January 2024 In Review

2024 is already over a month old, where does the time go? My first month was spent catching up on 2023 releases and viewing what 2024 has to offer, along with some excellent past discoveries. So, let's see what films I watched this past January.

Wish (2023) - 2/5 - What an unfortunate way to start off my 2024 in film-watching.

Disney's big cinematic celebration of their 100th anniversary should be a massive event and feel in the spirit of what the studio could achieve at their best. Instead, we have this rubbish film that feels like an A.I. was asked to make a film out of the Disney formula. Few beats feel genuine, with each feeling perfunctory because the film has to hit them, regardless of the emotional impact behind such moments which made them sing within better Disney films. There are so many tries at a comedy sidekick and, despite some cute moments, none of them actually work. What remains is a film that is as boring and forgettable as the songs, and appears to believe that lazy references to other films will compensate for this (Spoiler: it does not.)

Ferrari (2023) - 3/5 - The long-brewing passion project of Michael Mann, this biopic of Enzo Ferrari has finally seen the light of day. Avoiding a standard "rise and fall" structure, this instead focuses on the summer of 1957, where Ferrari is determined to save his company from bankruptcy by entering his racers into Mille Miglia. Despite a shocking close to his fierce determination, the racing parts were the least engaging elements of the film, not helped by a formless feeling throughout. More compelling to watch was the look into the messy personal lives, involving Ferrari's illegitimate son from his long-time mistress, and the righteous fury from an outstanding Penélope Cruz. Adam Driver gives a good performance, but Cruz dominating the film just left me longing for this story to be told from Laura Ferrari's vitriolic viewpoint stemming from hurt.

The Exorcist III (1990) - 4.5/5 - Adapting his own 1983 novel Legion, William Peter Blatty takes over directorial duties for this sequel to The Exorcist. Set fifteen-years after the original, the story sees Lieutenant Kinderman investigating a series of murders which appear linked to The Gemini Killer - a serial killer that is supposedly deceased. What unfolds generates mood and tension to unsettling degrees, resulting in horrific imagery and an all-timer of a jump scare. George C. Scott is terrific in the lead role, although Brad Dourif steals the film with a performance that shows how much cinema has been overlooking this talented man. This is seriously impressive stuff.

Punch (2024) - 2/5 - A repetitive and rough slasher.

Skater Zombies: The Villain (2024) - 3/5 - A fascinating proof-of-concept short yearning to be transformed into a feature film.

Best film of the month, Best film seen in cinemas,
and Best film rewatched: Poor Things (2023)

Night Swim (2024) - 1/5 - Wasted potential drowns this work that does not leave the shallow end.

Night Swim (2014) - 2/5 - The proof of concept short film which led to Bryce McGuire's feature debut, the ensuing four-minutes has a simple idea that plays with an uncanny sense that someone is watching you, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. Unfortunately, this plays out in dull ways which leave little to happen in the ensuing 4 minutes.

On The Line (2024) - 3/5 - A compelling tale which makes great use of the confined location.

Anyone But You (2023) - 3/5 - Following an astounding first date, a misunderstanding between Ben and Bea leads their attraction to turn into animosity. As they cross paths during a destination wedding in Australia, encounters with their exes leads the central pair to join forces in pretending to be a couple. What unfolds is a romantic comedy which feels a bit too beholden to the tropes, leaving it up to the charismatic stars to save the feature when the laughs rarely surface. Thank goodness Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney are such a good time to be in the company of, with their chemistry igniting a spark into this flick that the screenplay does not. Also, the use of Natasha Beddingfield's Unwritten is genuinely fun from first appearance to mid-credits singalong.

Gwilliam (2015) - 3.5/5 - Recently released from prison, an ex-con goes to a bar looking for a good time. What unfolds is frankly unforgettable, utilizing the titular puppet in an eye-widening way that will not leave viewers anytime soon. I look forward to seeing what writer/director Brian Lonano will do, but I will certainly not forget Gwilliam.

Best film watched for
the first time: Peeping Tom (1960)

Nimic (2019) - 3.5/5 - An effective short film from Yorgos Lanthimos which follows Matt Dillon's cellist whose life turns upside down when he asks a stranger for the time. A well acted piece brought alive with unsettling direction and a superb score that gives me what I love from the director's off-beat works.

Alps (2011) - 2.5/5 - I filled a Yorgos Lantimos blindspot with his follow-up to the terrific Dogtooth, which centers around a group who offer a service to grieving people by imitating their deceased loved ones. It's an interesting idea about the lengths taken to cope during tough times, told with appropriate darkness and twisted ideas that Lanthimos would find himself at home in with his following films. Where this film falls apart is how it presents those ideas in repetitive ways, leaving the film to feel directionless as it moves along. There are some interesting looks into characters lives, while others are only offered a momentary glimpse and feel impenetrable. While the ending does offer something interesting, it does not help what is Lanthimos' weakest film that I have seen yet.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) - 1/5 - Considering that Bill Murray was the holdout for a Ghostbusters 3 never materializing, it makes sense that the era of legacy sequels would eventually deliver a Ghostbusters follow-up. This film sees two children relocate to a small-town with their mother, where they have inherited a farmhouse from their absent grandfather Egon Spengler. What unfolds feels largely created to capitalize on the popularity of Stranger Things, although those elements and the new characters are unfortunately unengaging. This is largely because these aspects feel ready to be pushed aside at the drop of the hat, in favour of nostalgia-baiting references which anticipate the audience to clap like seals at seeing something they recognized from the original film. The only way this could have been even more reference-heavy is if Paul Rudd's character also brought a syringe of sedatives onto his date.

After Paul Feig's 2016 reboot became a more controversial topic than necessary, this was promised to be a film "for the fans." This promise came to be true in a way, because this feature-length evasion of the comedic elements in favour of lore-heavy ghostbusting feels like what an obnoxious section of the fanbase mistake the original film to be. In a way, this film reflects how people want this series to be treated seriously, while conveniently avoiding jokes about the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man getting laid and the scene of Dan Aykroyd dreaming about a ghostly blowjob.

What's most disappointing about this all is Jason Reitman, a promising director whose output grew to struggle more with critics and at the box office. This being his latest directorial gig feels like he was given a safety net from his dad, who directed the first two Ghostbusters films, only to feel like a director for hire whose previously mentioned promise is extinguished. The skill and craft he showed in the likes of Up In The Air, Thank You For Smoking, and Juno feels like a distant memory by the dimly lit finale which is a tired retread of the original, and rounds it off with an absolutely ghoulish use of CGI. What remains is a compelling argument for why this series and legacy sequels should be laid to rest.

Poor Things (2023) [rewatch] - 5/5 -  A stunning exploration of love, science, class, and sexuality in ways that ensure the 141-minute runtime flies by.

Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom (2023) - 2.5/5 - And so, the DCEU comes to an end after a decade with its 16th film (including Zack Snyder's Justice League). It's been through numerous shake-ups behind and in-front of the camera, and left many directors wondering if their cut of the film they worked on would ever get released. It's appropriate that, across a year where DC's output has largely felt like a victim of studio interference, the last release would be of the same ilk. As such, the film feels butchered throughout with characters vanishing and the score feeling replaced by a handful of songs. It's a shame, because there are flickers of James Wan's original vision which offers fun at this brotherly team-up between former enemies, uniting to take down Black Manta solidifying his status as the ultimate hater. There's entertaining moments, yet they feel scarce courtesy of Warner Bros' mandate to draw a line underneath this era of DC feature films. So long to the Aquaman films, and thanks for all the fish.

Biggest Disappointment: Alps (2011)

Aftermath (2024) - 1.5/5 - Promising ideas are let down by the execution.

The Boy and The Heron (2023) - 4/5 - Studio Ghibli is admittedly a blindspot for me, so I cannot speak to how much Hayao Miyazaki's supposedly last film resembles his previous films. What I can say after watching the dubbed version is how stunningly animated and spectacularly voiced this feature is, taking audiences on a tale of grief and PTSD through the fantastical world created. There are elements which feel autobiographical, particularly involving an elderly creator trying to usher in the next generation, and the sight of massive parakeets with sharp utensils never gets old. What hinders this for me is how, considering the large amount which is thrown at viewers, it all feels too rushed in an effort to wrap things up by the end. Despite that, this is a solid feature from Ghibli that leaves me interested in watching the rest of the studios works that I have missed.

Peeping Tom (1960) - 5/5 - A vividly shot masterwork which examines fear and trauma in ways that few others can match.

Priscilla (2023) - 4.5/5 - Adapting the 1985 memoir Elvis and Me, writer/director Sofia Coppola crafts a biopic following Priscilla Beaulieu (Cailee Spaeny) as she enters a relationship with Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi) upon meeting when she is fourteen and he is twenty-four. What unfolds is an engrossing and heartbreaking work which looks at the iconic rock-star through Priscilla's eyes, as she finds herself in a gilded cage at the whim of a manipulative man with violent outbursts. The central pair deliver compelling performances as the real-life figures, effectively capturing the duo whether they are loved-up or coming to blows. This is a fascinating companion piece to Baz Luhrmann's Elvis and, for my money, is the better film.

Bakemono (2024) - 3.5/5 - A labour of love which gazes into humanity's lurking darkness.

Biggest Surprise: Bringing Out The Dead (1999)

Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny (2023) - 1.5/5 - As I made my way through the previous four Indiana Jones films, what struck me most was how Steven Spielberg could direct the hell out of these films. Be it a rope-bridge sequence or an opening musical number, there was visual excellence and a knowing sense of fun which made the series come alive even during the lesser inclusions. That was sorely missed here, as the overlong film trudged through a needless CIA subplot and ugly looking set-pieces that replaced Spielberg's pulpy charm with utter boredom. James Mangold was an interesting choice to direct this work, especially after delivering fantastically on 2017's Logan, yet no such examination is on hand here for the whip-cracking archeologist. It all feels hollow, particularly with the opening including a distracting deep-fake of Harrison Ford to expensively show Indy as a young man dead behind the eyes. The talented cast are given little to work with, with Mads Mikkelsen once-more being wasted by Hollywood in a forgettable villain role, while Antonio Banderas is wasted as Captain Plot Device. This is the film that people accused Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of being.

Create or Die (2024) - 2.5/5 - A documentary about a filmmaker that wishes to keep making movies until he "gets good."

American Fiction (2023) - 4/5 - A witty feature which touches upon thoughtful topics in humorous ways.

Wonka (2023) - 3.5/5 - Willy Wonka tries to persevere against a chocolate cartel, what a plotline! The film itself is a pleasantly charming musical with terrific songs, which managed to deliver the laughs while also being heartfelt and touching. Timothée Chalamet does good work as this iteration of the title character, effectively conveying the character's aspirations. Parts feel too perfunctory in how it conveys key moments (like the "all is lost" moment), while Keegan-Michael Key feels wasted on a tired running joke, and Hugh Grant's Oompa-Loompa exists to be a nostalgia callback/plot device. It's a lesser Paul King work, but it's decent in it's own right.

Worst film of the month:
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Just the running gag involving milking justifies another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Thank goodness it happened to be part of the best film adaptation in the franchise.

The Holdovers (2023) - 4.5/5 - A heartfelt and humorous work that is sure to be on festive rotation.

Nimona (2023) [rewatch] - 5/5 - This receiving an Oscar nomination over Wish - the film celebrating Disney's 100th birthday- is a delicious way to close the story of Nimona coming to screen.

Bringing Out The Dead (1999) - 4.5/5 - Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader unite once again for this compelling character study of a New York City paramedic haunted by a life that he could not save. Nicolas Cage is outstanding as Frank, capturing the man burnt out by the job which is putting him on a downward spiral. Cage perfectly conveys the razor's edge that Frank is on, where he is sleep deprived due to how long it has been since he saved a person's life. As his nights grow more out of control courtesy of the differing co-workers that he is partnered with, Scorsese magnificently brings NYC alive in ways that give it character. This is an engrossing and underrated work from a cinematic master.

Blue Giant (2023) - Review to come

Best film of the month: Poor Things (2023)
Best film seen in cinemas: Poor Things (2023)
Best film watched for the first time: Peeping Tom (1960)
Best film rewatched: Poor Things (2023)
Biggest Disappointment: Alps (2011)
Biggest Surprise: Bringing Out The Dead (1999)
Worst film of the month: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021)

Number of films watched: 29