The Locked Down Monthly Review of April 2020

In 2002, Blue got the city on lockdown.
In 2020, Boris Johnson got the country on lockdown.
Your move, noughties boy bands.

One thing this stressful time has been good for is my film viewing. After a 2019 that saw some of my lowest months in years — indeed, ever — I’m pleased to say that April 2020 is a record breaker:

100 Films has a new Best. Month. Ever!


#59 Rang De Basanti (2006)
#60 The Kid (1921/1971)
#61 The Three Caballeros (1944)
#62 Stop Making Sense (1984)
#63 Burning (2018), aka Beoning
#64 The Karate Kid Part III (1989)
#65 Aniara (2018)
#66 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
#67 The Diamond Arm (1969), aka Brilliantovaya ruka
#68 I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)
#68a The Devil’s Harmony (2019)
#69 The Next Karate Kid (1994)
#70 Never Too Young to Die (1986)
#71 It Chapter Two (2019)
#72 Andrei Rublev (1966)
#73 Dune: The Alternative Edition Redux (1984/2012)
#74 Rambo: Last Blood (2019)
#75 K-19: The Widowmaker (2002)
#76 Near Dark (1987)
#77 The Thin Red Line (1998)
#78 Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)
#79 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
#80 6 Underground (2019)
#81 The Secret Life of Pets 2 3D (2019)
#82 Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman (2006)
#83 Long Day’s Journey into Night 3D (2018), aka Di Qiu Zui Hou De Ye Wan
#84 End of the Century (2019), aka Fin de siglo
#85 Men in Black: International (2019)
#86 The Sheik (1921)
#87 The Son of the Sheik (1926)
#88 Extraction (2020)
#89 The Wedding Guest (2018)
#89a The Escape (2016)
#90 Ready or Not (2019)
#91 Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
#92 The Two Popes (2019)
#93 Ice Age: Continental Drift 3D (2012)
#94 The Lunchbox (2013)
#95 Zatoichi in Desperation (1972), aka Shin Zatôichi monogatari: Oreta tsue
#96 Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
Aniara

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Dune: The Alternative Edition Redux

Jumanji: The Next Level

Ready or Not

The Lunchbox

.


  • I watched 38 new feature films in April.
  • As I said at the start, that’s my most ever in a single month, beating the previous record holder (May 2018) by four films. That’s noteworthy because May 2018 is only one film ahead of the month that’s now in 3rd, which is only two films ahead of the month now in 4th, which is only three films ahead of the months now in =5th. So, four is a pretty healthy margin.
  • Obviously, as my best month ever, April is going to smash any comparisons I care to make. So let’s start with the only thing it wasn’t guaranteed to do, but it has done nonetheless: #96 is the furthest I’ve reached by the end of April (next best is #90 in 2018).
  • Averages: it increases April’s average by two whole films, from 12.8 to 14.8; increases the rolling average of the last 12 months from 13.3 to 14.8; and increases the average for 2020 to date from 19.3 to 24.0. If I maintained that average until December, 2020 would become my biggest year ever (but things never work out like that).
  • It’s my 21st month with 20+ films, and my 4th month with 30+ films.

Alright, now some notes on the films within those 38…

  • Back in February, I noted that I’d somehow never seen a film from 1932. That’s now changed, thanks to I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. Now, since the year of the first feature films being produced in the UK and USA (1912), there are only four years from which I’ve not seen at least one feature-length film: 1912, 1914, 1915, and 1923. I have at least one title picked out from each of those years that I could use to settle this matter, so I ought to get on with them…
  • I’ve seen David Lynch’s Dune before, but it was over 20 years ago and it was the theatrical cut. The fan edit I watched adds material from a longer TV cut and deleted scenes, plus generally rearranges and rejigs stuff, so I figure it must be substantially different enough to count as new.
  • Having watched 92% of the alphabet in January, February, and March, only X and Z remained — with the latter now claimed by Zatoichi in Desperation. X will go whenever I get round to watching Dark Phoenix — I think that’s literally the only X film I have in my collection or on Netflix/Amazon/etc.
  • This month’s Blindspot films: Andrei Tarkovsky’s biopic of 15th century religious icon painter Andrei Rublev. I found it as dry as that sounds. Also, from my ‘overflow’ list, Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, which I was also underwhelmed by. I knew it would be more Malickian than your typical war movie, but still, something about it didn’t connect with me.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Aniara, End of the Century, It Chapter Two, Rambo: Last Blood, Ready or Not, and The Secret Life of Pets 2, plus The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (see Rewatchathon). That’s a record haul, besting the five failures I watched last April. It was driven by most of those being time-limited Amazon rentals.



The 59th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
How to define “favourite”? On the one hand you’ve got something like I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, which is a weighty and still-pertinent condemnation of the American justice system. On the other, something such as Jumanji: The Next Level, which is just a whole lot of fun. More tickling my fancy in the former camp is Aniara, about the psychological strain of being stranded in space with little hope of ever returning home, some of which feels very pertinent to our current world situation (I know we’re all at home rather than far from it, but the cooped up with no hope of escape… yeah). And in the latter camp, Ready or Not is a deliciously gonzo horror-comedy, which didn’t quite push as many buttons as I’d hoped but is still massively entertaining. On balance, bearing in mind its unexpected timeliness, Aniara takes it.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is a more straightforward category… although, personally, I included Andrei Rublev on my shortlist, which is a Highly Acclaimed Movie (just check out how many Greatest Ever lists it’s on), but it bored me senseless. Still, it did have some parts I admired — I’m not sure I can say the same about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Actually, that’s not strictly true: Christopher Reeve was always perfect as Superman; but the film definitely lets him down.

Best Musical Discovery of the Month
I’d never consciously listened to Talking Heads before I watched Stop Making Sense. I recognised exactly two of the songs during that concert movie, and one of those I know best from a cover version. While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a convert to their music, I liked most of it well enough, with opening number Psycho Killer my favourite. In fact, I preferred the live version in the film to the original recording. Maybe it’s just because I heard that take first, I dunno.

Best Audition to Be James Bond of the Month
It never even crossed my mind that the skinny kid from Slumdog Millionaire could ever be considered for Bond, and I bet it didn’t yours either. It was David Ehrlich’s Letterboxd review of The Wedding Guest that first flagged up the idea for me, and, having seen the film, I can see what he means. Dev Patel as James Bond… it’d certainly be different.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
The second half of last month’s TV review sat pretty atop the chart for most of the month (the Doctor Who half, meanwhile, wasn’t even close), but then Extraction came barrelling through my stats like Tyler Rake through an overcrowded Indian apartment block. Five older TV posts topped it overall, but it was by far my most-viewed new post.



The name’s Connery, Sean Connery.

Yes, there’s a distinct theme to this month’s rewatches. It wasn’t deliberate… well, not at first. Once I noticed it, obviously I had to maintain it.

#15 Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
#16 The Avengers (1998)
#17 The Rock (1996)
#18 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

…and, if you want to take it further, you could argue they’re all movies where Connery returned to the role of James Bond. Sure, Diamonds Are Forever is the only one where that’s literally true, but there’s long been a fan theory that Connery’s character in The Rock is Bond under a pseudonym, and in The Avengers he plays an innuendo-spewing former British secret agent turned villain. As for LXG… yeah, okay, the idea runs out there.

When I included The Rock in my 100 Favourites, I only rated it 4 stars. Now I feel like a fool — it’s easily a 5. Some thoughts as to why on Letterboxd. Mind you, that kind of thing cuts both ways: when I finally got round to rewatching Face/Off 18 months ago, I discovered I didn’t enjoy it as much as I used to, and if I’d done that before publishing 100 Favourites then I might’ve dropped it from the list entirely. I intend to update my favourites list someday, but I think I need to do a good deal more rewatching before then.

My rewatch of LXG was prompted by this defence of the film. While I wouldn’t call the movie a masterpiece, I do generally agree with that article — the film has its moments (many of them thanks to Dorian Gray), and it’s certainly no worse than many other ’90s/’00s Hollywood blockbusters. Quite why it provokes such vitriol from anyone but fans of the book is beyond me. (Book fans have every right to be disappointed, because the film sanitises and Hollywoodises the concept. That said, as a fan of the books myself, I’m happy to take both forms as differing executions of the same idea.)


This may be the biggest month in 100 Films history, but there was still plenty of stuff I failed to watch. Nothing in cinemas, obviously (though Trolls World Tour did get released direct to premium streaming, and consequently looks like it might change the world), but the other avenues for film viewing offered more than enough alternatives.

For starters, Netflix completed their Studio Ghibli lineup with Howl’s Moving Castle (the only one I’d seen), From Up on Poppy Hill (which I own on Blu-ray), Ponyo (also on Blu-ray), When Marnie Was There (also on Blu-ray, jeez!), Pom Poko, Whisper of the Heart, and The Wind Rises. On the new films front there was CG animation The Willoughbys, which looks vaguely interesting, and for (relatively) recent releases they mustered the remake of Child’s Play. They also added the second Maze Runner film, The Scorch Trials. One day the whole trilogy will be available somewhere and I’ll give them a shot.

Amazon actually had more to offer in terms of recent acquisitions, though the quality level is dubious — I’m talking of films like Angel Has Fallen (the second sequel to the less-good “Die Hard in the White House” movie), Playmobil: The Movie (a rip-off of The LEGO Movie that wasn’t as well received), 21 Bridges (which received middling notices), and The Current War (presumably in its director’s cut form, for which the most positive comment Rotten Tomatoes can muster is “a significant improvement over previous versions”). Additions from the archive include a handful of Hong Kong actioners, led by the appropriately-titled Police Story: Lockdown (the sixth film, and second reboot, in the Jackie Chan action franchise), plus unofficial prequel The Legend is Born: Ip Man (I believe Ip Man 4 is also now available to rent over here), and Donnie Yen in Legend of the Fist (a version of the story from Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury and Jet Li’s Fist of Legend).

Also new to Amazon was medical disaster movie Outbreak, which was already on Netflix; and they both added Contagion, after everyone was talking about it last month. I noticed it still made it into Netflix’s UK top ten, though.

Over on Now TV, sequel-cum-reimagining Four Kids and It caught my eye because I remember enjoying the BBC’s 1991 adaptation of the original book when I was a kid, but this new one didn’t seem to go down terribly well (though the British critics collated by Rotten Tomatoes have got it to 61%, which counts as ‘fresh’). Other recent films now on Sky include Ma and Tolkien.

Finally, I went a bit potty in Blu-ray sales again, this time mostly at Arrow, picking up a couple of Vincent Price horrors, Tales of Terror and Tower of London; a couple of artier titles from Second Run, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders and Ikarie XB 1; Third Window’s double-bill of The Whispering Star and The Sion Sono; and some Westerns and noirs and noir-Westerns that include The Ox-Bow Incident, My Name is Julia Ross, and Terror in a Texas Town. The latter pair were directed by Joseph H. Lewis, whose So Dark the Night I enjoyed last month, so I also bought his Gun Crazy in its HMV-exclusive edition, paired with their edition of Out of the Past in their 2-for-£25 offer. Meanwhile, Eureka tempted me with new releases, namely Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain and Masters of Cinema titles Rio Grande, Kwaidan, and their second box set of Buster Keaton features, which includes The Navigator, Seven Chances, and Battling Butler. International travel may be closed to humans, but it isn’t to Blu-rays, as evidenced by my imports of 3-D Rarities Volume II (which includes Mexico’s only 3D film, swashbuckler El Corazón y la Espada) and A Boy and His Dog (which I look forward to rewatching in good quality, unlike the print I saw on Prime Video a few years ago). I tried to resist the UHD upgrade of The Elephant Man, but then I saw the PQ comparisons and the limited-edition pop-up packaging (damn my love of a cardboard gimmick!) and caved.

And, inevitably, I did purchase The Rise of Skywalker, in 3D. You know, I’ve never got round to rewatching The Last Jedi. The idea of pairing them up as a double bill should be the most natural thing in the world, but instead it feels like a bold experiment in combining chalk and cheese. Still, I might try it sometime.


Barring any unforeseen circumstances (though, at the minute, who can accurately foresee anything?), I should definitely pass #100 early next month. As for my new-goal-I-keep-half-forgetting of #120, well, that’s within reach too. And then…

In my final monthly review of 2019, I mentioned that “it’s entirely possible [2020 will] be the year I reach #2000”. Now, it’s all but certain that it will (unforeseen circumstances, remember). If May gets to 35 films (which, before this month, would’ve been a record for biggest month ever), that’ll be 100 Films’ #2000! Is it likely I’ll achieve two such huge months in a row? Funnily enough, the last couple of times I’ve set a new “best month ever” it’s been immediately beaten by the very next month: September then October in 2015; April then May in 2018.

No pressure, May 2020…

Extraction (2020)

2020 #88
Sam Hargrave | 116 mins | streaming (UHD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English, Hindi & Bengali | 18 / R

Extraction

Chris “Thor” Hemsworth stars in this action-thriller masterminded by the Russo brothers (directors of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame) and directed by Sam Hargrave, who has dozens of stunt coordinating credits to his name, including three Hunger Games, Atomic Blonde, and work on six Marvel Studios movies. But don’t take all those MCU connections to heart — this is not a Marvel-style PG-13 action-comedy. Oh no.

We first meet mercenary Tyler Rake (Hemsworth) engaged in a gunfight on a bridge. He’s covered in wounds, spitting up blood, looks like he’s about to die. Cut to two days earlier! No, really, it’s one of those openings. They just won’t bloody die. Never mind “skip titles” or “watch credits”, Netflix needs to add a “skip pointless in media res prologue” button. It would improve almost any film/TV episode where it was featured.

Anyway, two days earlier we’re introduced to Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal). Just an ordinary, well-to-do schoolboy in India… except his dad’s an imprisoned drug kingpin, and when Ovi slips out to a club one evening he’s kidnapped by goons from the competition, run by the thoroughly ruthless Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli). With daddy behind bars, it falls to Saju (Randeep Hooda) to get the kid back, for which he hires some organisation, I guess — the film is incredibly light on specifics here. Basically, it involves Nik (Golshifteh Farahani) sending in Mr Rake and a support team to extract the kid. Naturally the mission goes sideways, leaving it up to Rake alone to get Ovi and himself out of a city crawling with henchman and corrupt cops who are all out to get them.

School's out

Of course, Rake has issues in his backstory, and rescuing the kid becomes more than just a job, etc, etc. The “Man on Fire Lite” plot is as predictable as this sentence ending with a simile. When David Harbour turns up halfway through as an old mate of Rake’s who lives in the city and agrees to help him out, I’ll be surprised if you can’t guess what inevitably happens a couple of scenes later. Though it is amusingly bold of the film to try to make us believe David “dad bod” Harbour could hold his own in a fight against Chris “literally a Norse God” Hemsworth.

That minor brawl aside, the action sequences are great, more than making up for the lightweight plot mechanics. Letting stunt coordinators move into full-on directing has been the saviour of the action movie genre in recent years, working wonders for the John Wick series in particular, but also several other movies that have followed suit. Hargrave is the latest to suggest he might have a bright career ahead of him on the basis of his ability to stage electrifyingly choreographed combat scenes. The action is fast and hard-hitting; not unnecessarily horror-movie gory like it was in fellow Netflix actioner 6 Underground, but certainly not PG-13 material either. Clearly Netflix don’t force the makers of their expensive movies to hit that PG-13, presumably tied to not having to worry about box office takings. One advantage of going direct to streaming.

The highlight of the film is undoubtedly an already-much-discussed 11½-minute single-take action sequence. We’ve seen plenty of these trick shots in the past few years (Atomic Blonde and, obviously, 1917 particularly come to mind), but Extraction offers another belter. It starts as a full-blown car chase, which transitions into a game of cat-and-mouse around a warren-like apartment block, then tumbles into a mano-a-mano knife duel on a busy street, before ending in a second car chase. Obviously there are myriad hidden cuts in there, but that’s almost beside the point: it’s not physically doing it in one long shot that’s impressive, it’s the design and choreography and planning and execution to make it feel like one. It pays off handsomely.

Street fighter

You wonder if Netflix might look to turn Extraction into a franchise — in many non-English-speaking countries it’s been titled Tyler Rake, which might suggest that’s what they’re thinking. But then, they could’ve retitled it that in English if they wanted, so maybe not. It’s not the most sophisticated thriller ever made, and it doesn’t reach the giddy heights of John Wick in the action department, but it’s nonetheless entertaining at what it sets out to achieve. If they do decide to make more, I’ll definitely be there.

4 out of 5

Extraction is available on Netflix now.