February 2023 In Review

February has left us behind, and it was a month involving festival preparation, recent releases, and Dario Argento horror. So, without further ado, let's see what films I watched this past month.

Suspiria (1977) [rewatch] - 5/5 - In my life, I have only seen two films by Dario Argento. One is the awful Dracula 3D, and the other is his 1977 classic. The plot is simple enough, an American girl joins a German dance school only to discover it's run by a coven of witches. What unfolds is one of the most gorgeous films I've ever seen, as the stunning colours and Goblin's masterful score craft an astounding world surrounding this ballet academy. It's also absolutely unsettling, from that opening kill to everything involving Helena Markos. This rewatch has made it clear I need to see more Argento films.

Knock at the Cabin (2023) - 4/5 - After delivering an ambitious yet flawed film with 2021's Old, M. Night Shyamalan dials things back for a nuts and bolts tale. Adapting Paul Tremblay's book The Cabin at the End of the World, the story follows a young girl and her parents being taken hostage by armed intruders. They declare that the loving family must make an unthinkable choice in order to prevent the apocalypse, a wild statement that is understandably met with shock by the family. What unfolds is a tense tale which may over-explain things through jarring dialogue, yet delivers effective characterisation really well to sell the evident heartbreak by all the participants involved. Kristen Cui is a charming gem as Wen, the young girl who just wants to collect grasshoppers and listen to "Boogie Shoes", while Jonathan Groff and Ben Aldridge are effective as her parents that are either calm or angry, yet full of love. The real star is Dave Bautista, who delivers a emotionally vulnerable performance as a physically imposing man that hates what he has to do. The more I see of him acting, the more enamoured I am with how terrific he is. Another excellent film from Shyamalan.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) - 4.5/5 - I was curious about this film, but I cannot say I was excited considering my lukewarm feelings on 2011's Puss In Boots. Consider me utterly surprised by how exceptional I found this film. After an opening where Puss battles a giant, the glory-loving feline discovers he is down to his last life. He undertakes a mission to find a wishing star and restore his nine-lives, with the help of Kitty Softpaws and an adorable therapy dog voiced by Harvey Guillén. What unfolds is a story grappling with mortality, family, and the ways we deal with the past, in compelling ways that resonate among the heroes and the antagonistic Goldilocks and the Three Bears crime family. There's also a fantastic sense of humour, from the therapy dog's interjections to an ethical bug on a hopeless mission to see the good within the villain. All of this lies within a stunningly animated package, delivering astounding fight scenes which feel influenced by anime and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse while also being completely it's own thing. An exceptional film from Dreamworks Animation, and it's reinvigorated my desire for more Shrek films.

Smoking Causes Coughing (2023) - Review to come

Missing (2023) - 3.5/5 - I adored 2018's Searching, a film by Aneesh Chaganty which made phenomenal use of the Screenlife conceit which many other films had attempted before. A spiritual sequel which utilised the same idea for another mystery, this time following a daughter trying to discover what happened to her missing mother, had my attention while also leaving me cautious. What unfolded is a compelling mystery which also makes wonderful use of the conceit, anchored by a compelling performance from Storm Reid. There's a fun recreation of Searching early-on which makes fun of disposable crime thrillers, although it's unfortunate the film falls into the same trap by leaning into the disposable crime element for the third-act. The beating heart remains throughout, particularly with a fun recurring gag of misusing Siri, and this is a solid follow-up.

Best film of the month and
Best film rewatched: The Prestige (2006)

The Whale (2022) - 2/5 - Darren Aronofsky returns with this feature-film adaptation of Samuel D. Hunter's stage play, following a 600lb English teacher who attempts to reconnect with his daughter. The film is full of excellent performances, with the standouts being Brendan Fraser as grieving recluse Charlie and Hong Chau as his only friend, although I wish the film around them was a stronger one. Whatever interesting ideas lie within about harmful acts of love and coping mechanisms, they feel secondary to patronising attempts at empathy which didn't resonate with me. Sadie Sink does well as Ellie, the estranged daughter of Charlie, although the character is written as so hateful and toxic that it's difficult to buy into the central relationship. As much as the past left her embittered by her father, and Charlie tries seeing the goodness through her hurtful words, it's spread on far too thick to resonate. Instead, it just leaves the film to feel hollow amidst the drab looking scenes.

Mother Superior (2023) - Review to come

Inferno (1980) - 3.5/5 - After revisiting Dario Argento's masterful Suspiria, I was interested in continuing on his Three Mothers trilogy. I cannot say I latched onto this spiritual sequel as well, and that was due to the lacking story and the constant shift between uninteresting protagonists. While the preceding instalment didn't have a complex plot, it was labyrinthine compared to this. In spite of those issues, I was on-board for the terrific visuals amidst this hellish experience where many characters are cruelly dispatched. Another Argento banger for me.

Bermuda Island (2023) - 1/5 - If you ordered Lost from Wish.com

Free to a Bad Home (2023) - 3/5 - At best, a series of loose stories connected by antagonist forces intent on tormenting people.

Vampus Horror Tales (2023) - 2/5 - Tales of unfortunate romance amidst horrific circumstances, connected by recurring mentions of hot dogs

Best film seen in cinemas, Best film watched for the first time,
and Biggest Surprise: Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

Titanic (1997) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - What a thrill to see this on the big screen. While the lesser elements for me involve the framing device, the main story onboard the titular ship grab my attention every time. I get swept up with the romance and marvel at the destructive power of the iceberg, as people fear for their lives amidst an uncontrollable disaster. A fantastic achievement in film.

Neptune Frost (2022) - 2.5/5 - A film that's better to approach as a loose assembly of ideas instead of a traditional feature.

365 Days (2020) - 0.5/5 - Gangster boss Massimo kidnaps the beautiful but sexually unfulfilled Laura, and gives her 365 days to forcibly fall in love with him. From idea to execution, this is something that would be better suited for a thriller about obsession, where Massimo's actions are rightfully treated as horrific. Instead, the story treats it as #relationshipgoals and minimizes evident red flags as something to overlook because they're hot people who will end up in love. It's tiring how the film glosses over his terribleness by lazily making him look better than one-note monsters, exiting the film as suddenly as they're introduced. Outside of that toxicity, it's just a badly made film. Character development is substituted for repetitive montages with unmemorable pop songs playing over, plot threads are introduced before being forgotten about so suddenly, and there's little excitement no matter who gets killed or what sex acts take place. This was adapted on a book from Blanka Lipińska, who was inspired by the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, which began life as Twilight fan-fiction. Considering the downhill trajectory that appears to be happening, I shudder to think what will be inspired by this Polish series.

Next Exit (2022) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A film which wonderfully delivers humour and emotion in a life-affirming road-trip to a final destination

The Long Dark Trail (2023) - 2/5 - An aimless journey through the never-ending wilderness.

Biggest Disappointment: The Whale (2022)

Wolf Garden (2023) - 3/5 - A compelling tale about victims of circumstance and the ramifications of unseen terrors.

The Fabelmans (2022) - 4.5/5 - For his latest work, Steven Spielberg goes back to his adolescent years for a semi-autobiographical tale about an aspiring filmmaker caught in the midst of his parents' struggling marriage. Through the eyes of fictional Sammy Fabelman, Spielberg crafts a touching love-letter to his parents, his passion for filmmaking, and the majestic power of cinema. Key to it are exceptional performances, from the wonderfully talented Gabriel LaBelle to an understated Paul Dano that deserved more nominations this awards season. Michelle Williams also does good work, although there were moments which felt too artificial to work. The real star is Spielberg himself, who does phenomenal work directing this story of a love for filmmaking amidst a fracturing family. It's electric to see the passion for making films depicted on-screen, while a conversation involving camera angles and a scene-stealing cameo is wonderfully done. The best moment involves film editing, in a masterful moment which perfectly conveys Sammy's realization which leaves a weight on his shoulders. This is an exceptional film to add to Spielberg's catalogue, and I cannot wait to revisit it.

Hunt Her, Kill Her (2023) - Review to come

Creed (2015) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A film where the emotional beats and action scenes hit as hard as each other. From the thrilling one-take fight to the heart-shattering admission within the finale, Ryan Coogler delivered a masterful inclusion into a franchise which seemed long dead before.

Supergirl (1984) - 1/5 - It's been a while since a film left me this bored. For a film about the title character's race against time to find the power source that can save her people, there's little sense of urgency within the film or the lead character. Faye Dunaway is acting in an entirely different film, one that's more over-the-top and interesting than this final product. Also, why do so many working men make-out with school girls in this film?

Worst film of the month: 365 Days

I Am Alfred Hitchcock (2023) - 2.5/5 - Mark Cousins provides a visual essay of Alfred Hitchcock's work, capturing many themes across his filmography such as the need to escape. There's interesting points made, although they're delivered in a dry manner that left me unengaged for the majority. The major element is the prevalent Hitchcock voiceover delivered by Alistair McGowan. It's an interesting idea to frame it from the filmmaker's point-of-view, although it's a jarring choice which kept taking me out of the film. A lacking start to GFF for me.

How Dark They Prey (2022) - 1.5/5 - An anthology where interesting ideas are undone by the execution.

God's Creatures (2023) - Review to come

Something In The Woods (2022) - 0.5/5 - If you go down in the woods today, you'd have a better time.

The Prestige (2006) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Righteous fury transforms into obsession, as warring magicians shed potentially happy lives for a constant game of one-upmanship to become better than the other. A tale that remains as engrossing and phenomenally written on repeat viewings as the first.

Best film of the month: The Prestige (2006)
Best film seen in cinemas: Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (2022)
Best film watched for the first time: Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (2022)
Best film rewatched: The Prestige (2006)
Biggest Disappointment: The Whale (2022)
Biggest Surprise: Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (2022)
Worst film of the month: 365 Days (2020)

Number of films watched: 26