May 2024 In Review

Another month gone, and it was a month full of tremendous surprises - many from a franchise full of damn dirty apes. There were also a number of unfortunate additions to 2024 cinema, but those were balanced out with some tremendous examples of films from this year. So, let's see what I watched this past May.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) [rewatch] - 5/5 - After a tiring day that seemed intent on irritating me, I popped myself down to the cinema to revisit this on the big screen. George Miller's action masterwork is exactly what I needed, as witnessing such a stunning work with no wasted moments revitalized me. A special mention is deserved for Nicholas Hoult's endearing performance as Nux, the sickly war boy who just wants to impress the cult leader with a sweet ride.

King Kong (1933) - 4/5 - As a film crew travel to Skull Island for their new project, they soon discover a giant prehistoric ape with an attraction for the actress in their crew. What unfolds is a ground-breaking use of stop-motion effects which remains impressive and fascinating to behold over 90 years later as it brings alive the titular ape and captures his very soul on-screen. While the story can be guilty of the dated ways it depicts people of colour, what does hold up is how the plot turns disastrous due to a crew of white people arriving on indigenous land and believing they know better than the locals. While the time on Skull Island does drag in places, the stop-motion carnage remains effective work while the iconic finale truly holds up.

I Saw The Devil (2010) - 5/5 - The more I see from Kim Jee-woon's filmography, the more impressed I am, and this easily ranks amongst his very best works. The story begins very familiarly, with a man responding to his wife'a murder by seeking revenge on the serial killer responsible. The film then takes fascinating routes that leave the ensuing 145-minutes to breeze past while also leaving an unforgettable impact upon viewers.

This dark tale makes its brutality known from very early on and, while the tragic circumstances clearly paint the tale in black and white, the following avenues muddy those waters in attention grabbing ways. Lee Byung-hun is tremendous as the tragedy-stricken lead, who ignores others sharing in his grief to dwell on his own hurt, with his eyes capturing how broken he is even as he storms through this cat-and-mouse game with a bloodthirsty determination. Opposite to him is a skincrawling Choi Min-sik, bringing alive a petulant monster that gets a sickening pleasure from the worse directions he can take his crimes in.

The direction is absolutely stunning throughout, whether it conveys the thrilling battles that soon become horrifying outlets for anger, the inhumane acts perpetrated in ways that can become sickening, or the unhealthy ways the characters deal with their emotions.

It all makes for a stunning masterpiece which perfectly captures how ones pursuit of a monster may transform him into that very same creature, along with a magnificent rendition about the futility of vengeance. A blood-soaked masterpiece that will bruise your soul, and leave you fearful about damage to your Achilles tendons.

Challengers (2024) - 4.5/5 - The latest film from director Luca Guadagnino focuses on the electrifying relationship between a once close-knit trio. Tennis player turned coach Tashi (Zendaya) wishes to jolt her champion husband Art (Mike Faist) out of a recent losing streak by entering him into a low-level Challenger event. What surprises the pair is that Art ends up facing off against Patrick (Josh O'Connor), who was Art's former best friend and Tashi's previous boyfriend.

Adapting a screenplay from Justin Kuritzkes, the story utilizes tennis as a way of capturing the scorching hot relationship between the central trio, with every serve and conversation dripping with a palpable sexual tension. All's fair in love and war comes alive both on and off the court, with the exceptional performances breathing life into every play from these willing participants intent on having their way. Add to this a stunning score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and phenomenal direction, from the opening which captures dripping sweat to a finale that is one of the most cinematic moments of the year, and you have another exceptional work from Guadagnino.

Perfect Blue (1997) [rewatch] - 5/5 - As a pop singer changes careers to become a serious actress, her sense of reality is shaken courtesy of an obsessed fan stalking her. What Satoshi Kon has crafted is a masterful psychological thriller, examining fan entitlement as they disregard the desires of Mima Kirigoe in favour of propping up the idealized version of her that they crafted in their heads. Inbetween the harassment, her old band doing better without her, and people involved with the career change being murdered, Mima's mental state is left in a fragile place that sees the lines between reality and fantasy being blurred in unsettling ways. This is a magnificent feature which remains a powerful encapsulation of toxic fandom over 25-years since its release.

Love Lies Bleeding (2024) - 4.5/5 - Seriously, give Rose Glass free reign to make whatever films she wants. Her follow-up to the excellent Saint Maud couldn't be more different, focusing on a gym employee's romance with a bodybuilder that ignites violence related to her crime family. A taut and engrossing thriller that surrounds a compelling romance, as phenomenally brought alive by Kristen Stewart and breakout performer Katy O'Brian. An exceptionally acted piece set to another banger score from Clint Mansell, brought alive with such exceptional direction that gets tense, humorous, shocking, and fascinatingly surreal. This was bloody phenomenal, and was the off-beat film about gay women doing crimes that I wanted Drive-Away Dolls to be.

Best film of the month, Best film watched in cinemas,
and Best film rewatched: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

May the 12th Be With You (2024) - 0.5/5 - At the end of this short, Homer Simpson scolds Stewie Griffin for swearing by calling it "cheap laughs." This is pretty darn rich considering this entire 5-minute short is cheap laughs, but then that's par for the course with these Disney+ shorts. 

As seems to be an annual tradition, The Simpsons headline a contractually obligated crossover to have the iconic yellow family pump out tired gags while shilling for the other works owned by Disney and which can be found on their streaming service. They tend to be unfunny and lazy, but I don't think the animation has ever been this bad. It'd be generous to say that it looked like an lacking fan made crossover, so the fact that this is an official release by Disney is downright disgraceful.

The Bones (2021) - 4/5 - An unsettling stop-motion short which sells itself as a lost film from 1901, depicting a girl toying with human remains in order to right some wrongs that she experienced in life. A short film that is effectively creepy, stunning to look at, and carries an emotional undercurrent linked to real-life Chilean history. Reading about the true story gave me more of an appreciation for this short and what was being accomplished within the story, which is all part of this tremendous work.

Road House (1989) [rewatch] - 4/5 - It's all fun and games until someone drives a monster truck through a Ford dealership.

Road House (2024) - 2.5/5 - Considering how wild 1989's Road House is, it is disappointing how ordinary this largely feels. Sure, there's fun fights and interesting uses of the camera which capture the scrappiness of the fights, but it's all in service of a film which looks artificial while giving most of the cast little to work with. Conor McGregor feels part of an entirely different film as he delivers a performance that will leave one questioning what the hell he is doing. He's giving the most acting in this film, and that's unfortunate when Jake Gyllenhaal is disappointingly in a less interesting understated form, seemingly driven to deliver tired quips

Planet of the Apes (1968) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A phenomenal piece of cinematic science-fiction, carving a bleak look at a futuristic society where science and religion are inseparable, leaving the idea of evolution as an inconceivable piece of heresy. A groundbreaking and thoughtful work that comes from a silly sounding premise of apes ruling over humankind, yet delivered with such care and effective commentary for a masterful work. And, yes, that ending remains one hell of a gut-punch.

Yannick (2024) - 4/5 - An effective satire on the constant need for validation, criticism, and the idea of “the customer is always right.”

Coraline (2009) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Henry Sellick's long-gestating adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novella is an absolute wonder to behold, from the stunning stop-motion animation, to the sheer terror depicted that leaves one fascinated at how this only got a PG rating. At it's heart, this is the tale of a young girl whose mounting frustrations about parental neglect and feeling friendless within an unfamiliar place lead her to discover another world. Yet this seemingly perfect place carries an underlying darkness that manifests in creepy ways, which makes for a nightmarish vision that is brought alive in masterful ways.

Best film watched for the first time and
Biggest Surprise: I Saw The Devil (2010)

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - 2.5/5 - This follow-on to the 1968 classic is an odd mixture, with the first half momentarily continuing on the ape story while retreading Taylor's journey with a less-interesting lead in a far quicker fashion. This makes this sequel feel like an underwhelming follow-up until the film enters its second half. What unfolds is a fascinating idea to advance the story, journeying beneath the titular planet to see another advancement for humanity. Then there is the finale, which is bold and bonkers in ways that I wish the rest of the feature was. The idea that the series would continue after that apparent full-stop is utterly fascinating, and leaves me more interested in where things will go than I expected this sequel to do. If only the film around it were more consistent.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A work where Brian Cox runs a corrupt business that thrives on cruelty while having evident disdain for his employees, including a son that alternates between having power trips and throwing temper tantrums? Forget Planet of the Apes, this is Rise of Succession.

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024) - 3.5/5 - Wes Ball had quite the job following the astounding Andy Serkis trilogy, but he does a pretty solid job for this new entry. It is at best when showing the world-building of this visually stunning location, with particular interest in how Caesar's teachings have been warped by the entertaining Proximus in ways reminiscent of the Christian right. The film really comes alive when it gets to the kingdom of it all, although it is a bit of a trek to get there that isn't helped by Noa feeling like a dull protagonist. There are thrilling sequences and entertaining fights which come alive so well, aiding this film that is a solid start to a new series of Apes films.

Tarot (2024) - 1.5/5 - A missed opportunity that was not on the cards.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A tale of characters who have been through hellish experiences in the name of surviving this new world, the lengths they take to not repeat those same traumatic instances, and the following consequences. A tremendous work that examines many viewpoints and provides understanding for their perspective, even while their actions may take disagreeable directions. I felt more on-board with the human stuff this time around, even if the Gary Oldman stuff still feels the most phoned in, but the Caesar/Koba conflict remains an exceptional direction for the story to take.

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) [rewatch] - 4/5 - While I do not consider this as perfect as I did upon seeing it in cinema, largely due to the inclusion of Bad Ape and the prison-set scenes dragging in places, the way Matt Reeves and Mark Bomback close this trilogy remains impressive. A work about the destructive price of revenge which also captures that, no matter how much devastation humanity wreaks, it is ultimately miniscule to the almighty power of nature which they cannot overcome. Throughout it all is another impressive performance from Andy Serkis, working in tandem with the visual effects to phenomenally bring Caesar's story to a close in ways that are as thoughtful and impactful as the film.

Biggest Disappointment:
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) - 3.5/5 - After the pretty final way Beneath the Planet of the Apes ended, there really was no way to continue the series in that timeline. But since it made a considerable profit, the series continued by taking a different approach as Cornelius and Ziva arrive in a spaceship on Earth, 1973. This offers a fun inversion on the original film, having a ball as the apes find themselves enjoying shopping montages, drinking champagne, and watching boxing. The film then has a sudden change in tone for the back half, where the fun elements are thrown away for the familiar bleakness that the series does tremendously. While the tonal shift is rather jarring, it leaves the film in a heartbreaking but compelling place and ensures this film as one of the more fascinating entries into the series.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) - 4/5 - Following the bleak ending of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, this follow-up jumps ahead 20-years to find Caesar fully grown and navigating a world that is a fascist nightmare. With the virus having killed pets, apes have gone from house-pets to slaves in this nightmarish look at an alternate 1991. While the lacking budget makes it look like the entire conquest unfolds on a university campus, it does not diminish this effective tale about an uprising in the face of oppression, bringing alive the emotional core and impactful action with a righteous fury and a compelling handling. A genuine surprise within the franchise that has become a fast favourite of mine.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) - 2/5 - Considering this was the grand finale to the Planet of the Apes franchise for almost 30-years, it is unfortunate that the result is a resounding thud. There are interesting ideas in place, such as the infighting which causes an ape civil war, and the ending which shows the failure of Caesar's dream. What undoes it is the boring execution and a directionless feel as the film struggles to move between ideas. The key element of General Aldo's human-hating campaign putting him on a collision course with Caesar just makes this feel like the Temu version of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Planet of the Apes (2000) - 1/5 - In-between 1973's Battle for the Planet of the Apes bringing the original series to a close, and 2011's Rise of the Planet of the Apes showcasing a future for the series with a reboot, in-between the two was Tim Burton's bizarre attempt at a reboot. Credit where it is due, Rick Baker's make-up effects and the production design are tremendous here. It helps bring alive this society ruled by apes, especially with Tim Roth bringing alive the antagonistic General Thade with a physicality that sells the situation well. Outside of that, this is a hollow and dull reboot which feels like a film crafted by somebody whose only knowledge of the franchise is the title, the "damn dirty ape" line, and the iconic ending. From the largely lacking performances, to the nonsensical close to this film, this is a major low-point for the series.

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024) - 0.5/5 - Imagine a meal that you truly love. The way the ingredients all come together to deliver an unforgettable sensation which, even if you do not have the meal often, leaves you with an indelible memory that shows how impactful it truly was.

Now imagine a poor replication of that same dish. It may have the same ingredients, but the execution is too haphazard that it just feels like an awful copy of what worked originally. That is my experience of watching this 3rd entry into The Strangers franchise.

Director Renny Harlin has crafted this, the first of an already filmed trilogy, and it feels like an embarrassing cover version of the 2008 original. What previously worked so well to nerve-shattering effect is instead delivered in dreadful fashion, mixing in clich├ęs of an unwelcoming small-town and lacklustre characterization to pad out this first chapter. By the end, I was left wondering what the point of it all was? Hopefully the next two chapters are of a much stronger quality, because I do not want to repeat that question for an entire trilogy.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) - 4.5/5 - Further proof how one-of-a-kind a George Miller film is.

Worst film of the month: Megamind
vs. The Doom Syndicate (2024)

Megamind vs The Doom Syndicate (2024) - 0.5/5 - A cheap and poorly crafted cash-in.

Shinobi: Band of Assassins (1962) - 4/5 - A fascinating precursor to ninjas in cinema.

Shinobi: Revenge (1963) - 4.5/5 - A grim portrait following a cycle of violence, which can only end when nobody remains alive.

Shinobi: Resurrection (1963) - 3/5 - A change of pace that provides an interesting yet flawed ending to the trilogy.

The Dead Don't Hurt (2024) - 3/5 -  A touching tale of love trying to persevere within a world of people inflicting pain and hurt upon others.

Basket Case (1982) [rewatch] - Review to come

Best film of the month: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Best film seen in cinemas: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Best film watched for the first time: I Saw The Devil (2010)
Best film rewatched: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Biggest Disappointment: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Biggest Surprise: I Saw The Devil (2010)
Worst film of the month: Megamind vs. The Doom Syndicate (2024)

Number of films watched: 31