The Nomadic Monthly Review of April 2021

We’re on a road to nowhere… Or, maybe, the road to recovery. Hopefully. Certainly, I’m still on the road to 100 films this year, at least.


#74 Sátántangó (1994)
#75 The Son of Kong (1933)
#76 Godzilla Raids Again (1955), aka Gojira no gyakushû
#77 King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), aka Kingu Kongu tai Gojira
#78 King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963)
#79 Captain Phillips (2013)
#80 The Frozen Ghost (1945)
#81 The Fly (1986)
#82 The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#83 Nomadland (2020)
#84 The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978)
#85 Detective Conan: The Phantom of Baker Street (2002), aka Meitantei Conan: Bekâ Sutorîto no bôrei
#86 Taken 2 (2012)
#87 Warning from Space (1956)
#88 Spielberg (2017)
#89 Primary Colors (1998)
#90 Stowaway (2021)
#91 Beginners (2010)
#92 The Coldest Game (2019)
#93 Going My Way (1944)
#94 A Single Man (2009)
Captain Phillips

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Nomadland

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  • I watched 21 new feature films in March.
  • That makes 2021 the first year since 2016 that the first four months have all passed the 20-film threshold. If I continue that into May, it’ll be the first year ever.
  • On the other hand, this is the first month in 2021 not to set a new record for the furthest I’ve reached by this point — I’d got to #96 by the end of April last year. Close, but no cigar.
  • I had hoped this might be the first year I got to #100 in April, but no dice. Last year I did it on May 5th, which is another record I don’t think I’ll be beating after all. Ah well — not everything can be a record-breaker.
  • Nonetheless, this was the earliest I’d ever reached the three-quarters mark, in terms of both my eponymous challenge (getting to #75 on the 3rd, beating the 8th from 2016) and my new 120-film challenge (getting to #90 on the 22nd, beating the 26th last year).
  • In terms of averages, it beats the April average (previously 14.8, now 15.2), but falls a little short of the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 23.3, now 21.8) and the average for 2021 to date (previously 24.3, now 23.5).
  • Oops, I started another film series! I’d loosely intended to dive into the classic Godzilla films once I finally finished Zatoichi, but enjoying Godzilla vs Kong last month prompted me to want to see the ‘original’, 1962’s King Kong vs Godzilla. To do that ‘properly’, I had to watch the movies preceding it too — you can find the original Godzilla and original King Kong down in the Rewatchathon section, plus Son of Kong and Godzilla Raids Again at #75 and #76 (I watched them in and around spending four days trudging through Sátántangó). So, technically, I’m now three films deep into Big G’s 15-film Showa era.
  • Relatedly: no, that’s not a mistake at #77 and #78 — one’s the original Japanese version, the other is the US rejig (with much footage deleted, new stuff added, and all dubbed into English).
  • This month’s Blindspot film: as mentioned in brackets a moment ago, this was the insanely long (seven hours!) Sátántangó. It’s based on a novel and apparently adapts every single incident from the book, so this is what happens when you don’t bother to abridge an adaptation.
  • I didn’t watch anything from last month’s “failures”. Hey-ho.



The 71st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
I originally had a different winner down for this category, until a last-minute change of mind. You see, I expected to like Captain Phillips, because I’d heard good things and I generally like the work of director Paul Greengrass and star Tom Hanks, but it rather blew me away how good it was — a tense, dramatic, unpredictable thriller, with a final scene that by itself should’ve earnt Hanks an Oscar nomination, if not even a win. He was robbed!

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I know it’s acclaimed as one of the greatest films ever made, but, sorry, I found Sátántangó to be an unrelenting bore. It may not be the truly worst film I saw this month — it has some great filmmaking, and I do think there’s a very good movie buried inside it, if it were edited down considerably — but this is “least favourite”, not “worst”, and nothing else this month entertained me less for such a long period of time.

Best Hound of the Baskervilles of the Month — Possibly Ever
I’ll forgive you if you’re not up on your release years for every adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles — there are quite a few, for one thing. So, the two I watched this month were the Hammer version starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee (that’s the 1959 one), and the comedy version starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (that’s the 1978 one). The latter is famously awful, and… yeah, it is. But the former is a stunner. Not the most strictly-faithful adaptation, but bursting with atmosphere, whip-crack paced (it doesn’t even hit the 90-minute mark), and with a top-flight cast (Cushing deserves to come up more often in discussions of the best screen Sherlocks).

Most Pleasant Surprise of the Month
We’re so used to berating Oscar voters for their terrible Best Picture choices, it’s weird that recently they seem to have hit a good streak (Green Book excepted). And it continues this year, because I thought Nomadland was a legitimately fantastic movie. (Admittedly, it’s the only Best Picture contender I’ve yet seen, but still.)

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
I’m terribly behind on my TV reviews, which at least means they can’t dominate this category. And so a film wins again — not the all-awards-winning Nomadland, though, but the belated UK release of Palm Springs carries it to victory here.



Although I rewatched four films this month, coming into April I had gradually slipped far enough behind that I’m still four films off target. But I’m always intending to rewatch some whole series (high on the list: to finally watch my Indiana Jones Blu-rays before the 4K set comes out), so if I pull my finger out and do something like that, the number could easily jump up.

#10 Wonder Woman 3D (2017)
#11 King Kong (1933)
#12 Godzilla (1954)
#13 Palm Springs (2020)

I found Palm Springs more easily enjoyable on a second watch, freed of all the hype and expectation it came burdened with first time round. Seems only appropriate… Wonder Woman was also a second watch, and my original review still mostly stands (despite the comments section implying I might’ve missed something). As for the quality of its 3D, it’s the kind of post-conversion job that isn’t bad, but also mostly makes you wonder why they bothered.

King Kong was the subject of a ‘Guide To’, so find that linked above for my latest thoughts on the monster movie classic. I last saw it many, many years ago, and my increased film literacy and appreciation for classic movies led me to enjoy it a lot more this time round. Similar could be said for Godzilla: knowing what to expect pace- and content-wise, I enjoyed it a bit more; certainly enough to shore up the 4-star rating on my review (linked above, natch).


The reopening of cinemas may be imminent(ish) in the UK, but that hasn’t stopped distributors sending releases straight to overpriced “home premieres” — in April, those included young adult adaptation Chaos Walking and Oscar Best Picture nominee Minari, while fellow Best Picture nominee Promising Young Woman was relegated to being a Sky Original. And if you thought we had to wait quite a while for those, or Palm Springs and Nomadland (which were also both this month), check out Chloé Zhao’s debut feature, Songs My Brothers Taught Me: MUBI was responsible for its UK wide release this month, a full six years after its initial release elsewhere.

There were Oscar contenders to be found among the streamers’ new releases too, with Amazon offering Sound of Metal to subscribers, alongside premieres of Guantanamo Bay drama The Mauritanian and Tom Clancy adaptation Without Remorse. Netflix’s awards flicks already came out last year, although they had the international premiere of Love and Monsters this month, which was at least up for effects nods. Less well received was Melissa McCarthy superhero comedy Thunder Force, though I have heard positive things about some of their other original titles, like Run (the new film from Aneesh Chaganty, director of Searching) and animation The Mitchells vs. the Machines. In terms of catalogue titles, Netflix brought back sometime-IMDb-Top-250-ers In the Name of the Father, Lagaan, and Taare Zameen Par (aka Like Stars on Earth); the subscription streaming debut of Shirley; plus a few things I haven’t seen for years and would like to rewatch, like Cast Away, The Quick and the Dead, and perhaps Jarhead (I saw it at the cinema 16 years ago and didn’t particularly like it, but maybe it’s worth another look, considering the talent involved).

Once again, my new disc purchases know no bounds. I passed 100 titles on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray this month, thanks to new releases of Batman v Superman (remastered with IMAX scenes), the 2014 Godzilla (in a spiffy limited edition from HMV), and Arrow’s Battle Royale (even though I haven’t watched their Blu-ray release that I bought over a decade ago). I also finally got Léon in 4K. I imported the US edition (because it looks so much better than the European one) from Amazon.com last year, but they kept sending me what looked like bootleg copies that I kept returning until they said they’d look into the matter. This time, I picked it up somewhere else, and it’s clearly a genuine copy — so I was right about Amazon flogging bootlegs.

While I was importing that, I also snaffled up a bunch of classic 3D titles (The Maze, September Storm, and Wings of the Hawk) and finally managed to find a copy of the Olive Signature Edition of Orson Welles’s Macbeth for a reasonable price. Talking of sales, I picked up Black Rainbow, Black Test Car, and The Black Report from Arrow’s recent offering (their related titles being coincidence rather than design). On the full price side of things, I couldn’t resist a bunch of new and recent Indicator releases: The Beast Must Die, Crimewave, Irreversible, and Twentieth Century.

And talking of failures to resist, I really, really tried not to buy Curzon Artificial Eye’s Bong Joon-ho box set. They used very pretty art design (the box art went down a storm with a certain kind of collector on Twitter) to bundle together almost-special-feature-less versions of a bunch of Bong’s films — and not even a complete collection, because Netflix have a stranglehold on Okja, and I guess Curzon couldn’t be arsed to license his short films (unlike a similar set recently released in Australia). I already own regular extras-filled editions of The Host and Snowpiercer, and I’ve caved to two copies of Parasite (both the 4K and Criterion’s extras-packed release), plus I have my eye on Criterion’s extras-loaded edition of Memories of Murder. All that left in the AE set’s favour was Barking Dogs Never Bite and Mother, the latter of which used to be available in a decent standalone edition (it’s out of print, but used copies aren’t hard to come by). So why the hell did I buy it in the end? Well, that’s still three films I don’t own — I could’ve got Mother by itself, but Barking Dogs Never Bite doesn’t have a standalone edition; and the Criterion release of Memories of Murder has rather controversial, ugly colour grading, while the UK edition is considerably less egregious in that department. The deal was sweetened by Parasite having some special features not present on my other copies (primarily, deleted scenes) and, yes, the attractive box design — it will look nice on my shelf. It’s definitely not the most sound purchasing decision I’ve ever made, but sometimes it’s just nice to have nice things.


There’s only one date left on my “never seen a film on” list: May 23rd. Will I finally complete the year, or will I forget and miss it? (You’d think it’d be an easy achievement to guarantee, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve simply forgotten to do it.)

The Saint’s Return (1953)

aka The Saint’s Girl Friday

2016 #154
Seymour Friedman | 65 mins | download | 4:3 | UK / English

The Saint's Return

Long-time readers may remember I reviewed all eight of RKO’s Saint films back in 2012. That series ended amidst an argument over rights (and they replaced it with the ever-so-similar Falcon series, which I also reviewed), but a decade later this continuation movie happened. I wasn’t even aware it existed until it was brought to my attention in the comments on another film. It’s technically not part of the same series (it was made years later by Hammer, believe it or not) so it’s harder to come by, but eventually I tracked it down… as a download that was clearly sourced from a VHS (it even lost tracking at one point!) that was quite possibly recorded off the telly.

The story sees Simon Templar, aka the Saint, rushing back to England to help a friend, but she’s killed in suspicious circumstances before he arrives. Investigating her death, Templar finds she was indebted to the River Gang, and sets about bringing them down.

The Saint, with a girl

Although this was made years after the RKO films and by a different studio, it’s not a reboot or remake. Even allowing for those terms having become more applicable recently than they probably were in the ’50s, The Saint’s Return actually seems to be making a concerted effort to appear connected to the earlier series: near the start there’s a small scene where Inspector Fernack, the Saint’s regular nemesis/ally in the NYPD, acknowledges that Templar has left for England, which serves no purpose other than to suggest a connection to the other films. It’s even shot in a way that’s reminiscent of the older films (though, I don’t know, had low-budget studio filmmaking changed much in the intervening decade?)

That said, there are changes: the Saint is now an American, for no particular reason, and it’s more serious than I remember the other films being; but that might be my memory being clouded by the Falcon films, which were similar but lighter. In a rare feat for these movies, it managed to trick me with a plot twist, as I incorrectly guessed who secretive villain ‘The Chief’ would turn out to be. That’s either an achievement or a sign of me underestimating the film just because it’s old and cheap…

The Saint, with another girl

Taking the lead role is Louis Hayward, who originated the Saint on screen fifteen years earlier in RKO’s first film, The Saint in New York. He only played the role once before, but nonetheless makes a convincing return here. The rest of the cast includes Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors, whose charms haven’t dated, and a minor role for one Russell Enoch — aka William Russell, who’d go on to find fame in the title role of the BBC’s The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, before ensuring his screen immortality as one of the original leads in Doctor Who.

Still, there’s more to The Saint’s Return than before-they-were-famous star-spotting. Although it seems to be the black sheep of the Saint film family, it’s actually a pretty good little thriller. Indeed, there were definitely worse films in the series proper. I’m not going to quite stretch to four stars for it but, for fans of the series, it’s worth tracking down.

3 out of 5

The Damned (1963)

aka These are the Damned

2011 #31
Joseph Losey | 91 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 12

The damned posterSometimes, at least for me, films improve in retrospect. My opinion while watching may be different to when I look back days, weeks, months, or even years later. Films I thought I disliked may benefit from a kind of nostalgia; some films just gain something from extended reflection, even if that isn’t conscious; films I underrated may improve when I gain perspective on their qualities relative to other works; in some cases, it’s just that I’m getting older and wiser.

There are several films reviewed on this blog that I think would warrant a different opinion if I watched them again now, but The Damned is the most recent example. I think if I’d got round to this review any quicker it would be less enthusiastic than what I’m about to write.

That said, it’s not as if I’ve had a complete turnaround of opinion: The Damned is an interesting film, certainly, but one that is perhaps somewhat undercut by its age; a kind of ’60s SF that would probably require a distinctly different approach if you were to attempt to make it today. The damned capturedNot necessarily a bad thing, but it has that kind of disconnect from reality that’s markedly ’60s. In his review for MovieMail, James Oliver notes that “despite his background in low-budget genre flicks, Losey was at heart an art house director, keen to communicate big themes and ideas”, which perhaps explains some of this.

It’s also oddly constructed (perhaps due to studio interference — see Oliver again), starting out as a kind of small town British gang B-movie, with some eccentric and apparently irrelevant characters turning up in asides, before segueing into a nuclear-age SF parable. As a post on IMDb’s boards put it (yes, sometimes those are worth reading — it astounds me too), The Damned is “continually in flux — just as you think you’ve got it pegged as one genre of film, it becomes another.” Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but unusual.

Once the film hits its genre stride, it shows that it is (to borrow further from that IMDb post) “true science fiction, in that it’s about ideas, and a commentary on current culture, and where that culture may be leading. In other words, science fiction for adults”. Obviously that’s the “current culture” of 1963, but in that sense it perhaps offers an insight into the thoughts and attitudes of the time, The damned castand the kind of inhumanity that might be reached in the quest to survive nuclear war.

My mixed reaction to The Damned leaves its score in the middle of the board, but I’d encourage those with an interest in intelligent science-fiction or ’60s genre films to give it a go.

3 out of 5

Doctor Faustus (1967)

2010 #23
Richard Burton & Nevill Coghill | 92 mins | DVD | PG

Despite the numerous film versions of the Faust story, this is the only one that adapts Christopher Marlowe’s A-level-favourite 1588 play. It’s a shame, then, that it’s heavily edited from the original text and, despite also being a filmed version of the Oxford University Dramatic Society’s 1966 stage production, has clearly been inappropriately chosen as a vehicle for then-couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Burton plays a suitably reverent version of Faustus, though is never less than able to convey his varied moods, from confidence, often underscored with insecurity, to repentant regret, to childish tomfoolery. Stuck with numerous long speeches, however, there are occasions when his delivery — and consequently the film — slip briefly into insomnia-curing monotony.

Meanwhile, the play’s lack of a significant female role makes Elizabeth Taylor’s presence rather unusual. Marlowe’s text has been tweaked to allow Taylor to crop up frequently as ‘Helen of Troy’. As well as appearing in original scenes that feature Helen, co-writers/directors Burton and Nevill Coghill have inserted her into any scene that would allow it. Such casting across several inconsequential roles, some not even in the original text, effectively creates a new character. Perhaps this adds an extra dimension to Faustus and his goals — attempting to imply a romantic angle — but it comes across as a desperate and unwarranted attempt to make this a Burton/Taylor film.

Elsewhere, Burton and Coghill’s vision of Faustus is stylistically reminiscent of a Gothic Hammer Horror, which is either wholly inappropriate or an ingenious genre mash-up — after all, such a genre-mashing trick has been pulled many a time with Shakespeare over the years. There are repulsively horrific corpses, a harem of naked ladies, an array of special effects, plus a medieval-styled gothic atmosphere to all the sets and costumes, though the scene where Faustus mucks about with the Pope feels more Carry On. Using inanimate objects in the roles of the Good and Evil Angels — respectively, a statue of Christ and a skull — is a small but inspired touch.

These aside, there’s a surprising emphasis on special effects: a skeleton that turns into a rotting corpse (click the link at your own discretion); skulls that pour imagined gold and pearls from their mouths; cuckold horns that retreat into nothing; and so on. One might think this is purely to buoy up the Elizabethan language for a wider audience, and one isn’t necessarily wrong, but considering Elizabethan theatre-goers enjoyed their gory effects as much as modern audiences clearly do, their inclusion isn’t incongruous. There’s certainly some visually impressive stuff on show, much of it suitably horrific — one often wonders about the PG certificate.

An even greater deviation than the effects is how much has been cut out — in a word, loads. Most of the comic scenes are gone (some of their humour wouldn’t translate today, making those a wise excision, but others are missed), and much of what Faustus does during his 24 extra years on Earth is missing too. Some of the cut scenes are among the most easily-enjoyed parts of the play, though would certainly lighten the tone. Perhaps they just didn’t have any money left for the further special effects required. The trims extend as far as the final scene, which also loses some of the play’s best bits. It’s unlikely anyone unfamiliar with the play would notice the omissions (having not read it for a good few years there weren’t many I missed), but returning to the text after seeing the film I realised how disappointing some of the cuts were.

Perhaps they were designed to focus the film more closely on the Faustus/Mephistopheles relationship, perhaps just to heighten the presence of Helen by losing scenes she couldn’t have been shoehorned into; but in the process it both loses some of the best material and destroys any hope the film had of being a definitive filmed version of the play. Ultimately, such oversights proved to be the final straw for the film’s already-tenuous grip on a three-star rating.

2 out of 5