The 100-Week Roundup XXVII

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

This week’s selection includes the first reviews to be rounded up from April 2019

  • The Howling (1981)
  • The Gold Rush (1925)
  • A Good Year (2006)


    The Howling
    (1981)

    2019 #50
    Joe Dante | 87 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

    The Howling

    After a near-fatal encounter with a serial killer, television newswoman Karen White becomes emotionally disturbed and loses her memory. On doctor’s orders she’s sent to the Colony, a secluded retreat where the creepy residents may not be what they seem… — adapted from IMDb

    Released the same year as John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London, I think it’s fair to say The Howling has been overshadowed by its UK-set counterpart, which has left a more enduring mark on the werewolf subgenre. But it would be a shame to ignore director Joe Dante’s effort entirely, because it’s a strong movie with its own pleasures — where American Werewolf is mostly quite comical, The Howling is more of a straight-faced horror movie.

    Indeed, at the start it feels more like a ’70s thriller than a campy horror — a Network-esque newsroom drama crossed with a seedy serial killer flick, in which the handheld neon-lit photography of nighttime ‘mean streets’ reminded me of something like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. When the plot heads out into the countryside, the sub-Hammer antics feel a bit low-rent by comparison; but once the proper werewolf action kicks off, it picks up again. Special makeup maestro Rick Baker may have abandoned this project for American Werewolf, but the special effects feature sterling work nonetheless, including a couple of superb transformations. Hurrah for practical effects.

    There’s room for improvement here — it needs a more cohesive, thorough, better paced screenplay (after an effective opening, it takes time to get going again, but then the climax is a bit rushed) — but the bits that work are so good that The Howling still ends up as a great werewolf movie.

    4 out of 5

    The Gold Rush
    (1925)

    2019 #52
    Charles Chaplin | 95 mins | DVD | 4:3 | USA / silent | U

    The Gold Rush

    Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush exists in two versions: the 1925 original, and a 1942 re-release for which Chaplin cut whole scenes, trimmed others, and reinserted some outtakes and alternate shots, plus adding a synced soundtrack that included voiceover narration by him. The re-release is the ‘official’ version according to Chaplin’s estate (on the 2-disc DVD I own, the ’42 version is by itself on disc 1, with the ’25 version among the special features on disc 2), but from what I read it seems most people regard the ’25 original as the superior version, so that’s the one I chose to watch.

    As with the other Chaplins I’ve seen, it’s an episodic series of skits with a linking theme — this time, his Little Tramp character is prospecting for gold in the Klondike. It’s an interesting mix of the expected slapstick humour with something that’s more… not serious, exactly (although a subplot about a wanted criminal who murders a couple of lawmen is a bit incongruous), but there are sequences that aim at distinctly different emotions, like pathos (not unfamiliar when it comes to the Little Tramp), or overt thrills, including a cliff-edge climax.

    Then there’s the ostensibly happy ending, in which our hero gets the girl. That’d be the girl who stood him up, who doesn’t really care for him, who got railroaded into posing with him and kissing him… but gets with him right after she learnt he’s now a multimillionaire. Are we sure that’s a happy ending?

    4 out of 5

    The Gold Rush was viewed as part of What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2019.

    A Good Year
    (2006)

    2019 #54
    Ridley Scott | 113 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English & French | 12 / PG-13

    A Good Year

    Ridley Scott, the acclaimed director perhaps destined to be best remembered for sci-fi classics like Alien and Blade Runner, and actor Russell Crowe, who made his name with hard-man roles in films like Romper Stomper and L.A. Confidential, have collaborated multiple times. Together they’ve created action-filled historical epics like Gladiator and Robin Hood, and contemporary thrillers like American Gangster and Body of Lies. But in amongst all that they made… this, an oddity on both man’s filmography: a gentle romantic dramedy about a London banker who inherits a vineyard in Provence and learns to love a simpler life.

    Ridley Scott directing a sunny romcom sounds like a daft idea, doesn’t it? Well, turns out it’s not only daft, it’s quite bad. Apparently Scott conceived the story, and everything (apart from scenes in London) was shot within eight minutes of his home in Provence. In some hands that might lead to a very personal story, but I don’t think that’s the case here. I once read someone argue that the entertainment an artist enjoys consuming isn’t necessarily the same as what they’re good at creating, and this seems like a case in point. The storyline and atmosphere may’ve been inspired by Scott’s love for the region he’s made his home, but it doesn’t match his skills as a filmmaker very well at all.

    It’s as inappropriately directed as you’d expect, with moments of almost slapstick comedy that feel decades out of date, and other parts that are shot and scored more like a thriller than a breezy comedy-drama. In front of the camera, Russell Crowe does his best to be Hugh Grant, and he could be worse, but it does make you appreciate how good Hugh Grant was at being Hugh Grant. His love interest is Marion Cotillard, playing a character whose name sounds like “Fanny Chanel” — one character responds to being told that with “ooh la la”, which might be the most succinct “British person’s view of the French” dialogue exchange ever written.

    Much as Crowe’s continued exposure to the region and its people slowly charms him, so did I gradually warm to the film. When Scott isn’t trying too hard it has a certain laidback good humour, with the bonus of beautiful scenery and beautiful women, so that it becomes not unpleasant to watch. If that sounds like damning with faint praise… well, it is. A Good Year is not a good film, but it is, ultimately, a mostly pleasant one.

    3 out of 5

  • Liebster Award

    Michele at Timeless Hollywood has kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award (or, as spellcheck insists on rendering it, “Leicester Award”).

    For those not in the know, a Liebster Award is bestowed from blogger to blogger as a kind of peer appreciation. There are actually a bunch of variations — this person took it upon themselves to write some official rules. Not entirely sure what makes them qualified to do such a thing, but they did it anyway, and now that post sits right at the top of the Google search results, so I guess it worked for them.

    Anyway, The Rules:

    1. Answer my nominator’s 11 questions;
    2. Nominate 11 additional bloggers;
    3. Ask 11 questions to my nominees;
    4. Share 11 additional facts about myself.

    I’m not sure why it has so much to do with the number 11. Having seen various other bloggers complete the award, #2 seems to be particularly flexible in this regard. I suspect I shall be too.

    But first! 11 questions must be answered, in my usual longwinded style:

    1) What onscreen couple has the best chemistry?
    A relatively recent discovery for me, but I’m going to go with William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man films.

    2) If one lost film could be found, what would it be?
    Would it be a cheat to pick some Doctor Who episodes? It would, wouldn’t it? Especially as Who is in a better state than silent cinema, where up 75-90% of films are estimated to be lost. Of course, there’s Hitchcock’s second feature, The Mountain Eagle, and the first British Sherlock Holmes film, an adaptation of A Study in Scarlet (which always seems to be given short shrift when it’s filmed, Catch My Soulso I wouldn’t hold much hope of that being any better), but the film that most intrigued me when looking into this was from the ’70s: #10 on this list, Patrick McGoohan’s first (and only) film as director, Catch My Soul. Turns out it’s since been found, though the chances of anyone else seeing it look shaky. Still, it does exist, so I go back to the first two.

    3) If you could choose one silent comedian between Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd or Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who is your favorite and why?
    I confess, I haven’t seen enough of any for this to be a fair contest. From what I have seen, however, The Great Dictator was my favourite work, so I’ll go for Chaplin. (Also for compatriotism.)

    4) Who is your favorite swashbuckler?
    Does someone who usually (always?) played the villain in such movies count? Basil Rathbone, arguably best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, was a skilled fencer in real life, shown to great effect in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro, The Court Jester (even if that mostly isn’t him), and a few other films that I really must see.

    5) What is your favorite biography or autobiography?
    The Writer's Tale - The Final ChapterIt’s not an autobiography per se, but Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook kind of is, as it chronicles Davies’ experience running Doctor Who (and its spin-offs) in 2008 to 2010. You may think “I’m not a Doctor Who fan, this has no relevance to me,” but you’d be wrong. Anyone who’s had a desire to write in a professional capacity, especially for the screen, must read this book — it’s the experience of writing for TV and running a TV show, just with Doctor Who as a case study. And it’s immensely readable, making its surprising length (particularly in the extended The Final Chapter paperback version — length-wise, it’s literally a whole extra book bundled in) fly by.

    6) Have you ever participated in a blogathon and if so what did you enjoy most about it?
    I’ve participated in a few now (three, to be precise). Each time, I found the knowledge that I was likely exposing my writing to a much wider readership than normal led me to up my game in terms of the research and thought I put into my posts (and consequently their length, too). Which is not to say I don’t just do that anyway (sometimes), but there was a kind of pressure to do well. Good pressure.

    7) If you could buy any memorabilia, what would it be?
    Let’s be properly extravagant and say a James Bond Aston Martin DB5. I’m not even a ‘car person’, but c’mon, the DB5!

    The car's Martin. Aston Martin.

    8) In your opinion, who is the biggest pioneer in the film industry (past or present)?
    I mean, where do you begin? But here’s a slightly more obscure one: Garrett Brown. Who? The inventor of the Steadicam, that’s who. It looks like the Steadicam might be about to be replaced by the even greater flexibility afford by drones, but still, it was (is) awesome while it lasted.

    9) What decade had the best films?
    I’m quite fond of all eras of film, so I decided to be empirical about this: I looked at my list of favourite movies and totted up the decades. Turns out the 2000s have it, just pipping the 1990s. Probably says more about when I grew up than anything else, mind.

    10) Is there any actor/actress you feel hasn’t gotten the recognition they deserve?
    Maybe it’s just because I’m more immersed in modern film, but no one ever seems to talk about Ray Milland. I discovered him for myself through films like Ministry of Fear, The Thief and The Lost Weekend, and I really ought to seek out more of his work because he’s great in all of those.

    11) What actor/actress should receive an Oscar that hasn’t?
    Michael “The Queen / Frost/Nixon / The Damned United / etc” Sheen.

    The many faces of Michael Sheen

    Next! 11 5 bloggers shall be nominated. (I’m not stingy, I’d do more, but a bunch of blogs I thought of just had one.) Anyway, in alphabetical order:

    (You’ll notice a fair degree of crossover with blogs I highlighted in my June update. Not a coincidence.)

    Next! The 11 questions they must answer:

    1) Have you ever walked out of a cinema part way through a film?
    2) Favourite current TV series?
    3) Favourite silent film?
    4) Favourite David Fincher film?
    5) Favourite film soundtrack?
    6) Who’s the best James Bond?
    7) Which is the longest-running film series that you’ve seen every movie in?
    8) Which film have you watched the most?
    9) Which film do you love that everybody else hates?
    10) Is there a line from a film that you use a lot in everyday life?
    11) How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if woodchuck would chuck wood?

    A woodchuck, yesterday

    And finally! 11 random facts about my good self:

    1) I am currently mostly listening to Muse’s Drones and Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful.

    2) I have two dogs, Rory and Poppy, both rescues.

    3) Part of the reason for adopting Poppy was to help with the transition when Rory… you know… because he’d been on his last legs for years. 18 months later, he’s still going, bless ‘im.

    4) I kind of work on the principle that my personal life has little to do with my film-related blogging (which, in many ways, is an invalid stance, but that’s a whole other debate), so this is proving tricky…

    5) I get kind of ‘attached’ to sayings — not deliberately, but I think I use certain phrases a lot, even if just for a while. Maybe we all do? I’m sure there are plenty of examples in my reviewing (there are certainly words I revert to often); in real life, “there’s a first time for everything” is regularly applicable and “better safe than sorry” is virtually my motto. Whether I listen to it or not is another matter.

    List of lists of lists

    6) I make lots of lists, about all sorts — mainly films, DVDs and Blu-rays, especially ones to be watched. Each time I watch a film for this blog, it has to be added to, removed from, or rated on up to 21 separate lists and websites.

    7) To make sure I don’t miss any, I have a list of those lists.

    8) I am inordinately chuffed with the top menu on this blog, which I rebuilt t’other week to include most of my categories and streamline the review lists. Check out Film Noir (under Categories > Genres) in particular. Sub-submenus!

    9) I love pizza. I don’t know if this is attributable to a childhood love of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or just because it’s awesome. Anyway, I’ve been trying to eat more healthily and haven’t had a pizza for five months. Five months. You’re driving me back towards pizza, Liebster Facts.

    Pizza is totally more addictive

    10) Most people my age and nationality call it Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, because that’s how they rebranded it over here (I really don’t know what the British / the BBFC had against ninjas and their weaponry). It’s always been Ninja to me because, at the time I was into Turtles, I spent nearly two years living in Saudi Arabia. (Who knew that fact was going somewhere broadly interesting, right?) (Obviously, they used the correct title in Saudi.)

    11) I have no idea what a woodchuck is.*

    So there you go. Thanks again to Michele of Timeless Hollywood, and I look forward to reading my nominees’ answers.

    * I wrote that before I looked up the picture above, so this fact is now a lie.

    Modern Times (1936)

    2014 #55
    Charles Chaplin | 83 mins | DVD | 1.33:1 | USA / English | U / G

    Modern TimesCharlie Chaplin satirises technology and modernisation in arguably the last film of the silent era. It actually has a synchronised soundtrack, primarily for music and effects, but also dialogue — though “we hear spoken voices only when they come from mechanical devices, a symbol of the film’s theme of technology and dehumanization.” The irony is it was that technological progress which rendered Modern Times the last hurrah for the era Chaplin remains most identified with.

    Stand-out sequences include Chaplin and co-workers battling a speedy production line, and him being the test subject for a new machine designed to feed workers quickly.

    4 out of 5

    Modern Times was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2014 project, which you can read more about here.

    In the interests of completing my ever-growing backlog, I decided to post ‘drabble reviews’ of some films. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a drabble is a complete piece of writing exactly 100 words long. You’ve just read one.

    The Great Dictator (1940)

    2009 #31
    Charles Chaplin | 120 mins | DVD | PG* / G

    One of the great things about doing 100 Films in a Year has been the number of firsts it’s either led me to or just been there to document: my first time watching films on Blu-ray and via legal download; my first time seeing films from directors as diverse as Woody Allen, Akira Kurosawa, F.W. Murnau and Krzysztof Kieslowski; my first time viewing such notable works as Breathless, Brief Encounter, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, This is Spinal Tap, The Wizard of Oz, and many more — including my first time seeing Citizen Kane. And here’s another for the list: my first ever Charlie Chaplin film.

    The Great Dictator is one of Chaplin’s most widely-known films thanks to setting its sights on the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler in particular. The general perception of silent comedians like Chaplin immediately suggests slapstick, but the real-world targets here make his work (on this film at least) satirical as well. I’m sure this made for great propaganda when it was released just a year into the war, but Chaplin’s skill and accuracy mean it works beyond that: like all good impersonations or spoofs it doesn’t make its objects silly for no reason, but instead takes what’s inherently laughable about them and exploits it. This would age some satirical humour, reliant as it can be on topicality, but the wide awareness even a modern audience has of Hitler means there are no comprehension problems today.

    The style of humour can date nonetheless, but The Great Dictator remains funny — arguably the real test of a good comedy. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s a problem comedy faces whenever it’s made. Chaplin loads the film with inventive and timeless routines, like the upside-down-plane, the coin-in-the-pudding, or the classic dance with an inflatable globe. Sometimes with comedy from decades previous, there’s the feeling you’re watching something that was funny at the time but no longer actually makes you laugh, thanks to changed conventions and expectations. For me, at least, there was no such problem here.

    Surprisingly, there are some serious scenes too. While it doesn’t outweigh the comedy, there’s a degree of semi-factual drama in the plot that’s been well judged to help the humour cut deeper. The closing speech could come across as overly propagandistic but, again, it’s well pitched and therefore more galvanizing than inappropriately laughable. There are some bits, like this, that are sadly just as applicable to the modern world.

    Chaplin allegedly said he wouldn’t have made The Great Dictator if he knew how bad things really were under Hitler, though some dispute this, arguing he knew and made it regardless. Some bits are slightly uncomfortable when one knows the reality, but whether Chaplin knew the truth or not these moments are fleeting. And, either way, Hitler and the Nazis were a worthwhile target: laughing at those who attempt to terrorise and dominate us is one of the most powerful weapons we have against them. That, certainly, is still true today.

    5 out of 5

    * For reasons known only unto the BBFC, The Great Dictator was classified U until 2003, when film and video reclassifications both made it a PG. ^

    The Cat’s Meow (2001)

    2007 #92
    Peter Bogdanovich | 109 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

    The Cat's MeowPossibly-true ‘murder mystery’ set in 1920s Hollywood.

    As with the similar Gosford Park, the point lies less in plot and more in characterisation — there are some good performances, especially from Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley and Edward Herrmann, though Kirsten Dunst seems a bit flat in comparison. The era’s style suits her though, and the whole period is beautifully evoked; for my money the prettiest scenes are the black & white bookends.

    Sadly the similarity to Gosford Park is the film’s main shortcoming: once realised, it’s clear that The Cat’s Meow doesn’t have the same subtle complexity in its story or performances. In its own right, though, there’s much to like.

    3 out of 5