The 9th Precinct

2019 / 95m - Taiwan
Horror, Crime
2.0*/5.0*
The 9th Precinct poster

You can't fault this film for being unambitious, but you can't fault it for many other things. The 9th Precinct seems to have taken some inspiration from its Hong Kong counterparts, meaning you get a horror film that is everything but scary. On top of that, the film is so messy it felt more like a recap from a TV series than an actual feature film.

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Chen is a cop who is able to see ghosts. His superiors don't believe him, but when he's fired for his sometimes strange behavior, another cop scouts him. He takes Chen to a special floor in the police building, to be part of a division that deals in ghostly apparitions only. It's a job Chen was born to do.

The crime angle isn't so bad, but the comedy really feels off here. The ghosts look pretty terrible too, the pacing is all over the place and the film is wildly inconsistent. There are some decent scenes, but they never come together to create something worthwhile. An interesting failure, but a failure nonetheless.

Being John Malkovich

1999 / 113m - USA
Comedy, Fantasy
Being John Malkovich poster

Spike Jonze's first feature film remains a joy to behold. A culmination of strange ideas and odd plot twists, Being John Malkovich is the type of film that bewilders and amuses, and gets stranger and more intricate by the minute. The cinematography wasn't quite as polished as I remembered, but the concept remains strong, the performances are on point and there are some really funny and poignant scenes. The US could use more directors like Jonze, a good two decades after its initial release it still managed to weird me out. That is quite an accomplishment.

The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful

Xue Guan Yin
2017 / 112m - Taiwan
Drama, Thriller
3.5*/5.0*
The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful poster

A pleasant thriller with a strong dramatic foundation. Like many contemporary Taiwanese films, it mixes classic elegance with more modern touches. These films rarely disappoint, but they also lack the boldness and sense of adventure that made Taiwanese cinema such an exciting industry a mere decade ago.

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Tang is a crafty woman who stands between the government and private companies, managing relations while bettering herself and her family in the process. She is very respected, until disaster strikes and close friends of Tang are murdered when in town for a visit. The case becomes a big media spectacle and places Tang's family in the spotlight.

The cinematography is very polished, the soundtrack is classy, the performances are on point and there's a nifty thriller element that keeps things interesting. It's all very nice and pleasant, but it lacks that little extra something to make it stand out from the crowd. A very good film though, and an easy recommendation for those who like a bit of Taiwanese class.

The Parallax View

1974 / 102m - USA
Thriller
2.0*/5.0*
The Parallax View poster

A bona fide 70s thriller. It's not as bad as some of its peers though, in part because the runtime stays clear from the 2-hour mark. The pacing is a bit smoother and the film also looks a little less dim and washed out, but it's still a basic, dry and by-the-numbers investigative crime thriller. Not really my cup of tea.

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Carter witnesses the assassination of a presidential candidate and she sees the killer apprehended. But three years later all the witnesses have died, apart from Carter. When she visits her former boyfriend, he warns her that something fishy is going on. Not much later Carter is found dead.

The story is pretty meticulously told and the build-up of the tension is pretty decent, it's just that I find films like these severely lacking in a cinematic sense. It's proper storytelling without much else going on, which isn't what I expect from an audiovisual medium. Certainly not the worst of its kind, but I just don't see the appeal.

Zebra Girl

2021 / 79m - UK
Horror
3.5*/5.0*
Zebra Girl poster

A weird and quirky horror film. I'm hardly new to the genre, but I don't think I've seen too many films like it. Zebra Girl offers an odd mix of uncomfortable horror, quirky styling choices, and dark comedy. The result is a film that kept me on my toes, even though it doesn't harbor that many surprises.

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Catherine is pretty unstable when she goes up the stairs, takes a knife, and kills her husband in cold blood. She stashes him away in a closet and calls her best friend Anita to help her out with the aftermath. As they clean up the body, we slowly learn what drove Catherine to do what she did.

The performances are pretty self-aware, the pink/purple styling is peculiar and the soundtrack is unnerving. There isn't too much meat to the plot, but the build-up and length of the film are perfect. If the styling had been just a little more pronounced, this would've been a personal favorite for sure. I'm already looking forward to what Zari comes up with next.

Silent Möbius 2

Sairento Mebiusu 2
1992 / 58m - Japan
Sci-fi, Animation
3.0*/5.0*
Silent Möbius 2 poster

An unavoidable sequel. The first OAV was a proper success, so it was no surprise more Silent Mobius would be following. It's a bit of a shame this second film never lives up to its promise though. It's almost a replica of the first one, but less tight in just about every department. Still good fun for the dedicated genre fan, but nothing that goes above and beyond.

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After the events of the first film, Katsumi is eager to leave Tokyo behind and return to her home. When she is ready to board her flight, she is denied access. The special police force wants to recruit her and doesn't mind playing a little dirty. Meanwhile, new monsters have begun to terrorize the city. The force could really use Katsumi's special powers to defeat them.

The animation seems a bit less refined, the extra focus on drama doesn't work that well and the structure is a carbon copy of the first Silent Mobius OAV. It's still a pretty cool universe to reside in for 60 minutes, but this felt more like random series filler than a proper stand-alone film. Not bad if you liked the first one, pretty redundant if you didn't.

Captains Courageous

1937 / 117m - USA
Adventure
1.0*/5.0*
Captains Courageous poster

Classic cinema for the kids. It's clear Captains Courageous aims to please a younger audience, when done well that doesn't have to be a real showstopper. I didn't really care for this film though, it's pretty damn cheesy and stacked with irritating characters, and at two hours it runs quite long.

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Harvey is a spoiled little brat. When he journeys across the sea, he falls off his boat and some nearby fishermen find him. He demands that the captain takes him back to his father, but the fisherman has other plans. They just started a 3-month journey and Harvey will have to stick with them if he wants to return home.

The acting is terrible, the plot is incredibly sentimental and it's clear the kids were meant to pick up a thing or two watching this film. It's all terribly basic and simple, which might've been passable if the pacing had been decent, but the film is overly long, making it extra difficult to get to the end. Outdated.

The Friendship Game

2022 / 87m - Canada
Horror, Mystery
3.5*/5.0*
The Friendship Game poster

A pretty interesting horror film. The premise didn't sound too appealing, I've seen plenty of "strange haunted object" stories before and they rarely deliver on their promise, but The Friendship Game is surprisingly mysterious and the presentation is on point. Don't expect a simple horror flick, there's a bit more meat to this one.

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Cotton finds a strange object at a flea market. The seller explains it's a friendship game that will show the players whether their friendship is meant to last. Cotton buys the thing and convinces her best friends to play along. They have to reveal their innermost desires to each other, lying is strictly forbidden.

The interesting thing is that the film remains quite puzzling until the very end, and it doesn't offer too many clear-cut explanations. I also loved the cinematography and editing, in combination with the slick soundtrack. The performances were above par too. Nothing to fault here, I wish more directors would dare to stray from the beaten path.

Oseam

2003 / 75m - South Korea
Adventure, Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Oseam poster

A pleasant rewatch, but not quite as good as I remembered it to be. In the early 2000s, the surge Of South-Korean cinema also caused a small increase in animated output. South-Korean studios had been doing the filler jobs for their Japanese counterparts for a while (mostly inbetweening), so they figured it was their time to shine. Oseam was one of those films that found a broader international audience.

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The plot revolves around two young kids who lost their mother to a fire. The girl is blind, the boy is too young to make it on his own. They find shelter with some Buddhist monks, but their life is sober and the villagers don't look too kindly upon them. When the boy joins one of the monks to spend the winter up a mountain, a snowstorm is bound to mess up their plans.

The animation is a little crude and the film is a little too eager to mimic the impact of films like Grave of the Fireflies or Dog of Flanders. The characters are pleasant though, the pacing is solid and the runtime keeps things nice and short. It's an easy enough recommendation that will appeal to a large audience, but ultimately it lacks something to truly set itself apart.

The Inhabitant

2022 / 97m - USA
Horror, Thriller
2.5*/5.0*
The Inhabitant poster

Another take on the Lizzie Borden story. Not the classic one though, this time we're following a family of direct descendants of the famous horror legend. In the end, it doesn't impact the story all that much. If you like people going mental and settling scores with an ax, then this might just be the film for you.

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Tara is a teen who does pretty well in life, but when she turns 17 she starts to suffer from violent nightmares. Her family is part of the Borden lineage and Tara's aunt was hospitalized for killing her child when she was 16. Tara's mother is worried that her daughter might have inherited some of the feared Borden genes.

The biggest problem with The Inhabitant is that the scares are pretty weak and that the Borden legend isn't strong enough to carry the film by itself. The performances aren't great, the score and cinematography are pretty generic and the impact is negligible, but as horror filler goes, it's certain not the worst film.

Silent Möbius

Sairento Mebiusu
1991 / 50m - Japan
Sci-fi, Fantasy, Animation
3.5*/5.0*
Silent Möbius poster

I'm glad I finally got to see this anime classic. It's one I mostly knew by name, but I'm happy to say it didn't disappoint and it did its reputation justice. It's a pretty typical early 90s OAV, mixing sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and action elements with some lovely designs and proper animation. Not good enough to be an ultimate classic, but it's prime anime filler.

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The film offers a futuristic vision of Tokyo, where Katsumi is part of an elite police squad that investigates strange phenomena and hunts down nasty demons. A particularly dangerous one has appeared, and it is directly related to Katsumi's past. She'll have to relive a traumatic experience in order to defeat the creature, with a little help from the rest of the team of course.

The monster, tech, and backdrop designs are elaborate and overall pretty awesome, the animation quality is strategic, but the film comes to life when it needs to. The plot is simple and there are plenty of classic anime tropes if you want to get yourself worked up about that, but the pacing and length are just perfect for an hour's worth of solid 90s anime goodness.

Bigger Than Life

1956 / 95m - USA
Drama
1.5*/5.0*
Bigger Than Life poster

Not the most subtle film on the subject, then again, most of Nicholas Ray's films are pretty brash and direct. I don't consider that necessarily a bad thing, I am after all a fan of directors like Gaspar Noé, but the presentation here didn't appeal to me at all, which made certain scenes more obnoxious than impressive.

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When Ed goes in for a medical check, the doctors find that he suffers from a rare condition. The outlook is grim and he's only given a few more months to live, but a new wonder drug might just help Ed survive. Ed starts a cortisone treatment and gets better, but he also gets hooked on the drugs.

Mason does a pretty solid job and the build-up of his psychosis is rather nice, but the soundtrack was a real earful and the cinematography often bordered on kitsch. The ending went gleefully over-the-top too. This film needed either a more subtle approach, or more effective styling.

Mandrake

2022 / 85m - UK
Horror
3.0*/5.0*
Mandrake poster

A decent but somewhat unadventurous folk horror. I've seen quite a few of these over the past years, enough to make sure random witchcraft imagery and pagan symbols alone don't quite cut it anymore. Director Lynne Davison makes a decent effort, but the direction simply wasn't strong enough.

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When Mary Laidlaw is released from prison, the town she lives in isn't too happy to see her return. She killed her husband years ago in peculiar circumstances, and people have built witch lore around her persona. The day after her return two children disappear in the moors nearby, which further fuels the rumors.

The build-up is nice enough, but when push comes to shove, the horror elements simply aren't dark and/or unsettling enough. Things remain a little too down-the-earth, and while things never become too dull or boring, the film itself just isn't all that memorable. Decent horror filler in other words.

Reincarnated Dragon and the Protector Fox

Sheng Tang Yao Hu Chuan
2019 / 0m - China
Comedy, Fantasy
3.0*/5.0*
Reincarnated Dragon and the Protector Fox poster

Slightly older streamer filler. It was actually quite interesting revisiting one of the "older" examples of this trend, they really have come quite a way in a short time. It's not a very spectacular film and they clearly do it better in 2022, but fans of the fantasy/comedy mix (with some martial arts and romance thrown in) have enough to look forward to.

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The plot is both confusing and very basic. I missed some of the particulars because of the insane pacing, but in the end, this is just another variation on the"demon reborn in the human world" trope that seems incredibly popular in China, with some bad guys trying to find the reincarnated soul, while a few trusting protectors do their best to save him.

The costumes are pretty and the cinematography is atmospheric. The CG is atrocious though and the mix of genres doesn't always work, certainly when they added a couple of songs in the mix. But the film is short, fast-paced, and quite fun, and everything is there for proper filler genre entertainment. If you're able to look past some of the more glaring defects.

Hocus Pocus 2

2022 / 107m - USA
Comedy, Fantasy
2.0*/5.0*
Hocus Pocus 2 poster

A pretty decent update of the original Hocus Pocus, though I will say I never saw that one as a kid, so I don't hold very dear memories of it. It's still pretty camp, but with a Disney 2022 spin on it, meaning it's all a bit nicer and cleaner than the original. On the upside, the production values have increased considerably too.

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Almost 30 years after their first appearance, the witches are making a return. This time, they're even more adamant to make Salem their own. But a young, budding witch and her two friends will do everything to stop their hometown from becoming the playground of these oldskool witches.

The "witches in modern time" gags are a bit lame and the Disney teen sauce isn't all that scrumptious either, but it's nice that they got the old cast to return and they are visibly having fun. It's not a very necessary or notable sequel, but at least it wasn't nearly as bad as it could've been.