July 2022 In Review

July is over, the days remain hot, and the film watching remains plentiful. My month involved cracking open my Harry Potter Blu-rays for a podcast recording, watching Peter Cushing fighting vampires and Daleks (in different films), and beginning my viewing of films that will play at this year's Frightfest. So, without further ado, let's see what films I watched this past July.

Dracula (1958) - 3.5/5 - An interesting take on Dracula courtesy of Hammer Horror, who make fascinating changes to this tale which makes it stand out in interesting ways. A regularly thrilling story, although there are occasions where things become a bit too stiff to work. Centring things are two excellent performances by Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the iconics roles, making for a film which didn't outstay its welcome.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Alfonso Cuarón delivers the franchise high-point, taking a step back from Voldemort to deliver a more character-focused and intimate tale which fleshes out histories really well. There's excellent character development and revelations which make this instalment work so well, feeling integral to the overarching story while working as a standalone fare.

Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) - 2.5/5 - What was once fresh now feels tired, as this film struggles to balance tones and strains for jokes.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - As the source material gets larger, I find these admittedly lengthy adaptations are cutting more to get the bare story and it leaves aspects feeling underutilised or glossed over. The bare of this story works well, as Harry finds himself taking part in the Triwizard Tournament, while allowing for the characters to have some relatable circumstances as they prepare for a school dance. All the while, matters are getting darker and by the end, the lead trio are visibly worried for how dangerous their lives are becoming. This culminates in an excellent graveyard sequence, resembling something from A Nightmare On Elm Street in fascinating ways. I'm halfway through this series now, although I'm hesitant over the David Yates years which are coming next.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) [rewatch] - 3/5 - One of the messier films in the series, as Harry grapples with the spreading of misinformation while trying to empower his classmates to be ready in the oncoming fight against Voldemort's army. A great showcase for the supporting cast, particularly Gary Oldman as Sirius Black and Imelda Staunton as the series' best villain, Dolores Umbridge. It's a try at streamlining a lengthy book, complete with a killer ending, but it feels incomplete at times and David Yates' direction is uninspiring stuff.

Best Film of the Month and Best Film Rewatched:
Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) - 3/5 - In the 60s, Amicus created feature-films based on the BBC series Doctor Who, putting their own spin on familiar elements from the series. For example, the lead character is a human inventor named Dr. Who that created a TARDIS in his home and accidentally travels to a planet where Daleks are in a war against David Bowie looking aliens on a radiation planet. What's left is an 80-minute film that feels longer than necessary, particularly when it can become boring, especially when the bumbling companion takes centre stage. There are fun moments, particularly when items keep blowing up upon impact, a Dalek counting down in the background while the plot moves along, and Peter Cushing is a reliable triumph in the lead role. A mixed bag that offers much enjoyment.

Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 AD (1966) - 3/5 - For the sequel, Dr Who and his companions are thrust into the future of 2150 AD where Daleks have ruled the Earth with their Robotman army. This time, the Daleks are portrayed as more sinister while offering great opportunities for comedy as Daleks are rolled to their dooms and defeated by a blanket being thrown over them. There's some terrific handpainted backgrounds and a great score to flesh things out, doing better work than the rubble filled vision of future London. Peter Cushing is once again a highlight as the inventor of the TARDIS, with Bernard Cribbins unsurprisingly delightful in his first role in this franchise. On the other hand, Jill Curzon is underserved by material which has her knocked out in a cupboard and forced to hide away for key parts of the film, and the 80 minute runtime once more feels dragged out. Still, Amicus have delivered another entertaining take on the BBC series.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) [rewatch] - 2/5 - It seems David Yates misunderstood the assignment, as he's taken the franchise into darker places both tonally and visually, leaving this film with an ugly, muted style. As the source material gets longer, the admittedly long films seem troubled in condensing subplots onto the big screen without editing out too much. Unfortunately, this films most notable butchering is in the films subtitle, which amounts to a few scenes before a late revelation that feels unneeded in it's big-screen translation. What's most bizarre is, for a film which contains vital plot-points, it ends up feeling like filler as it becomes the closest this franchise will be to a teen sex comedy. If it weren't for the Fantastic Beasts series, this would be the franchise's weakest entry.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010) [rewatch] - 4/5 - As the franchise begins its endgame, Harry, Ron, and Hermione disregard their studies to continue Dumbledore's mission and stop Voldemort. Splitting it into two halves is a wise move which allows the final story to have a grand feel and allows moments to breathe, as the first part takes a more introspective and character focused approach that sells the trio's relationships so effectively. Voldemort's influence casts a shadow, as this instalment takes a darker feel with the papers printing anti-Muggle propaganda and the radio naming wizard disappearances. Central to it all is a beautifully animated sequence about three brothers, lending weight to an important element which has been introduced so late in the story. It's a shame there wasn't time for a Dursleys and Harry scene, but this is a strong entry into the series for me.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - After the character-focused first-part, the second-part of the final Harry Potter story is all-out war as the final battles occurs at Hogwarts. Locations and characters audiences have known across this franchise perish among the chaos and destruction, as the fight to stop Voldemort ramps up in thrilling ways, with an especially good showing for Matthew Lewis' Neville. A thrilling and affecting finale, closing this series in grand fashion and with a franchise-highlight line delivered by Julie Walters' Molly Weasley.

Best film seen in cinemas: Elvis

Hékate (2022) - 4/5 - A captivating slow-burn which transforms female suffering into empowerment.

Jackass 3.5 (2011) - 3.5/5 - The last of the Jackass films I have to watch, and it's an terrific compilation of stunts unused in the feature film. A number of them feel like lesser versions of stunts we've previously seen, yet it's worth it for stuff like Wee-Man disguised in the basement, a human version of tenpin bowling revealed to be another stunt in disguise, and the absolute tension of Steve-O's Fire Gauntlet.

The Brides of Dracula (1960) - 3/5 - With Count Dracula dead, his followers take over the reigns as the villainous force in this film facing against Dr Van Helsing. The first act is strong stuff, as a young teacher finds herself in the middle of a strange situation involving a Baroness and her mysterious son, making for an eerie and engrossing act. After that, the film gets weaker as it focuses on a less-interesting antagonist and the titular Brides don't get much of a showing. Peter Cushing remains a delight as the doctor facing against the vampiric forces, ensuring this film is never a chore to sit through.

The Initiation of Sarah (1978) - 3/5 - An entertaining made-for-TV film courtesy of the lead duo.

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005) - 0.5/5 - The disconnect between Robert Rodriguez's adult fare and child-friendly stuff has fascinated me, but his work on this particular film has left me utterly baffled. Perpetually set against green-screen, with special effects crafted by eleven separate studios, this is one of the most visually ugly films I've ever seen. It's wrapped around a frustrating plot where characters are brought alive by performances as baffling as the writing, while gags land with a thud.

Best Film Watched For The First Time
and Biggest Surprise: Shiva Baby

Death Count (2022) - 2/5 - A lacking attempt at being a Saw sequel for the social media age.

Elvis (2022) - 4/5 - Baz Luhrmann directs this biopic of Elvis Presley to excess and, my goodness, it's an exceptional piece of work. Narrating the story is Tom Hanks' befuddlingly accented Colonel Tom Parker, detailing the story of how he got his hooks into Elvis and kept him under control. As the star wishing to creatively flourish within such confines, Austin Butler gives a star-making performance as the titular singer. From Pink Cadillac dreams of looking after his family to a melancholy at how things turned out, this is an excellent take on the influential musician.

Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972) - 3/5 - Credit to Hammer for taking this iconic character that's been adapted countless times, and transporting him to the modern day. The result can be clunky, particularly regarding the villainous Johnny Alucard, but it's fascinating to see old-fashioned vampire antics occurring in the 70s. It's also entertaining, coming alive whenever Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing appear on-screen.

Scooby-Doo! and the Gourmet Ghost (2018) - 1.5/5 - Scooby-Doo and the gang take a case involving celebrity chefs, cats, and a ghost at a technological kitchen-set within a historic house. The result feels like a 20-min episode stretched out to almost four-times that length, and with no idea how to fill the space in-between. It's harmless enough, but drags on.

Nitram (2022) - 4/5 - An intimate character study of a horrifying massacre, this won't easily be forgotten.

Biggest Disappointment: Thor: Love and Thunder

Shiva Baby (2020) - 4.5/5 - If I hoped for a relaxing evening, this was the wrong way to go about it. Adapted from her short film of the same name, Emma Seligman writes and directs this claustrophobic tale of a young woman attending a shiva with her family, where she crosses paths with her successful ex-girlfriend, and her sugar daddy who turns out to be a married father. Powered by Ariel Marx's stunning score and Rachel Sennott's killer performance, this is an exquisitely crafted 78-minutes that generates stress and anxiety so well. Not a relaxing time, but what a film!

Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (2022) - 1/5 - A film that was announced back in 2010 and has been stuck in development hell since, with it being questioned whether it'd ever get released, this family-friendly, animated remake of Blazing Saddles is an odd-duck at best. Once-sharp gags previously delivered by Mel Brooks are watered down here, lazy tries at meta-humour replaces actual wit, and most gags are explained immediately afterwards in tiresome fashion. The voice acting reaches downright pitiful levels, with Ricky Gervais especially not trying, all for this samurai flick which approaches the original films themes of racism through a lens of cat/dog relations (while bizarrely race-swapping the lead and town-residents, so the white-man plays the character oppressed by a town of ethnic minorities). At least there were points where the animation looked nice.

Punisher: War Zone (2008) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - It's difficult to do a film based on The Punisher, particularly when the character has been co-opted by the very people Frank Castle detests, but I think this film had the right idea in mind by putting the character in a grimy, grindhouse flick. It's a messy film, with some ridiculous attempts at political commentary, a dreadful performance put into Loony Bin Jim, and Frank Castle questioning his mission seeming to fizzle out. Those the issues are easy to overlook when Frank Castle reacts to the studio-enforced inclusion of parkour with a rocket launcher, and somebody's head explodes after being punched in the face. I can never see Marvel making this kind of film again, but that just makes this a one-of-a-kind grisly gem.

Incredible But True (2022) - 3.5/5 - A film which depicts wacky revelations superbly grounded in emotional truths.

Orchestrator of Storms (2022) - 4/5 - An informative documentary about director Jean Rollin that will engross fans and newbies alike.

Worst film of the month:
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl

The Satanic Rites of Dracula (1973) - 2.5/5 - Following Dracula arriving in 1970, this sequel keeps the lord of darkness in the modern day while blending the occult with a spy thriller. The result is a tonally mismatched tale that's all over the place, particularly when the espionage items are weaker than the gory items audiences are familiar with. Credit to Hammer for attempting something different here, but it didn't work and just feels like the series is running on fumes.

The Gray Man (2022) - 1.5/5 - A blockbuster cat-and-mouse game between mercenaries, starring a killer cast? There's potential in the Russo Brothers' latest film for something exciting, yet the result is such a chore to sit through. From the interchangeable quips to the hollow flashbacks, this feels less like a feature-film and more like a bland product generated by an algorithm based on what it calculates audiences should like. What's most baffling are the action scenes, bafflingly obscured by smoke or dim lighting. It's great to see Ryan Gosling back, working alongside a talented cast, yet it's unfortunate it was for this forgettable piece of content.

Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) [rewatch] - 5/5 - As it turns out, the best way of watching this is when one of my brothers isn't aware of the middle-portion involving Hulk Hogan, and reacts in real-time to the unfolding insanity.

It's a film which takes time to get going and underutilises notable characters, yet once the Gremlins enter, this is one of the best things I've ever seen. A mad-cap mixture of Looney Tunes style energy, commentary on 1980s consumerism, and Joe Dante just saying "fuck it".

Superman III (1983) - 1/5 - Considering the title, it's bizarre that Superman barely appears in the first-half while the second-half is dominated by an evil version of the character. If anything, this feels like a lame Richard Pryor vehicle which had to forcibly insert the superhero to get made, which makes it unfortunate that the half-hearted slapstick and dull gags take prominence. Credit where it's due, Christopher Reeve is devoted to the role regardless of where the story takes him, which makes it a shame he's largely forgotten about.

Swallowed (2022) - Review to come

Best film of the month: Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Best film seen in cinemas: Elvis
Best film watched for the first time: Shiva Baby
Best film rewatched: Gremlins 2: The New Batch
Biggest Disappointment: Thor: Love and Thunder
Biggest Surprise: Shiva Baby
Worst film of the month: The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl

Number of films watched: 30