The Amplified Monthly Review of November 2020

Normally I avoid starting Christmas until at least December 1st. Shops and TV channels can begin to flood themselves with Christmas-related product throughout November (if not before), but I feel like “the day you open the first door of your advent calendar” is when Christmas can begin.

This year’s a bit different, though. Never mind the whole “2020 has been shit” of it all — despite that, I was still aiming for December 1st — but then family wanted to watch Netflix’s Jingle Jangle in the middle of November, and that opened the door a crack, until eventually Christmas fully barged in on the final weekend of the month. Presents bought! Decorations up! Built a festive LEGO set I didn’t get round to doing last year!

What I didn’t do is watch another Netflix original Christmas movie: Klaus. I didn’t get round to it last festive season, and as it’s (surprisingly) on the IMDb Top 250, I’ve been waiting impatiently all damn year for the time to roll around when I felt I could watch it. Well, it’s December now, so…

But before I get stuck into Christmas properly, let’s remember the month that just was.


#237 An American Werewolf in London (1981)
#238 Robolove (2019)
#239 Rose Plays Julie (2019)
#240 Showrunners (2014), aka Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show
#241 Falling (2020)
#242 An Impossible Project (2020)
#243 Coded Bias (2020)
#244 Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
#245 The Lie (2018)
#246 Mangrove (2020), aka Small Axe: Mangrove
#247 The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
#248 You Will Die at Twenty (2019)
#249 Influence (2020)
#250 My Mexican Bretzel (2019)
#251 Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (2020)
#252 Ordet (1955), aka The Word
#253 Never Surrender (2019), aka Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary
#254 Millennium Actress (2001), aka Sennen joyû
An American Werewolf in London

An Impossible Project

Never Surrender

.

Normally I include any short films I’ve watched in amongst the list of features, but this month I watched 53 short films. No, that’s not a typo. In the almost-14-year history of this blog to October 2020, I’d watched 97 shorts; now, AMPLIFY! alone has increased my count by 55%. That seemed an overwhelming amount to include in the above list, so I’ve separated them off here.

A quick guide: #247a–e were the IMDb New Filmmaker nominees; #249a–k were in the Cornwall Film Festival South West Regional programme; #249l–s were in the Cornwall Film Festival International programme; #249t–z were in the New Voices programme; #250a–i were in the CINECITY Open programme; and #250j–v were in the FilmBath programme.

#247a Under the Full Moon (2020)
#247b Flush Lou (2020)
#247c The Monkeys on Our Backs (2020)
#247d Players (2020)
#247e Home (2020)
#249a Shuttlecock (2019)
#249b Stitch (2020)
#249c Nut Pops (2019)
#249d Swivel (2020)
#249e Anoraks (2020)
#249f Frayed Edges (2020)
#249g So Far (2020)
#249h Man-Spider (2019)
#249i Slow Burn (2020)
#249j Closed Until Further Notice (2020)
#249k Quiescent (2018), aka Anvew
#249l Clean (2020)
#249m Appreciation (2019)
#249n Adnan (2020)
#249o Sticker (2019)
#249p Interstice (2019), aka Mellanrum
#249q The Day of the Coyote (2020)
#249r Chumbak (2019)
#249s Guardians of Ua Huka (2020)
#249t Destructors (2020)
#249u Nelly (2020)
#249v Life in Brighton: An Artist’s Perspective (2020)
#249w My Life, My Voice (2020)
#249x Embedded (2020)
#249y One Piece of the Puzzle (2020)
#249z Time and Tide (2020)
#250a The Wick (2020)
#250b We Farmed a Lot of Acres (2020)
#250c A Spring in Endless Bloom (2020)
#250d Booklovers (2020)
#250e The Fruit Fix (2020)
#250f Keratin (2020)
#250g Blue Passport (2020)
#250h Siren (2020)
#250i Reconnected (2020)
#250j The Last Video Store (2020)
#250k Water Baby (2019)
#250l Window (2019)
#250m Alan, the Infinite (2020)
#250n Our Song (2020)
#250o Hold (2020)
#250p Befriend to Defend (2019)
#250q Fuel (2020)
#250r My Dad’s Name Was Huw. He Was an Alcoholic Poet. (2019)
#250s Quiet on Set (2020)
#250t A Map of the World (2020)
#250u Talia (2020)
#250v The Starey Bampire (2019)


  • I watched 18 new feature films in November.
  • That’s the exact same tally as last month (and also February), so the same applies: it’s in the lower-middle for the year, coming =7th out of 11 months.
  • However, it’s below my average for 2020 to date (previously 23.6, now 23.1), and below the rolling average of the last 12 months — although, because I only watched 12 films last November, that still goes up slightly (from 21.1 to 21.6).
  • But it does pass the November average (previously 10.4, now 11.0).
  • Plus, #254 is the furthest I’ve ever reached by the end of November, beating #248 in 2018. It sets me up well to beat that year’s record for my highest ever final total — although victory is by no means guaranteed: I need eight more films to reach a new record, and last December I only watched five…
  • I’ve already noted above how the number of shorts I watched this month is measurable on an “entire history of the blog” scale, but, for what it’s worth, the next closest month came last November, also thanks to a film festival, when I watched… 9. Pales in comparison, doesn’t it?
  • This month’s Blindspot films: first, to catch-up for last month, a belated Halloween pick (that I therefore watched right at the start of the month), An American Werewolf in London; and second, Carl Th. Dreyer’s acclaimed meditation on religion, Ordet.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Borat Subsequent Moviefilm and The Lie.



The 66th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Not that this was a bad month by any means, but it started on a high that was never quite equalled: An American Werewolf in London is exactly the kind of film “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen?” was created for (honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken this many years for it to make it onto the list), and it didn’t disappoint.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, failing to live up to expectations was The Mask of Fu Manchu. I didn’t exactly expect great things of it (there’s the inherent racism, for one thing), but even as a pulpy ’30s pre-code adventure movie, it didn’t tick the right boxes for me.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
With so many short films watched this month, it seems only right to extend the Arbies to them; though I won’t do a “least favourite” (seems unfair when shorts struggle to gain attention enough as it is). There are lots of entertaining little numbers in the 53-strong field, but undoubtedly my personal favourite was The Last Video Store, a documentary about Bristol’s still-running independent video rental place, 20th Century Flicks. It’s all about the importance and brilliance of physical media — right up my street. It’s available free on Vimeo, so do check it out.

Best Documentary Where the Tagline Gets Listed as Part of the Title of the Month
I watched two behind-the-scenes-y documentaries this month, Showrunners and Never Surrender — those are the titles they use on screen, anyway, but look online and you’ll mostly find them listed as Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show and Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary. Regular readers will know how much this kind of imprecision / inconsistency annoys me. Anyway, they were both interesting, but Never Surrender was really warm-hearted and lovely as well as informative — if you love Galaxy Quest (and who doesn’t?) then you must see it. It’s on Amazon Prime, at least in the UK.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
A very deserving victor this month, in my opinion: my review of “missing hammer in a Belgian nudist camp” comedy-thriller (that should totally by a subgenre) Patrick.



After being ahead of target most of the year, last month saw me slip behind slightly, and I haven’t caught it up… but I’m close enough that December could yet see me reach my goal of 50 rewatches.

#42 Hot Fuzz (2007)
#43 Fisherman’s Friends (2019)
#44 Knives Out (2019)

Considering how much I’ve always enjoyed Hot Fuzz (and how often it’s on ITV2), it’s a little remarkable that I’ve only watched it once since seeing it at the cinema in 2007; and, according to my records, that was around when it came out on DVD, in late ’07 or early ’08 — so I haven’t seen it in over 12 years. (Don’t ask me how long it’s been since Shaun of the Dead…) To think: all the mediocre movies I’ve watched in that time, and I could’ve just been rewatching this classic. Oh well.

At the other end of the time spectrum, I only first watched Fisherman’s Friends this May, and Knives Out this March. Both were family-appeasing viewing choices — not that I dislike either (indeed, I’d been specifically wanting to rewatch Knives Out). I’ve not got round to reviewing either in full yet, but I will someday (probably).


Cinemas may’ve been closed again thanks to Lockdown 2, but new releases continue to debut online — like Christmas lesbian romcom Happiest Season, which I’ve heard good things about; or Netflix’s The Christmas Chronicles 2, which hopefully is as likeable as the first one; or Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy, which I’ve not heard anything good about. It does star Amy Adams and Glenn Close, though, so I expect it’ll be part of the awards conversation nonetheless.

The same conditions that have kept theatrical releases to a minimum have seen the streamers all pile on new content, though little of it’s brand-new. Particularly drawing my attention on Netflix was Assassination Nation, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the latter because it’s reminded me I still haven’t watched the 3D Blu-ray I imported from Australia. On social media, they made a big fuss of having Spider-Verse in 4K — I believe it’s a 2K upscale, but its visual style seems made for HDR enhancement. So, basically, I need to rewatch it twice, once in 3D, once in 4K…

iPlayer is also offering original movies at the minute — kind of — with Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series. I watched the first, but need to catch up on Lovers Rock and Red, White and Blue. They also have a speedy TV premiere for recent UK release Monsoon. Over on Amazon, the best they could offer is Military Wives — the kind of thing I might watch with my mum over Christmas. They also added Parasite, but I (a) have seen it, and (b) own it on disc.

In fact, I own it on disc twice, thanks to picking up the US 4K release back in July (they’ve just released it on 4K here, but I think the import still cost me less), and buying the Criterion edition this month. I’m not one of those Criterion completists buying it for the sake of it being a Criterion — I want the special features, and also the black-and-white version (though that’s on Amazon Prime too, so…) It was one of many titles I imported thanks to Barnes & Noble’s biannual Criterion sale — although, as they still refuse to ship to the UK, I actually bought stuff price-matched from Amazon.com. Other titles I picked up included Ghost Dog (been waiting for that on Blu-ray for years), Christopher Nolan’s Following, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, Marriage Story, and the Three Fantastic Journeys bu Karel Zeman box set — the UK editions were still slightly cheaper, but pop-up packaging? Yes please! While I was at it, I also imported a bunch of other US stuff I’ve wanted for a while: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (I’ve never heard great things about the film, but the US release is a 4K-HFR / 3D combo pack that entices me), Shout’s release of Creepshow (as the UK release is long out of print and it’s one of the few George Romero titles I didn’t own), the 4K restoration of Rian Johnson’s Brick, animation Long Way North, The Mask of Zorro in 4K, the 26th Zatoichi film (upgrading my Arrow DVD)… and a few others too (this list is getting plenty long enough, and I’ve not even started on my UK purchases).

Yes, various UK sales further decimated my bank account this month. There was a UK Criterion offer, too, in which I picked up The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Life of Oharu, and Metropolitan; Indicator had a Hammer sale, from which I nabbed two of their box sets (Volumes Three and Four, if anyone’s interested); from Arrow’s Noirvember offer I snagged Dark City, Hangmen Also Die, and (after many years of never quite buying them) both the 1946 and 1964 versions of The Killers; plus random discounts on the 4K box sets of Sicario 1 and 2, and the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy.

Oh, and there were new releases too! The headliner has to be Second Sight’s incredible 4K box set of Dawn of the Dead, a behemoth packed with alternate cuts, special features, and books — not booklets, literal books. Amazing. Also available in multiple fancily-packaged editions was the 4K release of V for Vendetta, though I just went for the regular version in the end. There were also two new Jackie Chan titles from 88 Films (Shaolin Wooden Men and New Fist of Fury); plus another Eastern action classic from Eureka, The Bride with White Hair; and Japanese sci-fi from Eureka too, in the form of Mothra, The H-Man, and Battle in Outer Space. More noir, as well, in the form of Indicator’s Columbia Noir #1 box set — that number at the end promising I’ll be spending much money on this series in the years to come. And, finally, rounding out the month, a Train to Busan trilogy box set, meaning I finally picked up that zombie modern classic, along with the anime prequel (which I don’t much care for) and the new sequel, Peninsula.

Christ, look at that list — anyone’d think I’d just had a Christmas present haul! And I left half-a-dozen titles out just to speed things up. But no, Christmas is still to come…


Iiiiit’s Chriiiiiistmaaaaas! I have been waiting pretty much all year to be able to watch Klaus (can’t watch a Christmas film from January to November, no no no), so if I don’t get round to it I’ll be doing some serious self-chastising in my December review.

Galaxy Quest (1999)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #33

The show was cancelled…
but the adventure has only begun.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 102 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 25th December 1999 (USA)
UK Release: 28th April 2000
First Seen: DVD, c.2001

Stars
Tim Allen (The Santa Clause, Christmas with the Kranks)
Sigourney Weaver (Alien, Avatar)
Alan Rickman (Dogma, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
Tony Shaloub (Men in Black, Pain & Gain)
Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Moon)

Director
Dean Parisot (Fun with Dick and Jane, RED 2)

Screenwriters
David Howard
Robert Gordon (Addicted to Love, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events)

Story by
David Howard

The Story
The cast of ’70s sci-fi series Galaxy Quest have been reduced to convention appearances and mall openings since their show was cancelled; but when a group of aliens, who believe the series was an historical document and have built the show’s spaceship for real, ask for the crew’s help to defeat a genocidal general, the actors must endeavour to become their characters for real.

Our Heroes
A ragtag gang of washed-up actors who used to star on a space opera TV series, now co-opted into being real heroes. They’re all based on the cast and characters of Star Trek, of course: Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith, the ship’s captain, is obviously William Shatner/James T. Kirk; Sigourney Weaver’s Gwen Demarco, the token female, is Nichelle Nichols/Uhuru; Alan Rickman’s Alexander Dane, the classically-trained actor playing an alien science officer, is a combination of Leonard Nimoy/Spock and Patrick Stewart; Tony Shaloub’s Fred Kwan, a fake-foreign engineer, is a mixture of James Doohan/Scotty and Walter Koenig/Chekov; and Daryl Mitchell’s Tommy Webber, a young helmsman from an ethnic minority, is a mixture of George Takei/Sulu and Wil Wheaton/Wesley Crusher.

Our Villain
General Sarris, a reptilian warlord waging war against the kindly Thermians. No discredit to Robin “Ethan Rayne off Buffy” Sachs, but he’s kind of beside the point, really.

Best Supporting Character
Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars, Person of Interest) plays the leader of the friendly aliens, Mathesar, a naïve soul who speaks in a sing-song monotone.

Memorable Quote
“By Grabthar’s hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged.” — Sir Alexander Dane

Memorable Scene
Our heroes arrive in the bowels of their screen-faithful ship to find “a bunch of chompy, crushy things” impeding their path — for absolutely no reason. “We shouldn’t have to do this, it makes no logical sense, why is it here?… This episode was badly written!”

Making of
In cinemas, the film began with a 4:3 aspect ratio for clips from the old TV series, then widened to 1.85:1 for the Earth-based scenes, before widening again to a highly cinematic 2.35:1 once Tim Allen’s character realises he’s on a real spaceship. It was decided to ditch the middle stage for the home video releases, which I suppose makes sense, but is a lot less fun.

Previously on…
Galaxy Quest is an original creation, but it’s heavily inspired by the Star Trek franchise and its fans.

Next time…
A reboot TV series was supposedly in the works at Amazon, though comments made by co-star Sam Rockwell just last month suggest the project had developed into a direct sequel, which was then sadly scuppered by the untimely death of Alan Rickman.

Awards
1 Saturn Award (Actor (Tim Allen))
9 Saturn nominations (Science Fiction Film, Actress (Sigourney Weaver), Supporting Actor (Alan Rickman), Performance by a Younger Actor/Actress (Justin Long), Director, Music, Costumes, Make-Up, Special Effects)
Won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation

What the Critics Said
“Whether you love Star Trek or laugh at it, your starship is about to come in, docking in the form of Galaxy Quest, an amiable comedy that simultaneously manages to spoof these popular futuristic space adventures and replicate the very elements that have made them so durable. […] If Galaxy Quest never attains consistently giddy heights as it plays out its combination of knowing satire and heroic adventure, it nevertheless keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek, offers a few genuine laughs, moves swiftly, if not at warp speed, and is led by a talented cast.” — Lawrence Van Gelder, The New York Times

Score: 90%

What the Public Say
“As a fan of the various science fiction classic series, like Star Trek and Star Wars, I’ve met most of the people parodied in Galaxy Quest – from the overzealous fans to the has-been and bitter celebrities making a living off a series’ memories. A movie like Galaxy Quest manages to poke fun at a wide range of people but still be loveable and sympathetic at the same time.” — Kevin Carr, 7M Pictures

What the Trekkies Say
In 2013, just after Star Trek Into Darkness came out, a massive convention of Trekkies decided to vote on the best Trek movies. Galaxy Quest muscled its way in to 7th place, besting six real Trek flicks. (Infamously, Into Darkness came dead last.)

Verdict

Managing to satirise both classic sci-fi TV shows and their (shall we say) enthusiastic fanbase, while remaining relatively respectful to both, is quite a feat, and is surely one reason Galaxy Quest has proven so popular. Another is its accessibility: you don’t need to be a Trekkie to get all the gags. Combine those two and you have a film for fans and non-fans alike. To really cement the issue, it’s a solid adventure movie as well as a funny comedy.

#34 will be… what you get for the man who has everything.

Alan Rickman, 1946—2016

I rarely break from reviewing on this blog, but I think I can afford such a courtesy to Alan Rickman.

In part this is because, after I heard the news, I realised he’s been a constant presence throughout my film-loving life. I adored Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves as a kid, when the American accents didn’t matter and it was a glossy big-budget extravaganza. I watched it a few years ago, and it no longer looks glossy, big budget, or particularly extravaganza-y, but Alan Rickman shines as arguably the best Sheriff of Nottingham ever to grace the screen.

Then there’s the role that has obviously defined him for a generation: Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series. I’m sure casting the Potter films must’ve been a tricky business, but Rickman as Snape was one of those choices where you just think, “well, obviously.” A pretty one-dimensional character to begin with (The Mean Teacher), Snape has a significant and complicated role as the series goes on, and is probably the most nuanced character in it by the end. Having an actor of Rickman’s ability involved was obviously beneficial.

And as I got older still, there was Die Hard. His film debut at age 42, and the film that will always define him for many, but (again) it’s a magnificent performance, a definitive villain. Pretty much every action-thriller villain for the next, what, decade? more? is really a rip-off of Hans Gruber, however all portrayed by whichever British actor was currently available.

Those are just three keystones in a sea (mixed metaphor much) of fantastic movies and excellent performances that have been scattered throughout my viewing life: the Spock-ish thespian in Galaxy Quest; the punk-y angel in Dogma; the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy film (another spot of perfect casting); the adulterous(?) husband in one of Love Actually’s strongest yet most divisive stories. Several of these films are to come on my 100 Favourites; several more were in contention; and, in every case, a significant reason for their presence was Alan Rickman’s performance.

And if you ever forget that life isn’t fair, remember this:

So we've lost 69-year-olds Bowie, Lemmy (ok 70-year-old) and now Alan Rickman – but Donald Trump is still with us.