5 Movies Like Once Upon a Studio (2023)

Staff & contributors

When reminiscing about the film industry, most period films focus on the big names – the stars, the directors, and the producers that back them – as they’re more likely to have plenty of source material. Once Upon a Star is interested in the little people, the small town distributors that bring the movie magic to the locals. Centered on a cinema projection troupe, the film celebrates the old way of distribution, who, unlike today’s streaming, travel from place to place to set up outdoor cinemas with live dubbing. And through each projection of classic Thai masterpieces, the connection they have with each other, between both the troupe and the audience, recalls the intimate nostalgia of watching a movie together. It’s a unique take from director Nonzee Nimibutr, one that’s a stunning love letter to the film industry he hails from.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Jirayu La-ongmani, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Nat Sakdatorn, Nuengthida Sophon, Samart Payakaroon, Sornchai Chatwiriyachai, Sukollawat Kanarot, Waratta Watcharatorn, Yothin Mapobphun

Director: Nonzee Nimibutr

The filmmakers behind this direct sequel to the Indigenous action thriller Sayen clearly learned from the mistakes of that first film: all the emotion that was missing then finds a new home here, as the titular protagonist finally gets to grieve what she's lost, in a way that's touchingly close to her cultural beliefs. Desert Road also ups the action considerably, this time borrowing liberally from desert-set films like Mad Max—the sun-drenched expanses of sand are somehow much more beautiful than the forests of the first movie. And Rallen Montenegro continues to refine this character's emotional depth.

Still, partially as a result of the fact that the first installment gave this sequel little to work with, Desert Road can't help but feel more ordinary and more distant from real-world struggles touched upon previously. The actual thrills in this thriller plot aren't particularly intriguing, as several subplots mash together without as much effect on the main plot as intended. At the end of the day, this still seems like it's been made with the action movie template in mind first, rather than having the story and characters lead the style of the storytelling.

Genre: Action, Thriller

Actor: Alfredo Castro, Álvaro Espinoza, Claudio Riveros, Claudio Troncoso, Enrique Arce, Eyal Meyer, Felipe Contreras, Francisca Gavilán, Jorge López, Katalina Sanchez, Mario Bustos, Nicolás de Terán, Rallén Montenegro, Roberto García Ruiz

Director: Alexander Witt

Just in time for Halloween, Netflix has shelled out for a new, high production value doc about demonic possession. It has all the right ingredients: a true story (that of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, also known as the "Devil Made Me Do It" case of 1981), some convincing re-enactments, the air of exclusivity (use of real archives), but it still feels like a let-down to the true horror buffs who'd tune in expecting something fresh. After all, Netflix has been in the game for a while and it's not a good look to settle for something as mediocre. For The Devil on Trial, it seems like the execs have just upped the budget on a regular cable-TV-haunted-house after hours special and then patted themselves on the back. Even the interviews featured are full of cliches, which strips down the horrifying potential of authenticity.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Arne Cheyenne Johnson, Tony Spera

Director: Chris Holt

Rating: R

Surrounded has the bones of a revenge-style Western. It turns the table on the white cowboy hero and gives us (on paper, at least) complex leads in Mo and Tommy. Mo is a young Black woman whose experience as a Buffalo Solider lends her not only the skills of an expert gunslinger but also the anger and motivation to push through any obstacle, while Tommy is the enigmatic thief who Mo reluctantly relies on in her quest for freedom. With all this pent-up tension, the film should work, and it does occasionally thanks to Wright and Bell’s deft performances (Bell is especially exceptional), the stunning mountainous terrains, and the worthy attempts at race and class commentary. But for the most part, the film's ambitions fall flat. The monologues are overlong and too evocative of modern speech to be historically believable. The action scenes, while exciting, only sputter here and there and never gain the momentum the film needs to genuinely thrill. And the thin backstories of Mo and Tommy raise more questions than answers. More often than not, Surrounded looks like a couple of good scenes strewn together on a lousy string; the foundations are off but there’s some enjoyment to be found.

Genre: Action, Drama, Western

Actor: Austin Rising, Brett Gelman, David Manzanares, Jamie Bell, Jeffrey Donovan, Keith Jardine, Kevin Wiggins, Letitia Wright, Luce Rains, Lyle Sandoval, Mark Dalton, Michael Kenneth Williams, Nathaniel Augustson, Peter Diseth, Tatanka Means

Director: Anthony Mandler

Rating: R

From Turkish comedian Cem Yilmaz, Do Not Disturb feels like it was meant to be a wholesome slice-of-life comedy-drama where a hotel manager has meaningful interactions with his fellow co-workers and his guests at night. It’s not quite like the Grand Budapest Hotel, though the film shares its fondness of bright, vivid colors and old-style aesthetics. As the film deals with a character hoping for a new start post-pandemic, there is something here about loneliness and coping mechanisms, as Ayzek relies on an Instagram influencer for all his life wisdom. However, the film makes it hard to make it care about its characters, as everyone but the main character seem one dimensional. When the film makes a surprising shift two-thirds of the way through, it feels like it came by too late.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Ahsen Eroğlu, Bülent Şakrak, Can Yılmaz, Celal Kadri Kınoğlu, Cem Yılmaz, Diren Polatoğulları, Mustafa Kirantepe, Nilperi Şahinkaya, Özge Özberk, Seda Akman, Tilbe Saran, Zafer Algöz

Director: Cem Yılmaz

Rating: R