May 2021 In Review

May has passed us by, and in the UK, cinemas are open again. I've naturally been using that opportunity to catch up on 2021 films, while also partaking in my usual concoction of horror films, superheroics, and the Pokémon franchise. So, let's see what films I watched this past May.

Terrifier (2018) - 3.5/5 - After appearing in a few short films, which were used for the anthology film All Hallows' Eve, Art The Clown gets his own standalone film, written and directed by Damien Leone. The story has Art terrorising unsuspecting people, with his focus firmly on three women whose paths he crosses. What's been crafted is a nasty little flick which has gone all out on the effects, ensuring no expense was shared in realising the gruesome acts. While the film may only last 86 minutes, as the films keeps spinning its wheels, as though one idea has been padded out to include more kills, yet missing that the protagonists could've done with more work. The best aspect of this is Art the Clown, who'll use any trick to gain the upper hand, and commit hard to the tricks he uses. Bringing him alive so vividly is David Howard Thornton, with an electric portrayal full of excellent body language. On the basis of this character, I would definitely watch more films containing Art. Maybe less writing on the walls with shit, though.

Johnny Mnemonic (1995) - 2.5/5 - A film which aims high with it's view of 2021, yet amounts to virtual insanity.

Maggie Simpson in The Force Awakens From It's Nap (2021) - 1.5/5 - To celebrate May 4th, Disney+ released this 3-minute short which has The Simpsons parody the Star Wars franchise. What we have is a toothless short which pays lip-service to the franchise in the most banal ways, making gags which feel years out of date, and delivers half-assed references. The prior Maggie Simpson shorts told nice little stories in imperfect ways, while this feels like Disney showing off the toys it has in its arsenal. Don't be surprised if we get Maggie Simpson parodying Marvel, Indiana Jones, or even Alien in the near-future. Hopefully those will be more than just a corporate wanking session.

Tag (2015) - 4/5 - My first taste of Sion Sono's works, and my goodness, what an experience this was. It sets the bar high from early on, opening with an extraordinary set-piece which will throw you for a loop. After that, you're bombarded with baffling yet enthralling twists, holding your attention as the story takes you further down the batshit rabbit hole. The way it unfolded, I was reminded of Natasha Kermani's excellent feature Lucky, as it delivered a potent message about the patriarchy in such a unique and attention grabbing manner. It's difficult to explain the plot, so I'd just suggest to strap yourselves in for one hell of a ride, and this was one hell of a way to get me interested in the works of Sono.

Fateful Findings (2014) - 0/5 - I don't think a film has left me so perplexed, speechless, and crying with laughter, all within 100 minutes. The best way I can describe this feature by Neil Breen is how it feels like an alien's idea of what human interactions are, mixed with the conspiracy theories of a man in his mid-50s, based in his fantasies where every woman who's 30 years younger than him want to sleep with him, while never wearing a bra. It's an experience which must be seen to be believed, and is especially enriched when viewed with friends, be they in person or over video calls. Tommy Wiseau, eat your heart out.

Best film of the month and Best film watched
for the first time: Judas and The Black Messiah

Doodlebug (1997) - 3.5/5 - An early short film from Christopher Nolan, the ensuing 3-minutes follows a man's frenzied efforts in trying to squish an insect. For this compact story, we have a simple set-up with larger reaching ideas, told in a compelling way that has you yearning for a Nolan horror film.

Hellraiser: Inferno (2000) - 2/5 - Reportedly, this was an original script which was rewritten to be a Hellraiser sequel, and it really shows. The film seems to strain to include the Cenobites, seeming more interested in a Se7en-lite mystery which occurs in uninteresting locations, with unengaging performances leading the story. It certainly comes together by the end, although we have to get through quite the slog first, not helped by the dreadful lead character.

Mom and Dad (2018) - 3.5/5 - Some evenings, you just want to see Nic Cage going all out with his Cage Rage, and that's exactly what this film delivers. The film utilises an extremely grim premise, as parents suddenly go on vicious rampages to murder their own children, and makes the most of this idea. What we're shown is brutal and horrifying, while also told in darkly comedic ways, making for a batshit fun time. There are excellent flashbacks which inform the character relationships, and help to showcase the love/hate relationship parents and children can have, especially when parents are feeling wistful over their youthful years having passed by. I just wish they were woven in better, as the jarring editing kills scenes to suddenly jump into a flashback. Don't think this is just a showcase for Nic Cage, as Selma Blair is an absolute treasure who works so damn well in the motherly role. It's an imperfect film, yet told in extremely fun ways, and had me genuinely worried for the lead children.

Justice League (2017) [rewatch] - 1.5/5 - It's amazing how one can enjoy a film watched in cinemas, and then a home rewatch can flip your mood entirely. If I had to describe this film in a word, it would be "awkward". The stitches on this Frankenstein's Monster are evident, with the clashing visions pulling this creature apart at the seams. The reshoots, glaring effects, and green-screen backdrops are as distracting, clear as the tragic editing of Henry Cavill's moustache. The stilted bouts of humour are painful, especially from the tiresome performance by Ezra Miller, and the story is delivered in such nonsensical fashion.

There were enjoyable moments within, such as Flash and Cyborg bonding while they're grave-digging, Batman telling Flash to start just by saving one person, and when Aquaman bares all after sitting on Wonder Woman's lasso of truth. These feel too scarce between the characters making interchangeable snarks and delivering tired exposition, in an overflowing film which has been shot in the most dull of ways. It baffles my mind that this laboured product was considered good enough to release in cinemas.

Honeymoon (2014) - 3.5/5 - Leigh Janiak makes a strong impression with her debut, as we follow the story of a newlywed couple on their honeymoon. In the early moments, we see their loving relationship across a video, as they turn an embarrassing story into a sweet tale about their relationship. Their passionate romance encounters some troubles, when Paul finds his wife to be missing one evening. He finds Bea wandering in the woods, but whatever unknown event happened to her changes things considerably. Their relationship is thrown into chaos, as the story becomes unnerving, heart-breaking, and more strange as it goes on. The strongest moments are focused on the central couple, and the toll this event takes on their relationship, wonderfully captured by Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway. Outside of that, your mileage may vary.

Best film seen in cinemas:
Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train

Undergods (2021) - 2/5 - A dystopian anthology which throws its ideas at the wall, and very few actually sticks.

Judas and The Black Messiah (2021) - 5/5 - Absolutely blown away by this film. Co-writer and director Shaka King does an exemplary job recounting the tale of Fred Hampton, deputy chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. It's told through the perspective of Bill O'Neal, a man forced to become an FBI informant and spy on the activities of Hampton. A tense, engrossing, and emotional look at the racial injustices perpetuated by those in power, brought alive by masterful performances. What a phenomenal film.

Beyblade The Movie: Fierce Battle (2002) - 2/5 - Despite being a massive Beyblade fan as a kid, I never managed to watch this film, and I'm sure I would've eaten it up at a young age. As I am now, maybe it's best to leave some things in the past, as this was a painful experience, even at 71-minutes long. The plot sees the lone wolf character absent for most of the time, while the remaining main characters go on holiday near Demon Rock Island (yes, that's the actual name of the place), only for the majority of them to do nothing of consequence. Residing on the island are suddenly appearing villains, whose inclusion forces a melodramatic and over the top plot to occur. It's a mess of a film which barely justifies its feature-length experience, although I can see this going down a storm for the intended audience. Yet, it's jarring the film ends with the characters laughing as a child tries to not drown.

Odd Thomas (2014) - 4/5 - Where has this film been all my life? Stephen Sommers brings to screen a fantastic piece of supernatural noir, as the titular character tries to prevent an oncoming threat of murderous forces. The effects work may be dodgy, yet this doesn't detract from this engaging mystery anchored by a terrific pairing brought alive by Anton Yelchin and Addison Timlin. With able support, especially from Willem Dafoe and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, this is an utter gem which deserves more love.

Under The Lather (2020) - 4/5 - A young boy is at the mercy of his disinterested babysitter, who'd rather chat with her boyfriend than actually watch Ivan. When her boyfriend stops by with sex on the mind, Ivan is forced to be out of the way by getting in the bath. While in there, Ivan discovers a creature lurking below the water, ready to consume whatever it can get it's tentacles on. A fantastic little short with an E.T. style friendship, as a young boy bonds with an aquatic creature with one hell of an appetite.

Best film rewatched: Pikachu's Vacation

An Ideal Host (2021) - 2.5/5 - Liz wants to plan the perfect dinner party, although her hopes are thrown into disarray by the arrival of her ex-friend, Daisy. The best moments within this feature involve human drama and underlying tensions, as past issues come to surface when these old friends are together. It's a shame these elements weren't further explored, as we're left stuck with naff humour and too many characters it's difficult to like. There are interesting shades, such as one person dismissing past bullying as being "just a laugh", yet these are dropped too quickly for a less interesting riff on Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There's excellent bursts of gore near the end, yet it's too little too late, for the horrific elements which came before are the least interesting part of the film.

Stalker (2021) - 3.5/5 - An effective 86-minutes which mixes contemporary issues with a nuts-and-bolts thriller.

Sound of Violence (2021) - 1.5/5 - An interesting tale of self-obsession unfortunately gets lost amidst escalating madness.

Mortal Kombat (2021) - 2.5/5 - A film which delivers the action, yet feels lacking elsewhere. Not a cinematic fatality, but not one to get over here for.

The Little Things (2021) - 1/5 - It's possible to make a compelling and atmospheric tale following somebody's obsession to stop a serial killer, David Fincher has done it twice to masterful results. The pieces are there for John Lee Hancock to do the same, yet he seems unsure what to do with them, resulting in a wasted opportunity. It wants to be a throwback, right down to it's 90s setting, yet that just seems like an excuse for some of the most prominent women on-screen to be victims and the corpses of sex workers. It engages with the typical tropes in the most tiresome and overly familiar ways, leaving us with some uninspired guff. It's not helped by how much overacting is coming from Rami Malek and especially Jared Leto, which just made me lose interest in their characters.

Biggest Surprise: Sound of Violence

Dawn of the Dead (2004) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - It's a ballsy move to remake such a classic, especially when the screenwriter and director were then known for just the screenplay for Scooby-Doo and directing music videos. Whatever the uphill battle they must've faced, Snyder and Gunn managed to deliver a solid remake which stands on it's own two feet rather well. Zack Snyder's directorial style works well with the horror genre, as the pace runs fast like the zombies, capturing their terror rather well. It peaks with the opening, as the world goes to hell, although the terror of the last act does come close. In-between that, it's a mixed bag as the story lags in places. I do wish some of the characterisation was stronger, particularly with some of the characters who pop up later on, although Ty Burrell does a good job playing a scumbag. A pretty slick film.

Megamind (2010) - 4.5/5 - A warm-hearted, subversive take on the superhero genre, this is one of Dreamworks Animation's best films.

Pokémon The Movie: Kyurem vs. The Sword of Justice (2012) - 3/5 - A passable entry into the franchise, as Ash and co try to help out a Pokémon named Keldeo, who must battle a powerful dragon type named Kyurem. It may be 71-minutes long, yet it feels like an idea which has been stretched out. The initial opening, as Keldeo trains to battle Kyurem to become a Sacred Swordsman, feels like the basis for a solid short film. If anything, the inclusion of franchise regulars feels like a needless way to stretch things out into a feature film. Still, it's always lovely to see the actions of Pokémon in their natural habitat, and I would gladly take a film of just that, with no pesky humans in sight.

Army of the Dead (2021) - 3/5 - Zack Snyder delivers on style and fun, yet neglects character amidst a laborious runtime.

Shark Tale (2004) [rewatch] - 1/5 - Who did Dreamworks Animation make this film for? This aquatic Will Smith vehicle is tiresome enough, as the story follows a slacker jerk who wants to be rich and famous, while blind to the close friend who's clearly in love with him. On top of that is how Will Smith's character becomes rich and famous, by lying that he killed a shark, resulting in him getting a multitude of sponsorship deals, resulting in some painful product placement. Let's get into the most baffling choice, as the sharks who terrorise the other fish are portrayed as gangsters, complete with references sure to go over the heads of the intended audience. Add on top of that Angelina Jolie's unneeded character, a gold-digging temptress who's weirdly sexualised and adds little to the plot. Not everything Dreamworks does has to be part of a franchise, but they can aim higher than this.

Biggest Surprise: Megamind

Beastly (2011) - 0.5/5 - A rich and handsome bully finds he's picked on the wrong Olsen twin, as she's actually a witch who curses him to be physically ugly. Perhaps it was intentional for this film to mirror the lead, as it's a shallow and ugly affair, or maybe I'm giving this film too much credit. This feature adapts a 2007 novel from Alex Flinn, which retells Beauty and The Beast for a modern day setting, and feels like a contemporary retooling of a classic tale that only executives love. The beastly make-up feels really restrained, feeling like a choice by committee so the romance is still sellable to the teens. Speaking of which, the romance is very creepy, coming off as the lead stalking his love interest before finding the opportunity to lock her away, and force her to love him. Most of all, I struggled to believe in these performances. Whether it's Alex Pettyfer trying to show remorse, Vanessa Hudgens attempting to be kooky, or Neil Patrick Harris trying to be blind, they were all less believable than the actual curse. Frankly, the title is appropriate.

Elyse (2020) - 1.5/5 - Whatever ambitions the director had for this film, they feel lost in a stagy and scattershot product.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) - 3/5 - As far as the core series is concerned, I found this to be the weakest of The Conjuring films. While the story isn't as overstuffed as the second film, it does feel a bit baggy, peaking with the opening exorcism. The first half shows the family at risk, and this is considerably stronger than the second half, especially dipping in the "love conquers all" last act. Director Michael Chaves takes over directorial duties, and while he provides decent moments, the tension and style of James Wan is sorely missed. The first two Conjuring films gave standout moments which left me on edge, such as the clapping game and the painting of The Nun. There's no such moment which stands out here, and that's sorely missed. Throughout this core series, what's consistent are the central performances, as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga wonderfully portray the Warrens and their lovely relationship. They remain the best part of these films, and that hasn't changed 8 years after the first film.

Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train (2021) - 4.5/5 - Having finished the first season of Demon Slayer, I was fully invested in this world and its characters, and absolutely pumped for this movie. I've seen a number of films based on anime shows as of late, and my issue tends to be how their standalone nature limits them. It feels like little matters because whatever events happen are confined to the film, and won't hold any long-term effects. The opposite is true here, as there's real weight and consequences to what happens in the ensuing 2 hours.

Following on from the shows first season, the film obviously follows the main characters onboard the Mugen Train, aided by a higher-up Demon Slayer to investigate the disappearances of many people onboard caused by a powerful demon. Over the course of the film, there's a stunning amount of character development, heart, and humour involved, set to some excellent animation. I'm unsure how caught up anybody who hasn't watched the first season would be, though any fans will certainly be onboard for this feature.

Worst film of the month: Fateful Findings

Tom & Jerry: The Movie (2021) - 2/5 - I hold fond memories of the classic Tom & Jerry cartoons. The simplicity of cat and mouse having their battles entertained me throughout childhood, and to see that replicated in the opening moments made for a fun watch. Unfortunately, the film continued, shifting the focus to a lazy plot involving an overblown wedding. When you have two animated icons who can bring the charm so effortlessly, it's a shame audiences are stuck with uninteresting humans, including an over the top Michael Peña and a lifeless Colin Jost. It feels like a relic from the 90's which only just got released.

Escape Room (2019) - 3.5/5 - As far as films based on a popular trend go, this was better than it had any right to be. Six strangers are invited to try out a new escape room, with the promise of $10,000 if they complete it. Only problem is, the rooms are much more dangerous than they could have ever imagined. What occurs is a fun ride, as well-characterised figures try to work out how they'll escape with their lives. Most surprising is how much tension gets wrung out of the premise, with a scene involving an upside-down room being the standout. Granted, it gets less interesting in the third act as it tips over into sequel set-up, and such a late moment serving as the opening scene is a silly idea. By the end, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, and will definitely return for the sequel.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) - 3.5/5 - I'm glad I waited until the cinema to watch this, as it was the best way to watch these massive fights occur. Adam Wingard fantastically realises these kaiju battles, with a wonderful sense of scope and destruction as these cinematic titans duke it out. I have always been critical of the characters in the Monsterverse (apart from John C. Reilly in Kong: Skull Island), and the same is true here, despite the good performers on show. It's thankfully less intrusive here, especially when I liked the relationship between Kong and Jia, although the Kong side of things were preferable to Brian Tyree Henry's conspiracy theorist adventures. Regardless, I had an absolute blast with this film.

Pikachu's Vacation (1999) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - A fun little short where Pokémon take a vacation away from those pesky humans. The result feels like a David Attenborough documentary mixed with Baby's Day Out.

Pokémon: The First Movie (1999) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - Filmmakers: We have this antagonist grappling with existential issues, fighting for whether he has rights as a clone.

4kids Entertainment: American audiences won't get that, let's change that to "Fighting = Bad".

Best film of the month: Judas and The Black Messiah
Best film seen in cinemas: Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train
Best film watched for the first time: Judas and The Black Messiah
Best film rewatched: Pikachu's Vacation
Biggest Disappointment: Sound of Violence
Biggest Surprise: Megamind
Worst film of the month: Fateful Findings

Number of films watched: 34