December 2020 In Review

It's a new year, everybody. 2021 hasn't been any easier so far, and I hope you're all keeping safe out there. My last month in 2020 involved a few festive treats, largely thanks to the Sohoho Horror Festival, as well as 2020 features and filling in a few blind spots. So, let's take a look at what I viewed this past December.

Chronical: 2067 (2020) - 1.5/5 - For a film with such an interesting premise, this shouldn't be so lifeless and boring.

The Glass Man (2020) - 4/5 - 9 years may have passed since its release, but this remains a relevant and engrossing piece.

Megan Is Missing (2011) - 2.5/5 - It's interesting what this film is attempting, trying to serve as an educational tool about strangers on the Internet. This is served by an hour of build up, and then a final 20 minutes where it cranks things up. I can't say it worked, feeling like an imbalanced mixture that's overlong, even at less than 90 minutes. A 10 minute scene of a man digging undercuts what came before it, as tedium and poor camerawork get in the way of a disturbing tale.

Come Away (2020) - 2/5 - A film which blends together literary classics, without a clear idea of where to go.

Donnie Darko (2001) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - I worried time would've diminished this films power for me, but it has done no such thing. What Richard Kelly has created is bursting with originality and ambition, leaving me reeling at what I've watched. I don't think all of the plot threads hang together, but it's such a magnificent piece of work that has stuck itself firmly within my head. I can't wait to revisit this already. It won't be a 13 year distance this time, though.

Best film of the month and Best
film rewatched: Oldboy (2003)

Cats (2019) [rewatch] - 1/5 - A film full of character introductions, songs I won't remember in a couple of hours, and the largest amount of "Fuck Me" eyes I've seen in a U rated film. I'm no closer to understanding what Jellicle means, and that'll forever haunt me.

Jiu Jitsu (2020) - 1.5/5 - Martial artists versus a bargain bin Predator shouldn't be this boring, but it is.

Mind The Gap (2016) - 3/5 - Willem Dafoe recites a monologue about the gaps in his teeth, and makes it more compelling than it has any right to be.

Lower World (2020) - 3.5/5 - An aspiring illustrator seeks out musicians to do artwork for, but must contend with self-doubts, as her anxiety is given form. An imaginative short that's visually fantastic.

Gremlins Recall (2020) - 2.5/5 - Inspired by the classic film by Joe Dante, this short imagines a world where Mogwais can be injected with something to combat their rules. A love-letter that's full of knowing humour, but the lack of a third act really hurts it.

Best film seen in cinemas: Wonder Woman 1984

Gremlins: A Puppet Story (2020) - 3/5 - Chris Walas recounts memories from making the puppets for Gremlins, with fascinating tales and depictions of how the iconic creatures advanced through puppets. At times, this feels more like a PowerPoint lecture, but it's a must-see for fans of practical effects.

Naughty (2019) - 4/5 - A present stealing thief dressed as Santa Claus is caught by a little girl. Things then get REALLY interesting, complete with excellent performances by GiGi Henderson and Jamie Landau. Interesting and hilarious.

Dona & Vixen (2020) - 4/5 - A teenager who still believes in Father Christmas finds supressed memories come flooding back. A dark tale that makes for a compelling 10 mins.

Christmas Blood (2020) - 1/5 - A serial killer dressed as Santa Claus is on the loose. It follows his selected victims in a Black Christmas style plot, while the police hunt the killer. Bloody, for sure, but also sleazy, frustrating, and stalls for no good reason, resulting in this feeling overlong.

Landgraves (2020) - 4/5 - A short which brings to mind Lords of Chaos, as a journalist writes an article about a metal band who were previously jailed for their bandmates death. An unsettling mood piece that will keep you intrigued as to where it's going, and leave you entirely hooked.

Best film watched for the first time: The Straight Story

The Oak Room (2020) - 4/5 - The secret film which played at SoHoHo Horror Fest, and the choice excited me, as I had been anticipating this one for quite a bit. A young man returns to his hometown to face his troubled past, and the mess he left behind, while armed with a story. It's a film that consists of men sitting in rooms and telling stories, and what Cody Callahan has made is so tense and compelling. I just didn't want to leave this films company.

Furry Vengeance (2010) - 1/5 - What an odd choice to end my day with. Nothing about this film works, and it's an utterly mind-boggling piece of work. The amount it stretches plausibility, to a non-murderous and child-friendly degree, must be seen to be believed. In spite of all this, this was SO entertaining in watching the utter ineptitude on display. Some of the choices made are honestly shocking. I miss Brendan Fraser, but this isn't the way.

No Thank You (2020) - 3/5 - A short film depicting roommates in the midst of the zombie apocalypse, bickering over what route they should take. Mildly amusing stuff, it's fine.

Witness Infection (2020) - 1.5/5 - A blending of mobster cliches with the zombie genre, for a mash-up which is appropriately lacking in brains. There's too many fart gags, disastrous attempts at humour, and a lacking pulse when it comes to the more action centric parts. The effects work is good, especially for the gruesome look of the zombies, but it can't mask how tired this all feels.

The Predator Holiday Special (2018) - 3.5/5 - A stop-motion piece of hilarity, as the iconic creature goes on a murderous rampage in the North Pole. Utter fun.

Biggest Disappointment: Deathcember

La Ultima Navidad Del Universo (2020) - 4/5 - Ho-ly shit!

A post-apocalyptic Christmas tale, as Santa crosses Mad Max style villains to deliver a present to the last good kid on Earth. To get there, he commits murder with toys, in some jaw-droppingly gruesome ways. A bloody good bit of fun.

Santa Jaws (2020) - 3/5 - A child's comic-book creation comes to life, and wreaks havoc upon his loved ones. An entertaining picture that's unfortunately drawn out, especially in the attempts to have characters disbelieve our young lead. A harmless flick you'd catch on the sci-fi channel, with effects work that fit into that channel's output also.

Fear of the Woods (2020) - 3.5/5 - In the icy terrain, a bear hunting family faces off against a giant bear. A gripping tale led by the tremendous Vernon Wells. I'm onboard for the next chapter that's promised.

Winterskin (2018) - 2.5/5 - A frosty set feature from Charlie Steeds, as the snow is regularly painted red. Think Misery with flayings, for this gruesome tale. What a shame it outstays its welcome, not helped by the good performers being saddled with ear-scraping accents.

Deathcember (2020) - 2/5 - My final film of SoHoHo Film Festival was this anthology tale, made up of 24 short films. There's some excellent ones in here, such as the exceptional Cracker, the riotous All Sales Fatal, and the lavishly crafted The Hunchback of Burg Hayn. What's most unfortunate is how the majority of shorts I couldn't muster up much emotion for, and even more bizarre was how many didn't even seem connected to Christmas. There's also Crappy Christmas: Operation Christmas Child, a claymation short which is too mean-spirited and vile to work. Honestly, that one just left a sour taste in my mouth for the rest of the film.

Biggest Surprise: La Ultima Navidad Del Universo

The Straight Story (1999) - 4.5/5 - When you think of David Lynch films, this isn't what comes to mind. This odd duck among his filmography is so big-hearted and lovely, brought alive by exceptional performances, especially Richard Farnsworth. What makes this film are the conversations, which reveal so much about our lead, and whomever he's conversing with. Among them, my favourite has to be a bar set conversation, as two characters share the traumas they endured through their time serving in World War II. It may not be fully representative of the directors work, but it's easily among his best.

Better Watch Out (2017) - 3.5/5 - This has proven to be a divisive film, but you can count me on the side of liking it. What begins as a home invasion thriller takes a rather different direction, making for an interesting tale that comments on misogyny, and belittles the incel nature of the antagonistic forces. For a horror comedy, I'd say this does the former better than the latter, especially with how brutal it can get. I also thought it did well by the characters, with nobody feeling too much like a caricature, no matter how warped their views were. Must say though, I was hoping that brutality would follow through to the finale a bit more.

Shrek (2001) [rewatch] - 4/5 - The film which made Dreamworks Animation into a powerful player, this remains a joy from 2001 that holds up so well. This parody of Disney fairytales is full of wit and self-referential humour, amidst how big-hearted it is. When it comes to the cast, there were times that Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy got a bit tiresome with their bits, but this doesn't detract from how well they fit into the roles. This tale of an ogre opening himself up to love remains a strong example of what could be done in 2000's animated films.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) - 4/5 - For the sequel to her excellent film, Patty Jenkins avoids the ideas about sequels needing to be "bigger & better". Instead, she opts for a more personal tale, centred around what we desire, and what we're willing to do to get it. It unfortunately gets a bit muddled as it goes on, especially in the final act which involves a dimly lit fight with lacklustre CG. Yet when the film works, it really works, and the performances are just tremendous. Gal Gadot remains exemplary in the titular role, while Chris Pine wonderfully embodies the fish out of water part of the story. At its heart, this is a hopeful film bursting with colour and joy, especially including the mid-credits scene. It reaches such smile-inducing heights I didn't expect from early on in the DCEU.

Shrek The Halls (2007) - 3/5 - Passable Christmas fare which has Shrek learning the true meaning of Christmas, as he learns to not be such a jerk to his friends. Gingy and his Christmas horror story was a highlight.

Worst film of the month: Christmas Blood

Oldboy (2003) [rewatch] - 5/5 - I got my girlfriend to try this film, and she wasn't aware of THAT beforehand. Doubt I'll get to pick another film for us to watch again, but on the bright side, I got to view this haunting masterpiece again.

Oldboy (2013) - 2/5 - Spike Lee directing a reinterpretation of Park Chan-Wook's 2003 classic? It's an intriguing prospect, which makes the end product all the more disappointing. Maybe this is due to producers heavily re-editing the film, resulting in it losing over 30 minutes of footage. There are interesting flourishes, such as great directorial touches, and notable changes within the story. I may be mixed on these changes, but they're far more interesting than a beat for beat remake.

A strong cast have been assembled, with Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen doing especially well in their roles. Sharlto Copley and Samuel L Jackson feel out of place though, resembling over the top Bond villains who are ill-fitting here.

Most notable is how Lee ups the nastiness and violence, as scenes which the Korean original left to our imagination are unveiled in gruesome glory here. What's unfortunate is how hollow it all feels, as moral ambiguity is discarded for something more straightforward, and ultimately forgettable.

Next (2007) - 1.5/5 - A film where Nicolas Cage plays a Las Vegas magician who can see minutes into the future, and must help the FBI stop a terrorist threat. For a film with such an interesting set-up, it's a shame to see it disregarded so psychic Cage can mainly woo Jessica Biel, playing less of a character than an attainable goal for our lead. When the plot you expected finally kicks into gear, there is fun in the buddy duo of Cage with Julianne Moore. But by the end, I was frustrated by how it unfolded, and was left to wonder what was the point.

Mandy (2018) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - For my final film of 2020, I gave this marvellous film a rewatch. Seeing Nicolas Cage go from domesticated and content with life, to a being full of rage that wants this hellish nightmare to be over, feels pretty appropriate.

Best film of the month: Oldboy (2003)
Best film seen in cinemas: Wonder Woman 1984
Best film watched for the first time: The Straight Story
Best film rewatched: Oldboy (2003)
Biggest Disappointment: Deathcember
Biggest Surprise: La Ultima Navidad Del Universo
Worst film of the month: Christmas Blood

Number of films watched: 34