The 100-Week Roundup III

In this selection of films I watched back at the end of May / start of June 2018…

  • The Wild Bunch (1969)
  • The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage (1996)
  • The Warriors (1979)
  • Power Rangers (2017)
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)


    The Wild Bunch
    (1969)

    2018 #115
    Sam Peckinpah | 139 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 18 / R

    The Wild Bunch

    After a gang of ageing crooks’ “one last job” goes sideways, they agree to rob a munitions train for a Mexican general, even as they’re hunted by a militia reluctantly headed by their leader’s former partner.

    The Wild Bunch is, of course, a Western, but it’s set in 1913 — not a time we particularly associate with “the Old West”. Well, change doesn’t happen overnight. And it certainly takes that “end of an era” thing to heart as a tale of old men, whose way of life is fading away. It’s also a ‘late Western’ in terms of when it was produced: this isn’t an old-fashioned “white hats vs black hats” kinda adventure, but one full of ultra-violence with a downbeat ending. The opening sequence gets pretty bloody, and then the climax is an absolute orgy of violence. It’s still almost shocking today, so you can see how it was controversial back in 1969.

    It’s not just the presence of violence and blood that’s remarkable, though, but how it’s presented, both in terms of filmmaking and morals. To the former, the speed of the cutting was groundbreaking at the time: reportedly it contains more cuts than any other Technicolor film, with 3,643 cuts in the original print. If that’s true, it gives it an average shot length of about 2.4 seconds. For comparison, the average in the ’60s was around 6 or 7 seconds, while even Moulin Rouge, a movie made decades later that was still notorious for its fast cutting, has an average shot length of 2.01 seconds. It’s not just speed that makes the editing so noteworthy, but its effectiveness, making juxtapositions and using shots to both tell the story and create the impression of being in the thick of it.

    Bad boys

    As for the morals, the film was all about showing these violent men as unheroic and unglamorous, setting out to “demystify the Western and the genre’s heroic and cavalier characters” (to quote IMDb). That piece goes on to say that screenwriters Sam Peckinpah and Walon Green “felt that this project required a realistic look at the characters of the Old West, whose actions on screen had rarely matched the violent and dastardly reality of the men on which they were based… Both Green and Peckinpah felt it was important to not only show that the film’s protagonists were violent men, but that they achieved their violence in unheroic and horrific ways, such as using people as human shields and killing unarmed bystanders during robberies.”

    Of course, antiheroes are ten-a-penny nowadays, so the idea that “men who commit violence are bad” doesn’t play as revolutionary anymore. Indeed, The Wild Bunch can be enjoyed as an action movie — there’s the opening and closing set pieces I’ve already mentioned, plus an excellent train robbery and ensuing chase in the middle too, and a couple of other bits. That said, the film has more on its mind than just adrenaline-generating thrills, and so (based on comments I’ve read elsewhere online) if you are watching just for action it can feel like a bit of a slog. While I wouldn’t be that critical, I did find it a bit slow at times. The original distributors must’ve felt the same, as the film was cut by ten minutes for its US release. (The version widely available today is the original 145-minute director’s cut. I watched a PAL copy, hence the 4% shorter running time.)

    4 out of 5

    The Wild Bunch was viewed as part of my Blindspot 2018 project.

    The Wild Bunch:
    An Album in Montage

    (1996)

    2018 #115a
    Paul Seydor | 33 mins | DVD | 4:3 | USA / English | 15

    Behind the scenes of The Wild Bunch

    This film came to exist because someone found 72 minutes of silent black-and-white behind-the-scenes footage shot during the filming of The Wild Bunch. No one knows why it was filmed — this was a long time before the era of EPKs and DVD special features. And, indeed, if it had been discovered just a couple of years later then a DVD special feature is exactly what it would’ve become; but, being just ahead of that, it ended up as a short film — an Oscar-nominated one at that, going up for the Best Documentary Short prize in 1997. Naturally, it has since found its rightful home as a special feature on DVD and Blu-ray releases of its subject matter.

    The silent film footage is accompanied by voice over of first-hand accounts from the people involved, either taken from recorded interviews (people like screenwriter Walon Green and actors Edmond O’Brien and Ernest Borgnine represent themselves) or actors reading out comments (Ed Harris is the voice of Sam Peckinpah, for example). From this we get not only making-of trivia and tales, but also discussion of the filmmakers’ intent and the film’s meaning. More material along the lines of the latter would’ve interested me.

    As it is, An Album in Montage feels very much at home in its current situation as a DVD extra. Fans of the film will certainly get something out of it, but I don’t think it’s insightful enough to stand independently. It’s by no means a bad little featurette, but it’s not worth seeking out outside of the context of the film itself.

    3 out of 5

    The Warriors
    (1979)

    2018 #123
    Walter Hill | 89 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 18 / R

    The Warriors

    In the near future, a charismatic leader summons the street gangs of New York City in a bid to take it over. When he is killed, The Warriors are falsely blamed and now must fight their way home while every other gang is hunting them down.IMDb

    And that’s all you need to know, because The Warriors’ plot is really simple and straightforward, but that’s part of why it works. It doesn’t need dressing up; it’s got an almost an elegant directness, and it thrives off that. The action sequences feel unchoreographed, with a bruising realism in spite of their sometimes elaborate setups (duelling baseball bats!), and yet they carry an energy and impact that is wholly in keeping with something carefully designed and constructed. The characters are simply drawn, revealed through their actions rather than telegraphed Character Moments or heartfelt speeches. Similarly, the kind-of-romance between the Warriors’ leader and the girl they run into on the streets is so well handled — okay, there are some scenes where they almost talk about it directly, but mostly it’s just moments or lines that indicate a world of feeling. The way this character stuff is sketched in — subtly, sometimes in the background — is quite masterful, actually.

    Such skill extends throughout the film’s technical side. For all the film’s ’70s grit, there’s some beautiful stuff in the editing and shot choices, especially at the end on the beach. It’s not just beauty in an attractive sense, but meaningful, effective imagery, in a way that impresses without being slick or pretty. The music choices are bang-on too. The film intercuts to a radio station that functions like some kind of Greek chorus, linking the action and helping to create a heightened atmosphere — one that’s there in the whole film, incidentally, with its colourful gangs and detached police presence — without ever shattering the down-to-earth, gritty, almost-real feel the whole thing has.

    Gang wars

    I loved The Warriors, and I think that last point is a big part of why: it sits at an almost inexplicable point where it feels incredibly grounded, gritty and realistic, but at the same time a heightened fantasy kind of world. Here I’m trying to describe why I adored the film bu breaking it down into these constituent parts, but there’s something more to it than that — a kind of magic where it just… works.

    All of that said, it seems I was lucky to catch the original version (via Now TV / Sky Cinema), rather than the so-called Director’s Cut that seems to be the only version available on Blu-ray. Looking at the changes, they don’t seem particularly in keeping with the tone of the movie, smacking of decades-later revisionism. Apparently there’s also a TV version that includes 12 minutes of additional scenes, none of which are included on the film’s disc releases. I wish Paramount would license this out to someone like Arrow to do it properly…

    5 out of 5

    The Warriors placed 11th on my list of The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018.

    Power Rangers
    (2017)

    2018 #126
    Dean Israelite | 124 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Canada & New Zealand / English & Mandarin | 12 / PG-13

    Power Rangers

    High school outcasts stumble upon an old alien ship, where they acquire superpowers and are dubbed the Power Rangers. Learning that an old enemy of the previous generation has returned to exact vengeance, the group must harness their powers and use them to work together and save the world.IMDb

    Far from the cheesy TV series of old, this Power Rangers reboot clearly wants to be a somewhat gritty, largely realistic, socially conscious take on the concept. But it’s like it was written by people behind the original, because it’s still full of clunky dialogue, earnest characters (with a thin veneer of outsider ‘cool’), and nods to serious issues without having the time or interest to actually engage with them. Like, one of the kids is the sole carer for his sick mother, or another is on the autistic spectrum, but, beyond spending a line or two to tell us these things, those issues have no bearing on the plot or the characterisation. Plus, it can’t overcome some of the fundamental cheesiness of the original. And when it tries to give in to it, like by playing the Power Rangers theme the first time the giant “dinocars” run into action, it’s too late for such shenanigans and the tones clash horrendously. It wants to escape the tackiness of the original series, but simple can’t.

    And somehow it gets worse as it goes on. The early character stuff is derivative but alright. Then you begin to realise how shallow it is. You’re waiting for the super-suits to show up and the action to start. Then you have to wait some more while it works through plot beats so stale it can’t even be bothered to play them out fully. Then, when the suits finally arrive and the action starts, turns out it’s the worst part of the movie. Almost entirely CGI, under-choreographed, a mess of nothingness with little correlation from shot to shot, no sense of rhythm or construction. When their dinocars all merge into one giant dinocar, the villain screams “how?!”, and you will feel the same.

    Bryan Cranston (yes, Bryan Cranston is in this) tries to inject some character into his role, but it’s too underwritten and his screen time too slight to let him do much with his supposed arc. Elizabeth Banks, meanwhile, is barely in it and has no arc whatsoever, but she chews scenery like a pro. She seems to be aware it’s all stupid and over the top and plays it appropriately.

    2 out of 5

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
    (2017)

    2018 #127
    Martin McDonagh | 115 mins | Blu-ray | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

    a darkly comic drama from Academy Award nominee Martin McDonagh. After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.IMDb

    As well as being as deathly serious and sometimes horrifying as the subject matter deserves, Three Billboards is also as funny as you’d expect from the writer-director of In Bruges. Not to the extent — the subject matter is far too serious for it to be an outright comedy like that — but in subplots and interludes it’s hilarious.

    It’s got a helluva cast, and all of the performances are excellent. Frances McDormand is so fucking good that she even manages to make talking to a badly CGI’d deer incredibly emotional. Apparently some people had a massive problem with the film’s treatment of Sam Rockwell’s character, I think because he was a bad guy who got redeemed. But, really, imagine thinking people who once did bad things can never turn themselves around and be better people. What a pessimistic way to view the world. And yet I guess that’s what today’s “cancel culture” is all about.

    Two outta three ain't bad

    It’s nicely shot by DP Ben Davis (except for that deer), while Carter Burwell’s Western-esque score has some really cool bits. It really emphasises the film’s formal overtures at being a revenge Western, even if the way it goes down in the end doesn’t necessarily support such a reading.

    There was a huge backlash to the film at some point; bring it up online and you’re likely to come across people who assume everyone hates it… but it’s got 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and is still ranked the 150th best film of all time on IMDb, so I think we know where the majority stand. I’m happy to stand with them.

    5 out of 5

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri placed 14th on my list of The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018.

  • 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?”