July 2023 In Review

July has passed us by, and festival season is truly upon me as I have many watches whose embargo I cannot yet break. For what I can talk about, there are quite a few watches for Nerdly and the long awaited arrival of Barbenheimer. So, let's see what films I watched this past July. 

8 Found Dead (2023) - 2/5 - A tension-free affair which desperately tries to fulfil its title.

Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (2023) - 3/5 - After Bumblebee showed what the potential for what a Transformers movie could be, Steven Caple Jr. takes the reins for a 90s set follow-up which introduces the Beast Wars characters. There's solid character work to the humans, particularly Anthony Ramos and his younger brother, although it's unfortunately secondary to robot battles which grows tiresome across the lengthy feeling runtime. This is particularly true of the lacking third-act which takes convoluted turns, especially to ensure Ramos isn't cast aside during the big battle. I have no strong feelings about this film either way, but at least it doesn't fall into the worst indulgences which the Michael Bay films had.

What The Waters Left Behind: Scars (2023) - 2/5 - A lacking and dull combination of Hostel and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

Insidious (2010) [rewatch] - 3/5 - With the upcoming arrival of Insidious: The Red Door, I decided to revisit this film after 9 years to see whether my opinion has changed on James Wan's supernatural feature. My feelings have no changed, as the tension filled first-half keeps hold of my interest before it becomes lost once the film enters The Further. It has an all-timer jump scare, and I do like the ending, but I wish I loved this one more.

Skinamarink (2023) - 3/5 - A bold work which depicts a child's perspective warping the familiar into unrecognizable horrors.

Ouija Shark 2 (2023) - 1/5 - A film which left me Ouija bored.

Bird Box (2018) [rewatch] - 3/5 - Upon a revisit to this film, I was not as bowled over by Susanne Bier's film as I was the first time around. There are great sequences, with the one set inside a GPS navigated car being the standout, and I am engaged in the stories of the characters played by Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes. It's unfortunate that cannot be said about the larger cast, as the film spreads itself across an overstuffed assortment of characters that lack characterization, seemingly compensating by overexplaining the plot.

Best film of the month and Best film rewatched:
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)

Seven Chances (1925) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A struggling stockbroker discovers that he is to inherit $7 million, provided he gets married before 7pm on his 27th birthday. As it happens, that day is today, leading to a madcap dash in an effort to inherit the money and save his firm that is on the brink of financial ruin. The gags are magnificent throughout this film, from the many failed attempts at proposing to a spectacular chase sequence of Keaton trying to outrun a mob of angry brides. There are moments where the film struggles to maintain the comedy to be mined from the premise, and the blackface is an unfortunate addition, yet these parts don't drag down the magnificently crafted hilarity on show in this film.

The Parent Trap (1998) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - Yes, the plot is absolutely ridiculous, it takes the parents FAR too long to realise that the children they raised for 11 years have swapped places, and the Meredith Blake subplot feels unnecessary to this story. And yet, I was enveloped in this films charm as it depicted the entertaining attempts to reunite a broken family. It also helps that the performances are just so lovable, from the dual roles of Lindsey Lohan to the terrific Natasha Richardson.

Mermaids' Lament (2023) - 2.5/5 - A tale of trauma and recovery captured through lively underwater photography.

Joy Ride (2023) - 4.5/5 - After co-writing the immensely charming Crazy Rich Asians, Adele Lim makes her directorial debut with this feature which absolutely lives up to its name. Four Asian-American friends travel through Asia in search of one of their birth mothers, and what unfolds is a story that's infectiously fun and hilarious. It has a sense of humour which gets absolutely filthy, while also getting emotional as it speaks from a touching place about identity and reconnecting with one's heritage. Key to it a talented cast who dive headfirst into the material, be it to go big for the sex scenes, touching on the heartfelt character moments, or as part of an imagined dance sequence that's shot with such infectious energy. Possibly the funniest film of 2023, but definitely contains one of the best cinematic tattoos.

Bird Box Barcelona (2023) - 2.5/5 - The film takes an interesting direction in this familiar world yet offers little interest in the tension-free proceedings.

Alien Planet (2023) - 3/5 - A passion project full of promise.

No Hard Feelings (2023) - 3.5/5 - Faced with losing her childhood home, a 32-year-old Uber driver struggles to make money after her car is repossessed. She comes across a listing from wealthy parents, offering a car provided a woman "dates" their introverted 19-year-old son to bring him out of his shell. What's key to this film is the winning pair at the forefront, with Jennifer Lawrence diving into the role of a woman who struggles to make emotional connections with the men she dates, while Andrew Barth Feldman is a scene-stealing delight. While not every gag lands for me, this is a solidly-humorous tale which knows when to bring a stunner as a beach-set scene suddenly delivers a naked beat-down. A film which rides the line between raunchy fun and heartfelt emotion, while also including some commentary about gentrification, and knowing when to step back from its questionable premise. A charming delight.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) - 4.5/5 - After the series masterpiece of 2018's Mission: Impossible - Fallout, any instalment which didn't reach such heights could have been considered a disappointment, yet Christopher McQuarrie delivers another tremendous instalment in one of the best American movie franchises. Whether it's a car chase in Rome, an Airport set evasion, or the peak third-act sequence set on a train, this is an exhilarating ride which delivers exceptional tension across the many set-pieces. Uniting them is a timely story about the perils of A.I. with a chilling Esai Morales serving as the physical embodiment, although the cast MVPs are easily Pom Klementieff and Hayley Atwell. See it on the big screen if you can, and then wonder how Part Two will top this.

Best film watched for the first time and
Best film seen in cinemas: Oppenheimer (2023)

The Circus Tent (1978) - 3.5/5 - A documentary-esque look at the drifting lifestyle of the marginalized.

The Tunnel to Summer, The Exit of Goodbyes (2023) - 4/5 - A touching tale about a pair ready to achieve their desires by sacrificing their futures.

Women Talking (2022) - 5/5 - Goodness me, Sarah Polley is such a phenomenal filmmaker and this may be her masterwork. An adaptation of Miriam Toews' novel of the same name, the story follows a group of women in an isolated religious colony struggling to decide what path to take. In the wake of rampant sexual abuse from the colony's men, the women must decide what their next steps will be; do nothing, stay and fight, or to leave and form a new colony. What unfolds brings to mind 12 Angry Men in how such thought-provoking and gripping discussions comes through the on-screen discussions held in cinematic ways, brought alive with an ensemble of powerhouse performances. This discussion sees this religious group trying to reconcile their faith with the horrific events, as they are told forgiving the men is the only option to get them into heaven, while understanding the regressive ideals which allowed such actions to operate in silence, the need to challenge authority, and grappling with the impact of their potential actions. An engrossing masterpiece.

Boon (2023) - 2.5/5 - A perfunctory tale of a hitman trying to find redemption.

That's A Wrap (2023) - Review to come

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A comfort watch for me. John Mulaney and Nicolas Cage as scene-stealing webslingers will never get boring for me.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - When many of the big films released this summer feel disappointing, it's wonderful to see Christopher McQuarrie show the power of cinema by blowing up a bridge and getting his star to ride a bike off a mountain.

Biggest Disappointment: Superman Returns (2006)

The Out-Laws (2023) - 0.5/5 - Working on a script by Ben Zazove and Evan Turner, director Tyler Spindel crafts a story about a bank manager about to wed who believes his fiancee's parents were responsible for robbing his bank. For a heist comedy, this film is dreadful on both fronts as what unfolds is uninspiring guff which contains less laughs than a mausoleum. Pierce Brosnan and Ellen Barkin are in "collect the paycheck" mode, while Nina Dobrev is woefully underserved as the typical partner whose biggest contribution is unwittingly becoming a hostage to motivate the lead character. Speaking of, Adam Devine does not work front and centre of this film. To be fair, the films problems would remain with a different leading actor, yet the unbearable lead performance makes the short runtime feel overlong. A dire Netflix Original film.

Wrath of Dracula (2023) - 2/5 - A vampire flick struggling to set itself apart from similar films.

Killing Romance (2023) - 3/5 - A story about finding self-worth and escaping a toxic relationship told through an exaggerated tone.

River (2023) - Review to come

Vincent Must Die (2023) - 3.5/5 - Dark comedy and the resilience of human connection intersect in this entertaining film.

Superman Returns (2006) - 2/5 - Before legacy sequels cashing in on nostalgia was a regular occurrence, Superman received that treatment with this continuation of 1978's Superman and 1980's Superman II. The story follows the titular hero returning to Earth after a five-year absence, to find Lois Lane is a mother and Lex Luthor is enacting a land-development plan. It's clear that the film wishes to capture the spirit of the well-regarded films which starred Christopher Reeve, yet it all feels so hollow. There's no heart to the homages and replications thay are put on-screen, it just feels empty. This isn't the fault of Brandon Routh or Kate Bosworth, as they try injecting life into their characters, they just have poor material to work with. It just becomes a tiresome experience to slog through the 154-minute runtime, particularly when there's such a dour and self-serious tone for a film which implies dog cannibalism and Lex Luthor seducing an elderly woman out of her fortune. At least Parker Posey is entertaining in her role, although she feels taken from a more interesting film.

May (2002) - 4.5/5 - An exceptional tale of loneliness told through dark humour and tragedy.

Biggest Surprise: The First Slam Dunk (2023)

Oppenheimer (2023) - 5/5 - Adapting the 2005 biographical novel, American Prometheus, Christopher Nolan brings to screen the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his role in creating the atomic bomb. Across a 3-hour runtime which flies by, Nolan crafts a compelling chronicle of the theoretical physicist who developed nuclear weapons to initially stop the Nazis from getting there first and is left to reckon with the consequences of his invention. Key to this is Cillian Murphy's compelling and haunted performance, which is the perfect focal point amidst a starry cast spread across different points of time in the titular figure's life. An engrossing work that is gorgeously shot, magnificently brought alive by one of the year's best scores, and is powerfully delivered right up to the haunting ending which lingers.

Barbie (2023) - 5/5 - After delivering two masterpieces as a solo director, Greta Gerwig takes a big swing in adapting Barbie to a feature film. The story sees stereotypical Barbie (phenomenally played by Margot Robbie) finding her seemingly-perfect life upended by thoughts of death, leading her to travel to the real world in order to get her life back on track. Coming along with her is Ken, played with masterful comedic timing by Ryan Gosling. What unfolds is a pastel coloured existential crisis for Mattel's iconic figure which delves into the thorny history, while also offering thought-provoking social commentary and exceptional jokes courtesy of an ingenious script. Bringing the world alive are some of the year's best costumes and production design, exceptional performances (Michael Cera is a treasure as Allan), and the funniest final line since Teen Titans Go! To The Movies. An insightful and imaginative blockbuster which cements what was already clear, that Greta Gerwig is a phenomenal director that deserves to make whatever the hell she wants.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A throwback to the adventure serials he grew up on, Steven Spielberg crafted an engrossing tale which economically uses characterization before letting the story drive these well-established figures through a thrilling ride which ensures no Nazi is left unpunched or brutally finished off. A masterful feature which delivers utter charm from Harrison Ford as the archaeology professor who will use any tactic to get out of a jam, an engaging Karen Allen as the resourceful Marion Ravenwood, and Paul Freeman's Belloq, Indy's cunning rival who constantly remains one step ahead. Some days, you just need a family feature which ends with faces being melted.

The First Slam Dunk (2023) - 4.5/5 - A pulse-pounding basketball game delivered with strong emotion and a stunning visual style.

Evie (2021) - 3/5 - An effective drama about resurfacing trauma with horror elements that feel like an afterthought.

The Red Tide Massacre (2023) - 1/5 - The potential for a story of ecological urgency is dashed for a cycle of dull nonsense.

Talk To Me (2023) - 4.5/5 - On the anniversary of her mother's death, Mia (a tremendous Sophia Wilde) tries to take her mind off the grief by attending a party with friends. The main event is an unusual party game, where the people grip an embalmed hand to conjure spirits via a seance. While the experience gives them a rush and leads to the group having a big laugh, it soon goes wrong and leaves the friends to realise they have gone too far. For their directorial debut, Michael and Danny Philippou take viewers by the hand for a haunting tale of teenage troubles and grief which is delivered in soul-destroying ways. Sound design and camera angles are effectively utilized to convey the unfolding horrors, while containing some utterly brutal violence that is difficult to watch. Effective performances go into likeable characters, for a tale which eases viewers with terrific laughs before destroying them with a bleak tale that gets under one's skin.

Restore Point (2023) - Review to come

Worst film of the month: The Out-Laws (2023)

Barbie (2023) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Upon rewatch, the Will Ferrell scenes dragged more for me. It felt like the film took a bit too much inspiration from The LEGO Movie with including his businessman character more than necessary until he's part of the emotional final act. I just wanted the film to return to Barbie and Ken's adventures, as they were so fun to be in the company of while also effectively hitting emotional beats so well. That doesn't diminish from what a big swing Greta Gerwig took, as this remains an effectively subversive use of well-established IP for a massive summer blockbuster.

Lovely, Dark, and Deep (2023) - 3/5 - A backcountry excursion which takes haunting and cosmic turns.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (2010) - 1/5 - After their car breaks down in Germany, two American girls searching for help find the house of a misanthropic surgeon, where the tourists find themselves drugged so they can unwillingly become part of the doctor's unfathomable creation; a human centipede. What's undeniable about Tom Six's film is that it delivers on the titles promise, and gives you the sight of three people sewn together ass to mouth. It's an interesting premise to offer a contemporary twist on the mad scientist trope, and it's no wonder the film got so much mainstream attention when it was released. Outside of that, the film is never as gross or interesting as one would expect from that premise. The way it's brought to screen is too conventional which left me bored and unfazed. Now that I have watched the trilogy, I can safely say that Tom Six is a director that is not for me.

Blackout (2023) - Review to come

The Seeding (2023) - 4/5 - A film that approaches familiar territory with a subversive spin and a pessimistic look at humanity.

Femme (2023) - 4.5/5 - After performing on-stage, drag artist Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) steps out to get cigarettes when he is the victim of a brutal homophobic attack. Left withdrawn and feeling powerless, he visits a gay sauna months later where he spots his attacker. Seeing a plan for revenge, Jules begins dating Preston (George MacKay) and integrates himself into the life of the man responsible for his trauma.

Writers/Directors Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping craft an engrossing thriller about identity which never loses focus of the main pair. Underneath Preston’s bravado, MacKay captures a self-loathing lurking within this character trapped in a friendship group driven by alcohol and toxic masculinity, yet a tenderness rises as his façade crumbles away around Jules. While viewers are allowed to understand the character, he is not let off the hook for his violent actions.

The impact is shown on Stewart-Jarrett’s exceptional performance, conveying Jules’ determination to take back his life and rediscover the powerful feeling his drag persona of Aphrodite gave him. While Street Fighter allows Jules to repay the feeling of violent humiliation through virtual means, the knowledge that someone’s sins have left them within a prison of their own making is even sweeter.

Aporia (2023) - Review to come

Johnny Z (2023) - Review to come

Best film of the month: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
Best film seen in cinemas: Oppenheimer (2023)
Best film watched for the first time: Oppenheimer (2023)
Best film rewatched: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018)
Biggest Disappointment: Superman Returns (2006)
Biggest Surprise: The First Slam Dunk (2023)
Worst film of the month: The Out-Laws (2023)

Number of films watched: 43