May 2019 In Review

May is behind us, and the first half of the year is nearly following it. So, let's have a look at what films I watched over this past month.

Upgrade (2018) - 4/5 - A futuristic throwback to the revenge flicks of yesteryear, Upgrade is a compelling look at grief in the middle of thrilling action set pieces.

Snowpiercer (2014) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Considering this was released 5 years ago, it's about time we got this in the UK, and I'm grateful Netflix managed to pick it up, so wider audiences can now experience Bong Joon-Ho's fantastic feature. He does wonderful work fleshing out this world, where the cold temperature outside of the train is used as a barbaric form of punishment, the prospect of surviving for another year stops everything for a shared celebration, and how every carriage is different from one another, increasing in decadence and sleaziness as the characters venture on.

Yes, the themes of class and global warming are a tad heavy handed, but when they're so integral and done so well, fuck subtlety. Tension is regularly applied through the action scenes, be it two opponents firing at one another from opposing carriages, or a brutally tense brawl in a sauna. But no matter how bloody it gets, the film never loses sight of how these are people fighting for better lives, or to reunite their families. It helps that such a fantastic ensemble is at hand, with Tilda Swinton sinking her false teeth into the films most attention grabbing role. I have issues with the final moments, which end up feeling crammed in there. There could have been more elegance in how these moments where woven into the narrative, but it doesn't prevent me from having absolute adoration for this phenomenal feature.

The House By The Cemetary (1981) - 2/5 - The closer of his Gates of Hell trilogy, Lucio Fulci seems to be taking the tactic of throwing at the wall whatever he can get his hands on, and seeing what sticks. While this worked for me in City of the Living Dead (I haven't yet seen The Beyond), the result here feels too much like a convoluted mess to work. Important aspects feel like they're missing, with a nanny seemingly being set up as an integral part, and then merely amounting to raising the films body count. Then there's the dubbing, which is irritatingly distracting, and somehow makes the central child come off as even more annoying. Credit where it's due, the well done gore and atmosphere are evident throughout, but this is a take on the Frankenstein tale that could've done with more work before declaring that it was alive. 

Long Shot (2019) - 4/5 - Long Shot is a charming romantic comedy which excels in both areas, while delivering a sharp political edge. Come for the talented performers doing fantastic work, stay for the humorous exchange about Jennifer Aniston.

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Best film of the month & Best film
rewatched: The Cabin In The Woods

Booksmart (2019) - 4.5/5 - Booksmart is an impressive directorial debut, packed with empathy, compassion, and downright hilarity. Come for the heartfelt friendship and bounds of humour, stay for the impressive work on display.

Horror Noire: A History Of Black Horror (2019) - 4/5 - What a compelling feature this was. Xavier Burgin takes viewers on a journey through the history of black representation in horror cinema, and how it was representative of societal changes. These are told from the perspectives of filmmakers, critics, and actors, who each give their own thoughts in a manner that makes you want to hear more. I could've easily have just watched Ken Foree and Keith David discuss with one another all throughout, but I'm glad we got such a wide spectrum of opinions. 

The Curse of La Llorona (2019) - 2/5 - The Curse of La Llorona is a piece of horror more likely to elicit yawns than frights. From the story to the scares, and especially the titular figure, there's little worth praising here.

Best film seen in cinemas: High Life

A Dog's Journey (2019) - 3/5 - A Dog's Journey may struggle to balance the darker and lighter elements, but is an emotionally engaging feature benefited by the talented performances on show. 

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019) - 4/5 - A wonderful realisation of its beloved creatures, Pokémon Detective Pikachu is an enjoyable noir attempt set among a gorgeous neon city, complete with a beating heart. Plus, where else will you see Pokémon depicted in hieroglyphics? 

Before Midnight (2013) - 5/5 - Considering my adoration for the first two instalments of Richard Linklater's Before Trilogy, it's baffling to me that I've only just seen this, but I'm glad I've finally watched it. For the first time, we begin with Celeste and Jesse being together, with two twin daughters. There are no deadlines or other halves stopping them from being together, they are their own worst enemy, as discussions and tender moments turn into arguments, where long simmering topics burst forth to add fuel to the fire. Coupled with their personal problems, it all feels so achingly real, while being a natural progression from where we previously saw this couple.

It all works because of the trio at the centre of this film, who know the ins and outs of these characters. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy once more give life to these characters and make them feel so real, to a fantastic effect. Richard Linklater's direction brings them alive with no need for a flashy direction, as he knows this long romance is compelling enough to hold the audiences investment. This is a worthy third instalment for what's possibly my favourite trilogy of all time, and I certainly hope for a fourth instalment in 2022.

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Best film watched for the first time: Katalin Varga

Katalin Varga (2009) - 5/5 - Katalin Varga is a haunting feature that grips you with ease, and stays with you long after.

The Hustle (2019) - 1/5 - When it comes to The Hustle, the real hustle is in classifying it as a comedy. A hollow and unfunny 94 minutes which feels much longer. 

High Life (2019) - 5/5 - An unforgettable tale set in the eternal void of space, what Claire Denis has delivered through the ensuing 113 minute runtime is hauntingly beautiful. A film about a group of criminals sent on a space mission, partaking in experiments while travelling towards a black hole, told in a nonlinear fashion. It's quite the nihilistic tale, telling what horrific actions defined many of these characters remaining lives, and set them in motion to end up on such a hopeless mission. Denis also delivers on the horror in manners which will stick in the mind, for once you've seen the inside of "The Fuckbox", it'll be difficult to shake from your memory. Yet it also carries optimism within, to show that one can move forward from trauma, redemption is an achievable goal, and hope can be found within even the most hopeless of scenarios. Centring the film is Robert Pattinson's phenomenal portrayal of Monte, who chooses to atone for his past through living a monk-like existence, but his actions clearly weigh on him. At one point, when he's told his choice is of cruelty, he responds with "You don't know cruelty". His delivery, mixed with the emotions on his face, is heartbreaking enough to tell everything one needs to know. A film that's utterly beautiful to view, and sticks long in the mind, High Life is one of the most unforgettable films of the year.

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Biggest Disappointment: The House By The Cemetary

Who Am I? (1998) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - Jackie Chan was a favourite of mine and my families when I was growing up, so I was glad to revisit the feature film of his. The result is a spy thriller with a lacklustre story, that seems to have been built around the scenes of action. These work thanks to the phenomenal choreography and masterful stunt work, which makes the fights so pulse-pounding, heart stopping, and downright brilliant to watch. Centring this feature is Jackie Chan himself, ever so joyous and charming as the amnesiac lead, who believes his name to be Who Am I?.

Avengers: Endgame (2019) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Alan Silvestri's score is a downright masterful blend, managing to properly represent each included hero and ensuing tone. It's worth sitting through the entire feature just to hear Portals play on the cinema speakers.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019) - 4.5/5 - The third entry into this franchise, and Chad Stahelski has crafted a ballet of breathtaking action, phenomenally choreographed in a manner which feels a world apart from traditional Hollywood action cinema. From a fight between a horse-riding John Wick and motorcycle riding assassins, to the weaponized use of a book, this is heart-stopping action which is an utter breath of fresh air. Woven within is a story of how actions have consequences, and how living on is the best way of paying remembrance to those dearly departed. Keanu does deft work in portraying this canine loving action hero, who remains a compelling protagonist while everyone seems out to kill him, and collect the $14 million bounty on his head. The main assassin troubling John is Zero, portrayed by Mark Dacascos, who sells the terrifying menace of his character, while also being in awe of the mythical John Wick. Also entering the screen as an adjudicator, Asia Kate Dillon lends a powerful presence as the authority figure laying down the law, courtesy of the High Table. Halle Berry and Anjelica Huston leave great impressions while they're on the screen, as people from John's past whose paths he crosses during the film. My only issue is the story lags a bit in the middle, but what remains is honestly one of the best recent examples of what action cinema can deliver.

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Biggest Surprise: Mean Creek
Rocketman (2019) - 4.5/5 - Given free reign this time in directing the life of an LGBTQ musician, Dexter Fletcher crafts a compelling feature through the blending of standard biopic, and musical style visuals. He weaves the artists back catalogue into the narrative, carefully selecting what tunes to use for key points in Elton's life, carrying emotional resonance. Utilised with them are stylish fantasy sequences, which showcase inventive set-pieces that offer utter excitement. At his heart, Elton John is depicted as a man who wants to feel an emotional embrace as simple as a hug. He feels so alone, and as a successful musician, attempts to compensate through extravagance, and puts on a demeanour to mask his emotional vulnerability with. Taron Egerton does an exceptional job portraying this real life figure, even utilises his wonderful singing voice to cover Elton's songs.

As Bernie Taupin, Elton's best friend and songwriter, Jamie Bell is quietly compelling in his role. It's not a showy performance, but he inhabits the figure well, sharing a tremendous chemistry with Egerton. Richard Madden gets to relish his role as John Reid, portrayed as underhanded and manipulative. From Elton's sexuality to frank depictions of his demons, this is a biopic unafraid to be open where Bohemian Rhapsody was not. Yes, it follows the standard biographical route, and the female figures not played by Bryce Dallas Howard feel relegated to the side, but these are small issues in an utterly fantastic film. 

Mean Creek (2004) - 4.5/5 - Why has this film not gotten more attention? Jacob Aaron Estes directs a tale about a group of teenagers who take a boat out under the guise of birthday celebrations, intended to play a mean trick on a cruel bully. Needless to say, it doesn't go according to plan, and the result is utterly haunting, and completely unforgettable. The characters within are far from one-dimensional, each carrying their own personal issues, which the fantastic assembled cast do well in portraying. It may only last 90 minutes, but it'll stay in your mind for much longer. 

Mars Attacks! (1996) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - I've seen this once before, round about in 2010, and I really did not like this film, so approached a rewatch with trepidation. To my surprise, I came out of it with absolute adoration for the film. Yes, many of the characters could've been cut out and not have affected the plot, but the film is worth it for the Martians, who are full of character and mischievous personality. The effects work is noticeably dated (or at least was in my DVD copy), but it's a knowing throwback to atomic era sci-fi of the 1950s, as seen by Pierce Brosnan smoking a pipe in his first scene. It's quite the little film with a wicked sense of humour, and feels more at home for Tim Burton than films like Dumbo or Miss Peregrine.

Worst film of the month: The Hustle

Godzilla (1954) - 4/5 - Considering the massive gaps I have for this iconic film star, it was about time I watched the first iteration of the character. I was startled by how bleak the overall picture is, acting as a warning about the perils of nuclear testing, and the horrific effects it has on innocent civilians. This is epitomised through the titular giant lizard, who carries the menace and tension deserved of such a spectacular being of destruction. Yes, some effects have dated quite a bit, and a number of the performances amount to little, but there's a gripping human element evident within. This ensures it isn't just a bout of destruction porn, as we have the connection to the film, delivered through the direction of Ishirô Honda. 

The Japanese Fishermen (1954) - 4/5 - A 10 minute documentary included on my Godzilla DVD, and it's an utterly haunting feature. Using the fishermen as a starting point, this depicts the damaging effects which comes from nuclear tests, shown in horrific detail. Wildlife is decimated, food and water are irradiated, innocents are horrifically caught in the middle of this nightmare test. Good luck shaking this from your mind. 

The Cabin In The Woods (2012) [rewatch] - 5/5 - I'm ashamed to have left it so long since my last viewing of this film. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon utilise a clear adoration for horror to deliver a wicked smart take on the genre, including conventions, tropes, character archetypes, audience expectations, and the creatures which go bump in the night. It's unsettling, hilarious, touching, and delivers so much which you'll be hard pressed to see elsewhere, or at least done in such an inventive and genius manner. The cast are brilliant, with Fran Kranz acting as a surrogate for audiences who shout at the screen for characters to not make stupid decisions, and Richard Jenkins delivering his best performance yet. But above all else, it's a film which must be seen blind. It may be 7 years since its release, but this is a picture I still don't want to spoil anything about. Go into it knowing as little as possible, and reap the benefits. The experience will give you so much of a husbands bulge. 

Await Further Instructions (2018) - 2.5/5 - Johnny Kevorkian's Christmas set piece of horror eschews from the happy families which festive features can depict, instead showcasing a conflicting family affected by generational abuse, toxic masculinity, and hateful rhetoric. There are interesting ideas within here, especially the idea of what you pass down to your children, but they amount to very little by the end, while the tension rapidly gets lost as the 91 minute runtime goes on. The central couple, played by Sam Gittins and Neerja Naik, are good, but they're the minority. The remaining characters are largely wasted, with a mixed bag of performances not really helping these one-note figures. A feature with decent ideas on the mind, but little idea on how to execute them. 

Best film of the month: The Cabin In The Woods
Best film seen in cinemas: High Life
Best film watched for the first time: Katalin Varga
Best film rewatched: The Cabin In The Woods
Biggest Disappointment: The House By The Cemetary
Biggest Surprise: Mean Creek
Worst film of the month: The Hustle

Number of films watched: 23