September 2019 In Review

September. A month involving Keanu Reeves, Kurosawa, and Clowns (not in the same film, unfortunately). It was also a great month to see how great cinema has been over this past year. So, let's see the films I saw this past month.

The Matrix Revolutions (2003) [rewatch] - 3/5 - For the first time in about 15 years, I've not only watched this film, but closed out The Matrix Trilogy. While I'm not on the side of "hate" about these sequels, they've definitely diminished with each passing instalment. The first hour is very well crafted, made up of two distinct stories, and contains memorable set pieces. But no matter how much I liked aspects, these story threads affected the overall plot very little, and ultimately felt like a waste of time just to wrap up the leftovers from The Matrix Reloaded.

What followed that was an assault on Zion, which was a terrific down and dirty fight for survival which managed to be gripping and tense, especially when it centres on characters we haven't really gotten to know. It manages to be everything the final fight failed to be, as Agent Smith felt like an afterthought and ultimately needless to these sequels. He isn't the only one, as Morpheus and Trinity feel vastly underserved by the material, being given very little of consequence to do in this film, making their overall inclusion feel pointless.

The Wachowskis still have a very ambitious vision, and aspects worked for me, but it overall felt rather flawed. I'm still very excited for the fourth film, though.

The Perished (2019) - 3.5/5 - The Perished is a nightmare rooted in timely issues, which succeeds more in its human moments of horror rather than the supernatural.

Magnolia (1999) [rewatch] - 5/5 - To crib a phrase from a podcast I listen to, this is Paul Thomas Anderson's blank check of a film. Running at 3 hours, this film is many things. A story about how parental actions impact upon their children. A tale of yearning for love, in various forms. A journey of what we can forgive, be it the actions of others, or even ourselves. It's a successful tale which may have some storylines work better than others, but as a whole, it's an absorbing masterpiece which leaves me as an emotional wreck. By the time it reached THAT moment, I was too wrapped up to care at the absurdity of what I was watching (even though it's something which actually happened for real). Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore's storylines had left too much of an imprint on me, and I just wanted to give (nearly) all of the characters a big hug.

A Scanner Darkly (2006) - 4/5 - Who would've thought this was from the same director as Boyhood, School Of Rock, and The Before Trilogy? Richard Linklater tries his hand at rotoscoping technology, which serves this Phillip K. Dick adaptation very well in selling many of the futuristic elements in visually interesting ways. However, it's very much a double-edged sword, as it can look too cartoonish and laughable in places. But thank goodness for the gripping story at the centre of it all, with a phenomenal cast on-hand to sell their characters throughout the proceedings.

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

Once Upon A Time...In Hollywood (2019) - 3.5/5 - For his 9th feature film, Quentin Tarantino bunches together an assortment of tales set in 1969, detailing a film that captures his adoration for that Hollywood era, while signifying the changing of the times. As our film follows Rick Dalton, a once popular actor whose career is on the way out to give way to new stars, one wonders if Tarantino is putting a bit of himself in the material, as the man who was heralded as an exciting new voice in cinema is one film away from his self-proclaimed retirement from directing films. Regardless, Rick Dalton's tale is a gripping one, wonderfully brought to screen by an engaging performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. Alongside him is his stunt double, and best friend, Cliff Booth, portrayed by an exceptional Brad Pitt. His storyline is also very gripping, but one key aspect of his backstory is brought up out of the blue and never touched upon again, making for a problematic and addition which serves no purpose to the wider story.

The idea of Tarantino making a film around the Tate murders is certainly worrisome, but the final product is handled actually rather well. There are moments of tension and unnerving horror, and it's done without delving into crass sensationalism like John R. Leonetti was guilty of with Wolves At The Door. There may not be many lines for her, but Margot Robbie captures the character of Sharon Tate so wonderfully while saying so little. What Tarantino does with her feels like a melancholic celebration of Tate as a person, without reducing her to being a victim or a famous director's spouse.

Although, I have issues. A lengthy runtime is an enticing prospect for me, but this could've used a major trimming down. There were numerous scenes, especially during Rick Dalton's acting moments, which could've been trimmed down. Then there's the whole Bruce Lee sequence, which felt like a major misstep and very needless. It's a shame, because I overall liked the film. 

It (2017) [rewatch] - 4/5 - I do wish Andy Muschietti wouldn't have relied on jump scares too much, allowing for the tension and mood to settle in a lot more than he does. I also wish he didn't make Ben the one interested in Derry's history, as it leaves Mike feeling like an expendable part of The Losers Club. Other than that, this remains a touching tale about kids who are dealing with their own personal issues, and just happen to have their worries exemplified by the appearance of a child killing clown, frighteningly portrayed by Bill Skarsgård. It's a more streamlined version of of Stephen King's novel (the child centric parts), but it was brought alive so very well.

Dario Argento's Dracula (2013) - 0/5 - It's surprising that is only the second feature film I've seen from horror director, Dario Argento, but even more surprising is the idea that this was directed by the man who gave us 1977's Suspiria. If I didn't know any better, I would've believed this was from someone more cheap and amateurish, as opposed to somebody renowned who has directed films since 1970. The end result is mind-bogglingly inept, as the actors fail to portray people at their most basic, with wooden performances and stilted line deliveries leaving one to wonder if this was dubbed into English late in the day. This is especially true for Thomas Kretschmann as the eponymous figure, who makes the character unlike any other iteration I've seen, by simply being so utterly boring. Argento tries to make up for it with visual effects, as Dracula morphs into a variety of animals (even, in one unbelievable scene, a praying mantis). The problem is how unbelievably poor these effects are, hindering the film more than it helps. Overall, this is a trying film at nearly 2 hours, which can't make up for its failings, no matter how much Dario tries to fill the screen with blood and sex. This includes nude scenes of Asia Argento (his own daughter!). 

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019) - 5/5 - Tigers Are Not Afraid is a solemn and unflinching fable, blending fantasy with real life horrors in a way that shall destroy you emotionally. It may only run for 83 minutes, but Issa López does more with such a small runtime than many big budget features attempt with longer. 

It Chapter Two (2019) - 3/5 - It Chapter Two captures the adult portion of the original novel very well, as it's noticeably weaker than the child-centric portions. As is referenced throughout the film, endings are hard, and this is especially true in this indulgent 169 minutes that lacks in tension. A shame, as the film comes alive when we see these friends in each others presences.

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Best film watched for the first time: The Farewell

Throne of Blood (1957) - 4.5/5 - The way Akira Kurosawa takes the works of William Shakespeare, and makes them feel completely at home in feudal Japan, is an absolutely impressive skill. From the jawdropping arrow attacks, to the misty locations adding an unsettling undercurrent, what he's crafted here feels utterly distinct from other adaptations of MacBeth. The individual elements work so very well, making a tale which works in its own right. Central to it is the astounding performance of Toshiro Mifune, capturing the inner conflict of his character so very well, while Isuzu Yamada is a chilling presence as this iteration of Lady MacBeth. This feature wouldn't work as well without this brilliant pairing, or their masterful performances.

Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) - 4/5 - I find myself more intrigued to delve further into the Universal Monsters back catalogue, and this is me dipping my toe into the Black Lagoon waters of The Gill-Man. It's a well made creature feature, with the design of the eponymous figure being utterly impressive, and teased little by little with such effectiveness. Just the sight of his amphibian hand is enough to capture the impending terror which is coming for the human characters. I do wish there was more to this creature than trying to steal away the female character, especially when there's ripe material involving the unwanted appearance of intruders upon where he calls home.

The human characters were well played, with enough work being given to define each of them, and actually be able to tell them apart. It's a shame Kay is left as the shrieking damsel tripping over herself, especially when Julie Adams plays her so very well. Credit where it's due, I did end up caring for the fates of these characters (well, the ones who weren't assholes), especially when they ventured into the waters. This leads me onto the underwater sequences, which were so brilliantly filmed, making me feel transported to there as many Space set films have done. 

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) - 1.5/5 - After the franchise gave us a phenomenal direct follow-up to the original, we're given a damb squib of a feature to follow-on from that.

This feature takes the surviving characters from Dream Warriors, and unceremoniously shuffles them off the board as though they're dangling threads that must be exorcised, in order to press ahead with the franchise. In their place, we get a bland new protagonist who suffers at the hands of her domineering alcoholic father.

But the biggest let down involves the franchise star himself, Freddy Krueger. Robert England is certainly trying his best, and the visual effects bring alive some impressively gory kills, but none of this can make up for how unmenacing Freddy now is. He's all lacklustre wise cracks, and no terror, feeling more like a poor cartoon figure than the horrendous child killer that's been stalking around in peoples nightmares. It also seems that writers are taking the approach of not caring about whatever newly introduced rules may be contradictory bullshit, and I'm especially talking about how the film closes out.

Angel Has Fallen (2019) - 2.5/5 - The third entry into the Gerard Butler starring ...Has Fallen trilogy, and I'd probably say this is the best of the 3. The biggest reason is Nick Nolte, for when he shares the screen with Butler, the film comes alive in very entertaining ways. The on-screen father/son duo have a wonderful back and forth, reminding me of the buddy cop duos which Shane Black made his career off. It's also worth mentioning that the final act works rather well, evoking the claustrophobic "Die Hard in the White House" action which worked in Olympus Has Fallen. Unfortunately, the final act doesn't stop there, ending up in a dull one-on-one battle on top of a building, which could've been taken from any bog standard action film. This brings me to my main problem, which is how cookie cutter and dull the remainder of the film is, especially when it requires lacklustre visual effects work. It's fair enough that the film tries something new with Mike Banning, as the effects of his action adventures are destroying his body, but the handling feels so unsatisfying.

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Biggest Disappointment: It Chapter Two

Hustlers (2019) - 4.5/5 - A compelling mixture of social relevance and utter fun, told in a gorgeous and distinctive way. Expect a full review to come.

The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) - 2.5/5 - With each passing sequel, this franchise has strained further and further to try and justify the existence of telling yet another story. For a story based in the resurrection of a creature stitched together from various body parts, the ridiculousness is really turned up here, as the Monster gets surgery, and a ghost appears for some reason. It's an entertaining and wacky soap opera (because OF COURSE there's another, yet unmentioned, member of the Frankenstein family), and Bela Lugosi chews the scenery with glee, but it's easily the low-point so far in the Universal Monsters Frankenstein collection.

Ad Astra (2019) - 4/5 - Director James Gray said he wanted to deliver the most realistic depiction of space travel that's been put in a movie. I can't comment on its authenticity, but Brad Pitt getting overcharged for a pillow on a space craft definitely seems plausible.

As for the film itself, it's a touching and thoughtful space set tale which explores a father/son relationship, about overcoming toxic masculinity, and being comfortable enough to express your emotions. It's a journey that's told very well, with Brad Pitt being exceptional in capturing this inner struggle in a gripping manner, set in a gorgeous space setting. The supporting cast also do great in their roles, which makes it a shame how many of the roles are underwritten, or their usefulness extends as far as being plot devices. The film also suffers from an intrusive voice over, which feels like a cowardly way of spelling out what the film captures pretty well already. Thankfully, these issues don't detract from what's overall a wonderful film.

Rambo: Last Blood (2019) - 0/5 - Rambo: Last Blood is a nasty film with a blackened heart, which reminds you why some franchises are better left dead.

A Nightmare On Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989) - 2/5 - It took me a moment to realise this film was continuing on the stories of Alice and Dan, largely because I found the characters to be so boring. There are nice little nods and character beats which I think are delivered well, such as Alice's father being on the mend from his alcoholism, but it doesn't make up for how disconnected I felt from these characters. The material isn't up to snuff, as evidenced by how cartoonish and lacking in menace Freddy ultimately is. Despite how much Robert Englund is putting into the role, and how great the make-up effects are for the kills (the bike one feels very Cronenberg-ian), they can only go so far when the child-murdering face of the franchise is a poor shadow of himself.

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Biggest Surprise: Bait

Too Many Cooks (2014) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A bizarro short that remains as glorious to view the fourth time, as it was the very first time.

Fight Club (1999) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Getting the chance to watch this on the big screen was everything I wanted it to be. A pitch black comedy of the highest order, expertly brought to screen by Jim Uhls sharp script, and David Fincher's compelling direction, which phenomenally takes the piss out of toxic masculinity and those who embrace it. At the core of all this is Edward Norton's compelling turn, Brad Pitt's electric performance, and Helena Bonham Carter giving the pair a run for their money. My favourite Fincher film, and one of my all time favourites.

Jennifer's Body (2009) [rewatch] - 4/5 - I saw this years ago, and really didn't like it. A rewatch really changed my tune, as I blooming loved it this time around. Expect a review to come.

Offensive (2016) - 3.5/5 - The kids aren't all right in Offensive, a tense and gory depiction of the generational gap.

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Worst film of the month: Rambo: Last Blood

The Stylist (2016) - 4/5 - An unsettling and tense short about a hair stylist who wishes to escape her life, and her final client of the evening unknowingly offers her such a thing. Serving as director, and co-writer alongside Eric Havens, Jill Gevargizian does a brilliant job bringing this to screen. It delivers on the gory moments in a brutally effective manner, and also has a saddening core to this tale, an element depicted very well with Najarra Townsend giving a terrific performance. I look forward to seeing this expanded into a feature film.

Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman (1943) - 2/5 - You can really feel Universal are struggling for sequel ideas, as they've essentially combined two half-baked sequel ideas into one film. The hope was that these small ideas, which couldn't sustain their own films, could work with one another, but the unsurprising end result is a complete mess. Ironically, it feels like a monster that's been stitched together from dead pieces. It's a shame, because there are genuinely interesting ideas nestled within, but they're wasted on what's essentially a 74 minute drag, which is all set-up for a too brief fight.

The Perfection (2019) - 2.5/5 - What Richard Shepard has brought to screen begins rather interestingly, as the great acting by Allison Williams and Logan Browning sells us on their characters, even when the forced dialogue doesn't. We bear witness to wonderfully chilling and tense moments, which prove entirely fascinating. Unfortunately, things fall apart in the second half, as the plot dives into nonsensical territory, and falls onto hackneyed storytelling tropes which feel outdated and needlessly spelt out again, and again, and again, and again. It's a story that's framed as empowering, but it all falls into troublesome tropes which nullify this idea of it all being rather empowering. The gruesome moments are wonderfully done, and the final shot is utterly brilliant, which makes it a shame that this tale falls down so much.

The Farewell (2019) - 5/5 - A story about the lies we tell to those we love, The Farewell is a masterclass in both emotion and humour. 

Bait (2019) - 5/5 - What Mark Jenkin has crafted is a feature film set in a Cornish fishing village, where Gentrification is the enemy to the long-term residents who've made their livings on the local surroundings. The locals are having to cope with an influx of city dwellers on holiday, and tensions rise all throughout. While commenting on class divides, it feels unbearably white knuckled at times, and is ready to pop at any time.

Considering how this was filmed, with old cameras that can't record audio, and sound dubbed over, this feels like a labour of love. An absolute testament to the power of old cinema, where every aspects is made with care and undying love. Easily one of the years best films. 

Best film of the month: Magnolia
Best film seen in cinemas: Magnolia
Best film watched for the first time: The Farewell
Best film rewatched: Magnolia
Biggest Disappointment: It: Chapter Two
Biggest Surprise: Bait
Worst film of the month: Rambo: Last Blood

Number of films watched: 27