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2023 Movie Round-up



Infinity Pool

Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman


It's another 'eat the rich' film made by rich people. This one touching on nepotism, while being directed by Brandon Cronenberg of all people, an extra level of self-awareness to this one! This sort of 'thematic genre' is so saturated right now, but a nasty edge makes this worthwhile.

Lots of great imagery and twisted ideas are shown off in Infinity Pool. Psychedelic sex & violence as well as a general debauched central concept make this compelling start to finish. Not sure its commentary really all fits together that well, since the nepotism angle feels puddle deep and after The Menu, Glass Onion etc. I'm really getting tired of the rich people on holiday being evil and stupid genre. This one gets started quickly to prevent itself feeling overly familiar, thankfully.

Mia Goth is undoubtedly a highlight as she is hilarious and freaky here. The rest of the cast are clearly hamming it up to the right amount where it's as amusing & uncanny as it is off-putting but again, sometimes the mix of topics makes its primary success be visual rather than in its storytelling.

Has a cool bad trip, warbling psychedelic vibe overall, also surprisingly way more accessible than I expected despite the fact it has some explicitly gross and nasty sequences. The Tim Hecker soundtrack was so good at points as well.

Good!

  • Uncanny, psychedelic atmosphere.

  • Mia Goth's unhinged performance.

  • Nice soundtrack.

Not so good!

  • Treads familiar ground (especially with such contemporary's).

  • Under-cooked thematic content.



Scream VI

Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Starring: Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega


This new Scream comes pretty quick following up on these same director's Scream V, which remember enjoying even if it did clearly have a smug vibe of thinking it was smarter than it was sometimes. I remember it had some fun sequences though.


This one was mostly instantly forgettable honestly. The melodrama was mostly way too dry, the NYC setting is hardly used for anything novel and the franchise quirks like the all-knowing horror geek laying out the rules just feels tired and uninspired at this point.


There's no real angle to this one, like at least the 2022 film has the commentary on "requels" and rabid fan entitlement. Now it's just a sequel, reusing franchise motifs and switching up the setting, kind of. NYC is used for one cool sequence on the subway but otherwise it feels like a kinda mute move to the big city, after two films in Woodsboro preceding this one that both heavily leaned on the original. The opportunity seemed golden to make for memorable set-pieces, but there really isn't much here.


Some funny lines and the typical Scooby-Doo soap opera violence fest at the end is decent fun schlock, but otherwise this isn't my favourite Scream film. In fact it may just be my least favourite of the bunch and I'm not interested in seeing these directors take their set of characters any further than this.


It just didn't nail the line between silliness and seriousness this time, it was serviceable but easily one of, if not the least memorable of the franchise and that's a shame since they had a good premise in switching up locations from suburbia to the big city as well as some flashes of interesting ideas in which to take certain characters. But they don't follow through.


Good!

  • Some solid slasher set-pieces.

Not so good!

  • Wastes the NYC setting.

  • No surprises this time around.

  • Overly convoluted and smug.



John Wick: Chapter 4

Directed by Chad Stahelski

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgård


An absolutely massive and shamelessly pure action film. After consistent entries for a trilogy, this fourth film ends up being what I hope is a nice finale to the character of John Wick.


Here the action set-pieces are exceptional, great cinematography to relish in interesting locations, pumping techno on the soundtrack, impressive and satisfyingly performed stunts. Genuinely doesn't feel its length because not a single action scene is a miss and it hardly feels redundant.


Its plot is simplistic and thankfully doesn't really exposition much more on the weird assassin underworld that was established in the other sequels. We know weird stuff can happen now and so we get live-action anime scaled fights. It's very cool. The club scene was so good, cartoon villain, amazing set, big soundtrack and how the patrons just obliviously keep dancing as John Wick is fighting was such a fun & interesting visual.


Not much to complain about with this one, probably the best one in the series, though they are remarkably consistent. Looks great, sounds great and has incredibly well produced action set-pieces. It's what I hope is a fitting send off to the core John Wick series, even if they make continue to make spin-offs.


Good!

  • Outstanding action.

  • Smart pacing, even across 3 hours.

  • Visually interesting and great staging.

Not so good!

  • Its assassin underworld subplots aren't that interesting.




Evil Dead Rise

Directed by Lee Cronin

Starring: Lily Sullivan, Alyssa Sutherland


Feels genuinely an Evil Dead film, thankfully, and not some other gory possession film that they slapped the name onto. Lots of silliness and increasingly worrying levels of bloodshed. Quite nasty at times and generally a great shot of crowd-pleasing horror action.


Its framing device was pointless and the themes of motherhood are somewhat appreciated, even if paper thin. Compared to the drug addiction themes & parallels in Fede Álvarez's Evil Dead this feels a bit flat most of the time, but I appreciate the effort to try and make the film about something, I suppose.


Some moments of trying to latch onto an emotional core with the characters doesn't work when paired with the gleeful violence and insanity constantly taking the focus away. Luckily that element of the film is what we want to see so I'd rather have that fall into the background to focus on the crazy, silly horror set-pieces.


Fun and solid overall! Some good squeamish moments, good pacing and a typical "hell yeah" finale makes this a good roller-coaster ride.


Good!

  • Crowd-pleasing, unafraid to be silly.

  • Gleefully violent.

Not so good!

  • Lacking a strong enough emotional core.



Shin Kamen Rider

Directed by Hideaki Anno

Starring: Sosuke Ikematsu, Minami Hamabe


Shin Kamen Rider is a new take / celebration of the Japanese superhero. It's part of the 'Shin' series that started with Shin Godzilla and later followed by Shin Ultraman as a modern take on classic Japanese pop culture icons overseen by Neon Genesis Evagelion mastermind, Hideaki Anno. So I don't really know what was going on here, I'm not familiar with Kamen Rider at all, but will follow Hideaki Anno to the end of the earth!


I love how goofy this appears, yet seriously it takes itself. It's very cool, the action absolutely rocks. Wasn't expecting Kamen Rider to punch people's heads off like that. I like the balance between triumphant set-pieces and contemplative character moments.


Anno directs the shit out of this, the action is kinetic and often he stages scenes with such visual splendour. It's feels a little scrappy in a fun way with its silly costumes and budget CGI, plus Anno just puts the camera wherever he wants - so many creative shots. Just seems like he's let loose and the results are great.


Looping back, I can't say I was particularly invested in the plot, but there's a lot of fun stuff going on that carries the film well. Anno's frenetic direction as well as great touches like the anthemic soundtrack and striking moments of melancholy in between the madness, makes this something I wouldn't hesitate to return to at all!


Good!

  • Really fun action.

  • Anno's direction is fantastic.

  • Striking visuals.

Not so good!

  • Nonsense plot.




Beau Is Afraid

Directed by Ari Aster

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix


Panic attack, bad trip filmmaking at its most indulgent, but Ari Aster has proven himself already to be such an exciting voice in directing that this ended up being an absolute blast to watch. Even as vividly nightmarish as it is.

This twisted lens on reality feels nightmarish in a funny way. Lots of this film is genuinely hilarious while also a lot of it is actually stressful.

It captures the feeling a dream where you're stuck sinking into the ground, like that sort of helpless feeling. We watch Beau go on what should be a simple quest and end up on the most convoluted series of hilarious, terrifying bad acid trip scenarios you could dream up. Nothing goes his way and it's often funny but also very anxiety inducing! There's a show-stopping, esoteric, meaningful animated portion of the film that was fantastic. Lots of general great filmmaking to create such an uncanny atmosphere, through the sets, acting and dialogue.

Lots of this movie was extremely up my alley in terms of a psychedelic vibe and weird thematic mix. Super fucked up oedipal themes, lots of strange stuff you're not gonna see in other films and a plot that constantly propels forward unpredictably and despite definitely having four distinct segments, felt like a good use of its lengthy runtime. Was most mixed on the ending portion, but I think it's grown on me a bit already. Some imagery used was bordering on needlessly obscene (as well as kind of obvious) and the actual ending was a slightly wacky way to punctuate the film, but also a great meta idea. Reminded me a bit of a certain scene in the GOAT anime film The End of Evangelion (also generally with its fucked up worst nightmares brought to life type premise and oedipal, "i'm so fucked up" typa vibes).

Anyway, loved most of this so, so much. Will need a re-watch to confirm, but I think it's maybe one of the most affecting films of recent years for me personally. Not so sure on some little moments, but the big picture and its presentation of anxiety and the idea of your worst mundane sort of fears coming to life in insane ways was amazing to see done so artfully.

God bless whoever is writing these big fucking cheques for Ari Aster.

Good!

  • Amazing, panic attack type of dread induced atmosphere.

  • Great central performance from Phoenix.

  • Genuinely affecting.

  • Very funny!

  • Creative and unlike much else.

Not so good!

  • It's absolutely not for everyone, but that's actually a plus for me!



Asteroid City

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson

New Wes Anderson, who's firmly into his unashamed self-indulgence era. Though this is probably fairly comfortably his most well rounded film since The Grand Budapest Hotel. Here, the titular setting is the star of the show. It's filled with countless characters but remains the biggest character due to its idiosyncrasies and amazing production design. This film looks amazing (as usual) and particularly its colour palette was very pleasing to the eyes.

It has all the typical pros of a Wes Anderson film, in its inventive, playful cinematography, excellent ensemble and excess of charm. I think compared to Isle of Dogs and especially The French Dispatch this has more affecting character moments and better focus amongst its large cast.

However its curveball is that it includes metatextual storytelling wherein 'Asteroid City' is a play within a movie and we see the actors discuss the play, which we watch as a movie, intermittently. It's simultaneously one of the film's most interesting aspects while also being least satisfying for me. It's something that will invite greater focus from me on a rewatch but I come away from it feeling like it left quite a bit extra to be desired from that aspect of the film.

You know if you're on the Wes Anderson train or not at this point, he's working within a familiar framework. I'm sold on it and I love the world & central characters of this one a lot. Also a great lil alien element, love it when films have funny lil aliens 👽👽👽.

Good!

  • Affecting central character moments.

  • Great visuals.

  • Really fun setting and huge cast of colourful characters.

Not so good!

  • Meta framing element feels key to the film, but vague.




Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse

Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Justin K. Thompson & Kemp Powers

Starring: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Oscar Isaac


Visually phenomenal. Takes the already spectacular visual identity of the original and experiments with it further. It's unleashed with clashing art-styles and a license to stage scenes in so many interesting ways in terms of the use of colour.

Not just that, but the settings used for this are show-stoppers, it's a wonder. The Mumbai-Manhattan combo? Insane. The future world and culmination of a set-piece taking place on a rocket ship to the moon??? The creativity on show is through the roof.

It's directed to be overwhelming in the best way, action scenes are amazing. Visuals going wild and the action itself being a combination of pure spidey web-slinging and the most insane million things at once combo that somehow manages to keep itself together. It's an absolute joy, I was LOVING this. Even quieter moments are staged in fantastic ways. It really has some strong imagery, like Miles & Gwen's upside down city viewpoint reunion.

Plot-wise, I found this to be pretty good, once again. Pacing near the beginning and end of the film suffers a bit. It's one of these two-parter films so the ending of the movie actually being the middle and getting all cliff-hangery is fine, but despite how amazing the Spider-Gwen intro is, it feels really weird to have that long intro only to then switch over to a structurally similar Miles intro right after.

There's still a lot of genuine emotion found in the plot despite its even huger scope and multiverse shenanigans (which have become a common blockbuster flavour following the og spider-verse). Some of the humour doesn't land for me, but none is egregious, and the stuff that does work like Mumbai Spider-Man & Spider-Punk make up for it. The live-action cameos are a lil weird as well (one feels extremely MCU-esque which I'm not a fan of).

But on the whole a blast and candy for the eyes. If they manage to stick the landing on the second part, I'll probably come back to sing the praises of this one even more! Loved it!

Good!

  • Unbelievable visuals and animation.

  • Next level action and web slinging.

  • Keeps a strong emotional core.

  • Amazing settings and staging for the action.

Not so good!

  • Pacing / structure takes a hit, being a part one of two.



Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell


In awe of the absolute scale on offer here, surely the biggest action film of the year and that's in a year with John Wick: Chapter 4, of all films. The escalation of Tom Cruise's megalomania has reached what's surely its apex in this two parter (possible) finale to the franchise.

Through these films Ethan Hunt has kinda become this invincible, saintly figure of good, so it makes sense that this film makes him fight against the only thing that could defeat him: God. I'm only exaggerating a little bit as well, with so much biblical imagery and in your face symbolism put in the film. Absolutely wild film from an ambition point of view, and that's without even taking into account the set-pieces.

Dead Reckoning Part One maintains the steady flow of absolutely top-tier action set-pieces with all-timer stunts, but also on several occasions manages to finally bring back the more contained thriller styled espionage of the original movie. Feels a bit like things are coming full circle in an absolutely insane fashion. The airport scene here is edge of your seat stuff and genuinely thrilling, something fresh for whatever the franchise has now morphed into.

This time the scale and stakes are so obscenely urgent that it's wall to wall exciting, despite some lulls. Its pacing takes a hit in how this is quite obviously part one of two, and while this film doesn't really hide that fact, it still has a bloated opener and wonky approach to its three acts (as it's in fact one and a half acts of a bigger film).

Not everything here works, they had two films to set up Rebecca Ferguson's character & establish a relationship with Cruise, only for her to kinda matter here, but it seems so cheaply implemented. Hayley Atwell feels like an amalgamation of previous Ethan Hunt sidekicks, but there's some sparks flying in the big chase sequence in Rome with her and Cruise, I loved that whole part so much.

Also the whole mystery box plotting is cliched and upon the climax of this film it kinda feels like it's a bit basic? I'll leave criticism of it until i see the next part, but the driving force of the plot here is not that interesting. The biblical parallels with mysterious new villain "Gabriel" and his A.I. God are more intriguing, though again I'm not convinced it's going to be that strong of a payoff. We'll see... Mostly though, sheeeeesh this is impressive. Not as "fun" or immediate as the previous McQuarrie films, but as silly as it is, giving over to the immense weight and stakes allows this to be an absolute white knuckle thrill ride.

Good!

  • Absolute top-tier action set-pieces.

  • Impressive scale and urgent stakes.

  • Keeps a strong emotional core.

  • Amazing settings and staging for the action.

  • Brings back the thrills of the original M:I.

Not so good!

  • Arguably misuses Rebecca Ferguson's character.

  • Plotting relies a lot on part two sticking the landing.

  • Some pacing lulls.


Oppenheimer

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr.


Feels weird watching this because I was thinking man it's been so long since Dunkirk, of which this feels like the natural successor for Christopher Nolan, only to then remember I had memory holed Tenet which was like all the worst parts of Nolan films amplified to the max (cool, high-concept action though!).

Oppenheimer is great in the ways you'd expect. Lots of attention to detail, marvellous production design and a stunning lead performance from Cillian Murphy. Feels like something that's bound for awards, but doesn't pander. No scene did I feel was an overwrought Oscar audition for Murphy, or the similarly excellent Emily Blunt who really shines in the later parts of the film.

I found the pace and constant dread induced atmosphere to be edge of your seat stuff which meant I didn't feel the three hour runtime much. Lots of really interesting visual and auditory tricks are in use which sets this apart from other similar political thrillers or biopics. Nolan's usual expository overload wasn't felt here and the film is smartly structured to deliver dense amounts of information in digestible formats.

I'm not completely quite blown away (heyoooo) by this, but it is great! Picks back up Nolan's 'mature' era that I assumed was starting with Dunkirk very nicely. Certain scenes in this though, like the Trinity test and Oppenheimer's speech & ensuing applause, were astounding to watch in the cinema. Amazing sound design and editing all round!

Good!

  • Great lead performance from Cillian Murphy (and support from Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh and Robert Downey Jr.).

  • Amazing sound design.

  • Impressive editing.

  • Strong visuals.

Not so good!

  • Non-stop pacing.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem

Directed by Jeff Rowe

Starring: Micah Abbey, Shamon Brown Jr., Nicolas Cantu, Brady Noon, Jackie Chan


Here's the latest foray into the TMNT brand, spearheaded by producer Seth Rogen. It's something that I really like the spirit of, even if I came away largely nonplussed.


Mainstream animation is finally taking some stylistic risks and now some big animated movies actually look different from one another. It's easy to compare this to Spiderverse, but it's far from a copycat stylistically.

It does look very nice and I love how grimy NYC looks in this, a dirty, neon lit, rainy metropolis. Its action is fast, satisfying and packs enough punch for a kids movie. Character designs are well thought out and also unafraid to relish in the ugly elements of the mutant characters.

I liked the chemistry between the turtles and that they got actual teens to voice them. Otherwise though, it's very hit and miss with its humour, sometimes going for topical pop-culture references & slang, but also leans back on '80s/'90s nostalgia jokes. It's a film that directly references Ferris Bueller and Hey Arnold, as well as BTS and TikTok - could be considered going for jokes for the parents & jokes for the kids, but none of it landed for me.

Though it left me impressed visually, otherwise I was pretty checked out by how paint by numbers the plot is. There's not really much different that this does than other similar superhero posse films, and man have we had a lot of them.

Nice animation, fun chemistry between the turtles but otherwise pretty unremarkable to me.


Good!

  • Inventive, eye catching visuals.

  • Charming chemistry between the turtles.


Not so good!

  • Paint by numbers plot.

  • Questionable humour.


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