January 2023 In Review

January has left us behind, how time flies. I hope your first month of 2023 was a good one, and if not, I hope the rest of your year is an improvement. For now, let's have a look at the films I watched this past January.

Stories We Tell (2012) - 4.5/5 - What an exceptional film to begin my year with. Sarah Polley crafts this documentary to interview her family, examining their various perspectives on a past which shaped them all. It's an intimate and personal documentary which captures their vulnerabilities and the humour which can shine through, brought alive in such enthralling ways. A magnificent work from Polley, and I cannot wait to see the rest of her directorial works.

The Munsters (2022) - 2/5 -  Rob Zombie's love-letter to the classic 60s series, told across in dragged-out and dull ways.

Awesome Runaway!! (2015) - 2.5/5 - A short-film that feels centred around one idea, as it depicts a drugged man trying to escape his captors while the sequence unfolds resembling one-take. There's good moments, but they could be more plentiful amidst the tepid action and the lame punchline. It can be watched here.

Road House (1989) - 4/5 - Directed by the appropriately named Rowdy Herrington, the story follows revered bouncer Dalton trying to clean-up an unruly bar that's part of a town within a tycoon's sadistic grip. Patrick Swayze is on fine form as the drifter ready to perform his job to the best degree possible, a gentleman until it's time to get physical. What unfolds from screenwriters Hilary Henkin and David Lee Henry is an escalation of cinematic madness where tables are broken by faces slammed into them, explosions become more commonplace as the film goes on, and throats get ripped out in the aftermath of startling lines. Whether the laughs are intentional or not, they're commonplace as part of the riotous time this film offers alongside the impactful action. An astounding feature that must be seen to be believed.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (2022) - 5/5 - A long-gestating passion project for Guillermo del Toro, his stop-motion take on Pinocchio is brought alive thanks to Netflix and it's his best film since Pan's Labyrinth. A beautifully crafted tale which steps away from the fairy-tale environment to Fascist Italy under Mussolini's grip, as the wooden puppet having more autonomy than the Italian citizens is a wonderful example of how the fantastical is blended with very-real ideas while being emotionally grounded. The voice-cast deliver wonderful work alongside the brilliant songs, adding up to this thrilling, humorous, and heartfelt work which left me weeping. A beautiful masterpiece.

The Cider House Rules (1999) - 2.5/5 - At an orphanage full of children with dreadful names, Homer Wells was never adopted and was trained by the director Dr. Larch to be a fully skilled physician. Wishing to make a life for himself outside of the orphanage, Homer takes the opportunity to leave with a couple he befriends and become an apple picker. It's a film with a decent cast, particularly a charming Tobey Maguire as the awkward lead that delights in experiencing the world outside what he knew, although Michael Caine's performance is hampered by a distracting attempt at an American accent. As for the film itself, Lasse Hallström directs a by-the-numbers and dull tale where the score keeps trying to make you feel what's on-screen is "meaningful", rather than letting the film itself allow viewers to feel that. It makes sense this fared well at the Oscars, because it feels like the kind of bait that's expected to persevere.

Best film of the month and
Best film rewatched: Children of Men (2006)

Pinocchio (2022) - 1/5 - Robert Zemeckis delivers a live-action adaptation of the iconic story, utilizing CGI to bring alive the more fantastical elements. What's left feels like a film made by an A.I. as it may be nice to look at, but the film is ultimately soulless and hollow. Tom Hanks delivers a strange accent while phoning in the performance, the film drags on, and just feels too cynical.

Children of Men (2006) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A dystopian look at Britain that's immaculately brought alive, showing there's hope for humanity even amongst the most bleak moments. Masterful stuff all around.

Emily The Criminal (2022) - 4.5/5 - A slickly crafted thriller with much to say, this is a stunning debut.

Michael Jackson's Halloween (2017) - 0.5/5 - A made-for-TV movie created in collaboration with the Michael Jackson estate, this is a poorly animated piece that's soulless and without merit. The story follows a pair of bland characters and a dog styled after the kid from Bad Santa, as they rebel against an antagonist insistent on conformity through the music of one of the most popular musicians of all time. Dreadful.

Pitch Black (2000) - 3.5/5 - Directed by David Twohy, based on a script he co-wrote with Ken and Jim Wheat, this film takes place in the near-future when a transport spacecraft crash-lands on an empty desert planet. Among the survivors is Riddick, a murderous captive played by Vin Diesel oozing charisma, whose plans to escape are changed to help the survivors upon discovering the planet is inhabited by predatory creatures. While characterisation could be stronger in some regards, and the tension could be felt more considering the premise, this is a lean and effective story which feels like an intergalactic Assault on Precinct 13 which is also a precursor to 30 Days of Night.

Ghost Ship (1952) - 2/5 - Despite many warnings, a couple purchase a yacht with a tragic history only to discover it may be haunted. A dry, sedate tale which fails to keep hold of one's attention until the last half-hour when the plot momentarily picks up. At least the central couple are rather charming.

Best film seen in cinemas: Till (2022)

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (2004) - 3/5 - Bridging the gap between Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, this short film from Æon Flux creator Peter Chung comes alive thanks to a great animated style which delivers thrilling fights. I'm unsure how vital this feels to the series, as it offers little new that wasn't adequately explained in the first film, right down to how it ends in the same place as it began. This feels more like a fan dream than an important piece of story, but it does pass the time rather well.

The Executioner (1974) - 3.5/5 - A thrilling blend of martial-arts and espionage, delivered in enjoyably over-the-top ways.

The Executioner II: Karate Inferno (1974) - 1/5 - A different beast from its predecessor, focusing on juvenile humour that's crass and cringe-worthy.

The Old Way (2023) - 3/5 - A solid western about the impact people leave on further generations.

Night of the Creeps (1986) - 4/5 - What an utter blast this was. Fred Dekker writes and directs this film with such reverence for the horror genre, beginning with an opening which homages the 1950s and alien films, before leaping ahead 27-years to throw in frat drama, zombies, and very noticeable director references. It's a shame we have to follow such a bland lead, although Tom Atkins is an absolute delight as he steals the film with every scene he's in. A film that's as creepy as it is hilarious.

Best film watched for the first time:
Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)

Blackbird (2022) - 0.5/5 - Serving as writer, director, and star, Michael Flatley plays a retired secret agent known as the Blackbird. He opens a Caribbean nightclub to escape his painful past, although is thrown back into that world when an old flame arrives. The equivalent of a twelve-year-old's fanfiction, as Flatley rips off well-regarded films in a story centered around himself, as he plays the kind of man women younger than him lust after, while men either admire him or get beaten up by him. It's a film where little feels convincing, from the beat-downs to the kissing, and especially Flatley's acting which relies on a tilted hat to cover up his struggle at changing facial expressions. What's been left is a cross between Casablanca, Casino Royale, and watching paint dry.

M3GAN (2023) - 3.5/5 - To help her orphaned niece, a roboticist at a toy company creates a life-like doll that's programmed to bond with her. As the doll becomes self-aware, it's methods to protect the young girl grow more violent. The story is engaging enough, as the family members grapple with grief and explore what's actually helpful to the situation and what's preventing necessary growth. There's elements which feel lesser, such as early scenes involving the dissonance between aunt and niece, or an unnecessary subplot involving corporate espionage. Where the film truly bursts into life involve the titular doll, as she does her own thing whether it involves murder or music covers. Let Akela Cooper write whatever the hell she wants, because I'm here for it regardless.

The Exorcist (1973) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - I haven't seen this film in over a decade, and perhaps watching it on ITV4 at midnight was not the best situation to watch this film. Revisiting it at a better time and with more appreciation for cinema, William Friedkin's film did not disappoint. While the opening scenes in Northern Iraq feels unnecessary for me, the film remains a compelling tale about the uncontrollable evils around us and how they can shatter ones faith. Key to it is the wavering faith of Father Karras, exceptionally conveyed by Jason Miller, Ellen Burstyn playing the mother at a loss regarding how to help her daughter, and Linda Blair phenomenally capturing the possessed twelve-year-old at the center of this film. A tremendous film that boils down to Catholic priests fighting the devil for a young girl's soul, as depicted in that intense final half-hour, and the reinforced faith that all may be right in the end.

Gandhi Godse Ek Yudh (2023) - 1.5/5 - A piece of alternate history which barely scratches the surface.

Till (2022) - 4/5 - Adapting the true story of Mamie Till-Mobley, director and co-writer Chinonye Chukwu details the mother seeking justice for her son's murder. While the story does fall into biopic tropes, that doesn't detract from this powerful and heartbreaking journey of a mother shining a light on an earth-shattering injustice. Central to it all is an exceptional performance by Danielle Deadwyler, conveying a quiet fury as her life is irrevocably changed in unfathomable ways.

Biggest Disappointment: The Cider House Rules (1999)

Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody (2022) - 2/5 - Goodness, that title does the film no favours. Adding the artists name in front of an already lengthy title makes it feel like audiences weren't trusted to recognise the song used for the title and know whose biopic this is. As a result, it's a title that reflects the film in how clunky and lengthy it is.

The makings are here for a good, if unremarkable, film. It's a well-acted piece where Naomi Ackie and Stanley Tucci stand-out with their performances, and director Kasi Lemmons has a good eye that particularly comes alive whenever the music videos are recreated. Yet that only goes so far when working off Anthony McCarten's tired screenplay. Too much story flies by with little time given for exploration, leaving aspects to feel lacking in development such as Whitney's relationship with Robyn Crawford or the criticism that she was singing too white. As such, this film feels more like a $45 million Wikipedia entry. If you want a good Whitney film, Kevin MacDonald's 2018 documentary would be a better choice.

Royal Warriors (1986) - 4/5 - High paced 80's action with little regard for human life.

Silent Hill (2006) - 3.5/5 - When it comes to gaming, my knowledge is mainly centred on Pokémon. I'm useless with horror games, so I approached Christophe Gan's adaptation of Silent Hill only knowing about Pyramid Head and the fog. What I found was an unsettling tone which was well crafted, as a mother searches for her daughter within the titular town's dark heart. There's well-crafted sequences throughout, particularly a stealthy scene in the dark, and the aforementioned Pyramid Head was my favourite part of the film. While Sean Bean's subplot was a nice way to get more backstory out of the town, it distracted from the isolated nightmare a bit too much for my liking. Also, the visual effects felt dated to watch in 2022. Regardless, I'm glad I saw this one and am questioning why we still get articles about "the video game adaptation curse being broken" when this was rather good.

Babylon (2022) - 4/5 - For his latest feature, Damien Chazelle crafts an extravagant love-letter cinema set during the period where silent movies transitioned to talkies. The film captures the magic of filmmaking as effortlessly as the lows which sees the characters crash down to Earth, as hopes and dreams are shattered within this giant moneymaking machine which eventually takes a more puritanical stance. It's a shame the film sidelines the two most interesting characters, played by Li Jun Li and Jovan Adepo, although the focus characters are interesting in their own right. While it strains to sustain the lengthy run, particularly in the last hour with Tobey Maguire's mob boss, yet it's a film which never felt boring. A wonderfully shot, exceptionally acted film with an astounding score from Justin Hurwitz.

Black Dynamite (2009) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Nothing beats a late-night rewatch of a favourite comedy, and this blaxploitation spoof absolutely filled that need. A film with hilarious flubs that feel reminiscent of low-budget films, complete with magnificent quotes delivered so astoundingly. Michael Jai White is phenomenal as he earnestly delivers lines like "First Lady, I'm sorry I pimp slapped you into the China cabinet"

Biggest Surprise: Night of the Creeps (1986)

January (2023) - 2.5/5 - A unique slow-burner of icy isolation.

Chopping Mall (1986) - 3/5 - With a puntastic title like that, it's odd Jim Wynorski's film is not a slasher film. Instead, a group of teenagers are stalked by murderous robots that guard a shopping mall. It's an odd set-up for this silly slice of 80's horror, which peaks with an exploding head kill and doesn't reach those heights again for the admittedly short runtime. There's lacking characterization, although fun and likeable performances do make-up for that in some regards. An entertaining film, but one that could've been better.

Santo vs. the Evil Brain (1961) - 2/5 - An interesting start to Santo's illustrious career

Santo vs. the Infernal Men (1961) - 2/5 - Another film unsure of how to use the title star

TÁR (2022) - 3.5/5 - Writer/director Todd Field crafts this film around fictional composer Lydia Tár, who finds her world crumbling when revelations come to light. Cate Blanchett embodies the world-renowned maestro so phenomenally, from the way she dismisses those that don't agree with her as "robots" to the sinister wording she directs at her daughter's bully. It's a tour-de-force performance into a very interesting character, and I found myself liking it much more than the film surrounding it. There's many interesting elements, particularly once the net closes in around Lydia, and Noémie Merlant is the stand-out among the fantastic supporting performances. However, the film felt too long for me and rather disjointed, which left me not loving the film itself.

Worst film of the month:
Michael Jackson's Halloween (2017)

Pet Sematary (1989) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - I gave this film another go, and found myself liking it more than the last viewing. The fantastical premise centred around themes of loss and grief remains effective, with the Zelda stuff working better for me, but I do still wish it was creepier and with some stronger performances.

Ghost Track (2022) - 3/5 - A low-budget horror with impressive ideas.

House on Haunted Hill (1959) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A creepy and compelling ghost tale that ends up being redundant, although the murder mystery element is rather fun from intriguing opening to Scooby-Doo style ending.

Unwelcome (2023) - 1.5/5 - A film that works best when the creature elements are let loose and have fun.

Project Wolf Hunting (2022) - 4/5 - A wild ride bursting with imagination and tons of flowing blood.

Twisted (2022) - 3/5 - An effective clash between mother and daughter.

Best film of the month: Children of Men (2006)
Best film seen in cinemas: Till (2022)
Best film watched for the first time: Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (2022)
Best film rewatched: Children of Men (2006)
Biggest Disappointment: The Cider House Rules (1999)
Biggest Surprise: Night of the Creeps (1986)
Worst film of the month: Michael Jackson's Halloween (2017)

Number of films watched: 38