Haiku Review

Ev’ry August film
reviewed in haiku form. (And
you thought drabbles short!)

I can’t even remember what gave me the idea, but the other day I started writing haiku-sized reviews of films I’d watched, and before I knew it had written one for every film from August. So, in what may or may not become a new regular feature, I’m going to share them with you. You lucky, lucky people.

Technically a haiku is more than just the 5-7-5 syllable structure most people know: it should be about nature, and (to quote Wikipedia) “the essence of haiku is ‘cutting’… often represented by the juxtaposition of two images or ideas and a kireji (‘cutting word’) between them.” Obviously these haiku have nothing to do with the first of those conditions; as to the second, well, it comes and goes. At times, I’ve tried; others, less so. Hopefully none are just 17-syllable sentences split in three. Nonetheless, I don’t promise poetic quality with these.


Contagion
Gwyneth Paltrow eats,
whole world at risk of grim death.
Scares ’cause it could be.

End of Watch
Cops film selves, sort of.
Inconsistent P.O.V.
undermines reel-ism.

Inherent Vice [review]
Pynchon’s comedy
filmed by P.T. Anderson.
Laughs for weed users.

Interstellar [review]
Two-Thousand-And-One,
A Space-Time Anomaly.
Mainly, spectacle.

Justice League: The New Frontier
Uncommon premise
raises expectations, but
promise is squandered.

Life of Pi [review]
Tiger on a boat:
CG extravaganza!
Better than the truth.

Monsters: Dark Continent [review]
Genre transplanted,
but soldiers pose same quand’ry:
aren’t we the monsters?

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
This: way the world ends —
not with a bang or whimper,
but a love story.

Shallow Grave
Danny Boyle’s debut.
Cold cash leads friends to distrust
and dismemberment.

Sherlock Holmes (1922) [review]
Moriarty v.
Barrymore. Gillette-derived
slight Sherlock silent.

Shivers
Amateur work by:
biologist, kills neighbours;
Cronenberg, upsets.

Space Station 76 [review]
Groovy future fun,
undercut by theme of frac-
tured relationships.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey
Epic history,
too personalised for some.
Piqued insight abounds.

Stranger by the Lake
French gays have the sex
with a killer in their midst.
A slow-burn beauty.

The Theory of Everything [review]
Eddie Redmayne won
awards, but the film’s heart is
Felicity Jones.

The Thing (2011) [review]
Under prequel’s guise,
computers doodle a mere
Carpenter rehash.

The Haiku Review may return next month. We’ll see how things go.

The Millennial Monthly Update for August 2015

After last month was all centennial, because I reached 2015’s #100, this month is millennial, because I made it to 1,000 Films in a Decade Eight Years and Eight Months.

More on that soon, as well as all this:


Shallow Grave#103 Space Station 76 (2014)
#104 The Thing (2011)
#105 Shallow Grave (1994)
#106 Sherlock Holmes (1922), aka Moriarty
#107 Life of Pi (2012)
#108 Contagion (2011)
#109 Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
#110 Interstellar (2014)
#111 End of Watch (2012)
Stranger by the Lake#112 The Story of Film: An Odyssey (2011)
#113 Inherent Vice (2014)
#114 The Theory of Everything (2014)
#115 Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)
#116 Shivers (1975)
#117 Stranger by the Lake (2013), aka L’inconnu du lac
#118 Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)


  • As you may have noticed, this month I reached my 1,000th film. More about that here.
  • Before that, there was a countdown — with pictures! Thrilling stuff. It’s archived here.
  • As #1000 was 15-hour documentary The Story of Film, it took over a few extra slots in my schedule. If I’d been watching regular-length films instead, August’s tally would be four or five films larger.
  • No WDYMYHS films this month — just The Story of Film adding more ideas for future iterations!


In October 2014 I commented that, at best, “one of 2015’s last films will be #1000”. Hahahaha, how times have changed! “One of 2015’s last films”? Oh no, dear sir (“dear sir” in this instance being “me 11 months ago”) — there are still four months of 2015 to go!

In fairness to past-me, the three previous occasions on which I’d reached a #112 (2007, 2010, 2014) were all in November. It just continues 2015’s extraordinary run, though: this month, it passed 2013 to become my fourth most successful year, even with four months still to go. #118 is further than I’ve ever reached by the end of October, never mind August.

As for this August in itself, a tally of 16 makes it the 15th month in a row to reach double figures. It easily passes the August average (previously 10.57, now 11.25) and is just above 2015’s rolling average (currently at 14.75). It’s the third month this year to reach 16, and the fifth ever, which makes it part of a five-way tie for my third highest-tallying month ever. It’s also the 10th month in a row to best the same period a year ago, when August 2014 totalled 15. That may be the end of that though: September will have to be my second highest-totalling month ever to beat its 2014 counterpart. Of course, if I can keep up my current pace — and without a schedule-hogging behemoth like The Story of Film to stand in the way — that’s not an impossible expectation.

Last August, I pointed out how inaccurate August was for predicting the final tally… but then used those inaccurate predictions to spot a new pattern and offer a revised prediction. Which, naturally, I completely obliterated: having predicted a final total of 115-120, I reached 136. Nonetheless, there’s no fun in offering no predictions — and I’ve been remarkably consistent with my viewing this year, actually — so here we go regardless.

To be honest, whatever I forecast is good news. Four more months of my ten-film-minimum goal has 2015 becoming my best-ever year before the end of October, and a final tally of at least 158. If my rolling average of 14.75 holds I’ll make it even further, to #177, and if I can continue my year-on-year monthly increase (with, as mentioned, September being the greatest challenge) then I’ll pass #178. I’ve been forecasting a finish in the 170s ever since February, so, to be honest, I’ll be a bit disappointed if I don’t make that. And all of these numbers are slight increases on their counterparts from last month, so perhaps #180+ isn’t out of the question…



The 3rd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s a toughie this month — lots of films I really enjoyed, including five I gave full marks to. Five! (If you were going to look to see which, know that I haven’t posted reviews for four of them yet.) But the one that most surprised me, and created the strongest emotional connection to boot, was Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Conversely, not many poor films this month. That said, there were a couple I found to be below par, but none felt like they squandered their potential quite as much as Justice League: The New Frontier.

Space-Set CGI That Looked Most Like Models (Pleasingly)
Space Station 76.

Space-Set Models That Looked Most Like Reality (Pleasingly)
Interstellar.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
It always helps give hits a boost if someone else promotes a post. In August, thanks to a tweet by the film’s producers, the most-viewed post was Space Station 76.


Ben-Hur (1925) A Silent Film Review @ Movies Silently
For her 200th silent film review, Fritzi has penned a “mammoth” about the first feature-length adaptation of Lew Wallace’s novel, including a comparison to the more-famed 1959 adaptation. “Mammoth” is the word: by my quick count it clocks in at over 12,000 words! I confess I haven’t even read all of it yet, but I think we can trust it to be worth every syllable.

The highest ranked feature length narrative film on Letterboxd for each year 2014-1920
An interesting way of looking at film history, shared by Letterboxd’s own Twitter courtesy of someone on Reddit who since deleted their name. The gallery can still be viewed here, though.

The Last Unicorn (1982) Review @ Cinema Parrot Disco
This month’s lesson is “don’t judge a film by its cover”, because The Last Unicorn looks like some dated, cheesy, little-girl-y crap, but table9mutant’s review makes it sound awesome, and there are lots of other pretty pictures to cement the point.

My Top 7 James Bond Opening Title Sequences @ Film Grimoire
Who doesn’t love a Bond title sequence? Here, Anna explains her top seven picks (in honour of 007, of course), and while I can’t say I agree with all of them (Quantum of Solace? No thanks) it’s still a good read.

My Top Ten Drew Struzan Movie Art Pieces @ Cinema Parrot Disco
What movie fan doesn’t love the work of Drew Struzan (even if you don’t know his name), the renowned poster artist who created enduring imagery for a host of ’80s and ’90s films, and whose style tends to influence at least one poster for every major movie still, even as they’ve moved on to nought but photo montage. Here, table9mutant takes on the tough job of selecting favourites from Struzan’s extensive oeuvre.

Peculiar opening credit text @ Dial M For Movies
Rhett Bartlett mounts a collection of opening-credit oddities, things “the film maker feels they must tell the audience” right at the start. My personal favourite is the first, from The Old Dark House: “We explain this to settle all disputes in advance…”

The Serpent and the Rainbow @ Vinnieh
The sad news of the death of horror auteur Wes Craven reached us yesterday, but this is an incidental tribute. A carry-over from last month, this write-up by Vinnie meant Craven’s true story-inspired tale of voodoo in Haiti really piqued my interest. It seems it was recently released on a poor UK Blu-ray, though a Shout Factory release is expected in the US early in 2016, which will no doubt be excellent.

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015) A Silent Film Review @ Movies Silently
The Wallace & Gromit spin-off’s spin-off movie opened to much acclaim here way back in February, but finally made it across the pond at the start of August. Here, Fritzi offers her typically irreverent take on why it really is a true silent movie. No, really.

Straight Outta Compton (2015) [Review] @ movieblort
It’s not an area of music I know much (read: anything) about, nor especially care for, but movieblort has me sold on why this biopic about the rise and fall of hip-hop group N.W.A. will be worth a look.

The Western Godfather @ True West
Bending the “articles from the past month” rule, but this interview — of Kurt Russell by Henry Cabot Beck — was too interesting not to share. In it, Russell reveals for the first time some of the truth behind the filming of Tombstone. The piece is nearly nine years old now, so I’m sure aficionados are well aware of its contents; but if you’ve not come across it before, it’s rather fascinating.



This is the last archive review summary. My dedicated effort to re-post all my old reviews began in July 2014, and 14 months later they’re finished. (After the reviews: what comes after the reviews.)


With all the reviews up, it’s now on to the rest of my unposted posts. More details in the first. (The one with the mop.)



Films I Hadn’t Heard of Before Watching The Story of Film
But Now Really Want to See

Mark Cousins’ documentary features somewhere north of 500 films. Kudos to anyone who’s seen all of them (especially if it was before the documentary came along and automatically became a checklist for some people). For us mere mortals, however, it’s a mix of ones we’ve seen, ones we want to see, ones we’re merely aware of, and a whole load of stuff we’ve never even heard of. The series also has a propensity to make you really want to see the films it features — not just ones you already knew you wanted to get round to it, but out-of-the-blue discoveries. So in tribute to the latter, I present this month’s highly personal (when isn’t it?) top five.

  1. Napoleon (1927)
    A cheat, because I have heard of Abel Gance’s 5½-hour biopic about the diminutive French general, but I’ve kind of ignored it because it’s hard for normal folk to see: Kevin Brownlow’s acclaimed restoration has never been released on any home format, only screening at festivals and the like (with two intermissions — one for dinner!), apparently due to some dubious copyright claim by Francis Ford Coppola. Shame.
  2. Cairo Station (1958)
    Cousins has a tendency to label films “the first great [insert name of place] film”, and I believe this was his pick for Africa; certainly for Egypt. Patrick Heenan in The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers may seem to disagree, but he does concur that it has “visual brilliance”.
  3. Black Girl (1966)
    Another thing Cousins has a tendency to do is give away the ending of films he covers. I suppose the only way to examine a work’s full meaning or worth is to discuss it in its entirety, and any truly great film is going to withstand having its plot revealed. Indeed, it may only have been Cousins’ full explanation of Black Girl that made it so intriguing.
  4. The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987)
    And the same could be said of this Japanese documentary, which follows a former soldier as he attempts to find out the truth about what happened to some of his comrades during World War 2, and unearths some very, very dark secrets. Sounds to me like a film about a kind of paranoia being vindicated.
  5. Hyenas (1992)
    Three of these films are from Africa, which possibly says as much about Western awareness of African cinema as it does about the inherent quality of that continent’s output. This Senegalese comedy-drama explores consumerism in a way that apparently “brings human folly and cynicism into sharp focus”.

…and there are so many, many more. Whatever you think of the documentary as a whole (and opinions are certainly mixed), as a showcase for great cinema it may be unparalleled.


After three months where the new-style titles of these progress reports actually signified something, the parade of meaningless monthly update adjectives begins…

And I’ll probably watch some films and write about them, too.

Space Station 76 (2014)

2015 #103
Jack Plotnick | 95 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Space Station 76Liv Tyler is the new first officer on a space station commanded by Patrick Wilson in this retro-future-styled film, which is both a spoof of/riff on ’70s genre movies, and a character drama about people’s relationships. No, really.

The most obvious aspect, especially as it’s played up in the joke-focused trailer, is the former. The film’s visual aesthetic is a loving recreation of classic SF, from the set design to the gorgeous model-like CGI exteriors. I don’t think anything in particular was being referenced — at least, not obviously so — but it’s all reminiscent of the likes of the original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Space: 1999, and so on. It’s been created with such care that it borders on the beautiful.

The film itself is not really a genre spoof, though. It’s not taking the mick out of the storylines or acting style or what-have-you of productions of that era, but has adopted the era — the character types, their social interrelations, the familiar design style — to do its own thing. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t find humour in that adopted era: one of the most memorable moments involves a videophone (though, of course, that’s now riffing on something many of us are familiar with from the likes of Skype), and there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud-hilarious bits from the awesome Dr Bot, the station’s robot psychiatrist, perfectly voiced by Michael Stoyanov (also one of the screenwriters). For me, Dr Bot pretty much justified the film’s existence.

It’s not just a silliness-based comedy, though. It’s masquerading as that, with the aesthetic choices and the joke-focused trailer, but I think what it really wants to be is a character drama about people not connecting, almost in the vein of something like Magnolia. While the characters’ relations play out through the prism of ’70s values, and are occasionally Everybody loves Dr Botused to feed into the humour, that’s simply what makes it, a) a period movie (just a period movie set in the future), and b) a comedy-drama (as opposed to a drama). I think this is the real reason for its lowly regard on sites like IMDb: those expecting Anchorman in Space are going to be disappointed; but you can’t blame anyone for such expectations when that’s more-or-less how it’s trailed.

Critics are kinder: 67% on Rotten Tomatoes sounds low, but it’s not all that bad (it’s enough to be “certified fresh”, certainly); and I tend to agree with Matt Zoller Seitz when he says that “the movie is ten times lovelier than it needed to be… The art direction, costumes, effects, lighting and camerawork are committed to beauty for beauty’s sake, to the point where you might respond to Space Station 76 not as a sendup of its sources but as a lucid cinematic dream about them.” Seitz concludes, almost poetically, that he has “no idea who the audience for this film is, beyond the people who made it, and that’s what makes it special.”

Mashing up two such disparate styles of moviemaking means Space Station 76 won’t — indeed, doesn’t — work for a lot of people. Anyone after out-and-out comedy will only find a smattering of such scenes; anyone after a thoughtful comedy-drama with emphasis on the drama will not be looking here in the first place, and even if they did, may despair at some of the more (shall we say) juvenile comedic beats. Regular readers will know I have a fondness for awkward mash-ups, though, so I rather loved it. Special special effectsThe characters and their relations are well enough drawn to make it passably engrossing, even if not a stand-out contribution to any such genre, while the comedy pays off handsomely at times.

If you feel you can get on board with such a style mishmash, then I’d say Space Station 76 is cautiously recommended.

4 out of 5

Space Station 76 is available on Netflix UK from today.