The Amplified Monthly Review of November 2020

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Normally I avoid starting Christmas until at least December 1st. Shops and TV channels can begin to flood themselves with Christmas-related product throughout November (if not before), but I feel like “the day you open the first door of your advent calendar” is when Christmas can begin.

This year’s a bit different, though. Never mind the whole “2020 has been shit” of it all — despite that, I was still aiming for December 1st — but then family wanted to watch Netflix’s Jingle Jangle in the middle of November, and that opened the door a crack, until eventually Christmas fully barged in on the final weekend of the month. Presents bought! Decorations up! Built a festive LEGO set I didn’t get round to doing last year!

What I didn’t do is watch another Netflix original Christmas movie: Klaus. I didn’t get round to it last festive season, and as it’s (surprisingly) on the IMDb Top 250, I’ve been waiting impatiently all damn year for the time to roll around when I felt I could watch it. Well, it’s December now, so…

But before I get stuck into Christmas properly, let’s remember the month that just was.


#237 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
#238 Robolove (2019)
#239 Rose Plays Julie (2019)
#240 Showrunners (2014), aka Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show
#241 Falling (2020)
#242 An Impossible Project (2020)
#243 Coded Bias (2020)
#244 Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
#245 The Lie (2018)
#246 Mangrove (2020), aka Small Axe: Mangrove
#247 The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
#248 You Will Die at Twenty (2019)
#249 Influence (2020)
#250 My Mexican Bretzel (2019)
#251 Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
#252 Ordet (1955), aka The Word
#253 Never Surrender (2019), aka Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary
#254 Millennium Actress (2001), aka Sennen joyû
An American Werewolf in London

An Impossible Project

Never Surrender

.

Normally I include any short films I’ve watched in amongst the list of features, but this month I watched 53 short films. No, that’s not a typo. In the almost-14-year history of this blog to October 2020, I’d watched 97 shorts; now, AMPLIFY! alone has increased my count by 55%. That seemed an overwhelming amount to include in the above list, so I’ve separated them off here.

A quick guide: #247a–e were the IMDb New Filmmaker nominees; #249a–k were in the Cornwall Film Festival South West Regional programme; #249l–s were in the Cornwall Film Festival International programme; #249t–z were in the New Voices programme; #250a–i were in the CINECITY Open programme; and #250j–v were in the FilmBath programme.

#247a Under the Full Moon (2020)
#247b Flush Lou (2020)
#247c The Monkeys on Our Backs (2020)
#247d Players (2020)
#247e Home (2020)
#249a Shuttlecock (2019)
#249b Stitch (2020)
#249c Nut Pops (2019)
#249d Swivel (2020)
#249e Anoraks (2020)
#249f Frayed Edges (2020)
#249g So Far (2020)
#249h Man-Spider (2019)
#249i Slow Burn (2020)
#249j Closed Until Further Notice (2020)
#249k Quiescent (2018), aka Anvew
#249l Clean (2020)
#249m Appreciation (2019)
#249n Adnan (2020)
#249o Sticker (2019)
#249p Interstice (2019), aka Mellanrum
#249q The Day of the Coyote (2020)
#249r Chumbak (2019)
#249s Guardians of Ua Huka (2020)
#249t Destructors (2020)
#249u Nelly (2020)
#249v Life in Brighton: An Artist’s Perspective (2020)
#249w My Life, My Voice (2020)
#249x Embedded (2020)
#249y One Piece of the Puzzle (2020)
#249z Time and Tide (2020)
#250a The Wick (2020)
#250b We Farmed a Lot of Acres (2020)
#250c A Spring in Endless Bloom (2020)
#250d Booklovers (2020)
#250e The Fruit Fix (2020)
#250f Keratin (2020)
#250g Blue Passport (2020)
#250h Siren (2020)
#250i Reconnected (2020)
#250j The Last Video Store (2020)
#250k Water Baby (2019)
#250l Window (2019)
#250m Alan, the Infinite (2020)
#250n Our Song (2020)
#250o Hold (2020)
#250p Befriend to Defend (2019)
#250q Fuel (2020)
#250r My Dad’s Name Was Huw. He Was an Alcoholic Poet. (2019)
#250s Quiet on Set (2020)
#250t A Map of the World (2020)
#250u Talia (2020)
#250v The Starey Bampire (2019)


  • I watched 18 new feature films in November.
  • That’s the exact same tally as last month (and also February), so the same applies: it’s in the lower-middle for the year, coming =7th out of 11 months.
  • However, it’s below my average for 2020 to date (previously 23.6, now 23.1), and below the rolling average of the last 12 months — although, because I only watched 12 films last November, that still goes up slightly (from 21.1 to 21.6).
  • But it does pass the November average (previously 10.4, now 11.0).
  • Plus, #254 is the furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of November, beating #248 in 2018. It sets me up well to beat that year’s record for my highest ever final total — although victory is by no means guaranteed: I need eight more films to reach a new record, and last December I only watched five…
  • I’ve already noted above how the number of shorts I watched this month is measurable on an “entire history of the blog” scale, but, for what it’s worth, the next closest month came last November, also thanks to a film festival, when I watched… 9. Pales in comparison, doesn’t it?
  • This month’s Blindspot films: first, to catch-up for last month, a belated Halloween pick (that I therefore watched right at the start of the month), An American Werewolf in London; and second, Carl Th. Dreyer’s acclaimed meditation on religion, Ordet.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and The Lie.



The 66th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Not that this was a bad month by any means, but it started on a high that was never quite equalled: An American Werewolf in London is exactly the kind of film “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen?” was created for (honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken this many years for it to make it onto the list), and it didn’t disappoint.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, failing to live up to expectations was The Mask of Fu Manchu. I didn’t exactly expect great things of it (there’s the inherent racism, for one thing), but even as a pulpy ’30s pre-code adventure movie, it didn’t tick the right boxes for me.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
With so many short films watched this month, it seems only right to extend the Arbies to them; though I won’t do a “least favourite” (seems unfair when shorts struggle to gain attention enough as it is). There are lots of entertaining little numbers in the 53-strong field, but undoubtedly my personal favourite was The Last Video Store, a documentary about Bristol’s still-running independent video rental place, 20th Century Flicks. It’s all about the importance and brilliance of physical media — right up my street. It’s available free on Vimeo, so do check it out.

Best Documentary Where the Tagline Gets Listed as Part of the Title of the Month
I watched two behind-the-scenes-y documentaries this month, Showrunners and Never Surrender — those are the titles they use on screen, anyway, but look online and you’ll mostly find them listed as Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show and Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary. Regular readers will know how much this kind of imprecision / inconsistency annoys me. Anyway, they were both interesting, but Never Surrender was really warm-hearted and lovely as well as informative — if you love Galaxy Quest (and who doesn’t?) then you must see it. It’s on Amazon Prime, at least in the UK.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
A very deserving victor this month, in my opinion: my review of “missing hammer in a Belgian nudist camp” comedy-thriller (that should totally by a subgenre) Patrick.



After being ahead of target most of the year, last month saw me slip behind slightly, and I haven’t caught it up… but I’m close enough that December could yet see me reach my goal of 50 rewatches.

#42 Hot Fuzz (2007)
#43 Fisherman’s Friends (2019)
#44 Knives Out (2019)

Considering how much I’ve always enjoyed Hot Fuzz (and how often it’s on ITV2), it’s a little remarkable that I’ve only watched it once since seeing it at the cinema in 2007; and, according to my records, that was around when it came out on DVD, in late ’07 or early ’08 — so I haven’t seen it in over 12 years. (Don’t ask me how long it’s been since Shaun of the Dead…) To think: all the mediocre movies I’ve watched in that time, and I could’ve just been rewatching this classic. Oh well.

At the other end of the time spectrum, I only first watched Fisherman’s Friends this May, and Knives Out this March. Both were family-appeasing viewing choices — not that I dislike either (indeed, I’d been specifically wanting to rewatch Knives Out). I’ve not got round to reviewing either in full yet, but I will someday (probably).


Cinemas may’ve been closed again thanks to Lockdown 2, but new releases continue to debut online — like Christmas lesbian romcom Happiest Season, which I’ve heard good things about; or Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles 2, which hopefully is as likeable as the first one; or Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy, which I’ve not heard anything good about. It does star Amy Adams and Glenn Close, though, so I expect it’ll be part of the awards conversation nonetheless.

The same conditions that have kept theatrical releases to a minimum have seen the streamers all pile on new content, though little of it’s brand-new. Particularly drawing my attention on Netflix was Assassination Nation, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the latter because it’s reminded me I still haven’t watched the 3D Blu-ray I imported from Australia. On social media, they made a big fuss of having Spider-Verse in 4K — I believe it’s a 2K upscale, but its visual style seems made for HDR enhancement. So, basically, I need to rewatch it twice, once in 3D, once in 4K…

iPlayer is also offering original movies at the minute — kind of — with Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series. I watched the first, but need to catch up on Lovers Rock and Red, White and Blue. They also have a speedy TV premiere for recent UK release Monsoon. Over on Amazon, the best they could offer is Military Wives — the kind of thing I might watch with my mum over Christmas. They also added Parasite, but I (a) have seen it, and (b) own it on disc.

In fact, I own it on disc twice, thanks to picking up the US 4K release back in July (they’ve just released it on 4K here, but I think the import still cost me less), and buying the Criterion edition this month. I’m not one of those Criterion completists buying it for the sake of it being a Criterion — I want the special features, and also the black-and-white version (though that’s on Amazon Prime too, so…) It was one of many titles I imported thanks to Barnes & Noble’s biannual Criterion sale — although, as they still refuse to ship to the UK, I actually bought stuff price-matched from Amazon.com. Other titles I picked up included Ghost Dog (been waiting for that on Blu-ray for years), Christopher Nolan’s Following, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, Marriage Story, and the Three Fantastic Journeys bu Karel Zeman box set — the UK editions were still slightly cheaper, but pop-up packaging? Yes please! While I was at it, I also imported a bunch of other US stuff I’ve wanted for a while: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (I’ve never heard great things about the film, but the US release is a 4K-HFR / 3D combo pack that entices me), Shout’s release of Creepshow (as the UK release is long out of print and it’s one of the few George Romero titles I didn’t own), the 4K restoration of Rian Johnson’s Brick, animation Long Way North, The Mask of Zorro in 4K, the 26th Zatoichi film (upgrading my Arrow DVD)… and a few others too (this list is getting plenty long enough, and I’ve not even started on my UK purchases).

Yes, various UK sales further decimated my bank account this month. There was a UK Criterion offer, too, in which I picked up The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Life of Oharu, and Metropolitan; Indicator had a Hammer sale, from which I nabbed two of their box sets (Volumes Three and Four, if anyone’s interested); from Arrow’s Noirvember offer I snagged Dark City, Hangmen Also Die, and (after many years of never quite buying them) both the 1946 and 1964 versions of The Killers; plus random discounts on the 4K box sets of Sicario 1 and 2, and the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.

Oh, and there were new releases too! The headliner has to be Second Sight’s incredible 4K box set of Dawn of the Dead, a behemoth packed with alternate cuts, special features, and books — not booklets, literal books. Amazing. Also available in multiple fancily-packaged editions was the 4K release of V for Vendetta, though I just went for the regular version in the end. There were also two new Jackie Chan titles from 88 Films (Shaolin Wooden Men and New Fist of Fury); plus another Eastern action classic from Eureka, The Bride with White Hair; and Japanese sci-fi from Eureka too, in the form of Mothra, The H-Man, and Battle in Outer Space. More noir, as well, in the form of Indicator’s Columbia Noir #1 box set — that number at the end promising I’ll be spending much money on this series in the years to come. And, finally, rounding out the month, a Train to Busan trilogy box set, meaning I finally picked up that zombie modern classic, along with the anime prequel (which I don’t much care for) and the new sequel, Peninsula.

Christ, look at that list — anyone’d think I’d just had a Christmas present haul! And I left half-a-dozen titles out just to speed things up. But no, Christmas is still to come…


Iiiiit’s Chriiiiiistmaaaaas! I have been waiting pretty much all year to be able to watch Klaus (can’t watch a Christmas film from January to November, no no no), so if I don’t get round to it I’ll be doing some serious self-chastising in my December review.

The Past Month on TV #63

There’s all sorts of stuff I thought I’d’ve got round to for this TV column — Cobra Kai season 2; more of The Twilight Zone; Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit; finally starting The bloody Mandalorian — but I haven’t seen any of them. So, rather than keep pushing this post back and back, here’s what little I have watched that’s worth commenting on in the almost-two-months-now since my last TV review.

Young Wallander  Season 1
Young WallanderI think that Swedish detective Kurt Wallander’s USP, if he has one, was that he wasn’t some young hotshot maverick genius, like so many fictional detectives, but rather a middle-aged, somewhat disillusioned, almost workaday cop who got the job done. So a series about his younger days already seems like it might be missing half the point. But it’s worked for other TV detectives (most notably Morse in the acclaimed Endeavour), so why not? After all, seeing what police work in 1970s Sweden was like might be interesting — it’s certainly a different setting, anyway.

Well, that’s Young Wallander‘s first misstep: this isn’t about the young life of canonical Wallander, it’s a modern-day reboot. So, you’ve removed the obvious character traits and you’ve changed when it’s set — what makes this Wallander as opposed to Generic Swedish Cop? That was the question I had after watching the trailer and, sadly, I still wondered it after watching the series in full. At least the storyline is Wallander-ish, all about nationalism and refugees and how they’re treated. That may sound very timely, given what’s been going on politically over the last five to ten years, and it is; but it’s also the kind of thing Wallander’s original creator, Henning Mankell, often wrote about before that. But that makes it a mixed blessing: yes, it’s the kind of story you can imagine a ‘real’ Wallander text tackling, but it’s also such a present-day issue that that doesn’t matter; it’s the kind of plot any drama might choose to take on right now.

The production itself is a strange international hybrid: made by Swedish production company Yellow Bird (though actually shot elsewhere in Europe, I believe), but with a British writer and mostly British cast speaking English, while thankfully not trying to emulate the accent. That’s except for Wallander himself, who’s played by a Swede, who has kind of retained his accent. In a story all about national identity, it’s kind of ironic that Wallander sounds like the only Swedish man in Sweden.

I can see why the Wallander rights-holders would want the brand to continue, because it’s been very popular in various incarnations, in particular the Swedish series starring Krister Henriksson and the British series starring Kenneth Branagh. But between those, and the previous series of Swedish TV movies starring Rolf Lassgård, every one of Mankell’s original novels has been adapted twice, plus the invention of about 30 original-for-TV stories — so, if you want to continue the character, a new direction does feel called for. Unfortunately, this isn’t it. It’s too generic, lacking any uniqueness that makes you feel this is a story that could only be told — or even should be told — using the Wallander brand. Even leaving that aside — if you had no previous attachment to the character and so just approached this as an original cop drama — the series is less than great. It’s not outright bad, just thoroughly middling, with an underwhelming finale that leaves plot threads dangling; and it’s not clear if it’s meant to be a realistic “not everything gets tied up” ending, or if they’re hoping to pick up on them in a second season.

The only good thing to come out of all this, for me, was that it’s reminded me I still have a bunch of adaptations starring Lassgård that I’ve never watched, so it’ll be nice to go visit those. And then revisit the Henriksson series at some point, because it was excellent; and maybe the Branagh one too, because that was also really good. But if Young Wallander manages to bag itself a recommission, I’m not sure I’ll bother with it.

Jonathan Creek  Series 5 Episodes 2-3 + 2016 Christmas Special
Jonathan Creek: Daemons' RoostI noted last time that Jonathan Creek seems to be ending with a whimper rather than a bang. It was a huge hit when it first aired in the ’90s, and a revival in 2009 was a big ratings success too, but the sporadic specials made since then have seen it drift further and further from the spark that once made it special. The nadir was the premiere episode of series 5, which didn’t even function properly as an episode of the show. The remaining two instalments of that short run are better, but still nowhere near the series’ early-day highs. The third one, The Curse of the Bronze Lamp, includes an array of terrible subplots that make you wish it was considerably shorter (it’s only an hour long but feels like two), but its mystery is still the nearest these latter-day Creeks have come to its heyday.

A saving grace comes in the last (for now) episode, 2016 Christmas special Daemons’ Roost. Is it the last-ever episode? Many online listings treat it as such, but the four years since it aired means if another episode popped up it wouldn’t be the longest gap in the series’ history. But if it is the last time we ever get to see the character, it’s actually not a bad one to go out on; in fact, thought it was a real return to form. As with many later episodes, it struggles to get Jonathan involved in the case — daft, really, because, after he had the same problem right back in series 1, writer David Renwick came up with a way to just throw Jonathan and Maddy into the case every episode… then undid that after series 4, since when we’ve once again been subjected to long-winded reasonings for Jonathan to get involved. So, once again, it takes a while to get going (Jonathan doesn’t get properly involved until 40 minutes in), but once it ramps up there are some neat mysteries and bags of Gothic atmosphere. I always feel Creek is at its best when it’s invoking that almost Hammer Horror vibe. There are also some nice nods to the series’ history, which is the main reason it feels like it could serve fittingly as a “finale” if needs must.

Though, personally, I’d love to see Jonathan reunited with Maddy for one final case; and I’m happy to wait for a one-off special when Renwick’s got a good idea, because we’ve seen how wrong it goes when he forces it.

Also watched…
  • Anthony Jeselnik: Thoughts and Prayers — After enjoying his Netflix special that I watched last time, I watched the other. This one starts dark… and gets darker. I loved that, but I can see he’s not for everyone.
  • Demetri Martin: The Overthinker — After enjoying his Netflix special that I watched last time, I watched the other. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much — it was, ironically, overthought. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.
  • Small Axe Episode 1 — Just to note that I’ll be counting these as films, because that’s what they are, really, aren’t they? I suppose the counterargument is it’s an anthology miniseries because they’re premiering on TV, but nah — especially as several of them actually premiered at a film festival.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 11 Episodes 2-4 — I’m even way behind on Bake Off! I’ve managed to avoid most spoilers, at least, so I’ll catch up soon.

    Things to Catch Up On
    His Dark Materials series 2This month, I have mostly been missing His Dark Materials, the second series of the BBC/HBO adaptation of Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy. Of course, I’ve been missing lots of stuff (that was kind of the theme of my introduction, remember?), but that’s one of the most pressing to me personally. You might argue The Mandalorian, also on its second season, is even more pertinent, what with it regularly being thoroughly discussed online, but I’ve not even started that yet. His Dark Materials, on the other hand, I do expect to watch soon.

    Next month… His Dark Materials season 2, probably. What else, only time will tell.

  • The IMDb New Filmmaker Award 2020

    Last night on AMPLIFY!, FilmBath presented the 9th annual IMDb New Filmmaker Award, in which a trio of industry judges choose the best short film by a new filmmaker (clue’s in the name). The winner gets £1,000 cash, £1,000 in gear hire for their next project, a natty trophy, and an IMDb pin badge (normally only given to IMDb employees). If you missed the evening, never fear: the whole 90-minute event is available to rewatch for free, worldwide, here.

    Why would you watch an awards show after it’s happened? Well, in this case, you get to hear the judges’ musings on what makes a good film — and when those judges are BAFTA-nominated director Coky Giedroyc (The Virgin Queen, How to Build a Girl), Oscar-nominated and BAFTA-winning producer Amanda Posey (An Education, Brooklyn), and the CEO of IMDb, Col Needham, those are opinions worth listening to. Even better, you get to watch the five nominated shorts in full, and they’re good a bunch.

    But don’t just take my word for it: take my, er, word for it, in the form of these reviews…

    If you do intend to watch the awards, fair warning: I’m going to ‘spoil’ who won.

    Under the Full Moon

    Taking the films in the order they were shown, first up is Under the Full Moon (2020, Ziyang Liu, UK, English, 9 mins, ★★★★☆), about a guy who has his phone pickpocketed and decides to confront the mugger. The most noteworthy aspect here is the whole short is achieved in a single unbroken eight-minute take. I love stuff done in single long takes; at this point it’s a bit of a cliché to enjoy such things — a real film nerd kind of obsession — but, sod it, it’s still cool. To do a thriller storyline like that — something which requires management of tension and suspense, and of information being revealed at the right time in the right way — is even more impressive. You might say, “well, that’s what theatre is — a drama performed in ‘one take’”, but theatre doesn’t have to factor in camerawork; making sure we’re seeing the right stuff at the right time, framed in the right ways. Under the Full Moon manages every different element almost perfectly, the only real flaw coming right near the end, when the camera fails to clearly capture a phone screen with an incoming call, so the director resorts to a subtitle to make sure we get this final ironic twist. And that’s the other thing: this isn’t just a technical stunt, or an exercise in escalating suspense, but a dramatic work with some neatly-drawn character parts and a sense of dramatic irony. Really strong work.

    The winner (told you I’d spoil it) was Flush Lou (2020, Madison Leonard, USA, English, 9 mins, ★★★★★), and I entirely agree. It’s a black comedy about the reaction of three women to the death of a man: his daughter (who narrates), his wife, and his mother. It’s got a quirkiness that could be inappropriate, but the tone is juggled just right that it remains hilarious rather than at all distasteful. It’s there in the performances, the shot choices, the editing — the piece really works as a whole to hit precisely the right note. It might call to mind the work of someone like Wes Anderson, but it’s far from a rip-off; it also reminded me of certain just-off-reality American-suburbia-skewering TV shows, like The Riches or Suburgatory (I’m sure there are some more mainstream examples that are eluding my reach right now). Also, it manages to pack eight chapters into its eight minutes, without ever feeling like that’s an unnecessary affectation; if anything, it helps clarify the structure, which is exactly the kind of thing chapters are good for. A huge success all round.

    Flush Lou

    At the other end of the seriousness spectrum was the winner of the audience vote, The Monkeys on Our Backs (2020, Hunter Williams, New Zealand, English, 8 mins, ★★★★★), a documentary about the mental health of farmers in New Zealand. I think we often have a very positive view of New Zealand — they seem like nice people; their government is doing awesomely well; they make great movies; they’re good at rugby; and so on. But the country has one of the highest suicide rates in the developed world, and mental health problems disproportionately affect those living and working in isolated rural communities. This is not only a succinct explanation of the problems, with real-life examples as well as expert opinions, but also talks about the solutions, what help is out there and how it’s working. Plus it’s a beautifully shot film (some outtakes in black & white at the beginning show the fundamental quality underlying the colour photography in the rest of the film), with lovely views of countryside life, as if to help remind you that the world is a wonderful place. A wholly different film to Flush Lou, but an equally deserving winner.

    The shortest of this year’s five is Players (2020, Ava Bounds, UK, English, 3 mins, ★★★★☆), but that’s not the most noteworthy thing about it. This is: it was made by a 14-year-old. But you’d never guess, because it has a competency and, more strikingly, a surrealism that belies someone much more experienced. Heck, the sound design most reminded me of David Lynch! And the comparison goes beyond the sound work, with an ending that calls to mind some of Lynch’s work where nature and technology clash. Subtitled “a clearly confused film”, I think that was somewhat how the judges felt about its mix of retro costumes and music, computer-generated vocals, and a sci-fi sting in the tail. It’s the kind of film that clearly doesn’t work for everyone — just another way it’s a natural successor to Lynch, then. A 14-year-old making a competition-worthy short film is incredible in itself, but that it also merits so many comparisons to David fucking Lynch? Remarkable.

    The Monkeys on Our Backs

    The final film was Home (2020, Hsieh Meng Han, UK, English, 10 mins, ★★★☆☆), in which a girl living with her mother in a single room in a dingy apartment block finds the communal toilet locked, but then hears music coming from a nearby ventilation grill. Climbing through, she finds herself in a brightly-lit world of opulence, with people in elegant clothes dancing to genteel music, and an array of luscious food on offer. She even makes a friend. But then uptight officiousness arrives in the form of a stuffy manager, who refuses to let her use the toilet. It’s like a modern socially-conscious take on Alice in Wonderland, though I’m not sure what point it was ultimately making — kindness is nice and everyone deserves to be allowed to use the toilet?

    If any of that tickles your fancy, don’t forget you can still watch the whole event, free, here.

    Disclosure: I’m working for AMPLIFY! as part of FilmBath. However, all opinions are my own, and I benefit in no way (financial or otherwise) from you following the links in this post or making purchases.

    The Horrific Monthly Review of October 2020

    Don’t be fooled by the title, dear reader: I’m not one of those people who spends all of October watching horror movies. But the world we live in is horrifying enough for that adjective to apply to pretty much any month this year, isn’t it?

    So as England prepares — not for No Time to Die, as we’d hoped for from November — but for Time to Try Not to Die in Lockdown 2, let’s look back at the month that was the tenth in the seemingly-never-ending year that is 2020…


    #219 Lancelot du Lac (1974), aka Lancelot of the Lake
    #220 Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
    #221 Patrick (2019), aka De Patrick
    #222 Dick Johnson is Dead (2020)
    #223 The Good Liar (2019)
    #224 Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
    #225 Some Beasts (2019), aka Algunas Bestias
    #226 Luxor (2020)
    #227 The American President (1995)
    #228 Down with Love (2003)
    #229 Puzzle (2018)
    #230 Misery (1990)
    #231 The Mole Agent (2020)
    #232 Waxworks (1924), aka Das Wachsfigurenkabinett
    #233 Vampires Suck (2010)
    #234 The Face of Fu Manchu (1965)
    #235 Tim’s Vermeer (2013)
    #236 Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
    Patrick

    Tim's Vermeer

    Crazy Rich Asians

    .


    • I watched 18 new feature films in October.
    • That’s in the lower-middle for 2020 so far — 7th out of 10 months, to be precise.
    • Unsurprisingly, then, it fails to equal my 2020 average (previously 24.2, now 23.6).
    • It also fails to equal my rolling average for the last 12 months, but as last October was so poor (just four films), it still increases the average, from 19.9 to 21.1.
    • Continuing on the bright side, it surpasses the October average (previously 13.2, now 13.5).
    • #236 is also the furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of October, besting #222 in 2018.
    • You might think that makes 2020 a lock for my #1 year ever, but it’s not so simple (as my previous overviews of predictions have shown). There are 26 films to go to a new record — 13 per month for November and December, which sounds very doable (my worst month this year totalled 12), but it’s worth noting that the November average is 10.4 and for December it’s 11.2, so never say never.
    • As for the once-seemingly-possible target of #300, that would mean 32 per month in November and December. Literally, not impossible (I’ve managed over 30 in two consecutive months twice before), but also not likely (I’ve only managed over 30 in two consecutive months twice before). Time will tell…
    • This month’s Blindspot film was supposed to be An American Werewolf in London. For most of the year I’d had that singled out to be October’s pick, for obvious reasons. I considered watching it earlier in the month, but decided to leave it for nearer Halloween. Then as Halloween neared I thought, “why not save it for the day itself?” Because Halloween is the last day of the month and the best-laid plans are apt to be upended, that’s why not! So, yeah — oops. I’m aiming to watch it today to catch up quickly.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched Crazy Rich Asians and The Good Liar.



    The 65th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    I watched a lot of films I liked this month — indeed, there was only really one choice for the “least favourite” category. But in terms of favourites, it was quite easy to single one out, too, because one film really blew me away: Tim’s Vermeer, a documentary about the point where art, technology, and obsession meet. It’s fascinating and genuinely awe-inspiring.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    I was able to watch a few screeners this month for films showing as part of AMPLIFY! Maybe it’s wrong for me to pick one of those here (shh, don’t tell anyone!), but, well, Some Beasts was easily the worst film I watched this month. Not because it’s badly made, but a final-act plot swerve struck me as wholly distasteful and poorly handled. More on that whenever I get round to reviewing it.

    Most Layers in a Title of the Month
    Before viewing, I wondered if Crazy Rich Asians was about Asians who were crazy-rich or rich Asians who were crazy. Turns out, it’s both! So many layers! (Two. That’s two layers.)

    Most Penises of the Month
    One of Borat’s most famous scenes may be a nude wrestling/chase scene between two men, but that’s got nothing on Patrick, a whole film set in a nudist camp. (Don’t let that turn you off / switch you on, mind — there’s a lot of good stuff in Patrick, and the nudity is fairly incidental.)

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    …goes to my latest TV column again, for the fourth time this year. I’ve gotta say, this one did have one of my favourite header collages I’ve put together (the entire thing uses mirroring! Me so clever). (The highest film-related post was a distant second, Bloodshot.)



    At one point I was over a month ahead on my Rewatchathon goal for the year. That lead has been slowly eroded, and now I’m officially one film behind. Still, with just two months to go, it’s certainly not impossible that I’ll get there.

    #40 Live and Let Die (1973)
    #41 Mystery Men (1999)

    As a Bond film, Live and Let Die will get my ‘Guide To’ treatment at some point. For now, I put some thoughts on Letterboxd.

    Superhero comedy Mystery Men was included in my 100 Favourites series back in 2016, but I hadn’t actually watched it in a decade or more. I’m happy to report that I did still enjoy it. It takes a while to warm up — basically until the whole team has been introduced, which takes longer than you might think — but, once it gets there, it’s frequently gold. Will it make the next iteration of my 100 Favourites list? It’s more borderline than I might’ve expected. It’s not a perfect movie, but it is very enjoyable overall.


    Big titles have continued to flee, and with a new lockdown cinemas will be closing again, but a few releases did sneak out in the meantime, like acclaimed horror Saint Maud, and… um… Cats & Dogs 3? Eesh. London Film Festival organised outreach screenings across the UK, but the only one that made it into the schedule at my local was closing-night film Ammonite. And in the sort-of-cinema column, Robert Zemeckis’s re-adaptation of The Witches went straight to premium streaming. I wouldn’t pay £16 for a rental of that anyway, so the mixed-to-poor reviews certainly didn’t sway me.

    Another re-adaptation, The Secret Garden, finally had a cinema release, but having been sold off to Sky as a Sky Cinema Original, it was more readily accessible at home. This month the streamer also offered up Underwater, Seberg, and films not starring Kristen Stewart, like Waves. But Now TV finally stopped giving me good cut-price offers to resubscribe, so I likely won’t be able to consider watching any of those until next Oscar season, when I resubscribe to watch the ceremony.

    The other two big streamers had some significant originals too. Netflix offered yet another re-adaptation of classic English literature, Rebecca, plus Aaron Sorkin’s latest, The Trial of the Chicago 7; plus David Attenborough bio/polemic, A Life on Our Planet, and another Adam Sandler thing, Hubie Halloween. Over on Amazon, the headline grabber was Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (as you might’ve noticed in my viewing list, I finally watched the original in preparation, but haven’t watched the sequel yet), and a quartet of original chillers from Blumhouse — Black Box, The Lie, Evil Eye, and Nocturne — which I don’t think have garnered great reviews, but which look interesting nonetheless. Amazon also boasted another quartet this month: the Indiana Jones series. I’ve been meaning to rewatch them forever — indeed, I’ve owned the Blu-ray set since 2012 and never watched it. I ought to get round to that before they turn up on 4K and I buy them again…

    And talking of purchases, I’m still failing to stop myself buying tonnes more stuff. Indy may not be on 4K yet, but that other Spielberg-related ’80s geek trilogy, Back to the Future, did make its bow on the format this month. Of course I bought it. I nabbed an even bigger box set in Amazon’s Prime Day sale: the Universal Classic Monsters complete 30-film Blu-ray set, which includes 38 films (because, thanks to Universal’s lazy bundling of existing sets, there are seven duplicate movies in the set (whole discs could’ve just been taken out), and one film they only count as an extra, the Spanish version of Dracula). Other horror-ish pickups included Indicator’s new Fu Manchu set (officially out tomorrow; I’ve already watched the first (#234 above)); Japanese classic House; and another Universal / James Whale / Boris Karloff effort, The Old Dark House (which I watched on streaming back in June and loved). New releases included interactive DC animation Batman: Death in the Family, 88 Films’ latest Jackie Chan classic, Spiritual Kung Fu, and an import of Requiem for a Dream in 4K (it’s out in the UK later this month, but the import was cheaper). Finally, a few more to rewatch in 4K, thanks to a 3-for-2 offer: Bad Times at the El Royale, Die Hard, and Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Whew!


    Lockdown 2: Covid Boogaloo.

    FilmBath + AMPLIFY!

    Featured

    In a mirror of this post from last year, I’m here again to blame my recent blogging quietness on FilmBath Festival. Yes, even in these Covid-struck days, we are putting on a film festival. It’s different — smaller, for one thing, with just nine films over five days (last year we screened dozens of features over 11 days). But, as if to make up for that, we have a New Thing…

    AMPLIFY! is an online virtual film festival — which, in short, means you can enjoy it if you live anywhere in the UK. I won’t go into the full marketing spiel, but instead point you in the direction of the website. Here’s a fun bonus, though: if you want to order tickets (or, for best value, a festival pass), use the code “LoveBath” and you’ll get 10% off. (So we’re clear: I don’t get any bonus or benefit of kickback for plugging either festival. I’m just letting you know what I’m up to, and clueing you in to a cool thing.)

    AMPLIFY!’s lineup features a bunch of UK premieres (including Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut, Falling); previews (like thriller Rose Plays Julie, which screened at last year’s LFF but hasn’t yet had a wide release); timely documentaries (including The Mole Agent, about an octogenarian spy — yes, I said documentary); other special treats (including the new restoration of silent classic Waxworks ahead of its Masters of Cinema Blu-ray release); and stuff that you might not get a chance to see otherwise (like a strand of Catalan films). I’ve had a chance to see a couple of the films, and I’d recommend Patrick — a dark comedy mystery about a nudist camp handyman who’s lost his hammer. I rather loved it.

    And if you are in the Bath region, the FilmBath schedule is online here (top tip: Nomadland is close to selling out already). It’s going to be a bit different to normal, so there’s information about all that in the FAQs.

    Putting on two festivals has meant more work, of course, and the fact that AMPLIFY! is a collaboration between four festivals has introduced new challenges –– primarily to do with it being online, which none of us have done before (who had, before this year?) But we’re getting there. And when we do, normal blogging service will resume.

    The Past Month on TV #62

    I didn’t think I’d watched much TV to cover in this month’s column, and then I came to write it…

    Cobra Kai  Season 1
    Cobra Kai season 1A belated sequel/spin-off to the Karate Kid movies, Cobra Kai was one of the first series to be released when YouTube decided to get in on the Netflix game. It was a hit for them, too, attracting tens of millions of viewers and very strong reviews. And yet it feels like no one talked about it, so where those 90 million people were hiding, who knows. Anyway, with YouTube wrapping up their series production (they were a bit late to a market already saturated by Netflix, Amazon, and a dozen other TV and film studios), existing and future seasons of Cobra Kai have been passed onto Netflix — and now everyone’s talking about it. Are more people watching it, or is the Venn diagram between “people who primarily watch stuff via Netflix” and “people who use social media” just a perfect circle? We’ll never know. I guess I’m one of those people who only started talking about the show after it moved to Netflix. I did mean to get to it sooner, but no way was I paying for YouTube, and I missed the couple of times they made it all available for free.

    Anyway, what of the programme itself? As I said, I’d heard it was good, but I didn’t expect it to be this good. Seriously. A belated revival of a half-forgotten oh-so-’80s kids’ sports movie franchise should not be one of the best shows on TV in the 2010s, but, turns out, it kinda is. The writing, the performances, the way it uses the franchise’s legacy but is also it’s own thing… all of that is more or less perfect. One of its strongest features is a nicely nuanced treatment of the returning characters. They haven’t just kept them the same, nor merely inverted it so Johnny’s turned good and Daniel’s gone bad. They both have their heroic and villainous moments; both can be inspiring; both can be embarrassing middle-aged men. There’s a certain lack of vanity on the part of the actors there, acknowledging the real passage of time rather than still trying to be Karate ‘Kids’.

    It has what I consider to be the perfect balance of storytelling styles for this streaming era: it’s telling one long story (of course it is), but each episode works as a self-contained unit, with its own plots and subplots. Put another way, it’s ten episodes that together add up to one story, rather than a single long narrative arbitrarily chopped into ten pieces. Because of that, it only gets better as it goes on — you get more invested; the characters develop; stuff pays off… it’s superb. I don’t really do “binge watching” (maybe two episodes in one day, sometimes), but Cobra Kai is so addictive that I ended up watching half the first season in one sitting. It helps that the episodes are short (around 25 minutes each), really feeding the “just one more” feeling. If you’ve only got half-an-hour to spare, you can throw the next episode on and get a satisfying instalment; but if you’ve got nowhere else to be, don’t be surprised if you get suckered in to more, because it does kind of work as “a movie”. (Indeed, watching the first five episodes in one sitting almost felt like watching the first half of a two-part movie, because they reach a particularly suitable break in the overall narrative.)

    The move to Netflix was prompted by YouTube informing the production team that they’d air the already-filmed third season, but definitely wouldn’t commission a fourth. The first two seasons have already been such a success for their new home that Netflix have commissioned that fourth season before they’ve even released the third (it’s due early next year). There’s a lot one could analyse about that (considering the first episode already had 90 million views on YouTube, how many more people were there to watch it on Netflix?!), but the important point is: more Cobra Kai, guaranteed! If it keeps up this level of quality, that’s a very good thing.

    (The only reason I didn’t race straight on to season 2 was to spread it out a bit, what with the wait ’til season 3. Expect a review next month.)

    Strike  Lethal White
    Strike: Lethal WhiteA four-part adaptation of the fourth Cormoran Strike novel by J.K. Rowling Robert Galbraith, which sees the private detective investigating the blackmail of an MP at the same time as a historical murder comes his way that the may be connected to the same MP. What a coincidence! No, it really is a coincidence; but don’t worry, with four whole hours of story to get through, you’ll probably have forgotten about that by the end. There’s also the ongoing drama of the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Strike and his sidekick, Robin Ellacott. If you thought her getting married to her dick of a fiancé at the end of the last series was going to put a stop to that, you were very wrong. Strike mainly coasts by on the likeability of its two leads — the actual plot isn’t bad, just not anything remarkable. We’ve had four or more decades of this kind of investigative crime drama on British TV, and Strike is one of the ones that happens to currently be on.

    Criminal  Season 2
    Criminal season 2Remember when Netflix first launched Criminal and made a big deal of how it was one format filmed by four different countries? Does no one else remember that? Because I swear it was one of the key USPs, but it’s gone entirely unmentioned in the (surprisingly large amount of) press about the second season — which I presume suits Netflix just fine, because three of the countries have been quietly dropped, so only the UK version remains. (What’s the betting the UK one did better simply because its anglophone cast are more widely known around the world?)

    Anyway, it remains a funny old drama — it wants to be grounded and focused (it all takes place in an interview room and the observation room next door), but rather than allow the minutiae of the actors’ skills to shine through (the other USP), it can’t help but indulge in jumping about with narrative bells and whistles. Most questionable is the second episode, in which Kit Harington gives a good performance, but the “falsely accused of rape” storyline feels like it’s failed to read the cultural moment. It’s got a 9.2 rating on IMDb, though, so I guess the men’s rights-type people found it.

    Derren Brown: Miracle
    Derren Brown: MiracleI’d found the last few Derren Brown live shows relatively underwhelming (not to mention his recent TV specials), which is perhaps why I missed this back whenever it first aired on Channel 4 (in 2016) and am only now catching up. Maybe it’s the distance of time, then, but I thought this was a really strong and entertaining set of tricks and set pieces. The only thing I’d like more is if he explained how the faith healing stuff worked. We know it’s a con, a trick, but it still has an effect. He acknowledges part of it (it’s all psychological, “the stories we tell ourselves”), but how does that fix a woman’s eyesight or render a man unable to read? I know magic tricks aren’t ‘meant’ to be explained, but when you’re exposing shysters’ cons, I feel like revealing the methodology is ok.

    Netflix Comedy Specials
    Hannah Gadbsy: DouglasRecently, I’ve been unwinding with some of Netflix’s standup specials. The most noteworthy / widely discussed of those is certainly Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas, her followup show to the massively successful Nanette (which I commented on last month. “Followup” is the right word, because Gadsby begins the set by talking about Nanette’s success and her reaction to it. Then she begins the new show… without beginning the show. Instead, she does a long bit where she lays out the entire structure of the show to come before, almost 15 minutes in, “the show” actually starts. After Nanette was so praised for bending the form of what “standup comedy” could be, I guess she felt the need to do it some more. It’s fairly ingenious and works quite well. As for the material itself, it’s not as emotionally devastating as Nanette, but still appropriately pointed when needed.

    Elsewise, I’ve been trying out some American comedians who I hadn’t even heard of before I saw their trailers on Netflix. Demetri Martin’s accurately titled Live (at the Time) indulges in a lot of quick, deadpan humour, including some nice meta jokes. That’s my kind of thing. Also my kind of thing: dark comedy. Apparently Anthony Jeselnik’s Fire in the Maternity Ward is the kind of comedy that some people find offensive, but I struggle to find any comedy “offensive” when it’s clearly being performed with self-awareness that it is wrong, and that’s why it’s funny (as opposed to someone saying something as “just a joke” when it’s their actual word view, i.e. what right wing ‘comics’ tend to do). So, yes, I’m aware some people find Jeselnik’s material beyond the pale, but he hit just the right note for me (i.e. I’ve seen darker, but they probably went too far). Finally (appropriately), Marc Maron’s End Times Fun accepts that the world is fucked and gets on with making gags about it. His bit about how the way hardcore Marvel fans behave is actually the same as religious fanatics is bang on, while his finale — an extended vulgar ‘prophecy’ for the end of days — is hilarious, and quite close to Jeselnik in terms of pushing at offensive-to-some boundaries.

    The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
    The Howling ManThis is my tenth and final selection of the best episodes of the original Twilight Zone, which gets me to the end of the top third of episodes on my consensus ranking (The New Exhibit is ranked 52nd, which is exactly 33.3% through). I think that’s as far as I can reasonably call the “best of”. If you think it sounds quite far through the list to still be calling these “the best”, bear this in mind: a lot of this month’s episodes are well placed in several rankings, but then one or two more negative nellies drag them down. (The Howling Man is the most extreme instance of this: it’s in the top 20 according to voters on Ranker, and placed in the top 30 by ScreenCrush, Paste, and IMDb users, but neither TV Guide nor Thrillist include it in their top 50, and BuzzFeed put it 149th.) My personal opinion of some of these episodes made me wonder if I’d pushed “best of” too far, but there have been episodes in previous “best of” selections that I liked even less, so I think it’s coincidence rather than that TZ has run out of good episodes before I even get halfway through. (And just because I didn’t like them doesn’t mean they’re not well regarded — one of my least favourites here, Stopover in a Quiet Town, has 8.3 on IMDb and is ranked 25th there.)

    The first episode this month isn’t a disaster, but doesn’t quite coalesce either. Ring-a-Ding Girl has some very nice ideas, but they’ve not been arranged properly to make a wholly satisfying episode. For one thing, it leaves a whole town full of people aware of the strange thing that’s happened — that doesn’t feel very Twilight Zone, where these things normally only directly affect one or two people, and even they often can’t be sure it actually happened. That’s more a minor point of style than a fundamental flaw, mind. Still, I feel like someone could rewrite this and make it a lot better — heck, it could probably even sustain a feature, if done right. Bit of a shame, then.

    A Hundred Yards Over the RimOn the other hand, a common feature of The Twilight Zone is “man out of time” stories. The show did a lot of those, and A Hundred Yards Over the Rim is certainly one of them. In 1847, a pioneer at the head of a wagon train heads over a nearby rim to scout for water, and finds himself in 1961. There’s reasonable potential in that, but what follows offers no remarkable features or moral messages. If the pioneer was on the verge of giving up, and seeing that people like him did bring civilisation to those barren places motivated him to carry on, that would be effective. In fact, he’s pretty much the only one in his party who’s already certain they’re on the right path, so all his trip through time represents is a brief obstacle in his path. Similarly, he discovers evidence that his dying son will actually survive and achieve great things, but he didn’t seem to doubt his son’s chances before that, so what did he really gain? Apparently this is JJ Abrams’ favourite episode, which I feel explains a few things…

    Much better is The Howling Man, a mostly unsettling episode with a “dark and stormy night” feel. that’s a cliche, but Douglas Heyes’ OTT Dutch-angle filled direction emphasises such an overblown atmosphere. It’s fun, if a little campy, especially in its final reveal. It’s the kind of episode that’s so particularly styled that whether you love it or loathe it is entirely down to personal taste, which probably explains those ranking discrepancies I mentioned at the start. As I also mentioned, Stopover in a Quiet Town is one of my least favourite episodes. It’s not that it’s bad per se, but it felt like little more than a remix of a handful of previous episodes; like a workmanlike pastiche rather than a true Twilight Zone instalment. The moral of the story — stated bluntly by Rod Serling in his closing narration — is “if you drink, don’t drive.” Thrillist reckon it’s “the best PSA about drunk driving of all time.” I just think it’s the weirdest.

    A man and his dog are the subject of The Hunt, one of TZ’s occasional sweet episodes. When the pair die, you might not think this is going to be a nice one, but we soon follow them into the afterlife — not that they realise it. Yep, as is so often the case with these kinds of TZ episodes, we understand the situation immediately while it takes the characters most of the episode to cotton on. It’s only in the second half that it gets to the real point: arriving at the gates of Heaven, St Peter informs the man that his dog can’t come in. What kind of Heaven would it be without dogs?! Well, this is The Twilight Zone, so… It’s a twee little tale, really. I liked the “dogs are great” side, but was less keen on the sensation it gives of being a Sunday school lesson.

    One for the AngelsOne for the Angels is another feel-good episode, in which a two-bit street salesman manages to outwit Death… twice! Once for himself, once for a little girl who lives in his block. Ed Wynn embodies the friend-to-children type persona most familiar from his later appearance in Mary Poppins, while Murray Hamilton (also best known for a later film role: the mayor from Jaws) makes for a charmingly besuited Mr Death. That the salesman manages to pitch cheap crap to Death himself for a full quarter of an hour stretches belief. Well, I say “belief” like Mr Death is real, but, even with the rules of fantasy, what does Death need with all that crap? Ah, but it’s all for a good cause, so maybe we can let it slide in the name of feeling happy.

    We end on an even rarer beast: a season 4 episode! Out of 71 episodes of The Twilight Zone I’ve watched so far, this is only the 5th from that season — and three of those were in my “worst of” posts. Basically, if you didn’t already know, people don’t like season 4. As one of its better instalments, The New Exhibit is proper horror movie stuff. Indeed, I could see this as the setup for a standalone feature film; which is quite different to season 4’s usual problem, that the double-length episodes led to plots being padded to fill the running time. That said, this isn’t the best execution of the concept. Where it’s going feels inevitable from early on, so it still feels a little long-winded — you could definitely rattle through this tale in 25 minutes. Indeed, as Paste puts it, it “could work as either a very short story, or be expanded into a horror feature. As a 50-minute episode, it takes a long time to get going, then ends abruptly just when it was beginning to get interesting.” Ironically, a feature version would probably get going quicker, then spend more time on the later good stuff — and this episode would’ve benefitted from the same. All of which said, I still found it effectively creepy. Some people say it’s not scary at all, but I guess that depends on whether you find wax figures inherently unsettling or not.

    And that concludes what I’m calling “the best of The Twilight Zone“. I’m going to keep working me way through the series and writing about it, though. Hopefully I’ll unearth a few underrated gems among the episodes that fall in the middle of the rankings.

    Also watched…
  • Elementary Season 7 Episodes 1-4 — The final run of American Sherlock begins in London… the kind of London that’s clearly been shot on LA backlots and standing sets. Bless ’em.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 11 Episode 1 — Defying the lockdown odds, Bake Off is back! I guess that’d feel more special if this wasn’t the fourth series I’ve watched this year (series 1 in January, series 9 in June, and series 10 in September). Thankfully, An Extra Slice is back too, because that’s the best bit.
  • Jonathan Creek Specials + Series 5 Episode 1 — We’ve reached “the rubbish ones” now, where the plots get too far-fetched (in The Clue of the Savant’s Thumb, a couple improvise on the spot an elaborate coverup for… a complete accident) or, in the case of series 5 opener The Letters of Septimus Noone, don’t even function like a proper episode (it shows the answer to the mystery at the start!) I used to always hope Creek would keep coming back, but if it carries on like this, maybe it’s best if it doesn’t.
  • The Rookie Season 2 Episodes 18-20 — When this started, its best feature was how grounded and plausible it was. Now we have serial killers scheming from within prison and dirty cops framing rookies for elaborate criminal enterprises. In short, it’s getting a bit like other OTT cop shows, which is a shame. I half expected it to be cancelled given recent events in the US, but it hasn’t been, which is good because season 2 ends on a huge cliffhanger.

    Things to Catch Up On
    The Haunting of Bly ManorThis month, I have mostly been missing The Haunting of Bly Manor, the followup to The Haunting of Hill House, which I also never got round to watching. This is the perfect month for that kind of thing, obviously, so I ought to make the effort. Not sure I will, mind. Same goes for Lovecraft Country, which I heard a lot of good things about, and then heard less good things about, and now I’m just not sure. I mean, there’s so much TV to watch nowadays, you gotta be careful not to waste that precious viewing time. And I’m sure there’s been a bunch of other stuff, but God, never mind watching it, I can’t even keep up with remembering it all.

    Next month… The Mandalorian is back. (Not watched season one of that yet, either.)

  • The Man Who Killed the Monthly Review of September 2020

    This month started off strong: reaching #200 (for only the third time ever); watching plenty of films; posting a lot of reviews… but then it tapered off on all fronts. Partly this is because I’ve found myself back in the employ of FilmBath Festival — yes, even in this crazy COVID world, we’re putting on a film festival. Plus an online offering that will be accessible nationwide… but shh, that’s not been officially announced yet! More details in the coming weeks.

    For now, back to the last month on this blog…


    #199 All Is True (2018)
    #200 In the Mood for Love (2000), aka Fa yeung nin wah
    #201 Anand (1971)
    #202 Ikiru (1952)
    #203 The Man Who Sleeps (1974), aka Un homme qui dort
    #204 All About Eve (1950)
    #205 A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2019)
    #206 Vice (2018)
    #207 The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
    #208 For the Love of Spock (2016)
    #209 Guinevere (1994)
    #210 Blind Fury (1989)
    #211 Waking Ned (1998)
    #212 Out of Africa (1985)
    #213 The Hippopotamus (2017)
    #214 Enola Holmes (2020)
    #215 Fanny and Alexander (1982), aka Fanny och Alexander
    #216 The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018)
    #217 Lost in La Mancha (2002)
    #218 He Dreams of Giants (2019)
    Anand

    Farmageddon

    Fanny and Alexander

    .


    • I watched 20 new feature films in September.
    • That makes it my 25th month with 20+ films, and my first 20+ September in five years.
    • It surpasses my September average (previously 11.9, now 12.5) and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 18.9, now 19.9), but falls short of 2020’s average to date (previously 24.75, now 24.2).
    • Early in the month I reached my 200th film for this year. I wrote about the history and stats of that achievement here.
    • Moving beyond #200 means 2020 is already my second biggest year ever, with three months still to go
    • #218 is the furthest I’ve reached by the end of September (my previous best was #206 in 2018), meaning a new all-time record is not impossible — but there are still 44 films to go to get there, more than double the number I watched in October-to-December last year.

    As for the films themselves…

    • Back in July, I identified that Vice was the only film I needed to see to complete the last five years of Oscar Best Picture nominees (that’s 43 films). So, now I’ve done that, it’s on to the last decade of the same (which is 88 films), for which I still need to watch another ten. Let’s see how long that takes…
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (see the Arbies for more about this).
    • This month I watched four Blindspot films. That makes it sound like I’m doing it very, very wrong, but allow me to explain.
    • Firstly, I needed to catch up for missing one last month — that was In the Mood for Love.
    • Then I needed to watch one for this month, of course — that was Ingmar Bergman’s magnum opus, Fanny and Alexander.
    • Then you may remember I had a list of eight ‘overflow’ films to also consider watching — this month, I watched two, Ikiru and All About Eve.
    • So, I’m now back on track for the main list and over halfway through the overflow. But I’ll still need to watch exactly one overflow film a month (in addition to a main list film) for the rest of the year if I want to finish all 20.



    The 64th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Rather spoilt for choice this month, what with four Blindspot films that mostly lived up to expectations, plus several other great and/or very enjoyable movies too. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was Fanny and Alexander — I’ve not always got on with Ingmar Bergman’s films before, so his over-three-hour magnum opus could’ve been horrific for me, but I actually thought it was fantastic.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    Un homme qui dort? More like Un homme qui t’endort.

    Best Blind Swordsman of the Month
    I had intended to save Blind Fury until after I’d finished the Zatoichi series (which I really should have done by now, but I’ve let various things get in the way). For those who don’t know, it’s a modern-day US-set remake of Zatoichi Challenged — a thoroughly bizarre idea, so it seemed best to leave it until I was done with the series proper. But then I noticed it was leaving Amazon Prime imminently, so I decided I’d better get on it. Such are the ways of the streaming era. It’s not as good as the real thing, but it was more fun than I expected.

    Most Debatable Viewing Order of the Month
    I’ve owned acclaimed (un)making-of documentary Lost in La Mancha on DVD but never got round to watching it — so long, in fact, that Terry Gilliam was finally able to actually make the film it’s about, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and it’s now streaming on Sky. The makers of La Mancha also documented that successful effort, in a new film called He Dreams of Giants, which I recently had access to a screener for. So the question became: which order to watch them in? I’m not sure the one I plumped for (see #216–218) was the right way to go about it, but then neither of the alternatives (La ManchaDon QuixoteGiants; or La ManchaGiantsDon Quixote) seemed perfect either, so this was as good as any. In fact, with hindsight, I think it might have been the best way — watching the docs before the resultant feature would’ve set too many unnecessary expectations.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    For only the third time this year (there have been other years where it happened most months), my most-viewed new post was my latest TV column. (The most-viewed film post was, as befits its status as a modern masterpiece, my review of Love on a Leash.)



    The Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies have made up over a third of my Rewatchathon so far this year. With them finished, there’s now a hole where they used to be as a go-to choice, meaning my pace has slipped slightly… but I’m still currently on target for 50 by the end of the year, so that’s okay (for now).

    #38 Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
    #39 Mission: Impossible II (2000)

    I wrote my review of Jodorowsky’s Dune after that rewatch, so my Letterboxd log adds little more than that I enjoyed it more second time round.

    M:I-2 is a different kettle of fish: you can find my latest opinion of the film itself on Letterboxd (short version: I still really like it). As for its place in the Rewatchathon, it continues my rewatch of the Mission: Impossible movies in 4K that I started back in May. Then I mentioned that it’s the first two films that feature the biggest upgrades in PQ with their 4K transfers. M:I-1 is the more strikingly good-looking film, but this one looks great most of the time too. The downsides are that the overall improvement reveals how much softness there is in some of the original photography, and skin tones look too hot in a couple of scenes (though I couldn’t quite be sure if I needed to fiddle with my TV settings, or if it was the transfer’s fault, or just the way the film was shot). Still, a resounding improvement over the old Blu-ray.


    The reopening of cinemas continues with Bill & Ted Face the Music making its UK debut on the big screen only, and… that’s probably it: Tenet’s underperformance at the US box office has the studios running scared again. Bond is still on schedule for November, but will that hold? Only time will tell.

    Another film that got a cinema release in some territories was Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan. Of course, it went direct to streaming everywhere that Disney+ is available, and that includes the UK, even though our cinemas are open. £20 vs a £6 cinema ticket? Hmm… Anyway, I guess that didn’t do well either, given that Disney have moved the rest of their big titles into 2021 rather than send them to Disney+ too.

    Also on streaming, Netflix had a couple of big originals in the shape of Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things and The Devil All the Time. Both set Film Twitter and Letterboxd abuzzing, but I haven’t been in the mindset for their heaviness yet. There was also the hugely controversial Cuties, which is a debate I’m not interested in reigniting, and they ended the month with a new adaptation of gay play The Boys in the Band. Also catching my eye on Netflix were a string of titles I’ve bought on Blu-ray but not got round to watching: First Man, The Handmaiden, the new Halloween… Shame on me. (They’ve also added various things I have seen and reviewed, of course, but that’s not the point of this section.)

    Over on Amazon, no brand-new films that I could see, but they did have the streaming premieres of Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen and acclaimed crime drama Queen & Slim. They’ve also now got Crazy Rich Asians, after it ended its time on Now TV / Sky Cinema. Talking of which, after having a subscription to that for most of the year — first for the Oscars, then via a series of free and heavily discounted months — I cancelled it at the start of this month because it was going to be full price, only for them to now offer me a free month. Additions there this month include The Good Liar, Motherless Brooklyn, and Judy.

    BBC iPlayer’s also had a pretty strong slate of movies recently, including recent-ish titles moving in from other streamers (Molly’s Game, I, Tonya) and HD versions of classics (Doctor Zhivago, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, etc). Also, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, which I’ve not seen for a very long time indeed and ought to take the chance to rewatch in HD (that feels like the kind of film that’s due a 4K release from someone like Arrow, but who holds the rights I don’t know).

    Finally, my disc purchases were a lot calmer than last month’s 54 films. It’s taken five years, but I finally completed my collection of the “Top 5 Films I Hadn’t Heard of Before Watching The Story of Film But Now Really Want to See” by importing the US release of Hyenas. I managed to find a copy of Doctor Sleep with the director’s cut included (if I’d realised they really meant it when they said it was “limited edition”, I’d’ve bought it sooner! After being out of stock on HMV’s website for months, they seem to have found some additional copies, so fortunately I only paid normal price for it). Rewatching Jodorowsky’s Dune inspired me to purchase Arrow’s new Jodorowsky box set, which I fear I may regret (his films aren’t half odd looking), but there we go (knowing me, I’ll not get round to them for years / ever anyway).

    I also picked up… Bullitt (primarily for one of its special features, feature documentary The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing) … the US 4K release of anime Ghost in the Shell (though I accidentally ended up with two copies, so I need to get that on eBay) … and re-bought all three Ghostbusters films (the original pair in a new-to-the-UK 4K box set, which duplicates the discs from last year’s limited and expensive US 35th anniversary set; and the 2016 reboot in 3D, which I got brand-new for £1.50. The fact most people have given up on 3D is a boon for those of us who haven’t).


    October means one thing for some people: Halloween. I doubt I’ll be so singularly focused (I never have been before — why start now?), and I’m not even sure what I’ll do for the day itself (because it is just a day, not a season, or even a month — sorry, people). Between 2015 and 2019 I spent it covering the Twilight saga, but I finished that last year (thank God) so need a new notion. Although there’s always that Twilight spoof — which, according to IMDb voters, is the 46th worst film of all time, ranking lower than any real Twilight film. Dare I brave the horror?

    The Past Month on TV #61

    As I mentioned in my August review, this TV column was meant to go up last month, but I didn’t get round to it and now there’s tonnes to cover. So, let’s get cracking…

    Lucifer  Season 5 Episodes 1–8
    Lucifer season 5AThe Fox Netflix comic book adaptation reimagining returns for its final penultimate season. For most of its production cycle, season 5 was indeed intended to be the end of Lucifer. Apparently it was only when they came to writing the finale that they realised it contained a whole season’s worth of material, and so a sixth season was brought into being. And for this first half of season 5 — or season 5A, if you prefer — it does feel like things are headed towards an ending, mainly because of the reveal/cliffhanger on the midseason finale (no spoilers here!)

    Before that, we get to see Tom Ellis exercise his acting chops by playing Lucifer’s scheming, American-accented twin brother, Michael, and a fun episode where all the cast get to play at being in a black-and-white ’40s film noir. That episode, It Never Ends Well for the Chicken, is an absolute delight, one of the series’ best ever, and is also by far the lowest-rated on IMDb. Some people don’t deserve nice things… Anyway, the season as a whole continues in the same vein as ever, albeit leaning a little more into its fantastical arc plots (as it also did last season, to be fair). It’ll be interesting to see how all that plays out, bearing in mind everyone thought they were making an ending until very late in the day.

    The Crown  Season 2
    The Crown season 2When I last watched The Crown, Peter Capaldi was still the Doctor, the Netflix MCU was still expanding, and there was still a month left of the glorious days before “is Twin Peaks season 3 a movie?” debates. I enjoyed that first season, so quite why it’s taken me this long to get round to the second, I don’t know. Anyway, season two is in some ways the second half of season one — in my first season review I noted that the storyline about Philip’s position relative to Elizabeth was left open-ended, and the second run does indeed follow up on that, providing the focus of the first few episodes and a throughline that’s only really resolved in the finale (whether they’ll pick back up on it with the new, older cast in future seasons, I guess I’ll find out later). Whether its historical accuracy is strictly, well, accurate is still debatable, but any modifications or embellishment to fact are to the aid of making a compelling drama, which this undoubtedly is. Some people will never get on board with caring about the rarefied family and political problems of a royal family, but I think it’s remarkable how human and relatable those often are; and, when they’re not, they’re usually at least of some historical significance.

    Archer  Season 7
    Archer season 7After being less ambivalent about Archer’s fifth season experiment, Archer Vice, I was delighted to see it return to its original espionage trappings for season 6. I guess the writing team disagreed, because once again they’ve relocated the cast to a new setting: as a private detective agency in LA. For me, this played much like Vice did: I enjoyed it enough while it was on, but overall it can’t seem to equal the quality of the spy-based seasons. The storylines often aren’t as engaging; the humour isn’t as effective.

    Next up is a period of the show where they pushed the setting even further from the original format each season, which doesn’t fill me with excitement, for obvious reasons. Though first up is “a 1947 noir-esque Los Angeles setting”, which does sound up my street. Fingers crossed.

    Jonathan Creek  Series 3–4 + Specials
    Jonathan CreekThis particular batch of Creek episodes begins with Christmas special Black Canary, which aired between series 2 and 3. It’s one of the series’ very best episodes (indeed, it’s the top-rated on IMDb), a great mystery with an atmospheric snowbound Christmastime setting. Unfortunately, things then go off the boil a bit in series 3. Every single episode is written by David Renwick, and you wonder if he was beginning to run out of fresh, clever ideas. Nonetheless, there are some highlights here: a missing alien corpse; a mystery where a missing apostrophe may be a vital clue; and creepy one where a man apparently crawled up some steps after being shot in the head.

    But the next Christmas special, Satan’s Chimney, is a definite return to form — the kind of Gothic mystery one associates with Creek but actually only gets from time to time. It’s the second best-ever episode according to IMDb voters. It’s also the first after costar Caroline Quentin departed the show. Julia Sawalha makes a solid replacement, depending on personal preference (I think Maddy is the better character; my partner disliked her intensely was glad to see her replaced). Unfortunately, the ensuing series 4, in which she also costars, seems to struggle for ideas even more than series 3, including some particularly dark and unpleasant mysteries.

    And then, following a five-year gap (enough for Renwick to recharge, I guess), we get another feature-length special, The Grinning Man, which once again leans into the Gothic, and, once again, finds it works out for the best — it’s the fourth best-ever episode per IMDb voters. I’m seeing a pattern emerge. It also introduces another new sidekick in the form of Sheridan Smith, who adds a bit of sparky youth, even in spite of Renwick’s slightly “old man trying to write young person” characterisation of her. Unfortunately, this may be where the “good stuff” ends, at least if we’re to believe IMDb: no future episode even cracks the top 20, with five of the remaining seven right at the bottom of the chart. Oh dear.

    The Twilight Zone  ‘Best Of’
    Kick the CanThis month’s penultimate selection of the original Twilight Zone‘s best episodes begins with one that was remade by Steven Spielberg for the film revival, Kick the Can. It’s mostly a very grounded episode, set in an old people’s home where one ‘troublemaker’ tries to incite the others to have some fun. He has a crazy “fountain of youth”-type theory… which, of course, turns out to be true (this is The Twilight Zone, after all). It’s a very sweet episode, with a nice little message — essentially, you’re only as old as you feel; it’s about having an attitude that keeps you young. But trust TZ to not let it be entirely nice, adding a bit of glumness to even a happy ending by having one guy get left out. The movie version expanded on the ending, which was criticised by some, but those additions were actually the suggestion of the original episode’s writer.

    Sticking with the big-screen theme, Mirror Image was reportedly the inspiration behind Jordan Peele’s Us, which doesn’t surprise me because Us came to mind while I was watching it. They’re not that similar to execution, just base concept — a woman waiting for a bus thinks she’s going mad when other people in the depot tell her she’s done things she doesn’t remember… but then she spots her doppelgänger in a mirror. It’s a creepy premise, and some moments provide suitable visualisations of that idea, but unfortunately it runs out of places to go with its setup, and the ending is inconclusive. Us does it better because it does go somewhere with it. Plus, Us‘s explanation for what’s actually going on is just as unsettling as when it was all unexplained, whereas Mirror Image undermines itself with some mumbo jumbo about parallel universes.

    A Penny for Your Thoughts hasn’t inspired any cinematic do-overs (that I know of), but it’s easy to imagine it being reworked as a mid-’90s Jim Carrey comedy. It’s about a bank clerk who tosses a penny and it lands on its side, which grants him the ability to hear others’ thoughts (I’m sure that’s scientifically accurate). Unfortunately, it seems he’s not the brightest spark, because he keeps talking to people as if they’d just said their thoughts out loud. Okay, if this happened to you then you wouldn’t believe it and it might take you a moment to catch on… but even once this guy twigs, he keeps making the same mistake. Anyway, it builds up to a nice little twist (just because someone’s thinking about something doesn’t mean they’ll follow through) and, no spoilers, but it comes to a happy ending. A pleasant Twilight Zone episode?! A veritable rarity.

    People Are Alike All OverConversely, there’s a typical Twilight Zone parable to be found in People Are Alike All Over. Unfortunately, it’s one of those episodes that only comes into its own at the final reveal — the journey there seems padded out to fill the requisite amount of screen time. Some of the pulp-SF stuff seems a bit dated now (the idea that Mars might be inhabited by an entire race of human-like beings is, obviously, daft), but it’s all in aid of an accurately cynical critique of mankind and our attitude to new discoveries.

    The simply-titled season three opener is Two, named for its characters: two survivors from opposing sides of a devastating war, who bump into each other in a deserted town and proceed to eye each other up as they mooch around semi-aimlessly. It’s conceptually sound (about reconciliation between individuals when there’s no point fighting anymore), but dull in execution — so much of it is just them wandering around, not reconciling. Alternatively, it’s “an ethereal poem of an episode” (per Thrillist). I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

    The Last Flight might be my pick for the most underrated Twilight Zone episode. I know I’m including it in a review of ‘best’ episodes, but this is the ninth such selection, and I’d rate it much higher — in my opinion, it’s one of the series’ very best instalments. Written by the great Richard Matheson (arguably a more consistent writer than even Rod Serling; but then he only wrote 16 episodes vs Serling’s 92), it’s the story of a World War I pilot who lands at a present-day American airforce base. I won’t spoil what unfolds from there, because the episode is perfectly conceived and executed from beginning to end, a note of praise I wouldn’t apply to even some of the most well-regarded episodes. Part of why it’s so good is that it doesn’t just settle for its first idea — there’s a twist, and then there’s character development, and a final reveal/confirmation. Not every Twilight Zone episode bothers to add so much detail or so much character richness.

    In Praise of PipFinally, Jack Klugman makes his fourth and final TZ appearance as the lead of In Praise of Pip. He plays a bookkeeper and failed father, now worried about his grown son who’s been injured in Vietnam (this is before the full-on Vietnam war, by-the-by — it’s speculated that this might be the first time the country was mentioned in a US drama). What plays out is the story of a man realising he’s wasted his chance to enjoy his kid’s childhood. It’s a good theme, and one fit to be given a fantastical Twilight Zone spin (it makes a change for a TZ episode to be about a man revisiting someone else’s childhood), but I wasn’t convinced by how it played out. In part, he makes a deal with God that thousands, millions, of other parents have tried to make, without success, because they don’t live in the Twilight Zone. I’m not sure how this would play with them… That aside, BuzzFeed describe the episode as “sweet. Harmless. Moving in a boring, safe sort of way,” and I’d tend to agree. On the bright side, it has one great scene in a hall of mirrors — a well-worn cinematic device but here justified with some clever compositions. Like the majority of Twilight Zone episodes, there’s always something to like.

    Also watched…
  • Derren Brown: 20 Years of Mind Control — This celebration of Brown’s 20 years on TV featured lots of nice clips and reminisces, which made me want to go back and watch loads of stuff in full. Being made by his own production team, it did lack a bit of external context and opinion; and the new live trick was too obviously played and consequently underwhelming — based on what I’ve read on social media, everyone expected a twist that never came.
  • The Great British Bake Off Series 10 — I’m all caught up on Bake Off now, ready for the new series that recently completed filming in lockdown. The show continues to live up to its amiable reputation, but the real highlight for me is aftershow An Extra Slice — sometimes I feel like I’m watching GBBO just so I get to watch Jo Brand, Tom Allen, and their guests (lovingly) take the piss out of it.
  • Hannah Gadsby: Nanette — This Netflix standup special was much discussed on its release back in 2018. I’m not the person best placed to write too much about it, but I will say that I thought it was indeed brilliant — often funny, but also incredibly powerful, and ultimately more like an emotive, cathartic ‘lecture’ (for want of a better word) than a traditional standup gig.
  • Red Dwarf: The First Three Million Years — Originally meant to air alongside The Promised Land (but delayed by lockdown), this three-part documentary recounting the history of Red Dwarf features many anecdotes that will be familiar to the hardcore fanbase (the DVDs had a thorough series of making-of docs, after all), but it’s still a fun and informative overview.
  • The Rookie Season 2 Episodes 1-17 — The first season of this new-cop drama was notable for how it kept things grounded and plausible. The second run sees the writers straining against that a bit: sometimes it seems like their massive LA precinct actually only has half-a-dozen cops (i.e. the main cast) who always hang out and get involved in every case; and those cases are getting more outlandish too, including serial killers and conspiracies. And yet it’s still a very enjoyable, relatively easy watch.

    Things to Catch Up On
    The Umbrella Academy season 2This month, I have mostly been missing the second season of The Umbrella Academy, which I’ve heard fantastic things about. I never got round to watching season one (although I meant to), so I really should catch up. And talking of “second seasons of superhero shows I never got round to the first season of”, Amazon just started The Boys season two. I want to catch up on that, too.

    Back to Netflix, who also just released mission-to-Mars drama Away. It’s a concept that always entices me, even if the last one I tried, Mars, was so weak I only ever watched one episode. They’ve also recently launched Young Wallander, a reboot that sees the Swedish detective as a junior cop in the present day. Not sure how I feel about that — what makes it Wallander as opposed to Generic Swedish Cop? I’ll find out at some point, hopefully.

    Next month… talking of stuff Netflix have recently added, they’ve got the first two seasons of YouTube’s Karate Kid sequel, Cobra Kai, ahead of their premiere of the third season next year. I’ll definitely be covering that next month, as well as… I dunno, whatever else turns up and/or I finally get round to watching.

    Plus more Twilight Zone. There’s a lot of that to go yet.

  • 200 Films in 2020

    For only the third time in this blog’s 14-year history, I’ve reached 200 Films in a Year.

    The film I chose for #200 was Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love, perhaps the most acclaimed film of the 2000s that I was yet to see, and part of this year’s Blindspot list (I missed a Blindspot film in August, so this is catchup). I’ll write more about the film itself another day; for now, we’re concerned with the history and stats of reaching 200.

    As I said, this is the third time I’ve got there. The two previous occasions were 2015, when a last-minute scramble saw me get there on December 30th (December 2015 is still my second-highest December ever, behind only 2008, which was a similar scramble to reach #100); and 2018, when I got there on September 22nd. This year, I got there today, September 3rd, thereby setting a new record.

    It also means that I’ve reached #200 more times than I’ve failed to even reach #100 (the failures were 2009, which ended at #94, and 2012, which got to #97).

    And, of course, there’s still almost four whole months of the year left. Let’s run some numbers and see what we can predict about them…

    For starters, it’s a sort-of-logical deduction to conclude that, if it took (just over) two-thirds of the year to reach #200, surely the final third should get me to #300 more or less exactly. Is that possible? Well, yes. I’d have to achieve an average of 25 films per month (in fact, 25.5, because #199 and #200 count as part of September), but already this year I’ve had five months that passed 25 films, and the average for the whole year so far is 24.75, which is almost there. But is that likely? Well, I’ve only made it past 20 films in September and November once each (when I did, I got to 23 and 25, respectively), and I’ve never even got to 20 in December. So, the signs aren’t great.

    What does history forecast as a more likely outcome, then? My all-time average viewing for September to December is 45.6 films, which this year would see me reach #244. If we narrow that to just the last five years (because a lot has changed in my viewing habits over the past decade-and-a-half), the average becomes 58.8, which would get me to #257 this year.

    Switching from averages to specific examples, my worst September-to-December total came in 2011, when in that time I watched 23 films. At the other end of the scale, the best was in 2015, when I watched 82 films in those four months. If those extremes happened this year, I’d make it to either #221 or #280, respectively. If I managed to equal my best-ever totals for each individual month, I’d end on #296; but if I repeated my worst-ever individual month results, I’d only get to #215.

    You’ll note that every one of these predictions falls short of #300.

    Things don’t look good for reaching the big three-oh-oh, then. In fact, it’s questionable whether I can even beat my previous best (261 in 2018) — of the six history-based predictions I’ve run through, only two get me above that.

    But the idea that I could reach #200 within one year used to seem totally impossible, so never say never…

    0202 tsuguA fo weiveR ylhtnoM ehT

    It’s been quite a year, but now things are returning to normal… or some people are pretending they are, anyway. I mean, schools are going back, cinemas have reopened, and my film viewing has dropped back down towards 2019 levels.

    Worse, my reviews are lagging. It’s been a whole year since I hit 2,000 listed reviews, but I’m still over 50 away from actually being able to say I’ve published 2,000 film reviews. Hopefully I’ll get there before the end of 2020. In particular, I’ve fallen behind with my 100-week roundups already; and there was no new TV column this month, which was also a mistake. I’m aiming to get both back on track in September.

    For now, though, let’s reflect on what I did watch and post in August…


    #185 Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
    #186 The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador (1912), aka Le mystère des roches de Kador
    #186a The Stunt Double (2020)
    #187 RoboCop 3 (1993)
    #188 Color Out of Space (2019)
    #188a Frankenstein (1910)
    #189 The Man Who Laughs (1928)
    #189a The Dancing Pig (1907), aka Le cochon danseur
    #190 Pearl Harbor (2001)
    #191 Yes, God, Yes (2019)
    #192 The Assistant (2019)
    #193 Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020)
    #194 Bad Boys for Life (2020)
    #195 A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
    #196 Tolkien (2019)
    #197 The Show Must Go On: The Queen + Adam Lambert Story (2019)
    #198 Entrapment (1999)
    Never Rarely Sometimes Always

    Bad Boys for Life

    Entrapment

    .


    • I watched 14 new feature films in August.
    • That beats January’s 12, so it’s not the lowest month of 2020, but it’s also the first month since February with a total below 28.
    • It’s my eighth month in a row with 10 or more features, which is my second-longest streak of months with 10+ films. (The longest is 60 months, from June 2014 to May 2019, so there’s literally years to go before I rival that again.)
    • It tops the August average (previously 12.5, now 12.6), but falls short of the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 19.3, now 18.9) and the average for 2020 to date (previously 26.3, now 24.75).
    • I may not have quite got to #200 this month, but #198 is still the furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of August. It also means 2020 overtakes 2016 to become my third highest year ever, with four months still to go.
    • Further to what I wrote last month about years from which I’d never seen a feature film, The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador is my first from 1912. That just leaves 1915 as the only year since the US and UK started producing features (in 1912) from which I haven’t seen a film.
    • Watching Pearl Harbor means I’ve now seen all of Michael Bay’s films. That and 6 Underground are still scheduled for review, leaving only The Island unreviewed on this blog. I last saw it at the cinema back in 2005. I quite liked it and always meant to revisit it (I even own the DVD, but obviously never watched it (typical)). At some point I’ll get round to that rewatch and cover it then.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched The Assistant, Bad Boys for Life, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Color Out of Space, and Never Rarely Sometimes Always.
    • Talking of failures, I didn’t watch a Blindspot film this month. That’s the first time I’ve slipped in 2020, so hopefully I’ll just catch it up next month.



    The 63rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    The notion of whether “favourite” means “best” or “most enjoyable” is on my mind with this month’s selection. Probably the best film I saw this month was abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always, but, understandably, it wasn’t “enjoyable” per se. On the other side, then, the film I’m most likely to end up purchasing and rewatching is, a bit to my surprise, Bad Boys for Life — as a belated threequel it should by all rights be mediocre, but I think it might actually be the best instalment of the trilogy.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    Nothing truly terrible this month (at least not among the features — some of the shorts I was less enamoured of), but something must be chosen. I enjoyed Pearl Harbor more than most, so it would seem unfair to pick that. Instead, I’ll say The Mystery of the Rocks of Kador, which I was sold on by Movies Silently’s review but unfortunately didn’t enjoy that much. Never mind.

    Film I Haven’t Actually Seen But Nonetheless Used as a Title Theme of the Month
    It’s Tenet, ylsuoivbo.

    Decade I Most Miss of the Month
    Entrapment reminded me how much fun a solid studio programmer could be. Two stars, a few reasonably-scaled action scenes, and a mid-range budget add up to a couple of hours of fun. Not a great movie, but one I enjoyed enough to not regret the time spent watching it. It’s the kind of thing the major Hollywood studios are backing away from in favour of just making mega-budget super-blockbuster tentpoles, but that smaller indie studios aren’t up to providing. I feel like the ’90s did that kind of thing particularly well, too.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    No one post really caught on this month — this month’s highest charting new post was down at 55th overall (behind mostly TV columns, but also a dozen older film reviews). Even my review of a new release (Yes, God, Yes) didn’t generate a huge number of clicks (I guess it is a pretty niche title), although the victor only beat it by one hit. Said victor was Ready or Not.



    My Rewatchathon continues at pace, which means I’m still about a month ahead of schedule. Although this month I finished a series that’s been a major part of it this year…

    #34 Pursuit to Algiers (1945)
    #35 The Great Mouse Detective (1986)
    #36 Terror by Night (1946)
    #37 Dressed to Kill (1946)

    The first time I watched the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series, it took me eight years. Now, I’ve rewatched them all in eight months. A much more reasonable pace, let’s be honest (the first time I was spacing them out so as not to rush them, but took it a bit far…) My original reviews are linked above, and I put some new thoughts on Letterboxd about Pursuit to Algiers, Terror by Night, and Dressed to Kill in these links.

    My fourth film this month was also Sherlock Holmes themed, albeit turned into a mouse courtesy of, appropriately enough, the Mouse House. Disney’s 26th animated film used to be known as Basil the Great Mouse Detective here in the UK, but it’s been brought in line with the US for the Disney+ era. I’m only surprised it took them so long. (Now, if they could just sort out the UK list of the Animated Canon…) I’ve been on a bit of a Sherlock Holmes kick this year, so it was only natural I’d revisit Disney’s version. It manages to be both a very good Disney movie and a very good Sherlock Holmes one at the same time, mixing the comedy and charm of Disney animation with a healthy dash of the investigation and adventure of a Holmes story. It comes just before what fans call the Disney Renaissance, but it’s also directly responsible for it: after the failure of The Black Cauldron, Disney’s animation studio was under threat, but the success of The Great Mouse Detective allowed them to continue. The rest, as they say, is history.


    After four months of no cinema releases to comment on, they’re back! It’s a gradual re-opening, of course, with Tenet the only truly major title on wide UK release so far (The New Mutants had previews, but isn’t technically out until this Friday). At least some people I follow on Twitter seem to have dived back in headfirst, but I remain a little wary — as I said earlier, I’ve not seen Tenet yet; whether that’ll change in the coming week or two, I’m undecided.

    Netflix attempted to fill the blockbuster void with originals like Project Power, a super-powered action-thriller starring Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but the mediocre reviews put me off actually watching it (so far). This month they also bolstered their catalogue with the fourth and final Ip Man movie, and the only Tim Burton film Iv’e not seen, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Over on Amazon Prime Video, meanwhile, new-ish additions included Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang and true-story whistleblower thriller Official Secrets. Other newcomers of note include Mississippi Grind, which I heard recommended a couple of years ago and have been waiting for a chance to see since, and Roger Corman / Vincent Price horror The Masque of the Red Death, which is supposedly due on disc in a new 4K restoration later this year, but I don’t know if Amazon are streaming that.

    As for the other streamers, Sky Cinema / Now TV had Terry Gilliam’s much-delayed The Man Who Killed Don Quixote; Disney+ had diverted-from-cinemas The One and Only Ivan (which I think I’ll give a miss anyway) and a doc about lyricist Howard Ashman, Howard (which does interest me); BBC iPlayer has a pair of films I’d like to rewatch, The Lost Boys and Love & Friendship, not to mention the original Poltergeist, which I’ve never seen; and on All 4 I missed the chance to see Wild Tales (the 183rd greatest film ever according to IMDb voters).

    Finally, my new purchases on disc, of which there were a lot — some 54 films I could list (egads!) The bulk of those come from Arrow’s Gamera box set (with 12 films plus four alternate cuts), although Criterion’s Bruce Lee set was no slouch (with seven films plus one extended cut). The latter came as part of a belated order placed during Barnes & Noble’s Criterion sale back in July, which also included 1984, Come and See, and the four-part 1966-7 War and Peace; plus their editions of films I’ve already seen like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious. There were also a bunch of silents (I got good deals on eBay for US DVDs of the French serials Judex and The House of Mystery; plus an import of a French DVD set of French films from French director Raymond Bernard; and Masters of Cinema’s latest Buster Keaton three-feature box set) and a bunch of noirs (more from Masters of Cinema in the shape of No Way Out and Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window; and Blu-ray upgrades for the BFI’s releases of three Otto Preminger noirs and Jules Dassin’s Night and the City). Meanwhile, on 4K, I got Arrow’s UK format debut, Pitch Black, and their US format debut, but in its UK edition from StudioCanal, Flash Gordon (in a tat-filled box set. I love tat. It’s always kinda disappointing when you actually get it, but I can’t resist).

    And that isn’t even everything, but it’s more than enough to be going on about.


    Mulan comes to Disney+ for an additional fee (which varies by region). I’ll tell you this for nothing: I won’t be paying it.