March 2021 In Review

Three months into 2021, how time flies. With the Oscar nominations announced, I am at least trying to work my way through the Best Picture nominees that I can, let's see how it goes. Outside of that, I delved into a bit of BFI Flare, watched some 2021 cinema, and rediscovered the Batman films I adored in my childhood. So, without further ado, let's see the films I watched this past March.

Dolemite is My Name (2019) - 4.5/5 - A vibrant ode to persevering and achieving your dreams, told through a biopic of Rudy Ray Moore. A film which will have you howling in laughter, & teary-eyed by the end credits, with an excellent cast led by a powerhouse Eddie Murphy. The fact this excellent tale got shut out of the Academy Awards is saddening, especially for the costume design and Eddie Murphy's lead performance. One of 2019's best films.

Batman (1989) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - After audiences grew to know the Dark Knight from the Adam West series, this was the big attempt to reintroduce the darker side of the character, and was considered a big gamble. From the gothic aesthetic of Gotham City, to Danny Elfman's iconic score, and especially the portrayal of the characters, these now iconic elements served as the basis for much of Batman.

It's interesting how the story focuses on building up to The Joker, an enforcer whose dip in chemicals sees him make a power-grab, while Batman is the figure of legend we see in action firstly, before later building upon the backstory of Bruce Wayne. Jack Nicholson is in his element as the character, proving unnerving in this portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, while Michael Keaton is exceptional as the person who doesn't fit with the rich-boy persona he puts on, more comfortable fighting crime in the cowl.

It doesn't all hold up for me, such as Knox feeling superfluous after a point, the dated effects, and how I wish Kim Basigner had more to do than be the victim of Joker's affections. At its heart, this is a nuts and bolts story, delivering the basic practical details to introduce these two cultural icons, and their never-ending war with each other.

The Columnist (2021) - 4/5 - Satire as sharp as it's murder weapons, this is a grisly delight.

Come True (2021) - 2.5/5 - A film which examines the horrors of dreams in interesting ways, until the third act.

Batman Returns (1992) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Considering my adoration for Gotham's own caped crusader, and how much I rewatched the Burton/Schumacher films as a kid, it surprises me that I haven't watched this film in about 20 years. What shocks me even more is how I was allowed to view this at such a young age, where a sewer-dwelling Penguin chomps people's noses, and threatens to get diabolically biblical with his plans.

I am absolutely in love with this film, as Tim Burton goes all-out to deliver an engrossing tale of duality, brought alive with such an intoxicating gothicism, and an amazing cast delivering their roles. Michelle Pfeiffer is an absolute boss as Catwoman, owning the role with her excellent performance, and especially with her whip. She shares wonderful chemistry with Michael Keaton, who once more delivers as my favourite iteration of Batman. Let's not forget Christopher Walken and Danny Devito, whose tremendous portrayals round off the main cast with gusto, as the three villains are well-balanced for this story. A masterful tale which feels like a breath of fresh air, but scared the studios so much their follow-up was more in the family-friendly vein. Still, at least we have this.

Best film of the month and Best
film rewatched: Batman Returns

Crossing The Line (2019) - 4/5 - For her directorial debut, Nia DaCosta delivers a compelling thriller, where the prevailing antagonist is the messed-up state of the U.S. healthcare system. Ollie has helped the residents of her small-town have illicit access to Canadian health-care and medication, but an encounter with the law sees her trying to give it up, and move away to a more hopeful life elsewhere. What then comes about is the "one last job" scenario, as Ollie looks to help out her sister Deb, and ensure she and her son are taken care of once she's gone away. Tessa Thompson is absolutely tremendous in the lead role, while Lily James does good work, in spite of a faltering accent. There are a few elements which I could've used a bit more time on, but I remained engrossed by the unfolding story.

I Know Who Killed Me (2007) - 2.5/5 - Notable for being considered One of the Worst Films Ever Made, but I would day such a title isn't warranted here. Granted, I'd struggle to call this film good, especially when the opening half-hour is a struggle to get through. Yet once the film got past that hurdle, I found my attention firmly held by the unfolding mystery, the duality emphasised by the stylish way the colours pop on-screen, and Lindsey Lohan's good portrayal. It may have some questionable performances, and feel like a rough attempt at making a David Lynch film, but it was enjoyable enough.

Coming To America (1988) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A fairy-tale retelling, as a Prince looks for a woman he wishes to call a wife, presented in heartwarming and hilarious ways. There's an excessive amount of supporting characters for Hall and Murphy play under Rick Baker makeup, but this is an excellent comedy with a sweet nature underneath royal penis washing and sweary ventures.

Decapitato: Consequenze Mortali (2020) - 3.5/5 - Over the course of one minute, director Sydney Clara Brafman utilises a retro video-game style to excellently deliver a simple and effective tale.

Best film watched for the first time: Minari

The Final Girl Returns (2020) - 4/5 - After escaping unscathed from a massacre, a driver finds himself trapped within an endless cycle of saving final girls. Director Alexandria Perez mixes a love-letter for the slasher sub-genre with real-life issues, as we keep seeing woman disbelieved by the police amidst a cycle of trauma and abuse. It's a powerful short delivered in excellent form.

Murder Bury Win (2021) - 3.5/5 - Set in today's world of crowdfunding, the film follows a trio of friends who want to succeed at creating their own board-game. When they fail to get their project financed, they're invited to the secluded house of a mysterious man, offering to publish their game so long as he gets credit as the sole creator and owner. A dispute over the gaming rights leads to a freak accident, and the friends have a body to deal with. Worried the police won't believe it was an accident, they decide to follow their game for guidance, and find a way to dispose of the body. A darkly humorous tale which sets up each of the characters very well, with Craig Cackowski proving to be a wonderful scene-stealer. As the situation spirals out of control, the story does unfortunately drag, leading to an unfortunately rapid wrap-up at the end. In spite of this, we're still left with a fun time.

Jump, Darling (2021) - 4/5 - An emotional tale about being true to yourself, directed with such vibrancy.

Mama Gloria (2021) - 2.5/5 - A love-letter to Trans activist Gloria Allen, the best moments of this documentary are whenever she is talking. Gloria has such a natural charisma which leaves viewers hanging on her every word, which highlights how much weaker the rest of the film is. Whenever somebody else is talking, you'll just be wanting Gloria to take the reins with her own stories, to gloss over the awkward feeling when real-life footage is integrated.

Biggest Disappointment: Batman Forever

The Greenhouse (2021) - 3/5 - A grieving daughter finds a way to visit the past and see her mother again, brought on by unresolved feelings she holds onto. The strongest moments involve the character dynamics, where these estranged siblings bounce off each other with a believable rapport, and bring up unresolved feelings of hurt. Less strong are the moments revisiting past memories, which take prominence in the messy third act, which goes down the least interesting route.

Cured (2021) - 4.5/5 - An engrossing documentary which charts the Gay Liberation Movement, in their fight to not have homosexuality listed as a "sickness".  A powerful retelling of history from the people who were there, whether they spoke out against the homophobia, or were silenced out of fear of being ostracised. Important and riveting stuff.

Cowboys (2021) - 3.5/5 - Writer and Director Anna Kerrigan tells the story of a father offering his Transgender son an opportunity to be his true self, as they go on a camping trip away from the child's Conservative mother. A strong family drama which is heartwarming, with a wonderful cast at the top of their game. This is especially true of Steve Zahn and Sasha Knight, who command your attention whenever they're on-screen. There is an element involving the father losing his Bipolar medication which feels like throwing an unnecessary complication into the mix, otherwise this is a charming debut.

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson (2021) - 2.5/5 - Steven Silver plays the titular Tunde Johnson, a teenager who's trapped in a loop, which resets whenever he's murdered by the police. It's a film that wants to be Fruitvale Station meets Groundhog Day, and certainly has high hopes to deliver something which is socially conscious and gripping. Sadly, the execution is lacking, coming off as flat and muddled, in spite of good performances.

Biggest Surprise: Cured

Coming 2 America (2021) - 1.5/5 - For a sequel whose entire premise is reliant on a sexual encounter which never happened, did it have to be retconned through a sexual assault scene? There's a number of possibilities, and taking this route FOR LAUGHS leaves a horrendous taste in the film.

Even if the screenplay didn't use this, the rest of the film doesn't hold up to scratch. The 1988 original was a breath of fresh air, taking a foul-mouthed twist on the fairy tale story, while being made with complete and utter love from all involved. This 33 years later sequel is made with a love for the original, and shows this by repeating the jokes from the original in the most tiresome ways, while the film is seemingly afraid of stepping out of the originals shadow. How ironic these filmmakers seemed to love the original tale about Akeem breaking away to forge his own path, but cannot follow such footsteps.

The strongest parts follow Akeem's illegitimate son played by Jermaine Fowler, whose tale in an inverse on his father's as he walks a similar path in Zamunda. Despite Fowler and Leslie Jones being excellent, these moments are too few in a film that's nearly two-hours. Eddie, this isn't the stuff we wanted you to return with.

Honeydew (2021) - 2/5 - For the sense of mood it inhabits, one wishes there was more of a point to the grimness.

Batman Forever (1995) [rewatch] - 2/5 - This was a childhood staple of mine, and was my defining take on Batman for so long. Rewatching this for the first time in forever, I can see why I loved it as a kid, but I otherwise now find it to be a bore.

Joel Schumacher has an eye for the colourful, making this Gotham City stand out as his own. In the midst of it, we have action beats which I tired of watching, and the most interesting moments were in the deleted scenes.

Much of my problem comes from the casting, as Val Kilmer is a charisma vacuum in his dual roles, while Tommy Lee Jones is hamming it up in Joker-lite form. Jim Carrey plays up his usual shtick, and while it can come off as grating, it's preferable to what his villainous co-star is doing. More interesting is Nicole Kidman, as a psychologist who has the hots for Batman, and Chris O'Donnell as Robin, an orphan whose journey mirrors Bruce Waynes.

This was a chore to sit through, but at least the soundtrack was still good. Kiss From A Rose and Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me are still great songs.

Riddle Me This: Why Is Batman Forever? (1995) - 1.5/5 - A TV documentary which plays for 23-minutes, this studio mandated puff-piece will tell you nothing new about anything or anyone involved. A fun game is to try and spot the simmering contempt lurking beneath Tommy Lee Jones.

Worst film of the month: Coming 2 America

The Driver (1978) - 4/5 - Walter Hill's 1978 film has been considered influential on many directors, such as Quentin Tarantino, Nicolas Winding-Refn, and Edgar Wright, and it's clear to see why. What Hill crafts is a straightforward tale about a cat and mouse game, enacted between Ryan O'Neill's titular character and Bruce Dern's detective, both excellently played by the performers. Thrown into the proceedings are magnificent car chases, with the final one especially being an all-timer from beginning to magnificent end. I could've used more characterisation for the side characters, but this doesn't detract from what a lean, mean, picture this is.

Bad Trip (2021) - 3.5/5 - Essentially a feature-length prank show, part of what makes this work are the very real reactions of the unsuspecting public. The set-pieces are very entertaining to watch, and much preferable to the attempts at making a narrative around these characters. There are some days when you don't need a compelling thriller to watch, but to just see two friends caught dick-first in a Chinese finger trap.

The Father (2021) - 4/5 - The first of this year's Best Picture nominees which I have watched, and things are off to a strong start. Co-writing and directing, Florian Zeller adapts his own play about an aging father who is looked after by his daughter, refusing help while his memory deteriorates. Where this works especially well is taking the father's point of view, as we see him misremember how things occurred and who key people in his life are, making for a gripping psychological thriller. A powerful and emotional tale which is phenomenally acted by all involved, especially Hopkins and Colman.

In The Mouth Of Madness (1994) - 4.5/5 - John Carpenter may be my favourite director, but there are still some blind-spots I have in regards to his filmography. This was the biggest one for me, a film which has not been around on physical media in the UK as of yet, so renting it was my only option. I'm glad I finally got to watch it, as this is an exemplary feature and a smart tale built around a meta-narrative, delivered in oh so creepy ways. Sam Neill brings a powerhouse performance to the lead role, as he becomes slowly undone by the events caused by author Sutter Cane. What a wonderful mixture of Lovecraftian horror and novella horror.

Minari (2021) - 5/5 - What an extraordinary film this was. A warm and resonant tale about a Korean family trying to get by in Arkansas, as the father builds a farm, in hopes ot making a better life for his family. A heartfelt and gentle tale which is wonderfully portrayed by all involved, especially by the most adorable Alan Kim. 2021 cinema is off to a strong start already.

Best film of the month: Batman Returns
Best film seen in cinemas: N/A
Best film watched for the first time: Minari
Best film rewatched: Batman Returns
Biggest Disappointment: Batman Forever
Biggest Surprise: Cured
Worst film of the month: Coming 2 America

Number of films watched: 26