Review Roundup

This small selection may at first look a little disparate, including as it does two comedies, with release dates separated by a quarter of a century, and a horror movie. The two points of connection are that I watched them all last year, and I didn’t really enjoy any of them.

In today’s roundup:

  • Phantasm (1979)
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
  • Step Brothers (2008)


    Phantasm
    (1979)

    2018 #92
    Don Coscarelli | 89 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Phantasm

    A cult classic horror that spawned a pile of sequels and numerous novelty-packaged disc releases, Phantasm is about a supernatural undertaker, the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), who (to quote Wikipedia) “turns the dead of earth into dwarf zombies to be sent to his planet and used as slaves.” Sounds totes plausible, right?

    Well, implausibility is no sin — many great fantasy or horror movies feed off setups that are just as outlandish. No, the problem here comes from the storytelling, because what happens in Phantasm is resolutely illogical. None of it makes any sense. No one behaves plausibly. Is there a mythology? I don’t know, because it all seems random. It appears to operate on some kind of dream logic, wherein stuff… just happens. And then at the end it’s revealed that it was, in fact, all a dream! Eesh. Are either of those things ok? Telling a story with “dream logic”, maybe. But then again, why should that be ok? We can’t control dreams, so we can’t expect them to obey the rules of narrative; but films are consciously made, so surely they should aim for coherence? And as for an “it was all a dream” ending, that’s just about the most despised device in storytelling for a reason. (Of course, there’s an “or was it?!” final twist, because it’s a horror movie and that’s how they always end.)

    It doesn’t help matters that the film simply isn’t well made. No one can act. Characters turn up out of nowhere. Most of it is cheaply shot and uninterestingly edited. There are a couple of good bits of imagery, but the rest of the movie is so nonsensical that that’s all it is — imagery. There’s no meaning attached.

    And yet the Phantasm series has its fans (or, predictably, “Phans”). Perhaps, if we’re being kind, we can say it’s an acquired taste — you either get something from its strangeness or you don’t. Clearly there are people (“Phans”) who see something in it. I wasn’t one of them.

    2 out of 5

    Phantasm featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018.

    National Lampoon’s
    Vacation

    (1983)

    2018 #140
    Harold Ramis | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

    National Lampoon's Vacation

    Written by John Hughes and directed by Harold Ramis, Vacation certainly has strong pedigree (I’m not even going to begin to list all the classic comedies attributable to their names). It also spawned three sequels and a remake, so it’s clearly popular. Unfortunately, something about it didn’t click with me.

    It’s about a family going on a summer holiday; specifically, a cross-country road trip from Chicago to California, to visit Disney Walley World. Naturally, the journey doesn’t go to plan, and a series of episodic hijinks ensure. These include such hilarious escapades as meeting some black people (who of course steal their hubcaps); falling asleep at the wheel and careening through a town; hanging out with a cousin who French kisses his own daughter; and accidentally dragging their aunt’s dog along behind the car until it dies. Good times!

    There’s also a song by Lindsey “Fleetwood Mac” Buckingham, called Holiday Road, which is played again and again throughout the film. I started out hating it, but by the end I was listening to it on loop while I updated all my post-viewing lists. It’s sort of gloriously terrible. Sadly, I didn’t have the same Stockholm syndrome reaction to the film itself.

    2 out of 5

    Step Brothers
    (2008)

    2018 #204
    Adam McKay | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Step Brothers

    Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly star as two developmentally-stunted man-children who are forced to live together after the former’s mom (Mary Steenburgen) and the latter’s dad (Richard Jenkins) move in together.

    The movie relies on the notion that watching two 40-year-old men behave like bratty 10-year-olds will be constantly hilarious. Spoiler alert: it isn’t. Unlike the infamous recent collaboration between Ferrell and Reilly, Holmes & Watson, this effort does at least manage some funny bits, though they generally occur when it moves away from the primary conceit for a moment. It also has the most implausible sex scene this side of The Room, which is some kind of achievement, I guess.

    2 out of 5

  • The Header-Image-Forthcoming Monthly Update for June 2018

    I’ve been an unexpectedly busy bee today, so I’ve only just finished putting together June’s monthly progress report this evening, without yet embarking on the header image — which take a surprisingly long time to create, so I’ll do that tomorrow.

    [Edit: That lasted for five hours (during which the front page looked like this, fact fans) before I finished the usual style of header image. Much prettier.]

    Anyway, here’s all the exciting lists and facts and stuff:


    #125 The Post (2017)
    #126 Power Rangers (2017)
    #127 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
    #128 Superman II (1980)
    #129 A Monster Calls (2016)
    #130 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), aka Kaze no tani no Naushika
    #131 Rocky II (1979)
    #132 Shrek Forever After (2010)
    #133 Doubt (2008)
    #134 Gaslight (1944)
    #135 Zatoichi’s Revenge (1965), aka Zatôichi nidan-giri
    #136 The Florida Project (2017)
    #137 A Thousand and One Nights (1969), aka Senya ichiya monogatari
    #138 Rocky III (1982)
    #139 Sanjuro (1962), aka Tsubaki Sanjûrô
    #140 National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
    #141 Swingers (1996)
    #142 Amadeus: Director’s Cut (1984/2002)
    #143 If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death (1968), aka Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte
    #144 Becoming Bond (2017)
    #145 Dudes & Dragons (2015), aka Dragon Warriors
    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

    A Monster Calls

    Sanjuro

    .


    • I watched 21 new films this month. A step down from the last couple, but by any other measure a very good month indeed — that puts it in the top 10% of all months in 100 Films history. Some of those other measures follow…
    • For starters, it’s the best June ever, easily passing 2015’s 16 to become the first June with 20+ films. Only July, November, and December now haven’t had a 20+ month.
    • That’s the fifth month in a row with 20+ films, a new record. The previous best was four (obviously) from January to April 2016.
    • It also more than doubles the June average of 9.5, pulling it up to 10.5. That leaves just July and August with all-time averages below 10.
    • It passes the rolling average of the last 12 months too (previously 18.5, now 19.1), but not the average for 2018 to date (previously 24.8, now 24.2).
    • Plus, as mentioned last month, I watched a film on June 29th, leaving just half-a-dozen dates on which I’ve ‘never’ watched a film.
    • This month’s Blindspot film: Hayao Miyazaki’s environmentalist sci-fi Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which I liked, but not as much as the thematically-similar Princess Mononoke.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film: epic music biopic Amadeus, which, again, I liked, but not as much as everyone else seems to.
    • This month I finally achieved my first Platinum Award on iCheckMovies — that’s the level you get when you complete a list. The list in question was IMDb’s Sci-Fi one, which I finished off by watching Stalker last month and Nausicaa this month. That means I have now seen the 50 greatest sci-fi movies of all time… according to IMDb voters.
    • Because I don’t already have enough film series on the go, this month I added a couple more — namely, the Animerama trilogy and the Sartana series of spaghetti Westerns. Both came out on Blu-ray this month and I thought for once I ought to make an effort to actually watch stuff I was buying.



    The 37th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Plenty of strong films this month, including multiple Best Picture nominees and winners, but my personal favourite was a sequel. Kneel before… no, not Zod (I’m afraid to say I found Superman II a disappointment), but Sanjuro, Akira Kurosawa’s entertaining follow-up to Yojimbo. (And if you want my pick of all those Best Pics, Three Billboards is a close runner-up for this category.)

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    I’ve never been a fan of the Power Rangers franchise, but the reboot had some degree of promise with its Chronicle-esque setup. It doesn’t deliver, though: it takes too long for the superheroic-type stuff to turn up, and when it does it’s a cheesy cheap-CGI mess.

    Most Initially Irritating But Then Surprisingly Addictive Song of the Month
    This month’s comical earworms have included Rock Me Amadeus (sadly not included on Amadeus’s soundtrack) and Fanfare Ciocarlia’s version of the James Bond theme (which plays over Becoming Bond’s end credits). But the song I keep coming back to is Holiday Road by Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac fame. It’s only two minutes long, which felt like forever when it played during Vacation’s opening credits, but now I can’t stop listening to it.

    Best Title of the Month
    I’ll come clean with you, dear reader: half the reason I bought Arrow’s Sartana box set was because the film’s titles are so good. If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death is, literally, just the start.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    I guess I haven’t been the most interesting blogger this month: the hit count for June was my lowest since November, and some 23% less than the average for the rest of 2018. Ah well. However, one post that wasn’t so afflicted was this month’s winner, whose view count within the month is second only to Avengers: Infinity War’s straight-into-my-all-time-top-ten tally from April. Said winner was my 34th TV review, which covered The Americans season 6, a few midseason episodes of Westworld, a bit of Archer, and the Car Share finale. (In a very, very, very distant second place was The Snowman.)



    This month: a superhero movie that’s a bit like James Bond, a spy actioner that wishes it was James Bond, and a James Bond that’s a bit like James Bond but many people wish was proper James Bond.

    #21 Black Panther 3D (2018)
    #22 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
    #23 What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)
    #24 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

    I enjoyed Black Panther just as much on a rewatch. The 3D is quite mild, with only occasional moments or scenes that pop, but it was worth it for the scenes in the IMAX ratio, which often come with the appropriate grandeur. When they enter Wakanda for the first time and the image smoothly enlarges from 2.39:1 to 1.90:1… gorgeous.

    Ghost Protocol remains a great action blockbuster. Previously I’d always thought the “different directors bring a different style” ethos of the M:I movies went out the window from M:i:III onwards, but, rewatching them all, I’m getting a much better feel for the stylistic differences between Abrams, Bird, and McQuarrie’s contributions. And talking of IMAX ratios on Blu-ray, I’m still cross at Bird for not including them here. The forthcoming Fallout will also have scenes with an expanded aspect ratio for IMAX screenings, and McQuarrie recently stated on Twitter that he intends for those to be retained on the Blu-ray. Fingers crossed.

    Finally, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the first Bond film I’ve watched since seeing Spectre at the cinema, almost three years ago now! And the last one before that was a rewatch of Skyfall in February 2013, almost five-and-a-half years ago. Wow. Seems it’s long overdue that I reengage with a franchise that I love — and a Blu-ray boxset that’s 68% unwatched. In that respect, you could argue OHMSS resumes a chronological rewatch that I started in October 2012 and left off in January 2013, but I’m not sure five-and-a-half years counts as “a pause”, really.


    “Your mission, should you choose to accept it — I wonder, did you ever choose not to?”