April 2023 In Review

Another month has passed by, and there was quite an interesting assortment of films I watched, particularly regarding 2023 releases. So, let's see what films I watched this past April. 

65 (2023) - 2/5 - There was a lot of promise in this "Spaceman vs. Dinosaurs" premise, and the execution unfortunately falls short of that cool idea. Credit to the effects which bring alive the dinosaurs rather well, which helps when they're part of some fun sequences. What's unfortunate is how such a fun sounding idea is delivered with such sullen seriousness from the clunky opening, particularly when there's a bizarre need for a language barrier between the main characters when they understand each other regardless. It seems that writing/directing duo Scott Beck and Bryan Woods return to their A Quiet Place well, as a grieving father protects a girl as they try surviving against the vicious creatures lurking all around them. A shame they cannot replicate the tension, particularly when the use of a proximity device is unnecessarily mashed together with a less effective sequence. This was just a dino-bore.

Allelujah (2023) - 1.5/5 - One can feel the fury within this film at the NHS' mistreatment, as The Bethlehem Hospital is used to highlight the uphill battles hospital workers face with funding cuts and closures. There's an understandable attempt to disarm these sobering realities with tries at humour, although these BBC Sunday afternoon tries at laughs and pulling on the heartstrings are too syrupy, and end up clashing with the darker elements. Although, these subplots go together like cereal and milk compared to what unfolds in the third-act. A part of me can see how it's trying to highlight NHS difficulties in an extreme way, and maybe it worked better in Alan Bennett's original play, yet this bonkers attempt is woefully misjudged.

The Devil Comes At Night (2023) - 3.5/5 - An effective mystery unfolding in a single location.

Colonials (2023) - 0.5/5 - A sci-fi epic undone by lackluster humour and effects.

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) - 4.5/5 - Much like the Mad Max series, the director who directed all four films has released something exceptional with the latest entry. After what seems to be non-stop battling, the titular assassin is trying to find a way out so that he can finally rest. What unfolds is propulsive action cinema, where any of the impressive set-pieces would be a strong contender for best fight of the year. Central to it is an ever-reliable Keanu selling how much of a lethal weapon the titular character is, while selling his long-standing relationships with new inclusions such as Hiroyuki Sanada and Donnie Yen. Let's not forget Bill Skarsgård as an absolute bastard of a villain. It all adds up to phenomenally crafted spectacle which shows Hollywood how it's done, as Chad Stahelski is an artist with action.

Best film of the month and Best film rewatched:
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A gorgeous way to experience this unforgettable nightmare.

The Outwaters (2023) - 2/5 - A film which aims high with a hangout vibe transitioning into cosmic chaos, although the execution falls short.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) - 2.5/5 - After 1993's controversial Super Mario Bros. movie, Illumination have taken the reigns and brought the plumber siblings back to the big screen. What's interesting is how the set-up feels similar to the Bob Hoskins/John Leguizamo film, as the titular brothers find their business woes regarding a business rival put on the backburner when they're transported to another dimension. What then unfolds has clear adoration for the original games, as evidenced in the lovingly recreated worlds and the wonderful integration of original game music into the film score. There's also an ongoing battle with forced references crammed in, with a straightforward plot made needlessly busy with diversions to include Donkey Kong Country and Rainbow Road.

What's most bizarre is how the unwieldy title feels off. Considering it emphasizes on both brothers, Luigi is given barely anything to do. There could've been a standard arc for him overcoming his fearfulness, and allowed for more Charlie Day vocals, yet it feels relegated to a love/hate relationship between Mario and Donkey Kong.  Despite the runtime being a brisk 92-minutes, I could've done with more time to allow for more character development and scenes to resolve in a satisfactory manner. As such, subplots like Donkey Kong and Mario's relationships with their dads are dropped as suddenly as they appear. The majority of the voice-cast seem to be phoning it in for a paycheck, with Jack Black towering above everyone with a dynamite performance. A shame it was for such a lackluster film.

F (2010) - 4/5 - After he's assaulted by a student in his class, teacher Robert Anderson (David Schofield) is left shocked when he's forced to take leave to avoid the student's parents suing the school. This event leaves the teacher shaken, as he becomes an alcoholic that's estranged from his wife and daughter. One night while he's overseeing detention, Anderson's fears manifest in the form of faceless hoodies that are agile and capable of calm brutality. Writer/director Johannes Roberts builds off a simple premise for a lean slasher which feels ripped from newspaper headlines. Much of the antagonistic actions are seen in the aftermath, as the supporting characters' fates are depicted in horrifying ways to leave more of an impact than the characterisation did. The unfolding film captures the generation gap in unnerving ways, from unflinching opening to unforgettable ending.

Hunt Club (2023) - 2.5/5 - A riff on The Most Dangerous Game with something on its mind that's muddled in the execution.

Best film seen in cinemas and Best film watched
for the first time: John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

Nightmare Radio: The Night Stalker (2023) - 1.5/5 - An anthology film lacking in peril, scares, and a cohesive way to bring it all together.

Mummies (2023) - 2/5 - Inoffensive fluff that children can enjoy, even if it's rather forgettable stuff.

How To Blow Up A Pipeline (2023) - 4/5 - What director Daniel Goldhaber has crafted with co-writers Jordan Sjol and Ariela Barer is a captivating eco-thriller, where an Ocean's Eleven style crew of environmental activists unite to sabotage an oil pipeline. What unfolds is a tense affair where this group enact their plan, while the clever structure offers characterization in flashbacks without hurting the present-day tension. This allows viewers to understand each of the characters motivations, while the wonderful talent brings them alive on-screen in this urgent tale born of fury and timeliness.

Air (2023) - 3.5/5 - Ben Affleck sits in the directors chair for this biopic about the creation of the Air Jordan shoeline, and how Nike fought tooth-and-nail to strike a deal with Michael Jordan for it. What comes alive is a solid yet uninspired film, trying to craft an underdog tale for a multimillion dollar company by imbuing it with a breezy sense of fun, 80's needle drops, and charming performances. An entertaining way to spend your time.

Renfield (2023) - 3.5/5 - Ever since the casting of Nicholas Hoult as Renfield and Nicolas Cage as Dracula were made aware, this has been a highly anticipated film just for the potential alone. That promise begins early when footage from 1931's Dracula is shown, with the heads of Cage and Hoult placed over the original actors to deliver a fascinating way to show their character histories. The story then moves to the present day, where Renfield has grown tired of being Dracula's lackey and wishes to live his own life. Based on a story from Robert Kirkman, screenwriter Ryan Ridley and director Chris McKay bring alive this fascinating take on iconic characters, with the titular character being shown as trapped within this toxic relationship. Aiding things are the performances, with Hoult having such a lovable Hugh Grant-esque charm to Renfield while Cage has an absolute blast as this take on the famed bloodsucker.

Their scenes are so wonderful, that it becomes disappointing when the story keeps cutting to a less-engaging police corruption subplot led by Awkwafina's character. While it involves a fantastic showcase for the ever-entertaining Ben Schwartz, it's easily the lesser story within the film. It also feels like studio interference got into this film to keep the runtime around a tight 90-minutes, as scenes suddenly stop while exposition and narration feel retooled to work around this. Bizarrely, that wasn't for the gore as there's a gleeful nature to the grisly violence which feels inspired by Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. I had a fun time, although I do wonder what Chris McKay's final cut would've been like.

Biggest Disappointment: 65 (2023)

Blood Covered Chocolate (2023) - 1/5 - A Galaxy of potential slips through the fingers in uninspiring ways.

Hypnotica (2023) - 2/5 - A film to make you feel very sleepy.

House of 1000 Corpses (2003) - 3.5/5 - A funhouse ride through hell that's an effective start to Rob Zombie's career.

Master Gardener (2023) - Review to come

Suzume (2023) - 4.5/5 - After the masterful Your Name and the terrific Weathering With You, I am absolutely on-board for whatever Makoto Shinkai creates. His latest feature follows the titular high-school student, who teams-up with a mysterious man as they take a trip to prevent apocalyptic earthquakes by locking fantastical doors. What unfolds is a humorous and heartfelt tale that's effortlessly paired with sorrow, as Shinkai takes inspiration from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami for a profound story of honouring the dead to let the past rest. All of that with a scene-stealing chair. Another magnificent story from a phenomenal storyteller.

Biggest Surprise: Backwards Faces (2023)

The Evil Dead (1981) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Every bit as claustrophobic, tightly crafted, and gruesome as I remember. A stone-cold classic that creates such creeping terror with the sound mixing, particularly with the distorted way the voices are brought alive. The starting point for one of my favourite franchises, and one of the greatest protagonists of all time.

Backwards Faces (2023) - 4/5 - An engrossing feature constantly deconstructing the implications of its intriguing concept.

Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game (2023) - 4/5 - A knowingly witty approach to a little known true story.

Living With Chucky (2023) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A personal documentary filled with such love and reverence for one of horror's best franchises.

The Street Fighter (1974) - Review To Come

Evil Dead II (1987) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A masterful combination of unsettling horror and hilarious slapstick, brought alive courtesy of the unbridled creativity by all involved. From Bruce Campbell's outstanding physicality as he conveys the possession of his right hand, to the expertly build-up of Henrietta's first appearance, and especially the ingenious ways Sam Raimi plays on expectations of those who saw the first film (Ash trying to first get the chainsaw). One of the greatest films ever made. It's so groovy!

Worst film of the month: Colonials (2023)

Evil Dead Rise (2023) - 4/5 - A decade since the last feature-film and five-years since the Starz TV series Ash vs. Evil Dead came to a close, the Evil Dead series returns to the big screen from writer/director Lee Cronin. The opening moments delivers the expected setting for a film in this franchise, as horrors unfold within a remote lakeside cabin, before the story shifts to a setting just as claustrophobic; a condemned Los Angeles apartment complex. As guitar technician Beth visits her sister Ellie, single mother to three children, this endearing family have enough troubles involving the sister's difficulties at keeping in contact. Those issues are miniscule once a Book of the Dead is discovered, as a white-knuckled and grisly ride unfolds. Deadite brutality is on show with a gleeful sadism, as phenomenally conveyed through the unsettling grin on Alyssa Sutherland's face. Cronin recaptures the feel of Sam Raimi's films from the opening homaging the first-person perspective of the unseen monster, while making his own stamp as seen with an effective massacre witnessed through a peephole. It's a tale viscerally brought alive with practical effects and tremendous performances, making up a fantastic way to honour the franchise's past while taking a chainsaw to carve a gruesome path for the future.

Army of Darkness (1992) [rewatch] - 3/5 - This has always been my least-favourite film of the Evil Dead series, and while that hasn't changed after a decade since I last saw this, I have softened to it. The absurdity of this entry can be wonderful to watch, particularly once the Ray Harryhausen style skeleton army make their appearance, and it feels less jarring after seeing the slapstick brought to screen in the previous film. Yet the absurdity can grow tiring, and I remain unengaged by Ash's sudden romance with Sheila (which unfolds only a few days after he cut up his deadite girlfriend). Bad Ash is an interesting antagonist that stands out in this film's least interesting segment, the final battle. I do rather like the ending, whether it's the downbeat original ending or the action-packed happier finale. With this revaluation, this may be my favourite horror franchise of them all.

Let's Scare Jessica To Death (1971) - 4/5 - After her release from a mental institution, Jessica hopes to get her life back on track as she moves to a country house with her husband and a close friend. As they make friends with a mysterious girl living in the house, Jessica is torn between the possibilities that her mental health is fracturing, or that their new friend is actually a vampire. What director John Hancock has crafted is an eerie mood piece which shows the world through the titular characters' eyes, as she worries whether the horrors she's witnessing are physical or in her head. Key to the atmosphere is Orville Stoeber's music, which heightens the unsettling scenario, while Zohra Lampert's tremendous lead performance emotionally grounds the film. An effective work that made for a terrific watch.

The Bigfoot Trap (2023) - 3/5 - A more interesting story than one expects.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - It's not a 5-star slam dunk from me as before, but James Gunn's MCU introductory feature is a fantastic assembly of magnificent style, endearing performances put into a make-shift family of misfits, great humour, and a banging soundtrack.

Best film of the month: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Best film seen in cinemas: John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
Best film watched for the first time: John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
Best film rewatched: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Biggest Disappointment: 65 (2023)
Biggest Surprise: Backwards Faces (2023)
Worst film of the month: Colonials (2023)

Number of films watched: 31