August 2019 In Review

August has left us, and I ventured to watch an array of films. But my month was mainly taken up by my first trip to Frightfest, an annual horror festival which allowed me to view a variety of upcoming genre films, while surrounded by welcoming and friendly people. So, without further ado, let's see what I viewed this past August.

Louis Theroux: Surviving America's Most Hated Family (2019) - 4.5/5 - Twelve years after initially meeting them, Louis Theroux once more returns to the Westboro Baptist Church, to see how things are since the passing of their leader, Fred Phelps. The message remains as hateful as ever, but has notably been diluted and softened throughout. An intercut of a recent speech, with a 2007 speech declaring people were "eating babies", brings an interesting comparison to bear witness to.

The leadership role has also been filled by seven male elders, which has resulted in male members notably having a more controlling and authoritarian grip on the female members, who have largely been pushed to the side. This includes Fred's daughter, Shirley, a previously outspoken figure who is notably a more broken presence, as she copes with the loss of her father, and her two daughters escaping the church. We also follow Megan, Shirley's daughter who has left the church, and become an outspoken figure against it. Her thread is the most fascinating one, as she's shared her experiences to speak out against such a hateful group, but still cares for her family, hoping their eyes will be open as hers was.

In terms of change, Louis Theroux himself is notable in that area. Twelve years after first speaking to them, he's clearly not holding back his distaste for the church throughout, especially against documentarian turned church member, Steve Drain. He knows when not to go in guns blazing, as with the fragile Shirley, but certainly doesn't bite his tongue. This makes for a fascinating epilogue to his time with the church.

Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) - 4/5 - A supernatural siege flick orchestrated by a brilliant Billy Zane, Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight is a compelling piece of horror-comedy. It's just a shame this work couldn't be made to realise its wider potential, and instead was trapped within the promotion for a then-popular TV series.

Pulp Fiction (1994) [rewatch] - 5/5 - I was not going to pass up the opportunity to see one of my all-time favourite films on the big screen, especially when it coincided with the upcoming UK release of Tarantino's latest film. A composition of various stories, each one being utterly compelling with a gripping narrative, brilliant characters, and moments of hilarity. Yes, there are bits which don't hold up well (Butch's mocking voice directed at Fabienne, and Tarantino casually throwing out the N word), and these are uncomfortable to watch. Thankfully, the film moves on from them soon enough, to focus on the narrative thrust of the film. If I had to pick a favourite segment, it would be "The Gold Watch". From the opening story delivered to a young Butch, to the memorable ending, I would consider it my highlight, but it's not an easy choice to make. When you have "Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace's Wife" containing one of the most gripping set-pieces put to film, "The Diner" being a thoughtful closer to the film, and "The Bonnie Situation" balancing shock, hilarity, and race against the clock tension, it's a film full of winners.

The Gift (2000) - 3/5 - Consider me surprised that this was directed by Sam Raimi, as it feels unlike a good portion of his filmography. Still, it's welcome to see a director stretch their talents by trying new things, and through the story of a psychic helping the police solve a murder, he certainly keeps things interesting. It's a shame he skips over potentially interesting story threads, such as the abused housewife played by a wasted Hillary Swank, serving as little more than a prop. While a notable thread running throughout is our lead and her children coping with the loss of the father figure, I would've liked a bit more time devoted to this part of the story. There was one child who didn't even get a look in on how he's coping, but I can't be too sure, since they were such non-entities.

When we have such a great cast assembled, it's a shame when a number are underutilised, such as Giovanni Ribisi being separate from the main story until it's convenient for him to be so. Props are deserved to a brilliant Cate Blanchett, carrying so much hurt and fear while trying to uncover the truth, while Greg Kinnear is one of the films more interesting elements. What really surprised me was Keanu Reeves, as the internet's boyfriend was startlingly convincting in playing a wife-beating scumbag.

Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw (2019) - 3.5/5 - An exciting actioner centred on a mismatched duo, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw works thanks to the leads chemistry. It's a shame some aspects couldn't have been better handled, but the dumb fun bouts of action will momentarily make you not mind about that.

The Matrix Reloaded (2003) [rewatch] - 4/5 - After revisiting my love for The Wachowski Sister's 1999 classic, The Matrix, I decided to venture forward, and see how the further instalments hold-up. I haven't seen this film in about 15 years, and that time has been full of talk about how the sequels sucked, but I actually really enjoyed this film.

What was set-up so well in the first film is expanded upon in rather interesting ways, as viewers are given a look into Zion itself, how residents react to Neo's status as The One, and get a general feel for life in the final free city. Apparently, they love to rave, in a scene awkwardly intercut with a sex scene. Regardless of that moment, it's clear Lana and Lilly have lost none of their ambition from the first film.

Another element which hasn't dulled is the action, as the hand to hand combat still holds up really well, and then there's the freeway fight. A phenomenal sequence which gives Morpheus and Trinity a chance to show they can hold their own without Neo coming in all cybernetic Jesus (for the most part), and superbly crafted, making for something which holds up better than much of modern cinema. Although, the use of CG doubles are glaringly obvious, and even looking like a Playstation 2 cutscene at some points.

There are also some returning elements which are used to a lesser effect this time around. Agent Smith makes a return, but it doesn't feel as though it was for narrative purposes, but rather because he was the only Agent audiences remembered from the first film. Then there's the philosophic conversations, which carry intrigue, but do go on a bit. This reaches disastrous proportions when the Architect appears, in a scene which should deliver on big revelations, but is hampered by awful dialogue, which seems to be rooted in making the Architect sound smart by using a lot of big words. It's telling that his revelations are better delivered in a later scene by Neo.

This is far from a franchise destroying disaster ala Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald, and has quite a bit worth praising. I hope I feel similarly positive about the trilogy ender.

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Best film of the month, Best film seen in cinemas,
& Best film rewatched: Pulp Fiction

Pariah (2011) - 4.5/5 - Dee Rees captures a compelling story of identity and being true to ones self, told with great empathy, and no need to wade into the toxic tropes that can be seen in LGBTQ+ stories. Central to the story is Alike, who wants to be open and honest about who she is, but is trapped in the push and pull of what her parents want her to be. She wants to be dating women and wearing clothes that she feels express her identity, but her mother wants her to wear blouses picked out for her, and her father wants to quiz her about potential boyfriends. This is phenomenally expressed by Adepero Oduye, who puts across the struggle exceptionally well, while also clearly showing the moments of happiness where these worries aren't in her mind. It helps that she has a tremendous cast to work off, with each character getting their own piece of great characterization, all of whom partake in Dee Rees' story so very well. The heartbreaking and heartwarming moments are delivered very well with such ease, and all in Bradford Young's gorgeous cinematography. It's downright criminal that this beautiful tale hasn't been given a physical media release in the UK, but thank goodness for rental services. 

Good Boys (2019) - 3/5 - While it may be hit and miss with the comedy, Good Boys is more successful in the thoughtful and heartfelt parts

Radius (2017) - 4/5 - A man wakes up after a car accident, suffering from amnesia, and more importantly, a condition which kills anyone who comes within a 50 foot radius of him. The only exception is a woman, who seems to nullify his unwanted ability, but is also suffering from amnesia. What we have is a very interesting concept that is thankfully not squandered, as writers and directors Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard utilise the great potential within such a great conceit, which unearths an unfolding mystery, taking the film in very interesting and unexpected directions. It's a shame the directing duo have such an unengaging directorial style here, as the feature looks like a made for TV film with little cinematic to this cost-cutter style. Thank goodness for Diego Klattenhoff and Charlotte Sullivan, whose compelling performances anchor this overall mystery, no matter where the story goes.

Blinded By The Light (2019) - 4.5/5 - Based on the memoir of Sarfraz Manzoor, co-writer and director Gurinder Chadha brings to the screen one teenager's journey of self-discovery, with this fire sparked by the music of Bruce Springsteen. The story may be centred in 1987 Luton, but it has resonance with the modern day, especially with the sight of racist thugs harassing those different from them. But it isn't thankfully isn't a depressing time at the movies, as Chadha tells the story in such an infectiously joyous and touchingly heartfelt way. A real sense of life is injected into the musical sequences, as seeing Javed initially discovering the power of Springsteen's lyrics is a phenomenally realised visual, as the lyrics pop up across the screen while he's taking them in. The absolute standout sequence involves playing Born To Run, which makes for one of the years most enjoyable moments.

In the lead performance, Viveik Kalra puts a brilliant performance into a likeable protagonist you'll want to follow. It's hard to believe this is his very first feature role, and on the basis of this, I look forward to seeing a long career from him. The rest of the cast do well also, and Kulvinder Ghir is worth mentioning as Javed's father, stuck in a traditional mindset, while also wanting to spare his son from the hurt he faced in the UK.

The scenes of Javed's hard life sit well alongside the lighter elements, with neither tones clashing. Although, a few scenes do seem as though they had been abruptly cut off, including one joyful moment brought crashing back to Earth by a hateful action. The film also does little to stray away from the expected narrative of the story, but when the final product is so charming and utterly lovely to be in the company of, it doesn't really matter. I went into this film enjoying a few Springsteen songs, but wouldn't call myself a fan. By the end of it, I wanted to seek out The Boss' music, and find a connection like Javed had with those tunes.

Playmobil: The Movie (2019) - 1.5/5 - Playmobil: The Movie is an utter marvel, in how it makes 99 minutes seem unending. The end product feels too hollow and reactionary to make any kind of lasting impression. It's a feature film that's as stiff as the figures arms and legs should be.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) - 3.5/5 - Dora and the Lost City of Gold works as great introductory adventure film for children, while having much bonkers fun that adults can enjoy.

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Best film watched for the first time: Daniel Isn't Real

Constantine (2005) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Let's get this out if the way, it isn't the John Constantine from the comics, as Keanu is a far cry from a Blonde Brit in playing the titular role. As a film in its own right, this is a fascinating feature, as Francis Lawrence lends a style to this neo-noir rooted in demons, exorcisms, and the occult. It's also a rollicking good time that never fails to entertain, keeping the gripping story moving along at a decent pace, up to the low key finale which makes a nice change of pace. It helps that Keanu convinces as the eponymous figure, even if he has to work with an irritating Shia LaBeouf, and Rachel Weisz gets little to do other than react to the plot, and contend with the forced hints at a romantic subplot. But this remains an underrated comic book adaptation.

Frankenstein's Creature (2019) - 4.5/5 - For his feature length directorial debut, Sam Ashurst roots his adaptation of Mary Shelly's iconic tale in gothic cinema and a play style feel, making for a one man show which feels cinematic. James Swanton commands the screen with his captivating performance, managing to hold ones attention throughout the 91 minute runtime. Combined with Ashurst's ethereal and haunting direction, this ends up feeling like a Lynchian nightmare.

Hell's Garden (2016) - 3.5/5 - Available as an additional extra on the DVD of Frankenstein's Creature, this 2 minute short is simple in premise, and delivers on the chills and frights. I would've loved to have seen a bit more, but I like what we got.

Come To Daddy - 4.5/5 - After receiving a letter from his estranged father, Elijah Wood visits him at his secluded home. His character is clinging onto past hopes of reconnecting, and healing their strained relationship, and this is perfectly conveyed by the actors involved. These moments of underlying regret, with characters coming to terms with important things, are wonderfully conveyed and ensure this film retains a human element throughout that's effectively touching. Director Ant Timpson makes sure these elements are never lost, no matter how much the film dips its toe into the more horrific and blackly comedic elements, and it helps that it's such an effective and blackly comedic ride. But it wouldn't work as well without the likes of Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie and Michael Smiley delivering such brilliant performances. Go into this knowing as little as possible, and prepare for a damn good time well spent. 

Crawl (2019) - 4.5/5 - A fractured father/daughter relationship takes centre stage, making for captivating material brought alive thanks to Kaya Scodelario and Barry Pepper giving terrific performances. Throw in a ticking clock in the form of rising water, and tense set pieces involving well realised Gators, and you have a fantastic feature from Alexandre Aja. 

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019) - 3.5/5 - What we have here is a great introductory feature into horror, feeling like a great start for anybody wanting to dip their toe into such bloody waters. It helps that it contains such creepily designed creatures to sell the set pieces, although the more practically realised ones are better to witness than the CG creations. When the set pieces work, they work so well, but there's many moments which could've used another draft, especially including the forced ending.

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Biggest Disappointment: The Gift

Dark Encounter - 3.5/5 - What begins is a look at grief and loss, as we see how a missing daughter affects the remaining family members. I could've done with a bit more screentime to showcase how the family were before she went missing, and after so we can see for ourselves how broken they ultimately are. They're all central to alien abduction drama, before things take a very interesting turn.

Cut Off - 2.5/5 - A thriller in the vein of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, only with a lot more pointless elements which could've easily have been excised from the story. The film's at its most interesting when focused on the central pair, who have great chemistry while connected only through phone calls. This is much more fascinating than the overly convoluted plot which needlessly drags out the runtime, or anything with the antagonist.

Knives and Skin  - 4/5 - Jennifer Reeder's feature is sure to be divisive, but I'm actually on the "liked it" side of things. She brings lots of confidence and style to this tale of being stuck in an awful town and doing what you can to get by, while grappling with how coming of age can be a lifelong process. It's a disjointed story which feels stitched together from many short film ideas, most of which feel nonessential to the overall film. I can't deny that I was left engaged, especially with how beautiful this film could be.

Sadistic Intentions - 4.5/5 - A gripping two-hander between Jeremy Gardner and Taylor Zaudtke, this is a feature which commands the viewers attention in this twisted romance. Eric Pennycoff delivers absolutely stunning direction which brings the tension throughout this unnerving story, which ultimately breezes by. One of my favourites from the festival.

Harpoon - 5/5 - Director Rob Grant brings alive this three-hander of a feature, as this dark comedy tells the tale of bad things happening to awful people as they're trapped at sea, with each one phenomenally portrayed by the actors. The tension is wrung to its absolute fullest, the blood brilliantly flows through brilliant set-pieces, and the comedy is tremendously brought to life. Think It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia with a Spear Gun, and you're there.

Porno - 3.5/5 - Okay, this is a film that will play so darn well with a big crowd at late night screenings. A riotous horror-comedy about a group of teens trapped in a religious town, all working in a movie theatre in the 90s. Their character relationships are entirely believable, thanks to the writing and the great performances brought forth. While the horror and comedy doesn't always work, when it hits the mark, it works so darn well. There's one set-piece involving genitalia which is easily the standout moment, and should not be missed.

A Serial Killer's Guide To Life - 4/5 - The directorial debut of Staten Cousins Roe feels like a cross between Sightseers and Thelma & Louise, while making sure it carves its own path late in the game. This blackly comedic tale works largely thanks to the central duo, with Poppy Roe helping Katie Brayben become the person she wants to be, through serial killing. An engaging pair, with Roe being subdued and sinister, working especially well off Brayben's reserved performance. This is one worth seeking out.

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Biggest Surprise: The Legend of the Stardust Brothers

Criminal Audition - 3.5/5 - Inspired by real life news stories, a plausible premise is brought to the screen in an intriguing manner, while containing intriguing social commentary, and feeling connected to its stage roots. A darkly comedic tale which interestingly unfolds, but I do wish I could have felt the tension a bit more.

Daughter of Dismay - 3.5/5 - A creepy short that played before The Drone, and was the more preferable of the pair. I liked what I saw, but I could have done with more.

The Drone - 1/5 - A piece of technological horror which cranks up the ridiculousness all the way to 11, and plays the entire thing with a knowing touch. What a shame it didn't work then, as the end result feels close to a Sharknado film, in that to tries too hard and ends up being a chore. When we see an homage to Exorcist III and the sight of a Drone in a rocking chair, this shouldn't be so. A shame.

Are We Dead Yet - 2/5 - The more I've dwelled on this feature, the more it does not work for me. There are funny moments throughout in this interesting mixture of elements, but it doesn't all come together, resulting in many loose ends and pointless elements. The cast are trying though, which is a shame it's all for naught.

Spiral - 4/5 - What a fantastic opener to this day's selections. A piece of horror which carries great social relevance, as the tension builds and the plot intrigues, leaving one to wonder about the lead characters mental state in a way that's reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby. Sure, it'll leave you wondering about the necessity of certain elements afterwards, but it's a feature that really gets you to care for the characters and what their outcome will be. One that'll stick with you afterwards.

Eat, Brains, Love - 3/5 - Rodman Flender blends together genres for an interesting take on the zombie film, where it's passed on as a sexually transmitted disease, leaving us to follow two of the infected parties. This element is most interesting, especially when they're acting as Vigilantes, but the film drags thanks to a subplot involving a psychic government agent, which adds little other than making the romance element an unnecessary love triangle, dragging the overall film. A shame, as I otherwise really enjoyed this.

Daniel Isn't Real (2019) - 5/5 - The best way I can describe this film is Fight Club directed by Ben Wheatley.

The script puts forth a story of living with a mental illness, and gives it a cosmic edge that's stylishly realised thanks to Adam Egypt Mortimer's direction. He twists this engaging tale into something horrifying, otherworldly, and unforgettable. Miles Robbins is exceptional as Luke, the lead who has to contend with his imaginary friend returning as an adult, while Patrick Schwarzenegger is compelling and chilling as the titular Daniel. Special mention for Sasha Lane, playing a brilliant character who wants to see her dreams realized, being more than the typical "girlfriend who's there to react to the plot" character.

Worst film of the month: The Drone

Ready Or Not (2019) - 4/5 - What a damn great piece of entertainment this was. A film that tackles "The Most Dangerous Game", in a completely wacky and utterly fun manner, and it delivers in the most exciting and bloody ways possible. The cast are tremendous, with Samara Weaving doing exceptional work in the lead role, and Adam Brody being entertaining as the drunken brother of the groom. It also helps how we completely understand every characters actions, each one feeling like a real person.

The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers (1985) - 4.5/5 - Holy hell, that was a ride.

An absolutely bonkers feature that was nothing like I expected. Yes, it follows the traditional "rise and fall" structure of a musical biopic, but it's a film that never becomes boring throughout. From beginning to end, this is a riotous ride which is not afraid to get absolutely weird, and is all the better for such an absolute embrace. It also has a fantastic assortment of musical numbers throughout which you'll be left singing upon finishing the film.

Please see this when it gets a DVD release.

For We Are Many - 2/5 - An anthology series with many interesting ideas, but I don't feel they were well realised throughout. A few decent segments, but the overall product was underwhelming.

Satanic Panic (2019) - 3/5 - Chelsea Stardust has crafted an occult horror-comedy, where the wealthy are keen on sacrificing a virgin in support of Satan. The cast are all game in their roles, with Rebecca Romijn especially relishing her role, and they work very well against the impressive practical elements. It's a shame though that I found the comedic elements to be lacking, while the horror aspects are more effective, but still lacking in places.

The Barge People - 5/5 - The Barge People is a nightmarish descent into horror that gets under your skin, and will have you wary about strolling down the canals. Think of an Aquatic The Hills Have Eyes, and you're there.

Rabid (2019) - 4.5/5 - In adapting David Cronenberg's classic film, The Soska Sisters have used the basic premise as a jumping off point to carve their own path. They're intent on honouring what came before, and especially paying tribute to the director himself, but don't wish to tread the same path in their remake. The result is a gripping piece of bloody terror which brings brilliant body horror to life through wonderful practical effects, with Laura Vandervoort doing terrific work in leading a great cast.

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find (2019) - 4.5/5 - The closing film of Frightfest is a nice little change from my previous films. A tale centred around Sarah, a mother who's grieving for her murdered husband and trying to cope and look after her children. It's evident she's full of grief and wants to focus on finding justice for her deceased love, but needs to also focus on her children, especially her son who witnessed his fathers murder, and hasn't spoken since. Sarah Bolger encapsulates all of this into an utterly magnetic performance, as she commands attentions with a portrayal which deserves much recognition and praise. Abner Pastoll puts viewers in Sarah's shoes, so we feel every uncomfortable moment she has to endure, but there's also the sense of hope, the sense that things will work out and be alright in the end. Seek this gem out, if not for the great performance by Sarah Bolger. 

Best film of the month: Pulp Fiction
Best film seen in cinemas: Pulp Fiction
Best film watched for the first time: Daniel Isn't Real
Best film rewatched: Pulp Fiction
Biggest Disappointment: The Gift
Biggest Surprise: The Legend of the Stardust Brothers
Worst film of the month: The Drone

Number of films watched: 39