The Festive Monthly Review of November 2019

Regular readers will no doubt have cottoned on to the fact this year has been rather turbulent in my life away from the blogosphere — nothing terrible or tragic, thank goodness, but time- and attention-consuming nonetheless. Well, it’s hopefully the (beginning of the) end for that now, as November ends and December begins with me finally moving into a new permanent home.

I know people have “moving day”, but geez, it’s a process, isn’t it? One I’m in the middle of — and has affected my blogging once again at the end of November, as I missed another TV review (which would’ve covered the likes of His Dark Materials, Watchmen, The Mandalorian (even though I’m in the UK), and the BBC’s long-awaited take on War of the Worlds), and didn’t post reviews of major new releases like The Irishman and The Report (both of which I’ve seen, neither of which I’ve had time to write about in full).

My film viewing has suffered once again as well. I’m way behind on both Blindspot and WDYMYHS, not to mention various new releases — not only on the big screen but also stuff I missed earlier in the year that’s now on disc / streaming.

On the bright side, earlier in November was the 2019 FilmBath Festival, and that’s almost single-handedly responsible for this being my highest-totalling month since the summer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself slightly. Here are the films I watched last month…


#135 The Report (2019)
#136 The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)
#137 Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), aka Portrait de la jeune fille en feu
#138 Little Monsters (2019)
#139 Harriet (2019)
#140 La Belle Époque (2019)
#140a My Theatre (2019)
#141 Filmfarsi (2019)
#141a Terra (2019)
#141b Spooning (2019)
#142 And Then We Danced (2019)
#142a Woman in Stall (2018)
#143 Judy & Punch (2019)
#144 Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (2019)
#145 Jojo Rabbit (2019)
#145a Hey You (2019)
#145b Gladiators on Wheels (2019)
#145c Tight Spot (2018)
#145d When Voices Unite (2017)
#145e Facing It (2018)
#146 The Irishman (2019)


  • So, I watched 12 new feature films in November.
  • I also watched 9 short films, which is more than I’ve seen in entire years before now.
  • The latter were all thanks to FilmBath Festival, as were 92% of the features — as I said at the start, it almost single-handedly rescued this month from being another disappointment.
  • Talking of disappointment, I didn’t watch any of last month’s “failures” either.
  • Comparisons of averages are hardly “not disappointing”, but they’re also not a total disaster. 12 is above the November average (previously 10.3, now 10.4), though it is slightly below the average for 2019 to date, which even with all those ‘bad’ months was still 13.4. It’s now 13.3, and the rolling average of the last 12 months also comes down to the same (it was previously 14.4).
  • One final positive worth mentioning: I passed #137 this month, which puts 2019 into my top five highest-totalling years. So much for all those “terrible” months, eh? Getting any higher than 5th place is unlikely, because for that I’d have to watch 29 films in December… but I have watched more than that in a single month on a handful of previous occasions — so, literally speaking, it’s not impossible.



The 54th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s a closely-fought field this month, with about four 5-star films and a couple of highly likeable 4-star-ers too. For the surprise factor — because I hoped I’d like it but ended up absolutely loving it — I’m going to give this to La Belle Époque, but I fully expect a certain other French film to end up above it in my end-of-year rankings.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
I hate to dunk on what’s probably the smallest, most obscure, least-likely-to-get-seen-anyway (feature) film I saw this month, but I’m afraid to say this has to be Filmfarsi. It’s not that I thought it was bad, just a bit rough around the edges, for various reasons. But if its subject sounds interesting to you, I’d still encourage you to see it if you can.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
Last month I watched so many short films that I gave them a category. This month I watched almost twice as many, so it’s back. There are several great ones among the nine I watched, but for being an incredibly impressive technical achievement — all in aid of conveying real emotions and experiences, not showing off for the sake of it — my pick is Facing It.

Best Film Festival of the Month
Okay, I only attended one film festival this month, and I may be a little biased, but FilmBath was a great experience — a nice atmosphere and I saw some fantastic films.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Two posts were closely vying for this award in November, but in the end… it was a tie! I’m not sure I’ve ever had a tie in this category before. (There are 53 previous editions of these awards and I can’t be bothered to check them all right now, sorry.) So the joint winners were my coverage of FilmBath Festival’s opening night and my review of Judy & Punch. (If you really wanted to break the tie, the latter was online for 8 days vs the former’s 23, so therefore amassed a higher average of views per day.)



We begin this month with a Rewatchathon first: a rewatched short.

#24a Pleased to Eat You! (2019)
#25 What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)
#26 Easy Virtue (2008)

I first saw Pleased to Eat You last month as part of the prep for FilmBath Festival, then saw it again before the screening of Little Monsters. It merits revisiting, though, because it’s such great fun.

As for the two features rewatched, they’re both movies I feel have been somewhat undervalued. My original reviews of both are linked above, as always. Sometimes I re-read old reviews and am pleasantly surprised by the quality of my own writing (which sounds rather smug and self-gratifying, but I’m talking about very old reviews re-read with some distance, not going back over something I just wrote, which I think makes it different). Sometimes, however, I’m less impressed (which hopefully shows I’m not simply uncritical of my own work). Unfortunately, my review of Easy Virtue from 2011 is one of the underwhelming ones. I stand by its sentiment, but I don’t think I expressed that sentiment very well.

My piece about What We Did on Our Holiday is better, though still not totally clear. I also think it’s a film that improves with rewatching — any faults fade into the background behind the bits that are hilarious, heartfelt, humanist, and sometimes quite beautiful.


Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty to mention here — more than normal, in fact. I say that because there are usually three or four cinema releases I name, but November brought loads. From high-profile releases such as Frozen II, Knives Out, Last Christmas, and Le Mans ’66 (that’s Ford v Ferrari to some of you); to films that were surprises, either because they were hits, or flopped, or provoked controversy, or just seemed to come out of nowhere, like Midway, The Good Liar, Charlie’s Angels, and Blue Story (you can match up which of those is which); to smaller releases of note, like The Nightingale (the new one from Jennifer “The Babadook” Kent) and Greener Grass; to ones that probably fit into one or more of those other categories, though I’m not sure which, like The Aeronauts and 21 Bridges. Sure, some of those are films I never would’ve made the effort to see in the cinema anyway, but they’re all ones I’ll look out for in the future nonetheless.

It was also an uncommonly productive month for Netflix — they release new series all the damn time nowadays, but it feels like their original films that are worthy of note congregate at the end of the year. As well as the obvious one (see #146) there was The King, Earthquake Bird, and Christmas movie Klaus (which I’ve saved for December, because duh). Talking of the incoming season, there were a bunch more tacky-looking Christmas originals, foremost among which is surely The Knight Before Christmas — a film where they definitely came up with the title first and worked backwards. It looks and sounds terrible, obviously, and yet there’s something about its reputed awfulness (and that marvellous pun) that’s tempting me to watch it… Back on the sensible end of the spectrum, festival winners like Atlantics and I Lost My Body also popped on in the last couple of days.

Also added in the past month was Dragon Ball Super: Broly. That’s a franchise that’s never otherwise interested me, but I’m tempted to see what all the fuss was about for this particular entry: it was the highest-grossing anime film of 2018 and one of the highest of all time, including in the UK, where it became the second highest-grossing anime ever (behind only Spirited Away) and an advance screening sold out in just 23 seconds. Is its success thanks to a dedicated fanbase and limited number of screenings, or is it actually something special? There’s one way to find out… Lastly on Netflix, not a film but a series about films: The Movies That Made Us, a spin-off from their successful series about toys that, as far as I can tell, basically trades in ’80s nostalgia. Of course, the making of movies is a lot better documented than the making of toys, so whether it has anything new to say about the likes of Die Hard or Ghostbusters seems doubtful.

Amazon didn’t have too many originals to offer — or perhaps any, besides one (see #135). But there were a few catalogue additions I want to see, like Magic Mike and Umberto D (not two films you’d normally see mentioned side-by-side…), and a few oddities that caught my eye, among them Tsui Hark’s directorial debut, Butterfly Murders, and Too Late, which is billed as “a sexy, smart noir detective thriller… told in non-linear fashion, in a series of five true long takes… with stunning 35mm cinematography.” They also say the latter is “a cinephile’s dream” and, yeah, it does sound a bit like that. They also have a bunch of reduced price rentals for Prime members, in which I recently hoovered up Missing Link, Booksmart, Brightburn, and Eighth Grade — now I’ve just got to make sure to make time for them before the rentals expire.

Finally, there’s the new stuff I bought on disc, like Apollo 11 in 4K, and in 3D Spider-Man: Far from Home, Aladdin, and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (the latter two only thanks to sale prices). Then there were new catalogue releases, like Masters of Cinema editions of The African Queen and Der Golem, and Arrow’s release of RoboCop; a sale purchase of Candymen: Farewell to the Flesh (I enjoyed the first one a lot so figured this sequel was worth a punt); and the HD box set of Batman Beyond… which, for its UK release, replaced the Blu-ray disc of spin-off movie Return of the Joker with a censored DVD copy. WTF, Warner?

And all that without even dipping into any Black Friday deals! Which, actually, are mostly still ongoing. Hmm…


It’s been a very up and down kind of year here at 100 Films — will December end it on another higher, or in another dip? There’s only one place to find out: right here, in 31 days’ time.

(Unless I also mention it on Twitter.)

(Or Instagram.)

(Or Letterboxd.)

(So… yeah.)

Shorts of FilmBath Festival 2019

Across the 2019 FilmBath Festival programme, 46 short films were screened — 23 attached to feature films, 17 at a dedicated ‘Shorts Showcase’, and six at the IMDb New Filmmaker Award ceremony (five in competition, one the film made from the winning screenplay of the IMDb Script to Screen Award). I saw 14 of these, one way or another, and have compiled my reviews into this (commensurately long) post.

First, the five films that competed for the IMDb New Filmmaker Award.

Gladiators on Wheels

The winner chosen by the judges was Gladiators on Wheels (2019, Souvid Datta, UK & India, Hindi, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a documentary about the ‘Well of Death’ — an attraction at Indian circuses where daredevils ride motorbikes and drive cars around 60ft vertical walls, literally defying gravity. It’s both impressive and terrifying, especially considering they’re doing it without any kind of safety gear — no helmets or padded suits here, never mind nets or something. But the film isn’t just about the actual act, also touching on the way of life, and how its fading. It’s a well-shot bit of filmmaking, especially impressive when you learn it was all filmed in a single day. The script was compiled from interviews with the drivers, then voiced by actors, but if anything it’s a little cliché — lots of talk of “living on the edge” and how dangerous it is but how they wouldn’t have it any other way, etc. Still, like many of the best documentaries, it’s a fascinating glimpse at another world.

The audience at the ceremony also got a say, favouring Hey You (2019, Jared Watmuff, UK, English, 5 mins, ★★★★★), which is about gay men hooking up via text messaging. At first it feels like a lightly comedic bit of fun, possibly with some drama in that one of the men is closeted, but then it develops into something more serious. It’s a very well made short, in particular the shot choices and editing at the climax, which combine to produce some incredibly striking imagery. It’s tricky to say why it’s such an effective and vital film without spoiling where it goes in that finale, but it’s a meaningful piece that’s worth seeing if you can. It would’ve been a worthy winner.

Facing It

The three other finalists were … Tight Spot (2018, Kevin Haefelin, USA & Switzerland, English, 4 mins, ★★★★☆), a comedy bit about a shoe shiner and a suspicious customer, which was amusing albeit a little predictable; although it did, again, look nice … When Voices Unite (2017, Lewis Coates, UK, English, 4 mins, ★★★☆☆), a mini tech thriller that was suitably tense in places, but really needed some kind of twist or final development to give it a reason to exist … and Facing It (2018, Sam Gainsborough, UK, 8 mins, ★★★★★), which presented an imaginative visualisation of a relatable social difficulty. Rendered in a mix of live-action and stop-motion animation, it’s by far the most technically impressive short here, but all in service of telling its story and conveying the requisite emotion. Another one that would’ve been a more than worthy winner.

(You can watch Gladiators on Wheels and When Voices Unite on Vimeo. Sadly the others aren’t publicly available, although there is a short making-of for Facing It which I recommend for appreciating the filmmaking skill on display there.)

Of the other shorts I saw, my favourite was definitely Pleased to Eat You! (2019, Adrian Hedgecock, UK, English, 7 mins, ★★★★★). It’s a beautifully designed and hilariously funny musical comedy short… about cannibalism! Its colourful and clever staging evokes the handmade movie-reality worlds seen in films by the likes of Michel Gondry or Charlie Kaufman, while the full-blown song-and-dance number is like the best of old-fashioned Hollywood musicals, albeit twinned with a pun-filled cheekiness in its subject matter. An absolute delight from beginning to end.

Pleased to Eat You!

If I were to rank all the other shorts too, I’d probably put Woman in Stall (2018, Dusty Mancinelli & Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Canada & UK, English, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) in second place. A very timely thriller, it sees a woman innocently enter a public bathroom cubicle to get changed, only for a man to turn up outside and start chatting, her wariness of him trapping her inside. Is he a predator she’s right to fear? Or is she just being paranoid? Part of the short’s cleverness lies in the way it plays with our emotions and expectations, swinging us back and forth into where our trust should lie. Working with a limited setting, it’s neatly shot — never dull, but without going OTT to try to jazz things up — and gets edge-of-your-seat tense as it goes on. Regular readers will know how much I love a “single location thriller”, and this is a perfect mini example of the form.

Quince: Fifteen (2018, Peiman Zekavat, UK & Peru, Spanish, 10 mins, ★★★★☆) is a real-time single-shot drama about a 15-year-old Peruvian schoolgirl whose carefree PE lesson turns into a tumult of life-upending dismay in just a few minutes following an unexpected discovery on social media. It’s another timely issue, and this is mostly a well-made short — I do love a single take, and the real-time aspect puts you in her shoes quite effectively. Unfortunately, it’s a bit inconclusive — it just stops, with no hint of how she’s going to deal with her new problem longer term, or what’s going to happen to her beyond a handful of initial reactions. It’s not bad as it is, but there’s also more to be told here.

Quince: Fifteen

On a snowy winter’s day, a postie makes his rounds on a London estate. Meanwhile, one woman anxiously awaits his arrival… With its brief running time, Special Delivery (2018, Robert Hackett, UK, 4 mins, ★★★★☆) almost feels like an extended edit of one of those soppy commercials the big retailers always put out at Christmas — you know, the ones that have just started to pop up on the telly. Nicely shot in 2.35:1, it evokes a Christmassy feel without being overtly festive, and manages to avoid becoming quite as saccharine as those adverts, instead earning the story’s sentimentality. A sweet little slice of romance.

Coming just behind those frontrunners would be Spooning (2019, Rebecca Applebaum, Canada, English, 6 mins, ★★★★☆), a one-woman-show of a mockumentary about a theatre actress who specialises in playing spoons. Not “playing the spoons”, like a musical instrument, but anthropomorphised spoons, like in Beauty and the Beast. It’s basically a comedy sketch as a short film, but it was largely funny so I don’t begrudge it that.

I’m six films deep into this loose ranking now, but that’s not to discredit Allan + Waspy (2019, James Miller, UK, English, 8 mins, ★★★★☆). It’s about two working class schoolboys who hang out in the woods on their way to school each day, observing a bird’s nest full of chicks hatching and maturing — but one of the lads clearly has problems at home, and it all takes a very dark turn. Initially it’s a likeable slice-of-modern-life tale, managing to find an element of old-fashioned bucolic childhood even in a modern inner-city setting, and unfurling at a gentle pace by mixing shots of the surrounding world into the boys’ activities. But then there’s a thoroughly glum ending. It kinda ruined my day, but I liked it as a film nonetheless.

Cumulus

A young Welsh girl runs off from her dad and encounters a talking gull who’s worried about his kids leaving home in animation Cumulus (2018, Ioan Holland, UK, English, 9 mins, ★★★☆☆). Naturally, they both learn something from each other. It’s always nice to see 2D animation nowadays, especially when it’s as prettily designed as this, though it’s a shame that some of the movement is a little stilted and animatic-y. It’s also a bit longer/slower than it needs to be, but it’s still mostly charming.

Perhaps the most disappointing short was My Theatre (2019, Kazuya Ashizawa, Japan, 5 mins, ★★★☆☆), a documentary about an 81-year-old in Fukushima who closed his cinema 55 years ago but keeps it alive as a kind of museum. That’s mainly what I gathered from reading blurbs before viewing, though, because the short itself lacks any real context or conclusion, just presenting vignettes of life in this rundown old movie house. It’s perfectly pleasant, but ultimately unenlightening. My Theatre is listed on other festivals’ websites as running 20 minutes, so perhaps the five-minute version submitted to FilmBath is just an excerpt — that’s certainly what it felt like. A longer edit, with more of a sense of why this is a place and person worth observing, would’ve been better.

Finally, Terra (2019, Daniel Fickle, USA, English, 6 mins, ★★☆☆☆), which received some very negative feedback from a few audience members who didn’t feel it was appropriate for the film it was screened before, Honeyland. That’s a documentary about a traditional European way of beekeeping on the wane, whereas Terra is ostensibly about the tumultuous romantic relationship between two young Americans. The clue is in the title, though: it’s a metaphor for humankind’s relationship with Earth. Personally, I thought the analogy was a bit on the nose, but it seems others missed it entirely. The photography is quite pretty, in a no-budget-indie-drama kinda way, but other than that I didn’t think there was much to it. Other members of the FilmBath team were more impressed, so I think it’s fair to say it’s a divisive little number.

Terra

As I said at the start, there were 46 shorts screened at the festival, so this is just a small sampling of what was on offer (less than a third, to be precise). Although I didn’t love them all, I did enjoy most — and considering they would have entirely passed me by were it not for the festival, I’ll definitely take the handful of letdowns as part of the parcel for getting the good stuff.

The Fluctuant Monthly Review of October 2019

October was very nearly my weakest month in almost a decade (9½ years, to be precise), saved from that fate at literally the last minute, as the story of what may very well be 100 Films’ most fluctuant year continues…


#130a Fifteen (2018), aka Quince
#130b Cumulus (2018)
#130c Pleased to Eat You! (2019)
#130d Special Delivery (2018)
#130e Allan + Waspy (2019)
#131 Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans (2019)
#132 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part Two (2012)
#133 For Sama (2019)
#134 The Fear of God: 25 Years of “The Exorcist” (1998)


  • So, I watched four new feature films in October.
  • It was very nearly just three, until I watched that Mark Kermode Exorcist documentary (which was freshly added to BBC iPlayer for Halloween) late last night. And whether or not that counts as a film is debatable. (The one on iPlayer is an extended cut that Kermode calls the “festival cut” because it was only shown at film festivals, which I think means it’s a film, so it counts.)
  • As I said at the start, you’d have to go back 9½ years, to April 2010, to find another month with so few films.
  • But for four you only have to go back to June this year. Nonetheless, that means October is tied as the lowest-totalling month of 2019 (for now…)
  • Unsurprisingly, it’s not even close to any of the usual array of averages I mention, and so it brings them all down — taking October’s average from 14.0 to 13.2; the average for 2019 to date from 14.4 to 13.4; and the rolling average of the last 12 months from 15.4 to 14.4.
  • The run of shorts I watched at the start of the month almost doubles that tally for the year. It was a FilmBath thing, which also means there’ll be more next month.
  • Neither a Blindspot nor a WDYMYHS film this month, which leaves me with quite a few to catch up (seven in total) with just two months of the year left.
  • From last month’s “failures” I watched only Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (see Rewatchathon).



The 53rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
A film that, frankly, I might’ve overlooked were it not for most of the rest of the FilmBath office talking about how great it was, Channel 4’s hard-hitting war documentary For Sama.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
This is an even easier choice: of course it’s Breaking Dawn: Part Two.

Favourite Short Film of the Month
Sorry to recommend this when I don’t think it’s freely available to see anywhere, but Pleased to Eat You! is bloody brilliant. Look out for it. (If you’re in the area, FilmBath are screening it before Little Monsters.)

Most Disappointing Non-Appearance of the Month
Not meaning to spoil anything (it’s kinda shown in the trailer anyway), but the storyline of Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans involves amassing different iterations of the Titans from across the multiverse… but that doesn’t include the cast of the live-action version, Titans. Okay, it might’ve been hard to integrate them with the animation, plus they’d’ve had to actually get the cast together, but it still seemed like a missed opportunity.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Even though I’ve been posting a lot less recently, my number of monthly hits has stayed within the same range — but, over the past few months, the number of unique visitors has started dropping a lot. This month, it dropped to its lowest level since June 2017. Well, fair enough. But what I find weird is that the ups and downs of both views & visitors have always been in sync before, so I don’t know why they’ve started separating. Anyway, this is meant to be about this month’s posts. Despite going up just 38 hours before October ended, the winner is this month’s TV column.



Things aren’t looking any rosier down here. I should be at #41 by now, but instead all I’ve got is this…

#24 Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018)

My brief review (linked above) possibly doesn’t do justice to my feelings about this movie (i.e. I love it!) I mean, I didn’t even mention the guest voice cast, which has some superb cameos. Partly that’s to do with not ruining gags and surprises, I guess. Still, I feel I could’ve and should’ve done better on that one. I did include it on my best-of-year list, at least.


No cinema trips this month, so I’ve missed a bunch of big releases, not least the super-discourse-provoking Joker; the third attempt at Terminator 3, Dark Fate; the inevitable flop Gemini Man (and it was showing in 3D HFR near me too, which I’m never likely to have a chance to see it in again); and the second Shaun the Sheep movie, Farmageddon.

More big-screen misses resurfaced on disc this week, namely X-Men: Dark Phoenix (in 4K) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (in 3D). I also picked up a handful of Criterion titles in a Zoom sale (Do the Right Thing, The Magnificent Ambersons, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, and Panique); a selection of Asian movies (re)released by Arrow (Oldboy, with Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Lady Vengeance) and Eureka (King Hu’s The Fate of Lee Khan and three films with Sammo Hung (Eastern Condors, The Magnificent Butcher, and The Iron-Fisted Monk); I finally managed to get a great deal on the Spider-Man Legacy 4K set (containing Sam Raimi’s trilogy and Marc Webb’s duology); and I ended the month with Arrow’s new release of An American Werewolf in London, which made me glad I never got round to upgrading from DVD to the previous BD. (Whew! That’s quite a lot, really, isn’t it?)

Finally, there were a few big name releases on streaming this month. Most discussed was probably Netflix’s Breaking Bad sequel, El Camino. Well, I’ve still not seen any of Breaking Bad, so it’ll be a long time before I watch that. Higher on my watch list are the new Steven Soderbergh, The Laundromat, and Eddie Murphy true-story comedy Dolemite is My Name, which looks like a lot of fun. There was also In the Tall Grass, which I’ve heard mixed things about. Amazon had no brand-new additions to equal that lineup, but I did spot a few archive adds of interest, including Robin Williams sci-fi thriller The Final Cut, arthouse classic La Dolce Vita, and Liam Neeson’s latest revenge thriller Cold Pursuit.


FilmBath Festival should guarantee a tally over ten films, as the rollercoaster of my 2019 monthly totals continues.

Blade Runner 2022-2048

You’ve probably heard that three short films have been released as part of the promotion for forthcoming sci-fi sequel Blade Runner 2049. More than just trailers, these shorts go some way to bridging the 30-year gap between 2049 and the original Blade Runner. They were released out of sequence over the past couple of months, but here they’re reviewed in chronological order.

Blade Runner: Black Out 2022
(2017)

2017 #130a
Shinichirô Watanabe | 16 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.78:1 | USA / English

Black Out 2022

The first short is an anime directed by Shinichirô Watanabe, best known for Cowboy Bebop and, I guess, helming two of the Animatrix shorts. Set a couple of years after Blade Runner, it tells the story of some Replicant rights activists and their successful attack on LA, which will lead to a ban on Replicant production.

As a story it is, of course, background detail — presumably not essential enough to be included in 2049 proper, but filling in the backstory for fans. It’s the kind of thing you could read about in just a line but is more exciting dramatised. That said, with such a short running time there’s no space to grow attached to characters, so the ultimate effect on the viewer isn’t so different to just reading about the events depicted.

As a short animation, however, it’s a quality production. Animation allows it to do things a live-action short couldn’t — you’d need a blockbuster CGI budget to pull this off for real. It’s a good marriage of form and intent: in the context of a prequel short, it’d be pointless to do an anime of people sat in a room talking. It has a bit of needlessly fiddly story structure at the start (including one of my pet peeves: “two weeks earlier”), but mostly it puts its short running time to decent use. There are a couple of striking, effective images, alongside various nods to the original film — visually, a lot of tributes are paid. Plus, look for cameos by Edward James Olmos’ Gaff and Dave Bautista’s character from 2049.

It may be worth noting that it’s nothing like Cowboy Bebop, either. No surprise — Bebop‘s tone hardly fits the grim world of Blade Runner. If you wanted an anime comparison, it’s more like a Ghost in the Shell short — again, not so surprising given the source similarities.

Despite my complaints about its structure and ultimate purpose, this is probably the best of the three shorts.

4 out of 5

Watch Blade Runner: Black Out 2022 on YouTube here.

2036: Nexus Dawn
(2017)

2017 #130a
Luke Scott | 7 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English

2036: Nexus Dawn

2049 director Denis Villeneuve introduces each of the three shorts, explaining how he tapped filmmakers he respected to create these little tales. This one is by, to use Villeneuve’s word, his friend Luke Scott — director of Morgan and (most pertinently of all, I suspect) Ridley Scott’s son. We’re in live-action now, as entrepreneur Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) meets with some committee to convince them to re-legalise Replicant production.

It might seem odd, given their very different production styles, but this works well as a pair with 2022. It’s all in the story: the anime is about the final straw that banned Replicants; Nexus Dawn is about how they were brought back. Despite their short form, these films aren’t telling side stories, but revealing major points in Blade Runner‘s future history. There are also several direct references to the black out which further ties the shorts together. It might not be wholly clear in the anime itself, but that event was clearly world-changing. Perhaps that’s why 2022 was initially released last, to pay off the teasing references which feature in both live-action shorts.

For those seeking a tease for 2049, we get an indication of what Jared Leto’s performance will be like. I imagine those who find him inherently annoying will see nothing to challenge their preconception. For the rest of us, he’s okay. He suits the possibly-mad genius role, and thankfully keeps it understated. There’s also a supporting cast of names bigger you’d expect from just a prequel short (Doctor Strange‘s Benedict Wong, Peaky Blinders‘ Ned Dennehy), which I’m not sure adds a huge amount but perhaps indicates the esteem of the Blade Runner name.

Technically, the short itself is well shot — in both content and form, it could conceivably be a deleted scene from the main film. That’s both a blessing and a curse, I guess.

3 out of 5

Watch 2036: Nexus Dawn on YouTube here.

2048: Nowhere to Run
(2017)

2017 #130a
Luke Scott | 6 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English

2048: Nowhere to Run

The final short, again helmed by Scott the Younger, is set just the year before the new film. It introduces us to Dave Bautista’s character, a kindly but down-on-his-luck kinda guy who one day finds himself in a violent altercation that will clearly change his life.

Even more than Nexus Dawn, this feels like a deleted scene — I won’t be at all surprised if this leads directly into the events of 2049. As it’s not dramatising a turning point in history, it feels the most trailer-like of the three shorts. It’s still a little background narrative that’s (presumably) not to he found in the film proper, but it seems to be teasing where 2049 will begin rather than filling in important backstory blanks. Plus, an opening montage of clips from 2049 includes another reference to the black out, again suggesting that the anime is actually the most significant and worthwhile of the three shorts.

Bautista continues to be a surprisingly charismatic actor — even with very little to do here, and keeping it low-key, you warm to him. Perhaps that’s the point of this short: for us to like Sapper, and understand what he’s capable of and why, before his appearance in 2049. Perhaps it’ll even be deserving of a higher rating after seeing Villeneuve’s film. As a film, the side-street setting is probably not that much more logistically complex than Nexus Dawn‘s single room (aside from all the extras involved), but Scott makes it feel more expansive.

At first blush Nowhere to Run feels like the least essential of the three prequels, but we’ll see if that changes with hindsight after viewing 2049.

3 out of 5

Watch 2048: Nowhere to Run on YouTube here.

As a final thought, I’ll note that on Letterboxd I rated all three shorts 3.5 out of 5, and on IMDb gave them the equivalent 7 out of 10. Obviously I’ve separated them slightly here, with the anime getting 4 and the other two getting 3s, which would suggest an even finer gradation of marking (that I then rounded up/down). I don’t know if that’s really the case, but I think the reason why I settled on these differing scores is that the two live-action shorts feel like deleted scenes, while the anime feels like it’s expanding on something that would otherwise just be backstory. In other words, it depicts the most significant event in its own right.

Anyway, perhaps these scores will change after seeing 2049. Whether they do or don’t, all three shorts are essential viewing for fans, but probably inessential for the casual viewer — after all, if they really mattered, they’d be in the film.

Blade Runner 2049 is in cinemas tomorrow.

Deadpool: No Good Deed (2017)

2017 #32a
David Leitch | 4 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English

Logan

Screened before Logan in the US but only available to us poor disadvantaged foreigners thanks to the magic of the interweb, No Good Deed could be regarded as nothing more than a teaser trailer were it not: (a) about four times longer than your average teaser, (b) almost certainly not actually part of the film it’s teasing, (c) listed on IMDb and so forth as a short film, and (d) a self-contained story that is, all things considered, pretty amusing.

If you were also unfortunate enough to have not had your screening of Logan graced by Deadpool’s irreverent goodness, enjoy:

4 out of 5

All being well, Deadpool 2 will be released on 2nd March 2018.

100 Films @ 10: Short Films

For the final in my series of ten top tens (yes, we’ve reached the end already / finally (delete as appropriate)), I’ve decided to take a look at one of the less-discussed aspects of the film world: shorts.

In the past ten years I’ve watched and reviewed just 51 short films, but as I’ve never ranked them before it seemed overdue that I create some kind of quality-sorted list. Here, then, are my ten favourite short films that I watched in the last decade.

10
Pixels

Don’t worry, there’s no Adam Sandler in sight — this Pixels is the three-minute short that went down so well online someone bought the rights and turned it into a feature. A fun idea, it works better as a narrative-less couple of minutes than it did forced into the shape of a blockbuster.

9
Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter

Easily the best of Marvel’s now-defunct series of short films, Agent Carter was so good — exciting, characterful, funny — that it was later expanded into a two-season TV series (which I still haven’t watched. Oops.)

8
Telling Lies

A simple idea, very well executed: as we listen to a series of phone conversations, the speakers’ dialogue appears on screen… except instead of transcribing their exact words, it reveals their true thoughts. At only a few minutes long Telling Lies doesn’t outstay its welcome, instead maintaining the basic idea well and crafting a neat and amusing little story with it.

7
Toy Story of Terror!

Having managed to beat the odds and create three great Toy Story movies, Pixar seemed foolish trying to extend it further as a franchise. Toy Story of Terror justifies that decision, however, with a story, style, and message that would’ve been strong enough to be a whole feature (with some expansions, of course) but plays equally well in just 20 minutes.

6
Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death

As with #7, this was a seasonal special for old animated favourites that would’ve worked just as well (perhaps even better) expanded out to a full feature. A Matter of Loaf and Death is the first Wallace & Gromit film since the very first not to win an Oscar, but it’s every bit as good as its forebears — I can’t think of much higher praise than that.

5
Presto

The Pixar short that accompanied WALL-E, Presto is a perfectly-executed piece of near-silent slapstick tomfoolery. Surprisingly, this also lost out on an Oscar. Its director went on to co-direct last year’s Storks, which… didn’t go down so well.

4
The Lunch Date

Winner of the short Palme d’Or and an Oscar, The Lunch Date is a clever little tale with a well-disguised twist. I imagine if it was made today people would talk about its social relevance, which is a little depressing nearly 30 years on, but there you go. The first work by director Adam Davidson, he’s since gone on to helm episodes of shows like Six Feet Under, Lost, Deadwood, Dexter, Rome, True Blood, Fringe, Fear the Walking Dead, and many, many more.

3
The Present

As with most of the best shorts, The Present presents a simple but effective idea quickly and with a strong emotional hit. A cute tale of a boy and his dog, it also has a message about positivity and overcoming adversity. No Oscar here, but its director has since worked for Disney on Zootropolis and Moana, as well as on The Secret Life of Pets and Revolting Rhymes.

2
Feast

Another lovely short, also told economically and without dialogue, about a friendly little dog who helps out his owner. Yeah, I’m a sucker for cute dogs. But Oscar-winner Feast is also beautifully animated: nicely stylised and executed as essentially one long montage, proving again that exceptional filmmaking can create an emotional experience in the briefest of times.

1
Commentary! The Musical

Unlike the previous films on this list, it’s the very opposite of silent — it is, in many ways, all about sound. There’s also no big emotional hit and no sniff of awards recognition either. So why does Commentary! The Musical top my list? Because it so impressively made. It’s the commentary track on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, but rather than just the production team chatting about how they made the show, it’s sung through. And it’s not just a collection of new songs played over the original production — it’s frequently scene specific, sometimes even shot specific. It’s an incredible feat of writing and planning; not only that, but it’s hilariously funny too.

Tomorrow: birthday day.

The Present (2014)

2016 #114
Jacob Frey | 4 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | Germany / English

The PresentA short film about a boy and his dog, The Present was a graduation short for the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction at the Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg in Ludwigsburg, Germany (yeah, I copy & pasted that), which has since won more than 50 awards after playing at film festivals around the world. Reportedly it also single-handedly landed its animator/director a job at Disney — he went on to work on Zootopiatropolis.

The simple story sees a videogame-obsessed boy given a mysterious box by his mother. Distracted long enough to open it, inside he finds a puppy, and… well, the film’s only four minutes long — you’re better off watching it than having me describe the story.

Regular readers will know I’m a bit of a sucker for cute dogs nowadays, be they real or animated — I gave Disney short Feast a full five stars last year. If you enjoyed that, then I’m certain you’ll like The Present too. There are other similarities: it’s about a guy bonding with his dog; it’s told in near-silence, with the big emotional reveals left for you to pick up through the pictures rather than explanatory dialogue; and it certainly tugs on the heartstrings to a similar degree.

In fact, I don’t think it’s going too far to say The Present may even be the better of the two — though it’s a close call.

5 out of 5

You can watch The Present free on Vimeo.

P.S. A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

Come Together (2016)

2016 #185a
Wes Anderson | 4 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

Come TogetherChristmas adverts are all the rage these days, thanks to the likes of John Lewis and their beautifully affecting tributes to the holiday season / twee pieces of emotionally manipulative crap (delete as appropriate). This year clothes retailer H&M got in on the act by hiring everyone’s favourite go-to example of an idiosyncratically quirky director, Wes Anderson, to helm a short film-cum-advertisement — the first part of that equation being why I’m reviewing it here.

For me, Anderson pitches the tone just right. Rather than making a four-minute festival of sappiness that rots your brain with its generic sugary sentiment, or a music video for a slow breathy cover of a once-famous song, or a long build-up to a cheap punchline, Anderson instead brings his own familiar style to a brief narrative that comes to a surprisingly heartwarming conclusion. In the process, he’s made an advert that doesn’t feel like an advert — another reason to factor it in here.

I suppose for that same reason it almost fails — I’m no more or less likely to shop at H&M than I was before (in truth, I had to even double check they were a clothes retailer) — but as brand awareness goes, well, it doesn’t make me want to kick their teeth in until they go away and never bother me with one of their stupid adverts every again. Suck on that, John Lewis.

4 out of 5

Come Together can be watched on YouTube here.