness.

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Lee Chun is a detective gone mad. He has a knack for solving cases, but he sees people who aren't there, he talks to himself constantly and he behaves like a true madman. When he told the police that they got the wrong guy for two high-profile cases he was fired from the squad, but years later these two cases come back to haunt them.

Ching Wan Lau commits fully to his character, the pacing is insane, the action over-the-top and explosive, and the cinematography is slick and atmospheric. There's a lot to like and love here, except if you prefer more grounded, serious police thrillers. It's nice to have Wai back and hopefully, this isn't just a one-off.

The Autopsy

2022 / 58m - USA
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
The Autopsy poster

I'm not surprised this was made by the director of The Empty Man. Like that film, the horror bits here are pretty damn good, but the investigation really takes the edge off. The Autopsy has some solid moments, but you have to wade through some slow and uninteresting patches to get there.

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A police investigation turns dark when a miner kills himself and takes a few of his colleagues with him. The police chief wants an autopsy on the victims as their bodies are all bled dry. During the autopsy, the coroner slowly uncovers what exactly took place inside that mine.

The production value is high, the finale is pretty strong and the gore is perfectly executed. It's just a shame that the police investigation is rather sluggish and that there have been better and creepier autopsy films in recent years. Not a bad film, but a step down from the other two Cabinet of Curiosities entries that came before.

Graveyard Rats

2022 / 38m - USA
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Graveyard Rats poster

A fun and juicy horror flick by Natali. The film isn't all that scary or gruesome, but there's plenty of familiar, atmospheric horror fodder around to stuff the short runtime to the point of bursting. It may not make a whole lot of sense, but there's enough glee and joy baked in that I didn't really care.

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A gravedigger is having a hard time when the increasingly hostile rats get to the corpses faster than he can. When a fat cat dies he deems himself rich, but when he digs up the corpse he sees it being taken away by a pack of rats. He follows them down their tunnels, but graver dangers await down there.

The cinematography is moody, the effects are top notch and there's quite a bit of variation in the horror. I also appreciated the touch of dark comedy present. There's a bit too much packed in the short runtime, I'm not sure why Natali felt he had to keep it so short, but I had a really good time with this one.

Judex

1916 / 300m - France
Crime, Adventure
1.0*/5.0*
Judex poster

Feuillade is one of the first directors to make films resembling the commercial cinema of today. Judex is another crime epic from his hand, only now with a respectable hero in the lead. Apparently, Feuillade had received quite a few comments that his earlier films glorified the criminals, so this was his response: one of the first "superhero" films.

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Favraux is a corrupt banker who made quite a few enemies for himself. One of those enemies is Judex, a mysterious figure who wants revenge for what Favraux did to him and his family. He seeks out the banker, but his mission becomes a whole lot trickier when he falls in love with Favraux's daughter.

Thank God the pacing is half-decent, as Feuillade's films are pretty damn long. The story and the reveals are rather basic though, and there's a lot of plot to wade through. His work isn't as visual as other films from the era either. Coupled with the length, that made it quite a tough film to sit through.

Usogui

2022 / 120m - Japan
Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Usogui poster

Hideo Nakata returns with a gambler epic. It's not that Nakata turned his back on horror cinema completely, but he's been branching out for quite a while now. Usogui is a pretty decent film, but it's also blockbuster fodder that lacks a real signature and can't compete with the better films in the genre.

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Baku overplays his hand when he tries to become the leader of the Kakero organization, a wealthy club that oversees large bets. He is exiled and flees Tokyo, but a few years later he sees a path to rejoin the organization. For that, he will need all his skills and cunning because his adversaries are just as crafty as he is.

The elongated gambling scenes are pretty fun, the problem is that the outcome is always very predictable and the little twists aren't really all that genius. Performances are decent and the production values are high, but it's not really enough to make this one stand out. Solid and decent entertainment though.

Lot 36

2022 / 60m - USA
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Lot 36 poster

The first film to kick off del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities is a pretty solid appetizer. It takes a while to get going, but Navarro does well building up the atmosphere and the ending more than delivers. If the rest of the series keeps up this level of quality I'll have nothing to complain about.

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A washed-up war veteran has trouble paying off his debts. He buys up abandoned lots and hopes to hit a goldmine, but these bets rarely pay off. Until one day he finds a fancy-looking table with some books inside. He brings them to an appraiser, who immediately calls in an expert.

The characters aren't very sympathetic, but the actors do a solid job, so they never become too grating. The cinematography is polished (not too surprising for a cinematographer turned director), the score is moody and the creature effects are top-notch. I'm already looking forward to the rest of the anthology.

The Claws of the Divine Beast

Chin Shun-shin no 'Shinju no Tsume'
1980 / 45m - Japan
Mystery
2.0*/5.0*
The Claws of the Divine Beast poster

A short TV project by Seijun Suzuki. Don't expect to see any of his trademark quirks here, this is a pretty straightforward detective story that thrives on intrigue and a little twist at the end. I didn't get bored or annoyed watching this, at the same time, it's all very basic and by the numbers. It's hardly a highlight of Suzuki's long and memorable career.

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When two old business partners quarrel about money, things are about to heat up. Unable to pay back his loan, one of the men offers the other a priceless artifact as collateral. The other man doesn't accept but ends up dead not much later. The culprit seems obvious, but the detective assigned to the case finds some inconsistencies and decides to dig a little deeper.

45 minutes is pretty short, so you won't have to worry about the pacing too much. The twist is decent enough too, but nothing out of the ordinary. The presentation can't hide the film's TV roots and is pretty unimpressive, certainly for Suzuki's standards, but that was only to be expected. This was pleasant enough filler, just nothing memorable.

Wings

1927 / 144m - USA
Romance, War
2.0*/5.0*
Wings poster

An old war movie in love with aircraft, hence the name. But it's not just dogfights and war scenes, Wellman also throws in a love triangle, some nightclub scenes, and a bit of comedy on the side. That explains the runtime to a certain degree, but it doesn't really warrant the full 140 minutes.

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Jack's big dream is to become a fighter pilot. His next-door neighbor Mary is madly in love with him, but Jack only has eyes for Sylvia. Sylvia is more interested in David, but then WWI starts and both boys are summoned to go and fight in the war, completely messing up any romantic aspirations.

The dogfights are still pretty decent, the pacing is solid and there are a few shots that are well ahead of their time. The war scenes do go on for too long though and the love triangle is very bland and uninspired. Not a bad war film though, certainly not for its time. I'd expected worse.

3.0*/5.0*
Septet: The Story of Hong Kong poster

Not the greatest anthology. Don't be fooled by the names involved, I know they include some of the biggest Hong Kong directors from the past few decades, but the anthology itself is quite rigid and singular. Only Tsui Hark dares to do something different, the rest all went for sentimental throwbacks. Much like their Chinese counterparts.

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The stories are pretty simple, Sammo Hung reminisces about classic martial arts training, To looks at the stock market, Ann Hui digs up the old school life and Patrick Tam finds two lovers torn apart. Hark is the only one who had a bit of fun, throwing us inside a mental hospital where doctors and patients are too alike to distinguish.

I'm not a fan of nostalgia and sentimentality, many of the directors present aren't really equipped to deal with these themes either. It would've been a lot better if they'd stayed closer to their signature craft, that's what the anthology concept is for. A little disappointing, though I can't say I'm all that surprised. Hark deserves lots of props for his short though.

Songs from the Second Floor

Sånger från Andra Våningen
2000 / 98m - Sweden
Comedy
Songs from the Second Floor poster

A fun and surprising rewatch. I'm not the biggest fan of dry, Scandinavian comedy (though I do appreciate most of it), so I was a little hesitant to revisit this film. But Roy Andersson's work lives in a universe of its own. The stark, lifeless styling, the tragic characters, and a seemingly endless string of deadpan absurdities make this film a unique experience. I laughed out loud quite a lot, even though I'm certain the comedy won't be for everyone. Not an easy film to blindly recommend, but one of those films you should watch regardless of whether you end up liking it or not.

Loft

Rofuto
2005 / 115m - Japan
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Loft poster

A twisty horror from the hands of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I had it booked as one of my favorites of his, but watching it again it didn't quite hold up. It's still a solid, very moody, and atmospheric film, but there's not quite enough there to separate it from a bunch of similar-looking Japanese horror films.

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Reiko is a young writer working on her latest novel. She moves houses and ends up in a rather fancy loft. An abandoned building across her new house doesn't appear all that abandoned when she notices a shady figure roaming around at night. It turns out to be a professor who discovered a 1000-year-old mummy in the nearby swamps.

The music is the big star here. It adds oodles of atmosphere, but that alone isn't enough to make a creepy horror film. The scares are a bit expected, the cinematography a little too dim, and the plot starts to dominate the mood near the end of the film. It's still a worthy film, well worth watching if you're looking for some prime horror filler, but a true favorite it is not.

Deadly Dream Woman

Nu Hei Xia Huang Ying
1992 / 89m - Hong Kong
Action, Crime
2.5*/5.0*
Deadly Dream Woman poster

Jing Wong and Taylor Wong are an odd combination, so it's no surprise this film turned out to be a pretty odd mess. Jing was no doubt responsible for the lighter segments, while Taylor probably occupied himself with the grittier bits. Do they necessarily belong in the same film? Nah, but who cares, right?

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Nightingale Wong is a fearsome fighter who is called in by her boss to weed out some bad seeds in his organization. She fails to protect him and ends up with some kindhearted prostitutes, after having lost her memories. She can't escape her fate and not soon after she bumps into the man who killed her boss.

The cast is pretty solid for a film like this, the action sequences are decent and the pacing is traditionally slick. The film makes no sense whatsoever though (the superhero outfit of the main character is a true puzzler for example) and the direction is pretty messy and rushed. It's decent entertainment in other words, as long as you keep your expectations in check.

D.O.A.

1949 / 83m - USA
Thriller, Crime
1.0*/5.0*
D.O.A. poster

Another noir. I've been exploring the genre for a while now and I've come to a point where it has become pretty hard to distinguish one from another. That's no doubt due to the fact that I don't really care for most of them and that too many rigid genre elements make for very similar films.

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On a short vacation to San Fransisco, accountant Frank Bigelow is administered a lethal poison. They tell him he only has 24 hours to live, but Bigelow is clueless about who is behind this scheme and what their goal is. He doesn't have much time, so he launches his investigation right away.

Endless conversations, a minimum of action, and some crummy fight scenes. Also men in raincoats and hats, possibly against rainy backdrops. If only a more serious attempt was made to make the presentation stylish, the characters somewhat interesting, or the plot entertaining, but alas. It's just basic genre fare.

Transcendent

Jing Xiang Ren·ming Ri Qing Chun
2018 / 117m - China
Drama, Sci-fi
3.0*/5.0*
Transcendent poster

There are some very interesting ideas here, sadly the mix of sci-fi and drama never really comes into its own. It felt like watching two separate films, with the sci-fi being tacked on for no other reason than to have the film fit into a genre box. Transcendent is pretty unique though, so it did keep me glued to the screen.

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Transcendent bases have bred a special kind of human. The film highlights some of the lives of the kids growing up there. One story deals with a former racer meeting his dead friend in the future, another with a trainee who falls in love with a boxer, a third story deals with a terminally ill guy who finds someone who can save his life.

All of this could've been told without the sci-fi elements present, which is my biggest critique. I did like the styling of the film, even though the soundtrack was a bit sentimental. The budget and the potential were here to make a real gem, it's just that it wasn't very cohesive. Still, worth a shot if you're looking for something different.

Black Lion

Kuro no Shishi
1992 / 60m - Japan
Action, Adventure, Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Black Lion poster

Weird and messy anime based on Go Nagai's manga. It's one of those short late 80s/early 90s OAV projects that condensed an entire season of madness into a single hour. There's really not enough time to do justice to everything that is crammed in here, at the same time, the pacing makes certain there is no time to get bored or worry about any of the specifics.

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During the 16th century, Oda is on a violent conquest of Japan, wreaking havoc wherever he goes. Ninja and samurai are combining their forces to stop him in his tracks, but they soon find out that Oda has a couple of nasty tricks up his sleeve. One of them is Ginnai, a fearless assassin who proves impossible to kill. Shishimaru and his team have their work cut out for them.

The art style is nice enough, and the animation is pretty rudimentary, but on par with other OAVs of that time. The true appeal lies with the batshit crazy premise and the utter lack of explanation given. Cyborgs, computers, and aliens are all part of the mix, even though the story is set in the 16th century. Obviously not the greatest anime ever made but good fun regardless.

Halloween Ends

2022 / 111m - USA
Horror
2.0*/5.0*
Halloween Ends poster

Let's hope it does. This final entry in Green's Halloween trilogy isn't necessarily better or worse than the previous films, it's just not very interesting anymore. Myers is a side attraction, more than half the film is spent on character development (without any interesting characters in sight) and the kills are bland.

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Myers, literally a very old man now, is still roaming around in Haddonfield. Instead of attacking people directly, he found himself a little substitute (Corey) who does the dirty work for him. Things become complicated when Corey starts a relationship with Allyson, Laurie Strode's granddaughter.

Myers isn't the impressive killer he once was, 110 minutes is way too long for a simple slasher, and any aspirations Green had to make this into something more fail horribly. Some scattered references are somewhat fun, but that doesn't save the film, or the franchise. Bring back Zombie.

12 Hour Shift

2020 / 86m - USA
Comedy, Crime
2.5*/5.0*
12 Hour Shift poster

A rather strange combination of comedy and crime, with little dashes of thriller and horror on the side. The intentions are good and there are some fun ideas here, the execution lets the film down though. It was a bit too amateurish for my taste, the performances and cinematography in particular were distracting.

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A nurse is having a little organ operation on the side. When a delivery goes missing, she needs a replacement kidney fast. She gets a little help from her niece, but the situation only gets worse when cops show up at the hospital and the traffickers visit to see where their goods are.

It isn't until the final 20 minutes or so that the film gets up to steam and the comedy becomes dark enough to actually do its thing. The characters are pretty lame, the actors fail to do anything with them, it looks as if the cinematographer was on holiday and the soundtrack is messy. The ending puts a few things right, but not enough to make this a great film.

Werewolf by Night

2022 / 55m - USA
Fantasy, Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Werewolf by Night poster

A pretty big surprise. I don't care for much of anything Marvel puts out, but this short and fun monster flick turned out to be pretty entertaining. it's a nice mix of fantasy and horror delivered with plenty of smirks and nudges, presented in lush black-and-white cinematography. It's nice when these big companies take a chance once in a while.

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Monster hunters are gathering after their leader has died. One of them will inherit the bloodstone by completing a ritual. The ritual is tied to a monster, and the hunter who can catch it becomes the next leader. Jack Russell seems to be the man to beat, but he carries a dark secret with him.

The presentation is what makes this one stand out. The production value is high, and the execution is on point. The lore is a bit simple and the finale could've used a little extra spice, but considering this is a Marvel production, it could've been a whole lot worse. A pretty fun diversion, I wish they'd make more of these.