Movies in August 2023

Following on from my previous movie summaries, this is my August 2023 review. Overall, I watched 28 new movies this month, taking the total for the year to 198!

At the Cinema: Barbenheimer

Like many people, I watched both Barbie and Oppenheimer at the cinema. This was dubbed the Barbenheimer experience. Yet the two movies couldn't be much of a contrast.

Greta Gerwig was both writer and director for Barbie. A promotional teaser trailer caused a stir, as it bizarrely recreated the iconic opening from Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The movie features a diverse set of Barbies, the main character played by Margot Robbie, set in the fictional Barbie Land. After her perfect life starts malfunctioning, she then travels to the “real world” to find out why. Ryan Gosling plays Ken, a dumb pretty boy and very much a side character in Barbie Land, but he is transformed when he learns that men rule the “real world”. The movie is absolutely hilarious in places, with gorgeous set design and an aesthetic that is a nod to classic movie-making techniques. The bright colours and over-the-top characters work perfectly and contrast against the somewhat downbeat social commentary. There is some funny voice-over work and lots of physical jokes too. It's a fun movie.

Big-budget summer blockbuster director Christopher Nolan is back at the box office. This was a much-anticipated movie by one of my favourite directors. Having produced an incredibly broad range of movies, from science-fiction epic Interstellar and war movie Dunkirk to high-concept movies such as Inception and most recently Tenet. He is a director who commands your attention. He crafts highly produced and complex movies which are digestible on first viewing, but reward repeat watches; Oppenheimer is no different.

The movie is a biopic, following the scientist who developed the atomic bomb and like a lot of the director's previous movies, he plays with the narrative direction of the story. It is told through a courtroom-style investigation into the life of scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, with segments following his life as a lecturer, his political and personal affiliations, to his leading role in the Manhattan Project during World War 2. The three-hour epic is overflowing with detail and complex characters working towards a controversial goal. The story is filled to the brim with different characters, their relationships and individual ambitions which would reward multiple viewings, but it is easy to follow the main arc regarding the development of the bomb and the political aftermath.

Documentaries: A Subtitle

For the third month in a row, I watched a few documentaries.

  • Downfall: The Case Against Boeing

    Examining the months since the tragedies, which caused global panic in March 2019 after two new aircraft crashed within five months, killing 346 people.

  • Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie

    Follows the life of actor Michael J. Fox, exploring his personal and professional triumphs and travails, and what happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease.

  • Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist

    From Notre Dame to the NFL, Manti Te'o's future in football showed promise until an online relationship sent his life and career spiralling.

  • Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

    Nick Broomfield's second documentary about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, focusing on her mental state on death row.

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing examines the two plane crashes caused by corporate decisions made by the plane manufacturer in their race to compete with their rival Airbus. I remember the crashes and some of the reasons behind them when they happened. This documentary goes deeper into the story and is quite interesting.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie documents the life of the much-loved actor as he deals with Parkinson's disease. There are interviews that are combined with inventive use of archival footage from his movie and TV roles. The story reveals his positive and humorous outlook, similar to how he is known for from his roles. It is a compelling documentary, especially if you're a fan of his roles – the Back to the Future movies are one of my favourite trilogies – and evokes some strong emotions.

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist is a sports documentary featuring a people and a story I had no idea about. The introduction strangely spoils some of the revelations, but this is a crazy story of a young Hawaiian-American footballer who is catfished with some devastating consequences. It is a very personal story and as the viewer, we're shown a full picture of personal betrayal, athletic expectations and media speculation that must've been incredibly stressful to live through. Protagonist Manti Te'o seems an incredibly humble man.

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer seems like a follow-up documentary by filmmaker Nick Broomfield, focusing on the trails and mental state of America's “first female serial killer”. I didn't actually care for this, from both an interest perspective nor documentary style. I'd recommend Charlize Theron's portrayal in the fictionalised autobiography Monster instead.

Scream: The Ghostface Sequels

I watched the original Scream movie years ago – I vividly remember walking back home across the town at midnight! For some reason, I watched Scream 4 but hadn't watched the sequels before that. Now with the recent “legacy sequel” releases, I decided to complete the set.

  • Scream 2

    Two years after the first series of murders, as Sidney acclimates to college life, someone donning the Ghostface costume begins a new string of killings.

  • Scream 3

    While Sidney and her friends visit the Hollywood set of Stab 3, the third film based on the Woodsboro murders, another Ghostface killer rises to terrorize them.

  • Scream

    25 years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, Calif., a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers.

  • Scream VI

    In the next instalment, the survivors of the Ghostface killings leave Woodsboro behind and start a fresh chapter in New York City.

Scream 2 is the original sequel and it felt like it was the perfect addition. I can't really remember what the first movie was like – and since they've been scourged by the Scary Movie franchise – it was a really good movie. It had a perfect blend of horror/slasher while focusing on interesting characters and the meta self-referential nods to the genre itself. It works well as a standalone movie but follows the same structure that made the original such a success.

Scream 3 concluded the original trilogy in 2000 and it didn't match the highs of the previous movies. Focusing on the fictional movie that is based on the original murders and "characters of characters" within the movie was an interesting twist on the franchise. The script had to jump through hoops to bring back the original characters and the change in the Ghostface revelation was a disappointing decision. The dark backstory and overall conclusion are very controversial considering the 2017 real-life revelations against the movie's producer.

Original Scream franchise director and master of horror Wes Craven died after making Scream 4. This meant Scream 5 was the first movie without him at the helm. Set 25 years later, the movie, as they announce during the movie itself, is a “requel” (or legacy sequel) – the movie features the original cast, but they're not the main characters, instead a new group are the focus on the story, allowing for a “soft reboot” and the continuation of the franchise without the burden of the originals. The production quality was good, but some of the acting was annoying. It was good to see the original characters back in the mix, but the reveal was weak.

Requel: A movie that revisits the subject matter of an earlier film but is not a remake or a linear continuation of its plot (i.e. a sequel or prequel).

Scream 6 continues with the same main directors and main characters from the previous soft reboot, but it only has one returning original cast member. The movie also moves away from Woodsboro and to New York City – a poor decision in my opinion, but I admit it does freshen up the franchise a little. It suffers from a couple of “head-shaking” moments when the characters do something stupid. But there are some very cool and tension-filled sequences in the city environment. The callbacks to the previous movies as the deaths add up work well, without being over-the-top. The acting is better than the previous instalment, but neither of these movies quite match the original or original sequel.

A concluding (I hope) third movie for this group is in development.

Supported By: Michaela Watkins

I inadvertently watched a bunch of movies which starred actress Michaela Watkins in supporting roles.

  • Sword of Trust

    A cranky pawn shop owner gets involved with a fringe organisation that believes the South won the Civil War.

  • They Came Together

    A small business owner is about to lose her shop to a major corporate development.

  • The House of Tomorrow

    An isolated kid meets a young up-and-coming punk rocker with a heart condition.

  • The House

    A couple start an illegal casino in their friend's house to make back the money.

Sword of Trust pits four oddball characters against some dark themes in this light indie comedy. This heavily improvised movie has some witty conversations, none more than when they're stuck in the back of a truck on the way to a shady deal. It's a weird movie about conspiracy nuts and a hapless bunch of people trying to make some quick money. It's a soft-beat drama with a comedic edge.

They Came Together is a hilarious satirical romantic comedy. Starring Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler, the movie takes the common tropes of the genre and takes them to the absurd extreme. There are a few scenes that had me laughing out loud, one-liners that land and off-hand comments that elicit a laugh. All of this while following the common rom-com story arc. If you're looking for something light-hearted and fun to watch, give this a go.

The House of Tomorrow is a strange low-budget indie friendship and coming-of-age movie. It stars Asa Butterfield – from Sex Education fame – as a secluded and awkward teenager who comes out of his shell after an unlikely meeting. The location is a little strange and the lead's motivations seem to shift quite quickly, but it has some interesting characterisations and relationships that end with an ad hoc punk show, which is always a bonus for me.

The House is an American comedy starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, but it is the third-wheel Jason Mantzoukas who steals the show. The idea behind the movie is good enough – running a secret casino in a small town – and there are some funny scenes, but overall it falls flat for me. If you like loud American comedies, then you'll probably like this.