The Festive Monthly Review of November 2019

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Regular readers will no doubt have cottoned on to the fact this year has been rather turbulent in my life away from the blogosphere — nothing terrible or tragic, thank goodness, but time- and attention-consuming nonetheless. Well, it’s hopefully the (beginning of the) end for that now, as November ends and December begins with me finally moving into a new permanent home.

I know people have “moving day”, but geez, it’s a process, isn’t it? One I’m in the middle of — and has affected my blogging once again at the end of November, as I missed another TV review (which would’ve covered the likes of His Dark Materials, Watchmen, The Mandalorian (even though I’m in the UK), and the BBC’s long-awaited take on War of the Worlds), and didn’t post reviews of major new releases like The Irishman and The Report (both of which I’ve seen, neither of which I’ve had time to write about in full).

My film viewing has suffered once again as well. I’m way behind on both Blindspot and WDYMYHS, not to mention various new releases — not only on the big screen but also stuff I missed earlier in the year that’s now on disc / streaming.

On the bright side, earlier in November was the 2019 FilmBath Festival, and that’s almost single-handedly responsible for this being my highest-totalling month since the summer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself slightly. Here are the films I watched last month…


#135 The Report (2019)
#136 The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)
#137 Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), aka Portrait de la jeune fille en feu
#138 Little Monsters (2019)
#139 Harriet (2019)
#140 La Belle Époque (2019)
#140a My Theatre (2019)
#141 Filmfarsi (2019)
#141a Terra (2019)
#141b Spooning (2019)
#142 And Then We Danced (2019)
#142a Woman in Stall (2018)
#143 Judy & Punch (2019)
#144 Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019)
#145 Jojo Rabbit (2019)
#145a Hey You (2019)
#145b Gladiators on Wheels (2019)
#145c Tight Spot (2018)
#145d When Voices Unite (2017)
#145e Facing It (2018)
#146 The Irishman (2019)


  • So, I watched 12 new feature films in November.
  • I also watched 9 short films, which is more than I’ve seen in entire years before now.
  • The latter were all thanks to FilmBath Festival, as were 92% of the features — as I said at the start, it almost single-handedly rescued this month from being another disappointment.
  • Talking of disappointment, I didn’t watch any of last month’s “failures” either.
  • Comparisons of averages are hardly “not disappointing”, but they’re also not a total disaster. 12 is above the November average (previously 10.3, now 10.4), though it is slightly below the average for 2019 to date, which even with all those ‘bad’ months was still 13.4. It’s now 13.3, and the rolling average of the last 12 months also comes down to the same (it was previously 14.4).
  • One final positive worth mentioning: I passed #137 this month, which puts 2019 into my top five highest-totalling years. So much for all those “terrible” months, eh? Getting any higher than 5th place is unlikely, because for that I’d have to watch 29 films in December… but I have watched more than that in a single month on a handful of previous occasions — so, literally speaking, it’s not impossible.



The 54th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s a closely-fought field this month, with about four 5-star films and a couple of highly likeable 4-star-ers too. For the surprise factor — because I hoped I’d like it but ended up absolutely loving it — I’m going to give this to La Belle Époque, but I fully expect a certain other French film to end up above it in my end-of-year rankings.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I hate to dunk on what’s probably the smallest, most obscure, least-likely-to-get-seen-anyway (feature) film I saw this month, but I’m afraid to say this has to be Filmfarsi. It’s not that I thought it was bad, just a bit rough around the edges, for various reasons. But if its subject sounds interesting to you, I’d still encourage you to see it if you can.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
Last month I watched so many short films that I gave them a category. This month I watched almost twice as many, so it’s back. There are several great ones among the nine I watched, but for being an incredibly impressive technical achievement — all in aid of conveying real emotions and experiences, not showing off for the sake of it — my pick is Facing It.

Best Film Festival of the Month
Okay, I only attended one film festival this month, and I may be a little biased, but FilmBath was a great experience — a nice atmosphere and I saw some fantastic films.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Two posts were closely vying for this award in November, but in the end… it was a tie! I’m not sure I’ve ever had a tie in this category before. (There are 53 previous editions of these awards and I can’t be bothered to check them all right now, sorry.) So the joint winners were my coverage of FilmBath Festival’s opening night and my review of Judy & Punch. (If you really wanted to break the tie, the latter was online for 8 days vs the former’s 23, so therefore amassed a higher average of views per day.)



We begin this month with a Rewatchathon first: a rewatched short.

#24a Pleased to Eat You! (2019)
#25 What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)
#26 Easy Virtue (2008)

I first saw Pleased to Eat You last month as part of the prep for FilmBath Festival, then saw it again before the screening of Little Monsters. It merits revisiting, though, because it’s such great fun.

As for the two features rewatched, they’re both movies I feel have been somewhat undervalued. My original reviews of both are linked above, as always. Sometimes I re-read old reviews and am pleasantly surprised by the quality of my own writing (which sounds rather smug and self-gratifying, but I’m talking about very old reviews re-read with some distance, not going back over something I just wrote, which I think makes it different). Sometimes, however, I’m less impressed (which hopefully shows I’m not simply uncritical of my own work). Unfortunately, my review of Easy Virtue from 2011 is one of the underwhelming ones. I stand by its sentiment, but I don’t think I expressed that sentiment very well.

My piece about What We Did on Our Holiday is better, though still not totally clear. I also think it’s a film that improves with rewatching — any faults fade into the background behind the bits that are hilarious, heartfelt, humanist, and sometimes quite beautiful.


Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty to mention here — more than normal, in fact. I say that because there are usually three or four cinema releases I name, but November brought loads. From high-profile releases such as Frozen II, Knives Out, Last Christmas, and Le Mans ’66 (that’s Ford v Ferrari to some of you); to films that were surprises, either because they were hits, or flopped, or provoked controversy, or just seemed to come out of nowhere, like Midway, The Good Liar, Charlie’s Angels, and Blue Story (you can match up which of those is which); to smaller releases of note, like The Nightingale (the new one from Jennifer “The Babadook” Kent) and Greener Grass; to ones that probably fit into one or more of those other categories, though I’m not sure which, like The Aeronauts and 21 Bridges. Sure, some of those are films I never would’ve made the effort to see in the cinema anyway, but they’re all ones I’ll look out for in the future nonetheless.

It was also an uncommonly productive month for Netflix — they release new series all the damn time nowadays, but it feels like their original films that are worthy of note congregate at the end of the year. As well as the obvious one (see #146) there was The King, Earthquake Bird, and Christmas movie Klaus (which I’ve saved for December, because duh). Talking of the incoming season, there were a bunch more tacky-looking Christmas originals, foremost among which is surely The Knight Before Christmas — a film where they definitely came up with the title first and worked backwards. It looks and sounds terrible, obviously, and yet there’s something about its reputed awfulness (and that marvellous pun) that’s tempting me to watch it… Back on the sensible end of the spectrum, festival winners like Atlantics and I Lost My Body also popped on in the last couple of days.

Also added in the past month was Dragon Ball Super: Broly. That’s a franchise that’s never otherwise interested me, but I’m tempted to see what all the fuss was about for this particular entry: it was the highest-grossing anime film of 2018 and one of the highest of all time, including in the UK, where it became the second highest-grossing anime ever (behind only Spirited Away) and an advance screening sold out in just 23 seconds. Is its success thanks to a dedicated fanbase and limited number of screenings, or is it actually something special? There’s one way to find out… Lastly on Netflix, not a film but a series about films: The Movies That Made Us, a spin-off from their successful series about toys that, as far as I can tell, basically trades in ’80s nostalgia. Of course, the making of movies is a lot better documented than the making of toys, so whether it has anything new to say about the likes of Die Hard or Ghostbusters seems doubtful.

Amazon didn’t have too many originals to offer — or perhaps any, besides one (see #135). But there were a few catalogue additions I want to see, like Magic Mike and Umberto D (not two films you’d normally see mentioned side-by-side…), and a few oddities that caught my eye, among them Tsui Hark’s directorial debut, Butterfly Murders, and Too Late, which is billed as “a sexy, smart noir detective thriller… told in non-linear fashion, in a series of five true long takes… with stunning 35mm cinematography.” They also say the latter is “a cinephile’s dream” and, yeah, it does sound a bit like that. They also have a bunch of reduced price rentals for Prime members, in which I recently hoovered up Missing Link, Booksmart, Brightburn, and Eighth Grade — now I’ve just got to make sure to make time for them before the rentals expire.

Finally, there’s the new stuff I bought on disc, like Apollo 11 in 4K, and in 3D Spider-Man: Far from Home, Aladdin, and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (the latter two only thanks to sale prices). Then there were new catalogue releases, like Masters of Cinema editions of The African Queen and Der Golem, and Arrow’s release of RoboCop; a sale purchase of Candymen: Farewell to the Flesh (I enjoyed the first one a lot so figured this sequel was worth a punt); and the HD box set of Batman Beyond… which, for its UK release, replaced the Blu-ray disc of spin-off movie Return of the Joker with a censored DVD copy. WTF, Warner?

And all that without even dipping into any Black Friday deals! Which, actually, are mostly still ongoing. Hmm…


It’s been a very up and down kind of year here at 100 Films — will December end it on another higher, or in another dip? There’s only one place to find out: right here, in 31 days’ time.

(Unless I also mention it on Twitter.)

(Or Instagram.)

(Or Letterboxd.)

(So… yeah.)

Judy & Punch (2019)

2019 #143
Mirrah Foulkes | 106 mins | cinema | 2.35:1 | Australia / English | 15

Judy & Punch

Australian actress turned writer/director Mirrah Foulkes makes her feature debut with this live-action version of the famous Punch and Judy puppet show. I don’t know how famous the show is outside the UK (I guess it reached Australia, at least), but here it’s a staple of seaside children’s entertainment — although given its propensity for violence and misogyny, it’s suitability has been the subject of a small degree of controversy over the last couple of decades, and its prevalence is on the wane.

There’s no set version of Punch and Judy — each puppeteer has their own spin on the events of the tale and which characters show up — but there are certain elements that are, I suppose, considered standards and widely associated with the show. Here, Foulkes takes all of those familiar tropes and remixes them into a freshly imagined origin story. The real Punch and Judy comes out of the 16th century Italian commedia dell’arte, a fact which has very loosely inspired Foulkes’s take.

The setting is somewhere in Europe (never specified, and there’s a wide-ranging mix of accents to be heard), sometime in the past (it seems quite medieval, but there are buildings and notions that date from later), in a town called Seaside… which is nowhere near the sea. Judy & Punch comes with a hefty dose of absurdity and whimsy that calls to mind the work of Terry Gilliam as a reference point, and with dialogue and music choices that range from cod-medieval to very modern-sounding (especially in some of the references thrown up, which I won’t spoil), it’s clear Foulkes is taking a playful attitude to the material. Well, fair enough — “a live-action version of Punch and Judy” does sound a bit ridiculous, and so the film takes an appropriately irreverent tack. It won’t work for some people, for various reasons, but I was easily on board with the concept.

Punch and Judy

So, in this town we meet the self-proclaimed great puppeteer Mr Punch (Damon Herriman, most noticed for his small role as Charles Manson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) and his wife Judy (Mia Wasikowska), who is of course at least equally responsible for the brilliance of their show. Now, it will come as no surprise to those familiar with the original that Punch beats his wife. One day he takes it too far and he leaves her for dead. But this being a modern telling with feminist inclinations, that’s not the end of her role. No spoilers, but some viewers will consider where this ends up to be too preachy — literally, considering there’s a grand speech given at the climax. It’s a shame Foulkes pushes it to such a blunt point; not because I disagree with what she and her characters have to say, but because it ends up a little heavy-handed. The rest of the film makes its point well enough and is entertaining with it, so do we really need it to end with a polemic? Personally, I can let that slide because I was enjoyed the rest enough that it barely mattered by that point, but I know some other viewers found it a bit much.

And really, that could be said about the entire film. Like much of Gilliam’s work, it’s an acquired taste, with a distinct oddness and tonal mix that some will find distasteful. In my screening, one particular key moment drew what seemed to be a 50/50 mix of genuinely shocked gasps and stifled guffaws. I think that’s the kind of reaction its meant to provoke — a mix of shock and laughter — although I imagine anyone who genuinely found it gasp-inducing might not take to the fact that, actually, it is played for the laugh. But then there’s some quite genuine emotional fallout. Anyone who struggles with a variable tone, or with visual signifiers that don’t match said tone (the production design is muted and realist, not bright and whimsical), might not get along with the way the film dances merrily back and forth.

Horse and Judy

For me, it nailed what I was expecting in that regard. This is a film that kinda wants to tell the Punch and Judy story seriously, but knows it’s kinda silly to take Punch and Judy seriously, and so it manages a balance between a grounded grit and a comical daftness. There’s a lot of inventiveness in how it incorporates the familiar elements of the original, but, unfortunately, not quite enough to sustain it all the way — if it were a bit shorter (or pacier in the middle), or had just a few more bright ideas to see it through to the finale, I would’ve loved it. As it is, it’s a bold effort that I liked a lot. That is, indeed, the way to do it.

4 out of 5

Judy & Punch is in UK cinemas from today.

Shorts of FilmBath Festival 2019

Across the 2019 FilmBath Festival programme, 46 short films were screened — 23 attached to feature films, 17 at a dedicated ‘Shorts Showcase’, and six at the IMDb New Filmmaker Award ceremony (five in competition, one the film made from the winning screenplay of the IMDb Script to Screen Award). I saw 14 of these, one way or another, and have compiled my reviews into this (commensurately long) post.

First, the five films that competed for the IMDb New Filmmaker Award.

Gladiators on Wheels

The winner chosen by the judges was Gladiators on Wheels (2019, Souvid Datta, UK & India, Hindi, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a documentary about the ‘Well of Death’ — an attraction at Indian circuses where daredevils ride motorbikes and drive cars around 60ft vertical walls, literally defying gravity. It’s both impressive and terrifying, especially considering they’re doing it without any kind of safety gear — no helmets or padded suits here, never mind nets or something. But the film isn’t just about the actual act, also touching on the way of life, and how its fading. It’s a well-shot bit of filmmaking, especially impressive when you learn it was all filmed in a single day. The script was compiled from interviews with the drivers, then voiced by actors, but if anything it’s a little cliché — lots of talk of “living on the edge” and how dangerous it is but how they wouldn’t have it any other way, etc. Still, like many of the best documentaries, it’s a fascinating glimpse at another world.

The audience at the ceremony also got a say, favouring Hey You (2019, Jared Watmuff, UK, English, 5 mins, ★★★★★), which is about gay men hooking up via text messaging. At first it feels like a lightly comedic bit of fun, possibly with some drama in that one of the men is closeted, but then it develops into something more serious. It’s a very well made short, in particular the shot choices and editing at the climax, which combine to produce some incredibly striking imagery. It’s tricky to say why it’s such an effective and vital film without spoiling where it goes in that finale, but it’s a meaningful piece that’s worth seeing if you can. It would’ve been a worthy winner.

Facing It

The three other finalists were … Tight Spot (2018, Kevin Haefelin, USA & Switzerland, English, 4 mins, ★★★★☆), a comedy bit about a shoe shiner and a suspicious customer, which was amusing albeit a little predictable; although it did, again, look nice … When Voices Unite (2017, Lewis Coates, UK, English, 4 mins, ★★★☆☆), a mini tech thriller that was suitably tense in places, but really needed some kind of twist or final development to give it a reason to exist … and Facing It (2018, Sam Gainsborough, UK, 8 mins, ★★★★★), which presented an imaginative visualisation of a relatable social difficulty. Rendered in a mix of live-action and stop-motion animation, it’s by far the most technically impressive short here, but all in service of telling its story and conveying the requisite emotion. Another one that would’ve been a more than worthy winner.

(You can watch Gladiators on Wheels and When Voices Unite on Vimeo. Sadly the others aren’t publicly available, although there is a short making-of for Facing It which I recommend for appreciating the filmmaking skill on display there.)

Of the other shorts I saw, my favourite was definitely Pleased to Eat You! (2019, Adrian Hedgecock, UK, English, 7 mins, ★★★★★). It’s a beautifully designed and hilariously funny musical comedy short… about cannibalism! Its colourful and clever staging evokes the handmade movie-reality worlds seen in films by the likes of Michel Gondry or Charlie Kaufman, while the full-blown song-and-dance number is like the best of old-fashioned Hollywood musicals, albeit twinned with a pun-filled cheekiness in its subject matter. An absolute delight from beginning to end.

Pleased to Eat You!

If I were to rank all the other shorts too, I’d probably put Woman in Stall (2018, Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Canada & UK, English, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) in second place. A very timely thriller, it sees a woman innocently enter a public bathroom cubicle to get changed, only for a man to turn up outside and start chatting, her wariness of him trapping her inside. Is he a predator she’s right to fear? Or is she just being paranoid? Part of the short’s cleverness lies in the way it plays with our emotions and expectations, swinging us back and forth into where our trust should lie. Working with a limited setting, it’s neatly shot — never dull, but without going OTT to try to jazz things up — and gets edge-of-your-seat tense as it goes on. Regular readers will know how much I love a “single location thriller”, and this is a perfect mini example of the form.

Quince: Fifteen (2018, Peiman Zekavat, UK & Peru, Spanish, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) is a real-time single-shot drama about a 15-year-old Peruvian schoolgirl whose carefree PE lesson turns into a tumult of life-upending dismay in just a few minutes following an unexpected discovery on social media. It’s another timely issue, and this is mostly a well-made short — I do love a single take, and the real-time aspect puts you in her shoes quite effectively. Unfortunately, it’s a bit inconclusive — it just stops, with no hint of how she’s going to deal with her new problem longer term, or what’s going to happen to her beyond a handful of initial reactions. It’s not bad as it is, but there’s also more to be told here.

Quince: Fifteen

On a snowy winter’s day, a postie makes his rounds on a London estate. Meanwhile, one woman anxiously awaits his arrival… With its brief running time, Special Delivery (2018, Robert Hackett, UK, 4 mins, ★★★★☆) almost feels like an extended edit of one of those soppy commercials the big retailers always put out at Christmas — you know, the ones that have just started to pop up on the telly. Nicely shot in 2.35:1, it evokes a Christmassy feel without being overtly festive, and manages to avoid becoming quite as saccharine as those adverts, instead earning the story’s sentimentality. A sweet little slice of romance.

Coming just behind those frontrunners would be Spooning (2019, Rebecca Applebaum, Canada, English, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a one-woman-show of a mockumentary about a theatre actress who specialises in playing spoons. Not “playing the spoons”, like a musical instrument, but anthropomorphised spoons, like in Beauty and the Beast. It’s basically a comedy sketch as a short film, but it was largely funny so I don’t begrudge it that.

I’m six films deep into this loose ranking now, but that’s not to discredit Allan + Waspy (2019, James Miller, UK, English, 8 mins, ★★★★☆). It’s about two working class schoolboys who hang out in the woods on their way to school each day, observing a bird’s nest full of chicks hatching and maturing — but one of the lads clearly has problems at home, and it all takes a very dark turn. Initially it’s a likeable slice-of-modern-life tale, managing to find an element of old-fashioned bucolic childhood even in a modern inner-city setting, and unfurling at a gentle pace by mixing shots of the surrounding world into the boys’ activities. But then there’s a thoroughly glum ending. It kinda ruined my day, but I liked it as a film nonetheless.

Cumulus

A young Welsh girl runs off from her dad and encounters a talking gull who’s worried about his kids leaving home in animation Cumulus (2018, Ioan Holland, UK, English, 9 mins, ★★★☆☆). Naturally, they both learn something from each other. It’s always nice to see 2D animation nowadays, especially when it’s as prettily designed as this, though it’s a shame that some of the movement is a little stilted and animatic-y. It’s also a bit longer/slower than it needs to be, but it’s still mostly charming.

Perhaps the most disappointing short was My Theatre (2019, Kazuya Ashizawa, Japan, 5 mins, ★★★☆☆), a documentary about an 81-year-old in Fukushima who closed his cinema 55 years ago but keeps it alive as a kind of museum. That’s mainly what I gathered from reading blurbs before viewing, though, because the short itself lacks any real context or conclusion, just presenting vignettes of life in this rundown old movie house. It’s perfectly pleasant, but ultimately unenlightening. My Theatre is listed on other festivals’ websites as running 20 minutes, so perhaps the five-minute version submitted to FilmBath is just an excerpt — that’s certainly what it felt like. A longer edit, with more of a sense of why this is a place and person worth observing, would’ve been better.

Finally, Terra (2019, Daniel Fickle, USA, English, 6 mins, ★★☆☆☆), which received some very negative feedback from a few audience members who didn’t feel it was appropriate for the film it was screened before, Honeyland. That’s a documentary about a traditional European way of beekeeping on the wane, whereas Terra is ostensibly about the tumultuous romantic relationship between two young Americans. The clue is in the title, though: it’s a metaphor for humankind’s relationship with Earth. Personally, I thought the analogy was a bit on the nose, but it seems others missed it entirely. The photography is quite pretty, in a no-budget-indie-drama kinda way, but other than that I didn’t think there was much to it. Other members of the FilmBath team were more impressed, so I think it’s fair to say it’s a divisive little number.

Terra

As I said at the start, there were 46 shorts screened at the festival, so this is just a small sampling of what was on offer (less than a third, to be precise). Although I didn’t love them all, I did enjoy most — and considering they would have entirely passed me by were it not for the festival, I’ll definitely take the handful of letdowns as part of the parcel for getting the good stuff.

Little Monsters (2019)

2019 #138
Abe Forsythe | 94 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | Australia, UK & USA / English | 15 / R

Little Monsters

The zombie comedy — or zom-com — is basically a recognised subgenre (or sub-subgenre, really) at this point, birthing both high-profile hits (Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland) and smaller cult successes (Cockneys vs Zombies). For some reason this doesn’t seem to work with other monsters (Lesbian Vampire Killers, anyone?), so what is it about zombies that lends them to comedy? Perhaps it’s their roots in social satire. Perhaps it’s just that an enemy who can only shamble along slowly is inherently ridicule-worthy.

Whatever, the latest entry in this sub-subgenre comes from Australian writer-director Abe Forsythe. We’re introduced to Dave (Alexander England), a washed-up wannabe musician whose argumentative long-term relationship has just imploded, leaving him on his sister’s couch being a bad influence on his young nephew, Felix (Diesel La Torraca). After he meets Felix’s kindergarten teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong’o), Dave is smitten, agreeing to be a chaperone on a class trip to a farm. There they first meet kids’ TV star Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad), and then an outbreak of zombies from a nearby military research facility.

I guess taking a leaf out of Shaun’s playbook, Little Monsters invests a lot of time in its setup before it gets to the promised zombie action. As we witness Dave’s life fall apart, it feels more like a blokey indie comedy than a genre sendup, and it’s an age before Nyong’o turns up, never mind the zombies. I guess this is meant to be character stuff to get us invested, but its problem is it’s not terribly original — Dave is basically Dewey from School of Rock, and/or every other character that has already imitated that. Later, Teddy McGiggle is revealed to actually hate kids; he wanted to be a serious actor; now he’s an alcoholic; etc, etc. Asking us to invest in the characters is fine, but it helps if their arcs aren’t entirely predictable.

Miss, you've got red on you

Strumming a ukulele in her yellow sundress as she communicates with children on their level, Miss Caroline screams “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”. Fortunately, in the hands of Oscar-winner Nyong’o, there’s more to her than that, be it her savvy handling of Dave (clearly the latest in a long line of lustful dads) or wielding a spade to fight the undead. That sentiment perhaps extends to the film as a whole: it may be constructed from familiar building blocks, but its peppered with enough little moments of freshness that it provokes plenty of laughs. Most of that comes from having a class-full of little kids in tow, with the adults trying to pretend it’s all a big game for their benefit. Especially when watched with a late-night crowd up for the experience, it’s good fun.

Often with films of this nature I say they’re “for genre fans only” or something like that, but I wonder if Little Monsters might actually play best for those unfamiliar with all the other movies it’s a bit like. Of course, forgiving genre fans will also be entertained. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s a light and largely likeable hour-and-a-half.

3 out of 5

Little Monsters is released on Sky Cinema and in some cinemas in the UK today.

FilmBath Festival – Opening Night

I’ve never been to a film festival before. The expense and organisation of travel and accommodation, battles for tickets and/or never-ending queues for entry, racing to dozens of screenings a day… it’s just not my thing. (I don’t know if major festivals are really like that, it’s just an impression I’ve picked up from attendees on social media, etc.)

But when there’s a film festival one stop on the train away from your house, well, you can’t say “no”, can you? (Doubly so when you work for said festival and get comp tickets…)

FilmBath Festival isn’t among your Sundances or your Canneses or your Venices or your Londons. Nor is it one of those festival that just specialises in one thing, like documentaries or shorts. There are no red carpets or world premieres; no overtired critics trying to review 5,000 films every day or websites setting up media centres to churn out slightly stilted YouTube interviews with cast and crew desperate to promote their movie. Instead, it’s a local festival giving local people a chance to see previews ahead of general release; films that have already been released but didn’t make it to one of Bath’s cinemas; and smaller, interesting movies that might be difficult to see at all outside a festival.

Yesterday’s opening night kicked off the festival with a double bill of the first of those, including an exciting late addition to the lineup — so late it didn’t even make the brochure. (Ooh, look at all the beautifully precise punctuation and spelling and whatnot in that brochure! What geniuses must have worked on such a thing!) I saw both films, and I’ll write full reviews nearer their wide releases, but for the time being…

The Report at FilmBath Festival

First up was The Report, an All the President’s Men-style thriller about the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture post-9/11. It’s written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, who’s probably best known for writing a handful of Steven Soderbergh movies, plus contributing to arguably the best Bourne movie and Daniel Craig’s final Bond film. At the centre of the story is Star Wars’s Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones, the senate staffer tasked with combing through millions of pages of secret documents to find the truth. As if to highlight the significance of the story, there’s an all-star supporting cast, led by Annette Bening and Jon Hamm, plus Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Corey Stoll, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, and several other recognisable faces. It’s a methodical and gripping film, seemingly as dedicated to explaining the truth as is its protagonist. Imagine if we lived in a world where this was the R-rated war-related true story that became the year’s highest-grossing film at the US box office (as opposed to the one that was).

The Personal History of David Copperfield at FilmBath Festival

Next, that late addition: Armando Iannucci’s new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. It’s got another all-star cast, headed by Dev Patel as the eponymous young man. Obviously such colourblind casting has provoked comment, and I guess some people won’t be able to get over that, but it doesn’t matter. Dickens’s novel is a thick tome, here condensed briskly into two hours, and there’s a lot more going on than the colour of people’s skin. Its whipcrack pace is both one of its greatest assets (it moves like the clappers) and its biggest drawbacks (it winds up feeling a bit too long). But it’s frequently riotously funny, and the namey cast are sublime, including (deep breath) Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Gwendoline Christie, Anna Maxwell Martin, Benedict Wong, Paul Whitehouse, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aneurin Barnard, plus many other faces you might recognise depending how much British TV you watch. Plus, its affection for the emotional power of the act of writing is sure to make it a favourite for many authors (and wannabes).

Two completely different films, then, but both very much in my wheelhouse — as I said, I’ll review them later, but I enjoyed them both immensely. An exceptionally strong opening to a festival that promises many more delights (Jojo frickin’ Rabbit!) to come.

FilmBath Festival continues until 17th November. For information about what’s screening and to buy tickets, look here. You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Letterboxd for timely updates about what I’m seeing.

The Fluctuant Monthly Review of October 2019

October was very nearly my weakest month in almost a decade (9½ years, to be precise), saved from that fate at literally the last minute, as the story of what may very well be 100 Films’ most fluctuant year continues…


#130a Fifteen (2018), aka Quince
#130b Cumulus (2018)
#130c Pleased to Eat You! (2019)
#130d Special Delivery (2018)
#130e Allan + Waspy (2019)
#131 Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans (2019)
#132 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part Two (2012)
#133 For Sama (2019)
#134 The Fear of God: 25 Years of “The Exorcist” (1998)


  • So, I watched four new feature films in October.
  • It was very nearly just three, until I watched that Mark Kermode Exorcist documentary (which was freshly added to BBC iPlayer for Halloween) late last night. And whether or not that counts as a film is debatable. (The one on iPlayer is an extended cut that Kermode calls the “festival cut” because it was only shown at film festivals, which I think means it’s a film, so it counts.)
  • As I said at the start, you’d have to go back 9½ years, to April 2010, to find another month with so few films.
  • But for four you only have to go back to June this year. Nonetheless, that means October is tied as the lowest-totalling month of 2019 (for now…)
  • Unsurprisingly, it’s not even close to any of the usual array of averages I mention, and so it brings them all down — taking October’s average from 14.0 to 13.2; the average for 2019 to date from 14.4 to 13.4; and the rolling average of the last 12 months from 15.4 to 14.4.
  • The run of shorts I watched at the start of the month almost doubles that tally for the year. It was a FilmBath thing, which also means there’ll be more next month.
  • Neither a Blindspot nor a WDYMYHS film this month, which leaves me with quite a few to catch up (seven in total) with just two months of the year left.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched only Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (see Rewatchathon).



The 53rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A film that, frankly, I might’ve overlooked were it not for most of the rest of the FilmBath office talking about how great it was, Channel 4’s hard-hitting war documentary For Sama.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is an even easier choice: of course it’s Breaking Dawn: Part Two.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
Sorry to recommend this when I don’t think it’s freely available to see anywhere, but Pleased to Eat You! is bloody brilliant. Look out for it. (If you’re in the area, FilmBath are screening it before Little Monsters.)

Most Disappointing Non-Appearance of the Month
Not meaning to spoil anything (it’s kinda shown in the trailer anyway), but the storyline of Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans involves amassing different iterations of the Titans from across the multiverse… but that doesn’t include the cast of the live-action version, Titans. Okay, it might’ve been hard to integrate them with the animation, plus they’d’ve had to actually get the cast together, but it still seemed like a missed opportunity.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Even though I’ve been posting a lot less recently, my number of monthly hits has stayed within the same range — but, over the past few months, the number of unique visitors has started dropping a lot. This month, it dropped to its lowest level since June 2017. Well, fair enough. But what I find weird is that the ups and downs of both views & visitors have always been in sync before, so I don’t know why they’ve started separating. Anyway, this is meant to be about this month’s posts. Despite going up just 38 hours before October ended, the winner is this month’s TV column.



Things aren’t looking any rosier down here. I should be at #41 by now, but instead all I’ve got is this…

#24 Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018)

My brief review (linked above) possibly doesn’t do justice to my feelings about this movie (i.e. I love it!) I mean, I didn’t even mention the guest voice cast, which has some superb cameos. Partly that’s to do with not ruining gags and surprises, I guess. Still, I feel I could’ve and should’ve done better on that one. I did include it on my best-of-year list, at least.


No cinema trips this month, so I’ve missed a bunch of big releases, not least the super-discourse-provoking Joker; the third attempt at Terminator 3, Dark Fate; the inevitable flop Gemini Man (and it was showing in 3D HFR near me too, which I’m never likely to have a chance to see it in again); and the second Shaun the Sheep movie, Farmageddon.

More big-screen misses resurfaced on disc this week, namely X-Men: Dark Phoenix (in 4K) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (in 3D). I also picked up a handful of Criterion titles in a Zoom sale (Do the Right Thing, The Magnificent Ambersons, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, and Panique); a selection of Asian movies (re)released by Arrow (Oldboy, with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) and Eureka (King Hu’s The Fate of Lee Khan and three films with Sammo Hung (Eastern Condors, The Magnificent Butcher, and The Iron-Fisted Monk); I finally managed to get a great deal on the Spider-Man Legacy 4K set (containing Sam Raimi’s trilogy and Marc Webb’s duology); and I ended the month with Arrow’s new release of An American Werewolf in London, which made me glad I never got round to upgrading from DVD to the previous BD. (Whew! That’s quite a lot, really, isn’t it?)

Finally, there were a few big name releases on streaming this month. Most discussed was probably Netflix’s Breaking Bad sequel, El Camino. Well, I’ve still not seen any of Breaking Bad, so it’ll be a long time before I watch that. Higher on my watch list are the new Steven Soderbergh, The Laundromat, and Eddie Murphy true-story comedy Dolemite is My Name, which looks like a lot of fun. There was also In the Tall Grass, which I’ve heard mixed things about. Amazon had no brand-new additions to equal that lineup, but I did spot a few archive adds of interest, including Robin Williams sci-fi thriller The Final Cut, arthouse classic La Dolce Vita, and Liam Neeson’s latest revenge thriller Cold Pursuit.


FilmBath Festival should guarantee a tally over ten films, as the rollercoaster of my 2019 monthly totals continues.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012)

2019 #132
Bill Condon | 110 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

I may’ve been pretty quiet for most of October, but it’s Halloween today and that means it’s time to uphold a tradition I’ve had since 2015 — but for the final time! Well, all good things must come to an end. Fortunately, so too must Twilight.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

As usual with films this deep into an ongoing story, I won’t bother making much of an effort to set it up for newcomers. Film series like this are more like miniseries, just with feature-length episodes that are released theatrically and years apart. You wouldn’t just watch Episode 5 of a five-part TV series, would you? That goes double here, as the title indicates: it’s also the second half of the final book.

Ah, the title… As regular readers may’ve picked up by now, I’m a stickler for title accuracy (heck, it’s literally my job at the minute). The ‘correct’ title is what’s on the film’s title card… which you’d think is pretty straightforward, but every now and then something challenges that methodology. The Twilight films have consistently been a problem with that. Always promoted as “The Twilight Saga: [Film Title]”, the main title card in the films themselves use just the individual title bit. But Breaking Dawn has decided to be even more irritating, because Part 1 was called Part 1, but Part 2 is called Part Two. No, seriously. Look, I know this kind of thing matters not a joy to most viewers, but I feel like it’s indicative of the amount of effort and attention that was actually spent on these movies. (Despite all that, I’ve gone with Part 2 for the title of this review to match my Part 1 review, because I appreciate consistency, at least.)

Numerical formatting inconsistencies aside, the opening titles are really nice. I mean, they’re not so amazing that you should go seeking them out especially, but they look good. And for once, it’s not all downhill from there!

Bella the vamp

But only because the climax is probably the highlight of the whole saga — unless you’re primarily here for the romance stuff, which was mostly tied up in previous movies. It does make you wonder somewhat who this final part is for, actually. The central couple got married in the last film — that’s the end goal of all conservatively-minded relationship stories. You get married, then you live happily ever after, so naturally there’s no story beyond that point. (Heavy eye roll.) But Twilight isn’t quite an ordinary conservative romance, what with one of the pair being a vampire, so there’s some mythology stuff left to tackle. Well, no spoilers (yet), but Breaking Dawn isn’t ultimately very conclusive in that regard. Maybe author Stephenie Meyer was deliberately leaving room for a further book.

As a commercially-minded theory, that seems a reasonable presumption. But the narrative of Breaking Dawn suggests Meyer was more than ready to move on. Out of almost nowhere, everyone starts developing superpowers (element manipulation, forcefield projection, the ability to deliver electric shocks, etc), which they must then learn how to use. Sound familiar? I can only assume Meyer got bored of writing shitty novels about vampires and werewolves so decided to make this one a shitty version of the X-Men instead.

Further evidence of restlessness comes from the amount of plot we’re treated to. In almost all my Twilight reviews I’ve specifically noted how slow the films are, or that nothing happens; but this time so much happens they have to condense events with montage and voiceover. New characters are introduced at a rate of knots, simply to fill out an ‘army’ for the final battle. Any writer worth their salt would’ve known this was coming and spent time introducing these people earlier — it’s not as if there hasn’t been room for it in the sparsely-plotted earlier instalments. Simply, this saga is exceptionally poorly paced.

Almost all of these characters are introduced in this film

It’s certainly not the film’s only technical flaw. Apparently it cost $136 million, so why does it look like it was made for £3.50? Inadequate CGI has always been a feature of these films, so what possessed them to think they could pull off a CGI baby/toddler?! The result is fucking creepy; the very definition of the uncanny valley. Sometimes I think the people who made these movies shouldn’t be allowed to work again. The dialogue, the editing, the obvious green screen, the cheapo effects… it’s not just that it’s a crummy story with dubious morals, it’s that the films are so shittily made.

But, as I said earlier, there’s almost some redemption. First, Michael Sheen rocks up as the head of the Volturi, who are the top vampire coven or something (I don’t really remember, it was explained three films ago). I think he’s thoroughly aware it’s all rubbish (I believe I read he only did it because his daughter was a fan), so he gives a delicious performance. It’s not over the top — he’s not just phoning it in for the payday — but it also seems aware that it’s all daft, so why not have some fun? He’s the Big Bad, so his presence enlivens the climax, which also benefits from a good old “two armies face off across the battlefield with rousing music” approach.

And then they fight… and, wow, they should’ve called this The Twilight Saga: Breaking Off People’s Heads. It’s possibly the best of the series simply because of how fucking brutal it is. If you watched the previous films thinking, “I wish most of these characters would just die horrible deaths”, this is the sequel for you. And it’s still rated PG-13! They pull a woman’s head and arms off, and toss the head into a fire, and then they toss a toddler into the fire too… and it’s still rated PG-13! But half a glimpse of a woman’s nipple and you get an R. You’re fucked up, America.

Michael Sheen shines

Post-fight, the film has one final good bit. I’m just going to spoil it, because if you’ve got this far I figure you don’t care. It’s revealed that the entire battle — which, note, killed off a slew of major supporting characters — was all a premonition. “It was all a dream” is frowned upon as a rule, but here it’s actually quite a neat twist. I didn’t see it coming, anyway. I guess I didn’t think anyone involved with Twilight was capable of such structural ingenuity. How I wish it was in a better film, more deserving of its effectiveness.

Oh, but it’s not all sunshine and roses. It means the fight never happens, which means the bad guy isn’t actually defeated, he just decides not to bother (because he’d lose). But is he happy about it? Duh, no. So he… just goes home… still in a position of power, still not happy with our heroes… Is that a victory? Or has the villain gone away to cook up a new plan? As I said, it feels open for a further story. A pair of characters who wanted the good guys to win for their own nefarious reasons basically tell the heroes, “you’re all fools, the Volturi might’ve left but they’ll never forgive what happened”… and all the good guys just laugh, because they’ve won, because they’re the good guys. But they haven’t won, have they? They didn’t defeat him. They didn’t convince him. It won’t take much for him to come up with a new, better plan. Fuck it, I was glad this was over, but now I want to see The Twilight Saga Episode 6: The Volturi Slaughter All Those Cocky Bastards.

Happily ever after

But there isn’t a sixth instalment. This is it. I have completed The Twilight Saga, just over a decade since it first came to the big screen. Back then it was a relatively significant part of pop culture, with a rabid fanbase clamouring for the movies to be recognised, and turning them into major, much-discussed hits. But they were always critically reviled, both in print and on screen, and now it feels like their relevance is waning, presumably as old fans grow up and new ones fail to materialise. Or maybe they still do good numbers in book sales / TV airings / Netflix streams, but we just don’t talk about them widely because they’re not new anymore. Who knows. The only reason I care is because I’m wondering if I’ve spent ten hours of my life watching something I knew would be poor, spurred merely by its cultural significance, only to find that significance has quickly evaporated.

Oh well. At least I’ll always have Face Punch.

2 out of 5

The Past Months on TV #51

When I mentioned in September’s monthly review that I hadn’t posted a TV column that month, I was intending to get one up within a few days. As it turned out, for various fundamentally unimportant reasons, it’s taken until now — so, really, this one covers two months.

Much like my film viewing, my TV watching hasn’t been as prolific as normal, including some regulars falling by the wayside (no Twilight Zone again). But there are still a few things worth talking about.

Stranger Things 3
Stranger Things 3On what you might unkindly call a superficial level, the third season of Netflix’s signature series was thoroughly entertaining — it’s frequently funny and exciting, with cool moments aplenty (especially in the last couple of episodes), and many enjoyable callbacks to both ’80s pop culture and within the show itself. But dig any deeper and it begins to seem less surefooted, with what felt to me like muddled themes and character arcs, and a sense that the mythology was treading water. I don’t particularly object to the way any characters were treated, nor the destinations any of them reached (especially as a fourth season was inevitable, so wherever this run finished up was only ever temporary), but I didn’t feel like they were being guided anywhere with any real purpose. There’s something to be said for storylines like that, but when you’re trying to play some kind of redemption arc, or a coming-of-age tale about burgeoning independence (or whatever), I feel like you need to be a bit clearer-eyed. But hey, I still enjoyed it a lot — it’s a fun watch, and I imagine even more so if you have nostalgic memories of an ’80s childhood — I just think there’s still some room for finessing.

Watchmen  Season 1 Episode 1
WatchmenAlan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s graphic novel Watchmen is a seminal work of the form — I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you about that at this point. Over the past decade it’s been adapted into a film, and both prequelised and sequelised (I think? I dunno, I stopped paying attention) in comic books, to varying degrees of success and controversy. So when HBO announced they were bringing it to TV, there was much trepidation. Early promises that it wasn’t a remake or prequel or sequel, but instead a ‘remix’, just added to the confusion.

Now it’s finally here, it’s clear that such bold reports were perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Well, I say “clear” — I’ve only watched the first episode (two have aired, out of nine) so there’s plenty of room for things to change, but (so far at least) it seems to be definitively set in the world of the comic book (and not the movie, which made some significant modifications to the climax) and in 2019 (whereas the comic is set in the ’80s). So it is a sequel… but it’s not a direct sequel, because very few of the original characters have a part to play (yet, anyway). So it’s a new story set in the same world… albeit one where the events of the first story have had a massive impact, and some of the same thematic concerns are coming into play — not to mention a load of familiar iconography. Okay, maybe “remix” wasn’t a wholly terribly epithet after all.

Anyway, it’s early days, but there’s a lot of promise and potential here. Reading the original before viewing may not be essential, but it’s going to help a lot (besides which, it’s a damn good book). And if you want to go even further down the rabbit hole, be sure to check out the tie-in Peteypedia website, which provides a lot of extra info to help bridge the gap between book and series.

Catherine the Great
Catherine the GreatHBO and Sky Atlantic have teamed up for this lavish four-parter about the life of the famous Russian ruler, conceived by and starring Helen Mirren. The big bucks those broadcasters are known for are all over the screen here — it looks suitable sumptuous, with grand locations that positively shine, especially in UHD. Unfortunately, nothing else about the production is up to scratch. The writing is thoroughly mediocre — it most reminded me of The Tudors, although that seemed to know it was a bit of trashy fun, whereas I think Catherine the Great wants to be taken very seriously. But the dialogue is uninspiring, the characters uninteresting and underdeveloped (we’re told the relationship between Catherine and Potemkin is some great love affair, but they strop around like moody, jealous teenagers), and the flat performances do nothing to elevate any of it — and despite her general acclaim, Mirren is probably the weakest of the lot. Pretty, then, but vacant.

Dad’s Army: The Lost Episodes
Dad's Army: The Lost EpisodesThe BBC’s 1970s policy of junking programmes because they supposedly no longer had commercial value is a familiar topic for Doctor Who fans, who’ve spent decades hoping and hunting for copies of missing episodes. But it was an organisation-wide policy, so Who was far from the only show that suffered — Dad’s Army was another. It’s a perennially popular sitcom here (even today repeats land among the most-watched programmes of the week), so you can see why it made commercial sense to invest in recreations of the missing episodes — especially as there’s only three of them.

The pre-broadcast press and ads emphasised heavily that these were intended as a tribute (presumably because that attempt at a feature film revival from a couple of years ago went down so badly). The sense of affection for the original seeps off the screen, from the faithfully recreated set to the performances, which ably tread the fine line between flat impersonation and respectful imitation. By that I mean the cast were clearly trying to play the roles as they were originally performed, but without getting stuck in a rut of mere emulation, instead injecting a reasonable amount of their own interpretation of the characters.

So, taking the project as it was intended — as a loving salute to the original programme, which also plugs a gap in its record — The Lost Episodes should be classed as a success.

Also watched…
  • The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco Season 1 Episodes 1-4 — ITV’s cancelled period crime drama is revived in this US sequel/spin-off, because it was relatively popular on the other side of the pond. Unfortunately, this iteration does look and feel like cheap US network filler. It’s gently watchable enough, if you don’t mind that sort of thing.
  • Japan with Sue Perkins — The former Bake Off host pops over to Japan for a two-part exploration of modern cultural quirks and fads. Open-minded and consequently insightful, I feel like it could’ve been a longer series to dig in even deeper. Maybe a more indicative title, too — by getting so specific, it was hardly the overview/travelogue of Japan that you might’ve expected.
  • Monty Python Night — BBC Two marked the 50th anniversary of arguably the most influential comedy troupe ever with an evening of archive-derived programming. So, that was two repeats — of documentary Almost the Truth: The BBC Lawyer’s Cut and the first-ever episode of Flying Circus — and one new programme that was compiled from archive interview clips, Python at 50: Silly Talks and Holy Grails. If you missed it… it’s no longer on iPlayer because I’ve been so tardy in posting this column. Sorry.
  • World on Fire Series 1 Episodes 1-2 — Now, here’s a good idea: a returning series that follows multiple loosely-connected characters in multiple different countries as they make their way through World War 2. I’m not convinced by the execution so far (it feels remarkably small-scale for a premise that’s all about scope, and visually it looks a bit too “TV” for a major prime-time series in the present climate), but, eh, we’ll see.

    Next month… the golden compass leads us to the northern lights as His Dark Materials is readapted for TV.

  • 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…

    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…