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?

Zatoichi Challenged (1967)

aka Zatôichi chikemurikaidô

2019 #10
Kenji Misumi | 87 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | Japan / Japanese

Zatoichi Challenged

The seventeenth film in the Zatoichi series is rated the second best according to IMDb users. As with so many opinions, that’s not one shared by Letterboxd users (who’ve placed it 15th), and it’s not shared by me, either. While I wouldn’t call it bad (every Zatoichi film has things to commend it, even the de facto worst), it’s definitely towards the lower end of my ranking.

The basic plot is a semi-rehash of one of the series’ crowning glories, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, with Ichi (Shintaro Katsu) agreeing to reunite a young boy with this father after the child’s mother dies. They first fall in with a group of travelling performers, which seems to be an excuse to squeeze in an incongruous ’60s pop song and a bit of a love interest for Ichi. After wasting half-an-hour on that, Ichi and the kid rock up in the town where the dad, Shokichi (Takao Ito), is being held captive by a gang of… pottery makers. It’s slightly more exciting than it sounds, because their scheme is all about making plates and jugs featuring erotic imagery, which was illegal at the time, and Shokichi is a skilled artist. Now, of course, Ichi must free him to unite him with his son. Along the way, Ichi strikes up a respectful acquaintance with a travelling ronin, Tajuro Akazuka (Jûshirô Konoe), which you know isn’t going to end well because, well, that’s how these films always go.

Zatoichi and son... just not his son

There’s nothing particularly wrong with being a formulaic Zatoichi film — many of them are, and I enjoy them just the same — but here it all feels rather slow and uneventful. The stuff with the travelling performers is a dead end, a total aside from the main story; and that plot, such as it is, just never catches light. The final 25 minutes are fairly action-packed at least, both in terms of fighting and with the plot finally getting somewhere; but it also makes you realise how much time has been wasted going nowhere — the villains are little more than introduced before it’s time for Ichi to cut them down. It doesn’t help anything that the kid’s annoying. He comes to care for Ichi, but Ichi doesn’t really seem to care for him that much, meaning their relationship lacks the emotional resonance found in Fight, Zatoichi, Fight.

The one part of the film that does work is Akazuka. As I alluded to before, it’s a story arc that’s played out in many Zatoichi films before (and I’m sure it’ll come up again), but Zatoichi Challenged executes it as well as any. At first it just seems like Akazuka is a wanderer who Ichi happens to keep bumping into, including a memorable encounter where Akazuka attempts to overpay for a massage, but honourable Ichi refuses his charity. Eventually, of course, it turns out he has a secret mission which is at odds with Ichi’s own goals and values, and so, inevitably, they must duel. Their climactic confrontation is by far the best bit of the film. It’s a battle of words at first, as Ichi pleads with Akazuka to be reasonable and have mercy. He won’t, of course, and so a sword fight ensues. It doesn’t pan out how you might expect. The whole sequence is beautifully shot through falling snow by cinematographer Chikashi Makiura (quite why it’s suddenly snowing I’ve no idea, but it looks good). It’s an absolutely fantastic sequence; one of the series’ very best duels.

Snow fight

The finale aside, perhaps the most interesting thing about Zatoichi Challenged (certainly the most uncommon) is that it was remade in America, forming the basis for 1989 actioner Blind Fury, starring Rutger Hauer and directed by Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, The Bone Collector, Salt, et al). I’ve not seen it, but other reviewers describe it as “a total turd that captures none of the charm and humanity of Zatoichi” (Lard Biscuit Enterprises), noting that it “begs the viewer to overlook too much that is idiotic [about a blind swordsman], whereas the original convinces the viewer it isn’t idiotic at all” (Weird Wild Realm). Suffice to say… I’ll still watch it someday.

Quite why this Zatoichi film in particular was tapped for a US remake, goodness only knows. It’s a kinda boring Ichi adventure on the whole, with a thin, recycled plot and a first half-hour that’s almost a total aside from the actual story. It’s saved by the climax, one of the best sequences in any Zatoichi film, which single-handedly makes the movie worth a watch.

3 out of 5