ghostface in forest

What I Watched: June 2023

At the end of May, I headed to France. Between getting there and returning I basically spent a day on the plane. This included a one-hour delay in Paris. However, I was already on the plane at that point, meaning I got through more than half a movie as I waited to depart.

My reading themes were “France” and “nature”, but my watch list consisted of whatever the plane had to offer, which was a lot. International flights also offer movies from around the world that I would not normally get to watch, so I always use the opportunity to watch some. I guess I could have chosen French movies, but there were too many other movies I really wanted to watch.

Competencia oficial
Having written an article on Parallel Mothers, I spent some time browsing through Penélope Cruz’s filmography. This movie was one of her most recent Spanish-language entries, so I was happy that I stumbled upon it. The premise is of a millionaire’s attempt to be immortalised, which leads to his financing of a film helmed by a legendary, and legendarily eccentric, director (played by Cruz), with a movie star and celebrated theatre actor in the lead roles. The latter two are played by Antonino Banderas and Oscar Martínez. It has a witty, biting script, delivered by a fantastic trio of actors who keep you engaged and giggling right until the clever ending that you don’t see coming, even though you should.

The Whale
This film received a lot of attention, not least for marking what is hopefully a return to movie stardom for Brendan Fraser. He gives an incredible performance, worthy of all the awards he received. He is supported by an amazing cast and every character is treated with care through both the performances and the writing, each one a perfectly imperfect human being with whom you sympathise regardless of what they have done in the past to one another or themselves. I had forgotten this was directed by Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker whose work has always interested me. The drama predominantly takes place in one setting (a set-up I love) and this got me thinking that it would make a brilliant play…only to discover, it is based on a play. I would love to see this on stage, but Aronofsky does a magnificent job moving it to the screen.

Last Night in Soho
I love Last Night in Soho director Edgar Wright, but I watched this for Anya Taylor-Joy. She is a magnificent young actress, and in her role as Sandie, she is as glorious as ever – even showing off her pipes with a rendition of Petula Clark’s Downtown. I was also very impressed with the lead actress, Thomasin Mackenzie. But what really hooked me was the story: a mash-up of time travel and mystery thriller grounded by the “small-town girl goes to the big city” trope. In classic Wright style, the soundtrack is key to the storytelling, and he finds fun and organic ways of working the music into the film.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Just like I will watch anything with Anya Taylor-Joy, so I will watch anything with Jesse Plemons. He stars in this movie written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie I absolutely love. This has the same bizarre flavour, but is a touch darker and weirder. It’s a seemingly simple story (boy takes girl home to meet the parents) complicated slightly by her (inner) revelation (and the title) that she wants to break up with him. As the story progresses things get weirder and weirder, but it’s a bizarre magnetism that pulls you all the way through. A standout moment is the dance scene towards the end. I don’t know whether mentioning it counts as a spoiler, because I don’t think you can really spoil this film. But if the below does not appeal to you, then this may not be the film for you.

The Zen Diary
Having spent ten days on a farm in the southwest of France, this Japanese movie about a writer (Tsutomu) residing alone in the mountains, living off the land, was a perfect choice. It also, incidentally, fit in with one of my reading themes: nature. This film has a simple, straightforward story that is lovingly told with beautiful characters at its heart and a bit of sweet humour mixed in. In the beginning, it feels almost like a documentary as we watch how Tsutomu sources food from the land and makes his meals from scratch in a very traditional manner. But as we learn more about him, and as a young woman named Machiko becomes increasingly part of his life, the story starts to unfold. I was delighted to discover that it’s based on a book, which I can add to my July reading list since the theme is Japan. The film also threw fuel onto my increasingly kindling desire to disappear into the woods to “live deliberately”.

Scream VI
Of course, I want to disappear into the woods in a non-horror movie kind of way. Because even though I love scary movies, I don’t want to live in that kind of cabin in the woods. And speaking of scary movies, one of my favourites is definitely Scream, with the franchise now decidedly my favourite scary movie franchise. I loved the fifth instalment (also titled Scream), and the sixth chapter is just as much fun. I don’t want to give anything away as far as the killer (or killers) is concerned, but I did guess one part of the ending. It’s the beginning of the film that starts off unexpectedly by revealing the killer…sort of. There were also plenty of great scares that made me jump and gasp several times, despite the cramped confines of my  airplane seat.

Before watching this movie, I had listened to an Empire magazine interview with the director (M. Night Shyamalan) and their ensuing lukewarm review. I knew that on the whole Old had been poorly received. I agree that some of the acting is not great, and the script is not very strong, but this movie still absorbed and frightened me as much as Shyamalan’s other work has. The Empire review also made a fair point: in a filmmaking landscape filled with sellout sequels and half-baked remakes, Shyamalan should be commended and celebrated for still striving to tell original stories.

Season 4
I finished the final season of Barry, which is one of my all-time favourite shows. This is an excellent series with some of the best acting I’ve ever watched. The final season gets very meta and it’s well-handled, suiting the bizarre edge Barry has always had. The commentary remains as on point as ever, the humour still dark yet sometimes silly, and the characters stay haunted, emphasised by an effective use of empty landscapes and silences. I will miss this excellent show but am glad it has been roundly completed instead of dragging on unnecessarily.

Season 2
This is another show I absolutely adore and I was ecstatic when it returned. The based-on-real-events story flipping between the ‘90s and the present day gets even more intense, driven by excellent performances from its young and veteran actors. Elijah Wood joins the cast this season in a role that is at once creepy and charming – and we get to see the grown-up versions of more of the ‘90s characters. Its signature dark tone is even more fascinating as the elements of Wicca and supernatural mystery are ramped up, leavened with its well-delivered humour and the nostalgia of a ‘90s soundtrack.

Season 7
This crime comedy skips along its merry way with more murder and mystery. Kate’s mommy issues are sort of solved, but now there’s the mystery of Castle’s disappearance to contend with. For me, the fun is still in the formula. But even though the show is built on a far-fetched premise peppered with ridiculous plots, some of the early episodes really started stretching even my imagination, more so thanks to their messy resolutions. However, it improves towards the middle, keeping the cases as entertaining as ever but with better-written conclusions wrapping up the episodes.

Chimp Empire
With only four episodes, this documentary series allowed me to watch something nature-themed before the month was up. I love chimpanzees and Chimp Empire gives you an amazing glimpse into the life of the Ngogo chimpanzees in Uganda’s Kibale National Park. I was fascinated by the observations of their diet: I know chimpanzees are omnivores, but I was astonished to see them eating monkeys! The story of how the group has split into two factions ties the episodes together. There are saddening moments that pull at the heartstrings, but the narrative drags a lot of the time. It’s narrated by Mahershala Ali, whom I adore, but I really feel that someone could have told him how to pronounce Ngogo. These minor peeves aside, it’s worth a watch just to witness all the sumptuous green glory of the forests and the chattering charm of the chimpanzees.

Life in Colour
You can’t have a nature theme and not watch something hosted by David Attenborough. This was on my Netflix watch list, and with the end of the month dawning, I chose this because it has only three episodes. As you can imagine it’s visually very striking, covering the many ways colour is used in the animal kingdom – from attracting a mate to repelling an enemy. The first two episodes are fascinating as we dive into the sea, soar into the air, and roam the land in search of colour, following tigers, peacocks, Arctic foxes, peacock mantes, and much more. The final episode focuses on the cameras developed especially for the series. These allow us humans to see the various spectrums of colour with which animals view the world, including UV light.

Feature image credit.

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