July 2020 In Review

Quite the assortment of films I viewed this month. My want to see what's being covered this season on The Evolution of Horror got me to see a number of horrific depictions of the mind and the body, including delving into the works of David Lynch. Plus, any excuse to watch The Prestige is a good one. So, let's see what films I saw over the past July.

Freaks (1932) - 3.5/5 - Before Guillermo Del Toro perfected the themes about man being the real monster, Tod Browning adopted it when directed this 1932 feature. What comes out if a compelling take on the theme, grounded by the big-hearted character of Hans, getting tricked by a duplicitous pair, Cleopatra and Hercules, who want to off him for his inheritance. After a film showing the carnival performers, sharing in joyous moments and mundane disagreements that are entirely relatable, it's a shame the third act lets things down. There seems to be a revelling in depicting the performers as terrifying monsters, which feels at odds with what came before it. Also, due to the notable issues behind the scenes, the story feels incomplete, and noticeably cut to ribbons. A shame.

Salt (2018) - 4.5/5 - Within the space of 2 minutes, Rob Savage crafts a terrifying ordeal out of a very simple premise. Between the impressive effects and the tense proceedings, and especially Alice Lowe's tremendous performance, this is amazing stuff.

Flatliners (1990) - 2.5/5 - Off the basic plot summary, I expected this film to go down the "slasher" route, so was pleasantly surprised that it didn't. Focusing on the characters atoning for their past sins is a more interesting decision, but I can't say the execution did it justice. It was rather dull at times, and the scenes of Keifer Sutherland being tormented were downright laughable. At least the cast are committed, an ensemble of rising stars doing good work where possible.

Honey Boy (2019) - 4.5/5 - Shia LaBeouf bares his soul and his heartbreaking childhood, for an exemplary feature.

The Vast of Night (2020) - 4.5/5 - For his directorial debut, Andrew Patterson crafts a throwback to 50s era sci-fi, framed as an episode of a Twilight Zone-esque series (a device which feels extraneous as the film goes on). It approaches the subject matter in a quiet manner, focusing on character and the slowly unfolding story, while making sure the viewers are hanging onto every word that's said. Between the tremendous performances by Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick, this is a wonderful two-hander that does so much with so little, and is a real gem from this year. Seek it out.

The Prestige
Best film of the month & Best film rewatched: The Prestige

Blue Velvet (1986) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A masterpiece which digs beneath the picture perfect ideal that is suburban living, and looking at the darkness which lurks in its seedy underbelly. All while David Lynch crafts his own unique mood and style, making for a horrific ordeal to bear witness to.

I also like to think the Heineken bit was a long gag aimed at product placement, with Dennis Hopper serving the cherry on top of it all.

Les Diaboliques (1955) - 4.5/5 - At the end of this feature, a disclaimer pops up asking viewers to not spoil this film. A move I can get on-board with, as this is a film to go into knowing as little as possible. The cruel headmaster of a school runs afoul of his suffering wife and his mistress. That's all I shall say, as what Henri-Georges Clouzot crafts is a tense feature which blends mystery and horror, all the way until the exceptional finale. Go into it as blind as possible, and get ready to recommend it upon coming out of it.

The Prestige (2006) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Everytime I watch this feature, I am in awe of how meticulously crafted it is, and how much more I can get from this tale of rival magicians having a pissing contest. The Dark Knight is my fave Nolan film, but I'd say this is his most perfect.

Repulsion (1965) - 4/5 - Well, that was an astonishing feature. Between Catherine Deneuve giving one hell of a performance, and the unsettling direction, the unravelling of our leads mental health is captured in tremendous ways. It had me hooked until the final image, where so much is said in that moment.

Meeks Cutoff (2011) - 3.5/5 - The more I delive into the films of Kelly Reichardt, the more I see what a contemplative filmmaker she is. Whether that style is for me, I'm currently uncertain, but I see how others can fall head over heels for her work.

Following settlers who are lost in the wilderness, this is a meditative work about their losing hope, struggling to find water in a land they're navigating blindly across. At times, I found the slow-burn nature to lose me, but the cast kept me onboard, ensuring I wanted to see how it turned out for their characters. Be it Michelle Williams' tremendous performance, Bruce Greenwood's guide who can't admit he has no idea where they're going, or Rod Rondeaux saying so much, in spite of a language barrier between him and his captors.

Best film watched for the first time: Mother

Carnival Of Souls (1962) - 4/5 - It's astounding this was the only feature film which Herk Harvey directed. A tense and unsettling feature which begins with a car accident, as its only survivor finds herself stalked by a haunting figure. Brought alive by a great performance from Candace Hilligoss, this is excellent work by a filmmaker who deserved a wider career. 

Accident Man (2018) - 3/5 - Jesse V. Johnson directs this Scott Adkins vehicle, from a script the latter co-wrote, based off a comic-book. It follows an hit-man who sets out to avenge his ex-girlfriend, which sees him go against his old crew. It's an assassin flick which feels in the vein of Guy Ritchie, inhabiting the directors better and worse impulses. For every fun moment, there's a ham-fisted try at narration, or a dire exchange which would've felt outdated a decade ago (for example, whatever exits Ray Park's mouth). The result is an enjoyable time which never outstays its welcome, with an array of characters who each get their moment to shine. Scott Adkins embodies the lead role well, especially in the combat scenes, and helps keep the interest while this feature doesn't outstay its welcome.

Ace Attorney (2012) - 4/5 - After acquainting myself with some brutal films on Takashi Miike's filmography, settling into something more lighthearted was quite the change. I can't speak for the faithfulness to the Phoenix Wright series, but this feature is a glorious romp for how bizarre it is. Sure, the story may get convoluted in its attempts to tie up the plot-lines, but this is a courtroom drama which kept me entertained and engaged in equal measure. Most definitely down to how wacky it was, right down to the hairstyles.

The Tent (2020) - 2/5 - Was this one worth pitching? Hmm

Clueless (1995) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A contemporary update on Jane Austin's Emma, relocated to Beverly Hills in the 90s. Amy Heckerling directs a feature that's so joyous to be in the company of, whether it's the witty dialogue, the heartfelt relationships you can believe in, or simply Alicia Silverstone's winning performance. There's so much to love here.

How to Build a Girl
Biggest Disappointment: How To Build A Girl

Strasbourg 1518 (2020) - 4/5 - What happens when Jonathan Glazer collaborates in lockdown with 9 dancers, to portray a dancing plague which broke out in Strasbourg in the 1500s? We get an eerie short film which is full of style, and set to Mica Levi's excellent score. It's operating on entirely its own wavelength, and while it can feel alienating at times, the editing and choreography make for a showstopping dance of unravelling madness.

Carrie (1976) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - I have two main thoughts on this exceptional film.

This story is so heartbreaking. All Carrie White wants is one lovely night, to actually feel happy, and can't even get that.

THAT prom scene is rightfully iconic. Between the sound design, the editing, & Sissy Spacek's stares, it's downright horrifying.

In The Time It Takes To Get There (2019) - 3/5 - Considering this is a short film born from a contest winning poster, it turned out rather decently. Zach Braff directs a heavy-handed satire of social media influencers, reimagined on an 18th century backdrop, which leads it to feel The Favourite-lite. It certainly has Florence Pugh and Alicia Silverstone going for it, who put excellent performances into their roles. The pair elevate this 11 minute short.

Eraserhead (1977) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - 6 years ago, I watched this film for the first time. It was my entry into David Lynch, and I had no idea what to make of it.

It's finally time for a rewatch, and my feelings are a lot more solid. This is a bloody brilliant film. From the haunting visuals to the nerve-shredding sound design, this was a horrifying picture. A surreal depiction of paternal fears, encapsulated by the haunted look in Jack Nance's eyes.

And that poor baby!

WHAT DID JACK DO? (2020) - 3/5 - Maybe it's because I'm new to David Lynch's stuff, but this left me cold. It's great to see Lynch trading noir-esque lines with a monkey, but it felt like they were just trying to one-up each other in who can say weird stuff.

Ace Attorney
Biggest Surprise: Ace Attorney

The Cabin In The Woods (2012) [rewatch] - 5/5 - What Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon have crafted is a masterful commentary on the horror genre, but also feels like a film that's ushering a change in the genre. It's as though it draws a line in the sand between what we expect from horror films, and the Aster/Eggers/Peele/Kent era of horror which comes next.

"It's time to give someone else a chance"

How To Build A Girl (2020) - 2.5/5 - Beanie Feldstein is a ray of sunshine in this otherwise lacklustre film.

Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2018) - 3.5/5 - Why is it we can get real life stories about all kinds of detestable figures, but not about Marsha P. Johnson, one of the most prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969? This 14 minute short intersperses archival footage and fictional recreations, to make a powerful film honouring her. I do wish it felt a bit less uneven, especially with a dream sequence within, but this is a good start to portraying Marsha on-screen.

Legally Blonde (2001) - 3.5/5 - What an utter joy this was. In the lead role, Reese Witherspoon is utterly electric, capturing the big heart and determination of Elle Woods. She's a major part of why this film works, and especially why the 96 minute runtime breezes on by. A few storytelling choices didn't work for me, such as the subplot involving the UPS love interest, but this is an enjoyable tale which will make you want to bend and snap!

Bardo (2016) - 3/5 - An interesting idea from Derek Coté, to capture the abandoned village of Pyramiden, and the legacy which was left behind. The haunted visuals, combined with the grand piano soundtrack, can make for an unsettling experience, but even at 12 minutes, it can test your patience.

Worst film of the month: Invasion Earth

Batman: Strange Days (2014) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - This 3 minute short, stylised in the form of a pulp adventure, is a wonderful tribute to classic Batman. It packs in so much joy and pure entertainment into this neatly animated package.

Invasion Earth (2016) - 0.5/5 - Review to come on Snakebite Horror. Considering the rating, it won't be a favourable one.

Candyman: Day of the Dead (1999) - 1/5 - It's appropriate this film was about killing the myth of the titular figure, considering it stopped this franchise dead in its tracks for over 2 decades. Any wit or nuance the original had have long been drained, and in its place, there's blood and nudity ramped up, as an attempt at compensation. There's also a needless subplot involving a crooked cop, whose usefulness is for the convenient ending, and the dumbness involving a Candyman cult. But then, perhaps this shouldn't have been a franchise in the first place.

Mother (2010) - 4.5/5 - The more I delve into Bong Joon-ho's filmography, the more I'm in utter awe of his sheer filmmaking prowess. He takes the standard crime thriller plot, where the character is driven by proving a persons innocence, and utilises it for an emotional story. As a young girl is discovered dead, we follow a mother's determination to clear her sons name, and Kim Hye-ja does stunning work in portraying the titular figure. There's a dependency there, as the mother dotes after her child, although there's darker undercurrents lurking. By the end of it, I was gobsmacked by the bravery of the storytelling, and what engaged me throughout had left me haunted by what I saw.

Best film of the month: The Prestige
Best film seen in cinemas: N/A
Best film watched for the first time: Mother
Best film rewatched: The Prestige 
Biggest Disappointment: How To Build A Girl
Biggest Surprise: Ace Attorney
Worst film of the month: Invasion Earth

Number of films watched: 29