April 2024 In Review

April has left us a while ago, so that's enough preamble. Let's see what films I watched over that past month. 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024) - 2/5 - Following on from 2021's Ghostbusters: Afterlife, co-writer Gil Kenan takes over directorial duties for this latest entry into this series. The story expands upon the busting ghosts premise that captured the hearts of many '80s kids, to see it become a larger operation in time for an ancient force being unleashed that threatens to freeze New York's citizens to death.

Credit where it is due, this is an improvement over the previous film and its ghoulish use of CGI. A large part of that is due to Kenan feeling like more of a fit to this series, especially over Jason Reitman's director-for-hire effort, while also delivering interesting ideas which could take the series in different directions.

The unfortunate thing is how this film is unsure of what direction to go in, so opts for throwing in a multitude of characters and subplots which are underdeveloped amidst a messy plot. Following on the profitable previous film means that the Spengler family returns, although it means that Carrie Coon is relegated to the mother role, Finn Wolfhard chases Slimer and asks to drive the Ecto-1, and Paul Rudd acts like a foolish step-father while McKenna Grace gets an actual subplot. Then there's the legacy characters whose inclusion are to connect the new generation to other new characters, deliver heavy-handed nostalgia bait or, in Bill Murray's case, give a performance with less life than a corpse.

For a comedy, this is painfully devoid of laughs. There are fun moments involving Kumail Nanjiani and James Acaster, although that's more down to their performances than what the script delivers. With how many half-hearted references to the original films are delivered, it seems that the filmmakers intentions were transparent in a line delivered by Wolfhard; "I know that guy."

Monkey Man (2024) - 4/5 - A blistering debut full of soul and brutal action that is worth going ape-shit over.

Sting (2024) - 3.5/5 - A solid time for anybody seeking grisly kills and genre thrills.

Best film of the month and Best film
rewatched: Hereditary (2018)

The Omen (1976) [rewatch] - 4/5 - As effective and unnerving as I remember, from Billie Whitelaw's chilling portrayal to the child's mischeavous smile which says so much. Then there's the kills and phenomenal warnings prior to them, which feel like precursors to what the Final Destination series would excel at. A rightfully regarded classic.

The First Omen (2024) - 3.5/5 - Between this and Immaculate, 2024 has already been a strong year for nun horror. This prequel to 1976's The Omen follows a young American woman who arrives at Rome to begin a life of service under the Church, only to discover a darkness which leaves her questioning her faith. Director Arkasha Stevenson makes a terrific debut with this prequel, delivering an unsettling tone across a steadily paced feature that is best when building intrigue, including a very memorable shot that will stick in the memory. This film this does fall into prequel pitfalls, including a final line that will cause many eye-rolls, and it does build towards a particular turn that is blindingly obvious. In the lead role, Nell Tiger Free is phenomenal as the prospective nun who finds herself turning to faith for hope while trying to avoid terrifying realities, with a slight quiver in the voice selling the horrors that she is attempting to bury. For a prequel to a franchise that is almost 50-years-old, this is far better than it has any right to be.

Concrete Utopia (2023) - 3.5/5 - An apocalyptic edge is given to owning property in this compelling tale.

The Chaser (2008) - 4.5/5 - A graphic and upsetting cat-and-mouse game that will leave hearts pounding like drums.

Best film seen in cinemas: Civil War (2024)

Kung Fu Panda 4 (2024) - 1.5/5 - The Kung Fu Panda series is a charming inclusion to Dreamworks Animation's back-catalogue, so I had trepidation regarding a belated fourth films (especially after the third film left the series in a satisfying place). What pains me about this latest instalment is how it not only disappointed me, but how by-the-numbers it felt all throughout. From the plot once again seeing Po go on a journey of self-discovery, to the lifeless feeling in the voice performances, it all feels constrained by formulaic ideas which leaves this work in a chokehold to not veer outside of ideas that feel mainly studio-mandated. It doesn't help how timid Mike Mitchell's direction feels, failing to push the series forward in ways that Jennifer Yuh Nelson did with the previous two films. Instead, we're left with jokes that fall flat and familiar faces returning for nostalgia-bait reasons (despite some choices feeling out of character).

A Bittersweet Life (2005) - 5/5 - A masterful crime work with an appropriate title.

Dagr (2024) - 3/5 - An effectively crafted piece of low-budget folk horror.

Civil War (2024) - 4/5 - For his fourth directorial feature, Alex Garland crafts an enthralling tale centred around a civil war unfolding in America. The central characters are war correspondents, who intend to conduct an interview with the much disliked president (Nick Offerman). This seems like a worrisome idea considering there are mentions of journalists being executed near Washington D.C., under orders of a president in his third term that has ordered air strikes against his own citizens.

Garland has crafted a stunning look into the heart of a warzone through the lens of these war photographers, each terrified of the situations they are in the midst of while also feeling a rush like no other. Moments are taken in the middle of these battles to show the photographs they have taken, to stunningly depict the images that will endure long after the battles have ceased.

In the midst of seeing such inhuman sights, the characters are aware of how little the world changes despite their photographic warnings. This is best conveyed with Lee, the legendary photographer portrayed by an exceptional Kirsten Dunst. She has become numb to the terrors before her eyes and, with the arrival of aspiring war photographer Jesse (Cailee Spaney), Lee sees a reflection of herself before the light in her eyes was snuffed out by an acclimatisation to such terrifying sights. It's a fascinating pairing which allows so much to be said through the performances.

For all the talk of this film being apolitical, it felt like a reflection of the war journalists. They are in the midst of such terrors to document them in ways that such powerful images can be shared to others as a warning. In the midst of these are spine-chilling sequences, with a Winter Wonderland-set one resulting in holding one's breath, while a sequence involving a scene-stealing Jesse Plemons is utterly nerve-shredding. I was less enamoured by the action-focused third-act, but I felt that the film did not lose sight of its focus once the finale kicked into gear.

If this truly is Garland's last film as a director, then it is a stunning work for him to go out on.

Best film watched for the first time:
A Bittersweet Life (2005)

The Foul King (2000) - 4/5 - An entertaining journey of self-confidence through professional wrestling.

Cube (1997) [rewatch] - 4/5 - An inventive idea which remains as thrilling to watch as the first time that I saw it. A fantastically executed piece of low-budget Canadian filmmaking.

Escalation (2021) - 4/5 - A tremendous debut in a proof-of-concept short.

One-Percenter (2024) - 3.5/5 - A thrilling vehicle for Tak Sakaguchi that comments on cinematic artifice.

Biggest Surprise: The Chaser (2008)

Infested (2024) - 4/5 - An impressively creepy creature feature that is equally skin-crawling and heartbreaking.

Dancing Village: The Curse Begins (2024) - 3/5 - An effectively low-stakes ghostly chiller.

Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990) - 4/5 - A brilliant final hurrah for a cinematic master.

Lego DC Super Heroes - Aquaman: Rage of Atlantis (2018) - 2/5 - There's not much to say about these direct-to-DVD animated Lego DC films. It's tired material that would've felt overly done a decade prior, making the short runtime feel unending. I've already forgotten about it.

Biggest Disappointment and Worst film
of the month: Kung-Fu Panda 4 (2024)

Spy x Family Code: White (2024) - 3.5/5 - An entertaining feature film based on the charming anime series.

Hereditary (2018) [rewatch] - 5/5 - My first rewatch of this film since its cinema release, and the intervening 6-years did nothing to dull the power of Ari Aster's feature debut. It fucked me up in cinemas, and it fucked me up at home, with the mere sight of a telephone pole filling me with absolute dread. The foreshadowing left throughout paints a tragic picture of the inescapable destruction of this family, brought alive with such a dread-inducing score, horrifying imagery, and phenomenal performances. A masterwork that will leave you checking the ceiling corners.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024) - 2.5/5 - It's unfortunate that this film came out in the wake of the masterful Godzilla Minus One, as it ultimately pales in comparison. If I view this film on its own merits, it is a fun ride which ultimately exited my head pretty soon after the screening ended. The best parts of this film are the kaiju mayhem, whether it is Kong beating up enemies by hitting them with a small ape, or him preparing for enemies by booby-trapping Hollow Earth as though he was Kevin McCallister. It is strange that Godzilla feels less of a priority for this film, with his sporadic appearances feeling like a contractually obligated actor trying to minimise the amount of time he is on set. It's especially funny considering that a lot of his time is spent sleeping. The plot is messy and, despite a smaller cast, the humans remain a lacking element of these films. It's a shame when Dan Stevens is having a ball, yet he can only do so much when the material is lacking for these characters.

Best film of the month: Hereditary (2018)
Best film seen in cinemas: Civil War (2024)
Best film watched for the first time: A Bittersweet Life (2005)
Best film rewatched: Hereditary (2018)
Biggest Disappointment: Kung-Fu Panda 4 (2024)
Biggest Surprise: The Chaser (2008)
Worst film of the month: Kung-Fu Panda 4 (2024)

Number of films watched: 22