About badblokebob

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

The Terribly Tardy Monthly Review of June 2021

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That title is a slight misnomer, because this monthly review is bang on time (more or less), but everything else about my blog right now, oh, that could use a kick up the arse. I mean, I only posted one review this month. My 100 Week Roundups must be so far behind that I dread to even look. And when did I last post a TV column…?

And my actual film viewing was in similar doldrums: on the 22nd, I had the horrifying realisation that I had only watched three new films this month. My goal of at least 10 new films a month, which I’ve aimed for since c.2015, was again in jeopardy (I failed it multiple times in 2019 — and back then it was also June that broke my five-year-long streak). And that’s to say nothing of the 20+ new films per month I’d maintained throughout 2021 so far. Now, with 17 films to go for me to reach 20 in June, and just eight days left to watch them, it seemed virtually impossible. Sure, in theory that’s only two films a day (plus one), but, since I started my new job in May, my weeknight post-work film viewing had averaged 0.08 a day. No way was this happening.

Unless… there was one crazy idea that might just work…

“So,” I figured, “if I could manage one film per workday,” (which, despite the stats, seemed not unfeasible — recently of an evening I’d been catching up on TV), “then that would get me to six films. And if I could manage that, surely I could manage two on a Friday — so that’d be seven. Then on Saturday and Sunday I’d just need to watch…” (*gulp*) “…five films a day.”

I know some people marathon their way through films like nobody’s business — to them, five in a single day is virtually just “a day ending in Y” — but to me? Yikes. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched five films in one day. And to do it on two days, back to back? Well, I did say this was a crazy idea. But it was the only vaguely-plausible way I could still get to 20 films in June. “Vaguely plausible” is not “literally impossible” and, well, you don’t know if you don’t try, right?

Did I manage it? There’s only one way to find out…


#116 Pillow of Death (1945)
#117 The Money Pit (1986)
#118 My Fair Lady (1964)
#119 Dumb and Dumber (1994)
#120 Seven Chances (1925)
#120a What! No Spinach? (1926)
#121 Rodan (1956), aka Sora no daikaijû Radon
#122 The Mummy (1932)
#123 A Brief History of Time Travel (2018)
#124 Superman and the Mole-Men (1951)
#125 The Invisible Man (1933)
#126 Space Station 3D (2002)
#127 Rain Man (1988)
My Fair Lady

The Invisible Man

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  • To answer my previous question: no, I did not.
  • I watched 12 films in June, which may not be close to 20 but, in the grand scheme of my blog, is far from the worst. To be precise, there have been 79 lower-totalling months in the blog’s history, which is 45% of all months. So, June 2021 is somewhere in the middle. That’s alright.
  • I did, at least, slightly pass the June average, which is 11.4 (previously just under at 11.38, now just over at 11.43).
  • Other averages… not so much. The rolling average for the last 12 months was 21.0, now it’s 19.7; and the average for 2021 to date was 23.0, now it’s 21.2.
  • One thing that’s been somewhat overshadowed by all this: I reached #120, which is officially my main-list goal nowadays. Though that I’ve done that with half the year still to go does make me think I still need to rethink this whole “viewing goal” thing.
  • On the other hand, What! No Spinach? is only the second short film I’ve watched in 2021. But I don’t have a short film viewing goal, so that’s okay.
  • Also, I finished the Inner Sanctum Mysteries film series this month. Actually wrapping up a series rather than constantly adding new ones? Makes a nice change.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: an Oscar winner in its day (over 30 years ago), but somewhat controversial now for its depiction of autism, I thought Rain Man still did enough right. Relatedly, I found this short Letterboxd review to be insightful.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched nothing, again.



The 73rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A few great-but-imperfect films compete for this month’s crown, but just edging it is the 1933 version of The Invisible Man. Director James Whale may be best remembered for his pair of Universal Frankenstein flicks, but I preferred this, which has a great mix of thrills, humour, and still-impressive special effects.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is an easy one for me: it’s a film that I felt lived up (or down) to its title, Dumb and Dumber. I only watched it because it’s on iCheckMovies’ Most Checked list and I’ve nearly completed that. It did have some moments that amused me, but overall, nah, I’d not really been missing anything by not watching it for the past 27 years.

Most Ropey-Yet-Still-Scary Special Effect of the Month
The “man in a suit” antics of Japanese monster movies are a bit of a “take it or leave it” style, but I think part of what makes them palatable is that the men in suits are stomping on miniatures — the whole thing is an affectation. But in Rodan, before the titular pterodactyl turns up, there are giant dragonfly nymphs that are played by men in suits opposite normal humans. Their blocky shape and waddly movement is kinda silly… and yet, at the same time, they’re man-sized baby insects, which I find inherently repulsive and terrifying.

Film Most Like a Twilight Zone Episode of the Month
I confess, I didn’t expect much of Superman and the Mole-Men, a film made primarily to instigate interest in producing a Superman television series (I guess the term “pilot” hadn’t yet been coined in 1951). And it’s far from the greatest screen realisation of the superhero ever, but what it does have is a neat little twist in who the villains are — at the risk of spoiling the surprise, it’s not the eponymous Mole-Men, but the small-townsfolk who get scared and turn into an angry mob. The social commentary isn’t exactly at Rod Serling level, but it’s surprisingly close.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It was very much a two horse race this month, considering I only managed two posts throughout June. The end result wasn’t close, though, with my guide to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom romping away to victory.


This section seems a bit pointless, considering I only posted one review and I’ve already linked to it, but the format is the format…


I came into June five films behind target, and I end it six films behind. Dammit. Well, with my main list having passed its 120-film goal, and my 20-per-month streak ending, maybe that’ll allow me to feel I can spend more time on rewatches in the second half of the year.

#17 Pride & Prejudice (2005)
#18 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
#19 The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)

Rather than repeat myself across the interweb, I’ll point you towards Letterboxd for some of my latest thoughts on Pride & Prejudice and Last Crusade. As for The Naked Gun, once I realised my crazy “get to 20” project had failed, I bunged it on one evening after work as something nice and easy. Most of it holds up very well, but I do feel it’s beginning to slip a little with age — it doesn’t feel quite as nonstop as it once did, and there’s the occasional topical gag that’s long past its sell-by (the film is almost 35 years old, after all). It also reminded me that about a year ago I bought Police Squad on Blu-ray and haven’t watched it (of course I haven’t).


Cinemas are back, and the idea of a joint theatrical/streaming release already seems a distant memory — which is funny, because in the US they’re still doing it all the time on HBO Max, and I think Disney still intend it for Black Widow, and I’m sure the kind of smaller films that were doing it even before Covid are still doing it now. But, here in the UK at least, the likes of Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, The Quiet Place Part II, In the Heights, Nobody, and Fast & Furious 9 have all landed in cinemas without (as far as I’m aware) matching availability at home. Also finally gaining big-screen outings were the likes of The Father, Supernova, and, um, Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds. None of these have tempted me out of the house yet, but something will at some point…

Whether by coincidence or design, big and/or interesting new offerings from the streamers seem to have dried up. I think it was MUBI who had the closest to anything ‘high profile’ with the UK release of Shiva Baby. All I have in my notes for Netflix is America: The Motion Picture, which came out earlier this week, and the global release of the fourth film in the Rurouni Kenshin live-action series (I really enjoyed the first three when I watched them a few years ago, so that’s definitely on my radar). Meanwhile, Amazon had another Liam Neeson actioner, The Ice Road, which I initially thought was just the one he’d done a year or two ago (that was Cold Pursuit). Ho hum. As for new-to-streaming titles, Amazon pretty much win the day with the acclaimed horror Saint Maud, because I’ve got nothing in my notes for Netflix except a couple of things I’d already seen but not reviewed. Meanwhile, new highlights on Sky Cinema / NOW included Kajillionaire, the very belated UK debut of Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, and the final Fox X-Men film, The New Mutants, which I own on disc anyway (but keep not getting round to).

Talking of discs, naturally I’ve continued to blow my disposable income on those shiny, shiny circles. Nowadays it feels like most of what I buy is stuff so obscure I hadn’t even heard of it until someone announced the disc release, and that certainly continued this month with Arrow’s Years of Lead box set, a collection of five Italian crime thrillers from the ’70s. Similarly, I bought the Masters of Cinema releases of PTU (a Hong Kong thriller) and The Hands of Orlac (an Austrian silent chiller); 88 Films’ new edition of giallo So Sweet… So Perverse; and Indicator’s release of Eye of the Cat.

In terms of more known quantities (in that I’d actually heard of them, even if I’ve not seen them), there were new editions for Waterloo and Sammo Hung’s Encounter of the Spooky Kind, and Indicator’s sixth Hammer box set. I’ve got four of those now, from volume three onwards, which makes me regret never getting the first two; but I bet they cost an absolute bomb on the secondhand market, so I’ll have to live with it. From StudioCanal came a 4K release of Basic Instinct (judging from the screencaps, it looks like the quality of the new transfer absolutely blows the Blu-ray away), and a similarly restored (but only on regular Blu-ray) Murder by Decree, with Christopher Plummer as Sherlock Holmes taking on Jack the Ripper. The same villain is taken on by H.G. Wells in ‘present day’ (i.e. 1970s) New York in Time After Time, which I picked up in HMV’s latest Premium Collection sale, alongside a literal pile of other stuff: Clash of the Titans and Mighty Joe Young (edging my Ray Harryhausen collection towards completion), plus Grand Prix, Murder, My Sweet, and A Scanner Darkly. Finally, another literal pile, this time of six Spaghetti Westerns: I wanted to import Arrow’s US-only 4K release of Sergio Corbucci’s Django (which comes bundled with Texas, Adios), and so to spread the postage I also threw in Kino’s 4K edition of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and another highly-acclaimed one by Corbucci that I’ve wanted to see for yonks, The Great Silence; then, in an 88 Films sale, I also added another Django film, Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! (love that title), and a third Corbucci, The Mercenary. Now I just need to make time to actually watch all (or any) that…


What will the second half of the year bring? All bets are off nowadays…

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

The 100 Films Guide to…

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

If adventure has a name,
it must be Indiana Jones.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 118 minutes
BBFC: PG (cut, 1984) | 12 (uncut, 2012)
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 23rd May 1984 (USA)
UK Release: 15th June 1984
Budget: $28 million
Worldwide Gross: $333.1 million

Stars
Harrison Ford (The Conversation, Cowboys & Aliens)
Kate Capshaw (A Little Sex, Black Rain)
Ke Huy Quan (The Goonies, Finding ‘Ohana)

Director
Steven Spielberg (1941, Hook)

Screenwriters
Willard Huyck (American Graffiti, Radioland Murders)
Gloria Katz (Messiah of Evil, Howard the Duck)

Story by
George Lucas (American Graffiti, Willow)


The Story
Escaping the evil machinations of a Chinese gangster, Indiana Jones, his child sidekick Short Round, and nightclub singer Willie Scott crash-land in India, where the fate of a blighted village points them towards an ancient palace, wherein hides a secret cult practising ritual human sacrifice…

Our Hero
Boldly billed as the definitive article ‘Hero’ in some of the film’s advertising, the man in question is archaeologist and adventurer — and, indeed, archetypical movie hero — Indiana Jones.

Our Villains
The Thuggees, an ancient Indian cult still active at the remote Pankot Palace, where they’ve kidnapped and enslaved children to work in mines, and execute elaborate ceremonies of human sacrifice.

Best Supporting Character
Indy’s pint-sized Chinese sidekick, Short Round. A child sidekick sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Short Round is actually pretty fun. Spielberg liked actor Ke Huy Quan’s personality so much that he had the boy and Harrison Ford improves scenes, such as the one when Short Round accuse Indy of cheating at cards.

Memorable Quote
“We are going to die!” — Indiana Jones
(This isn’t a particularly memorable line in isolation, but it’s all in the delivery — and the sad face Ford pulls at the end.)

Memorable Scene
The film’s opening 20 minutes are an extended action sequence — more of a mini-adventure, really (there’s an entire musical number!) — that kick off the movie perfectly. Indeed, some fans even say it’s the greatest action scene in the entire series (I say it’s a contender, but the competition is stiff). I suspect Spielberg was using it to get a few things out of his system: as well as the song-and-dance, there’s a distinct James Bond vibe to the whole thing (Spielberg had put himself forward to direct a Bond film but was rebuffed).

Memorable Music
Oh, John Williams’ main theme… Okay, it’s not new — it’s from Raiders, obviously — but by God it’s good. Did you know: Williams was Oscar nominated for each of the first three Indiana Jones films, but lost every time. Raiders was beaten by Vangelis’ music for Chariots of Fire, Temple of Doom by Maurice Jarre’s score for A Passage to India, and Last Crusade by Alan Menken’s work on Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Mad, really.

Technical Wizardry
The mine cart chase is not just another fantastic action scene, but it’s also a real showcase of filmmaking tricks. It was created with a mix of footage of the star actors, stunt people, miniatures, and stop-motion animation, but it never shows off about it — it’s cut together so well and so fast that you almost don’t notice all the different techniques that have been employed to create a wholly thrilling sequence.

Letting the Side Down
Willie Scott, the nightclub singer who’s forced to tag along on Indy’s adventure, but would rather be anywhere else. She’s not a wholly terrible character, but the only time the movie really threatens to slow down is when it indulges in her screechy, squeamish side. That said, at her best, her hot-and-cold relationship with Indy generates some classic screwball-esque scenes that really help to underscore the 1935 setting.

Making of
The dinner scene, infamous for its array of disgusting food like chilled monkey brains, came about because Spielberg, Lucas, and screenwriters Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck were concerned about keeping the audience’s attention during the expository dialogue about the Thuggee cult. Ideas such as a tiger hunt were rejected before they settled on the dinner sequence. Said Katz, “Steve and George both still react like children, so their idea was to make it as gross as possible.”

Previously on…
Indy made his debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark, although Temple of Doom is actually a prequel, set a year earlier.

Next time…
The Indiana Jones trilogy was completed in 1989 with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but that was far from the end for the character. On screen, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles traced the character’s adventures in childhood across three seasons and 32 episodes, originally released between 1992 and 1996. Over a decade later, in 2008, an older Indy returned to the big screen in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and production has just begun for an adventure starring an even older Indy, with the currently-untitled fifth film due for release next year. Away from TV and cinema screens, Indy has featured in dozens of novels, comic books, computer games, and so on, including a live stunt show at Disney World that’s now been running for over 30 years.

Awards
1 Oscar (Visual Effects)
1 Oscar nomination (Original Score)
1 BAFTA (Special Visual Effects)
3 BAFTA nominations (Cinematography, Editing, Sound)
7 Saturn Award nominations (Fantasy Film, Actor (Harrison Ford), Younger Actor (Ke Huy Quan), Director, Writing, Costumes, Make-Up)

Verdict

Whereas Raiders was balanced to perfection, Temple of Doom pushes everything that worked up to maximum: it’s more playful and it’s sillier, but it’s also more gruesome and more overtly an action movie. When it’s firing on all cylinders, it’s as good as anything else in the franchise, including scenes that stylistically evoke many a genre from classic Hollywood (there’s a hefty dash of screwball comedy in some of the relationship between Indy and Willie). Even at its worst, it’s not bad — it moves like the clappers and is committed to being almost relentlessly entertaining. Perhaps it’s a little hardcore for younger fans (and even that aspect has lessened with age, with the chest-ripping special effects looking a little ropey nowadays), but otherwise, what’s there to complain about?

The Reopened Monthly Review of May 2021

Cinemas are back! And in the two weeks (and a bit) since they reopened here in the UK, I’ve been… not at all. Well, I have something of an excuse: I started a new full-time job halfway through this month — on the same day cinemas were allowed to reopen, in fact — which means I can no longer go slipping off there on a quiet weekday afternoon. I shall miss that. Anyway, there’s still evenings and weekends, once I’ve finally settled into my new routine and can motivate myself to get out. Indeed, it’s also affected my viewing at home: the record-setting pace I established earlier in the year, which had slipped slightly by the end of April, has not been regained. All is not lost, however, as May 2021 still managed a couple of firsts. More on those in a minute. First, my viewing list…


#95 The Awful Truth (1937)
#96 Page Eight (2011)
#97 Carefree (1938)
#98 Baby Done (2020)
#99 An American Pickle (2020)
#100 Cinema Paradiso (1988), aka Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
#101 I Care a Lot (2020)
#102 Strange Confession (1945)
#103 Twister (1996)
#104 Spontaneous (2020)
#105 Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
#106 Stuart Little (1999)
#107 Drop Zone (1994)
#108 The Aeronauts (2019)
#109 Good Boys (2019)
#110 Crank (2006)
#111 Official Secrets (2019)
#112 Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
#113 Defending Your Life (1991)
#114 Testament of Youth (2014)
#115 Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
Cinema Paradiso

Spontaneous

Official Secrets

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  • I watched 21 new feature films in May.
  • Those included reaching eponymous goal, with #100 being this month’s Blindspot film (more on that in a mo). I got to it on the 5th, which ties with last year for the earliest ever… except 2020 was a leap year, meaning May 5th was the 126th day of the year then, whereas in 2021 it’s the 125th — so, in that respect, this is a new record. Hurrah!
  • I didn’t make it to my new goal of 120 films, though, so May 2020 clings on to that record for the time being.
  • May 2021 has some other achievements to its name, however. For instance, it makes 2021 the first year where I’ve watched over 20 films in each of the first five months of the year. Coincidentally, it’s also my 30th month ever with 20+ films.
  • In terms of averages, that figure surpasses the May average (previously 16.1, now 16.4), but falls just short of the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 21.8, now 21.0 — so, er, it’s actually bang on it now), and of the average for 2021 to date (previously 23.5, now 23.0).
  • But back to achievements, because, as regular readers may remember, since July 2017 I’ve been tracking the days of the year on which I’d never watched a new film as part of this blog. When I began, I had eight still to check off. It’s taken almost four whole years, but the quest is finally complete: I watched a film on the last outstanding date, May 23rd. What did I choose to mark the auspicious occasion? Plan 9 from Outer Space. A silly film for what is, frankly, a fairly silly achievement. But it’s done now, so I can move on… to making sure I’ve seen at least two films on every date! (Not really.) (But now that I’ve mentioned it… Oh dear.)
  • This month’s Blindspot film: an appropriate choice for this year’s #100, because Cinema Paradiso is all about the love of cinema. Doubly appropriate this month, then, with them reopening.
  • Unfortunately, I watched nothing from last month’s “failures”. A double failure!



The 72nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
There’s a few different options this month: films I admired a lot, but would come up short of saying I loved; films I enjoyed a lot, but can certainly recognise their flaws. In the end, I’m coming down in favour of Official Secrets, if nothing else because I think more people should see it. It arguably comes up a little short to be a ‘great movie’, but it’s an important story, well told.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Sometimes you watch a “bad movie” cult classic and, even though it is technically a terrible movie, you have a great time — I’m thinking of The Room or Love on a Leash here. Theoretically, Plan 9 from Outer Space should fall into that camp. For some people, it does. But not for me — I just thought it was rubbish.

Best Recycling of a Musical Theme of the Month
Okay, the recycling wasn’t actually done by this film — this is the original. But Drop Zone features a throwaway music cue by Hans Zimmer (it plays over a minor bit of action business) that would later be repurposed to much great acclaim: it’s the main theme to Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s become a very popular bit of film music, which is in part thanks to the film being so popular, thereby widening it’s audience, but it’s a great cue in and of itself. It’s far and away the best bit of score in Drop Zone — the rest is wholly forgettable; indeed, it’d be better if they just played “the Pirates theme” over everything… which is kinda what they eventually did in Curse of the Black Pearl, so I guess Zimmer and co learnt their lesson.

Special Award for Achievement in Director’s Cut-ing
Normally when I view a variant cut of a movie — be it a Director’s Cut, an Extended Edition, or whatever — it’s not really that different to the original version; and when that’s the case, it doesn’t get a new number in my viewing (because I’m counting how many new films I’ve seen, obv). But, now and then, one of these cuts does manage to be different enough that I feel it warrants being counted as a new film. I suppose some people would always argue with that, but I feel that if you’ve added or changed enough material that the viewing experience feels different (for good or ill), then that makes the viewing more than just a rewatch. Now, some filmmakers are more prone to revised cuts than others — Ridley Scott, famously, or Peter Jackson — and I notice this when I work out which directors I’ve reviewed the most films by on this blog, because I count those different-but-not-that-different cuts as “bits”. So, for example, Ridley Scott tallies “14 and 3 bit” films; or Peter Jackson has “8 and 3 bits”. But one director has avoided “bits” with impressive regularity, and that person is Zack Snyder. Although I’ve covered extended cuts of three of his movies now (Watchmen, Batman v Superman, and Justice League), his tally has “0 bits”. When Snyder does a variant cut, he really makes it matter.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It’s a true rarity this month: the victor was April’s monthly review! I’ve been published one of these every month for many years now, but I’m not sure one has ever topped the chart before (but I can’t be bothered to dig through 71 previous Arbies to find out right now).



My Rewatchathon continues to slip behind target, from four short at the end of April to five now. I had intended to finish the Indiana Jones series this month, and also to see Godzilla vs. Kong on the big screen when cinemas reopened, which combined would’ve left me considerably less far off target… but neither of those things happened, so here we are. Maybe next month.

#14 Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
#15 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
#16 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

A selection of things I’ve been meaning to rewatch for a very long time, here. First up, Singin’ in the Rain, a musical classic that often sits surprisingly high in polls like Sight & Sound’s — not that it’s not a great movie, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the sorts of things around it at the top end of those kinds of polls. For me, as great and lovely as the film certainly is overall, it still has the occasional minor longueur; and, sure, there are three or four or maybe even five great songs, but also a handful of minor, very forgettable ones; and I’m never a big fan of an extended ballet interlude, although this is definitely one of the better ones. But, as I said, overall it is really good — I’m focusing on the drawbacks because it was a film that I’d wondered if it should’ve been in my 100 Favourites, but I think it was right to just miss out.

As for films that did make my 100 Faves, I’ve been meaning to rewatch the Indiana Jones movies for years. I’m not entirely sure when I last saw them, but it’s been over 13 years, minimum (did I re-watch the trilogy in the run-up to Crystal Skull’s May 2008 release? Maybe (that sounds like the kind of thing I might’ve done), but I can’t remember). I even bought the Blu-ray set when it first came out, which was 8½ years ago, but I’ve never got round to playing it. Now, the series is out in 4K next week, so I thought I ought to watch my darn 1080p discs before I inevitably upgrade (I’m a hopeless case). I grew up loving the Indy films, which is perhaps why I haven’t rewatched them a lot in recent years — they’re so familiar, it’s not ‘necessary’ — but, actually watching them again after so long, it’s reminded my why I should watch them more often: they’re really great.

Also, that long gap means this is the first time I’ve seen Temple of Doom uncut: on its original release in the UK, they cut out over a minute to secure a PG certificate from the BBFC, and that shortened version persisted even until the DVD release, with the uncut version (now rated 12) only debuting on Blu-ray. Temple is the only Indy film not already covered on this site (I reviewed Crystal Skull (twice) while it was still in cinemas, and Raiders and Last Crusade were part of my 100 Favourites series in 2016), so I’ll give it the Guide To treatment sometime. In the meantime, my Letterboxd post is likely a preview of my summary and score.


For the first time in a fair old while, we begin with new releases on the big screen — though, of course, none of these were interesting enough to tempt me out. But, c’mon, Peter Rabbit 2? No thanks. As for the rest of the newest releases, things like Mortal Kombat, Spiral: From the Book of Saw, and Cruella are all movies I’ll happily watch in a few months — or maybe a few years — at home. There was also The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which is apparently the seventh film in the Conjuring universe, something which has apparently sprung into existence without me even noticing. I don’t intend to play catchup.

Netflix continued to offer some at-home alternatives, of course, include Zack Snyder’s zombie/heist mashup Army of the Dead and Amy Adams thriller The Woman in the Window. The latter slipped down my viewing pecking order thanks to all the negative reviews, while the former, I kinda want to make time to see Snyder’s first zombie flick first. Maybe soon. Also on Netflix, Oxygen sounds up my street as a single-location sci-fi thriller, and, from the back catalogue, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell made what I feel is a rare streaming appearance — I’ve been meaning to try to see that for years. Amazon Prime didn’t have quite the same calibre of additions, it must be said. I mean, another Liam Neeson actioner, Honest Thief — at this point I don’t even know if that’s a genuine premiere or just one I hadn’t heard of finally landing on streaming. They did add Upstream Color, though; which, like Drag Me to Hell, I’ve been waiting a long time to appear on a streamer. And now that they have, I haven’t watched them. Typical.

I’ve still got a MUBI subscription ticking over, even though I don’t really watch it — there’s a pile of stuff on there I want to see, and I keep telling myself if I don’t cancel then I might watch it eventually, but it’s all, y’know, MUBI-type stuff, so I’m not often in the mood. But additions of particular interest during May included Park Chan-wook’s Thirst and a trio of Francis Ford Coppola movies in The Outsiders, Youth Without Youth, and Tetro. And talking of things I should cancel, I still have Sky Cinema lingering from the Oscars. Like MUBI, they have a bunch of stuff I kinda want to see, although, frankly, it’s mostly lower brow — Angel Has Fallen, Scoob!, the new versions of Charlie’s Angels and The Witches, and so on. Their most recent additions haven’t been up to much, either — Riverdance: The Animated Adventure, anyone?

Over on the free streamers, something else that I’ve wanted to see for a very long time but is never available to stream: a perennial feature on the mid- to lower-end of “greatest film of all time” lists, Paris, Texas, which is currently on All 4, alongside Capernaum (which is on the IMDb Top 250) and One Cut of the Dead (which I’ve seen but really should’ve reviewed). As for iPlayer, the most interesting stuff has been films they’ve had on before that I’ve never quite got round to — Margin Call, Guys and Dolls, the 1958 version of Dunkirk, and so on.

Finally, purchases. A smaller haul than has sometimes been the case, but that’s only by relative standards: I could still name 16 films I’ve bought on disc this month but not watched yet. They include the six titles in Indicator’s third Columbia Noir set; their release of Ridley Scott’s Someone to Watch Over Me; a bunch of classic French films that were randomly cheap on Amazon: Le Corbeau, Quai des Orfevres, and Le Trou, the latter of which is on the Letterboxd Top 250; as is The Ascent, a Criterion title that I also picked up randomly cheap on Amazon. Also randomly cheap on Amazon: the highest grossing film of 2020, Chinese war flick The Eight Hundred; and cheaper than elsewhere, Arrow’s Tales from the Urban Jungle, a two-film set that I was glad to get for a bargain because I already own one of them (The Naked City, although it’s a better transfer here) and didn’t especially like the other (Brute Force, which I do owe a rewatch). Rounding out the aforementioned 16 were two new Eureka releases of Eastern actioners, from very different eras: 1972’s One-Armed Boxer (a riff on The One-Armed Swordsman, a film I loved, with the same star, Jimmy Wang Yu, also serving as writer and director); and, from 2000, Tsui Hark’s Time and Tide. (And, though technically not relevant to this section, I’d like to point out that I actually watched a couple of things I bought this month, too; namely, Defending Your Life and Zack Snyder’s Justice League.)


We’ll be halfway through the year already!

Psycho Goreman (2020)

2021 #26
Steven Kostanski | 95 mins | digital (HD) | 2.40:1 | Canada / English | *

Psycho Goreman

In the recent episode of his Secrets of Cinema devoted to cult movies (which I covered here), Mark Kermode asserted that filmmakers can’t choose to make a cult movie — it’s up to the audience whether a film becomes a cult favourite or not. While this may be true in a sense, it’s also the case that, after several decades of the phenomenon being observed, any filmmaker who is interested in making a cult movie can consciously include the kinds of ingredients that provoke such devotion, thus giving themselves a head start. Psycho Goreman is one of the most recent films that seems custom-made to be a cult hit, and while only time will tell if it’s truly a “cult classic” or just a passing flavour of the month, it’s already attracted plenty of word-of-mouth attention — indeed, that’s precisely what led me to seek it out back in January, long before it had a confirmed UK release date (which, FYI, is today).

While digging up their back garden for a game, a pair of siblings — obnoxious Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and her pushover older brother Luke (Owen Myre) — unearth a strange gem, which turns out to be a key imprisoning an intergalactic alien mass murderer. The monster now freed, he sets off to dominate and destroy Earth… except whoever possesses the gem can control him, and that’s Mimi. She christens her new pet/toy Psycho Goreman — PG for short — and the cruel, twisted, depraved mastermind sets about using the alien criminal for her own playful ends.

There’s a distinctly ’80s vibe to this whole setup and how it’s presented on screen, both in storytelling terms and in the use of practical suits, models, gore, and special effects. Once he’s free, PG’s old friends and enemies are all out to find him, which puts a wide array of fantastical creatures on screen. None of them are a slouch. The fact such extensive effects work must’ve been achieved on a tight budget, but by clearly enthusiastic and talented craftspeople, only furthers the throwback feel. Indeed, the creature outfits are so impressively designed and realised that, although I haven’t bought an action figure in many years, it made me really want ones of PG and, in particular, his robotic-ish police-lady nemesis, Pandora. (Funnily enough, they’re making some; but they’re retro-style, which I know is a popular thing nowadays, but I don’t think is as cool as a properly-detailed figure. Of course, those kind tend to be rather pricey; but the ones they’re making are far from cheap, especially with international postage. Oh well.)

Mimi and friends

Everything about the filmmaking here has been leveraged to tickle the nostalgia glands of genre fans who grew up with trashy but ambitious sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fare on video, probably when they were officially too young to be watching it. Added to the mix is overt and knowing comedy, because now we’re all in on the joke. I found this aspect a bit hit or miss. When writer-director Steven Kostanski’s work is really on form, it’s frigging hilarious — although do note it can be quite dark comedy at times (which works for me) — but the film doesn’t nail the schtick as consistently as I hoped it would. For every few gags that land or subplots that pay off, there’s something that misses an opportunity or seems to get forgotten. On the other hand, this roughness round the edges is part of the genuine cult movie charm. With geek culture having become mainstream, the high-value neatly-polished version of what used to be direct-to-video schlock is more-or-less what Hollywood serves up at the multiplex every couple of weeks (under normal circumstances). Arguably, a true cult movie has faults that its fans either overlook or embrace because of how much they love the overall result. Psycho Goreman certainly does enough right to inspire that kind of affection.

One complaint I’ve read fairly often, even from those who fall within the film’s target audience, is that Mimi is an annoying brat. Well, it’s pretty clear that’s intentional (as opposed to, say, the result of poor casting). I wouldn’t say the film celebrates her for it, but it doesn’t really punish or develop her either, so perhaps there’s some kind of tacit acceptance there. But then, she’s a preteen girl, so I don’t know how harsh you’d expect it to be on her. Anyway, your mileage will vary as to whether she’s annoying but still amusing, or just plain irritating. I err towards the former.

Gory man

Having outlined the film’s supposed intended audience earlier, I must say it doesn’t technically include me. I was much too mainstream in my childhood viewing, so it’s only in later years that I’ve come to appreciate more of the bizarre deviances in cinematic history. Those who grew up on that stuff may get the biggest kick out of the film, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t delight in its gonzo joys. I won’t be surprised if Psycho Goreman has a bright future ahead as a new cult staple.

4 out of 5

Psycho Goreman is available on Shudder from today.

* To the best of my knowledge, it hasn’t been rated by either the BBFC or the MPAA, the two classifications I normally cite. If you’re interested, for reference, classifications in the rest of the world are all in the 15–18 range. It is very gory, but it’s obviously fake and often comical. ^

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

2019 #68
Alexander Witt | 94 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | Canada, UK, Germany, France & USA / English | 15 / R

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

2002’s film adaptation of popular horror video game series Resident Evil may not have been particularly game-accurate (from what I can gather — I’ve never played them), but it was sufficiently entertaining as an action/horror movie in its own right, and consequently it spawned a sequel (and, eventually, four more). Picking up where the first movie left off — with the zombie outbreak, er, breaking out, expanding from one facility into a whole city — Resident Evil: Apocalypse widens the scope of the movie series’ action. It also begins to introduce more characters and plot points drawn from the games, presumably in a deliberate attempt to court fans who were disappointed first time round. Unfortunately, it’s all in aid of a film that just isn’t very good.

Where the first film was a riff on something like Assault on Precinct 13, Apocalypse turns its attention to another John Carpenter classic, clearly trying to be a version of Escape from New York. Set in a semi-abandoned, zombie-overrun city where it’s perpetually nighttime, Alice (Milla Jovovich) and the ragtag group of survivors she encounters must make it out before a nuclear bomb is dropped on it.

It’s a perfectly serviceable storyline, and I have no problem with movies broadly borrowing storylines and whatnot in homage to other flicks. The problem is, Apocalypse is an awfully written and produced film. The first film’s writer-director, Paul W.S. Anderson, sits out the latter role this time, but returns as sole screenwriter. His dialogue is bad, devoid of realism or logic. One example: they’re trapped in a walled-off city, remember, and when one character informs the others that tomorrow morning it’s going to be hit with a tactical nuke, the first response is: “what yield?” Like it fucking matters! They’re dropping a nuke designed to wipe out the city you’re in — doesn’t matter what precise yield it is, you’re all dead. Unsurprisingly, his characterisation isn’t any better, and the cast don’t have the chops to save it, even though there are some decent-to-excellent supporting players here, like Oded Fehr, Thomas Kretschmann, and Jared Harris.

Make my day, zombie

His narrative structure isn’t great, either. Take the ending. The closing moments of the first film could be interpreted as a cliffhanger or sequel tease, I guess, but the final shot also work in its own right as a fatalistic reveal: that despite the efforts and sacrifices of our heroes to contain the virus, it got out and the world has gone full zombie apocalypse. Here, though, the last ten minutes or so of the film are an almost total sidestep from the story we’ve had thus far, their only purpose being to suggest some onward direction for the next movie. I suppose that’s par for the course nowadays, in the era of cinematic universes, but I still don’t think it’s good form. There are ways to have hints and teases for the future without turning a significant chunk of your current movie into an extended trailer for the next one.

The paucity of quality in the screenplay could perhaps be allowed to slide if Apocalypse delivered on its main goals. It’s an action/adventure/horror flick, after all — the boxes it’s looking to tick are not “character drama” and “narrative coherence”, necessarily. Sadly, it doesn’t tick the other boxes either, more scribbles vaguely around them. The action is terribly directed, a blur of meaningless visual noise. Taking Anderson’s place in the director’s chair is Alexander Witt, who had previously been a second unit director on some very good movies, like The Hunt for Red October, Gladiator, The Bourne Identity, and Pirates of the Caribbean. I can only presume his unit wasn’t responsible for any of the action sequences in those films. Apocalypse remains his only primary directing credit: he’s gone back to second unit, working on some more very good movies, like Casino Royale, X-Men: First Class, Skyfall, and Avengers: Infinity War. For whatever reason, I guess that’s a better fit for him.

One of the advantages to coming to a film series years after the fact is you can benefit from the perspective of others. To wit, I’ve seen people say this is the worst of the series. I pray they’re right, because I’ve kinda committed to watching them all now and I’m not sure I can take another four films this poor or, God forbid, worse. I had it down as a 2 for my 2019 stats, but I can’t recall a single redeeming feature now, so:

1 out of 5

The 100-Week Roundup XXXII

The 100-Week Roundup covers films I still haven’t reviewed 100 weeks after watching them. Sometimes these are short ‘proper’ reviews; sometimes they’re only quick thoughts, or even just the notes I made while viewing.

This week’s pair are the final films from May 2019

  • The Saint (2017)
  • Hairspray (1988)


    The Saint
    (2017)

    2019 #92
    Ernie Barbarash | 91 mins | digital (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 12

    The Saint

    Leslie Charteris’s “modern-day Robin Hood” Simon Templar, aka the Saint, was adapted into a successful film series in the ’30s and ’40s, and an enduringly popular TV series in the ’60s, so it makes sense that, every now and then, someone tries to revive the property. This latest effort began life as a TV pilot in 2013, which was rejected. Reshoots to extend it into a feature were shot in 2015, but it was only released in 2017, as a ‘tribute’ to Roger Moore (star of the ’60s series, of course, and who makes a cameo here) shortly after his death. I guess that was the only way it could find distribution. You might think the fact it failed on its own merits, twice over, before having to rely on a beloved star’s death to get any kind of release, augurs badly for the film’s quality… and you’d be right.

    Adam Rayner plays the newest incarnation of the eponymous antihero, here tasked with recovering both stolen Nigerian aid money and the thief’s teenage daughter, who was kidnapped as leverage by a mysterious crime organisation. Cue lots of tech-based heist hijinks (gotta make sure we know this is a modern adaptation) and made-on-a-budget action sequences. The overall impression is of something that would’ve been a minor success as a syndicated TV series in about 1995, which obviously means it seem badly dated by today’s standards. The content of the reshoots is a little too obvious: a tacked-on prologue and epilogue, which come in the form of long scenes in limited locations with a small cast. That said, the whole production is so cheap that these additions don’t stick out too much. That’s not a compliment.

    It’s been a very long time now since we’ve had a decent version of The Saint (I rewatched the ’90s Val Kilmer film recently and it’s not some forgotten gem). As such a storied franchise, I’m sure someone will try again — indeed, we might not have to wait long at all, as it’s been reported that Dexter Fletcher is working on a new film that will star Chris Pine. I live in hope.

    2 out of 5

    The Saint featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2019.

    Hairspray
    (1988)

    2019 #94
    John Waters | 88 mins | DVD | 1.85:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

    Hairspray

    John Waters is not the kind of filmmaker whose movies you’d expect to see being adapted as a big Broadway musical. But then, Hairspray is not your typical John Waters movie, leaving behind the transgressive, gross-out elements that make films such as Pink Flamingos infamous and unpalatable to this day, replacing them with the sweet story of an overweight high-schooler who wants to be a dancer on her local TV dance show, with a self helping of racial equality — it’s set in 1962 and the show’s black dancers are still segregated.

    Although the end result is resolutely PG material, the film still feels a world away from the slick big-budget studio production values of the stage-musical-based remake — a bit of the grungy, independent, low-budget roots of Waters’s other films has survived into the vibe of this film. In a way, the nice thing about that is that the two screen versions cater to different demographics. So many remakes are aimed at fundamentally the same audience, but in shiny new packaging to attract the imbeciles who refuse to watch any films made before whatever year they’ve arbitrarily selected. Conversely, the two Hairsprays are distinctly different interpretations of the same base material, with a shared socially-conscious vision, but different aesthetic and artistic goals. Both are valid; both are good. My personal preference errs towards the remake, but I appreciate the qualities of the original, too.

    4 out of 5

  • Devil’s Cargo (1948)

    2019 #93
    John F. Link | 62 mins | digital (SD) | 4:3 | USA / English

    Devil's Cargo

    The history of the fictional detective known as ‘the Falcon’ is a bit complicated (if you want a full summary, try this Wikipedia article), but the short version is that, between 1941 and 1946, RKO produced a series of 13 films featuring the character, starring first George Sanders and then his brother, Tom Conway. You can find my reviews of the series collated across these four posts. (The series is also noteworthy for containing the first screen adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel: the third film, The Falcon Takes Over, was based on Farewell, My Lovely, two years before it was more famously filmed as Murder, My Sweet.)

    A couple of years after RKO’s Falcon series ended, Film Classics picked up the mantle, casting magician John Calvert as a different version of the character. Their series only lasted three films, of which this first is the most readily available, because it’s public domain. (Consequently, I’ve yet to see the next two. Writing this has reminded me that I was meant to be tracking them down…)

    The plot has nothing to do with cargo, belonging to Satan or otherwise. Rather, it’s the usual murder mystery setup: a playboy has been shot to death, a crook confesses his guilt to the Falcon, certain he’ll be acquitted due to his motives being (kinda) pure, but then he’s murdered too. It all unfolds as a surprisingly decent little mystery — no great head-scratcher, but it offers enough twists and turns to keep it lively. The conclusion may stretch credibility, and our hero more chances upon the identity of the killer than actually deduces it, but it suffices for a short B-movie.

    “Magic your way outta this!”

    Calvert is decent as the Falcon. He’s no Sanders or Conway, and he has the slight stiffness of a non-professional having a crack at acting, but he’s just about charming enough to carry it off. I’ve definitely seen worse performances in similar roles. I have no idea how famous or acclaimed he was as a magician, so I don’t know if the film’s references to magic and inclusion of tricks is meant as an amusing nod to his original vocation, or it was required to placate the leading man’s ego. I can imagine the production meeting, though… “We want to integrate your magic tricks into the plot.” “How?” “Well, a criminal asks you to show him some tricks, so you do.” I’m not kidding, that’s literally what happens. On the bright side, he has a sidekick dog, Brain Trust, who is cute and occasionally useful.

    As these ’40s detective B-series go, Devil’s Cargo is far from top-tier; but I’ve also seen worse — it’s better than it really ought to be.

    3 out of 5

    The Secret Life of Pets 1&2

    Imaginatively-titled sequel The Secret Life of Pets 2 is available on Netflix in the UK from today, so what better time for me to finally get round to reviewing both that film and its predecessor? (Unfortunately, the first one isn’t currently available on any subscription streaming service.)

    The Secret Life of Pets
    (2016)

    2019 #73
    Chris Renaud | 86 mins | digital (HD+3D) | 1.85:1 | USA, France & Japan / English | U / PG

    The Secret Life of Pets

    In a Manhattan apartment, terrier Max’s quiet life as favourite pet is upended when his owner brings home stray Duke. But they must put their quarrels aside when they get lost in the city and discover that abandoned magician’s bunny Snowball is building an army of lost pets, determined to wreak their revenge. — adapted from IMDb

    Make your main character a cute little terrier-like dog and you’ve basically halfway sold me on your movie already (see: Hotel for Dogs; Benji). It works best with a real cute little dog, of course, but The Secret Life of Pets is proof the effect can carry over to animation, at least somewhat. It helps that the behaviour of the various animals in the film is all quite well observed — heightened, obviously, but there are many reasonable riffs on pet behaviour… that is until the revolutionary group led by a bunny, who’s followed by a tattooed pig and a lizard, hijack an animal control van. That’s a bit silly.

    From the trailers, I thought the animation style looked a bit flat — presumably a deliberate choice, almost like it was going for a Peanuts Movie kinda style — but watching it in 3D adds some pleasing depth and shapeliness, especially as I don’t think flatness actually was the intended effect for the whole movie.

    The Secret Life of Pets mostly reheats, remixes, and recombines stuff you’ve seen done in other movies (although as it came out around the same time as Finding Dory, it’s really a toss up as to who can claim that “animals in control of a human vehicle” climax), but it manages just enough charm to tick over as entertaining rather than irritatingly derivative.

    3 out of 5

    The Secret Life of Pets 2
    (2019)

    2020 #81
    Chris Renaud | 86 mins | digital (HD+3D) | 1.85:1 | USA, France & Japan / English | U / PG

    The Secret Life of Pets 2

    Max faces some major changes after his owner gets married and has a child. On a family trip to the countryside, Max meets farm dog Rooster and attempts to overcome his fears. Meanwhile, Gidget tries to rescue Max’s favourite toy from a cat-packed apartment; and Snowball sets off on a mission to free a white tiger from a circus. — adapted from IMDb

    As the above plot description goes some way to indicating, The Secret Life of Pets 2 feels like watching three episodes of a Secret Life of Pets TV series strung together: for most of its running time, it cuts back and forth between three completely unrelated storylines, seemingly just so that every major character from the last movie has something to do. Things do tie together in the final quarter-hour for an all-action climax, but that doesn’t stop them being entirely disconnected until that point.

    The only thing that really elevates it above TV-level is the visuals, which show off suitably expensive and slick animation, especially in 3D. At this point it almost goes without saying that computer-animated movies look fantastic in 3D, but it’s still pleasing.

    None of which is to say The Secret Life of Pets 2 is an outright bad movie. It’s a step down from the first (as things have panned out, I’ve given them both the same score, but the first one is kind of a 3+), but it has its moments — like the opening five minutes, where Max bonds with his owner’s new kid, which are sweet and cute; or the casting of Harrison Ford as a take-no-bullshit farm-dog, which is perfect. If you liked the first movie, this one passes some time amiably.

    3 out of 5

    The Secret Life of Pets 2 is available on Netflix in the UK from today.

    The 100-Week Roundup XXXI

    The 100-Week Roundup covers films I still haven’t reviewed 100 weeks after watching them. Sometimes these are short ‘proper’ reviews; sometimes they’re only quick thoughts, or even just the notes I made while viewing.

    This week’s selection includes a trio of films I watched back in May 2019

  • Widows (2018)
  • Cosmopolis (2012)
  • The Kennel Murder Case (1933)


    Widows
    (2018)

    2019 #88
    Steve McQueen | 130 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English & Spanish | 15 / R

    Widows

    The story of four women with nothing in common, except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.IMDb

    Best known for powerful socially/politically-conscious work like Hunger, 12 Years a Slave, and the Small Axe series, director Steve McQueen here delivers something closer to a genre movie — although, with its storyline of gangsters’ women empowering themselves, and a racially diverse cast, it still feels at least somewhat radical. As a thriller, it’s not exactly taught with tension, but it’s not too slack either — the pace is considered but not slow, allowing enough room for everything (and there’s a lot) without feeling rushed.

    4 out of 5

    Cosmopolis
    (2012)

    2019 #89
    David Cronenberg | 101 mins | digital (HD) | 16:9 | Canada & France / English | 15 / R

    Cosmopolis

    Riding across Manhattan in a stretch limo in order to get a haircut, a 28-year-old billionaire asset manager’s day devolves into an odyssey with a cast of characters that start to tear his world apart.IMDb

    David Cronenberg may be most famous as a horror director, but the only thing horrific about Cosmopolis is having to sit through it. It has the visual, aural, writing, and performance quality of an overambitious semi-pro early-’00s webseries, from the distractingly ugly green-screened limo windows to the “undergrad philosopher”-sounding screenplay and stiff performances. I presume this literally monotonous lack of realism must have been intentional, but doing something deliberately doesn’t inherently make it good. Cronenberg reportedly wrote the screenplay in just six days, apparently by copy-pasting the book into screenplay format and separating the dialogue from narration. That would go some way to explaining why it’s all so unnatural and impenetrable.

    1 out of 5

    Cosmopolis featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2019.

    The Kennel Murder Case
    (1933)

    2019 #91
    Michael Curtiz | 73 mins | digital (SD) | 4:3 | USA / English

    The Kennel Murder Case

    Before he starred in The Thin Man, one of the definitive detective movies, William Powell played private eye Philo Vance in a series of movies — three at Paramount across 1929 and 1930, later returning for this one at Warners. Here, Vance investigates a locked-room mystery: wealthy collector Archer Coe is dead and all signs point to suicide, but Vance had run into him the day before at the Kennel Club, where Coe was looking forward to his dog winning the next day’s competition.

    While the ensuing story unfolds a solid mystery, it lacks the charm and wit of the Thin Man films. Powell’s character is a facilitator of the plot rather than an entertaining main character; a blank slate who wanders around solving things. That lack of verve or individuality (which you do find in, say, the Falcon and Saint films, which this is on a par with in most other respects) is what really holds it back. Mind you, it has its moments: for example, much of Michael Curtiz’s direction is perfunctory studio-programmer stuff, but there’s the occasional striking shot (the discovery of a body though a keyhole) or sequence (the recap of how the murders went down, with a roving first-person view to hide the killer’s identity).

    3 out of 5

  • The Nomadic Monthly Review of April 2021

    We’re on a road to nowhere… Or, maybe, the road to recovery. Hopefully. Certainly, I’m still on the road to 100 films this year, at least.


    #74 Sátántangó (1994)
    #75 The Son of Kong (1933)
    #76 Godzilla Raids Again (1955), aka Gojira no gyakushû
    #77 King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), aka Kingu Kongu tai Gojira
    #78 King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963)
    #79 Captain Phillips (2013)
    #80 The Frozen Ghost (1945)
    #81 The Fly (1986)
    #82 The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
    #83 Nomadland (2020)
    #84 The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978)
    #85 Detective Conan: The Phantom of Baker Street (2002), aka Meitantei Conan: Bekâ Sutorîto no bôrei
    #86 Taken 2 (2012)
    #87 Warning from Space (1956)
    #88 Spielberg (2017)
    #89 Primary Colors (1998)
    #90 Stowaway (2021)
    #91 Beginners (2010)
    #92 The Coldest Game (2019)
    #93 Going My Way (1944)
    #94 A Single Man (2009)
    Captain Phillips

    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    Nomadland

    .


    • I watched 21 new feature films in March.
    • That makes 2021 the first year since 2016 that the first four months have all passed the 20-film threshold. If I continue that into May, it’ll be the first year ever.
    • On the other hand, this is the first month in 2021 not to set a new record for the furthest I’ve reached by this point — I’d got to #96 by the end of April last year. Close, but no cigar.
    • I had hoped this might be the first year I got to #100 in April, but no dice. Last year I did it on May 5th, which is another record I don’t think I’ll be beating after all. Ah well — not everything can be a record-breaker.
    • Nonetheless, this was the earliest I’d ever reached the three-quarters mark, in terms of both my eponymous challenge (getting to #75 on the 3rd, beating the 8th from 2016) and my new 120-film challenge (getting to #90 on the 22nd, beating the 26th last year).
    • In terms of averages, it beats the April average (previously 14.8, now 15.2), but falls a little short of the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 23.3, now 21.8) and the average for 2021 to date (previously 24.3, now 23.5).
    • Oops, I started another film series! I’d loosely intended to dive into the classic Godzilla films once I finally finished Zatoichi, but enjoying Godzilla vs Kong last month prompted me to want to see the ‘original’, 1962’s King Kong vs Godzilla. To do that ‘properly’, I had to watch the movies preceding it too — you can find the original Godzilla and original King Kong down in the Rewatchathon section, plus Son of Kong and Godzilla Raids Again at #75 and #76 (I watched them in and around spending four days trudging through Sátántangó). So, technically, I’m now three films deep into Big G’s 15-film Showa era.
    • Relatedly: no, that’s not a mistake at #77 and #78 — one’s the original Japanese version, the other is the US rejig (with much footage deleted, new stuff added, and all dubbed into English).
    • This month’s Blindspot film: as mentioned in brackets a moment ago, this was the insanely long (seven hours!) Sátántangó. It’s based on a novel and apparently adapts every single incident from the book, so this is what happens when you don’t bother to abridge an adaptation.
    • I didn’t watch anything from last month’s “failures”. Hey-ho.



    The 71st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I originally had a different winner down for this category, until a last-minute change of mind. You see, I expected to like Captain Phillips, because I’d heard good things and I generally like the work of director Paul Greengrass and star Tom Hanks, but it rather blew me away how good it was — a tense, dramatic, unpredictable thriller, with a final scene that by itself should’ve earnt Hanks an Oscar nomination, if not even a win. He was robbed!

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    I know it’s acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made, but, sorry, I found Sátántangó to be an unrelenting bore. It may not be the truly worst film I saw this month — it has some great filmmaking, and I do think there’s a very good movie buried inside it, if it were edited down considerably — but this is “least favourite”, not “worst”, and nothing else this month entertained me less for such a long period of time.

    Best Hound of the Baskervilles of the Month — Possibly Ever
    I’ll forgive you if you’re not up on your release years for every adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles — there are quite a few, for one thing. So, the two I watched this month were the Hammer version starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (that’s the 1959 one), and the comedy version starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (that’s the 1978 one). The latter is famously awful, and… yeah, it is. But the former is a stunner. Not the most strictly-faithful adaptation, but bursting with atmosphere, whip-crack paced (it doesn’t even hit the 90-minute mark), and with a top-flight cast (Cushing deserves to come up more often in discussions of the best screen Sherlocks).

    Most Pleasant Surprise of the Month
    We’re so used to berating Oscar voters for their terrible Best Picture choices, it’s weird that recently they seem to have hit a good streak (Green Book excepted). And it continues this year, because I thought Nomadland was a legitimately fantastic movie. (Admittedly, it’s the only Best Picture contender I’ve yet seen, but still.)

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    I’m terribly behind on my TV reviews, which at least means they can’t dominate this category. And so a film wins again — not the all-awards-winning Nomadland, though, but the belated UK release of Palm Springs carries it to victory here.



    Although I rewatched four films this month, coming into April I had gradually slipped far enough behind that I’m still four films off target. But I’m always intending to rewatch some whole series (high on the list: to finally watch my Indiana Jones Blu-rays before the 4K set comes out), so if I pull my finger out and do something like that, the number could easily jump up.

    #10 Wonder Woman 3D (2017)
    #11 King Kong (1933)
    #12 Godzilla (1954)
    #13 Palm Springs (2020)

    I found Palm Springs more easily enjoyable on a second watch, freed of all the hype and expectation it came burdened with first time round. Seems only appropriate… Wonder Woman was also a second watch, and my original review still mostly stands (despite the comments section implying I might’ve missed something). As for the quality of its 3D, it’s the kind of post-conversion job that isn’t bad, but also mostly makes you wonder why they bothered.

    King Kong was the subject of a ‘Guide To’, so find that linked above for my latest thoughts on the monster movie classic. I last saw it many, many years ago, and my increased film literacy and appreciation for classic movies led me to enjoy it a lot more this time round. Similar could be said for Godzilla: knowing what to expect pace- and content-wise, I enjoyed it a bit more; certainly enough to shore up the 4-star rating on my review (linked above, natch).


    The reopening of cinemas may be imminent(ish) in the UK, but that hasn’t stopped distributors sending releases straight to overpriced “home premieres” — in April, those included young adult adaptation Chaos Walking and Oscar Best Picture nominee Minari, while fellow Best Picture nominee Promising Young Woman was relegated to being a Sky Original. And if you thought we had to wait quite a while for those, or Palm Springs and Nomadland (which were also both this month), check out Chloé Zhao’s debut feature, Songs My Brothers Taught Me: MUBI was responsible for its UK wide release this month, a full six years after its initial release elsewhere.

    There were Oscar contenders to be found among the streamers’ new releases too, with Amazon offering Sound of Metal to subscribers, alongside premieres of Guantanamo Bay drama The Mauritanian and Tom Clancy adaptation Without Remorse. Netflix’s awards flicks already came out last year, although they had the international premiere of Love and Monsters this month, which was at least up for effects nods. Less well received was Melissa McCarthy superhero comedy Thunder Force, though I have heard positive things about some of their other original titles, like Run (the new film from Aneesh Chaganty, director of Searching) and animation The Mitchells vs. the Machines. In terms of catalogue titles, Netflix brought back sometime-IMDb-Top-250-ers In the Name of the Father, Lagaan, and Taare Zameen Par (aka Like Stars on Earth); the subscription streaming debut of Shirley; plus a few things I haven’t seen for years and would like to rewatch, like Cast Away, The Quick and the Dead, and perhaps Jarhead (I saw it at the cinema 16 years ago and didn’t particularly like it, but maybe it’s worth another look, considering the talent involved).

    Once again, my new disc purchases know no bounds. I passed 100 titles on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray this month, thanks to new releases of Batman v Superman (remastered with IMAX scenes), the 2014 Godzilla (in a spiffy limited edition from HMV), and Arrow’s Battle Royale (even though I haven’t watched their Blu-ray release that I bought over a decade ago). I also finally got Léon in 4K. I imported the US edition (because it looks so much better than the European one) from Amazon.com last year, but they kept sending me what looked like bootleg copies that I kept returning until they said they’d look into the matter. This time, I picked it up somewhere else, and it’s clearly a genuine copy — so I was right about Amazon flogging bootlegs.

    While I was importing that, I also snaffled up a bunch of classic 3D titles (The Maze, September Storm, and Wings of the Hawk) and finally managed to find a copy of the Olive Signature Edition of Orson Welles’s Macbeth for a reasonable price. Talking of sales, I picked up Black Rainbow, Black Test Car, and The Black Report from Arrow’s recent offering (their related titles being coincidence rather than design). On the full price side of things, I couldn’t resist a bunch of new and recent Indicator releases: The Beast Must Die, Crimewave, Irreversible, and Twentieth Century.

    And talking of failures to resist, I really, really tried not to buy Curzon Artificial Eye’s Bong Joon-ho box set. They used very pretty art design (the box art went down a storm with a certain kind of collector on Twitter) to bundle together almost-special-feature-less versions of a bunch of Bong’s films — and not even a complete collection, because Netflix have a stranglehold on Okja, and I guess Curzon couldn’t be arsed to license his short films (unlike a similar set recently released in Australia). I already own regular extras-filled editions of The Host and Snowpiercer, and I’ve caved to two copies of Parasite (both the 4K and Criterion’s extras-packed release), plus I have my eye on Criterion’s extras-loaded edition of Memories of Murder. All that left in the AE set’s favour was Barking Dogs Never Bite and Mother, the latter of which used to be available in a decent standalone edition (it’s out of print, but used copies aren’t hard to come by). So why the hell did I buy it in the end? Well, that’s still three films I don’t own — I could’ve got Mother by itself, but Barking Dogs Never Bite doesn’t have a standalone edition; and the Criterion release of Memories of Murder has rather controversial, ugly colour grading, while the UK edition is considerably less egregious in that department. The deal was sweetened by Parasite having some special features not present on my other copies (primarily, deleted scenes) and, yes, the attractive box design — it will look nice on my shelf. It’s definitely not the most sound purchasing decision I’ve ever made, but sometimes it’s just nice to have nice things.


    There’s only one date left on my “never seen a film on” list: May 23rd. Will I finally complete the year, or will I forget and miss it? (You’d think it’d be an easy achievement to guarantee, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve simply forgotten to do it.)