The “Am I Just a Letterboxder Now?” Monthly Review of July 2021

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As regular readers (or should that be “regular non-readers” now?) may have noticed, I didn’t post a single review throughout July. Nor anything else, really: my previous post was my monthly review of June. Which somewhat drives me to consider the titular question, because while I’ve become increasingly poor at posting stuff here, I do still log (and write a little about) all my film viewing on Letterboxd. The little snippets I post there aren’t comparable to the full reviews I aim to write here; but, equally, I do actually post there consistently, so which is the more meaningful, really?

I’m not giving up on this blog just yet, but my strategy for finding time to write it (and, perhaps, what precisely I write about) needs some thought once again. In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been watching:


#128 Jerry Maguire (1996)
#129 From Here to Eternity (1953)
#130 Strictly Ballroom (1992)
#131 Hotel Reserve (1944)
#132 Sneakers (1992)
#133 The Broadway Melody (1929)
#134 Murder by Decree (1979)
#135 Time After Time (1979)
#136 Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)
#137 The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)
#138 The King (2019)
Strictly Ballroom

Sneakers

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  • I watched 11 films in July.
  • That may be my poorest performance of 2021 so far, but it’s bang on the July average (which was, obviously, 11.0 and is now, obviously, 11.0).
  • This is self-evident, but it’s not my best July ever (that was last year, with 29), but nor is it the worst (because that would be my worst month ever: July 2009, my only zero-film month).
  • It fares less well compared to other averages, falling short of both my rolling average for the last 12 months (previously 19.7, now 18.2) and the average for 2021 to date (previously 21.2, now 19.7).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: Powell and Pressburger’s satire of the upper-class attitude to World War 2, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched a pair of films from 1979 that each saw a famous Victorian tackle Jack the Ripper (was there something in the water that year?), Murder by Decree (which sees Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper) and Time After Time (which is H.G. Wells vs Jack the Ripper).



The 74th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite a few films I liked a lot this month, but I think I might just give the edge to Strictly Ballroom. I don’t feel it gets talked about as much as Baz Luhrmann’s later works because they refined the stylistic concepts he was aiming at, but it’s a more-than-fair first go at them. It’s inventively made, kookily funny, and, ultimately, shamelessly romantic. If you liked his Romeo + Juliet or Moulin Rouge! but have never gone back to the trilogy’s first part (like me, until now), I strongly recommend it.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Sometimes, you come across a film that you’ve never heard of but sounds good and it is good and you feel like you’ve discovered an overlooked minor classic. Other times, you discover why you’ve never heard of it. Sadly, pre-WW2 ‘wrong man’ spy thriller Hotel Reserve falls into the latter bracket. So much potential, almost entirely unrealised.

Most Inaccurate Title of the Month
There’s no character called Colonel Blimp in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, so we certainly don’t follow his life nor see him die. And as for the character who is presumably ‘Colonel Blimp’, well, spoilers, he doesn’t die either.

Title That Did Its Film the Greatest Disservice of the Month
I’ve seen Sneakers around on streaming platforms and whatnot for years, but always kinda ignored it. That poster is so bland, it tells you nothing; and the title… it’s an American movie called Sneakers: I think I assumed it must be about shoes. So thank goodness for the Film Stories Blu-ray release, which switched me on to the fact that it’s actually a fun all-star heist thriller — immensely watchable and entertaining, just my sort of thing, and nothing at all to do with trainers.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
With only one new post all of last month, I thought I’d throw this open and see what was most-viewed overall. And it was, incredibly randomly, from back in April 2017. Then I reviewed the first episode of Doctor Who series 10, the first seasons of Iron Fist and The Crown, the second series of Line of Duty, the musical episode of The Flash, and the first nine episodes of Twin Peaks season two, plus a few other bits and bobs. I’ve no idea what amongst that might’ve provoked particular interest in the last month.


Nothing. Nada. Zip. Not a sausage.


I continue to be behind pace on my Rewatchathon, which isn’t surprising when my main viewing is behind normal standards too. Still, at least I’ve been watching some stuff…

#20 The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991)
#21 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
#22 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Wrath of Khan being down here feels like a bit of a technicality. You see, for years I could remember seeing a film as a kid in which two guys in spacesuits in a desert had nasty worm-things inserted into their ears. Eventually I learned that scene was from Wrath of Khan, ergo I must’ve seen it as a kid. So it’s taken me decades to finally get round to watching all the Star Trek movies, and it turned out that one scene was more or less all I remembered from Khan (of course I knew other bits thanks to picking them up down the years as a sci-fi fan, but that was the only part I remembered). Anyway, this means I won’t give it a ‘proper’ review (though how much stuff am I properly reviewing nowadays anyway?), but it goes on the list for the Guide To treatment.

And I finished my Indiana Jones HD rewatch… just in time for HMV to have a massive 20% off sale that included the new 4K set, so of course I caved and bought it. Hopefully it won’t take me another decade or more before I watch that… As for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I stand by my assessment from its theatrical release (linked above) that it’s not at all a bad movie. There are some iffy bits, for sure, but overall it’s a plenty worthy return outing for Dr Jones. Maybe one day more people will stop being grumpy about a fucking fridge and allow themselves to have a good time.


With cinemas reopened, the new releases just keep coming. I haven’t yet talked myself into going back to the big screen (in part because I just don’t think I could comfortably wear a mask for a whole movie, though that requirement is now more flexible, I guess), but releases on my radar to almost tempt me include Black Widow, M. Night Shyamalan’s Old, The Suicide Squad, and Jungle Cruise. Ones I’d wait for rental anyway include The Forever Purge and Escape Room: Tournament of Champions… and, even though I’m fairly sure I’m going to hate it, I’ll probably wind up watching Space Jam: A New Legacy someday.

Over on the streamers, Netflix added Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning to go with the series’ other four films that I mentioned last month. Their only original I noticed was the Fear Street trilogy, which I put on my watchlist but don’t feel any burning desire to make time for, to be honest. MUBI brought arthouse hit First Cow to the UK, while, at probably the other end of the artistic spectrum, Amazon offered sci-fi-actioner The Tomorrow War, which I’ve heard mixed things about. They also had belated UK debuts for Guns Akimbo and Shadow in the Cloud (which I, er, acquired back around its US release because it sounded fun, but I’ve not got round to watching), plus Kate Beckinsale actioner Jolt, which sounds dumb and, based on the critics and viewers scores, I think probably is. Other than that, it felt like Netflix and Amazon were both trying to remind me of stuff in my Blu-ray collection that I’ve either never seen or been meaning to rewatch — I could list what, but there’s at least 20 titles in that category.

And talking of my Blu-ray collection, of course there were a load of new purchases. I imported a couple of titles from France (something I haven’t done for a while), so I could get my hands on Godzilla vs. Kong in 3D (bundled with the 4K disc, which is good because I suspect it looks fab on both formats) and The Limey in 4K with special features (as far as I know, France is the only country to have released its 4K restoration on a 4K disc; and the audio commentary is legendary, so I want to finally listen to that). All my other 4K purchases this month were, similarly, things I’ve already seen: fancy editions of The Babadook from Second Sight and True Romance from Arrow, plus regular editions (thanks to the HMV sale I mentioned earlier) of Big Fish, Gattaca, Last Action Hero, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World — plus the Indiana Jones films, of course.

In terms of blind buys, I couldn’t resist Indicator issuing The Day of the Dolphin — that’s the film famous for its poster tagline: “unwittingly, he trained a dolphin to kill the President of the United States.” How can you resist a pitch like that? There were more box sets from Arrow in the form of the Daimajin trilogy and Vengeance Trails, in which they bundled together four obscure Spaghetti Westerns, I guess because they have a better chance of selling as a set than individually. (In fairness, it works on me: things like that and the films in their Years of Lead set, if they were released individually I’d probably wait for them to be cheap in a sale and then maybe buy some of them. In swish limited edition box sets, well, I’m preordering! (Now I feel like a sucker…)) Amongst a few other random purchases were Son of the White Mare, an acclaimed Hungarian animation for which I don’t see a UK release on the horizon so I paid a reasonable price to import the US edition; and, thanks to a Network sale, the fourth series of Quatermass, which includes its movie-length re-edit, The Quatermass Conclusion; and the Up series of documentaries, which are considered a TV series here in the UK but received festival/theatrical releases elsewhere so are often regarded as films. I’ll have to decide whether I count them as films or not… but I’ll have to get round to watching them first.


THIRD IMPACT! Evangelion ends for the third time as the fourth part of the story’s second telling premieres worldwide on Amazon Prime Video.

The Terribly Tardy Monthly Review of June 2021

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. ^

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.)

Nomadland (2020)

2021 #83
Chloé Zhao | 108 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA & Germany / English | 12 / R

Nomadland

Having won the top gong at the BAFTAs, the Golden Globes, the PGAs, and the DGAs, plus various other smaller ceremonies, and at film festivals of varying significance, Nomadland topped it off by winning the headline prize at the Oscars last weekend, leaving no doubt that it’s been well and truly crowned the best film of 2020. Everyone will have their own opinion on whether it is or is not, of course, but there’s no questioning where the consensus lies. For me, this is the only one of the eight Best Picture nominees that I’ve seen to date, so if I would’ve preferred a different victor, I can’t yet say. Judged in isolation, however, it seems to me that Chloé Zhao’s film is a worthy winner.

The film follows Fern (Frances McDormand), a sixtysomething widow who ends up living on the road in a camper van, after the plant that provided work for most folk in her Nevada town is closed down in the wake of the late-’00s recession. It’s a lifestyle adopted by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others: a whole community of modern-day nomads, travelling the American West in their van-homes, moving from one temporary seasonal job to another. It might seem fantastical — perhaps even dystopian — were it not based on a real-life subculture (and, in particular, Jessica Bruder’s nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century).

Indeed, Zhao’s film plays almost like a documentary, observing Fern’s experiences in long takes, or edited in that slightly choppy way that suggests it’s been cut down from hours of footage. This is compounded by the absence of any expository voiceover or dialogue; a welcome decision that substitutes telling us what to think for a confidence to rest the film’s weight on the shoulders of Zhao’s filmmaking and McDormand’s performance, both of which are strong enough to take it. On top of that, at times the film arguably slips into genuine documentary: most of the supporting cast are real people, playing themselves or versions thereof, so when these people Fern encounters tell their stories, it not only feels real, it is real. There’s a lot of sadness — in the events that have brought people to this place, and in the struggle to live this lifestyle — but a lot of happiness in what it’s given them, too. The net result is a dignified, deeply humane portrait of people who we might describe with negative words like “homeless” or “dispossessed”, but who in reality are free, in their way. It makes for a powerful, quietly moving experience.

A story of people

Moments of beauty abound. Some of the places Fern visits, the scenery we get to see, are incredible. At times it feels like the film should have been shot in a taller aspect ratio. That’s partly expectations of a modern indie movie (this is the kind of film many filmmakers would opt for unmatted 16:9, or even self-consciously-old-fashioned 4:3), but also because it’s so focused on people and faces, and on small environments like the back of vans, for which a squarer ratio feels more apt. But when we reach the scenery — the wide open environs with distant horizons — the only appropriate choice is ’Scope. I bet those parts look incredible on the big screen. That there was an IMAX release felt daft when I first heard of it, but seeing those vistas, it seems justified. But it’s not just visual prettiness: when it turns out that one character has just months to live, she shares memories of stunning moments from her life, and it plays like a grounded version of Blade Runner’s “tears in rain” speech, conjuring up real (rather than fantastical) sights. The truth of it makes it just as emotionally affecting, at least.

While it was the real people who stuck with me, for others, McDormand’s performance was the big takeaway. Some have even called it career-defining. I’m not sure about that. I don’t think she’s bad in it, by any means, but I do think she spends a lot of it being quite blank; someone for us to follow, virtually a silent audience avatar, as we hear from and about other people. Only occasionally do we get to see anything of Fern herself. If the rest of McDormand’s career was unremarkable, sure, this would be a standout role; but when you’ve got iconic turns like Fargo and Three Billboards under your belt, I’m not sure this — judged purely as a character and performance — is wholly on the same level. I doesn’t make Nomadland any less of a film, just that if you really want to see what McDormand can do as an actress, I’d say look to one of those earlier films.

Talking of crazy assertions, some have floated the idea that Nomadland is a Western. Surely not? Well, it’s an interesting facet to consider, at least. In one scene, a character explicitly draws a link between today’s nomads and the pioneers of the Old West. They’re not necessarily wrong: these are individuals trying to create a new kind of life in an untamed landscape. If nothing else, there’s a definite parallel there. It could seem like a pretentious, self-mythologising viewpoint, but the fact it comes from an outsider (Fern’s sister, who lives a regular suburban life), rather than one of the nomads bigging themselves up, lends it more credence for me. But even if these nomads are like the pioneers, that doesn’t necessarily mean a film about them falls within the same genre. It might make an interesting point for future study, though.

Pioneer spirit

From what I’d seen and read in advance, I worried that I might find Nomadland a bit boring and “not my kind of thing”. For people who don’t watch this kind of film — who are more used to the regular “narrative fiction” style of cinema — I do think it helps not to approach it like a normal movie (even thought it is, technically, still a narrative fiction). If you’re expecting a clear storyline and character arcs and dialogue and whatnot, that’s not what you’re going to get. It’s more like a travelogue; almost like one of those TV documentaries where a celebrity presenter visits places worth seeing. You watch to appreciate the scenery, the places, meeting the people, experiencing a way of life; not to follow a story or character arc in the traditional sense. It’s almost a film to hang out in, or to escape with — to get away from ordinary life and spend time with these captivating, unusual places and people.

5 out of 5

In the UK, Nomadland will be available on Disney+ from tomorrow, Friday 30th April, and is expected to screen in cinemas when they reopen.

King Kong (1933)

The 100 Films Guide to…

King Kong

A Monster of Creation’s Dawn
Breaks Loose in Our World Today!

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 100 minutes
BBFC: A (1933) | PG (1985)

Original Release: 2nd March 1933 (New York City, USA)
UK Release: 17th April 1933 (London)
Budget: $672,254.75
Worldwide Gross: $5.3 million

Stars
Fay Wray (Doctor X, Mystery of the Wax Museum)
Robert Armstrong (The Most Dangerous Game, Mighty Joe Young)
Bruce Cabot (Fallen Angel, Diamonds Are Forever)

Directors
Merian C. Cooper (The Four Feathers, The Last Days of Pompeii)
Ernest B. Schoedsack (The Most Dangerous Game, Mighty Joe Young)

Screenwriters
James Creelman (The Most Dangerous Game, The Last Days of Pompeii)
Ruth Rose (She, Mighty Joe Young)

From an idea by
Merian C. Cooper (Roar of the Dragon, Mighty Joe Young)
Edgar Wallace (The Squeaker, The Hound of the Baskervilles)


The Story
Adventurous filmmaker Carl Denham and crew travel to an uncharted tropical island in search of the subject for his next picture. There, they encounter a gigantic ape — Kong — who takes a shine to the movie’s pretty young star…

Our Hero
Ann Darrow is a down-on-her-luck gal in New York City, when successful movie producer Carl Denham plucks her to star in his next movie — which involves going on a long boat voyage to a mysterious uncharted island, where she’ll make a big new friend…

Our Villain
People might point to Kong — he is a giant monster who kidnaps the heroine and kills a bunch of people, after all — but I think we all know the real villain is Carl Denham, the risk-taking heath-and-safety-averse movie producer turned theatrical impresario, whose exploitative whims ultimately lead to death and destruction.

Best Supporting Character
He may be a stop-motion puppet made of metal and rubber and fur, but animator Willis O’Brien injects so much life and personality into Kong that he is, unquestionably, the real star of the show.

Memorable Quote
“It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.” — Carl Denham

Memorable Scene
King Kong is full of great moments, but the most famous has to be the climax: having wreaked havoc across New York City, Kong scales the Empire State Building with Ann in hand, deposits her at the top, and fights for his life as a fleet of biplanes swarm around. It’s not going to end well…

Truly Special Effect
I’ve already mentioned Willis O’Brien’s animation of Kong, but his skill goes far beyond that: there are all manner of beasties on Kong’s island, brought thrillingly to life by O’Brien and his team. These stop-motion effects are obviously of their time, but the way they’re integrated with the live action is frequently impressive, and any technical limitations certainly didn’t lead them to skimp on the action — you might think Kong would only appear sparingly, but the big guy gets tonnes of screen time.

Making of
King Kong was made before the enforcement of the Production Code, but its 1938 re-release was after. To comply, multiple scenes were removed (perhaps most famously, one where Kong peels off Ann’s clothes). They weren’t restored until the ’70s. But one scene was deleted even earlier: the so-called “spider pit” sequence, in which the sailors Kong tips off a log are attacked and killed by a bunch of creatures. When included in a preview screening, audience members were so disturbed that they either left or were so focused on what they’d just seen it disrupted the rest of the film. Consequently, the sequence was removed before the film’s general release, and is probably lost forever. But it remains a kind of Holy Grail of deleted scenes, and so during production of the 2005 remake, Peter Jackson and Weta set about recreating the original spider pit scene, just as a fun side project. The end result (included on subsequent Blu-ray releases of the ’33 film) is nice ‘n’ all, but what’s really incredible is the half-hour making-of devoted to its creation. The amount of time, effort, and skill that Jackson & co put into creating such a short sequence — something they themselves describe as “just a bit of fun” — is phenomenal.

Next time…
King Kong was such a hit that a sequel was raced out the same year. Produced on a vastly reduced budget and in just six months to get it into theatres for Christmas, The Son of Kong was not a success. But the iconicity of Kong has ensured he’s survived long-term. In the ’60s, he was licensed to Japanese studio Toho so they could pit him against their own giant monster in King Kong vs. Godzilla, and in 1967 they produced a Kong-only followup, King Kong Escapes. In 1976, a big Hollywood remake of the original updated events to a contemporary setting. Although it wasn’t a success, sequel King Kong Lives eventually followed ten years later. There was another remake in 1998: a direct-to-video animated musical titled The Mighty Kong (no, really). Also in the late ’90s, a small-time horror director from New Zealand nearly produced another remake, but the project didn’t come together. One billion-dollar-grossing, Oscar-winning, genre-defining, medium-revolutionising fantasy trilogy later, Peter Jackson was finally allowed to realise his dream, helming an epic reimagining that this time retained the original film’s 1930s setting. Various other animated films, TV series, comic books, games, theme park rides, and the like have featured Kong down the decades. Most recently, he’s once again been inducted into a shared universe with Godzilla, getting a wholly rebooted origin in Kong: Skull Island before facing off against the giant lizard in Godzilla vs. Kong. Given the latter’s current box office success, more films will surely follow.

Verdict

Beauty and the Beast is reimagined as a monster movie in this iconic classic. Obviously some of it has aged (not just the effects, but some broadly racist attitudes around Pacific islanders and the ship’s Chinese cook), although its pre-Code roots allow it some unexpected liberties (from gruesome deaths to an unmistakable sexuality around Fay Wray — all within PG levels, but still). Take all that in your stride, and King Kong absolutely holds up as an adrenaline-fuelled spectacle.

The Titanic Monthly Review of March 2021

Nothing to do with the ship, everything to do with the two titans (aka kaiju) duking it out on disappointingly small screens right now.


#54 Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway (2019)
#55 David Byrne’s American Utopia (2020)
#56 Dead Man’s Eyes (1944)
#57 Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles (2001)
#58 Con Air (1997)
#59 Wild Target (2010)
#60 Bright Young Things (2003)
#61 Carol (2015)
#62 Gambit (2012)
#63 We Bought a Zoo (2011)
#64 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
#65 Holiday Affair (1949)
#66 The Catcher Was a Spy (2018)
#67 Truly Madly Deeply (1990)
#68 Vivacious Lady (1938)
#69 The Prom (2020)
#70 Bachelor Knight (1947), aka The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
#71 Midnight in Paris (2011)
#72 Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), aka Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes
#73 Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
David Byrne's American Utopia

Carol

Godzilla vs. Kong

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  • I watched 20 new feature films in March.
  • That’s the first time since 2016 that my first three months of a year have all topped 20. Then, it lasted until April — we’ll see if that feat is duplicated next month.
  • Nonetheless, it’s March’s lowest tally since 2017, although it still surpasses the March average (previously 15.5, now 15.8).
  • It’s also the lowest tally of 2021 so far, falling short of the year’s average to date (previously 26.5, now 24.3) and of the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 23.9, now 23.3).
  • Still, I passed the halfway point of my modified goal (120 films in a year) on 13th March, the earliest ever (beating 2016).
  • And this is the furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of March, beating a previous best of #67 (which was also in 2016).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: Werner Herzog’s first significant feature film, Aguirre, Wrath of God. Also the first Herzog film I’ve ever seen, believe it or not (well, I did watch the start of Fitzcarraldo once, but it literally sent me to sleep).
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched The Catcher Was a Spy, David Byrne’s American Utopia, and Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway.



The 70th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I always find concert films a little weird. Just sitting watching people play music — what? (Can you tell I don’t go to gigs? I have done, and I find them weird too.) So, I’m never quite sure what to expect — I guess, at best, some music I like that I am paying weirdly too much attention to. But there’s somehow more than that to David Byrne’s American Utopia — even though it is, fundamentally, people playing music. But it felt almost like a profound experience, and I’m (clearly) still processing that.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
As it started, I thought Netflix musical The Prom might defy all the negatives I’d heard and turn out to be perfectly decent. But its earlier scenes and numbers are the best bit — it goes on too long, the quality drops, and by the end, well, I didn’t hate it, but there was plenty of room for improvement.

Best Callback of the Month
Look, I don’t want to spoil Godzilla vs. Kong for anyone (especially as it’s only out in the UK today, and it costs £16 so I presume hardly anyone will be paying for it), but it contains a fun reference to an (in)famous moment from 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla (so famous that I’m very aware of it even though I’ve never seen the ’62 film) that left a big grin on my face. Here’s the original moment in gif form, just as a primer for whenever you watch GvK

“Eat your greens!”

Post Opportunity I’m Most Annoyed to Have Missed of the Month
Other than when I’m dumping old unreviewed films in roundup posts, I always feel like it’s nice to be able to tie a review in to something. It feels less like it’s just being tossed out into the ether if it’s at least somehow connected to something current. The past couple of years, I’ve got very good at missing these opportunities, and it always irks me. Most recently, a new documentary about Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, titled He Dreams of Giants, was released in the UK last Monday — but I got the chance to see it last September, and watched Don Quixote and the previous (un)making-of doc about Gilliam’s film, Lost in La Mancha, also. I intended to post them together as a triple review to mark the occasion, but didn’t find time to write them up. So now they’ll languish in my backlog, probably to also be dumped in a 100-Week Roundup in mid-2022. Bother.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
None of this month’s new posts seem to have particularly piqued the interest of my readership and/or the general public who stumble across this blog. The most seen was 100-Week Roundup XXVI, with its reviews of Paperman and Waltz with Bashir, but it was in a lowly 82nd place overall. Roundup XXVII was right behind it, too.



This month, I continued to rewatch films, while also continuing to slowly slip behind on my target. There’s always time to catch up, though — if I ever get round to watching a trilogy or something, I’ll shoot along. And with the Indiana Jones films just announced for 4K, it’s long overdue that I actually watch my Blu-ray set…

#7 The Sound of Music (1965)
#8 Casablanca (1942)
#9 Runaway Jury (2003)

The Sound of Music and Casablanca were both films I haven’t watched in about 15 years, which I feel like is a pretty standard kind of revisit time for me — long enough that I begin to think “I should really rewatch that”, plus half-a-decade-or-so of not quite getting round to said rewatch (for example: I’ve owned Casablanca on Blu-ray since 2014). Brief thoughts on both (here and here, respectively) on Letterboxd.

It’s been even longer since I saw Runaway Jury. It’s not the kind of film I necessarily thought I’d ever rewatch — it’s good, I liked it, but not really exceptional — but sometimes you just get an itch. It was worthwhile, because I do love this kind of stuff: just a solid, well-played thriller. I guess it’s the province of TV rather than movies now, but there’s something to be said for wrapping it all up in one 120-minute hit rather than dragging it out for eight-to-thirteen hours.


The big news this month was the long-awaited release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League — direct to Sky Cinema / Now on this side of the pond, limiting most (legal) viewers to a relatively low quality stream. But hey, at least it was available as part of a subscription package rather than having to fork out £16 to rent one single film. Other “would’ve been in cinemas under normal circumstances” flicks that went down that route included Ammonite, Judas and the Black Messiah, The Little Things, Locked Down, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Tom and Jerry, and that’s why I’ve not seen any of them. Justice League, on the other hand, I just haven’t made room for its four-hour running time yet.

Other big streaming debuts this month included Coming 2 America, once slated for a cinema release but now an Amazon Original. I presume they paid a pretty penny for the privilege, given how mercilessly they were pushing it on their homepage. I’ve heard it’s quite good, which can’t also be said for their other debuts, The War with Grandpa and Made in Italy. Elsewhere, Netflix had Jennifer Garner vehicle Yes Day, while Apple TV+ offered the Russo brothers’ attempt to prove they can do more than MCU flicks, Cherry. I won’t be racing to watch either.

Also out to buy or rent this month, but at a more normal price point, was the Russian remake of The Raid, cannily titled Russian Raid; another DC flick, Wonder Woman 1984 (no 3D release in the UK (but there is one overseas) means no purchase from me); and a belated release for Richard Linklater’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Plus, straddling the two price points, documentary Stray, about street dogs in Istanbul. Sounds like the kind of thing that would be ripe for misery and depression for a dog lover like myself, but apparently it isn’t at all, so I’ll give that a shot when it’s a bit cheaper.

Dozens more films made my watchlist across all the streamers this month (between regular subscriptions, discounted ones, and free services, I’m currently keeping an eye on six different services), but not a huge amount that merit special mention here. Well, maybe Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula, which I blind bought on Blu-ray, haven’t watched yet, and is now streaming on Amazon Prime. Oh well. And, talking of Korean thrillers, iPlayer magicked up one I hadn’t heard of — The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil — that sounds up my street. Or that I really should catch Wild Tales before it leaves All 4 again. Or the fact that between Amazon and iPlayer I could catch up on two different versions of A Star Is Born (1937 and 1954, respectively), which would just leave the 1976 one. Or that Disney+ adding Star to their lineup is causing a dilemma for my viewing of the Die Hard films I’ve never seen: they have all the sequels in 4K, so now I have to choose between watching the Blu-rays I own and paid for, or plump for streaming in lovely UHD. I find this choice easy when it’s DVD vs HD streaming (the latter almost always looks noticeably better), but I find that sometimes a poor/mediocre UHD version (especially if they’ve been over-aggressive with the HDR, for example) is actually worse than the Blu-ray. Frankly, I probably won’t get round to watching any of them before I cancel my D+ subscription, so it’s a bit of a moot point.

We end, as always, with my insatiable habit of buying things on disc — always the true failures here, because it’s all stuff I’ve actively spent money on. Once again, sales tempted me — it feels like some label or another is always running one these days, usually several at once. So, I picked up piles from Indicator (90° in the Shade, The Odessa File, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, The System, and Town on Trial), Network (Deadlier Than the Male, Some Girls Do, the 1928 Moulin Rouge, and Things to Come), HMV’s Premium Collection (kinda-noir Possessed and the 1932 Scarface), and a couple from the Criterion twofer that’s currently on (The Awful Truth and the 1936 Show Boat). I definitely intend to get more from the latter before the offer ends, but my wishlist is long (I could easily spend a couple of hundred quid on that alone). Plus, Arrow currently have a sale going too. Eesh. I also dropped a couple of quid each on The Amazing Spider-Man and its sequel in 3D — I’m not a massive fan of those films, but they were actually shot in 3D and I’d like to see them in that form. I also nabbed The Meg in 3D for dirt cheap, but that one I thought that was a lot of fun.

And there were brand-new releases, too, all of them blind buys: animes Children of the Sea and Children Who Chase Lost Voices (aka Journey to Agartha); Fanny Lye Deliver’d, with an extended cut in 4K; the Lucky Stars trilogy of Jackie Chan / Sammo Hung action-comedies; and Russian horror Viy. As ever, my taste is nothing if not eclectic.


Later than usual, the Oscars are here (at almost the end of the month). So far I’ve seen precisely none of this year’s Best Picture nominees — let’s see how much that changes in the next four-and-a-half weeks…

But what is February, if not 2021 persevering?

WandaVision’s penultimate episode, and one particular quote from it, has been the talk of the town lately (or: the argument of the weekend on Twitter), but here we can set aside such concerns (I mean, I’ve got a whole post with a WandaVision review in it if you did want to get into it) and just look back at all the films I watched in February 2021…


#27 Weird Woman (1944)
#28 Coming to America (1988)
#29 The Burning Buddha Man (2013), aka Moeru butsuzô ningen
#30 High Life (2018)
#31 When the Wind Blows (1986)
#32 Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
#33 The Dig (2021)
#34 Isn’t It Romantic (2019)
#35 The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), aka Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed
#36 Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)
#37 Tangerines (2013), aka Mandariinid
#38 The White Tiger (2021)
#39 Shakespeare in Love (1998)
#40 The Last Warning (1928)
#41 Mortal Kombat (1995)
#42 The Guilty (2018), aka Den skyldige
#43 The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)
#44 The House of Fear (1939)
#45 Muse: Simulation Theory (2020)
#46 News of the World (2020)
#47 The ’Burbs (1989)
#48 Xchange (2001)
#49 Vampyr (1932)
#50 Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
#51 Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983), aka Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke
#52 Radioactive (2019)
#53 Frankenstein (1931)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture

The Last Warning

The Quatermass Xperiment

Frankenstein

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  • I watched 27 new feature films in February.
  • That puts it in the top 10 months of all time, in 10th place — the exact same feat January only just managed (so January is now pushed out to 11th, obv).
  • It’s the best February ever, topping 2014’s 24, and is far past the February average (previously 13.2, now 14.2), as well as the rolling average for the last 12 months (previously 23.2, now 23.9), and sets the average for 2021 so far at 26.5.
  • In terms of yearly milestones, I passed both #30 (the quarter-way point of my current 120-film goal) at the earliest time ever (4th February, beating 13th February in 2016), and #50 (the halfway point of my eponymous goal), also at the earliest ever (beating 2016’s 6th March). And #53 is the furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of February, surpassing #44 from (when else) 2016. (2016 wasn’t my best year ever, just a fast starter, so if I keep this up then at some point it’s going to be different year(s) that I’m passing.)
  • Last March I commented on how many letters of the alphabet I’d ticked off — seven in January, eight in February, nine in March. Of the two remaining, I never did get to X. Well, this year I’ve finished all 26 before the end of February. In fairness, that’s because I noticed how well I’d done in January — 15! — and made a point of finishing it off. But it’s also a side effect of watching so many films so much earlier. If I looked at other years up to around the 50-film mark, whenever that was reached, perhaps I’d find those too had hit most/all letters.
  • It’s not something I mention often, but as February began I was in the middle of watching or rewatching 23 film series. That’s quite a few — I certainly wasn’t looking to add any more to the list. But sometimes you just fancy watching a ’70s big-screen spin-off of a ’60s sci-fi TV series, or a big-screen remake of a ’50s British serial, or a classic Universal horror movie. And now I’m up to 26 series underway. (I track which I’m watching via the one I need to watch next on Letterboxd here, if you’re interested.)
  • This month’s Blindspot film: the classic Universal adaptation of Frankenstein. It’s only 70 minutes long, and I always try to save such shorter films on my list for later in the year, just in case for some reason I really need ones I can easily squeeze in; but sometimes you just have to accept that, although you don’t need a 70-minuter you can easily squeeze in, that’s all you want. Also, it paired quite nicely with The Last Warning, which (as I learnt from the audio commentary on the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray) was one of the films that was essentially the forebear to Universal’s famed horror cycle.
  • Talking of The Last Warning, at #44 is The House of Fear — not the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes film (I reviewed that here), but a remake of The Last Warning that used the title of the original novel (that was then reused for the Holmes film — Universal were terrible for that in the ’30s and ’40s, apparently).
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched The Dig, The Guilty, High Life, Weird Woman, and The White Tiger.



The 69th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
This month, I boldly went where I’ve never gone before and started the Star Trek movie series from the beginning. Star Trek: The Motion Picture has never had a particularly good rep, but you’ve gotta start at the start, right? So it was a pleasant surprise when I really enjoyed it — to the point where I gave it five stars and a heart-thing on Letterboxd. I nearly didn’t go so high, because Wrath of Khan is “the best one” and now I’ve got nowhere to go if I do like it even more; but I don’t think you can go around rating films on that basis (you’d never give anything full marks just in case there was ever anything better), so…

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This month ended on a bit of a downer, with a run of films that didn’t live up to my hopes and expectations. Nonetheless, they weren’t as outright bad as some I watched earlier in the month — like Mortal Kombat, which was supposedly a mid-’90s blockbuster but actually looked like a mid-’90s syndicated TV series, with writing, acting, and fight choreography of a similar or lesser quality.

Most Recent Best Picture Winner I Hadn’t Seen of the Month
Shakespeare in Love is the only Oscar Best Picture winner from the last 30 years that I hadn’t seen. Hurrah! Now that I’ve ticked that one off, my oldest unseen is 1988’s Rain Man, which is helpfully on this year’s Blindspot list. After that, I’ll slip back just one year further, to 1987’s The Last Emperor. Indeed, my track record with ’80s winners isn’t great: I’ve seen more from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s (plus, obviously, the ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s). Well, I’ll tick ’em all off someday.

Film Just Barely on the IMDb Top 250 of the Month
When I watched it, Tangerines was the 249th film on the IMDb Top 250. It’s not there now, but it might be again tomorrow — those ones near the end are very volatile; a handful of films that switch places back and forth, jumping on and off the list, on a regular basis. So why focus any viewing efforts there? After all, eventually they’re certain to drop off when something darts in higher up (even in a movie-poor year like 2020, two films made it onto the Top 250; there are eight from 2019). Well, I feel like once these movies do definitively drop off the list, they’re liable to become a bit forgotten. Not all of them, obviously — films in the “danger zone” like Three Colours Red or It Happened One Night have enough cache to keep them talked about for other reasons — but smaller, often foreign films like Tangerines are liable to just slip away. And, in theory, they’re still great films. I mean, they may disappear from the top 250, but they’re still theoretically among the top 260, or 275, or 300 (etc), greatest films ever made. But then they won’t be on a list, so I won’t think to watch them — so better to do it now, right?

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Although it only went live early yesterday evening, my 67th TV column still managed to storm past all last month’s film reviews to by February’s most-viewed post. (A distant second, with almost exactly half as many hits, was my review of Muse: Simulation Theory — which had also been on TV. Really, TV’s the game to be in if you want those page views.)



My Rewatchathon was right on pace this month, although that means I still have to catch up for last month’s shortfall.

#3 Frozen 3D (2013)
#4 The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), aka Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed
#5 Crocodile Dundee II (1988)
#6 Apollo 13 (1995)

In a rare (I think probably unique) feat, The Adventuress of Prince Achmed is both 2021’s #35 and Rewatchathon 2021’s #4. This isn’t just because I enjoyed it so much (although it is very good), but because the BFI Blu-ray has a choice of soundtracks: the original 1926 musical score, or an English voiceover narration, recorded in 2013 but based on director Lotte Reiniger’s own English translation of her original German text. I watched them in that order, and felt the narration added nothing of value to the experience, especially as it sounds like it comes from a preschool storybook. Just stick to the original music.

As for the others, I rewatched Frozen in readiness to finally watch Frozen II sometime soon (though I didn’t get round to it this month, did I). I hadn’t seen it in 3D before; the effect was solid but surprisingly low-key, although it took off anytime it snowed, etc. If you want some idea of when that “sometime soon” for the sequel might be, look to Crocodile Dundee II, which I’ve been meaning to watch since I enjoyed a rewatch of the first one… in March 2019. I’m sure I watched it as a kid (hence why it’s a rewatch), but I didn’t remember a second of it — probably because it’s a rather perfunctory sequel; kinda slow and lacking most of the charm of the original.

Finally, Apollo 13 completed a mini Tom Hanks kick, as I watched it immediately after News of the World and The ’Burbs. It’s a great movie — indeed, I had a little word with Letterboxd about how it’s not getting the kind of ratings it deserves.


At one point this month Twitter was all over new comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, but as a premium VOD release it’s £14 and I’m not paying that to rent anything, thanks. Also going straight to rental was the latest Nic Cage craziness, Willy’s Wonderland, although at a normal rental price. Mixed reviews put me off so far, though. I did rent David Byrne’s American Utopia (on offer from Amazon), so that’ll be in next month’s viewing, and I was going to fork out for the interesting-looking documentary A Glitch in the Matrix until I saw a raft of negative reactions.

The streamers continued to throw out brand-new exclusives, with Netflix’s Malcolm & Marie probably the most talked-about this month. It sounds irritating, to be honest, whereas Korean sci-fi Space Sweepers is probably more in my lane. Over on Amazon, Gerard Butler disaster flick Greenland, Rosamund Pike’s Golden Globe-winning I Care a Lot, and Bliss, starring Owen Wilson/Salma Hayek in a sci-fi romance from the writer/director of Another Earth, all made my watchlist but didn’t actually grab my viewing time. The same is true of teen time loop romcom The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, which feels a bit like a placeholder before Palm Springs‘ belated UK release in April.

Talking of stuff finally making it to the UK, Netflix added Josh Trank’s Capone this week, so that can go on my watchlist out of curiosity but never actually get got to because it’s meant to be rubbish. More in my lane, perhaps, is Cold War thriller The Catcher Was a Spy, which apparently came out in 2018, but not here in the UK, where it’s just popped up as an Amazon Original. Going even older, Netflix added a mass load of Swedish films this month, including three silents — Terje Vigen, Ingeborg Holm, and Herr Arnes Pengar — that are all in IMDb’s Top 50 for the 1910s, so that’s interesting. Meanwhile, Amazon added 2013 Jason Statham actioner Homefront, which came onto Netflix US last month and shot to #1, despite being a flop on its theatrical release. I do like a bit of Statham action now and then, and this one comes recommended, so it’s probably worth a shout at some point. Another discovery was The Grand Heist — the kind of film I only hear of when it randomly pops up on a streamer or whatever, this Korean flick appears to be a period Ocean’s 11 about stealing ice… literally, blocks of ice. Sounds like it might be fun.

My cheap MUBI subscription is still going, but even with a new title everyday they managed to add little this month that caught my interest — just Cathy Yan’s feature debut, Dead Pigs, and Ridley Scott’s Legend, which is usually on Amazon Prime anyway; plus a few titles I own on disc anyway (The African Queen, Heat, and The King of Comedy, the latter two of which I’ve seen but are long overdue a rewatch). This month’s BBC TV premiere of Stan & Ollie means that’s now on iPlayer, although it’s also still on Prime, where it’ll be in higher quality; and on All 4 I managed to miss my chance to watch Love, Simon (its spin-off series is now on Disney+ but not, apparently, the original film) and Song Kang-ho in A Taxi Driver.

Finally, my disc purchases continued unabated. There was the release of Indicator’s second Columbia Noir set — I haven’t started the first yet, so that’s 12 minor-league noirs for me to catch up on now. Other new releases included a lavish edition of Jackie Chan classic The Young Master, restored with a choice of three different cuts, and Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death, with a choice of two cuts, only one restored. But it was sales and random discounts where people really got me: from Arrow’s 30th anniversary sale, I picked up The Apartment, Horror Express, and Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway; from a BFI offer at HMV, I scooped up the original British Gaslight, Penda’s Fen, Ian McKellen’s Richard III, That Sinking Feeling, The Wages of Fear, and their four-film Hirokazu Koreeda box set; and I also got Ken Russell’s The Devils on offer on DVD from elsewhere.

Physical media fans will surely have noticed that Zoom changed hands this week. The new owners haven’t got their version fully up and running yet, so it remains to be seen if they’ll ruin one of the best Blu-ray retailers there was. Just before they shut down, I managed to get in one final Criterion gift card order — if you missed it’s existence, sorry to tell you now, but they sold a Criterion gift card for £50 that allowed you four titles (from a selected list). That works out at £12.50 each, which was a bargain, and because it’s been a while since I looked they had plenty in their selection that I wanted. So I snaffled up The Age of Innocence, Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman, The Cranes Are Flying, and Three Outlaw Samurai, but I could’ve chosen another four easily, maybe even eight — if I’d known for sure Zoom-as-we-knew-it was going away, I might’ve put up the extra £50, but hey-ho.


It’s gonna be a monstrous March with Godzilla vs. Kong. Whoever wins, we win, I reckon.