2022 / 111m - Japan
xxxHolic poster

Reportedly Ninagawa had wanted to adapt the xxxHolic manga for a long time, it's not difficult to see why. The setting and subject matter are perfect for Ninagawa's signature style, and she really made the best of it. This is maximalist entertainment pur sang, a true explosion of color and style. The sets and cinematography are insane, but that's what I've come to expect from Ninagawa. The score is pretty cool too, the performances are solid and the plot is interesting, though possibly a little too muddy for those expecting a simple fantasy flick. Ninagawa delivers yet again and is well on her way to establishing herself as one of my favorite directors of all time.

Magic in the Moonlight

2014 / 97m - USA
Comedy, Romance
Magic in the Moonlight poster

A fun but somewhat pedestrian Woody Allen flick. I'm close to having seen 30 of his films, and it's a director with a very recognizable signature. So much in fact that after a while some of his films start to blend together. That's not necessarily a bad thing if you are able to appreciate his style.

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Magic in the Moonlight goes back to the 20s, exploring the relationship between a gifted magician and a supposed psychic. Stanley travels to France to see Sophie in action, hoping to reveal she is a con artist. When he sees her in action though, Stanley is stumped, and slowly his cynical demeanor starts to make way for wonder.

The setting is lush, the cinematography romantic, and Colin Firth and Emma Stone make a nice on-screen couple. The film is pretty predictable though and the secondary characters aren't quite as charming, but the jolly dialogue and light-hearted romance make up for that. Pleasant, though somewhat forgettable.

Flying Butterfly

Hu Die Fei
2008 / 88m - Hong Kong
Drama, Romance
Flying Butterfly poster

Johnnie To shows Hong Kong how to do drama properly. If the Hong Kong film industry has one obvious weakness, it's that it is not very proficient in making good dramas (though that has changed a bit in the last decade or so). This probably explains why I was well impressed the first time I watched Flying Butterfly. Fifteen years later it's still a good film, but the cracks are starting to show.

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Yan loses her boyfriend in a car accident, while they were having a lovers' spat on the road. She is riddled with guilt and has trouble picking up the pieces of her life. Yan is unable to build up new relationships, but then her dead boyfriend begins to appear in her dreams, helping her to deal with the trauma the accident left behind.

The drama is a little slow to start and the performances aren't quite strong enough. Better leads could've made the difference here, but they're just a little too poppy. The presentation is nice (but not exceptional), and the finale does hit home, but on the whole, I wasn't as impressed as the first time I watched this. It's still a good film though, and To shows he's capable of more than just good old genre cinema.

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon

2021 / 106m - USA
Fantasy, Thriller
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon poster

Amirpour's latest is another fun genre blender. After a somewhat hesitant start, Amirpour is getting more confident with each new film she directs. Small things keep me from rating her work even higher, but the promise of getting something that isn't quite like other films out there is a powerful selling point.

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Mona Lisa is a young Korean girl locked up in a mental hospital. After years of lying dormant, she finally awakes and escapes with her newfound mind powers. She bumps into a prostitute, who helps her out and sees her potential. The cops are on their tail though, and Mona needs to be smart if she wants to keep her freedom.

It's a fun concept, Amirpour commits to the fantastical elements, the performances are solid and the presentation is colorful (both the cinematography and the soundtrack are pretty interesting). The film did get a bit more conventional in the second half, which is what kept me from a higher rating, but that's just some minor nitpicking. Good film.

Dozens of Norths

Ikuta no Kita
2021 / 64m -
- Animation
Dozens of Norths poster

Yamamura is best known for directing shorts, this is his first longer film. It's probably easiest to describe it as an arthouse version of Cat Soup, a surreal road movie that is more a succession of random scenes than it is a logical narrative. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I definitely appreciated the artistry and creativity on display here.

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There's not much in the way of an actual plot here. The "dozens of norths" referred to by the title are different places the two main characters visits, each wildly different from the next (there's a bit of Kino no Tabi in here too I guess). Accompanied by some poetic textual descriptions, each place has its own story to tell.

The animation style feels more European than Japanese, but the drawings are intricate and imaginative. I was less impressed with the score, which is very classical in nature, and was distracting more than once. Still, Yamamura serves an intriguing, surreal journey that was well worth undertaking, I like this format better than his shorts.

Testament of Orpheus

Le Testament d'Orphée, ou Ne Me Demandez Pas Pourquoi!
1960 / 79m - France
Testament of Orpheus poster

Jean Cocteau's final film. I'm not the man's biggest fan, but I appreciate the fact that his films have a strong point of view. Cocteau is probably a bit too infatuated with classical art, which is something I have no affinity with whatsoever, but the surreal and fantastical elements in his films make it a bit more bearable.

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Cocteau himself plays an 18th-century poet who travels to time to find true wisdom. He ends up with a scientist who has a way to open portals to different dimensions. Cocteau is intrigued, but the only way to open such a portal is to be killed by the scientist. He commits and finds himself in a strange world.

The idea is pretty cool, and so are the sets and some of the surreal imagery, but I didn't care much for the themes and characters. The film is pretty short, but still a bit too long for something I wasn't entirely invested in. Classic arthouse fans should do well to seek this one out though because Cocteau is not your average director.

There's Something Wrong with the Children poster

Children in horror films, it's always a gamble. Kids can be pretty damn creepy, but when they're not, things get silly real fast. And that's exactly where There's Something Wrong with the Children falters. Benjamin tries really hard to make a scary film, but she never really gets to that point.

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Two couples are having a weekend out in the woods. When they visit an old fort, they find a bottomless pit. The kids are infatuated with the mysterious hole, but when they return from their little hike, they're not quite the same. Only Ben seems aware of their transformation, while the others doubt his sanity.

The performances (including the parents) are pretty weak and the kids don't pose a plausible threat. The setting is underused, and so are the fantastical elements, but at least the presentation made an effort to add some dread to the film. Overall it's a bit underwhelming though, Shankland's The Children did it a lot better.

Junk Food

Janku Fudo
1997 / 82m - Japan
Drama, Crime
Junk Food poster

A classic 'seedy underbelly of a city' vignette. Junk Food serves an alternate view of Tokyo, far removed from the flashy glitz and glamour that is usually associated with Japan's capital. It's not a very original take of course, films like these are a staple of every nation's cinema, but Yamamoto's attempt is appropriately gritty and raw, so it didn't disappoint.

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We follow several stories as people traverse the Tokyo nightlife. One woman relies on hard drugs to get herself through the day at her office job, a Pakistani worker isn't finding the promised happiness in Japan and has no money to return home, and some low-ranking criminals get into a little scuffle. Just another ordinary night in Tokyo.

The plot feels a little unhinged, but this is mostly a mood piece anyway. Yamamoto plays around with both narrative and form and delivers a pretty neat and condensed little crime/drama. It may lack the punch of some of the better films in the genre and I'm not sure how memorable Junk Food will prove to be, but it was an easy watch with enough quality to please a wide array of film fans.

You Can't Take It with You

1938 / 126m - USA
Comedy, Romance
You Can't Take It with You poster

It's been quite a while since I last watched a Capra/Stewart collaboration. I'd forgotten how indifferent I was to their films, this turned out to be a good reminder. I can't really stand Stewart, and I find Capra's style to be utterly bland and forgettable. The runtime is the final nail in the coffin.

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Alice and Tony fell in love with each other, but they come from very different backgrounds and when their families meet, things become a bit tricky. Tony comes from a wealthy, close-minded family that cares only about money, whereas Alice's family is very open and friendly, and puts a stronger emphasis on human bonds.

The romance is dry, the families are pure caricatures, the comedy is cheesy and whatever drama there was fell completely flat. And all of that is stretched to pass the 2-hour mark. The light tone keeps it somewhat watchable, but that's of little comfort. A perfect Oscar winner I guess.

Strawberry Mansion

2021 / 91m - USA
Comedy, Mystery
Strawberry Mansion poster

A film I nearly loved. It's the slightly lazy take on lo-fi that kept me from being fully immersed. I get that it is a very conscious stylistic choice, but at times I felt it was more of an excuse to skimp on the execution of the fantastical elements. It's a minor critique though, if you like weird and absurd cinema, this is an easy recommendation.

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James Preble is a tax man who visits people to tax their dreams. He is sent to the home of Arabella Isadora, an eccentric artist who has a large collection of old tapes that need to be examined. When Preble dives into the tapes, he meets a young woman there, who he becomes infatuated with.

Somewhat shoddy visual effects aside, the film is one huge explosion of mood and creativity. It's impossible to get a grip on the film, the plot shoots off in a different direction every five minutes and the lore has to be explored and pieced together as you go along. Audley and Birney delivered a pretty spectacular film, a little extra budget might push them into personal favorites territory.

Yin and Yang: Painted Skin

Liao Zhai Ying Yang
2022 / 76m - China
Fantasy, Action
Yin and Yang: Painted Skin poster

The umpteenth adaptation of the Painted Skin legend. We're dealing with another short straight-to-streamer film, so you should know what to expect. The thing that sets this one apart is that the CG is slightly above par, with even some successful attempts to be a bit more artistic and creative with digital technology. I didn't see that one coming.

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The plot is pretty basic, especially if you've seen one or more of the other adaptations. Li Qing falls in love with Wang Sheng and leaves the demon world behind to win his love. Wang is extremely devoted to his wife, so Qing sees no other way than to swap places with her. It doesn't take long before Wang starts to suspect something is going on with his wife.

The plot is a bit too familiar by now, but these films are short, well-paced, and focus more on the delivery. The sets and costumes look cool, there's some solid action and the lead performances are decent. Some of the CG is still a little shoddy, but there are some cell-shaded in-painting scenes that looked surprisingly stylish. Better than I expected.

F for Fake

Vérités et Mensonges
1973 / 89m - France
F for Fake poster

There is something obnoxious about artists discussing art, F for Fake is no exception. What almost saves this documentary is the rather pleasant presentation. In the end, it can't hide the fact that Welles is handling the same themes that always tend to pop up in films like these, but it did make it a bit easier to sit through.

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Welles set out to make a documentary about Elmyr de Hory, a famous forger of artworks. He got so wrapped up in the concept of truth and lies that he expanded the docu. He takes the viewer on a path where truth and forgery begin to converge, forcing the audience to doubt everything they are seeing.

I just didn't care too much for the message, also because other films have done a much better job since. The flashy editing and more experimental presentation did keep me interested, I'm sure that if Welles had gone with a more basic presentation I would've absolutely hated the film. Now, it was passable, but far from great.


2022 / 83m - USA
Sick poster

An extremely simple but amusing slasher. Three people in a remote cottage, a masked killer stalking them, the rest of the film just writes itself. Don't expect anything fancy, any big twists or new takes on the genre. Sick isn't that kind of film. Instead, you get a proper slasher flick, without any cruft.

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Parker and Miri are two best friends, who decide to quarantine at Parker's father's lake house. What is supposed to be a fun weekend among girls quickly turns into a deadly pursuit when a masked man invades the house and tries to kill both girls. With nobody around to help them, they'll have to fend for themselves.

The two leads or solid, Hyams does a decent job building up the tension and the reveal, while not exactly great, is sufficient. It's difficult to be excited about any of it since it's really not that different from a million other slasher flicks out there, but the execution is pleasant enough, and that's worth something. Good horror filler.

Psycho Diver: Soul Siren

Psycho Diver: Masei Rakuryu
1997 / 48m - Japan
Sci-fi, Crime - Animation
Psycho Diver: Soul Siren poster

A pretty fun OAV, held back by subpar animation and a somewhat messy plot. There's a little too much here to handle in a mere 45 minutes, which makes it feel like you're watching a best-of of anime cliches. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but if you're looking for a meatier or more elaborate anime, you won't find it here.

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Yuki is a well-liked pop idol, but she isn't feeling herself lately. A psycho diver is hired to fix her mind, but when he dives in he is instantly murdered. Yuki is harboring some dark powers and a malicious cult is trying to awaken her true potential. Busujima, one of the most skilled psycho divers around, is handed the job to save Yuki.

The art style is pretty intricate and there are some cool sci-fi elements on display, the animation is pretty limited though. The plot really tries to do too much (detective, sci-fi, fantasy, action, and whatnot), but that also means it never gets dull. Psycho Diver is pretty decent anime filler, with some memorable moments, it's just not balanced enough.


2022 / 103m - Indonesia
Ivanna poster

Stamboel sticking to his guns. Ivanna is a pretty standard Indonesian horror flick, the kind Stamboel has been involved with since the very beginning of his career. While there are some interesting moments and memorable details (especially for people with a Dutch background), it was maybe a bit too expected to make a real impact.

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Ivanna is a Dutch girl who was brutally murdered when the Japanese took over Indonesia. Years later, some people living in a nursery home stumble upon her remains. Ivanna's brutal death turned her into a vengeful ghost, and she starts haunting the people who discovered her body, ripping off their heads.

The build-up is a little slow and the scares aren't all that original. If you've seen a few of these Indonesian horror films, you probably know what to expect. The horror bits are properly executed though, and once the haunt starts things do pick up. Not Stamboel's best, but a pleasant horror film nonetheless.

Don't Worry Darling

2022 / 123m - USA
Mystery, Thriller
Don't Worry Darling poster

Forget all the fuss and nonsense you heard about the production of this film, just watch it for what it is: a very pleasant mystery with strong thriller elements and a mild sci-fi injection. It's not the most original concept, but Olivia Wilde's direction deserves credit and makes a positive difference.

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Alice and Jack are a happy couple who live in a fancy suburb. Jack works on Project Victory, a secret programme, Alice tends to the house and provides for Jack. The longer she lives there, the stronger the feeling that something is off. The neighborhood and Jack's job are just a little too perfect.

The performances are solid, the cinematography is lush and the soundtrack deserves a special mention, kudos for doing something special with it. The plot feels familiar and the twist isn't all that original, but I care more about the atmosphere and that's where Don't Worry Darling shines. A big step up from Booksmart, Wilde should push further in this direction.

The Timekeepers of Eternity

2021 / 64m - Greece
Horror, Experimental
The Timekeepers of Eternity poster

A weird little experiment. Director Maragkos took The Langoliers mini-series (based on a Stephen King novel), condensed it, threw some visual effects on top, messed with the score and editing, then called it a day. It's a genuine remix, not something very common in the world of cinema, this film didn't convince me it should be.

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A plane is flying to Boston. The passengers that fell asleep wake up to an empty plane. They have no clue where the rest of the passengers and crew went, they can't contact anyone on the ground and pretty soon some of the remaining people start to turn against each other.

I like the idea of a remixed film, in principle. It's just that I found the execution to be incredibly poor and lazy. The effects look cheap, they are incredibly repetitive and they aren't transformative enough. I wasn't a big fan of the mini-series, but this film did nothing to improve on it, except limit the runtime. I'd call it a failed experiment, but I'd love to see other (more skilled) directors have a go at it.

The Circus

1928 / 72m - USA
The Circus poster

It's been a while since I watched a bona fide Chaplin film (i.e. one featuring his Tramp character). The Circus was a nice reminder of why I try to avoid his films as much as possible. If you don't care for (or in my case, can't stand) Chaplin's Tramp, then his films are hell to sit through.

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When a tramp is visiting the circus, he is set up by a pickpocket. His attempts to escape the police are so funny that the owner of the circus promptly hires the tramp. Being funny on command proves to be a lot more difficult than expected, and when he falls for the charms of the owner's stepdaughter, the tramp finds himself in quite a bit of trouble.

Chaplin's slapstick comedy is infamous, but I just don't think it's funny anymore. And since the film is just one big string of comedy skits (with a bland backup story to tie things together), it quickly becomes a slog. Maybe I should prioritize Chaplin's more recent work, at least I can find something to appreciate there.