August 2023 In Review

Festival season was in full swing, as this month saw me watch quite the amount of films as part of Frightfest coverage while also still tackling some films as part of Fantasia Festival. I also made my way through the Spielberg sequels of Indiana Jones and made some great discoveries. So, let's see what films I watched this past August.

I Am Rage (2023) - 2.5/5 - A satisfying tear through awful characters that one wishes was more consistently entertaining.

Nimona (2023) - 5/5 - A punk rock tale brought alive through vibrant animation, touching relationships, and exceptional performances.

Frontier(s) (2007) - 4/5 - A tableau of human suffering which brutally shows that right-wing terrors are not isolated incidents.

Stay Online (2023) - 4/5 - A compelling and vital screenlife thriller set amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Prestige (2006) [rewatch] - 5/5 - It's a Christopher Nolan special! Two dead wives for the price of one.

Morbius (2022) [rewatch] - 1/5 - Tonight, Jared Leto is going to suck! *changes cue cards* Your blood!

They Cloned Tyrone (2023) - 4/5 - Social commentary through fantastical means which must be seen to be believed.

Best film of the Month and Best
film Rewatched: The Prestige (2006)

Wish Upon (2017) - 1/5 - What did I just watch?

John R. Leonetti directs this tale of a girl discovering a wishing box, and using it to make wishes which have fatal consequences that bring to mind Final Destination. The result is an inept take on The Monkey's Paw which spends most of the runtime on teenage melodrama, before using the last 15-minutes to rush through an emotional core. A film which is unintentionally funny and downright embarrassing to watch.

Pandemonium (2023) - 2.5/5 - A pitch-black tale with much to appreciate for those on its pessimistic wavelength.

The Black Mass (2023) - 3.5/5 - An effective approach to overly familiar subject matter.

Cheat (2023) - 1/5 - A film difficult to engage with as it barrels through baffling decisions.

Sympathy For The Devil (2023) - 3/5 - An effective two-hander which cruises by on Cage's manic energy.

Trauma Therapy: Psychosis (2023) - 0.5/5 - An odd mess that struggles to function, even divorced from the behind-the-scenes issues

Perpetrator (2023) - 2/5 - Offers an exaggerated reality striking back against the systems that put women down.

My Mother's Eyes (2023) -  Review to come

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

Scrapper (2023) - 4.5/5 - Director Charlotte Regan makes her feature debut with this story of young Georgie (Lola Campbell), a 12-year-old girl who is living alone ever since her mother's death. She pretends that her uncle Winston Churchill is looking after her, while she makes money by selling stolen bikes. Her life is rocked by the return of her absentee father, Jason (Harris Dickinson), as she struggles to accept the man who has never been in her life.

The standoffish relationship between the pair is effectively crafted, as they try moving forward while grappling with grief in their own ways. Heart and humour are evident throughout this phenomenally acted tale, particularly with a killer comedic performance from Alin Uzun in his first feature. Regan's exceptional directorial style breathes life into this story, making for a unique approach to a tale that is covering well-worn ground. Seek this one when it is released, it is a phenomenal discovery.

Rage (2023) - 2/5 - A lacking folk-horror which disregards scares to teeter on the edge of xenophobia.

The Ghost Station (2023) - 2/5 - A promising set-up sadly let down by its execution.

Talk To Me (2023) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A rewatch does not lessen the effectiveness of this impressive debut, as the terrific humour lulls you into a false sense of security so that the bleak journey taken hits even harder.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) [rewatch] - 3/5 - Steven Spielberg can direct the hell out of a film, and that's no different here from the opening musical number to the exceptional rope bridge sequence, and especially that minecart chase. Harrison Ford is on winning form as the titular archaeologist, sharing terrific chemistry with an excellent Ke Huy Quan as Short Round. Less successful is Kate Capshaw as Willie Scott, who adds little to the film outside of irritation as the shrieking damsel who's attracted to diamonds and potential riches. Amrish Puri goes full ham as the villainous Mola Ram, the heart-ripping cult leader that is part of the unfortunately dated depiction of India and its people, which leaves Indy to play "white saviour". It's also shocking how dark this film gets, with the kills included a skewering from a flaming kebab and a hanging from a pretty sturdy ceiling fan. It's wonderful to see how brutal Spielberg gets across these films.

Good Boy (2023) - 4/5 - A compelling depiction of a need to find control within one's life.

New Life (2023) - 4/5 - A touching tale wrapped within a compelling cat and mouse game.

Three Ages (1923) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - An impressive celebration of Buster Keaton's feature directorial debut.

Biggest Disappointment: The Blackening (2023)

T-Blockers (2023) - 4/5 - An enthralling and unapologetically queer cry of fury in increasingly hostile times.

Spookt (2023) - 1.5/5 - A horror flick which fails to raise one's pulse.

Birth/Rebirth (2023) - Review to come

The Dive (2023) - 3.5/5 - Takes viewers to new depths.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - In the quest for the Holy Grail, Indiana Jones is joined by his Scottish father to stop the Nazis from gaining eternal life. What unfolds is the most funniest Indy film yet, with Spielberg delivering expert comedic timing while also unleashing his goofy side with hilarious gags, many seemingly inspired by Buster Keaton, and a phenomenal back and forth between the on-screen father and son. It's a tale where the villains serve their purpose, even if they may not be as strong as former examples of antagonists, but this is a rip-roaring adventure with fantastic set-pieces and an eagerness to destroy the villains in exceptionally graphic ways.

Hostile Dimensions (2023) - 4/5 - A multiversal feature that tremendously tackles big sci-fi ideas in down to Earth ways.

To Fire You Come At Last (2023) - 4/5 - Hell is other people, as is effectively depicted in this swiftly told work.

Transmission (2023) - 4/5 - An enthralling mystery woven into an impressive piece of channel surfing carnage.

Biggest Surprise: The Moor (2023)

The Moor (2023) - 4.5/5 - An impactful tale of unresolved grief within an eerie atmosphere which threatens to choke viewers with fear.

Where The Devil Roams (2023) - Review to come

What You Wish For (2023) - 4/5 - Arriving at a Latin American villa, chef Ryan finds himself escaping from his old life and gambling problems only to take on his old friend's identity and cook for an elite party. What unfolds is an engrossing character piece which is led by a powerhouse Nick Stahl, portraying the chef torn between his humanity and achieving recognition that his life has lacked. A compelling work.

Monolith (2023) - 4/5 - A compelling chamber piece and an impressive debut.

I Am Monsters! (2023) - 3.5/5 - Nicholas Vince delivers engaging stories of his kinship with monsters amidst real-life terrors.

Raging Grace (2023) - Review to come

Enter The Clones of Bruce (2023) - 4/5 - A fascinating glimpse into a forgotten piece of history, driven by a need to capitalize on a trend halted by an unforeseen tragedy.

Past Lives (2023) - 5/5 - After moving away from Seoul when she was 12, Nora reconnects with her childhood friend Na Young. The pair's connection stems from how close they were as children, as they hold onto nostalgia through idealised versions of their first loves. What Celine Song has crafted for her exceptional debut is a gentle tale following this pair grappling with who they were together and who they've become since parting ways. Greta Lee and Teo Yoo are exceptional, but it's also worth mentioning John Magaro who is there for his wife even as the situation makes him ponder who he is in this situation. A tender feature which is among 2023's best films.

Worst film of the month:
Trauma Therapy: Psychosis (2023)

Cobweb (2023) - 3.5/5 - Oh, what a tangled web director Samuel Bodin and writer Chris Thomas Devlin weave. This dark fairytale begins with a troubled boy growing frightened by sounds heard in his bedroom, effectively building tension and intrigue as more revelations and effectively shot scenes make themselves apparent. I wish my love continued into the third-act, especially considering some of the effective moments on show, yet it's unfortunately too messy and rushed. At least Lizzy Caplan is a scream throughout.

Haunted Ulster Live (2023) - 4/5 - A chilling work that will leave bones rattled long after credits roll.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023) - 4/5 - Finally, this franchise has a great feature film.

Producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg wanted to focus on the often-overlooked teenage aspect of these ninja turtles, and it's the right decision which brings a fresh feeling to this iteration of the heroes in a half shell. Their struggle isn't to defeat their usual enemies or save New York City, they just want to be accepted so they can pursue their passions above ground and in school. With the sketchbook style animation and the tremendous voice cast assembled, this is an entertaining feature which is funny and touching.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) [rewatch] - 3/5 - Upon rewatch, the apocalyptic reactions to this one leave me confused. While it is a messy work with pacing issues, ropey CGI, and concepts whose execution falls short of the promise, there is enough to like within here. Harrison Ford remains a delight in the titular role, while Spielberg can still shoot the hell out of a sequence, mining excitement out of a chase sequence and humour from believable character interactions. There remains heart and soul within this film, and that's more than can he said of other "legacy sequels" of a similar ilk.

The Knocking (2023) - 2.5/5 - A mismatched tale which blends eco-horror and familial tensions.

The Blackening (2023) - 3/5 - A group of friends reunite for a Juneteenth celebration, only to discover they are pieces within a game orchestrated by a crossbow wielding killer. This is a fun ride of a film, delivering a solid tale of entertaining characters who comment on horror tropes and Black culture in pretty funny ways. Although, this is a film which never manages to find the balance between comedy and horror, often weighted in the former genre. There's also third-act issues, which manage to take things in an obvious direction while also throwing in stuff from out of nowhere. Not helping matters is how Tim Story does a bland job with direction, leaving a tale which survives on the strength of its cast and its jokes.

The Last House on the Left (2009) - 3.5/5 - A remake that eclipses the original film.

Failure! (2023) - 2/5 - Outside of a technically impressive method of filmmaking, there is little to this film.

Best film of the month: The Prestige (2006)
Best film seen in cinemas: Past Lives (2023)
Best film watched for the first time: Past Lives (2023)
Best film rewatched: The Prestige (2006)
Biggest Disappointment: The Blackening (2023)
Biggest Surprise: The Moor (2023)
Worst film of the month: Trauma Therapy: Psychosis (2023)

Number of films watched: 47