The 100-Week Roundup XXXI

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

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

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


    Widows
    (2018)

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

    Widows

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

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

    4 out of 5

    Cosmopolis
    (2012)

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

    Cosmopolis

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

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

    1 out of 5

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

    The Kennel Murder Case
    (1933)

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

    The Kennel Murder Case

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

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

    3 out of 5

  • The Nomadic Monthly Review of April 2021

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


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

    The Hound of the Baskervilles

    Nomadland

    .


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



    The 71st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

    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.

    The 100-Week Roundup XXX

    Bow-chicka-wow-wow!

    Oh, er, no, sorry — it’s not that kind of XXX. It’s Roman numerals: this is the 30th 100-Week Roundup. (But if it is the other kind of XXX that you’re looking for, check out Roundup XX.)

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

    That said, as with Roundup XXIX, this week has run into some reviews that I feel would be better suited placed elsewhere; mainly, franchise entries that it would be neater to pair with their sequels. Consequently, sitting out this first roundup of May 2019 viewing are The Secret Life of Pets, Jaws 2, Ice Age: The Meltdown, and Zombieland. I’m going to have to get a wriggle on with these series roundups, though, otherwise that subsection of my backlog will get out of control…

    So, actually being reviewed here are…

  • Eyes Wide Shut (199)
  • The Eyes of Orson Welles (2018)
  • Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)


    Eyes Wide Shut
    (1999)

    2019 #72
    Stanley Kubrick | 159 mins | Blu-ray | 16:9 | UK & USA / English | 18 / R

    Eyes Wide Shut

    I seem to remember Eyes Wide Shut being received poorly on its release back in 1999, but then I would’ve only been 13 at the time so perhaps I missed something. Either way, it seems to have been accepted as a great movie in the two decades since (as is the case with almost every Kubrick movie — read something into that if you like).

    Numerous lengthy, analytical pieces have been written about its brilliance. This will not be one of them — my notes only include basic, ‘witty’ observations like: one minute you’re watching a “men are from Mars, woman are from Venus” kinda relationship drama, the next Tom Cruise has taken a $74.50 cab ride from Greenwich Village to an estate in the English countryside and you’re in a Hammer horror by way of David Lynch. “A Hammer horror by way of David Lynch” is a nice description, though. That sounds like my kind of film.

    And Eyes Wide Shut almost is. It’s certainly a striking, intriguing, even intoxicating film, but I didn’t find the resolution to the mystery that satisfying — I wanted something more. Perhaps I should have invested more time reading those lengthy analyses — maybe then I would be giving it a full five stars. Definitely one to revisit.

    4 out of 5

    Eyes Wide Shut was viewed as part of What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2019.

    The Eyes of Orson Welles
    (2018)

    2019 #74
    Mark Cousins | 100 mins | TV (HD) | 16:9 | UK / English | 12

    The Eyes of Orson Welles

    Mark Cousins, the film writer and documentarian behind the magnificent Story of Film: An Odyssey, here turns his attention to the career of one revered filmmaker: Orson Welles (obv.)

    Narrated by Cousins himself, the voiceover takes the form of a letter written to Welles, which then proceeds to tell him (so it can tell us, of course) about where he went and when; about what he saw and how he interpreted it. A lot of the time it feels like it’s patronising Welles with rhetorical questions; as if Cousins is speaking to a dementia suffer who needs help to recall their own life — “Do you remember this, Orson? This is what you thought of it, isn’t it, Orson?” It makes the film quite an uneasy experience, to me; a mix of awkward and laughable.

    Cousins also regularly makes pronouncements like, “you know where this is going, I’m sure,” which makes it seem like he’s constantly second-guessing himself. Perhaps it’s intended as an acknowledgement of his subject’s — his idol’s — cleverness. But it’s also presumptive: that this analysis is so obvious — so correct — that of course Welles would know where it’s going. His imagined response might be, “of course I knew where you were going, because you clearly have figured me out; you know me at least as well as I know myself.” It leaves little or no room for Welles to respond, “I disagree with that reading,” or, “I have no idea what you’re on about.” Of course, Welles can’t actually respond… but that doesn’t stop the film: near the end, Cousins has the gall to end to imagine a response from Welles, literally putting his own ideas into the man’s mouth in an act of presumptive self-validation.

    I can’t deny that I learnt stuff about Orson Welles and his life from this film, but then I’ve never seen or read another comprehensive biography of the man, so that was somewhat inevitable. It’s why I give this film a passing grade, even though I found almost all of quite uncomfortable to watch.

    3 out of 5

    Everybody Wants Some!!
    (2016)

    2019 #79
    Richard Linklater | 112 mins | TV (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Everybody Wants Some!!

    Everybody Wants Some Exclamation Mark Exclamation Mark (that’s how we should pronounce it, right?) is writer-director Richard Linklater’s “spiritual sequel” to his 1993 breakthrough movie, Dazed and Confused. That film has many fans (it’s even in the Criterion Collection), but I didn’t particularly care for it — I once referred to it as High Schoolers Are Dicks: The Movie. So while a lot of people were enthused for this followup’s existence, the comparison led me to put off watching it. A literal sequel might’ve shown some development with the characters ageing, but a “spiritual sequel”? That just sounds like code for “more of the same”.

    And yes, in a way, this is High Schoolers Are Dicks 2: College Guys Are Also Dicks. It’s funny to me when people say movies like this are nostalgic and whatnot, because usually they just make me glad not to have to bother with all that college-age shit anymore. That said, in some respects the worst parts of the film are actually when it tries to get smart — when the characters start trying to psychoanalyse the behaviour of the group. Do I really believe college-age jocks ruminate on their own need for competitiveness, or the underlying motivations for their constant teasing and joking? No, I do not.

    Still, while most of the characters are no less unlikeable than those in Dazed and Confused, I found the film itself marginally more enjoyable. These aren’t people I’d actually want to hang out with, and that’s a problem when the movie is just about hanging out with them; but, in spite of that, they are occasionally amusing, and we do occasionally get to laugh at (rather than with) them, so it’s not a total washout.

    3 out of 5

  • The 100-Week Roundup XXIX

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

    I’m cheating slightly in this roundup, because these are the final reviews from April 2019, a period that means I should also be reviewing Captain Marvel and Resident Evil: Apocalypse. The former I don’t have many notes on, so I’d like to make time for a rewatch and do it properly. The latter, well, as I’m in the middle of watching the whole RE series, I’ll either round it up with some of the other sequels or give it a standalone post. It wouldn’t have been the first time I included a mid-franchise instalment in a roundup, but it always feels a bit ‘ugly’ to do that.

    Anyway, enough about what isn’t here — here’s what is…

  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
  • Click (2006)
  • Mortal Engines (2018)
  • The Help (2011)


    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
    (2010)

    2019 #63
    Edgar Wright | 112 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA, UK, Canada & Japan / English | 12 / PG-13

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

    Well, this is embarrassing: a film I ranked in my top five of the year, but I don’t have any notes to write up a full review — just like Heathers back in Roundup XI. Oh dear, again.

    In Scott Pilgrim’s case, it’s just about to be re-released in a restored/jazzed-up version (first in Dolby Cinemas, then on 4K disc), so I’ll surely rewatch it that way and hopefully try this again properly, maybe later this year. For now, in the spirit of these roundups (i.e. to clear old unreviewed films), here’s the paragraph I wrote when it ranked 4th on my list of The 15 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2019

    If I’m honest, I was prepared to dislike Scott Pilgrim — I mean, there’s a reason it took me almost a decade to get round to it. It always looked Too Cool; kind of too hipster-ish, though I guess in a geeky way. (Well, “hipster” and “geek” have been more closely linked than ever this decade, haven’t they?) I remember distinctly when it went down a storm at Comic-Con and so everyone believed it was The Next Big Thing, only for it to flop hard at the box office (providing a much-needed course correction on everyone’s view of the power of Comic-Con).

    But here’s the thing: it’s directed by Edgar Wright, and I should have trusted that. And so the film is everything you’d expect from the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and Baby Driver — deep-cut references (this time to video games), piles of humour, but also a dose of genuine emotion. Best of all is how it’s ceaselessly, fearlessly, creatively inventive with its cinematic tricks. No other film on this list is so overtly Directed, but in a good way.

    5 out of 5

    Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was viewed as part of Blindspot 2019.

    Click
    (2006)

    2019 #64
    Frank Coraci | 107 mins | digital (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    Click

    I am not, by an stretch of the imagination, an Adam Sandler aficionado. Besides this, the only films of his I’ve seen are Murder Mystery (which I watched in spite of him because I like murder mysteries), and Punch-Drunk Love and Uncut Gems, neither of which are “Adam Sandler films” in the widely-understood sense (and I didn’t much like either of them anyway). Indeed, the only reason I watched Click is because it’s on “most-watched movies ever”-type lists and I wanted to check it off.

    Sandler plays a workaholic family man, who’s missing out on time with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two kids while he strives for a promotion at work. But then he comes across a magic remote control that works on the world: he can mute arguments, rewind to the good bits, fast-forward to when he gets his promotion… He thinks it’s great — until, of course, it isn’t.

    From the very start, it’s clear Click isn’t running high on originality, with “gags” about having lots of remote controls and about a dog humping a soft toy. The former was surely already old-hat observational comedy by 2006, while the latter has always been on about the same level as fart gags. As Sandler watches the dog’s actions, he comments that it’s something his young kids shouldn’t “know about” for 10 years for the boy and 30 years for the girl. Within the first few minutes, Click has managed to be overfamiliar, underdeveloped, crude, and socially regressive, all at the same time. And then it throws some racism in for good measure, with a foreign prince whose name the characters mispronounce as things like “Ha-booby” and “Hubba-bubba”. This is all before the ten-minute mark. Never mind a magic remote control — you might be contented reaching for the real one.

    The film’s a Fantasy because it’s about a magic remote control, but the wish fulfilment definitely extends beyond that. I mean, Kate Beckinsale as Adam Sandler’s wife? Pull the other one. Plus, all the young attractive women in his office seem to fancy him, too. Someone’s ego was getting stroked here.

    The comedy continues in its thoroughly predictable vein until things inevitably start to go wrong, at which point they really pile on the tortuous misery. It’s such a sharp and drastic change in the second half that it’s liable to give you tonal whiplash. Plus, the film already felt like it was running too long, and this new avenue just piles on the minutes. They should’ve cut at least quarter-of-an-hour out of the whole thing. When it eventually drags itself to the end, that’s a terrible cliché too.

    Click does have its moments, although not too many of them, and they’re of the “this is adequate to lounge in front of” variety rather than anything fresh or invigorating. Fortunately, you don’t need a magic life-control to skip it.

    2 out of 5

    Mortal Engines
    (2018)

    2019 #69
    Christian Rivers | 128 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 2.39:1 | USA & New Zealand / English | 12 / PG-13

    Mortal Engines

    Based on the first book in a series of beloved young adult novels by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic future where towns and cities have been transformed into gigantic vehicles that roam the world consuming each other for scarce resources. On London, a young fugitive out for revenge, Hester (Hera Hilmar), ends up thrown in with an outcast (Robert Sheehan) as they uncover a world-changing conspiracy.

    Billed as being “from the filmmakers of The Lord of the Rings”, Mortal Engines is one of many would-be PG-13 fantasy franchises that have sprung up in the couple of decades since Rings and Harry Potter’s dual-pronged success at the end of 2001. And, like so many of them, it failed to find a theatrical audience and so stalled out after just one film. Fortunately, when Reeve wrote the original novel it wasn’t intended as a series, so while there was clearly opportunity for sequels, this nonetheless tells a contained story.

    In practice, “from the makers of Lord of the Rings” means it was adapted by that trilogy’s screenwriting team (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson), was filmed in New Zealand with Weta on design and effects work, and is the feature directorial debut of Christian Rivers, who previously served various art, effects, and second-unit roles on Jackson’s films as far back as Braindead. All of which means you can be assured the film looks fantastic — the production design, and the epic visuals that show it off, are consistently magnificent. Equally, the story has some bold and original ideas that are equally as exciting. So it’s a massive shame about the sometimes awkward dialogue and narrative choices, as well as the variable quality of the acting, and at least one subplot that was obviously butchered in post (what we see on screen is jumpy and clearly incomplete). By falling short in such fundamentals, it lets down the imagination on display elsewhere.

    Nonetheless, there’s enough to appreciate it in Mortal Engines that I enjoyed it a lot. Perhaps it’s a shame we won’t get to see the other books adapted, but at least the fact it works as a standalone movie means that, unlike some other failed franchises, it can still be watched and enjoyed as is. Maybe it’ll find an audience belatedly and, like other aborted film adaptations before it (A Series of Unfortunate Events; His Dark Materials), we’ll be treated to a TV do-over later this decade.

    4 out of 5

    The Help
    (2011)

    2019 #70
    Tate Taylor | 137 mins | TV (HD) | 16:9 | USA, India & UAE / English | 12 / PG-13

    The Help

    Jackson, Mississippi, the 1960s: society girl Skeeter (Emma Stone) returns from college determined to become a writer, so she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of southern white families, to capture their view of the hardships they go through on a daily basis, starting with her best friend’s housekeeper (Viola Davis). Initially controversial in both white and black communities, as more maids come forward to tell their stories, everyone in town finds themselves unwittingly and unwillingly caught up in the changing times. — adapted from IMDb

    For some reason I thought The Help was based on a true story, but it’s actually just adapted from a novel. That makes accusations of it being a “white saviour” narrative worse, because it loses any defence of “well, this is what really happened” — it’s a creative choice. Instead, what if the maids had decided they needed to tell their own story, but had to use a sympathetic white woman as a front to get it published? Same general point, but it gives more agency to the black women in controlling their own story.

    Anyway, while there is plenty wrong here (too much focus on the white characters; aimless subplots, like a romantic one; the overt air of Worthiness), it’s still watchable and engaging, there are some very good performances, and it’s not as if the message isn’t an important one — and, sadly, still relevant.

    4 out of 5

  • Palm Springs (2020)

    2020 #163
    Max Barbakow | 90 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Palm Springs

    For a couple of decades, Groundhog Day stood alone in a genre of one. But no good idea is allowed to rest in the Hollywood machine, and so the last few years have seen a veritable explosion in time loop stories, like sci-fi-actioner Edge of Tomorrow; or a slasher variant in Happy Death Day; or darkly comic Netflix mystery Russian Doll; or, most recently, teen romance The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. But just as you begin to think that maybe time loop comedies are becoming repetitiously overdone (irony), along comes one of the most acclaimed entries in this newly-abundant subgenre: Palm Springs, which debuted on Hulu in the US in the middle of last year and is now finally coming to the UK via Amazon Prime Video.

    In this instance, the scene is set at a wedding, where two disconnected guests — Nyles (Andy Samberg), the boyfriend of the maid of honour, and Sarah (Cristin Milioti), the sister of the bride — end up stuck in a loop together, reliving the day of the wedding over and over. And I’ll say no more on that, because even giving away that it’s time loop comedy spoils what would otherwise be a first-act twist. (I don’t know if they ever thought they’d get away with keeping that a secret, what with it being a foundational conceit of the entire film, but some official blurbs do try to keep it hush-hush. Not many reviews, or even news articles, have been similarly circumspect, so I feel at this point trying to pretend you, dear reader, don’t already know (or wouldn’t accidentally find out some other way) is a fool’s errand.)

    While the premise may be more-or-less familiar, one thing Palm Springs has in its favour is it upends numerous tropes that the subgenre has already acquired, even in its short lifespan. Some of these variations have already been explored in other examples listed in my opening paragraph, but Springs has one or two more up its sleeve, and its own way of tackling them. It can also boast its own tone and style of humour, which will be broadly familiar if you’ve seen any other Samberg vehicle (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, say, or Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping). For the uninitiated, it’s kinda silly without going to Pythonesque extremes, and kinda earthy without being vulgar (that the BBFC classification says the film contains “strong sex” is ridiculous).

    Let's do the time loop again

    Notably, when Palm Springs was sold at Sundance it went for the highest price ever paid for an acquisition at the festival: $17.5 million… and 69 cents, those few cents adds in order to beat the previous record. That they chose that additional figure gives you some insight into the film’s level of humour. But it also says something about how positively the film was received, which led to a degree of buzz that, personally, I found crippled the final film somewhat. To be clear, I still really enjoyed it, but, from reading reviews and watching the trailer, I was half expecting to be blown away by a new comedy masterpiece. Such is the danger of letting yourself get hyped up — if I’d seen it with no prior knowledge, I might’ve enjoyed it even more. The one benefit from the ludicrous delay in it crossing the pond is that hype has cooled to an appropriate background level; from a “OMG watch this new innovative groundbreaking amazing best comedy ever!” to more of a “that’s good, you should see it”.

    All of which said, you should see it. I don’t want to accidentally undersell the movie by citing my own misapprehensions, because it’s definitely a funny, likeable, surprisingly romantic (but not twee) film. Indeed, even without the time loop USP, Palm Springs would be welcomed because it hits a really good tone on the romance angle. It doesn’t dive into full romcom cheesiness, but it’s also not that kind of “tacked on love story that the filmmakers clearly wish they didn’t have to bother with” that you normally find in these sorts of (for want of a better word) edgier comedies. Rather than rolling your eyes as the inevitable plays out, you might actually be rooting for these crazy kids.

    4 out of 5

    Palm Springs will be available on Amazon Prime Video in the UK from tomorrow.

    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.

    Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

    2020 #38
    Michael Dougherty | 132 mins | Blu-ray (3D) | 2.40:1 | USA, Japan, Canada & Mexico / English | 12 / PG-13

    Godzilla: King of the Monsters

    Five years on from the events of Godzilla, the world is very much aware of the existence of Titans, gigantic prehistoric creatures — or, if you prefer, monsters. These creatures are studied and, where possible, contained by the secretive organisation known as Monarch, and one of their scientists, Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga), has developed a device capable of attracting Titans and altering their behaviour. When Emma and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnapped by a group of terrorists, Madison’s father and former Monarch employee Mark (Kyle Chandler) is re-recruited by Monarch to help track them, before the terrorists can unleash the Titans to wreak havoc on mankind.

    As well as a direct followup to the 2014 reboot of the Godzilla franchise, King of the Monsters is the third film in Legendary’s “MonsterVerse”. The in-between entry was 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, whose 1970s setting kinda leaves it adrift and standalone from the rest of the present-day-set films in this shared universe (although, following the Marvel template, Kong did have a post-credit scene designed to vaguely tee-up King of the Monsters). That said, it does have a role to play tonally. Whereas Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was a fairly strait-laced, serious take on the concept of a giant lizard attacking mankind, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Skull Island took a more pulpy approach to the movie, playing like a monster B-movie with a modern spectacular effects budget.

    Here, Michael Dougherty’s offering feels like a combination of those two previous MonsterVerse films. As a direct sequel to Godzilla, it brings in plot threads and a couple of supporting characters from that movie (namely Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins as a pair of Monarch scientists, given more prominent roles here). It also adopts the dark visual style of Edwards’ movie, eschewing the colourfulness that was part of Vogt-Roberts’ contribution. But what Dougherty does retain is that pulpiness in the storyline. I mean, Godzilla showed us a world where the real-life (more or less) military had to scramble to find a way to respond to a giant lizard suddenly appearing.

    Puny humans

    Conversely, in King of the Monsters we find a government organisation that maintains multiple huge facilities around the world to research and contain a variety of giant beasties (one of whom is an alien, by-the-way), and a terrorist organisation that’s well organised and financed enough to break into several of those facilities and set about freeing the Titans. And that’s without mentioning a side quest into a vast sunken kingdom. If you wanted more of the real world Edwards gave us in the first film, sorry, you’re shit out of luck; but if you’re into some of the craziness that other kaiju movies have doled out down the decades, here we go!

    And, in some respects, that makes this the first MonsterVerse movie that truly feels like it’s in a shared universe of monsters. Sure, the previous films had monster antagonists — MUTOs in Godzilla, Scullcrawlers in Kong — but, frankly, they were kinda generic nasties to give our hero-monsters something to fight. In King of the Monsters, we finally get to see some of the big-name stars from Godzilla’s rogue gallery; namely: inventively-named giant moth Mothra, pterodactyl-like Rodan, and the baddest of them all, three-headed dragon Ghidorah. Okay, we haven’t been introduced to these creatures in previous movies, so it’s not technically a team-up / versus movie in that sense, but you can still feel these are headline-bout-worthy characters in a way the franchise’s previous villains just weren’t. Obviously there’s still no doubt about who the ultimate victor of these monster punch-ups is going to be (clue’s in the title), but the brawls are meatier and more impactful.

    I imagine that’s even more true for long-time kaiju fans, who’ll have a much greater familiarity with the ‘supporting’ monsters. Indeed, there’s a sense in which King of the Monsters has been made expressly for those fans, because it’s absolutely loaded with nods and references to the older films. I’ve not seen many classic Godzilla movies, so my knowledge of what was being referenced was second-hand at best — though one I’ll make room to highlight is composer Bear McCreary’s new realisation of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla theme. It’s epic and awesome; a real hair-raiser when it kicks in.

    There can be only one

    Unfortunately, the parade of callbacks seems to have been a major problem for some viewers. Fans who got the references regard them as either hollow fan service or a pointless remix of past glories, while normal folk found it all a bit confusing and weird — because God forbid any blockbuster try to do stuff from outside your normal well-worn expectations. Clearly, these monster flicks aren’t for everyone. Even among those who like them, you don’t have to read many viewer’s rankings before you’ll have seen every possible iteration of which film is better than which, often accompanied by bafflement that anyone could hold an opposing view. It’s like an inadvertent case study for the fact that different people want different things. So it seems none of these movies please everyone, although personally I like the idea that each film is its own thing to some degree; that you might not love every film in the MonsterVerse, but hopefully one of them will hit the sweet spot for you. The MCU cookie-cutter format may be reassuring, but there’s delight in variety too.

    There’s certainly plenty of variety here. The MonsterVerse could’ve gone down the route of wheeling out these storied foes one by one, eking the franchise out across Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. Rodan, Godzilla vs. Ghidorah… Instead, we get them in one Titan-sized hit. If you’re in the mood for gigantic creatures thwacking each other, there’s something wholly satisfying about that.

    4 out of 5

    Godzilla (1954)

    aka Gojira

    2019 #71
    Ishirô Honda | 96 mins | Blu-ray | 1.37:1 | Japan / Japanese | PG

    Godzilla

    Before its current re-fashioning as a major US-produced blockbuster franchise, the rep of the Godzilla movies was more-or-less cheesy B-movie SF with cheap-n-cheerful “man in a suit” special effects. (I expect die-hard fans would disagree, but to outsiders looking in, I feel that’s fairly accurate.) But that certainly wasn’t how things started with the first movie. Indeed, this first movie was nominated for Best Picture at Japan’s answer to the Oscars, only losing to Seven Samurai. There’s no shame for any film in losing to Seven Samurai. It was also a pricey affair: the most expensive Japanese film ever made up to that point, costing almost a million dollars — ten times the average budget for a Japanese feature at the time.

    But, more than just the blockbuster entertainment of its day, Godzilla is a serious-minded work. A giant monster stomping on cities — or, if you prefer, a man in a rubber suit stomping on models — may have soon become fodder for the kind of movie fans who enjoy pulp entertainment, but, in its original incarnation, it’s an analogy for the terror of the nuclear bomb. Released just nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it’s one of the first films to deal with that scar on the Japanese national psyche. And lest you think this is something pretentious critics have projected onto the film after the fact, the movie itself draws the connection, with one character — a young woman, no less, as if to remind us of the recency of those events — commenting that she only narrowly escaped the bombings. A big part of why Godzilla still works as a film today, almost 70 years later, is because everyone involved is playing it straight, and the clear messages about the folly of mankind interfering with nature, and the futility of weapons, are powerful.

    That’s not to say it’s perfect. Subplots get in the way, like a love triangle that manages to waste screen time while not really having any significant impact on the viewer. (Reportedly, a flashback scene that would have helped explain the connection between two of the participants was deleted because it slowed down the film. The romance is slow enough as it is, but you never know, maybe that extra clarity would have helped.) Conversely, some of the moral conundrums raised by the story are barely touched on. One of the main characters is a scientist who thinks mankind should study Godzilla rather than try to kill it, but other than him stating that fact and consistently looking miserable, the film doesn’t really do anything more to engage with his argument.

    Good God

    As for the stomping monster action, viewed with a modern eye the effects are of course a mixed bag (the miniature vehicles look like something you’d find in a toy shop, for example), but make some allowances and they’re still pretty darn effective. An underwater sequence that mixes footage of real divers with “dry for wet” shots of Godzilla and lead characters remains mostly convincing. Godzilla may have lost Best Picture to Seven Samurai, but it did win the award for special effects, and that’s one thing it does have over Kurosawa’s film, at least. I don’t know if those same awards had one for music, but if so I guess Akira Ifukube’s score wasn’t even nominated. It would’ve deserved it for the main theme alone, though, which has since become iconic for good reason.

    The Godzilla franchise has come a long way and changed a good deal across the seven decades since this film’s release. It’s not a series, nor a genre, that’s to everyone’s taste (just look at the wide spread of reactions to the recent US movies, including the fact even people who broadly like them can’t vaguely agree on which order to rank them in). But this original, at least, stands tall as an example of how a movie that some might seek to dismiss as facile genre fare can actually be about a whole lot more.

    4 out of 5


    For 50 years, you couldn’t actually see Godzilla in the West — not exactly. Instead, you’d watch…

    Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
    (1956)

    2019 #82
    Terry Morse & Ishiro Honda | 81 mins | Blu-ray | 1.37:1 | Japan & USA / English | PG

    Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

    In an era where the original cut is king (to the extent that, say, a major studio might hand a director $70 million to complete his cut of a not-particularly-successful movie just so they can release it on a streaming service), it seems wild to remember that, until 2004 — a full five decades after Godzilla‘s premiere release — this re-edited, bastardised version was the only one available to Western audiences.

    With a runtime 15 minutes shorter than the Japanese cut, you might think King of the Monsters was just an abridgement. But they went at it more thoroughly than that back in the ’50s; in fact, almost 40 minutes of footage was cut, and the disparity is covered by newly-filmed scenes starring Raymond Burr as Steve, an American journalist. These new scenes don’t just place Burr’s character around the existing action, but work to make him the (human) star of the movie.

    The end result is actually fairly close to the original story-wise, just now there’s an American journalist hanging around the fringes. At first he’s often to be found at the back of a crowd or the edge of a room, observing events, but they get bolder as the film goes on, integrating him with some of the main characters, either by repurposing and rearranging original footage or shooting Burr with doubles whose faces we never see. It’s not a perfect match, but for a quickly-produced low-budget effort in the 1950s, it’s surprisingly well achieved. This is partly thanks to the choice of director for the new scenes. Terry Morse had 30 years of experience as an editor and director of low-budget films, and it was felt someone with that kind of background would be well-placed to maintain the continuity needed to make it seem like Burr was part of the original production.

    Raymond Burr, sir

    Morse also makes some interesting decisions about how to adapt the existing footage. Although all of the ‘Japanese’ characters speak perfect English with American accents in the new bits, a lot of the Japanese dialogue in Ishiro Honda’s scenes is left undubbed, and it’s never subtitled either. Instead, the film trusts us to infer what’s happening, or informs us via someone translating for Steve, or his voiceover narration. It feels like quite a mature way to handle a multi-lingual production. Unfortunately, any such maturity doesn’t extend across the board: when abridging the original, they removed or neutered much of its commentary about mankind’s destructive nature, thereby turning a powerful allegory into a simple monster movie.

    To my surprise, Godzilla, King of the Monsters is not a complete disaster. There’s a fair bit of the original movie left, and the American inserts aren’t unremittingly terrible, which they certainly could have been. If this was the only version of the film available, I’d probably give it a solid 3 stars. But it isn’t the only version anymore, so the question becomes: why watch it nowadays? It neuters some of what was great about the Japanese cut, and it’s inherently a bastardisation — so, other than curiosity value (or, for older fans, nostalgia), there’s no reason to bother with this. Stick to the real one.

    2 out of 5

    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

    .


    • 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…