May 2023 In Review

Amidst my many 2023 watches this past month, I dove into the works of silent master Buster Keaton, revisited an astounding Chucky film courtesy of The Evolution of Horror, and was left with much to chew over with a 2012 Mads Mikkelsen feature. So, let's see what films I watched this past May.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023) - 3.5/5 - There's a clear love for the tabletop roleplaying game in this feature-film from directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, as it captures the feeling that any help or hinderance lies around the corner. From improvised plans potentially succeeding or falling apart courtesy of the simplest mistake, the feel of it relying on the roll of a die is effectively conveyed through the unfolding tale. Told through a heist comedy, this fantasy tale is a rollicking good time with great humour and visual ideas, with my favourite involving the detailed instructions of how to cross a bridge. It does feel a bit baggy, particularly as the Red Wizard elements require wrapping up once the main story ends. Key to it are the main party, each with a name that feels like an afterthought by people desperate to play the titular game. Michelle Rodriguez is stronger as a physical actor than in the emotional elements, although she sells the relationships more than the potato-loving character trait thrown into the film. Justice Smith feels at-home in the nervous persona he's portrayed many times before, while Chris Pine is an enjoyable presence as the bard, and Hugh Grant is having a ball as the con artist with an inflated ego. There's an enjoyable sense of adventure to this tale, even if it can revert to by-the-numbers over the inspired elements that really make the film sing. An enjoyable time well spent.

The Cost (2023) - 4.5/5 - An morally grey tale of vigilante justice that's engrossing and foreboding.

Infinity Pool (2023) - 4/5 - After this third feature-film, Brandon Cronenberg joins Julia Ducournau and Jordan Peele as horror directors whose fiercely original minds I want to see constantly making films. This latest film follows an author looking for inspiration, when he meets a fellow guest who gushes over his previous book. After a trip outside of the resort grounds ends horrifically, the films true elements make themselves known. It's not subtle about how wealth removes consequences, yet the bad trip Cronenberg crafts is extremely intoxicating in ways that firmly gripped my attention, threatening to never let go. The unending depravity blurs sex and violence in fascinating ways, brought alive by Dan Martin's exceptional effects work. Alexander Skarsgård is exceptional as James Foster, the author who desires to see himself as an "alpha" while feeling free courtesy of new-found discoveries he makes. Guiding him along the journey is the alluring Gabi, exceptionally played by Mia Goth in a tremendous performance that further highlights the exceptional talent she is. This is a pool worth diving into.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A sequel which focuses on emotional resonance for each of the Guardians, granting more time to Star-Lord's unconventional paternal relationships, Gamora and Nebula's shared trauma, the destructive tendencies of Rocket and Yondu born from their self-loathing, Drax and Nebula's humorously touching sibling-esque relationship, and Baby Groot being an absolute gem. It's also an exceptionally directed piece, with the Ravager massacre set to "Come A Little Bit Closer" being a visual highlight, and there's fantastic humour to be found. A high-point within the MCU.

The Lure (2017) - 4.5/5 - What if Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid tale was reworked into a Polish horror musical? Agnieszka Smoczyńska has that covered with this exceptional feature, as two sirens named Golden and Silver join a rock band to perform at a nightclub. In-between the excellent tunes, Silver falls for a human man who only sees her as a fish, while Golden quenches her bloodthirst through murder. Within the mermaids desiring sex and blood is a tale of how women are mistreated, making for a unique fairytale that deserves to be seen.

The Weird Kidz (2023) - Review to come

Best film of the month &
Best film rewatched: Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Return of the Street Fighter (1974) - 3/5 - What unfolds is a never-ending assault on the lead, as he cannot get peace wherever he goes because an attack can strike from any direction. It's a compelling way to frame the action, particularly when the fights remain terrific spectacles worth watching.

The Street Fighter's Last Revenge (1974) - 2/5 - The impressive displays of martial arts prowess do a lot of heavy lifting, as there's little interest in other elements, particularly the thin corruption plot. 

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022) - 4/5 - It's fun to get a little holiday special where these larger than life characters can chill out and just be their lovable goofy selves. The focus for this is Drax and Mantis trying to reignite the Christmas spirit in Star-Lord by getting him the perfect present. In this case, it's a very game Kevin Bacon. A joyful time spent with great laughs, catchy songs, and Pom Klementieff once-more being an absolute delight.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) - 4.5/5 - Quite a bit has happened since Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was released. James Gunn was subsequently fired and rehired by Disney, while also moving onto DC to deliver a good live-action Suicide Squad film, develop a Peacemaker spin-off show, and guide their cinematic universe after a reboot. Oh, and he delivered a charming Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special.

It makes sense that he'd close the book on this family of misfits which broke the Troma guy into the mainstream, finishing his cinematic trilogy with his most personal story yet. This story explores Rocket's origins through harrowing flashbacks, which informs this emotional and humorous tale of this makeshift family trying to help overcome the source of Rocket's trauma.

The returning Guardians are each wonderfully conveyed, with their arcs brought to a rightful place which feels fitting. Pom Klementieff remains the comedic MVP, while Dave Bautista shows the vulnerability behind Drax's posturing, and new-addition Cosmo is a very good dog. The only issue is Adam Warlock, who is charmingly brought alive by Will Poulter, but feels like a holdover from a previous post-credits scene who's given more time than necessary.

There's a phenomenal sense of style paired with another fantastic mix-tape full of tunes, from the space descent set to In The Meantime, to a brilliant hallway fight, and especially an impactful use of Dog Days Are Over. Key to it all is the High Evolutionary, an absolute bastard of an antagonist with one hell of a god complex, brought alive by Chukwudi Iwuji's phenomenal portrayal.

Considering how cinema can prey on nostalgia, I fully expect to see these characters returning down the line for Avengers 6 or something. But there's a magic to how James Gunn captures these characters voices in his writing and directing, and I'll miss this iteration of these A-holes.

Killer Kites (2023)- 0.5/5 - A fake trailer idea which cannot sustain the 67-minute runtime.

Best film seen in cinemas: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Strain 100 (2023) - 0/5 - An increasingly insulting film that lacks creativity, coherence, and an ending.

Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio (2023) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A masterful update on Carlo Collodi's 1883 novel, which transports the dark fairy-tale to World War II Italy for a humorous and heartbreaking story focused on grief, love, and the necessity of being your true self rather than blindly following orders. Plus, more depictions of dictators should involve them having the vocabulary range of Borat.

Bliss Of Evil (2023) - Review to come

Exit (2006) - 2/5 - A businessman finds the past returns in unwelcome ways, as he finds himself framed for his business partner's murder. The potential is there for a story about past sins within the cutthroat business world, yet it's delivered in unremarkable and uninteresting fashion. The characters don't have to be meticulous planners, yet none seem to have an idea about what to do and their decisions appear made courtesy of writers with equally no idea. It's nice to see Mads Mikkelsen and Alexander Skarsgård in this film together, yet one wishes the film was more deserving of their talents.

Exorcism In Utero (2023) - 1/5 - A feature hampered by uncertainty and a screenplay which feels A.I. generated.

Best film watched for the first time: GO (2001)

The Strange Case of Jacky Caillou (2023) - 3.5/5 - A slow-moving yet engaging tale of a young man finding his purpose.

The Bride Wore Black (1968) - 4/5 - An elegantly crafted tale of vengeance.

Hail To The Deadites (2021) - 1.5/5 - A documentary about and created by fans of The Evil Dead franchise, director Steve Villeneuve holds many interviews to cast a spotlight on those devoted to this series. Amongst the personal anecdotes is a touching one about a fan who named their son Ash, and this highlights the promise for what this documentary could be. Along with the fan films intercut into the documentary, the potential is there to highlight how Sam Raimi's iconic trilogy influenced those with such love for it. Instead, it feels like an overlong duel for bragging rights between people showing off their cosplay and memorabilia. There's little insight and direction other than showing off, leaving an uncertainty about what this film is ultimately trying to achieve. As a fan of this franchise, I was just left bored.

The Devil's Rejects (2005) - 3.5/5 - After watching House of 1000 Corpses, the first Rob Zombie film I had not disliked, I found myself hopeful for its follow-up which I had regularly seen praised amongst the directors works. While the film falls into the directors patterns which I do not care for, particularly during the motel room sequence, I also found myself gripped. It was an engaging experience to watch these monsters being hunted by a monster of their own making, with William Forsyth's vengeance seeking sheriff in hot pursuit, particularly during the third-act. I was also a fan of the ending, as the Firefly's story reaches quite a fitting finale. It's unfortunate to see how well Zombie can make a film, considering my feelings on his other works.

The Hunt (2012) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Co-writer/Director Thomas Vinterberg crafts this story about Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a lonely teacher who's struggling over his son's custody. His life appears to be improving as he finds love and receives good news about the custody battle, but that all changes when his best's friends daughter, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), tells a lie which leaves Lucas' life shattered courtesy of an untrue accusation.

What's unfolded is a heartbreaking tale which feels all the more difficult to watch because the story is shown from Lucas' perspective, while understanding that the parents are struggling to wrap their heads around such a horrendous accusation which may have happened under their noses.

Key to it all is Mads himself, who gives a heartbreaking performance as the teacher who tried being nice and finds himself vilified because of lies. The character's bubbling frustration and hurt are exceptionally conveyed, as he's treated with such hostility by the community he previously felt part of. It all comes to ahead in a church scene, which is powerfully conveyed with such emotion as a joyous occasion is unfortunately tainted by what's occurred. It's all part of this devastating film which quietly reflects on human cynicism throughout this fragile community, right up to the powerful ending.

While this film isn't an easy watch, it was more difficult to watch someone wrongly accused at the centre of a "witch hunt" in the wake of the rampant victim blaming that has followed the likes of Times Up, MeToo, and what's been referred to as Cancel Culture. It isn't this film's fault for what would become prominent in the public consciousness, and victim blaming was around long before the past decade, yet I cannot deny it unfortunately adds an extra layer of uncomfortableness when watched now compared to a decade ago.

Biggest Disappointment: The Last House on the Left (1972)

Brightwood (2023) - 4/5 - A compelling feature about a couple going in circles with little hope for things changing.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - There's something phenomenal to how this story is visualised, from the fleshy look of Orgocorp to the impressive hallway fight sequence, in this emotional story about facing your painful past and finding happiness within yourself. Plus, James Gunn remains brilliant in his musical choices.

Little Bone Lodge (2023) - 4/5 - A tightly crafted tale on a confined farmhouse, as manipulations are made all in the name of family.

Roadkill (2023) - 3.5/5 - An effective premise brought alive by a filmmaker with great promise.

Curse of Crom: The Legend of Halloween (2022) - 3/5 - A great introduction to horror in the vein of Goosebumps.

Biggest Surprise: The Cost (2023)

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (2023) - 4.5/5 - I have no experience with Judy Blume's 1970 novel outside of the often parodied title, yet I approached this with excitement courtesy of writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig who previously wrote and directed the excellent Edge of Seventeen. What I found with this film was a charming tale of adolescence told through the titular Margaret's exploration of religion, something born from her interfaith family. The story is delivered with such heart and wonderful humour, as Margaret explores her changing body with a refreshing frankness that makes it feel vital for growing girls. Key to it are the moving performances, including an impressive Abby Ryder Fortson in the lead role, a tremendous Rachel McAdams as the mother struggling with her additional spare time, and an entertaining Kathy Bates as the lovable grandmother. I was really taken with this film.

Maggie Simpson in "Rogue Not Quite One" (2023) - 1.5/5 - Another Disney+ Simpsons short, another half-hearted way of paying lip-service to the other toys The Mouse also owns, complete with more tired tries at empty criticisms. There were some actual gags this time around, yet it's just another lazy way to have Springfielders shill for their corporate overlord.

Three Ages (1923) - 3.5/5 - For Buster Keaton's feature directorial debut, he tells three stories across different time-periods about a man's journey to court the woman he loves. There's great comedy and slapstick mined from the caveman, roman, and modern time-periods, yet they're structurally identical and could do with more than just different costumes to differentiate them. An enjoyable, yet repetitive, time.

Bionicle: Mask of Light (2003) [rewatch] - 2/5 - I have fond memories for the Bionicle series, particularly playing with the toys at a friends house and watching the first two films when they aired on Cartoon Network. Revisiting this 20 years after its release is a curious thing, as it's a stark reminder of how much heavy lifting nostalgia can do with the things we enjoyed in the past. The film wants to go deep on the lore of this world and the characters, but the complicated sounding names merely masks basic tropes told in uninteresting and messy ways to generate childrens interest in the toys which were for sale, and to show off the awkward combination of bionicles with humanlike movements. A curious relic of the past which doesn't hold up to the passage of time.

Heroes of the Golden Masks (2023) - 2/5 - What aims to be a fantastical tale grounded in human emotion is let down by lacking elements.

Worst film of the month: Strain 100 (2023)

Peppergrass (2023) - 2.5/5 - A film with the makings of survival horror, yet lacking any tension or sense of urgency.

GO (2001) - 4.5/5 - A heartfelt tale about a discriminated teen finding acceptance through love.

Bride of Chucky (1998) [rewatch] - 4/5 - What a joy to watch this on the big screen, courtesy of Evolution of Horror Presents! An entertaining romp which retools the premise to include Jennifer Tilly's iconic Tiffany, creating a masterful pairing that are Bonnie and Clyde meet Barbie and Ken. The human relationship stuff is less interesting, yet it doesn't ruin this fun film for me.

The Last House on the Left (1972) - 1.5/5 - The directorial debut of Wes Craven is a film which feels influential, yet was too messy for me. For a film about the horrific rape and revenge elements, it's jarring how the tones regularly changes to abruptly include lacklustre songs and bumbling cop buffoonery. Outside of that, the film feels amateurish in places and unfortunately dull throughout.

Our Hospitality (1923) - 4/5 - Every Buster Keaton film I watch follows a familiar blueprint, as he plays a charming romantic trying to woo his love interest against all odds while delivering phenomenal stunts which are jaw-dropping to this day. It's a winning formula which is easy watching, endlessly entertaining, and breezes by, with this feature being no exception. The plot follows a young man who returns home to claim his inheritance, while falling in love with a young woman he meets on the train ride over. Little does he know that her family has a blood feud with his family, meaning the woman's father and brothers are constantly trying to kill him. A joyous film with an all-timer stunt from Keaton at the end.

Sherlock Jr. (1924) [rewatch] - 5/5 - 99 years after its release, and this Buster Keaton feature remains masterful across every single one of its entertaining minutes. An endearing romance, an engrossing detective story as a film-within-a-film, and a practical effects showcase that has yet to be topped despite Tom Cruise's insistence to one-up each Mission: Impossible film. Also, possibly the best example of slipping on a banana skin?

Best film of the month: Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Best film seen in cinemas: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)
Best film watched for the first time: GO (2001)
Best film rewatched: Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Biggest Disappointment: The Last House on the Left (1972)
Biggest Surprise: The Cost (2023)
Worst film of the month: Strain 100 (2023)

Number of films watched: 36