The Festive Monthly Review of November 2019

Regular readers will no doubt have cottoned on to the fact this year has been rather turbulent in my life away from the blogosphere — nothing terrible or tragic, thank goodness, but time- and attention-consuming nonetheless. Well, it’s hopefully the (beginning of the) end for that now, as November ends and December begins with me finally moving into a new permanent home.

I know people have “moving day”, but geez, it’s a process, isn’t it? One I’m in the middle of — and has affected my blogging once again at the end of November, as I missed another TV review (which would’ve covered the likes of His Dark Materials, Watchmen, The Mandalorian (even though I’m in the UK), and the BBC’s long-awaited take on War of the Worlds), and didn’t post reviews of major new releases like The Irishman and The Report (both of which I’ve seen, neither of which I’ve had time to write about in full).

My film viewing has suffered once again as well. I’m way behind on both Blindspot and WDYMYHS, not to mention various new releases — not only on the big screen but also stuff I missed earlier in the year that’s now on disc / streaming.

On the bright side, earlier in November was the 2019 FilmBath Festival, and that’s almost single-handedly responsible for this being my highest-totalling month since the summer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself slightly. Here are the films I watched last month…


#135 The Report (2019)
#136 The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)
#137 Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), aka Portrait de la jeune fille en feu
#138 Little Monsters (2019)
#139 Harriet (2019)
#140 La Belle Époque (2019)
#140a My Theatre (2019)
#141 Filmfarsi (2019)
#141a Terra (2019)
#141b Spooning (2019)
#142 And Then We Danced (2019)
#142a Woman in Stall (2018)
#143 Judy & Punch (2019)
#144 Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019)
#145 Jojo Rabbit (2019)
#145a Hey You (2019)
#145b Gladiators on Wheels (2019)
#145c Tight Spot (2018)
#145d When Voices Unite (2017)
#145e Facing It (2018)
#146 The Irishman (2019)


  • So, I watched 12 new feature films in November.
  • I also watched 9 short films, which is more than I’ve seen in entire years before now.
  • The latter were all thanks to FilmBath Festival, as were 92% of the features — as I said at the start, it almost single-handedly rescued this month from being another disappointment.
  • Talking of disappointment, I didn’t watch any of last month’s “failures” either.
  • Comparisons of averages are hardly “not disappointing”, but they’re also not a total disaster. 12 is above the November average (previously 10.3, now 10.4), though it is slightly below the average for 2019 to date, which even with all those ‘bad’ months was still 13.4. It’s now 13.3, and the rolling average of the last 12 months also comes down to the same (it was previously 14.4).
  • One final positive worth mentioning: I passed #137 this month, which puts 2019 into my top five highest-totalling years. So much for all those “terrible” months, eh? Getting any higher than 5th place is unlikely, because for that I’d have to watch 29 films in December… but I have watched more than that in a single month on a handful of previous occasions — so, literally speaking, it’s not impossible.



The 54th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s a closely-fought field this month, with about four 5-star films and a couple of highly likeable 4-star-ers too. For the surprise factor — because I hoped I’d like it but ended up absolutely loving it — I’m going to give this to La Belle Époque, but I fully expect a certain other French film to end up above it in my end-of-year rankings.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I hate to dunk on what’s probably the smallest, most obscure, least-likely-to-get-seen-anyway (feature) film I saw this month, but I’m afraid to say this has to be Filmfarsi. It’s not that I thought it was bad, just a bit rough around the edges, for various reasons. But if its subject sounds interesting to you, I’d still encourage you to see it if you can.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
Last month I watched so many short films that I gave them a category. This month I watched almost twice as many, so it’s back. There are several great ones among the nine I watched, but for being an incredibly impressive technical achievement — all in aid of conveying real emotions and experiences, not showing off for the sake of it — my pick is Facing It.

Best Film Festival of the Month
Okay, I only attended one film festival this month, and I may be a little biased, but FilmBath was a great experience — a nice atmosphere and I saw some fantastic films.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Two posts were closely vying for this award in November, but in the end… it was a tie! I’m not sure I’ve ever had a tie in this category before. (There are 53 previous editions of these awards and I can’t be bothered to check them all right now, sorry.) So the joint winners were my coverage of FilmBath Festival’s opening night and my review of Judy & Punch. (If you really wanted to break the tie, the latter was online for 8 days vs the former’s 23, so therefore amassed a higher average of views per day.)



We begin this month with a Rewatchathon first: a rewatched short.

#24a Pleased to Eat You! (2019)
#25 What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)
#26 Easy Virtue (2008)

I first saw Pleased to Eat You last month as part of the prep for FilmBath Festival, then saw it again before the screening of Little Monsters. It merits revisiting, though, because it’s such great fun.

As for the two features rewatched, they’re both movies I feel have been somewhat undervalued. My original reviews of both are linked above, as always. Sometimes I re-read old reviews and am pleasantly surprised by the quality of my own writing (which sounds rather smug and self-gratifying, but I’m talking about very old reviews re-read with some distance, not going back over something I just wrote, which I think makes it different). Sometimes, however, I’m less impressed (which hopefully shows I’m not simply uncritical of my own work). Unfortunately, my review of Easy Virtue from 2011 is one of the underwhelming ones. I stand by its sentiment, but I don’t think I expressed that sentiment very well.

My piece about What We Did on Our Holiday is better, though still not totally clear. I also think it’s a film that improves with rewatching — any faults fade into the background behind the bits that are hilarious, heartfelt, humanist, and sometimes quite beautiful.


Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty to mention here — more than normal, in fact. I say that because there are usually three or four cinema releases I name, but November brought loads. From high-profile releases such as Frozen II, Knives Out, Last Christmas, and Le Mans ’66 (that’s Ford v Ferrari to some of you); to films that were surprises, either because they were hits, or flopped, or provoked controversy, or just seemed to come out of nowhere, like Midway, The Good Liar, Charlie’s Angels, and Blue Story (you can match up which of those is which); to smaller releases of note, like The Nightingale (the new one from Jennifer “The Babadook” Kent) and Greener Grass; to ones that probably fit into one or more of those other categories, though I’m not sure which, like The Aeronauts and 21 Bridges. Sure, some of those are films I never would’ve made the effort to see in the cinema anyway, but they’re all ones I’ll look out for in the future nonetheless.

It was also an uncommonly productive month for Netflix — they release new series all the damn time nowadays, but it feels like their original films that are worthy of note congregate at the end of the year. As well as the obvious one (see #146) there was The King, Earthquake Bird, and Christmas movie Klaus (which I’ve saved for December, because duh). Talking of the incoming season, there were a bunch more tacky-looking Christmas originals, foremost among which is surely The Knight Before Christmas — a film where they definitely came up with the title first and worked backwards. It looks and sounds terrible, obviously, and yet there’s something about its reputed awfulness (and that marvellous pun) that’s tempting me to watch it… Back on the sensible end of the spectrum, festival winners like Atlantics and I Lost My Body also popped on in the last couple of days.

Also added in the past month was Dragon Ball Super: Broly. That’s a franchise that’s never otherwise interested me, but I’m tempted to see what all the fuss was about for this particular entry: it was the highest-grossing anime film of 2018 and one of the highest of all time, including in the UK, where it became the second highest-grossing anime ever (behind only Spirited Away) and an advance screening sold out in just 23 seconds. Is its success thanks to a dedicated fanbase and limited number of screenings, or is it actually something special? There’s one way to find out… Lastly on Netflix, not a film but a series about films: The Movies That Made Us, a spin-off from their successful series about toys that, as far as I can tell, basically trades in ’80s nostalgia. Of course, the making of movies is a lot better documented than the making of toys, so whether it has anything new to say about the likes of Die Hard or Ghostbusters seems doubtful.

Amazon didn’t have too many originals to offer — or perhaps any, besides one (see #135). But there were a few catalogue additions I want to see, like Magic Mike and Umberto D (not two films you’d normally see mentioned side-by-side…), and a few oddities that caught my eye, among them Tsui Hark’s directorial debut, Butterfly Murders, and Too Late, which is billed as “a sexy, smart noir detective thriller… told in non-linear fashion, in a series of five true long takes… with stunning 35mm cinematography.” They also say the latter is “a cinephile’s dream” and, yeah, it does sound a bit like that. They also have a bunch of reduced price rentals for Prime members, in which I recently hoovered up Missing Link, Booksmart, Brightburn, and Eighth Grade — now I’ve just got to make sure to make time for them before the rentals expire.

Finally, there’s the new stuff I bought on disc, like Apollo 11 in 4K, and in 3D Spider-Man: Far from Home, Aladdin, and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (the latter two only thanks to sale prices). Then there were new catalogue releases, like Masters of Cinema editions of The African Queen and Der Golem, and Arrow’s release of RoboCop; a sale purchase of Candymen: Farewell to the Flesh (I enjoyed the first one a lot so figured this sequel was worth a punt); and the HD box set of Batman Beyond… which, for its UK release, replaced the Blu-ray disc of spin-off movie Return of the Joker with a censored DVD copy. WTF, Warner?

And all that without even dipping into any Black Friday deals! Which, actually, are mostly still ongoing. Hmm…


It’s been a very up and down kind of year here at 100 Films — will December end it on another higher, or in another dip? There’s only one place to find out: right here, in 31 days’ time.

(Unless I also mention it on Twitter.)

(Or Instagram.)

(Or Letterboxd.)

(So… yeah.)

Shorts of FilmBath Festival 2019

Across the 2019 FilmBath Festival programme, 46 short films were screened — 23 attached to feature films, 17 at a dedicated ‘Shorts Showcase’, and six at the IMDb New Filmmaker Award ceremony (five in competition, one the film made from the winning screenplay of the IMDb Script to Screen Award). I saw 14 of these, one way or another, and have compiled my reviews into this (commensurately long) post.

First, the five films that competed for the IMDb New Filmmaker Award.

Gladiators on Wheels

The winner chosen by the judges was Gladiators on Wheels (2019, Souvid Datta, UK & India, Hindi, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a documentary about the ‘Well of Death’ — an attraction at Indian circuses where daredevils ride motorbikes and drive cars around 60ft vertical walls, literally defying gravity. It’s both impressive and terrifying, especially considering they’re doing it without any kind of safety gear — no helmets or padded suits here, never mind nets or something. But the film isn’t just about the actual act, also touching on the way of life, and how its fading. It’s a well-shot bit of filmmaking, especially impressive when you learn it was all filmed in a single day. The script was compiled from interviews with the drivers, then voiced by actors, but if anything it’s a little cliché — lots of talk of “living on the edge” and how dangerous it is but how they wouldn’t have it any other way, etc. Still, like many of the best documentaries, it’s a fascinating glimpse at another world.

The audience at the ceremony also got a say, favouring Hey You (2019, Jared Watmuff, UK, English, 5 mins, ★★★★★), which is about gay men hooking up via text messaging. At first it feels like a lightly comedic bit of fun, possibly with some drama in that one of the men is closeted, but then it develops into something more serious. It’s a very well made short, in particular the shot choices and editing at the climax, which combine to produce some incredibly striking imagery. It’s tricky to say why it’s such an effective and vital film without spoiling where it goes in that finale, but it’s a meaningful piece that’s worth seeing if you can. It would’ve been a worthy winner.

Facing It

The three other finalists were … Tight Spot (2018, Kevin Haefelin, USA & Switzerland, English, 4 mins, ★★★★☆), a comedy bit about a shoe shiner and a suspicious customer, which was amusing albeit a little predictable; although it did, again, look nice … When Voices Unite (2017, Lewis Coates, UK, English, 4 mins, ★★★☆☆), a mini tech thriller that was suitably tense in places, but really needed some kind of twist or final development to give it a reason to exist … and Facing It (2018, Sam Gainsborough, UK, 8 mins, ★★★★★), which presented an imaginative visualisation of a relatable social difficulty. Rendered in a mix of live-action and stop-motion animation, it’s by far the most technically impressive short here, but all in service of telling its story and conveying the requisite emotion. Another one that would’ve been a more than worthy winner.

(You can watch Gladiators on Wheels and When Voices Unite on Vimeo. Sadly the others aren’t publicly available, although there is a short making-of for Facing It which I recommend for appreciating the filmmaking skill on display there.)

Of the other shorts I saw, my favourite was definitely Pleased to Eat You! (2019, Adrian Hedgecock, UK, English, 7 mins, ★★★★★). It’s a beautifully designed and hilariously funny musical comedy short… about cannibalism! Its colourful and clever staging evokes the handmade movie-reality worlds seen in films by the likes of Michel Gondry or Charlie Kaufman, while the full-blown song-and-dance number is like the best of old-fashioned Hollywood musicals, albeit twinned with a pun-filled cheekiness in its subject matter. An absolute delight from beginning to end.

Pleased to Eat You!

If I were to rank all the other shorts too, I’d probably put Woman in Stall (2018, Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Canada & UK, English, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) in second place. A very timely thriller, it sees a woman innocently enter a public bathroom cubicle to get changed, only for a man to turn up outside and start chatting, her wariness of him trapping her inside. Is he a predator she’s right to fear? Or is she just being paranoid? Part of the short’s cleverness lies in the way it plays with our emotions and expectations, swinging us back and forth into where our trust should lie. Working with a limited setting, it’s neatly shot — never dull, but without going OTT to try to jazz things up — and gets edge-of-your-seat tense as it goes on. Regular readers will know how much I love a “single location thriller”, and this is a perfect mini example of the form.

Quince: Fifteen (2018, Peiman Zekavat, UK & Peru, Spanish, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) is a real-time single-shot drama about a 15-year-old Peruvian schoolgirl whose carefree PE lesson turns into a tumult of life-upending dismay in just a few minutes following an unexpected discovery on social media. It’s another timely issue, and this is mostly a well-made short — I do love a single take, and the real-time aspect puts you in her shoes quite effectively. Unfortunately, it’s a bit inconclusive — it just stops, with no hint of how she’s going to deal with her new problem longer term, or what’s going to happen to her beyond a handful of initial reactions. It’s not bad as it is, but there’s also more to be told here.

Quince: Fifteen

On a snowy winter’s day, a postie makes his rounds on a London estate. Meanwhile, one woman anxiously awaits his arrival… With its brief running time, Special Delivery (2018, Robert Hackett, UK, 4 mins, ★★★★☆) almost feels like an extended edit of one of those soppy commercials the big retailers always put out at Christmas — you know, the ones that have just started to pop up on the telly. Nicely shot in 2.35:1, it evokes a Christmassy feel without being overtly festive, and manages to avoid becoming quite as saccharine as those adverts, instead earning the story’s sentimentality. A sweet little slice of romance.

Coming just behind those frontrunners would be Spooning (2019, Rebecca Applebaum, Canada, English, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a one-woman-show of a mockumentary about a theatre actress who specialises in playing spoons. Not “playing the spoons”, like a musical instrument, but anthropomorphised spoons, like in Beauty and the Beast. It’s basically a comedy sketch as a short film, but it was largely funny so I don’t begrudge it that.

I’m six films deep into this loose ranking now, but that’s not to discredit Allan + Waspy (2019, James Miller, UK, English, 8 mins, ★★★★☆). It’s about two working class schoolboys who hang out in the woods on their way to school each day, observing a bird’s nest full of chicks hatching and maturing — but one of the lads clearly has problems at home, and it all takes a very dark turn. Initially it’s a likeable slice-of-modern-life tale, managing to find an element of old-fashioned bucolic childhood even in a modern inner-city setting, and unfurling at a gentle pace by mixing shots of the surrounding world into the boys’ activities. But then there’s a thoroughly glum ending. It kinda ruined my day, but I liked it as a film nonetheless.

Cumulus

A young Welsh girl runs off from her dad and encounters a talking gull who’s worried about his kids leaving home in animation Cumulus (2018, Ioan Holland, UK, English, 9 mins, ★★★☆☆). Naturally, they both learn something from each other. It’s always nice to see 2D animation nowadays, especially when it’s as prettily designed as this, though it’s a shame that some of the movement is a little stilted and animatic-y. It’s also a bit longer/slower than it needs to be, but it’s still mostly charming.

Perhaps the most disappointing short was My Theatre (2019, Kazuya Ashizawa, Japan, 5 mins, ★★★☆☆), a documentary about an 81-year-old in Fukushima who closed his cinema 55 years ago but keeps it alive as a kind of museum. That’s mainly what I gathered from reading blurbs before viewing, though, because the short itself lacks any real context or conclusion, just presenting vignettes of life in this rundown old movie house. It’s perfectly pleasant, but ultimately unenlightening. My Theatre is listed on other festivals’ websites as running 20 minutes, so perhaps the five-minute version submitted to FilmBath is just an excerpt — that’s certainly what it felt like. A longer edit, with more of a sense of why this is a place and person worth observing, would’ve been better.

Finally, Terra (2019, Daniel Fickle, USA, English, 6 mins, ★★☆☆☆), which received some very negative feedback from a few audience members who didn’t feel it was appropriate for the film it was screened before, Honeyland. That’s a documentary about a traditional European way of beekeeping on the wane, whereas Terra is ostensibly about the tumultuous romantic relationship between two young Americans. The clue is in the title, though: it’s a metaphor for humankind’s relationship with Earth. Personally, I thought the analogy was a bit on the nose, but it seems others missed it entirely. The photography is quite pretty, in a no-budget-indie-drama kinda way, but other than that I didn’t think there was much to it. Other members of the FilmBath team were more impressed, so I think it’s fair to say it’s a divisive little number.

Terra

As I said at the start, there were 46 shorts screened at the festival, so this is just a small sampling of what was on offer (less than a third, to be precise). Although I didn’t love them all, I did enjoy most — and considering they would have entirely passed me by were it not for the festival, I’ll definitely take the handful of letdowns as part of the parcel for getting the good stuff.

FilmBath Festival – Opening Night

I’ve never been to a film festival before. The expense and organisation of travel and accommodation, battles for tickets and/or never-ending queues for entry, racing to dozens of screenings a day… it’s just not my thing. (I don’t know if major festivals are really like that, it’s just an impression I’ve picked up from attendees on social media, etc.)

But when there’s a film festival one stop on the train away from your house, well, you can’t say “no”, can you? (Doubly so when you work for said festival and get comp tickets…)

FilmBath Festival isn’t among your Sundances or your Canneses or your Venices or your Londons. Nor is it one of those festival that just specialises in one thing, like documentaries or shorts. There are no red carpets or world premieres; no overtired critics trying to review 5,000 films every day or websites setting up media centres to churn out slightly stilted YouTube interviews with cast and crew desperate to promote their movie. Instead, it’s a local festival giving local people a chance to see previews ahead of general release; films that have already been released but didn’t make it to one of Bath’s cinemas; and smaller, interesting movies that might be difficult to see at all outside a festival.

Yesterday’s opening night kicked off the festival with a double bill of the first of those, including an exciting late addition to the lineup — so late it didn’t even make the brochure. (Ooh, look at all the beautifully precise punctuation and spelling and whatnot in that brochure! What geniuses must have worked on such a thing!) I saw both films, and I’ll write full reviews nearer their wide releases, but for the time being…

The Report at FilmBath Festival

First up was The Report, an All the President’s Men-style thriller about the investigation into the CIA’s use of torture post-9/11. It’s written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, who’s probably best known for writing a handful of Steven Soderbergh movies, plus contributing to arguably the best Bourne movie and Daniel Craig’s final Bond film. At the centre of the story is Star Wars’s Adam Driver as Daniel J. Jones, the senate staffer tasked with combing through millions of pages of secret documents to find the truth. As if to highlight the significance of the story, there’s an all-star supporting cast, led by Annette Bening and Jon Hamm, plus Michael C. Hall, Maura Tierney, Tim Blake Nelson, Matthew Rhys, Corey Stoll, Ted Levine, Jennifer Morrison, and several other recognisable faces. It’s a methodical and gripping film, seemingly as dedicated to explaining the truth as is its protagonist. Imagine if we lived in a world where this was the R-rated war-related true story that became the year’s highest-grossing film at the US box office (as opposed to the one that was).

The Personal History of David Copperfield at FilmBath Festival

Next, that late addition: Armando Iannucci’s new adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. It’s got another all-star cast, headed by Dev Patel as the eponymous young man. Obviously such colourblind casting has provoked comment, and I guess some people won’t be able to get over that, but it doesn’t matter. Dickens’s novel is a thick tome, here condensed briskly into two hours, and there’s a lot more going on than the colour of people’s skin. Its whipcrack pace is both one of its greatest assets (it moves like the clappers) and its biggest drawbacks (it winds up feeling a bit too long). But it’s frequently riotously funny, and the namey cast are sublime, including (deep breath) Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Gwendoline Christie, Anna Maxwell Martin, Benedict Wong, Paul Whitehouse, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aneurin Barnard, plus many other faces you might recognise depending how much British TV you watch. Plus, its affection for the emotional power of the act of writing is sure to make it a favourite for many authors (and wannabes).

Two completely different films, then, but both very much in my wheelhouse — as I said, I’ll review them later, but I enjoyed them both immensely. An exceptionally strong opening to a festival that promises many more delights (Jojo frickin’ Rabbit!) to come.

FilmBath Festival continues until 17th November. For information about what’s screening and to buy tickets, look here. You can also follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Letterboxd for timely updates about what I’m seeing.

All quiet on the 100 Films front

If you thought last month was a slow’un for reviews, hoo boy, look how this one’s going!

The main reason is I’ve been keeping myself busy working at FilmBath Festival, spending my days editing other people’s writing about films (amongst other things). One of the main tasks has been editing all the text for the brochure, which is officially out today — if you live in or around Bath, look out for a physical copy; everyone else, you can read it online here. (If you spot any mistakes, they were all deliberate. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

The 2019 festival has a genuinely exciting lineup — a mix of previews for high-profile movies you’ve heard of and smaller gems that have primarily been on the festival circuit. (If you’re the kind of person who attends film festivals, especially big-name ones, there’s a fair chance there’s nothing new here. Some of the stuff on show has even been on general UK release, it just hasn’t played in Bath.) And there’s at least one advance preview of a film tipped to be an awards season frontrunner, so that’s particularly exciting. Even if on an initial flick through only a couple of movies jump out, I’ve found when you start to read about these films they almost all get really interesting. I figure most of my readership is outside the Bath area (heck, stats say most of my hits come from the US nowadays), but, nonetheless, I’ll also mention that tickets are on sale to the general public from today. (FYI, I don’t get anything for promoting this, I’m just mentioning it because it’s what I’ve been up to.)

As for 100 Films, hopefully I’ll get back on its case soon. Though I’ve been meaning to post a review of Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans all week and haven’t got it together, so…