August 2020 In Review

As another month passes by, it feels too good to be true that we're almost out of 2020. This past month was a packed one for my film-watching experiences, boosted by me revisiting some of the Pokémon movies, partaking in this year's virtual edition of Frightfest, and even managing to return to the cinema a couple of times. So, let's see what I watched this past August.

The Brood (1979) - 4/5 - As I delve more into the body horror side of Cronenberg's filmography, one of my favourite things to see is what the effects will convey, as it's always fascinating. This time around, it comes at a pivotal point, and I was FAR from ready for what my eyes would witness. Wrapped up around that is psychological traumas, murderous mutant children, genuinely upsetting kills, and an engrossing story, making for a gripping 90 minutes.

Scanners (1981) - 2.5/5 - When it comes to the famous exploding head scene, realised in such extraordinary ways, the hype is undoubtedly real. I was so surprised that such a showstopping moment occurs very early on, and it feels like the films peak. What follows afterwards is unfortunately a clunky mess, beset with wooden acting, and makes the 103 minute runtime feel so much longer than it needs to be. Michael Ironside, you deserved better.

The Iron Mask (2020) - 1/5 - Goodness me. This Russian/Chinese co-production feels as though it was put through Google Translate, and as such, the plot feels so impenetrable. It's a muddled mess which isn't helped by a scattershot approach, and the laughable dubbing does little to aid things. The films biggest marketing tactic was how Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger share the screen, even though it's such a forced addition which barely dents the runtime. Even more insulting is their fight scene, which is a poor representation of their talents. Good luck trying to make sense of this one.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - In spite of the unnecessary love triangle, as well as the gay panic subplot, this is an entertaining & feel good flick about following your passions.

Also, Parminder Nagra was 26 when filming this?!?

Hellboy: The Iron Shoes (2007) - 3.5/5 - An entertaining short that's rather well animated, as Hellboy does battle with a vicious creature who wears Iron Shoes. An interesting idea that's set up well, but at 3 minutes long, this is over far too quickly. At least we have the great vocal performances of Ron Perlman and Dan Castellaneta to get us by.

Monstrous (2020) - 1/5 - A different take on the Sasquatch mythology, beset by a scattershot focus which doesn't do the ideas justice.

Wild At Heart (1990) - 4/5 - An excellent tale of love found in a hellish landscape, this may be one of the more straightforward David Lynch tales I've yet seen. It follows Sailor and Lula, who are on the run from the disapproval of Lula's mother, as well as the people she hired to kill Sailor. From the brutal opening to the tender close, the ensuing 2 hours are one heck of a ride, from the horrific portrayal by Willem Dafoe, to the heartfelt romance anchoring the picture, and especially Lynchian touches paying homage to The Wizard Of Oz. Sure, there are elements which bugged me, such as how the Santos subplot abruptly ends, and the supporting characters who flit in and out so rapidly. But through it all, I wanted to see how the story ended for Sailor and Lula, who were brought alive by the fantastic portrayals by Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. Plus, that rendition of Love Me Tender is swoon worthy.

Mean Girls
Best film of the month & Best film rewatched: Mean Girls

Last Days (2014) - 4/5 - A powerful short about Elephant poaching and how the sales of ivory funds terrorism, captured in unflinching detail, through exemplary animation. It's not an easy watch, but a necessary one, and can be found here.

Salt (2018) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - I had to watch this again, as I am utterly in awe of how much gets packed within the two minute runtime. This is compact storytelling at its finest, and a great calling card for Rob Savage's future career.

Death Drop Gorgeous (2020) - 3/5 - A gleefully fun slasher set to a killer soundtrack.

The Watermelon Woman (1996) - 4/5 - Cheryl Dunye's directorial debut mixes the heartfelt & hilarious, with something important to say.

Host (2020) - 4.5/5 - One of the most terrifying and nerve-shredding experiences in 2020.

Knives Out (2019) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A drive-in experience with some of my closest friends, seeing this on the big screen was a fantastic treat. The experience was marred by some complications, but the film is as masterful as ever. 

Mean Girls (2004) [rewatch] - 5/5 - This film packed with wit, humour, and Rachel McAdams absolutely slaying it?

It's so fetch!

Best film seen in cinemas: Inception

Love & Basketball (2000) - 4.5/5 - I'm not a sports fan in the slightest, but what Gina Prince-Bythewood has crafted is a gorgeous tale I didn't want to end. The story charts the lives of a young couple, who have been neighbours since childhood, and both interested in developing their careers in Basketball. As we share in their struggles and triumphs, it's easy to care for these characters, and it helps that Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps wonderfully portray them. By the time the film is over, it feels we've been with them through so much, as though The Before Trilogy has been fit into a 2 hour runtime.

Fanatico (2019) - 3.5/5 - Hannah May Cumming directs this stylish short, coming at you with an aesthetic which brings John Carpenter to mind. The plot sees students at a religious school moonlighting as sex workers, only to find themselves stalked by a black gloved figure, intent on murder. It feels a bit drawn out, even at 18 minutes, and some of the acting can feel a tad stagy. But I think there's promise here, and especially liked the practical effects. I certainly look forward to seeing what will come next from Hannah May.

Vivarium (2020) - 2.5/5 - Mind-bending in the most stylish of ways, Lorcan Finnegan crafts the inescapable feeling of suburban life, and approaches the topic with an appropriate tone, and a stellar duo in Imogen Poots & Jesse Eisenberg. It's unfortunate that the 97 minute film makes this intriguing idea feel dragged out, as it runs out of steam after a point. It's also unfortunate how it resorts to stereotypical gender norms. You can address something without falling into their traps, believe it or not.

Camp Calypso (2020) - 4/5 - It may pay homage to camp set slashers, but the real villain is misogyny.

The Cat In The Hat (2003) - 0.5/5 - So, this was how I decided to spend time with my brothers.

The most striking thing as you watch this film is the setting. It reminded me of the early scenes from Speed Racer, before you got accustomed to what the film was doing, and looked cut from an episode of Lazy Town. Problem is that this setting always looks jarring, especially when the nightmarish figure of the titular Cat comes on-screen. From the moment he steps foot on the screen, the film stalls so that Mike Myers can muck around, performing tiresome gags and impressions, while laughing at his own jokes. Good for you, Mike, at least somebody is laughing.

While this is going on, the films wants to have a voice of reason to inform the kids, so the fish that gets mentioned once before suddenly has big eyes and can speak English. Problem is he's such a jarring inclusion that amounts to nothing. If they really wanted Sally to be a rule-follower, she should've embodied the role, and it actually could've informed her arc of learning to be more spontaneous. Instead, she just goes along with her brother Conrad, while he has the rote arc of learning to follow the rules more. And because it's 2003, we have a Paris Hilton cameo.

Mission Zero (2007) - 2/5 - Kathryn Bigelow directs this advert, which has Uma Thurman escaping attempts on her life in her flash car, with the help of Pirelli Tyres. Bigelow can direct the heck out of action, be it in ir out of a car, but she can do better than an 8 minute advert for tyres.

The Assistant (2020) - 4.5/5 - Goodness me, this was a tough watch. Director Kitty Green coldly depicts how a blind eye is easily turned to predatory behaviour, and how it can sadly become another mundane part of working in an office. Told from the perspective on an assistant to a powerful executive, the film rests of Julia Garner's performance. Thankfully, she's utterly exemplary, as she feels powerless against the prevailing toxicity, where laughs and inside jokes are shared over the prospect of assault. As my friend Ryan Corderman accurately put, this is everything Bombshell failed to be. An important film, but painful to watch.

A Ghost Waits | Movies
Best film watched for the first time: A Ghost Waits

Pokémon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back (1999) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - I get that things can get lost in translation, but switching the story from a clones right to exist to "fighting = bad" is a hilariously short-sighted idea. When the entire franchise is based around having your favourite monsters engage in battles, it feels majorly at odds with this films story. What's more effective is the "treat others how you wish to be treated" message, which seems to always need telling to others.

The film breezes by at just 75 minutes, but I do wish it didn't keep cutting back to Team Rocket, as they try to force some comic relief into the film. The battles of these Pokémon are well enacted, and the struggle of Mewtwo is a compelling one. Maybe the nostalgia hits rather strongly, but I still get a lot of fun out of this one.

The Uncut Story of Mewtwo's Origin (2000) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - It's astounding this 10 minute prologue was cut from Pokémon: The First Movie, as it feels necessary to understanding Mewtwo and Dr Fuji. It adds layers and tragedy to the story, and it's a shame they're not found on the modern release of the film.

Pikachus Vacation (1999) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - Why is it so difficult to seek this short film out? I'd happily buy a new DVD of Pokémon: The First Movie if this came included, and it feels an incomplete experience to see the film without this.

For 20 minutes, we see Pikachu trying to look after a baby called Togepi, but runs afoul of a group of Pokémon. It's a dialogue free short which is often hampered by needless voice-over, but it's an enjoyable time. Seeing these cute creatures having a ball, working together, and trying to relax is a lovely sight that's been well animated. Although, I cannot believe a little Cubone makes all the difference in freeing a stuck Charizard, when the behemoth that is Onix isn't freeing him already.

Pokémon: Mewtwo Strikes Back - Evolution (2020) - 1.5/5 - What an absolutely pointless film. To celebrate the anniversary of Pokémon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back, the Pokémon Company have released a CGI remake which directly lifts scenes from the original film. It all feels like an excuse to show off this animation style, and is as soulless as it sounds. I'll credit the film for going back to the original motivation of clones rights to live, rather than the simplistic "fighting = bad" idea, but the film feels like the Pokémon version of 2019's The Lion King.

Pokémon: Mewtwo Returns (2000) [rewatch] - 2/5 - What happened to Mewtwo and his family of clones after the events of Pokémon: The First Movie? All is revealed in this hour long television movie, and one wonders if we really needed to do so. As it turns out, when Mewtwo wiped everybodys memories at the end of that film, he forgot about doing the same to Giovanni, the guy who created him to use his power for malicious purposes. So, Giovanni wants to reclaim what he sees as his, and doesn't care whether it impacts innocent clone Pokémon or a magical healing spring. For a Pokémon story, Ash and co felt like pointless additions who don't even cross paths with Mewtwo until the last 10 minutes. It also rehashes the tropes which infuriate me from the show, such as Ash & co forgetting to use their powerful Pokémon to help them where they need it, especially during a needless Team Rocket motto. But it's well animated, and has the iconic Brock line of "turn my frying pan into a drying pan". There's nostalgic novelty for me, but this is a weaker entry into the franchise.

Pokémon: The Movie 2000 (2000) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - This was one of my favourite films as a child, so I revisited it with trepidation, and came out pleasantly surprised how much it held up. I say that while noting the obvious issues, such as how Lawrence III is barely a presence, just an instigator for this world-threatening stuff. Then there's the issues which are carried over from the TV series. The hints of a Misty/Ash romance is given time, but goes nowhere, just like it would on the show. Tracey remains a bland third wheel, but in spite of this, I had a great time rewatching this. Ash may be saddled with the chosen one cliches, but I felt the heavy burden of saving the world he had placed upon his shoulders. I believed that he would try his best to enact the video game plot of collecting 3 maguffins, in order to save the world from the unruly birds.

Break (2020) - 3.5/5 - An optimistic story about how it's never too late to fulfil your potential.

Biggest Disappointment: Scanners

Paddington 2 (2017) [rewatch] - 5/5 - No matter how many times I rewatch this, I'm endlessly charmed by this films good nature, tickled by the humour, and ready to cry at the heartfelt ending. Hugh Grant gives the best performance of his career in this.

Slowkings Day (2000) - 3/5 - A day in the life of Slowking, one of the most charming inclusions from Pokémon: The Movie 2000. We follow the sweet little character as he encounters things he likes, such as breakfast, sleeping, and a friend, for a lovely 3 minute short.

Inception (2010) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - It's been nearly a decade since I saw this, and what a film to welcome me back into cinemas. The story remains exceptionally layered, with set pieces that remain astounding to this day, and layers which have me marvelling at how it's all been constructed. The cast are a phenomenal assembly of talent, each populating their roles well, even if some characters could do with a bit more given to their roles. I do think the third dream level can't match to the heights laid down by the second level, but that's a small issue. This remains a triumphant ride by Christopher Nolan, right down to that final image.

Pikachu's Rescue Adventure (2000) [rewatch] - 3/5 - Another charming little short which sees Pikachu and other Pokémon go on their own adventure. This time, they're finding the lost Togepi, in a lovely tale which sees the heroes exploring nature and battling the elements. Even over 20 mins, it does end up meandering, but I can't deny how much I love these shorts. They draw upon silent cinema in adorable ways, and I always have time for Bulbasaur being an absolute hero.

Tenet (2020) - 3.5/5 - Nolan crafts a blockbuster with grand ideas, such spectacle, and dialogue you'll be lucky to hear.

Sky Sharks (2020) - 1/5 - If you told me this film was made title-first, then I would fully believe you. Writer A.D. Morel and director Marc Fehse begin with a gory set-piece that promises this will be a shlocky crowd-pleaser, complete with grisly kills. Sadly, the film continues on after that. What follows is severely dragged down by overlong exposition, glaring CG work, and a misogynistic streak, where the only purpose of women is to either be ogled at, or show full-frontal nudity. Tony Todd may be having fun in his short appearance, but he can't make-up for the issues, such as a lack of actual Sky Sharks for long portions of the film.

There's No Such Things As Vampires (2020) - 3/5 - Director Logan Thomas crafts an enjoyable chase film, as our young leads try to outrun a creepy RV that stays on their tails. It's understandable why films such as Mad Max and The Terminator were compared to this, but I was reminded more of Duel and Jeepers Creepers. The film peaks later on, when there's a tense moment of hide and seek in a Police Station. It's a shame the plot runs out of steam, and then transforms into sequel set-up, but I was invested in the charming chemistry of the young leads. Plus, we didn't need the film grinding to a halt so a character could wax lyrical about slasher films.

Love & Basketball
Biggest Surprise: Love & Basketball

12 Hour Shift (2020) - 3.5/5 - What an excellent little film this was. A dark comedy of escalating errors that's stylishly directed by Brea Grant, and wonderfully acted by the cast members. I do think it was a tad overstuffed by the end, especially where David Arquette was concerned, and a musical moment feels taken from a different film. But I can't deny that I was so swept up in it all, and am eager to revisit it again.

The Honeymoon Phase (2020) - 1.5/5 - What Phillip G. Carroll Jr brings to screen is an interesting premise, which wouldn't sound out of place in Black Mirror. Unfortunately, the execution is disappointing. We're asked to buy into a relationship thanks to a LSD cookies, and a montage that tries to come off as cheery, but it all feels so forced. By the time tempers rise, distrust is sown, and a wedge is driven between the pair, there's little reason to care for what's happening. It ends up being a miserable little film, with pointless narration that undercuts how we're meant to be following Eve's journey. At least the cast were game for whatever came their way, but I just struggled to care.

Playhouse (2020) - 2/5 - For a film set around a creepy castle location, why is this not as dread inducing as it could've been? Fionn and Toby Watts have interesting ideas in play, such as the daughter who's beset by a demonic spirit, and the neighbour who's affected by her tortured family history. So why are they pushed aside for the tortured writer narrative, who feels inspired by Willem Dafoe in Spider-Man? There was potential here, but it feels out of reach by the final product.

They're Outside (2020) - 4/5 - What an excellent surprise this was. Through the use of an egotistical YouTube psychologist, intent on curing a woman's agoraphobia for views, Airell Anthony Hayles and Sam Casserly have crafted a creepy look at dealing with trauma. The unfolding layers to the characters stories are compelling viewing, leading to a chilling finale set up well by subliminal images. Watch this one with the lights out.

Dark Place (2020) - 4.5/5 - What a fantastic film to close out my second day. An anthology film without a duff entry, as each of the 5 tales differ in tone and themes, but are all exceptionally directed. Varying from psychological to supernatural, and even Raimi-esque gory comedy, this is a 75 min gem that leaves a strong impression.

Skull: The Mask (2020) - 2.5/5 - Directors Armando Fonesca and Kapel Furman have made a fantastic showcase for visceral gore, brought alive through some gnarly effects. These are the moments in which the story works best, hinting at a wider mythology with a secretive order thrown into the mix. That this isn't the focus baffles me, for instead, we follow a police procedural with a police officer who's connecting by the most tenuous ways until the last act.

The Turning (2020) - 1/5 - In-between Frightfest films, I decided to catch up with this adaptation of The Turn Of The Screw. The performers on-hand are certainly talented, especially Mackenzie Davis and Brooklynn Prince, but it's a shame Finn Wolfhard is stuck playing a role that never explains his creepy motivations. It's a horror film without any frights, never sure which route it wants to go down, so tries to have its cake and eat it. The end result is a butchered finale to an unsatisfying film.

The Cat in the Hat
Worst film of the month: The Cat In The Hat

Two Heads Creek (2020) - 4.5/5 - One of the standouts of this Virtual Frightfest. Jesse O'Brien directs this excellent Ozploitation flick, which frames a story around outdated xenophobic attitudes, to balance laugh out loud humour, excellent gore, and even a catchy musical number. An excellent little surprise which deserves to be seen widely.

Hall (2020) - 2.5/5 - There's an interesting premise in this film, promising a tense tale in confined settings, as two woman look to escape from their abusive partners. What occurs feels rather muddled, as there's little sense of threat, and the pregnant co-lead just feels like a way to pad out the film. Then there's the post-credits monologue, which feels like it wants to be a satirical jab at how the government undercuts healthcare, but it feels too tacked on to work. It's well acted by the cast members, so there's that at least.

A Ghost Waits (2020) - 5/5 - What an exceptional tale this was. Adam Stovall crafts a story about Jack, a man who's yearning for connection, but finds himself pushed away by those he tries reaching out to. In the midst of this, he finds the house he's working on is haunted by a ghost, named Muriel, intent on scaring him away. But Jack isn't budging, and Muriel needs to scare him off for her work, as seen in the typical mundane nature of a 9 to 5 job. These two lost souls bond over their desire for connection, as the story plays out in humorous and saddening ways, wonderfully acted by the cast members. It may only run for 80 minutes, but by the end, you feel as though you've been on a heck of a journey, and I shed tears over it. See it when you can.

Aquaslash (2020) - 0.5/5 - Because I'm full of good decisions, I decided to follow up my Frightfest films by renting the film which clashed with A Ghost Waits. I came into it wanting some gory fun, excited at the basic premise which excited me since I first discovered it on Twitter. What I found was my will beaten down for 90% of the runtime, as I was stuck with awful characters in their drama which was torturous to watch. By the time we got to the kills, I was just numb to it, as what should've made me giddy to behold just felt not worth it, when the preceding hour made for horrendous company.

AV The Hunt (2020) - 3.5/5 - Emre Akay crafts a excellent tale of survival, which never lets up the tension. The story follows one woman trying to escape the toxic ideals of the patriarchy, something which may be too deeply ingrained for one person to fight it alone. It isn't an easy watch, as the heavy subject matter is brutal on the senses. It's a good sign that you get so invested in the characters struggles, but it can feel like a kick in the ribs.

The Swerve (2020) - 4/5 - What an exceptional way to close of this year of Frightfest. Writer and director Dean Kapsalis has crafted an immensely sad tale of a woman feeling disconnected from her life, unrelenting in how bleak it is. It especially works thanks to Azura Skye's astounding performance, powerfully capturing how unappreciated and downtrodden her character is. A gut-punch of a film that you'll struggle to forget.

Best film of the month: Mean Girls
Best film seen in cinemas: Inception
Best film watched for the first time: A Ghost Waits
Best film rewatched: Mean Girls
Biggest Disappointment: Scanners
Biggest Surprise: Love & Basketball
Worst film of the month: The Cat In The Hat

Number of films watched: 48