January 2022 In Review

Time flies, as we're already over a month into 2022. I wanted to kick off the year by trying something I hadn't seen before, before falling into a pattern of 2021 releases and franchise viewings. So, let's see what films I watched this past January.

Mirror (1975) - 4/5 - To kick off my 2022, I decided to try something new and watch my first film by Andrei Tarkovsky. This loosely autobiographical film sees a dying man recall his childhood, as the non-linear narrative mirrors the fractured state of memory while he misses the simpler times in life. I can't say this all worked for me, but it was a hypnotic watch that I can't stop thinking about.

Gamera, The Giant Monster (1965) - 3/5 - Despite seeing a few Godzilla films, Kaiju is a sub-genre I'm largely ignorant on and I'm eager to rectify that. I began with the first Gamera film which was influenced by the aforementioned atomic lizard and Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, before a tough production made it a mission to finish the film. The result is a fun flick centred around a fire-breathing turtle that flies around and murders people, although I could've done less with the turtle-loving kid who took up much of the screentime.

West Side Story (1961) - 4/5 - A musical that's rightfully iconic, as Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins craft a gorgeous looking and magnificently choreographed take on Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. What's been delivered is a sweeping epic of star-crossed lovers caught in the midst of a gang war, while grappling with the American Dream. The members of Jets and Sharks are faced with the reality as they're looked down upon for their nationality, and resort to gang activity to be somebody. The cast are excellent in their roles, with Rita Moreno being an excellent standout, although it was distracting how many of them were in brownface and looked older than what they were playing. Regardless, this remains a triumphant musical where the lengthy runtime absolutely flies by.

Te Deseo Lo Mejor (2021) - 2/5 - An improvement on the other Simpsons shorts Disney+ released in 2021, but that's just because this isn't an overlong advert for another IP the House of Mouse owns. This Spanish-language short sees Marge finally leaving Homer and removing herself from his life, leaving the father to realise how much he relies on his wife of over 30 seasons. In comes Bad Bunny out of the TV to sing and have the couple reconcile, rehashing one of the most regularly used plots from the shows run. It isn't good, but the show has reached much lower lows, especially under Disney's management.

Encanto (2021) - 3.5/5 - The latest film by Disney follows a family living in a magical house, where each child is granted their own ability from super-strength to shapeshifting. Mirabel is the only exception, as she was denied an ability, although she may be the only hope when the family start losing their gifts. It's a shame the story feels rather pedestrian, as it's the main let-down when the film is full of gorgeous animation, excellent songs, and well-told emotional arcs. The suffocating nature of societal expectations and familial pressures coincide with the discussions of ones self-worth and the importance of sharing your troubles with those you love, which all add to an emotionally powerful finale. Even when their material is mid-tier, Disney are still capable of wrecking ones emotions.

Best film of the month and
Best film rewatched: Scream (1996)

Stagefright (1987) - 3.5/5 - An operatic slasher with an artful brutality, this is equal parts grisly and fun. 

Peter The Penguin (2020) - 3.5/5 - It's a simple enough set-up, Nigel is on his way to meet his partner's daughter and hopes to make a good impression. Upon arriving, strange occurrences happen which are linked to a large plush Penguin called Peter. What Andrew Rutter directs is an unsettling little short which grows more bizarre, until the haunting and bewildering ending queued up to a Bodger and Badger inspired tune.

The 355 (2022) - 1.5/5 -  My first cinema trip of 2022 was this spy-actioner, as women agents from various government agencies team-up to stop a deadly weapon from sending the world into chaos. Originally proposed by Jessica Chastain, her idea was for a female-led spy thriller in the spirit of Mission: Impossible and James Bond. It's a promising idea to deliver original content, although the final product feels so uninspired and perfunctory under Simon Kinberg's direction. The action elements are undone by shoddy editing, the character-focused moments are hampered by risible dialogue, and it rattles through the eye-rolling cliches as though it were a box-ticking exercise. This is especially apparent when setting up their inner struggles, telling audiences without actually making them believe in it.

When it comes to the cast, they either fall victim to miscasting or shoddy material. Penélope Cruz feels ill-fitting as the timid psychiatrist who ventures further out of her comfort zone, while it's difficult to believe in Sebastian Stan as Jessica Chastain's underwritten love-interest. Chastain and Diane Kruger do their best with their rival roles, although they can only go so far when drowning in tired tropes. Lupita Nyong'o puts a winning performance into her tech specialist role, while Fan Bingbing barely registers when her character's treated more like a handy plot-device.

When the ending has to transition from wrapping up the story to inevitable sequel set-up, questions arise as to the notable leaps taken between those points. Time will tell if a follow-up will arrive (the 356?), but hopefully it won't be as overlong, tiresome, and difficult to make-out the action.

Scream (1996) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Beginning my rewatch of this franchise in the lead-up to the new release, and this is my first watch in a decade. I knew I loved this film, but I forgot how magnificently crafted and utterly terrifying it was. The opening sequence alone is a masterpiece, but further scenes in the principals office and throughout Stu's house are impeccable in their own right. Plus, it's always funny to see Ghostface being knocked down as though they were reenacting a silent movie sketch. We all knew Wes Craven was a great filmmaker, but he went hard to prove it here.

See For Me (2022) - 3.5/5 - An effective spin on the home-invasion thriller, complete with excellent performances central to this interesting premise.

Best film seen in cinemas:
The Matrix Resurrections

Fantastic Four (2005) [rewatch] - 1.5/5 - Considering where superhero movies are now, it's fascinating to see what studios were attempting back in the 2000s. The Tim Story directed take on Marvel's first family is an oddity trying to capitalise on the popularity of the X-Men and Spider-Man films, although the end result is far less effective. Perhaps this is due to the main characters feeling less like superheroes, scientists or a family, but instead a bickering bunch who clean up messes they caused through their short-sighted actions. Not helping matters is the conflicting tones, as the family led scenes feel lighter and more breezy than the grim-dark attempts at inserting this boring take on Doctor Doom. This is especially a notable contrast when Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans share such fun chemistry as bickering teammates. Spare a thought for Jessica Alba, who becomes relegated to stripping off for "laughs".

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) [rewatch] - 2/5 - The main thing I noticed in this sequel is how awful Sue Storm is treated. She's gone from being an intelligent scientist in her own right to a bride that's only complimented on her looks, and once more made to strip off because of thinly-scripted reasons. Outside of that, the tones are better established and the combination of Chiklis and Evans remain a highlight in this globe-trotting adventure, yet it's hampered by such a lame depiction of Doctor Doom taking too much precedence.

Scream 2 (1997) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - While I fully enjoy this film and love it's approach to sequels, I've been massively underrating it. What's been crafted is a brilliant approach to the inevitable sequel, complete with wicked smart writing and fantastically tense set-pieces, while putting the beloved characters in absolutely perilous situations. Plus, Sidney Prescott is one of the best final girls and this film absolutely cements that.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A fascinating addendum to the original trilogy, offering a warm embrace and a punch to the throat amidst meta-commentary.

Best film watched for
the first time: tick,tick...Boom!

Scream 3 (2001) [rewatch] - 2.5/5 - A decade since I last saw this, and while I've warmed on parts of the film, I'd still call it the franchises weakest entry so far. Ehren Kruger is a lackluster substitute for Kevin Williamson, as despite some choice lines, the wit and inventiveness is unfortunately missing. This is particularly noteworthy in the supporting characters who are underwhelming, especially Patrick Dempsey's cop that's trying to hard to be mysterious and dark, while the killer reveal is especially disappointing. What hits are the prevalent themes of abuse within Hollywood, an element especially noteworthy considering the disgraced producer attached to this franchise. The returning cast are wonderful as ever, and Parker Posey is an absolute gem all throughout.

Scream 4 (2011) [rewatch] - 4/5 - The final film directed by Wes Craven remains as enjoyable as I remember, taking a sharp stab at horror remakes. Many of the new characters are wonderful additions, particularly Kirby and Officer Hicks, while the final 20-minutes really make the film as it takes exceptional turns. What's especially shocking is the brutal gore which follows the third-film toning it down after Columbine, as knife-throws bonking Dewey on the head are replaced with Ghostface painting Woodsboro red.

Scream (2022) - 4.5/5 - A worthy successor to what came before it, this takes aim at legacy sequels with bite and heart.

Movie 43 (2013) - 0/5 - With the aim of making a Kentucky Fried Movie for the modern age, an all-star cast was assembled for what would ultimately be considered one of the worst films ever made. With such an A-list cast assembled you'd hope there was some redeeming feature to understand what would have enticed such an excellent cast, but whatever it wasn't apparent to me in this disastrous final product. Humour is certainly objective and there'll be people who get enjoyment out of this film, but it's all lost on me as short segments involve big-name stars acting out unfunny jokes while dragging out a single idea to insufferable proportions. Even segments which hold promise, such as a house of men freaking out over a girl getting her first period or the parents home-schooling their child complete with mentally-scarring abuse, are squandered for no good reason. All that's left is one of the worst films I've had the misfortune of watching.

Biggest Disappointment: Nightmare Alley (2021)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) [rewatch] - 5/5 - In desperate need to wash out the bad taste of Movie 43, I opted to rewatch an action masterpiece. What I reacquainted myself with was a masterstroke in minimalist storytelling that showcases the triumph of practical effects, gorgeously shot and crafted in a way unlike other films of this ilk. A film that begs audiences to witness it time and time again, and for good reason: It fucking rules!

Mr Beans Holiday (2007) [rewatch] - 2/5 - Of all the things I expected from a Mr Bean film, him dressing up as a Nazi, blowing up Willem Dafoe, causing a man to commit suicide, and being wanted for allegedly kidnapping a Russian directors child was absolutely not on the list. Rowan Atkinson is committed to the character throughout the farcical situations which make up his holiday, in this slight and increasingly nonsensical film which ends up at the Cannes Film Festival.

West Side Story (2021) - 3.5/5 - Steven Spielberg has clear reverence for West Side Story, both the original stage musical and the 1961 film, and put that passion towards his own iteration. What's been crafted is tremendously directed, capturing that same passion in the choreography and songs which make up this take on the Romeo & Juliet style story. There are times when this iteration carves its own path rather well, such as Tony's motivation for leaving the Jets and the depiction of Anybodys, while at other instances it felt a bit too close to the original. Ariana DeBose and Rachel Zegler are such glorious stars who deliver powerhouse performances, towering above the less-interesting male lead. While this doesn't reach the heights of the 1961 film, it remains a good film in its own right.

tick, tick...Boom! (2021) - 5/5 - This film left me absolutely stunned. I'm not a theatre kid and had no prior experience with Jonathan Larson's work prior to this film, yet I found this musical tribute to the departed creative hit me hard. Set on the backdrop of the AIDS crisis and never forgetting it, Lin-Manuel Miranda's directorial debut emotionally details the struggle of creativity while acting as a reflection of mortality. The excellent performers deliver terrific performances and perform the musical numbers exceptionally, particularly Alexandra Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens, yet none surprised me more than Andrew Garfield. While I've enjoyed him since the Spider-Man days, this is easily my favourite performance of his and I hope this leads to more musical roles from him rather than Spider-Man returns.

Biggest Surprise: Stagefright

Babe: Pig In The City (1998) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Taking on directorial duties, George Miller has no interest in retreading old ground ala Home Alone 2. He relocates the beloved pig to the big city, while cranking up the darkness for a film that would undoubtedly traumatise kids in how close it comes to killing off dogs. The result is a film driven by Miller's distinctive style, carrying the visual inventiveness and imagination often seen in animated films amidst this story of broken outcasts looking out for each other against the distrusting gaze of society, complete with a finale where they disrupt high-society. Also, it has operatic cats.

Licorice Pizza (2021) - 4/5 - Set in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s, the latest Paul Thomas Anderson film tells a story about growing up across numerous adventures. Central to the story is 15-year old Gary Valentine, a successful child actor who's transitioning out of youthful roles while acting wise beyond his years, and 25-year old Alana who's in a state of arrested development and unsure what to do with herself. Portraying these characters are Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim, acting as such shining stars in their feature-film debut and leaves one excited for where their acting careers will go. They're core to this engrossing and beautifully shot tale told with such heart and humour, although the loose structure doesn't always work for me and the scenes with John Michael Higgins are a low-point. Regardless, this is a fantastically acted piece which peaks with a livewire Bradley Cooper and a magnificently tense set-piece involving a truck.

Hotel Poseidon (2022) - 2.5/5 - A mixed-bag of a stay that has stunning and assured direction.

The Green Knight (2021) - 4.5/5 - Ye gods, I wish I could've seen this in cinemas. David Lowery adapts Sir Gawain and the Green Knight into a stunningly realised fantasy film, complete with exceptional costume design and a gorgeous score. It's a fantastically acted piece led by a magnificent Dev Patel, conveying Gawain's desire to prove himself with full bravado, while this desire to meet weighty expectations ultimately turns out worse for the protagonist. This comes to a head in the masterful finale, capturing the idea of "heavy is the head that wears the crown" in an exceptional manner. What a glorious feature.

Worst film of the month: Movie 43

Scream (2022) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - None of the satirical bite, tension, or heart have been lost in this series, and one believes Wes would be proud of this successor.

Summer Of Soul (...or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021) - 5/5 - During the same summer as the much talked about Woodstock, the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival occurred over six weeks yet word of the festival virtually disappeared. The footage was lost for 50 years, and Questlove delivers a phenomenal restoration of the festival queued up alongside historical context of Black and Latinx people of the time.

The electric performances are exceptional on their own, but have greater context when lined up with discussions of issues such as the riots and Martin Luther King Jr's assassination. It's awe-inspiring how it recontextualises the performances as expressions of rebellion and pride in ones self.

A favourite part covers the Moon Landing, as the interviews of impressed White people are followed by the indifference of Harlem concert goers. They know there's more pressing issues on Earth that the money and focus could've gone towards helping. There's a scene of an attendee who watched the footage, realising he finally had confirmation that what he experienced was true. It's a beautiful way to end this masterful concert film.

Nightmare Alley (2021) - 3/5 - As a del Toro fan, this unfortunately left me disappointed. This adapted tale of a con-man trying to climb higher through any means necessary is a fascinating tale in theory, yet the way it unfolds sadly feels plodding and overlong. It peaks during the first-half Carnival setting, complete with an excellent supporting cast and a magnificent set-design, yet throws that aside for a less-interesting back-half which underutilises many cast members. Bradley Cooper excels in the starring role, from his opening moments to the magnificent ending, it's just a shame about the film surrounding him.

Halloween II (2009) - 2/5 - The last film I have to watch in the Halloween franchise, and as the directors cut hasn't gotten a release in the UK, I'm opting for the theatrical cut. The focus on Laurie's PTSD works best, particularly when Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif shine in this trauma focused storyline. It's a shame there isn't more of this, as the dimly lit, slowed down, and often incomprehensible brutality from Hobo Michael Myers feels tiresome. The most insufferable element is Loomis' characterization, as the character is now a fame-hungry diva. I understand that studio mandates reared their ugly head, but many of the ideas just didn't work for me.

Bo Burnham: Inside (2021) - 4.5/5 - What Bo Burnham has crafted here is something special. Created during lockdown, this is a funny and devastating look at his struggles during the pandemic while grappling with self-doubt, what impact he truly has on the world, reckoning with his past, and facetiming with his parents. These are emphasized in imaginative ways, as catchy songs bare his soul to the world and also compare his penis to the Eraserhead baby. Truly a magnificent piece of work.

Best film of the month: Scream (1996)
Best film seen in cinemas: The Matrix: Resurrections
Best film watched for the first time: tick, tick...Boom!
Best film rewatched: Scream (1996)
Biggest Disappointment: Nightmare Alley (2021)
Biggest Surprise: Stagefright
Worst film of the month: Movie 43

Number of films watched: 30