About badblokebob

Aiming to watch at least 100 films in a year. Hence why I called my blog that. https://100filmsinayear.wordpress.com

All quiet on the 100 Films front

If you thought last month was a slow’un for reviews, hoo boy, look how this one’s going!

The main reason is I’ve been keeping myself busy working at FilmBath Festival, spending my days editing other people’s writing about films (amongst other things). One of the main tasks has been editing all the text for the brochure, which is officially out today — if you live in or around Bath, look out for a physical copy; everyone else, you can read it online here. (If you spot any mistakes, they were all deliberate. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

The 2019 festival has a genuinely exciting lineup — a mix of previews for high-profile movies you’ve heard of and smaller gems that have primarily been on the festival circuit. (If you’re the kind of person who attends film festivals, especially big-name ones, there’s a fair chance there’s nothing new here. Some of the stuff on show has even been on general UK release, it just hasn’t played in Bath.) And there’s at least one advance preview of a film tipped to be an awards season frontrunner, so that’s particularly exciting. Even if on an initial flick through only a couple of movies jump out, I’ve found when you start to read about these films they almost all get really interesting. I figure most of my readership is outside the Bath area (heck, stats say most of my hits come from the US nowadays), but, nonetheless, I’ll also mention that tickets are on sale to the general public from today. (FYI, I don’t get anything for promoting this, I’m just mentioning it because it’s what I’ve been up to.)

As for 100 Films, hopefully I’ll get back on its case soon. Though I’ve been meaning to post a review of Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans all week and haven’t got it together, so…

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Colossal (2016)

2018 #117
Nacho Vigalondo | 109 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Canada, USA, Spain & South Korea / English & Korean | 15 / R

Colossal

As it begins, you’d be forgiven for thinking Colossal is just another indie rom-com. Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, an unemployed writer whose boyfriend (Dan Stevens) kicks her out of their New York apartment, forcing her to move back to her Nowheresville hometown. There she reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) — romance is surely in the air, right? But Colossal has a couple of surprises up its sleeve. One is hard to miss, what with it being on all the posters (and, I presume, in the trailers): concurrent with Gloria’s return home, a giant monster begins to rampage around Seoul, and she comes to realise these two disconnected events are, in fact, connected. Meanwhile, the relationship storyline has a few twists in store too.

Unsurprisingly, given the uniqueness of the concept, the film’s marketing foregrounds the giant monster. But anyone expecting “a giant monster movie” will probably be disappointed, because this isn’t a Godzilla clone. However, anyone open to an indie comedy-drama that uses giant monsters as a giant metaphor (arguably an on-the-nose one, but it’s an effective one also) should find something of interest here. I’m being coy about the facts of that metaphor because I think one of the movie’s biggest strengths is its ability to surprise, and to wrong-foot and unnerve you with those surprises — there are some very uncomfortable scenes, deliberately so. Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo is looking to explore timely themes here, and if you were to be aware of them before viewing I think you’d be looking for signs too early, and that would undermine part of the film’s point, which lies in how events develop.

To put that aside, Colossal’s biggest weakness comes in its sci-fi/fantasy element, where the rules of the situation don’t quite hang together. I’m not saying it needs an explanation for why the ordinary-woman/giant-monster connection happens — it’s the same reason that, say, the time loop in Groundhog Day happens: it just does. The ‘why’ is immaterial to the film’s purpose. But the rules the film establishes for how it works don’t entirely add up. I could go into specifics but, again, that might spoil things. And, ultimately, my issues are no more than niggles — the way things pan out is about getting satisfaction from the storyline, not adhering to the ins and outs of how a fantasy works. That said, I feel like a couple of logic tweaks here and there would’ve made it faultless.

Who's the bigger monster?

Nonetheless, it’s worth letting those complaints slide, because there’s so much to like in spite of them. The performances, for one. Hathaway negotiates Gloria’s interesting, tricky character with aplomb. By ‘tricky’ I really mean that it’s somewhat hard to put your finger on what her arc is exactly, but I think that’s because her evolution is believably fuzzy, just like real life, rather than conforming to a slick “this is the lesson she learned and now she’s better” movie thing. Co-lead Sudeikis has, I’d wager, never been better. I’ve not seen him in much, but enough to buy other people’s opinion that he’s a bit smug, a bit try-hard, a bit… of a dick, really. But all of those qualities work here, where Oscar is a loser trying to seem cool.

With some polishing up, Colossal could’ve been nigh on perfect; though it’d likely still be a cult favourite rather than any major success. Well, it’s probably still good enough for cult status, though, as a caveat, it will most appeal to those viewers who are prepared to accept a bit of a genre/tone mashup. It’s got an indie-funny quality, but then throws the sci-fi stuff in, before unveiling a serious side too; and, although that does get very dark, it’s really effectively managed — indeed, it’s all the better for how the quirkier first part sets it up. Vigalondo has points he wants to make, and his film gets them across. Whatever else, it’s definitely original and unique, and those qualities go a long way.

4 out of 5

Colossal is available on Netflix UK as of this month.

Si vis pacem, para menstruum review Septembris MMXIX

Crikey, is it really October already?! Where did September go?!

Time always flies, and it certainly seems to have disappeared for me of late, making the past month a quiet-ish one for 100 Films. There were relatively few movies watched (though it was far from my worst month of the year) and even fewer reviews posted (including no TV column, for various reasons). Let’s take a more thorough look…

(Before I begin, if you were wondering about the post’s title… well…)


#123 The Red Shoes (1948)
#124 Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. Erster Teil: Der große Spieler. Ein Bild der Zeit. (1922), aka Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. Part One: The Great Gambler. An Image of the Time.
#125 Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler. Zweiter Teil: Inferno. Ein Spiel von Menschen unserer Zeit. (1922), aka Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler. Part Two: Inferno. A Game of People of Our Time.
#126 Dollman (1991)
#127 John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
#127a Battle at Big Rock (2019)
#128 Downton Abbey (2019)
#129 Agatha and the Truth of Murder (2018)
#130 Howards End (1992)
The Red Shoes

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

.


  • So, I watched eight new feature films in September.
  • That’s the third time this year I’ve not reached my long-standing goal of at least ten films per month.
  • Naturally, therefore, it doesn’t measure up to any averages — not for September (previously 12.3, now 11.9), not for 2019 to date (previously 15.25, now 14.4), not for the last 12 months (previously 16.3, now 15.4).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: silent epic Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler — both parts. Well, I’d counted both as a single entry in my Blindspot list (even though I’ve counted them as two films in my tally), so I always intended to ensure they both fell within the same month. In the end, I watched them in a single (very long) sitting.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: Powell and Pressburger classic The Red Shoes. While I watched two films from Blindspot again (sort of), I’m still one behind on WDYMYHS.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched… absolutely nothing. Oh dear.



The 52nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I watched a few well-regarded films this month that I too regarded well, but the most artistically accomplished of them all was surely The Red Shoes.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
There was nothing I disliked this month, but something has to bring up the rear. That dishonour goes to Agatha and the Truth of Murder, which is a passable Christie pastiche but somewhat marred by its low-budget TV-movie roots.

Most Beautiful Film of the Month
The Red Shoes has gorgeous Technicolor cinematography by a true master, Jack Cardiff; and John Wick: Chapter 3 went all out with its neon cityscapes and glass buildings, looking particularly resplendent in UHD; and Downton Abbey appeared to have been entirely shot at golden hour, with its glowing, nostalgic pictures… but of them all, I think I most appreciated the 4K restoration of Howards End. I didn’t even watch it in 4K, just 1080p on Netflix, but the richness of the colours still filtered down. One caveat, though: I watched it on my partner’s parents’ TV, which I’ve always felt errs somewhat too much towards reds. But even if that’s the case, it really paid off for here.

Best Special Effect of the Month
Battle at Big Rock boasted animatronic dinosaurs even on a TV budget (well, I suspect it wasn’t an average TV budget — probably more in the Game of Thrones ballpark on a per-minute basis), and John Wick must be littered with effects to make all those action scenes work (unless Keanu Reeves went around brutally slaughtering stuntmen), but I was most enamoured of a floating head in Dollman. It’s headline effects (making a real man doll-sized) are no great shakes, and the close-ups of the floating head were just closely-framed shots of a real person, but the wider shots employed a practical model head that was really rather good. Okay, the dinos were probably more effective overall, but I do miss the days when even low-budget efforts had decent practical props.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It was a close run thing between the two new releases I watched this month, one a big-screen TV spin-off and the other a small-screen movie spin-off. In the end it was the latter, Jurassic World sequel bridger Battle at Big Rock, that emerged victorious.



This is the best month for my Rewatchathon since May. That may not sound like much given the tallies for the last three months were zero, one, and zero, but… no, it really isn’t saying much: I only watched two. The chances of me reaching my goal of 50 this year are basically nonexistent. I don’t mean to be defeatist, but c’mon: to get there I’d need to average nine films per month for the rest of the year, and my average for the past four months is 0.75 films per month. S’not gonna happen, is it?

Anyway, here’s the pair I (re)watched in September…

#22 Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
#23 Hannibal (2001)

Some Letterboxd thoughts on each are linked to above.


Naturally with lesser viewing comes more misses. The cinema release I’d most meant to get round to was widely-praised Brad Pitt-starring sci-fi Ad Astra, which I still might make time for. Much less well received was Rambo: Last Blood. The poor reviews killed any thoughts I had of making a cinema trip for it, but I’ll catch it somewhere someday. The same could be said for It: Chapter Two — not about the reviews, but about watching it later. I don’t bother with horror on the big screen, but I enjoyed the first one a lot so I’ll definitely catch up with the second half.

In terms of brand-new releases on streaming, Netflix’s In the Shadow of the Moon caught my eye. I don’t really know what it is or if it’s any good, but I’ve seen it listed as a neo-noir sci-fi thriller, which would be right up my alley. They also released Between Two Ferns: The Movie this month. I’ve never watched the series, but I’ve heard it talked about, so maybe I’ll see what the fuss is. As for more older things that’ve now found their way to streaming, Netflix offered the Taron Egerton-starring Robin Hood, which obviously went down poorly but I’ll still give a chance because I do enjoy those kind of films; London Fields, which also received bad notices but sounded interesting; and The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, which I have no idea about the quality of but is a helluva title. Over on Amazon’s Prime Video, recent-release additions include last-awards-season contenders Vice, Stan & Ollie, and If Beale Street Could Talk, and last-awards-season one-time hopeful On the Basis of Sex. I also noticed Dario Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet crop up there.

The headline addition to my Blu-ray collection this month was the Apocalypse Now: Final Cut on UHD. I’m considering double-billing that with the theatrical cut, which I’ve never seen; the shorter version in 1080p and the new one in 4K, just to help emphasise the improvement for myself. Seems unlikely I’ll find the time for that, but we’ll see. I also picked up a few Indicator sale titles — namely, Age of Consent, Born of Fire, and Suddenly, Last Summer. From another sale, a few to be rewatches: an unexpected favourite from last year, Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, plus 3D versions of Life of Pi and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (I need to rewatch that whole trilogy). Finally, not really a film (though I believe a cutdown version was theatrically released in some territories), but I got the Blu-ray of 1980 miniseries Shogun for a steal. I’m currently reading the book though, and as that is 1,200 pages it’s going to be a while before I even think about starting the nine-hour miniseries.


Some people spend all of October watching horror movies. I never have the appetite to be so monophagous, but I expect some’ll make it into next month’s listing. For one thing, I’m due to finally finish the Twilight saga…

Downton Abbey (2019)

2019 #128
Michael Engler | 122 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English | PG / PG

Downton Abbey

As the 2020s loom, with the world in a scary old place for a whole host of reasons, why not retreat to the safety of the 1920s, when posh toffs ran the country because their birthright had put them there rather than because the hoi polloi had actually chosen to vote for them in some act of retrograde nationalism. Downton Abbey does actually feature a subplot where a group of working-class servants secretly plot to overthrow the system… but the system in question is the one about who gets to serve the King and Queen their dinner. The working classes fighting amongst themselves about something fundamentally unimportant while the upper classes carry on serenely above them? It’s almost allegorical, although I suspect not on purpose.

No, like the TV show it’s a sequel to, Downton Abbey is much too busy being a comforting blanket of “it was better in the old days” jollity to bother with social commentary. Creator/screenwriter Julian Fellowes throws in the odd nod to more progressive concerns (republicanism, LGBT rights, the fading fortunes and relevance of the aristocracy), but they’re no more than hat-tips in the general direction of modernity. It’s as if he’s trying to say, “yes, I know this is all terribly outdated,” before adding, “but why don’t we just enjoy it for a bit, eh?” Well, we do all need an escape into fantasy sometimes, and not everyone likes it in the form of a bespandexed private army battling purple aliens.

Certainly, you’ll need to be prepared to engage with the concerns of this rarefied world if you want to find any drama here, where major points of jeopardy include whether there’s enough time to polish all the silver and if they can manage to put some chairs out while it’s raining. Sure, there are subplots including things like an assassination attempt and a police raid on a gay bar, but they’re not treated as being nearly so significant as who cooks dinner.

Polishing the silver. Not a euphemism.

So, yes, it’s mostly puff about pomp and pageantry — if you were after a film to perfectly encapsulate “heritage cinema”, you could hardly do better. But who would’ve expected anything else? Surely we’re all familiar with the TV series, even if you’ve never seen it, and naturally this big-screen version continues in a similar vein. At its core the series was really just a posh soap, and that style of melodrama is recreated here also: the engaged kitchen maid’s eye is caught by a hunky plumber; what’s behind the uncommonly close relationship between the Queen’s lady-in-waiting and her maid; will someone’s new royal appointment force them to miss the birth of their child; and so on.

If it’s beginning to sound like there are a lot of different storylines, well, there are. That’s another legacy of it originally being an ensemble TV show, of course: there’s a big, broad cast and every character must be given their due. Consequently, some reviews have accused the film of having no story, which I think is unfair. The primary plot is simple — literally just “the King and Queen visit Downton Abbey” — but it’s there. And the way the film chooses to depict this story — as a collage of subplots that, as a collective, show how the visit is prepared for and executed from the perspectives of a variety of roles at every level — is hardly an unheard of cinematic format for providing an overview of an event or situation. The reason for Downton taking this approach are rooted in its televisual origins, but if you wanted to consider it divorced from that context then you’d merely see a structural similarity to something like Nashville, for example.

Of course, the fact that Downton is a sequel to a six-season TV series is something most of us won’t ignore, whether because you’re a dedicated viewer coming to this as the 53rd episode, or you’re a neophyte with a background awareness that anything you don’t understand may be because it was explained in the TV show. I find myself in the slightly unusual position of someone who straddles both these stools: I stopped watching somewhere in the third series, so I know who most of the characters are and where their stories began, but I’m unaware of what went on for them in later years and who some of the later additions are. Fortunately, the highly structured class divide of the setting makes it easy to get a grasp on most things. Characters’ backgrounds are not as clearly explained as you’d expect to find in a truly standalone movie, but I think the fundamentals can be ascertained well enough. That said, I say that as someone who had a leg up from watching some of the series, so a total newcomer may find it more bewildering.

What's the deference?

One thing that’s interesting, returning to this world as someone who skipped a few years of it, is how much the emphasis has changed in places. By which I mean, some characters who once had a major are now given short shrift. For example, Hugh Bonneville has always been the de facto lead face of the programme, which makes sense as he’s Lord Grantham, head of the Downton household; and he’s still top billed in the opening credits, although I think that may be more a happy accident (I believe it listed the entire returning series cast in alphabetical order) than an indication of status. Either way, he has very little to do here, with other cast members taking centre stage. The real headliner in the series was always Maggie Smith’s acerbic Dowager Countess, and that continues to be the case here, as she snags both the lion’s share of the funny lines and the film’s most genuinely emotional scene. It feels like something of an ode to the venerable actress herself as much as it is a bit of in-universe business, and who could really begrudge such merited reverence? As to the rest of the cast, there are plenty of reviews out there that approach the film in more detail from either a fan or newbie perspective, so if you’re interested in specifics it may be worth seeking those out.

Some might argue this movie could’ve just as well turned up as a TV special, and, story-wise, it’s hard to disagree. Nonetheless, director Michael Engler and DP Ben Smithard have given proceedings a bit of big-screen pizzazz, using a 2.39:1 frame to accentuate grander shot choices and occasional cinematic flourishes, and much of the photography exhibits a warm-sunlight glow that makes you wonder if they somehow shot the whole thing during golden hour. And while too many big-screen re-dos ignore the emotive power of familiar music (see the Spooks movie for one where I specifically complained about it, for instance), here composer David Lunn’s familiar Downton theme is used to striking effect. I must admit that, even as someone who didn’t stick with the series and hasn’t watched it for years, the opening minutes gave me goosebumps.

Is the sun setting on this empire?

Truth be told, that’s not a terrible analogy for my reaction to the movie as a whole. Its near-fetishisation of regressive social modes should be distasteful, and some of its soapy scenes are accompanied by clunky dialogue and stiff acting that make it feel like you’re watching a period-dress episode of Coronation Street; but it can also unleash a sharp wit or well-constructed bit of farce (I laughed often), and there’s a certain majesty to the scenic, pretty-postcard photography that sweeps you up into its less complicated world. If you take it for what it is — a portrait of a time gone by — then it’s a likeable little jaunt.

4 out of 5

Downton Abbey is in cinemas now.

Battle at Big Rock (2019)

2019 #127a
Colin Trevorrow | 9 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.00:1 | USA / English

Battle at Big Rock

Surprised-announced by co-writer/director Colin Trevorrow on Twitter just a week ago (although, reading about it after the fact, it seems dedicated fans were already aware something was coming thanks to that regular modern blockbuster spoiler source: action figures), Battle at Big Rock is a short film entry in the Jurassic Park/World franchise, which premiered on the US FX channel on Sunday night (early Monday morning for us Brits) and is now on YouTube.

Set one year on from the cliffhanger-ish ending to the last film, Fallen Kingdom, this short presents a vignette in the Jurassic world that will help bridge the gap between the previous feature and 2021’s third/sixth instalment. But aside from that large franchise-minded goal, it’s also a chance to see some different characters have a different kind of encounter within the films’ universe.

Well, I say “different” — dinosaurs fight dinosaurs until humans are caught in the crosshairs, then a big toothy dinosaur goes after said humans. The real difference is that this happens to just an ordinary family out on an ordinary camping trip in California, not people who’ve chosen to go to a remote island filled with giant prehistoric lizards. Of course, they’ve decided to go camping in a region where it’s known a bunch of the aforementioned giant prehistoric lizards escaped a year ago and might be roaming about, but whatcha gonna do? When you gotta go camping you gotta go camping, I guess. Also, they’re not white, which is a notable characteristic in this franchise, unfortunately. (That lack of representation across five feature-length movies is hardly rectified by one short, but I’m certain it was part of the intention.)

A family-sized snack

What Battle at Big Rock lacks in originality it makes up for with brevity. This is a concise hit of dino action, cramming many of the franchise’s familiar thrills into a sub-nine-minute package. It also looks great for a short film. Yeah, sure, it still has the backing of Universal Studios — this isn’t exactly an indie production — but it’s not got the full weight of a theatrically-released blockbuster behind it, either. Nonetheless, it manages to include two species of dinosaur, one achieved via a mixture of CGI and a genuine animatronic, and adventure-movie set-piece-level action. It all looks mighty pretty too, although the nighttime fire-lit photography is no doubt partially about hiding the budgetary limitations.

Indeed, the film’s production is possibly its most impressive aspect. It was actually shot back in 2018, so they’ve kept it hush-hush for the best part of a year. And it can’t be easy to keep quiet a film shot on location, and outside of moviemaking’s usual stomping grounds, in Ireland, where apparently there’s a grove of trees that look exactly like a North Californian national park. Presumably the real deal was a no-go because they’d’ve been spotted even more easily there; but, equally, you’d think a big American production team rocking up in Ireland would attract attention — especially when they had a giant animatronic dinosaur in tow. Maybe the locals just presumed it was Game of Thrones

Anyway, the end result is a success, both as a little burst of dinosaur action for those of us who enjoy such hijinks, and as a tease for events we’ll see in the franchise’s next major instalment. Rumour has it the short’s budget spiralled beyond the limits Universal originally set, but, considering the ill-will generated by the underwhelming Fallen Kingdom, I’m sure they’ll consider audience’s re-stoked interest (a sentiment I’ve seen expressed repeatedly across social media today) to have been a worthwhile investment.

4 out of 5

Battle at Big Rock is available on YouTube.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

2019 #127
Chad Stahelski | 131 mins | Blu-ray (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English* | 15 / R

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

The action-man with the second most quotable line about being back is, er, back — again — for the third chapter in the ongoing saga of what happens if you kill a man’s dog. Basically, lots of people die. Quite right too.

Chapter 3 begins exactly where Chapter 2 left off: John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has been made “excommunicado” from the organisation that controls the criminal underworld, the High Table, and he has just an hour’s grace before every assassin in the world will be out to claim his life. He’s just one man, with a $14 million bounty on his head, in a New York City where about 50% of the population seem to be highly trained killers — as Winston (Ian McShane) says, his odds are “about even”.

And so the first half-hour is basically nonstop action, first as Wick desperately tries to prepare for the all-out assault coming his way, and then as he faces it. The series’ reputation is built on its lengthy, stylish, inventive action sequences, and Chapter 3 does not disappoint, with some of its best material coming right out the gate. I feel like they could’ve expanded this first half-hour into an entire movie (i.e. John on the run, fighting endless assassins, until he finds some way out of his bind) and I’d’ve been happy with that — it would’ve mirrored the simplicity of the first one. But the previous film’s cliffhanger is not so simply resolved, because what John did to earn his excommunicado status cuts deep into the mythology of this world — oh so very deep — and the fallout of his actions, well, that’s the plot of the movie. And not just for John himself, because a High Table Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) rocks up to decide the fate of any person or organisation who might’ve given John a helping hand when they really shouldn’t, including Winston, the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), and the Director (Anjelica Houston).

Adjudgement day

The first John Wick had a bit of fun introducing us to a rule-driven shadow-world of assassins. The first sequel put a lot of stock in extending that mythology. Now, the third chapter thrives on it. The first film’s plot was a straightforward revenge thriller with some extravagant flourishes; for the third, we’re (to borrow a phrase from Reeves’ other major action franchise) right down the rabbit hole. Just like the famed action sequences, if you’re onboard with it then there’s a ton of fun to be had; but if that kind of thing bores you, there’s little respite from it. Extravagant brutal action and gradually-unveiled ever-deepening mythology: these are John Wick’s twin raisons d’être.

Half the fun of how the films’ present their mythology lies in the way every character seems to be completely aware of all the rules. No one ever needs a symbolic coin or a judgement’s motivation explained to them; they inherently understand its significance or reasoning, the status and power that’s conferred. But we don’t know what any of it means, of course, because this is a fictional world that we’re being inducted into as and when parts of it become relevant to the narrative; and so we’re led along on a magical mystery tour of what these arcane rituals might mean and where they might lead us. As I said, it’s quite a particular kind of storytelling, and if it doesn’t engage you then that’s that, but if you do find it enjoyable then the John Wick films are spinning it into a fine art.

A hundred bad guys with swords? Who sent those goons to their lords? Why, John Wick!

Naturally, nowhere is the film’s sense of artistry more on display than in the fights. For all the mythology, director Chad Stahelski and the small team of screenwriters never forget what really made people love John Wick in the first place: the gonzo action. There’s a lot of competition in that arena (not just its own preceding instalments, but the past decade’s acclaimed imports like The Raid and its sequel, The Villainess, The Night Comes for Us, et al), but Chapter 3 is up the challenge, boasting continual inventiveness among the slickly choreographed and expertly performed carnage. One innovation includes dogs getting involved in the action — appropriate for a series all about the love of pooches. The mutts in question are commanded by an old acquaintance of Wick’s, played by Halle Berry, who trained with the dogs so she could actually control them during takes. It’s that level of dedication that marks out the action here.

It all looks great as well, with the camerawork boasting precise movement and impressively long takes to celebrate the action and how well it’s been achieved. The actual phototography is fantastic too, the light looking gorgeous whether in the neon glow of New York or the sand-orange Moroccan desert (I watched it in UHD, where it’s a real showcase for why HDR is a bigger benefit than pure resolution; though that’s not to discredit the film’s crispness). It’s complemented further by the design work, in particular a glass-house set where several key scenes take place, which reportedly cost $4 million. On any technical merit you care to name, Chapter 3 is exceptional.

Unleash the dogs of bellum

That said, while there’s fun to be had throughout, by the end I felt like the story was the film’s real problem. Not the tone and style that I praised earlier (though it’s easily the most fantastical of the series so far, which might turn some off), but its significance: it ultimately feels like merely a dot-join between Chapter 2 and the already-announced Chapter 4. The film’s Latin subtitle, Parabellum, translates as “prepare for war”, and that’s apt: this film is a preparation for the next. But maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe, when this series is all said and done, we’ll see that Chapter 3’s contribution to the overarching narrative is equivalent to the other films. However, at first blush, it feels to me like this is either a kind of linking passage, or maybe Chapter 3 Part 1. I guess only time — specifically, the time until after we’ve seen the fourth chapter (currently slated for May 2021) — will tell.

In the meantime, let’s not get too distracted from storyline niggles in a film that’s really about style over substance, in a good way. Chapter 3 certainly knows what boxes it should tick, and it ticks every last one of them with considerable flair. (Can you tick a box with flair? I bet John Wick could. After all, we know how skilled he is with a pencil…)

4 out of 5

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.

* The film’s primary language is undoubtedly English, but IMDb also lists seven more. Each only pops up briefly, in short lines or exchanges here and there, which is why I haven’t cluttered the top of this post by listing them. But for the record, they are: Mandarin, Latin, Russian, Japanese, Italian, Arabic, and Indonesian. ^

The Predator (2018)

2019 #28
Shane Black | 107 mins | download (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA & Canada / English & Spanish | 15 / R

The Predator

Some films take me a while to review because I just don’t get round to them. Some take time because I need to coalesce my thoughts. Others, I barely have any thoughts in the first place. The trickiest are the ones where I feel like there are many thoughts, but I have little idea how to express them. The Predator is definitely in that final camp. Why? Well, I thought it was quite a poor film… but I also sort of enjoyed it. Not in a Gods of Egypt way (that was kinda “so bad it’s good”; or maybe “so strange it’s good”), nor in a “I can see what they were going for, they just couldn’t quite get there” way, but in a… well, there’s the rub. The film undoubtedly has its problems, but it also has bits I was okay with; liked, even. What it feels like is a decent, middle-of-the-road-ish sci-fi actioner… that they then, for some unfathomable reason, deliberately dicked around with to make it kinda bad.

The reason I put it that way is the film’s sense of narrative, which is really messy. It feels like someone decided the movie was too long and so got the running time down by just pulling out scenes at random. There’s an extensive IMDb Trivia entry here that broadly explains what was changed in the edit and via reshoots, and that suggests it feels like a lot of stuff was chopped out because, well, it was. Other movies have survived such tinkering, but here it feels cack-handed. The end result doesn’t flow. You can follow it, but it’s oddly disjointed.

Other aspects suggest perhaps there were compromises on things like the age certificate. For example, at one point a female character is spared by the Predator because she’s naked. A vital piece of information for later? Um, no, it doesn’t come up again. So it’s gratuitous nudity? Well, not really, because it’s carefully shot so we don’t see anything. The film ended up going for an R, but perhaps they thought they’d have to make it PG-13? Either way, why is that ultimately pointless scene still in the movie?

“I don't care if you point a gun at me, so long as you don't get your tits out again!”

It’s not just the story and logic that’s mangled, there’s a real mishmash of tones as well. Writer-director Shane Black did such excellent work shepherding mixed moods in the superb Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the perfect Nice Guys, and the best Iron Man film, but here he seems to have lost his handle on how to deliver the required blend of action, horror, and humour. Personally, I quite liked the humour, but sometimes it does just barge in out of nowhere. People who like their alien hunter action movies to be po-faced will not be impressed.

So, it’s an odd case all round. It’s an impossible movie to recommend because it’s certainly not good, but I also didn’t hate it as much as I feel I should’ve. It’s kind of a disaster, but it’s also… fine. Put it this way: one day I expect I’ll rewatch the Predator movies, and while I’ll probably skip AvP Requiem, I’ll include this one. Faint praise, I know.

Nonetheless, I really hope they make another Predator movie… mainly so I can see what they come up with for a title. Okay, sure, it’ll probably just be Predator: Meaningless Subtitle, but I live in hope they’ll continue this trend of adding a little something (pluralisation; the definitive article) and it’ll be called, like, Predatoring or something. (Hire me, Hollywood!)

3 out of 5

The Predator is available on Sky Cinema from today.

Once Upon a Time … in August 2019

After a couple of months that looked like a throwback to the 100 Films of six years ago (i.e. 2013, the last time I had two consecutive months with five films or fewer), August’s tally looks more like the blog’s past few years. I can thank Quentin Tarantino for that: as you may be aware (especially if you’ve been following my review roundups this month), in advance of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood he programmed a series of ten related movies — and I watched all of them, meaning he single-handedly pushed me back up over the ten-film threshold.

More on all that in a moment. As always, we begin with the list of my viewing…


#104 Dumbo (2019)
#105 The Favourite (2018)
#106 Model Shop (1969)
#107 Getting Straight (1970)
#108 Arizona Raiders (1965)
#109 Gunman’s Walk (1958)
#110 Road to Zanzibar (1941)
#111 Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
#112 Hammerhead (1968)
#113 Cactus Flower (1969)
#114 Easy Rider (1969)
#115 The Wrecking Crew (1968)
#116 Battle of the Coral Sea (1959)
#117 Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
#118 Zatoichi at Large (1972), aka Zatôichi goyôtabi
#119 Viceroy’s House (2017)
#120 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)
#121 Rififi (1955), aka Du rififi chez les hommes
#122 Les diaboliques (1955), aka Diabolique
Gunman's Walk

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Rififi

.


  • So, I watched 19 new feature films in August.
  • That marks something of a return to normal after a low-totalling June and July. Although, as I said at the start, Quentin Tarantino is mainly to thank for that: if he hadn’t programmed that series of films, this month’s total would be down at nine. (Of course, if I hadn’t been watching those films then I might’ve watched others; but it certainly wouldn’t‘ve been as many.)
  • But 19 it is, and that makes it my best August in over a decade. In fact, you have to go right back to 2007, this blog’s first year, to find one with a higher total.
  • It also provides a boost to all my flagging stats, beating and increasing the averages for August (previously 11.9, now 12.5), 2019 to date (previously 14.7, now 15.25), and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 15.9, now 16.3).
  • This month’s viewing also included the 2,000th film listed on my reviews index… but as I haven’t posted 159 of those yet (egads!), I’m actually a long way off genuinely celebrating 2,000 reviews.
  • This month’s Blindspot films were a double-bill of exceptional French crime thrillers from 1955, Rififi and Les diaboliques. Watching two means I’ve caught up after missing one in June
  • …but I chose to watch another Blindspot at the expense of this month’s WDYMYHS film, so now I’m behind on that instead. Give with one hand, take away with the other, etc.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Dumbo (which was also an April failure), and that was it.



The 51st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite a few really good films this month, some of them expected (The Favourite, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), others very pleasant surprises (Gunman’s Walk, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), but my pick of the bunch is French crime thriller Rififi. The famous half-hour dialogue-free heist scene lives up to its hype, but the rest of the movie is no slouch either.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
While I was watching and writing about that Tarantino marathon, it all felt a bit underwhelming. Reconsidered with hindsight, I did like most of what he scheduled, but it suffered overall because the lows were pretty darn low while the highs weren’t that high. One was my clear least-favourite, however, and that was The Wrecking Crew. As I wrote in my review, “this is the kind of mediocre imitation that gives you a new appreciation for even the worst Bond movies.”

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It’s Tarantino again! Well, sort of. The four roundups I posted of his movie marathon topped this chart for most of the month, with the opening double-bill and the spy-fi selection duking it out for first place (the former won that local derby, by just one view). But such tussles were rendered meaningless when my 50th TV column came storming in (powered, no doubt, by its review of Peaky Blinders season four) to dominate all other new posts. (Though, in terms of all posts, it didn’t even crack the top 20.)



Ohhh dear — I didn’t rewatch any films again. Having also watched none in June, and only one in July, that makes my average for the last quarter of the year 0.3 when it should be 4.2. Totted up, I’m 12 films behind schedule. There’s still four months of the year left, but if I make my goal of 50 I’ll be surprised — I’ll need to up that average from 0.3 to 7.3, a dizzying 24-fold increase.


Despite redoubling my viewing efforts, I still had plenty of misses this month. On the big screen, major titles included actioners Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Show (to use its marginally-shortened UK title) and Angel Has Fallen. Also of note was a theatrical re-release of Apocalypse Now. Well, as it was the new “Final Cut”, you could argue it’s not technically a re-release. It’s also now out on disc in the US, and it was due in the UK too, but late in the day it was pushed back to next month. Hey-ho.

Talking of discs, I picked up quite a few. New releases included Shazam (previously mentioned in April’s failures) and Indicator’s Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount set, which duplicates the six films contained in Criterion’s similar set from 2018, as well as Avengers: Endgame in 3D (which is out tomorrow but turned up yesterday). Plus, thanks to sales and/or discounts, I’ve now added Black Book, Black Hawk Down (in 4K), The Cooler, and, erm, Iron Sky: The Coming Race to my kevyip. Also, just dropping in at the last minute thanks to a brief price drop on Amazon Italy, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films in HD — so that’s another 14 movies. Sometimes I feel I need more restraint (though I’ve had my eye on that Holmes set for ages. Waiting has its benefits).

In fact, actually, there were several title of interest that made it to disc but I didn’t purchase: the new Hellboy (forgot to mention that whenever it was in cinemas!); the new Laika, Missing Link; the latest direct-to-video DC animation, Batman: Hush; and a rather spiffy new edition of In Bruges, which is limited and so I’m itching with worry that it’ll sell out before I allocate funds for it. But it’s looking like an expensive few months to come, with several big, limited, expensive box sets on my radar…

Finally, streaming offered nothing new in the movie department, with the possible exception of The Crystal Calls — the making-of for Netflix’s new Dark Crystal TV series, but it’s feature length and listed as a “Netflix Film”, so why shouldn’t it count as a ‘proper’ movie? In terms of non-exclusive stuff coming onto the streamers, added to my Netflix radar were mother!, 3 Idiots (a Bollywood film that’s on the IMDb Top 250), and Shakespeare in Love (one of only two Best Picture winners from the last 30 years that I’ve not seen), while Amazon offered Lars von Trier’s latest, The House That Jack Built, and a film more noteworthy for its troubled production history than anything else (because apparently it’s not very good) Tulip Fever.

That’s 39 films I’ve just listed, vs the 19 I actually watched. Really, there’s no hope…


Well, I’m away (again!) for the first week, so it’s going to be a slow start. But maybe later I’ll manage to get both Blindspot and WDYMYHS back on track at the same time. That’d be nice.

Their Finest (2016)

2018 #223
Lone Scherfig | 117 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK & Sweden / English | 12 / R*

Their Finest

One of three Dunkirk-related movies released in 2017 (which is a bit random — it wasn’t a particular anniversary or anything), Their Finest is adapted from a novel by Lissa Evans called Their Finest Hour and a Half, which is a much better title. “Their Finest” is kinda bland and meaningless — slap it on any wartime film and it’d work just as well. The original title is a neat pun, though, mixing the famous saying (which comes from a 1940 Churchill speech, if you didn’t know) with the common running time of a movie, thereby indicating when the story is set (World War 2), what it’s about (the making of movies), and indicating a tone (it’s a pun, but not an outrageous one, suggesting lightness without going full-blown comedy). Maybe someone noticed this runs nearer two hours and didn’t want to give audiences the wrong idea…

Their Finest Hour and a Half stars Gemma Arterton as Catrin Cole, a young woman in wartime London who finds work writing female characters’ dialogue in movies — “the slop”, as it’s derisively called by her combative superior, Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin). When a news story about twin sisters who took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk is fast-tracked into production, with a cast that includes fading leading man Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), Catrin and Tom wind up on location with the film, hastily rewriting to include changes mandated by the War Office. Despite Tom’s standoffish attitude and Catrin’s marriage to a good-for-nothing war artist (Jack Huston), who’s jealous of her newfound status as the breadwinner, affection begins to blossom between the two writers…

Hooray for the writers!

Yeah, much of Their Finest follows the expected shape of a story like this (the love triangle; the woman coming to be respected by her initially dubious colleagues; etc). Two things work to stop it feeling too staid: an engaging lead cast, and some weightier developments and subplots. The latter includes at least one wholly unexpected twist, which helps make this a more powerful film than the potentially-light “people go on a jolly to make a movie during the war” premise initially seems. There’s a somewhat classical balance of comedy and tragedy there, which is reminiscent of movies from the era the film’s set. Frame it in 4:3, shoot in black & white, and give everyone RP accents, and parts of it could almost be a ’40s melodrama.

Talking of accents, why oh why did they lumber Gemma Arterton with a Welsh one? It isn’t bad, exactly, but I did find it constantly distracting. Presumably it’s because the story is loosely based on the life of Diana Morgan, a Welsh screenwriter whose wartime work for Ealing Studios mostly went uncredited (though she does have one on the famous propaganda film Went the Day Well?, amongst a handful of others), but, considering it’s not actually a biopic, surely there’s no need for the accent? Well, other than to attract funding from the Welsh Government’s Media Investment Budget, I suspect… Anyway, it’s a minor complaint (as I said, her accent isn’t bad), and even with it Arterton is typically charming, generating good chemistry with Claflin, who plays a Mr Darcy-esque role as the initially-unlikeable inevitable love interest. As usual, Nighy threatens to steal the show, hamming it up just the right amount as Ambrose. He gets a significant subplot about his hard-fought transition from leading man to character actor, which also brings in Eddie Marsan and Helen McCrory — just two more high-quality actors helping round out a strong cast, which also includes Rachael Stirling, Richard E. Grant, and Jeremy Irons, among others.

She's holding a pencil, she must be a writer

Ambrose is another man who initially misreads Catrin but eventually comes round to her. I suppose the “a woman proves her worth” element is another that’s been well-worn, but it seems fitting here, given that women in the film industry are still struggling to be treated equally. In this case, it’s using the “women suddenly in the workplace” reality of WW2 to make it both feel relevant to the present while remaining era-appropriate, unlike so many period movies that project present-day values onto eras where they don’t truly fit. It’s not as heavy-handed in its moralising as others can be, either.

Indeed, I’d say the entire film is very well pitched. It straddles the comedy-drama divide skilfully, entertaining as a jolly romance set in the world of moviemaking, but with enough grit from the reality of wartime to give it an edge. Everyone involved has, I’m sure, given it their finest hour-and-a-half(-and-a-half).

4 out of 5

The UK TV premiere of Their Finest is on BBC Two tonight at 9pm.

* It’s rated R for “some language and a scene of sexuality” — there’s a couple of “fucking”s and a brief glimpse of one practically-silhouetted breast. God, the MPAA are daft. ^

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

2019 #75
Drew Goddard | 142 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Bad Times at the El Royale

If you thought Tarantino copycats died out after the mid-’90s boom in Reservoir Dogs / Pulp Fiction wannabes, well, you’re sweetly naive — those still crop up from time to time, a quarter of a century too late. But the better emulators have evolved along with their inspiration, as writer-director Drew Goddard demonstrates in Bad Times at the El Royale, a film which feels like an imitation of latter-day Tarantino flicks. At least Goddard has the good sense to dodge the carbon-copy style of those Reservoir Dogs mimics by shifting genre, taking some of what QT brought to war movies in Inglourious Basterds and Westerns in The Hateful Eight and applying it to a neo-noir mystery-thriller. He even preempts Tarantino’s own oeuvre by including a Charles Manson-esque cult leader, thereby prefiguring Manson’s role in QT’s own Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Also like Once Upon a Time, El Royale sets its scene in 1969; and, like The Hateful Eight, its setting is an isolated establishment. That’s the eponymous hotel, a destination straddling the California/Nevada state line, which in its heyday attracted celebrities and what we’d now call “influencers”, but has faded since it lost its gambling licence and the wealthy patrons dried up. Now, over the course of one day and night, a variety of customers arrive, strangers, each with secrets, all of which will out in the twists of fate that ensue. All of that plays out in chaptered sections, divided with title cards, that mix in flashbacks and juggle the timeline of the present section as necessary — all of which are familiar Tarantino flourishes, of course.

One thing it shouldn’t’ve copied from Tarantino is the running time: just like many of his recent works, it’s longer than it needs to be. That’s not because the material is bad per se, but because the pacing isn’t tight enough. It seemed to drag its heels for no reason (again, I felt the Tarantino comparison), whereas a tighter pace might’ve contributed some tension, which I rarely felt despite the scenario screaming out for it.

Heavy rain at the El Royale

Well, as the saying goes: if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Heck, Tarantino has certainly borrowed plenty from his own wide-ranging influences. If you are going to imitate another filmmaker, this is the way to do it: by bringing your own characters and settings and plots and twists to the table. That might sound obvious, but so many of those wannabes are slavish in their borderline-plagiarism. Goddard doesn’t sink to that level overall, though there were some parts I felt were only a couple of steps above it. For example, the whole “the hotel is on the state line” bit seemed quirky for the sake of being quirky, imitating a bit that a filmmaker like Tarantino would use but without quite knowing how to use it (it plays a big role in the opening sequence, after which there’s one slight gag with it before it’s never mentioned again).

But such lapses were outweighed by the good. For one, there’s some very nice photography by Seamus McGarvey. It looks like it was shot on 35mm (I checked and it was, which proves Nolan & co are right when they say it does make a difference), which didn’t always translate too well to the 1080p stream I watched, but I suspect might look all the more stunning in 4K. Visual aside, much of what’s good stems from the characters, especially the strong performances by actors like Cynthia Erivo, Jeff Bridges, and Lewis Pullman. It was those, and in particular how each role comes together in the final act to define the whole character, that definitely elevated the quality of the film for me. And while those three are the highlights, there are also good turns from the likes of Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth, and Cailee Spaeny. I’d say more, but so much of the meat of these characters comes from how they present themselves vs what the truth is revealed to be — the less you know, the more there is to uncover.

Rewatch you again soon

That said, I wonder if this is a film that will play better on a rewatch. There are several surprise plot developments I wouldn’t wish to spoil for a first-time viewer, for sure, and I do feel like that’s a worthy filmmaking tool (I don’t agree with that research that ‘proved’ audiences enjoy something more if they know the story beforehand — you don’t appreciate it more, you just appreciate different stuff, same as with a rewatch). But I feel like some of that plotting did distract focus from other bits of the film that were working well. Put another way, in my memory the niggles have damped down and I primarily recall the good stuff, so my enjoyment has gone up with hindsight. I’ll have to pick up the 4K disc at some point and give it another go.

For the time being, while I did like it overall, I judged it to be the kind of 4-star effort that could’ve easily become a 5-star top-ten-of-the-year film if it had just polished up everything that I felt didn’t work.

4 out of 5

Bad Times at the El Royale is available on Sky Cinema from today.