December 2021 In Review

2021 has come to a close, and 2022 is all around us. While the beginning of another year brings hopes for the future, my mind is currently occupied on what's coming out over the next 12 months. As those new releases arrive, let's settle the mood with what films I closed out the past year with. So let's see what films I watched this past December.

Fear Street: 1978 (2021) - 2.5/5 - Months after I watched the first instalment, I decided to continue on the Fear Street trilogy. The second film flashes back to 1978, with clear slasher inspirations complete with a brutality I enjoyed. It's a shame it takes a while to reach there, as the film drowns in Riverdale style melodrama and incessant needle drops. I do wish some of the relationships were better fleshed out, although the core sisterly relationship was a strong point for me in an otherwise forgettable film. An interesting continuation which has me ready to see how it all closes out.

Puppet Killer (2021) - 0.5/5 - It feels embarrassed to be a horror film, and is embarrassing to be in the company of. The only interesting part is the casting of a clearly 52 year-old man as a high-school student.

The Next Karate Kid (1994) - 1.5/5 - Considering this is a franchise entry which has to move past losing its star, the idea is solid here. Mister Miyagi takes in a troubled teen intent on giving her purpose and guiding her through grief with the teachings of karate, aided by talented performances from Hilary Swank and an ever-reliable Pat Morita. What's delivered instead is a retread of the first film's basic story, throwing in cartoonish bullies that commit arson and crash their prom by bungee-jumping in the gym just because. What an odd footnote for this franchise to have been left on for ages.

Riders of Justice (2021) - 4.5/5 - After a train accident results in his wife's death, a military man must return home to care for his daughter only to be told the accident may actually have been a carefully orchestrated assassination. What writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen offers is a fascinating subversion on the Death Wish type of revenge thriller, as men literally plot bloody vengeance rather than go to therapy. With a tremendous cast led by a brilliant Mads Mikkelsen, dark humour and thrilling action blend together for a fantastic final product.

Spider-Man (2002) [rewatch] - 4/5 - It's been far too long since I last saw this, and I'm grateful that it holds up well. For starters, Willem Dafoe puts a phenomenally manic energy into his performance which makes his Green Goblin an iconic iteration of the character, even if the suit feels a bit too Power Rangers for my liking. Tobey Maguire remains a wonderful Peter Parker, putting an endearing earnestness into the role. He sells the charming nature of this character with ease, overjoyed at the fantastical things he can do whether it's his first wall-crawl or the fiftieth web-swing. His Spider-Man fits this iteration well and feels reminiscent of the classic comics, although the quips feel unfortunately forced.

Kirsten Dunst has such a likeability as Mary Jane, wishing to leave her troubled family and fulfil her acting dreams, and it's a shame the character rarely ventures outside of the love-interest damsel trope. She's certainly more interesting than James Franco, who feels stilted and at times struggles to sell himself as a typical human being. It goes without saying that J.K. Simmons is the scene-stealer as the pitch-perfect iteration of J. Jonah Jameson.

Sam Raimi does a phenomenal job conveying this story, working as a terrific origin where Peter truly learns the need for responsibility with great power. New York feels full of life, as the various residents selling their respect for Spidey despite what lies the Bugle prints. The battles especially pop, be it the enclosed battle in a burning building or the bone-crunching finale where Peter and Norman truly let loose. Despite some effects work not holding up and some moments feeling dated, it remains a strong start to Spider-Man's cinematic adaptations.

Slumber Party Massacre (2021) - 3.5/5 - In an age of legacy sequel, this captures the wit, humour, and grisly kills which made the original so beloved.

Best film of the month and Best
film rewatched: Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2 (2004) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Almost 20-years since its release, and this film still blows me away with its emotional power and sumptuously directed action scenes. Sam Raimi depicts Spidey's inner struggle so very well, as he keeps trying to do the right thing while life continuously knocks him down. The endeavours just to be able to afford rent, not disappoint those closest to him, and deal with misinformation spread about him are gripping to watch, which makes those wins all the more impactful. Seeing those instances where the people Spider-Man protected have his back are wonderful to watch, and none have topped the powerful close to the masterful train sequence.

It helps that Tobey Maguire does so phenomenally in the lead role, aided by excellent performers as Rosemary Harris, Alfred Molina, and a once-more scene-stealing J.K. Simmons. There's more interesting material for Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane, even if she's still the damsel and love-interest. I do wish James Franco wasn't as stilted in the role of Harry Osborn, as the writing elevates the character and I still struggle to see him as a real human being at times.

This remains one of the best superhero films ever made, and one of the best entries in Sam Raimi's filmography.

Ghostbusters (1984) [rewatch] - 3/5 - I decided to check this out for the first time in a while and I didn't love this film. The performers do good work in their roles as they each play to their strengths, and there's genuine laughs to be had within, but the laughs weren't plentiful for me. It doesn't help that among the Ghostbusters, Ray can be insufferable, Winston barely leaves an impression, and Venkman is a massive sex pest. The theme song is the best thing about this film.

Spider-Man 3 (2007) [rewatch] - 3/5 - Plagued by studio interference to include Venom, the closer to Sam Raimi's superhero trilogy is unfortunately messy and overstuffed even within a lengthy runtime. There's too many subplots among the various villains, with the amnesia one especially being rough, preventing a standout like Sandman from getting more of the focus he deserves. The CGI work and greenscreens were more glaring in here than the predecessors, with the first Peter/Harry fight especially looking rough. Although this doesn't impact on the depiction of CG-dependant characters like Sandman and Venom.

Credit where it's due, Raimi attempts marvellous things thematically as things finally go right for Peter before it all comes crashing down. The character relationships are tremendously developed with the actors performing their roles well, with even James Franco stepping up and doing decently. The dislike for Emo Peter is well-known, although I think it fits this iteration of Parker really well. He's always seemed like a massive dork, and I can truly buy this is what 2007-era Peter Parker imagines to be cool and a bit of a bad boy. It does the job in showing Peter going darker and hurting those he cares about, which leads to the understated and bittersweet ending which works really well.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) [rewatch] - 2/5 - Welp, my feelings have rather changed about this film. Where I previously enjoyed this Ultimate universe style take on the wallcrawler, I now find to be as overlong as it is dull and dimly lit. It seems to attempt an indie feel during the origin story, as though trying to distance itself from similar ground Raimi covered just a decade earlier. The film throughout has questionable choices in logic and storytelling, and the feeling that key instances have been viciously edited out. Why else would Peter's hunt for his uncle's killer fizzle out? Or Irrfan Khan seemingly disappear? Or Spider-Man inexplicably be without his mask in scenes?

There are moments worth praising, such as Spider-Man rescuing the boy in the car, the interesting first-person scenes, and the different way spider-sense is depicted. Yet they all feel lost within a more studio-mandated try at webhead's origin story. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are especially fantastic capturing their characters romance, and it's a shame it went into such a lacklustre product.

House of Gucci (2021) - 2.5/5 - Ridley Scott directs this star-studded tale chronicling the real-life familial power struggle, and its ramifications on Gucci forever. What's been delivered feels oddly unsure of what route to take, switching between an utterly serious tone and one of campy fun amidst pacing issues. Perhaps this duality is best represented in the performances, as Lady Gaga does excellent work as Patrizia Reggiani in contrast to the insufferable cartoon that is whatever Jared Leto's doing.

For a film which lasts 2-and-a-half hours, it's odd how rushed elements feel, resulting in what feels like a highlights reel for a season of American Crime Story. It's a shame because there's fun to be had within this compelling tale, although that can feel lost within this cinematic uncertainty.

Best film seen in cinemas & Best film watched
for the first time: The Matrix Resurrections

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) [rewatch] - 1.5/5 - If there's one constant with these Marc Webb directed takes on Spidey, it's how Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone deserved a much better product worthy of their talents. Their evident chemistry carried these films and sold the on-screen relationship through the messy writing, and it's a shame it feels all for naught amidst Sony's ​ham-fisted attempts to create their own cinematic universe.

As supporting characters from the comics become crammed into this overlong and bloated product, it's clear Sony are trying to reach their optimal goal through many ill-advised shortcuts. Be it Electro's villainous turn because of unclear reasons, where Gwen's story ends up because of a forcibly included villain who resembles a crack-addicted leprechaun, or the ending resulting in a parent and cops not being able to see a child sneaking past them. A prime example of decent ideas, but no idea of how to utilize them.

The Tender Bar (2021) - 3/5 - Despite its heart being in the right place, this familiar story has little to distinguish it outside of Ben Affleck's winning performance.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) [rewatched] - 3/5 - There are elements to Spider-Man's first MCU film which I like, such as the charming high-school set scenes with characters I like such as the teachers and Zendaya's character. It also feels appropriate that Spidey's journey is to realize he doesn't need to prove himself as an Avenger when he can be the friendly neighbourhood character audiences have come to love (something that appears to have been lost since), especially when the character is less interesting with an array of Stark tech and an A.I. at his disposal. It's a shame the action sequences feel so lacking, particularly the dimly lit ones which are difficult to make out, and the gag rate is rather hit-and-miss. Tom Holland and Michael Keaton are fantastic in their roles, especially during the car scene, but I do wish they didn't leave such a massive moment for a final gag the next film fails to address.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) - 4/5 - The best of Jon Watts' trilogy, this film uses the identity reveal ending of Spider-Man: Far From Home as the basis for a story about fears of entering adulthood and losing those closest to you. It's a messy film which needs some characters to be trimmed, particularly in the set-up, yet screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers build on the previous films well to deliver an emotional and thrilling close. While the action scenes can be thrilling to watch, what's strongest are the quieter moments of characters bonding and sharing their experiences through conversation. This offers such wonderful heart, terrific character beats, and a fascinating sense at what the future will hold for Tom Holland's terrific iteration of Peter Parker.

Me You Madness (2021) - 0/5 - It's been a while since I witnessed such a catastrophic vanity project. What co-writer/director/producer/star Louise Linton crafts wants to be American Psycho, yet replaces the scathing satire and dark humour with the makings of the most insufferable Letterboxd account and constant declarations of how amazing the lead character and Linton are. It's a tiresome film which laments on Hollywood's lack of originality due to how many Texas Chainsaw Massacre films exist, despite openly saying how it's retreading the same ground as Mary Harron's masterpiece. It throws numerous twists and turns in there, each making less sense than the last in this amateurishly shot piece, yet saves the biggest one for last.

The final message this film wishes audiences to come away from is "be kind to others". The same film which has the narration defend male groping as being funny by saying "Back off, PC Police".

In short, fuck this film!

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) - 4.5/5 - Of all the ways Lana Wachowski could've followed up The Matrix series, she's taken a more interesting route than I could've imagined. This return to the world is a gripping piece which offers scathing commentary on legacy sequels and the way nostalgia is utilized, while delivering fascinating pieces regarding how the previous films have been interpreted and reacted to by unsavoury viewers. It's wonderful to see the returning players inhabiting their roles again, although as much as I like them, it's the new inclusions which stole the scenes. Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, and especially Yahya Abdul Mahteen II are each tremendous. My only criticism would be the action scenes feel lacking and the wire-fu is sorely missed, although this doesn't detract from this fantastic epilogue to the series. I would be content if the series ended here, as what's been delivered feels like a warm embrace to return to this world through such biting commentary.

Biggest Disappointment: The Amazing Spider-Man

Happiest Season (2020) - 3/5 - Taking autobiographical elements, Clea DuVall crafts a queer romcom in pretty cute ways. The story sees Kristen Stewart's lovable lead spending Christmas with her girlfriends family, while keeping their relationship a secret as the girlfriend isn't out to her family.

There are terrific performances and humorous elements throughout, especially where Dan Levy is involved, but I really wanted to like this more. The struggle for Mackenzie Davis' character is conveyed rather well, particularly when the family seem so wound up and toxic, yet I thought the film took the less-interesting route to the ending. Every moment Stewart shared with Aubrey Plaza was simmering with chemistry, and I longed for that to be where the story went. What's left remains a charming rom-com, although everything about the necklace wound me up.

The Wrong Trousers (1993) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - It's been at least a decade since I last saw these Wallace & Gromit shorts, so the chance to rewatch them all with my family was a wonderful opportunity. Naturally, we began with this tale of one dog protecting his human from a jewel thief penguin that wields a gun and disguises himself as a chicken. A visually inventive and compelling piece that's phenomenally crafted and a damn fun watch.

A Close Shave (1995) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - The one I watched the most as a kid, as this tale of a lovelorn man and his intelligent dog protecting sheep from a menacing dog is an excellent watch. The film is stolen by the livestock, especially Shaun, so it's no wonder they were such a hit and got excellent spin-offs. Most impressive is Preston, who could've been unfavourably compared to Feathers McGraw yet is a brilliant antagonist in his own right. Another excellent short from Aardman.

A Grand Day Out (1989) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - After discovering they're out of cheese, inventor Wallace and his pooch Gromit decide to take a holiday to the moon. After invading the moon to forcibly consume its contents, a robot with dreams of skiing seeks to make these intruders leave its home. This is a good starting point for these characters, with the simple story and rough designs offering the building blocks for what would be improved upon years later.

A Matter of Loaf and Death (2008) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - The last Wallace and Gromit short released, and even if it's the weakest outing involving these characters, it's still an entertaining way to spend 30-minutes. The story sees Wallace in the crosshairs of a serial killer that's murdered 12 bakers, leaving Gromit to save his friend from completing the bakers dozen. What's left is a bakers version of Se7en, that delivers the laughs while being possibly the darkest story for these characters, even if the plot falls to uninspired cliches at times.

Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992) [rewatch] - 2/5 - A film which goes out of its way to reference the ridiculousness of its predecessors premise, while hitting the same beats in a way that essentially makes this a tiresome remake in a new location. Plus, how many times does Kevin McAllister have to cause internal bleeding, probable brain damage, and arson before people become worried about this kid?

Biggest Surprise: Zola

Halloween: Resurrection (2002) -  0.5/5 - What a way to round off my Christmas Day viewings.

Opening by killing Laurie Strode, the film treats such a big scene for the franchise as though its just a loose end that must be dealt with before moving onto the actual film. As it turns out, that film involves a bunch of unlikeable teens exploring the Myers house for a reality show led by Tyra Banks and a kung-fu loving Busta Rhymes. What occurs is one of the most unfathomably lazy franchise entries I've seen in a while, feeling created by committee to hit certain sweet-spots in order to appeal to audiences of 2002. There's also a weird catfishing subplot which ends up feeling like a lesser try at Morpheus guiding Neo through the office early into The Matrix.

I didn't like Halloween 6, but that at least took risks and had production issues to explain the final product. What's this films excuse?

C.I.Ape (2021) - 1/5 - Considering the films premise is "a poorly rendered Ape working for the CIA infiltrates an island, intent on stopping a neglectful father dressed as a Nazi who wishes to overtake the world with two robot dogs", this is much more boring than it should be. The ape sporadically speaks English and feels superfluous to the story, while his handler named Bondi James (really!) deals with her parents divorcing by making everything about her. I wouldn't recommend this, even to laugh at.

Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas (2021) - 4/5 - Shaun the Sheep returns for a festive special, where young Timmy goes missing with the sheeps following to save him. A visually fluid and wonderfully animated short that offers the great laughs Aardman excel at, and a beating heart underneath as families are brought together for a warm tale.

Scoob! (2020) - 1/5 - I was excited for a big-screen animation featuring Scooby-Doo and the gang, but the execution here is so messy. The majority of the Mystery Inc gang are sidelined so Warner Bros can try to build their own Hannah-Barbera cinematic universe in the most heavy-handed way I've seen since the Dark Universe. Mark Wahlberg's Blue Falcon takes centre stage to seemingly bank on the popularity of superhero films, before the story involves Dick Dastardly trying to open the gates of hell to steal gold. Cringeworthy jokes, dull voice work, and half-hearted emotional manipulation inhabit the ridiculous plot, leaving me longing for something simpler that had Matthew Lillard as Shaggy and no nightmarish animation of Simon Cowell.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) - 2/5 - I respect this film for helping revitalise slasher films alongside Scream, but little of it worked for me. With the exception of Sarah Michelle Gellar, the characters either had me infuriated by how dreadful they were or bored by the dreadful performances put into them. It left me rooting for the killer and the final act felt tailored to get these characters off the hook for their awful hit-and-run. There was some tension, mainly when the fisherman is stalking Sarah Michelle Gellar's character, but the film itself felt lacking.

Cannon Arm and The Arcade Quest (2021) - 2.5/5 - A love-letter to arcade gaming and friendship which could've used a tighter focus.

Worst film of the month: Me You Madness

Don't Look Up (2021) - 1.5/5 - There's many ways to describe Adam McKay's latest stab at Oscar nominations, but I'd settle on "an overlong chore". I can appreciate a film telling a vital message in a nihilistic way, but why did this have to be so heavy-handed and insufferable? There's a brilliant cast assembled here, but so many of their talents feel wasted here, especially Meryl Streep's tiresome Trump parody and whatever Mark Rylance is doing. By the end, it has nothing new to say yet delivers it in such condescending ways.

Fear Street: 1666 (2021) - 3.5/5 - Leigh Janiak closes off her trilogy by taking the story back to the original curse, as we visit Sarah Fier back in 1666. While the opening 30-minutes are the least interesting part, what occurs sees character arcs and story threads wrapped in twisting and satisfying ways. This is a terrific way to close off the trilogy, and I'll miss these characters.

Zola (2021) - 4/5 - Adapted from an unbelievable Twitter thread, what Janicza Bravo brings to screen is an appropriately wild ride of a film. The story sees titular waitress Zola accompany exotic dancer Stefani on a road-trip to make money at a high-end strip club, accompanied by Stefani's put-upon boyfriend and her mysterious roommate. Between Mica Levi's stunning score and Bravo's excellent direction, this comedy-drama tale of deception is brought alive thanks to tremendous performances (how is Colman Domingo not in the conversation for Best Supporting Actor?). 

The Bulleteers (1942) - 3/5 - A gorgeously animated short with minimal story, as Superman fights a gang of thieves in a bullet car. It's a stunning watch, but there's not much to it.

The Magnetic Telescope (1942) - 3.5/5 - Superman doesn't fight a villainous force this time, but a force of nature in a comet hurtling towards Earth. A different short brought alive with stunning colours, although the mad scientist element feels tacked on and forgotten about by the end. A fun short.

Turkey Town (2018) - 0.5/5 - A collection of poorly rendered animals dance to random songs (both are often reused), all in the name of Thanksgiving. I watched all six seasons of The Sopranos this year, and that felt shorter than this 73-minute waste of time.

Best film of the month: Spider-Man 2
Best film seen in cinemas: The Matrix Resurrections
Best film watched for the first time: The Matrix Resurrections
Best film rewatched: Spider-Man 2
Biggest Disappointment: The Amazing Spider-Man
Biggest Surprise: Zola
Worst film of the month: Me You Madness

Number of films watched: 35