The Mortuary Collection

by Ryan Spindell
Specifics
USA [2019] - 108m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Mortuary Collection poster

After spending 10 years directing shorts, it's no real surprise that Ryan Spindell's first feature film is a horror anthology. He ended up writing and directing everything himself, so it's a bit more coherent and consistent than most other anthologies, but quality between the different stories invariably varies.

The warp-around is about a mortuary where the keeper has a special interest in stories. When a young girl arrives hoping to land a job, she seems more interested in hearing the keeper's stories than getting her hands dirty. She's a little hard to impress though, so each story is a bit more grotesque than the next.

The mood is Gothic and dark, but not too serious. Performances are good, the film looks very polished and the effects are top-notch. I do think the three latter shorts do run a little long. Some trimming there and maybe an extra short to add a bit more variation would've made it even better, but Spindell is clearly a talented man.

Cargo

by Ivan Engler, Ralph Etter
Specifics
Switzerland [2009] - 112m
Genre
Sci-fi, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Cargo poster

As someone who appreciates a fine sci-fi in space, I'm not quite sure how Cargo was able to creep by me. It's such an obvious fit that a single screenshot or glimpse at the poster should've been enough. But here we are, at least I'm glad I was able to catch up with it now, as it really is a fun and well-made film.

The plot certainly isn't the most original. A space mission turns out to be very different from what the crew was expecting. When they're awoken from cryosleep well before the designated time, it's up to them to figure out what went wrong. And if you've ever seen one of these films before, you know someone on board knows more than he's letting on.

The CG and sets look pretty cool, the mystery is solid and the actors do a decent job. The soundtrack is probably the stand-out element here, very atmospheric and leading. The film's a tad slow maybe, but when the mood's this well established that's hardly a negative. Good stuff.

Ninotchka

by Ernst Lubitsch
Specifics
USA [1939] - 110m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Ninotchka poster

A classic romcom where the romance is quite dry and lifeless, whilst the comedy is mostly just a lightness in tone rather than actual jokes and laughs. The start of the film isn't that bad, with a cross Garbo and a rather daft Douglas trying to win her heart, what follows is a lot less interesting.

The film is set in Paris but doesn't feel the least bit French. I guess that's what you get when you don't cast according to nationality and rely on terrible accents rather than the actual French language. And if it wasn't American enough already, the cheap digs at Russia make sure you won't be able to look past it.

Performances are rather rigid (the laughing scene in the restaurant is borderline uncomfortable), the runtime is way too long for the simple plot and the characters fail to charm. Ninotchka feels like a relic of its time, a film that might have made sense when it was made, but doesn't do so anymore.

Megazone 23 Part III

by Shinji Aramaki, Ken'ichi Yatagai
Specifics
Japan [1989] - 101m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Megazone 23 Part III poster

The third part in the original Megazone series is a bit different from the other two. It's a two part OAV that is set several centuries after the events of the first two films. It shares the same universe, but that's about it. People hoping to revisit the same cast of characters will be sorely disappointed.

The lead character is Eiji Takanaka, a young but talented hacker who is scouted by a group of rebels to act against a mysterious cult. Eiji is sent to the lower parts of Eden, where he learns about the true nature of Eden. The plot is interesting enough, though it takes a while to get up to speed.

The first part in particular is a little slow, luckily the second part rectifies that. It's famed mecha enthusiast Shinji Aramaki's direction that makes the biggest difference though. Characters and drama may be a little plain, the action scene and sci-fi designs are spot on. All in all, good fun.

Girl with the Diamond Slipper

Also known as
Mo Deng Xian Lu Qi Yuan
Specifics
Hong Kong [1985] - 89m
Genre
Comedy, Romance
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Girl with the Diamond Slipper poster

Early Jing Wong comedy that isn't so much a film, as a demo reel/exercise in genre directing. The Hong Kong movie industry always put more value on work ethic and experience than creativity, and that meant you had were supposed to get better though practice. And practice is what Jing Wong did here.

The story is a pretty simple Cinderella rip-off. Maggie Cheung plays a young actress who loses her shoe at a dance. There's an added twist, as the shoe hides a diamond and her suitor isn't really interested in Cheung, but safe to say you won't be watching this film for its intriguing plot.

There's comedy, there's romance, there's gambling, some martial arts and even some slight thriller elements. Wong wants to have it all in one single film. That makes it quite messy, on the other hand it also means there's hardly time to get bored. Mediocre performances and plain cinematography keep the film from being truly fun, but the comedy is daft and the pacing is pleasant. For Wong fans only though.

Detour

by Edgar G. Ulmer
Specifics
USA [1945] - 68m
Genre
Film-Noir
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Detour poster

One of the best, if not the best classic noir I've seen so far. Maybe not so much due to the overwhelming technical or narrative qualities of the film, instead pacing and runtime make the biggest difference here. It feels like a condensed noir, one where all the unnecessary fat was trimmed.

The story is pretty decent too, especially the sliver of dark comedy that runs underneath it. Al Roberts is a pretty unlucky guy. All this New Yorkers wants is to visit his girlfriend in California, but when he hitches a ride and ends up with a dead driver in the car, things takes a turn for the worse.

The setup is pretty basic and the events aren't even that remarkable, but the plot is snappy, the characters are tragic (though amusing) and the film is over before you know it. No endless dialogues, no excruciatingly long and overly transparent setups and no actors that force themselves to try and act though. Simple but fun.

The Queen of Black Magic

by Kimo Stamboel
Also known as
Ratu Ilmu Hitam
Specifics
Indonesia [2019] - 99m
Genre
Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
The Queen of Black Magic poster

The Mo Brothers are back in full force, except they're both doing their own thing now. Kimo Stamboel released no less than two horror films in 2019, this loose remake of an Indonesian cult classic (by the same name) being one of them. I haven't seen the original, but this remake was a pretty fun ride.

The story is nothing special. Three families gather at their old orphanage as their caretaker is about to die. It doesn't take long before strange things start happening, which are of course tied to some tragic events that happened in the past. Once the story is set up, Kimo's focus shifts to delivering some actual horror.

Performances are somewhat mediocre and the first half is a bit slow, the drama in particular isn't all that interesting. Luckily the horror bits are pretty tasty. The gore isn't over the top, but the haunts and kills are surprisingly nasty. When it comes to more overt horror there's been a bit of a drought recently, so it was nice to see blood, guts and creepy crawlers returning to the forefront again. Good fun.

MFKZ

by Shôjirô Nishimi, Guillaume Renard
Also known as
Mutafukaz
Specifics
Japan, France [2017] - 94m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Animation
More info on
rating
4.0*/5.0*
MFKZ poster

A wild mix of cultural influences. The film is a French/Japanese co-production, but is set in the black/Latino communities of West-Coast USA. The animation is splendid, the soundtrack is pretty cool and the cultural melting pot is energizing. The film's all over the place, but for me that was the core appeal.

Sheep Without a Shepherd

by Sam Quah
Also known as
Wu Sha
Specifics
China [2019] - 112m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Sheep Without a Shepherd poster

I didn't really know what to expect from this film, the only thing I'd heard was that it had fared pretty well in China. Based on the poster art I'd feared a sentimental drama, instead I got a rather slick thriller. Admittedly, I was quite happy with that, as Chinese sentimentality can be a bit much.

Li Weijie has a hard time being the perfect dad for his family. When his daughter inadvertently kills a boy who is trying to blackmail her with nude footage, he feels it's his time to shine. Together they stage a perfect crime, but the cops are hellbent on figuring out what happened to the kid, as his father is a wealthy politician.

Sheep Without a Shepherd is unmistakably blockbuster material, but the execution was better than expected. The film's pretty atmospheric, the cinematography is nice, performances are decent and there are some fun twists, even though they're quite predictable. Simple but effective entertainment in other words.

Wild Grass

by Xu Zhanxiong
Also known as
Qiao Mai Feng Zhang
Specifics
China [2020] - 112m
Genre
Drama, Romance
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Wild Grass poster

Some films need nothing more than a couple of screencaps. I knew nothing about Wild Grass going in, except that the cinematography was not going to disappoint. And it didn't, sadly the rest of the film wasn't quite on the same level. Still, I was happy to see China is still making these types of films, it's been a while since I watched one of these.

The plot is split between different characters, each one introducing its own unique genre influences. There's a story about a dancer that's rather tragic, some puppy love that adds a little romance and the story of a young kid that introduces slight crime elements. These stories stand on their own, apart from the points where they intersect.

It's a rather messy setup that sometimes works against the film, I think more tonal consistency would've been better here. The use of color and lighting is absolutely stunning though, camera work and editing aren't quite as good, the soundtrack too could've been a bit more distinctive. But those are minor critiques that are mostly there because the cinematography sets such a high bar. Not bad at all.

Stranger Than Paradise

by Jim Jarmusch
Specifics
USA, West Germany [1984] - 89m
Genre
Comedy, Drama
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
Stranger Than Paradise poster

Jarmusch' second film is where it really started for him. I'm not a big fan of his work, but I will admit that more often than not his films have a certain appeal. I'm always willing to give them a fair chance, but they rarely manage to impress. In that respect, Stranger Than Paradise fits in rather well with the rest of his oeuvre.

The plot is extremely minimal. It starts when Willie's cousin Eva is forced to stay with him for a little while. After a short visit Eva moves in with her aunt in Cleveland, one year later Willie and his friend Eddie take a little time off to go and visit Eva. That's all there is to it really, the plot's just there to get characters on the road.

The stark black and white cinematography is nice and gives the film a little extra flair. The soundtrack is rather poor though and performances are stilted, which doesn't really fit the slice-of-life approach this film is gunning for. At least it's light, with a fun ending, but overall not that impressive.

The Smiling Madame Beudet

by Germaine Dulac
Also known as
La Souriante Madame Beudet
Specifics
France [1923] - 38m
Genre
Drama
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
The Smiling Madame Beudet poster

Often cited as one of the first true feminist films. While not something I'm going to contest, almost 100 years later that part of the film has little to no impact anymore. What remains is a simple drama about a woman trapped in a loveless marriage.

That's pretty much the entire story right there. Mme Beudet sulks and pouts, whilst her husband behaves like a comic book villain. When it gets too much for Mme Beudet, she decides to take matters into her own hands, devising a plan to get rid of her husband.

The film offers a mix of functional shots and close-ups of characters trying very hard to express basic emotions. The cinematography is plain, the drama doesn't work well and even though it's a very short film, there's hardly enough here to warrant the runtime. Not impressed.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

by Charlie Kaufman
Specifics
USA [2020] - 134m
Genre
Mystery
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
I'm Thinking of Ending Things poster

I'm not the biggest Kaufman fan in the world, but when all the stars align I do love his work. I didn't read up on I'm Thinking of Ending Things, but it quickly became apparent that this wasn't going to be the Kaufman I loved. It's an interesting and worthwhile film, but there's just too many things that irked me.

July is on the way to meet her boyfriend's parents. She isn't too comfortable in the relationship and will probably end it with Jake soon after, but she's interested to see if his parents can shed a different light on him. What is an uncomfortable ride there turns into a real mindfuck once they arrive at Jake's family home.

There's a lot of pop whining and pompous dialogues here, the entire film I've wondered whether it was either ironic or heartfelt. To be honest, I'm still not quite sure. Details like Collette's horrendous performance and the disastrous 4:3 aspect ratio annoyed me, but it's the lack of a truly gripping mood that kept me from fully enjoying this film. It's a bit underwhelming for a Kaufman project.

Nocturne

by Zu Quirke
Specifics
USA [2020] - 90m
Genre
Drama, Horror
More info on
rating
2.0*/5.0*
Nocturne poster

A film released under the Amazon Prime/Blumhouse TV label. And that's pretty much what you're getting here. A cheaper-looking Blumhouse production made for a streaming service that feels like the equivalent of old TV filler movies. Maybe it's a way to give a stage to newcomers, but it really needs to be better than this.

Juliet goes to a respected music school, but she wants to be the very best. She lives for her music and can't stand the fact that the most prestigious school declined her application, nor that her sister seems to be faring better than she is. Things turn around when she finds a notebook of a student who killed herself 2 months before.

Nocturne tries to balance drama and horror, but succeeds at neither. The horror elements aren't that successful, the drama feels lifeless and uninspired. The artsy setting, the pressure to perform, the family quarrels, nothing really impresses. It's not that Quirke didn't try, some scenes are definitely better than others, but on the whole it just wasn't enough.

Lang Tong

by Sam Loh
Specifics
Singapore [2014] - 82m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Lang Tong poster

A decent but visibly low-budget thriller/horror film from Singapore. Sam Loh made a pure genre flick, the kind where an up and coming director can establish himself without taking too many risks. A cookie cutter plot, some predictable twists and a little nastiness to please genre fans.

Zach is a typical player. He acts all sweet and understanding when meeting up with prospective dates, but once he gets in a relationship he abuses them and starts sleeping around. When he meets Li Ling, Zach feels like becoming a better man, but Li Er, Ling's sister, has other plans for Zach.

Performances are mediocre, some quick and dirty color grading is applied to make the film a tad more attractive. The setup is pretty simple and the story can get a little too transparent. The payoff is pretty great though and the pacing is solid. For genre fans only, but within that context this was decent filler.

Spontaneous

by Brian Duffield
Specifics
USA [2020] - 101m
Genre
Comedy, Horror
More info on
rating
3.5*/5.0*
Spontaneous poster

A very pleasant surprise. I'm not big on US high school films, but the Daruma-derived premise (check Miike's As the Gods Will) sounded like a lot of fun and as Halloween is drawing closer films like these deserve the benefit of the doubt. It turned out to be a nice gamble, though the potential was there to be even better.

Mara is attending a pretty run-of-the-mill high school, until people in her senior year suddenly start exploding, leaving only a puddle of blood in their wake. It puts everyone on edge, but with no obvious explanation for the spontaneous explosions people have no choice but to continue living their lives.

Spontaneous is a weird mix of styles and genres. The film has very gentle characters, the comedy is edgy without being mean and the mix of (relatively mild) splatter and high school comedy works surprisingly well. It makes for 60 minutes of lovely entertainment, after which the film turns sour for no good reason at all. It's a stupefying switch in tone that was completely unnecessary, hopefully Duffield gets the ending right next time, because the talent is clearly there.

Star Spangled to Death

by Ken Jacobs
Specifics
USA [2004] - 402m
Genre
Documentary, Experimental
More info on
rating
1.0*/5.0*
Star Spangled to Death poster

My biggest problem with many lauded experimental films is that concept and ideas tend to trump execution. Star Spangled to Death is a perfect example. Sure it sounds promising to mix political/social critique with archive footage, but when it feels like you're watching a 7-hour long YouTube video it's just not that impressive.

Jacobs offers a pretty crude cut & paste job here. We see a varied range of archive footage (old cartoons, old nudie films, musical performances, blackface performances, interviews with Nixon, ...) intercut with some textual references that function as critical interludes, sometimes supporting the images, often contrasting them.

It's probably nice if you like classic cinema, I guess the footage has some appeal then, otherwise this is just an endless and crude rant about the demise of the USA. The thing is that you could get that just from reading the title, which would've saved you seven hours of this cheap nonsense.

You Only Live Twice

by Lewis Gilbert
Specifics
UK [1967] - 117m
Genre
Action, Adventure
More info on
rating
2.5*/5.0*
You Only Live Twice poster

This feels like two James Bond films rolled into one. We get to see Bond making a less than sociable trip to Japan, but then there's also a lot of space/Cold War stuff to wade through. The two narratives barely fit together, but because the film doesn't take itself too serious it still works.

Tensions between the US and Russia are rising when an unidentified spacecraft steals a US ship. While the fight between the two nations escalates, all signs seem to point to a Japanese launch site. Bond is sent out to investigate, working together with the Japanese Secret Service to prevent WWIII.

It's nice to see the series didn't abandon its goofy roots. Underground lairs, hidden pathways, spies around every corner. It's all there, though never taking itself too serious. The biggest problem with these early Bond films is the length. Two hours is a bit long for something silly like this, but at least it never got boring.

Megazone 23 Part II: Please Give Me Your Secret

by Ichirô Itano
Specifics
Japan [1986] - 82m
Genre
Sci-fi, Action, Animation
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Megazone 23 Part II: Please Give Me Your Secret poster

A pretty cool sequel. The same setting and lead, but the story itself is quite different from the first film. It's still vintage 80s anime though, with biker gangs, mecha action, space invasions and some horror elements to try and please as many niches at once. It makes for a rather amusing film.

Yahagi is on the run from the law, this time he gets some help from a notorious biker gang. This turns out to be a pretty inconsequential spat when an alien invasion threatens all human life on the Megazone ships. Of course Yahagi and his new friends are read to take on this extra challenge.

The animation is pretty rad for an OAV, sporting a detailed and distinctive art style and some energetic action scenes. The rest is pretty standard anime fare, but the fast-paced action, the grotesque designs and the fine blend of genres makes this a very entertaining series. On to part 3.

Alone

by John Hyams
Specifics
USA [2020] - 98m
Genre
Horror, Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Alone poster

An extremely simple but fun little thriller/horror film. Alone is typical filler, a film that doesn't have an ounce of originality, isn't very remarkable in its execution, but offers everything you want from this specific niche. It's required viewing for fans, a forgettable trinket for everybody else.

Jessica is moving away from the city after losing her husband. On her way to the retreat she encounters a shady driver, who seems to be following her around. The next day he comes up to her and apologizes for his behavior, but Jessica doesn't trust the man and tries to get away as quick as possible. Looking at the genre of this film, you can probably guess whether her hunch was right or not.

Alone's biggest problem is that Menchaca simply isn't menacing enough as the film's bad guy. Hyams does a decent job, the build-up is fine, the setting is terrific and the tension is on point. It's just that whenever Menchaca makes an appearance, it's hard to see him as a real threat. Solid filler though.

Heaven and Hell

Also known as
Di San Lei Da Dou
Specifics
Hong Kong [1980] - 88m
Genre
Fantasy, Action
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
Heaven and Hell poster

Consider this Cheh Chang's struggle for relevance. With the appeal of the Shaw Bros martial arts films dwindling, people like Chang finally had to reinvent themselves. Heaven and Hell is a mix of fantasy, martial arts and even some musical elements, but it takes a while to come into its own.

Five martial arts experts are unjustly thrown into hell. Not willing to give up, they struggle through the various levels of hell in order to reach Buddha. Once there, they plead to be resurrected. Buddha grants them their wish, but each of them has to fight and conquer the men who got them thrown into hell.

The hell scenes are the obvious stand-outs, though it's clear Chang isn't quite as gifted as Chor. The action is decent but not that remarkable, the musical bits early on feel superfluous. Luckily the film gets better as time passes and the second half is pretty fun, sporting some rather atypical Shaw Bros scenes.

Working Girl

by Mike Nichols
Specifics
USA [1988] - 113m
Genre
Romance
More info on
rating
1.5*/5.0*
Working Girl poster

You'd be forgiven for thinking this was an 80s parody, were it not that Working Girl was made in the 80s. The unsightly hairdos, garish make-up and brutal fashion style make this an absolute eyesore, which ultimately gets into the way of the film's romantic aspirations. Though it's certainly not its only weakness.

Tess is a pretty decent secretary, working for a boss who takes her job for granted. When her boss breaks a leg during her holiday, she demands Tess takes over some of her chores. Tess does more than that and starts running the company behind her back. With great success too, as she wraps everyone her finger.

Performances are pretty drab. There's no chemistry between Ford and Griffith, Weaver is horrible, Baldwin isn't any better. The romance is a complete bust, characters are dull and the comedy is pretty poor too. At least the pacing is half decent and the film never drags, but that's about the only good thing here.

The Foreigner

by Martin Campbell
Specifics
USA, China [2017] - 113m
Genre
Thriller
More info on
rating
3.0*/5.0*
The Foreigner poster

Though not the most original film, The Foreigner comes with a pretty interesting setup, where none of the leads are straight-up good guys. It's obvious enough who're the people we're supposed to sympathize with (i.e. our titular foreigner, played by Jackie Chan), but even he's a pretty shady character.

When a IRA bomb kills Quan's only remaining daughter, he's poised to take revenge on the bombers. He pesters police and politicians for the names of the criminals, but nobody's willing to help him out. Quan, a former military man himself, decides to take matters into his own hands.

The film's surprisingly grim, not something I expected from a Jackie Chan production. He fares well though, and his battle with Pierce Brosnan is quite entertaining. Cinematography, score and plot are rather basic, but if you're looking for some solid thriller filler this is not a bad option.