Movies in February 2023

Following on from my previous movie summaries, this is my February 2023 review. Overall, I watched 23 new movies this month, taking the total for the year to 47!

The Whale starring Brendan Fraser

I went to the cinema to see director Darren Aronofsky's latest movie; The Whale. As a fan of the director's back catalogue, I knew I was in for a challenging and bleak movie.

Based on a play, the movie is set almost entirely within the confines of a man's small flat. With his severe obesity and struggles to move, the setting itself feels claustrophobic. With his health rapidly failing, he is looked after by a caring friend, pestered by a missionary and tries to reconnect with his estranged daughter.

Brendan Fraser gives one of the best performances I have witnessed, all while wearing a gigantic prosthetic suit. There is a man resigned to his fate, educated and knowing his self-inflicted lifestyle will cause his imminent death, yet there is still a loving and forgiving demeanour that bubbles to the surface. A man who wants the best for the students he teaches, for his daughter and ex-wife, despite the way he's been treated.

The Whale is definitely challenging, flipping preconceptions throughout. I was on the verge of tears multiple times, especially welling up towards the climax. There is a sense of sadness that is the foundation of the characters, but overall, despite the situation, there is positivity and love that oozes to the surface.

German Cinema

  • Undine

    A historian in Berlin has an ancient myth catch up with her and has to kill the man who betrayed her.

  • A Coffee in Berlin

    An aimless university dropout attempts to make sense of life as he spends one fateful day wandering the streets of Berlin.

  • I'm Your Man

    A scientist accepts an offer to participate in an experiment: to live with a humanoid robot, created to make her happy.

  • Soul Kitchen

    A German-Greek chef unknowingly disturbs the peace in his locals-only restaurant by hiring a more talented chef.

I can't remember why I added Undine to my watchlist, but the synopsis caught my eye and I gave it a watch. This is a very simple story; a break-up at a coffee shop leads to an unexpected encounter and a new romance. Set in modern Berlin, the city itself feels like a character itself, and there are lingering camera shots. The story tries to work in a fairy-tale myth and has a few scenes that seem out of place with the rest of the aesthetic. There is actually something keeping you engaged throughout and that is the wonderful natural interplay of the two leads. It's not in the same league as the “simplistic romantic talking” genre classic Before Sunset.

The movie made me crave more German cinema, so I asked for suggestions and sought out some more…

A Coffee in Berlin is another meandering movie, following a youthful dropout trying to make sense of his life via his friends and relationship with his father. There are some wonderful interactions and subtle conversations about life and decisions. His melancholy disposition moves from one bizarre situation to the next – his elusive coffee always out of reach – until we conclude with a sombre encounter. It's a nice “slice-of-life” movie that is worth a watch.

I'm Your Man is an offbeat romantic science-fiction comedy… although it is a mish-mash of genres it works well. A work-driven scientist agrees on an experiment where she lives with a humanoid robot designed to be her perfect partner. Initially dismissive and cold, the story opens up different levels of connection and affection. With her neurosis, she judges the situation before giving it a chance, yet in the end, she can't escape her own strong personal experience. The overall feeling of the movie is rather lighthearted, but there are thoughtful moments throughout, especially the overarching theme.

Soul Kitchen is a frantic and full-on farce. It follows a bohemian group working for a strained restaurant owner, who, in turn, is trying to keep his relationship and business afloat while keeping tabs on his brother who is on sabbatical from jail. It is a fast-flowing movie with larger-than-life characters and chaotic scenes. The criminal underworld and those scrapping an honest living clash with calamitous consequences. There are some great characters and scenes that work standalone, but I felt something was missing to bring it all together. It's worth a watch for the energy all the characters bring.

2023 Releases

It's still early in 2023 and I am still waiting to catch up with some of the best movies of 2022 that have yet to be released in the UK. There are some amazing movies scheduled for 2023 and a few non-anticipated movies have trickled down to streaming services already. I wasn't expecting the modern classics or the best movies, but I hoped to find something interesting in the dead zone for new releases that is the start of the year. These are 2023 releases I watched

  • JUNG_E

    On an uninhabitable 22nd-century Earth, the outcome of a civil war hinges on cloning the brain of an elite soldier to create a robot mercenary.

  • True Spirit

    The story of Australian teenager, Jessica Watson, the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world.

  • Plane

    A pilot finds himself caught in a war zone after he's forced to land his commercial aircraft during a terrible storm.

  • Knock at the Cabin

    While vacationing, a girl and her parents are taken hostage by armed strangers who demand that the family make a choice to avert the apocalypse.

JUNG_E is a frustrating movie from the director of the fun zombie action movie Train to Busan. Everything is completely overly designed; the aesthetics of the war-torn post-apocalyptic world has thrown every conceivable futuristic style and idea into the mix that you're just left with an utter mess. The ideas on show are really interesting. The concept of data used for military and other purposes is explored in a really neat way. There are a lot of small touches throughout that have an emotional core and relate to these concepts. I just wish the ideas weren't wrapped in an irritatingly poor action movie.

True Spirit is a biography movie about the youngest person to sail solo non-stop around the world. We're introduced to the Australian, her family and her mentor as she is preparing for her controversial voyage. The adventure is noble if somewhat lonely and the movie does capture the highs and lows but it feels rather generic. I would rather watch a gritty documentary on a navigational feat.

Plane, starring Gerard Bulter, is a turn-your-brain-off and just-enjoy-the-ride kind of movie. There are some intense moments, some extreme violence, shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, hostages and rocket launchers. Of course, it is over-the-top and the cinematography is a little bland, but it gets your heart racing from one escape to the next.

Knock at the Cabin see director M. Night Shyamalan returns to a half-decent movie. As four people terrorise a couple and their daughter in a countryside cabin, we must try to decide whether they're correctly predicting the end of the world or whether they're just lunatics, hellbent on suffering. The remote location and situation feel very isolating and the calm yet controlling group are menacing and caring in equal measures. As the ultimatum – to kill someone in your family to save humanity – progresses, the consequences are broadcast, heightening the dread. I was waiting for a twist, which the protagonist tries to logically explain, but the twist was there wasn't one; it was really happening. This is a decent end-of-the-world thriller, with interesting choices, decisions and reasoning as well as tension and violence.

Woman with Trauma

  • Alice, Darling

    A young woman trapped in an abusive relationship becomes the unwitting participant in an intervention staged by her two closest friends.

  • To Leslie

    A single mother wins the lottery and squanders it just as fast, leaving behind a world of heartbreak. Years later she fights to rebuild her life and find redemption.

  • Causeway

    A US soldier suffers a traumatic brain injury while fighting in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home.

Alice, Darling focuses on a complex abusive relationship, but one that is emotionally controlling, not physical destructive. It paints the physically toll in a subtle but effective way. Initially, a somewhat benign relationship is exposed as something a lot more nefarious. There is a lot of foreboding and a neurotic tick of subtle self-harm. The effective use of flashbacks shocks the viewer and visualises the emotional influence controlling thoughts have on the protagonist. The screenplay takes a while for the true significance to surface, but once it does it has emotional strength. Anna Kendrick is absolutely fantastic as the quiet and meek victim.

To Leslie is a chaotic and raw look at emotional turmoil stemming from regretful decisions and the repercussions they have. Trying to reconnect with her estranged son, she falls back into old habits and is forced back to her hometown where friends and family have turned their backs. Trying to get her life on track she meets some friendly faces in the harsh landscape. Redemption is difficult for the unlikeable lead, but Andrea Riseborough is brilliant, offering a glimpse of humanity in a deeply flawed person.

Causeway follows a young veteran, recovering after suffering a traumatic head injury, as she relearns the basics of the simplest of movements and eventually returns to her childhood town. Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal, from her rehabilitation to her drive to return to normality. She forms an unlikely friendship with a mechanic and they spend increasingly intimate time together, until discovering another traumatic secret that affects their relationship. This is a slow and personal story, which is beautifully handled with meandering conversations and compelling characters.

Extraordinarily, these three movies about women and their traumatic experiences are all feature-length directorial debuts by their directors; Mary Nighy, Michael Morris and Lila Neugebauer respectively. I am excited to see what subjects and stories they tell next.