June 2019 In Review

Half the year has passed us by now, and I hope you're all enjoying what's come about so far this year. For me, this past month was taken up by Disney quite a bit. But enough preamble, let's see what films I viewed over this past June.

Godzilla: King of The Monsters (2019) - 2.5/5 - Godzilla: King of The Monsters delivers on the exciting fights between giant monsters. What a shame it's surrounded by an overstuffed cast, wasted on such boring character drama.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Simply put, this is one of the best musical films of all time. Frank Oz crafts the perfect balance between a touching romance, and an impressively realised monster feature, all while including brilliantly catchy tunes. The effects which bring Audrey II to life are utterly phenomenal, working perfectly in tandem with the vocal performance of Levi Stubbs. The cameo appearances included are wonderful, and the cast inhabit their roles so well. Rick Moranis is adorable as Stanley, a man who just wants to tend to his plant and get the girl of his dreams, but is unfortunately thrust into a horrific scenario, as he's manipulated by a ravenous, man-eating plant. Steve Martin is the scene-stealer, throwing himself into the role of Orin Scrivello, DDS, the abusive biker who's also a dentist. Ellen Greene especially deserves a mention, putting a touching performance into the role of Audrey, a woman with a low opinion of herself who just wants a happy life away from Skid Row. I adore this film. 

Always Be My Maybe (2019) - 4/5 - A Netflix romantic comedy from Nahnatchka Khan, this certainly follows the expected story beats, sticking to the tropes in ways that can feel contrived, and elicit an eye-roll. In spite of that, this is an utterly sweet film which works thanks to the chemistry of its stars, Ali Wong and Randall Park. The pair deftly deliver as leads, as these childhood friends try to reconnect, and work through their own personal issues. Marcus hasn't moved on since his mothers passing, stuck in a rut from which he hasn't grown from, and Park conveys this rather well. Sasha is holding onto resentment from her parents always leaving her alone to focus on their work, which Wong uses to convey their strained relationship. But as good as they are, Keanu Reeves threatens to steal the film from the pair, as he hilariously plays a nightmarish version of himself. Every moment he's on-screen is among the films best, and results in a brilliant final gag for the film to close on. Always Be My Maybe is a lovable romantic comedy powered by its spectacular cast, bringing with it bundles of charm. 

Amazing Grace (2019) - 4/5 - In 1972, director Sydney Pollack filmed a behind the scenes documentary of Aretha Franklin recording her gospel album, Amazing Grace. It was done live, over two nights, at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. It missed the intended release date, due to difficulties syncing the audio with the visuals, but was rectified decades later, and has finally been released. The result is an intriguing concert film, which acts as a stupendous showcase for Aretha's performance, as the raw power coming from her captivates you from the word go. This is one that fans will love, and will work for non-fans alike. 

Ma (2019) - 1.5/5 - That's two films of his I've watched, and I'm really not gelling with Tate Taylor as a director. His entry into the horror genre, courtesy of Blumhouse, is a trashy piece that's poorly written, ill thought out, and ultimately a 100 minute slog. Octavia Spencer is certainly relishing her antagonistic role, as she portrays the eponymous Ma, and her motivations are certainly understandable. It's just a shame the rest of the film is rubbish, as the screenwriters do a woeful job in trying to capture the voices of the teenage protagonists, or make them seem anything other than mindless dolts who make stupid decisions, just because.

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Toy Story 2: Best film of the month & Best film rewatched

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1995) - 0/5 - Kim Henkel takes the reins of this 90's entry into The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, and considering he was a writer on the 1974 masterpiece, you'd think hopes would be high for this. Sadly, the result is a pathetic excuse for a horror film, which is brought alive in such a half-assed manner. The production value looks cheap as hell, and it tries to cover this up by setting it in as many dark scenes as possible, while throwing lazy callbacks to the original in there. There's no need for the opening set-up to include Prom, it's a needless inclusion which adds nothing to the overall story or its unbearable characters. Also, it's a horror film which seems to revel in the prolonged abuse of the female characters, while the male victims get offed rather quickly.

The most interesting thing about this film is how it was held back, and only released when its stars of Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey became bigger name stars. What's most unfortunate about that is how they leave little impression, with the latter shouting his way through playing a bionic killer being more boring than it has any right to be. That's all before the baffling ending, which comes off like a lobotomised version of Martyrs. The result has no redeeming features, and somehow makes an 86 minute runtime feel never-ending.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) - 1/5 - An emotionally empty feature that's been utterly mishandled, X-Men: Dark Phoenix is less of a swansong, and more of a turkey.

Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969) [rewatch] - 4/5 - An encounter definitely worth every minute of its runtime. A better meeting than Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Blue Velvet (1986) - 5/5 - With each subsequent David Lynch feature I watch, I find myself falling more and more in love with his craft. This feature haunts my mind in the best possible way, showcasing the dark underbelly which lurks underneath the idyllic '50s style neighbourhood initially depicted on-screen. It's a captivating mystery which Kyle MacLachlan's compelling lead finds himself in the centre of, as he plays detective and hangs out with the equally engrossing Laura Dern. As they delve deeper and deeper, the tension reaches unbearable proportions, even nightmarish, which especially includes when Dennis Hopper enters the film. His performance as Frank could've easily have come off as laughable, but the frightening look in his eyes ensures it's nothing short of horrifying. Isabella Rossellini is especially gripping, portraying a haunted singer that's forced to endure so much, while never feeling like her purpose is just to be on the receiving end of all this. One viewing so far, and I am in love with this film.

Toy Story 4: Best film seen in cinemas

Up (2009) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - People talk so much about the heartbreaking opening to this feature, but it feels odd the rest of the film isn't discussed as much. It's a shame, because what occurs after that memorable opening is a compelling story of overcoming grief and moving on from the pains of your past, no matter how difficult it can be. It also manages to deliver a wonderful adventure story to be enjoyed by all ages, as our grouchy protagonist is joined by an adorable child devoted to being a wilderness explorer (as opposed to being a small mailman), while they cross paths with a band of talking dogs (including the adorable Dug), and get drawn into the hunt for a rare, exotic bird they call Kevin. I still prefer the moments of these characters speaking with one another, but i'm less bothered with the more fantastical elements. This is a real gem from Pixar which deserves more recognition as a whole. 

The Good Dinosaur (2015) - 2/5 - While I've found some Pixar films to be lesser entries into the studios back catalogue, I can't say I've actively disliked any of their released films. That was until now, as Pixar seem to be on autopilot for an utterly boring story with little emotional investment within. Yes, the landscapes are stunning to look at, and the relationship between Arlo and Spot is sold rather well. But for a film which sold the idea of "what if the meteor didn't wipe out the dinosaurs", it does very little to actually deliver on this intriguing premise. It feels like a simple copy and paste of replacing humans with dinosaurs, deliver a lazy attempt at world-building which reminds me of Bright. It feels like wasted potential, so by the time Sam Elliot enters and it becomes a dino-Western, it feeling so boring is rather crushing. It does good in avoiding the typical "real men don't get scared" toxic masculinity bullshit I've come to expect, but it's an interesting idea wasted. Ultimately, this doesn't feel like a Pixar film which was released in the same year as Inside Out, it feels more like a 2000's Disney film you'd see released close to Home on the Range and Chicken Little

Men In Black (1997) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A firm favourite of mine since my childhood, I always have a marvellous time when viewing this witty, hilarious, and inventive piece of sci-fi from director Barry Sonnenfeld. It works thanks to the great chemistry and performances from Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, but one element I want to highlight is the phenomenal performance by Vincent D'Onofrio. Over the course of his first scene, he switches from an asshole farmer to an intergalactic bug wearing said farmer's skin as a suit, and it feels like an entirely different actor has come onto screen in that time. It's not a performance of his talked about as much as Gomer Pyle or Wilson Fisk, but it easily ranks among those as his best. 

Men In Black II (2002) [rewatch] - 1/5 - The best thing about this film is it runs for a lean 88 minutes. The worst thing is that it exists.

A needless sequel which bends over backwards in trying to undo plot developments made by the former film, just so Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith can share the screen with one another again, and for any potential sequels. It's more interested in ogling the main antagonist and lazily including product placement, as opposed to bringing the laughs or inventiveness which made the first film work so well. It wants to earn the emotional stakes and investment, without putting any real work into achieving such things, while ending on a more honking variation of how the former film ended. This is a half-assed follow-up which deserves to be wiped from the memory, even if Rick Baker's effects work is still great.

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Blue Velvet: Best film watched for the first time

Whip It (2009) - 4.5/5 - Drew Barrymore moves behind the camera for an impressive directorial debut, which makes roller derby as engrossing and accessible as possible for anyone unfamiliar with it. *puts hand up* At the heart of it, this is an engrossing character drama told in an extremely likeable manner, where it may feel familiar, but the emotional payoff is undoubtedly earned throughout. The brilliant cast put their all into such humorous and heartfelt work, with Ellen Page and Marcia Gay Harden doing wonderfully in selling their relationship. I wish I saw this sooner, as I love it.

The Killing (1956) - 4.5/5 - An early feature from Stanley Kubrick, it's a tale which is small in scope, but carries great promise for the career which would follow. What occurs over the ensuing 85 minutes is a compelling thriller, meticulously planned and doing wonderfully to define each character within this heist. What a shame for the voiceover, which feels so unnecessary and grating, as it needlessly narrates to the point of irritation. Thankfully, this doesn't detract too much from this gripping feature. 

Men In Black: International (2019) - 2.5/5 - You won't need a neuralyzer to forget Men In Black: International, as the film's quality will ensure that on its own. A bland mess which gives little for the great cast to work with, and can't even coast on the chemistry of its leads. 

Game of Thrones: The Last Watch (2019) - 4/5 - With the massive phenomenon that is Game of Thrones reaching its inevitable end, HBO hired director Jeanie Finlay to make a documentary surrounding the making of the final season. Eschewing from the obvious route of following the shows stars, the perspective is told from the behind the scenes people who've worked on the show for a long time, as well as Night King actor Vladimir Furdik, and Andrew McClay, an extra who appeared throughout for many years. The latter two make for the heart of the series, as following their journey makes for a touching watch. It's these interesting viewpoints which makes for such an intriguing watch, and whatever the thoughts on the shows finale, this certainly delivers an emotional farewell such a pop culture juggernaut deserves.
Oh, and very well done for having "You want it darker" play during scenes for the third episode.

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The Good Dinosaur: Biggest Disappointment

Murder Mystery (2019) - 2/5 - A film that wants to be a Poirot inspired mystery, which intrigues you with the prospect of who committed the murder, and grips you as it unfolds, eager to discover what happens to the central characters. That isn't the outcome, as what occurs feels like a half-assed attempt written around this European vacation, while Adam Sandler sleepwalks through the lead role. The rest of the cast do well with what they're given, but can't exactly excel with such a bare script (somehow from the screenwriter of the masterful Zodiac). Director Kyle Newacheck does little to set apart this feature, with the half-hearted gags and the lacklustre bursts of action feeling rather tacked on. 

The Last Detail (1973) - 4/5 - Hal Ashby directs a story about two Naval men, tasked with escorting a young offender to prison. The pair initially decide on taking the prisoner to his destination, and then spending the remaining few days enjoying themselves, but along the way, get to know the man they're escorting, and decide to show him a good time. It's a heartfelt story, where the bond between our three leads develops in a believable manner, and remains at the core of the feature. It helps that Jack Nicholson, Otis Youg, and Randy Quaid do such wonderful work in their portrayals. Yes, Nicholson gets the more showy performance, but this central trio are as wonderful as each other, and deliver the touching moments and humour so deftly. 

Piercing (2019) - 2.5/5 - Nicolas Pesce directs this feature about two broken and depraved souls, who cope with their corner of the world in their own twisted manner, but come to find solace in each others company. It's an interesting concept, but the execution suffers from a direction which doesn't fulfil its promise, as the creepy moments feel too few and far between. Mia Wasikowska's Jackie in an intriguing figure and the more interesting of the lead pair, which makes it a shame we don't get to see matters from her point of view. Instead, we're saddled with an uninteresting lead portrayed by an unfortunately blank faced Christopher Abbott. 

Toy Story 4 (2019) - 4.5/5 - As it turns out, there was no need to be wary. A wondrous epilogue to a perfect trilogy, Toy Story 4 is full of heart, laughs, and emotion. If this series has reached its end, this is a strong place to leave things at, but at this point, I wouldn't count them out of delivering a fantastic fifth instalment.

Child's Play: Biggest Surprise

The Secret Life Of Pets 2 (2019) - 3.5/5 - In following up their surprise hit, Illumination Studios have delivered something that doesn't really feel like a feature film. It's more like a series of shorts they've spliced together, hoping to loosely connect the narrative threads to make something they can release in cinemas. Thank goodness the characters are likeable enough to hold things together, with the fantastic cast doing great voice work. Jenny Slate is still an utter joy as Gidget, while Kevin Hart is more entertaining in his vocal work than his live action stuff. Patton Oswalt is a much better fit for the lead role, working extremely well off Harrison Ford in his typical gruff persona. Some of the characters are rather underutilised, and I could've done without the stereotype villain, but I actually enjoyed this. 

Toy Story (1995) [rewatch] - 5/5 - I haven't seen this film in ages, but it holds wonderful memories from throughout my childhood (especially considering this is the first film I was taken to see in cinemas). I was surprised to see it's such a smaller scale film, considering how much larger in scale the sequels get, but it makes sense. It's still a brilliant feat of CG animation, with a beating heart and tremendous characters that remain in pop culture for good reason. I was also surprised by how the Spider Baby is so nightmarish, and the zombie inspired feel of the toys rising up at the end. Still one of my all time favourite films. 

Toy Story 2 (1999) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Probably the Toy Story film which best utilises the central characters, each feeling vital to the unfolding story in their own way, while the new additions feel instantly at home alongside the returning figures. It gets really emotionally destroying with Jessie's backstory, and touches upon the inevitable end which faces toys, which is heavy going when they're the central focus of these films. It's also a sequel which somehow one-ups its masterful predecessor, while working so well on its own. It's also now my favourite Pixar film, despite me having watched this loads since 2000.

Toy Story 3 (2010) [rewatch] - 5/5 - While Toy Story 2 addressed the inevitable abandonment our central toys would face, and had them agree that it'd be a worthwhile end for the journey, this third instalment truly questions that. What the toys accepted in theory, they now have to deal with in actuality, and are feeling the soul-crushing reality of having been abandoned for a long time, where simply being held is worthy of celebration. It's a saddening place to find these characters, and it leads into their question of what to do next. It leads to them finding solace in a daycare named Sunnyside, run by a Strawberry smelling bear whose cuddly exterior hides a twisted undercurrent, leading to one of the most tear-inducing, saddening scenes I have ever seen put into a family film.

That all sounds like the most utterly bleak family film committed to screen, but Pixar pack it in with joyous moments of humour, and great new additions, such as the great pairing of Barbie and Ken. No matter how the roster expands, these new characters always feel at home alongside the returning figures, and it's an utter joy to witness. This may not be the end of the Toy Story franchise now, but it remains a masterful closer to these toys adventures in the life of Andy, and is my pick for 2010's Best Picture race. 

Aladdin (1992) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Everytime I watch this film (each 3 years, it seems), I find this feature holds up better. Robin Williams' comedic shtick still threatens to overshadow things, but I found it more enjoyable this time around. The story draws me in, the musical numbers are brilliant earworms, and the vibrant visuals are stunning to behold, doing so brilliantly in making a flying carpet rather expressive. I could've done with more of Princess Jasmine's perspective (especially outside of relationship woes), but she's still one of my favourite Disney princesses, and Jafar is a deliciously evil villain. I love this film.

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation: Worst film of the month

Brightburn (2019) - 3.5/5 - David Yarovesky takes the familiar Superman origin tale, complete with Man of Steel style cinematography, and utilises it for a much darker story. It's an interesting story, utilising the idea of a frustrated teen discovering his abilities for a superpowered slasher, complete with gory and inventive visuals which are impressive viewing. Jackson A. Dunn does great work in selling Brandon's inner turmoil, making his actions more believable than Brian and Mark Gunn's script does. A bit more time would've been nice to develop the arc of our lead, to get in his mindset more, as the many leaps in logic feel glaring as it is. The cast do great jobs, especially Elizabeth Banks as the mother intent on standing beside Brandon, and David Denman as the more conflicted father. I rather enjoyed this dark addition to the superhero genre. 

Child's Play (2019) - 4/5 - I haven't been the biggest fan of the Child's Play series, especially the original film, but I really enjoyed this one. It's so divorced from Charles Lee Ray and Good Guy dolls that does feel like a film which late in the day got the franchise rights attached, but it's a darn fun update on the original feature. Chucky and Andy's friendship is so well defined, even getting a fun little montage to sell its development, so it's understandable why the Buddi doll is so determined to be Andy's number one friend.

It's difficult to take over an iconic role from somebody so intertwined with the character, but Mark Hamill does exceptionally as Chucky. Thankfully doing his own thing more than a Brad Dourif impersonation, he delivers on the creeping menace of the character. Granted, the design still looks pretty wonky, but it doesn't hamper the chemistry with Gabriel Bateman's Andy.

Director Lars Klevberg brings to screen some brilliant kills, with the Buddi doll's integration of various apps allowing it to deliver on some inventive offings. There's also a great utilisation of humour to break up the grim deaths. It's a shame the second half forces in a Stranger Things style uniting of kids to stop Chucky, an undercooked element which is rapidly dropped. Still, this is a great example of how to make a reboot in the modern day. 

Gods Own Country (2017) - 4.5/5 - For his directorial debut, Francis Lee crafts a touching romance set across the gorgeous Yorkshire landscape. A subtly directed piece, this wouldn't work so well without the brilliant performances from Josh O'Connor's young farmer who's afraid to show some vulnerability, and Alec Secareanu's Romanian worker, who has to deal with racism and past hurt. The pair share brilliant chemistry which gets one to care for where the story will take them, as not a word is wasted between them. If anything, they say more with their few words than they could with a lengthy monologue, and that's a testament to how expressive they are. 

Aladdin (2019) - 3/5 - Most of the cast do fantastically, but the lacklustre and tedious direction fails to take Aladdin to a whole new world of adventure. At least this time, Guy Ritchie held off on giving David Beckham an awful cameo appearance. 

Best film of the month: Toy Story 2
Best film seen in cinemas: Toy Story 4
Best film watched for the first time: Blue Velvet
Best film rewatched: Toy Story 2
Biggest Disappointment: The Good Dinosaur
Biggest Surprise: Child's Play
Worst film of the month: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

Number of films watched: 30