January 2021 In Review

We're a month into 2021, and things don't appear to be slowing down, but at least we don't have Cheeto Mussolini in power anymore. There's little rhyme or reason to what I've been watching this month, apart from much catching up on 2020 flicks. So, let's see what films I watched this past January.

Left Behind (2014) - 0.5/5 - A film so self-serious that it must be a joke. Sadly, that would've actually been fun to watch. Instead, this is evangelical propaganda bs made at such an inept and baffling level. There's a cut where you're made to believe a Muslim character, who has been victimised for much of the film, has committed murder for a second, before revealing he's only gotten out an electric toothbrush. The mind boggles at this film, and the choices made throughout.

Start the year as you mean to go on, I guess.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995) - 2.5/5 - An immensely sad tale from Mike Figgis, which is powerfully portrayed by both Cage and Shue. I feel for their plight, as the characters find solace in each other, but the story can feel a bit repetitive at times, not helped by the loud intrusions of Sting songs. What really hurts things for me is the treatment of Elisabeth Shue's character, who constantly seems to be punished due to her profession as a sex worker. It leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

Werewolf (2019) - 3.5/5 - A compelling blend of Lord of the Flies and Cujo in a World War II setting.

The Limey (1999) - 4/5 - What Steven Soderbergh does so well is take well-worn storylines, and makes them stand apart so well, by approaching them in such a unique manner. This is done through a dreamy use of editing that plays with memory, while getting a great deal of comedy out of our titular limey. Terrence Stamp commands the screen with his exceptional performance, selling this tale about a father's quest for vengeance.

The Vigil (2020) - 3.5/5 - A haunting exploration of grief in an Orthodox Jewish community.

Favourite film of the month and Best film
watched for the first time: Feels Good Man (2020)

Finley (2019) - 4/5 - J. Zachary Thurman opens his short with a familiar scene, as people explore a house they've just moved into, and find something they should've left well alone. In this instance, it's a ventriloquist dummy named Finley, whose release comes with a thirst for murder. In a fun twist, it turns out Finley is utterly incompetent, and his murderous methods are bested at every turn. It's endearing to see him fail so often, with the residents treating his attempts on their lives as though he's an irritating younger brother. An entertaining spin on the likes of Chucky, and a very good time with a killer ending.

Cabin Fever (2002) - 1/5 - Another Eli Roth film in which the build-up to the horror isn't worth it, thanks to spending so much time with dreadful caricatures for leads. Once again, we're stuck with one-dimensional young-uns who exist to infuriate, want to shag, and are casually homophobic, but this time adds sexual assault to that list. I've seen arguments that Roth is meant to be criticising frat-boy culture, but I don't think he did a good job of it. You can challenge such attitudes without making it a chore to sit through, but it feels like these horrendous actions and attitudes are barely challenged. In fact, the only one who seems to get punished in those regards happens immediately after they cheat on their partner, which is an odd choice.

Outside of that, we're stuck with irritating side-characters, such as the biting Pancakes kid, the store owner that casually drops racial slurs, and an awkwardly played deputy. They're all conduits for the poorly thrown in humour, and let's not forget how Eli Roth learned the wrong lessons from Tarantino, and throws in a jarring cameo. There were some grisly moments I liked, with the make-up being well done, but it doesn't feel worth the laborious build-up.

Perhaps the works of Eli Roth is not for me.

Da 5 Bloods (2020) - 4.5/5 - By looking at a group of Vietnam veterans, returning to find their troop leaders remains and the gold they buried, we're given a timely and powerful look at PTSD and traumas endured overseas, by men who fought for a country that thoroughly despises them. It's an array of terrific talent, with Delroy Lindo standing tall with a powerful performance, of a man whose ghosts manifest in vitriolic rages. It's also melancholic to see Chadwick Boseman as Stormin' Norman, especially with his final scene on screen. I will admit it's an overlong film, with elements not meshing as well in the final half-hour, but when this film works, it really works.

JSA - Joint Security Area (2005) - 4/5 - What an exceptional thriller from Park Chan-Wook. The investigation into a murder seemingly points towards a cover-up, but the truth is far more tragic than we believe. It's an engrossing tale that grips you, moreso with the actual crime scene than the neutral investigator, but it also emotionally destroys you.

Best film rewatched: Teeth (2007)

Building No.7 (2006) - 2/5 - Described by Steven Soderbergh as "an intense sci-fi short to Jean Luc Goddard", but this felt to me more like a student film with elusive messages, set to Windows Media Player visualiser imagery. That's four minutes which made me feel virtually nothing.

Away (2020) - 4.5/5 - A simple story is set to gorgeous visuals, for a 75-minute treat.

The Doorman (2020) - 3.5/5 - A simple story which does what you expect, in very entertaining ways.

Cabin Fever (2016) - 1.5/5 - A remake which makes me wonder what the point was, as it's a by-the-numbers retread which copies things with a lacking effort. There's little of its own identity, with a very weird thread connecting playing video games with knowing how to use a gun. In spite of this, I prefer this to the original as it discards the sexual assault and casual homophobia which plagued Eli Roth's original.

Biggest Disappointment: Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Feels Good, Man (2020) - 4.5/5 - I never went on 4chan during my teenage years, and watching this documentary, it feels like I dodged one hell of a bullet. This documentary details Pepe The Frog, a comic creation who became an internet meme, and then was transformed into a rallying symbol for white supremacists. It's compelling to see the journey this character has taken, as they're taken out of the creators hands, and turned into a recognised hate symbol. With wonderfully animated segments, detailing Pepe and his co-stars from the Boys Life comics, this is a tale that'll make you feel sad for a cartoon frog. By the end of it, there's also a renewed sense of hope.

Possession (1981) - 4.5/5 - A film written while he was going through a painful divorce, Andrzej Żuławski details the destruction of a relationship in ways that feel raw, and drawn from personal memories. Leading things are the powerful portrayals of Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill, as they try to get their bearings in the midst of this painful scenario. Mixed in with that are pretty horrific elements, brought alive in the most exceptional ways. Key to it all is a 3-minute scene in the subway which grips your attention, casting its spell on viewers in the most unbelievable of ways. An exceptional piece of work which ahall leave you drained by the end of it.

Tokyo Dragon Chef (2021) - 1.5/5 - For an absurdist mixture of Yakuza, duelling chefs, and musical numbers, it's criminal this is nowhere near as fun as it sounds.

The King of Staten Island (2020) - 3/5 - It makes sense that Pete Davidson helped write the script, as this feels like a very personal story to him, and he does exceptionally at the centre of it. Through this tale, we get a touching look at mental health and family, with excellent supporting performances by Marissa Tomei, Bill Burr, and Bel Powley. Although, these get overshadowed by the 137-minute runtime, which is way more than we need for this story. Seriously, Judd Apatow, kill your darlings and ditch a good portion of the improv. It undercuts the humorous moments when the scenes run on for much longer than we need.

Biggest Surprise: Away (2020)

Schemers (2020) - 2/5 - A film that approaches a true story by rushing through it, and undermining the dramatic moments with hit and miss comedy.

Synchronic (2020) - 3/5 - Time travel on drugs, as big ideas are tackled in interesting ways.

Spontaneous (2020) - 4/5 - For his directorial debut, Brian Duffield delivers a film about how unfair life can be, the difficulty in transitioning to adulthood, finding joy with the people close to you, and being your best self. It's a tale which brings to mind a Young Adult tale such as The Fault In Our Stars, only told through teens exploding into bloody messes. Centring things are an excellent core romance, delivered by the lovable pairing of Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer, who bond over film references, finding comfort in each other during a horrifying time. I do wish more of the side characters had time for development, but it's a tale that's grisly, hilarious, and heartbreaking.

Teeth (2007) [rewatch] - 4/5 - What Mitchell Lichtenstein has delivered is an outlandish plot, utilised for an effective coming of age story that brings to mind rape-revenge films. It's laced with jet-black humour, as the grisly moments are exceptional to watch, and make for one hell of a good time. It's also a phenomenal showcase for Jess Weixler, who deserved to be a much bigger star after this.

Least favourite film of
the month: Left Behind (2014)

Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969) [rewatch] - 4/5 - I have such a good time whenever I watch this short, enjoying the simplicity of this idea. Perhaps that's why I keep returning to watch it, but it being only a minute long helps.

His House (2020) - 4.5/5 - What Remi Weekes has brought to screen is an exceptional spin on the haunted house story, delivered in creepy and affecting ways. The story follows refugees who have fled their war-torn home of South Sudan, intent on settling in the UK, and must contend with the ghosts from their past. Expertly conveying this are the portrayals by Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku, who powerfully convey their struggles grappling with the past, and persevering towards the future. It's also worth mentioning, this highlights how rich storytelling can be if it's told through different perspectives.

Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020) - 4.5/5 - Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson approaches the inevitable involving her father, the titular Dick Johnson. Their method of coping with the inevitable tragedy is through staging his deaths in a multitude of ways, delivered through bloody ways. What's been crafted is both darkly humorous and emotionally devastating, making for an exceptional 90 minutes.

Lord of Illusions (1995) - 3/5 - The third, and currently final  feature film directed by Clive Barker is so enjoyable. It's a noir with magicians that's a fun ride, as Scott Bakula does able work in the lead role as a detective drawn into this mystery. The visual effects have dated by quite a bit, but the make-up effects at least remain gross and well done. I can't say this will stick in the memory, but I enjoyed it while it was on.

Favourite film of the month: Feels Good Man (2020)
Best film seen in cinemas: N/A
Best film watched for the first time: Feels Good Man (2020)
Best film rewatched: Teeth (2007)
Biggest Disappointment: Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Biggest Surprise: Away (2020)
Least favourite film of the month: Left Behind (2014)

Number of films watched: 25