The So Metaphorical Monthly Review of February 2020

A busy weekend means this post is later than normal. As for the title, yeah, I saw Parasite. (I highlight that just so you don’t go expecting any actual metaphors later in this post.)

Also, as I write this I’ve realised Parasite is the first Best Picture winner I’ve actually seen at the cinema since, of all things, Crash. And the only other one is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. What an elite club to be a member of…


#13 Booksmart (2019)
#14 The Nightingale (2018)
#15 Johnny English Strikes Again (2018)
#16 Tag (2018)
#17 Shoplifters (2018), aka Manbiki kazoku
#18 A Star Is Born (2018)
#19 Blockers (2018)
#20 Emma. (2020)
#21 Yesterday (2019)
#21a The Crimson Permanent Assurance (1983)
#22 Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
#23 Us (2019)
#24 Escape Room (2019)
#25 The Equalizer 2 (2018)
#26 All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
#27 Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
#28 Parasite (2019), aka Gisaengchung
#29 Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
#30 Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

All Quiet on the Western Front

Parasite

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  • So, I watched 18 new feature films in February.
  • That makes it the best month of 2020 so far. Okay, it only had one to beat, so, looking further afield, it’s the best month since last August.
  • It also surpasses February’s average (previously 12.83, now 13.2) and the rolling average of the last 12 months (previously 12.75, now… 12.75, because I also watched 18 films last February. Fancy that).
  • Passing #25 means I’ve passed the quarter-way point already. But the last time I didn’t get there in February was 2014 (when it took until April), so it’s not that noteworthy an achievement. Especially as, since last year, I’m meant to be aiming for 120+ films in year.
  • But, good news, I’ve reached the quarter-way mark for 120, too! Ending February at #30 means so far I’m behind 2016 and 2018, but marginally ahead of 2015, 2017, and 2019.
  • Lots of 2018 films this month — to be precise, nine of them, or 50% of my viewing. That’s because I’m making use of my annual month of Now TV / Sky Cinema to catch up on some misses, and as they get a lot of recent stuff first, currently that means it’s mainly 2018 misses with a smattering from 2019 (overall, 61% of this month’s viewing was via Now TV).
  • Monty Python aficionados may have observed that I’ve chosen to list The Crimson Permanent Assurance separately from The Meaning of Life. It’s commonly presented as part of the film these days, but even then it’s still separated from the main feature. It was independently nominated for a BAFTA back in the day, too, so it sort of is part of the film and sort of isn’t. And anyway, while we can argue whether it counts as a standalone work or not, the fact it’s a short means I don’t give it a full number, so even if you do disapprove of listing it separately, at least it doesn’t affect my count for the year.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: anti-war WW1 classic, and early Best Picture Oscar winner (so an apt choice for this month), All Quiet on the Western Front.
  • As best I can tell, All Quiet on the Western Front is the only film I’ve ever seen from 1930. That’s noteworthy because the only other year since talkies came along for which this is true is 1932. Quite how I’ve ‘missed’ those two years, who knows. (If we go back into the silent era, there’s still only a few more years I’ve missed; but, as we’re talking about years with feature films, it gets a little more complicated for that period.)
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched Booksmart, The Nightingale, and Yesterday.



The 57th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
This month’s viewing includes the most recent winner of the Palme d’Or, the first-ever non-English-language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and the movie Letterboxd users have rated the #1 of all time… all of which epithets describe the same film, of course: Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. It’s an awful lot of pressure to put on a film the first time you watch it. I thought it was great, but how great I’m not sure. So a clearer pick here is All Quiet on the Western Front, another Best Picture winner that has stood the test of time — 90 years and counting.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
In contrast to such greatness, there was plenty of choice for the weakest movie this month. On balance, I think the dishonour belongs to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again — even by the lowly standards set by the first movie, this follow-up is a mess.

Big Name Star Popping In Near the End of a Crummy Musical for a Couple of Minutes to Sing Part of a Song or Two …of the Month
By coincidence and the vagaries of fate, I saw Meryl Streep do this twice this month. Both were in films released in 2018, so this recognition only comes 14 months late.

Best Musical Number of the Month
They may’ve lavished A Star Is Born and Mary Poppins Returns and Mamma Mia 2 with money and star power and all the tricks of modern moviemaking, but the best song-and-dance number I saw this month remains Monty Python’s Every Sperm is Sacred.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
No doubt bolstered by its BAFTA wins and predicted (but unmaterialising) Oscar glory, this month’s top new post was 1917.



With an end goal of 50 in mind, my Rewatchathon stays on course this month…

#6 Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)
#7 Christopher Robin (2018)
#8 The Karate Kid (1984)

I still quite like Christopher Robin. Yeah, it’s just the plot of Mary Poppins remade with Winnie the Pooh, but I like Pooh bear a lot so that doesn’t bother me too much.

Some thoughts on The Karate Kid on Letterboxd, and I intend to do a ‘Guide To’ post for it some day — mainly because I enjoyed it enough that I’m intending to watch the sequels, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen, so I’ll number and review them as new films.


Normally I start this section with all the films I missed on the big screen, but the big news nowadays is surely Netflix’s rollout of Studio Ghibli’s back catalogue (seven last month, seven today, the final seven on April 1st). The ones I hadn’t already seen, and still haven’t, from their February lot are Kiki’s Delivery Service (which I own on Blu-ray anyway), Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, and Tales from Earthsea. Also new to Netflix and on my radar last month were Lady Bird, Hostiles, Proud Mary, and Year One (which I only notice because it was on my ‘50 unseen’ in 2009). One of their originals caught my eye, too: The Coldest Game. Sounded like a genre that’s up my street, but that’s literally all I know about it. Considering the variable quality of Netflix originals, the fact no one seems to be talking about it probably doesn’t bode well.

Over on Amazon Prime, higher profile additions this month include Emma Thompson comedy Late Night and Luc Besson actioner Anna. Also drawing my attention was Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, returning to the streamer after five years away (that’s another from an old ‘50 unseen’ list); Super Size Me 2, the much-less-talked about sequel to the much-talked-about documentary; Anthony Hopkins / Ryan Gosling thriller Fracture (a film I was just about aware existed but had ignored; but, in the sea of mediocrity that’s added to Amazon, that recognition was enough to make me read the blurb and note the decent score it holds on IMDb); and Spy Game, which I’ve seen (it’s in my 100 Favourites, even), but only own on DVD, so here’s my chance to rewatch it in HD.

And, as I mentioned, I’ve currently got Now TV for a little bit yet, so some of the stuff I’d particularly like to catch on there includes Burning, The Kid Who Would Be King, The Wedding Guest, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Crazy Rich Asians, and Mary Queen of Scots. Plus, all the Karate Kid sequels. And, drawing my attention away from that limited-time offering to something else I’ve paid for, I’ve got rentals of Hustlers and Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw that expire in March (both of those were on my most recent ‘50 unseen’, incidentally).

Away from the internet, I got a bit carried away with Blu-ray purchases this month — there are 16 I could list here. Top of the pops is Joker. Also, Criterion’s release of Roma, which I got more for the special features than the film itself (because I can watch the latter on Netflix in UHD). Also on the rewatch list were Gods of Egypt in 3D (like I said would happen); one of my favourites from last year, Searching, which I got new for just a couple of quid; and Phantom Thread, which I also mentioned last month when it came to Netflix, but I finally got on UHD disc (in a two-for-one with Angel Heart). But the biggest single chunk belongs to 88 Films release of Jackie Chan titles, of which I picked up six this month, including four in a sale (Battle Creek Brawl, Dragon Fist, Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin, and To Kill with Intrigue) and two newer releases (Crime Story and The Protector).

Finally, ending where I normally begin, the stuff I missed on the big screen. I nearly went to see Birds of Prey, but I’ll surely buy it for my disc collection eventually so I decided to save the money and wait. I’ve already pre-ordered The Lighthouse, which didn’t come to my local at all. I was never likely to bother with Dolittle or Sonic the Hedgehog, though I’m sure I’ll catch them on streaming sometime. I’m less sure about The Call of the Wild, thanks to that terrible looking CG dog. I’m all for using effects for stunts and stuff, but when it’s also in regular scenes interacting with humans, it just looks fake. Finally, The Invisible Man just came out to strong reviews. I don’t normally bother with horror on the big screen (I prefer to get scared in the secrecy of my own home, thanks), but I’m tempted to make an exception.


More ticking off misses from 2018/19 courtesy of Sky Cinema. Cinema trips seem unlikely (maybe for Mulan), with my attention on the month after and the return of Britain’s best-known secret agent.

The Post (2017)

2018 #125
Steven Spielberg | 116 mins | Blu-ray | 1.85:1 | USA & UK / English | 12 / PG-13

The Post

Perhaps the timeliest historical movie ever made, The Post is, in its plot, about the publication of the ‘Pentagon Papers’, a leaked report that examined decades of US government decisions about the Vietnam war; but, thematically, it’s about press oversight of a government lying to its people to cover up their own wrongdoing, including trying to forcibly stop the press from performing that role — sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Not to mention that it also concerns itself with matters like whether sources who leak classified information are whistleblowers or traitors, and attitudes towards women in positions of power in the workplace.

For various reasons related to these elements, it’s attracted a lot of comparisons and accusations. For example, some have criticised it for being about a case in the ’70s rather than one in the present day. I guess allegory is tricky for some people to understand… Or, alternatively, that any such parallels were accidental, as if experienced director Steven Spielberg wasn’t aware of them. I think the film went from script to screen in just nine months for a reason…

Then there’s the inevitable comparison to Spotlight, another recent newspaper journalism-themed true-story movie, and a Best Picture winner to boot. Those who thought Spotlight was exceptional tend to think The Post doesn’t measure up. Personally, I thought Spotlight was good, but I didn’t love it as much as some others. I would hesitate to say The Post is better than it, but I would be equally as hesitant to say it isn’t as good. Arguably Spotlight is a better movie about journalism, focusing as it does on the everyday legwork and procedure that go into putting together a major story, whereas The Post has more on its mind than just the facts of how reporting works. There are also many comparisons to All the President’s Men, but I’ve still not seen that so can’t comment fairly (there is this rather excellent trivia/connection, though).

Reading the papers

Relatedly, some people think this film should’ve been about the New York Times, as they were the paper that first broke the Pentagon Papers story and initiated the legal case it all led to (and, later, they were the only paper awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the publication). There’s certainly an argument for that being the real story, but, conversely, that would be to assume the focus of this movie is solely the publication of the Pentagon Papers. In fact, The Post is the story of Katharine Graham and the Washington Post, and how the Pentagon Papers changed them both. It’s the story of an underdog-like local paper making an (inter)national mark by doing something at odds with a legal ruling — the fact they chose to back-up the Times by publishing too (even if the action was instigated as much by friendly rivalry/jealousy as it was by “freedom of the press” ethics) is an important point in itself.

It’s also the story of a woman — a business owner at a time when women didn’t hold such roles; and not a woman who confidently elbowed her way in either, but one who found this position thrust upon her — going from meek and overpowered to confident in her own mind and running the show. I’ve read reviews that think this latter element is somehow forced on the film, as if the makers didn’t notice it until halfway through and only decided to draw it out when they reached a shot near the end where Streep walks past a crowd of other women with admiring expressions. That’s not the case, obviously — that’s simply not how movies are made — and that arc is clearly in mind from the very first scene where we meet Graham. Meryl Streep is excellent in the role, which is easily the film’s most fully-realised character. Everyone else is certain of themselves and what they believe is the right thing to do, but over the course of the film she goes from quiet, uncertain, and reliant on her trusted advisor, to believing in her own instincts and standing up for them. It’s a clearly-charted but believable journey.

A man's world

Nonetheless, it’s somewhat hard to divorce The Post from the context of when it was made — the way it reflects the current climate in American politics and the news coverage thereof. But then, is that a problem? Are works of art not as much about the time in which they were made as the time in which they’re set? I guess that’s a whole other debate. That said, it carries a message that would be important in any era, about the need for reasoned, responsible, independent oversight of those who govern us.

4 out of 5

The Post is available on Amazon Prime Video UK from today.

Review Roundup

In today’s round-up:

  • Partners in Crime… (2012)
  • Charlie Bartlett (2007)
  • Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)


    Partners in Crime…
    (2012)

    aka Associés contre le crime… “L’œuf d’Ambroise”

    2016 #189
    Pascal Thomas | 105 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | France / French & Italian | 12

    Partners in Crime…

    André Dussollier and Catherine Frot star as Agatha Christie’s married investigators Tommy and Tuppence (here renamed Bélisaire and Prudence) in this third in a series of French adaptations of Christie stories (best I can tell, the first two aren’t readily available in English-friendly versions).

    Based on the short story The Case of the Missing Lady, it sees Tommy and Tuppence Bélisaire and Prudence investigating the disappearance of a Russian heiress at a suspicious health farm, while also quarrelling about their relationship. It’s very gentle comedy-drama, even by the standard of Christie adaptations, with a thin mystery, thin humour, and thin character drama, which all feels a little stretched over its not-that-long-but-too-long running time. I shan’t be seeking out its two antecedents.

    2 out of 5

    Charlie Bartlett
    (2007)

    2017 #9
    Jon Poll | 97 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Charlie Bartlett

    Anton Yelchin is the eponymous rich kid trying to fit in at a regular high school, which he does by becoming an amateur psychiatrist to his classmates, in a comedy-drama that plays as the ’00s answer to Ferris Bueller. It starts out feeling rather formulaic and predictable, running on familiar high school movie characters and tropes, but later develops into something quite emotional. It’s powered by excellent performances from Yelchin and Robert Downey Jr, as the school’s unpopular and unprepared principal.

    4 out of 5

    Florence Foster Jenkins
    (2016)

    2017 #34
    Stephen Frears | 106 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / English | PG / PG-13

    Florence Foster Jenkins

    Try to ignore the fact Meryl Streep nabbed an Oscar nomination away from someone more deserving (for example, Amy Adams. Well, no, definitely Amy Adams), and she gives a good turn as the titular society lady who couldn’t sing for toffee but thought she was fantastic, and used her wealth and influence to launch a concert career. She’s only enabled by her doting… assistant? Lover? Husband? You know, the film blurs that line (deliberately, I think) and I’ve forgotten what he was. Anyway, he’s played by Hugh Grant, who is also good.

    It’s a gently funny comedy, as you’d expect from the subject matter, but one that reveals a surprising amount of heart and depth through Florence’s attitude to life, as well as how her men (who also include The Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg as the third lead; also good) attempt to care for her needs.

    4 out of 5

  • The Deer Hunter (1978)

    2016 #181
    Michael Cimino | 176 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | UK & USA / English, Russian, Vietnamese & French | 18 / R

    The Deer Hunter

    One of the first movies about the Vietnam war made after it ended, The Deer Hunter was controversial before it was made (no American company wanted to touch it, leaving British group EMI to put up the initial funding), controversial when it was released (Peter Arnett, who won a Pulitzer for his coverage of the war, called the use of Russian roulette “simply a bloody lie”), and remains controversial today (Mark Kermode called it “one of the worst films ever made, a rambling self-indulgent, self-aggrandising barf-fest steeped in manipulatively racist emotion”), but is cited by some as one of the best movies ever made.

    The plot concerns three Pennsylvanian steel workers (Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Savage) who have been conscripted. It follows their final days before joining up, then some of their time in the conflict, then how they react once home — this is a Vietnam movie where under a third of its running time actually takes place in ‘Nam. But, as per producer Michael Deeley, the film “wasn’t really ‘about’ Vietnam. It was something very different. […] It was about how individuals respond to pressure: different men reacting quite differently.” It takes its time getting there (this is a long movie that feels long), but that’s what the famed Russian roulette stuff is all about, really — a way of coping with some kind of mental collapse; of leaving suicide up to chance.

    Walken a fine line

    It’s certainly a problematic film, with its depiction of the Vietcong particularly tin-eared — they’re an old-fashioned baddie, cruel and evil without any apparent provocation. Coupled with a final scene that sees the cast singing God Bless America, it comes across a bit too right-wing to be wholly palatable. It’s also a slog, particularly the first third and its never-ending wedding sequence.

    These things can’t completely negate the qualities Deeley highlighted in the above quote, or that many viewers clearly see in it. That said, if I’m completely honest, I think Kermode may be closest to the truth.

    4 out of 5

    The Deer Hunter was viewed as part of my What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…? 2016 project, which you can read more about here.

    Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

    2014 #95
    Wes Anderson | 83 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

    Fantastic Mr. FoxQuirky cult-y director Wes Anderson tries his hand at stop motion animation with this Roald Dahl adaptation, in which an all-star cast voice the tribulations of a gaggle of talking animals — led by the eponymous vulpine — who come into conflict with three vicious farmers.

    I’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film before, but his reputation is such that I don’t think you need to have to spot that Mr. Fox has been heavily Anderson-ised. It’s probably for the best I’ve not actually read Dahl for decades, because the purist in me would hate it for that. So it’s Quirky with a capital Q, and yet, miraculously, not irritatingly so — it feels like it should be considered self-consciously Quirky, but somehow isn’t. Instead, it’s almost (almost) charming. Whatever, it works.

    Ostensibly a kids’ film, because it’s based on a children’s book and it’s animated, I don’t think it really is a film for kids. Not that it’s unsuitable for them, but only so in the literal sense that it’s an animated movie without extreme violence or swearing. A lot of the humour and the storytelling style, not to mention the slightly-creepy animation, are clearly aimed at a more mature viewer. The aforementioned animation was shot at the half-normal speed of 12 frames per second, to emphasis the nature of stop motion. That’s part of the creepiness, but it’s also the gangly designs, and that the animals look like they’ve been made out of real fur (because they have), which ruffles all of its own accord (accidentally moved by the animators’ hands, of course, but when seen in motion…) Honestly, I think it would give some kids nightmares more than joy.

    Fox familyCompositionally, I thought I’d get sick of the squared-off 2D style, but Anderson’s cleverer than that. It might look flat and lacking in dimension at first, but that’s the starting point for variation, including some great bits of depth (farmer Bean trashing a caravan is a particular highlight of this), and when it breaks form (like a rabid dog chase) it’s all the more effective. There’s also a fantastic score by Alexandre Desplat. Not your usual plinky-plonky Quirky Kids’ Movie music (though there are instances of that), but something more raucous. Nice spaghetti Western riffs, too.

    The main downside is the ending: it kind of reaches a conclusion, but also kind of just stops. It’s like Anderson doesn’t know how to end it… which, as it turns out, is almost exactly true. The ending isn’t the same as the book, because Anderson and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach weren’t happy with it, but they couldn’t think of anything else. The final moments they’ve ended up with are apparently based on alternative material found in Dahl’s original manuscript, making it faithful (in its own way) while also settling the writers’ desire for a new finale. As I said, I’m not convinced.

    (While we’re on trivia, residents of or regular visitors to Bath may spot the recognisable red facade of the Little Theatre towards the end. Its appearance is indeed based on the real one, though goodness knows why.)

    Fantasticer in the future?Fantastic Mr. Fox is the kind of film I feel I may enjoy more on a re-watch. Indeed, some comments on film social networking sites (e.g. Letterboxd) do suggest that it only improves the more you see it. Having parked any desire for faithfulness to the original at the door, then, I feel there’s a chance the film’s boundless originality and almost-incidental outside-the-norm creativity may potentially render it an all-time favourite. But that’s something future viewings (if or when ever they occur) will have to ascertain.

    4 out of 5

    Manhattan (1979)

    2007 #119
    Woody Allen | 92 mins | DVD | 15 / R

    ManhattanDrama (though it does include some very funny bits) focusing on the interrelationships of a handful of 40-something New Yorkers.

    Allen fails to convince as a bit of a womaniser, even if he is notably less neurotic than usual; however, once the viewer gets over that little fantasy of his, I believe there’s a lot to be had here. It’s a much more traditional film than Annie Hall — events occur in chronological order, with no unusual comedic breaks, or monologues to camera — and, as a drama, it’s all the better for this.

    The black & white photography is gorgeous throughout, helping the city to shine far brighter than any of the characters — for me, the best bit of the entire film is the opening three-and-a-half minutes, in which the beautiful images, Allen’s narration and Gershwin’s music combine in a tribute to what must be the most genuinely loved of all cities.

    (A 5-star rating system only allows minimal delineation, so for the sake of clarity I’d like to point out that I personally preferred this to Annie Hall, though it falls just off attaining a full five.)

    4 out of 5

    Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

    2007 #60
    Robert Benton | 100 mins | TV | PG

    Kramer vs. KramerThe acting is what shines in this multiple-Oscar-winning custody drama. Troubled wife Meryl Streep leaves husband Dustin Hoffman within the first five or so minutes (today she probably wouldn’t leave ’til the end of the first act) and suddenly busy, work-driven daddy has to look after their young son all on his lonesome.

    I personally didn’t find the later courtroom scenes quite as edge-of-your-seat intense as some have, but you can’t fault the abilities of the actors. Perhaps particularly noteworthy is the kid, played by Justin Henry, though clearly it wasn’t good enough to launch a decent career for him.

    5 out of 5