Following on from my previous movie summaries, this is my May 2023 review. Overall, I watched 31 new movies this month, taking the total for the year to 123!
I went to see the long-awaited and much-delayed threequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 at the cinema. With James Gunn back at the director's helm, the whole cast came back for one more space-trekking adventure.
Instead of the common superhero-movie trope of “saving the world”, the Guardians are saving their friend. The main focus of the movie was saving Rocket and his backstory was absolutely heartbreaking. There are wondrous worlds and fantastical characters both old and new. Introduced at the end stringer of the previous movie, I expected Adam Warlock to be an unstoppable villain, but he was a naive and insecure child who acted much like a baby – it was a subversive realisation.
Overall this was an intimate farewell for the dysfunctional crew, with many funny moments, characters and story treated with respect and filled with heart.
The world is beset by the appearance of monstrous creatures, but one may be the only one who can save humanity.
Monarch faces off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the three-headed King Ghidorah.
The fearsome Godzilla and the mighty Kong fight against each other, with humanity caught in the balance.
Japan is plunged into chaos upon the appearance of a giant monster.
The first movie Godzilla is the definition of a “dumb action movie”. However, the convoluted story was a little confusing and there was not much Godzilla on show. The plot was pretty bad; jumping around with some terrible dialogue. The monster's EMP attack was useful in nullifying the human's ability to fight back, leaving them completely useless. This allowed the action to focus on the monsters themselves. The city-destroying fights were darkly lit and basic – Godzilla appeared wooden, which I hope was a specific stylistic choice and a throwback to the original movies. The cognitive switch between “we must destroy Godzilla” to “he is here to protect us” is really quite abrupt. You have to turn your brain off to let the movie flow over you.
The sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, throws more and more monsters at the screen. Again, it jumps around from location to location and different entities studying the monsters. There are four main monsters in this movie and at least one of these could've been dropped or at least killed in the first act. The three-headed King Ghidorah was impressive and seemingly indestructible for Godzilla. We follow the misguided humans medalling in technology trying to control the monsters – seemingly completely forgetting about the EMP attacks from the previous movie that would render that type of technology useless… The fight scenes are an improvement from the first movie but it suffers from too many and the stupidity of the human characters. Again, it is a “turn your brain off” type of movie.
Continuing the theme of putting your children in serious danger, Godzilla vs. Kong featured “take your child” to work week. With a complete change in direction from the “more monsters” tact of the previous instalment, this movie is much better because it focuses on one rivalry. Both monsters are more fluid and animal-like – unlike the stiff Godzilla from the previous movies – and Kong's personality makes the movie more engaging. The first encounter used a really interesting location, leaving Kong literally out of his depth. The conclusion in Tokyo with the neon lights was spectacular… not to mention the addition of another “monster”. This is the best of the three Godzilla “MonsterVerse” movies and is on par with the standalone Kong movie. It features a good balance of fights – which again improve on the previous movies – and story.
To continue the Godzilla theme, I watched the Japanese movie Shin Godzilla. This is a reboot of the franchise that now features over 30 movies, excluding the American versions. The story focuses on the bureaucracy of dealing with an unprecedented monster and its seemingly random attacks as it makes its unstoppable journey towards Tokyo. It introduces everyone in the complex government departments dealing with the crisis in a rather satirical way. Some of the movie is a slog, but I loved the clunky-looking Godzilla effects and the final encounter is a visual treat.
Whereas the original Godzilla was conceived as a metaphor for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Shin Godzilla drew inspiration from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
A young man's recently deceased girlfriend mysteriously returns from the dead, but he slowly realizes she is not as he remembered her.
A woman wins a trip to Florence and the chance to meet the restaurant chain's wealthy and charismatic owner.
A socially isolated woman finds her increasingly lucid dreams trickling into her waking life.
In the Middle Ages, a young servant fleeing from his master takes refuge at a convent full of emotionally unstable nuns.
Joshy's fiancée kills herself. 4 months later, his friends hope to cheer him up at the cabin they rented for his bachelor party weekend.
I stumbled across Life After Beth – a twist on the zombie genre, similar to Warm Bodies – where characters try to form a relationship with a zombie (or vice-versa). After his girlfriend comes back from the dead, Zach (Dane DeHaan) thinks he has a second chance but soon things go awry. While trying to hide the truth from Beth, played with perfect dead-pan humour by Aubrey Plaza, the crazy situation starts to become out of control. It is quite slow to get going and a little disjointed, but it does have some very amusing set pieces.
Although Life After Beth wasn't the best movie to be introduced to the director, I realised I had a few other movies on my watchlist which were directed by Jeff Baena and starred Aubrey Plaza – who he is married to – so I decided to seek them out.
Next up was Spin Me Round which pairs Aubrey Plaza alongside Alison Brie. The movie starts like a trashy romance novel, where a girl falls for the charismatic business owner and is swept off her feet on his yacht. But the adventure takes a turn, both romantically and tonally, as a darker undercurrent surfaces. The two women are stunning with their vogue style against the backdrop of gorgeous Italian scenery. The third act is a little messy, but it has a satisfactory conclusion that subverts your initial ideas. Overall, it is an easy watch, with some fun characters and unexpected twists and turns.
I followed this up with Horse Girl, which stars Alison Brie in the leading role. This is an interesting layered movie. The main character descends into madness, possibly caused by a past trauma she feels reasonable for. I was impressed with the way her mental health issues were presented and dealt with. This is easily the director's strongest movie, with every element, from direction to acting and screenplay, superior to his other movies.
The Little Hours has a very strange premise that reminded me of Your Highness, which is a 2011 period “drama” from the director of stoner comedy Pineapple Express. The Little Hours follows three foul-mouthed nuns – again starring Aubrey Plaza and Alison Brie – as they are tempted by a handsome young arrival. Acting as a deaf/mute he is unable to defend himself, he must succumb to the advances of these devilishly uncatholic nuns. It is a very silly movie, but the actors do their best. If you're a fan of silliness stretched over a thin concept, then this is fine.
Finally, I watched Joshy. This was the first movie by Jeff Baena that I added to my watchlist, mainly due to starring actor Thomas Middleditch, who I loved in the hilariously on-the-nose TV comedy series Silicon Valley. However, I was disappointed. There is a very striking start and end, but an increasingly frustrating muddled middle.
As well as the movies directed by Jeff Baena, I watched some other movies that fall into the Mumblecore subgenre. A few of these were produced by the Duplass Brothers, a team who are known for this type of movie.
A developmentally delayed 40-year-old man is sent to live with his brother. But Shonzi develops a crush on his girlfriend and threatens to reveal past secrets.
Two brothers tour Charles Manson murder sites. One is a devoted family man. One is devoted to The Family.
A young autistic woman runs away from her caregiver in an attempt to submit her 500-page manuscript to a “Star Trek” writing competition at Paramount Pictures.
In a future where the government records dreams and taxes them, a dream auditor gets caught up in the dreams of an ageing eccentric.
Two brothers compete in their own private 25-event Olympics.
Rainbow Time handles an interesting and challenging subject – a developmentally delayed adult’s interaction with a sibling and his girlfriend – in a delicate manner. It doesn't shy away from the problems but presents them with heart and endearing quality. This was a surprising movie that I would recommend if you like indie movies. Linas Phillips, who plays the challenging adult, also directed the movie and appears in a couple of other movies I watched.
Manson Family Vacation follows two brothers – one, a drifter (Linas Phillips), who is obsessed with the Charles Manson murders and the other who is a family man. They embark on a mission to explore the famous locations in downtown LA before the obsession takes a darker turn. The movie was fine, with some interesting moments, but it didn't really do much with the oddball characters and setup.
Ben Lewin directs Dakota Fanning in Please Stand By. She plays a young autistic girl who breaks free from her regulated and routine-based life to deliver a screenplay for a Star Trek competition. It handles the subject with sensitivity, showing how someone can overcome overwhelming situations with a bit of trust and self-purpose and a little help from other people. It was inspiring to see self-confidence blossom when the odds are against them.
Strawberry Mansion features some lovely science-fiction world-building, which focuses on recording your dreams (for tax purposes!), but overall fails to engage. The introduction of the tax collector (with a brief appearance from Linas Phillips) and the subsequent audit is superbly told, with bright colours, interesting prop design and two odd characters. However, the screenplay starts to unravel, much like the reality/dream state of the tax collector after a death. The ability to influence and control what you see in your dreams is a scary proposition, but the movie focuses on a strange time loop that I just didn't connect with.
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon was written and directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass and is about two duelling brothers. After the deadbeat brother turns up, the family-man sibling is provoked into rekindling a childhood rivalry. They secretly compete in random games (table tennis, holding your breath) behind the back of his wife and family. As things escalate, they have to reconsider their priorities to the childish 25-part game, their relationship and their family. The low-budget movie follows the same style as the Duplass Brother’s other movies but is far less successful. I wouldn't recommend this, but instead check out Jeff, Who Lives at Home or The Puffy Chair.
Ben Affleck is back in the director's chair and stars alongside his long-time collaborator Matt Damon. Air is a biopic about the legendary basketball star Michael Jordan and the introduction of the Nike Air shoe. Chris Messina steals the show as the enthusiastic and cocky agent. There is a tight screenplay that takes the rather dry subject of corporate contracts and presents it in a fun and digestible way that succeeds much better than Tetris.