September 2021 In Review

September has been over for a while, and a first-time viewing of The Sopranos dominated the month for me (closed off with watching the feature-film prequel). I still managed to get a bit viewed around that masterful drama, so without further ado, let's see the films I watched this past September.

Reminiscence (2021) - 2/5 - For a film about memory, it's ironic this doesn't linger in the mind. What Lisa Joy's crafted promises to be a sci-fi tinged noir, where living in a flooded city offers a bleak future, so everybody gets caught in the brighter memories of the past. Problem is the film spells this out with intrusive voice-over, feeling like a noir-trope too far that's wholly unnecessary. Not helping matters is how the film feels drawn out over the two-hour runtime, to the point one feels each minute passing by. If you want a woman-directed tale following a man who makes his trade in memories, while tumbling down the rabbit hole to discover what happened to the woman he once loved, I'd recommend Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days instead.

The Night House (2021) - 4/5 - A film where the horror lies in grief and pain, exemplified in unsettling ways. I dug the creeping dread David Bruckner was crafting, particularly over the jump scares announced by LOUD NOISES. Rebecca Hall does excellent work as the grieving widow, left to pick up the pieces after her husbands death. One that stayed with me afterwards.

Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) - 4/5 - Destin Daniel Cretton directs the latest MCU feature, and ensures the strong familial drama remains key amidst the increasingly fantastical plot. While the film got more CGI-heavy, the compelling character work kept the film engaging and grounded, although it helps the cast were so excellent. Simu Liu puts a terrific performance into the titular hero, grappling with his past and what it means for him, although he's outshone by other cast members. Be it the immensely charming Awkwafina as Katy, Shang-Chi's friend who offers emotional support while being capable in her own right, or Meng'er Zhang as Xialing, sister to Shang-Chi who set out to make something of herself. It's no surprise that Tony Leung is the MVP as Wenwu, putting a soulful performance into the emotionally distant father beset with grief, lured back into his terrorist lifestyle. There's one casting decision which outstays its welcome, although it is responsible for some decent laughs. There's also the excellent choreography which ranks amongst the best of the MCU, peaking with a bus battle although it shines through amidst the later use of CG. I'm excited to see what the future holds for Shang-Chi.

Best film of the month and
Best film rewatched: Near Dark

The Retaliators (2021) - 1/5 - A convoluted journey to the slaughter, before ending on a baffling moral.

Gaia (2021) - 2.5/5 - An eco-horror with a vital message sadly undone by the moments in-between them.

The Boondock Saints (1999) - 1/5 - As my interest in films grew, I heard much about this cult-classic and my interest was certainly piqued. Now that I've seen it, this is exactly the kind of vacuous dross I would've eaten up at the age of 15. Troy Duffy's first film was this dull edgelord fantasy, directed in such a lifeless manner with excessive amounts of fade-out transitions. Between the awful "jokes", the yawn-inducing action, and the horrendous Irish accents, it's no wonder the cast look so unengaged. The one exception is Willem Dafoe, who dives headfirst into his role, although the homophobia would be a welcome excision.

Best film seen in cinemas: Malignant

Bloodthirsty (2021) - 3/5 - A film which offers interesting material regarding an artist pushed to their limits, moreso than its monstrous elements.

The Karate Kid Part II (1986) - 3/5 - After a recap of the first film, this sequel opens on what feels like a deleted scene crammed into the opening. While it's satisfying to see Kreese get his comeuppance, it feels like an out of place inclusion from the first film before shooing Daniel's mother and girlfriend off-screen. The film then takes a trip to Okinawa, to explore the history of Mr Miyagi in the films most engaging scenes which are tremendously portrayed by Pat Morita. While Daniel's romance here works better (largely due to him not being unlikeable for the sake of the plot this time), his subplot feels like a retread of the first film right up to the forced final fight. After a film of Miyagi teaching how to avoid fighting, this feels like an unnecessary step backwards.

Malignant (2021) - 4.5/5 - Offering bonkers fun and some of 2021's best action scenes, James Wan's latest is ready to leave you with a massive grin. Just go into it blind.

Best film watched for the first time: We're All Going To The World's Fair

Basket Case (1982) - 4/5 - A film I've heard much about, what Frank Henenlotter created is absolutely fascinating. The story follows Duane, an everyday seeming guy visiting New York while carrying around a wicker basket. Inside the basket lurks Belial, the misshapen twin brother of Duane. They were once conjoined before being forcibly separated by surgery, and are now taken revenge on the doctors who physically separated these co-dependent siblings. The film is as grisly and gory and you'd hope, set in places you'd want to see fully disinfected before stepping inside. What's really surprising was the empathetic core, as these siblings have hopes for their lives which they cannot live out, especially Belial. The way so much empathy is generated from his puppet I find wonderful, just another part of this movie that's perfect for a late night viewing.

Dark Star (1974) - 2.5/5 - The directorial debut of John Carpenter has many interesting elements, and touchstones which he would perfect later in his career. The story promises a parody of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and feels very much like a dry run for Dan O'Bannon before he'd write the screenplay for Ridley Scott's Alien. While I do enjoy the depiction of this crew, bored to tedium by being trapped in space, and the idea of talking down bombs from exploding when all goes wrong is a strong inclusion. Outside of that, I was rather bored as this feels like a comedy without laughs and a short-film stretched out. The beach-ball alien moments particularly highlight this, feeling taken from an entirely different film. A fascinating look at where this directors career began, but little more for me.

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021) - 3/5 - A medley of madcap ideas make-up this mixed-bag of a film.

Biggest Disappointment: Dark Star

Near Dark (1987) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Whether it's the second viewing or the fifth, there's always something in this film which grabs my attention. Be it Bill Paxton's live-wire performance, Joshua John Miller capturing the bitterness of a man trapped in a boy's body, or the excellent siege sequence, I'm forever entranced with Kathryn Bigelow's vampire western.

Blue Steel (1990) - 4/5 - An early work of Kathryn Bigelow, this compelling thriller follows a police officer's struggle to stop a serial killer. Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent as Megan Turner, the Rookie who's hampered by people not believing her, while playing a cat-and-mouse game with a chilling Ron Silver. I don't enjoy every avenue taken, yet this is a thrilling film which feels more in the spirit of Halloween than many of the sequels.

Basket Case 2 (1990) - 3/5 - Eight years after the original, the sequel follows on by taking place months after the first film. What follows is a fascinating piece, offering over-the-top thrills and fun, and while these elements work, the down and dirty sense of the original is sorely missed. This time, the action mostly takes place in one house where the tables are turned on the brothers. Belial finds his place of belonging and even love, culminating in an utterly bizarre sex scene, while Duane wishes to leave result in him spoiling everything. There's excellent make-up effects in place, and the ending left me hooked as to what will come next. Can't wait to see how this trilogy closes off.

Biggest Surprise: Xtro

We're All Going To The World's Fair (2021) - 4.5/5 - A haunting coming-of-age tale in the creepypasta era.

The Karate Kid Part III (1989) - 1.5/5 - Despite a five-year gap since the first film and some noticable aging for Ralph Macchio, the third Karate Kid film takes place 9 months after Daniel LaRusso won the All Valley Tournament. Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese returns for revenge, only to spend the majority of the film off-screen while his rich friend Terry Silver enacts an elaborate plan. That's right, the villain who returned is sidelined so his Vietnam buddy who makes millions by dumping toxic waste takes revenge on a sensei and student for winning a Karate tournament fair and square. What occurs feels like a lesser retread of the first film, while a convoluted plot and questionable acting choices drag out the film for nearly 2 hours. At least the Daniel and Mr Miyagi relationship remains compelling to watch, even while the former gets a bit too whiny.

Coming Home In The Dark (2021) - 4/5 - Stare into the abyss, and it will stare back. A compelling yet nasty tale about how evil persevere's through inaction, and the futility of revenge.

Xtro (1982) - 4/5 - A remarkable piece of British sci-fi horror with many marvellous ideas, all certain to make you exclaim "What the fuck?" While some elements don't hang together, the acting is questionable, and it's clear where the budget was stretched, these are miniscule issues when the film is so engaging. At its heart, this is an intergalactic spin on a parent's worries of their ex reappearing and absconding with their child. Between the exceptional kills, a marvellous way to bring the alien alive, and the inventiveness on display, this is brilliant stuff which deserves seeing.

Worst film of the month: The Boondock Saints

Knocking (2021) - Review to come

The Many Saints of Newark (2021) - 4/5 - In the months prior to this films release, I found myself finally getting through The Sopranos, a show I heard much praise for yet never began. By the time I reached the divisive ending, I was a fan of this world and was excited to see the story expanded into a prequel film. What's been concocted is a compelling tale about toxic families shedding further light on the home-life of a young Tony Soprano, him finding a father-figure in  the much fabled figure of Dickie Moltisanti, and Dickie's troubled feelings for the new wife of his short-tempered father.

After directing maligned entries into popular franchises, Alan Taylor returns to a world which he previously directed many episodes of. He lends the feature a cinematic edge, offering tense action, genuine laughs, and engaging characters who ensure the 2-hour runtime flies by. Numerous elements are set-up well for where the show would go, highlighting the troubles with mental-health and familial relationships which would be explored for six seasons, while also leaving elements dangling to potentially be explored in a further film. Reverence is paid to the series through lines and much-discussed scenes, brought alive in ways that will leave fans gleeful, while some elements are rather heavy-handed.

Where this film truly excels is the casting, with Michael Gandolfini giving a tremendous portrayal as a young Tony Soprano, complete with rage and an affinity for rock music. His relationship with Moltisanti is the films beating heart, exceptionally played by Alessandro Nivola. It's fun to see the younger iterations of Paulie and Sil, but the MVPs are Corey Stoll and Vera Farmiga who are perfectly cast as the embittered Corrado and venomous Livia. This is a fantastic treat for fans of the show, although Sopranos non-fans may feel the urge to put on a Scorsese film instead.

Basket Case 3 (1991) - 2.5/5 - After an intriguing cliffhanger for the previous film, it's a shame Frank Henenlotter immediately ignores it and moves on. When he appears, Belial is the most engaging part of these films which makes it a shame we're stuck with Duane, who remains the worst as his dumb actions mess up everything. One wishes there was more time for their relationship, especially when they diverged so much in the previous film, as it'd be a more interesting angle than the goofy routes taken. While some are entertaining, such as the birthing scene, elements like the exoskeleton feel too over-the-top even for this film. My weakest entry into this series, but it remains a joy to be in Belial's company.

Best film of the month: Near Dark
Best film seen in cinemas: Malignant
Best film watched for the first time: We're All Going To The World's Fair
Best film rewatched: Near Dark
Biggest Disappointment: Dark Star
Biggest Surprise: Xtro
Worst film of the month: The Boondock Saints

Number of films watched: 22