The Self-Reflective Monthly Review of August 2021

For the second month in a row, this monthly review is the only new post I’ve published. (I had intended to review Evangelion 3.0+1.01 in a timely fashion, but I couldn’t marshal my thoughts in time.) My viewing continues apace, however, with August seeing a return to the form of my January-to-May viewing.

Related to both those points, I’m continuing to mull over the specifics of the future of this blog — that’s both in terms of finding time to write reviews, and the relevance of its eponymous challenge. In respect to the latter, I crossed the 150-film mark this month, which got me looking at history again. It’s now almost a decade since I last failed to reach 100 new films, and it’s seven years since I watched fewer than 150. Heck, in the entire 15-year history of the blog, I’ve passed #260 as many times as I’ve failed to make #100; and the 260s were much more recently. Something for me to think about.

Before we return to August, a quick mention of another way I’ve been spending my free time: helping out with the Women Over 50 Film Festival, which is taking place online for the second year running (because, y’know, pandemic). And soon I’ll be lending my talents to FilmBath for a third year (though in a reduced capacity, what with having a day job now). Doesn’t bode so well for the ol’ blogging, eh? At least I can promise (as much as anyone can make promises about the future) that these monthly columns aren’t going anywhere.

On which cheery note…


#139 The Father (2020)
#140 Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (2021)
#141 Turks & Caicos (2014)
#142 A Damsel in Distress (1937)
#143 The Danish Girl (2015)
#144 Tea with Mussolini (1999)
#145 The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
#146 Evangelion: 3.0+1.01 Thrice Upon a Time (2021), aka Shin Evangelion Gekijôban
#147 The Kid Detective (2020)
#148 Six Minutes to Midnight (2020)
#149 Love Affair (1939)
#150 Salting the Battlefield (2014)
#151 Thirteen at Dinner (1985)
#152 The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009)
#153 My Man Godfrey (1936)
#154 Dead Man’s Folly (1986)
#155 Wuthering Heights (1939)
#156 Murder in Three Acts (1986)
#157 The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (2012)
#158 Appointment with Murder (1948)
The Father

The Kid Detective

My Man Godfrey

.


  • I watched 20 films in August.
  • As noted in my intro, that’s an improvement on the last couple of months, and ties with March as my, er, joint 5th best month of the year. Okay, so it’s hardly an all-timer, but it’s an improvement.
  • It’s not a bad one for averages, though, passing all the ones I usually mention: the August average (previously 12.6, now 13.1), the average for 2021 to date (previously 19.71, now 19.75), and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 18.2, now 18.7).
  • It’s also only the second time August has reached 20 films, with the first being right back in 2007. (My monthly stats for back then are only estimates, but I definitely passed 20 in August, probably landing somewhere around 25.)
  • But there was no Blindspot film this month. Various reasons for that, but it doesn’t help that I’ve accidentally wound up with a pretty heavy-going lot left to choose from. A three-hour silent epic famed for its racism? A gruelling Russian depiction of World War 2? A black-and-white drama about poor immigrants in ’90s Paris called Hate? Eesh. Still, I intend to make my September extra miserable by squeezing in two next month.
  • I didn’t watch anything from last month’s “failures”, either. Oh well.



The 75th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I watched several very good films this month (2021’s tally of five-star ratings leapt up), but my personal favourite was The Kid Detective. I liked the sound of the premise, and I thought the film nailed it. I doubt everyone will love it as much as I did (I’ve got its Letterboxd scores as evidence of that), but it’s a definite recommendation nonetheless.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
A different detective mystery sits at the other end of the spectrum. One of the three belated entries to the Falcon series, Appointment with Murder is a damp squib even by the relatively-low standards of ’40s mystery programmers. Those final three Falcons can be tricky to track down, and they’re not really worth it (unless you’re a completist, like me, of course).

Franchise of the Month
I worked through or touched upon multiple long-running film series this month: the Ripley films; Peter Ustinov’s Poirot; the Falcon; the Worricker trilogy… but, really, the dominant one is Neon Genesis Evangelion — not just because of the new, final-final (really final this time) movie, but also because I rewatched the three preceding movies (see below) and also dropped a huge wodge of cash on the ‘Ultimate Edition’ Blu-ray release of the original TV series. My bank balance and ever-receding shelf space hate me.

Most Deserved Best Actor Win of the Month
There’s a chance I’m missing something, but really I just want to take the time to say that Anthony Hopkins is excellent in The Father and I’m sure he deserved those (somewhat controversial) wins last awards season.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
As with last month, there’s no point awarding this (what with there only being one new post), but I’ll once again mention which archive post topped the chart. Last month, it was April 2017’s TV review #16, with March 2017’s TV review #15 in second place. This month, at the top is TV review #15, with TV review #16 in second. Why do they endure in popularity? Your guess is good as mine.


My Rewatchathon technically continues at average pace (i.e. about four films a month), although as I came into August about seven films behind target, I’m still about seven behind. Well, at least it’s not any worse.

#23 Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult (1994)
#24 Evangelion: 1.11 You Are (Not) Alone. (2007/2009)
#25 Evangelion: 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance. (2009/2010)
#26 Evangelion: 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo. (2012/2013)

Having rewatched the first two Naked Guns over the past couple of months, it was only right to round out the trilogy. Its humour gets a bit too smutty at times, but the opening and closing set pieces are great, and there’s a pretty consistent gag rate throughout. On balance, I’d probably say it’s the second best in the series (after the first, of course).

But the main feature of this month’s re-viewing was Evangelion, revisiting the first three rebuild films before the release of the fourth. My original reviews are linked above, while here you can find my latest thoughts on Letterboxd about 1.11, 2.22, and 3.33.


Normally this section is dominated by all the new Blu-rays I’ve bought and not watched, but this month there was only one. Yes, one. That was Arrow’s new 4K disc of David Lynch’s Dune, a release I’m not even sure I want — not because the film’s a bit meh, but because the German edition out in a couple of months includes a feature-length documentary that Arrow couldn’t be bothered to wait for. But Amazon’s shipping policies nowadays mean I can’t preorder that, and I forgot to cancel my preorder for Arrow’s version, so now I have a dilemma: sell it and wait for the German one, or just live without that new doc. Elsewise, I’m not really sure why it’s been such a quiet month — other than that the labels have all been announcing their big expensive box sets for November and December, so I’ve been spending my money preordering those rather than on stuff in sales or what have you. I’ll tell you this: when we get towards the end of the year, my list of failures is gonna be looong…

Outside of my physical media library, new releases continue as if there wasn’t still a pandemic on. I expect Bond will tempt me back to the big screen in a few weeks, but until then I’m waiting on home releases for the likes of Free Guy, Snake Eyes, The Courier, Pig, Censor, and (probably my most anticipated from this lot) Candyman. Speaking of at home, the streamers inevitably had new stuff to offer too. The most critically acclaimed was probably Coda on Apple TV+, but I’ve also heard a lot of good things about Boss Level, which is on Amazon Prime here in the UK, as is The Vault, which is billed as a heist action-thriller and so sounds right up my street. Netflix’s best effort was probably wrong-man thriller Beckett, which seemed to get a middling reception, and animated musical Vivo, which I saw very little chatter about considering it’s got something to do with Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Swinging away from new titles, there were plenty of archive additions bulking out my watch list. Sky Cinema headlines include Wonder Woman 1984 and the new Tom & Jerry, but there was also The Very Excellent Mr Dundee, a new-ish sort-of-spin-off from the Crocodile Dundee franchise. It’s meant to be terrible, and yet I still intend to watch it. The main things catching my eye on Netflix were titles that previously made my end-of-year ’50 unseen’ lists, like Black Mass, The Iron Lady, and Suffragette; while MUBI brought up obscure films of interest, like Amer, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, and Welcome II the Terrordome; and my Amazon Prime picks were hardly in a mainstream mood either, with the likes of comedy-horror Lake Michigan Monster, anime Mirai, Indian “neo-noir action thriller” (and brief IMDb Top 250 member, hence my interest) Vikram Vedha, and sci-fi drama Prospect (which has been popping on and off All 4 for a while now. Hopefully it’ll be a bit more stable on Amazon… so I can not get round to it for even longer).

Talking of All 4, this month I’ve managed to miss my chance to watch the likes of Mommy, Wings of Desire, The Old Man and the Gun, and Ida. But they’ve still got behind-the-scenes documentary Memory: The Origins of Alien, which I’ll intend to make time for. BBC iPlayer also has a film documentary that sounded interesting, Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans, plus the film that’s referring to, 1971’s Le Mans.

Oh, and everyone had stuff I either have owned on disc for ages but not watched (the full(er) cut of Metropolis on MUBI; The Dead Zone and The Last Samurai on Amazon; the live-action Beauty and the Beast on iPlayer; Only God Forgives on MUBI), or own on disc and should rewatch (Munich on Netflix; The Limey on Amazon), or have seen and should have reviewed by now (The Lego Movie 2 on Netflix; The Peanut Butter Falcon on iPlayer). Oh well.


Daniel Craig’s name is Bond, James Bond, for the last time.

The Elephant Man (1980)

2018 #187
David Lynch | 124 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA & UK / English | PG / PG

The Elephant Man

This biopic of Joseph Merrick — better known as ‘the Elephant Man’, a Victorian circus sideshow ‘freak’ who became a star of London society during his stay at the London Hospital — is noteworthy not only for its documentation of a key figure in Victorian life, who perhaps transformed people’s views of what it meant to be human, but also because it’s a film directed by David Lynch.

The Elephant Man is sometimes placed alongside Dune and The Straight Story as anomalies in Lynch’s filmography, which is more often characterised for its horror-inducing oddness and sometimes-incomprehensible plotting. Of course, upon proper examination, all three of these movies exhibit Lynchian touches, perhaps none more so than The Elephant Man. It’s there in the avant-garde opening; the dream sequence; the sound design, for which he’s co-credited; the focus on industrial machinery. The film can certainly be read as a Victorian melodrama, but in execution it’s far from a Merchant Ivory movie.

It’s also a very human and humane film, perhaps more so than you might expect from Lynch. But then again, look to The Straight Story, which in my review I described as “understatedly human and kind of heartwarming”; or Fire Walk with Me, which is about exposing the tragic injustices inflicted upon Laura Palmer. He may not come at it from the most obvious angles, but I think Lynch is consistently a compassionate filmmaker. Indeed, some critics even accused the film of “excessive sentiment”, probably due to being partly based on the memoirs of Merrick’s friend and physician, Frederick Treves. I disagree because, even if it is pretty sentimental, I think it hits the sweet spot — the point is that we should care.

Treves and Merrick

A significant boost to our emotional connection is the absolutely superb performances from Anthony Hopkins as Treves and John Hurt as Merrick. The latter earnt a BAFTA win and an Oscar nomination (losing to Robert De Niro in Raging Bull) in what became a truly iconic performance, but it’s a wonder Hopkins wasn’t similarly recognised. One of the themes the film tackles is the dichotomy of Treves being Merrick’s friend but also, to an extent, exploiting him to further his career, and finding the truth in that balance is down to Hopkins. They also both contribute enormously to the graceful beauty found throughout the film, not least in close-ups where a single tear can convey so much complex emotion, or the understated but moving final scene.

So too the gorgeous black-and-white photography by Freddie Francis. As Tom Huddleston writes in his essay accompanying the film’s StudioCanal Blu-ray releases, “imagine the film in colour, how fleshy and grotesque the makeup would have appeared, how gaudy and nauseating the carnival sequences.” It doesn’t bear thinking about. Instead, the monochrome visuals mix “gothic horror with documentary realism, lush drawing-room drama with mist-shrouded flights of fantasy”, to create a film that feels realist and historical, but also timeless and fantastical.

5 out of 5

The Elephant Man is on BBC One tonight at 10:30pm (11pm in Scotland).

It was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2018 project.

Hitchcock (2012)

2018 #20
Sacha Gervasi | 92 mins | TV (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA & UK / English | 12 / PG-13

Hitchcock

Arguably the most famous film director of all time, it was inevitable that one day there’d be an Alfred Hitchcock biopic. Indeed, as is so often the case in Hollywood with an obvious idea waiting to happen, two turned up at once (the other being BBC/HBO TV movie The Girl). Rather than taking an overview of the man’s life, however, both focus in on the making of a single film — in this case, arguably the one he’s most famous for today, Psycho.

That’s half of what the film’s about, anyway. It’s a mixed success. I’ve no idea how true it is, but the setup — the acclaimed Master of Suspense who’s so established that people are judging him over the hill, determined to do a striking new project no one else believes in to prove he’s still got it — is a good’un. It’s especially effective precisely because it’s about Hitchcock and Psycho: it’s the film that defines him for many people now; so, yes, we know the ending, but that lends dramatic irony — how do we get from that starting point to the acclaimed classic we all know? However, it all feels slightly hamstrung by the filmmakers failing to get the rights to directly recreate any shots from Psycho itself, making it feel like the film is having to constantly pull punches there.

Shooting Psycho

The other half of the film is about a blip in Hitch’s marriage — a storyline which is mostly fictional, unsurprisingly. That Hitch was a pervy old letch shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone anymore, but the way the film decides to draw links between the director and twisted murderer Ed Gein (the inspiration for Psycho) is a bit weird. It feels like the scenes of murder, etc, have been included for mere titillation rather than actually revealing anything about the titular moviemaker.

The latter storyline leads to a reconciliatory ending that is cheese personified. By the scene just before that wraps up the Psycho storyline in a much more effective manner, with Hitchcock listening to the film’s premiere screening from the lobby, ‘conducting’ the audience’s screams during the shower scene. It’s probably the highlight of the movie; the main insight into why Hitch ever did what he did, perhaps. (Well, that and all the lust.)

In the title role, Anthony Hopkins is completely submerged as the big man, helped by a pile of prosthetics. Sometimes I think Hopkins is a distinctly overrated actor, but he’s put the effort in here. As his under-appreciated wife, screenwriter Alma Reville, Helen Mirren is superb as ever. The cast is rounded out by a bunch of decently-served small roles, performed by the likes of Jessica Biel, James D’Arcy, Danny Huston, and, in particular, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh. She seems to fit the era perfectly. Inexplicably drawing the short straw is Toni Collette, in a totally nothingy role as Hitch’s assistant.

Hitchcock blondes

With a running time that barely crossing 90 minutes before the credits roll, Hitchcock feels very slight. This is a small incident in the long and storied life of the great director; and while it may touch on various themes that concerned his whole career, thereby acting as an exemplification for all of them, it still feels more like a vignette than a full-blown biopic.

3 out of 5

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #59

Justice leaves its mark.

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English
Runtime: 138 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 17th July 1998 (USA)
UK Release: 11th December 1998
First Seen: TV, 31st August 2002 (probably)

Stars
Antonio Banderas (Desperado, Puss in Boots)
Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, The Remains of the Day)
Catherine Zeta-Jones (Entrapment, Chicago)

Director
Martin Campbell (GoldenEye, The Legend of Zorro)

Screenwriters
John Eskow (Pink Cadillac, Air America)
Ted Elliott (Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest)
Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

Story by
Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, The Lone Ranger)
Terry Rossio (The Legend of Zorro, National Treasure: Book of Secrets)
Randall Jahnson (The Doors, Sunset Strip)

Based on
The character of Zorro, created by Johnston McCulley.

The Story
After his brother is murdered, Alejandro Murrieta seeks revenge by becoming the protégé of Don Diego de la Vega — the man who used to be Zorro. Alejandro’s nemesis is Captain Love, righthand man to Don Rafael Montero, who 20 years ago killed de la Vega’s wife and stole his daughter — so de la Vega wants some revenge of his own.

Our Hero
A headstrong street thief, Alejandro Murrieta would surely get himself killed were it not for the intervention of Don Diego de la Vega and the training he provides — and his own charm, of course.

Our Villain
Don Rafael Montero plans to purchase California from General Santa Anna using gold secretly mined from the General’s own land. When Zorro’s actions threaten to expose the plan, he decides to destroy the mine and kill its slave workers. As if murdering de la Vega’s wife and stealing his child didn’t make him evil enough.

Best Supporting Character
Anthony Hopkins still seems an unlikely choice for the ageing former Zorro, Don Diego de la Vega, but his performance is perfectly calibrated nonetheless: wise and teasing of his young charge in equal measure. Hopkins also has the remarkable ability to absolutely own every line — reading the quotes page on IMDb, it’s impossible not to hear his voice.

Memorable Quote
“There is a saying, a very old saying: when the pupil is ready the master will appear.” — Don Diego de la Vega

Memorable Scene
Escaping from the villains, Zorro finds refuge in a nearby church, where he hides in the confessional. In comes Elena, wanting to confess her infatuation with the masked bandit. Hilarity ensues.

Technical Wizardry
The key to most good swashbucklers is the sword-fighting, and The Mask of Zorro is up to scratch. Banderas was trained by Bob Anderson, a legendary sword master — he also worked on Highlander, The Princess Bride, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and many more. Not least, he coached Errol Flynn of all people — and Anderson reckoned Banderas was the best swordsman he’d worked with since Flynn.

Making of
Producer Steven Spielberg originally considered directing, but was eventually busy with Saving Private Ryan. Apparently Tom Cruise would’ve been his Zorro. Spielberg’s contributions included putting Catherine Zeta-Jones forward to be cast, and suggesting the epilogue scene (with Alejandro and Elena’s baby) because the original stopping point (Old Zorro dying in his daughter’s arms) was too depressing. At one time Robert Rodriguez was also set to direct — he cast Banderas, and wanted Salma Hayek in the Zeta-Jones role — but he clashed with the studio over budget and, apparently, his concept of the film as violent and R-rated.

Previously on…
The Mask of Zorro was a new, standalone Zorro adventure, but the character has a long screen history — over 40 film appearances, according to Wikipedia, including five serials, plus a dozen TV series and multiple radio dramas. The first was 1920’s The Mark of Zorro, starring the original swashbuckler, Douglas Fairbanks. Better known nowadays is the 1940 remake starring Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone (which nearly made it on to this list).

Next time…
Seven years later, sequel The Legend of Zorro sees Zorro attempt to thwart a threat to California’s pending statehood, this time with his kid in tow. It wasn’t that good. Naturally, there’s talk of a reboot.

Awards
2 Oscar nominations (Sound, Sound Effects Editing)
1 BAFTA nomination (Costume Design)
3 Saturn nominations (Action/Adventure/Thriller Film, Actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Costumes)

What the Critics Said
“a pointed riposte to those who say they don’t make ’em like that anymore. The return of the legendary swordsman is well served by a grandly mounted production in the classical style [which] favors dashing adventure, dramatic and political intrigue, well-motivated characters and romance between mightily attractive leads over fashionable cynicism, cheap gags, over-stressed contemporary relevance and sensation for sensation’s sake. […] Achieving the right tone for the picture was crucial, as it easily could have tilted either in the direction of old-fashioned stodginess or, more likely in this day and age, of inappropriately high-tech thrills and gratuitous violence. Clearly, everyone concerned, beginning with scripters John Eskow, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and GoldenEye director Martin Campbell, was at pains to endow the story with sufficient dramatic and emotional credibility, and to go beyond glibness in its humor.” — Todd McCarthy, Variety

Score: 83%

What the Public Say
“as this is a Steven Spielberg production, what The Mask of Zorro is really about is the art of filmmaking, and it shows what some imaginative people (director Martin Campbell among them) can do with a movie camera. There are some old-fashioned stunts and physical comedy that are carried off just about perfectly here. And usually, these shoot-the-works movies peter out just before the end credits, but this one has the most satisfying adventure-movie wrap-up I’ve seen in a long time.” — Movie Movie Blog Blog

Verdict

A couple of years after he revitalised the Bond franchise with GoldenEye, director Martin Campbell does the same for a whole subgenre — the swashbuckler — in this fun revival of the masked Californian vigilante. Mixing slickly choreographed action with doses of humour, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously but doesn’t tip over into farce either (traits definitely shared with the aforementioned Bond revival). The result is thoroughly entertaining, and an example of ’90s blockbuster filmmaking at its finest.

#60 will… take the red pill.

Amistad (1997)

2016 #16
Steven Spielberg | 155 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English, Mende & Spanish | 15 / R

Feeling in need of more intellectual fare after helming The Lost World, Spielberg turned to a project already in development at Dreamworks: an adaptation of a non-fiction book about the 1839 mutiny on the slave ship La Amistad, and the ensuing legal battle. Although not poorly received by critics, there’s a sense that the consensus view dubbed it “black Schindler’s List”, the implication being that by aping the earlier film it was inevitably inferior. I don’t think that’s a watertight chain of logic, but, nonetheless, Amistad is clearly a ‘minor Spielberg’.

Despite being “a slavery drama”, most of the film functions as a legal drama: though it begins with the slave uprising, and later has an extended flashback showing their kidnap and transportation, the thrust of the film lies in the courtroom arguments about who owns the ship’s ‘cargo’ and consequently what should be done with them. This is a period when capturing Africans into slavery, and by extension their subsequent transportation, was illegal by international agreement, but actually owning slaves was not yet banned (at least in the US). It’s before the American Civil War too, so there’s a political dimension: if these ‘slaves’ are freed, what tension might that spark between the north and south?

Though Spielberg is certainly not immune to the Africans’ plight — the depiction of life on a slave ship is appropriately harrowing — it’s clear from early on which side he expects us to identify with, in terms of cultural background if not shared morality: as survivors of the mutiny talk the next day, the slavers’ Spanish dialogue is subtitled but the slaves’ African dialect is not. It’s a simple but effective technique to align us with one side — as I say, not morally (in no regard is Spielberg trying to apologise for the slavers), but socially. Unfortunately, it’s not sustainable: later, when we need to understand the Africans to follow a scene’s point, their dialogue is suddenly subtitled, and from then it’s sporadically translated as needed. I can see why that choice was made, but it makes the unsubtitled bits feel like a cheat.

In most other regards, it’s kind of an old-fashioned movie. In a few ways that works: it’s got classical cinematography, both the use of film (obviously, this being well before mainstream adoption of digital) and the framing, the pace, the editing. In other respects… well, it feels very late ’90s now, the overall style of the screenplay and the treatment of the story reminding you that it’s not actually a moderately-recent film (which I guess I’d personally filed it away as, being the most recent of Spielberg’s pre-2010s films that I’d not seen), but is now nearly 20 years old. And, though I may be damned for criticising him twice in as many weeks, John Williams’ score is a little heavy-handed.

This can be said of Spielberg’s approach to the drama, too. Some of the courtroom stuff is suitably mired in legal technicalities and argument, but by film’s end it gets a little bit too… what’s the word? Not “preachy”. Not “sentimental”, exactly, though it’s born of that old criticism of Spielberg. “Melodramatic” may be on the money, though. It doesn’t help that everything reaches a climax — not only narratively, but also in the way it’s written, shot, acted, and scored — only for it to be revealed that it’s just the end of act two. Okay, that’s the truth of what happened (or near enough, for the purposes of this dramatisation), and by adapting it in that way it emulates the emotions the characters experienced; but from the audience’s perspective, you feel like you’ve reached the end… only to be served up another half-hour of movie. And it’s a long film too, so you feel that. It gets by because it’s fundamentally a good film, with strong performances and technical merits, but it’s a little bumpy for a bit.

There also seem to be a startling array of factual inaccuracies to level at the film. As ever with fictional adaptations of real life, it’s a difficult line. No fact-based fiction is 100% like reality, especially when you factor in unavoidable variances in people’s memories and opinions. However, the more serious or famous the events being depicted, or the more they’re being used to indicate some wider point about their setting, the greater the responsibility to present something that is at least passably accurate. I think some would contend that Amistad is not that. I’m no expert, but this section on Wikipedia, which is bolstered by multiple citations to suggest its accuracy, indicates the extent of the issue.

It’s easy to criticise Amistad, because Spielberg makes the production of very good movies look effortless, so the missteps stand out all the more. The story of La Amistad and its ‘cargo’ is a powerful one, and Spielberg has — naturally — turned it into a good film; but by remixing history to over-egg the message, it loses a little something. A valiant effort, but a film like 12 Years a Slave makes many of the same points in a less grandiose manner.

4 out of 5

RED 2 (2013)

2015 #102
Dean Parisot | 116 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, France & Canada / English | 12 / PG-13

The “retired, extremely dangerous” agents return for more of the same.

“More of the same” is all the recommendation — or unrecommendation, or disrecommendation, or whatever the antonym of “recommendation” actually is — you really need. This isn’t a sequel for those who’ve not seen the first, because no effort is made to re-establish the world or characters. And if you disliked said forerunner, there’s no reason you’ll find this more to your taste.

If you did enjoy RED (like me), #2 isn’t as good — it’s lost too much zaniness, goes on too long — but it’s a pleasantly entertaining globetrotting action-comedy nonetheless.

3 out of 5